Saturday, October 26, 2013

Winter is Coming

Sorry for the title all your Game of Thrones fans... I couldn't help myself. It seems everything we have done or talked about has all sort of falls into "winter is coming...."

So since winter is coming we need to make preparations for a freeze proof watering system. The options here are endless almost and I am leaving them up to Brian for the most part. He is the mechanical, electrical Mr. Fix-it guy so I will let him figure it out and teach me how to use whatever crazy system he works out. We are also trying to figure out what to do about our fodder system. We have very limited space for such a thing and I need to be growing about 100 pounds of fodder each day, 700 pounds per week! I kinda can't wait until we have our system up and running with everything debunked and all so I can provide a definitive post on all this. The answers I am looking for are hard to find. I am sure someone else out there is looking for the same things. In a few months I hope to be able to answer these questions and a few others:

How many pounds of fodder grows from 1 pound of seed? Judging by our last experiment I would say about 5lbs but it could be more, could be less depending on how thin or thick you spread the grains. I will experiment with that and see if it changes the results much.
How many square feet grow how many pounds of fodder?
How much fodder will I need?

We have also been worrying about hay. The government shutdown ended and Brian is back to work (with overtime to boot!) so we are ready to stockpile hay! But how much hay and where does one store all this hay! Well according to research a full grown cow (Luna is maybe a 3rd of what she will be someday) will need about 1.5- nearly 3 pounds of dry matter per every 100 pounds of body weight each day. So a 1,000 pound cow would consume 15-30 pounds of dry matter per day. What is dry matter though? Is hay 100% dry matter? Dry matter is what is left after after all the moisture has been taken out of a feed item. You can calculate the amount of dry matter in your own grasses by taking 3.5oz (100g) of fresh cut grass and weighing it. Then microwave it or bake it or dehydrate it in some way and weight it again. Try to dehydrate it a little more and re weigh it. If it  weighs less after the second time then keep going until it doesn't drop in weight. When your sample is fully dry the weight in grams will be equal to the percentage of dry matter. Hay is not 100% dry matter... depending on the grass it is between 80 and mid 90%. Meaning a 40 pound bale of hay will be about 32-36 pound of dry matter. Thomasina will need about 2lbs dry matter per day and the ewes (breeding, pregnant, lactating all around 100lbs) will need 3-nearly 5lbs per day each! So that is around 27 pounds dry matter per day for them and around 20 pounds for Luna each day for a total of 47 pounds of dry matter needed. Multiply that by 20% (assuming the hay we buy only has a dry matter content of 80%) and add that to the 42 to get the total of hay needed at 56.4 pounds per day.  Average bale of hay is about 30 to 50 pounds. So about 2 bales per day after you factor in any waste. How many days should you plan to feed hay? It varies obviously but a general rule I have seen a lot is 100 days. So we need to stockpile about 200 bales of hay. Brian's co-worker has horses and she has given us a few of her less desirable bales in the past and she told Brian the other day that she has 50 bales for us for free! Yesterday Brian cleared out the left side room of the barn for us to start storing.

In other news: it is cold! Down to the 30's! I am freezing during our morning chores and our bed time head count! Broody is still feather-less so a few days ago I made her a new winter coat

I have been giving a little grain to the sheep because I haven't seen them eat much hay and I worry there isn't much in the ways of pasture for them now. I was letting them in the yard but Luna found a spot in the fence that she could push under and get to the front yard to snack in peace. Luckily she is great with people and is easy to halter so I would just lead her back to the yard and she would escape again (there is something both terrifying and hilarious about a three year old saying, "Mom! The cow is in the front yard again!") So Luna is no longer allowed in the yard. Everyone but Honey and her baby August has been sheared.  We will not be shearing August and Brian started Honey but the scissors just would not cut any more so I had to get new scissors so maybe today I will finish her up. We had all these stupid seed pods getting stuck in everyone and sadly the only real usable fleece came from Timmy. Next year we will avoid this by shearing no later than mid September!

We had three out of three buff orpington cheepies hatch! I took an egg from Stubby, Big-un and Broody so it is cute that I know who their mom's are. Doing all the old wives tales for gender guessing we would have 3 girls. Each bird has the double row of wing feathers but feather sexing only works on birds who have been chosen specifically for feather sexing. I guess we will find out in a few weeks! They are precious and we set them up in the bathroom because it seemed the safest with an 18 month old running around! At least we can shut the bathroom door!

