This Barn has a Secret!

 

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Inside this barn, there is a 12’x12’ room in a loft.

A room about the size of a bedroom, really, but with 30 beds, grow beds! It’s a food production room, the likes of which, you will not see at a typical alpaca ranch. It feeds the entire herd!

IMG_5123A food production room? What can grow there? In such a small space? Indeed, it’s a room that produces something really fresh, on a daily basis. 

IMG_5135It keeps the herd healthy, lowers our vet bills, eliminates grain-based pellet chows, and lowers our hay consumption by about 30-40%!

This alpaca knows what’s up there! Let’s go take a look!

IMG_5138This special room gets visited daily for 15 minutes. 

At first glance inside the door, you can already sense something is very different.

The room is brightly lit, and against one wall are 30 trays with something in them…the grow beds!  What is that?

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What THAT is, is Barley and it starts in the form of a grain, but through the miracle of sprouting, gets transformed into a delicious and nutritious micro-green!

75-100lbs of these micro-greens gets harvested, every, single, day!

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About 5lbs of pre-soaked barley are spread into a specially designed grow bed: a flood-and-drain style grow tray.

There, it is automatically irrigated for a 9 day grow cycle.

Once the 9 days are up, the tray will be pulled from the shelf and 25-30lbs of fresh barley sprouts comes out!

Fresh food for alpacas!  Are you impressed yet? 

 

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Here’s what a 6 month supply of barley looks like freshly stacked.

Unlike processed pellet chows, we can store up to a year supply of grain without it spoiling or molding. Pellets simply don’t have the shelf life of a whole grain.

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With a fresh diet of barley microgreens, alpacas are getting a highly digestible foodstuff. 

Their health improves considerably.

At $.25 per pound, it currently costs us $3.75 per day to feed a herd of 20 animals.  Since hay consumption also drops, we save on our hay budget too. We also no longer buy pellets.

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Our approach became popular these past 5 years!  A video of our fodder room chores started getting lots of views (https://youtu.be/hes3ZhvjtqY ).  We started receiving requests to speak about our experience.  We were happy to share!  As of 2017, over 150+ farms have installed our grow trays on their farms.   We made an impact on how others too can achieve success with sprouting!

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Over 5+ years sprouting now, and we have had a great experience.  Our livestock operation is optimized and efficient as part and parcel of our overall permaculture approach to running a natural farm. 

The public, gets to participate too, any time they stay as guests in our yurts!  Pssst! That’s another secret! You can actually come stay at this guest ranch and “glamp” in a yurt!  You can play rancher as part of our morning farm chores, and get to see the Barley Fodder Room up close!

For all the old-pros out there who have sprouting going on at their farms, here’s a bonus for reading this far!  We put together a pictorial collage that shows you a strategy for dealing with any mold challenges you might have:  Fodder in the Summer with Poor Seed and Mold   https://www.facebook.com/230401092961/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10153955212502962

Be sure to check out these other Fodder articles and videos on our blog! We also sell the grow trays we made famous with our flood and drain style approach for DIY sprouting:

03-29-13-Grow-Trays-001_thumb

Barley Fodder Grow Trays Now For Sale!

Barley Fodder Videos! Including our Fodder Room Walkthrough, (and bonus cute stuff too!)

From Seed to Feed in 8 days- Barley Fodder Sprouting Trials

Barley Fodder Sprouting Trials continued- New Flood and Drain Tray System Installed

Barley Fodder- From Trials to Production

Considerations On the Front End of Fodder- DIY or Buy

Fodder Growing- What molds may come

Fodder Production- Further tips for successful sprouting

BONUS!  Check out the photo album for some close-up shots of all aspects of our Fodder Room via our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151297013542962.496318.230401092961&type=1&l=a16cdb13b7

Posted in Barley Fodder | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Fodder Production: Further tips for successful sprouting

IMG_1147Over the course of our sprouting experience, and with the rise in popularity of our true flood-and-drain style approach (installed in various scales over 115+ farms across the US!), we have learned quite a bit not only about how to improve our process, but also how to hone the messaging so that this topic remains approachable by others in an easy to understand manner.  Our goal as a Permaculture demonstration farm has always been to help others learn and reconnect to nature and sustainable farm practices.  To that end this article will highlight some of the more common questions we’ve heard from sprout producers.

What is the importance of seed quality?

04-30-14 Well Threshed Barley (1)Finding good grain to sprout is much like finding a good source for hay. Much like hay, the grain crop can vary from season to season based upon the climate and weather. When grain is threshed from the field there can be different qualities to the process of threshing too.  So, what does a fodder producer want? High germination rates!  Sometimes, however, the choice may mean paying a more premium price for the grain which may impact the cost effectiveness of sprouts in one’s feeding program.  We always want to look for well threshed grain: grain that has all papery coverings or awnings removed and the hulls of the actual grain seed intact and undamaged.  Having this excess chaff can mean extra vectors for molds as they start to decay during the sprouting.  But beyond grain that is well-threshed, we get into discussions of seed quality.  Grain seed intended for planting, or as actual “seed”, is usually referred to as “Seed Quality” grain and typically has some guarantee of germination rates.  It is also better sorted to remove the smaller and more immature grains from the bunch.  This is the type of grain that malters and beer makers want because they usually sprout it too. So, high germination rates become key when making a purchase.  However, if sprouting for livestock, there’s still some options out there other than “Seed Quality” grain.

The next tier down is usually referred to as “Feed Quality” grain, and while usually passed up by those who would sprout, we find it worth considering, especially if it means saving some money.  “Feed Quality” grains usually come with no germination rate or viability guarantees. It is usually intended for use crushed, cracked or feed whole to animals or included as an ingredient in pelleted food rations.  Can it be used for sprouting? The answer is a qualified “yes”.  First thing to consider is the age of the grain, sometimes “Seed Quality” grain becomes “Feed Quality” grain because it’s been sitting around for more than 2 years in storage, experiencing a natural decline in germination rates. 04-30-14 Well Threshed Barley (2) Many times, the “Feed Quality” moniker is applied to freshly threshed, yet unsorted grain, because it still includes many of the younger, more immature grains along with those grains that reach full maturity upon harvest. “Feed Quality” grain can include more cracked or damaged grains too.  So, if considering “Feed Quality” grains for purchase, be sure to inspect the grain and ask it’s age.  If it is fresh and doesn’t contain an abundance of cracked or crushed grains, or grains that are off color (browned or showing signs of fungal damage), then it can be used for sprouting.  The caveat to using this quality of grain is accepting the fact that there will always be some grains that will not germinate in the bunch.  In our experience, we find that we can still produce very acceptable mats using “Feed Quality” grain as long as it is not too old.  The ungerminated grain seeds still get consumed on our farm by the chickens who act as clean-up crew around the herd of alpacas.

Why should I pre-sanitize my grain? Does this prevent molds?IMG_1134

We use a bleach pre-soak process for our grains and consider pre-sanitization of grains a necessity for the DIY sprouter.  That’s not to say that one cannot sprout or avoid molds without pre-sanitizing the seed. Indeed in some commercial approaches, grain is simply spread directly into the grow trays and the system handles the rest.  However, most DIY producers have difficulty achieving the same operational parameters that commercial turnkey systems can achieve, and molds have the advantage.  Grain that is stored in any fashion is prone to storage mold spores, like Aspergillus.  This is a very common mold that will look like fluffy white cotton (not to be confused with root hairs) if there’s an outbreak.  By pre-sanitizing the seed, prior to introducing it to a grow tray within the grow system, we reduce the vector of contamination not only of this type of mold spore, but also of any other fungal spores that might be present, along with cleaning the seed of dirt and debris.

For a DIY producer, we want leverage over mold control from the very start of the growing cycle.  However, the best pre-sanitized seed does not mean that molds cannot occur or will be prevented during the growing cycle. Upon germination, the seed hull is discarded by the newly emerging plant sprout. This seed hull immediately starts to decay.  The style of irrigation can encourage or accelerate the rate of decay.  Sprouting is a delicate dance between creating a live plant and controlling the decay rate of those discarded seed hulls where molds gain a toehold. During a grow cycle, many other factors can cause molds to occur within the seed bed: climate control, air circulation and evaporative rates, cleanliness, and mixed use applications.  That last point deserves further consideration. Think of a sprouting application as a great room air filter:  it’ll attract any and all mold spores in the room.  This is why we highly recommend a dedicated grow room for sprouting and not placing a grow system in areas like kitchens, laundry rooms, or greenhouses with plants in dirt. We also recommend adding filters to cover any room air-intake vents.  Pre-filtering the air will help keep spores from entering the grow room and settling into grow trays.

What about using an air-stone or bubbler to pre-soak my seed?

Some sprout producers approach the pre-soak sanitization by turning to an air compressor that bubbles air in the soaking seed instead of using a sanitizer, like bleach.  It is important to note that there is some benefit to this approach, but it is not actually killing off or sanitizing mold spores.  Basically what an air bubbler or air-stone does is add agitation to the soaking seed.  This agitation is very effective at helping to scrub the seed clean of anything clinging to the seed hulls, thus thinking that the seed is sanitized.  At a minimum, if using this approach without the addition of a sanitizing agent, we recommend an additional rinse with clean water to wash away anything that is now floating in the water.  At best, when combined with a sanitizing agent, like bleach, an air compressor shooting air through the soak water and agitating the seed works great, but for a different reason than many would suspect.

When soaking seed in a bucket of water, not only are we trying to sanitize the seed hulls, but we are trying to trigger germination. This soak will soften the seed hull, naturally. If too much seed is soaking at once, then the risk is seed compression. The seed at the bottom of the bucket will get compressed by the weight of the seed on top of it, thus, will not germinate.  With the addition of an air compressor agitating the seed, seed compression is greatly reduced or eliminated.  So if considering an approach using an air-stone or bubbler, the key is having one strong enough to move and agitate the seed within the bucket so it does not settle.

Heat Release and Grow Room Temperature Management

If  soaked grain were allowed to remain in a bucket to sprout, one would quickly find that a lot of heat is released during the process and the seed in the middle would be quite warm.  This is due to the energy used when amino acids are being converted into proteins by enzymatic action.  This heat release can become an influence around the temperature management of the grow space as well.  It becomes important to place multiple temperature gauges near the grow trays in a grow system in order to obtain an accurate reading of the mean temperature fluctuations in the grow room.  IMG_1132Simple digital gauges with remote sensors can be found which can be placed near the lowest trays, highest trays, the front and the rear of a growing system.  Be sure to take multiple measurements near the grow trays when trying to discern what your optimal growing temperature should be.  Also, record daily 24 hour high and lows in the grow room.  While a consistent grow temperature is something many growers try to strive for, we try to mirror nature’s natural day to night fluctuations and allow for a +- 5F degree range both above and below the mean temperature we are striving to keep our room at.  For our grow room, the average temp is kept around 60F degrees. This means we can see lows sometimes around 55F or highs around 65F.  Typically the lows are occurring during our simulated night cycle when additional lighting is turned off.

IMG_1146In encouraging a plants sprouting cycle, not only are we trying to mirror a day and night cycle, but we are also not going to irrigate during the simulated night cycle as well.  One important note is that roots need as much aeration as they need irrigation. For plants, root activity is greatest during the nighttime.  Thus, by not irrigating during our nighttime periods, roots will naturally stretch and knit up into mats better as they search for water.

What’s the best grow temp for a Fodder Sprouting application?

IMG_1142There is no one best temperature to be sprouting at, and indeed a person’s best conditions will fluctuate with the changing seasons as well.  What works as a best temperature for one sprout producer in the Pacific Northwest may not work at all for someone down in Florida or Texas.  Local conditions matter.  Instead, we encourage growers to keep good records of activity in their system to find that ideal “pocket of operation” that works best for them.  For some,  that may mean an average temp of 60F for others they may be able to sprout at 70F.  Temperature does influence performance.  Too high a temperature can cause more fermentation in a grow tray, reducing performance and germination.  On the other hand too low a temperature can also impede germination rates. Higher grow room temperatures will experience faster grow cycles with grassy sprouts, but will be challenged to produce solid root mats.  Lower temperatures will slow down a grow cycle but produce well knit root mats with good shoot growth, albeit not as grassy.   Is either result better than the other?  Not really.  Remember we are going for a total protein package that includes both roots and shoots.  Either route could potentially work for a grower, yet one may be more suitable for mold controls than the other based on local growing conditions, including the local yeast spores and lactobacilli that are present.

We record both objective and subjective observations on a daily basis.  Our objective measures are in the form of temperature and humidity measurements. Our subjective measures include a 1–5 rating  for each of the categories: germination, root mat structure, and shoots.  We note any appearances of molds or poor performing mats and try to determine if an event is “incidental” or indicative of a “pattern” over time.  For example, we had one grow tray that produced a poor mat.  We made a note to watch the next mat harvested from the tray during the next grow cycle and discovered the same result was occurring.  Once we determined this was a pattern, we put our thinking caps on and took a closer look to find that the irrigation line to that tray was blocked and thus the tray was not getting the same flood rate as all the surrounding trays.  Sometimes these occurrences are incidental; a bad seed causing a fungal outbreak in a root mat. Sometimes it is hard to see a pattern at play in one’s system without recording some metrics to discern changes.  By keeping good records, we are able to see seasonal changes and make adjustments to keep everything in balance, and in that “pocket of ideal operation”.

Be sure to check out these other Fodder articles and videos on our blog! We also sell the grow trays we made famous with our flood and drain style approach for DIY sprouting:

03-29-13 Grow Trays 001

Barley Fodder Grow Trays Now For Sale!

Barley Fodder Videos! Including our Fodder Room Walkthrough, (and bonus cute stuff too!)

