Saturday, May 29, 2010

Coyote predation

I've been losing chickens to coyotes for the last week or so.  I got up at 3:30 this morning and put myself on top of one of the small barns and waited.  Right about 4:30 I thought I saw movement, but I couldn't be sure.  at 4:45 I saw this coyote jump 7' and grab a white leghorn off her perch in my hay barn.  The grass is pretty tall around there, so I didn't see him again for a while.  I sat patiently, scanning the pasture.  It helps that the bird that he was eating was white.  Pretty soon I saw him trot up to a little knoll in the middle of the pasture,  about 30' from the brushline.   The bird was dead by this point, and he hunkered down to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, lookup up now and then.  When he was done with the chicken, he stood up and gave me the shot I wanted; about 250 yards, broadside.  Single shot, dropped where he stood. 
I waited about an hour or so to see if another one would show up, but nothing did, so I walked out to finish him if he was still alive, and found him dead.  Adult male coyote, young, in pretty good shape.  Good teeth, good pelt, about 35lbs.  But then I found that this chicken wasn't the first one to be killed today.  Usually coyotes eat every bit of meat; there were a few scraps left over because I interrupted him. 

about 15' from where I dropped him there were feathers from another bird that was also eaten this morning.  Either he's going back for seconds or I've got another coyote .

This coyote jumped over my 4' electric fence to get to where the chickens are; i backtracked him through the dew to see exactly where he came onto the property and see if I could find other coyote tracks.  Nothing conclusive.  Guess I'm going to have to go with a higher electric fence as my next non-lethal coyote control. 

He was in the barn when he took the chicken that I saw.  Not shy at all. 

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blog reader award to "Not the previous Jason": He got it.

Jason read my potlatch post and properly applied a little skepticism, in this case to me, and to my motives.  You can find his entire comment in the "replies" section of this post, but I've quoted some of it below. 

"So are you better than these other farm blogs..."

Not at all.  I'm exactly the same as that post that I wrote.  Precisely the same.  I used income I earned off the farm to buy the farm, and if the farm runs at a loss I subsidize it.  The farm wouldn't been here except for my off-the-farm job.   You can see clearly what you are yourself.  I recognize folks doing exactly what I did. 

"...No you must be better than them because you wouldn't stoop to comparing yourself to other farmers in order to stir controversy as if all your readers were dying to know the differences. You would never try to vie for "the most righteous" farm blog. "

Jason, you hit the nail on the head here.  I do compare myself to other bloggers, and the primary difference is that I'll tolerate quite a bit more controversy (create it, even) than they will.  I think that discussion, even passionate discussion, is good.   I'm ok with discussion and will follow it through.  Other folks act like they'd like open discourse, but when it comes down to it, they fold like a house of cards. 

"...that calling them out is an altruistic desire to defend new farmers that might copy their model with disastrous results..."

As a new farmer that tried to emulate one of these bloggers, with disastrous results myself (See my struggles with farrowing losses over the past 3 years), I do call out people who advocate practices that I sincerely believe will cause harm or disaster to new farmers.  My focus is farmer-to-farmer in my blog; not farmer-to-consumer, although many consumers enjoy what I write.   I'd like to see more farmers, and I'd like to see accurate, helpful information on the blogs.  Getting the hypocrits to stop posting fantasy really IS my goal.

Secondary to that point is that when someone claims to be raising pigs on pasture alone (or "90% pasture") and consumers believe it (and they DO believe it, they want badly to believe it) I've got to deal with their education over and over again.  I cannot tell you how many people over the last few years have told me that Joel Salatin doesn't feed his pigs grain (he does) or that he doesn't put his pigs inside buildings (he does) or that his pigs are born on his farm (they aren't) or that his feed is not an industry standard corn/soybean blend (it is).  The trick with Joel is that he's always been clear about exactly what he does, it's the consumers who have made up this fantasy stuff.  Contrast that to other authors.  It harms producers all over the country.  "Why can't you be more like your brother?"

"...Note: Why do I call you out for calling others out? "

Jason, you have my hearty approval to call out anyone you see as hypocritical or as promoting harmful or fictional practices.  Even me.  I have read, understand, and appreciate your comment. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Potlatch & Farm blogs

Potlatch is a ceremony or festival that is performed by the indigenous peoples of the northwest. Most of the ceremonies involve a social gathering and and giving away items of value or elements of wealth. This was used in times past to resolve questions of succession or prestige, and is still in practice today among the tribes.

