Saturday, August 9, 2008
Deep beds more sustainable and better for critters
Here's a series of shots of today's farm project: cleaning out the Womerlippi barn with the small 12 HP Kubota tractor.
It's a small barn, so you need a small tractor. I'm a big guy, so I look pretty silly on a tiny Nipponese tractor. But it works well.
This is a custom-designed system, and the barn, the tractor, the pig sty and the garden all work together in linear fashion, a compost assembly line. We will build a similar system into the new college barn.
The material being "cleaned out" is actually being prepared for reuse, not disposal, to be prized as next year's main agricultural input to the garden and potato patch.
This is deep bedding for the sheep from last winter. We use a modification on a European farm system called "Swedish deep bedding," that I learned about in ecology class field trips as a schoolkid, in which fresh bedding is added each week to cover last week's accumulation of manure. This doesn't smell bad like a regular barn does, and it helps concentrate the soil nutrients and capture fertility that is otherwise lost. The sheep do their deep bedding thing for about 5-6 months of late fall, winter and spring, after which the pigs and chickens get to go at it, enriching the material and breaking up strands. The pigs have been working it over now for about four months, and so we started to clean it out a few weeks ago, but it's getting very concentrated and ripe and even just a little smelly for the very first time, and is attracting flies, so it's time to move it all out!
Deep bedding is a great system for a small farm/garden combination, especially if you use a secondary processor like our pigs. You'd think that pigs would be upset to have to live in and sleep on used sheep bedding, but they love it, and dig and root in it for all kinds of unmentionable piggy treats, which keeps them happy pigs. They really enjoy the day we push out a fresh pile of bedding into the yard, and Ophelia, the livelier pig, goes skipping around in it like a piglet. The pictured pig is Hamlet, though, not a great one for the exercise.
The Kubota tractor can move around in the 20 by 30 foot barn, especially if it has no rototiller or other rear attachment on, and so it does most of the heavy work. Cleaning out the edges and corners is hard work. Still, about two hours of combined tractor-ing and shovelling was all that was needed to get 3/4 of the material out into the outdoor sty, where it will compost rapidly in what remains of summer. Next spring we'll till the finished compost into the garden using the bucket loader and the custom Kubota tiller that came with the tractor. There'll be too much so we will put some in the herb garden too, and possibly gives some away to the neighbors. That seems to me to be a lot less work than cleaning it out weekly, and a superior compost product is the result. The Kubota uses a small amount of diesel -- less than half a gallon -- to do this job.
Although I am a little tired from my exertions. Nicely so. That green gym workout again.