Brian and I have been talking about trying a couple meat birds. We are in general against them because they live for a short time and really how good of a life can they live in such a short time but I want to see how it is. I wonder if we really can let them live a good life even if it is only for a small time. Turns out someone close by had a dozen Cornish Rock cross she wanted to sell. They hatched the same day as our orpingtons so we are going to have a blast comparing the two during the next 6 weeks. A little background on "meat birds" in case you were unaware. These are your typical grocery store birds. They live for 5-10 weeks from hatch til slaughter and in that time they will have consumed an average of about 10-15 pounds (a buff orpington cheepie will have consumed under 3 pounds in the same time period) EACH! Because they grow at such an alarming rate they are prone to heart problems and leg issues and other just completely unknown deaths. Most people experience a loss of 30%. They very rarely make it to breeding age and because they are a hybrid anyway thier offspring would not bring the same meaty and speedy results. At slaughter these birds will give an average of 7lbs meat! My home mixed feed costs $.15 a pound x 15 pounds of feed + $1.25 (cost of bird)  = $3.50 per bird = about $.50 a pound Everything about these birds happen fast. They grow feathers fast (though they will appear to be missing many of them) and if by some miracle they do live to laying age they lay around 4 months. This will likely be the only time we do this... it is more for the experience. This IS the chicken that any of my readers will find at any local grocery store. Anyone interested in knowing what it's life could be like if it lived on an actual farm and not inside a giant chicken house where is does nothing but eat and poop... here is what it is like! Because they are the exact same age as our orpington babies I will be talking daily (if not weekly) comparison pictures. They should be ready to go outside around 3-4 weeks which will give them 2-3 weeks of range time. We will "home port" them in the grow up coop by the house instead of the big coop in the pasture. By the time they are ready to process our buff orpingtons will be ready to go outside! Seems crazy to me!

they seriously lay in and eat their food all day long

Only difference right now is color and very slight size: orpington up front, cornish x in back
We were given 4 more ducks about a week ago. More campbells... and I was so happy Cocoa would have more friends! They were skittish at first but everyone is now a tight knit group. I have an actual flock of ducks instead of a few ducks who all do their own thing. They are laying up a storm! I get 4-7 a day from these 7 ducks! And all of those are before I open the coop in the morning! Suzie goose laid her first egg on the 11th and she was up to 6 in the nest area I made up for her in the right side room of the barn but when she hadn't started to set on them I became worried that she would never get around to it and even if she did then they would be too old so 2 days ago I took 5 of her 6 eggs and put them in the incubator. She has since laid another but I have no idea if they are even fertile or not. I wont candle these for a while. We have a 5 month old buff orpington roosting with the guineas now and the turkeys are roosting on the barn so it has been interesting doing evening head counts.

In general everyone is doing well. Cow is fat, ram is VERY interested in his ladies... there is a lot of baby dancing going on right now!

Oh and one of our white leghorns is molting and she looks like a zombie:

But yesterday morning I woke to find Honey had "scours" aka runny poop. Last month I was not consistent on their vermx but everyone was doing well anyway. Today is day 4 of their treatment and yesterday I brought a sample from Honey to my sister. Honey will now be getting a double dose of vermx and also some pumpkin. I am going to bring her and August into the yard away from the rest of the flock so I can baby her a bit. She will be getting some extra feed and we just might also pick up some red cell to get her back up in color. I have not caught August in a while so I am not sure how his color or body condition is but I am worried enough about his mama to want to baby him too just in case. This was Honey's fecal:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Busy Days and Rainy Days

An update has long since been needed! We have been outrageously busy this past month I almost can't believe it has been a month since our last post. Time truly flies when you have a farm and kids and the government shuts down. Brian is the sole bread winner of our family. He is a federal worker at the shipyard and this furlough thing has had us in a bit of some turmoil being so close to winter and needing to stockpile hay for the winter but suddenly having no budget for even human food let alone animal food. So, lets go back in time and work our way forward to catch up on all the happenings around here!

I last left off with my sprouting fodder on day 3 or 4. Well on day 7 we brought it out to see what everyone thought. All the livestock looked at us like we were nuts and then went and ate grass but the birds gobbled it right up! Thomasina attempted to eat just the seed portion. It weighed 5.2lbs at harvest and was about 6 inches from bottom to top. So 1lb dry seed = 5lbs fodder.

