Friday, April 30, 2010

Turkey broil

This Narragansett hen has found a pile of sheet metal that my brother gave me.  It's 4x8' sheets of galvanized steel, and it gets very warm in the sun.  She's decided that she likes the griddle effect, and flops out on this steel every sunny day.  Here shes so hot she's panting, but she's enjoying it, I think.  Look at how she's spread her tail out like a fan. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My misift goats

The goats are a crop that I tried, but really don't plan on expanding.  There is a market for goat meat, but it's limited, and they're hard for me to maintain.  Tough on fences.  My last two goats have decided that they're pigs, and they hang out with the pigs most of the time.  Here the billy goat and his nanny are sleeping in the middle of the pig herd.  It's not a bad spot -- they're pretty darned safe from coyotes there. 
I'm not sure who's smarter -- the goats or the pigs.  Part of how I measure intelligence is whether one animal can get another to do what it wants.  On that measure, the goats are smarter than the pigs.  they'll often push a 400lb sow around, or cause her to change her course ,or move away from food that the goats think is tasty.  The sows have knocked the goats down and there's been a couple of times when I was sure I'd be (or a sow would) eating goat, but so far so good. 
I do have to say that the goats are easy to keep.  They browse by choice, and eat a little bit of the pig feed from time to time, and generally don't require much maintenance.  I've got to trim their nails yearly, but that's about it. 

The market for lambs, which is what I'll be expanding in the next year, is much bigger than the market for goat.  Goat meat is tasty; I've eaten a lot of it, just don't get much interest in it.  But I get asked for lamb every week.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Boar

This is "the boar", an 800lb berkshire that is the primary sire of my pig herd.  He's a pretty friendly pig, but it does give you pause when a pig this big comes over to say hello.  Even an unintentional foot stomp by this fellow is a pretty serious thing. 
The boars life is pretty simple.  The rule is:  If the boar wants it, he gets it.  The sows might complain about it, but they move out of the way when he wants to lay down, or eat, or drink.  When he's not moving the other pigs socialize with him, but they all do pay attention to him when he talks.  This boar is especially gentle with piglets.  When he's in the same pasture with a new mother he'll go sleep with her and her litter for a couple of days immediately after the birth.  I don't know why he does this, but it's consistent, and he has not crushed a piglet yet despite his huge size.

There are two other adult boars he shares this pasture with, and they've worked out what the pecking order is, and pretty much steer clear of each other most of the time. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pigs and pasture

After the cows have eaten the taller grass, and the sheep have mowed down the shorter grass, the sows go onto the pasture.  They enjoy the grass, but don't eat it early as fast as it grows.  The short grass is good for the piglets - they can see momma at all times, and they enjoy running around following her.  Here a couple of piglets are sacked out next to mom. 

Another sow is inside the shelter, dozing in the dry hay and enjoying the warmth of the dome.  The piglets will wake up and nurse, and then to back to sleep.  I see them every day chasing down a sow, squealing at her.  I'll translate for you:  "Lay down!  Lay down!  We want to nurse!  lay down!  right here!  c'mon!  stop moving!"

They're pretty cute. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Part 2: The bees surprised me today

The bees basic agenda is different than our human agenda.  We want honey, and maybe more bees.  The bees want more bees, and use honey towards that end.   So my job in managing my hives is to give the bees what they need, and direct their industry towards my goal -- honey. 

After the bees returned to their hive I let them settle down for an hour or so, and then got dressed up in my beekeeping gear and popped the top on the hive.  This is with the lid off, and having this many bees on top of the hive means that they're feeling pretty crowded.  Pretty consistent with a swarm. 
In Western Washington, the bottom two boxes of a beehive are for the bees.   Take a look at the first picture.  You'll notice that the lower two parts are bigger than the top box.  A full "super" -- which is what the first two boxes are called -- weighs around 110lbs.  The smaller box, full of honey, weighs about 60lbs.   I use the smaller boxes to collect my honey so that I can lift them off the hive when I'm collecting it.  The bees use the larger box to  raise their young and use the other box to store enough honey to last through the winter.   Bees don't hibernate; they just cluster in the hive and eat the stored honey. 
The honey comb in the picture above has new honey in it.  That means the bees are finding something that has nector, and they're busily storing it away.  Good healthy colony.  The uncapped honeycomb is honey that the bees haven't dehydrated enough.  When it gets to the right moisture level, they'll cap it, too.  The center area, that shows as light yellow, is capped new honey.  Yummy!

