Fortunately I got some good advice from Bel at Home Grown to get me started. She said to read Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby, and from there I also found Natural Pet Care, which helped me with the dogs (I wrote more about not using chemicals on the the dogs here). For the chickens, I've used the ideas in Backyard Poultry - Naturally by Alanna Moore, and more recently The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery. Now that we have nearly had a full year without using chemicals on the cattle, I wanted to write a summary of the methods that have worked for us and the problems we've faced.
|We phased on chemicals after we got Bella|
The first advice in Pat Coleby's book is to get the soil tested for mineral deficiencies. We did that first and found out that we were lacking calcium and copper. This gave us some clues about what we would need to feed the cattle to keep them healthy.
We take a few approaches to preventing infestations of internal parasites in our animals. Firstly we ensure that they move regularly to fresh pasture. The cattle never spend more than 6 weeks in a paddock, and as we have 4 paddocks, that gives plenty of time to rest paddocks and for worm larvae to die before the cattle are returned. Secondly, because we keep the chickens with the cattle, especially in the paddocks near the house that are used more frequently, the chickens scratch through, and spread out, the cow poo and pick out anything good to eat, which helps to clean up the paddock even further.
In addition to the physical management of the paddocks, we feed the cattle small amounts (about half a teaspoon each per day) of copper sulphate. This maintains the copper in their bodies to a point where internal parasites are repelled. Finally, as per Bel's suggestion, we feed diatomaceous earth (DE) around the full moon, about quarter of a cup each animal.
It hasn't been easy to find DE in our area, although at the moment we aren't using huge amounts, so its ok. The found out that DE is mined at Mt Sylvia Diatomite in the Lockyer Valley, at Maidenwell Diatomite in the South Burnett (but currently closed due to flood damage) and at Herbeton in the Atherton Tablelands/North QLD. None of our local produce stores stock DE (or had even heard of it!), and we were just lucky that a friend spotted a bag of the Mt Slyvia DE and bought it for us. We will keep using it if we can keep finding it! Smaller amounts can also be ordered from Green Harvest or from Green Pet, but of course its much cheaper to purchase bulk amounts if possible. If you know of any bulk sources in your area, please note them in the comments as they may help others to find DE.
So far we haven't had any problems with internal parasites, however we haven't done a worm test (looking at the cow poo under a microscope and counting the worms). We just haven't had any sick animals, so I think its been a success.
For the cows the main problem is Buffalo Fly in the summer and for the dogs its fleas. Again we have a combination approach. Both animals get extra sulphur in their food to help to repel insects. During summer when the insects are particularly bad, we also apply a product called Cattle Coat, which is an organic oil containing various essential oils that repel flies. It works very well. For Bella, Molly and Rocket, as they are all very tame, I just wipe it on their coat using an old rag and watch the flies fly away. For the two wild steers we mix it in a spray pack with water, corner them in a pen and spray them. Both methods are very effective. We also own, but have yet to hang, an AC Backrub, which is supposed to be used by the cattle to self-administer the cattle coat, which will be used at our new property. This will save time, although we've only have to use it about once a month this summer.
Considering that the chemicals used to cost us several hundred dollars per year, and this year we have only had to buy a little sulphur and copper sulphate, and the 20L of Cattle Coat was a $100 or so, but not even half has been used, going chemical free has been cheap and effective so far.
|The dogs are chemical free too now|
|The chickens have been more of a challenge|
See my post on neem oil for more ideas, this works for chicken lice.