From Seed to Feed in 8 days- Barley Fodder Sprouting Trials

Barley Fodder Sprouting Trials continued- New Flood and Drain Tray System Installed

Barley Fodder- From Trials to Production

Considerations On the Front End of Fodder- DIY or Buy

Fodder Growing- What molds may come

BONUS!  Check out the photo album for some close-up shots of all aspects of our Fodder Room via our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151297013542962.496318.230401092961&type=1&l=a16cdb13b7

Posted in Barley Fodder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Miracle of Muck Alley #Permaculture #Tilth

Muck Out of Muck Alley BeginsPermaculture principles point out the necessity of capitalizing on one’s resources within the ecology of their own farm or homestead.  This means maximizing the use of all waste streams that come from running a livestock operation.  Of course, it is easy to translate this into utilizing a compost bin for manure collection and then using that awesome product in garden beds or returning out to the pastures.  However, we like our compost bins here at Paca Pride to be the purest possible.  That black gold is our largest harvest from our animals and we love to take full advantage of a compost that is some of the best stuff you can find from an animal.  This means it’s poop, and poop only, that goes into our compost bins to create that rich loam for future use.  But what about the other waste streams from a livestock operation? Covering the Mossiest spots in a pasture

The second largest waste product comes from their feed: hay tailings or extra sprouts from our barley fodder mats that falls to the ground and gets dirty, and not eaten.  It just so happens that hay, brought in from other farms where it was baled, is also a great vector for contamination, especially weed seeds.  As part of the natural process of feeding our herd, they tend to make a mess and leave some of this stuff on the ground.  We try to minimize the loss as much as possible, but still we end up raking their sandy dry lot of hay tailings at least every other day so that their bedroom space remains clean.  The question becomes what to do with it.  It is rich in carbon, but composts slower than manure. We can’t really add it to the compost bin if it’s got some weed seeds, some of them can be hearty enough to survive the compost pile. (It doesn’t take much to compost alpaca dung as it is not a “hot manure” like horse or cow manure.) We certainly don’t want to send it directly out to the pastures, not in that form.

Bright green and established grasses from previous Muck deposits next to the new stuff added over nearby mossesWe also face another dilemma with the actual location of our livestock operation too.  As a visitor ventures out to see us, they pass not one, not two, but three different quarry operations before arriving to see some spritely alpacas romping in the fields.  That’s right, we’re in gravel country in the mountains.  This is not an agriculture rich soil here.  That stuff was washed down to the valleys eons ago by the glaciers leaving us with rock, sand, and gravel.  We can’t even think about tilling, aside from destroying the balance of microbes in the soil, we’d end up churning more rocks than dirt.   So again, taking a page from the Permaculture playbook, we follow nature’s example of building soils from the top down.  Our gravel lot just gives us great drainage and means we won’t ever really see mud.  But it also means we lack necessary organic matter and mulch to create a healthy tilth to grow pasture.

Start of the annual Muck Out in Early SpringEnter Muck Alley… This small, pass through area, used by the herd when they are on their way out to whichever rotational grazing unit is open to them that day, is where everything from the dry lot goes during pasture grazing season.  The alpacas also use this as a way station for pooping, lots and lots of pooping, which we simply do not pick up.  We just keep covering the poop with the hay tailings.  The additional carbon acts like a deep bedding option and some wonderful things start to happen.  First off, it becomes the ultimate worm factory.  Worms horde into the alley.  Second, lots and lots of beneficial nematodes and other microbes start to reproduce.  Third, it sequesters that carbon along with any contaminants in a slow, nature exposed, decomposition process, that weed seeds simply cannot survive.  That extra carbon mass means we need worry little about disease vectors either; the good bacteria definitely outnumber the bad bacteria. Fourth, the action of the herd walking to and fro, gives the right amount of churning to encourage the decomposing. This is about the Soil Food Web cycle first and foremost and we need this type of activity to sustain itself in our pasture ecologies.

View of pastures after mossy spots get covered with fresh tilth from Muck AlleyWhat we end up with is none other than a Dirt Factory! A Tilth building, nutrient rich, top soil amendment that replaces any role a chemical based fertilizer would have in a pasture.  Better yet, unlike those bagged fertilizers that cause a quick burn of activity only to be addictively needed again and again, this amendment builds upon itself and keeps giving.  It introduces way more than fake fertilizers ever can: healthy, mulchy, soil and rich decayed organic matter, worms and microbes.

Green mature grasses on previous seasons muck nearby freshly covered mossy areas.Once a year, in the early Spring, we ‘muck out’ Muck Alley, taking it back down to the hardpan, and taking out the results to our pastures.  Then we start the process over again for another year of build up.  In fact, however, Muck Alley, is generally doing most of its building up during pasture grazing season, when our Winter Sacrifice Paddocks have transitioned back over to Garden Paddocks.  During the off-pasture season, which can be up to 6 months, Muck Alley just sits decomposing, through the winter, with no additional inputs.  It is ready by Spring for harvesting right when the pastures want to be fed and the mosses are the brightest green.  In the Winter, those hay tailings from the dry lot get raked out to the Winter Sacrifice Paddocks, areas of land allowed to go fallow during the winter as they get grazed down to nothing, poop piles are allowed to accumulate using the hay tailings to cover them and create a deep bedding.  When we transition over to pasture grazing, and after we’ve mucked out Muck Alley, we close off our Winter Sacrifice Paddocks to the herd for the Spring and Summer seasons and use that rich loam, further tractored by our flock of chickens, to grow crops like wheat, pole beans, squashes, and this season, a crop of peas. The land recovers from its fallow state. After we harvest our crop, what’s left are grasses and clovers for the herd to munch back down for the winter time.

Muck Alley after the Muck out and ready to start againThe best part is that adding the Muck Alley muck to our pastures is the ultimate in outcompeting the mosses.  By picking the mossiest spots in our pasture to amend and build up, we convert those mosses into more organic matter simply by covering them.  We create toeholds for tilth, micro-swales in a pasture that spread more green and establish a great diversity of alpine meadow plants that include not only grasses, but clovers, plaintain, chicory, dandelion, even herbs like fennel and dill, along with carrots seed-saved from previous gardening seasons. Diversity is the key to a successful Alpine Meadow Ecosystem.

Muck Alley gets a fresh start with some straw and hay rakings. Reset for another year of building upOnce we add in our herd of browsers, we maintain that alpine meadow cycle instead of allowing it the natural succession to primary growth forest.  Those browsers make a withdrawal from our Tilth bank account, but we’re keen to have them leave a deposit as well, and Muck Alley acts sort of like a Certificate of Deposit that comes due once a year.  We’ve been using this approach for 5 years now and while on the surface it may appear to be a slower path than what adding fertilizers can give, we’ve definitely seen a longer term picture that is much more sustainable, takes advantage of natural waste streams from our animals, and eliminates the cost of purchasing petro-chemical based fertilizers completely.  As the saying goes, eliminate an expense, and it’ll never rise on you again!

Posted in Permaculture, Ranch Development, Tilth | Leave a comment

Considerations On the Front End of Fodder: DIY or Buy

Barley Fodder Grow SystemOne of our favorite sayings when it comes to creating micro-greens for your livestock is: “There are many ways to skin the fodder cat!”  After researching the topic of fodder production, one quickly comes across a variety of commercial turnkey systems on the marketplace.  Then there are the range of unique do-it-yourself solutions which seek to capitalize on the farmer as tinkerer.  It is usually the latter that gets examined a lot more closely after the former commercial systems reveal steep start-up costs; ones in which the grow environment is sold along with the grow system. Not that commercial systems are bad, indeed for large fodder production goals a complete turnkey system is about the best bet there is.  However, much of the marketplace for fodder production customers is dominated by small to mid-sized livestock owners that cannot justify the costs of many commercial systems.  So to that farmer-tinkerer, here are our points of consideration when planning a DIY system to produce fodder mats for livestock. (For further considerations, refer to our previous articles on growing barley fodder micro-greens here on this blog.)

Livestock vs. Poultry

Poultry and FodderOne common demarcation line can be seen between systems that are geared toward livestock vs. poultry.  This can be summed up simply as recognizing the benefit of sprouted grains for poultry, but not the necessary expense and logistics required to produce full 7-9 day micro-greens for them.  Poultry can easily benefit from grains which are sprouted from 1-4 days, beyond that there will be an issue of managing what gets wasted from not being consumed by poultry, like root mat portions, of more mature, 7-9 day grown mats. (Disclaimer: we only have a free range flock; confined birds may experience less waste.)  For our poultry, the typical approach is to use a bucket-in-bucket system to do sprouting rather than investing in a grow system that takes up more room, and takes longer to produce a usable product. One can feed 7-9 day mats to poultry and they will still benefit, but the cost and effort required is not necessary to achieve the same benefit with 1-4 day sprouted grain. Sprouting Barley in a bucket for PoultrySo, if considering fodder for poultry only, the most cost effective option is the bucket-in-bucket approach: soaking seed in a top bucket drilled with drain holes, pulled out of the soak to sprout in the bucket itself (with the occasional re-dunk to keep seeds wet), and then rationed out each day as it sprouts.

Determine your Daily Fodder Production Goal

Barley Fodder Micro Greens SproutsFor livestock that are ruminants like sheep, goats, alpacas, and llamas, fodder mats are fantastic, especially during winter’s diet. The general rule is to feed a ration of micro-greens that weighs around 2% of the total body weight, along with 1% of hay for fiber/roughage. For larger livestock like horses and cattle, that percent is between 2-3% fodder and 1-1.5% hay.  Be sure to check with your vet for actual recommendations with adding a wet feed to your animals diet, but these percentages should give you a good start to planning.  Once you’ve determined your daily production goal you can use that as a basis for figuring out the appropriate size your DIY Fodder system should be.

Where to grow?

One of the main reasons those commercial systems are expensive is that they know the importance of controlling the grow environment. It’s the basis for the system to operate consistently and in a repeatable fashion. The importance of a climate controlled environment cannot be understated; you must be able to control temperature, humidity levels and airflow.  The environment has to have a source of water and drainage as well as electricity.  A greenhouse is not the best choice for such a system given the difficulty and expense required to keep consistency of temperatures, but is even less of an ideal choice if it has other plants growing there as well. Fodder production is a sprouting application, not necessarily a greenhouse application, and demands a modicum of cleanliness within the environment to limit things like mold, yeast, and fungal spores that can easily come from dirt or other plants.  A dedicated room is generally preferred over a greenhouse.

Design Considerations: Grow Trays and Irrigation

Most DIY’ers turn their attention to finding that suitable grow approach which they can fit into a daily infrastructure on their farm. The main question that it eventually boils down to is whether your grow trays will be fixed or removable.   The other aspect is the variety of approaches used to irrigate the system.  They are both important enough to warrant some comparison to help with choosing an approach that best fits a fodder producer’s needs.

Fixed vs. Removable trays

We settled upon a removable tray approach here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch, so we’ll highlight why we made that choice, and then offer some considerations for one who is exploring a fixed tray approach.  In order to really understand why it’s an important parameter to give careful consideration, it is important to recognize the labor tasks associated with managing medium to large fodder operations.  There is the actual harvest task of pulling completed fodder mats out of trays; the cleaning task to reset the tray for the next grow cycle; the seed spreading task to start the next batch. Our goal with each of these tasks is to minimize our efforts and maximize the efficiency of those efforts; especially considering that these tasks are performed on a daily basis.  In addition, we have found it important to understand that each of these tasks can have an impact on contamination vectors within the system depending upon how that task is executed.

Barley Fodder Mat Grow TrayFor a removable tray system, these procedural tasks occur away from the growing system.  Literally, a tray is removed from other trays around it that are at various stages of growth. This action limits any possibility of affecting surrounding trays with splashing during cleaning. It also means that harvesting and seed spreading occur away from the grow system as well.  In a fixed tray system, the utmost design consideration is how to address all three of these tasks for fixed trays that are either high up in the system or embedded between other trays. If choosing a fixed tray approach, remember to design the execution of these tasks so as not to affect surrounding trays, but also for ease of execution. In troubleshooting phone calls with users of some fixed tray commercial systems, the biggest frustration is managing these tasks for the highest tray or the ones located in the “middle” of the system (especially if access to the system is limited because it is against a wall). With a fixed tray system, consideration also needs to be given to cleaning the environment around the tray as well. With a removable tray system, this is of low risk.

Removable tray approaches must consider scalability in operation. If fodder goals are greater than 50lbs per day, then using smaller removable trays that produce 10lbs or less of fodder will translate into a tedious manageability task.  Too large of a removable grow tray simply becomes unwieldy and clumsy to manage. We have found the ideal to be a tray that can produce our 25lb sized mats. This reduces the number of trays being handled on a daily basis and still makes them easy to manage. Fixed trays have the attraction of producing larger sized fodder mats because a tray can be much larger than a removable tray which is limited in size due to ease of handling.  However, if a fixed tray approach is harvesting fodder mats by cutting them into pieces to make removing easier, then the labor effort required is increased. If a fixed tray system can be designed to allow the producer to slide a completed fodder mat off the end, this can give the advantage towards a more efficient harvest procedure. This generally requires the tray be flat-bottomed and open ended in order to allow the mat to be removed.  That feature can have impacts on drainage and irrigation designs.

Most DIY fixed tray approaches tend to be “flat bottomed”.  However, some fixed trays do offer ridges on the bottom of the tray to help address how water flows through the tray, forcing water to meander rather than finding the path of least resistance to travel (this does negate the ability to ‘slide’ a mat out to harvest it). Most fixed trays are designed with a slight tilt and irrigate from one end with draining on the other end. The biggest challenge for a flat bottom tray is assuring even watering and level seed spreading so that seeds don’t dry out. Many removable tray approaches tend also to fall into the “flat-bottom” category as well. Drainage is typically addressed by adding slits or holes either across the entire bottom of a tray or at one end with a tilt.  Barley Fodder Grow TrayFor removable trays like this, the cumulative effects of operation tend to catch up to the user and cause a slow, but steady, degradation in system performance.  Trays with holes or slits that are small enough to allow water to pass through, but not seed, are also too small to effectively allow the starchy solutes to drain out, and thus, accumulate in the tray bottom leading to problems.  The trays we use have two distinct advantages that addressed the concerns we observed during our trials Barley Fodder Grow Tray Drain Fittingswith a retrofitted drilled-hole drainage approach: the first is that the bottom is not entirely flat, but is made of raised bottom sections surrounded by lower channels that lead to an even further recessed drain fitting and does a better job at draining water from the tray; the second is a larger drain fitting with a drain cap that increases the flow rate of water and does a better job of moving starches out of the tray.  (See this article for more information on the trays we use and sell: https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/barley-fodder-grow-trays-now-for-sale/ )

Regardless of the DIY tray approach chosen, an individual should always do a “proof of concept” test with that tray before investing in a larger system.

