Thursday, March 31, 2016

It's springtime: Must be fencing season

 Nothing says "good times!" like 1000lbs of concrete!

 I use square posts around gates; that's what I'm building here.  A 24' gate that is at an angle off of the dirt road.  A long enough pull-off area that I can be off the road when I'm opening or closing the gate.
The white barrel is the water I'm using to mix the concrete.  2 80lb sacks of concrete at the base of each post.  the posts are sunk 3' into the ground; with that amount down, H braced and concrete feet, they'll stay here for many years.  I prefer to do the fence right; I've done it halfway in the past and you find out your fence sucks when something goes wrong.  Better to do it right and be able to sleep at night.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Completing the circle: Farm scale composting

Left side is unturned, right side turned.  
 I have to deal with tons of manure every week.  To do a proper job of it I've got to make sure that I do it pretty systematically -- I have a system, and I follow the system, and it's clear where things are from how it's laid out.
So what I do is to have a large compost pile, with an open space next to it.  I want to turn that compost at least once a month in the winter, and every two weeks in the spring.  Now I don't have enough time to turn the entire pile, so what I do is take my excavator and start moving compost from one pile to a new pile, eventually making it look like it's a trench.  I'll spend an hour or two every day moving a small bit of the compost, eventually ending up with one big pile again.
turned compost on the right, unturned on the left
 By doing it with the excavator the first scoops from the pile will be the top, and the last scoops will be the bottom, and so I'm physically literally turning the compost over.  I've found that this gives me the fastest breakdown.  The compost isn't steaming much as I move it, but it will heat up a great deal right after the move.
random plastic in the compost pile
One nuisance in my using recycled food in my operation is that some plastic almost always shows up in the compost pile.  In this case it's a scrap of a wrapping off of a round bale I think, or maybe a plastic bag that blew onto the farm and got mixed up in the manure.  As I work I have a rake and a garbage can, and I'll pluck out the plastic and get most of it, but it seems like there's always one more piece.

Municipal composting facilities deal with this problem by just grinding the compost up so that the plastic is in small enough bits that people don't notice it.  I don't like that solution because those little bits of compost don't really ever break down, and I know animals will eat it.  I'd rather keep the plastic out of the compost entirely, but given our societies love affair with plastic food packaging I know that this will be an ongoing (and never ending) process.

This particular compost pile is almost done.  I'll be growing my household vegetables in it this year.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spring lamb stew

With some buttered bread for dipping
Traded some pork for some lamb, and am cooking up a gallon or so of lamb stew.  This is only a partial recipe.  Eatin' on the farm

Cube leg of lamb, remove silver skin, dredge in seasoned flour

Brown lamb in a pan with a little bit of fat.  I use olive oil
I like making large quantities of stew all at once.  You can freeze it or can it afterwards, if any is left!
It's a go-to hearty lunch for tractor work.  Planting season is here.  
I love carrots, so two good handfuls of carrots
What's not shown are the potatoes - I use red potatoes, cut into the same size as the meat, or maybe a little smaller, and 4 or 5 stalks of celery, diced.
Chicken broth base with 2 cups of red wine
As a finishing touch I'll put two cups of frozen peas into the stew directly - frozen.  They'll thaw and cook a little, but they'll retain the sweet pea taste and they make a great addition.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Grazing pigs and barking dogs

I was looking to take some video of the pigs grazing on the spring grass, and didn't really notice until after I had taken a few shots that the neighbors dog was barking nearly continuously.  Take a look at this video for an example
raw footage pigs grazing 1 from bruce king on Vimeo.

Don't get me wrong, I like dogs but the constant barking by the neighbors dogs for the last 4 months has really gotten annoying
raw footage pigs grazing 2 from bruce king on Vimeo.

I finally went over and talked to her.  She and her husband had chosen a working breed of dog; this is a dog that was bred for herding and livestock handling, and neither of their dogs has a job; so, like most hardworking breeds, they've chosen their job.  And in this case it's to bark at me.  If I step out my front door they bark continuously until I go back in.  Hours and hours.  While I can ignore it, the livestock doesn't.  Recently the two dogs have started coming under the fence and chasing the pigs around, which really bothers me.

raw footage pigs grazing 3 from bruce king on Vimeo.

