Friday, July 31, 2009
So finding him with a dead chicken isn't an instant foul, so to speak. I check to see if the body is warm, and if it's cold, give him the benefit of a doubt.
But he showed up at the gate with a live australorp hen in his mouth yesterday, and this is a pretty serious problem. We can't have him eating the chickens, and the goal of having the Airedales around is to have them loose while we're not there to watch to deter predators.
he's a young dog, about 1 year old, and is good with the pigs. He enjoys herding them, and is useful in moving the pig herd from paddock to paddock.
Next time he does a chicken in he'll get a chicken necklace in the time-honored farm dog cure for chicken killing dogs, and we'll see if that doesn't snap him out of it.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Picture: You look like me, and we understand each other
First -- most of them never get to see an adult bird. They're purchased as chicks or poults, and raised in a group of other chicks or poults. What I find amazing about this is that they are able to come up with communication that is basically identical from generation to generation.
I'm talking about the basic stuff, like "here's food" calls, or "danger!" or "I've laid an egg!" to more complex stuff like courtship ("I'm ready, lets go!") and they do this in most cases without any adult role models.
That's the communication between members of the same species. Chickens can talk to chickens, and turkeys to turkeys, but they cannot figure each other out at all. What a turkey views as a clear message is basically nonsense to a chicken, and the opposite is true.
You'd think you'd see this most often around food or water, competing. That's actually the easiest place to be understood. The message is simple: I am more confident than you, and I get to eat first". Size doesn't matter as much as just pure willpower. The bantam roosters can and do face down turkey toms that are 10x their size and win that confrontation.
It happens when the flock is relaxing, and it's the subtle stuff -- like "move over a little, I want to perch there, but you can stay" devolves into a hard peck and a few missing feathers. The bird moving in thinks it was clear -- and to the same species, it was, but across species, it's just not understood.
picture: I raise a mixed flock of poultry, mostly chickens and turkeys. I have a few ducks and a few geese.
This is what it looks like when it's all dry. I crumble the leaves and separate them from the stems. If you look in the store, dried basil sells for around $100/lb -- I figure I'll have 5lbs or so after this season.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Hello Mr. King,My name is Nathan and am a creative writing major at the University of Washington. Currently I am working on a short story for my class that involves the slaughtering and butchering of a pig (as a bonding experience between a father and son). Presently I have no knowledge of how to slaughter a pig but am seeking to change that. Seeing as how I have come across your blog invitation to observe a slaughter too late, I am wondering, mostly hoping, that you would be willing to describe the process (prep, tools, the kill, cleaning, etc.) in detail? Your blog page mentioned scraping vs skinning, I'm very interested in the differences, processes, pros and cons of each. You also mention on the blog that you use a .22, have you ever used a knife for the kill (this is how I would prefer to do it in my story) and how do they differ, pros vs cons? Must a pig be slaughtered within a year, could one keep a pig for many years and slaughter when the animal is older, say six years old? I'm also very interested in the emotional side of the slaughter; how you felt the first time you slaughtered (did you have a sentimental bond with the animal); how your emotions have changed over time and experiences (do you distance yourself emotionally during the raising of the animal knowing that you will eventually slaughter it); etc.? Whatever information you would be willing to give up would aide me tremendously.
Thank you for your time,
There's a writeup of the pig slaughter class I did a few months ago here: which gives you a basic narrative of the process.
When you approach killing an animal, there's a mix of regret and relief. Regret because it's time for the animal to go, and you've spent time and effort making sure that this animal has had a good life, and there's always some sort of attachment. I never hate an animal that I'm slaughtering; at most I'm irritated, but it's tinged with humor. "This is the pig that ate all of my greenhouse watermelons!", and whatever my feelings are, there is no reason for me to be anything but respectful and professional in the kill. More often you have fond memories of this animal when it was younger and it's just a little sad to see it go. The time this pig stole my can of coke while i was working on the fence and made me chase it around to get it back, all the while making funny laughing noises and squealing. I try my best to kill the animal by surprise. Relief because the slaughter marks the end of the work and the realization of the fruits of your labor. It means food on the table and money for more feed, and a lower feed bill.
The pig in that pictorial was shot while it was snoozing in the sun, in its favorite spot.
in Washington state, there's only four ways to legally kill an animal, which I reference in this post: . A knife alone isn't legal, and in my mind isn't' as humane as a bullet. I have had customers slaughter pigs with knives alone, for ritual purposes or for religious reasons, but I've decided that I will no longer allow that on my farm. I think that the animal suffers unnecessarily.
