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Try growing Camelina high protein hay for your livestock.

If you want a higher protein hay for your animals you should grow some Camelina. When I say higher protein hay I am talking a whopping 40% crude protein! Even a hot dog wouldn't come in that high (too many beaks and claws!).

Being off grid for as long as we have been here at HM Ranch we do things differently than most others, so Camelina fits in really well out here. We have found that all classes of animals eat it right up with no problems and most of the time they actually prefer it over high test alfalfa.

I should mention a little history about Camelina (Camelina sativa L). It is related to the mustard plant and is also known as false flax or gold of pleasure. Camelina was used in the Bronze Age and at that time the seeds were crushed for the oil. Now-a-days Camelina is grown almost exclusively for the seeds and are squeezed mainly for bio-diesel. I have never read about anybody grazing or cutting the Camelina plant for feed but that is what we do here. We were very surprised when the protein analysis of the plant came back as high as it did (see analysis on page 84).

Camelina is a short season, cool climate plant and by far it is the toughest plant I have ever had experience with. It is a low fertility, drought tolerant and very cold hard species. I could say the temperature I have witnessed the sprouts survive through, but you would never believe it! I'll just say it's much colder than you're thinking. I have germinated seeds in our refrigerator in only four days! It works well here because it comes up early in the spring so it can take advantage of the built-up melting winter moisture but still survive through the brutal cold snaps we have in the spring time here at our 6,000' elevation. By the end of May, depending on how much moisture we've had, it is generally ready to graze or cut. That's when we generally start drying ours here. With sufficient moisture however, multiple cuttings are possible. The plant is very drought tolerant and as long as we get a typical winter here (which has been spotty lately) we can bring up a crop. But I can assure that virtually anyone living in a cold weather region gets more moisture than we do, plus in some warmer regions Camelina can be grown during the winter months. Some things that are not common knowledge considering Camelina (I believe because no one else cuts it for hay) is that when it's first cut it has an onion smell to it (a little offensive in my opinion). I immediately thought that would stop the animals from eating it, but not at all. After the cut Camelina plant dries it takes on a bit of a sweet aroma. The animals eat it at either stage plus graze it.



We broadcast the seed at approximately three pounds per acre. Unfortunately it is an annual species and has to be planted every year but at about $2 per pound ($6 per acre), it is still worth it in a dry land farming situation and can be processed just like any other hay. We dry land farm but fence off a small one-acre plot closer to the well to grow our seed. That way we can give it that little extra shot of irrigation needed to bring it to seed.

The seed is very resistant to disease and insects, plus mice do not like it.


Camelina planting also works well for weed control. Montana grows a lot of Camelina in dry land conditions. In the western part of the state, they yield close to a ton of seed per acre (40% oil) with the leftover meal used for high protein animal feed.


Karen has found quite a bit of information online about Camelina and everything I read, I agree with, except one thing, and that is the seed's durability. It just does not stay viable out in the soil for very long. For most regions that would not be a problem but here in Reese River Valley we just don't get much spring moisture so I try to plant just before winter sets in. Then I sow it sometime in December. As long as it stays cold afterward and we get snow on top of it right away it will stay viable and sprout early in the spring. By doing it this way the seed is germinated and established long before I could get on the land to seed in the spring. But different climates and areas require different techniques. Especially in dry land situations.


I built a simple homemade broadcast seeder that bolts to the front of our ranch truck to spew the seeds as I drive. I have figured out, with the width of the swath, just how fast to drive to get approximately three pounds per acre of coverage, and then I run the harrow over it and hope and pray for snow and cold weather. However, on open winters (no snow and ice build-up) it is a complete waste of time (and it happens). In our 13 years out here we've had three open winters but we know dry land farming and Mother Nature make for some uncertainties. Just part of the game!

With our experience, I would encourage folks to look in to Camelina and try it. It may be just what you're looking for!

HM Ranch sells a DVD titled "Hoard's Hillbilly Heaven," a tour of HM Ranch. A poor man's guide to low cost comfortable off-grid living featuring an educational workshop on how we used the scrap pile to build our own inexpensive utility generating devices. They can be reached at:


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Title Annotation:Crops & soils
Author:Hoard, Jeff; Hoard, Karen
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Apr 25, 2012
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