Monday, June 23, 2008

Generous Kitty

In the last week I've found a dead field mouse and a dead mole right next to where I park my car. I think Banshee is tithing. Also, I haven't seen any mice skittering about the compost pile since we got her, whereas before I'd usually see them every day. She's doing a great job.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Silly Pig

Porkchop has an interesting method of getting to her food bowl. She won't be able to pull this off for much longer.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Worthless Crook

I recently bought a crook from Premier Supplies based on their glowing description.
Most functional and satisfying neck crook we've used. Lightweight, strong and quick in the hand. Top is molded from very tough plastic--so it will never lose its original shape and almost never breaks. Shaft is coated fiberglass. We love everything about it. When given a choice, we always grab this one.

At $39, it was also the most expensive crook that they carried, but I wanted one that would last.

I decided to try it out and do some hoof trimming today. Things were going great, but on the third goat I caught, the top broke right off! I was so disgusted. I've had nothing but good experiences with Premier and their products, so I hope that they will give me a refund when I call them on Monday. I might try out the leg crook instead, which is made of solid aluminum. Presumably that will hold up better with strong goats.

Speaking of hoof trimming, this time I used a homemade rope halter (based on this design) to tie each goat to a tree while I trimmed her hooves. Tally decided to take a nap and enjoy her pedicure. She was stretched flat out on the ground, completely relaxed. I was actually a little bit worried, because that is not normal behavior for a goat, but she got right up once I untied her and gave a little tug on the halter. None of the rest were as cooperative.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pork Chop

I was all set to drive to Barnesville today and buy a pig at the auction. However, last night I finally found a source for feeder pigs that was only a few miles away. It was a bit more than I would have paid at the auction, but when you figure in the cost of gas, the waste of an entire day, and the pig's potential exposure to disease at the auction...I was more than willing to pay what they wanted.

They delivered the pig to us this evening, but I still had to hook up the charger for the electric fence. I didn't realize that the opposite end of the fence was touching the woven wire and was grounding out, so the pig escaped into the garden. She was NOT amused at being caught, and squealed like, well, a stuck pig. Paul finally figured out the problem with the fence, and we put her back in the pen. She promptly got zapped on the nose (squeal!), and then she went over to the place where she'd gotten out before. Zap! Squeal! Zap! Squeal! Escape! Wait, that part wasn't supposed to happen. She charged through and was still small enough to fit through the fence, despite being zapped. Again I caught her and put her back in the pen, this time guarding the end that she liked to escape through.

After one final zap and squeal, she sat down and regarded the fence with a thoroughly bewildered expression on her face. Over the next few hours she napped and then rooted around a bit, but did no further escaping. I hope that when I check tomorrow morning, I'll find her still in her pen. Pigs are smart enough that electric fence is supposed to be extremely effective with them, so I hope she's figured it out by now.

The people who brought the pig were very interested in the electric netting. They'd never seen it before, but they could immediately imagine the possibilities.

Maybe It's Wishful Thinking...

...but some of the goats are looking a bit bulgy at the sides. I think they might actually be pregnant. I noticed this just before turning them in to a new paddock, so I don't think I was seeing full rumens. I remember that last fall they all looked pregant because their rumens were so big, even though none of them were.

Number 7 looked particularly round, and was one of the ones that I saw in heat in January. If she got bred then, she would be due around June 19th! None of them look quite that far along (comparing to the one that kidded last year), but I understand that it can be hard to tell with goats.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kitty Photos/Video

Tentatively named Banshee, since she is very talkative and wails anytime I'm out of sight. It fits with the theme of supernatural names for the other two cats (Spirit and Spook). Also I hope that she will be the omen of death to the field mice.

I wanted video of her talking, to demonstrate how she earned her name. However, she was silent and uncooperative for as long as the camera was out. Typical cat.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Duck Sorting

Today I sorted the ducks from the drakes, at least among the Pekins. They're still too young to have their sex feathers, but I can tell the difference in their voices. The females have a loud, honking quack, whereas the males make more of a whispery wheezing sound. Out of nine Pekins, there are four females and five males, so I chose the three males I liked best for breeding stock. I really only need one, but I'd rather have some redundancy built in. I would hate to lose my one breeding drake to a raccoon.

