Since education and outreach are a big part of our theme, we've decided to devote an entire page to passing along tidbits about a variety of topics. This is a precursor to those Lessons. Each lesson will then be archived so you can "catch up".

If needed, pictures or diagrams will be added as part of knowledge based lessons. We hope you enjoy! I will add a new lesson twice a month or so and look for comments or likes in the blog.  Feel free to ask questions.

I gave you a bit of a warning that I am a practical farmer.... I typically don't name farm animals or even my hens in the hen house. I reserve that for pets. I have Grand kiddos and I know they want to name a few, but I think you might be setting yourself up for broken hearts when a predator attacks or if an animal reaches old age. Obviously, it's your choice.

LESSON 1 ~ Understanding the word digestion. 5/1/2018

A practical farmer is actually a "producer". He or she manages animals with something in mind. Maybe it's a cow or goat for milk or cheese. Maybe it's sheep for wool or a hen house full of laying hens for eggs. The point is, farming is an operation that is managed with animal health, well being and comfort in mind. The healthier livestock remains, the more valued and/or nutritious will be the edible product or fiber. I understand some of the need for large corporate farms with animals in some kind of confinement, but ... I firmly believe "excessive" confinement should be avoided if at all possible. Here at Clawfoot, we strongly believe all animals were meant to live on the surface of the earth, with fresh air and natural sunlight, free to pick and choose the foods that the earth supplies.  OKAY, with that in mind,  here goes.

Terms, ......  I'm not going to look these up, but you can for yourself. Instead I'll explain each in layman's terms as best I can.

G.I. tract (Gastrointestinal tract) AKA Alimentary Canal ~ All mammals (milk producing species) and avians (birds) have a tube which begins with some kind of lips or beak and extends through the body cavity. That tube sets in motion a series of changes to food that is swallowed before it is expelled at the opposite end of the tube with a terminal opening typically called simply the vent. (the nice term). This tube is the G.I. tract. The rest of these terms are in a logical order.

Mastication ~ This is the act of chewing or grinding food into smaller particles and at the same time adding some lubricating saliva to the food mass. Some animals like chickens or other birds eat food whole and grinding occurs in the gizzard further down the G.I. tract. Saliva actually contains amylase (enzyme) which begins the breakdown of carbohydrates. More on that in another lesson.

Ingestion ~ This simply means swallowing. Dogs and sometimes kids are often known to swallow something that isn't even close to food. Such as, "My dog ingested a plastic bottle". Yikes! Animals known as ruminants are also capable of bringing previously ingested food back to the mouth so they can chew it again. (cud chewing) I'll talk more on that later as well.

Digestion ~ Thanks to enzymes, and probiotics (live microbes) that live in the animal's G.I. tract ingested food is "broken down" to minute particles or sometimes ions that can then be absorbed into the blood stream. Digestion is the breaking down of food. That brings us to Absorption.

Absorption ~ Food that is sufficiently digested is now small enough to pass through the lining of the G.I. tract. As food leaves the stomach it enters the small intestine. The small intestine is covered on the inside with finger like projections that increase the surface area. These "villi" also allow the tiniest of nutrients to pass into the blood stream to be carried where they might be needed.

Assimilation ~ When a nutrient becomes part of the animal's body it is said to be  "assimilated". Not everything that is ingested is converted to muscle, bone, hair or some organ. Some of the food is burned as energy (metabolism), Some becomes an end product like milk or eggs, and some is expelled from the body at the vent. It's the challenge to the farmer to supply adequate complete rations so the animal stays healthy and yet productive.

Defecation ~ Any food or indigestible material that is not absorbed or burned for fuel will eventually pass from the body. That does not mean that there are no nutrients left in the droppings. Most manure smells because of the continuing decomposition of the ingesta. Properly handled manure can be a valuable soil amendment and promoting a sustainable growth cycle.

Urination ~ I guess we should also add urination to our glossary. Excess water from the G.I. tract is removed by the kidneys and stored in the bladder until enough accumulates that the animal feels mild discomfort and the desire to expel the liquid. Both urine and manure contain soil building products. ALWAYS have free choice clean and cool water in front of your animals. By the way, birds do not store up water, but instead eliminate the excess with their manure.