When i first moved in here, the neighbors has issues with my dogs crossing the road or being off my property; and they complained about it, and so I put up a fence and worked with my dogs to stay pretty close.  But my dogs have a job, and I work with them every day; these two dogs really don't have anyone working with them, and as a result they're getting some bad habits; chasing the cars down the street and attacking the tires, and 24 hour a day barking.

I finally offered the neighbor a pair of no-bark collars that I have; I'll lend them to her and see if we can curb the barking, but the livestock chasing has got to stop, too.  If I had a cow with a calf out there I don't want her chased around.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The cost of raising your own pig: 2016 edition

This is what it will cost you to raise a pig in my area; your own individual feed costs may vary a bit, but this should give you a good idea of what your cost is to raise your own pigs.   If you just want the numbers, go to the bottom of this post where I list 'em all out.  

Pigs aren't very hard to raise at all - as long as you get a handle on the fencing situation, you'll typically have very little to do other than keeping the feeder full and making sure that they have water and a dry place to sleep (more on the place to sleep later)

We are selling our piglets right now (March, 2016) for $125 each.  That's for a 20 to 30lb weaned pig that is healthy and active.  They've had 7 to 8 weeks on the sow, and have been eating solid food in addition to nursing for at least 2 weeks.   I've found that keeping them on the sow adds weight faster than any other option for me, and I want to provide the largest piglet I can for the money.  

When a piglet is growing it's using the feed it eats for one of two things:  Growth or Warmth.  In the early spring, which is this time of year, the piglets will benefit from having a warm, dry place to sleep.  It doesn't need to be fancy; I've seen people use old pickup truck canopies as great pig houses, or a 3 sided box made out of pallets, or a calf dome that's been repurposed - the goal of the shelter is to provide a wind break and keep the bedding dry.  having a warm, dry place to sleep means that more of your feed goes into growth, and less into heating.  

So I'd suggest you buy a bale or two of the cheapest hay you can get, or straw, and provide it to your pigs in the shelter.  In my area straw sells for $9 for an 80lb bale, local grass hay for $6 / 60lb bale.  I'd buy one or two bales, and then provide it to the pigs a quarter bale per 2 piglets at a time.  

Each piglet will need 800lbs of feed, (unless you can find some free pig food!) and I'm paying $345/ton for feed delivered to my farm.  That works out to be about $0.17/lb, or roughly $8.62 per 50lb bag (mine is in bulk, not bagged).  If you're going to buy bagged pig feed at the feed store you're probably going to be paying between $13 and $16 per 50lb bag, which works out to be something like $520 a ton to $640 a ton.  It's worth checking if you can get bulk feed, or, if you're raising enough pigs, if you can put together a minimum order (usually 4 tons) so you can get the feed at something closer to the price I pay.  

I would say that a minimum pig pen is going to cost you about $120.  that's 4 hog panels (16' x 34" tall) and 8 metal fence posts (T posts) to hold  the panels up.  that's a good size for a couple of weaners, you'll want more space as they get bigger, but that setup allows you to train the pigs to an electric fence.  

I highly recommend electric fence training because it allows you to fence your pigs in later with a single strand of wire or rope or tape or whatever  you're using for fencing material, and you can quickly and easily move the pigs around your property to graze on whatever it is you'd like to graze.  I use the pigs to clear fencelines and areas that I can't otherwise use, for instance.    A good electric fence charger will cost  you something like $180, and lets toss in $40 for tape or rope or wire, and another $50 for 20 step-in plastic posts.    20 posts would allow you to enclose an area about 100' square, which you can move around as the pigs munch on whatever is there to start.  

