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- Cow Breeds
- Cow Care
- Gobar Gas
- Napier Grass
Elizabeth (Holstein-Friesian) on her First Day with us Aug 2004.
The two main breeds here are Jersey hybrid and Holstein-Friesian hybrid.
The Holstein breed originated in The Netherlands close to 2,000 years ago. The black cows and white cows of the Batavians and Friesians were bred and culled to produce cows that made the best use of limited land in the Rhine Delta region by producing the most milk. Eventually these animals evolved genetically into the efficient, high producing black and white dairy cows known as the Holstein-Friesian.
The same applies to the strain of Holstein-Friesian cows here in the Nilgiris - they are hybrids from an original set that were presented to farmers in the Nilgiris by some foreign country not sure which one. Anyway they were mated with local bulls and the resulting hybrids are all over now. These hybrids are however more adapted to local weather conditions though they may not give as much milk as the originals strain.
Liam and Lazy the Jersey Calf
Jersey cattle originate from Jersey the largest Island in the Channel Islands and just some 14 miles away from the French coast. There are fewer than 6000 Jerseys on the Island in total with nearly 4000 of these being adult milking cows. The purity of the breed on the Island is maintained by a strict ban on imports. This ban has been in place for some 150 years. There are no other breeds of the cattle on the Island. The Jersey shares a common ancestry with not only the Guernsey breed but also those cattle found on the Normandy and Brittany coasts.
Anyway Jersey cows here in Nilgiris are hybrids from a stock of pure cows and bulls that were presented to local dairy farmers by some royalty. I don't know details right now but will add them here soon. There is a stud farm in Ootacamund (Ooty) town that still has the line of origninal bulls and they supply sperms in frozen condition in liquid nitrogen.
BUYING A COW IN THE NILGIRIS.
So many people have contacted me about buying Jersey cows that I decided to put the information that I have over here.
First of all I don't have any cows to sell right now.
I bought all my cows from a local person, Mr Krishnamurthy, who has kept cows for 40 years but now he does not have any to sell - because I bought them all .
But you can ask him to find out. You can contact him on his nephews mobile 98439-21149 or you could try 98653-35698 which belongs to Murli but can put you in touch with Krishnamurthy. You can give my reference. Krishnamurthy really knows a lot about cows and may be your best bet so try hard to reach him.
The other place to ask is the Jersey Farm in Ooty that are in the business of collecting semen and they sometimes know of cows for sale and sell some of their own too. You can speak to Mr Devraj there in accounts 0423-244-4059. Call during office hours.
Some of the vets also know of cows for sale. One vet I bought a cow thru is Dr. Parthasarthy 94438-98466. You can give my reference again.
You could also check with the Vet Hospital in Coonoor 223-1711. They sometimes can find out too.
Keeping cows is a tedious task compared to goats or buffalos. Here is what we have learnt in the last 2 years.
We made our first cow shed with hollow concrete blocks for insulation from cold. It is designed for 3 cows and has a feed tray. The ground is sloping gently backwards to a channel so that the urine goes into the gobar gas plant directly. Outside the shed is another feed tray so that cows can be in the outdoors during the day. This area area also has a run-off for the urine into the gobar gas plant.
The new cow shed (photo below) is much bigger (10 cows) and is made with home-made bricks. It has a loft for storage of dry fodder. The urine from cows flows to the 2 new gobar gas plants (partly seen in the foreground).
New Cow Shed for 10 cows.
Should be mainly meadow grass (after all meadows are where cows were supposed to be). So our effort is to grow a few acres of that on our own.
For the time being the staple diet is dry cow feed that we buy in 50 kg sacks from the market. This is mixed in warm water and fed 3 times a day. When we went to Aavin Dairy in Coimbatore they made us aware of a water fern called Azolla that we can grow in shallow ponds and is a great supplement with the dry food. So we mix about a kilogram per cow with each feed.
After 2 years of poking long syringes with expensive frozen sperms from prize stud bulls we discovered that nature knows best. So we started sending our cows (when they were in heat) to the locals bulls for some classic 'one day' stands - and Elizabeth got pregnant.
The most important component of making cheese. So how do we get the best quality of milk for the conditions in this area.
First is that we would like to keep Jersey hybrids as the fat content in their milk is higher (4.5 %).
Second is the grass. Meadow grass.
Now FAO says that white clover is good for milk production so we have to read up on that and figure out how and where to grow it.
Fresh milk from the healthy animal is about as good as it gets.
It contains it's own system of cultures and enzymes that make it very suited for the newly born and young as well as for cheese making.
The physical makeup of this milk is primarily:
- Water (88%)
- Lactose (4.5-5.5%) the milk sugar which serves as fuel for the lactic bacteria
- Protein (3.5% in cows to over 8% in ewes) primarily the Casein for cheese structure
- Fat (3.5-5% in cows up to 9% for ewes) providing flavor, aroma, and texture in cheese
- Minerals such as Calcium which form the Casein bonds for cheese
- Enzymes such as Lipase and Plasmin which aid in the ripening of cheese.
These components in fresh milk are kept in a suspension due to the nature of the casein particle (milks primary protein) and these in turn trap the fat particles. This suspended particle condition will later be altered in cheese making via rennet, acidity, and heat.
It is this change in the casein structure which causes the white fluid milk to form into the firm jell which becomes the curd of our developing cheese.
This process can be either a controlled development of positive lactic bacteria populations (as in cheese making) or it can be the wild growth of wild bacteria that will simply result in the souring of the milk.
This quality and balance of milk components also makes possible the wonderful array of cheeses due to differing breeds, diets, seasons, and even geographic areas.
What can go wrong with it?
From the moment that the milk leaves the animals udder, things begin to change.
First, as the milk leaves it's healthy environment it enters a much harsher environment of possible contamination. It is here that the milk producer has a great ability to control the quality of milk by preparing and keeping a clean milking area and practicing a proper sanitation routine.
Next, in commercial milking, as the milk moves through the tubes, pipes, and pumps into the refrigerated tanks more physical changes begin to take place:
Fat globules can be damaged releasing enzymes that can cause problems in ripening
During long cold storage more of the Calcium can go into solution resulting in weak curds
Also, during cold storage certain undesirable bacteria that grow well at these cold temperatures can increase to very large populations.
Finally, as the milk is transported and then cold stored again, the above problems begin to accelerate.
Since the Lactose in milk is a very good food supply for many types of microbes, all of the above conditions translate into a deteriorating milk quality, so to preserve this milk for the public in a safe manner something has to be done.
What is being done for this?
In 1857 Louis Pasteur realized that heat treatment would destroy unwanted microbes and shortly after this the pasteurization of milk began in Europe and America. By 1940 this process became well established as dairy herds became larger, bulking milk became popular, milk travelled farther, and larger milk processing plants and cheese factories held milk longer.
There are several different approaches that will result in changing milk quality:
- We have all been led to believe that milk is a wonderful source of calcium, when in fact, pasteurization diminishes the nutrient value of milk ... making calcium and other minerals unavailable. Complete destruction of phosphatase is one method of testing to see if milk has been adequately pasteurized. Phosphatase is essential for the absorption of calcium.
- High Temperature (162F) Short Time (15 sec.)
... At either of these points many of the enzymes and cultures are affected and Calcium damage has become apparent but the use of Calcium Chloride may reverse the later. Dairy technicians have tried to replace the enzymes and cultures through science but we all know that it is very hard to do as well as 'Mother Nature'.Pasteurization can take one of two forms:
one of the real downsides to pasteurization is that fresh milk naturally contains healthy bacteria that inhibit the growth of undesirable and dangerous organisms. Without these friendly bacteria, pasteurized milk is more susceptible to contamination.
Low Temperature (145F) Long Time (30 min.)
- Ultra Pasteurization
This is a range of milk processing temps from 191-212 F for varying times
once the temp rises above 174F the calcium component of the milk will be damaged to the point that a curd will not develop properly. If your curd forms as a loose mass or something looking like ricotta, then your milk source has been probably Ultra Pasteurized.
This higher heat treatment causes denaturation of whey proteins which subsequently stick to the casein particles. The effects are:Ultra High Temperature Sterilization (UHT)
* Longer flocculation times
* Weak or no curd formation
* Poor syneresis (moisture release)
* Coarse textured curd with reduced ability to stretch, mat and melt.
(280F) Short Time (2 secs) ....
UHT when used to describe a dairy ingredient means that such ingredient shall have been thermally processed at or above 280 deg.F for at least 2 seconds.
DO NOT TRY TO MAKE THE QUICK MOZZARELLA FROM THIS MILK
The key word here is 'Shelf Life' and this process increases it to 60 plus days compared with the 18 days of lower temp pasteurization. It would be very hard to place the word 'Fresh' on the package with any conscience.
Farm Fresh Milk
This will be the best milk you can buy for cheese making, providing you do your homework and either produce or find milk that you are very confidant in quality wise. You will need to make sure the animals are tested, healthy, and that the milk handling has not opened this milk up to contamination.
This is very important and the decision to use this milk is totally in your hands.
If you decide to use this milk you then need to decide whether it should be used raw or with a moderate heat treatment applied.
In using your own raw milk it is very important that the milk is used fresh ... within 40-48 hours and that is kept cool enough that natural bacteria in the milk do not begin producing acid. If you are able to test your milk the aciditysould be in the range of .16-.20% and pH 6.8-6.7.
Pasteurized and Homogenized store bought milk.
We have made cheese from this type of milk for many years and Ricki's Mozzarella demonstrations almost always use this type of milk with great results. This is most often the only milk our customers can get.
The real problem is that milk is being shipped cross country after being processed by huge processing plants .. in order to do this the milk must be processed at higher temps and then held at cold temps for long periods while shipping long distances to markets .. this is especially true for our so called "organic milks" ... many of the milks not labeled as UP are in fact heat and cold damaged and will not make a proper cheese curd
.. our best advice to date is to buy a LOCAL milk ..
one that has not had to have the extensive "LongHaul" treatment. (Click here for comparison photographs of good milk curds vs UP)
Homogenization will have a small effect on cheese but in the case of blue cheeses this can be a plus. This process is normally done to reduce the size of the fat globule in milk to such a small size that it will not float to the top (remember cream top milk dad used to spoon off into his coffee). The process itself does a bit of damage to the fat globule membrane and will affect the flavor and texture a bit.
As the times change and our many diversified dairies dwindle to a few mega producers needing to hold the milk for longer periods shiping over long distances, 'Shelf Life' becomes a priority and UP or UHT milk are the tool of choice for these 'Mega Dairies'
... This milk has all of it's enzymes and cultures systems affected as well as damage to the Calcium balance.
Most importantly the Protein structure has been altered to the point that it is almost impossible to form a proper curd for cheese making.
Most cheese makers consider this to be dead milk.
It is about as close to 'Sterile Milk' as we can get.
There are no regulations that require labeling of this milk. At first the dairies were so proud of this technology they put it on of their labels but now with the negative feedback from their customers, many are no longer labeling it as such.
Many of our cheese makers have bought this unlabeled milk and had failed batches.
FDA defines pasteurization as:
||Ultra-High Temp Sterilization
If the dairy ingredient has a fat content of 10 percent or more, the specified temperature shall be increased by 5 deg.F.
As the gobar gas production is an anaerobic process, it is carried out in an air tight, closed cylindrical concrete tank called a digester. The tank has a concrete inlet basin on one side for feeding fresh cattle dung (gobar). There is a concrete outlet on the outer side for removing the digested sludge. The top of the tank serves as the gas tank. It has an outlet pipe for the gobar gas.