I pull the top box off (it's about 40lbs right now, about 2/3rds full) and take a look at the next box down.  Lots of bees here.  healthy hive, and the bees are feeling crowded.   I'm going to pull some of the frames and see if there are swarm cells.  Swarm cells are new queen bees that haven't hatched yet. 
Yep, swarm cells.  Queen bees are bigger than regular bees or drones, and when the bees make a new queen they'll build cells like this.  neither of these cells have hatched, but they are close to hatching.  The first new queen that hatches will go through the hive and sting to death any other queens that haven't hatched yet.  In a typical hive that is about to swarm there will be between 5 and 15 queen cells scattered throughout the hive.  Bees believe in backups. 
Here you can see the entire frame.  The swarm cells are on the lower left.  Immediately above them are drone cells; these are the only male bees in the hive, and this hive has decided to raise a good crop of them.  You'll see drone cells on the lower right as well; a double row of them.  The relatively flat larvae in the center are regular worker bees.  The queen lays eggs, the workers feed the larvae until they're old enough to cap, and then cap them.  The new bees chew their way out of their cells.  So a capped cell is a developing bee that hasn't hatched. 
Now we get to the nitty gritty.  Working my way through the frames I find 7 swarm cells, and I'd like to split this hive.  So what I do is take a frame of capped brood, a frame of honey, and some brand-new frames, and put them into a hive body, a super.  Into each of these I cut out two swarm cells and carefully place them.    The two queens will hatch, fight it out, and figure that they've emerged into a hive that has just swarmed. 
In a swarm, it's the older queen that leaves with about half the bees, so the newly-hatched queens find themselves in a queenless colony iwth some brood and some workers - I'm just splitting the hive more than a swarm would. 
The new frames on either side are flat sheets of beeswax that are stamped with the honeycomb pattern.  The bees will draw this comb out, consuming honey as they do so, and building new comb. 

A natural swarm takes about 1/2 of the bees in the hive with it.  I'm being more aggressive in my split, splitting this single hive into 3 new hives and the old hive, for a total of 4.  Because there will be fewer worker bees than usual, I'll feed them a bit of sugar over the next couple of weeks to give them a good start. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Part 1: The bees surprised me today

Sold a couple of weiner pigs today, and a bred sow, and was doing the rest of my daily routine when I noticed a commotion over by the beehives. 

Click on the picture for a bigger version.  If you look closely, you can see thousands of bees flying in a big circle around this beehive.  They're indicating that they are going to swarm, and they're flying around looking for the scent of the queen bee to follow her. 
In every direction around the hive there are thousands of bees.  They're not angry, but they're also not working.  This is a major disruption of hive life.  The bees have decided that conditions are right for the hive to split. 
I watch this for a while, to see what they are going to do.  I notice that they're flying closer to the hive, and starting to land on it.  The queen has decided that it's not quite time to go, maybe. 
Then I notice some of them collecting on a fence post, and think maybe the queen has landed there.  I continue to watch; we're about 45 minutes into this activity. 
At this point they're clearly coming back to the hive; so this is a rehearsal of a swarm.  It's pretty amazing how many bees there are in a typical hive. 
More and more bees are coming back.  They aren't in any hurry to go back to work, congregating on the outside of the hive. 
At this point I'm pretty clear that the queen has re-entered the hive and that it won't swarm today; but that it WILL swarm tommorow unless I do something about it. 
What to do. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The worlds oldest profession

I moved my steers and cow to my north property yesterday.  It's 10 acres of reasonably lush grass and alder trees, and a nice place for a cow to spend the summer.  When I was there I noticed that an outbuilding had been vandalized; spray paint, and some windows broken. 
I went back today to check on the cows, and found an acura parked blocking my gate.  I was pretty annoyed by this, but it happens sometimes, and I don't have a tow-away sign there (yet) so I parked my truck, put on my boots, and walked down the driveway.  It's about 300' down the driveway to the outbuilding, and about 100' past that to the pasture fence & gate.  As I got closer to the outbuilding I saw someone peering at me from the loft. 

"Alright!  Come on out!  I see you up there" and out came this bedraggled specimen.  The pink miniskirt was a bit of a stretch; she's 35-40, and looks like she's been ridden hard and put away wet.  I did the usual thing, "Ma'am, I'm giving you a criminal trespass warning at this time.  If I catch you on the property again, I'll have you arrested and press charges.  Call your buddy out and get off the property". 
A fairly clean-cut guy, about 30, comes out, and I tell him the same thing, when she interrupts.  "We come down here because it's private".  Yea, it's private property.  Get off my land.  "But would you mind if we..."  No, you can't.  Get off my land.  Don't come back.  Thanks. 