On the day of the slaughter, I pull out my .22 rifle and clean it and check its action to make sure it's in good working order. I sharpen the sticking knife, the one used to open the arteries after the shot. I use a 10" carving knife with a long, smooth blade and I keep that knife razor sharp and only use it for the stick. if I'm going to skin the pig I sharpen my skinning knife; if I'm scraping I start the water heating.
thoughts when I'm actually killing the pig:
constant worry about whether I'll make a good shot; hoping that the pig will be still for the instant required, shooting and then watching to make sure that I've made a good shot, ready to repeat it if i need to, carefully but quickly putting the rifle down and picking up the sticking knife to make that first incision in the 10 second window before the pig starts flopping, watching the knife go into the throat, looking for the gush of blood, careful about my knives angle, ready to repeat the stroke if necessary; backing away quickly to avoid being sprayed by the blood, sensitive to any indication that the pig is conscious.
pigs age at slaughter:
most pigs are slaughtered at 6 to 9 months old. The only pigs that typically get anywhere close to 6 years old would be herd-sire boars or very good sows who have had many litters. after the first 18 months we're talking about an animal that will weigh 600 to 800lbs, and trying to stab that big a critter with a knife is a good way to get killed. yes, it can be done, no, I wouldn't want to try it.
thoughts on first slaughter:
my first four pigs were brothers and sisters, 2 of each. the two barrows (castrated males) i hesitated at slaughter because i was attached, but at some point they have to go, and i had to remind myself that they were here for a reason. i knew the animals very well, and it was tough to see them shot by the farm kill guy, but i watched and learned and respected the pigs for their contribution and life. We will all go; farm animals just have a date certain sooner than most. the faces of the first two pigs, when they were skinned, were tough for me to look at because i knew them so well. where they liked to be scratched, their favorite kind of food (apples) and they knew me, too.
Hope that gives you what you are asking for Nathaniel
Monday, July 27, 2009
The picture above is the side of my flatbed equipment trailer. There's a gap about 2" wide between the body of the trailer and the strap that runs along the edge, used to tie stuff down. You wouldn't think that this would be someplace a turkey could kill itself, but this is where the turkey met his end.
Apparently, sometime last night or this morning the turkey thought that the top of the trailer would be a good place to go, and hopped up there. After investigating in a typical eager turkey fashion, he probably decided to walk off the edge and drop the 18" to the ground. But one of his legs fell into this gap on the side of the trailer, and over the side he went. I found him hanging there, upside down, in shock, and after looking at the broken leg and the wing he broke struggling, I decided he wasn't going to make it, which is a pity, because he was a nice bird. I'll smoke him I think, because smoked turkey breast sandwiches are very yummy. Sometimes my menu is entirely dictated by my animals. Last winter i was eating veal. This is another case.
These are the stairs to the trailer that I use for brooding. They're a typical stair design, and you wouldn't immediately clue in that a white leghorn chicken could kill itself on this stair, but it did, right where the picture was taken.
The leghorns are free ranging around the farm yard, and at some point the leghorn hopped up on these stairs. maybe as a low roost, or to take a nap. Leghorns are usually pretty good at survival, but this particular leghorn, when she decided to leave, got a toe into the expanded metal and got stuck, hanging head-down. I found her dead this morning.
The thing about leghorns is that they're itty bitty little birds; even fresh, they're barely worth eating. As this one died at some point in the past, and it's been really hot, she became a dog treat. The dogs are pretty clear that dead chickens are theirs.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
A pig got into the greenhouse and completely demolished most of the plants. The picture above is the squash patch. I was debating on thinning them. I guess I don't have that decision anymore. Maybe some of them will survive.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
He seems to be doing better now. Last week he was laying around more than usual.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
If two dogs had this rope they'd be facing each other, and pulling away. with pigs, the technique is to grab the rope as close to the head of the next pig, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your rival. The tug-of-war happens with sideways motions of your head. So this bigger black piglet is actually pulling the other two piglets towards me as she tries to take the rope away. the other two piglets are squealing MINE MINE! but they aren't working together, and in the pig world, size matters.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The property is surrounded on 3 sides by a wildlife preserve, which makes it a pretty safe bet that there's wildlife there. Coyotes, bobcats, cougars, bears. Certainly deer and coyotes; I've seen tracks from both. Of that list of predators, there isn't any cheap way to fence them out. So I'm going to have to live with predators on the property.
I don't live anywhere near the property; it's 10 miles north of my current farm. So I'm not going to visit it very often. Once a week maybe, so controlling the predators via direct action as at my main farm isn't an option. And I can't put animals there that need daily care.
Pigs actually do protect their piglets pretty well from coyotes; I have not lost a single piglet to a coyote or other predator, and I'd actually bet pretty high on a pig vs bear interaction, particularly if the pig was a motivated sow. But pigs do require some care, and they're expensive to fence in unless you use electric fence, and I don't have electricity out there. So I'm going to rule out pigs for now, but I may put some out there in the future.
Adult cows also don't seem to be bothered by coyotes, at least not so far.