What strikes most people as odd, and it certainly did the first settlers to encounter this ceremony is that it runs contrary to most of the western thought. There were numerous attempts to outlaw this ceremony, all unsuccessful. Our western process is to accumulate wealth and power, and to keep those items, thereby proving we are both wealthy and powerful. The PNW tribes looked at this differently, and counted prestige by how well they could give away what they had. At times the gift that was given was destroyed on receipt. Sort of conspicuous consumption -- but unlike the western ideal where the consumer benefits, the giver got the benefit, in the form of social standing and prestige.

I started thinking about this while I was having a discussion with another blog author. He's defending a blog author that I've criticized for promoting practices he doesn't seem to follow himself. Here's the relevant quote:

"...has been farming successfully for years and sharing his experiences via blog since 2005. Like us, his only apparent motive was to share so that others could learn from his experiences. I've found him to be very helpful, positive, responsive and constructive at all times. "

"His only apparent motive was to share so that others could learn." Potlatch, web-style. Sharing items of value to increase social standing and prestige. Like the indigenous custom, there is no direct monetary advantage, but there is definitely a social one.

Some of the blog authors (myself included) teach classes in various things; you can find them on their representative blogs, and this is just another form of the same thing, but in most cases the classes are offered for a fee -- sometimes a substantial fee. I was bemused to run across a class that offered to show you farm chores being done with a couple of hours of discussion each day about various topics, for $1,000 or so. Good work if you can get it. (I'm saying this as someone who spent 7 years teaching professionally; I know the teaching gig inside and out; I appreciate this particular blogs marketing savvy. I gotta get people to pay me a thousand bucks to do my chores and talk to them. )

What's oddest about this is that the most vocal farm-blog potlatch people are those who have made their wealth through something other than farming, and have entered farming as their second (or third, or fourth) career. They even talk about how happy they are to eschew their previous life and identify themselves as farmers. I'm not going to post a link here, but I've got two posts on two different blogs in mind when I write this. Somehow the potlatch removes the stain of the dirty money; it glosses over the fact that to run one of these small farms it sometimes takes substantial capital. Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

You're a more legitimate farm blog if you publicly deny any benefit from the farm blog. But I can't think of a single farm that doesn't benefit from the advertising or increased prices. One pig farmer who blogs proudly states that he gets $200 for mixed-breed piglets, where his local craigslist lists them from a variety of producers for $90. How to explain the 100+% markup except for the blog? Social status has its rewards.

And heaven help you if you criticize one of these guys; it's like you're questioning the infallibility of the pope, no matter how ridiculous their statements are. Eccentricity is tolerated, widely tolerated. Social status at work, again.

Some of the blogs out there are contemplative; a diary of the daily events, but I'm seeing more and more of these potlatch blogs, each one vying for "the greenest" or "the most righteous" or "the most anti-factory-farming". They'll even criticize other blogs or small farm practices in a circumspect sort of way. "Are troughs inhumane? Forcing an animal to drink out of a container might harm them!!" Heck, you'll find entries on these blogs contrasting "our" farm (and blog) with other farms and blogs; the assumption being that we're all dying to know the differences between the two.

To me it sounds a lot like Lutherans trying to explain why (how) they're different than Methodists to an audience of Buddhists. Not many people care, but the general topic shows up over and over again on various blogs. It's self-absorbed and a bit odd to me, but I must admit its entertaining. Maybe not in the way that the author intended.

So if this sounds like your blog, well, don't take it personally.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Automatic water for pigs or sheep (part 2)

These pictures show a nose-activated waterer that's an alternative to nipple based systems.  I like this style because it allows piglets to drink, and seems to be more liked than the nipple based systems I talked about yesterday. 
As the animal drinks the water in the cast-iron dish, it depresses the nose valve and water squirts in.  I mount these low on the posts, maybe 8" up from ground level, so that weaners can drink from them as well. 

This is the style of waterer found in the farrowing crates, and any sow or weaner that's been in the crate knows how to use it. 

The complete waterer assembly sells for about $35, the swivel fitting from 3/4" pipe thread to 3/4" hose is about $7, and the lag bolts to attach it to the post are about $2, giving a total cost of $45-50 per setup. 