The cows were fine; happily eating the grass and having a good cow time.  Joys of urban farming. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

2010 Turkeys

The turkeys are outdoing themselves laying right now.  We're getting 2 dozen turkey eggs a day and loading up the incubators.  The first sets of turkeys are hatching now, and we'll have a new batch every week out of the incubators.  Some of the eggs are hatching a day or two early; the turkeys sat on them and partially incubated them before they were collected, throwing off the hatching date. 

Turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch; I'll put them in, in batches so that the management of the hatches is easier.  It's about as much work to move 100 turkey poults around than it is to move 10, so why not hold all the eggs for a few days until you've got a hundred or two, and then set them all at once. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Joel Salatin speaking in Seattle

Joel Salatin, of Polyface farms fame spoke in Seattle tonight on two topics; feeding the people using expansive techniques, and the "ecstacy of being a lunatic farmer".  I couldn't make the first part. 

Mr.  Salatins operation is the one that my farming effort gets compared to most often.  He's a famous advocate for small farms to ignore the legal barriers and just go and do things related to farming.  He's one of the reasons that small poultry producers are allowed to slaughter their own birds here in Washington State, for instance. 

Personal note:  I think that here in Washington State,  the animal slaughter situation is entirely caused by regulation, and that the "mobile slaughter" units that we're building for $500k each is a huge waste of time and money.  Allow the regional meat cutting shops to become certified to slaughter and sell meat and help them stay in business.  Don't put a government subsidized trailer out there to remove one of the legs of their revenue stool. 

Salatin point #1:  Respect for animals leads to respect for people.   "Allowing a pig to express pigness allows Mary to express Maryness.  If we don't care for our least, we can't care for our most".   I think that having a real concern for the life and care of animals, even those we eat, is important for us.   Factory farms, at a very basic level, are no fun for anyone.  the farmer, the animal, the customer -- all are lessened. 

Salatin point #2:  "We have designed a food system that seems to be focused on creating and maintaining pathogens".    a) single crop (corn, pigs, chickens, peas, etc) b) crowded c) immune systems compromised by antibiotic use.  I cannot argue with this point.  Salatin says "When you have to wear a plastic suite and dip your feet in sheep dip to visit a farm, you know you're in trouble"

Salatin point #3:  On the USDA:  "No other government agency has been so effective at destroying its constituency as this one", pointing to the dropping number of farmers "More people are in prison than are farmers" and "Why is it assumed that the best and brightest should be off the farm?  We need more careful stewards of the land.  We need that ingenuity in this industry"

Salatin point #4:  "We spend more on pet veterinary care here in the USA than they spend on human health care in all of Africa"

Finally, Salatin used this example: 

"If we were to describe a happy meal [from mcdonalds] as a '1', and a cook-from-scratch meal from a aunt, who grows her own food and makes her own mayonaise and so on as a '10', would you in the audience generally agree that the '1' should be regulated? "  Audience generally agreed. 
  "Ok, how about the 10?", says Salatin.  At this point a shouting match erupted in the audience, and after the scuffle died down, Salatin said "well...  EVERYWHERE ELSE they think that it shouldn't be.  But in Seattle, which is DIFFERENT, you believe that it should be regulated. 

And that really sums up the weirdness that is Western Washington.  We want farms and farmers, but we also want regulation.  We want regulation of every aspect of our lives, apparently.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Heat wave: 70 degrees

Nice sunny day today, and it melted the pigs.  They were out walking, and they melted like wax figures, right into the ground. 
it's funny that they're all gray when they melt.  All you end up with is the floppy ears and the curly tail. 
This one has somehow avoided the fate of the other pigs, but is sporting a cool racing stripe down its side as it snoozes in the sun. 

(pigs don't have sweat glands, and to stay cool usually put themselves into mud or water.  The layer of mud on them is pig sunscreen -- otherwise they can (and do) get sunburned.  The mud also protects the pigs from insects and if they have ticks or other parasites, if the pig is submerged for a while, the parasites will drown and drop off.  Pigs will choose to sleep in a warm, dry area if the weather is cool, but in the summer will sleep in the mud.  Most of my pigs have a pretty good layer of fat that is an excellent insulator, and anything over about 50 degrees qualifies as a heat wave to the pigs.  )

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Feeder pigs for sale

Got a call from a fellow from Friday Harbor.  He's interested in some feeder pigs, so here's a bunch of pictures of a litter of feeder pigs.  They're between 50 and 60lbs, and run $125 each.  They're bigger than a typical weaner pig, which runs 20-30lbs and this time of year is $100. 
   This size pig is pretty bombproof.  If you're interested in raising your own pork, buying a little larger pig is often a good bargain. 

