Thursday, December 31, 2009

The snow is finally starting to disappear around here. What's left is a soupy mess. It seems everywhere you step, you're dealing with mud. One benefit though, is that the creeks are flowing really well.
Here is a little waterfall on an seasonal creek that delineates the eastern border of our pasture. At the base of the little fall is a seep that flows from most of the year.

I love streams. I used to identify aquatic insects (macroinvertebrates) for various agencies and academics in a lab during a former job (ie I was a macroinvert taxonomist). Maybe someday I'll do so again. I've thought about doing it as a sidestream of income if the farm ever becomes my full time occupation.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pullet Egg Size Variability

A batch of our ladies has reached that special time when they start laying. I wonder sometimes what that must be like. One day you're running around chasing bugs, eating grass, then - wham! You're laying an egg. I may be imagining things, but it seems like the new layers tend to be more vocal, clucking "bawk bawk BAWUK! bawk bawk BAWUK! when the time comes. The older experianced hens tend to hop in, do thier business and hop back out like it's no big whoop.
While the hens are figuring things out, their egg sizes can be quite variable. Both these eggs were laid by pullet hens. The one on the left probably has no yolk or no white, and the egg on the right is a double yolker.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rodent Sabotage

So apparently a mouse or something decided that my chainsaw would be a great place to stash kernels of corn (also mine). When I picked up my saw, the corn falling out of the guard was the tip off of sabotage.
I'm glad I noticed it, b/c this would have seriously tore up my saw. Dang mice.

Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas

So the rain switched over to snow last night - lots of snow. We got stuck under a small heavy band of snow that dropped just shy of 6 inches on us. To the west, a small town got 9 inches. North 20 miles they had 1 inch.
So this morning, Simmey opened his presents.

A turtle and a bear -Score!
Afterwards, I went to check on how things had fared in the holler .

The greenhouse held up really well

The veggie beds looked pretty neat under thier blanket of snow.
So I headed on down to the pasture to check on the chickens and the pups. Our driveway is steep and long - around 200 meters. So we'll be hoofing it up and down the hill for a while.
Harley leading the way
The pups seemed to really be enjoying the snow. Their white coats were pretty difficult to spot surrounded by all the snow. They were happy to see me and even happier to have some food. I could see little bits of cedar needles in thier coats from the cedar groves they sheltered in overnight.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

So the day started off very rainy today. We had a break in the rain, so I headed down to do some work in the pasture. It was misty and very wet

Looking up hill

Looking downhill

You can see the dead lespedeza covering the field in the pics. The green spots are where fescue is coming in. We tried some brushhogging this fall, and knocking the lespedeza out gave the grasses a chance to gain a foothold. The eroded spots are from where I let hunters travel up and down the pasture this fall.

The chickens didn't really seem to mind too much though, some of them looked like drowned rats, but they were content just looking for whatever goodies they could scavange up.

The rain picked up again and the wind shifted from out of the north. Snow is coming. Eventually I got pretty soaked, and I gave up and headed back up to the house.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fredo to the Vet

I wrote here about how Alfredo had rolled in a rotting carcass. Turns out, that it wasn't a deer that caused the stink, but a wound on Fredo's neck caused by some skin that got stuck in a ring on his collar. The flesh grew through the ring, and the whole area was raw, and the stress caused a hotspot to form all around his collar. I found the wound late at night when I went to check on the pups. He was acting sluggish and not his typical oafish teenager self, so I rolled him over, and was horrified by the wound.

I took him to the vet the next day. Since our bridge has washed out, I had to carry him across the creek and out of the pasture to the truck. Alfredo has never really known any life other than our woods, fields, and creek - the truck ride and the vet's office (especially the hardwood floors) were really hard on him.

After giving him some anaesthetic and shaving his neck, we had to cut the collar and the ball of flesh that had gotten entangled and started to grow through the collar. I left him at the vets overnight, and picked him up the next day. On the ride home with his giant head in my lap, he would nudge me with a paw or his nose if I stopped scratching behind his ear. It was quite endearing. When we got back to the farm, Fredo didn't want to get out of the truck. Harley jumped in an hung out with him as you can see below.