I've shown the hose going direct to the back of the unit, inside the post.  If I were going to install this again, I'd put a nipple in to extend the rigid pipe out the back of the post.  I'd do that becuase the hose is the part of this setup that gets messed up the most, and with the hose fitting inside the post I have to into the pen and remove the unit to replace the hose.  If I extended it to replace the hose I'd just unscrew it from the outside of the pen and replace it. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Automatic water for pigs or sheep (part 1)

The automatic water setup I picture here costs about $40 to setup, including the price of all parts and the supply hose. 
I'm a pretty big fan of automatic waterers, and install them whenever I can.  They do a better job of providing clean, fresh drinking water to the animals, and carrying water to thirsty critters is a big chore. 
The picture above is a sow drinking out of an automatic waterer installed in a wood fence post on the edge of their pasture.  To put it in I drilled a hole in the post and then inserted it through, securing it with plumbers tape on the outside of the post. 
Here's a closeup of the valve.  The pigs get water by chewing or licking the valve.  They get pretty good at it pretty quickly, using their tongues to trip the valve for a squirt of water, and then swallowing and repeating. 
To teach a pig how to use this I just wedge a little wood chip into the valve so that it leaks a little water, and they'll come and lick it, knocking the wood chip out eventually.  If they're thirsty, they'll keep at it until they figure it out, and then that pig will teach all the other pigs by example. 
The "hood" on the valve prevents the animals from knocking the valve out by contact.  Pigs get pretty big, and when a 400lb animal casually pushes, you want there to be some resistance.  The unhooded valves can be used for sheep or goats. 

The valve is to the right, then a 1/2" galvanize pipe coupling, and then a galvanized "nipple" -- the term for a short length of pipe.  The length of the pipe you attach it to depends on how big  your posts are.  I use a 12" nipple so that I have plenty of room.  I drill a 1.5" hole to push this through the post. 
I put a 90 degree elbow and another 12" nipple on it to prevent the animals from pulling the assembly through the post.  Pigs love hoses and if they can get to them they'll tear them apart in glee. 

I assemble this using a pipe wrench and a crescent wrench.  I'll wrap the threads of the mouthpiece with teflon tape to prevent leaks, but I won't wrap the threads of the galvanized; it doesn't seem to leak for me, so i skip that step with the pipe itself. 
For the supply hose I've found that the cheapest way to do this is to buy a good quality garden hose and either use it whole, or cut it into lengths and use the hose repair kits to put new ends on it.  Good quality hose because if you do this correctly, it's going to spend years out in the sun and weather and I'd rather my setup not leak. 

I haven't shown a picture of the fitting that goes from 1/2" galvanized pipe to 3/4" hose thread, but you'll find them in any large hardware store.  When I do this sort of project I lay it out on the floor at the store and make sure I've got all the parts.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rotational grazing, pig style

I've been getting good use out of my pasture this year by using a couple of different animals. The first rotation is the cows; they'll eat the top of the grass, down to about 10" or so. After that the sheep go in, and they'll graze it very short. Once the sheep have grazed it down, the pigs go in. The pigs prefer the newest, most tender growth, and while they enjoy the grass (and the grass roots from time to time) they really don't eat it as fast as it grows. After a month or so, I'll move the pigs on to give the grass a complete rest.
Here's what the grass looks like after the cows have grazed. 

 Here's what it looks like when the pigs start their grazing.  

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This little pig goes to market

The weaner pig market has been crazy busy the last few days.  I'm not sure what's going on, but the demand is very high and prices are good.  People are asking prices as high as $125 for barrows, which I think is a tad high.  I've been selling them at $90 and feel that's a fair price for around here. 

I've told myself for the last three years that if I just had enough pig production that I'd make it to the farmers market to sell cuts of pork and other farm products, but every year I've managed to sell everything I produce right at the farm gate, which has been good for me.   Farmers markets are a good way to expand your market, but for me they take a good two workdays and I'd actually rather be at the farm doing stuff there than sitting at a booth; no offense to folks who do that.  It's not really economic to pay someone to man the booth at this point, but maybe next year (says he; the third time i've said that)

this last year I bulked up to 4 boars and 40 sows, producing approximately 800 weaners a year, and so far I've sold all of the spring pigs and have a waiting list, I've sold approximately 300 weaners.   At this rate I'm going to have to decline sales so that I have some finished pigs to sell this fall. 