Here's the rundown

Cost of the pig $125
Cost of bedding $18
Cost of feed (800lbs, wholesale) $138.00
Cost of feed (800lbs, low retail) $208.00
Cost of feed (800bs, high retail) $256.00

So the cost ranges from $281 to $399, all consumables included

For $281 to 399 you get 220lbs of hanging weight pork, which will translate to 165lbs of  everything that you would expect; hams, bacon, pork chops, sausage and so on.  If you butcher it yourself, you'll be getting your meat at something like $1.70/lb to $2.41/lb .  Which is a very good value.  

If you choose to have the meat processed by a meat shop, add $60 for the farm kill, and then $0.60 or so for the cut-and-wrap fees.  Your local meat shop may charge more for sausage or for curing or smoking; so we'll just call the cut-and-wrap fee $0.80 and add it to the total.  that would give you a complete cost between $2.50/lb (wholesale feed) to $3.21/lb (retail feed), which is still better than you'll typically do in the supermarket.  

Your pen (which you can re-use the next year, and for many years, actually) will cost you $430 and will house up to 4 piglets and give you the option to move the pigs around for grazing.  

I would recommend pigs as an easy-care animal (but do take my advice on fencing.  You do NOT want your pig to learn that it can get out or you'll have a rodeo every day!

And I haven't added a line for how much most folks enjoy having their own livestock.  Our current culture has removed most people from contact with livestock, and I honestly think that it adds a depth to your life that you can't get any other way.  

The turkey path

The track the turkeys wear into the gravel of the driveway
 I have a small flock of heritage turkeys, mostly bourbon red, and I let them free-range in the back yard of the house.  This time of year they're laying eggs, and while there are good places for them to lay where they usually hangout, the hens almost always want to go somewhere else to lay.  In this case they hop over the backyard fence and are laying in a row of bushes in a fenceline.
They march back and forth for hours
So they manage to get out of the back yard pretty easily, but for some reason they cannot figure out how to get  back in.  What they do is come back, and then march back and forth at the gate.  They can easily fly over the gate, or walk around the gate, but for these turkeys, the gate is the only way to go.

So once or twice a day I'll notice two or three turkey hens pacing the gate, and I'll go over and open it up for them, and they'll walk through.  They have marched back and forth so many times they've cut a path into the dirt just outside the gate.

I wonder how turkeys can even have the brainpower to walk, sometimes.  I imagine them struggling with it.  "right...  uh.. uhmm..  left!  yes left!  right ... um... ah,  left!  yes, left!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

created a facebook page for my farm

you'll find my farms facebook page at or by clicking here

Sunday, March 20, 2016

video: sow feeding her 10 piglets

This is the same litter that was shown in the pictures in this blog post; the piglets were born 3-12-2016.   All 10 piglets are doing great; she's been a great mom.

If you listen to the video, she sings to them as they nurse.

20160320 from bruce king on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

(video) a bowlful of piglets

Working in the barn today, pressure washing some farrowing pens, and came across some piglets snoozing in the sun; that's not unusual.  It was how they had arranged themselves.

click on th e picture for a larger version
So when presented with animal cuteness, the best choice is to make a video.  Enjoy.

20160319_170545 from bruce king on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What do you do about competitors in your farming operation?

I got a call from a local guy, who I'll call Tyler, who had an issue with a pig with an infected ear; an eartag had caused an infection, and he wanted to know how I might deal with it.

The pig in question was a large boar, so having someone hold it by hand was pretty much out of the question, and while I thought about it,  he mentioned that it was an Old spot pig - which is a breed that I don't have on my farm; it turns out that none of the three pigs he was raising he'd purchased from me.

I've talked about farming competitors before on this blog, but I think it's worth talking about again.  Tyler had a problem with an animal, and I had a few minutes to spare, and so I walked him through two or three ways to get this done, and some possibilities for treatment after the tag was removed.

Veterinarians in this area generally don't like to see pigs, and generally as a pig farmer you're on your own, so if there's any treatment it's going to be something you do for the most part; the vet bill will often exceed the retail price of the animal, and that's just a shame.

But as I talked to him I realized that I was doing technical support for someone elses pig sale; and not only that, probably saving Tylers boar (which he was hoping to breed with his two sows) and on a basic level, that production of piglets was competition with piglets from my farm.

