Thursday, October 22, 2009

Catch Up

Things that have changed since the last time I blogged:

We bought four started White Embden goslings. One has slipped wings and will be Christmas dinner. Of the remaining three, hopefully both genders are represented so that we can raise more goslings next year. They certainly keep the grass mowed down well!

The female Pekin duck with leg problems has recovered. I'm contemplating hatching a few ducklings next spring, since I have so many broody hens. The final remaining runner duck disappeared. I really liked the runner ducks, but they seem to be entirely too fragile for our farm.

Speaking of fragile, we're getting out of meat goats. All of the kids born this year died. I think it was stomach worms, even though we dewormed them, because with the new baby we weren't able to rotate them through the forest so they were just in the main pasture for most of the summer. There are two does left (because we sold three troublemakers earlier in the summer), and I need to get pictures of them and list them for sale.

However! In July we bought two Saanen does, with one of them in milk. She's dried off now, because she was producing so little, but during the summer we were getting nearly a gallon a day. The younger one is looking very round, so I'm beginning to wonder if she was bred before we bought her. It's not ideal to have young kids in autumn (although better than the depths of winter!), but if it turns out to be the case it will be nice to have milk through the winter. I still need to find a buck, preferably Saanen but other dairy is acceptable, to breed the other doe this winter. We're going to be focusing on dairy goats, with meat simply as a side product.

There are a bunch of new chicks. The two broody hens I wrote about before hatched out 14 chicks between them, and we also bought 50 Rhode Island Red pullet chicks from the hatchery. There was still one more broody hen last month, so I let her sit on another dozen eggs. She only hatched four, but is otherwise a good mother. One of the chicks has blue feathers and looks like it will be gorgeous. I'm hoping it's a pullet, but even if it's a cockerel I might still keep it. At this point there aren't any more broodies, which is good because the weather has gotten cold.

We have boarders at our farm. An acquaintance needed space for her animals, so in exchange for lumber and supplies to build shelters, we now have two sheep and a whole bunch of pygmy goats living in our pasture. She also brought her two rabbits and their hutches, but decided to give them to Cerra after Cerra said how much she loved them. So now we have rabbits. I believe that they are male and female, so we'll see about breeding some bunnies here soon. We'll want another hutch first, though, to house the young rabbits while they grow.

I've still got lots of work to do to get ready for winter. I've gotten a good start on the chicken shelter; I can probably finish it in a couple of hours at this point. I've started a shelter for hay for the goats. I'm pretty confidant in my ability to build the frame, but I'm a little bit anxious about the roof. I've never really built a roof before. The ducks and geese are set; they have our old truck shell for a shelter. We've gotten about seven years of use out of it, but it's finally gotten to the point where it's not safe to have on the truck anymore. I don't want the water fowl in with the chickens because they'll eat too much grain and get too fat. Finally, I haven't even started the run-in shed for the goats and sheep. I think I'll need to get the boarders to help me with that one in order to get it done reasonably soon. The weather was cold and wet for several weeks, and Paul was working at the post office, so that left me very little time to work on things at the farm. It's warm and dry now, so I need to take advantage of the weather and get things taken care of.

My garden didn't do all that well, what with the cool weather all summer. The corn was the only thing that really thrived. The tomato was planted much too late, but I was hoping to get at least a few fruits before winter. However, we had an extremely early first frost in September which killed the plant before any of the tomatoes were big enough to pick. The beans would have been great if they had been snap beans, but they're soup beans and I was growing them for seed. Only maybe half of the pods got mature enough to harvest before the weather got really cold. Oh, and the poor okra didn't tolerate the cool weather at all. The one month of hot weather in August got them growing well, but it had cooled off by the time they started setting fruit, and they all just rotted instead of developing.

When I get a chance, I'll post the egg tallies for the latest months and update the farm production in the sidebar.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Duck Liquidation

I sold most of our Pekins yesterday. The only ones left are a female with leg problems and an extra male. Duck soup!

We just didn't have time to be dealing with meat ducks with everything else we're doing. They're pretty unforgiving, because if you don't slaughter at seven weeks then you have to wait until after the molt or deal with thousands of pin feathers. Plus, the males were really aggressive to the runner ducks, and had killed several. I'm down to only two runner ducks at this point.

The Pekins went to a small farm up in Jewett. The people that bought them were very nice. I would have liked to spend more time talking with them, but it was getting late and we all had kids that needed to get home to bed.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Two of the Australorps have been broody for about two months, but I've been much too busy to mess with them. I finally had a chance to set up nesting cages for them in the basement, in dog crates. Broody hens make a funny trilling sound if you move them, and raise their neck feathers to try to look intimidating. They trilled at me when I started arranging the hay they were sitting on into a nest, but as soon as I started putting eggs into it the angry sounds turned into a satisfied clucking. The hens seemed to be a bit surprised by the unprecedented event of the human putting eggs into the the nest, instead of taking them away. When I was done they used their beaks to rearrange the eggs more to their liking and then settled down, happy at last. I gave each of them a dozen fresh eggs, so hopefully we'll have some chicks by the end of the month.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Egg Tally

564 eggs, 2301 for the year, out of four Rhode Island Reds, one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and approximately 35 Black Australorp pullets.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Don't Count Your Chickens...

...until they've grown up. I think the cats found where Buffy was keeping her chicks, since in one night eight of them disappeared. The next night another one was lost, leaving only one. She kept that one safe for a few days, but last night I noticed that Buffy was roosting on top of the chicken house with the other chickens while her chick was running around the yard peeping frantically. I guess she decided she'd had enough of motherhood. The chick is only about two weeks old and is a little bit too young to be out in the chilly (for a chick) night without any chickens to cuddle against, so I caught it and brought it home. It's in a bird cage, and it is not amused. At least it is alive. I'll take it back out to the farm once it has grown some more feathers.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Successful First Day

Today was the first Farmer's Market of the year in Steubenville. I spent much of yesterday baking cupcakes and frosting them. That part didn't exactly go smoothly. First, the power was out for several hours that morning, so I got a much later start than I had intended. I thought that my cake recipes made about two dozen cupcakes, but I must have done something differently this time because it was really closer to three dozen. This was a problem because I made a double batch of the yellow cake, intending to make four dozen cupcakes. However, the batter spilled over the top and made some very messy looking cupcakes, as well as wasting a lot on the edges of the pan. I only made a single batch of the chocolate, and that worked out much better.

Although I enjoy baking, I don't have much practice with frosting or decorating cakes. I used the star tip on the piping bag, but was a bit discouraged by the results, although by the last dozen it was looking okay. Perception is a funny thing, though, because the people at the farmer's market exclaimed over how pretty the cupcakes were.

The cupcake boxes I had ordered hadn't come in yet, so I had to improvise by lining jelly jar boxes with foil. It was fine for transporting them, but things got a little bit tricky when people wanted to buy more than one cupcake at a time. It worked out, though. My cupcake boxes arrived this afternoon, so next time my presentation and packaging will be much better. I think I'll also wrap some individually in plastic wrap.