I've also been supplying local feed stores with weaner pigs at a discount, to see how that market is.  It's a bit different; I drop off 10 or 20 weaners, and then come back in a week and see how many sold; they pay me for the ones that sold, and I drop off more.  This is an experiment, and I'm not sure how it'll go, but it's a reasonable bet that the fellow running the store will be around, and most of the deals I've done are on a handshake, so I'll take the risk.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chicken experiment #1 conclusion

Question from Email:
"...Hi Bruce.

Was interested to read about your experiment raising Barred Rocks (and others) compared to Cornish Cross.
Saw the posts up to day 28.

Are there any other related posts?

There wasn't, but I should write a final, so here it is:

I raise batches of heritage roosters each year; buying the male chicks from the hatcheries and raising them free-range on my farm. There's a ready market for them, and the people who buy them really appreciate them.

But the problem I've had is pricing for the birds, and I was curious about how the cost of raising heritage roosters compared to the cost of raising cornish cross (the most common meat chicken in America today -- both on small and large farms)

So I proposed a chicken experiment #1 and wrote about the methodology (what i was going to do) and then followed that up with weekly writeups of the chickens progress, every seven days. Day 14, day 21, day 28, and for each of those days I took pictures of the birds and recorded their weights.

In doing this experiment, I had several problems. First was that there was a miscommunication about the feed; and the feed weights presented to the chickens aren't accurate enough. Yes, I know how much feed all of the chickens ate, but I was forced to use educated guesses (volume measurements) about the amount consumed. I fixed this in day 21 and 28, but by then didn't have an accurate measurement.

The second is that the experiment chickens were only being fed once per day, and the feeder capacity wasn't big enough. So the non-experiment chickens from the same batch grew at a faster rate than did the experiment chickens, which didn't show up until day 35, but by that time the non-experiment chickens were an average of 25% heavier. The non-experiment chickens were fed via a high capacity feeder and had feed available at all times, the experiment chickens had feed for 2-3 hours a day.

The third is that the experiment chickens, finding that their feeder was empty, could get out of their brooders and raid the food of other, more timid chickens, which further retarded the growth of various groups of chickens. So I'm going to have to say that overall the experiment didn't accurately reflect the growth of chickens vs my normal brooding/raising practices, and so for me wasn't worth continuing.

I'm going to do this again, with several changes to fix the problems:
1) All feed presented to the chickens will be weighed accurately as it is fed.
2) the feeders will be big enough so that the chickens have access to feed at all appropriate times
3) each group of chickens will be securely penned so that they cannot raid other chickens feeds, so that I can accurately describe the growth of specific breeds without interference.
4) I will be raising two groups of birds, one on pasture, and the other penned, to look at how being pastured effects the feed consumption. My inclination is to say it lowers the feed bill, but by how much?

My subjective impression is that you can raise a pound of cornish cross for about half the feed cost of a pound of heritage rooster. Put another way, you'll have twice the feed bill if you go with heritage roosters vs cornish cross.
There are people who will pay twice the price per pound for heritage birds, at least in my area. They are mostly recent immigrants to the USA, and are used to picking their chickens out live, and want the bird to taste and have the texture of the birds they remember. A cornish cross, even when offered at 50% of the price of a heritage bird, is typically declined in favor of the heritage bird. So the doubled feed cost, in terms of profit-per-bird, is about the same.
Cornish cross are the fastest bird to market. You can produce more groups of cornish cross per year than any other bird, which lowers your capital costs per bird produced.

farm certification organizations

I'm interested in people who have had their farms certified by third-party organizations or by state or federal agencies.  If you know of someone who's done this, or you've done this yourself, please send me an email at

I'd like to write an entry about these organizations, and I'm looking for folks who have done this to ask questions about their experience.  I'll keep your input confidential if you're concerned about it. 

For the general reader:   There are many organizations that offer to "certify" your farm; as organic, or naturally raised, or for the welfare of animals, or whatever.   Some of them are fee-based -- the farmer pays the organization, and in return gets to say that they're certified by them.