Irrigation Approaches

Barley Fodder Mat Grow System IrrigationIrrigation approaches can be summed up into several categories: A Waterfall or Cascade style approach, a Washed State approach, and a Flood-and-Drain (or ebb-and-flow) approach.

Most DIY operations that tilt trays within the system and water from one end, while draining out the other, are using a Waterfall/Cascade style of irrigation. Some operations will modify this approach by allowing trays to further cascade the runoff water into lower trays (a “Trickle Down” approach).  While at first glance using a trickle down approach seems the easiest and most straight forward to implement, having only to pump water to a top tray and letting gravity do the rest of the work, it also tends to be the approach that requires the most tweaking and tuning and presents the most challenges in maintaining operational consistency.  We do not recommend it. One tenet of fodder production we espouse is to water and drain trays in isolation from one another. A corollary to that is also not to recycle the runoff water for irrigation. While this trickle-down approach can be managed on the smallest of fodder systems, it is not one that will readily scale upwards with any degree of success. Trickle-Down aside, a Waterfall/Cascade style of irrigation for trays can work effectively. It will however require tight controls to assure consistent and repeatable results because this style of irrigation is dependent upon how evenly seeds are spread within the tray each time.

A Washed State Approach typically is defined by irrigating grow trays with misters or sprayers. This approach is incredibly difficult to maintain if the grow system is not within a container or cabinet. Everything in such a system tends to get wet: the seeds, the sprouts, the trays, and the environment that contains and supports the trays. Along with system containment, airflow is also very critical for such a system to operate effectively.  For a DIY approach, this type of irrigation tends to be quite difficult to fine tune. Some commercial turnkey systems use this approach; it is not one recommended for the average DIY-er. It requires very tight controls to avoid molds.

A Flood-and-Drain Approach establishes a “flood zone” within the grow tray.  Barley Fodder Mat Grow System IrrigationWater is pumped into the tray at a rate that allows the water to backup within the tray to a designated fill point (typically this is the point at which water will cover seeds in a freshly spread tray). In some systems the drain acts dually as drain and fill point: the pump turns on, pumps water up through the drain, then stops, and the water drains back through the pump into a reservoir. In other systems, the water is pumped in through a separate irrigation tube and starts filling the tray even as the water starts to drain out; seeds blocking the drain slow down the drain rate enough to allow water to reach it’s fill point. Since recycling water in a fodder system is problematic, the latter Flood-and-Drain method is the preferred approach. The challenge becomes regulating the irrigation lines with enough pressure and water flow so that a flood zone can be achieved within relatively short watering cycles.  This approach, in our trials and experience, became the top one of the list in terms of ease of managing and consistency of operation and is the one we settled upon using. One main advantage that helped solidify this decision was observing how the seed bed rises, up and out of the flood zone during the grow cycle, preventing the seed hulls, discarded upon germination, from having an accelerated decay rate and thus giving a toehold to molds. A Flood-and-Drain approach proved the easiest to fine tune and manage.

Don’t Forget…

DIY Barley Fodder Mat Grow SystemWhen it comes to deciding about building your own DIY fodder production system, there can be a lot of local factors that are specific to a particular DIY fodder producer’s operation. So, when exploring the efforts of others and trying to take a page from their playbook, be sure to ask how long such a system has been in use.  Many postings and pictures of DIY fodder systems can be those at the start of what is essentially a new operation prior to being proven by a season’s worth of use. Ask about procedures and how they are performed. Ask how much is being produced on a daily basis and whether that would match your needs or if such an approach would scale up (or down) to meet your fodder production goals. When doing your due diligence on a DIY system, always keep in mind that this will be an entire infrastructure that is being added to your operation which will demand a daily chunk of your time.

We’ve had great success with fodder thus far, for our herd of alpacas and llamas, our egg-layers and meat birds, and, as you can see below in this early October photo, our pasture-and-barley-sprouts-raised turkeys.

Turkeys grown on pasture and Sprouted barley at Paca Pride Guest Ranch

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Fodder Growing: What molds may come

06-04-13 Fodder with problems in heat 001Sprouting Barley Fodder mats for our herd is primarily intended to support their winter dietary needs here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch. Our animals may be off pasture for as long as 6 months until Mother Nature cues the pastures to grow long enough to graze again.  So, as our Springtime arrives and we start our pattern of rotational grazing with the herd, the need for sprouting barley fodder declines.  In fact, as our animals come back from grazing with full bellies, they are less inclined to finish off the entire mat, taking only the sprouts and leaving the roots. So, come Springtime, along with the rising temps, comes the cycle down of our fodder room.  This season, however, saw the confluence of a couple of factors that kept our fodder room operating longer than anticipated and in hotter conditions than the ideal.  Part of the reason to keep our fodder room going was offering classes on Microgreens production to the public, and having the visual to show them. Mother Nature usually complies by keeping our PacNorWest Spring temps on the cooler side, but not this year! March, April, and May have seen some spectacular days much warmer than the norm. Thus, Mother Nature conspired against us in keeping our fodder room at our ideal temp between 60-65F degrees. Our temps having been ranging up to 84F as the high in the room…yikes!  But again, our intent is only to use the fodder feeding strategy during our off-pasture season, cutting our winter hay use in half and assuring good herd health through the winter. If I wanted to produce fodder all year long, I’d be adding some sort of A/C unit to cool the room right now.

06-04-13 Fodder with problems in heat 002With that said, the final trays in our system have brought forth the learning opportunity to see what can go wrong during the delicate dance of creating a live sprout and the decay of the discarded seed hull. Quite simply, it’s the invasion of the molds!  Looks can be deceiving. In this picture of a tray ready to harvest, we see what looks like a fairly awesome fodder mat. But it’s really the seed bed, in-between the roots and the sprouts, and where the hulls are at, that we need to take a closer look. 06-04-13 Fodder with problems in heat 003

In this picture, one can observe a few things.  First, notice that the root mat is not too thick. When temps rise up, the plant focuses more energy on the sprout than the roots, so weaker root mats result, and along with that, more fermentation (because yeasts are activated at higher temps too). Fermentation inhibits germination, so you’ll also notice some grain seeds in the root mat are not sprouting. Finally, there’s evidence of the molds. The obvious one in this picture is a white fuzzy mold. This is most likely Aspergillus, a storage mold that comes along with the barley in the grain bags.06-04-13 Fodder with problems in heat 008

A closer look reveals that this mold tends to spread among the sprouts and starts to cause some brown spots and darkening the color of the seed hull.  It’ll spread down into the roots and start turning them brown which leads to root rot.

 

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Note the dingy and dark color of the seed bed. Dark colored seed hulls are an indication that the decay rate has quickened. During our normal operating parameters, we should be harvesting fodder mats whose seed beds still look bright and beige in color. watering methods that pour water into a tray through the seed bed tend to quicken the decay rate of the hulls through agitation. A true flood-and-drain watering method will minimize this by introducing the water at the bottom of the tray and filling from the bottom upwards.

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In this picture you can truly see the seed hulls darkening. Also, there is the onset of another type of mold.  These blue or green molds are similar to your common household molds you see on old bread. They tend to cluster around a seed hull and are fairly easy to identify given the bright and distinguishing color.  Notice also how the roots in this picture appear slimy and mushy.  The smell is also starting to move from fermenting smelling to septic smelling. It’s more astringent and sharp, and slightly foul. This is a sign that bacteria is starting to trigger into high gear.

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Again you’ll notice that the blue/green molds tend to start around a seed hull and slowly expand from there. This picture is evidence of something we do not want to have our animals ingesting on a regular basis if they are eating the seed bed and roots. This becomes a mycotoxin poison vector that can cause cumulative damage to kidneys and livers.

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Flip the mat over and look at the bottom, you can begin to see the discoloration among the roots.  What should be bright white is now turning a dingy brown. Root Rot is setting in.  In normal operations, another type of root rot is sometimes seen as a circular patch in the roots among an otherwise perfectly looking fodder mat that shows no signs of molds. That can be caused by a different disease, affecting the roots only, called Pythium. It’s still a fungal based outbreak, but when seen as a circular patch only in the roots, can be removed from the mat and fed to animal with little concern.06-04-13 Fodder with problems in heat 018

Our final observation is in the water remaining in the tray. If the internet had Smell-O-Vision, you’d cringe a bit. Unlike smelling fresh bread rising or beer fermenting, this water is turning septic due to the tipping point favoring bacteria. It’s cloudiness is more than just the starch solutes released upon germination. It includes some bio-slimy concoctions that can be seen as swirls of white within the cloudy water. Water that looks this cloudy upon harvest is a clue of something going wrong, but ever before the visual inspection, it’s the smell that will give it away.

06-04-13 Fodder with problems in heat 023So here’s the final rub in all this: whether or not to feed this mat to my animals.  If we were in the middle of winter, when the herd would consume the entire mat, roots, seed bed, and sprouts, I’d be discarding this mat.  But, in this case, I’ve got some full-bellied alpacas who are only biting off the green sprouts and leaving the root mat and seed bed behind.  So, after a quick session of nibbling the sprouts off, I remove the remains of the mat and take them out to cover a mossy spot in the pasture where, as you can see, the flock of garbage disposers, aka chickens, quickly descend upon it to salvage any prize morsels they want.  Chickens can handle this level of moldiness, but, much will remain in the pasture as needed organic matter to mulch out the moss.

Here’s a bonus wiki for you to explore and learn more than you ever wanted to know about diseases that can affect barley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_barley_diseases

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Barley Fodder Grow Trays… 2020 update: no longer manufactured. New trays under trials…

12-03-12 Fodder Production 0052020 UPDATE: THE MANUFACTURER NO LONGER MAKES THESE TRAYS. AN EQUIVALENT TRAY IS ON THE MARKET. WE ARE CONDUCTING TRIALS BEFORE ENDORSING.

One of our many mantras we live by at Paca Pride Guest Ranch is that our definition of success comes from positioning others to become successful.  On that front we want others to succeed as much as we have with adding Barley micro-greens to your livestock’s diet!

In fact, we’ve heard so much positive feedback about our system from the DIY Fodder Producers we talk to,  that we’ve worked out a deal to start selling Grow Tray Kits to the general public!

While we have single trays available for sale, the most bang for your buck comes from ordering either our 10-pack or our 20-pack where we’ve included a discount. Given that most DIY growers usually choose to have a minimum of 10 tray systems, a bulk rate is something we wanted to be able to offer.

11-27-12 Barley Fodder Production System 026These trays are ideally suited to the various requirements for growing Barley Fodder mats(or other grains too! Wheat is 2nd most popular).

Each tray is capable of producing a 25-30lb mat from a seed rate of 5lbs of grain.  Higher seeds rates will produce heavier mats, but we have found that a seed rate of 5lbs per tray, gives us a manageable 25lb-30lb mat to handle.

12-03-12 Fodder Production 009The grow tray includes raised bottom sections that allow the water to drain off into the lower channels assuring excellent water drainage and flow.  The channels direct the runoff to the teal drain (left side in photo at top) which is level with the channels, and slightly lower than the raised sections of the tray.

Along with the main teal drain, the tray also includes an overflow drain. This second drain might be questionable by some until seeing it in action on 12-03-12 Fodder Production 012the more mature grow trays with root mats that fill the tray and slow down the flow of water to the main drain.

Both drains have easily removable caps that prevent the actual grain from slipping down the drain. As the root mats grow, the drain caps prevent the roots from completely backing up the water in the tray. At harvest, the drain cap is removed from the root mat, and tapped free of roots, then the tray is washed and readied for the next grow cycle.

Drainage is a crucial function in producing fodder mats. Trays with small drain holes get easily clogged by roots as well as the starchy runoff produced by the growing sprouts. Look for grow trays that feature good drainage to assure consistent production over time.

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Good, solid, grow trays are a necessary investment to a well running fodder system. You will want to look for trays that are also durable over the long haul.  Our grow trays are a heavy duty plastic that was meant for commercial growing operations. They are very durable trays and will last quite a long time!

Tray size is also another very important characteristic to look for when designing a DIY system. You’ll want to avoid smaller trays that have limits in the size mats they can produce, because as your production goals go up, this will translate into the handling of many small trays and mean more work and effort in harvesting, cleaning, and re-seeding your trays, spending more time in the fodder room.  Too large a tray translates into fodder mats which can become clumsy and unruly to manage. Our grow trays minimize the daily chore in the fodder room by offering the manageability that comes along with a reduction in the individual trays being used to produced nicely sized, manageable fodder mats.

These grow trays measure: Inside dimensions – 13” Wide x 40” Long x 3” Deep. Outside dimensions –  15″ x 42″

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The design of these trays, allow them to sit level, without any tilting required, on a grow shelf of your choosing.  With the drains at one end of the tray, you can create a DIY system that places the drains over the shelf edge and positioned over a gutter system to direct your runoff to the drain.

For the DIY Fodder producer, these grow trays make a great investment! You build the shelves to support the trays, provide water on a timer to each tray using PVC or garden irrigation supplies you can find at your local hardware store, and provide the gutter drainage to direct the runoff to your drain. The addition of some daylight rated fluorescent lights on a timer will help green up any sprouts you grow.

11-27-12 Barley Fodder Production System 010We can ship these trays anywhere within the continental US.

You can send a purchase request to us via email at Info@PacaPride.com for a price quote.

(Be sure to include where the trays will be shipped, for a shipping quote.)

You can also call us to place an order by phone at 360-691-3395.

For all orders we accept Mastercard or VISA via phone.

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Barley Fodder Videos! Including our Fodder Room Walkthrough, (and bonus cute stuff too!)

Our earlier trials of the flood and drain trays
The most important part of our “Proof of Concept” Phase!
A nice long look at them several months into the morning fodder feeding ritual.
A look at our Barley Fodder Room Operation… daily tasks take about 20 minutes.

And a few bonus cute videos for your enjoyment!

Paca Pride Alpacas Grazing…Up Close! REALLY Close! 🙂
Rounding up the herd from a snowy January walk
The Extended Cut! A Paca Pride alpaca romp with the dogs in the winter snow!
Posted in Life at the Ranch, Llamas and Alpacas, Ranch Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Dirt! Of Sand, Ag Lime, and Diatomaceous Earth (and adding dirt to fodder mats!)

