Monday, July 20, 2009
This weekend we went to Rancho Ebenezer, a training center for sustainable small animal management. Our hands-on trainings have all been great – making compost, growing a school garden, starting a tree nursery, food processing – but the animals were the best, sin duda. At the Rancho, they keep goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, cows, and tropical sheep (yes, there are tropical sheep, they just don’t have wool).
My new favorite animals are goats, chickens, and rabbits. I’ve never really considered myself an animal person, beyond cats, that is. But today I got down with some barnyard creatures, and I was pretty into it. At 6 this morning I reported to the goat stable and learned how to milk a goat. I wasn’t that great at it, but I was at least able to make the milk come out. After milking, we fed the goats a mixture of leaves from a variety of tropical leguminous plants.
Then it was off to the chicken pen. We were treating them with a prophylaxis for a common respiratory infection that kills a lot of chickens. Each one had to get a drop of solution in its eye. I won’t lie. I was scared at first to try to catch the chicken and hold it still. But once I caught one, I was hooked. Running around after chickens is really, really fun. Our next lesson was on how to give a chicken a bath. At the Rancho, they bathe the chickens once a month in a solution of water and neem leaf. Neem is a tree whose leaves have a repellant effect on insects, so it is used to keep any little bugs from living in the chickens’ feathers. Bathing the birds requires holding them under their wings and dipping them into a bucket up to their necks. The best part is that once the chickens come out of the bath they stagger around drunkenly until they’ve dried off a little bit. The weight of the water just gets them all out of whack.
Post neem bath
The bath was a little much for this guy to handle
At the rabbit hutch, we felt a rabbit’s belly to see if she was pregnant, watched two rabbits mate (takes about 3 seconds), and saw another rabbit give birth (8 babies in less than a minute). The great thing about all of these animals is that they are really easy to take care of, and they all can eat plants that serve other purposes but cannot be eaten by humans. The Rancho feeds its animals using the same plants it uses for reforestation and soil conservation and regeneration.
Among the other topics of the weekend were:
• how to tell if a female pig is in heat,
• how to clip a goat’s toenails,
• how to test a goat for mastitis before milking,
• how to castrate a baby pig (accompanied by a really disturbing demo),
• how to kill and skin a rabbit (surprisingly easy, not that I did it myself),
• how to build worm composting systems using old tires (very cool, something
I’m planning on doing at my site)
• and much more.
A lot of campo families have chickens. Rabbits are less common, and goats are pretty rare. Cows and pigs are both really common in my site, but rabbits and goats have a lot of advantages over these animals. Mainly, they produce more given a smaller quantity of food. And in the case of goats, they will eat practically anything. Since goats also do really well eating green leaves from trees, instead of needing pasture land, they also go perfectly well with reforestation projects. Culturally, getting people to switch from cow´s milk to goats milk is really difficult. But I´m really excited to start promoting the use of these animals when I get to my site.
A few things that seem normal to me now - eating every meal with only a spoon, hanging my clothing to dry on barbed wire, being woken up by roosters every morning
Stil not normal - when my host mom cleans the floor of my room with gasoline, pasta served with rice (yes, we must have at least 4 types of carbs on every plate)