SUMMARY ~ Read this over a few times, and you should have a basic understanding about what we typically call digestion. Food is handled much differently by different species. I'll provide some of that information in a later lesson. Click on the blog if you have comments.

LESSON 2 ~ Characteristics of livestock and pets.  6/5/2018

For this lesson, we're going to look at some characteristics of several species of animals that normally fall under the care of humans. The trouble, is the topic is so wide open. Not only are there a huge variety of animals that have been domesticated, but the reasons that we "keep" animals is just a varied as the number of species that we maintain. I guess that's a good place to start.

So, why do you keep animals? Is it because they're a pet, or for the food they might provide? I realize this potentially opens a whole discussion that some might find controversial, but people are omnivorous and as such, we do consume meat. I'll let that settle for a second and I'll list the usual reasons that we normally keep domestic animals. Clawfoot is a working farm in that we keep animals for both fun and profit. I hope that sets okay with most. I assure you we love and respect our animals.

1.   PETS ~ Companion species, like: Reptiles, Birds, Dogs, Cats, and you name it.

2.   LIVESTOCK for meat production: Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken and others

3.   LIVESTOCK for milk, butter, ice cream, gelato, cheese or other procuction

4.   LIVESTOCK for Eggs, fiber, leather or other by-products

5.   ANIMALS for labor or service work ~ This would include horses, and service dogs.

Those of us that love our animals often find it paradoxical that we can also consume meat and animal by-products. Never the less,  as a culture that's exactly what we do. Children and the young especially find it problematic when their "farm" animal is sold at auction.

Right now there is a cultural rediscovering of our food. By that I mean our food safety, sources and nutritional value. The topic of farm to fork food, will be another whole discussion, for now let's get back to animal characteristics. We can complete our species breakdown by tying the topic of digestion from lesson one to the topic of animal characteristics. Animals prefer different feeds based on food habits. This is just the basics: Notice each group ends with the suffix VORE.....

1.   HERBIVORES ~ Animal species that eat a plant based diet. This would include all the cud chewing, ruminant species like cattle, sheep and goats. Other non-ruminant herbivores would include horses and rabbits. They do just fine with what are called roughages. All species need adequate water and will consume more and grow faster and more healthy, when given plenty of water with their feed. Ideal food for herbivores would include pasture that is both grass and broad leaf in nature. All the grasses and broadleafed plants like the clovers or alfalfa. Free ranging livestock will pick and choose their feed as they graze. Over grazing will eventually result in less desirable plants taking over the pasture, so pasture reseeding, irrigation and rotational use is ideal. If pasture is properly maintained however, soil will actually improve when used by livestock.

2.   CARNIVORES ~ These are animals that eat primarily a meat style diet. Dogs and cats will eat fish, poultry, and other forms of meat. When given too much grain in the diet they may develop diabetes or other problems.  They can and do enjoy some plant protein when mixed in their feed, but plant protein should not be the mainstay of their diet.

3.   OMNIVORES ~ These animals eat a varied diet. They can and do enjoy both plants and animals as food sources. Swine and poultry are both good examples of animals that will eat plants like grasses and grains, but will also consume insects or flesh if it's available. Commercial swine and poultry production these days usually means confinement. I think this is probably not ideal but can be safe and humane if the cages or building are not too confining. It's a matter of how much confinement and I should emphasize we prefer little or no confinement. Animals are meant to have their feet on the ground with sun, shade and water nearby.

By the way, people are also classified as omnivores. I know all about the vegan movement, but animal protein is also healthy and safe. You can decide for yourself. I just don't appreciate someone preaching to me about how their lifestyle is better and more humane.

At Clawfoot, we believe "IT'S A PERSONAL CHOICE"!!  As long as animals are treated as humanely as possible through their entire life, there's nothing wrong with using animals as a food source. If you disagree.... at least try to respect other people's viewpoints, their lifestyle, and their right to choose. Also... if you disagree, you will likely be turned off by our "practical" approach to keeping animals. Keep an open mind and try to be tolerant of others lifestyles and food choices. Some will try to tell you that consumption of animal protein is not safe. At Clawfoot we believe that over consumption is the issue. The truth is, we need 6 types of nutrients. Specifically they are: Water, Protein, Vitamins, Minerals, Carbohydrates and Fats. Trying to get these nutrients from a single source is not healthy for the human body. We are omnivores. Try to source your nutrients from a variety and try to minimize your intake of food that might be over processed, contaminated, or not organic in nature. Again it's your choice! The purpose of this website is to educate, not to stir controversy. We'd like to have all our followers, healthy, happy and content! We're hoping our readers are also individuals most likely to spread the word about seeking health giving knowledge about diet and animal care. If you're not a subscriber please consider CLAWFOOT FARMS.