Sandy Dry lot, hay feeders with hay top dressed with Diatomaceous Earth

Moving sand around the loafing shedAlpacas 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 Alpacas sunning themselves on the sandy dry lotareas.  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.Building up sand in the loafing sheds

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.

Alpacas act as a predator 'moat' around the chicken coopWe 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.

Mucho gets ready to roll in Diatomaceous Earth in the winter corral spaceDiatomaceous 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 Mucho the llama rolls in Diatomaceous Earthmineral 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

– Acts as a natural dewormer and parasite control when ingested.The corral during wintertime becomes the herd and flock's dusting space wth Diatomaceous Earth

– 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”.

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Barley Fodder: From Trials to Production

11-27-12 Barley Fodder Production System 010

We have some really happy alpacas and llamas at Paca Pride Guest Ranch with the ramping up of our production system for growing barley fodder mats for their winter diet. Even the chickens are enjoying pecking around for the rogue barley grains in the mats. What started out earlier this year as a trial to explore producing micro-greens, or fresh sprouts, for the herd (see previous blog entries) has really turned into something that is quite inspiring and, so far, we’re glad for taking the risk.

Barley sprouts are a superior feed for ruminants that takes a small amount of grain and, via a hydroponic growing process, turns it into a highly digestible, fresh mat in 7-9 days giving a high yield in a very 11-27-12 Barley Fodder Production System 003small footprint of space. This approach represents a reduction in feed costs as we change from a diet of dry hay and dry pelleted grain rations to a diet of  fresh greens supplemented with hay for fiber and roughage.  Commonly laid claims of barley sprouts tout them as superior nutrition; vitamin and mineral saturation and availability; phytic acid reduction giving a PH balanced diet; increases in Omega 3, amino acids, and natural hormones.  While benefits like this always sound great, livestock owners should explore the feed values represented in a product with relation to cost. However, as we have found when testing for nutrition, a dry feed analysis of this fresh product does not necessarily translate; to do a dry feed analysis you must first dry the fodder sample, essentially ending up with hay, which is what gets tested for nutritional value. But that’s like comparing apples to oranges. A dry grain of barley is only 30% digestible, a barley sprout is 80% digestible. A dried sample of barley fodder is not the same as a fresh sprout in terms of nutritional benefits either. So, be careful in knowing the basis of any calculations you are doing when looking at nutritional values of a fresh vs. dry feed product. Our conclusions have so far led us to believe that our fresh salad bar offering will not only save money, but also be healthier.

Our current production system is taking 6lbs of barley grain and turning it into a 36-40lb fodder mat. That’s over a six fold increase in weight!

The process is simple, but the operational parameters demand a bit of attention. First let’s look at the steps we go through when we visit our fodder room, once a day, for both harvest and grain prep chores, which are taking approximately 20 minutes. Then, we’ll talk about the nuances to be aware.

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Each day, we are dealing with 2 trays in our system for loading with pre-soaked grain and 2 trays for harvesting a final product to feed to the herd (about 80lb!)  In the first step, the grain is prepared for a 24 hour soaking period that loosens the hard seed hull and triggers the germination process. For this we use two 5 gallon buckets; one is drilled with numerous sieve holes, large enough to drain water easily and small enough that the grain doesn’t fall through. This bucket sits inside the second bucket allowing the seed to soak and then lifted and easily drained for spreading in a tray.  The bottom bucket is the one we use initially to wash and rinse the grain seed removing any chaff and debris that floats to the top of the water with a spoon strainer. (In fact, we actually use the leftover soak water after draining the previous days seed to wash our next day’s seed in.) We add 12 lbs of grain and after a bit of stirring and straining the debris, we pour the washed grain into the bucket with the holes, then placing the drain bucket back into the wash bucket. It gets fill with water and chlorine bleach is added at a rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon for sanitizing the seed and killing any mold or yeast that may be on the grain hulls.  The soaking seed sits until we come back the next morning.

11-27-12 Barley Fodder Production System 020As far as the chore list goes, preparing the next day’s batch of seed is actually our last step. Our first task is harvesting 2 of the finished trays from the system. We simply pull the trays out, empty the fodder mat in one piece into a tote for transporting to the animal feeders.  The trays get rinsed and examined for any grain or roots blocking the drains, then placed back in their spots on the grow shelves ready for use again. In our new production system, the trays sit lengthwise onto shelves that are 48” deep and allow the drain fittings to simply hang over a gutter system that directs the runoff to the drain. No pipe fittings to plug or unplug from the trays. Each tray has it’s own 1/4” irrigation tube hanging from the water distribution line right above. The only thing to watch out for is that the irrigation tube is properly flowing into the tray seated below it.

11-27-12 Barley Fodder Production System 025 We then turn our attention to spreading yesterday’s soaking grain into 2 trays. For these flood-and-drain trays, 13”x40”, we have settled (somewhat) on a seeding rate of 6lbs of grain per tray determined by how much soaked grain it takes to spread 1/4” deep (we’re actually thinking we can go lower towards 5lbs).  The seed is simply scooped out with a pre-marked measuring tub and the tray shaken until it looks evenly distributed.  The tray is then set back in its spot on the shelves, checking that it’s irrigation tube is in place, until it is ready to harvest. After spreading the pre-soaked seed, we prepare a new batch for soaking as described above.

The process described above is currently taking around 20 minutes from start to finish, once a day. Most of the work is done by the system itself. Here’s how it plays out over the course of 7 days

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From our trials this year we learned quite a bit about the operational parameters that must be maintained in order to assure, not only good growth and production, but also to avoid problems with mold and fermentation. So here’s a general rundown of things to be concerned about:

Growing Environment – The grow room itself should be run as clean as possible. This is not a project that does well in a dirty environment. We’re not talking donning hazmat suits, but I wouldn’t exactly approach this project in a greenhouse either. Having a dedicated fodder room not only gives you control of its cleanliness, but also the other important factor, the temperature.  Ideally, barley is a cold weather crop and actually performs best in temps that are around 60F degrees. Having a grow space that can be temperature controlled is critical to this operation. A room that goes above 70F degrees will not only experience poor performance, but will also be more likely to see mold develop too.  Humidity has not been a challenge as of yet, but our levels are measuring between 40-70% depending upon outside conditions. High humidity may require ventilation to circulate fresh air.

11-27-12 Barley Fodder 007Seed Prep – This operation requires the use of a sink for rinsing and cleaning trays as well as for preparing the batches of seed. We use household bleach during the pre-soak process only, not during the actual grow cycle. This little bit of bleach (1TBSP to 1GAL ratio) sanitizes the seed quite well.  Concerns about the use of this chemical abound and there are numerous opinions about whether to use it or some other product that is non-toxic. For us, bleach is cheap, readily available, and losses it’s effectiveness after 24-36 hours. Since it is only used during the pre-soak, it doesn’t damage the barley grain itself so much as effectively kills any bacteria and mold spores on its surface. Once the seed is spread in the trays, the first watering cycle gives it a good rinse as well assuring no chlorine bleach reaches the final product. Having mold free trays are much more important to us than concerns presented by a diluted bleach solution, but it is imperative that with whatever preparation is done, some sort of sanitizer is used to clean the grain hulls during the wash and pre-soak stage.

Water – To recycle or not to recycle is always a question that gets asked. We firmly fall into the fresh water is best category. Recycling water via a reservoir leads to a bevy of problems that are detrimental to operation.  If one tray has a problem, recycling water will spread that problem quickly.  In fact, water usage is rather minimal when comparing the yields of this type of operation to watering a field to grow the same amount of grass. Our water cycle lengths are simply determined by the amount of time it takes a tray filled with soaked seed to get covered, or flooded, with water. In this system, that is a 4 minute long cycle.  Trays that are further along and have considerable root mass, actually need less water; longer watering times can cause the more mature trays to overflow. It’s this last point that makes the overflow drain a thankful precaution in the later days of growth when some of the roots can grow into the drain and slow the flow of water.  Our watering schedule is set for 4 times a day: 8am, Noon, 4pm, 8pm.  We scheduled no watering during our “night” period when the lights are off. We also were keen to schedule our fodder room chores of harvesting and spreading to happen at least an hour or two after the 8am watering to assure the trays being harvested have had enough time to drain.

Light – We set our lights for the room on a timer that is 16 hours on and 8 hours off to simulate a day and night. Currently we use a few CFL blubs for the main lighting source but are also in the process of securing LED rope lights to dispel the darker shadows at the back of the shelves. A little bit of light serves well to green up the sprouts along with encouraging the barley to stretch a bit towards the light.  No intense HID lighting or grow lights that give off heat should be used for this operation.

11-27-12 Barley Fodder 002Flooring – Let’s just say that when you are setting up a DIY operation like this, you are bound to experience the mishaps, and it usually involve some flooding.  We’re glad we bought a remnant piece of linoleum for our floor so that clean up of any water becomes easy. So far we’ve had two instances of flooding in the fodder room. The first was due to an irrigation line not being properly placed in a tray (oops! user error!). It was a minor flood from just one tray. The second flood was experienced about a week into operation and was much worse. It was caused by the gutter system backing up where a mesh screen was inserted as a last chance pre-caution to catch any rogue seed before it flowed out of the room.  What happened, however, was that the starchy runoff from a week started to clog the filter and caused the lowest gutter to overflow on to the floor. We have since removed that mesh screen (oops! over-design! turns out the mesh screen was overkill as the tray drains are doing a really good job keeping the barley grains in the tray.)

Our next steps with this operation, now that it has been successfully integrated into our farm system, is measuring.  We have started rationing our hay as well as weighing the fodder mats. Next June, coming shearing time, we’ll be measuring how much hay we have left in the barn along with measuring the amount of fiber harvested from the alpacas.  We’ll be comparing the results of this coming harvest to the prior year’s to see if fiber production is impacted. Of course, we’ll also be measuring the bottom line of costs too!

UPDATE: We now sell our grow trays! see this posting: https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/barley-fodder-grow-trays-now-for-sale/

Intrigued by this article? Be sure to watch our companion video of our Fodder Room Procedures here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hes3ZhvjtqY

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Paca Pride Gets “Shear” Press Coverage!

The alpacas are all excited with the recent media coverage they received during shearing.  The hoards of crowds, and even a tour bus or two that arrived for viewing, enjoyed the pastoral scene with the vista views and the action at the shearing table.  This year was the year of the poodle dog haircut for some of the animals, as they kept their neck and leg fiber to grow double long for next season’s harvest. These styling animals are now all enjoying the summer days lying in the grass tanning themselves. If you missed all the action, take a look at some of these articles that appeared in the Everett Herald and some videos, from the public who visited, on YouTube!

It’s alpaca-shearing time at Granite Falls farm

Alpaca shearing is a team effort at Granite Falls ranch

Here are a couple of compilation You Tube videos from the public visitors, and be sure to check out the last one from the Everett Herald reporter that used a GoPro camera to put together a time-lapse video of shearing an alpaca (in 45 seconds!)

From LittleMovies1’s YouTube channel
From our friend Paul’s YouTube channel
From the Everett Herald, “How to Shear an Alpaca…in 45 seconds!”

Bonus! 

We used a GoPro Hero2 camera and attached it to Uber, the llama, as we walked him and Mucho the llama in the 4th of July “Robe Valley Hill-Billy Indy Day parade”.  You can view the entire album of llama cam pictures on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PacaPride including this one:

GOPR0115

But if you’d like the super-duper, Uber, time lapse video of the entire 45 minute parade in 7 minutes, as seen from the Uber’s perspective, check out THIS video!

From the GoPro Llama cam, attached to Uber the llama
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Barley Fodder Sprouting Trials continued: New Flood and Drain Tray System Installed

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To get a bit of background behind this project, read our previous blog entry entitled “From Seed to Feed”.

In our Phase One Trials, we were performing a “proof of concept” with using barley grain seed and seedling propagation trays to see if we could grow fodder mats to feed as an alternative livestock feed.  Well, the jury of our peers, ahem, our herd, has ruled that they love the stuff!  The Phase One Trials were not without some challenges.  06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 031The approach we used involved trays that did not drain, and were hand watered.  With some of them receiving an excess of water, the barley does what it does best when sitting in water, it started to ferment. When it starts to ferment, it is prone to mold as well. In others, too little water meant the grain drying up and not growing.

In the newly installed hydroponic system, we approach sprouting the barley grain through a flood and drain style tray.  We’ve set up a series of nine trays stacked vertically. 06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 029These trays cycle through a timer that periodically turns on a pump in the water reservoir to fill the trays from one end. At the other end, a drain guides the water back to the reservoir.  This approach keeps the barley seeds moist and wet, but not soaking and not drying out.

06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 021Since we are using a barley that is classified as “field run”, it tends to contain a bit more chaff and dirt on it. 06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 028So an extra step we’ve added at the beginning is to wash and rinse the seed in water. This causes the chaff to rise to the top for easy removal.  06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 022Extra chaff and dirt in the barley just adds to the possibility of molds appearing, so we want our grain seed to be as clean as we can get it.

After a good rinse, we toss the barley into a mesh bag for an overnight soaking in a bucket. We add a small amount of chlorine bleach to the water to kill any mold spores on the surface of the grain. We use bleach for a couple reasons: it’s cheap, and effective. It doesn’t affect the germination of the grain, as the overnight soak just softens the hard seed coating for germination. 06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 024There are other sanitizers available out there, but for our trials we have found household bleach to be appropriate. We are not worried about a lingering affect as the seed is removed from the soak the next day and placed in the trays where they are awash in water from the reservoir. In addition bleach is effective for about 24-36 hours before it loses it’s ability to disinfect. The mesh bag makes for easy removal and draining from the bucket to the grow trays the next day.

The soaking of the barley is key to good germination. Some farmers will even soak their seed before sowing it in the field in order to increase the germination rates. Our total soak time is up to 24 hours depending upon when we get back to the trays the next day. Any longer of a soak and the barley will simply start to ferment.  Fermented seed is not bad, in fact, it contains beneficial enzymes that are good for the gut of a chicken or alpaca, like a good fermented pickle for people.  I’ve heard of goat owners that ferment grains for their animals for this reason.

However, fermenting is not our goal, sprouting is our goal.  We are concerning ourselves with protein levels and nutrients in the fresh barley grass, rather than enzymes.

