Saturday, May 30, 2009
A friend of mine emailed me about the recent coyote posts. "All the dead coyotes are making me sad". You might be a little surprised, but it makes me a bit sad, too.
When I started farming this area I figured I'd have some predator issues, and having decided that, I picked a type of fence that would exclude the majority of them -- or at least form a barrier to entry. I chose a 5' tall field fence with smaller mesh at the bottom, and larger mesh at the top. Coyotes can jump a 5' fence, but they tend not to, respecting the fence lines. I spent $4,000, and fenced in a part of my animal areas.
Part of that was to exclude dogs from the dog park, part was to exclude natural predators. Predators like eagles and hawks I figured I'd just pay the tax on -- I planned on (and do...) lose birds to eagles and hawks, both chickens and turkeys.
Snohomish county Planning and Development services, in the person of Roxanne Pilkenton, have informed me that the only approved type of fencing is 3 strand barbed wire or 3 strand electric fence on metal poles. No other form of fencing is approved. Even electric poultry mesh is not allowed. And that I could only fence 15% of the front and sides of my property. What good is a fence that only covers 15%?
I have Airedale terriers -- who do a good job with smaller predators like raccoons, possums, skunks and weasels and seem to deter the coyotes a little bit -- but both of the coyotes I've shot recently have been killed while the dogs are on the property. They can't be everywhere at once.
So I can't fence, and LGD (livestock Guardian Dogs) are only partially effective. The only thing I can legally do is shoot the dogs and coyotes that are preying on my livestock. I'd rather not handle it that way, but my hands are tied by the current state law and county regulations. I'm explicitly allowed to shoot coyotes without hunting license or permit if they're on my property and preying on livestock.
What would I prefer to do?
I'd rather put up a good fence. 1) I'd sleep better. 2) Livestock escapes would be fewer and less serious. 3) I could then contain my own dogs on the property securely. 4) I wouldn't have to clear out the local apex predators. 5) I won't have to shoot domestic dogs originating from the dog park 6) I won't have to shoot dogs dumped by irresponsible people.
The county recognizes the difference between "floodway" and "flood plain". floodway is that area that is subjected to high current or high flow in case of flood. In a floodway, a fence does become a hazard, and does collect debris. In the flood plain, which is where I am, the velocity of the water is much lower, and fences don't constitute a hazard. But the county is determined to enforce the most restrictive version of the law that they can find, interpreted in the narrowest way possible.
So I shoot coyotes. Thanks Snohomish County, for doing your part to preserve our wildlife.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I've been brooding hundreds of chicks each month in the past few years, and I've been looking for a better way to do it. I ran across an article that had chick brooder plans in it on Robert Plamondons' site. I looked at it and decided I'd give it a try.
Note: this brooder will cost you around $40 in parts, and about 3 hours of labor. It'll brood up to 300 chicks at a time, or a couple if that's all you have. I relate my experience and thoughts on building this, but it's up to you not to burn down your house or electrocute yourself, ok?
Ceramic bulb sockets, metal lamp boxes, switch box, switch and plate, box nuts (the things in the top right hand corner) and a cord end.
I had originally planned on buying some romex (standard household wire) for the wiring, but then realized that the plug wanted stranded conductors, and then, after looking at the price per foot of the wire that I could buy a cheap extension cord, cut off the end, use part of it,a nd have a ready-made plug at the end -- for about half the price of the plug I show here. So just buy a 25' light duty extension cord and use that.
Here are the tools I used. I use a nailgun because I have one.
qty 3 8' 2x4
1 sheet of 1/2" plywood (cheapest grade, chickens aren't picky)
2 ceramic light bases
2 metal light boxes. Do not cheap out with plastic boxes here. This can get hot.
1 switch, switchbox, plate
1 25' light duty extension cord
about 60 1 1/2" vinyl coated nails
handful of 3 1/4" framing nails
about 30 5/8" wood screws, bugle head
5 box nuts (fits into punchouts on box, 3/8" size)
2 250 watt infrared heat bulbs (I like one clear, one red for the reasons below)
20 crimp-on spade connectors
5 Tube-style crimp on connectors
5 round crimp on connectors
Crimp on connectors are required for the stranded wire you'll find in extension cords. they look like this:
Cut the plywood into 5 pieces. 1 4'x4' square, 4 1'x4' strips
Cut two 45" lengths of 2x4
Cut two 42 3/4" lengths of 2x4
Nail the 2x4s to the 4'x4' plywood piece, as shown.