I would have been within rights to say "hey, Tyler, you didn't buy that pig from me, and while I'd like to help you, I'm going to refer you to the farmer you purchased the pig from" - fairs fair, right?  You get the profit, you get the call.

I don't do that for several reasons; regardless of where Tyler bought the pig, I'd like to support him in his getting closer to his food, and in his husbandry.  Tyler, like me, didn't have the benefit of a farming family - this pig thing is brand new to him, as it was new to me 10 years ago, and on a human level I liked being able to help him.

The second is that while I may not have made a sale to him this year, well, I may very well next year.  You catch more flies with honey that vinegar, and having done him a favor and leaving him with a favorable impression of me (I hope anyway!) it builds my reputation for being fair and for treating people well even if I don't directly profit from it.

The third is that the community of pig farmers in this area is pretty small; and the ones breeding pigs even smaller.  It's pretty common for me to refer people to other farmers when they ask me for things that I don't have - "hey, call Tom, I think he has a BBQ pig your size", and I occasionally get referrals that way.

And finally I've had pig farmers who absolutely hate me and say bad stuff about me, and you know, it gets around; eventually someone they tell it to tells me.  I know that I'll never do that farmer a favor  and I'll never, ever refer a customer to you.

I do get asked about other peoples operation all the time.  And over the years I've got an answer that works pretty well for me:

"Hey, I really can't speak for xxxx, but I can speak about my own operation and my own practices.  " and that serves two purposes:  I'm not gossiping and I'm basically focusing the discussion back to where it needs to be.   I'd rather focus on the positive than the negative; if they're doing something they shouldn't it'll catch up to them eventually; for people in this area running farms it's hard enough without gossiping.

Tyler later reported that he was able to sneak up on the boar when it was sleeping and use an ear tag remover tool to get the tag out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fruit salad today; Michael Pollan

good enough to eat!
It's funny, there seems to be two different spokesmen for the food movement; Michael Pollan is one, and Joel Salatin is the other.

I know that when I was filling in my ballot to choose which guy would represent me and my farm to the general public that I considered long and hard.  I read the voters pamphlet, and I went to the rallies, and then I talked about it with my neighbors, and I'm pretty happy with my farm representation...

No, not really.   Don't get me wrong, both of these gentlemen have had lots of influence on farms and farming, but I have to say that it's really tiring to hear the same two voices over and over again.  There's gotta be someone else that is doing great things that can speak up - does anyone you know spring to mind?

Maybe it's time to write a book - but most of the farmers I know who wrote books did either shortly before they lost their farm, or shortly before they went out of business; it seems like the two are linked - write a book, stop farming.

Just in case you didn't get enough pigs eating fruit salad, here's todays video
020 from bruce king on Vimeo.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Farming: Chasing your dream

I was making myself lunch in the kitchen and noticed a truck-and-stock trailer on the road in front of my house.  He was going slow and looking, and I live on the end of a dead-end road, so I figured that there was a good chance that he wanted to see me, so with sandwhich in hand I wandered out to the road and waved him over when he was going to pass me on the way out.

It turns out he was a calf jobber - a guy who buys day-old jersey and holstein bull calves from dairy farmers, and resells them to people to raise as steers.  He asked where the dairy was (my farm was a dairy farm prior to my purchase of it) and I explained that the previous guy had gone bankrupt and been foreclosed on, and that I was raising pigs here now.

He lit up and said he'd just gotten out of the pig business; he'd sold his herd just recently because he'd lost the expired milk contract from a dairy processor, and that had been an important part of his operation - without that low-cost feed he couldn't make a profit.  I commiserated with him, and he asked if he could see my operation.  Sure, I said, and we walked back and I showed him the basics of it.

We talked a little as we walked around, his 10 year old son ranging in front of us, and he mentioned that he wanted to move "back here"; apparently he'd moved elsewhere for a while to be with a sick family member, and wanted to move back here.  He'd cut meat, and slaughtered animals, and run a pig operation, and seemed like a pretty capable fellow overall.

