Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scott's secret woodshed project

Scott has been wanting a woodshed.  I thought the project could wait, so he built it in the shop one day while I was distracted by baby pigs.  It was a great use of the last bits and bobs of scrap metal now that all our serious projects are done.  Much of the structural steel had to be spliced from two- and three foot pieces, but it is certainly adequate for the job of keeping our wood dry without storing it underfoot in the metal shop. 
At 11 and a half feet wide the trick was to get it out of a 12 foot door.  Not to fear- grasshopper to the rescue!  Scott rigged the building to the frame of the grasshopper like a turtle and inched it out the door,
through the yard, up the hill, and
into place.  He poured concrete around the footings and loaded in our wood before nightfall and the next day it rained.  Way to go Scott!

An other reason to eat grass-fed

Drought-weakened corn crops in our neighborhood are turning out to also be infected with aflatoxins this year.  This group of chemicals are a product of fungal infections on the drying ears.  

The problem is wide-spread enough that our local elevator is testing every load.  If the aflotoxin levels are too high, the infected corn is blended with less-infected corn to meet the FDA standard.  At $25 per test, a single 5 kernel sample is used to determine the fate of a whole semi-truck load of grain, meaning that the results could easily over- or under represent the real threat. 

The FDA limits aflatoxin contamination to 0.5 parts per million (ppm) in milk and 20 ppm in human food and animal feed.  Feedlot cattle, on the other hand, can be fed corn with up to 300 ppm as a sole ration with the idea that they will be hamburger before the cancer takes them down.  

What will become of all the infected corn?  The federal regulations won't allow it in the food supply for either people or livestock, but the ethanol plants won't take it either since their byproducts are marketed as animal feed. 

The saga of Trudy's second Bluestem litter

Trudy delivered 9 lovely babies on a chilly Tuesday, November 22.  The smallest was only interested in keeping warm and never tried for a teat so we didn't expect him to make it.  Another pig (#8) had some trouble breathing at first, but pepped up after an hour.  In all I was hoping to see her raise 7 or 8 nice pigs like the last bunch!
But with the Thanksgiving holiday and an over abundance of trust in the process, I did not spend my usual obsessive amount of time with the new family and after a few days things were not progressing as they should have.  Somehow by Friday one pig (a gilt we named "Bertha") was gaining steadily on a productive teat, and the other remaining pigs were still scrabbling over a few minimally productive teats at the milk bar.  They did not seem to have grown much and Trudy seemed to only have substantial milk in a single teat!  I don't know if the babies somehow didn't learn to suck well and the milk dried up, or if the milk dried up first and it hampered their learning to suck... All I can say is that I should have been there.  By the first night each pig should have established ownership over a teat.  Trudy did seem reluctant to stay on her side long enough for even Bertha to drink her fill, so it's possible that her mothering abilities were not kicking in this time, but she seemed in all other ways to be attentive to her brood. 
My folks were visiting for the holiday, so Mom helped with the first few days of, what we hoped would be, supplemental feedings of pig milk replacer.  Our goal was to keep the piglets' strength up while they figured things out with their mom.  Several of the litter had been crushed by Trudy as she laid with them.  The is common with hogs, but not supposed to be a problem with Guinea hogs.  I think they little ones were too weak from not eating enough to get out of the way.  We hoped to save the remaining 5 by giving them their own heated sleeping area away from Trudy.
But as the situation did not improve, we went to plan "raise the pigs in the bathtub."  This was Scott's idea, but he assures me that he was completely joking!  Still when you have to get up every three hours to feed, proximity is key!  Two of the pigs were adept at the bottle from the start, but three were still unproductive after few days.  After reading tips online, I switched everyone over to drinking milk from a dish and that did the trick.  The littlest two had trouble with scours (diarrhea) and needed two rounds of antibiotics to clear them up, but all five are healthy and living in the barn now!  Of the biggest three, Bertha will likely stay here as a breeder, and Wilbur or Nigel will be traveling to a new home in Gardener, KS to grow up to be a herd boar.
Here is Nigel at his first day of preschool at age 2 weeks and 2 days.  He and Wilbur were a hit and "hammed" it up for the crowd.  For photo credit, Katherine took this picture.