Bees flying

The second picture shows the empty packages, and the little block of wood in the forground is a queen cage.  The bees freed her last night and I removed the empty cage so that they wouldn't build it into the hive.   I'll police up the packages and so on tommorow.  I leave them near the hives so that straggler bees can fly out. 

The bees were exploring their new home today, huge clouds of them flying in all directions.  The basic housekeeping that bees do is to clean out the hive; you can see bits of old wax and so on that they're extracting, and as the bees work, some of them die, so the bodies of the spent worker bees have to be moved out. 
  Bees usually live about 3 months.  They live longest in winter -- most of the time is spent in the hive, which is safer than foraging.  They'll spend the first few days or weeks of their life caring for the brood, then move to foraging, finally ending their tour as hive guards and mortuary bees, removing other dead bees from the hives.  They've got special hooks on their legs that allow them to grab the dead bee and drag it to the hive entrance, and then fly a short distance, usually a few feet, to dump the body. 
   A scientist found the compound that signals "dead bee" to the hive, and tested it by dabbing it on live, healthy bees, who were immediately hustled outside and dumped, only to return to the hive as the bee version of a zombie.  This went on until the smell wore off, and left a very puzzled bee. 

The majority of what the bees are collecting right now is pollen, a very high protein food that they feed to their young, in preparation for the population boom that is about to happen in each hive.  They'll go from 10,000 bees to around 50,000 bees each over the next 2 months.  That's a busy queen bee.

Bedding hay

These are 80lb bales of first-cut hay from last year.  I use hay both as a feed for various animals and as bedding, and I ran across 170 bales of pretty good looking hay for $3/bale, which in this area, for this size bale, is pretty good.  
So down goes a layer of plastic, then pallets, and then the hay goes on top of it.  I stacked it in the large greenhouse for now, and will consume it as needed for the next 12 months.  It's still got a fair bit of green in it, and no mold, which is good. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hiving the packages of bees

I picked up the new packages of bees yesterday.  Here's the scene at the Mulkiteo lighthouse park parking lot.  I ordered and pre-paid for my packages a month or so ago from Island Apiaries, a local bee keeping company, who collects orders and then drives down to california and gets a trailer load of bees.  In the picture below you can see each package nailed together by strips of wood.  The metal disk is a can of bee food, and the queen is packed in a small block of wood that's had a hold drilled in it, and a cork placed to prevent her escape. 

Unfortunately for me, one of my 13 packages had a hole in it, so by the time that I got to my farm i had probably 500 bees in the cab of my truck.  Made for white-knuckle driving, as I decided to just drive straight through, hoping that I could get to the farm before the whole package filled my truck cab. 
It was cold and rainy, which was good.  When I got to the farm I let the bees cool down a bit and then scooped them up and hived most of them.  
Hiving the bees is relatively simple, although the first time you do it you're fighting against your instict of fleeing from a buzzing hive.  At least I was.    I pull the food can out, extract the queen carrier, replace the cork holding the queen in with a minature marshmellow, and then carefully place her into the hive. 
Then you shake the other 10,000 bees into the hive as if they were wood chips; rapping the package a few times to knock the bees loose, and then shaking them into the hive.  The final thing I do is to use a handful of sugar to drive the bees down into the combs from the top of the hive, and then put the lid on. 

I use dry sugar to do that instead of smoke because the bees are already agitated, and they'll eat the sugar, too, so I both move the bees where I want them and feed them at the same time. 

I'll be actively managing these hives to create more hives later this year.  In the mean time, I'll let them settle into their new homes for 10 days, and then go and check on laying pattern to make sure that the queen is doing her job. 

Managed for honey, each hive will produce all the food they'll need for next year and an additional 60-100lbs of honey for sale. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Piglets for FFA or 4H

I'm selling piglets to the local 4H and FFA kids this time of year. This entry is a bunch of pictures of the litters I have available so that the folks interested in them can see the variety and sizes.   I have 28 piglets, ranging in age from 1 week to 10 weeks.  The 10 week olds are not shown in these pictures; they're about 40lbs. 

I think that Future Farmers of America or 4H are great programs to teach kids the basic skills they'll need for the rest of their life. Following a program and direction, sticking to a goal and a project, and getting closer to their food. So I try as much as I can to support them in their projects.