06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 010Our current seeding rate as well as the watering cycles are not yet set in stone as we figure the optimums out. We are also trying to figure out the best number of days to allow for growth; it seems around 9 days that the best mat forms. At the moment, we are starting with 6 pounds of barley seed per tray. We want a good 1/2” depth of seed in the tray so that we get enough density that the roots knit together to form a solid mat. We started with four 15 minute cycles per day and recently adjusted that down to two 20 minute cycles per day watching for how wet the seeds seem to remain throughout the day versus drying out.

06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 009The first tray came due yesterday with this new system installed for about ten days now and from the 6 pounds of seed we got 22 pounds of fodder. That’s almost a four-fold increase in weight; not bad at all for a feed source.  We’ve stuck with this seed rate for  a full cycle of the nine trays so far just to compare against.  We may make some adjustments over time, but for this size of tray, a minimum of 6 pounds seems good, any less and it’s just not as dense a growth.

06-07-12 Barley Fodder Trials 014As far as growth is concerned, well you can see for yourself in these pictures! With a root mat about an inch thick and growth of at least 8 inches, the system works! As you can see looking at the entire tray, the minimum lighting we are providing is enough to green up all the way to the farthest end of the tray from the light source. In fact, if there is enough ambient lighting in a grow space, additional lighting is not really required.

What do the animals think of it? Well the first tray was served to them on a wet rainy day, and as you can see they gobbled it right up!

UPDATE! We now offer our grow trays for sale! See this posting: https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/barley-fodder-grow-trays-now-for-sale/

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For a video tour of the new system, check out our You Tube Channel:

Tour the new Flood and Drain style system we installed for our Phase 2 Trials.
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2012 Shearing Dates Announced!

06-18-11 Shearing the alpacas 005We will be shearing our herd of alpacas over the course of 2 days this year starting Saturday, June 30th and Sunday July 1st.

The general start time will be 10am and usually proceeds until around 5pm or until the slate of animals for that day is complete.

06-18-11 Shearing the alpacas 007The Saturday and Sunday shearings will be open to the public for viewing if you’d like to bring a picnic lunch and watch…

For more information, visit our Facebook page for updates: www.Facebook.com/PacaPride

Posted in Life at the Ranch, Llamas and Alpacas | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

From Seed to Feed in 8 days: Barley Fodder Sprouting Trials

02-20-12 Barley Fodder sprouting 004This Spring we are exploring an alternative to how we are feeding our herd (and chickens too!) The idea comes from the notion of fresh sprouts as a “superfood”;  if eating sprouts are super healthy for humans, then wouldn’t that also be true for animals?  As we are finding out, it sure is!

The conundrum… During the off-season for grazing our pastures, which in the Pacific Northwest can be over 6 months depending upon Mother Nature, traditional alpaca farmers will dry lot their animals on a diet that consists of dry orchard grass hay supplemented with a daily ration of dry, pelleted grain.  Think of it as putting yourself on a diet of freeze-dried food all winter long. Pelleted grain supplies additional vitamins and minerals that the hay cannot, but some say pelleted grains can have a tendency to coarsen alpaca fiber over time, something we really don’t want. There’s also the issue of “choke”, which is just what it implies, a danger where an alpaca eats the grain too fast they ending up choking. This usually happens when alpacas are also jostling for prime position at the grain feeders with other animals. But still, we are talking dry, dry, and more dry diet. In fact these pre-mixed, pelleted grains are not very cheap either and hay prices are going up as well. So exploring alternatives to feeding our herd that saves money and is healthier gets my attention.

03-24-12 Barley Grass Results 002There are so many benefits I’m discovering the more I work through these trials of producing barley fodder mats for my fiber boys. As a matter of fact, I just came back from my Seedman with 1150 pounds of barley seed that I bought for $200. Figure a rate of 10 lbs of seed used per day for what I need to produce in terms of fodder mats (based on 2% body weights for the herd) this should give me about 100 days supply to continue playing. (I weigh that against the cost of pelleted grain and it’s cheaper than the grain product)

My nutritional analysis just came back from the vet and it’s what we suspected about fresh sprouts…they are a superfood! 🙂 Good stuff!

It takes 8 days to go from seed to feed. You give the entire fodder mat to the animals and they’ll eat the whole thing: roots, barley seed, and the 4-6″ of green grassy growth.

I also am finding that the amount of hay eaten changes too. They eat less hay, because they only need it for roughage rather than straight forward nutrition. I’m considering buying local western-Washington hay, which is cheaper and of lower quality vs. the Eastern-WA orchard grass which seems to be increasing in price each year.

My trials are being done in the garden trays (propagations trays) used for starting seedlings, so they don’t drain. I’m just watering them. However, I’ll be converting over to a flood-and-drain (or Ebb-and-Flow) approach. The idea is to keep the seeds wet, but not in water. Sitting in water they ferment and are prone to molds vs. growing into barley grass.

In my water I’m adding a Vitamin B-1 solution (1tbsp per gallon) and that’s it. However, for the first 24 hours, I soak my seed in a bleach water solution to kill any mold spores. (I’m using field run barley).

The next day I pull the seed out of the water and spread in the trays, about 2lbs per 11″x22″ tray. Then I water with the B-1 solution periodically. 03-24-12 Barley Grass Results 004

The first few days, lighting is not important. During days 4-8/9 a couple of CFL daylight rated lights green up the grass just fine (no fancy growlights needed).

What you end up with is a 3-4x increase in weight; that is, 2 pounds of seed turns into 6-8 pounds of edible fodder!

Overall, I’m finding my tasks take about 10-20minutes to do each day. I’ve got 10 shelves, each with 4 trays on it currently. Each day the trays move up a shelf towards more lighting. The upper trays have drip irrigation lines (but that’ll change once I go flood-n-drain). I use a sump pump in a rubbermaid tote on a automated timer to water twice a day right now.

So, not only are my animals getting a healthy diet, I eliminate the issue of grain tending to coarsen their fiber and am also reducing hay usage. So far this trial has a green light all around right now. 🙂

In my research, I’ve even seen some farmers mixing up their seed. Instead of all barley, they add some field peas, sunflower seeds, or other grain seeds to germinate as a mix of sprouts thus rounding out other nutrients in the fodder for their animals.  Dairy farmers using a fodder approach see a big increase in milk production. Rabbit farmers see a huge gain in weight and increase in litter sizes.

If you Google “Barley fodder sprouts” and “Peter Doyle” you’ll read some of the Australian based studies and get a good overview as to why someone would choose a fodder production approach. Here are some key links (including a discussion on Alpaca Nation forum):
http://www.alpacanation.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=11330

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/37430718/Florida-inmates-sow-barley-seed-into-trays_-and-in-seven-days-a

http://www.foddertech.com/

http://www.hydrocentre.com.au/fodder/questions.htm

http://www.peterdoyleconsultancy.com.au/fodder.html

http://hydroponics.com.au/free-articles/issue114-rabbits-rabbits-everywhere-rabbits

In the “Picture is worth a Thousand Words” category, here is a set of them that shows the progression over the course of 8 days:

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02-20-12 Barley Fodder sprouting 011

02-20-12 Barley Fodder sprouting 012

02-20-12 Barley Fodder sprouting 008

Note: Most of the commonly asked questions can be found in the comments section to this article. But, I’ll also encourage you to check out our other articles about Barley Fodder on this blog as well for even more details:

https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/barley-fodder-sprouting-trials-continued-new-flood-and-drain-tray-system-installed/

https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/barley-fodder-from-trials-to-production/

https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/barley-fodder-videos-including-our-fodder-room-walkthrough-and-bonus-cute-stuff-too/

After reading the articles and comments, further phone/email consultation, support, and system troubleshooting is available for a fee (MC/VISA via phone). Visit our website (www.pacapride.com) for contact information.

UPDATE! We now offer our grow trays for sale! See this posting: https://pacapride.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/barley-fodder-grow-trays-now-for-sale/

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Tilth on a Gravel Pit

Adding straw over poop pilesIts January, the middle of winter in the Pacific Northwest, and most people are not thinking about their garden or the task of gardening.

But out here, in the mountains, our homestead is performing very important garden related activities that influence the sustainability of the land to support not only the animals that graze it, but also the humans that depend on it for some food.  In fact the picture to the left shows a very important process underway which will lead us to looking like the picture you’ll see at the bottom of this article.

When first purchased, this land had the most excellent feature of being very well drained, a big plus in the Northwest known for wet, damp, and basic rainforest type qualities. The reason for its drainage: the land is essentially a gravel pit. In fact, if not for our plan to build a guest ranch featuring yurts for the public to “glamp”, it could have been sold to one of the several quarries that also exist out this way. All you will find if you took a shovel and started digging is rock, rock, sand, more rock, and occasionally some jade (which is rock too). Basically, this mountain area is not known for its agricultural operations.  You’ll find all those types of farms down in the lowlands,  the place where millions of years ago the glaciers that passed through here took all the soils and deposited them, leaving nothing but rock, boulders, and gravel behind.  So, there was a big challenge ahead of us if we were to set up a homestead, and that was essentially to create soils. Actually, the goal was to create Tilth, or healthy soils, or healthy soil micro-ecologies; and no, the solution didn’t reside in hiring a fleet of dump trucks to bring that dirt back up here from the valleys below.Turkeys occupy pasture and create tilth

Instead, we veered towards an approach espoused in Permaculture principles: letting nature do the work while the humans cultivate around the edges, giving a little nudge here and there. Of course, there was the initial hard labor of clearing logging debris, stumps, pulling brush and blackberries and bracken fern, but our story really starts after we’ve cleaned the land and burned the debris (in a way, we used nature’s own forest fire approach to step the land back to an alpine meadow stage of growth when we burned the stump piles). In fact, we did what most would do after that task: threw pasture seed mixes down with a good dose of lime to sweeten the soil. But still, the story of tilth doesn’t end there, heck, it doesn’t even start there. 

The concept of creating tilth has to do with setting up a cycle where nature is in balance with the uses of the land by humans and animals in such a way that both are replenished, indeed both benefit from abundance. So, while those grasses were growing we had a few more tasks ahead of us. One task was that of installing fencing, both perimeter and cross-fencing to create pastures for the herd of alpacas to graze. Again, here is where our approach differs from the norm, we took these large swaths of land and divided them into the smallest units of pasture we thought we could manage (or had a supply of fencing for. Indeed, later we even subdivided those into smaller pastures!) Closer to the barn area, we created a series of paddocks which contained the essentials for the herd: shelter, hay feeders, and water sources. So instead of having a larger field for a herd of animals to live upon, we not only separated their living quarters from their grazing spaces, but we also created the ability to control where, when, and how much of the pastures would be grazed by the herd at any given time.  This concept of rotational grazing became a cornerstone of herd and pasture management that sets us up to have a healthy cycle which promotes tilth, which gives us abundance.  That’s a step in the right direction.

Chicken Tractor does its job in the pasturesTo complete this cycle of tilth, we still had some steps in the cycle to manage.  For example, how do we feed the pastures that are feeding the herd? How do we manage the animal manures in the pastures? How do we overcome mossy spots, which are so prevalent in a rainforest, so that grasses will grow instead?  For this we turned to using a tractor, of sorts, a chicken tractor!  Its referred to as such because it performs all the functions of a tractor (harrowing, raking, spreading manure) and then some (weeding, bug eating, fertilizing). As the herd moves through the pastures during the summer, the chicken tractor follows them and does its job (see my previous blog entries for more details about the chicken tractor). This moveable flock of birds has the effect of scratching up mossy spots, decimating the biting fly population that lays their eggs in animal manure, and feeds the grasses with a high nitrogen fertilizer they produce from all the bugs they eat!

It’s a smooth running cycle with observable results during the spring, summer, and fall seasons when the grasses are growing.  Then the weather starts to change and winter brings a slowing down of growth and even some dormancy.  Its not a time when we want to see animals grazing, the pasture simply cannot keep up. In a traditional approach of just giving the herd a large field to live on, we’d eventually see more and more bare ground as grasses get eaten away and mosses start replacing them. The field itself can no longer maintain itself as a food source for the herd. In fact, nature is now combatting the effects by turning towards the more opportunist plants which can survive such conditions, that’s moss. However, in our approach, we return the herd to the barn area for the winter where we have stored their winter allotment of hay, and the pastures are allowed to rest. 

Winter shelter for the herd at their hay feedersNot all stops there however, still there is work to be done around the barn!  During the winter time, the two largest paddocks in front of the barn are open to the herd.  They quickly devour anything green in that area, essentially causing the ground to go fallow and bare.  They gladly leave manure on the ground there too. The rest of the barn areas, including the sheltered areas,  have a layer of screened sand instead of dirt. This is the area they sleep, eat hay, drink water, and grow their awesome fiber. We keep these sandy areas raked and cleaned on a daily basis, picking up any manure piles to the compost bins for use in the garden beds.

As for the front paddocks, a different strategy is afoot there. Instead of poop pickup, we practice poop cover up.  All the raked waste hay and additional straw gets added right over the manure piles in that front area.  This ground is exposed to the weather, and the chickens from the coop, and decomposes over the winter time.  Because we are adding sequestered carbon in the form of straw, we don’t have bacterial problems, overly muddy areas, or any smells. 

 

Wheat grows tall in the paddock during the summerA natural decomposition is occurring, with the aid of the roaming chickens, and what we end up with is two paddocks with a rich fluffy bed for planting in the spring. This past season we grew wheat and veggies there. This next year we’ll see more wheat and oats. As pasture grazing season kicks back in, these paddocks get closed off from the herd and planted with grain crops.  The grain crops give us a harvest not only of grain, but of straw which we can return right to that space to help increase the tilth. Thus, the cycle is complete, continuous, easy to manage, and beneficial not only to the humans and animals which use it, but also to the land and the micro-biology that calls it home as well. 

Wheat Harvesting

This approach to managing the land has many side benefits as well.  Because of the rotational grazing, we are able to break all parasite and worm cycles, and thus there is no need to give deworming medications to the herd.  Because we add more carbon to the manure in the paddocks, we don’t worry about a rise in bad bacteria, like E. coli, that could make the herd sick.  In fact, we do regular tests of the manure we pick up from around the barn to see what our levels of bacterias,  Strongyles, and Coccidia are and have yet to see any rise to cause a concern.

What we’ve achieved is a healthy balance of flora and fauna interacting with each other to the benefit of each other. That’s Tilth!