This is how it works as numbered in diagram above.
1. Mixing tank with inlet pipe and sand trap.
3. Compensation and removal tank.
6. Entry hatch, with gastight seal.
7. Accumulation of thick sludge.
8. Outlet pipe.
9. Reference level.
Fresh cattle dung is mixed with equal amount of water, and fed daily into the digester tank through the inlet (1) and allowed to remain there. Gobar gas collects in the space above the slurry in the main tank (4).
Frame with Chicken Mesh for making RCC dome.
It is conducted through the outlet pipe (5) and used for domestic purposes. The digested sludge (digested biomass) is automatically removed from the tank through (8) and is an excellent fertilizer.
It is smooth and continuous process. The only thing is that the degree of digestion of the gobar from the beginning to the end is determined by the ambient temperature. So if the temperature is not high enough then all the gobar is not digested and so we get less gas and the output slurry is not as rich in Nitrogen and so is not such a good fertiliser. Anyway that is the price in these cold climates.
8 Ft Pit for intalling New Gobar Gas Plant near New Cow Shed.
Dome of Gobar Gas plant installed with rough finished surface.
Above are photos of construction of 2 new gobar gas plants of 4 cu ft capacity each. This will be fed with the cow shed output as well as the toilet output of Main House, Cheese Room and New Cottage. The gas resulting will feed all the structures.
As the volume of these units is larger, the distance that the gobar gas can be sent and used is more and so it will be able to service all the main structures. It remains to be seen how much of our needs we can meet with this capacity.
People who helped us build these gobar gas plants.
Khadi and Village Industries Commission (K.V.I.C)
In our area it was Mr. Saji John - 94439-00727
Mr Roy - 04262-22-6321
The A.D.O. of KVIC is a very helpful gentleman called Mr. Jaibalu and his mobile is 098941-93057.
Our Cows grazing finally on their own.
Pastures are the natural habitat for cows. All this stall feeding is a crazy construct. But we can understand now in retrospect why people keeping cows are forced into it. There are no pastures left and if they are then they are not free for all to use.
One of the main ideas of buying a large enough land was so that we could grow feed for the cows. So we started with napier grass but that again meant cutting it and feeding the cows as we were not sure if the cows could feed directly from the napier grass shoots without either hurting themselves or damaging the shoot to the point that it stopped growing.
Now we have let the cows loose and they seem to be doing ok with the napier grass. If it gets damaged then we will just forget about napier grass in the pastures and hope to grow meadow grass that will hopefully take root with the cow dung and urine naturally falling all over the place.
Napier Grass at Acres Wild
Planting Napier grass for fodder
Napier grass is an improved fodder grass that produces a lot of high-protein forage. It is also known as "elephant grass", "Sudan grass" or "king grass".
Napier grass is best suited to high rainfall areas, but it is drought-tolerant and can also grow well in drier areas. It does not grow well in waterlogged areas. It can be grown along with fodder trees along field boundaries or along contour lines or terrace risers to help control erosion. It can be intercropped with crops such as legumes and fodder trees, or as a pure stand.
- Napier grass is propagated easily.
- It has a soft stem that is easy to cut.
- It has deep roots, so is fairly drought-resistant.
- The tender, young leaves and stems are very palatable for livestock.
- Napier grass grows very fast.
- Napier grass is an aggressive plant that spreads through rhizomes under the ground. If it is not controlled, it can invade crop fields and become a weed.
- The older stems and leaves are less palatable for livestock.
Napier grass can be planted using three different methods: by cuttings, "slips" or whole stems.
1. At the beginning of the rains, collect the planting materials. With a sharp knife, cut the bottom part of young Napier grass stems into pieces. Each piece should have at least three nodes (the knobs or swellings on the stem).
2. Stretch out a rope across the plot to make sure you have a straight line. Using the hoe and measuring stick, plant the pieces of stem at 60 cm intervals along the line. Plant them angled into the ground at about 30 degrees, so two of the nodes are buried in the soil and one is above the ground.
3. Plant more rows with a spacing of about 90 cm (3 feet) between the rows.
Planting "slips" or "splits"
If you planting "slips" or "splits", you do not have to wait a long time for the grass to grow before you can multiply it. Seedlings from the slips become established more quickly than those grown from cuttings.
1. Cut Napier grass stems at ground level to remove all the green material.
2. Dig up the clump of roots and shoots growing under the ground.
3. Separate each seedling from the clump. Each seedling must have both roots and a shoot.
4. Trim the roots to about 5 cm (2 inches) long.
5. Plant the seedlings in small holes or a furrow.
6. Cover the roots with soil, but leave the shoots open to the air.
Planting whole stems
Planting whole stems is useful during the heavy rains, and in hilly areas where you need the grass to sprout quickly to cover the ground. Plant them along the contour to control erosion.
1. Cut whole young stems of Napier grass, about 2 m (6 feet) long.
2. Put the stems end-to-end in a furrow, and cover them with soil.
Maintenance and harvesting
1. Water immediately after planting.
2. Weed the Napier grass plot regularly.
3. If any of the cuttings die, fill in the gaps with new ones.
4. Harvest the grass when it is 90-120 cm (3-4 feet) high. Harvest the grass following a pattern. Beginning at one end of the row, cut enough grass to feed your animals for 1 day. The next day, cut the next grass along in the row. Carry on until you reach the end of the row. In this way, you will always be able to cut fodder for your livestock.
5. Apply liquid manure by digging trenches in between the rows of grass.
6. If the livestock do not eat all the grass, use the remainder as mulch or compost.
- Cut the grass 15-25 cm (6-10 inches) above the ground. Some farmers have found it is better to cut at ground level, though this may damage the plant too much.
- Fill in any gaps in the rows with fresh cuttings.
- Don't use older stems as planting materials, as they will not germinate well.
- Don't intercrop with cereals, as the grass will compete with the crop for nutrients and light.
- Don't allow animals to graze on the Napier grass, as they may damage or kill the plants.
- Don't allow the grass to overgrow, as it may become a weed.
- Don't allow the grass to grow too high (more than 120 cm or 4 feet), as livestock will not eat it.
Vetiver is a tall, dense, wild grass with long narrow leaves and a strand of underground white, yellow and brown roots. It is sought after for its calming, protective, soothing and uplifting characteristics. It can be found in Java, Haiti, Japan, Indonesia and South India. Vetiver is used for its antiseptic, sedative, stimulant and tonic properties. Vetiver’s essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from its roots. Vetiver essential oil’s aroma has a smoky woody scent. It is often blended with geranium, jasmine, lavender and rosewood.
Vetiver has been used throughout his in many different cultures for many different reasons from its healing abilities to ceremonies. In India and Sri Lanka it is known as the oil of tranquility. Vetiver was also used to make shade awnings and fans. Vetiver oil was used to anoint brides to bless them before entering marriage. In Ayurveda the root and essential oil are used for heatstroke, fevers, and headaches. Russians used vetiver in sachets attached to the lining of their coats to help in retaining warmth. It was used in perfumes with rosewood and lime in the middle ages. It was also grown to prevent soil erosion in India. The grass was also used to make woven baskets, rugs and parts of the house in Africa. In today’s aromatherapy vetiver has many uses. It is used for an insect repellant which it is excellent for. Vetiver it used to strengthen the red blood cells and promotes oxygen throughout the body. Vetiver is often used to alleviate the symptoms of rheumatism, arthritis and muscular aches such as muscle pain, sprains, and joint and muscle stiffness. It also aids the reproductive system; it is used to promote fertilization of the female egg. Vetiver is also useful for the skin, it can be used to alleviate the inflammation of acne, aids in healing of cuts, and it reduces oil in the skin.
Vetiver is not toxic and nonirritant it is great for the skin for sensitive and older skin.
Vetiver is a clump-forming grass up to 2 meters in height with roots that can penetrate to 3 meters deep. Vetiver is closely related to other fragrant grasses such as Lemon Grass and Palmarosa. Vetiver is most easily propagated vegetatively due to the fact that most cultivars produce limited amounts of viable seed while others do not flower at all. Vetiver is a long-lived perennial and can survive up to 50 years or more.
Vetiver is native to the Indian subcontinent and parts of Asia and Africa.
- Erosion control
Several aspects of vetiver make it an excellent erosion control plant in warmer climates. Unlike most grasses, vetiver does not form a horizontal mat of roots, rather the roots grow almost exclusively vertically downward. The close growing culms also help to block the runoff of surface water. For these reasons, vetiver hedges are planted alongside roads and as borders to rice paddies and other crop fields planted on steep grades. Because vetiver propagates itself by small offsets instead of underground stolons, it is non invasive and can easily be controlled by cultivation of the soil at the boundary of the hedge.
- Other uses
The leaves are used in basketry and mat weaving and also make an excellent roof thatching. The fragrant roots are woven into screens and fans and other household items. An essential oil is steam-distilled from the dried, chopped roots. The oil is known as Vetiver or Vetivert and Khus khus, Khas khas, or Oil of Tranquility in India. It is thick and amber in color. It is much used as a fixative in perfumery. The scent is deep, earthy and woody with an almost lemony overtone and is very tenacious. It is used in aromatherapy to help relieve stress and to promote relaxation.
Azolla Ponds at Acres Wild
Azolla is a water fern that grows on the surface in ponds. Azolla has 50-60% protein on dry weight basis, rich in almost all essential amino acids, vitamin A, vitamin B-complex, beta-carotene and minerals viz. Calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper and magnesium.
Azolla is emerging as an alternate sustainable cow feed in India. Due to lack of fodder due to uncertain climatic conditions, the government is encouraging the harvesting of azolla as it is not water intensive and can be done with less space and cost.
A Japanese farmer in Kyushu, Japan, Mr. T.Furuno has been practicing rice and hybrid duck culture. He tried hard not to use pesticide in rice cultivation. The most difficult task was weeding. He introduced hybrid duck primarily for weeding purpose. The duck effectively made a weeding job by disturbing soil surface. He found the duck contributed a lot to rice cultivation. Now, rice-duck culture is widely practiced in organic rice farming. Primarily for providing nitrogen nutrient, azolla was introduced to this system. Azolla provided nitrogen nutrient for rice and protein for duck, and contributed to the suppression of weed. Duck, on the other hand, contributed to azolla by eradicating azolla insect pest, and spreading azolla by its movement. Duck's excreta may supply phosphorus to azolla. This rice-duck-azolla system is now being adopted by organic farming farmers.
About Azolla at LEISA (Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture) Magazine.
The practice of making panchgavya. from the "five products" of cows. The five products are milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung, (and Panch in Hindi means five). It is described in Ayurvedic medical texts.
The products obtained are also used either as fertilizers or pestcides in agricultural operations.
We started with 5 goats on 5 July 2006. 2 kids were born on 15 July 2006.
Some History of Goats
Goats were one of the very first animals to be domesticated by humans, some 10,000 years ago.
Goats are seasonal breeders. This results in seasonal milk production (resulting in less milk and less profit) so commercial farmers stimulate goats to breed out of season by the administration of hormones or the change of light to induce ovulation. There is no way that we willl think of doing anything of the kind but just putting it down here so you can see the madness that humans do.
Goats usually produce 2 kids and once these babies have had 24 hours feeding from their mothers they are removed and reared using artificial teats so that the milk can be sold for human consumption. Fibre producing breeds are usually reared by their mothers until 12-14 weeks of age.
