Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

As I was driving into town, going past fields that had just been mowed, the saying crossed my mind, make hay while the sun shines.  The first time I heard that saying, or rather the first time I read that saying was from my Little House on the Prairie books.  While I understood that it meant you had to make your hay  on its schedule, sun shining and dry out, rather than yours, if you choose not to then you and your animals may not make it through the winter. 

I couldn't get the thought out of my mind, enough so that here I am writing about this very subject.  I do have pasture but we don't mow it.  I rotate the animals so the grasses  grow tall, and if I'm lucky and things work out right, I don't have to buy any hay to get us through the winter.  If things don't work out right then I do have to buy a dozen bales or so.  Making hay can also take on the meaning of preparing for whatever may come, not just literally but figuratively.  Isn't that what we do by stocking up and planning for some large or small disaster that may not ever take place?  Perhaps you are only preparing enough so that if you get sick and can't shop you'll still be able to feed the family that week.  I don't know what making hay means to you.

Back to making hay literally...what about the animals?  Do we have too many?  Right now we have about 25 chickens (down from the almost 40- the count is 13 dead chicks from the dog attack but the rest are going to be fine).  How many is too many?  How many is too little?  Let's see...100 calories per egg, 18 eggs a day, 1800 calories available for my family. (ok the cholesterol will kill us)  What if I couldn't buy any more food for them?  Could they dig up enough bugs on our five acres?  What's the right population of free ranging chickens on a piece of property my size?  Right now the chickens are in a large coop.  Every time we pull weeds or I mow the lawn, aka weed patch, all the cuttings go to the chickens.  I know this cuts down on the amount of food that I have to buy.  What if I pulled fresh weeds for them every day?  Would that be nutritious enough for them so I wouldn't have to buy feed and they'd still lay eggs? 

What about our sheep?  My pasture isn't irrigated.  How many sheep would I need to support three people, or ten?  Right now we have 12 sheep.  I know that's too many to support on my property for the entire year without supplementing their food.  I do expect to sell some of the sheep.  We started off this year with two rams and five ewes.  Each ewe had a single birth.  We had three male and two female lambs.  The three males are all going to be eaten.  We can sell the two new females.  How many is the right amount to sustain us?  I don't really know.

We have a goat but he's at our bug-out property.  He doesn't count for anything because he's a pygmy.  I wouldn't mind getting a couple of goats to be able to provide us with milk.  If that was the case then we'd have to get rid of most of the sheep since the property can really only hold about 7 or 8 animals without supplementing.

I've had a steer before, when the kids were young.  One steer would last for two years because we aren't the types who need a huge chunk of meat on our plates each night.  When we had the steer we had to supplement a lot because our five acres could support the steer and nothing else.  At that time we also had other animals.

We do have two huge flowering mulberry trees.  In other times and other places, these trees were specifically grown to be used as animal food. In my area, once the tree is established it doesn't need any water at all throughout the year, even with our 10-12 inches of rain, because the roots can tap into the groundwater.  A flowering mulberry tree grows like crazy each year and produces thousands of leaves.  You can cut the tree way back (topping the tree which doesn't work for most trees but mulberry thrives on it).  You can cut branches to feed the animals and then in the fall the leaf drop will last throughout the winter as feed if you store it in a dry place.  We also have three fruiting mulberries which are still young trees.  Once they grow larger they too will be able to be used for animal feed.  With those trees we could raise our animal total higher...possibly keeping a dozen animals year round without having to supplement their feed with purchased hay. 

I'm asking more questions of myself than I'm answering today.  A grandson is coming over today.  He got suspended from school for two days (He punched a kid who has been harassing him for quite a while.  The school never did anything until he retaliated.  Then the administrator said either they both get suspended or neither so his mother chose both).   Glad he stuck up for himself since the school didn't, but he's got some yard work to do.  Better make hay while the sun shines.

1 comment:

  1. I would recommend to add some wheat, oats, and freeze dried fruits and vegetabeles to your pantry. They have a 25 year shelf life, so stock up on items not grown locally. We love freeze dried pineapple as a snack or rehydrated on our pizza or in desserts. It's way better than the regular canned stuff you get at the grocery store. You can get all your freeze dried items at a discount discount at We have been ordereing their food for a while now and everything tasts great!