Let us speak for a moment of hemp dogbane.  hemp dogbane

Do a search for it online.  “Hemp dogbane:  Apocynum canabinum.”  The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service  —  “Normally, animals avoid hemp dogbane because of its bitter, sticky, milk-white juice. Sheep are more frequently affected than other animals, as they will eat large quantities of hemp dogbane leaves and tops . . .” and “Death from poisoning generally occurs 6 to 12 hours after animals eat the plant. Both dried and green plants are toxic. A lethal dose for most animals is reported to be about 0.5 gm/kg body weight, but as little as 15 gm of green leaves have been reported to cause death of some cows. ”  Or the Virginia Cooperative Extension,   which informs us “this weed may be poisonous ether green or dry, and only 15-30 grams of green leaves are required to kill one horse or cow.”  Further investigation will turn up many other similar reports, all sufficiently similar to seem to indicate a single parent source.

Now, let’s look at a Penn State bulletin from 2016 (thank you, Penn State!), also treating of Aponcynum canabinum, commonly known as hemp dogbane:  “Much of the literature on hemp dogbane claims that it is poisonous to livestock, but these claims were based on an early investigation in which oleander (Nerium oleander) was mistaken for hemp dogbane.”  (As little as a single leaf of oleander can kill an adult human.)  It also adds, “Animals find fresh hemp dogbane distasteful, but can eat it in hay without suffering ill effects.”

Now, we’ll go ask the cows, who eat it first and voraciously when they are turned into a new paddock.  Distasteful?  It’s a favorite forage.  Ill effects?  None.

What is the agribusiness industry recommending?  Well, the USDA says it “may be controlled by repeated treatment of 2,4-D (italics ours)” while the Vermont extension suggests killing it with Accent, Beacon, Banvel, or Roundup Ultra herbicides, alone or in combination.  Poison the poison, in other words.  Only, it seems this particular plant isn’t poisonous after all.  We are to douse the fields with toxic chemicals, without even knowing the enemy.

And this is science, people, the god we’re never supposed to question.



springtank2Most rules are really generalities.  Nature loves variation.

When we turn the dry cows (for convenience this includes steers and heifers) into their next 24-hour paddock, they surge forward and start getting theirs, but they don’t all go for the same stuff.  Some head straight for the orchard grass seed heads, plucking them off like apostles on a sabbath; others hurry to be the first to browse black locust seedlings.  The older, more mature cattle, who may know a little something, make straight for the hemp dogbane (about which, more in a later post), and they’ll be there as long as there are any leaves left to browse.

The lactating cows are on the front pastures, where there is more clover, and where they are more convenient to the shed for milking.  These paddocks tend to be much more weed-free than those out back.  Interesting:  as they are brought up for milking, which may mean crossing Little Church Road, or taking the long lane up from the tire tank, they pass over compacted soil (sorry, can’t help it, these are much-traveled) where broad-leaf plantain abounds.  In the verge of the lane, where the grass is mowed often for appearances’ sake, wild carrot, which will be called Queen Anne’s lace in its second year when it flowers, grows thick and lacy.  The cows are mad for both of these.  Although they have just spent ten to twelve hours on lush pasture,  they snatch mouthfuls as fast as they can, and if they are allowed to do so, they will just settle down and graze, forgetting the barn and the bucket until they have gotten all there is to get.   If they are lucky enough to find some hemp dogbane, it’s a goner.  All this on top of twelve hours of grass and clover.

We don’t have the perfect, weed-free pasture of legumes mixed with cool and warm season grasses, but the cows seem to get along fine, and maybe even finer than they would on that perfect pasture.

With the arrival last night of our four bought-in baby Jersey bulls, the spring cheese making season is officially over.  Something in the neighborhood of 225 pounds of cheese are aging in the cheese cave (sic), put down since early April, and for at least a month (until the next cow is due to calve) or even maybe four months (when the baby bulls may be weaned) our cheese making will decrease from thirty or forty pounds a week to the occasional mozzarella; but our cheese-eating will ascend to the heights of about ten delicious pounds per week (family of thirteen, presently).

Like most seasons, we love it when it’s here, and love when it’s over.IMG_2693[1]

Well, the laying flock is off to a sketchy start, but we still hope for great things.  First of all, although we’d had Cornish Rock crosses in that hover for two entire weeks before we moved them out to the tractor and put in the Buckeyes and Silver Appleyards, with absolutely no complications, the first night the new breeding flock was in there a rat got in and killed four.  Actually, and to place blame where it belongs, we think he killed three — at least, three were chewed on — but it’s possible that the fourth got trapped under the hover light by the press of the other chicks/ducklings (it was a cold night) and overheated.  We should have had a couple of bricks in the focal point of the heat lamp to make sure that couldn’t happen.  Phut goes $50 in one night.  We spent hours next day putting up hardware cloth in all the cracks and eaves.

After that things were fine until the new birds were a week old, when we lost five Buckeye chicks in two days.  This one was more disturbing since we couldn’t find any problem — no bloody poops, no sign of predation — except each little chick had a purple tummy and a scab over his umbilical scar (and yes, birds have them).  Omphalitis is what the internet suggested, but the internet is a venue for idiots as well as experts, so that was still inconclusive.  Jordan River generously offered us a refund on those chicks, but there was really no hard evidence of the cause of death, and we’re too grateful to real breeders to want to make their job less rewarding; besides, we plan to pick Jody and Nathan’s brains on a regular basis as we start our own breeding flock, and we want them to like us!

Since then, all has been well, and the chicks and ducklings look great.

Feed:  rolled oats added to 22% protein mash, kefir, clover, and a little beef liver.  Bedding:  straw and wood chips.  Raw garlic in the drinking water.

Saturday we drove to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, to take custody of our new — if miniscule — poultry yard breeding stock:  two dozen chicks of a breed called ‘Buckeye’, Ohio natives, and fifteen Silver Appleyard ducklings, from Jordan River Farm, a Sustainable Poultry Network member farm owned by Nathan and Jodi Obardier.  Our concerns about GMO-fed poultry and infertility have prompted us to seek out organic breeding stock; now we’ll know where our babies come from, and with the Obardiers and the SPN for resources, we hope to breed for excellence.  Wish us luck!chicks1week

The spring cheese making is over, thank goodness.  We know because the cave is full, the weather is warming up, and, most especially, there are four new  bottle calves, bought in especially to sop up all the milk this land is presently flowing with and take the burden off the cheese makers, who have been dealing with an excess twenty gallons or so every other day.  Over 200 pounds of cheese in the cave should last us until we start up again in the fall . . .parmesan


So, we left the calf on her but quit milking for a day, then started milking again, just a couple of pounds the first time, then maybe six, then ten, and so on.  She’s been fine and dandy since that 24 hour break.  The calf is a lovely heifer, christened Sasha, and to watch her you’d think her mama made rocket fuel instead of milk.  raymieandcalves.jpg


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