Poppy George’s Farm Advice: Beefalo, Goat’s Milk, and Termites

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Advice columnist dispenses information on beefalo, preparing goat's milk for baby formula, safe ways to rid a house of termites and temperature control for baby chicks.

“Poppy George” Plitt graduated from college with a degree in agriculture in 1932 During the years that followed he made good many friends and a name for himself (as a gentleman, inventor and executive) in the field of bird and animal husbandry and care. At various points in his career, Mr. Plitt served as Director of Nutritional Research and Field Services for two of the East’s larger grain mills. He is also the originator of Pride of the Valley Wild Bird Food and Kleen Kitty cat litter. Mr. Plitt now raises and trains standard bred horses and keeps a wide variety of other birds and animals on a New York farm. “Poppy George” is now sharing his experience by giving MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers down-to-earth farm advice on the care and feeding of homestead livestock. 

QUESTION: Poppy George, I’ve been reading about a breed of cattle called “beefalo” . . . a cross between a buffalo and a regular beef-breed female. Do you feel that these animals have potential enough to warrant an investment on my part, in spite of their expense?

ANSWER: “Beefalo” — or “cattalo”, as they’re sometimes called — result from the crossing of a buffalo (bison) bull with females of domestic beef cattle breeds. In my opinion, the only advantage of this hybridization is that the offspring have a high degree of tolerance to cold and are well suited to northern climates.

On the other hand, cattalo have several drawbacks: [1] The hybrid is less efficient — per pound of gain — than a straight beef breed in utilizing digestible nutrients. [2] As the proportion of buffalo blood increases with each cross, the offspring become heavier in the front end of the carcass (from which the lower-priced cuts of meat are obtained). (Although males of the first generation of such a cross are usually sterile, cattalo unlike mules — are able to reproduce.MOTHER.) [3] One would expect the breeding of bison bulls to domestic cows to result in a higher than normal mortality of calves at birth.

A final caution; If you decide to buy a buffalo bull in spite of these disadvantages, be sure your pasture fences are extra strong.

QUESTION: I have an excess of goat’s milk and would like to sell it for human baby formula. Can you tell me how this food compares to cow’s milk?

ANSWER: Goat’s milk is an excellent product if obtained under sanitary conditions (i.e., if the doe’s flanks and udder are clipped, the teats washed with a clean cloth and dried before milking, the milker’s hands well scrubbed, and a clean pail used).

Goat’s milk contains 4.1 percent more fat than that of a cow . . . in smaller globules which are more digestible by infants. The doe’s yield is also higher in protein by 3.6 percent and in lactose (milk sugar) by 5.1 percent. Good luck in your marketing!

QUESTION: Can you tell us an ecologically sound way to get rid of termites in the walls of our wooden house? In particular, we don’t want to contaminate the water cistern . . . which is right next to the dwelling. One possible clue to an extermination method is that our northern termites require a wet environment and carry mud up into their tunnels to maintain the humidity.

ANSWER:I’ve been fortunate enough to have no termite trouble on my own place, but have been asked about the problem by various friends. To those on the West Coast I always recommend the free use of diatomaceous earth, which is sold in that area’s supermarkets as cat box litter. (The eastern equivalent is the bagged powdered clay marketed for the same purpose.) Either of these natural products tends to dehydrate and kill the pests. Before you replace the decayed boards, incidentally, I’d suggest soaking the new wood in used motor oil (usually available free from service stations).

QUESTION: How crucial is temperature control to the health and well being of baby chicks? All the instructions I’ve read suggest keeping the brooder heat at 95 degrees Fahrenheit the first week, 90 degrees the second, 85 degrees the third, 80 degrees the fourth, and so on. The temperature in our incubator, however, is generally 80 degrees the first week and has sometimes been as low as 75 degrees at midday. What effect will this cooler environment have on the young birds?

ANSWER: The information you quote is basically correct (remember that those figures refer to floor temperature). Nevertheless, the best test of the conditions in your incubator is the behavior of the chicks. If they’re cold, they’ll be inactive and tend to stand around chirping. They’ll also huddle to keep warm and will sometimes pile up and smother as a result. If the floor of your brooder house is free of drafts and the biddies are comfortable at 80 degrees, you’re doing OK.

Cooler temperatures tend to make growing chicks hardier and more “tightly” feathered . . . but don’t push’ the hardening process too fast or the young birds will get sniffles.

Farm Advice Around the Homestead

In my opinion, oats and their by-products are an excellent and palatable foodstuff for livestock and humans. Rolled oats and oat groats are wholesome for calves and growing chickens. (A word of caution: The cereal should be finely ground before it’s fed to baby chicks.) The feeding of this grain helps to prevent cannibalism and feather picking and pulling in poultry, and the hulls (obtained in the manufacture of groats) are a satisfactory litter for your flock if they’re available at a reasonable price. 

The following is a nutritional analysis of oats: 

Crude protein 11.00%
Fat 4.50%
Calcium 10%
Phosphorus 36%
Manganese 34 parts per million
Vitamin A 250 international units per pound
Vitamin E 23.00 mg. per pound
Riboflavin (vitamin G or B2) 59 mg. per pound
Pantothenic acid (water-soluble vitamin) 4.65 mg. per pound
Niacin (necessary for growth) 6.60 mg. per pound
Thiamine (vitamin B1) 3.45 mg. per pound
Choline (necessary for proper bone development and normal fat metabolism) 420.00 mg. per pound