At present the 5 piglets: Bertha, Wilbur, Nigel, Annie, and Pip are 3 weeks and 5 days old, spending their days in a protected area outside, and sleeping under their heater in the barn at night.  They've been reunited with their mother and have been getting to know their older siblings.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lessons learned

I should start back into my blogging season by following up with all the trouble caused by our friend Dan.  First, I ignored my better judgement and did NOT quarantine Dan before adding him to my herd.  He was so young and friendless after leaving his family and enduring the trauma of the sale barn...  I just wanted him to have the safety of the group.  I may have had good intentions, but it was the wrong call.  Though fit and strong when he left his home farm (2 miles from here), he contracted a "shipping pneumonia" from his companions at the auction.  Within the week he had spread the disease to both of my other precious calves!  My first indication that something was wrong was when Abby, a normally vivacious heifer was spending a little more time laying down with her ears drooping.  I spend a bizarre amount of time watching my animals, so I noticed that Abby was not quite herself one Sunday evening.  A sheepish call to a neighbor with these non-specific symptoms turned out to be just what was needed.  He took me seriously, and by the time he came over with a bottle of penicillin, she was starting to cough.  Calves can succumb quickly and Abby had the worst case between Dan, her brother and herself.  I would hate to have lost her.  All three were treated by the vet the next morning and Abby again the day after.  I never use any sub-therapeutic antibiotics in my animals, but I'm also not shy about making them well as fast as I can with (nearly) any method at my disposal.  Everyone recovered and is none the worse, but all of this could have been avoided by better management decisions.  Most health problems are due at least in part to management problems, but the trick is to know what those are before hindsight makes them clear.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Welcome, Dan!

Dan, our newest addition
I wasn't planning to add any more critters, but when I visited a neighbor that has a few White Park cows, he had a little steer that he was willing to sell.  I put my name on him, but my neighbor and I got our signals crossed and he took the steer to the sale barn!  Didn't I just say I would not buy any animals there?  Anyway, I didn't want this boy to go to waste on someone who wouldn't appreciate him.  With the general bias towards black cows in our region, I bought Dan for a bargain.  Still, I would gladly have paid more to avoid subjecting him to the stress and disease of the sale barn. 

Spontaneous combustion...

...It's not just in Dickens.

We always say that fresh manure is "hot" and the the compost piles are "cooking down," so I shouldn't have been so surprised when I went out to turn the piles tonight and found smoldering ash in the middle.  Even on a 90 degree evening, I could feel the heat from the tractor seat with every scoop.

Pasture in the drought

Our native grass pasture, 8/2/2011

Our neighbor's non-native pasture, 8/2/2011

I've been so pleased with the way our grass has weathered the last month of high temperatures.  That's no real credit to us; the native grasses grow deep roots and are "warm-season" growers.  Most of the grazing land in eastern Kansas and surroundings is managed for "cool-season" grasses that can out-perform my natives in the early spring.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lasagna garden in July

Too hot for chores!
Can you blame me if weeding has fallen off of my priority list?  The tomato plants are keeping us well stocked, though the canning crop is yet to come.  My late planted corn is doing well.  I expect a great crop of corn ear worms for the chickens, and the pigs and cows have been fighting over the green leaf corn plants that I have been thinning out.  These must be a great snack since the pigs leave not a morsel when they get an armful of corn stalks.  I've harvested a marginal crop of onions due to the chicken destruction they endured early on, but I'm overflowing with garlic with plenty to use and replant in October.  The biggest disappointment so far has been my green beans.  The first planting yielded well until the hot weather put a stop to blossom production, and my first try at succession planting shriveled in the sun.  Now should be the time to start my fall plantings, but maybe a week or two will give us a break in the weather...
Garden after one month of 100 degree days