The basic idea behind them is that having a third-party organization say that you've met their standards makes your farm more credible to consumers.   Right now I'm contacted about once a week by one of these organizations.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mixing chickens and turkeys in the barnyard

I got this question in email from Mary:

"...I am suddenly in possession of 26 Cornish x AND 5 Naraganset chicks. I think I remember reading that you have raised chicken and turkey chicks together. Have you or did I dream this? Can I feed everyone turkey starter? It will be well nigh impossible for me to raise them separately for several weeks. Thanks for any advice you can offer - Mary "

There are quite a few warnings on the internet about mixing chickens and turkeys; most state that there's a contagion problem -- that diseases that chickens can carry without being harmed are fatal to turkeys, the most common example being "blackhead disease".

This is a concern, but for me it hasn't ever been a problem. I've mixed turkeys and chickens on a free-range system for years. It might be that I'm lucky, or that I run a closed flock, but either way, for me, I'm going to say that I don't worry about it.

There are two places that I've had trouble mixing chickens and turkeys; one is in the brooding phase, when I've got the birds under heat lamps. Chickens are much more oriented sooner than turkeys, and will pick on the turkeys when they're a few days old, and sometimes wound or kill them. Watch for feather picking and wounds, particularly on the turkey wings. Once the chickens start pecking the turkeys you must separate them.

Later, when they're older, the turkeys are a lot bigger and more aggressive than the chickens. This means that they'll attack the chickens to drive them away from feeders or waterers and will pick fights with the roosters (and mostly win those, too. A turkey hen is more than a match for a rooster, and a turkey tom is even bigger)

So what I have to watch for is that the chickens and turkeys both have an area where they can hang out and that they have enough space that they can spread out and not be in each others vision all the time.

In a small coop a pallet set up vertically provides a visual barrier so that the offending birds can get out of sight of the aggressor birds. Chickens and turkeys operate literally on "out of sight, out of mind".

Nutritionally the turkeys REQUIRE a higher protein feed (20-30% protein) than the chickens do. Most chick starter feeds meet this requirement. But what a lot of people do is to put the turkeys on a layer ration at 6 weeks, as they would their chickens. At 6 weeks a chicken is about half grown. A heritage turkey, is about 10% into its growth. I've found to get a good weight bird by end of season that I have to feed a higher protein feed for 2 to 3 months. After that I can switch to a lower protein mix -- game bird grower, for instance. Feeding higher protein rations to chickens for longer doesn't harm the chickens.

What I just said in the paragraph above is for heritage turkeys. Broad breasted turkeys grow faster than heritage birds, and the main problem that people have with giving them all the feed that they want is huge turkeys. a 50lb turkey won't fit in your oven. I solve this by buying my broad-breasted turkeys late in the season -- may or june, and aiming for a 16-20lb bird by thanksgiving. A heritage bird tops out at 16, with an average being 10-11lbs.

Hope that answers your questions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A little spring cleaning

I spent the day today working with my brother bryan, cleaning up the pigs sacrifice paddock for planting.  It's warm enough that it's time to plant.  I've been storing some logs in that same area, so the first step in this process is to move the logs to a different location.  I'll be cranking up the sawmill this summer and cutting the logs into timbers, so I'm moving them to where I'll be doing that. 

These are windfall logs, literally.  After a big windstorm I'll go around in neighborhoods where they've built houses in the last few years by mowing down the trees.  When they do that, the trees on the edge of the clearing are pretty likely to blow over, and these telephone-pole and larger trees make great, free saw logs. 

Even better when they pay me to remove them from their yards, or off their roof. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Paul Johnson / Soy and Corn free chickens & pigs

I'm really enjoying the interest people have in local food, and what I really enjoy is that your choice in what you eat is expanding. Part of this expansion of your choices is Paul Johnson, who runs Pastured Sensations, located in Snohomish, WA.
My operation and Pauls are both based on animals on pasture. He's taken a further step to formulate and produce his own feed, choosing to make it soy and corn free. Most of the commonly available feed is mostly corn and soy, and there are groups of people who are concerned about it, and Paul is filling that niche nicely.
The primary ingredients to his feed are field peas, wheat, triticale, fish meal and trace elements, and I'm pretty interested in what he's doing, not so much because i'm concerned about soy, but because it's something I'm considering doing for my own farm. Feed costs are the biggest single expense at this point for me, and I'm figuring that I'm paying 30-40% more than the raw ingredient costs now. So he's doing it to get the specialized feed he wants, I'd do this same sort of thing to allow me to buy wholesale and save some money. His feed components are more expensive than mine; I'd probably go for a more conventional mix, but grinding/mixing your own feed gives you the opportunity to control what your animals are fed, and that's a good thing, in my book.   You also have the opportunity to source more local ingredients.  When you buy from a mill you have no idea where it's coming from.