I needed to sell 20 cupcakes to make back the vendor fee, and I met that goal fairly easily. At around 12:15, though, Paul started talking about packing things up, since it had been about an hour since the last sale and it was getting pretty hot out there (I need to find our shade thingy; I think we have one somewhere). However, I wanted to wait a little bit longer, since it was still lunchtime. In the next 15 minutes, there were a couple more individual sales and one guy who bought two dozen at once! We ended up with only 11 cupcakes left over (out of 6 dozen to start), so I think I gauged the market pretty well. Next week we will have wild black raspberries to sell as well as the cupcakes, since they are just starting to ripen.

The vendor right next to us was a woman selling rolls and cookies, and she was really nice. I enjoyed talking with her during the lulls in business. She has a four-year-old boy who was there for the latter part of the day, so Cerra had a great time playing with him. All in all, I feel like our first farmer's market went very well.

There's also a market in Barnesville on Saturdays that we will be going to starting next week. That one allows egg sales, although there are several regulatory hoops we would need to jump through first. I spoke with the Department of Agriculture and the county health department, and the requirements look doable. I'll write more about my research in another post, since a thunderstorm is blowing in right now.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Farmer's Market Preparations

The Steubenville Farmer's Market starts this Thursday, and I plan to be a vendor this year. My main product will be cupcakes and other baked goods made with our pastured eggs, and we will bring other produce as it becomes available. The first thing will be black raspberries, since they are just ripening. If it's allowed, we'll also sell our eggs, but even if it isn't allowed we can at least advertise them. I will be calling the person in charge tomorrow to find out about that.

Speaking of eggs, today I bought an old dorm refrigerator for egg storage, since we are running out of room in the main refrigerator. I would have liked a bigger one, but at only $25 this one was worth getting. I can always buy a larger one later if I need it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Poor Man's Hay Baler

When I cut hay last month, I stuffed the cured hay into empty feed bags for storage. It was kind of a pain to fill the bags, and it turned out that they only hold about ten pounds of hay each. Even ignoring the high labor cost, it would take about 400 bags to make a winter's worth of hay. I have a lot of empty feed bags, but not that many. So I decided to try something different with this batch.

I used a large Rubbermaid container as the form, and laid lengths of twine across the bottom. Then I filled the box with hay (compressing it down as much as I could), tied the twine across the top, tipped the box over, and voila! had a small bale of hay. I made four bales before it got dark, and I think I'll get about another four bales out of the rest of the hay. Tomorrow I'll weigh the bales; I'm guessing that they're about 15 or 20 pounds each, more or less. Since this idea worked so well, I intend to look for an even larger container for my form. I'd like to make 50 pound bales, but that may be a bit out of reach.

Work in the Pond Pasture

Saturday evening I mowed nearly a quarter of the pond pasture. I like working in that area because there are spearmint plants growing in the wet areas. Minty hay smells wonderful! Here the hay has been tedded once, this evening. The bare ground behind the mowed area is my garden.

I also planted paste tomatoes (San Marzano) and okra in my garden. It's a bit late to be planting tomato seeds, so there won't be a very long harvest. However, I've grown this variety of tomato before, and it stores very well at room temperature. We harvested all of the green tomatoes just before the first freeze in October that year, and had fresh tomatoes until the end of December.

At the bottom of this picture you can see the three rows of corn that have come up. I planted those seeds a few weeks ago. I had originally planned on six rows of corn, but that's all I managed to plant in the first session, so I decided to just move on with my planting.

I still have cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and bush beans to plant.


Today I finally got to see the chicks that our banty hatched. They were foraging in the tall grass at one end of Paul's garden.

This is Buffy, the banty. She's normally very wild and nervous around people, but today she actually let me approach and take pictures of her and the chicks. I counted 10, but I don't know if one died or if it was just hidden in the grass. At any rate, she's doing a very good job at taking care of them so far.

Dewdrop and Max

I should have posted these pictures on May 4th, since that's when I took them, but I never got around to it. Dewdrop and Max are Natalia's kids, the first goats we've bred ourselves.

This is Dewdrop the doeling. We intend to keep her as a breeding doe.

And here is Max the buckling (now a wether).

A good look at their markings.

There are three other kids, all doelings, that I need to get photos of.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Speaking of Hidden Nests...

Today one of our banty hens showed up with eleven chicks in tow: eight yellow, two black, and one buff-colored. The two black ones are most likely from Australorp eggs, but most of the others are probably banties. It will be interesting to see how they turn out when they grow up.

Monday, June 15, 2009

May Egg Tally

Late, but as of May 31:

892 eggs, 1737 for the year, out of four Rhode Island Reds, one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and approximately 35 Black Australorp pullets.

Things are slowing down a little bit, since several of the Australorps are broody and now that the pasture grass is high they don't all lay their eggs in the nest box. We know about many of the clutches, but they keep finding new spots to hide their eggs. However, I'm working on a new fence for their pen which should do a better job of containing them at night, so this should become less of an issue.

We also finally ran out of re-used egg cartons, and had to order new ones of our own. You have to order many thousands to get custom printing, so we bought 100 cartons with generic printing and a space for a label or custom stamp. Now I need to design a label to go on it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Egg Tally

Things are really picking up!

626 eggs, 845 for the year, out of four Rhode Island Reds, one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and approximately 35 Black Australorp pullets. Wow, that's a lot of eggs. I have sold some, but most of the eggs are pretty small. I have them available at a discount, but most people want large eggs so I'm mostly keeping the small ones for our own use. I've frozen about 10 dozen for future use, and done lots of baking and cooking: sponge cakes, pudding, citrus curd (lemon, lime, and key lime), and meringues. There are still plenty to use up, though!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We're Now Goat Breeders

Natalia had two kids today. These are the first kids that we've actually bred ourselves. They are healthy, although a bit small. The doeling was 3 pounds and the buckling was 3-1/2 pounds. They were a bit confused at first, since they thought Balto (the dog) was their mother. They both tried to nurse from him that first day. We moved Natalia and her kids out to the main pasture so that she could get more to eat than is available right now in the forest. Also, I remember from two years ago that young kids are very difficult to move to a new pen, since they don't know the routine and they will neither follow nor be herded. They'll also be easier to tame out in the main pasture.

The buckling is already promised to the son of one of my friends. He's named him "Max." We'll be keeping the doeling for our own herd. There are at least two more does that look bred, so I'm looking forward to more kids this year.

#61 Hang water gate.

Installing gates is easy; the only reason this gate has been waiting for over a year is because stretching the fence wire was a prerequisite. I could have installed the other gate at the same time, but I need to recharge my drill batteries first.

Friday, April 24, 2009

#59 Stretch back fence in main pasture.

It took a couple of days of work, but I finally got all of the remaining woven wire stretched and nailed down in the main pasture. I started building this span of fencing in the fall of 2007, so it's very nice to have finally finished it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Alas, Poor Ben, I (Hardly) Knew Him

Back in January, I mentioned that I had found an actual organic market in Steubenville, Ben's Health and Harvest. Unfortunately, I stopped by there today and the store is now a curtain shop. Now I'm back to square one for finding bulk grains and nuts.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chicken Pictures

Australorps on Pasture

It's a Tough Life, Being a Duck

Compost Pile == Smorgasbord


New Rooster: Ameraucana?