As we talked I got a bunch of different impressions about what he wanted to do, but it was clear that he really didn't want to work for anyone; and as someone who is self-employed, i could completely understand the view, and I finally stopped him and said

"You've got a lot of ideas, and you're able to go in all sorts of directions, but honestly, what do you want to do?  Tell you what; go find yourself a yellow pad and a pen, and write on the pad

"This is where I want to be in 5 years"

And then fill in the blank.  talk about what your house is like, or your business.  Or your work, or relationship.  All of that is fair game.  Describe what life is like in five years.

And once you've got the vision down, then think about your next decisions with that 5 year goal in mind.  Once you know what direction  you're going, trying to figure out the next step foward gets easier, and figuring out whether you're going on the right direction gets easier, too.

Farming, business, life - it's worth taking some time and writing down a goal.  In a business setting they might call it a mission statement.   A good goal or mission statement is one that you can look at and reflect on your actions and be able to figure out whether you're getting closer to, or farther from your desired state.

Too many people spend a lot of time talking about what they would like to do.  Are you waiting for someone to give you permission?

  Are you afraid your goal will change?   It might, but a change in goals isn't bad -- but change to focus on the new goal you've found.  If you paddle in one direction for a while you'll make progress, and the magical part of progress is that progress makes for more progress.  As things go your way you'll find doors open and opportunities appear, and if you're clear on your goal, you'll even find people that like that goal and help you get there.

So I couldn't help this guy with calves; I have none to sell, but I could help him with his vision.  I waved them goodbye from my farm gate.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Walking my cow through a million dollar house

I got an email inquiring whether I rented cows;  I do supply animals from time to time for commercials and for films and shorts, and figured that this was one of those ocassions.  I'd guess about 1/3rd of the inquiries actually turn out to be something, so I didn't think much of it.
Officer, I'd like to report a suspicious cow
What did you want the cow for?  Well, it turned out that they had just purchased a house, and that when a cow enters a new house first good things follow - it's their religious belief.

Ok -- is the house on a level entrance, or are there stairs?  Does it have any sort of grates or drainage on the walk up to the door?  there won't be any dogs, right?  How long do you expect to need the cow?

They wanted the cow to be at their new house at 5:30am, and they needed her for what they figured would be a half-hour or so.
one scarf for the cow, one for her calf
 We agreed on a price, and a date, and I loaded up the cow on the day and drove the cow and her calf into downtown seattle, to Queen Anne hill.  I knew the neighborhood; I'd live about 4 blocks away form this house during part of my childhood.  It was interesting being back there after all these years.
I've edited out the person (white rectangle on the right) but you can see the view. 
I couldn't park anywhere near the house; I ended up finding a spot about 6 blocks away, and because of the distance I left the calf in the trailer.  This particular cow I hand-raised and have been milking now for 3 years; she's gentle, calm and is halter-broken and leads very well.   And she trusts me, so even though this was an odd, novel thing (which in a cows eyes is BAD BAD BAD, cows love routine above all else) she was game, and I walked her to the house.

They did a ceremony outside the house, and I thought i was done, but they really did want to lead the cow through the house, and so in the front door she went, and around and around the house at least 3 times, and then it was done, and I made my exit.

Cow had been away from her calf for 45 minutes, and about halfway back to the trailer she decided she needed to run, and off we went.  I had her on a long lead, and I wrapped one end around a telephone pole as we went by; that got her to stop, and we both looked at one another for a few minutes; she, with the flat bovine inscrutable gaze, and me with the concern that she might run off again and I'd show up on the morning news ("cow loose on queen anne!  schools on lockdown!") but after a few minutes we made the rest of the walk back to the trailer and she was glad to see her calf, and jumped right in.

All in all a fun trip and nice to experience a little bit of a different culture and religion.  I thought about it as I drove back; I don't have cows in my house, but in effect I do serve the cows and pigs every day.