For his poultry he uses schedule 40 plastic pipe, bent on a jig that you can see here on the sawhorses. He'll take this basic frame, put some chicken wire on it, and a tarp or two, and have lightweight, easily moveable pens that he uses to pasture his chickens.
here four of those pens are out on grass. Each pen contains 30-60 chickens, and the pens are moved periodically so that the chickens get fresh grass. These pens are also visible from the highway, and I suspect that the advertising value is pretty good. You don't have to ask if his chickens are on grass. You see them every day. As someone whose entire farm is also visible from the highway, I admire a fellow spirit who practices completely transparent farming.

Paul makes extensive use of fairly lightweight materials. This is one of his microbarns; a brood house for his chickens and turkeys. The door is about 6' tall. They're attractive, small buildings. He builds them as he needs them, and they're light enough that you could probably move them around without too much trouble. Nice idea.
Inside each one are brooders, each containing a feeder, a light, and a waterer. The side towards the center slides off for eash cleaning. Here a batch of meat chickens are brooding until they're old enough to go out on pasture.
Here's a batch in another brooder that are ready to go out on pasture; probably 3 weeks old. These brooder boxes are built on legs -- so that the chickens are at a height that's easy to reach them while you're standing, and that just makes life so much easier. There's storage underneath them on either side.
There are small touches throughout these that really show an attention to detail, and a thriftyness that I really like. First, notice that the corners are braced, right in the center of the picture, and second, notice that the feeder is a black plastic planting pot, with a pot bottom from a larger pot below it. there's a block of wood between the two. So when you fill the pot with feed, it runs out the holes that normally provide drainage for the plant. The dish below catches it, and the whole thing costs maybe $2. Nice.
So how did I get to know Paul? He's starting to do pigs, so I've been lending a hand as he works through the pig husbandry stuff. He's doing great. Here's his pigs out on pasture. I really enjoy seeing animals that are clearly having a good time. Note the electric fence. You don't need much once the pigs are conditioned to it.
Here's a wider view. This is one of the reasons that I love the flood plain land around snohomish so much. Lush, green... lovely farmland. It really is pretty country.
In the interest of disclosure, I've done some business with Paul, bought and sold some stuff, but there's no agreement with him about what I wrote here; it's strictly my opinion. I enjoy having his energy and interest in diversifying what people can buy and eat.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Good day on the farm

My herd of pigs is pretty varied in age.  It gives me a chance to watch how the herd dynamics work, and it's pretty interesting every day.   This picture is a bunch of my piglets, running around with their mom, who forms the left side of this picture.  They don't know why they're running this way -- at this point they're following mom, and quite a bit of the herd knowledge starts out this way.  "We are running this way because mom is walking this way".  Later they'll figure out what mom has figured out -- that the food comes over here, and at a particular time, and that somehow it's associated with me.  These guys are 3 weeks old, and by the time they're 8 weeks they'll have it down to a science.  They'll know that when I walk over and look at them in the morning that it's not worth even opening their eyes.  Sleeping in is important.  Later in the day, they'll open their eyes and look carefully at my hands.  Am I carrying a bucket/do i have something in my hands?  That's worth coming over to look.  Sometimes thats strawberries that are past their prime for a human, but a delicious treat for a piglet!

  Around 4pm, when I appear, it's worth running down and standing in a line and squealing because that's when the food comes.

And in the middle, and between, there's always something to do for a piglet.  A chicken to chase, (the chickens don't let the piglets catch them, but they try) or grass to eat, or maybe a snooze to be had in the dry hay in the warmth of the dome.
Or maybe, if we've been really really good piglets and we ask mom really nicely, she'll roll over for us. 
This is a good day at the farm.  This is why I do it. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Do baby pigs require milk? Reader question

I got this question as a comment in a previous posting, and it's a good question, worth talking about. 


I have a question for you- when someone buys a 6-8 wk old weaner pig, is it advisable to feed it milk replacer? That is what we did when I was a kid but I noticed milk replacer where I live is $120 for 50lbs. I can get sweet whey for $61 for 55 lbs, so was wondering if that would work instead. What do you think? Any advice is appreciated. Thanks. "

A pig can eat everything that we can, and a lot of things that we can't.  The range of food you can give a pig and have it thrive is pretty amazing. 

