Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cow math

90lbs of hay = 2.5 cow days
18 cows =  540 cow days per month
= 216 bales a month

6 months of no forage (have to keep the cows off the wet grass so their hooves don't cut up the sod) = 1296 bales, or 58 tons of hay.

figure 3,000 lbs/acre for hay.  38.6 acres of grass to produce 58 tons of hay

Figure 40lbs of corn silage per cow per day = 1200lbs /month
for 20 cows = 24,000lbs/month or 12 tons/month
20 cows for six months = 72 tons of silage
roughly 20 tons of silage per acre of corn
4 acres or corn is the maintenance diet of the cows.

hmmm.. but don't want to run out of food.  Figure 10% for spoilage, and maybe another 20% to have some extra.  Can always sell hay to the horse people....

so I'm using roughly 50 acres to support my 20 cows.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rescued animals

This is pumpkin
I do love animals; that's one of the reasons I run a farm.  And I do try my best to rescue as many animals as I can, mostly from the local shelter.

For reasons I've never been clear on, black cats get the short end of the stick in the shelter.  People just don't pick them.  Even black kittens are a hard sell, and so when I have an opening for a barn cat I actually select the black cats first, which is how I got this handsome fellow, Pumpkin.  (who I also called orange, because he had an orange collar when I first got him)

This cat is quite the character.  He's pretty clearly the smartest of the bunch, and he's working on how to figure out door knobs right now.  I'm watching him walk up to a door, stand on his hind legs and try to turn the knob.  His paws don't really work very well for that, and he's been trying for a few days know, and if I had levers on my doors I'm sure he'd be opening them at his whim.

this cat is big on doors.  He loves to go into the bathroom vanity, i've been woken on several nights to the banging of the doors in the bathroom.  I'll flip on the light and he'll be sitting there.  "I'm not doing anything"...  right, pumpkin.

He's a lot friendlier than some of the cats, but they do have their place.  On my farm the cats patrol the crawl space under the house, and the area around the chicken run and the front yard. They are also very good at getting into the cracks and crevices in the tool storage sheds and keep those vermin-free.  They're the terror of the local shrew community, and the local crows and ravens hate them, too.

After a couple of close brushes with a big owl they tend to stay under something when they're out, but I fear that I'll lose one to a hawk or eagle one of these days.

To keep the local birds from getting decimated I do put bells on the collars; it doesn't seem to affect their rodent catches, but the birds know what that jingle means.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

slow down and play with the puppies!

 I forget sometimes how much fun puppies are.  and then you have a litter and they are just the cutest things.  
 All puppy growls and bright eyes and energy.

 And they're so funny when they're tired.  One minute they're wrestling and then over they go.  Out like a light.

Love puppies.  Sorry to see them go, but it's really fun to spread the joy that way, too.  Selling pups is a happy time.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Porcine beauty

I'm to the point now where I produce most of my own breeding stock, selecting the pigs from the litters we produce.  I select based on the characteristics of the piglet, and on the features of the parents, and I've got 4 generations of data to work with.

In this case, the largest red piglet is the breeding stock choice, and its a good example of what I'm looking at when I look at potential breeding stock.  I want to see a wide stance in the front legs, I want to see a good set of shoulders (and you can really see hers here) and I want to se a well formed, symmetrical body and a good arch to the back.

If everything is good so far, I'll look under the pig; I want 16 nipples on the pig ( they range in number from 12 to 18, but I want at least 16) and  I want them to be well-formed without any defect at all.

If your'e going to breed, you don't want to breed problems.  So many farmers end up breeding the pigs that they don't sell, mostly because of defects, and I've had that same problem myself.   After a few years, the discipline pays off, and you start to see really noticeable improvements in your lines.  It's a nice feeling to have a herd that is what you prefer, in all respects.  Worth working towards.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

The dogs

From left:  Pretty, momma, zena, boy, kat and at right, Red.  
These are my livestock protection dogs... well, sort of.  I often wonder what people really mean when they say that.  For some folks it means a dog that basically lives with the livestock that they are guarding, and that they offer minimal support to.  For others it means that the dogs have a duty to guard, but also have other duties, like herding.  Still others basically call their pet dog a guardian dog, and I wonder if they have any contact with livestock at all.

This is my pack; and there's a litter of puppies right now as well, so we're up to 12 dogs.  I'm really not feeding them right now; between the rats and other small critters that they kill, trimmings from slaughter and birthing losses of piglets, they're all pretty well fed.  I do have a sack of dog food, which I offer them free-choice, but they don't eat it.

Given the choice, these dogs will eat the raw meat and prey that they catch in preference to anything else, and it really shows in their coats and overall robust health.  They run everywhere; and every day they make a circuit around the perimeter fence, a roughly 2.5 mile round trip, and inspect every tree and bush and rock along the way.

They're big terriers, and as with any terrier they have a strong prey drive.  This means that I'll find them digging furiously after something or running down the unwary rat.  When they do catch something it's very quick -- much less than 1 second.  Snap-shake-dead.