The lady of the house said this "We're an agrarian society transplanted", and I think that's interesting.  In my farming I've done the opposite.  Where most folks don't live with their livestock they make a major part of my daily life.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

New pigs, pigs to market, liverwurst and blutwurst

born today - 3-12-2016
Weather report says that we're due for another spate of high winds; 30 to 40 mph sustained with gusts to 50 or 60.  We had that sort of weather about three weeks ago, and it tore the door off of one of my sheds, so I spent the day battening down the hatches - literally - and doing various maintenance tasks.  
I sent four pigs to market this morning; the farm kill guy was here and prompt; he had two guys with him, and after shooting and sticking the four pigs that were going today we chatted while he and his guys prepped them.  While I can do the work myself, there's only so many hours in the day, and Scott the farm kill guy does a great job.   

I was up a little earlier than usual to prepare the area where the pigs were processed; it's got a concrete floor, but I took the time to pressure wash the concrete and make sure that there weren't any loose buckets or anything.  I value Scotts time, as he values mine, and so I take care to make sure he can come, and go, as fast as possible.  When he opened up the back of the truck I could see two beef and another pig that he'd already slaughtered that day.  I wondered if if was one of the piglets I sold last year.   I asked scott what color the pig was, and he said black - so maybe.  

One by one the pigs were split and hoisted on the truck.  My customers rarely take the hearts and livers; my brother loves the hearts, and I've wanted to try making liverwurst, so I kept these four livers and I'll see what I can come up with tommorow.  

When I want to make something i've never made, I'll often just do a search for it, and then read 6 or 8 recipes, and look for things they have in common, and then pick the one that sounds best to me.  With internet recipies I've found that the seasoning - amount of salt particularly - is often too much for my taste, so what I'll do with the sausage is I'll make a small sample of it and cook and taste it; if it's good I'll make the full-sized batch.
The three little ones to the left are sleeping after feeding
When I make sausage I'll usually want to do it in a big batch; it takes a while to get set up, and once you're all set up, well, might as well make 15 or 20lbs of sausage instead of 2 or 3.  Sausages freeze well, they're popular as gifts, and, if it's a culinary disaster, they're easy to feed to the dogs.  :)

One of my dogs has pups, and after the farm kill truck had gone, she went over to the concrete and ate all of the clotted blood.  She went over to the kennel where the pups are, and I was a little horrified to find her vomiting blood - a lot of blood - on the ground in front of the pups.  It didn't bother the pups at all.  They formed a circle and in 2 minutes had eaten all of it.  After realizing it was the pigs blood I was a big relieved - and actually happy that the blood was going to use.  Nice to use every part of the pig.

The chores done, the hatches battened, pigs to market and everyone fed and watered, it was a good day today.  Pretty satisfying.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pigs for sale - whole or half

We'll be slaughtering pigs on Thursday, March 10th.  If you'd like a whole or half, we have two 
pigs available.  Send an email to and we'll put you on the list.  

A half pig is approximately 100lbs, a whole about 200lbs.  Cost is $2.75/lb hanging weight, to the farm.  A kill fee of $30 per half and cut-and-wrap fees are paid to the meat shop directly, and vary a little bit based on what you tell them to do.

Your total cost with typical processing will end up being between $3.50 and $3.60 a lb - that's for hams, bacon, pork chops, sausage and roasts.  


video: Avocado ice cream for the pigs

I get asked from time to time what I feed my pigs; here's what's on the menu today - avocado ice cream.  Well, sort of.  Frozen avocados, for sure.

029 from bruce king on Vimeo.

We feed 1200 to 1800lbs of frozen fruits and vegetables to the sows every week; each sow gets 50 to 80lbs of this, and it's presented free-choice.  They will sort through it and find their favorites.  Their absolute favorite is avocados, and then it is basically all the fruit, and once that 's done they concentrate on everything else.  Acorn squash is a particular favorite, although we don't get many of those at this time of year.