Milk or whey, or dairy products in general, are a commonly used food for pigs; both industrial and home-grown, and they'll put weight on a pig pretty quickly.  What happens when you give a pig more calories than it can use in growth is that it goes into fat on the pig.  So in the industrial pig farms they carefully measure out the food to the pig, calculating how much they can give it to maximize growth but minimize fat, as the modern ideal for pigs is a very, very lean pig. 

So fresh milk, or powered, or whey (a by-product of cheesemaking) are fine to feed to your pig.  Should you feed it to a young pig boils down to how the young pig was raised. 

The industry deals with "EW" pigs -- early weaned.  These are pigs that are very small; 10-12lbs, and they're weaned at 3-4 weeks of age.  This is done to allow the producer to get 3 litters of pigs per year out of the sow vs. 2 for a more traditional scheme.  The early weaned pigs typically require more calorie support than do the older weaned piglets, and that can mean some sort of dairy supplement is called for. 

I usually sell my weaners at 6-7 weeks of age.  At that age they are well-established on solid food and drinking water and are ready to go.   my pigs start showing interest in solid food around 2 weeks old, and gradually increase their intake until at 5 weeks most of their calories are solid food.  That's when I'll physically seperate the pigs from the sow the week before they go to market.  I'll watch them to make sure that their stool is solid and that they continue to thrive, and then off to market they go.  If they do not do well, and this happens with some of the smaller pigs -- the runts and pigs that have had some sort of challenge during their life; stuff like mom stepped on them and bruised them -- and if they're not doing well I'll put them back on the sow for another week or so. 

If I were to take a pig directly off the sow and that pig hadn't had much experience with solid food, the transition from sow milk to solid food can be rough on the little guy, and in that case I would feed some sort of dairy and gradually reduce it, to help the pig transition.   For the pigs I sell I've already done that transition; when they leave my farm they're all set, but not every farm has the same husbandry. 

Hope that answers your question, and thanks for asking it!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sandwhich shop shame

I pick up spent grain from a local microbrewery, and was there one day and noticed that a high-end sandwhich shop was opening next door.  They specialize in bread that they bake there, and anyone who bakes bread will always have surplus or stale bread -- which I like as pick treats, or to feed to the poultry.  Since I was there every week to pick up the spent grain, I contacted the manager and asked if I could pick up any excess bread. 

"Well, we donate our bread to charities, and you'll have to fill out an application". 
An application?  For what? 
"To recieve our bread.  We have everyone who picks up bread fill out an application and the best recipients get our bread". 
huh.  well, that's ok.  But I'm going to feed it to pigs and chickens and turkeys.
"It doesn't seem like a good fit"
huh.  I've been rejected by a sandwhich shop.  Go figure.  Ok. 

So I'm picking up spent grain one day, and saw an employee of this shop throwing out bread.  lots of bread.    So I waited until they went away, and retrieved it.  150 gallons of bread.

Now while I understand the public relations value of giving away food to the needy, I cannot understand why they toss it into the dumpster to maintain the illusion.  Waste not, want not. 

I went in after grabbing the bread, and talked to the manager again, and she explained that the group that was supposed to pick it up didn't.  I offered to take any bread that they were going to toss, and I'd supply containers for it.  Just toss it into my containers instead of into the dumpster. 

They're thinking about it. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

adventures with cows (continued)

When loose livestock is found in snohomish county they're hauled to the everson livestock auction.  As I wrote yesterday , getting them back is basically an entire workday, but I wanted them back so off I went. 

The day I retrieved them emerson was having a livestock auction, and since i was there, with a trailer and had some room, I sat in on it.  The portion of the auction that I got there was the "cull" portion.  What was being auctioned were mostly older dairy cows, probably going for hamburger.  It's part of the dairy industry, and most fast-food burgers have a major dairy cow component.  The picture shows a typical cow.  they're led through one at a time, sometimes in pairs, and bid on. 

If you click on the picture for a larger version, you can see the price board -- the information on it is not for this cow, it's for the LAST cow.  Once the cow is bid on, it moves through a door on the left, is weighed, and the totals are displayed on the board.  What's showing right now is that the last cow auctioned weighed 1370lbs, was sold for 64.75 cents a pound, and that the total sale price for that last cow was $887 (1370 * .6475). 