The remaining two ducks are now ensconced in the brooder house for the night. I plan to slaughter them on Friday. Now to do a little bit of math and figure out the cost to bring them to market weight.


*This is a rough estimate, since I didn't actually total up receipts. Actual amount may be slightly lower.

I'll estimate a dressed weight of four lbs, so the cost per pound is $2.91. I'll have more accurate data for that after I actually slaughter them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Volunteer Tomatillos

I spent some time planting beans in my garden (burgundy, green, and wax), and I noticed that there were a bunch of little tomatillo seedlings sprinkled about. There's no room in that plot for even one tomatillo plant this year, let alone a dozen, so when they get a bit bigger I'll see about transplanting them. Mmmm, salsa verde.

Chicken Catcher

I spent some time down in my workshop today and finished up my chicken catcher. It's about six and a half feet tall. To recap, here are the steps I followed to make it.
  1. Cut down a small maple sapling that the goats had girdled.
  2. Stripped off the bark and cut off branches.
  3. Let dry for a couple of days.
  4. Filed off all the rough spots (especially on the handle) and sanded the whole thing.
  5. Bent a piece of brace wire (10 gauge, if I recall correctly) into the right shape.
  6. Drilled a hole the same diameter as the brace wire into the end of the staff.
  7. With the help of some linseed oil, inserted the wire the full length of the hole.
  8. Rubbed a thin covering of linseed oil over the whole staff to slow drying and prevent cracking.
I'll continue adding layers of linseed oil as the wood dries, and eventually it will build up into a nice finish.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Potential Barn Cat

We've had a mouse problem near the hay storage and composting area since last fall, so I'd been starting to think about getting a cat for the field. On Saturday, one of my friends tried to talk me into taking one of her kittens, but I really didn't think I was ready to get another cat (we have two that have been housepets their whole lives).

I guess it really was time to get a barn cat. I was at my friend's house (the same one tempting me with the kitten on Saturday), and she mentioned that a skinny calico had shown up and started begging for food. I'm a sucker for calicos/torties (my two pet cats are one of each), and I knew that I was doomed. She opened up the door, and there the cat was, crying. She's actually a tortie and white, not a calico. She was hungry enough to come take some food from me, and it was easy to catch her. It was NOT easy to hold on to her, however, and I got a couple of good scratches on my hand. It's been too long since I've had to handle a stray cat, and I've lost my touch. On the third try, I got her by the scruff and she couldn't scratch me anymore. I had to transport her home in a pillowcase since I hadn't come prepared with a carrier or other box (it was a Pampered Chef party! I didn't expect to bring an animal home from it).

She's not going to be a pet. I'm giving her a chance to live a life that's better than wandering without a home, but it will still be a more dangerous life than she would have as a housepet. On the other hand, it's probably the only chance she'll ever be given. My friend certainly didn't want to support another cat. I'll provide food and water, and as long as I can catch her I'll give her vaccinations.

Right now, she's in the brooder house (empty of poultry, of course) until I can settle her in at the farm. I need to make a few changes to the poultry set up first, so that they'll be safe from her. There's a pile of hay under a shade tarp thing that she can perch on to get out of the rain, at least until there's shelter that's more permanent. Of course it remains to be seen if she chooses to stick around our farm. She may decide that she'd rather move on and try her luck elsewhere.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Now I Understand Why Goats Love the Stuff

Yesterday I cut down a sugar maple sapling that the goats had girdled. I plan to turn it into the handle for my chicken catcher. When I stripped the bark off it suddenly became clear to me why the goats love maples so much. It was exremely sweet smelling with traces of apple. I almost wanted to eat it myself.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Deerfly Season

Today was the first day this year that the deerflies were out in force. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to when they're around. Last year it was mid-May, the year before it was August. They appear for several weeks and then that's it for the year.

I tend to have a pretty strong reaction to deerfly bites. Nothing major, but the bites swell up and are maddeningly itchy for weeks on end. The first year was the worst, since my immune system was already on overload with all the new viruses, bacteria, fungi, and allergens that didn't exist in Arizona.

