Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pig carrier & trailer improvements

Pig carrier, version 1

Pig carrier, version 2
This is the new, improved pig carrier. The corners are 2" square stock, the rails are 1.5" square stock. There's 12" of expanded metal at the bottom to contain piglets if needed, and the first few bars are spaced 6" apart.

The top of the cage is 48", which means no more problems with pigs jumping out

The pins for the 3 point hitch have been lowered about 8" (you can see the old hole in this pic) -- sorry about the blurry pic. The iphone doesn't stabilize images very well.

The gate is wider, and the hinges will allow it to be lifted off if it needs to be removed. This plate at the top of the gate has a cutout so that there's only one position that the gate can be lifted off its hinges -- when it's fully closed or fully open it cannot be removed. This prevents animals from lifting it off during transport.

The floor is the original floor. It worked pretty well so I kept it. The expanded metal is capped with angle iron, so that all of the metal on the inside and top of this carrier is smooth. No rough edges to cut anyone.

The latch is piece of flat stock with a notch cut into it. It spins on a bolt, and should be easier to use than the previous barrel bolt.

The side rails on the trailer got cut off, and replaced with a length of 3" C channel, with the open side facing in. At intervals along this C channel there's D rings welded on.

There are 4 large D rings (working load 12,000lbs) on the four corners to function as equipment tiedown points, and 8 medium d rings (working load 6,000lbs) arranged at even intervals along each side.

The C channel provides a continuous grip for nylon strap hooks down both sides. The D rings are mainly for chains. I don't trust a chain not to slip off if it gets loose; looped through a d ring and attached to itself, a chain won't come loose as often, even if there is some slack.

My brother Bryan did the fabrication on the trailer and pig carrier, and if you'd like him to build you something, I'm sure he'd be happy to do it.

flatbed Trailer improvements

I bought a 3 axle flatbed trailer that i use to transport my tractor and implements and pick stuff up for the farm. It has a capacity of 12,000lbs, and is 8' wide and 20' long. It's been really great to have.

The side rails on it aren't very sturdy. It's a piece of angle iron, with stake pockets welded every few feet and a piece of flat stock welded on top of that. the theory is that you have a continuous rail along the edge for tiedowns -- but in practices it's not sturdy enough to do the job. In the picture above you can see it's been smooshed out (I was unloading the trailer from the other side with a forklift and the fork caught the edge and pushed it out, and then the strap I'm using in that picture is lifting and twisting it, too. Just not really something that inspires confidence.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Turkey Q&A from email

Hi Bruce,

I am an intern at [redacted]. We are
currently working on a show for [redacted].

In my research I stumbled upon your blog and found it very
informative. I was wondering if you could answer some questions about
the life span of your turkeys.

- When do your turkeys mate?

- How long does it take them to hatch?

- When do they hatch?

- Do the chicks stay with their mother? Fathers role?

- When is a turkey considered an adult? How long is it a chick?

- Time of slaughter?

Basically we are looking for exact dates of these events or the dates
when they would be happening. So they could be filmed.



Hi Tom

My turkeys start being interested in mating in early february each year. But the end of february they're in full-swing, the toms are trying to out-display the other toms and the hens watch with interest. They'll continue to display and mate throughout the summer, until next november.

small turkeys are called poults

It's 28 days for an egg to hatch, and they lay eggs from march until september. They're still interested in mating, but the egg production tapers off until the next year.

When chicks hatch, if there's any other poults of about the same age, all of the poult and all of the mothers of that batch tend to hang out together. The poults recognize and stick close to their hen, but all of the hens protect all of the chicks -- from other birds in the barnyard, or from percieved predators.

The hens and toms tend to stay in different flocks; there isn't much interaction between the hens and the toms after the chicks are hatched.

A hen turkey, sitting on a nest, will sit there no matter what. I've run over turkey hens with my brush hog (big mower that attaches to the rear of the tractor) and that means that the hen sat there, allowed the tractor to go right over her, and then got caught by the mower behind the tractor. That's a dedicated mother. The last one wasn't in any normal nesting area and I didn't see her in the tall grass. She survived, but lost a bunch of feathers. lucky bird. coyotoes will often pick them off the nest. They don't resist.