Next cut 4 16" lengths of 2x4, and put it together as shown below
The 2x4 legs are flush with the top of the 12" strips of plywood. You want a 4" gap at the bottom to allow the chicks to run in and out as they want. Later, when the chicks get older, you'll put bricks under the legs to raise the brooder. You'll use the longer framing nails to attach the legs to the brooder frame, the shorter to attach the plywood to the 2x4s.
You put a light on either side, facing each other. I mounted my light switch on the outside, so that I could turn it on or off. In thinking about it, I might build my next one with two light switches so I can individually control each 250 watt bulb.
This is the top view of the brooder. To use this thing, put it legs-down on a bed of wood chips or sawdust or whatever it is you put under your chips. Make sure that the material on the floor has at least 3" of clearance below the bulb. turn it on and let it warm up overnight. If you're paranoid (like I am) you'll do the first test outside.
The light bulb installed on one side
Both light fixtures installed, wire run to switch location on outside of brooder.
After 24 hours, I moved it into my brooding building, an unheated construction trailer. Air temperature was 38 degrees. The wood chips on the surface under this device registered 98 degrees, the air inside was comfortably hotter, maybe 104. I piled 4" of wood chips on top of the brooder for insulation.
The picture above is the first night with 500 day-old chicks. I took this picture after dark because I wanted to see if the chicks were using the heated area or bunching up too much. Everything looks good.
I listed the capacity for brooding at 250 chicks, but you can do a few more chicks when they're small but I'll be building another 4x4 brooder to move half the chicks to tomorrow. I used a roll of 18" cage wire to form a circle around the brooder, and then put food and water on all four sides of the unit, so no matter which side a chick was on food and water wouldn't be far.
Red vs white heat lamps: Chicks are attracted by light, and I think that they're more attracted by white light than red. But red is good to reduce feather picking. So i decided to split the difference and put a red and a clear bulb in. The picture shows the clear bulb side on the left. you can see a redder tone under the edge of the brooder from center to right.
The chicks seemed to stay right on the edge of the brooder mostly. They circulated a little; chicks outside moved in, chicks inside moved out. There's a range of heat zones inside this unit, and the chicks have the ability to move around to regulate their temperature. So far so good.This is a picture of the full setup. You can't really see it very well, but I use 18" tall fencing around the edge so that I can walk around without squishing chicks when I'm filling water and food. The brooder has 4" of wood chips on top of it to act as cheap insulation. There's 500 chicks in there, most of them are under the brooder itself. You can see a few on the left edge, and a couple of yellow chicks on the edge facing us. For the chips on top of the brooder it's worth it to buy dry chips or use dry chips -- damp chips will mold.
Here's the other side of the brooder. The chicks are pretty skittish, so they're running around the edge of the pen as I move around to take photos. I've lifted the brooder a couple of times, and propped it on a 5 gallon bucket so I could look underneath for dead chicks. Most of the chicks are doing well.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The dogs got a skunk yesterday and I'd read on the internet that skunk scent is an effective mask for human scent. After briefly considering rubbing the dead skunk on me, I decided that putting it somewhere downwind of me would do the same job, and be more popular with the other people i deal with.
So up at 3am, in my position at 3:30. I shot this fellow about 5am at the door to the chicken coop, a 220 yard shot. At that distance I didn't want to get fancy; a shot to the torso just behind the front legs. It was quick.
I think that this is the coyote I saw out on the road. His front is a lot lighter color than the other coyote. I'll do a couple of more mornings to see if any more show up. I've been running a coyote buffet for too long.
Both of these coyotes were male. Anyone know how to tell how old a coyote is? I'm wondering if they're young males that are looking to establish a new territory.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The problem with this squabbling is that all three of them are liberally coated with the EU DE skunk, and to tell you the truth, it's making my eyes water.
1 pint hydrogen peroxide per dog
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
This hen is an "eastern wild turkey" breed, but a bird that I purchased as a poult and raised. So calling her a "wild turkey" doesn't mean that I've captured a wild bird, it's the breed. That said...