A goat can drink from 1 to 4 gallons of water a day depending on its physiological state. Uncontrolled populations of domesticated goats have contributed to deforestation and desertification around the world, causing considerable damage to fragile environments.
Every time we reach the base of the hills to a town called Metapallyam, we see dozens of donkeys that appear to be belonging to no one and kind of fending for themselves on the barren streets. I still have to figure out what they are doing there and who they belong to but one thing is for sure, they have a place in our farm. Donkeys are the most ridiculed and misunderstood animals. Strange but I realised this fact only lately.
(Photo not at Acres Wild)
Donkeys are related to horses and zebras. They are all members of the family ‘equus’, i.e. they are equines. The donkey is a descendant of the African wild ass, which is now rare in the wild and found in only a few remote parts of north-eastern Africa.
In the wild, donkeys do not live in such close herds as horses and ponies do as they occupy marginal desert-lands where food is generally scarce. As a result they have developed very loud ‘voices’, which can carry just over three kilometres. This allows them to keep in contact with one another. Their larger ears also allow them to hear the distant calls of their neighbours. Donkeys also use their ears as a form of visual communication and they may help dissipate some of the hot desert heat.
Donkeys have a very tough digestive system that can break down almost inedible vegetation and at the same time extract and save as much moisture as possible.
Donkeys range in size from the Miniature Mediterranean (under 91cm) to larger donkeys such as the rare French Poitou (up to 150cm) with its large head and ears and thick, shaggy coat. Domestic donkeys tend to be classified by their size rather than breed as over the generations breeds have been crossed and, as a result, there are not many pure breeds left.
Donkeys often live for twenty-five years or more. Some have been recorded as living to the ripe old age of sixty, although a forty-year-old donkey is considered to be elderly.
A donkey/horse comparison
- Donkeys are slower and less powerful than horses but they are extremely intelligent animals. They have a strong sense of survival and if they deem something as dangerous they simply won’t do it, hence they would not make steeplechasers or three-day eventers! They are particularly patient and persistent animals and as a result make excellent pack animals.
- Horses and ponies are native to lush grassland regions, donkeys, however, are adapted to marginal desert lands and, therefore, their food needs are much less than that of a horse. In fact many domestic donkeys tend to be overfed and as a result suffer from a disease called ‘Laminitis’.
- Donkeys do not have natural ‘waterproof’ coats like horses and so must have access to shelter.
- Donkeys require just as much care and attention as horses. For example, their feet must be trimmed around every 8 weeks, they must be wormed regularly, have yearly tetanus and flu vaccinations and regular grooming.
- Horses are flight animals, i.e. in times of panic or danger they will run away, donkeys, however, will simply freeze when frightened. Donkeys evolved in rugged desert terrain and fleeing in times of danger simply wasn’t possible.
- Donkeys do not have a flowing tail like a horse but a tufted tail more like that of a cow.
Protect sheep/cattle & goats
Once a donkey has bonded with a herd it will protect them against canine predators (foxes, dogs, coyote) as it would one of its own. It beds down with the animals at night and on hearing any strange noises will voice a warning to the herd and chase, often trampling, the predator.
The donkey seems to have a calming effect on horses. It can be introduced to a mare and foal and on separation from its mother the foal looks to the donkey for support. In a similar way a donkey can be an excellent field or stable companion to a nervous horse.
Some interesting donkey facts:
A male donkey is called a jack.
A female donkey is called a jennet or jenny.
When a female horse and a male donkey mate, the resulting offspring is called a ‘mule’.
When a male horse and a female donkey mate, the offspring is called a ‘hinny’.
When a male zebra and a female donkey mate the offspring is called a ‘zedonk’ or ‘zebrass’.
All of these resulting offspring are sterile, i.e. they cannot produce offspring themselves.
Donkey’s milk was once valued as a medicine and was given to premature babies and sick children and to people suffering from tuberculosis. Donkey’s milk contains more sugar and protein than cow’s milk and less fat.
In Southern Spain there is a ‘giant’ pure breed of donkey called the ‘Andalucian-Cordobesan’, which can reach up to 16 hands high, that’s as big as a racehorse! Unfortunately this donkey species is in danger of extinction; a survey in 2000 by the University of Cordobain estimated that there are probably as few as 150 Andalucians left.
Donkeys were first domesticated around 4500 years ago and, at one time were a status symbol of their owners’ wealth, rather like a Rolls Royce is today.
The donkey’s characteristic ‘Eee awe’ sound is made by an intake of breadth followed instantly by exhalation.
Hands – a measuring unit used for equines that is equal to four inches.
Laminitis – also known as ‘fever in the feet’. It is an inflammation of the sensitive tissue lining the inside wall of the foot. It can occur at any time of the year but more often occurs in spring with the growth of the rich, new grass.Further research:
For more information on donkey breeds visit: Donkey Breed Society
- Guinea Fowl
Our first farm birds.
A chickens' body temperature normally runs at 102-103 degrees F.
A rooster takes 18-20 breaths a minute, a hen 30-35.
There are over 150 varieties of domestic chickens.
Chickens are not capable of sustained flight.
It takes a hen 24-26 hours to lay an egg.
The latin name for chicken is Gallus Domesticus.
Chickens come in an infinite variety of colors and patterns.
Chickens lay different colored eggs, from white, to brown, to green, to pink, to blue.
A chicken can have 4 or 5 toes on each foot.
Grocery store chickens are 5-8 weeks old.
A chicken takes 21 days to hatch.
Chickens were domesticated about 8000 years ago.
Americans consume 8 billion chickens a year.
All domestic chickens can be genetically traced to Gallus Gallus, The Red Jungle Fowl.
It takes 4 lbs.+ of feed to make 1 dozen eggs.
The chicken was once considered a sacred animal symbolizing the sun.
Breeds were developed to provide plumage for ceremonial costumes.
The first Poultry Exhibition was held in the United States on November 14, 1849. There were 219 exhibitors, 1023 birds, and over 10,000 visitors.
One trait, called Melanosis, causes chickens' bones, ligaments, skin and tendons to be colored BLACK.
In 1925, hens laid an average of 100 eggs a year. In 1979, the World Record was set by a White Leghorn who laid 371 eggs in 364 days!!!
A hen lives an average of 5-7 years, but can live up to 20 years. She'll lay eggs her entire life, with production decreasing every year from year one.
An egg starts growing into a chick when it reaches a temperature of 86 degrees F.
Alektorophobia is the name given to "The Fear of Chickens".
The ducks finally arrived today on 27 July 2007. Just as the ponds are ready and going to be stocked with fish. There are very good reasons for keeping ducks and integrating them into the farm pond system.
Duck-fish integration is very common in countries like China, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Russia and to some extent in India. The fish pond being a semi-closed biological system, with several aquatic animals and plants, provides an excellent disease-free environment for ducks. In turn, ducks consumes tadpoles, juvenile frogs, dragonflies and other insects, making a safer environment for fish. Duck excreta are used as fertilizer in a fishpond, which stimulates the growth of fish food organisms in the pond. Ducks feed on snails and gastropods available in the pond which otherwise serve as vectors for certain diseases and the ducks thus serve in reducing their incidence. Ducks further help in aerating the pond water along with pond bottom raking effects, which is beneficial for fish.
Ducklings of Khakhi Campbell Ducks - 9 Sept 2007
Same ducklings with Foster Mother who hatched the eggs.
Gander at Acres Wild.
Geese are the latest entry at Acres Wild. I hear that they are aggressive and territorial. Some people say you don't need a watchdog if you have geese. Lets see.
- Geese are migratory but as migration is a learned behavior - not instinct – the birds must learn to migrate from their parents. If the adults do not migrate, each new generation will also not migrate.
- Fecal output of a goose is typically produces 1.5lbs per day.
- Geese, whether resident or migrant, typically return to the same nesting location every year.
- Just because geese are resident does not mean that they do not move around. Resident birds will move from site to site during the day to feed, roost or loaf, and may even “migrate” a short distance to a breeding site.
- Adult resident birds have few predators. In urban settings, foxes and coyotes will feed on smaller birds and eggs. Raccoons especially enjoy goose eggs, although both goose and gander will aggressively protect the nest.
- Geese can live up to 25 years, although 15 is more typical. Therefore, once a resident population is established, it requires both short and long-term strategies for effective management.
Geese enjoying Pond No 1 on Acres Wild Farm.
Food & Feeding
- Geese are entirely herbivorous, consuming plant material exclusively. In the wild, the birds can eat nearly all plant species, including aquatic, but especially enjoy grasses, clovers, grain, and berries.
- They quickly become habituated to people and the habit of being fed.
- Geese build a nest in a large open cup made of dry grasses, lichens, and mosses, lined with down and some body feathers. Nests are usually placed on slightly elevated sites near water, such as a pond or river edge, although in extreme cases, can be found on top of buildings.
- Geese breed just once a year, during March and April.
- A goose lays 2-8 eggs, called a clutch. The eggs are creamy white and the incubation period is 25-28 days.
- In the event the clutch is lost to a predator, the goose will lay a new clutch.
- The goslings come out of the egg covered with down and eyes open. They leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching with the ability to swim and feed. Chicks “fledge” – capable of flying – in 6-7 weeks.
- The survival rate of goslings from resident birds is better than that of their migrating cousins, and it is estimated that the total population is growing at 15%, annually. The migrant goose population has been stable over the last 20 years.
- Geese typically start breeding at 3 years of age and can continue for up to 17 years.
- Geese mate for life and will only seek a new mate if the other dies.
- Geese will aggressively defend their nest sites and can harm people if provoked.
- Geese “molt” or lose their flight feathers once a year, in July. During this period they can be readily captured.
Turkeys at Acres Wild Farm.
The turkeys arrived in Sept 2007. Bought them from the market where they are being sold in anticipation for Christmas. I think this variety is called 'mottled black'.
The wild turkey is native to Northern Mexico and the Eastern United States.
Turkeys lived in North America almost ten million years ago .
The turkey was domesticated in Mexico and brought to Europe in the 16th century.
The American Indians hunted wild turkey for its meat as early as 1000 A.D. They made turkey "callers" out of turkey wing bones. The feathers were used to decorate ceremonial clothing. The spurs on the legs of wild tom turkeys were used on arrowheads and the feathers were used to stablize the arrows.
Adult turkeys can have 3,500 feathers. Most turkey feathers are composted. Feathers are spread out on fields, then plowed under in the spring. The feathers decompose and fertilize the soil.
After the female turkey mates, she prepares a nest under a bush in the woods and lays her tan and speckled brown eggs. She incubates as many as 18 eggs at a time. It takes about a month for the chicks to hatch. The average turkey hen will lay 110 to 115 eggs during a 28-30 week period.
When the babies (known as poults) hatch they flock with their mother all year (even through the winter). For the first two weeks the poults are unable to fly. The mother roosts on the ground with them during this time.
Turkey eggs hatch in 28 days. A baby turkey is called a "poult".
Turkey eggs are light tan with brown specks and are larger than chicken eggs. A turkey egg weighs from 80 grams to 100 grams (3 to 4 ounces).
Wild turkeys spend the night in trees. They roost (perch) on the branches.
Gobbling turkeys can be heard a mile away on a quiet day.
Turkeys don’t really have ears like ours, but they have very good hearing.
A large group of turkeys is called a flock.
Turkeys are related to pheasants.
As male turkeys gets older they fight a lot. They may even attack people.
