Wednesday, December 12, 2012

meanwhile, back at the farm...

600lbs of hay a day; nom nom nom!
I haven't talked about the farm in a while.  It's one of the tough times of the year in the northwest to be farming; the biggest hurdle to cross is keeping the animals comfortable.  A warm, dry place to sleep, plenty of food, and something interesting to do is pretty much what I aim for. 
I've been carrying a larger number of cows this year than in previous years; I have 20 of them.  6 are dairy breed heifers, the other 14 are a mix of steers and beef breed heifers, with a black angus bull.  I've owned cows for years, starting with my $5 calves, and I've got a handle on the basics of cow husbandry; I'm nowhere near an expert, but after a few years of daily contact I feel pretty comfortable at my "cow eye" -- being able to look at a cow and make sure that it looks like it's having a good time.   Of my cows, I've got 2 of them that are skinnier than I'd like to see, and I'm debating whether to grain them to put on some weight, or sell them now as underweight, or stay the course and see what they do.  I'm leaning towards graining them and then selling them into the conventional market when they perk up a little, or maybe eating them.  
I have a little list of things that I recite when I see the cows each day.  "do they have hay?  is the water trough working?  How does each cow look?  Are they all doing what a cow should, or is one hanging back?  How's the bedding?  Is the area around the hay feeder clean enough, or do I need to clean it now?  Are the fences ok?  " 
My little dairy cow is doing well; although she's not so little any more.  I'll weigh her and write up an entry in the next day or two.  Looking forward to her calving, sometime next July if she keeps the schedule. 

Pigs enjoying the warm dry barn
The pigs are doing pretty well; the big hit with them is the new hoop barn.  The entire herd sleeps there every night, with plenty of room for all of them to spread out.  I've been watching the wood chips we filled the barn with to make sure that they stay dry, and so far, so good.  We've only been on the chips for 60 days, but no problems at all.  The surface has remained loose and dry, with no caking or smell, and the pigs much prefer sleeping in the barn to the muddy field -- although they do go out into the field every day to roam around.

This has been a really pleasant surprise -- we've had a very wet fall, with multiple weeks with more than an inch of rain every day -- and the challenge in years past has been to keep their bedding dry.  This barn has done a great job of increasing the comfort of the pigs; which I enjoy, too. 

The pigs have been regularly farrowing; we've had 7 litters in the last 60 days.  We house them at the end of the barn, sectioned off for the sows with litters, and that's worked well, too.  Very happy with the barn so far. 

We have a resident flock of chickens, which keeps growing by itself, and when we get too many roosters I'll sell 15 or 20 of them.  People are happy to get them, I'm happy to sell them.  I figure we have 30 chickens that I keep, the nucleus of a laying flock that I'll use in the spring for hatching eggs.  We've shut the incubators off for the year. 

We do have a few turkeys left; probably 15 of them, and I'll hatch their eggs too; they mix with the chickens and have for years, and while there are concerns, I haven't had any problems.  The chickens and turkeys do a great job of picking up any feed the pigs spill.  We do have to watch to make sure that they have water at all times, particularly during freezing weather, and we do supplement their forage with about 10lbs of feed a day, usually scattered on the ground.  Poultry love to find their own food. 

I don't talk much about the poultry much because they really don't take much time or effort.  Scatter the feed and walk away.  They are interesting to watch, and they have small poultry intrigues.  The roosters and hens all have a social structure that they are very concerned about.

The final entry is the sheep.  The ewes are starting to show; I'll be putting them into the big greenhouse pretty soon here, preparatory to their lambing, to make it easier to supplement their forage with a bit of hay.  The katahdin sheep need good nutrition because they'll regularly produce twins or triplets, and that's a lot of calories.  

So that's the animal update on the farm.  Quiet and productive, everyone hunkered down for the winter. 

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