Friday, May 30, 2008

Flock Integration

"And it came to pass that the two great nations of fowl, the Anitadites and the Galluseans, met in battle on the plain. And there was much squawking and gnashing of beaks, for each knew that they would never reign supreme again."

Yes, tonight the ducks and layers were combined into one pen. The hens were offended by the large, boorish creatures in their house, while the ducks were terrified by the very idea of a house.

Found It!

I took a closer look at the neighbor's pastures, and found the source of the pond's water. There is a little stream that runs down the hillside and into the old creek bed. It should not be too difficult to pipe that over to a trough for livestock.

There is a lot of wildlife back in there. Yesterday I got a close look at a blue heron in the pond, and tonight I conversed with a screech owl. It called to me, and I whistled the song back. I tried to get a picture, since it was sitting just above me, but it was too dark to turn out very well. After lightening the photo, you can kind of see the owl in the middle of the picture.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Auxiliary Pastures

Today I took a few minutes to go look at the neighboring pastures that I now have access to. They were a very good example of what happens when a pasture only gets cut once a year. Weeds were nearly choking out the grass for much of it, and brambles were starting to pop up at the edges. It's actually perfect forage for goats, but I don't have enough goats to go clear it, at least not without neglecting my own farm.

I'm thinking that if I get any more goats at auction this year, they can work in those pastures during their quarantine. Then, after they've cleared the weeds and grass has grown up, I'll put cattle in there.

The big issue with those pastures will be water. The creek used to run along the edge of them, but sometime in the last 50 years it was diverted and a causeway was built for the road to run along. Now the creek is on the opposite side of the road from the pastures. It was actually kind of creepy to look through the trees and see the old creek bed, dry and empty. Just before the creek bed hits the causeway, there is a small "pond." This is in quotes because I don't think it gets more than a few feet deep at any point. I could pull water from there, but it's so nasty-looking and choked with algae that I would worry about the water quality. I need to do a more detailed survey and see if there are any other water sources that I could use.

Hay Storage

Since we don't have a barn, I've had to get creative with hay storage. Last year I experimented with several types of haystack, but I didn't have enough skill to make them water resistant. The final stack was made by criss-crossing branches on the ground to keep the hay up, with a large tarp over the top to keep water off. This worked reasonably well, but since the tarp rested on the top of the hay, any moisture would condense and soak the top layer. Also, a number of field mice took up residence underneath.

I have a couple of different things to try this year. According to the book The Lost Country Life, here is how an English haystack was built:

A stack of hay always had some foundation; it could be built upon a level flooring of stones, covered with a deep layer of still-green bracken, which does not seem to have 'risen damp' to the hay... The reasons for this bracken foundation were that through it the air could pass easily (it does not pack close like hay), and that it raised the valuable hay several feet off the damp ground and was rat-proof -- rats will not gnaw through bracken, for it, like horse tail, makes their mouths sore.

I don't know that we have actual bracken around here, but there are several different kinds of ferns. The hillside across the road has quite a few, and I have permission to cut as many as I want. It's very labor intensive to gather the rocks for the foundation, so I'm only building one of these haystacks this year. I calculate that it will hold approximately 1000 lbs of hay, which is 1/5 the amount I need for the goats.

I have also sketched out some ideas for racks that would store hay completely off the ground. I'll describe it more fully and take pictures once I've built them and made sure that they work, but basically there would be a frame to hold my large tarp off of the top of hay, and several smaller frames underneath to hold mounds of hay off of the ground.

Finally, I plan to get large burlap bags and pack some of the hay into them for storage in our garage. If I get the construction rolls (6' X 1500') and cut them down into 3' X 6' bags, each bag would hold approximately 50 lbs of hay, or comparable to a bale. The bags would be for backup, in case anything happens to the hay stored at the field. I would probably also use them on days with heavy snow or ice, where I would be unable or unwilling to get the hay out of the haystacks. Buying the burlap for the bags will be slightly more expensive than just buying that quantity of hay, but the bags would be reusable for many years.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Old Farm Resources

Back in November, I visited the Barnesville Antique Mall and cleaned them out of old agriculture books. I got a chance to go back today. The box of Jersey cattle registries was still there, but I was far less tempted to buy it this time. There were only a few new agriculture books.

The New Agriculture, by Henry Jackson Waters. 1924. A textbook covering crops, livestock, soil management and bookkeeping, complete with questions at the end of each chapter.