Turkeys can see movement almost a hundred yards away.
Turkeys do not see well at night.
The turkey has an unusual looking bare head with a beak, caruncle, snood and wattle. Turkeys’ heads change colors when they become excited.
The male turkey is called a tom or gobbler. The female turkey is called a hen. Baby turkeys are called poults.
A turkey has 157 bones!
According to the Guinness Book of Records the largest turkey raised was 39.09 kilograms (86 pounds) -- about the size of a large dog.
How do you tell the HENS from the TOMS?
- Once they mature, the toms are larger and have longer legs.
- Toms grow a beard (long black feathers) in the middle of the chest (breast). Very few hens grow a beard.
- A male turkey's head and wattle (growth under the chin) is larger.
- The tom's snood (a fleshy growth on top of the bill) is longer and hangs down the side of his face.
- Male turkeys gobble. Hens do not. Hens make a clicking or clucking sound.
Male turkeys strut about, gobbling loudly and holding their heads high. They stick out their chests, fan their large tails and drag their wings on the ground. They do this to attract the attention of the female turkeys.
Caruncle - brightly colored growths on the throat region. Turns bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.
Gizzard - a part of a bird's stomach that contains tiny stones. It helps them grind up food for digestion.
Hen - a female turkey.
Poult - a baby turkey. A chick.
Snood - the flap of skin that hangs over the turkey's beak. Turns bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.
Tom - a male turkey. Also known as a gobbler.
Wattle - the flap of skin under the turkey's chin. Turns bright red when the turkey is upset or during courtship.
Scientific genus and species: Meleagris gallopavo
Some Turkey Sites:
Here is one that answers a lot of basic questions about turkeys.
Saw these guinea fowls in the market and could not resist buying them.
One of the most ancient bird, the guinea fowl is native of South Africa from where it spreads all over the continent, excluding desert regions, up to the Mediterranean sea. For a long period of time, the guinea fowl, and its eggs, was one of the main dish of the Africans. It can explain why this bird is more resistant to hot weather than the chicken.
Characteristics and Habits
In a natural environment, the guinea fowl is monogamous. The female usually lays 12 to 20 eggs. During broodiness, the gregarious male jealously protects the females. It is hard to distinguish between the male and the female since they both have the same plumage.
If a predator happens to pass by, the guinea fowl runs so fast, it's as if it wasn't touching the ground at all. It can also fly several hundred meters.
The guinea fowl eats seeds and weeds and grows fast. It stays on the ground all day but likes to perch when the night comes.
The guinea fowl is able to hear unusual noise or movement coming from far away, it then starts to scream very loud. That is why it is also known as the farm-yard sentry.
If the guinea fowl is kept in a reserved clump or outdoor, it can become turbulent and even quarrelsome. Therefore, it keeps its nervous and hasty natural temper when raised in the wild.
Because of its light skeleton, the guinea fowl gives more meat the chicken. Its rusticity and adaptability make it the perfect bird for an intensive cost effective breeding. Many breeders understood that and are now opening up new avenues for trade.
Links for Guinea Fowl Information.
Guinea Fowl International Association has loads of links and info on guinea fowls.
Farming Friends.com has some good information on breeding guinea fowls.
Bees and Honey
Nothing was as exciting as the first harvest of honey we got in April 2006 from the 2 hives we kept in our garden. From just 2 hives we got over 4 bottles of honey (750 ml each). The first harvest we took in late April and it had a strong scent of the local flowers. The second batch had flower scent to but later it was much less and honey was slightly cloudy. The viscosity and sweetness was great, nevertheless. Now we have added another 10 hives. Most seem to be doing well.
And how important are they in the scheme of things. Albert Einstein once wrote that "if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees,
no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
The honeybee will fly about 800km in her working life and produce just half a teaspoon of honey. A queen may produce half a million eggs in her natural lifespan. However, she will only be allowed to live 2 years in the commercial world producing 150,000 eggs annually during this time. In calm conditions the foraging bee will travel at 24 km per hour and up to 40 km for short periods of time and work for 7 - 10 hours a day.
Pre-digested food made by bees from nectar. The bees collect the nectar from flowers and store it in their primary or honey stomach. Here it is partially digested and converted into the substance we call honey. It is a food source of the bee and is stored in the hive for the lean winter months. The metabolism of honey by the bee creates heat, which maintains the temperature of the hive at 17-34 degrees C. The colony requires approximately 200 lbs of honey a year to survive. It is used by humans as a food, as a medicine and in cosmetics and toiletries.
Bee Hive - Local Style
(Photos by Mansoor Khan)
Secreted from eight small wax glands underneath the abdomen of the bee. The soft wax pours into eight pockets beneath the glands where it solidifies. It is then removed and passed to the mouth where it is worked into hexagonal cells called combs, which are used to form the basic structure of the hive. It is used in cosmetics, toiletries, pharmaceuticals, polishes and candles.
Collected from flowers and brought back to the hive as a load on the hind legs. It is a food source for the bee and is stored in the hive. A colony requires approximately 60lbs of pollen per year to survive. The collection of pollen involves fitting special traps to the hive. These scrape it off and are just big enough to allow the bee through. Bee pollen is used as a food supplement.
This creamy-white sticky fluid is a blend of two secretions from the glands of the worker bees. It is the sole source of nourishment for the queen bee throughout her life. Since royal jelly enables the bee to become a queen, some people believe they can recapture their lost youth by eating it. China, where cost-saving techniques have been devised for gathering it, is a major exporter of royal jelly. Details of methods of collection are a closely guarded secret. It is sometimes called 'bee milk'.
Pond No 1
Pond No 1
Traditional boat in Pond No 1.
Pond No 2.
We have 2 natural ponds on the property that are fed by underground spring waters within the land. We are reviving them by stocking fish, plants and ducks to enhance the habitat.
Some useful Farm Pond links
Farm Pond Management - from Arkansas University.
Here is a good document for farm pond designing.
New Ideas for the Old Farm Pond - Good article on Mother Earth News.
Robyn's Farm Pond Page - A Useful Page on Farm Ponds.
Loads of Farm Pond Links - Lots of links but I have not explored them. Could be useful.
We have introduced the 3 major carps, Catla, Rohu and Mrigal, into our pond. We got the fingerlings from Bhavani Sagar dam in the plains near Mettapalayam.
Catla Historical background
Catla is endemic to the riverine system in northern India, Indus plain and adjoining hills of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, and has been introduced later into almost all riverine systems, reservoirs and tanks all over India. As the species breeds in the riverine ecosystem, its ready seed availability has helped in establishing its aquaculture in the peripheral region of the riverine system in these countries. The natural distribution of catla seems to be governed by temperature dependency rather than latitude and longitude. The minimum tolerance temperature limit is ~14 °C.
The use of catla as a component in pond culture was a traditional practice in the eastern Indian states, spreading to all other Indian states only during the second half of the 20th century. Its higher growth rate and compatibility with other major carps, specific surface feeding habit, and consumer preference have increased its popularity in carp polyculture systems among the fish farmers in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Pakistan and Thailand.
The collection of riverine seed was the only source for culture until the 1950s. Success in the induced breeding of the species in 1957 assured subsequent seed supply, thus revolutionising this form of polyculture in India and other south-east Asian countries. The species has also been introduced elsewhere, including Sri Lanka, Israel, Japan, and Mauritius. At present, catla forms an integral component species, both in three-species polyculture with rohu (Labeo rohita) and mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala), and six-species composite carp culture, which adds common carp (Cyprinus carpio), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella ) and silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) to the species mix.
Habitat and biology
Catla is a eurythermal species that grows best at water temperatures between 25-32 °C.
The eggs are demersal at first, gradually becoming buoyant. Early-stage larvae remain in surface and sub-surface waters and are strongly phototactic. The larvae begin to feed three days after hatching, while their yolk sacs persist. As they increase in size, the number of gill rakers and gill filaments also increases, thus assisting them to strain ingested food items.
The fry are planktophagic, feeding mainly on zooplankton such as rotifers and cladocerans. Adults feed only in surface and mid-waters; they also are planktophagous, with a preference for zooplankton, mainly crustaceans, rotifers, insects and protozoa, as well as a considerable share of algal and plant material.
Catla attains maturity in its second year, performing a spawning migration during the monsoon season towards the upper stretches of rivers, where males and females congregate and breed in shallow marginal areas. The spawning season coincides with the south-west monsoon in north-eastern India and Bangladesh, which lasts between May and August, and in north India and Pakistan from June to September. Its fecundity generally varies from 100 000-200 000/kg BW, depending on fish length and weight. The resultant seed are brought by water flow to the downstream areas where they are caught by seed collectors.
Since a riverine environment is required, natural breeding does not occur within ponds, even though the species attains maturity; thus hormonal induction is required. Among the three Indian major carps, catla is the most difficult to breed as it requires precise environmental conditions for spawning. Under normal conditions catla grows to 1-1.2 kg in the first year, compared to 700-800 g and 600-700 g for rohu and mrigal, respectively. It attends sexual maturity in two years.
Catla, the second most important species after rohu (mrigal is third), is used as the surface feeder component in Indian major carp polyculture systems. In the six-species composite system with rohu, mrigal, common carp, grass carp and silver carp, catla shares the upper feeding niche of the pond with silver carp. In the three-species system in India the proportion of catla stocked is usually kept at 30-35 percent, while in six-species culture it forms 15-20 percent.
Induced breeding of catla has been catering for almost the entire seed requirement in all the countries where it is cultured, although riverine collection still forms the seed source in certain small areas. Hormonal stimulation for induced breeding often gives poor result in catla, compared to other major Indian carps. This poor breeding response, coupled with a relatively shorter spawning season, results in an inadequate production of hatchery-reared seed, which often fails to cover the entire needs of the farmers in several regions. While carp pituitary extract has been the common inducing agent used since the development of the induced breeding technology, several synthetic commercial formulations of purified salmon gonadotropin and dopamine antagonist such as Ovaprim, Ovatide and Wova-FH have also been successfully used in recent years. When pituitary extract is used, females are injected with a stimulating dose of 2-3 mg/kg BW followed by a second dose of 5 to 8 mg/kg after a lapse of 6 hours; males are given a single dose of 2-3 mg/kg at the time of second injection of the female. When synthetic formulations are used, a single dose of 0.4-0.5 ml/kg BW (females) or 0.2-0.3 ml/kg (males) is administered.
Though various types of hatchery systems have been tried over the years, the Chinese circular hatchery has proved to be the most efficient for large-scale seed production. Broodstock, stocked at 3-5 kg/m3 and in a female:male ratio of 1:1 by weight (1:2 by number) are injected with suitable inducing agents and released into a breeding tank with a water depth of about 1.5 m. The fertilized eggs, collected 8-12 hours later, are transferred to the hatching tank and kept for 64-72 hours for further incubation and hatching. The number and size of the hatching tanks in this type of hatchery varies, based on the production requirements and size of the breeding tank. In general, spawn recovery varies from 0.1-0.12 million eggs/kg of female broodstock. The seed rearing normally involves a two-tier system, i.e. a 15-20 days nursery phase for raising fry, followed by a 2-3 months phase for fingerling production.