They are big-game dogs, and they do well around the pigs.  I keep a pack of them because I don't have to worry too much about a single dog being lured out by a coyote.  They're more than a match for a coyote on an individual basis, and on a pack basis, too.  The same as true for other small to medium predators, which suits me just fine.  for the carnivores, the sound and smell of the pack keeps them outside my fenceline, and that is good for everyone.

I really love airedales.  Super loyal, tough, gritty, determined.  Perfect farm dog.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

So you want to be a farmer... august edition

For a contrast, here's the winter version of this post.

Caring for pregnant pigs

A reader named Dan asked me a question about sows, and I think it's worth talking about:

"Bruce do you ever have two sows farrow together in the same shed? We have met some people locally who say that they do but when we have tried it we ended up with a lot of squashed babies..." 

I've honestly tried just about every different style of farrowing housing.  All the way from individual pens to group housing, farrowing crates to pasture.  I've tried domes, huts, straw bale structures and sheds.  

After 8 years of experience, here's what I've found:  

Sows naturally want to be separate from the herd when they give birth.  If they are allowed the space, they will separate themselves from the herd a day or two before giving birth, and stay away from the herd for 3 or 4 days after birth, returning only to eat if they can't find enough to eat where they chose to give birth.  

So I don't feel bad about separating a sow that is near giving birth --  that's what they do naturally.  

Once separated, I'll do one of three things; depending on the sow and the time of year, and where the herd is housed.  
Sows napping together in the shade of the barn.  It's 90 degrees today.   

A little background:  

We run our boars with our sows in group housing.  all of the pigs are fed in one area, and all of them have several areas they can choose to be in; an area with mud, one with dry bedding, one with shade, one with sun.  If they're in a barn, that's pretty easy.  On pasture we use portable shelters and feeders and waterers to give them the same choices.  The pigs choose how they spend their day.  Most of them like being physically close to the other pigs, so you'll often find a raft of pigs sleeping shoulder to shoulder.  
The piglets are napping also, but off in another area of the barn.  They sleep apart from the sows mostly. 

We check the pigs twice or more a day, and watch for sows that are going to give birth.  When we see one, we look at our experience with that sow and move her out of group housing into birthing quarters.  That could be a section of a field that is fenced off from the other pigs, a mobile shelter that is also fenced off, or a different barn or pen.   This varies based on summer, winter, spring, etc.  

Some of the sows aren't very good with piglets; and this usually is because they feel the need to stand up and "defend" their piglets from other pigs.  These sows we take note of and either put into private stalls that are visually blocked from other pigs, or into a farrowing crate, depending on the particular sow.  
A sow in a farrowing crate.  We do this to save the pigs when the sow isn't a good mother.  

Private stalls and farrowing crates are higher-maintenance than group housing.  We separate the pigs because we get a higher survival of piglets to weaning, not because it's easier.   

After the sow gives birth, we'll keep her separate from the herd for 2-3 weeks, allowing her piglets to get big enough to recognize (and dodge!) mom and then we'll move the sow into group housing for nursing sows.  
Sow and piglets in individual housing; she's about ready to go to group

The risk here is that larger pigs in the same group housing will steal the milk from the other sows, and basically stunt the growth of the smaller litter.  In extreme cases the smaller pigs will get no milk and die.  We don't mix pigs that are more than 7 days apart at this early stage.  '
a group of piglets of different sizes from group housed sows.   
So to recap:  

  We separate sows who are going to give birth to individua housing
  We keep them separate for 2 to 3 weeks, giving the piglets exclusive access to their mother
     Separate can mean an individual stall, a farrowing crate, or a shed or stall.  
  We move the mother into group housing after that, and wean the piglets at 6 to 7 weeks of age.  
  The sow is rebred when she moves into group housing by the boars housed with those sows.  



Sunday, August 3, 2014

All hays are the same, right? Nope

What's inside?
 Jeff commented yesterday on hay prices in this area:
. "Washington alfalfa hay does go for $18-20 bale around here, but those are usually 125 lb bales or so. My old landlord bought them and I know how heavy they are! A guy near you is selling E. Washington alfalfa for $330/ton delivered in 125 lb bales. You can get cheaper if you want to buy round or big squares. "

Jeff is making the assumption that basically all hay is the same, and that the primary, maybe only, criteria for hay is the price per ton.  In the example he gives, the $330 a ton hay, there's a number of people who own semi-trucks or gooseneck trailers, and they get an order for hay, and go over to eastern washington, a couple of hundred miles away, pick it up, and then deliver it.  Some of them stack as part of the deal, some don't.  Some will give you some time to unload, with an hourly fee for time over that.  So even though you know the price per ton, your total cost when you get it into your barn may be different.    In fact, if you go look on the eastern washington craigslist, you can find alfalfa hay for a lot less than $330 a ton.  Take a look.