Check Out Those Spurs!

Tentatively Named Jacques

New Bantam Rooster

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Scarce Chicks?

Until Mary Cate blogged about it, I hadn't realized that hatcheries have been selling out of chicks this year. She wrote,

"Poultry chicks of all kinds are selling like hotcakes with the economy screwed up like it is. All the hatcheries aren't taking personal orders till May, and the ones arriving at the McMinnville store are being snatched up the day they come in."

I checked my hatchery's website, and sure enough they don't seem to have any chicks available through online ordering. We ordered this year's pullets last summer instead of waiting until spring, a decision we've been happy with so far. Now I'm really glad we did it that way, so that we weren't competing with all the people trying to buy chicks this spring. I had planned to order another batch of Rhode Island Reds this summer, but if the frenzy keeps up I'll just breed my own replacement layers. They'll be mixed breed, and I'll no longer be able to tell the age of the chickens by their color, but at least they'll be layers. I'll probably put leg bands on them instead, if it comes to that. I guess it's time to set up some breeding pens.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Egg Tally

122 eggs, 219 for the year, out of four Rhode Island Reds, one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and approximately 35 Black Australorp pullets.


Today the chickens were foraging about the pasture, and I saw what I thought was one of the Wyandotte roosters hiding under the picnic table. It looked a little strange, though, so I shooed it out for a better look. It was a rooster all right, but not one of ours! Moments later, there were sounds of a panicked chicken from the goat pen, and I wondered why Jenny, the white bantam, was so excited. Then I realized that the little white chicken had a black tail and a big red comb, meaning it was not Jenny. Sure enough, it was another strange rooster.

Apparently someone dumped these two roosters at our farm this afternoon. Paul is pretty sure that they weren't there when he stopped to let our poultry out, so there was only about a three hour window.

Both birds are pretty boys, but we have plenty of roosters already. I plan to keep the two biggest to breed for the beginnings of a meat breed, but the others are destined for the stew pot. Actually, I kind of like the larger of the two new roosters. He's heavier than any of the Wyandottes, and has a mellower personality. I might keep him instead, and cull all of the Wyandotte roosters. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no use for a bantam rooster. The bantam hens are fine because they mostly get their own feed and they provide us with small eggs, but I don't intend to breed any more of them. So unless there's someone who wants a mongrel bantam rooster, he will probably end up in a very small stew pot.

The larger rooster has a beard, so I think he might be part Ameraucana. His markings are similar to my Silver Laced Wyandottes, except that he has a lot of red feathers mixed in with the black and white. I'll have to get a picture, since he is quite striking.

Speaking of striking, things are pretty restless in the poultry yard with two new roosters around, making a total of six. The bantam's strategy was to hide amongst the hens on the roost, which seemed to work since he was completely ignored up there. The big one didn't start any fights, but he pretty much held his own when the others challenged him. He and Jack quickly reached an agreement that Jack was king, but the Wyandottes kept pushing the fight even when he tried to surrender. They're always very flashy and aggressive, which is why I probably won't use any of them for breeding. It's kind of funny that the two chickens I most want to propagate are both mongrels of unknown origins.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

#44 Read Malabar Farm

I just finished reading Louis Bromfield's Malabar Farm. It was both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because they achieved such amazing results on the worn-out farms they started with, but depressing because most of the problems that Bromfield saw in agriculture of the time were not solved and indeed continue to be even worse problems now. It was also depressing because some of the techniques that Bromfield was so enthusiastic about in the 1940s have turned out to cause even bigger problems than they solved. For example, Bromfield was a huge proponent of specialization, because it allowed for economy of scale and more efficient mechanization. Now that most agriculture in the United States is specialized, we can see how unstable a system it is.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Layer Feed Recipe

I'm putting this up so that I don't have to keep recalculating it every time I order more. This works out to about 16% protein, and the birds have access to oyster shells so that the layers can get their calcium. They also have free choice kelp for trace minerals.

corn, cracked...500 lbs
oats, whole......250 lbs
soy, roasted.....200 lbs
limestone..........50 lbs
Total.............1000 lbs

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pullet Eggs

The Australorp pullets are really starting to lay now. They make such cute little eggs, hardly bigger than banty eggs. They'll get bigger, of course, and in the meantime it frees up the larger eggs to be sold. Between the banties and the pullets, we're now getting enough eggs for our own use.

A few days ago, I thought that Buffy (one of the banties) was going broody. She's normally the wildest chicken we have, the sort to run away squawking murder if a person so much as looks at her, but that day she was just sitting on the nest even though I was only a few feet away. I stuck a couple of duck eggs on the nest for her to hatch. It turns out that she was just in the middle of laying an egg when I saw her, because a little while later she was back out in the pasture like normal and there was an extra egg in the nest. So I took my duck eggs back. I need to test out my incubator, and if it still works, order an egg turner for it so that I can hatch some eggs this spring.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Fought the Mold, and the Mold Won

I was afraid that this would happen, but of the 72 apple seeds I planted, only two sprouted. The rest turned into big balls of mold in their trays. One of the seedlings wasn't able to break out of its seed completely, so that leaves only one healthy apple sprout. Well, it's a start. I'll collect more seeds this fall and try again. I think I'll also keep track of their sources, since I have no idea which seed produced this sprout.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Getting in Shape

This afternoon I doubled the size of the dug area in my garden. It had taken three days of work to accomplish the previous amount. Part of the increase was because I am now far enough away from the chicken pen that it was becoming more difficult to throw the sod clumps to them, so now I am just turning them over into the already dug area. But I definitely feel more able to do the work, after just a week of practice. I could have dug more today, but it was getting late and the chickens needed to be brought in after their first day out on the pasture. I'll do more tomorrow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Experiment

I said earlier that I intend to plant corn, beans, and squash in the goats' bedding areas in order to put the extra nitrogen to work. However, I've been doing some reading about gardening, and apparently the uncomposted (well, partially composted) manure will interfere with the growth of plants until it is composted. This is probably true, but I would like to see for myself exactly what happens. So now I will put in an identical patch of corn, beans, and squash in the previous winter's bedding location and in a normal spot in the garden.

Plot 1 is the less composted location. It is sod covered with maybe half an inch of spilled hay and a lot of goat manure and urine. I am working on digging it about a foot deep to mix the hay and manure into the soil and to break up and kill the grass. I will probably plant the corn (the first of the plants) in May in order to give the hay and manure time to begin decomposing.

Plot 2 is the location of the goats' shelter and feeder from two winters ago. Last spring, summer and fall we kept a pig on that location, and she thoroughly mixed the soil, bedding, and manure together, and added more of her own. She was removed last December, and the soil has been untouched since then. It's black, crumbly, and easy to dig. I will prepare that plot the same as the first, and plant the corn at the same time.

Plot 3 will be typical, unimproved garden soil in Paul's garden. All of the garden has received some goat and pig manure and some digging from the pig, but outside of Plot 2 it is scattered and random. This will be the control, to see if planting in a freshly manured spot is more profitable than planting in normal, unimproved soil.