Sheep or goats are coyote snacks. Not going to put them where I can't protect them. Not going to mention chickens, turkeys or ducks.
Ok. so out of livestock that I keep, cows seems to be the best choice for remote acreage and low care. Drop them off in march, pick them up in october, do a welfare check once a week or so.
The county, in the person of Roxanne Pilkenton, the ag coordinator for snohomish planning and development services, seems to have an issue with some kinds of fencing on the flood plain. She's said explicitly that 3 strand barbed wire on T posts is OK, and then clarified to say that the county had checked with FEMA and FEMA had OK'd 3 strand barbed wire. And that other types of fence might be ok, but that they'd not checked them. But all of the ranchers, every single one I've talked to, says that 3 strands just isn't a good fence. Washington state law defines a "lawful fence" as a four-strand barbed wire fence, 48" high, and if you make a lawful fence, you have some protection under the law that you lose if you do not make a lawful fence. In the event that the county decides that 4 strand barbed wire is not permitted, I can remove a strand easily.
Woven field fence is nice stuff, but putting up a half-mile of it would be very expensive. A 100' roll of 5' fence is $150, so the fencing cost of a woven fence would have been around $5k. The barbed wire cost for the same length is $720. If I were going to keep horses on the property, I might have chosen woven wire despite the cost, but I don't keep horses because I don't eat or use horses. I only keep food or working animals as a philosophy thing.
So my fencing criteria was:
1) lawful fence or equivalent
2) possible to erect in less than 14 man-days around the 9 acre parcel, including clearing the fenceline
3) properly constructed, would contain cattle and require little maintenance
4) low cost per linear foot
One side of this property has a path along it, and while I was working on the corral I noticed that of the 20 dogs I saw with people, 18 of them were not on a leash. so I modified my plan a little, and put up field fence along the edge that borders the foot path. I did that so that I could minimize livestock-dog interaction. the alternative would be to kill the dogs that mess with the livestock, which I've had issues with on my farm, talked about in my blog entries here and here and here.
The field fence along that edge is graduated, with smaller holes near the bottom and larger near the top. It's a calculated risk - I'm not interested in provoking the county, but I'm also not interested in having to shoot peoples dogs. Field fence comes in 330' rolls, 5' tall, and is $180 per roll, so I increased the cost of the fencing job by about $200 in materials. Stretching field fence takes more labor, too.
Monday, July 20, 2009
The fellow I bought it from had bought it used from a guy who was going to raise ostriches. As with most of the exotic crops, the ostrich fellow lost his shirt and sold his gear. What the ostrich fellow had done to modify this feeder for ostriches is to remove the feeder doors at the bottom and put a rubber skirt above to help keep the rain off the feed. I'll make new doors out of plywood and call it good -- the pigs will chew them off eventually, but plywood is pretty cheap.
A big percentage of my animal gear comes from silly animal fads. My hatchers were for emus, my pig feeder for ostriches, my gates from a barn being refitted for alpacas... all sillyness. My rule of thumb is that if I don't eat/wear/use a product from that animal, I don't bet the farm on it.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
These are the "personal" sized watermelons, mature at 5-6lbs. I picked them because the growing season was shorter. The greenhouse seems to have made all the difference though -- that, and the hot weather we've had so far this year. Between the two it looks promising. I'm excited!
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
All spools are 80 rods/1350'
1 spool brace wire: $85
8 spools barbed wire: $680
22 4-6" 8' posts, stretching points, $110
11 10' 4-6" posts, horizontal brace for stretching post, $66
30lbs fence staples, $75
12 6x6x8' pressure treated (gate posts) $240
2 14' steel gates, $250
1 6' steel gate, $40
90 7' heavy duty T posts, $360
400 t post clips (attach wire to post) $48
45 80lb bags ready mix concrete, $200
12 man days labor
1 spool baling twine
ATV + custom attachment
Total cost: $2154 materials, resulting in 2,800 feet of 4 strand tensioned barbed wire fence with 2 big gates and 1 man gate, or $0.76/linear foot, excluding labor costs.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
This is 1/8" steel, about 18" long and 22" wide. It has a concrete form spike welded in the center. The vertical plate is to make sure that the spinning coil of wire doesn't contact the ATV driver. The two braces are to keep everything square.
It's attached to the ATV frame using existing bolt holes. A couple of pieces of angle iron welded to the bottom of the plate, 4 bolts, and it's good to go.
We used this to deploy four strands about 1200' long each. We could do a 2mph run and the wire peeled off without any problems. The only thing I'd changed about this design is to make the supports on either side out of triangular plants instead of the angle that we used. If the wire chatters and the ATV slows down, a loop of wire can go out that little hole and then catch when you start going again. A solid plate would prevent that.