Have a good one, Uncle Bill

LESSON 3 ~ West Nile Virus 9/3/2018

Perhaps you live in an area that has seen an increase in the disease known as West Nile Virus. The virus is carried by mosquitoes and transmitted to humans that are bitten. Symptoms can vary a great deal and begin with flu like symptoms. Most adults show no symptoms at all and are basically unaffected by the virus. However, some experience dramatic symptoms and a very few individuals can die from WNV. The best precaution of course is to eliminate breeding spots like ponds, fountains and of course water troughs. I watch for the wiggler larvae in my animal water sources and dump out the water every few days if possible. Try not to let it go for a week or longer.

As far as the animals themselves are concerned, most breeds including sheep and chickens are asymptomatic. In other words the virus is in their blood but they do not show any signs of WNV. Here's the big question... Can you eat the meat from stock, chicken or eggs? The answer is there is no evidence that consumption is harmful to humans. Most of us may have already done so.

Several Universities Extension services have conducted studies on WNV and  livestock. The following is information from the University of Kansas:

Although chickens may become infected by the virus,they show few or no signs of the infection. The virus can be isolated for eight days from infected chickens. However, the level of virus in chicken blood is low and is probably not high enough to infect other mosquitos. Chickens develop antibodies to the virus within five to seven days. Thus, chickens are unlikely to amplify the WNV infection in mosquitoes. There is no evidence of animal-to-animal or animal-to-person transmission of WNV. People can only become infected through the bite of an infected mosquito, and only a small number of mosquitoes carry the virus.

LESSON 4 ~ Livestock Behavior

In my animal science classes, I frequently get questions about animal behavior. Actually, each species behaves quite differently. Most livestock species are prey species. Examples are sheep, goats, chickens, cattle and to a lesser extent swine. Most pet species are by nature carnivores and therefore hunting species like dogs and cats. If you check back earlier on this page, (LESSON 2) you can check out the differences between herbivores, carnivores and omnivores, but let’s get back to behavior.

The general public has little understanding of where their food comes from or how it is raised. This is true not only of the vegetable isle but especially the meat, dairy and egg sections of the grocery store. Of course, I can’t speak for every producer or operation out there, but I can pretty much assure my readers that the folks that homestead and raise animals for consumption love being around animals and love the country life. Many if not most, were raised in a rural atmosphere and have been around animals since they were young. That’s certainly true for me. Let me share just a part about what I have learned about animals.

Four legged prey species and poultry tend to be a pretty suspicious of their surroundings. They possess eyes located laterally on the sides of their heads which allow them to see about 270 degrees around them. This type of eye placement makes it much more difficult for predators to approach. During their waking hours most of their time is spent searching for food, caring for young and socializing. Many also spend time relaxing and chewing their cud. Almost all prey species develop the tendency to form groups. The ruminant animals that chew their cuds, live and socialize in herds of various sizes. Poultry also group together in flocks. This behavior is not only social but for protection. All these species will be much happier in a group, so don’t keep just one sheep, one chicken or one donkey. Keep a small herd, at least two or three. Never crowd animals, but keep them together if you have the space and can properly care for them.

Because of this tendency to live as a group,  predator species must try to sneak up on the flock which is now being protected by many eyes. Because of their suspicious nature, prey species are often curious or even fearful of the unknown. For instance, a paper bag that blows across a pasture full of sheep may send them scattering. Actually scattering in the case of sheep, is the wrong word, because flock animals tend to move as a group.

Ok, I could write a chapter, if not a book on how different animals behave. The idea is to learn all you can about the species that reside on your farm plot and use their behavior to your advantage. Use best housing and fencing to protect them from predators.

I am adding a story about the completed roof on the sheep pen and I added a photo illustrating the curious nature of my sheep. The photos are on the "Projects" page, under a section about finishing the roof. Send any questions you may have through the blog page or "Projects on the farm".