She showed up on the driveway this morning with her brood of 11 poults. She's in this picture at the far right. Can you spot them? Click on the picture for a bigger version.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I got up at 3am again today, and headed out to watch for the coyote. I was watching the road and the area where I'd seen the coyote last time, but didn't see anything. 4:00, 5am... 5:30... 6am. Its getting pretty light, and I haven't seen anything. Over to my right I can see my two goats moving across.. whoa. wait a second. there's three goats. I don't have three. I'll be damned. It's this coyote messing with the goats. I guess he got tired of eating turkeys and chickens. The billygoat is backing away, the doe is walking away, and the coyote is following slowly. the goats are heading over to the hay barn where the sows are.
Bring the rifle up, inhale, exhale slowly, bring the crosshairs up, 150 yard shot, air is still so no windage needed, goats are clear of the line of fire... aim an inch low because the rifle is sighted for longer range, half my breath gone, hold... squeeze, BOOM!
Make a circle cut around the back leg, and then a long cut across the rear of the animal. Separate the tail while I'm doing this, work the skin loose from either back leg.
Friday, May 22, 2009
These are peking ducks. I chose them for egg laying and for meat purposes. They just got here today; they'll go into a separate pen from the chickens and turkeys. Not really going to try hard to sell too many of them. Duck is pretty tasty; Friends and family will eat most of these.
If I'm going to farm on the floodplain I might as well experiment with livestock that floats.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I've been getting up at 3am and out at the farm at 3:30am sitting on the roof of an outbuilding waiting for the coyote to show up. I've been doing that for a week now. The coyote showed up this morning at 4:34 am. It wasn't very light, and I couldn't really see it well as it trotted up the road in front of my property. Its head was a light brown/tan, and its butt was darker, so at first I thought it was a domestic dog, and before I realized it was a coyote it was gone.
I'm a patient fellow though. I shifted so that I was looking straight downwind, and sure enough, about 45 minutes later, there the coyote was. The critter had made a complete circle around my property to enter at the point farthest from the buildings, and right downwind.
I could see the light colored head but not much else, as it trotted here and there, gradually working its way through the pasture towards where the turkeys are nesting. I was surprised to see it walk within 20' of sleeping pigs without any reaction by either. As it got closer I brought the rifle up slowing and watched it through the scope of the rifle. When it was about 200 yards away though, it raised its nose, sniffed a couple of times, and then turned around and started back the way it came. I'm sure that it scented me.
The coyote was moving away from me at a slight angle, and presented a pretty small target at 300 yards. I took a shot BOOM! and the coyote jumped -- I believe that the bullet went under the belly -- and then paused as the echo of the gunshot reflected off the trees in front of it. It must have seen like there were two shots; one from behind, one from in front. It started running at right angles, from left to right across my field, and I took another shot BOOM!, working the bolt quickly, and then another BOOM! and it was gone. I went and looked for blood or body, but found neither. I think I missed clean.
I don't think that this will deter this particular coyote. I'm going to shift location so that I'm closer to where it appears, so that I'm not upwind of where it usually comes in.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
you can see the mass of bees right above the wheel. This is about 15 or 20 minutes after they've swarmed, so most of the bees are in the lump.
Ok. Now 20 minutes later i carefully lift the lid and look. The bees are all over the combs, they're liking their new home. I've probably captured the queen. So I carefully lower the lid on properly, limiting the entry/exit from the hive to the front only. When I lower it I lower it .25", and then raise it up, then lower it again, then raise it up. That allows any bees that would be squished a chance to get out of the way. you can feel the top land gently on bees, so after 4 or 5 raises and lowers, I feel it start to hit wood, so i put it on for good.
Monday, May 18, 2009
"In [insert name of state] we don't have zoning or issues like you've been having. This is why zoning land is evil"
Actually, if there wasn't land use laws in place, the chances of this land being available for me to farm at all would be pretty low. It's relatively close to a city, has good access to highways and if there weren't some zoning protections it'd probably be light industrial storage. Think crane booms and heavy equipment.
I don't really have an argument with the basic concept of zoning. Yes, it does drive up the price of everything -- look at housing prices here vs anywhere with less restrictive zoning. If it were just the base zoning for this land, AG-10 in my case, my operation is entirely consistent. It's zoned farmland, riverbottom commercial farmland, and I'm farming. It's even consistent with Snohomish counties stated goals -- take a look at Focus on Farming.
So the overall zoning isn't really an issue. What is an issue is the impact that an increasingly large body of regulations have that aren't obvious, administered by different agencies with different agendas.