Since planting times for the beans and squash will depend on the size of the corn, it's possible that the different plots will be ready for them at different times. I will keep notes on growth rates, healthiness, and yield for the three plots. I believe that the pre-composted plot will outperform the uncomposted plot, but I am interested to see how big a difference there is, and whether it is even worth it to plant an uncomposted plot.

My science teacher mother would be so proud.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sweet Potatoes

Last year at around Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes were on sale for something like $.19/lb, so I bought a bunch. Although I like sweet potatoes, Paul doesn't, so the last couple have just been sitting there the entire time. A few months ago, they started to sprout, and now many of the shoots are six inches or more in length. I figure that since they are here, I may as well try planting them and see what happens. Our summers are hot enough that they should do well, from what I've read. So now the sweet potato ends are suspended in water to help the sprouts (actually, they're called slips, I've learned) get bigger. When they are a foot long, I'm supposed to cut them off and put them in water to form roots, and then plant in the soil when it is warm. It's an interesting process, and I'm looking forward to see how it works out.

New Garden Plot

Eventually, the pond pasture will be completely converted to a permaculture forest garden, but the first step is removing most of the grass so that it doesn't compete with the new fruit trees. I also need nursery space for the osage orange and apple trees that I intend to grow from seed, and room to experiment with open pollinated varieties away from Paul's garden. I really dislike using motorized equipment, so I am tackling this area with nothing more than shovel, rake, and hoe. I'm finding Steve Solomon's book Gardening When it Counts to be very useful with regards to tool use and maintenance. It's amazing how much easier it is to use a sharpened shovel, compared to a blunt one straight from the store.

I'm not following all of his advice for preparing a garden plot from sod. He says to dig deeply and turn the sod clumps over to expose the roots, and then dig them again in a week to further kill the grass. I'm sure that works, but since the pond pasture is immediately adjacent to the chicken pen, I have been digging shallowly, just underneath the grass roots, and tossing the sod to the birds. It's still too early to allow them out on the pasture, so they are loving the worms, grass, and other goodies in the clumps. I lose a little bit of soil this way, but I will replace it with compost (and the chicken bedding will eventually go to make more compost as well), so I think I come out ahead. Once the sod is removed, I'll go back and dig more deeply to prepare the seedbed.

Since I'm out of shape from a long winter of inactivity (and, oh yes, seven months pregnant), I've been doing my digging at a slow, steady pace and only a little bit at a time. With a sharpened shovel it's really no strain at all, and I feel great. Honestly, I think it would be more dangerous for me to operate the tiller than to dig with a shovel.

In addition to the tree seedlings, I also intend to plant some sort of bush beans, sweet potatoes (more on that in the next post), bushel gourds to make containers out of, and the first of the grafted apple trees and blackberries. I also want to transplant a young oak to one corner of the pond pasture to eventually provide shade to the chicken pen.

I have a couple more little plots I want to work on. There are several spots in the main pasture where the goats spent a lot of time this winter, so there's way too much nitrogen and compaction for the grass to come back easily. I intend to dig those areas up and experiment with "three sisters" planting: corn, vine beans, and squash all grown together. The beans grow up the corn stalks and the squash shades out weeds and helps keep raccoons away from the ripening corn, or so I've read. I look forward to trying it out in practice. After the three sisters are harvested, I'll let those spots go back to grass for the following year.

Computer Problems

My main hard drive finally died (after months of death throes) so I've only been able to use Paul's computer for the last several days. I have a new hard drive and a new operating system installation, which at least gives me internet access, but there's still more work to do to make my computer fully functional again. Even though the repairs went pretty well with few glitches, it was a strong reminder of how much I disliked computer support work when I was in it. I would much rather mow a hayfield with a scythe or dig in my garden with a shovel than deal with computer problems. At least in the hayfield or garden, my mind can slip into a trance-like state while my body carries on the work. I end up with a rested mind and a tired body, and sleep easily that night. Whereas with computer work, my mind is frustrated and exhausted yet my body is restless.

Today, at least, the weather will be relatively warm and I have no appointments or meetings, so I plan to go apply myself to my new garden plot and move it a few steps closer to planting.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Apple Seeds

Last fall, I collected seeds from as many different local apples as I could. Some were cultivated, grafted varieties, some were wild pippins (grown from seed), and some were rootstock that had grown up when the top died. I read on the internet that the proper way to store them was in moist sand in the refrigerator, since they need a period of cold in order to germinate.

Yesterday, my plan was to pull the jar of seeds out and set it in a warm place until they started to germinate, and then plant them in seed starting soil. The seeds had other ideas. Even though the jar was at the back of the refrigerator (cold enough to freeze entire gallons of milk), all of the seeds had already started to germinate. Unfortunately, there was also a little bit of mold beginning to form on the top, so I don't know if all of the seeds are still viable. At any rate, I've planted them in flats and we'll see what happens. Next year, I obviously need to modify my seed storage system. More research is in order.

In other apple related news, yesterday my Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press book came in the mail. Last year we were buried in apples that were too small and irregular to be worth peeling and processing, and I really wanted a way to make cider from them. I've been hearing about the Whizbang plan books for years, but this will be the first one I try. I also have my eye on the garden cart plans.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Seed Catalogs...

...from the 1930s.

My dad gave me a stack of old seed catalogs, and it's really interesting to look through them. On the surface, they look pretty similar to modern catalogs, except there is more text and fewer pictures. However, the plant descriptions betray different attitudes and priorities of the gardeners of the time. One of the catalogs says of a variety of sweet pea, "This is the most vigorous Early Spencer Sweet Pea I have ever grown, and constitutes the richest tone of rose-pink ever produced in a Sweet Pea." Do many people even grow sweet peas for flowers anymore? I imagine that in 75 years there could be similar incredulity over our current catalogs, with all their lawn care gadgets and chemicals.

There was also an old almanac-type book from Better Homes and Gardens, which I haven't had a chance to look through yet.

Finally, my dad took me to a bookstore in Salt Lake City called Ken Sanders Rare Books. There was unfortunately no agriculture section, but I did find an old book on tanning leather in the craft section. I already have a book (Tan Your Hide!) but I've read reviews that say that it's not very accurate or useful as an instruction book. I hope that this one will be better.

As an aside, in March Wendell Berry will be at Ken Sanders. When I saw that, I immediately wished I had scheduled my trip for March instead of February. I haven't read any of his fiction, but his agricultural essays are thought-provoking and beautifully written.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Work Day

We spent the afternoon and evening working at the farm. My main plan was to add some more bars to the goat feeder, since one of the goats has been getting her head caught. This would mean taking all of the bars out and drilling new holes for the new placements. However, the goats thought that a human messing around with their feeder meant that they were going to get a treat, and they were mobbing me so much that I just took the bars out and called it a day. There will be somewhat more waste now that they can really get their heads in there, but fresh pasture is only about a month away so I'm not too worried. Once they're transitioned back to eating forage, I'll reattach the bars on the feeder.