One word of caution though:  my grass/alfalfa is organic and it's in small square bales.  None of the other stuff is. and most of the cheaper tonnage is in big square bales.  Here's the market report for washington hay.
 I mention the truck because the guy who puts that advertisement out isn't the guy who grew that hay,  and in fact, you probably won't know where the hay comes from -- mostly because the guy may be concerned that you'll go buy it from them directly and cut him out of the deal.  In talking with these guys, it's pretty common for them to have a list of farms they've purchased from before, but they're always looking for a low cost supplier -- and that's because a lot of the people they sell to only make their hay buying decision based on price.  

Now that's not true of professional hay consumers -- dairies, for instance, want the feed value tested and get that from large brokers.  But if you're not buying semi-loads of alfalfa at $15k a load, you're not getting that kind of service.  

I've purchased good hay, and I've purchased poor hay.  The price per ton isnt' really a reflection on whether it will work for you, or is palatable to your animals, or is even a good fit for your animals.  

The hay that my cows liked best - read ate fastest, and showed a distinct preference for - was produced by an organic dairy farmer who makes hay for his dairy herd, and clearly does a great job of it.  I think that Dennis has some hay for sale this year; 425-754-6847.  He does mostly round bales, but it's good stuff.  
Blackberries in this field
 The very best quality hay grown in eastern washington is usually sent for export.  We have an odd market here -- we get millions of shipping containers full of all sorts of stuff from the far east, and they have to ship them back to the far east to fill them with more stuff.  So we have very cheap transport from here to japan and china and so the containers get filled with all sorts of stuff that wouldn't normally be shipped.  So containers of hay, logs, sawdust and other items get shipped all the time.  And the japanese pay a good price for our hay; and keep the local market high as a result.

The price is high for the best-quality stuff.  There's plenty of smaller producers who don't produce enough quantity or consistent quality for export, and that's whats typically available on the local market.  

So the guy who wants to sell a truckload over here goes down his list, and who you get your hay from is not random, but pretty close.  Some people do a great job.  Some people don't.  Some of it got rained on. Some of it didn't.  You never know; and the guy with the truck may not know either.  In fact, the guy that the truck driver purchased from may not be a farmer, but may be a broker themselves, which adds one more layer.

The point I'm making is that you're going to get all sorts of different quality levels and when it comes off the truck is the first time you'll get to see that hay.    
what percent weed?
What I like to see when I buy hay is that the person producing the hay is using it for their own operation, and ideally, for the same sort of animal  you're feeding.  So If I'm after cow hay, I'm going to seek out a dairy or a beef operator and buy from them.  If I'm feeding horses, a horse place that puts up their own.  Because they know what their animals like, and because it's their own stock on the line, they have some money on the table, some skin in the game.

Too many times I've seen wrapped bales that contain very low quality hay  The bales in the picture at the top of this post are probably fine; the weeds and blackberries in the field that they were cut from probably won't hurt anything; but you're paying for the weeds with your hay dollars.

Even hay that is less weed challenged can be nutritionally weak -- watching the commercial guy manage his hay field across the road from me, he's on it fertilizing it the day after haying; in fact, andrews hay does a pretty good job managing the land that they rent overall.  Knowing your hay guy is a big part of a hay purchase for me

In my case, I took 40 tons of dry matter, organic material, from my field in my hay cutting.  And I'm putting it back with manure from my lagoon.  But too many hay producers around here just cut, and cut, and cut and don't put the value back into the soil they took out.

So what I'm after with my hay is to vertically integrate my forage capacity with my farm operations.  Sure, I may be able to get hay cheaper this year, but my crystal ball isn't that good for next year, and I've seen forage prices both up and down.   With this haying experience in hand, and the expectation of lower costs for the coming years, I'd say that this was good and I'll do it again.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Final on 2014 hay

picking up the last straggler bales
2014 hay totals; baled 1472 bales at 80lbs each.    Roughly 59 tons of hay.  Cost to produce was:

Orchard grass seed:  1700lbs @ $2/lb, $3400
Alfalfa seed, 900lbs @$4/lb, $3600
7 days of tractor tillage, figure $350/day, $2400
  1 pass plow
  4 passes disk
  1 pass planter
Baling twine $200
+ 4 man days labor to get it into the barn @150/day = $600

Figure baler has a life of 10 years.  Baler cost $25k, so $2,500 baler cost
Figure mower has a life of 6 years, mower cost $12k, so $2,000 mower cost

6 tractor-days for harvest @350/day, $2100
Roughly $11.50/bale for something that retails in this area for $20.   That works out to be $287/ton

This year the costs are high because I have only gotten one cutting from this march-planted field.  The costs next year will go down, I won't have the seed costs, or the tillage costs.  Figuring roughly the same harvest costs, and the same quantity harvested, my cost-per-bale should decrease to something under $4 a bale if I get a single cutting, and much less if I get two or three.  

I may get another cutting this year.   I want the alfalfa to go into winter with good energy reserves, so need to give it at least 6 weeks between the time of last cutting and the first frost.  So I'll watch the calendar and growth and take another cutting if I can.