We also used it to ferry concrete out for the bottoms of posts. Here's 180lbs of concrete on its way out to be used.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Once you've got the rough line hacked out, you calculate where your stretch points are going to be and hump these heavy rolls of barbed wire out to the starting point. Bryan and I carried these rolls of barbed wire about a thousand feet to this point down a mowed path. That sucked.
After doing this for a while, we found that the easiest way was to carry each of the four rolls of wire do the next stretch point, stretch and tack the wire up for each of the 4 strands, and then carry the rolls to the next stretch point. When we tried to carry them a long distance the multiple strands got tangled and it took a bit of time to get them straight. Doing it 100' at a time meant less untangling time. And the shorter stretch points made for a tighter fence.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I called Sharon Swan about the survey I'd had completed, and was told initially that the encroachments by the county on my land were covered by an easement. After checking, I wasn't able to find any easement, and asked the county to produce a copy of the relevant easement.
Diane Bailey then said that there wasn't an easement, but that there was a survey that they'd had done, and that survey didn't agree with my survey. We scheduled a meeting to walk the property so that I could show them my survey marks, and see if we could find theirs. At this point they claimed that their survey had put rebar with caps and stakes in.
Meeting at the property a few days later, Ms. Swan and Ms. Bailey were both surprised that they could not locate any survey stakes. So I showed them mine, and gave them a copy of the survey I'd had done, and explained that I was planning on running cattle on the property, and was going to fence it in the next two weeks. Ms. Swan asked that I have my survey rerun, and I pointed out that I had every reason to believe it was accurate; and that they would be well advised to have their own survey work done to verify my marks, but that I'd be working on the basis of my survey as drawn, and that this meant that recent improvements would have to be removed, particularly a gate. I offered to move the gate at my expense as a courtesy, but they declined that.
Ms. Swan then asked that if the survey was in error, that I would remove any fence that encroached. I clarified to her that if the rule she was proposing was that the party encroaching would have to remove the encroachments, that I would expect her to remove the bridge (which apparently cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete, given permit, construction and other costs) and she backed down, claiming that she had no authority to authorize any such deal.
I offered to trade an easement over the portions of my land encroached on for an easement and rights to use a parking area to help load and unload cattle. She offered a right of passage, which I declined -- I'd rather settle the entire matter at once, and I think that the county has some work to do before they will believe the encroachments.
At this point I have no agreement with the county and plan on fencing my property line.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
In looking at the chute design, i wanted 20' length so that I could have 3 cows in it at a time. I decided to do two blocking gates. One about 6' past the loading ramp opening, and one at the edge of the corral where the squeeze chute would go. The goal of that was to allow me to control the whole thing by myself if need be. Get the cow into the chute, close the blocking gate, then walk to the next blocking gate and open it, get the cow into the squeeze, etc. Having two blocking gates with a gate back into the holding pen between them allows me to move animals out of the chute one at a time until I get to the animal I want in the squeeze chute. Think about situations where you want to work on the 3rd cow in line but not the first two.
The catwalk on the inside of the loading chute turns out to be a pretty handy bench to sit on as well. This one was faced with scraps from the corral rails.
One thing that I didn't notice in the plans was that the wall that the crowding gate is attached to is a straight line to the loading gate. If I were to do this again, I'd consider adding a curve so that the loading ramp isn't a straight shot from anywhere in the corral. A little turn or curve so that the cows can't see the trailer until they're at the ramp.
Here's the BOM:
All lumber except the OSB is pressure treated, all hardware is galvanized or outdoor rated.
42 4x4x8' posts (most posts are 8' 4x4), $11 each, $462
4 4x4x10' posts (blocking gates) $14 each, $56
51 16' 2x6x16' (rails), $816
110 80lb bags of concrete, $384
2 steel gates, 14', $250
11 sheets 1/2" OSB, $70
5 gallons cheap exterior paint (for the osb), $42
30lbs 16d 3.5" galvanized common nails, $65
5lbs 3" deck screws (osb, gates), $20
16 1/4" lag bolts (vertical extentions to gate posts and line posts)
9 heavy duty galvanized hinges (3 per gate, 3 gates), $54
two rail hinges, stanley kits, blocking gates, $170
two eye hooks, two pulleys (blocking gate trigger)
two 8' segments of channel for the blocking gates, $60
10 2x4x16' (gate support arches & vertical extensions), $120
Materials cost: $2500 or so.
Labor: 11 man days. All post holes hand-dug, which added probably a day vs doing them with the tractor, but the majority of the labor time is just the careful assembly. The plans are pretty sketchy
Stuff that I'm likely to add: Concrete pad under the loading/squeeze chute area, probably another $300 in materials and labor, the loading ramp itself, and a squeeze chute at the end of the pen. It's designed to butt the squeeze chute against the sheeted chute, so it should just be a drop in item. If it isn't, I'll extend the chute a few feet to make it fit better; half a day. I'm watching craigslist and the auctions for a used chute.