Turkeys are slaughtered when they're at the weight desired for the market, or for seasonal use, like thanksgiving. So theres no particular age that a turkey is slaughtered, depends on the use they'll be put to. So a slaughter scene can be filmed pretty much anytime. I slaughter my turkeys the week before thanksgiving and the week before christmas.

the poults require supplemental heat (either via their hen, or via heat lamps) for the first 6 weeks of their life, as they grow feathers and their body gets used to heating itself. After that they're gangly adoloscent turkeys for 2-3 months, and then start getting their adult feathers and weight at about 6 months. All of these figures are for heritage breed turkeys. Broad-breasted turkeys grow much faster and the concern there, at least from a farmers point of view, is that they'll get too big for sale.

Hope that answers your questions.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

In 1976 I was a paperboy and I stole grapes.

I grew up in north Seattle, and when I was 12 I had a paperroute, delivering The Seattle Times, which at the time was an afternoon newspaper. I'd upgraded from a route delivering The Shopping News, which was a coupon paper delivered on wednesdays only, and I was quite pleased that I was going to be earning $50 a month instead of $9 a month.

you see, I was young enough not to realize that I was earning more per day with the shopping news than I was with the Times, but I was happy at the idea of earning almost $1.50 a day for 2 hours of work. That was enough for... lets see. four comics, or five candybars, or about 20 minutes of pinball at the local 7-11 store. That was a lot of money!

Being a paperboy meant that I had an odd view of the whole neighborhood. I knew which houses I could go between, and which had fences that prevented that. Where the nice dogs were, and the mean ones. The house that I'd broken the screen door glass on had to be passed with eyes down, quickly. The old norwegian lady who kept pressing me to try the fried cakes with powdered sugar on them (that were amazingly good when I did try them after a year of offers).

One thing that I particulary watched for was fruit trees and grape vines, and a particular favorite of mine was a concord grape vine that was in the alley between 80th and 77th, and 18th and 19th streets. It was held up on a decrepit trellis, and had the most marvelously delicious seeded concord grapes. I'd watch for the leaves on the vine to turn brilliant yellow, and in the shadows of those leaves there'd be clusters of beautiful purple grapes.

These were the best grapes; the skins were the best part. Tart and sweet, in the fall I'd quietly pick a few handfuls of the grapes every morning, savoring them.

It's funny, I never asked if I could pick the grapes; I'd reach in from the alley, reasoning that if I was on a public street that it was ok, but mostly I was afraid that the grape owners would say no, and stolen grapes were just that much better, when you're 12.

So I was reading one of the blogs that I follow, this posting where she discusses growing grape vines from cuttings, and the first thing that popped into my head was this concord grape vine.

So I drove over today, and down the alley, and there was a lady out pruning that very same grapevine. And I stopped and introduced myself, and explained that for 34 years that this had been my favorite grape vine, and that she had a neighborhood landmark in her back yard.

She laughed, and said that she'd gotten a lot of comments over the years about this vine, and that she moved into the house in 1975 and every year had a terrible time finding enough people to give the grapes to, that it was so prolific that she used laundry baskets to pick the grapes. She explained that the vine had been planted in the 1930s, about the time that the house was built, and that daughter of the original owner of the house came by from time to time to pick the grapes, too.

And I had to confess that in 1976 I'd been stealing grapes, thinking i was getting away with murder, when she'd been trying to give them away.

and this got another laugh, and a wink, and 34 years later I finally asked permission -- if I could have some cuttings from this grapevine that she and I both loved.

Sometimes it's nice to close the circle.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pig carrier version 2

I've written about my pig carrier before. Here it is carrying a litter of piglets, but it works for big pigs, too.

Version 2 of the carrier will look a little different. I had the carrier attached to the back of the tractor and went up on a big pile of wood chips. backing down the pile, the carrier caught on the ground, and I bent it up pretty well.

Since I'm going to have to do some work on it to fix it, I'm going to fix a couple of flaws that I found while using it.

1) the expanded metal works great to exclude pigs, but tends to split if it's stressed at all. You can see in the photo above that there's a bit split in it. That's a bit of a problem. So I'm only going to use expanded metal for the first 12" off the bottom -- basically the piglet zone.