Three-day old larvae, measuring about 6 mm, are reared for 15-20 days in small earthen nursery ponds of 0.02-0.1 ha, during which they reach 20-25 mm. In certain areas, brick-lined or cement tanks are also used as nurseries. Where only catla are stocked, earthen nurseries are stocked at 3-10 million/ha and cement nurseries at 10-20 million/ha. In many cases, however, farmers stock multiple carp species due to the non-availability of sufficient ponds for separate stocking. Pre-stocking nursery pond preparation includes the removal of aquatic weeds and predatory fishes, followed by liming and fertilization with organic manures and inorganic fertilizers. The application of soap-oil emulsion, or repeated netting with a suitable mesh size, is used to eradicate aquatic insects before stocking. A powdered mixture of rice bran and oilcake is the common supplementary feed. Survival rates normally range from 30 to 40 percent; however, survival often remains low due to improper management. The non-availability of commercial feed, forcing the farmers to resort to the conventional bran-oilcake mixture, is another limiting factor for the growth and survival of fry. The survival level of catla in nursery ponds is normally lower than that for rohu and mrigal.
The nursery-raised fry of 20-25 mm are further reared for 2-3 months to 80-100 mm (6-10 g) fingerlings in earthen ponds of 0.05-0.2 ha. Catla fry are reared along with rohu and mrigala in equal proportions at combined densities of 0.2-0.3 million fry/ha. Pond fertilization with both organic and inorganic fertilizers, and supplementary feeding with the conventional mixture of rice bran and oil cake are the norm; however, the dosage and form of application vary with the farming intensity and inherent pond productivity. The overall survival in these fingerling rearing systems ranges from 60 to 70 percent.
Being a surface feeder that is highly preferred by consumer, catla forms an integral component in carp polyculture systems in all the countries where it is reared, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Laos and Myanmar. It is the fastest growing species among the three Indian major carps. Standardized practice for grow-out in the carp polyculture system includes control of predatory and weed fish through the application of chemicals or plant derivatives; the stocking of fingerlings at a combined density of 4000-10 000 fingerlings/ha; pond fertilization with organic manures such as cattle dung or poultry droppings and inorganic fertilizers; supplementary feeding with a mixture of rice/wheat bran and oil cake; and fish health monitoring and water management. The level of adoption of these practices varies from country to country, depending mainly on the resource availability and the economic status of the farmers. Normally, the grow-out period is one year, during which it grows to about 1.0 kg. In the Koleru lake area of Andhra Pradesh, the centre of commercial carp farming activity in India with a production water area of over 100 000 ha, the grow-out period extends up to 18 months. In this area, stunted juveniles (i.e. fingerlings reared in crowded conditions for over one year, and 150-300 g in size) are used as the stocking material and the average size of catla harvested is 1.5-2.0 kg. The production levels recorded in carp polyculture systems usually remain at 3-5 tonnes/ha/yr, with catla contributing about 20-30 percent of the biomass.
The fry/fingerlings supplied for grow-out stocking by most of the carp hatcheries/nurseries mainly comprise mixed species, often with a very low proportion of catla; the poor breeding response and comparatively low nursery phase survival of catla is the reason for this. Poor or non-availability of fingerlings of suitable size is another important limiting factor that compels farmers to stock small-sized seed, often leading to poor survival. The high cost of commercial feeds and feed ingredients sometimes restrains the farmers from feeding the correct quantity, thus also limiting production.
Catla also forms one of the important components in the sewage-fed carp culture system practiced in an area totalling over 4000 ha in West Bengal, India. In this form of culture, which includes multiple stocking and multiple harvesting of 300 g fish, primary treated sewage is provided to the fish ponds as the main input. Even without the provision of supplementary feed, this system produces 2-3 tonnes/ha/yr; with supplementary feeding, this can be increased to 4-5 tonnes/ha/yr.
We have introduced the 3 major carps, Catla, Rohu and Mrigal, into our pond. We got the fingerlings from Bhavani Sagar dam in the plains near Mettapalayam.
Rohu Historical background
Rohu (Labeo rohita) is the most important among the three Indian major carp species used in carp polyculture systems. This graceful Indo-Gangetic riverine species is the natural inhabitant of the riverine system of northern and central India, and the rivers of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In India, it has been transplanted into almost all riverine systems including the freshwaters of Andaman, where its population has successfully established. The traditional culture of this carp goes back hundreds of years in the small ponds of the eastern Indian states.
Information on its culture is available only from the early part of the 20th century. The compatibility of rohu with other carps like catla (Catla catla) and mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala) made it an ideal candidate for carp polyculture systems. While riverine collection of seed was solely meeting the requirement for culture of the species until the first half of the 20th century, the success in induced breeding in 1957 and the assured seed supply thereafter was the major factor for the development of its culture in freshwater ponds and tanks. Its high growth potential, coupled with high consumer preference, have established rohu as the most important freshwater species cultured in India, Bangladesh and other adjacent countries in the region.
Habitat and biology
In its early life stages rohu prefer zooplankton, mainly composed of rotifers and cladocerans, with phytoplankton forming the emergency food. In the fingerling stage, there is a strong positive selection for all the zooplanktonic organisms and for some smaller phytoplankters like desmids, phytoflagellates and algal spores. On the other hand, adults show a strong positive selection for most of the phytoplankton. In the juvenile and adult stages rohu is essentially an herbivorous column feeder, preferring algae and submerged vegetation. Furthermore, the occurrence of decayed organic matter and sand and mud in its gut suggests its bottom feeding habit. The nibbling type of mouth with soft fringed lips, sharp cutting edges and absence of teeth in the bucco-pharyngeal region helps the fish to feed on soft aquatic vegetation which do not require seizure and crushing. The modified thin and hair-like gill rakers also suggest that the fish feed on minute plankton through sieving water. In ponds, the fry and fingerlings exhibit schooling behaviour mainly for feeding; however, this habit is not observed in adults.
Rohu is a eurythermal species and does not thrive at temperatures below 14 °C. It is a fast growing species and attains about 35-45 cm total length and 700-800 g in one year under normal culture conditions. Generally, in polyculture, its growth rate is higher than that of mrigal but lower than catla.
The minimum age at first maturity for both sexes is two years, while complete maturity is reached after four years in males and five years in females. In nature, spawning occurs in the shallow and marginal areas of flooded rivers. The spawning season of rohu generally coincides with the south-west monsoon, extending from April to September. In captivity with proper feeding the species attains maturity towards the end of second year. However, breeding does not take place in such lentic pond environments; thus induced breeding becomes necessary. The fecundity varies from 226 000 to 2 794 000, depending upon fish size and ovary weight; on average it ranges from 200 000-300 000 eggs/kg BW. Rohu is a polygamous fish and also seems to be promiscuous. The optimum temperature for spawning is 22-31 °C.
Induced breeding of rohu has been catering for almost the entire seed requirement in all the countries where it is cultured, although riverine collection still forms the seed source in certain small areas. While induced breeding through hypophysation has been the common practice since the development of the technology in 1957, several synthetic commercial formulations of purified salmon gonadotropin and dopamine antagonists such as Ovaprim, Ovatide and Wova-FH have also been successfully used in recent years. When pituitary extract is used, females are injected with a stimulating dose of 2-3 mg/kg BW followed by a second dose of 5 to 8 mg/kg after a lapse of six hours; males are given a single dose of 2-3 mg/kg at the time of second injection of the female. When synthetic formulations are used, a single dose of 0.4-0.5 ml/kg body weight (females) or 0.2-0.3 ml/kg (males) is administered.
The Chinese circular hatchery is the most common system used for seed production. This type of hatchery possesses three principal components, viz., spawning/breeding tank, incubation/hatching tank, and water storage and supply system. The depth of water in the breeding tank is maintained at up to 1.5 m, based on the broodstock density; 3-5 kg broodstock/m³ is usually recommended. The female:male ratio is normally maintained at 1:1 by weight (1:2 by number). The size and number of hatching tanks vary, based on the production requirements and size of the breeding tank. The optimum egg density for incubation is 0.7-0.8 million/m³. In general, 0.15-0.2 million eggs/kg of female are obtained. The seed rearing normally involves a two-tier system, i.e. a 15-20 days nursery phase for raising fry, followed by a two-three months phase for fingerling production.
Three day old hatchlings, measuring about 6 mm, are reared up to fry of 20-25 mm in small earthen nursery ponds of 0.02-0.1 ha. In certain areas, brick-lined or cement tanks are also used as nurseries. In many cases, although the stocking of a single species is normally advocated, farmers resort to stocking all three species of the Indian major carps. Pre-stocking nursery pond preparation should include the removal of aquatic weeds and predatory fish, followed by liming and fertilisation with organic manures and inorganic fertilizers. Aquatic insects are eradicated by the application of a soap-oil emulsion or removed by repeated netting before stocking. In earthen ponds, hatchlings are normally stocked at 3-10 million/ha, but higher levels of 10-20 million/ha are used in cement nurseries. The hatchlings normally receive a supplementary feed of a 1:1 w/w mixture of rice bran and groundnut/mustard oil cake. Survival ranges from 30 to 50 percent. Though the beneficial effects of pre-stocking nursery pond preparation are well-established, some of these activities are often ignored by the farmers, resulting in poor fry survival. The non-availability of commercial feed, forcing the farmers to resort to the conventional bran-oilcake mixture, is another limiting factor for the growth and survival of fry.
The nursery-raised fry of 20-25 mm are further reared for two-three months to 80-100 mm (6-10 g) fingerlings in earthen ponds of 0.05-0.2 ha. Here, rohu are grown together with other carp species at combined densities of 0.2-0.3 million fry/ha, with the rohu constituting about 30-40 percent of the total. Pond fertilization with both organic and inorganic fertilizers, and supplementary feeding with the conventional mixture of rice bran and oil cake are the norm; however, the dosage and form of application vary with the farming intensity and inherent pond productivity. The overall survival in these fingerling rearing systems ranges from 60 to 70 percent.
The growout production of rohu, confined mainly to earthen ponds, is normally followed in combination with the other two Indian major carps within three-species polyculture systems, and in certain cases within a six-species composite carp culture system involving three Indian major carps, common carp, grass carp and silver carp in varied proportions, depending on their habitat preferences and feeding niches.
The practical technology includes predatory and weed fish control; stocking of fingerlings at a combined density of 4 000-10 000/ha (30-40 percent rohu); pond fertilization with organic manures like cattle dung or poultry droppings and inorganic fertilizers; the provision of a mixture of rice bran/wheat bran and groundnut/mustard oil cake as supplementary feed, fish health monitoring and water management. The grow-out period is normally one year, during which rohu grows to about 700-800 g. In certain cases the farmers resort to partial harvesting of marketable size groups (>300 g) at intermittent intervals. In the Koleru lake area of Andhra Pradesh, the centre of commercial carp farming activity in India, the practice commonly involves the rearing of rohu and catla in two-species farming, with rohu constituting over 70 percent of the stock. In this case, stunted juveniles (i.e. fingerlings reared in crowded conditions for over one year, and 150-300 g in size) are used as the stocking material. The usual harvestable size of rohu is 1-1.5 kg and is achieved within a culture period of 12-18 months. Production levels of 6-8 tonnes/ha are recorded in such cases, with rohu contributing about 70-80 percent of the biomass.
Although it is advocated that fingerlings (juveniles) are used for stocking grow-out ponds, their inadequate availability compels some farmers to stock their ponds with fry, leading to poor survival and production. Supplementary feed forms the major input, constituting over 50 percent of the recurring expenditure in growout. The higher price of commercial feeds has been forcing farmers to resort to the conventional bran-oil cake mixture, usually supplied in dough form, thus leading to wastage and deterioration of water quality. Judicious feed management, therefore, requires attention in order to enhance the profit margin. In growout, especially at higher stocking densities an ectoparasite, carp lice (Argulus spp.), has been a major problem for rohu compared to other carps, causing reduction in growth and sometimes mortalities.
