Farm Advice: Castrating Bulls, Horse Nomenclature, and Hale Bay Storage

"Poppy George" Plitt answers homesteaders questions about castrating a young bull, the differences between gelding, colts and yearlings, common gestation periods of farm animals, and hay bale storage.

Horse and colt

A male horse less than three years old is called a colt, and the female a filly.


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"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: We work oxen, and I'd like to know the proper time to castrate a young bull which is to be used for that purpose. Also, I'm told that if a horse is gelded too young its urinary system doesn't develop fully and may cause problems later. Is this true? 

ANSWER: I'd suggest that you plan to castrate bulls to be used for oxen at about six months of age. The same rule applies to horses.

It's true that geldings sometimes develop urinary problems, but in most cases this is due to carelessness on the part of the operator . . . either in preparation of the animal for the procedure or in sterilization of the instruments used to do the job. Such trouble can be avoided by following the usual sanitary precautions. Any wound, of course, can become infected due to flies, etc., during the summer months. Use common sense during the healing period, and be sure the horse has a tetanus shot for safety's sake.

QUESTION: What are the differences between geldings, colts, and yearlings? 

ANSWER: Suppose I give you the terms used to describe horses at all ages, for future reference:

A foal or suckling is an unweaned baby of either sex. The young animal is known as a weanling when it no longer suckles its mother but is under one year of age . . . and as a yearling between the ages of one and two. A male horse less than three years old is called a colt, and the female a filly. A male is a stallion if used for breeding purposes, and a gelding if castrated. A mare is a mature female over three years of age. The male parent of a horse is referred to as the sire, and the female parent as the dam.

QUESTION: Can you tell me the gestation periods, in months, for common farm animals? 

ANSWER: Gladly: mare, 11 months; cow, 9 months; sow, 4 months; ewe, 5 months; goat, 5 months; rabbit, 1 month; dog, 2 months; cat, 2 months or less.

QUESTION: Can eggshells be used as livestock feed? 

ANSWER: Yes. Eggshells are as good a source of calcium as crushed oyster shells or ground limestone (never use hydrated lime for this purpose!). A word of caution, though: If the shells are to be given to chickens, leave them on the back of the wood stove or in the oven to dry and crush them fine before feeding. Otherwise your feathered friends may develop a taste for the shells of their own new-laid eggs.

Those of you who live near egg-processing plants may be able to get the wastes free . . . and if shells are plentiful, you can spread them on your land to provide calcium (which is especially beneficial to clover and alfalfa).

QUESTION: Poppy George, I've seen a skunk in our neighborhood that looks as if it has rabies . . . and I'm fearful for my youngsters, my dogs, and my few livestock. I know where the den is. What should I do? 

ANSWER: Skunks do develop rabies, and you have a right to be concerned. Since you know the location of the den, take your car or tractor to the spot, affix a hose to the end of the exhaust pipe, and put the other end of the tube into the opening of the burrow. Seal the space around the pipe and any other entrance, start the vehicle's motor, and run it for 10 or 15 minutes. The carbon monoxide should dispose of the skunks.

QUESTION: How should baled hay be stored? 

ANSWER: [1] Be sure the hay is thoroughly dry before you bale it. [2] When you stack the bales, place the first layer narrow (stringless) side down so that mice will be less likely to chew the twine. [3] Buy some bagged salt at the feedstore and scatter a small amount over each successive tier of hay to improve palatability, absorb moisture, and promote safe drying.

QUESTION: What procedures can we use to get more out of our pasture? 

ANSWER: [1] I suggest you find a piece of chain link fence four to eight feet long (depending on the size of animal or tractor which is to pull it) and tow the length of mesh around the field. This will spread any piles of horse and cow manure and help to condition the land. [2] Every summer, in June and again in August, mow all light brush and cut weeds before they go to seed. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how your pasture will improve each year with a minimum of competition to contend with.

QUESTION: Poppy George, we want our own milk source . . . but we've found that very high prices are being asked for dairy goats (especially does which are fresh or due to freshen). We don't want to spend so much on an animal that would produce only 1-1/2 or so quarts a day. What do you advise? 

ANSWER: I thoroughly agree with the wisdom of having one's own milk source (plus the added benefits of butter and cheese, offspring for meat or future herd members, and manure to enrich the soil). I wouldn't, however, pay an exorbitant price for a goat. Why not look around or advertise for a fresh Jersey cow? These animals originated on the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel, where they're kept in small herds. They're good family cows — not too large and usually very docile — and produce fine rich milk. Since the commercial dairyman prefers big Holsteins, Jerseys can be purchased very reasonably . . . and I'm confident you'll be pleased.