Horticulture Enterprises, edited by Kary C. Davis. 1929. Another textbook, discussing various crops: fruit trees, strawberries, grapes, onions, beets, asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, celery, and mustard, as well as woodland management. Not only does this one have questions at the end of each chapter, but it also has field and laboratory exercises to complete. The book also came with a USDA Farmer's Bulletin tucked into its pages, titled "The Farm Garden in the North" (1922).

After picking through the book room, I wandered downstairs to the farm implements closet. There were some interesting old tools there, but nothing really caught my eye. I had hoped to find something useful in there, at the very least as a model.

The last section I looked in was the basement, where a lot of the things that weren't nice enough to go upstairs were stored. Boy, what a treasure trove down there. I found a sickle that was only $5. It was a bit rusty, but otherwise in pretty good condition. I didn't think to take a picture of it before I started cleaning it up, but here it is after sanding most of the rust off and applying a few layers of linseed oil. It still needs to be sharpened, although it's already sharp enough to decapitate a burdock plant.

I also found an ox yoke, but it was $65 so I didn't buy it. It was nice to be able to hold one in my hands and really inspect it; I now have more confidence that I can carve one based on instructions I found online. It was very small, so I guess it was for training young cattle. I don't know, if it's still there next time I visit I might go ahead and buy it, now that I've seen some of the prices for yokes and yoke components online. It would cost $200 dollars just to buy the curved bows that hold the yoke onto the oxen's necks! I guess $65 is a steal for a yoke in reasonably good condition.

There was also a hay rake leaning up against one wall. It had been broken and repaired with electrical tape, and there wasn't a price tag on it. I don't know how well it would stand up to actual use, but again, it was nice to be able to see how a hay rake is put together. That's something else I intend to try to make at some point.

All in all, it was a great trip to Barnesville.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Animal Power

I started thinking last week that maybe we should get a couple of calves this year to train as oxen. It will be several years before they can really work, and I think future-me would appreciate it if I took the initiative and started the project sooner rather than later. The difficulty is that oxen are worked in pairs, and our pastures just aren't big enough to support two oxen and a beef steer, not to mention hay for them plus the goats during the winter. After much thought, I reluctantly tabled the idea of oxen for a later time.

However, just a few days later our downstream neighbor came to visit. His family owns the property, but they mostly just use it for hunting. It's a huge pain for them to keep all the grass mowed down, so he offered free grazing and mowing to me. There are a couple of pastures that are too narrow for tractors, so the local farmers won't cut them for him. All told, they have enough grass that I could raise far more than three cattle at a time, so now I'm seriously looking into starting oxen this year.

From what I've read, dairy breeds (or multi-purpose heritage breeds) are preferred for working cattle. I could easily pick up a couple of Holstein calves for less than $100 each, but I'm leery of that breed. The breeders have focused so much on milk production that I wonder how well they hold up to work. Then again, since I've never trained oxen before, it might be best to start with cheap cattle, knowing that they'll probably have a shorter working life than other breeds.

Up near Tappan Lake I saw a farm with Dutch Belted cattle, which are a little known milking breed. After reading about them, I think they bear looking into. They're probably out of our budget at this time, though.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Back in the Swing

After spending Sunday resting, I cut some more of the pasture tonight. This time my muscles didn't complain at all, and I got a lot done. It's so satisfying to watch the stalks fall with every swing of the blade. I could have kept going, but the sun had gone down and I needed to rake the cut grass out to dry before leaving. Orchard grass is quite lovely in twilight, with luminescent blue-green leaves. I love mowing season.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

First Mowing

This May has been very rainy, so for the last several weeks I've been watching the pasture grass getting higher, and higher, and higher. There haven't been enough dry days in a row to get it cut and dried before the next storm rolled in. It's not so bad for the big farmers, since they use tractors to cut the entire field at once, and they bale it in a day as well. I guess the downside for them is if a surprise rainstorm comes up, it can ruin an entire field's worth of hay.

Here at Foxtail Farm, it's just me and a scythe, so I can only cut a small portion each day. I really needed to get a start on cutting, regardless of the weather, so today I set up a shade gazebo type thing that we got from Paul's aunt. I figured I could pile the cut grass under it to keep it out of the rain, and then spread it out to dry when it's not raining.

I didn't cut much grass today because the necessary muscles had gotten rather weak after some eight months since the last time I did this. I had thought I was in decent shape, what with hauling water buckets all over the farm, but today I discovered that scything uses very different muscles than water hauling. Ouch. I'm taking some ibuprofen and going to bed.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Problem Goats

I know I've mentioned them before, but I have two problem goats in the herd. Number 10 has a lot of Spanish influence in her, which makes her a good jumper. She can jump the electric fence from a stand. Mostly, she stays put, but she knows she can jump out any time she wants. She's also one of the most skittish of our goats, and these two things make it very difficult to catch her for deworming and hoof trimming.