2) the sides weren't tall enough. I had a couple of pigs jump out of the carrier, and that was a bit of a problem. They didn't do it when the tractor was moving, but if I left them for any amount of time they'd think about it. So I'm going to extend the cage vertically to about 4' tall on all sides .

3) I'm going to make the gate a bit bigger. The opening was narrow, but it was hard to get big sows in and out of it.

4) the barrel bolt on the gate was just too much of a pain in the ass to use. I'm going for a simpler throw bolt arrangement that can be latched in a hurry.

Monday, February 22, 2010

First of the spring lambs

These little guys are about 30 minutes old. Kinda wobbly and tentative. You can see the umbilical cords under the tail of the ewe. She's attentive; making soft bleating noises that are being responded to by the lambs.
She licks them over carefully. It was a really nice day today; perfect day to be born. Warm and sunny. Welcome to the world, lambs!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Boneless chickens

The chicks are pretty hedonistic creatures. In this video the little white chick at the center walks into the hot zone under the heat lamp and, well, melts. They'll sprawl out at full length and fan their wings and roll over and toast their toes and show every sign of having a really good time.

This is the scene underneath the brooder. You can see there's a hot zone in front of each light -- if the chicks feel chilled they can move into that area. Otherwise they're evenly spaced around the brooder, nodding off in a couple of cases.

There's no chicks close to me because my hand startled them away from this edge. there's 300 chicks under this particular brooder.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's bee season in the NW

This is the time of year to consider buying bees to start new hives.

A "package" of bees is a certain number of pounds of adult bees of various ages and a new, mated queen. The package itself is a small box, about the size of a loaf of bread, that has mesh sides. In the center of the package is a can which contains a sugar syrup to feed the bees during their shipment.

I'll have pictures of the package and bees when I get them, the first week of april, but RIGHT NOW is the time to order them if you want to have bees this year.

I've chosen to purchase the packages from this year; I haven't done business with them before, but as with all of my purchases I'm trying to support locals as much as I can and spread my purchases around. I have done business with Jim and The Beez Neez and do reccomend them.

The bees for the packages are usually drawn from hives in california and the vendors drive a trailer down, fill it with packages of bees, and then drive it back up here. A trailer might hold 500 packages, and each package is 40,000 or so bees, so we're talking 20,000,000 (twenty million) bees. A car accident could get really interesting.

The package is just the bees and the queen. to have a complete hive, you'll a hive body, top cover, bottom board, a feeder and frames. For an example of that and its cost, check this link.

April here is a little cold and rainy for the bees. Our primary source of nectar is the blackberry bloom, which occurs in May and June. There are other blooms, but that's where the bulk of the honey is laid on for my bees.

When you get the bees in april and provide them with bare frames, they have to build the wax combs that will hold the brood, honey and pollen that they collect. To aid them in that I feed them sugar syrup for the first two months. Basically as much sugar as they'll take. Once the natural nectar flow starts they switch to that. Doing this gives the bees a good headstart, so that they're in good shape to harvest the nectar when it appears.

Friday, February 19, 2010

5 things that i've learned while farming

I started the farm with the idea that I'd be doing mostly pastured poultry, ala joe salatin. I built the pens, and bought the plucker, and started that way. But then I learned that there are cultures that prefer a whole, live bird, and near a big city, it's rare to find them, and they're willing to pay for them.

Lesson #1: Sell what the customer wants, not what you planned to. If you get asked for something else (a lot), seriously consider changing your plan.

Most of the customers that I sell to don't use english as their primary language at home; I can now say "chicken" and "turkey" in five languages.

Lesson #2: Speaking the customers language makes it friendlier for them, and for you, and opens the culture to you. Learning another language is good.

I had a calf that I purchased go down on ice last year, spraddled, and it lay there until I found it in the morning. I tried my best to save it, and ended up just delaying the decision.

Lesson #3: Learn to know when you know enough, and don't prolong the decision. Sometimes it is time to act.

Lesson #4 (related to #3) Don't get too attached to your livestock. Everyone has to go sometime. Love them while they're here.