We have introduced the 3 major carps, Catla, Rohu and Mrigal, into our pond. We got the fingerlings from Bhavani Sagar dam in the plains near Mettapalayam.
Mrigal Historical background
Mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala), a carp endemic to Indo-Gangetic riverine systems, is one of the three Indian major carp species cultivated widely in Southeast Asian countries. This species has long been important in polyculture with other native species, mainly in India. However, records of its culture are available only from the early part of the 20th century. The traditional culture of the species was restricted to eastern parts of India until the 1950s. The technology of artificial propagation, which assured seed supply in the 1960s, led to the foundation of scientific carp culture. The initially higher growth rate of mrigal, coupled with its compatibility with other carps, has helped in establishing this species as one of the principal component species in pond culture. The species was transplanted in the peninsular riverine systems of India, where it has established itself. Subsequently it has spread over whole of India.
Habitat and biology
Hatchlings of mrigal normally remain in the surface or sub-surface waters, while fry and fingerling tend to move to deeper water. Adults are bottom dwellers.It is an illiophage in its feeding habit and stenophagous; detritus and decayed vegetation form its principal food components, while phytoplankton and zooplankton comprise the rest.
Mrigal is eurythermal, appearing to tolerate a minimum temperature of 14 ºC. In culture, the species normally attains 600-700 g in the first year, depending on stocking density and management practices. Among the three Indian major carps, mrigal normally grows more slowly than catla and rohu. The rearing period is usually confined to a maximum of two years, as growth rate reduces thereafter. However, mrigal is reported to survive as long as 12 years in natural waters.
Maturity is attained in two years in captivity. As mrigal needs a fluviatile environment for breeding it does not breed in ponds. However, captive breeding in hatcheries has been made possible through induced breeding by hypophysation and the use of synthetic hormones.
Mrigal is a highly fecund fish. Fecundity increases with age, and normally ranges from 100 000-150 000 eggs/kg BW. The spawning season depends upon the onset and duration of the south-west monsoon, which in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan extends from May to September. Mrigal usually breeds at 24-31 ºC.
Mass scale seed production of mrigal in hatcheries through induced breeding now supplies almost the entire seed requirement in all the producing countries, although riverine collection still forms the source of seed in certain small areas. As mrigal does not breed in confined waters, injections of pituitary extract and other synthetic commercial formulations of purified salmon gonadotropin and dopamine antagonists such as Ovaprim, Ovatide and Wova-FH have also been successfully used in recent years. When pituitary extract is used, females are injected with a stimulating dose of 2-3 mg/kg BW followed by a second dose of 5 to 8 mg/kg after a lapse of 6 hours; males are given a single dose of 2-3 mg/kg at the time of second injection of the female. When synthetic formulations are used, a single dose of 0.4-0.5 ml/kg BW (females) or 0.2-0.3 ml/kg (males) is administered. The spawn recovery of mrigal usually ranges from 100 000 to 150 000/kg. The Chinese circular hatchery is the most common system used. In this system, broodstock are kept at 3-5 kg /m3, with a 1:1 female:male stocking ratio by weight (1:2 by number). Fertilized eggs are obtained after 6-8 hours and are transferred to the hatching tank, optimally stocked at 700 000-800 000/m3. Water circulation is continuous and the eggs are retained until 72 hours, during which the embryos develop into hatchlings of about 6 mm.
Three-day old hatchlings are reared in a nursery system for a period of 15-20 days till they become fry of 20-25 mm. Small earthen ponds of 0.02-0.1 ha are normally employed, though brick-lined or cement tanks are used in certain areas. The stocking density usually ranges from 3-10 million/ha in earthen ponds and 10-20 million/ha in brick or cement tanks. Though monoculture is advocated for nursery rearing, farmers often raise mrigal along with the other two Indian major carps. In these cases, the growth and survival of mrigal is higher than the other two. The other management measures include organic manuring and fertilization, and the provision of a mixture of rice bran and oil cake (1:1 w/w) as a supplementary feed. Survival normally ranges from 30-50 percent. Good pre-stocking nursery pond preparation includes control over predatory and weed fish, and insects. Farmers often neglect such procedures, resulting in low fry production. Another limiting factor is the non-availability of commercial feed, which forces farmers to resort to the conventional bran-oilcake mixture.
The fry from the nursery system are further raised to fingerling size (80-100 mm; 5-10 g). Earthen ponds ranging from 0.05 to 0.2 ha are commonly used. Although monoculture is advocated in the nursery phase, in fingerling rearing mrigal are stocked at about 30 percent and cultured along with other carp species at a combined density of about 200 000-300 000/ha. Feeding and fertilization regimes are similar to the nursery phase but vary according to the intensity of culture and the natural productivity. Overall survival in the fingerling rearing stage ranges from 60 to 70 percent; generally, mrigal has a higher survival level than catla and rohu. Fish are reared in this phase for 2-3 months, after which they are transferred to grow-out production systems.
The grow-out culture of mrigal in polyculture systems is confined to earthen ponds and normal management practice includes predatory and weed fish control with chemicals or plant derivatives; stocking of fingerlings at a combined density of 4 000-10 000 fingerlings/ha; fertilization with organic manures like cattle dung or poultry droppings and inorganic fertilizers; supplementary feeding with a mixture of rice bran/wheat bran and oil cake; and fish health monitoring and environmental management. The grow-out period is usually one year, during which mrigal grows to about 600-700 g. Production is normally 3-5 tonnes/ha/yr, with mrigal contributing about 20-25 percent.
The lack of fingerlings of suitable size in adequate quantities is the most important limiting factor, compelling farmers to stock ponds with fry instead of fingerlings. High prices for commercial feeds and feed ingredients often restrain farmers from feeding at the proper level, thus limiting production.
The bottom dwelling habit of mrigal hinders its effective harvesting by dragnet, the most common gear used in carp culture. Complete harvesting is possible only through draining. These harvesting difficulties make mrigal the least preferred species among the three Indian major carps for farmers. Cast nets are often used for partial harvesting in small and backyard ponds.
- Vermiculture Info
Worms are the hardest things to find in most degraded soils today. So one of the first natural steps towards rejuventing our land is to start practicing vermiculture. Earth Trust is a good local NGO that we have met and they will help us start vermiculture soon now that the all the cows have been moved to the farm.
When beginning a vermicomposting bin, moist bedding is put into the bin and the worms are added. In hot climates, the bin is placed away from direct sunlight. Appropriate waste can be added daily or weekly. At first, the worms are fed at most half their body weight per day. After they have established themselves, they can be fed up to their entire body weight. It is best not to add new food on top of old food until the old food has been processed by the worms. However, new food can be added in a different location in the bin.
Bedding is the living medium and also a food source for the worms. It is material high in carbon and made to mimic decaying dried leaves on the forest floor, the worms' natural habitat. The bedding should be moist (often similar to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge) and loose to enable the worms to breathe and to facilitate aerobic decomposition of the food that is buried in it.
A wide variety of bedding materials can be used, including shredded newspaper, sawdust, hay, cardboard, burlap coffee sacks, peat moss, pre-composted (aged) manure, and dried leaves. Cat litter, and pet and human waste should not be used.
Most vermicomposters avoid using glossy paper from newspapers and magazines, junk mail, and shredded paper from offices, because they may contain toxins which may disrupt the system. Also, coated cardboard that contains wax or plastic, such as milk boxes, cannot be used. Newspaper and phone books printed on regular, non-glossy paper with non-toxic soy ink are safe for use, and decompose relatively quickly. Some bedding is easier to use and add food scraps to than others.
Worms used in composting systems prefer temperatures of 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (12-21 degrees Celsius). The temperature of the bedding should not drop below freezing or above 85 °F (29 °C). This temperature range means that indoor vermicomposting is suitable for homes in all but tropical climates.
Worms and other composting organisms have a preferred ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N), approximately 30:1. As some waste is richer in carbon and others in nitrogen, waste must be mixed to approximate the ideal ratio. "Brown matter", or wood products such as shredded papers, is rich in carbon. "Green matter", such as food scraps, has more nitrogen, which is related to the amount of protein in the waste. If the waste is mostly vegetable and fruit scraps, and does not regularly include animal products or high-protein vegetable foods like beans, the resulting vermicompost and waste liquid will be low in nitrogen.
Kitchen waste suitable for worms includes coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and plate scrapings, as well as rotting fruit, vegetable peels, leftovers, moldy bread, etc.
If too much kitchen waste is added, the bin mixture putrifies before the worms can process it and becomes harmful to the worms. High-protein foods like beans are particularly susceptible. Check the bin at least once a week, and give it a stir to oxygenate and add bedding if the bin appears too moist.
Soft garden wastes such as carrot tops and tomato leaves are suitable foods. An occasional sprinkling of garden soil in the bin gives the worms grit they need to digest food. It's not harmful to throw in an entire plant, but the worms will not process the woody parts or large roots and these will have to be hand-separated later from the finished vermicompost.
High-water-content materials like watermelon rinds add a great deal of moisture to the system with very little food for the worms, and should be added sparingly as they disrupt the moisture level of the system.
Grass clippings and other products sprayed with pesticides should be avoided. Some banana peels are heavily sprayed, and can kill everything if added to a small bin.
Although worms can digest proteins and fas in meat scraps, these materials can attract scavengers. Too much oil or fat can hinder the breathing of the worms, as they breathe through their skin. Worms cannot break down bone and are said to dislike highly spiced foods such as onions, garlic, and salt.
If possible, sticky food labels, rubber bands, tea bag staples, and other inedibles should be removed before placing the food in the worm bin, as these items will not decompose. Fruit pits need not be removed from decaying fruit before adding, as the worms will eat all the soft matter.
Worms and other composting microorganisms require oxygen, so the bin must "breathe". This can be accomplished by regularly removing the composted material, adding holes to the bin, or using a continuous-flow bin. If insufficient oxygen is available, the decay becomes anaerobic, like that in swamps and bogs, producing a strong odor and creating a toxic environment for the worms.
The moisture level and oxygen flow in a home worm bin should be checked at least once a week.
Over the long term, care should be taken to maintain optimum moisture levels. In a non-continuous-flow vermicomposting bin, excess liquid can be drained via a tap and used as plant food. A continuous flow bin does not retain excess liquid and, depending on the foods used, may require sprinklings of water to keep the bedding moist.
The pH should be slightly alkaline. Alkalinity can be increased by occasionally adding a handful of calciu carbonate, sold as "garden lime." Do not confuse calcium carbonate with regular lime (Calcium oxide), which is far too alkaline and will kill worms. Adding many citrus peels can hinder the worms, but probably due not to acidity but to d-limonene, a fragrant chemical present in the rind of citrus fruits. Coffee grounds have sometimes been blamed for acidity, but analysis shows they are only mildly acidic, with a pH of 6.2.
There are two methods of adding matter to the bin.
- Top feeding — organic matter is placed directly on top of the existing layer of bedding in a bin and then covered with another layer of bedding. This is repeated every time the bin is fed.
- Pocket feeding — a top layer of bedding is maintained and food is buried beneath. The location of the food is changed each time, rotating around the bin to give the worms time to decompose the food in the previously fed pockets. The top layer of bedding is replenished as necessary.