Last year I tried out deerfly patches, and they worked wonderfully. I guess there is a pretty small population on our farm, because after I had trapped about 20 of them they were no longer a problem. Those 20 just seem like hundreds because they are so aggresive!

So far I've trapped five, plus there was one that I smashed when it bit me on the leg. It's a little bit odd to walk around with a buzzing hat, but it's better than getting bitten. I highly recommend these patches for anyone dealing with deerflies.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Disoriented Ducks (and Chickens)

Today it was time for the first big paddock move for most of the poultry. The Reds are of course old hands at this, but it was quite the shock for the rest. My normal method is to herd/lure all of the birds into the house, shut the door, and then move it to a fresh spot. While they're still contained in the house, I take down the electric netting and set up a fresh section of pasture.

The ducks were easy enough to herd into the house, and the Reds were easy enough to catch. However, those little Wyandottes were too fast to catch and had no interested in being herded. So I went and made myself a chicken catcher out of brace wire. The wire was not quite stiff enough to be used for the full length, but it got the job done. I plan to find a small sapling to attach just the tip to, so that I'll have more control of it.

After snagging all of the chicks and stuffing them in the house, it was nearly dark. The rest of the move went smoothly, and hopefully they'll all get the hang of it soon enough. If not, I have a chicken catcher and I'm not afraid to use it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


I've wanted to get pigs for a while, but since I've never raised them before I was a little bit reluctant to start (mostly subconsciously). However, I spent a few hours researching pigs online, and it looks like feeder pigs, at least, are very easy to keep. There are a few things that they need:

  • Fencing
  • Feed (mostly corn)
  • Water
  • Shade/Shelter
I already have a movable shelter, which the goats spent the winter in. It's more than big enough for a pig, and it should be sturdy enough to withstand being rubbed on.

For the fencing, I will be using electric netting. It's the same kind that I use for the goats, except that it's three feet tall instead of four feet. I understand that pigs can be contained with just two strands of electric wire, but that is more difficult to move around and I'm less familiar with it. The main thing problem with netting is that pigs can cover the lower parts of the mesh with dirt, making it less effective. However, I think as long as I check it every day, it should be fine. The higher wires still work, even if the bottom ones are grounded out.

I don't want to spend over $100 for a special pig feeder when I'm not sure that it's something I'll keep doing, so I ordered some show pig feeders for $20 each. They hang on the fence and have a chain that keeps the pig from flipping them up. Obviously, I can't hang that on the electric netting, but I can leave a short section of the woven wire fence available for that purpose. I'm also going to keep my eye open at auctions and such for used pig feeders for a good price. I've read the high corn prices and low pork prices are driving a lot of pork producers out of business.

At this point, I've ordered everything I need. Now I just need to set it up after it arrives, buy some feed, and buy a feeder pig. First paddock location will be the packed down straw and goat manure from this winter. Once that is all turned up and mixed in, I'll plant corn on it. As a sidenote, I plan to grow open pollinated corn, which has a higher protein content than the hybrid varieties. I've read that open pollinated corn can be used as a complete feed for feeder pigs on pasture, no additional protein needed.

The good thing is, everything that I'm buying for pig keeping can be easily used with other livestock if I decide that I never want to do this again.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dreaming of Duckling

The ducks turned eight weeks old on Monday, so it's just about time to slaughter the excess Pekin drakes. In Arizona, I had tried dry picking the ducks that I slaughtered, but it never worked well. In every case, I gave up in frustration and skinned them instead. Dry picking is supposed to give you better quality down feathers, but that doesn't mean much if you can't get them off the bird in the first place!

This time I will be scalding them before plucking, just like I learned to do on the chickens last year. The only difficulty is that I don't have any pots big enough to dunk a duck in. Somewhere on the web, I saw a tip for scalding geese: pour boiling water into a metal garbage can until there's enough to dip the bird in, and once the water cools to the right temperature you can scald. I plan to try this with the ducks, but I need to get a clean garbage can first.

The big thing I'm looking forward to is the rendered duck fat. That stuff is delicious, and great for cooking. The cast iron griddle seems to like it even better than bacon grease.