2011 Calf photos

Abby (left) and Asher playing King of the Hill

Asher, 2 months old
Our herd is now down to Mary and her heifer calf, Abby, Martha, and her steer calf, Asher, and yearling steers, Abe and Jake.  Agnes is now in the freezer and Catalina went to a new home where she will live out her life as a pet.  The irony of our new smaller herd is that we may have the best grass in the neighborhood this year with the intense heat.  (Asher is standing in a patch of weeds above, though.)  We've had a month of 100 degree days now and the main staples for cattle grazing, brome and fescue, are nearly devoid of nutrition as a result.  Our native grasses are thriving in spite of the heat and my biggest pasture management problem is that I don't have enough mouths to eat the grass down to keep its quality through the fall and winter!  My neighbor is thinking of feeding hay soon, but I have offered to host his herd of 20 cow/calf pairs here until we get some rain.  This same neighbor keeps me supplied with good hay, so I'll be happy if he takes me up on it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Solar oven confessions

Now I remember why the solar oven lives in the attic.  We fired up the house oven after all to finish baking our brownies.  I think to give solar cooking a real chance I need to restrict my experiments to between 11am and 3pm (daylight savings time which is 10am-2pm solar time).  If I have successes in the future you'll hear them here.  Failures may or may not be reported...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Heat-wave baking

Katherine wanted to make brownies today, but we are in the middle of a two or three week heat wave with temperatures over 100.  We're finicky about using the indoor oven even in an average summer, so it was time to retrieve this little box from the attic.  The is my much-upgraded second solar oven.  (The first was cardboard.)  This one was meant to be built from plywood, but about that time I met Scott (and his sheet-metal leaf-brake) and the rest is history...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lasagna garden in June

Scott and Katherine built me this garden fence, not for rabbits, but to keep my own livestock out!  First, the ducks spent the winter pecking holes in the mulch and underlying newspaper to get at the grubs.  The grass in the expanded portions of the garden that was meant to be smothered, grew through with abandon.  Then, the chickens found their way into the yard and flattened all my carefully raised planting beds with their excavating and uprooted most of my early onion crop.  By the time the baby pigs started escaping into the yard, it was time to build a fence for the garden. 

Now that I have most of the weeds under control, the garden is growing well.  I had enough potatoes come back from last year's bed that I didn't plant any additional seed potatoes.  It looks like I'll have about 1/3 of last year's crop which should be just fine since we couldn't eat them all last year before they put out shoots. 

The strawberry patch that I planted in December had about a 75% survival rate, but the plants that made it are putting out plenty of daughters to fill in the bed for next year.

I also have sweet corn, beans, garlic, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and a bunch of berry bushes that will be moved to a permanent home this fall.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Censored: Cow calving photos

Scott wasn't sure I needed to put these front and center, so for those of you who want to see, you can open a separate page from the tab above...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grasshopper view of Bluestem Farm


Two new experiences for me, one for Agnes

Well, today was the day I loaded up Agnes in my neighbors' trailer for a one-way ride to Santa Fe Trail Meats.  After reading and rereading everything I had on grass finishing cattle, I concluded that, in spite of being a big-framed girl, at 26 months Agnes looked as good as any grain finished heifer would.  She was full in the brisket, round in the hips, and flat as a board across her broad back.  By my estimation, she'd register a frame score of 8 (out of 9 for beef cattle): too fat to breed well, but perfect for the butcher.  I asked the USDA inspector at the abattoir to grade her for me, to see where she ranks (prime, choice, select, standard).  I'm expecting choice, as the rules for prime are biased against the yellow (high beta-carotene) fat of grass fed animals. 

I've taken hogs to this butcher for the last two years.  We back the trailer up to the chute and in they go through the blue door and out they come in frozen packages.  This time, when I called to schedule Agnes, I asked if it was permitted to watch the process.  They agreed to let me in, but with their tight schedule, the beeves I watched were not my own.  This was more than OK by me.  Mostly, I wanted to see how the animals were treated behind the blue door, and how they were converted from walking animal to hanging halves.  This little facility is just 14 miles down the road from Bluestem Farm.  The owner and head butcher answered my questions while he and two others did the bulk of the work.  What impressed me was the cleanliness of the operation.  Not to say it was without gore, but every stage was rinsed down with copious amounts of water.  Everything was calm, "clean" and efficient.  An on site USDA inspector checked the livers, hearts, lungs, teeth, and glands for health and age before the newly hanging halves went to the cooler.