After putting the cow down and butchering it, I cut it into various cuts and enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Lesson #5: Maybe a tough decision has some benefits. Oftentimes it simplifies your life, which is good in itself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The details of the chicken experiment

I'm going to be tracking how much feed and other inputs it takes to raise a batch of heritage roosters and a batch of cornish cross, straight run.

Determine the cost of raising heritage roosters and compare that cost to raising cornish cross. I want to know exactly what the cost basis is for each type of bird, to be able to price them appropriately for retail sale.

Here's what I'm going to do:

1) all the chicks will be handled identically at all points in their life. Same food, same bedding, same setup, same lights, same temperature.

2) chicks are selected randomly 3 days after arrival. This allows chicks that have some problem (birth defect or travel stress) to die before I start tracking their food. So the first three days of food for both sets of chicks isn't counted, but I'm going to guess it's an ounce or so of food per chick.

3) I purchased these chicks at retail from a major hatchery, anonymously. They didn't know I'd be doing this, and I have no connection to the hatchery.

4) out of an order of 200 heritage roosters and 100 cornish cross I'll be raising 40 of each type. the other 220 chicks will be brooded seperately, but I won't be tracking their feed input. They will act as a control. I'll compare those birds to the ones in the study to make sure that the results there are similar to the studied birds.

5) The roosters are presumed all male, but there may be females due to hatchery mis-sexing. The cornish cross are straight-run, with a random number of male and female. Males of either breed will tend to be larger than females.

6) the roosters are a random selection of breeds, purchased from the hatchery as "all heavy", . I'll include several different varieties in the study so I can compare rhode island red vs cornish, or buff orpington vs cornish.

7) All food given to each batch of chickens will be weighed at each feeding and tracked. I'm feeding a non-medicated organic chick starter, "nature smart", 20% protein crumble, free-choice. I'll weigh the feed put into the brooder. Some of that feed is wasted by the chicks. That's just part of the feed consumption, so I'm not going to try to track feed waste vs utilization in this study.

8) I'll post results once a week for the next 8 weeks, and then every month thereafter for the heritage bird batch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The chickens arrived today that I'll be using in my experiment. What I'm doing in this video is taking each chick out, one by one, and dipping their beaks into the water. The thirsty chicks stop right there and drink their fill, and then wander off under the brooder.

The brooder is one that I describe building in this post. It easily allows me to brood out 300 chicks at a time, and it's a lot less work than individual bins are. I put a feeder and a waterer on each of the 4 sides.

The chicks are pretty darned cute. Well, they're cute when they first arrive. In a week or so they're a little less cute. In four weeks, well, they're a chore and you're looking forward to seeing them go out on pasture.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The goat popped

I traded a couple of weaner pigs for 3 goats about a year ago, and have been waiting and waiting to have kids; they arrived today. There's the proud nanny goat. They're inside one of my calf domes, bedded on 2' of fresh wood chips. The wood chips, when they're fresh, will start to compost, so provide a nice warm bedding for the babies.

I don't know exactly how old they are at this point. Maybe an hour?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coyotes & lambing

The coyotes are out in force again; noticed two places where they've dug under my field fence to get into the sheep pasture.  The sheep are going to start lambing here any day, so it's got me a bit concerned.   I'm going to go sit and watch for a coyote this morning; probably start sitting at 4:30 or so. 

I'd like to make a fence which would exclude the coyotes, but it's cost-prohibitive.  Next year I'll have a very well fenced lambing area that will help a lot, but this year vigilance will have to do. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"USDA Organic" - pasture requirements rule

One of the reasons that I have not pursued an organic certification for my farm is that I feel that the term "organic" is being co-opted by industry to something that is meaningless. 

A recent story in the Seattle Times makes this pretty clear.

When I buy pastured beef, or organic beef, my belief was that this animal was on pasture until the end of its life.  While it may have been fed something in addition to pasture, pasture, grass, comprised a big portion of the cows diet.  In fact, there's a rule that the USDA has adopted that will be effective in June 2010.

One day out of each 3 days the cow has to spend on pasture.  That means that 8 months of the year the cow can be on a dry lot or feedlot, which is the opposite of what I'd like to see, as a farmer who pastures his critters. 