Number 6 has learned how to get her nose under the bottom wire of fence (which isn't hot) and then scoots her way under it. She gets zapped a little bit, but not enough to stop her. A lot of times Bantini squirts through with her. I could probably stop her by staking down the bottom strand of fence all around the paddock, but that kind of defeats the purpose of movable fencing.

These two goats have an ultimatum. If they don't produce kids this year, they're going to auction. I might be willing to put up with their escape habits if they were good producers, but otherwise they have no place in our flock.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


One of the Pekins tried to get through the electric fence, and got its wing stuck. By the time I found it, it had been electrocuted. As I carried it to the compost pile to be buried, Cerra kept yelling, "No! You have to take him back to his friends!" She doesn't understand what death means yet.

An Update That Deserves Its Own Post

On April 21st, Paul and I were both working out at the farm when a brown dog came trotting down the road. We noticed her because a passing car had to slow way down to avoid hitting her. She was friendly, so we lured her down into the pasture to get her out of the road. We decided to take her back to the house and make some found dog posters, which we later posted in the post offices and feed stores of both Adena and Cadiz. The dog was a little bit thin, but otherwise seemed to be in good condition. Even though she'd clearly been on the move for a while, the pads of her feet were not abraded and didn't seem to be sore. Here she is that first night.

It looks like she has at least a little Black Mouth Cur in her. Compare to this photo from a breeder:

After a week with no calls, we decided to name her. Cerra has grown very attached to her, so we decided to let her choose the name. She came up with "Netta," which has a nice sound to it.

Last Sunday, we started seeing a male dog that looks a lot like Netta hanging around our house. We'd never seen him around town before, so we speculate that they both had escaped/been dumped from the same place. They might even be littermates. He was very wary of people and disappeared down the alley way any time one of us tried to approach him. Even though he was thin enough that I could see his ribs, he was very mistrustful of the food I tried to lure him with. However, as long as I kept my distance, he was content to lie down and watch me work on training Netta. He seemed very interested in our activities.

Today he finally approached me of his own volition. I took Lily out (on leash, luckily) and he was right there waiting. He came right up to me and let me pet him, and after that he let me handle him. The poor guy has gotten really skinny in the week since I first saw him, but I think he'll be a nice looking dog once I get the weight back on him. I'll put up another set of signs for him, but I doubt that anyone will respond. In a couple of weeks, I'll get him neutered (Netta has her appointment to be spayed in just over a week). We're leaning towards keeping him, too, although I may look for a good home for him after he's had some training. The tentative name for him is Bibb, after William Wyatt Bibb, the first governor of Alabama. Paul chose that name, since Black Mouth Curs are a southern breed, and from what we've seen online, the red-colored ones seemed to mostly be located in Alabama.

Here he is. Doesn't he have a cute face?

Quick Update

Oh, dear. It's been nearly a month since my last post. Here are some of the things I've been working on in that time:

Our ducklings arrived on April 9th (12 Indian Runner Ducks, assorted colors, and 11 White Pekins). Two of the Runners died in the first couple of days, but the rest are doing great. The Pekins should be at market weight in about another month. We'll only be slaughtering enough males to bring us down to two or three, and we'll be keeping all of the females for breeding stock.

Something killed most of the Wyandotte chicks by reaching through the chicken wire and grabbing them. It couldn't get them out to eat, so it just kept killing. In one night, I lost 15 chicks leaving me with only 10. I think it was probably a coon, but I never caught anything in the live trap I set nearby. I surrounded the pasture pen with electric netting, and haven't lost any since.

April 28th, I moved the ducks out to the pasture. Since they require a higher protein feed than chicks, they couldn't share the pasture pen. My solution was to put the ducks within the electric netting surrounding the pen. They've settled in well and have learned to respect the electric wire. This is especially important for the Runners, since they will be one paddock ahead of the goats once they get big enough to be contained by the goat fencing.

I got a good start on the back fence a few weeks ago, but haven't gotten around to stretching it. It's a good thing, too, because there was a storm a few days ago that dropped a large, heavy branch right on my fenceline. I would have been very upset to have to rebuild that fence so soon after putting it up. At this point, all I need to do is to pound in a bunch of staples, stretch the fence, attach it to the T-posts, and hang the two gates. That sounds like a lot, but most of it goes pretty quickly. Hammering the staples is the most time-consuming; once that's finished, the rest should flow together in just a few days.