Talk to you soon, Uncle Bill

LESSON 5 ~ Kids and Critters

First off, Let me say that my two girls are grown up and have kids of their own, so my experience is a bit rusty with raising kids in this troubled world. I suspect kids now days have very different concerns and desires.

When I was a lad, I was raised around animals. My parents lived in town and my Mother's dad, (my grandpa) had a large poultry farm. We had dogs and cats at my folks house in town, but at the farm we had chickens, geese, sheep, hogs every year, and a horse named "Patches".

For the record, I deeply miss not getting to know my other Grandpa. He lived on the east coast, and I only saw him on a few occasions.

Having animals teaches young kids that life comes with responsibilities. I have found that kids have a natural love for animals. They WANT to be around them. It's our job (as parents) to nurture that love and desire. They will want to participate! That love of animals never goes away. Remember the old saying, "You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy".

I am not a young guy anymore, and right now it's Christmas morning (2018), but I still had to feed my cat and all the chickens this morning. By the way, I'm taking care of quite a few extra chickens because of the CAMP FIRE. These so called "responsibilities" are something I have done most of my life. And after all these years, I still love having animals around. Blessings from your Uncle Bill

Barred Rock

In keeping with our education theme, I have decided to be a little more systematic with my lessons. I will break my bimonthly lessons into groups of five to make editing simple. Lesson six will be about getting started with chickens and we'll see where we go from there.


LESSON 6 ~ Best poultry breeds for the beginner. 1/1/2019

Happy New Year! It's a brand new year and time for resolutions and life style changes. Perhaps you're thinking about losing weight. Or?? Maybe it's just to be happier.... BEST ADVICE?.. Keep it simple and keep it general. The reason many fail at resolutions is because their resolution is too specific! For instance, if you commit a resolution by saying "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in January." You'll likely be discouraged if you haven't lost 5 pounds in the first week. Once you're discouraged, you will lose motivation and simply give up on the whole notion. Anyway, just being happier is a much better choice.

If you want to be happier in 2019, the possibilities are endless and each day presents a new possible decision day. Having animals in your life will automatically add to your life. Critters can add to your stress, but in general they are far more rewarding than they are problematic.

OK, to my point....

I'm hoping by now you have at least considered a small flock of birds in your backyard. Besides the simple pleasure in just watching the antics of  flock of hens there's the obvious benefit of having the most nutritious eggs you can imagine.

Step one is to make sure you can keep chickens in your area. If so, how many? Can you have a rooster? And most importantly, how many is too many and which breeds should you select. Check with you local city by phone, but you will find most cities will allow small flocks. Very few will allow a rooster within the city limits. The point is, be sure to check.

If chickens are a possibility in your area, decide how many. I would recommend at least three and as many as five or six for the average household. No need to have more than that until you're sure you love keeping fowl and have a market for the eggs. Remember, you are committed to buying feed, and feed costs can add up unless you are selling a few eggs. Chickens also mean a certain amount of work and responsibility. Next time, I'll discuss housing, but for now I'll recommend a few breeds.

I have a few favorites for newbies. Here's my favorites for a first time flock;

  1. Plymouth Rock (or Barred Rocks) See photo above
  2. Speckled Sussex or other color variation
  3. Orpingtons (Buff color is easiest to find)

The reasons I like these breeds and will always have a few of each in my own flock, is because they are mild tempered and they are consistent layers. All three are good around children if handled and all lay various degrees of a brown colored large to extra large egg. The Barred Rock is probably the best layer. You may have noticed I did NOT recommend the ever popular Rhode Island Red. RIR's are a great breed but I prefer a calmer atmosphere in my coop and the Rhode Island breeds tend to get pretty caught up in the pecking order thing.... if you know what I mean.

By the way, at this is January 1st of 2019. Since it is the dead of winter finding baby chicks will be next to impossible! Hens will begin to lay again sometime in February, so take the time to get started on your coop plans. Watch for baby chicks in the feed stores in a couple months, but be sure you're ready when chicks arrive! You can also order direct from hatcheries, but most have minimum orders and other restrictions. Chicks will come next day mail and must be picked up at the post office.

2 thoughts on “Rural Life Lessons”

  1. Nice work Bill. I particularly like the lesson section. It is nice to have an overview of points to talk about when sharing information about animals and the various ways they are in our lives.

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