After being in the dry lot for 2 out of 3 days, the last 4 months of the cows life can also be spent in a feedlot.  In fact, will probably be spent in a feedlot. 

So what this new rule does is basically allow the same practices that have always been used, but people can now put the label "usda organic" on their packages of feedlot beef. 

Well, I guess it's better than spending your entire life on a feedlot.  But is it really what you think of when you think "organic" or "pastured"?

I feel the same way about "free-range" chicken.   Normal industrial chickens are raised in huge barns, with thousands of birds standing shoulder to shoulder.  They are fed a prepared feed, normally of corn and soybean with trace elements and coloring agents like marigold petals added, to make the chickens yellow. 

"free range" industrial chickens are raised in huge barns, with thousands of birds standing shoulder to shoulder.  They are fed a prepared feed, normally of corn and soybean, with trace elements and coloring agents like marigold petals added, to make the chickens yellow.  After 4 to 5 weeks of their 8 week life, a door in the side of the barn is opened during daylight hours, and the chickens in theory can go out this door and find some grass.  In practice, chickens stick pretty close to the food and water, and their flock and never go outside.  outside is scary. 

The "free range" chickens usually sell at a 10 to 20% premium in price to the non-free range chickens.  What do you get for your money, honestly?  They are the same birds from the same hatcheries fed the same thing in the same conditions, with a door cut into the side of the barn. 

This sort of thing is why, if you really want a different product, it's a great thing to know your farmer.  If you want to know what I do with my chickens, and how their life is, you can ask, or just look through the blog.  It's all here.  I do charge a premium price -- and it's for a reason.  It represents a very different husbandry style.    You're eating it.  Please ask the questions to make sure your food dollars are supporting your personal views. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poultry ordering: Better buy now if you're gonna

Three years ago I was able to order chickens a few weeks ahead of the time I needed them.  Two years ago I had to order them a month before.  Last year 3 months before.  This year it's back to a two to three month leadtime, but it's early yet, and most folks aren't thinking chickens or turkeys in February. 

I've ordered 50 bourbon red, 25 black spanish and 50 narragansett turkey poults for delivery at the end of april.  I'll also be collecting and hatching our turkey flocks eggs.  I'm aiming at retaining a flock of 50 turkeys next winter, mostly bourbon reds, and selling 200 finished heritage birds. 

I've also ordered 100 broadbreasted bronze turkeys.  I get asked quite a bit for a turkey that's 20-30lbs, and the heritage breeds don't get that big.  So I'll raise a batch of broadbreasted birds to meet that demand. 

With the heritage turkeys you have the choice of keeping them for breeding stock or selling them at market.  With the broadbreasted turkeys you're pretty much committed to market sales.  They just get too big by the next year, and cannot naturally mate. 

Broad breasted turkey vs heritage turkey.  Heritage turkey on the left.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chicken experiment #1: Heritage breed roosters vs cornish cross

Cornish Cross & Black Australorp chick, couple of days old

One thing that I'd like to know for myself is what the cost difference is in raising a cornish cross chicken and a heritage rooster, so I'm going to do an experiment to see what the costs are for raising heritage roosters vs the industry standard cornish cross.    Both sets of birds will eat an identical feed ration. 

Chickens eggs hatch about 50% male/female.  But most people who keep chickens only want the hens, which leaves hatcheries with (huge) numbers of surplus male chicks.  They're usually quietly disposed of at the hatchery.  You can buy them for $0.50 to $0.80 from national hatcheries, or sometimes get them for free if you live close to a hatchery -- as the hatchery owners hate to kill the chicks and most would rather they be put to some better use. 

Low cost chickens?
There's a lot of rooster chicks that you can buy or aquire cheaply.  Cornish cross chicks cost a little more, but grow a lot faster.  A cornish cross chick sells for $1.50 to $2 each. 

Cornish Cross and Buff Orpington chick, one week old

So what I'm going to do is raise a batch of roosters and a batch of cornish cross, carefully measuring the amount of feed and tracking the amount of bedding and all other inputs including labor for each batch, and weighing the chicks every week or so until slaughter.