Brian and I continued pulling more weeds from the pasture and it really looks so much better but we were faced with a new way worse weed! A plant that she sheep enjoy eating but once it goes to seed it becomes sharp little long things that just get stuck in everyone. Which really is no fun because now almost everyone's wool is full of this stuff and it is damn near impossible to pick out. So we started shearing. And by start I mean in 3 weeks we have only sheared 2 out of the 5 sheep. We will not shear little baby August because I want him to focus on growing himself and not his wool all winter. Elsa and Molly have been done so far and they look much better. Elsa was a wreck and most of her wool is really only good for compost or something at this point. So many spurs and junk... sad. Molly's was better but still pretty yucky in some spots. I put what wasn't too bad of Elsa's wool into a vat of water about a week ago to begin a fermented "wash". I started to shear Timmy without having him tethered and he walked around too much so we both gave up. I will get to him as soon as this rain stops!

We have been doing really well with our home mixed bird feed. Our neighbor harvested his corn next to our house and we watched (because we have an almost 3 year old who finds these things extremely fascinating) and we noticed that there was a great deal of loss in the field. We spoke to them about it and were told at this point they could do nothing about it. Any corn left on the ground is now unable to be harvested unless you do it by hand. So we have been doing precisely that! There are areas that the combine just completely missed! Over the course of 3 days or so doing a total of maybe 10 hours we harvested over 200lbs of corn for free. It was therepudic in a way. We would gather during the day and after the kids went to bed Brian and I would pluck the grains from the cob into a bin. So I re did my math and have added a little corn to the bird ration.

Everyone is doing great. Getting the same amount of eggs as we were when we used the commercial feed. Even the guineas have started laying... though they have moved their nest to heck knows where. I haven't found a guinea egg in a long while. They may just be out of season now. Speaking of eggs: we had been getting a mysterious "coop floor egg" each morning. Ironic because that mystery egg, whoever was laying it, suddenly became our most consistent egg. No matter what I had a "floor egg" when I let the birds out in the morning. At first I thought it must be the Australorp or gold star. They are the next oldest birds we have and should be laying any day. But these eggs are kinda weird so we wondered, could these be duck eggs? They have a different kind of bloom on them. It is like a thicker layer but then I thought, maybe just dirt from the coop floor. The very light tan bloom would wipe or scratch off and reveal a white egg underneath. Just when I was thinking they were duck eggs I found one in a nest box which surely no ducks could get into because they are about a foot off the ground with no ramp or anything. Our ducks can barely get over the side of the kiddie pool to swim! But last night as Brian and I did our head count there was Cocoa, our little Campbell duck in the nest box where I had seen the mystery egg and sure enough this morning there was a little egg waiting for me. And speaking of duck eggs: someone was giving away ducks and we snatched them up. Four more Campbells just like Cocoa! They are all currently laying and they left me two very large floor eggs today. Maybe Cocoa will show them the nest boxes one of these days!

In other bird news, our cheapies graduated from their grow up pen and have proven quite worthy of the free range life. They are excellent hunters and I have seen many of them with mice and snakes and chasing bugs. A couple are always hanging around the cow plucking flies away from her ankles. It has also been several weeks and we have not lost a one which is quite impressive for their size and age. I remember losing a few sexlink and orpington babies from our last batch of littles. Not these guys though... they are tough! There are clearly at least 6 hens and a few maybe's plus many for sure roosters. Brian processed our first hen a few weeks ago. We watched a million videos, read many articles and he felt ready to do it. We have a few coucou marans who are not laying so I went and grabbed one. We explained to the nearly 3 year old that we were going to eat the chicken. She insisted that we could not eat that specific chicken so I had to choose another... which she approved of. We explained what we were going to do and how Brian would kill the chicken and we would take off her feathers and then in a couple days we would eat her. She wanted to watch but we didn't let her. We let her see the plucking and other things but not the actual dispatching of the bird. She didn't really watch anyway. The turkeys however were very interested in the whole process...