I also attached the mineral feeder to the side of the hay feeder, so now that has a permanent location. When they were in the forest I had been hanging it on a new tree in each paddock, but that was not very stable. Now I can just pull the feeder along with the goats wherever they go on the property.

We'll be closing out last year's compost pile at the end of the month, so Paul and I worked on preparing the next location. We add to a pile for a year, and then let it sit for a year, so this spring we can finally start using compost that we started two years ago. Anyhow, there was a lot of wood on the ground from an old haystack where I wanted to put the next compost pile, so we gathered that all up and made a bonfire. There was a cold wind, so that fire was nice. I also began picking up garbage and debris, and gathering things that had gotten lost under the grass and then the snow.

Finally, I started dismantling what was left of this year's haystack. Much of the hay that is left will be the base of the new compost pile, and the rest will go into the chicken pen. I'm leaving most of it alone for now, though, because the farm cats live under there and I don't want to take their shelter while it's still cold. I also need to come up with a new shelter for them so that they don't leave when I finish taking the hay away.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

More Old Tools

I stayed with my aunt in California, who has a great love for Asian antiques. When she found that I was interested in old tools, she took me out to her favorite antique shops in the area. I only had room in my suitcase for around 20 more pounds, so I was very selective about what I bought. I was looking for things that were useful rather than decorative, so that cut out much that I saw.

I rejected most of the cast iron cookware on sight, since I've seen lots of cast iron available in Ohio. However, I ran across a little corn muffin pan that makes cornbread in the shape of ears of corn. I had never noticed anything like that around here, but there were a bunch in several of the shops. Most were overpriced and/or in very poor condition, but I found one pan that was $25 and had hardly any rust on it. I think I can easily recondition it for kitchen use. The thing is called a Krispy Korn Kobs Junior.

It's kind of strange that I've never noticed them around here, since it was made in Sydney, Ohio.

There were also lots of iron sheep shears available, most over $20. However, one of the shops had one for $4, and at that price I don't care if I break it trying to make it functional. This one doesn't look like it was ever sharpened, so perhaps it's a reproduction? Well, I will attempt to sharpen it and see what happens.

Finally, I also saw many draw knives. This is a necessary tool for stripping bark off of wood, and also for shaving down a piece of wood. Since I want to start turning some of the newly dead wood in our forest into useful items, I kept my eyes open for functional-looking draw knife at a good price. The one I ended up buying caught my eye because it looked like it had been well used and maintained. It also felt comfortable and right in my hands. Best of all, it was on sale for $16! Most other draw knives were $25 or more and in poorer condition. It needs some slight sharpening, but otherwise looks very serviceable.

Finally, my aunt also gave me a cast iron clothes iron from our family. She said it's very unusual for the stand to remain intact, which is why you'll see plenty of irons at the antique store but they almost never have their stands. I don't know if I'll ever iron clothes with this, but I really appreciate having it.

Oh, and my suitcase ended up weighing 49.5 pounds at the airport. That was close!

Catching Up

I spent all of February either preparing to travel, traveling, or recovering from traveling. First I went to California for my grandmother's funeral, and then I went to Utah to visit my dad and step-mom. I actually have a fair bit to blog about, but it's sure hard to get back into the swing of it after a break.


First off, I discovered that Queenacres has given me a blog award. It's always nice to meet other people who share a similar vision. Welcome, Queenacres, and make yourself at home. I guess I'm supposed to now pass the award on to my favorite blogs, but I feel kind of silly to be perpetuating a chain, so I'll just point out that my favorites are always listed on the right sidebar.


February Egg Tally: 74 eggs, 97 for the year.

This count only includes full-sized chicken eggs. There were also a few bantam eggs and a bunch of duck eggs, but ducks don't lay their eggs in a nest box and so their eggs are far too dirty for human consumption. When it gets warmer I plan to separate the Pekins out and collect their eggs for hatching. At least one of the Australorp pullets has started laying, since a couple of the eggs have been small, pointed, and heavily speckled. I could be wrong about this, but speckled eggs seem to be mostly produced by young hens. I remember that when the Reds first started laying, many of the eggshells were speckled, but now they are all pretty uniformly colored.


Kefir Reboot

I don't remember exactly what happened, but the last time I set up a jar of fresh milk for the kefir grains, I wasn't home to refrigerate it at the proper time so it overfermented. The jar has been sitting on the shelf for months now, but I couldn't ever work up the motivation to deal with it. Today I finally drained off all the fermented milk, gathered the kefir grains, rinsed them in filtered water, and fed them fresh milk. Some eight hours later, the milk is starting to ferment, which means that my grains are still alive and salvageable. It will probably take several changes of milk before they start producing good quality kefir again, but the animals will be perfectly happy to drink the less palatable stuff. I'm looking forward to drinking kefir again; I was starting to miss it.


Progress on the 101 Goals

I've been working on reading Horticultural Enterprises, but I was disappointed to discover that the authors advocate for a very industrialized approach, with chemical fertilizers and pest sprays. This book was published in 1929 (first edition 1919), so it must have been one of the very first to take such an approach. It's certainly interesting to read from a historical perspective, but I don't wish to garden the way they teach. Therefore, although my goal list stated that I would answer all of the chapter questions, I will most likely only answer some. It's interesting to see the industrial agriculture mindset developing, but I have no desire to study it for my own use.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Windy Night

Wednesday night a big wind storm blew through our area. Many trees fell down, and we lost power for a few hours. There wasn't too much damage at the farm. A dead tree fell on the garden fence, but Paul said he didn't think it hurt it much. I haven't been out to check for myself yet. The wind also picked up a wooden pallet and dropped it on the electric fence. Paul removed it before the goats and dog had figured out that they could get out.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sauerkraut and Middle School Chemistry

I chose to put some red cabbage in my sauerkraut because Paul has always said that red sauerkraut is so much better than green. However, when I noticed that the sauerkraut is beginning to turn red instead of purple, I realized that it is also useful as an indicator of how far the fermentation has progressed. As I learned in middle school science class, red cabbage juice changes colors depending on pH. So as the sauerkraut gets more acidic, it turns brighter red and eventually pink.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

January Egg Tally

This is an estimate, since I wasn't keeping track of egg production for the first half of the month. I'm guessing that we got about a dozen eggs in the first half. So the total is 23 eggs out of five hens (four Rhode Island Reds from 2007 and one Silver Laced Wyandotte from 2008).

Friday, January 30, 2009

#5 Build Hay Feeder For Goats

This is something I've been meaning to build since two autumns ago. Last winter, since I hadn't built a feeder yet, I protected the hay with a cattle panel. It worked, but several of the goats would get their horns caught in it and have to be removed every day, so I decided not to use that plan this year. This year, we've just been putting the day's hay in a pile in the pen, but anyone who's ever had goats would know how well that works. They think that their dinner makes a wonderful bed, and a lot of the hay gets soiled and wasted that way.

So, I got to work planning out the feeder. I already had plenty of lumber lying around, from the time I attempted to build a Salatin-style poultry pen. The only things I needed to buy were two 10' lengths of electrical conduit, conduit straps to attach them to the wood, and a 6'X8' tarp. I wanted it to be big enough to put a full bale in at a time, although for the number of goats we have right now, half a bale is all that's necessary. The feeder itself is four feet long, two feet wide, and three feet tall. The roof adds another three feet or so to the height, so that hay can be easily added. I spent about five hours yesterday on it, and about another hour or two today to finish it up.