I was still in a cow mood that afternoon, so I came back into Overbrook, KS for the cattle auction next door to my butcher.  I didn't intend to buy anything from this or any sale barn, but thought it would be good for my education to see what animals were available and what the buyers were looking for in their stock.  There were about 30 men, a few kids, and fewer women in the audience when I got there.  The first thing you notice is the stink.  Now I had just come from the butcher which smelled like cold meat, and when I clean my barn it smells like manure, but this was something more foul.  Cattle of all ages, sexes, sizes, and conditions are herded through a maze of gates out onto large pen built over a livestock scale that rocked a little as they skittered around looking for an exit.  Animals were presented in ones or groups for bidding by the "hundred weight."  All of the employees seemed to have the same work ethic; if they could clang it, bang it, or beat it with a stick, they did.  For reasons that I can't fathom, cattle that were too calm in the ring were shooed, swatted and scared until they were sufficiently wild for their two minutes of show time.  It's spring time in Kansas.  We've had plenty of rain.  There is grass everywhere.  How then, could some of these cows have become so emaciated?  Were they sick or abused?  There were plenty of good looking animals that fetched prices between $130 and $140 per hundred weight.  The sick cows brought $44 per hundred weight.  Everything sold.  Who do you suppose is eating those poor cows?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Abby and Asher

Mary and Martha had a lovely matched pair of calves on the 27th and 28th of May.  Abby, behind, is Mary's second calf and a definate keeper.  She has nice black points and four well-spaced teats, traits that we can attribute to her sire.  Asher, Martha's first born, is a real live-wire with a great personality.  Unfortunatly, he has six teats like his mother which, in my mind, disqualifies him as a future herd sire to sell.  He's been banded and will stay with the herd until he's ready to butcher. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's next? Giraffes?

Katherine outside
Katherine tells me that Giraffe has a baby in her belly, just like our two expectant cows.  

Good neighbors

I'm always surprised how well our species interact. 

Here several of the piglets are cleaning up the spilled chicken feed.  This was actually a convinient way for the little ones to access feed withouth their parents fighting them for it. 

Now that the sow and boar are moved out of the barn, the piglets just pop through the gate and sleep with the two pregnant cows in the fresh straw of the stalls.  I feed them there with the cows and the parents get their grain out in the pasture. 

Appartment living, country style

Buff Orpingtons and their cousins, Black Australorps are the usual culprits
Scott built a few more nest boxes for my hens, but the old ones are still the most popular.  Out of my small (less than a dozen) flocks, I've usually tolerated a single broody hen who refuses to leave the nest in the vane hope of hatching eggs. 

This spring I have at least five with the same aspirations.  These ladies are so intent that they never leave the house to forage.  In fact, I think they eat very little at all and their egg production suffers.

When the first of this batch to go broody, a Buff Orpington, started, I took eight eggs and set her on them in an empty rabbit hutch.  The point of separating her is to keep her focused on her job (not really a problem) and to keep other hens from bothering her or adding fresh eggs to her clutch.  After the required 21 days of confinement, she had not hatched a single one.  I gave her a few extra days for good measure, but nothing.

Out of curiosity, I cracked all the eggs open.  Several may have been unfertilized, or had just not gotten started properly, but a few had chicks in various stages of development.  Two where nearly mature.  I don't know exactly what went wrong, but I can think of a few things to change if I try again.  For one, the cage was too big.  She had to leave the nest to reach food and water.  The extra space also allowed her to move the nest around when she turned her eggs, sometimes leaving one or two behind.  For another, we tried this in early spring and the cold snaps may have been too much for the eggs.

Now the question is what to do with the five freeloading hens that are taking up valuable real estate that my layers need...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Twin chicken egg and an abandoned bird egg
Someone in our flock keeps laying these monster double-yolk eggs,  this one is the biggest yet.

Sadly, we're getting ready to down-size the flock.  I thought I could find a good venue for selling my surplus eggs, but that's turning out to be more trouble than I want.  Scott and I agreed that a dozen hens would be enough to supply our family, pigs, neighbors, and friends with a few left for the food pantry.  Fewer hens would also allow the grass to recover near the chicken house door. 

Getting ready for baby

JWest's Tom Sawyer, the dad
Mary's normally discrete backside is now bulging with the imminent arrival of her new calf.  With this sign, called "springing" in farmer lingo, I'm checking her every several hours for further signs of labor.  Her bag is full and the teats are getting tight with new milk.  Her due date is tomorrow, and I expect she'll be right on time.