Personally, I prefer to raise the heritage roosters, but in doing so I've got to have a better idea of what it really costs me to raise them -- so I can make sure that the price that I'm charging is appropriate and profitable.  By doing a small study I can take the guesswork out of the mix. 

Cornish cross and Buff orpington chick, four weeks old

I'm going to do this experiment at first by raising the chickens in pens on wood chips, and then repeat it later this year with the birds on grass, to see how pasture changes their feed consumption.  Everyone assumes that pasturing the birds reduces their feed consumption, but I don't know anyone who's actually tested that idea -- and even it if has been tested, I'd like to know the results on my land with my feed and my bird suppliers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Critics say...

I wrote a day or two ago about a sheep of mine, a ewe, that I had to treat.  I wrote about how  I consulted with a more-experienced sheep farmer, and a veterinarian and a local vet clinic, and following their advice, treated the ewe successfully.  But then I get this comment: 
Anonymous said...

While I commend you for you efforts you must have a LOT of cash to burn through. Seems like every other day one of your animals is getting sick from something that could've been prevented, or you're making a costly mistake that could've been avoided.

I hope this is not the case, but at this rate I hope those pockets are deep for I don't see this farm sustaining itself anytime soon. You ought to do through research prior to embarking on your miscalculated endeavors.

Wishing you the best.

Not satisfied with this, this person posted this comment the next day:

Anonymous said...

Oh what happened? My last comment hurt your feelings, as I see you never posted it. I'm sorry if it did, it's just that more often then not when reading your blog can't help but say to myself "what is this guy doing?"



First -- even if the comments don't agree with me I post them, with a couple of exceptions:  No personal attacks, and keep on the topic at hand.  I'm open to the discussion of ideas and practices and hints and suggestions at any time.  I'm also open to questions about my rationale for doing something.  So if you see me talk about something that doesn't make sense, by all means, ask that question. 

Second -- if you're sincerely interested in helping (me, or any other farmer) and you've got some experience, I'd love to hear it.  Let's look at another comment in that same post, written by Michelle from Collie farm wrote to that very same posting-- helpful, contains a reference to a source she's found helpful, along with some symptoms to look for -- smell of the animals breath, etc.  

With respect to the farm -- or any business venture -- if you can't afford to take some losses along the way you probably won't succeed.  It doesn't matter if it's farming or software or whatever -- business involves making mistakes.  It's not a question of whether you make a mistake, it's often a question of how fast and appropriately you respond to the mistake. 

If you've ever used a compass, you'll find that you'll walk a ways, consult your compass, correct your bearing, and keep walking.  Checking your compass bearing more frequently means that your error is smaller, and you get to your destination quicker.   Expecting there to be no learning curve, or mistakes made, during the course of any endeavor is foolhardy. 

So I'm open to suggestions, Friend.  With respect to the sheep, or any other aspect of my farm, please do suggest what I might do better.  Share with me (and the other readers) your experience and insight.  Tell me a trick or technique that makes your life easier. 

Part of the reason that I talk about my mistakes is that is actually what I like reading about in other peoples blogs.  There's too many blogs that are fairy tales, or who talk about practices that they don't actually do themselves.   I'd prefer something more grounded in reality -- and I'm hoping that what I write here is useful to people who are thinking about doing something similar.

So jump in.  I don't bite.

Giant flocks of birds

For some reason there's this huge flock of birds that's been around a lot.  I'm guessing it has 50,000 birds in it.  There's maybe 200 in this picture
but imagine 2,000 feet of this, and you've got a better idea of the size of this flock.  I think they're starlings. 
I'm glad that they're around; there's a peregrin falcon that's been eating them and with plenty of natural game around I'm hoping my chickens aren't on the menu. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Treating a ewe who collapsed

I'm the first person to admit that I don't know much about sheep.  Actually, I don't know much about ruminants in general -- cows, sheep, goats -- it's all new to me. 

Each species has its own set of requirements, husbandry practices that work for it, and weird quirks. I have really appreciated a local blog written by Michelle, the collie farm, for the bits of information she's given me on sheep.  She has a flock of the same breed as I do, and really takes it seriously, and I vicariously use her research for my own flock. 