Once it has been transported out to the farm, I will be adding 2x4 runners to make it easier to move and also to help prevent the goats from tipping it over. I also intend to bolt their mineral feeder onto one of the short sides, to make it a complete mobile feeding station.

98 things to go.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ice is Heavy

It rained and then snowed most of yesterday, and all that ice and snow was heavy enough to collapse the goat house. It was a hoop structure, with a wooden base and two cattle panels making the hoops. It might have been ok, except that last winter the goats managed to get on top of it and bent up the panels so that the top is a bit flatter than it should be. One of the goats was trapped under the house, but we got her out and she doesn't seem to be injured. Even once we scraped all the ice and snow off of the roof, it still didn't want to go back to something even resembling the right shape. Fortunately, there was a pile of fence posts out there that we hadn't done anything with yet, and we used those to brace one side so that it's mostly upright.

Given that the panels are so bent up, and the wooden base needs to be repaired as well, I plan to retire this house after this winter is over. The panels can go towards making a corral and the lumber will go into other projects.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

At Last, An Egg

The hens have been on laying strike with all the cold weather we've been having. The last two eggs were from January 14, and I've actually had to buy a dozen eggs from the store. Today, though, there was one egg in the nest box. Hopefully, with the days getting longer, they'll continue to produce. I'm sure looking forward to when the Australorps start laying, which should be about mid-March.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Food-Caused Illness

No, I'm not talking about food poisoning. For most of my adult life, I've been on a gradual trajectory away from processed foods and towards whole, living foods. This wasn't a result of any healthy-eating goal, at least at first, but rather it was caused by formerly favorite foods making me feel sick. When I was in college, I ate a lot of McDonalds, because it was relatively cheap, fast, available, and I could pay for it with saved money on my student ID. However, things that used to taste delicious started becoming nauseating, to the point that eventually I couldn't eat anything on the menu other than the fries. The same sort of gradual disgust has crept in for most fast food.

About two years ago, I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, part of which talks about how the majority of the calories consumed by Americans come from just two sources: corn (mostly corn syrup, but also oil) and soy. I resolved to read labels more closely, and sure enough, it's incredibly difficult to avoid those two plants. We decided to completely ban high-fructose corn syrup from our house, and to cut back as much as possible on soy oil, focusing mainly on hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil. If we can't find an alternative product, we either do without or make it ourselves. I think that the only thing in the house that still contains corn syrup is ketchup, and we've decreased our usage enough to be able to afford the organic ketchup that contains cane sugar instead.

Cutting down on corn and soy means that very few convenience foods even enter our house, and therefore anything we want to eat has to be prepared from basic ingredients. This has had the effect of expanding the number of species of plants and animals that we get our nutrition from. Now, this has all been so gradual that I can't honestly say that I can tell a real difference in health from when I used to eat more processed food. I don't seem to get sick as often, and I seem to gain and lose weight in seasonal cycles rather than just gaining the way many people experience, so I believe that I am healthier now. And I definitely have observed the way my body reacts negatively to large quantities of processed food, now that I don't eat much of it any more.

Earlier this week, Paul brought home a big bag of potato chips for us to snack on while we watched the season premiere of one of our favorite shows. I ate a lot of potato chips and onion dip, because it was three hours of tv and they tasted so good. Now, my digestive system did not complain at all, but when I went to bed that night my throat felt scratchy, like I was getting a cold. For the next two days, my throat was scratchy, I was congested, and I had no energy or motivation to do much of anything. I thought I was getting a cold, but today I woke up early with hardly any symptoms and a lot more energy. I don't know if it was the oil, the salt, or the large quantity of simple starch that affected me so badly, or if it was some combination of the three, but it was definitely a dramatic demonstration of how what we eat affects our health and behavior.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Evolution of Design

Several weeks ago, I sketched out my first ideas for the part of our land that we call the Pond Pasture. It doesn't actually have a pond yet, just a low area that is a seep. We're working on directing most of the drainage from that half of the farm into it, and plan to dig out a pond to catch it. Here is a rough map of the area. The pond and the hedge (the hatched part near the top) don't exist yet, the drainage stream and the fence and gate do. Click for a larger, easier to read version.

We want to put the pond, hedge, and fruit trees in this area. It would also be the recreational part of the farm, with picnic tables, a fishing spot, and other enjoyable activities available. In that same vein, I wanted to put in a labyrinth for meditation. I made one out of large rocks in Arizona and really enjoyed using it.

However, even using a small design, I figure that I need a 30' diameter circle for a labyrinth, and the Pond Pasture just isn't large enough to justify using that much space for something mostly decorative. My first design did include a labyrinth, though. Even with a cherry tree in the middle and the outer edge surrounded by blueberries, it was an inefficient use of space.

After creating this first design, I read the book Forest Gardening, by Robert Hart. I realized that I could fit many more plants into the space by using the principles in the book. I also thought deeply about my desire for a labyrinth, and I began to see that a winding path through a forest would offer a similar meditative setting. So I decided that in my next design I would attempt to incorporate the elements of the labyrinth in the entire area, rather than concentrating them into a small part.

To help me organize my thoughts and what I had learned, I made lists of the crops and uses I wanted for each environment on the farm.

  • fish (food and recreation, duck feed)
  • aquatic plants (food, fish and duck feed)
  • water storage
  • ice production?
Pond Edge/Marsh
  • willow coppice (baskets and other crafts)
  • rushes/reeds (thatching)
  • cattails (edible parts and basket-making)
  • blueberries, cranberries, etc (food)
Open Land (in Pond Pasture)
  • fruit trees (apple, pear, plum, peach, cherry, etc)
  • nut trees
  • bramble bushes (raspberry, blackberry, etc)
  • other fruit shrubs (gooseberry, currant, etc)
  • herbs
  • roots
  • vines (grapes, beans, squash and gourds?)
Current Forest
  • fine timber (black walnut and maple, already established, intermediate crops of nuts and syrup)
  • fruit and nut trees in more open areas
  • shade-loving plants and fungus under maples
  • construction coppice (osage orange, black locust, cedar?)
  • Bouché-Thomas* pippins** (apple tree hedge, apples for cider and livestock feed)
  • willows? (allowed to grow larger than in marsh)
Taking all of that into consideration, here is my most recent sketch. About the only thing it has in common with the first one is that the foot-bridge over the drainage ditch is in the same place. That's because we normally cross in that spot when walking across the field.

The double line of willows at the south end of the pond are to collect winter snow drifts so that they can melt into the pond in spring. The Rs and Cs in the pond are reeds and cattails, and the boundary between pasture and orchard is made with bricks. There is a whole pile of yellow bricks in the forest that I could salvage for that. I think everything else is labeled. I don't expect this to be the final design, as things will change as we actually start to implement them, but I think it is much closer than my first one.

