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What role can mechanical engineering play in free range farming?

  1. Oct 15, 2012 #1
    I'm in my third (final ) year in my Bs. in mechanical engineering .( we do a 3 year Bs. and a 2 year Ms. which is the equivalent of the 5 year BE. degree) .Anyways ,I have to present a senior project this year and I want to do something that is related to stuff i care about .
    My question is this: What role can mechanical engineering play in making free-range farming more attractive to potential farmers( of course not mimicking factory farming) keeping animal welfare in mind?, Or stated differently ,what problems do free range farmers face that can possibly be solved through mechanical engineering .
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2012 #2
    The biggest problem is rounding up the cattle. That is often done on horseback like it was 150 years ago. It is also a problem getting them proper nutrition. They typically mix molasses with whatever other nutritional supplemental their natural diet might be lacking, and deliver that to large tubs at various places where the animals can find it. Probably the next biggest problem is protecting against poachers.

    All that applies to cattle. As for chickens, there really are not any true free range chickens being brought to market. They will have a fairly conventional chicken coop, but they are free to come and go. You will find that the birds will choose to spend a great deal of time in the coop if you give them a good coop. But once they are in the coop, you can manage them pretty much like anyone else does. The ones that like to run loose, they keep the predators well fed. If they survive that, you send the kids out maybe once per year to round them up and you process them into your freezers.
  4. Oct 15, 2012 #3
    One more thing that might find an engineering solution. "Free Range" normally means that several ranchers are sharing the same land. Nobody put up fences to keep the cattle on the property of one rancher. So once per year all the ranchers get together and "mammy them up." This is where they try to figure out which young cow belongs to which mommy cow. The mommy cows are marked as to who it belongs to, so this is how each rancher figures out who all the new cows belong to. Then all the young animals are marked and the bulls are cut, and all of them are medicated. Those going to the feed lots are shipped out. Any that are set aside for dairy go that way. And the rest are let loose for another year.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2012
  5. Oct 20, 2012 #4


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    Since you mentioned "animal welfare" you might as well read this article
    for free range cattle farming, just in case the welfare of some wildlife is of a concern.

    Pasture farming and free range farming of cattle are just about the same except for the fencing of an enclosure with barbed wire or other suitable fencing to keep the pasture animals within. Feedlot cattle farming has several varieties also from complete enclosure within a building to limited exposure outside.

    As Pkruse mentioned, at the roundup, year old bulls could be castrated to become steers, and fattened up for the slaughter house; and year old heifers could be 'fertilized' for a continuation of the herd, either the natural way with a champion bull or by the atificial insemmination of the sperm from a champion bull. . Horns would have to be cut and veterinary medicines administered. An application of branding or ear tagging would usually be necessary to distinquish ownership. For all this some type of an enclosure, which can be similar to that which as I am sure you have seen in the movies, is necessary.

    One immediate problem for free range farming that I can think of is the supply of water for the herd.
    for a discussion. Although I am not sure if a 'free range cattle ranch of farm' has a a requirement a natural source of water or a mechanically assisted supply for compliance.
  6. Oct 21, 2012 #5

    Ranger Mike

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    What role can mechanical engineering play in making free-range farming more attractive to potential farmers( of course not mimicking factory farming) keeping animal welfare in mind?, Or stated differently ,what problems do free range farmers face that can possibly be solved through mechanical engineering

    I would disregard the assumption that non free range farmers/ranchers do not care about animal welfare. This is not true. Let us assume both free and no free agents have an interest in producing consumable goods ( buyers want to purchase and pass t he public health regulations). Non free agents use less free range obviously. Since the major difference is land or since we are on physics forum, AREA, it comes down to this:
    Non free range can offer a legal safe product for less sell price due to higher volume of goods produced for the cost.
    Free range offers less quantity, at a higher sell price with publically assumed ( and disputed in some cases) healthier benefits ( no chemicals, hormones a no man made substance)

    A mechanical engineer could focus on more efficient uses of land, labor savings plan to reduce labor connected to the process and better packaging of end product.
    I see a lot of opportunity here.
    Land management – topographical mapping of entire area and find percent of free range or area not being used due to swamp, water stream drainage etc. How can you increase yield by better drainage etc.
    Calculate total cradle to grave labor costs and do some Fredrick Taylor time studies on efficiency.
    Analyze waste of current method- spoilage, waste due to shipping damage ( broken eggs??) loss due to predators ( varmint's making off with chickens) and how to reduce or eliminate these more effectively. A non free range has advantage of a relatively secure environment versus the free range agent.

    I could go on but developing a true comparison spreadsheet will make things more apparent..example -

    Subject............................. Free range ............................... vs......................................... non free range
    chickengarbage..........no expensive related and helps fertilize the environment.....vs.,,,,,,,, what to do with 2 tons of chickengarbage a day?

    obvious answer is to send it to Washington!
  7. Oct 21, 2012 #6
    Back when I was in college in the mid 1970’s, I had a friend with a ten acre vegetable farm. Farmers call that a “Truck Farm.” He was a rather sharp engineer, and he was drawing an income off those ten acres about equal to a good engineering salary at the time by doing some creative and innovative things. He applied his technical skills to a number of aspects of his farming business.

    He sectioned the land into four sections. On one section, he had chickens and rabbits. The rabbits stayed in cages, but the chickens were free to come and go out of their coop. He moved his animals to the next section once per year. After a year of the animals, he planted a section in turnips. That is about the only thing that grows very well after such intensive fertilization by the animals. If the turnips developed a bug problem, he would sometimes turn the chickens loose in that section to eat the moths and caterpillars. If they damaged the turnips too badly, he could still sell the roots, but the greens went to the rabbits. He had designed a process for cooking up the greens and lots of other stuff together, drying it, and making something like pellets to feed the rabbits. Turnips also sweeten up the soil so that he could grow the high dollar vegetables on that land for two more years, and then the animals would once again be rotated to it. He also sprouted ornamentals for a nursery. He had much very rich soil for use as potting soil, even though the land in that area is naturally just plain white sugar sand.

    His neighbor ran some horse stables and they had an agreement to share a piece of the neighbors land for composting horse manure mixed with stuff from rabbits and chickens. He developed some neat mechanisms to compost that nicely. It also bred tons of cockroaches, which the chickens would pursue aggressively for food. His mechanism would turn the roaches up so the chickens could get to them easily. He got some clay from someplace, and used it and other stuff to mix with the compost for the best potting soil you ever saw, which he not only used himself but he sold the surplus off. His operation required no fertilizer or pesticides. I remember him saying that if he could expand his composting operation, then he would consider capturing the gas for fuel.

    If you want to fully apply your mechanical engineering skills, then you also need to get creative on the agricultural end, too.
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