All this vigilance is to make up for missing both calvings last year.  The only thing keeping me from spending tonight in the barn is that we will likely have rough weather and we may all be sleeping in the basement instead. 

Martha, my heifer, is due to calve on June 3.

(P.S. Scott found my photo of Mary's pregnant butt too offensive for general audiences, so I deleted it.  I will include it with any birth photos on a separate page.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pasture management

Mary, her yearling calf, Abe, and Catalina
I let my front paddock become overgrazed last year while we built fences, but it is recovering nicely with the winter and spring rest.  Though this is intended to be my legume-rich pig pasture for the summer, there was so much clover that I had to call in the cows to harvest it.  I held the six of them on this two acre plot for about five days.  Then, cattle were out and pigs again had access to the field. 

Now that all the doctoring is done for a while, I am moving the pigs into their summer cottages and out of the barn stalls where they have slept since moving to Bluestem Farm.  These will be cleaned up and freshened for the next round of babies- calves!

Mary and Martha are both due to deliver in the next few weeks, so they are quarantined in the west paddock to be near the house and barn.  I want the stalls ready in the rare case that they need birth assistance.

I was pretty confident that Mary had weaned Abe a few months back, and that was confirmed when I shut the mother in away from him.  They can still visit through the fence, but there was no bawling at all.  With the impressive store of fat that Mary has accumulated from the spring grass, I was sure that her body was handling the pregnancy well even without artificially weaning her first calf.  

Grasshopper uses

Scott put a larger engine in the Grasshopper since we are finding it to be so useful.  He'll be finishing up the man-lift (Karen lift) basket soon so I can paint the eave trim on the house, but for lower heights sitting on the forks works, too!  Here is the family out placing the purple martin house on the newly repaired post.  Birds moved in that very afternoon.

2 pigs, 3 nuts -or- More castration woes

I promised the vet I would try to castrate the final two boar piglets myself (with Scott holding them).  So Monday was the day.  Now of the 5 pigs, one is a girl, and two have castration scars already, but none of that is easy to see when they are on the move.  After a chase, I had both correct boys in the cat carrier.  Scott held the first guy up-side-down by the back legs; I cut and found NOTHING.  Failure again.  We released both pigs and rescheduled with the vet.

Now, other mammal boys keep their testicles in a conveniently accessible pouch, but boars hold theirs up in their body cavities.  Because of that, they can't be banded like bulls, but have to be cut.  Once you have a slit into the body, you still have to palpitate the testicles and manipulate them out of the hole individually. 

At the vet again, we processed each pig in the parking lot shared between the vet office and the local diner.  He made the first pig look so easy, but the second pig- the one I had tried- only yielded ONE testicle!  The side I had cut had nothing to find!  I felt somewhat vindicated that my second failure was not all my own.  Check back with me in six months to see who cuts the next batch of baby boars.

Also, the one pound babies born 7 weeks ago are now close to 20 pounds each according to the scale at the vet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Trudy's 2011 litter

I'm pleased to (belatedly) announce that Trudy and Buttercup became the proud parents of seven piglets on April 7, 2011.  Of these, one gilt (girl) and four boars survive, of the home.

The piglet in my lap was the only one born before my early morning check.  I witnessed the other six pop out over the next hour or two.  One runt was weak from the start.  Both he and one brother "disappeared" during their second night under mysterious circumstances...

Castration woes

First time with pigs in my car
I'm getting my stories out of order here, but the boy piglets born April 7 have been in need of castration for a few weeks now.  In the true spirit of book learning, I reread the appropriate passage in Hobby Farms: PIGS, bought scalpels and iodine, and enlisted Scott as pig restrainer.  What the book didn't reveal, is how much fat you need to cut through to reach the desired organs.  I must have put a half inch deep slice in the poor guy (not Scott) before I gave in to his persistent shrieks (also not Scott) and gave up.

At the invitation of our vet, I loaded two of my boar piglets into a large cat carrier and took them to town for professional treatment.  Within a few tense moments, the new barrows (castrated boars), the vet, and I were all bleeding slightly and the job was done.  Now, the rest of the boar piglets are for me to do.  Soon.  If I can get Scott to help.