Part of farming is just being there.  Every day I check on each animal in my care, and make sure that they've got everything they need.  I also note their general condition, whether they are hanging out with the other animals of their species, and whether they've got any issues -- limping, that sort of thing. 

So on thursday of last week I counted my sheep and noticed I was missing one.  looking around I found her out in the field, laying on her side, all by herself.  The other sheep were doing sheep things in a flock. 

I walked over to her, and she didn't raise her head to look at me as I approached, but was alive, which i was pretty happy about.  At least I have a chance to to something, but I have no idea what her ailment is.  Running my hands over her, she's not skinny, but her breathing is labored and she's pretty pregnant.  My ram got into a pen with a couple of my sheep earlier than I would have liked, and she was one of the sheep that probably got bred then. 

No obvious injuries; wool is in good shape, no discharge from the mouth, anus or vagina, or eyes.  No wounds, no blood.  Just laying on the ground.  I try to get her up, but she's down.  Hmmm...

I go and get the tractor and put her into the bucket and carry her over to a little shed.  I bed her on some hay so that she's got dry stuff under her.  I don't know how long she's laid out there; could have been since yesterday.   I don't think that water will do her any harm, and so I go get one of the most useful first-aid implements I've found for the farm:  A turkey baster. 
For feeding a piglet or getting water or any sort of fluid into a resisting animal, there's really nothing that works better.  I've used it to irrigate wounds, to rehydrate my ancient housecat, and in this case, to put a quart of water into a sow that probably needed it.  I'd suck up some water and then dribble it into her mouth -- she started licking it, and I was able to get her a good drink without too much trouble.  What took her down? 

I called the fellow I bought the sheep from, and he speculated that it might be the stress of pregnancy, and that maybe I wasn't feeding them enough high-quality feed, and suggested that I get her some Propylene Glycol to see if that boost would help her get back on her feet.  I called a local vet who concurred (and said that a farm visit would cost me $300), and I located a gallon of this stuff, and started treating her with 30ccs every 8 hours.  Water, glycol, water, glycol.  After 12 hours of this she was trying to sit up, and I brought in a bale of hay and propped her up onto her chest, and the next day she was standing and moving around and eating.  The picture above is her rejoining the herd after I kept her for another two days of this regimen. 

I've ordered 1,000lbs of grain, and will be putting the whole flock on 2lbs a day in addition to hay and forage for the rest of their pregnancy. 

Really glad she's better.  Hope there's no relapse. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Planning for the new year - animals

Each year I have to guess what the market might be for the animals I produce, and how many I can produce.   I believe that the economy will be improving for the majority of this year, and that next holiday season will be pretty good. 

Pigs:  I have 24 full-sized sows, which gives me a piglet production of approximately 20 per month.  If I can solve the piglet survival problem a production of 240 piglets this year will allow me to sell 100 finished pigs and between 50 and 100 weaner or BBQ pigs and have a decent number left over to replace any sow losses or to expand my herd further if I find a particularly good looking animal.   
  I've asked for a price quote for 4 farrowing crates and all related equipment, and expect to make a a purchase this week in an effort to lower piglet mortality. 

Chickens:  I'm carrying 175 hens and 55 roosters at this point, and I believe that I can produce all the chickens I need by hatching the eggs that I'm producing.  So the plan is to retain 300-500 eggs a month and hatch them for the next 4 months.  The 2,000 chicks produced will provide 1) replacement layers for next years egg production 2) roosters to sell as meat during the course of the summer and fall and 3) point-of-lay pullets to folks who want their own chicken flocks.   At this point I don't need to order any chickens, but I'm going to look to see there's a breed of chicken that I'd like to add to my flock.  Last year I tried cuckoo marans, and while popular, i couldn't tell them apart from the barred rocks, so didn't get any benefit of increased profits for the most part. 