For all the sows with piglets or waiting to give birth...
I grow acorn squash as one of my rotations from this preference by the pigs.  After all of the crop that can be marketed is sent to market, I'll turn the pigs loose on the field and they eat the rest of the squash.  Most of that is in the field is as good as what is sent to market - usually cosmetic defects, but markets demand perfect vegetables, and the pigs are a good way to make sure that all of the food is efficiently  used.
each sow gets her own bowl of fruits and vegetables
The corn in the buckets isn't feed corn; it's sweet corn, so it's mostly sugar for the sows.  They do like it, but as I presented each sow with her bowl of fruits and veges each sow sorted through and quickly ate all of the avocados first.  They do enjoy the avocado meat, but they eat the pit, too.  For a pig it's all good.  There's a huge CRACK when they bite down on the pit, and they happily chew it up and swallow.
They also get fed a balanced ration, but enjoy the variety.  They particularly like the frozen avocados
That's what the sow in the picture above is doing; you can see the avocado deep in her mouth.  She's just cracking the pit now.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Video response to question from email: farrowing stall size

I got a question from email regarding the farrowing stall size I use; 6'x9' - here's a video showing a sow and 5 piglets in a stall that size.  As you can see she's got plenty of space to move around; she'll be there with her piglets for 3 weeks (these piglets are about a week old, so two more weeks) and then she'll be put in group housing with other sows and pigs about the same age.

This is the same sort of farrowing pen that I was describing the construction of here.

When her pigets are weaned she'll be returned to the main herd.

003 from bruce king on Vimeo.

Time to start the plants

part of this years seed order
The first week or two of March is the time when I start all of my transplant vegetables; mostly tomatoes, but also peppers and various other things.  This year I decided I'd grow some lavender and thyme as eatable-and-decorative things for my front yard.  Fresh basil and tomatoes are a favorite, and they are pretty easy to grow.

I'm growing some beets and carrots this year along with 5 varieties of tomatoes and I'm going to plant some melons, too.  Cantelopes and watermelon.  Last year I had some volunteer cantelopes that grew pretty well on my compost pile on a south-facing slope.  So this year I'm going to make a cantelope area and see if I can get some to grow to decent size and ripen.

This is all personal gardening stuff; small quantities.  Just what tastes best fresh, and what  I can't reliably find at the grocery store, with some extra grown for canning and preserving.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How we will tend our crops in 2030: robotic weeder

Researchers down in australia have created a farming system that I think is the direction that farming ought to go - and probably will go.  It's a robotic weeder.

The basic idea I'd like to see implemented is a lightweight robot - think 50 to 100lbs - that can find its way to the field, and then back from the field to its charging station.  each robot would trundle out and spend its battery time eradicating weeds, and then go back and get charged.

These things should be as cheap as possible.  Rugged enough to last 10 or 15 years; I was looking at new tractors the other day, and some of them run upwards of $300,000.00 - I'd like to see one of these robot weeders at $2,000 or less -- so you could buy 150 of these units for about the same price as  your tractor.  Make 'em modular, so when some part breaks  you unplug it and put on a replacement part, and cheap enough that you stamp your foot when the bull pushes it into the ditch, but you don't cry or call the insurance company.

The best part about these robots is that they can be run on solar, and they eliminate or greatly reduce  the use of herbicides.  Heck, with better vision the robot could probably pick bugs off the plants, too...

The goal here is to take the task that we current either use chemicals to solve, or use hand-labor at minimum wage, and automate it.  these little guys can bet out all day every day, rain or shine, and in theory produce crops that are pesticide and herbicide free.

To see what I'm talking about, check out this youtube video

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Building farrowing pens / gates mounted on concrete blocks

The finished pens - I haven't put in the wood back wall yet. 
This is a pen design that costs me about $250 per pen; the breakdown is at the bottom of this post. Most of the cost of the pen is the gate.

