Alpacas are native to the Altiplano region of South America. That’s a high desert region with sparse vegetation. In fact they are most adapted to such conditions. So, when we were planning our homestead permaculture to incorporate them as our livestock, such an awareness actually figured in strategically. Our herd is never left out on a field or pasture area to sleep there; pastures are where they go to “work” or “dine”. Instead, its around the barn that we make their bedroom spaces. After a couple years experimenting, we’ve come to find that a layer of washed, screen sand is in fact the best option for their bedroom loafing shed areas. Every couple of years, we’ve been bringing in a dumptruck load of sand and building up a raised dais area for them to loaf. Their hay feeders and their sources of water are all located nearby. As it turns out, this dry lot approach really has a lot of practical benefits.
For one, as the UV rays of the sun hit the sand, bacteria is killed. For another, Alpacas are communal dung pilers, preferring a select few spots to poop. The sand provides a great drainage for the urine to work its way down and allow the poop to be easily scooped up. A bit of sand actually benefits our compost, making it truly a sandy loam that’s great for the garden. Good drainage mean no muddy areas even on the rainiest of PacNorWest days. The sandy surface, along with our gravel service alley out to the pastures, also contributes to keeping our toenail trimming tasks to a minimum, usually at shearing time, once a year.
We like to keep the elements of a permaculture down to its simplest components. That means using our resources wisely and not turning to toxic or environmentally hazardous materials to solve our problems. Currently, our chicken coop lives within the alpaca dry lot. We have 22+ egg layers living in a raised coop, with a floor made of fencing material that allows all their poop to drop down into catch trays. Having the coop within the dry lot, means we’ve got an “Alpaca Moat” of protection from all 4-legged predators and we no longer close our coop at night. Our free ranging chickens roam everywhere on the homestead and return to roost at night. Having catch trays allows us to avoid constant maintenance of cleaning a coop with a floor. Instead the chicken poop falls through and starts to compost. We empty these trays about every 2-3 months into our alpaca poop compost bins. Here’s where our next magical mineral comes into play: Ag Lime! Also known as Garden Lime, this is a ground up form of limestone that you can touch (as opposed to builder’s lime or hydrated lime, which would burn your skin). Every once in a while we’ll take several scoopfuls of it and toss it into the chicken coop where it coats roosting poles and surfaces as well as fall onto the composting chicken poop in the catch trays. The lime is very effective at neutralizing the smells and acting as a sanitizer. It also impacts the amount of flies laying their eggs in the composting poop. We can also make a solution of Ag Lime and water and spray it onto surfaces or paint it like a white-wash. Ag Lime is quite effective at sanitizing the surfaces this way. But, we don’t stop our use of it at the chicken coop. The hay feeders within the loafing shed areas have the bottoms coated with a good layer of Ag Lime as well. Our hay feeders are always bug free and clean smelling. We’ll use Ag Lime in conjunction with some baking soda if we have a need to re-locate a poorly chosen poop pile that the herd suddenly starts somewhere. In combination with the baking soda, all the olfactory and visual cues are interrupted causing the herd to think twice about using that spot to poop.
But the real star player when it comes to talking dirty here at the ranch, is Diatomaceous Earth, and if you have not heard about it yet or used it, I’m about to change your life for the better! It truly is the miracle of miracles, naturally occurring substances that every farm and home should be using!
Want to completely eliminate the need for deworming and parasite control? Drastically reduce flies? Eliminate mites and fleas? Increase your animals health? Eliminate algae coated water buckets? Add trace minerals to their diets? Even reduce your own cholesterol and detox your gut? How about treating E.coli?
Do I have your attention yet? All the above are possible, along with hundreds of other uses which allow you to go pesticide and chemical free on your homestead.
Diatomaceous Earth is basically, well, dirt! Actually, it’s the fossilized remains of diatoms, a form of algae, that lived thousands upon thousands of years ago, which died and then sank to the bottom of the ocean and lake beds to accumulate. It is the most abundant form of organic amorphous Silica in the world. As it turns out, our bodies actually need more silica than even iron. So, yes, this dirt is good for you, and it also contains an abundance of trace minerals too: Calcium, Magnesium, Titanium Dioxide, Gallium, Vanadium, Strontium, Sodium, Boron, Potassium, Copper, Zirconium, iron, all existing in mineral oxide forms making them bio available. In addition, the not-so-trace element which it most contains is Silicon Dioxide, essential for good bone growth and nutritionally important for preventing some forms of chronic diseases associated with aging. Basically, humans, animals, and plants have an essential need for the mineral, Silicon, in order to maintain life, and unfortunately, in today’s world, our diets can easily become Silicon deficient.
So, how do we use it? So many ways! Let me highlight a few for you:
- Added to water sources to prevent algae accumulation and to allow animals to drink it when they drink water
- Spread on corral floors to allow alpacas and llamas to “dust” in preventing skin problems and cleans their coats. Eliminates all mites and fleas! (Dust your dog or cat with it!)
-Spread in chicken nest boxes to eliminate fleas and mites.
-Scooped into the chicken’s free-choice feeder to eliminate weevils, moths and all bugs in the feeder. (and the chickens will eat it too!)
-Added to chicken waterer to keep the water clean and for chickens to drink as well.
- Tossed into chicken coop, onto roost poles, and over the poop catch trays to control flies and maggots in the composting manure.
-Top Dressed on Fodder mats, as needed, to add trace minerals, and control parasites, bacterias, and other “baddies” in the guts of alpacas, including Nemotodirus. Strongyles, and Coccidia. (not only working inside the animal, but you’ll notice a big difference in flies at the poop piles as well: they won’t lay eggs in poop that contains diatomaceous earth from feeding! DE continues to work even after it’s pooped out!)
- A scoopful is added to every 50lb bag of dog food we open in the pantry. Our dogs eat it too! (can also be added to their water bowl)
-Added to our garden harvest of grains and seeds for storage to help absorb moisture and prevent bugs.
-Used in the garden to control bugs and as a soil supplement.
-and even the human takes a teaspoon full a day mixed with a bit of water, on an empty stomach, 10 days on and 10 days off, as a natural detox, a source of silica and trace minerals, to reduce cholesterol, and for the health of his gut and immune system.
Phew! That’s a lot to take in! You can learn more by checking out the book “Going Green Using Diatomaceous Earth How-To Tips” by Tui Rose, R.N. You can also check out the numerous evidence on human use at www.earthworkshealth.com (also a source to purchase). Most feed and supply stores sell 50lb bags of the “Food Grade” DE. This is the most economical to buy, and actually, its relatively cheap. Be sure that you pay close attention to the label and only buy DE that is rated “Food Grade”.