Turkeys:  I have 40 hens and 8 toms, and I'm going to pen them and collect the eggs this year to try to hatch my own turkeys.  I tried this last year but didn't have much success.  Since I believe that the turkey market will be good this holiday season I'm going to order 200 turkey poults to make sure I have a good quantity of heritage turkeys for sale.  I'm also going to order 50 broad breasted turkeys because customers demand them.  I'll have the heritage turkey poults delivered in early march, the broad breasted I'll take in June.  If I took the broad breasted in march they'd be too big by the time thanksgiving rolls around.  Started in June, they'll be 20-30lbs net, which is about right for folks who want a big (but not monstrous) turkey.  Heritage breeds dress out at a top weight of about 16lbs, with the average being between 12 and 14 for me. 

Sheep:  I've had some losses over the winter, and my sheep husbandry still sucks -- it's a learning curve.  I'm hoping to have a production of 20 lambs this year, of which I'll retain some of the ewes to increae my flock size, but I'm not counting on this.  No action item there -- still learning sheep husbandry. 

Cows:  I have a fully fenced 10 acre parcel that I can raise cows on this year.  I expect to purchase 10 day-old calves soon, to expand my cow herd. 

Miscl:  I'm going to order some random poultry to round my my personal table.  Geese, ducks, guinea fowl; 10 to 20 of each.  There's really not much demand (read:  people don't ask me about them) but I like a variety on my personal table, so now's the time to plan for it. 

Planning for the new farm year - vegetables

I'm sitting down with the seed catalogs this week and working out what I'd like to try this year, and ordering the seeds of the species that did well last year.   The garden is mostly for my own consumption, at least for this year; I may expand it into a market garden next year. 

In Western Washington, and in particular on my farm, that's at 6 feet elevation off sea level, any crop that requires some heat to ripen is a challenge.  Tomatoes tend not to ripen on the vine if they're grown in the open, mostly because the climate is cool and we get marine air (46 degree marine air) that rolls up the river valley from the ocean. 

So the greenhouse was a solution for the heat problem, and it worked very well.   I'm going to order the watermelons again this year and hope for a better crop.   Basil did really well last year -- so much so that I had too much basil most of the year, which is a problem I've never had before.  Tomatoes did very well, but I'm going to have to work on some sort of trellis system.  Squash went nuts; only one zucchini plant this year and a couple of summer squash plants. 

Outside I have a need for a cover crop, to plant areas where there's bare dirt or areas that I'm going to have to disturb to clean up the soil.   Over at Natures Harmony Farms they used turnip seeds to good effect and I like that idea.  I'll see if I can find a turnip variety that grows well here. 

So here's the list of things we're going to plant for sure: 
Squash (various varieties)
Herbs (various varieties)
Salad greens (various varieties)
sweet corn

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'm back; various updates

What I had
A friend of mine thinks it was swine flu, but I'm not sure. Basic complete lack of energy, fever, extreme sore throat, followed by runny nose and persistent cough. While I was sick I was doing all the chores, but I was weak as a kitten, so I'd go do something and then basically collapse for a while, and then do the next thing, and sleep for 12 hours. Basically not recommended.

Piglet treatment
Piglet with the anal prolapse is still alive but not doing well. I've arranged a sale on friday, but I don't think it'll make it until then. I'll be trying hemorrhoid cream per suggestion for topical but honestly I don't think that the piglet will survive.

Buckets of dead piglets
The long pig had a litter of 16 pigs on friday, 14 live, two stillborn. On Tuesday 3 are alive; the rest were crushed and suffocated by their mom. She's a good sow and was in a good spot with cover and shelter and has raised good litters in the past. I've had it with losing entire litters of perfectly good piglets. I'm ordering a farrowing crate tonight. Buckets of dead piglets suck. On a positive note, the dogs think that buckets of dead piglets is heaven.

Wood chip case/legal update
Ecology requested a walk through of my property as part of a settlement talk, and I led them around the property and talked for a couple of hours about settling. I even went as far as to draft a proposed settlement, but after reflection realized that my heart wasn't in settling on those terms, and I've withdrawn that settlement offer. I'll write up that process soon.

I received the transcript from Paul Andersons deposition on friday, and will be excerpting and publishing the questions and answers from that deposition here. If you own land in washington state you'll want to read what was asked and answered here. Farm plans, prior use and current use are all apparently immaterial when it comes to whether land is considered wetland or not.