Follow me, kids...

Our mama pig leads the family out to graze every day.  The little ones are eating clover and the corn/soy mix we have ground at the Baldwin elevator.  Alternating mud baths and sun bathing round out their day.  Occasionally I catch piglets making forays in through the chicken door to clean up the dropped chicken feed, too. 

Weaning at 8 weeks is standard practice with hogs, but I'm tempted to leave them all together for a while longer.  Part of the humane practice of raising animals is to decrease the stress of young weaning and let the generations bond longer.  On the other hand, Trudy won't begin cycling again until after she is weaned from the litter.  With 4 months gestation and 2 months nursing a litter, we can have spring and fall litters at the same time each year.  Longer nursing would mean either a sporadic farrowing (birthing) schedule, or housing the boar separately for much of the year and having one litter.  Most likely, I should wean early, breed Trudy back, and then reunite the family.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Score one for lasagna gardening

The clerk at Dillon's grocery store laughed when I bought onion sets, but I planted them today, March 10.  With standing water all around the yard, my raised compost beds were just right for digging.  I'm tempted to put last year's stored, leggy potatoes in tomorrow before I leave for a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  More on that when I get back, if I can fit it to the farm theme...

The state of the pasture

Trudy and the calves
So far I can't tell that the hogs have hurt my pasture at all.  I still have them confined in the quarter-acre corral that was vacated by the cows, and though there is little valuable vegetation there, they don't seem to root.  They have worked and re-worked the loose hay, but left the ground alone.

I let the paddocks close to the house get overgrazed last year while we struggled to fix our perimeter fencing.  To repair some of the damage there and to improve my burned pasture, I've been broadcasting red clover seed onto any bare spots.  The legume will add nitrogen and palatability to the grazing in those pastures, especially for my pigs.  I'm hoping some well-managed rotational grazing will fix the rest.


I usually praise Scott as my farm genius when he's reading over my shoulder, but just so you know, I'm not so far off...  This little beauty, that we've been calling the Grasshopper, is a conglomeration of used parts and junkyard steel reconfigured as the ultimate handy farm machine.  It will lift 28 feet (enough to paint the house), fit any standard skid-steer attachment (bucket, forks, grapple, etc.), and do it all without marring my grass!  With 4 wheel drive, 4 wheel steer, and low ground pressure it can get to the places on our farm that are perennially soggy.  Since it's maiden voyage in the snow a few weeks ago, we've been using it to feed hay with good results.

My favorite day of the year

Scott will tell you that I anticipate the spring burn more than most holidays.  You could say that it's because it starts the growing season at Bluestem Farm, but the real reason is the chance to play with FIRE.

Years ago we would load up the truck with a full 250 gallon water tank as well as various buckets and sprayers.  Later we upgraded to the 10 gallon spray tank with electric pump that could project water further from the truck bed.  Soon after, we ditched the truck all together and carried 3 gallon spray tanks that we could refill from the pond. 

This year with a rare east wind that could only carry the fire back toward bare, tilled fields, I set off with a box of matches, holly, the dog, and not a drop of water.  I later walked the fence with a spray tank to see if any posts were smoldering, but I didn't find any so I just dumped the water out.

Maybe I'm getting cocky, but I think I'm getting better at anticipating what the fire will do.  I picked a day with a steady wind to give the fire direction, and soggy ground to keep the blaze contained within my mowed paths.  Where the flames wanted to creep too far in the wrong direction, I just stamped them out with my wet boots. 

I only burned half of my pasture this time.  I'll probably burn the rest later in the spring.  The goal is to increase plant diversity with the two different burn times, and to have a little less adverse affect on wildlife using the pasture for cover.  The burn is so fast and "cool" that Holly barely waits for the flames to pass before she's out digging for field mice.  The coyotes will show up soon too for the feast.