Two days later I put her in the crock pot with some veggies. Ironically though that same day we went out for morning chores and found a maran looking off. I picked her up and saw she had been hit with flystrike on a prolapsed vent. The smell is something I will never forget. Judging by the size of the maggots this situation went from not the end of the world to deadly in 24 hours or less. The maggots were everywhere and I just could not get them all. After trying to clean it up for a good 30 minutes with only mild success I told Ali I thought we would have to kill the bird. She was ok with it... in fact she agreed. I told her she had a booboo so bad that we couldn't fix it and that she was hurting really badly and it was not fair for us to make the chicken live if she was hurting so much and we could not save her. She said, "we can bury her in the yard" so I told her we would have to kill the chicken first and I told her to go inside but she asked why and I told her I didn't want her to see and be sad but she said she wouldn't be sad and that it was ok. She didn't watch. I was going to wait for Brian to do it but I really felt so bad for her. It looked so painful. I couldn't bear to leave her like that. I tried to snap her neck first. Wanted to avoid blood... failed. Chicken necks are really hard to break... she got a nice chiropractic adjustment I guess. So I used the machete. I cried... Ali asked why and I told her I was sad for the chicken but Ali said it was ok because when the chicken is dead she wont be hurt anymore (so smart) We buried her and had a little funeral. And then we had her sister for dinner. She was an old bird (over age 5) but thanks to the slow cooker she was so tender and being an older hen she had so much flavor. Both kids ate seconds! Sadly we started having some problems with our Saxony drakes attacking our Pekin. Poor Ping-pong was looking a little worse for the wear. And so we dispatched a Saxony a couple days ago. Roasted him last night and was very pleased with the results! Though it was harder for Brian to do. Chickens can look menacing at times. A duck almost always looks innocent... until you remember that he had been making life very hard for other birds. Ping-pong and the remaining drake seem to be getting along a little better this morning though we agreed that if he continues to be a problem we will list him n the local swap.

While on furlough Brian fixed the coop door so that Thomasina can't get in anymore, which means the birds have 24/7 access to feed now. He also fixed the gate so it opens with one hand which really is a big deal! And he cut a path to the back pasture. Then we drove back there in his truck and did donuts to knock down some of the big dead weeds.

The flat area is our neighbors harvested corn. The tall insanity is our property.

Luna is growing and doing great with the halter, though she listens really well without it anyway. I can get her to come, follow me, stop and back up all just with voice commands. I don't spend too much time loving on her like when she was tiny. She needs to respect our space so I give her space and she gives me mine. Thomasina is in heat again but nothing too crazy about that. It is due to rain for a while now so I am not sure when we will get to Timmy and Honey for shearing but hopefully soon. Timmy had the nicest wool in our flock and I would like to get it off before it is matted or covered in too much vegetable matter! It has been raining like crazy for the last few days and everyone has been mainly hanging out in the barn to keep dry. 

I can't help but laugh at wet chickens... they just look ridiculous!

Brian is off furlough and back to work but it is unpaid until this shutdown ends which means we have little to no budget for anything right now which is actually quite scary. I had wanted to get all new minerals for everyone and set up a new mineral bar and we wanted to do some winter seeding in the pasture and all but now that is on hold til we are getting paid again. Hoping all this is resolved soon. We have hay to buy and things to fix and really what family can afford NO income?

Til next time, which hopefully wont be too long from now, thanks for reading!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Pasture Mob

What started out as a hope for some help from friends via a facebook invite quickly turned into a much bigger event than we were expecting. I was contacted by the leader of a local volunteer group (The Tidewater Crop Mob) asking if she could share the event and would we be open to having the paper do a story on us and her volunteer group. Of course we said yes, because the more the merrier and we had plenty of weeds to go around! A few days later I noticed while flipping through the local paper that our Pasture Mob was in the events section thanks to the volunteer group! So cool! The RSVP's really picked up and we were expecting between 15 and 40 people. Unable to resist the urge to party Brian decided that we would need to do something special so we talked to the neighbors and got ourselves a whole hog. Brian rented a cooker from the base and the day before our party had his first ever pig processing experience. Thankfully our neighbor's son did most of the work while Brian learned. The morning of the mob Brian woke later than he hoped to and got to the neighbor's to get the pig and get the grill going. Those first few hours were trying because the temp just wouldn't stay stable and he was so worried it just wouldn't get up to the temperature he needed to get the pig in pickin' shape. We cleaned up the yard area and pulled a couple of the weeds to put on a table by the front so everyone knew what they were looking for. I was finishing up our house chores when people started to arrive. We wasted no time and walked out to the coop to introduce everyone to the animals and get started. All the kids of course were so excited to see the animals and all the animals were exhausted and lazy as usual. Luna very much enjoyed the attention. We started working on the patches closest to the path from the gate passed the barn to the coop. The progress was easily seen right away! It was like I blinked and suddenly could see from one side to the other. I immediately thought about the night before and my walk in the dark to the coop and how it had started to get scary with the dog fennel hiding things and making a good line of sight in the pasture impossible. In just minutes it was gone! The path was clear on both sides... faster than I expected. The adults pulled and the kids took the wagons filled with pulled weeds to the fence line to be tossed over. Some people came and went so I am not 100% sure on the numbers but I believe we had a little over 30 people come out! Only 3 of which I knew! Can you believe it? Thirty total strangers came to my house to help us pick an acres worth of weeds! We had people out there from 10am til after 4pm. It was amazing to see... strangers helping strangers. I tear up thinking about it. You don't hear about people helping people for no reason often these days but it happened here. There was so much positive energy floating around. Everyone was happy, even if they were grunting to pull out one of the more well rooted weeds! Most popped out easily but a few required shovels.

