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

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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!”


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:


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

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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):






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:

02-20-12 Barley Fodder sprouting 009

02-20-12 Barley Fodder sprouting 010

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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:




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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