My neighbor to the south was burning at the same time.  Usually, I burn first and try not to burn through to his pasture, but this time he was just beyond the tree line from the area I planned NOT to burn!  No problem.  What little undergrowth the trees don't shade out, greens up fast in the spring and will rarely carry the burn through.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today's catch

Chickens aren't fooled by our latest snowfall.  They know that the days are getting longer.  (It doesn't hurt that we've increased their supplemental light hours, too.)  Until today my record production day from this young flock was 2 eggs.  Today the ladies have started working in earnest with this 11-egg haul.

In addition, I've noticed the ducks "mating" again, so they must be getting ready to lay soon, too.  With our last thaw I've been letting ducks run loose instead of shutting them in their house at night.  They visit the chicken pen for food, bathe in an outdoor pan that I keep filled, and sleep wherever they like (barn, duck house, or under the porch).  They have found ample forage in the yard and pasture.  When they start laying, though, I'll need to reimpose some structure on their ducky lives.  Ducks usually lay in the morning and can be let out to forage after that, but they do not return to their house at dusk as reliably as chickens do.  Perhaps they should be confined with the pigs.  Then, the job of collecting duck eggs can fall to Trudy and Buttercup for their protein and calcium rations.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Enjoying the weather


Blogging break

Blog post frequency is inversely proportional to outside temperature and insolation.  That is, with the last week of warm and sunny weather, I found may other farm chores to tend to; now that it's 40 degrees and rainy, I'm back at the computer.  Some of the things we did this week:

- replenished our hay and alfalfa stores
- added a barb wire strand on the top and bottom of our paddock field fences
- started the late winter orchard pruning
- spread old hay in the former hog pen for future planting
- graded the new topsoil around Scott's shop building
- wandered the back 40 and neighboring fields
- groomed the cows to help shed their winter fur
- uncovered the garlic bed
- bonded with Trudy and Buttercup

Monday, February 14, 2011

New chicken house door

The flock has spent the winter "foraging" in the barn which hasn't done much to add to their nutrition, but has been good for moral.  Chickens need entertainment and employment to keep them out of trouble.  Left in confinement, even in a largish chicken pen, they are prone to cannibalism.  Usually the flock will choose the least dominant hen and pull the feathers out of her tail and peck her back until it bleeds.  Once they start this, it's a hard habit to break.  Last winter with the hens house-bound in the old chicken house from the ice and snow, I had to remove a hen for this reason.  She later was able to return when the flock started free-ranging again.  This winter with access to the barn I haven't' had any social problems in the flock (excepting the extra rooster).

Yesterday, Scott cut a hole in the barn to let the chickens access the cattle corral.  This was always the plan, but Scott outdid himself with this design.  The steel door slides up between two vertical channels with a tug on a string that connects through two pulleys to be operable from the barn without going in the pen.  The rest of the structure is a wind- and dog-baffle.  Chickens entering the barn can navigate the narrow hallway between the door and their pen, but dogs and coyotes cannot.  We tested a similar design on the old chicken house and it worked against Koda, the egg-eating dog.  Opossums, raccoons, and cats can still get in this way, but these are less of a problem around here with Holly, the dog, on patrol.  I'll still need to close the flock in at night for their protection and to keep them laying eggs where I can find them.

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's our kitten, Mark, getting some love from Abe and Mary.  He seems to have a fascination with his big friends and will cry until they rub him all over with cow snot.  He comes away crusty, but happy. 

Free at last

Buttercup, the Guinea boar
I shut the cows out of their corral yesterday and turned the hogs outside.  Both buttercup and Trudy enjoyed a little romp in the sun, but came back to their pen in the barn to snooze.  Today is warmer, so I let them out again and fed their grain ration in the clean hay.  This seems to have done the trick for keeping them outside for a while.  They rooted around, ate, and then bedded down in the hay. 
Trudy, the Guinea sow

I moved the hay ring out to the tall grass in another paddock for the cows.  Now that the snow is gone I want to keep them out of the mud they have made in their corral.

As best I know, Trudy will farrow her litter in early April, but if she met Buttercup in early December, it could be as soon as the last week in March.  Either way she'll soon reach her third trimester (last 5 weeks in hogs) and need a little pampering.  Soon I will worm them both (actually, de-worm them) and after 14 days I'll move her to a new farrowing pen.  I'm not really sure where that will be yet, but I have more than two weeks to think about it.  The 14 days gives her time to shed her internal parasites and not carry them to the new area.