Every now and then a cow doesn't cooperate, and this one just stood there.  She didn't want to move, and they auctioned other cows around her for a while, and then decided to try to move her.  She was a big cow, maybe 1700, and they pushed and pulled and swore at her and finally got her sort of into the door
and with a final push, she was in. 

The mostly-black cow, above, is the cow that I purchased while I was at the auction.  Here she's in the pasture next to the corral.  I think that she's an angus-holstein cross.  I believe angus because of the color and shape of the head and body; holstein because of the white.  She's in pretty good condition.  I spent $0.6425/lb for her 1100lbs, for a total of $706 for this cow.   On the right is my holstein heifer.  The new cow has a flatter back, smaller head and weighs more, probably 200lbs more.   The black-and-white cow is my little holstein heifer that I'm raising as a family milk cow. 

When you purchase livestock at auction you really don't know much about how it was raised, what it was fed, or how it behaves.  This cow seemed in good shape, and has a dual purpose for me.  1) when I process my steers this fall my holstein will have a buddy, as cows do better with other cows, and if for some reason she doesn't work out, she'll be good eating.  

Since I have no idea what she's been being fed, I'm going to watch her and make sure that she can handle grass.  There's plenty of it to eat (I've got 4 cows on 10 acres) but if she's been being fed a prepared feed her rumen may  not be up to it yet.  

I'm lucky that there is a spring about 15' above the level of my pasture, so I was able to run a hose up the hill and get a good trickle out of it.  I  use that trickle to fill this 300 gallon trough for the cows.  By doing that I can fence the cows off the stream, to preserve the stream bank and water quality.  I'm not anti-salmon, after all.  I'm just anti huge regulatory burdens.

Adventures with my cows

 put my cows out on the 10 acre parcel that I purchased a couple of years ago.  I had it surveyed to determine where the property lines are, and then build a corral (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5), fenced it, 4 strand barbed wire and put in some gates.  Made it ready to run cattle on. 

This is what it looks like now, complete with cows.   These are my $5 calves, all grown up.  They're 20 months old now, and I'll probably slaughter them this fall, after they've fed on the lush grass all summer.  They weigh about 1100lbs each. 
There's 4 strand barbed wire along 3 sides of this parcel, but on the 4th side i used field fence.  The property adjoins on county park land, and I wanted to keep my livestock out of the way of the dogs that are regularly walked along this edge.  The problem is that field fence really doesn't deter a cow at all.  These big holstein steers stretch their necks over the wire and using their throat push the wire right down the T-post.  The fence clips eventually slide down, and then the cow just steps over the fence. 

I didn't know that before, but I sure do now.  Here's the story: 

I checked the cows at 10am, and they were all good, happily eating their grass.  This was their third day out there, and they looked fine.  Apparently, about 4pm, they did this to the fence, climbed out, and then spent the day grazing outside the fence.  When they got tired of that they wandered up the driveway and into a housing subdivision down the street.  Apparently they had a good time eating peoples shrubs and flowers and generally making a nuisance of themselves, so much so that the sheriff was called, and a livestock hauler, and they got hauled off to the place that snohomish county has contracted to take "rescue" animals.  Everson Auction Market, in located in Everson, WA.   Very close to the canadian border. 

So when I went to check on them the next day, all i found for 3  hours of searching were cow tracks.  When I purchased the property I introduced myself to the folks who owned the houses on either side of the driveway, gave them my card, and asked that they call me if they had any questions. 

I finally went and asked one fellow if he'd seen anything, and he said he had, that someone walking the park had used his phone to call the police.  So I called the police too, and they said that the animals had been transported at 7pm the night before. 

Everson, Wa.  is 80 miles north of my farm.  It's an hour and 45 minutes if the traffic is good, and now I've got to go get my stock trailer and spend basically a whole day to get my darned cows back.  And pay $250 to the company that took them there.

I'll write that up tommorow.  It had an unexpected benefit.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thanksgiving, 2010

Hatched 60 turkey poults today -- thought I'd give you guys a preview of thanksgiving dinner.  Couple of blue slates, some narragansett, couple of wild turkeys.  Good assortment.  All from my breeding flock.