If you measure the animosity of an agency by its conversion of farmland into something else, the department of Ecology stands out in front. I'm going to assume that what the department of ecology puts on their website is what they're proud of, or want to be known by. Let's take a headline from their website: "Transforming Farmland Into Wetland and 725 Jobs, The Chronicle online, Sept. 30, 2008"
Once farmland is converted into anything else, that destruction is likely permanent. Now there's some wiggle room there -- to Ecology, farmland and wetland are identical -- so they can claim there's "no net loss of farmland", but as someone who wants to actually farm, there's very few places where the land is cheap enough to farm and I'm sorry, farmland destroyed and flooded isn't' the same as farmland.
Snohomish county itself rates high as a destroyer of farmland. Let's use the Smith Island restoration project as an example. First, the name sounds pretty good. We're going to restore it. The problem is that "restoration" in this case is the destruction of hundreds of acres of farmland that's been in use since the turn of the century. Biringer farms produces lovely strawberries that I've enjoyed for years. But that's scheduled for destruction. Don't miss the comments on the end of that article.
The port of Everett is doing its part. Here's the breakdown of that project.
All of this activity is happening a mile or two from my farm, on the same river. They're acting as if the farmland they're destroying is a hazardous waste dump site that must be cleaned up, and at any cost, by the way. The total dollars spent on these projects exceeds $60 million.
* "restoration" projects are providing a market for farmland far in excess of its value as farmland. "Wetland mitigation banks" quote asking prices of $60,000/acre compared to $4,000 an acre for farmland. This huge difference in price means that farmland is being converted to wetlands at every opportunity. Over 663 acres of farmland that has been used to produce local food and produce has been lost in the last 4 years in a series of "cost is no object" projects. The resulting land is then permanently off the tax roles -- in fact, requires maintenance, so the net effect on county and state budgets is a permanent loss.
* Without farmland, farmers cannot farm. What Snohomish county (and the state of Washington) is doing with these and other projects is exporting farming to other counties and states. So much for local food and localvores.
* in areas where farming is "allowed" -- zoning and land use regulations are present that seem to make farming a viable use of the land -- an increasingly dense tangle of regulations make any economic activity difficult. This multiple-agency regulatory bed of nails is something that the average small landowner is ill-equipped to deal with. Snohomish county offers a "farming coordinator" -- who also happens to be the enforcement arm of Snohomish county PDS. If I'm a small farmer who wanted to talk through some issue to see what the options are, I'm disinclined to do that with the very folks who can fine me for that same activity, whatever it is, even if it is allowed.
* the net effect of this punitive approach to land governance is that most of the farmers in this area quietly construct their buildings, fences, manure ponds, and so on out of the eye of local government, which defeats the purpose of the zoning and land use laws and regulations in the first place.
* Farmlands are a useful, vital part of our society. They are large tracts of land that are "low value" -- similar in fact to wetlands. The department of ecology spends a lot of time promoting the value of wetlands and NO time on farmlands. Both are necessary, but so far the emphasis has been on one to the exclusion of the other.
* All of the hundreds of millions of dollars of "mitigation" work has not stopped or even slowed the rate of decline of any measured species. All of this money spent, all of this land destroyed, all of these people drawing a salary and no benefit to the animals and fish that are the ostensible reason for this destruction.
* We don't even know what was there before the dikes anymore.
Now I have to admit that these rows look great. And to do it all by hand is amazing. So I offered to do a bit of tractor work if he'd go patronize a great local business -- Ebey Island Gardens. They've got vegetable starts, 4 for $1, 1 gallon tomatoes for $4, and lots of varieties of both. Including tomatillos, which make great salsa verde.
Now I'll say that my rows that I made with the tractor aren't as nice as Tylers' -- mine are 4' or so wide at the top, but I figured I was saving his life, and it was my good deed for the day. I did one pass with the moldboard plow in each direction to heap the dirt in the center, and then did two passes per row with the tiller, to break up the clods raised by the moldboard. The passes with the plow were free, the tiller I charged him $50, but probably saved him 4 to 6 days of back-breaking labor, so I figure that was a fair price.
So that was yesterday. I drive by today and he's out there again working on the rows. When someone works this hard to farm, I'm glad to have him as a neighbor.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
One of my bigger hives surprised me today and swarmed. I thought there was a possibility, so when I was walking by and saw the "beard of bees" hanging out the entrance, I figured it was today. It was warm and sunny -- the bees think that this kind of day is the day for a road trip.