*Bouché-Thomas is a method of growing apples where the trees are planted slanted so that the branches interlace and form a hedge. It was mentioned and briefly described in Forest Gardening, but I can find very little additional information on the web.

**This is probably just a British usage, but Hart defined a pippin as an apple grown from seed (or pips). I'll need to differentiate between the seedling-apples and grafted apples, and pippin is not a commonly used word in American English, so I have adopted his definition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sauerkraut a'Bubblin'

My dad got me the book Wild Fermentation for Christmas, and ever since I've been wanting to try one of the recipes. Sauerkraut is pretty basic, and green cabbages were on sale for $.19/lb, so I bought three of those and one red cabbage. Yesterday, I finally got a chance to shred them up and pack them into the crock. It turns out that four cabbages is exactly right to fill it.

All of this liquid is cabbage juice; I didn't have to add any brine to it.

A closer look at the shredded cabbage.

It was already starting to taste a little bit sour when I took it out today to check on it and wash the weight. We should be able to start eating it within a couple of days, and the flavor should change and mature as it continues to ferment.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

I've been doing further research on geodesic chicken coops, and ran across this story.

First, they painstakingly built a dome out of 2x2 lumber and pvc pipe. Then they devised a clever covering out of tarps. And then a big windstorm came through and blew it away, smashing it into pieces in the process. I felt a little bit sick, reading that last post. So much work, destroyed so quickly, and they didn't even get to use it.

I don't think I would ever have tried to build a dome out of wood. I don't much like working with wood, and I thought of geodesic domes when I was trying to figure out how to build a structure out of electrical conduit. I don't know if the plans that they bought specifically called for those 2x2s, but if it did the plan's creators should be ashamed of themselves. I've worked with pine 2x2s before, and they are very flimsy. There is a huge difference between buying 2x2s and ripping a 2x4 down to the proper size, I've found. I will always do the latter if I need that size for anything that needs to be sturdy.

I know I didn't mention it in the previous post, but I certainly intend to stake my dome down, if I build it. Being made of metal, it would probably be heavier than the wooden version above, but I wouldn't take any chances. Since it will be a permanent installation, there are several options. I could pound 3 or 4 foot lengths of rebar into the ground, and secure the dome to them. I could set posts, like for a pole barn, and attach it, or I could pour concrete footers and attach the dome to those. I'll probably go with the first choice, because it would be the least difficult to undo if I need to move the dome to a new location.

Although, even if it had been staked down, I don't know if the wooden dome would have survived that windstorm. It's kind of hard to tell from just the photos, but the connection points don't look like they would flex much, and they would probably have split apart from the force.

Geodesic Chicken House

I've been pondering different building methods for the eventual permanent poultry house. Joel Salatin uses hoop houses, which come in kits and are relatively inexpensive for the amount of space you get. They're still a bit pricey for the amount of chickens and space we have, though. You can build hoop houses out of pvc (which is how I built the roof to the brooder house), but I don't think I can make that strong enough for snow loads and occasional high winds.

So I started thinking about geodesic domes. In Arizona, the woman that we bought our goats from lived in a dome house, and several of her animal shelters were built the same way. I know that these types of structures are very strong and resist being overturned, and don't require a lot of materials. Googling for "geodesic chicken house" brought up this blog, which showed something very similar to what I was imagining. My poultry wouldn't be confined to such a house; it would simply be a place for them to roost and get out of the weather.

One annoyance I see with domes is that there isn't any way to increase floor space without increasing height. Once it's more than about six feet tall, any further height increases are just wasted space. I suppose you can get some extra use by building a storage loft, or you could build multiple smaller domes. Actually, I guess that several domes built next to each other and then connected with a ridge post would be pretty similar to a hoop house.

Because the domes are constructed out of triangles, they can be built with lightweight materials and still be very strong. Many of the domes I've run across on the web have been built with EMT electrical conduit. This is what I used for the roof supports on the current chicken house. I could build a 17-foot diameter dome with 35 lengths of 3/4" EMT, which would cost around $168. 1/2" EMT would cost about half as much, but I don't know if it would be strong enough. Obviously, there are additional costs, such as nuts, bolts, washers, chicken wire, and plastic or tarps for the top. For that cost you get about 225 sq ft of floor space, which is only enough for 45 chickens if that is their only space, but if they have access to an outside yard then it is enough for 150 chickens. That's not bad, for about $250 worth of materials. I could probably house all the poultry that will fit on our land in two or three such domes, although I would only be building one to start. That should be plenty of space for a few years of growth.

I haven't definitely decided to build one of these, but it's something that bears further research.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ben's Health and Harvest Market

This continues to amaze me, but there is an actual health foods store as close as Steubenville. I fully expected that I'd have to go all the way to Pittsburgh to find wheat berries and other whole foods, but then my friend Nikki told me about Ben's. He's only been in business for about a year and a half, and his inventory is pretty basic, but I'm just thankful for a real organic market. I picked up some wheat and rye berries, and some raw sunflower seeds. There were also several other raw nuts, quinoa, amaranth, golden flax, and various organic dry cereals. I'll be doing what I can to keep him in business, because it's great to have that kind of store around.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Morning Sounds

Snow below, clouds above, and the pre-dawn light wavers between them. Only the occasional passing car breaks the stillness.

The Wyandotte roosters are the first animals to notice my approach. First one, and then all of them challenge me with their strident crowing. Then a new voice joins in with a deeper and hoarser crow than the others. That must be Jack, the big, white rooster-of-uncertain-lineage. I have never heard him crow before. Although he is the youngest rooster, he bears himself with a quiet confidence, unlike the strutting, flashy, vocal Wyandottes. Nobody messes with Jack, king of the chicken yard.

Before long the crowing wakes the ducks, and their sleepy quacks echo across the hollow. A few goats bleat greetings, but otherwise prefer to stay bedded down in their warm hay. Balto is silent, because he knows the sound of my car and recognizes my step. He meets me at the goat fence and escorts me to the poultry pen. The ducks panic and run laps around the chicken house, perturbed by the change in their routine. They're not used to seeing people until feeding time in the afternoon.

The nest box opened, and the goat trough cleared of ice, and it's time to go home. Banshee follows me back to my car, trotting at my side like a dog. As soon as I'm safely inside, she heads back to the warm haystack and her kittens, and I head for my warm home.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tree Thoughts

I already have plans to plant Osage orange seedlings next spring to form a hedge around the perimeter of the property. I think I also might plant a few along the existing fence to form a privacy guard, to hide less sightly things like compost piles. These would be allowed to grow taller than the ones in the hedge, of course, since they won't need to keep livestock contained. While thinking along these lines, I started to wonder if Osage orange would take well to coppicing. Based on what I know of its growth habits, I think it would probably do well with that kind of management. Coppicing might help the tree form straighter wood than normal, which would be very useful as fence posts and other building materials.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chickens; and Ice Removal

Last night was the first night the hens spent without access to their nest box. I didn't have to get up as early as on a weekday, since Paul doesn't work on the weekends. Balto was so deeply asleep when I got there that he didn't even hear me walk right past him to the chicken pen. Morning is off-shift time for him, so I didn't bother him. The hens didn't seem particularly agitated, and there weren't any eggs on the ground, so I guess I got there before any of them needed to lay an egg.