Vermicomposters often use a combination of both methods. Sometimes unburied food can attract fruit flies, so food should be buried under at least one inch of bedding material.
Vermicompost is ready for harvest when it contains few to no scraps of uneaten food or bedding. Even a properly composted mixture will contain large items that should be discarded, such as peach or date pits, glassine-like sheets from melon skins, and twigs. Small seeds from composted food such as tomatoes and peppers cannot be removed from the vermicompost and may sprout later in the seed-starting pots or garden.
There are several methods of harvesting, depending on the purpose for which the vermicompost will be used, and whether or not the composter wishes to salvage as many worms and worm eggs as possible from the vermicompost.
Vermicompost, also known as worm castings and vermicast, is richer in many nutrients than compost produced by other composting methods. It also contains millions of microbes which help break down nutrients already present in the soil into plant-available forms. Unlike other compost, worm castings also contain worm mucus which keeps nutrients from washing away with the first watering and holds moisture better than plain soil. Worm compost is usually too rich and gummy for use alone as a seed starter, and is used as a top dressing or mixed with soil in a ratio of one to four. Some fruit and seed pits are reported to germinate in vermicompost easily. Vermicompost benefits soil by
- improving its physical structure;
- enriching soil in micro-organisms, adding plant hormones such as auxins and gibberellic acid, and adding enzymes such as phosphatase and cellulase;
- attracting deep-burrowing earthworms already present in the soil;
- improving water holding capacity;
- enhancing germination, plant growth, and crop yield; and
- improving root growth and structure.
Vermicompost can be used to make compost tea (worm tea), by mixing some vermicompost in water and steeping for a number of hours or days. The resulting liquid is used as a fertilizer.
The dark brown waste liquid that drains into the bottom of some vermicomposting systems, as water-rich foods break down, is also excellent as fertilizer. However, the pH and nutrient contents of these liquids (as well as vermicompost) varies, depending on the food fed to the worms and whether or not lime has been added to the system. pH and nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) measurements should be taken periodically to determine the fertilizer composition before use. Home kits for testing are sold in hardware stores and nurseries.
Vermicompost fed to poultry stimulates their immune system
Odor, usually due to overabundance of "greens" (wet waste) in the bin, results from too much nitrogen combining with hydrogen to form ammonia. To neutralize the odors, add a fair amount of shredded newspaper or other "browns" to the mix to absorb excess moisture, remove the smelly waste, and stop adding food to the bin until a substantial portion of the uneaten food has been turned into compost. The carbon will absorb the nitrogen and form a compound that is not smelly. The higher level of carbon means that decomposition will be slower.
Pests such as rodents and flies may be attracted by certain materials and odors, especially lots of kitchen waste and especially meat. This problem is largely avoided if a sealed bin is used where the pests cannot access the material. Nevertheless, fruit flies can easily enter the bin on fruit scraps or from the air when the bin is open, and once inside the bin, quickly reproduce in the moist environment. Ants can become a problem as well. No-see-um netting can be used; regular mosquito window screen is too large and lets fruit flies and possibly ants in as well.
Red Wiggler worms are not native to North America. They are an invasive species and have become naturalized in most of the globe. Do not dump worm-containing compost or release unused Red Wiggler bait worms in natural areas, as the worms can multiply and displace the native worms. Additionally, Hawaii state quarantine law prohibits the red wiggler species from importation. Hawaiian vermicomposting operations use another species, the blue worm, Perionyx excavatus which already had been introduced and has long since established itself.
Thinking of starting vermiculture the other day I just reflected on when I saw an earthworm last - anywhere. They used to all around especially when it rained. It is the sign of our time because all over there are chemical fertilizers and pesticides regularly used. Our land being a tea estate before we bought it was obviously no different. The saving grace is that it was not being actively for a while before we bought it and in the 2 years we have had it we have not put any chemicals at all. So now starts the big ardous but exciting journey of getting it back to what it shoud have been. With the cows there we are getting lots of gobar to splash around and start reversing this trend. Only where you find earthworms will you find rich, healthy soil with high amounts of organic matter and vice versa.
Earthworms, actually, act as a barometer for soil health. Many agriculture oriented people still do not understand or appreciate the tremendous enriching value that earthworms have on our soils. Earthworms are not only essential to good agriculture but is the very foundation of all civilization. We can trace man's civilizations in relation to the distribution of active earthworms.
Among the most ancient of terrestrial animal groups, several hundred million years old, they come in various colors and sizes: brown, purple, red, pink, blue, green and light tan, the smallest barely an inch long, the largest a ten-foot giant in Australia, though South African newspapers reported a boa-constrictor-sized monster twenty feet long, a yard wide through the middle. The most common European and American earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris, grows barely longer than six inches.
Ten thousand years ago, immediately after the last ice age,the lumbricid earthworms were to be found only in certain restricted areas of the planet, such as in the valleys of three great civilizations - the Indus, the Euphrates, and the Nile - where crops grew almost without cultivation in a soil of immensely fruitful richness.
Other areas of the earth offered ideal climates and rich soils, but produced, with the exception of China, no such civilizations. The Egyptian experience alone is a strong indication that a complex civilization cannot develop until the basic agricultural needs of its people are met, and that requires the earthworm.
Not that the point was entirely overlooked by the USDA. an agricultural report on investigations carried out in the valley of the Nile in 1949, before the folly of the Aswan Dam, indicated that the great fertility of the soil was due in large part the work of earthworms. It was estimated that during the six months of active growing season each year the castings of earthworms on these soils amounted to a stunning 120 tons per acre, and in each handful of that soil are more microorganisms than there are humans on the planet.
Worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, perforating and loosening the soil, rendering it pervious to rains and the fibers of plants by drawing straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it; and, most of all, by throwing up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which being their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass. The earth without worms would soon become cold, hard-bound, and void of fermentation, and consequently sterile. That the phenomenon was understood before the time of Christ is clear from Cleopatra's decree that the earthworm be revered and protected by all her subjects as a sacred animal. Egyptians were forbidden to remove it from the land, and farmers were not to trouble the worms for fear of stunting the renowned fertility of the Nilotic valley's soil.
In the northern part of North America the last ice age so stripped the country bare of earthworms that in very few areas of what is now the United States were agricultural lands rich enough to support even moderately large populations of native American Indians. As Minnich says: "Before European contact, the only lumbricids native to the United States were some lacy species of Bismatus and Eisenia, essentially worthless as soil builders."
But wedged in the shoes of the colonists' horses were tiny lumbricid egg capsules, and in the root balls of European plants immigrant earthworms arrived to remedy the situation. In no time a rich but dormant soil was transformed into one of high fertility. The lush meadows of New England, the vast farmlands of the upper Midwest, the great wheat fields of Canada are all attributed to the introduction of the earthworm.
By the early part of the twentieth century, says Minnich, New Zealand soil scientists observed that European lumbricids were making vigorous inroads into the island's previously wormless soils. Hill pastures that could barely support a stand of grass were gradually becoming lush and green even though no fertilizer was applied. Counts of earthworms ran as high as over four million per acre, more than three times the maximum populations of the same species in their Old World habitats. The source of all this fertility was what the worms excreted in the form of castings, compost of the highest grade, containing mineral and organic matter in a soluble form, excellent as both a fertilizer and as a soil conditioner.
Earthworms can produce more compost, in a shorter time, with less effort, than any other method. As they burrow, they are constantly bathed in mucus, which helps them through the roughest ground. Continually rubbed off, this mucus helps cement the walls of their tunnels. And, while it helps a worm worm its way out of a predator's grasp, it also helps hold the soil firm, retaining moisture as it hardens.
In classical Greek times, Aristotle called the earthworm "the guts of the soil" because it produces particles that are smaller than when they enter, held together by the intestinal fluid that makes for a finer-structured earth. An omnivorous and unfinicky eater, the eyeless earthworm ingests whatever appears before it in morsels fit for its toothless gums.
Muscularly pumping through the soil, it ingests not only organic matter but the raw earth itself, using sand and other mineral particles as grinding stones in its gizzard. Mixed in the crop with digestive chemicals and disintegrator bacteria, the elements come out in different combinations, more easily taken up by plants.
Worm castings, neutralized by constant additions of carbonate of lime from three pairs of calciferous glands near the worm's gizzard, and finely ground prior to digestion, are five times as rich in available nitrogen, seven times as rich in available phosphates, and eleven times as rich in available potash as anything else in the upper six inches of the soil, producing a nutrient in just the right condition for the plant to absorb. Real organic NPK! What's more, the castings are always more acidically neutral than the soil from which they were formed, naturally improving the local pH factor as armies of earthworms work to keep the soil in balance, neither too acid nor too alkaline for the growth of plants.
Could it be that these great sinusoid fertilizers actually transmute elements, as the French savant Louis Karvran would have it, or are they merely collecting, distilling, and rearranging them to fertilize the soil? The former would appear to be more likely.
Castings, usually deposited in old burrows, or by night crawlers on the surface when they come up to mate or draw leaves into their burrows, consist of about one-third of the contents of the worm's intestines, in pelletlike form, and have a third more bacteria than the surrounding soil.
Even when ample organic matter is available, earthworms consume large amounts of soil, and by mixing the two produce a rich humus, perfect in texture, with more plant nutrients than in the material from which it was derived. Castings contain a higher percentage of aggregates than is found in the surrounding soil - aggregates being the formations of individual particles of sand, clay, and silt, grouped into larger units, which help make a crumblike structure of the soil.
An earthworm is said to produce its own weight in castings each day it is on the prowl. Henry Hopp of the USDA estimates that one acre of good agricultural land can produce well over five tons of castings in a year, or more than 5 percent of the total soil volume to plow depth. In the process of producing its castings, on even an ordinary agricultural soil, earthworms are credited with turning more than fifty tons of soil per acre, and in the Nile Valley as many as two hundred tons, into a fructifying base.
Earthworms are prodigious diggers and earth movers, capable of burrowing down as deep as fifteen feet. They can squeeze between and push apart the soil crumbs, and one worm alone can move a stone fifty times its own weight. As they burrow, earthworms mix and sift the soils, breaking up clods and burying stones. Some carry down leaves and other organic matter; others bring nutrients and humus to the top. Tunnels held together by their mucus afford planted roots quicker avenues into the soil. And the mucus, forming humus, prevents erosion. Henry Hopp says these materials, once dried, do not dissolve again in water. Yet, while the soil thus treated holds the required moisture, the burrows drain superfluous water. Experiments have shown that soils with earthworms drain from four to ten times faster than those without. Conversely, in light sandy soils, where water tends to run straight through to the subsoil, the aggregates produced by earthworm castings act to improve the retention of water.
By digging into the subsoil, loosening it, and threading it with tunnels, earthworms gradually deepen the topsoil layer. by ripping up fine mineral particles and depositing them as castings on or near the surface of the soil, they constantly adding nutrients to the zone in which plant roots feed, delivering mineral substances that would otherwise remain largely unavailable to most plants.
With their mixing, digging, burrowing, fertilizing, and humus-making activities, the worms have an immense impact on the soil, its texture, its fertility, and its ability to support everything that lives in or on it, especially plants that form the basis of our food supply. But the worms must be fed, proliferating in direct proportion to the amount of organic matter incorporated into the soil, a supply which must be kept up so long as one wishes to retain the earthworms. Eisenia foetida, a red manure worm that inhabits compost heaps, turning animal manure into sweet-smelling humus, grows to five inches, but cannot live without copious amounts of decaying organic matter.
