Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Garden Preparation

Yesterday, Paul went out to the garden to start preparing the soil and plant a few seeds. He quickly decided that a shovel just wasn't going to work. If he kept at it, he might have the garden ready to plant by October.

We came up with a Plan B, which was to rent a rototiller, and a Plan C, which was to buy one. I was opposed to Plan C, because it didn't seem very cost effective to buy a machine that would only be used a few times a year. Paul didn't like Plan B because it's a pain to haul a rototiller to and from the land, and to get all of the tilling done during the rental period. We finally came up with Plan D, which was hiring a neighboring farmer to bring his tractor down and till it for us, which he did this evening.

It really was the best plan. It cost about what renting a tiller for a day would be, and he did a much better job than the rental. I know this because the rental is what we did last year. So now two-thirds of the garden is tilled and ready for planting. The other third is mine to play with, and I'm going to experiment with pig plowing and corn growing (not at the same time).

Speaking of corn, due to the high prices I've decided to grow as much of my feed grain as possible this year. I want an open-pollinated corn variety, so that I don't have to buy seed every year. This guy had really good prices, and I decided to order the blue corn since I don't need a full bushel of seed (that would plant about five acres, and I'm only planting maybe an acre this year). Unfortunately, I just got my order form returned, with a note saying that the blue corn failed the germination tests so it's not for sale this year. At this point, I may just plant whatever hybrid variety the feed store is selling, and worry about sustainability next year.

Pasture Chicks

I moved the chicks out to pasture yesterday to make room in the brooder for ducklings this week. They were unhappy about the chicken crate and the travel, but it didn't take long for them to settle into their new home. Speaking of which, I don't think I ever blogged about the construction of my pasture pen.

Joel Salatin builds his out of lumber, chicken wire, and aluminum roofing. Each pen is 10' X 12' and holds approximately 90 broilers. I tried to build one of these, but I didn't get very far. In order to get 12' long boards to our property, we would have to have them delivered, which is far too expensive. I tried putting together half-length sections, but it just wasn't sturdy enough. Plus, the thing is very heavy and requires a special handcart to help move it. So I started looking for other options.

I found plans for a pasture pen built out of PVC pipe and specialized fittings (warning: the fittings are the most expensive part of the pen). With some modifications, I used this plan.

First of all, the plans don't really say what that smaller square in the middle is supposed to be. Supposedly it's a "feeder support," but it's completely useless for the feeders and waterers I use, so I just omitted it. I shrunk the dimensions from 10' X 10' to 8' X 8', giving me approximately half the area of Salatin's pens. For the time being, batches of 50 broilers are more manageable than 90 broilers, so that's fine. I wanted the height to be more than 2' to accomodate turkeys as well as chickens. It turned out that 26" was the most cost effective, because that's what was left in a 10' pipe after cutting out two 47" sections. So the turkeys get an extra 2" of headroom.

The instructions say not to glue any joints, but I found that it was absolutely necessary to glue them. Just be sure that everything is set up properly, first. I also found that simply gluing the hinges and latches was not enough given the amount of stress on them, so I further attached them with small screws (I just noticed on re-reading the instructions that it says to do that as needed. I'm observant).

I used 4' poultry fence to cover it. First I wrapped around the sides, bending the excess in on the top and bottom. Once that was secure, I covered the top and door. Be sure you do the gluing before putting the fence on, because it's a pain afterwards.

My watering system is the same as Salatin's, with an automatic bell waterer attached to a five gallon bucket resevoir. The chicken wire roof alone is not strong enough to support a full bucket, so I angled a 1X6 board across a corner next to the tarp peak for support. I used wire to attach the bucket to the peak so that it won't fall off during moves. The tarp goes over both the peak and the bucket, to protect the water from debris that could clog the tubing.

The pen is light enough to be moved by one person, but with the waterer installed and a full bucket, too heavy to blow away. I still stake down the edges with guy lines, just in case some unusual wind comes through.

I'll probably continue to make small modifications, but I intend to use this plan for the rest of the pasture pens that I make. Somewhere, I should still have the notes I scrawled to myself about quantities, prices, and lengths. If I find it, I'll post more detailed instructions.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Perimeter Fencing

For our pastures and garden, we have woven wire fencing, with wooden corner assemblies and T-posts in between. Actually, I still have one last length of fencing to put up before the main pasture is completely fenced. Woven wire won't work for the rest of our perimeter fencing, though. The pond pasture is low enough that you hit water about two feet down. The rest of the perimeter is in the forest, where the ground is very rocky and it's impossible to go in a straight line because there are trees in the way. Also, if a tree or branch falls on a section of woven wire, that can mean that the whole section needs to be re-stretched.

My next thought was to use livestock panels. They have the extreme disadvantage of being very expensive, but they have numerous advantages. They can be bent around trees, they only need T-posts to hold them up, they can be used as gates, damaged sections can be replaced without affecting the rest of the fence, and they can be taken up and moved to another property if necessary. Granted, that last one requires renting or hiring a truck that's capable of hauling 16-foot long fence sections, but it is doable.

However, livestock panels are far beyond our fencing budget, so I've had to think further. The next possibilty I thought of was heavy duty electric netting, which is meant to stay in one place for months or years. This would be less than half the cost of the panels, with most of the advantages. An extra advantage is that these fences can be hauled in a normal pickup truck, so there would be no need to use specialized hauling. The only disadvantage is that if the power fails, the fence fails. However, that's already an issue with the movable fences we already use.

Thinking further, there's also the option of using T-posts and multiple strands of electric wire (actually, I would use Intelli-Twine). My initial calculations show that this option would be approximately an eighth of the cost of the netting. The disadvantages are that it is no longer movable (less of an issue with such a low cost), and it is more complicated to design and more work to implement.

After looking at all the options, I think that I will use the last option for most of the remaining perimeter. However, the sections near the creek are prone to flooding, so I think that in those areas I want to use the netting. That way I can remove them each winter and whenever flooding is an issue. Also, in the coming years I plan to rent additional pasture, so I'll want at least some reasonably portable fencing. I'll probably also use the netting for any internal fencing, since I'll want to be able to change the size of paddocks to fit the grazing requirements.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Pastures and Greedy Goats

The grass on the pastures is growing just fast enough to keep the goats fed. I have to move them every day, even with the huge paddocks created by using both permanent fences and the movable fences. That size of paddock lasts the better part of a week in summer. Still, they're keeping fed.

I nearly had a jailbreak today, though. I needed to get the goats from the garden to their new paddock near the water tank. In between those two places are the compost piles and assorted equipment that I don't want the dog and goats to be messing with. The only way I could do this was to set up the movable fences as a big lane, and then after they were in move part of the section to block off the compost pile. It all went according to plan at first, with the goats following me to the far end of the paddock (I was carrying hay, so it was no surprise). I thought for sure they would stay eating the hay while I set up the other end, but I guess they thought I still had food for them. They wandered back over to me after I'd opened up the end of the paddock, but before I could get it set back up properly. It took some agility, but I managed to scare most of them away so that I could get the fence set up. Bubba and Balto were the only ones to get out (it figures that the males would wander), but I knew I could catch both of them easily. Actually, as soon as Bubba realized that he was on the wrong side of the fence from his does, he found his way back in as quickly as he could. He's going to be really upset in a few days when I separate him for good. Balto of couse was no problem to catch, because he was too busy sniffing the compost pile to get too far.