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Evening Magazine visits the Mountain Loop Hwy and Paca Pride

Discovering the Mountain Loop Hwy on Evening Magazine

Paca Pride Guest Ranch makes an appearance on TV!

http://www.king5.com/on-tv/evening-magazine/Discovering-Washington-on-the-Mountain-Loop-Highwat-133699373.html

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‘05-‘11: A New Business Springs to life! See our Retrospective!

In 2005, 17 acres of previously logged property was purchased along the Mountain Loop Hwy outside of Granite Falls, WA to start a guest ranch.  Featuring yurts, campsites, a guest room, and a Roundhouse Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch brings to life a homestead campground that is open to the public year round.  Come and enjoy the scenic beauty, hiking and outdoor attractions, and the pastoral scene of roaming alpacas and llamas. Let us be base camp for your Mountain Loop experience.

In 2011, we admit, we’re hooked on Facebook!  We just love the interaction that it gives us with friends and fans of Paca Pride Guest Ranch. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we look back, with awe, wonderment, thanks and grace, at the formative years of Paca Pride with a retrospective video and photo album.  We dedicated this to all our supporters without whose help through these first years, we could not have made it.

We invite you to check out the video on our YouTube Channel:

A Retrospective Look at the years 2005-2011

For the complete annotated photo album, we also invite you to become a fan on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/PacaPride (share and plan a “glamping” trip with your friends!)

Here’s a sneak peak at some of the photos you’ll find out on our Facebook page!

Escaped steer come to visit the yurtCleaning the logged land of debris Fully fleeced alpacas in front of Roundhouse Yurt Freshly shorn alpacas in raincoatsSunset glow on Green Mountain3.93 House construction 10-02-06 to 10-03-06 015

4.20 12-31-07 Over 3 ft of snow at the Ranch 015Deep Snow in the mountains with llamas and pasturesMount Pilchuck with MoonGuest Yurt for glampingFiber to Fashion spinning wheel displaySpring Daffodils at the Lincoln Log HomeRoundhouse Yurt installedRoundhouse Yurt with alpacas

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Highlights of a Summer Yurt Camper

Ah, once again we find ourselves at the end of another summer here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch. Where has the time gone?  The dog days of summer seem to have come to us late in the season, yet already we are preparing for winter, gathering and splitting all the firewood.  This has been a relaxing season for all the yurt campers that came to see the pastoral scene and explore the trails of the famed Mountain Loop Highway.

07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 012The herd was shorn at the end of June and we are still awaiting the return of the annual clip from the mill in the form of yarns and rovings, but Uber and Mucho were lucky enough to receive another hall pass from shearing this year. Llamas do shed and can acclimate to the heat of summer a bit easier than alpacas 07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 013with their dense coats and, honestly, Uber just looks grand with his big shaggy mane.  Kusco, one of the new alpacas to the herd, still has a distrust of Maximo, the hound dog. Thus it was endearing to watch as Uber tried to show Kusco that Maximo was in fact a cool canine.

07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 014

07-23-11 Views herd and dogs 016

 

 

 

 

07-25-11 Tomatos and cabbage in the garden 001The garden has been an adventure this year to the delight of all the yurt campers who’ve roamed through it’s paths and peaked under the mini-greenhauz panels.  We upgraded the raised beds to have A-frame style panels that provide more grow space height yet still can withstand the snow during winter when we like to overwinter certain veggies and plants with some extra protection.  It’s amazing to see 07-23-11 On the Kitchen Island 002celery and carrot flowers blooming in the second year after being overwintered in their beds; more seed to save! 09-09-11 On the Kitchen Island 003

The harvest has been a bit of a hit and miss with our tomato crop this year. However, there has been a bounty of everything else including, hold your hats, green bell peppers!  We are still letting them fully ripen and turn red on the vine to hopefully do some jarred roasted Reds this year. In the meantime, we’ve been quite distracted experimenting with making a Japanese-style pickle slaw salad that we’ve perfected.  It’s one of those salads that gets better over the course of a few days marinating in the sweet sake dressing. Of course, we’ve also got pickles brining for hot-n-spicy-n-garlicy dill pickles.

As the harvest has continued this month, we have collected over 75 pounds of potatos, 3 braids of garlic, plenty zukes and cukes to shake a stick at, 15 pounds from the very first planting of wheat (let’s turn that into more next year!) and the Amaranth flower heads are still drying and await threshing of its grain.  On the grain front, since we’ve now demonstrated that, indeed, we can grow grain in the mountains, we found a source for some ancient grains to begin trials on next season.  We’ll eventually land on a good combination of a nutritious grain that’s easy to thresh and turn into food.

08-14-11 The public visits the herd 003Our herd of alpacas and llamas were kept quite busy with their yurt camper PR program.  It is not uncommon of a sight to see families coming up to explore with fascination an animal most have never experienced up close.  You can learn a lot about people just from watching them interact with a new animal where they have no expectations developed; some can act leery and nervous at first, but it’s always the youngsters that go bounding right up to the fence, instinctively picking some grass, and 08-27-11 Barnyard scene 001holding it out with the hope of a furry snout coming to grab it.

The other activity that occurs every summer is the run of our chicken tractor.  As you’ve been reading from our previous blog entries, this handy device helps us establish a good fertilizer and harrowing program for the pastures, not to mention, fly control too!  The 20 poultry birds, raised for their meat, have all been sent to the freezer and breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings.  All that remains are the 4 turkeys, still needing to put on some weight.  They are aptly named: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Patty and Link!

08-27-11 Front path Lilies in the moring sun 001Summer at Paca Pride Guest Ranch is coming to a close soon, and it’s been a very enjoyable one!  The flowers that have bloomed for the 3rd year running are attracting pollinators and admirers alike.  As the season ends, we turn our attention to the dynamic weather of Autumn where the leaves will fall, the blustery winds gust, and our yurt campers will remain warm and cozy enjoying it all inside a heated yurt.

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Chicken Tractor Progresses!

06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 054

In our last post we discussed the role that a chicken tractor has within our homestead system.  Now, we are at 1 month in to the current chicken run06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 007 and you can begin to get a sense of just how quickly these Rock Cornish Cross chickens grow.  This mutant breed between two types of chicken produces most of the commercially grown, store-bought chickens that consumers eat.  The upside to this crossing is you get a chicken that grows very rapidly 06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 033allowing you to harvest the birds for meat within a very short period of time. (Thus, the “Young Chicken” label you see on store bought chickens.)  The downside is that they grow too fast for their bones to keep up with them and support their weight, so letting them grow for a long period of time means seeing them develop leg problems, fall over and die.  So no opportunity to keep them as your pet chicken or even a egg layer bird because by the time they reach egg laying maturity, they start having health problems related to their rapid weight gain.  06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 051The genetics resulting in these chickens from the crossing of their parent breeds would by natural selection be weaned out because of the low survival rate, but in our ever productive search for the better chicken, we actually select for this mutant variation because of the benefits for meat production.

06-20-11 Chicken Tractor Progress 044For these birds though, they don’t live the droll ordinary caged and confined life of a bird raised in a production operation.  They’ve got plenty of forage for their main source of feed and are actually weaned down from the main diet of commercially manufactured feed once they are done brooding and have feathered out.  Instead of an all-you-can-eat free-choice commercial feed diet, they are let out of the chicken tractor during the day to hunt and peak around for their food.  They run to the clovers first; the most delectable of choices for them, followed by grasses and other native species forbs we have in our pastures.  They always make their way over to the closest llama poop pile where they rake away and grab bugs and flies.  When the evening rolls around, they get a bucket of chicken feed, enough to fill out their already full crop, and round out the day.  The token amount of feed also serves the rancher by easing the task of getting them all back into the tractor for the night.

Be sure to check out the video update to this post and see these 1 month old chickens in action:

Chicken Tractor Progresses!
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Chicken Tractor…pasture renovation and bug control

06-17-10 Chicken Tractor 001As part of our ever evolving homestead “system”, we try to approach things in tune with nature’s cycles and that includes how we care for our pastures and create tilth.  Tilth is essentially a healthy soil eco-system that enjoys the benefit of bio-diversity among the flora and the fauna that occupy it.  Out here in the lower Cascade Mountains, farms are fairly uncommon sights as most of that tilth has been washed out of the mountains and down to the lowlands where agriculture is generally found.  While that means the mountains are great for mining and gravel, and known for having really good drainage, it also means that soils are fairly depleted and run towards acidic.  So in order to cultivate a mountain meadow with a variety of grasses and forbs, and keeping it from returning to an evergreen forest, we have to manage nature’s cycles.  This includes having some grazers on hand who can forage and keep the grasses cut so that brush, like salmonberry and blackberry, don’t overtake it.  The alpacas and llamas tend to do a great job at that.  They also leave behind a highly nutritious soil supplement in the form of their manure. However, with a herd of grazers alone, we are still challenged with the results: poop piles attracts biting fly populations and other insects, the poop needs to be spread, and the herd is still selective in their eating habits (moss and old thatched grass gets passed by for more delectable items.)

05-20-11 Baby Chicks and turkeys (3)Thus enters the chicken tractor. Like a tractor which harrows a field, spreads manure, tills soils, a chicken tractor performs the same functions, albeit on a different timescale than the gas powered wonders of the modern age.  For this year’s run, which starts in May and ends between September and December, we are running twenty Rock Cornish Cross poultry meat birds and four turkeys (including a bronze).  We’ll start harvesting the poultry in September and butcher 3-4 per week leaving the turkeys to finish out in time for Thanksgiving and later ground turkey meat for the freezer.  While we are thankful for meat provided from free-ranging chickens, their primary purpose is really to help renovate the pastures.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 004Like most chicken endeavors, our chicken tractor is made from salvaged and recycled materials, some of which was leftover from the construction of our house.  A few carport metal tubes serve as skids and the bottom frame, and PVC pipe creates the hoop structure.  Fastened to the PVC are some leftover fence pieces and chicken wire. The two ends of the chicken tractor are leftover cedar plywood sheets with a door cut into one end. Covering about two-thirds of the entire structure is some white plastic tarp wrap that originally wrapped the wood delivered during the construction of the house.  Partly covering the tractor means there is always a shady and sunny area and the portion towards the front of the tractor which is covered helps keep the food dry during any rain.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 012For the first few weeks of the chicken tractor, when the baby chicks are introduced, we add another tarp to fully cover the open portion of the tractor and prevent drafts while we brood the baby chicks.  We also add a heat lamp to help them remain warm. The heat lamp limits the tractor to an area within 100’ of the barn where the electricity comes from, but that only lasts until the chicks are fully feathered out and can keep themselves warm.  They also are offered free-choice chick starter feed which they can have as much as they can manage to eat.  Once the heat lamp is removed and brooding is complete, however, we’ll begin to wean them from the commercially manufactured feed and let them forage freely in the pasture for bugs, grasses, and clovers.  We’ll only use a small portion of commercial feed at the end of the day when it’s time for them to go back into the chicken tractor for the night.  This approach saves quite a bit on the feed bill and allows for some of the best tasting chicken meat that is free-range and grass-fed with minimal additional feed.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 009If you try this approach for your own chicken tractor it’s important to have a well-fenced in pasture space for the birds to roam which offers enough for them to eat without over-grazing the grass down to dirt.  It’s time to move the flock to a new pasture when you notice the grass getting too short from the chickens eating it. As part of our strategy, we first let the herd of llamas and alpacas graze, followed by the slower moving chicken tractor to “clean up” after them.  The chicken tractor can stay in one of our small pasture areas for 3-8 weeks depending upon how much I choose to allow them to impact the area.

05-31-11 Chicken Tractor 006Since I do let the birds out of the tractor during the day, I wait until I move them to another pasture to perform the remaining human-based cultivation tasks.  That generally includes spreading out some more straw and raking any remaining llama poop out and adding grass and clover seed.  The pasture is then set for the season.  A heavily renovated pasture may have the llamas and alpacas mob-grazing it for week or two and the chicken tractor working it over for another 6 weeks. After that, I’m guaranteed a lusher, more sustainable pasture for next season.  If a pasture only needs a light renovation, because most of the grasses and clovers are established, I may leave the chicken tractor in pasture for a shorter duration and then return the herd back to it later in the season for another grazing.  I can also choose to limit the birds foraging for a day by keeping them within the tractor over a portion of a ground, say with lots of moss, until they’ve really dug it all up and then move them to another spot.  If I do this the chicken tractor is moving on a daily basis to assure they have enough to forage, or I’m supplementing with a little more feed until they are done with that spot. Generally, when I’m brooding the baby chicks, the chicken tractor gets located on the mossiest spots I can find since it moves less often than when the birds are more fully grown.

09-14-10 Chickens coop and turkeys 009

By the end of the chicken run season, all the poultry birds have been harvested and dispatched to the freezer.  Our birds are allowed to grow longer than the typical “young chicken” label you see in most store bought chickens.  As a result, we end up with chickens that can produce breasts which weigh 6-8 pounds; very large chicken breasts. The only occupants left to finish out the run will be the turkeys.  So as September winds down and October sees the grasses slowing their growth, the chicken tractor is moved to the front paddocks of the barn where some deep straw bedding is added and the turkeys are given finishing feed, and garden scraps for the reminder of their time.  After the last bird is harvested for meat, come Spring the deep bedding, with rich turkey manure,  will be raked out into the paddock where it will be planted with corn and beans or wheat, grasses, and clovers.  When the herd is pulled off pasture for the season, it’s these garden paddocks that they get for their final foraging before strictly feeding on their winter hay bales.  Once these paddocks go fallow again, they are ready for another garden season the next year allowing the ground to recover.

Be sure to check out the video of the chicken tractor brooding this year’s baby chicks:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjap5ym-7SE

2012 Run Notes:  We’ve made some minor adjustments in how we run our chicken tractor towards the end of the season.  Using a deep bedding option, with more closed-up time for the turkeys, created more work than was necessary.  Instead, we now finish out the turkeys by continuing them in rotation within a pasture spot. At night they are closed up, and during the day let out to roam the pasture. No more deep bedding of straw and poop to muck out; which was a messy, smelly chore. Also, since the tractor continues it’s rotation, the turkeys still get to graze a bit  and their poop is spread.  No additional straw for bedding is given either.  Sometimes, simple really is better, and learning how to keep an editing eye towards our processes and procedures allows for continuous improvement and optimization.