I also broke up the ice in the goat trough and scooped it out. After grabbing a couple of pieces with bare hands, I figured there had to be a better way. The garden rake worked pretty well, although longer tines would have been nice. We'll probably get one of these to remove rocks from the garden; I expect that it would also work very well for removing chunks of ice from troughs. This rake also looks very useful. I could spend a lot of money at Lee Valley Hardware, if I had the opportunity.

Friday, January 09, 2009

#40 Become Certified to Compost Dead Livestock

Today I took the course to become certified to compost dead livestock in Ohio. Most of the material in the lecture was familiar to me from my own studies of composting, but it was good to have a refresher. I also got a manual that I plan to study in more depth. My official certificate will be coming by mail, but we also received unofficial ones at the class. With as few animals as we have, there aren't many mortalities, but it will be nice to be able to legally compost them on our farm.

One item down, 100 to go.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nest Box Woes

I was willing to wait until spring to deal with the three Rhode Island Red hens that like to roost in the nest box. We plan to camp at the farm when the weather is nice, and that would make it easy to remove the nest box each night. However, now some of the Australorps are following their lead, and last night I had to kick seven chickens out of a 25-gallon Rubbermaid container. It was like a clown car in there. So, much as I hate getting up early in the morning, from now on I have to get up at 5am and drive out to the farm to set up the nest box before Paul leaves for work in the morning. He'll remove it every afternoon/evening when he gathers the eggs. Chickens are creatures of habit, so I may be able to start leaving the nest box in at night after they establish a new place to sleep.

More Goat Containment

I've written before about goat #6, not-so-affectionately named Liver Neck by Paul. Last fall, she learned how to flip the bottom wire of electric netting up and scoot under the fence without getting shocked. Goats never forget a way to escape, and she's been a real problem this winter now that they are on hay. She doesn't care about the hay they get fed every day, no, she wants to go stick her head in the hay stack and munch on hay unsullied by human hands. Her friend, goat #3, also gets out, but I haven't determined yet whether she goes over or under the fence. Last night I staked down the bottom wire of the entire fence line, so hopefully Liver Neck will get a thorough shock next time she tries to get out. Being a goat, I know she'll never stop trying what worked in the past, even if it doesn't work now, so she and #3 are on the cull list. Now that Advent and Christmas are over, I should have a chance to slaughter them some time in the next month. They're both pretty goats, but being older does they wouldn't sell for a high enough price to justify hauling them to auction. According to the auction report, the highest a doe sold for last weekend was $65.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Work Day

Since Paul has taken over the daily farm chores, I only get out there every few weeks or so to work on occasional projects. Today the plan was to move the goat fences so that their pen no longer surrounds the chicken pen. However, some of the screws on the goat house have come loose and I can't move it anymore. It will have to stay where it is until next spring or summer, when I can repair it. So the only options were to leave things as they were or move all the poultry to a new spot. There are over 50 chickens and around 10 ducks, so it really was not going to be feasible to move them. We would have spent hours rounding up the strays, and they really don't like changes to their routine, anyhow. So I just tidied up and tensioned the goat fences to keep them better contained. We worked with Balto a little bit today by tossing one of the Australorps out into the goat pen and growling at him any time he made a move towards it. It didn't take long for him to start turning his back on the loose chicken any time it ran near him, so he was a good boy. I want to try to get out there tomorrow, as well, to reinforce the training. I want it firmly established in his mind that the birds belong to the humans, and are not to be messed with.

I also worked on the chicken house. It has a tarp for a roof, necessary to keep the weight down on a movable building. It worked really well until I got the bantams, which are light enough to fly up and perch on the roof to roost. They taught the Wyandottes to do the same, and probably the Australorps will also join in when they get bigger*. All of those claws don't take long to rip through a tarp, even a heavy duty one. I had just put a brand new tarp on a few weeks ago, since the cold weather and precipitation really made it necessary to have a roof on the house. The ducks and the chicks sleep in there, even if the other chickens don't. Anyhow, several big windstorms came through soon after I put the tarp on, and broke the string holding it to the roof. Those were just supposed to be temporary, until I can put zip ties on to really hold it down. So I tied down the tarp again today, and then I went looking in the woods for a long piece of wood to attach to the apex of the house for the birds to perch on, to protect the tarp. It needed to be about 13 feet long, mostly straight, and not too heavy to lift up. At first I had little luck finding anything like that, but then I remembered that last summer I had cut down a dead walnut sapling, and that turned out to be perfect. It was a little bit on the heavy side, but with Paul's help it was no difficulty to lift it up and attach it. It is just tied on right now, but I'll probably get some long, skinny bolts to attach it more securely.

*The Rhode Island Reds never learned how to perch. One sleeps in the house, the other three insist on sleeping in the nest box. It's not feasible at this point to get out there early every morning to open up the nest box for them, so we just change the bedding in there anytime it starts to get too soiled. One night I was out there, and kicked them out of the nest box and then turned it so that the opening faced the opposite way. Chickens aren't very good at problem-solving, especially after dark, so three very confused hens just stood there looking at where the door used to be. It was pretty funny, and I wish I had thought to take my camera with me that night.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bad Dog

Paul caught Balto in the act of chasing and catching a chicken this afternoon. It was one of the young Australorp pullets, which are still small enough to fit through the fence. It's electrified, but feathers are pretty good insulation and it only takes a moment to get through. Anyhow, Paul tackled Balto and he dropped the chicken, and it didn't appear to be harmed. It couldn't be checked thoroughly because it ran back into the rest of the flock, and all 44 of them look about the same. Hopefully, Balto found the experience startling and unpleasant, and will leave the chickens alone in the future. Tomorrow we will be reconfiguring the pens to make it less likely that a chicken will wander into the goat pen with him. It would be nice to have a livestock guard dog that was trustworthy with all of our animals, but since we got him as a two-year-old we didn't have any control over his puppyhood. It makes me want even more to someday raise and breed quality LGDs, that have the wonderful temperament and sense of responsibility that Phantom had without the massive health problems.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hay Storage Revisited

As I wrote in the previous post, the cats have convinced me not to store the hay loose anymore. I took a look at my thoughts on the matter from last spring (Hay Storage), and I think that I will probably want to try bagging the hay. We have hundreds of feed sacks lying around, but I was a little bit concerned about breathability, since they are woven plastic. However, I think if, after filling them with hay, I left them open and standing on end for a few days or weeks, that would allow any excess moisture to evaporate out the top. Then they could be tied up for storage. By weighing the bags before and after, I could get a better idea of the moisture content of the hay, and hopefully get better at estimating that when the hay is on the ground.

A downside to any sort of tying or bagging system is that it is more labor intensive than simply putting the hay on a pile. That could be alleviated by building some sort of a hopper system to direct the hay down into the bag. On the other hand, moving large amounts of loose hay is difficult, and bagging can be done at the spot on the field where it was dried. The bags would be easier to pile in a wagon and move around than loose hay. I will give it a try, anyhow. Hopefully next year's hay season will be less rainy than this past one.