I've been consolidating all of my pigs into one barn on the farm; mostly to save labor and do a better job of being able to take care of the animals.  Most full-time farmers, and I'm no exception - expand the activities on the farm until there's basically no working time left.  By putting all of the pigs into one area it's easier and faster to care for them, and that labor savings means I can do a bit more with the time.
basic layout:  my little trackhoe in the background

The farrowing pens I'm picturing here are 6' deep by 9' wide; by trial and error I've found that this is a size that is large enough for the sow to stand up and move around, make a nest that she feels good about, and gives the piglets enough room so that the sow doesn't squish them by standing on them.
I use a 4x6 block set on edge for the bottom clearance for the gate when I'm mounting it
 What I'm showing here is double row of pens;  The concrete blocks we call "ecology blocks" for reasons I'm not clear about.  They're 6'x2'x2', and weigh about 3600lbs each.  Pigs really aren't good at climbing, so a 4' tall wall around the pen is sufficient, and actually makes it nice for humans to work in, too.  It's pretty easy to see over and into the pen, and in a pinch it's low enough that you can hop over the wall, or walk on top of it.  The ecology blocks are pretty solid.
I use a hammer drill to drill the holes into the concrete.  Make sure to blow the dust out with compressed air after drilling!
 I use ecology blocks because they're cheap - I buy mine for $5 each at a local cement plant.  I have a 20,000lb trailer (dual tandom axle) and I can carry 6 of them at a time with it.  I use my big tractor to pick them off of the trailer and set them into place, and then my small trackhoe to do the final positioning.
The epoxy is expensive, but I've had much better luck with epoxied anchors than non-epoxied.  
 So there are 4 blocks on each side, and they're spaced so that the area between is 9' wide.  that's because my tractor and skidsteer have an 8' bucket, and I'm setting this up so that these pens can be cleaned using equipment.  The easier things are to clean the more often they will get cleaned.

The 4 blocks have a space between them (see board at bottom of block)
 To clean you pull the wood wall from between the pens, and then just scrape the thing into the aisle.  Pressure wash and sanitize if you want a very clean job -- in case of disease, for instance -- and then replace the wood wall and done.
I use 2 2x6 boards side by side; the wall between this stall and the one on the other side will be wood
 I'm building these stalls in a converted freestall barn.  the concrete floor underneath is sloped from the center out both ways, which works very well for what I'm doing for it, but does make it a little more complicated for the center wall.  The gap at the bottom is much smaller than the gap at the top - see the picture below.

Spacing between blocks shown
I'll add an automatic water system to each stall, mounted on the gate.  I mount it on the gate so that it's easy to maintain from outside the pen (sows can be aggressive when they have pigs) and so that any water spilled will run out of the pen, not into the bedding, which I want to keep as dry and warm as possible.
Since I have lots of space to mount the bolt I use long bolts.  Above the bolt is the drill bit used to drill the concrete
 If you're going to do this sort of project, it's worth either renting or buying a good hammer drill.  I use an SMS type drill, and it makes quick work of the holes drilled; takes about 15 seconds to drill a 12" hole in solid concrete.
After you drill the bolt I use this 3lb hammer to put it in.  

Once pounded in, the nut is tightened to anchor the bolt.  I then remove the nut and mount the gate
 I've used this sort of anchor bolt before, and I've been much happier after I've used epoxy.  These ecology blocks aren't always as solid as you like (see the picture above) and if there are holes or pockets in the block, the epoxy will actually fill it in and make it stronger.
Might as well have level gates - so they don't close or open on their own, mostly!

I mount this ring inside the pen for a latch and epoxy it in.  
 I prefer gate latches that can be operated with one hand, and that aren't very complicated.  I use this sort of stainless steel fitting.  the eye bolt is 8" long I think, and I drill a hole deep enough to put the whole thing in.  Then epoxy the bolt in, and in 24 hours it's solid.
a spring carabiner provides a secure and one-handed gate latch.  
Cost breakdown:

One pen:
4 ecology blocks $20
7 2x6x12' boards $42
10' heavy-duty gate $170
4 7" anchor bolts $10
1 eye bolt $3
1 stainless carabiner $5

Tools needed:
sms hammer drill & 1/2" diameter 12" long drill bit
3lb hammer
crescent wrench
tape measure

To get the ecology blocks I used a 20,000lb trailer
to pick them off of the trailer I used a kubota m125x
to position them I used a kubota  kx121-3