Read the comments for even more information.

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Paca Pride Progressing … the fight to stay alive!

03-27-11 March Spring around the Ranch 063The downturned economy means everyone is tightening their belts these days and Paca Pride is no exception.  It takes a lot to launch a small business in the world and turn it into something successful.  For many, that business could simply mean taking advantage of the internet for all their sales and thus the overhead is quite a bit lower with no store front, office space, or real estate to worry about.  For us, however, we started with 17 acres of land that was logged in 1998 by the previous owners wanting to get some timber monies, had 10 years of nature reclaiming it and covering the logging debris, and left us starting with stump piles to burn.  That’s right, no power, no well, no house, no pastures with fencing, no pastoral scene to share with the public.

03-27-11 March Spring around the Ranch 069Our story started in 2005 when we bought this parcel to make manifest the change we’d like to see in the world. Witnessing America at a crossroads, we saw that the only way to survive in corporate America was to incorporate. Putting our heads together, we wrote a business plan, moving to a rural location, with the hope of bringing future jobs to a popular tourist destination. That’s how Paca Pride Guest Ranch started offering a twist on camping with some cool structures, yurts. We decided to position ourselves as a destination that could demonstrate green principles, sustainability, homesteading, even offer farm fresh eggs from our chickens.  

03-27-11 March Spring around the Ranch 071But, all is not without its struggle through adversity. Having to carry our costs for two years without establishing a revenue stream until the county executed their 120-day process and issued our permits dwindled our cash reserves to bring further yurt accommodations on to the property. Over $50,000 went into satisfying the county’s requirements, including hiring experts and professionals to navigate the regulatory waters.   We even had to fight through a serious cancer battle, during that time, that tested our mettle.

Eventually, that had us stepping back quite a bit from the original business plan to see how we could use our remaining funds most effectively. We now struggle to determine the most effective ways to get out and market ourselves as well as how to generate further capital to invest in the business, bringing more yurts on board, followed by adding the rustic amenities.

04-22-11 Spring makes up for lost time 003But we are here! We started a small business! Our shingle is on the side of the road! We had a moderately successful summer season, in 2010, of bookings and retail sales of alpaca related products, eggs, and even a few items from our garden! We have great hope that we can take our business to the next level of growth and continue to make a deeply felt impact on the community we are now a part. The Mountain Loop community, especially within the tiny Robe Valley, has been filled with excitement and been inspired by our efforts, we hope to be able to one day hire staff from this valley and bring jobs to this rural, and very historic, area.

04-17-11 Springtime views 003Certainly, all this could never have happened without all the love and support from our friends and family.  We count our blessings everyday and choose to remain positive that others will also continue to see the value in our venture as we enter into the 2011 camping season.  Perhaps an angel investor will somehow find it within them to support our efforts?  Until then, we’ll continue our hard work to grow and mature this new attraction that continues to awe the tourists and hikers alike once they drive up the front entrance. 

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Return of the Robins! It must be Spring, hibernating hikers are eager too!

05-22-10 Robin's Nest 005The tide of snow seems to be receding up the valley towards where it will perch upon the peaks of the mountain tops as the last defense upon an encroaching Spring feel in the air.  Spring in the mountains is always a tenuous affair; sure, the lowlands have their cherry trees blossoming, and the exodus of southbound birds for the winter has turned northward again, but here on the western slopes of the North Cascades, we watch closely for the harbingers of winter’s demise, the robins.

05-22-10 Robin's Nest 004For Paca Pride Guest Ranch, the return of the robins signals an awakening on various fronts.  We know we can start growing in the garden again. We know the grass is coming out of dormancy, making for some eager alpacas that want some fresh greens in their diet.  We know the tourists are ramping up in numbers too.  Typically, what has been a shoulder season for campers seeking outdoor adventure usually has only the diehards venturing out to pitch a tent.  However, the number of day hikers are like the robins, suddenly spiking in numbers on your front lawn seeking those worms.  Indeed, at the most famous “hidden secret” of a trail, the Robe Canyon Historic Park trail, which leads down to the old Everett & Monte Cristo Railway tunnel, you can quickly lose count of the parked cars at the trailhead. 

05-22-10 Robin's Nest 001It’s always been a dilemma for outdoor enthusiasts exploring the Mountain Loop Hwy’s many hiking trails, whether to go hiking or camping.  These days it seems the two are somehow mutually exclusive, an either/or proposition.  Either you are going hiking or you are going camping.  If you go camping, you are committing yourself to a nesting in at a campsite and not wanting to leave it to do much exploring, instead enjoying the local surroundings of your campsite. You just never know how secure your campsite will be if you left it alone for a few hours to go hiking.  So, most hikers don’t camp out this way. They choose to plan a day trip hike and not camp. 

Fortunately, another tide of change is working itself on the mountain that is making camping much more accessible to those day hikers who dismiss pitching a tent as not worth the effort.  Paca Pride Guest Ranch offers a furnished guest yurt, with bed and linens, electricity and even heat. We even have a larger Roundhouse that could be used as an accommodation space. For those hikers and day-trippers out here, it’s beginning to open up so many more options. Yes, you can go on that longer trail you’ve always wanted to try, but didn’t want to get up so early in the morning for the drive out there.  Yes, you can explore several hikes over the course of the weekend and return to a cozy bed at a hosted campground.  Yes, you can even pitch a tent here and not worry too much about security knowing those same hosts are onsite. 

So, as Spring winds itself up and winter retreats into it’s own hibernation, the day-hikers of the Mountain Loop become as numerous as the robins. Like our robin family that chose to makes its nest here at Paca Pride, and return with the kids this year, hikers have the opportunity to nest in the round comfort of a yurt after a long day of adventuresome hiking.

That Robin family? Oh yes, here’s mama robin feeding her new young this past Spring. Come out in April and May and you’ll see this scene in person!
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Paca Pride Guest Ranch becomes the Headquarters for the Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau

Mountain Loop Map-youarehere

“You Are Here” How often have you come upon a map and the first thing you reference is that famous little tagline that let’s you determine the course of your upcoming adventure? That sense of grounding, of showing your location and informing you of what’s possible is an important part of the tourist’s experience in an unfamiliar setting. 

For a long time, the Mountain Loop Highway, a national scenic byway, remained a hidden gem within Snohomish County, Washington.  It is the loop within the larger (and traditionally more promoted) Cascade Loop. To find your way to unlocking it’s secrets and exploring it’s attractions meant becoming an investigator doing some in depth research ahead of your trip.  Well, such will be the case no longer!

Paca Pride Guest Ranch is teaming up with About-The-Wow promotions (www.AboutheWOW.com), to start a new non-profit organization to fill this gap. The Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau (www.ML-TB.org) is officially established bringing a new level of service to the over 250,000 cars per year that travel this route!

Accommodations, businesses, services, attractions, trails, events, festivals, workshops,  Boom and Bust cave a little known roadside attractioncampgrounds, and much more will become readily accessible to the tourist adventurer.  Favorites like Big Four/Ice Caves or the Mt. Pilchuck Lookout trails will certainly be highlighted, but so will little known secrets like the “Boom or Bust” cave that most tourists just drive by without knowing is even there.  MLTB will become a source for hikers, campers, and general outdoor enthusiasts as well as helping connect visitors to the variety of accommodations to stay locally in the area. MLTB is forming partnerships within each of the gateway towns along the loop, Arlington, Darrington, and Granite Falls, to help establish Tourism Outposts assuring that no matter where you are on the Loop, tourism information is available.

Not without your help and support!  As you well know nothing happens without a lot of groundwork backing it up. So we look to you, the visitors, the regulars, the residents, the mountaineers, hikers, campers, skiers, geo-cache seekers, anyone who has some knowledge or experiences of the sights they’ve seen out here and wish to share.  Send us information on your favorite spots anywhere along the entire Mountain Loop which every visitor should consider and which MTLB should highlight. 

The Mountain Loop recreational area, which includes national forest, has a rich history rooted in the gold rush mining days of Monte Cristo.  Serving a continually growing number of tourists each year, the Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau is dedicated to promoting this region.  The MLTB is a non-profit organization and happily accepts your donations and assistance.  If you wish to help fund our efforts to educate, promote, and inform the consumers of the Mountain Loop, consider sending us a tax-deductible donation.  Contact us at info@pacapride.com for more information about donating or becoming more involved.

Oh, and if you are wondering where along the Mountain Loop Hwy you’d find Paca Pride, well, just look for the “You Are Here” on the map above. Smile Happy Trails!

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A Bit of Snow, Holiday Cheer, and Looking Forward

Paca Pride View barn and Roundhouse YurtCamping platforms at Paca Pride with snow

This was the scene here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch  during the last week of the year. We haven’t seen any snow through most of December, only Thanksgiving weekend had the impressive six inches,  so it’s nice to see it back just in time to celebrate the New Year.  The weather is cooperating by giving us some cool and clear nights, assuring the snow will last until New Year’s Day. That makes fun in the snow possible for toboggans. Our road down to the lower pasture becomes the attraction as you can see <here>. 

Christmas Tree Reception area and Store at Paca Pride

Reception Counter at Paca Pride with Maximo the dog

Inside the lodge, holiday cheer still abounds and visitors are welcome. The new chalkboard displays above the reception area will feature rates for the yurts and campground along with information New chalkboard displaysfrom the newly started Mountain Loop Reception Counter at Paca Pride with Shadow the dogTourism Bureau.  Watch this space develop over the next year! Of course, Maximo and Shadow, the ranch greeters, are always on hand to say hello to everyone and officially welcome you to the ranch.

Display Area at Paca PrideSocks Display at Paca Pride Our store space has seen some brisk traffic over the course of the holiday season leaving our stock looking pretty depleted. Not only do we look forward to replenishing our alpaca socks, we also look forward to how this space will change over this coming year. In the window will be some more garden fresh Future Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau locationindoor grows including basil and lettuce. Currently, our fresh Malabar spinach vines out and grows its berries there.  The entire back section of the store is set to feature the tourism efforts of tTourism Brochureshe Mountain Loop Tourism Bureau.  Paca Pride is fortunate to be one of the very first stops that visitors see when they leave the town of Granite Falls behind and climb Sand Hill towards Robe Valley. At the mouth of the valley and sitting on the edge of the Green Mountain plateau, we are the stop along the Mountain Loop for a spectacular view of Mt. Pilchuck.

Mt. Pilchuck view from Paca Pride

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Winter Scenes from Seasons Past…Happy Holidays from Paca Pride Guest Ranch!

11-27-06to 11-30-06 Snow 08211-27-06to 11-30-06 Snow 03101-13-07 to 01-14-07 Mountain pics 01104-01-08 Conditioning the llamas in a string 018Snow on Green MountainThe Guest Yurt at Paca Pride Guest Ranch during the winter

03-08-09 Snow in March 00303-09-09 Another foot of snow in March 00201-27-08 Snow and llamas 00701-27-08 Snow and llamas 06412-14-08 Snow at the ranch 01812-19-08 Snow keeps coming 012

And, of course, who can forget this winter scene!
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Celebrating the Winter Solstice

The Summer Soltice bonfire with moonriseTonight at Paca Pride Guest Ranch the confluence of cooperative weather fronts brings us a great opportunity to usher in the return to longer days along with a fostering of festive winter spirits! We’ll be lighting a Winter Solstice bonfire and placing a symbolic rock at the fire pit to mark the position of the sun in the sky as it sets on the shortest day of the year.  The clear sunny day, and warm partly cloudy night will afford us with some fantastic night views lit by the still full moon that was eclipsed last night.

Twilight moonrise over the peak of Mt. Pilchuckmoonrise of a waxing moon over Mt. PilchuckAll are welcome to stop on in start at 6pm.  Bring a folding chair if you so desire, sit around the bonfire, enjoy the sense of communal spirit, and reflect upon the journey made through the previous year.  In addition, if you wish, toss a symbolic token to burn in the fire and mark the shedding of old skins, old habits, or the transition into new beginnings. 

Full moon over Mt. PilchuckWe’ll also be setting out a “Generous Gesture” can to foster good will and strengthen our bonds with community. Consider donating a symbolic dollar amount and help us raise funds and further the great efforts for our all-volunteer fire department, the Robe Valley Fire Dept.  We’ll donate what we collect to them.

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Fall to Winter Transitions in the Cascades

Fish Ladder at Granite FallsWhile the East Coast typically enjoys the Fall change of colors, touting the many shades of red, yellow, and orange that dot the countryside, leading up to the stark browns of winter, those of us who live west of the Cascades snicker a bit. That’s because a typical Fall change of colors involves going from green to, well, still green. Yes, those insidious deciduous trees like maples scoff at their slow-changing brethren east of the Cascades.  Out here, when it’s time to change and go dormant for the season, these west coast trees don’t waste a moment! One minute you are catching a bit of red or yellow in the leaf, the next the tree is denuded and done with shedding it’s summer’s green.  So yes, they tease us with some Fall color which quickly disappears.  But, while Fall seems to be all about the leaves changing color, what often gets overlooked out here is just how lush and green just about everything else seems to stay all the way through to Spring. 

The first snow of the season at ThanksgivingYes that’s right, the ground may be white from time to time with snow, but when the snow melts, as it seems not to have mastered the art of accumulation in Pacific Marine environs and tends to disappear quickly, the common sight is green, green, and more green.   The grass is still green, the evergreens are still green, and just about every pre-dominant winter color seems to be green, not brown. 

So us Pac-Nor-Westerner’s are more accustomed to describing our seasons as the dry season, the wet season, and the wet-and-cold season. We know, for example, that our summer begins after July 4th, because it’s a big question mark what you’ll get in terms of weather before that point which you can claim as summer.  Once we hit Labor Day in September, all talk and pining for more summer starts to give way as the rains start to become prevalent again. By October, there is no doubt we are in the wet season again, and by November, we begin to relish with glee the chance sunny encounters that break through the over cast skies that can make November all grey and gloom. 