Night crawlers, so named because they creep about at night on the surface of the earth, feed on leaves, which they drag down into their burrows, and even with their pinhead brains they have the wit to pull them by the narrow end - which shows more wit than the leaf-gathering suburbanite who regularly spends a fortune to deprive the earthworm of his autumnal fare.
In an orchard, during the three months of autumn, earthworms can dispose of 90 percent of the fallen leaves, dissolving even tough material such as stems and roots. Darwin, who reported seeing burrows plugged with twigs, bits of paper, feathers, tufts of wool, or horsehair, claims that worms, though congenital scatophages, showed a predilection for celery, carrot leaves, wild cherry leaves, and especially raw meat, including fat. Minnich reports that one Wisconsin commercial raiser of earthworms even chose to feed his charges ice cream as a treat on Saturday nights.
More surprising still is his report that a German researcher, C. Merker, writing in the 1940's, astounded fellow scientists by asserting that earthworms have voices, and can actually sing, their faint sound being "rarely in a solo number, but generally in series marked by a definity and changing rhythm." Dr. Merker claimed to be able to hear the sounds when within twelve feet of the worms, sounds produced not by chance but by the deliberate opening and closing of the earthworms' mouths.
How this could be, when earthworms have no lungs - breathing through the whole surface of their skin, moistened to dissolve oxygen, which is pumped through the bloodstream by five sets of double hearts in rings or segments close to the head - is all the more amazing.
A cleric contemporary of Darwin complained that earthworms are also "much addicted to venery." In suitable weather, night crawlers can spend a goodly portion of their nocturnal activities in the pursuit of sex, even an entire night coupled to a willing hermaphroditic mate, each possessing both male and female organs. With the undersides of their bodies held firmly together by tiny bristles, or setae, they lie with their heads pointing in opposite directions, touching in the region of the spermathecal openings, where the clitter - a white band a third of the way down their bodies - touches the surface of its mate.
They copulate by exchanging sperm cells stored in cuplike hollows in the ninth and tenth segments, excluding a special mucus from the sexual region to protect the spermatozoa being mutually exchanged. More mucus secreted by the clitellum forms a jellylike ring, which picks up the worm eggs from ovaries and sperm cells from testes, slipping the ring off the body, to form a tiny yellow cocoon. Greatly enlarged, it looks like a lemon and contains scores of fertilized eggs, which can be found in the soil during the warmer months of winter. Under good conditions, an average red worm can produce from 150 to more than 200 young ones annually.
One of the principal functions of the earthworm is to consume available mineral nutrients, and, by actions of enzymes in their digestive tract, render them water soluble, easily absorbable by the root hairs of plants, to be made available in turn to the cells of plants, animals, and man.
As Voisin points out, without earthworms there would be no civilization. But Minnich complains that with the single exception of Dr. Henry Hopp, the attitude of USDA scientists, along with that of many of their associated colleagues in subsidized state universities, has traditionally been negative toward the earthworm.
They have long begun with the assumption that earthworms are just one more facet of the "unscientific" cult of organic gardening and farming, and that this method of growing crops is antithetical to the "modern" methods of agriculture, including its principles of heavy chemical treatment, monocropping, and other facets of maximum-profit agribusiness. The earthworm, thus judged guilty by reason of association (with organic methods), the USDA has long discouraged serious investigation into the possible benefits of earthworms in agriculture, and has even gone so far as to denigrate or ignore the work of other researchers who have revealed such benefits. Since the USDA has either conducted or influenced the great bulk of agricultural research in this country during the present century, its position on any facet of agriculture or horticulture has broad, far-reaching, and determining effects on both scientific direction and public attitudes. . . . The USDA will sponsor no significant earthworm research, and its long tradition of ignorance is the chief reason why we know so little about earthworms, and why we have failed to utilize their power throughout the present century.
The seriousness of the situation was recently emphasized by Marcel B. Bouche, Secretary of the Soil Zoology Committee of the International Society of Soil Science, in his foreword to Dr. Kenneth E. Lee's last word on Earthworms, a book published in 1985 by Academic Press, which for the first time places the worm on a world-wide scale in the economy of nature.
Humanity (writes Bouche) knows little about its most important commensals. We are unaware of the nocturnal, hidden, subterranean activity of the most important animal biomass that shares with us the earth's land surface. . . . Using increasingly powerful physical and chemical methods, we decide to remodel the landscape, to disturb the soils, to pulverize chemicals, to release fumes and waste water. . . ignoring the principal animal that inhabits the environments we alter. . . . If we compare, for example, the significance accorded to ornithology and the multitude of birdwatchers studying about one kilogram of birds per hectare, with the extremely limited number of research workers' interest in the hundreds of kilograms or tons per hectare of earthworms, we must conclude that our knowledge of ecosystems of fundamentally distorted by our above-ground, visual perception of nature and our ignorance of life below-ground.
Normally healthy and long-lived, earthworms are discouraged if not killed outright by many pesticides and most chemical fertilizers. Copper sulfate, in concentrations near the surface of the soil, even in only 260 parts per million, can drastically reduce the worm population, and any nitrogenous fertilizer will quickly wipe them out. Nearly all commercial brands contain high levels of nitrogen in the form of ammonia, which destroys earthworms by creating intolerably high acidic soil.
Yet the more organic material they receive the faster they proliferate. And, as they proliferate, so do their symbiotic progenitors, the microorganisms, manufacturers of humus, the basis for a fertile soil. Steiner's premise was basic: that his biodynamic preps create the ambience for the infusion of the essential cosmic and telluric forces that generate this metabolic miracle.
How to Make a Worm Farm
Worms can do wonders for the garden: they aerate the soil and their castings are an excellent fertiliser. To get a constant supply of this worm fertiliser as well as extra worms for the garden, start a worm farm.
Use Red Worms or Tiger Worms only (available from most plant nurseries). The common garden worm is not suitable.
Setting up the system
Worm farms are simple structures that you can make yourself. They consist of three or four stackable crates or bins made of plastic, wood or any other lightweight, waterproof material. The worms live in the bins and simply wriggle their way up from the lowest bin into the one above, where they can smell fresh foodfruit, vegetable and other scraps that might otherwise go to waste. These scraps are turned into the castings that make such good fertiliser. Some local councils sell worm farms at a cost of $50 to $75 for four bins.
The base bin has a solid floor to catch liquid run-off that percolates down from the upper bins, and preferably a tap near the base. By tipping the stack, liquid waste can be drained away through the tap without having to remove the upper bins.
The upper bins are perforated to let the worms move up through the floor to reach fresh food supplies. These 'holey' bins lock into each other and are deep enough to leave enough room for the worms to move about without being squashed.
To create congenial living conditions for the worms, you need newspaper and soil to start the farm and a continuing supply of suitable food scraps.
Starting the farm
On top of the base bin fit an upper (holey) bin #1 that has been lined with a few sheets of shredded newspaper and a couple of handfuls of soil. Spray lightly with fresh water. Add the Red or Tiger worms along with a small amount of food scraps. Exclude light from the upper bin and keep it moist by covering it with newspaper, hessian or another bin. Allow the farm to settle in for a couple of weeks before lifting the cover and putting in more food scraps. Check on the bin's progress and add more food scraps as the worms grow and multiply. Make sure that your worms have enough food, but don't overfeed them - uneaten food will simply rot, resulting in a smelly farm and unhappy worms.
When holey bin #1 is about half full of worms and worm castings, remove the newspaper or hessian and place holey bin #2 on top. Put food scraps in bin #2 and, again, exclude light and keep the contents moist. In about a week the worms from bin #1 will have moved up into the fresh food in bin #2, leaving behind worm castings that can be spread on the garden.
Worms usually live underground so they thrive in an environment that is cool, dark and moist. To keep the worm farm dark put newspaper, hessian or another bin on top of the 'food' bin, but always lift this cover before adding more food or another bin.
Worms like moisture and should not be allowed to dry out. A light spray of fresh water when the worm farm is first constructed will generally provide sufficient moisture for the farm. Once the farm is settled in you should not need to add extra water. If you add too much extra water or allow rainwater to get into the bins, the worms may drown.
Worms are voracious eaters. Once the worms are settled in and growing, give them a good supply of suitable food.
Worms like most vegetable and fruit scraps (except onions and citrus), but as worms do not have teeth, scraps should be cut into small pieces: waste from a vegetable juicer is ideal.
Worms also like:
- soaked and ripped pizza boxes
- shredded and soaked cardboard
- fruit and vegetable (except onions and citrus)
- egg shells.
Worms will eat meat but it can lead to smells and maggots in the worm farm.
Plants from the onion family (including garlic and shallots) and citrus fruits contain volatile oils. If any of these are included in the food scraps the worms will climb out of their bin to get away from the smell.
If this happens to your worm farm, place another bin with a fresh food supply on top of the contaminated bin. Once the worms have climbed out of the contaminated bin (about a week) remove it and use the castings for normal compost - the uneaten onion and citrus won't hurt the garden.
Dog droppings or stable sweepings can also go into the bin. Worms will eat droppings from herbivorous animals (horses, cattle) and omnivores/carnivores (dogs, cats, etc.), but never add human faeces because of possible bacterial contamination.
Worm farm 'produce'
Castings can go straight onto the garden or pot plants. If they are covered with mulch their moisture and nutrient content will be conserved.
An excellent liquid fertiliser can be made from the castings by adding water until the mixture looks like weak tea. African violets and other plants that like being fed from the roots, just love this mixture.
Moisture drained from the worm farm's bottom crate is also a good liquid fertiliser, but it too should be diluted.
Excess worms can be put in the compost heap where they will help speed up the composting process.
- Passion Fruit
Fennel (green plant) growing in front of First Cottage at Acres Wild
Fennel is a very important herb in our herb and garlic soft cheese. We are growing it successfully now after a bit of trial and error. Don't know why it was so difficult as it grows pretty easily in other peoples gardens.
Rosemary growing at Acres Wild.
Rosemary details here.
Thyme at Acres Wild Farm
Tyme details here.
Parsley at Acres Wild Cheesemaking Farm, Coonoor.
Parsley details here.
Sage at Acres Wild Cheesemaking Farm, Coonoor.
Sage details here.
Oregano at Acres Wild Cheesemaking Farm, Coonoor.
Oregano details here.
- The Farmhouse
- Tea Garden Cottage
- First Cottage
Front View of Acres Wild Farmhouse - CLICK ON PHOTO to look around.
The Farmhouse will be our residence and the centre of activity at Acres Wild Farm. We have designed it with a simple layout of 4 bedrooms around a central living and dining space. The bedrooms are connected thru a corridor for privacy. Each bedroom has a fire place and a bay window with a great view. Solar water heating to all bathrooms and gobar gas for the kitchen.
Side View of the Acres Wild Farmhouse
Farmhouse Living Room Interior (CLICK PHOTO to look around)
Tea Garden Cottage
This cottage is presently under construction. Will post photos when complete.
First Cottage at Acres Wild
This little cottage was made as our first abode at Acres Wild. So the idea was to have everything in a small single space. So there is a bedroom, dining and kitchen in one space with an attached toilet.
View of First Cottage from the Cow Shed
The cottage is made of adobe bricks that we made on the farm. Stones used in foundation and front wall are from the property too. There is solar water heating and a connection for gobar gas for cooking.
First Cottage Interior - CLICK ON ABOVE PHOTO to look around the Interior