We took a break around noon for lunch. The pig came out perfect! Probably the best Brian or I have ever done and we have cooked many pigs back when we worked for my mom's old catering company! It was a potluck and there were many wonderful dishes to share! Brian's mom brought drinks, including beer and juice for the kids. A few people left after lunch and many stayed to do more work and even a couple new arrivals showed up around lunch, including some of our old friends from our community garden in Norfolk! We missed them so much and it was so nice to show them around our new place and catch up on the latest garden gossip! All in all it was an amazing day and so much work was done. We are just so thankful for all the help. The pasture is not 100% free of the weeds we were working to clear but what is left is a small enough area that Brian and I could knock it out in a couple hours or a few minutes each day for a week or so. Brian and I were busy running about so neither of us got any decent pictures of the day but a member of the crop mob was a photographer (Studio 321 Photography by Niki Park) She also is a fellow blogger who writes about local farms and how she is supporting them (Farm to Fork Hampton Roads) and she got some amazing shots!

Here are a few after shots:

one of MANY giant piles of pulled dog fennel

that far corner over there is where we found the placenta from baby August's surprise birth!

Aside from the mob this weekend we have been busy this week! Last Thursday I went out to the brewery and picked up a bunch of spent grain. It was gorgeous and the people were so nice! The birds love it! Brian went to pick up as much wheat as he could from the farmer I mentioned in the fodder post. Though something went wrong and it looked like their whole silo had gone bad somehow... moisture and moldy and infested with weevils. They'd already loaded 2 bushels for him when they realized what was wrong. I was so so sad! It was such a good deal and was going to save us so much in feed in the long run. He called a few days later to say they figured it out and the majority of the grain is in great condition. Brian went on Monday to get a proper load. We had enough in the budget to get 13 bushels (just under $100) Brian came home with a little over 34 bushels. Ooops. Apparently 30 seconds is about how long it takes for 2,050lbs of wheat to go from silo to truck bed.

When he pulled up he just laughed and opened the tarp. I was thinking, "wow... that seems like a ton of wheat!" Turns out it was a ton, actually a little over a ton, of wheat! We scooped it from his truck bed by the bucket load to the 58 gallon rain barrels. We filled five and three quarters barrels full of beautiful "soft red winter wheat". It only took us an hour or so to unload it all. Before closing up that last barrel I took a 1 pound scoop to test for sprouting. I hadn't expect much of anything to come of it because it has been stored for really a very long time and it was not handled as "seed quality" grain which means it was exposed to some high heat and some humidity. I soaked for 24 hours and after those 24 hours I poured the grain into a strainer to start the sprouting process. Brian joked about my constant checking the grains: "You think they are going to sprout before your eyes?" Yep! They sure did! Forty-eight hours into it, twenty-four to soak and twenty-four of me watering and draining them every few hours and we had quite a bit of growth! This tray will be ready for "harvest" on Monday! I feel a huge weight lifted! Fodder will be so good for our budget! Now I need to set up an automated system! We have time to work out the kinks and all before we really need to have an efficient system going.

Sprouting wheat the morning after putting into the sprouting tray after the 24 hour soak. Just barely a little sprouting. Let's call this "Day 1"
This was taken about 10 hours after the previous photo. Great progress! "Day 1" PM
This was the following morning. About 10 hours after the previous picture. "Day 2"
This was that night (Day 2)
And here is this morning! Day 3... look at that growth! 

That is all for the farm updates this week. All the critters are doing great. A small group of our hens refuse to lay in the coop and they move their secret stash every time I find and collect the eggs. So we have fluctuating egg numbers but it is usually between 9 and 14 eggs a day. Brian and I have been learning some more gardening techniques and I am thinking we will try a hugelkultur bed next season. Brian came up with this genius plan to kidnap all the Christmas trees on the curb after the holidays! I am also thinking of putting a few of the baby cheepies into the old guinea tractor to till up a patch for a fall/winter garden. I just need to figure out where... certainly not in the current garden because you can barely open the fence in there! I wish we had an electronet fence that we could move about so we could put the sheep in the front yard or into the garden (it is only fenced on 2 sides) so the animals could trim up the grass when needed. It would be good for them to move off the pasture for a few weeks anyway! Maybe next time we have some flexibility in our farm budget!