November is our swift changing weather month. It can give us glimpses of snows yet to come as the snowline drops down the mountainside.  It can send wild wind gusts whipping View of Green Mountain with dropping snow linethrough the valley rousing any remaining warm pockets of air from their hiding places. Regular rains now are the norm; and by regular we’re not talking torrential downpours, but the normal drizzle and pattern of short squalls that drift in and out again. We talk less about common rain, as if we expect there is an auto-timer on the sprinkler system that we just come to expect wet grass in the morning, and more about “weather events” that can bring in copious amounts, enough to cause rivers to overflow their banks and sandbagging muscles to be exercised again. 

Winter scene at Paca Pride Guest Ranch comes and goes quicklyThen comes December, a month of sharp weather contrasts that reminds us all that we’d better be prepped and ready because winter is certainly around the corner if not knocking on the door depositing inches of snow.  Still amidst all this talk of weather, we see the affect it has on our landscape: greens of all shades still abound.  In that we hold our little secret of the Pacific Northwest: while other parts of the country transpose their image of droll winter months and wet monikers upon us, we who live here just smile and enjoy our active weather scene with delight knowing that we understand the meaning of “rain forest” quite well and the beauty that comes along with it.

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The Ebb and Flow of the Shoulder Season

 

10-24-10 Barnyard scene 009 Around the barnyard here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch, the herd is starting to settle into the winter routine already.  They’ve started into the winter hay and are out foraging on pasture less and less as the grasses slow down for the season.

They will hang out in the barn paddocks which will go fallow over the winter, thus being “sacrificed”, but come Spring when they the herd is removed from these areas, the rich compost will be planted. This next season we’ll try corn or even wheat. A concept called a “garden paddock”.

Paca Pride Guest Ranch, yurts, alpacas, barnyard
Alpacas and Chickens Even the chickens have a job to do, and it’s not just about egg production.  The flock will scratch at any poop piles and eat bugs along the way like mini-tractors rototilling the topsoil.  It will be a nice planting bed by March.
Our flock includes 17 new egg layers in addition to our original 11 birds. There is a demand for local fresh eggs that we are happy to provide to our neighbors and tourists along the Mountain Loop. Friendly chickens greeting my feet.
Mt. Pilchuck; Mountain Loop Hwy, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Cascade Mountains, Granite Falls Mt. Pilchuck is the view we see from our front porch.  This photogenic mountain is our barometer for winter’s approach. Here at the end of October, it receives it’s first dusting of snow down to the tree line.  It won’t be long until that mountain turns completely white.
Plenty of tasks keep us occupied indoors during the winter. We have lots of alpaca fiber to hand spin into our rustic yarns for sale and for our knitters to knit into hats. Spinning wheel, alpaca
Roundhouse Yurt, Paca Pride, meeting, venue, event While the Autumn chill is definitely in the air these days, the sun is a welcome warm reminder of summer’s departure. Looking down toward the Roundhouse Yurt meeting venue, shadows of clouds drift across the pastures.
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Yurt + Autumn and Winter = More Adventures Outdoors

Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain Loop, hiking, camping, outdoor recreationPicture this, the Mountain Loop Highway known for its scenic vistas and drives, hiking trails and campgrounds.  Many attractions abound, including ice caves, old railroad tunnels, alpine lakes, mountain meadows, old mining ghost town of Monte Cristo, waterfalls, canyons, caves, and much more. Summer season sees such an abundance of tourism flocking to this area that all the campgrounds are typically full and reserved well ahead of time. The traffic tends to slow towards the end of September as the kids return to school and the weather gets chancy.Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain Loop That, however, leaves the masses amiss to what can be some of the most truly spectacular scenes of the year during Autumn and Winter. 

Both September and October can toss in daytime temperatures that don’t make it uncommon to see hikers stopping in still wearing shorts and tank tops, but the option to stake out a campsite with a tent becomes a gamble as the nighttime temps start to cool off.  This is where an ancient structure, a yurt, given some modern touches, can fill the gap. Yurts allow Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain Loopyou the experience of what its like to stay in a tent without sacrificing comfort.  These structures may look unassuming on the outside, but given the circular shape, they offer plenty of floor space; more than any pitched tent! Yurts are known for the definitive conical shaped roof, usually with a dome on top of the modern day manufactured ones. This lends an efficiency gain that allows it to be heated quickly and be kept warm without wasting energy. With reflective insulation, like NASA uses, the yurt becomes, well, like a space capsule, staying warm even with snow outside the door.

large yurt, Roundhouse, lodging, Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain LoopSo don’t feel like you have to give up on the outdoors for the year quite yet.  Paca Pride Guest Ranch is here to rescue you with a completely furnished guest yurt that will inspire even a non-camper to stay. With a view of Mt. Pilchuck, Paca Pride brings a modern, and more accessible, rustic experience to the Cascade Mountains.

We also feature our large Roundhouse Yurt which is perfect for meetings, events, yoga retreats, family reunions, sleepovers…Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain Loopwhatever getaway you can dream up! If you ever wanted to find that off-site location for the day, perfect to inspire and focus your work group or team for writing a plan, a budget, or even just building bonds, the Roundhouse is the space to do it in!

We fell so in love with this national scenic byway, that we decided to escape corporate culture and head for the hills, taking the public with us!  We established our foothold in the historic gold rush Robe Valley in 2005 with the purchase of 17 acres of raw, logged land.  As a matter of fact, the first structure on the land was our yurt we used for camping! After building the main Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain Loop, meeting facilitylog building, adding the barn, establishing pastures, and surviving the permitting process with our county, we officially opened our doors in 2010.  

Our goal here at Paca Pride is to be your basic camp for a Mountain Loop experience you can enjoy.  At the same time we are also a working alpaca farm where you’ll be able to see some truly remarkable animals and learn about the amazing properties of their fiber.  This is a homestead in action, establishing a “Permaculture” along the way. We look forward to giving you a personal tour.

Yurt, Paca Pride Guest Ranch, Mountain Loop

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The Classic Mountain Loop Highway Hike: Robe Canyon and the Railroad Tunnels

08-26-10 Robe Canyon Railroad Tunnel Hike 002  Robe Valley, Washington… The hidden gem of an area for outdoor recreation, Seattle’s own historic backyard playground has so much to offer with sights to see and trails to hike it’s hard to choose what to spend your time to go explore.  One fabulous hike really gives some incredible river views and allows the trekker to get a sense of the gold rush history that took place up this valley during the days of the wild west. 

Steps away from Paca Pride Guest Ranch, the Robe Canyon Historic Park trail head leads hikers right from the Mountain Loop Highway directly into the forest where it approaches a series of switchback trails carved into the side of the canyon walls.  Descending the canyon you marvel at the scope of nature’s river carving out this valley between the two bedrock walls that are a favorite for kayakers and the rapids that can become a roaring category 5 during the Fall.

The trail leads you out from the canyon walls along a meandering path of cottonwoods.  Time your hike for the right point 08-26-10 Robe Canyon Railroad Tunnel Hike 053during Spring and you’ll be lucky enough to find a patch of Morels fruiting in the marshy turf.  But, you’ll have to know where to hunt for them as this secret spot has many locals out hunting these treasures too. After a short walk the trail turns suddenly to the west to follow the river’s edge.  At this initial river’s intersection, the river is low and flat.  During the month of August you will see the river at its lowest point of the year with lush grassy banks.

Following the trail along the river and you’ll start to notice an abrupt change of scenery as you enter into the heart of the canyon with the walls on the far side rising over five stories in height and forcing the river through a series of rocky rapids.  The meandering trickle starts to become a misty and roaring rapid. 

The trail continues and evidence of just how intense the Pacific Northwest winters can become is obvious as some trail sections give way to walls of boulders with well worn pathways to traverse.  Soon you start to see signs that industry once tackled the river edges as concrete walls tried to buffer the river’s course in order to support the tracks of the railway that once went up this valley.

 

08-26-10 Robe Canyon Railroad Tunnel Hike 009

  The only parts left of the railroad are embedded railway ties that once held the iron of the actual tracks.  Built and rebuilt for several years during the early 1900’s, you can still find the odd railroad spike jutting out of the rock of the trail bed.  It was famous Rockefeller monies that built these tracks to travel all the way up to the mining town of Monte Cristo, but they had to solve the challenges of either laying track up the canyon or forging a pathway through the heavily timbered old growth forest.  They choose the seemingly easy route next to what they thought of as a “simple little trout stream”.  Needless to say, the folly of eastern financiers was in picking a route to carve out seven railroad tunnels without regard for how the river would become a challenge during the winter months.  In the harsh winters to follow, practically every tunnel was filled back up with river debris or slides and needed to be dug back out or blasted back open.

 

08-26-10 Robe Canyon Railroad Tunnel Hike 012

Only two of the seven tunnels remain to this day.  The first long one is what you will encounter.  To reach it the trail requires you to traverse some slide areas that include large boulders and rip rap rock that have settled across the trail.  This is best done with a hiking buddy and paying careful attention to where you put your feet. It is not a difficult task, but care is definitely warranted.  The payoff of getting to the first tunnel is worth it.

You can feel the ghosts of history speaking to you as you entire the eerie calm that encases the air of the tunnel.  The white noise of the river falls away to the echo of your footsteps on the damp bedrock of the tunnel. 

 

 

08-26-10 Robe Canyon Railroad Tunnel Hike 019For those inclined to think that you will be crouching down for a bit of spelunking through cave entrances, nothing can be further from the truth.  These tunnels are large enough to fit, well, a train.  They have however been in disuse for many, many years so as you observe the boulders and rocks strewn along the floor wondering where they came from, just look up and you’ll probably locate the empty spots on the roof from which they fell.  These manmade structures are giving way to nature and falling rock is just one of the things to be wary of as you make your way through.  To give you a sense of size, just take a look at this picture of tunnel number two, it may be shorter in length than tunnel one, but the shear vastness can be garnered by comparing to the big dog seen cavorting in the scene.  These tunnels are a grand sight to behold and a sheer industrial marvel of construction when you consider the technology of the day used to construct them.

 

08-26-10 Robe Canyon Railroad Tunnel Hike 061

Overall, Robe Canyon Historic Park offers a relatively moderate effort hike for kids and adults (considering that you have to climb back up the steady switchbacks you descended at the beginning of the trail).  It’s a glimpse into the history of the Robe Valley.  After your hike you can stop off at Paca Pride Guest Ranch, which has restroom facilities for the public, and get a tour of the guest yurts and alpacas.  Top off your day’s adventure with a stop back in town at the Granite Falls Historical Museum.  It is a surprising rival to Seattle’s own Museum of History giving you a keen sense of what it was like back in the wild west days.  You can see pictures of the actual railroad along with the famed “galloping geese” that were later used to trek tourists up the tracks to the Big Four resort, but, not without first stopping inside the tunnels for a “kissing moment”.  Yes, even then the frontier folk could appreciate a good tunnel as a romantic interlude.

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Permaculture Progress

DSC_7758 Wow what a busy month July has turned out to be for us here at Paca Pride!  Our first official year in business has seen every weekend, and a number of weekdays, booked with guests or events.  That bodes well for generating buzz about what we are doing here to establish a homestead campground on land that was logged by the previous owners.  They left us the stumps, logging debris, and 10 years of overgrowth to contend with on land that was fit for a quarry to mine gravel. 

That was then, and now, 5 years later into our project, we are seeing some great strides in establishing a “Permaculture” working with the abundance that nature provides.  Our first challenge, and the one still most prevalent, is that of establishing good, healthy soils, or tilth, that will serve as a base for a veritable food forest in the future.  As human cultivators, playing our role, we are managing the stages of a forest to remain in an alpine meadow, providing plenty of forage for our herd of llamas and alpacas to graze. But in this land of glacial till, rocks and gravel rule the day.  So, first up is simply letting our grasses grow and not mowing them into a lawn.  This introduces more organic matter to the topsoil, allows the grasses to re-seed themselves, and, since we also allow nature’s nutrient accumulators to grow amongst the grasses, pull up vital minerals from the the ground for future growing seasons.  Our weeds work for us DSC_7884rather than seen as public enemy number one! 

Dandelions accumulate lots of good stuff in their leaves, along with plantains and other opportunistic plants that nature sends to work on bare patches of soil.  Introducing white clover to the mix starts helping to fix some nitrogen to feed grasses and other forbs.  Soon, shrubs and deciduous trees will take hold and we’ll be watching the landscape take shape. 

Right now, our front yard is a glorious meadow replete with plenty of wild flowers among the flowering grasses.  We step in to control only those plants that need control, namely blackberries and bracken fern.  We think we’ve won the first round of stepping those thorny shrubs back to the edges where they help control wildlife and provide additional habitat, but only time will tell if our plans will bear other fruits.

DSC_7759Our herd provides plenty of great manure for our compost bin and then its off to the garden and landscape beds that are beginning to see themselves populated with edible landscaping plants like oregano bushes and day lilies.  We even let portions of their manure remain behind to help fertilize the pastures and ret urn some of that nutrition to the grasses for future foraging.  The chicken tractor helps speed this along as our poultry birds help rake out the manure and control flies and bugs. 

Speaking of our herd, since July is our official start to summer out here in the Cascades, they were all due for a shearing haircut to remove that weighty prize of fleece and let them be more comfortable in the heat of the season.  Mid-July saw the entire herd shorn as we harvested the fiber for processing at the fiber mill and for sending into our fiber cooperative to make our famous alpaca socks we sell.

DSC_7773 As a homestead with a bent towards permaculture, everything figures into the sustainable picture, so even our chickens are allowed to free range and perform their bug control duties while providing us with fresh eggs.  Our garden has to consider this roving brigade and so we use a row covering method that allows easy access to our raised beds yet keeps the scratching and pecking birds from turning the garden’s bounty into chicken feed before it reaches our table.  (Alas, they did get to our strawberry patch this year as I wasn’t paying to close attention, so chalk up a point to the flock!)

Our days have been busy with much passer-by traffic popping in to curiously explore this new offering along the Mountain Loop Highway.  Luckily, our calendar is also seeing a steady upward trend in the number of bookings we are getting as well.  This month of July had a touchstone moment as we hosted our first weekend Yoga retreat to great success.  Group retreats and events seem to be taking center stage as we are the perfect spot for a family reunion, corporate retreat, or a gathering of yoga enthusiasts to enjoy the beauty of this sacred space we are creating in the mountains. 

DSC_7915So as the summer’s heat gets turned up here in the mountains, we turn our intentions towards the stewardship tasks that will help move the land forward towards sustainability!

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