In addition to Harley, Squirt, our yellow dog showed up as well, followed by two chickens who flew over the pasture fencing, furiously flapped thier way across the creek, all to peer inside the truck cab. Once Fredo was out, he was his old self rompusing self. When he saw his girl, our other Pyr, Feta, it was like nothing had happened at all.

It makes me sick that this happened, and it'll be the last time for sure. It's not just poor husbandry, I see it as betrayal to my animals. These dogs give thier very best to us, stopping all our varmit problems, being gentle with our 1 1/2 yr old, and being great companions. They deserve better from us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nightime Bachelors

Carla was out of town today, so that meant me and Simmey were on our own. Needless to say, Simmey's a handful right now, as well as obsessed with Feta (or Heta if you ask him), one of our pasture dogs. So this evening before it got too dark, we hiked down and crossed the creek to pick up eggs
Simmey with Harley and Mrs. Feta, the object of his desire. After Simmey went to bed, I headed back down and examined fence lines. I looked for problem spots like the broken insulator above. Or this sagging tree below.
While I was fixing the fence, Mrs Feta let me know that she required an ear scratching. From the look on her face I did a pretty good job.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Roasted Chicken Fat

This is the remains of one of our pastured broilers from the dinner tonight that Carla cooked up. The bird was one of the runts of the flock, so excuse the small size. They were'nt the Cornish Cross either (lesson learned), the by far most popular (for a reason) commercial breed. This was our first year of raising our own meat birds, and we've been impressed with the flavor, the cooking quality, and how much value we put in the meat that we've put so much time and effort into producing.
Carla and I got talking about the difference in fat between our birds and what we're used to. The difference can be seen above. The only "hard fat" in the pan is from the butter that we basted the bird with, while the fat from the bird is still liquid at room temperature. The pan fat from supermarket birds solidifies into a chunk. My guess is that the fats will do the same in my arteries as they do in the pans. We'll be raising our own birds from now on.
The pan liquor will make an awesome chickeniness flavor booster to the next pot of chicken and dumplings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stinky Dog

So here's my Pyrenees. We pen them up for a good part of the day b/c the big male, Alfredo, (on the left) can't be trusted around the chickens just yet (He's been known to engulf them whole). They get let out at dusk, and do a good job of scaring away the predator population in the holler.

Alfredo found something dead and rolled in it last week. That's that big black spot under his throat. He reeks, and I almost lost it. I feel bad for him, b/c up until today I couldn't get close enough to him to pet - and I have a cast iron stomach. Finally, after a week, the smell is finally diminishing in potency. Yuck!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Prepping Veggie Beds

So we raise veggies up by our house. Two years ago, I cleared just shy of 0.5 acres of forest and scrub to put in a garden spot. Half of the garden is on a pretty good slope. When it rains (say 6 inches in a couple of hours for example) we can get some cutting through the garden. So I'm fixing that this winter by lining out the veggie beds with straight oak & hickory trees that I'm cutting out of the woods. It's physical work, cutting then hauling heavy logs by hand, but there's a huge sense of accomplishment when I get a bed done.
The white stuff is ashes from the fireplace. It's good for raising the pH of the soil and getting some Potassium into the soil. Potassium has always been a hard nutrient to come by, and ashes are a good (& free) source. Potash is a traditional fertilizer for potassium, and is called pot-ash because of how it used to be made. Wood fire ashes were leeched in big pots then the liquid boiled down. Potassium carbonate is released. Obviously, I skip the boiling.

I'm aiming at getting a bed completed and covered in wheat straw every 3 days. Our beds are 4 ft wide and anywhere from 50-80 ft long.

Carla's ducks just kind of hang out, here nibbling on the row of broccoli we need to cut and freeze.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


We're having a cold snap here, for us at least. We had our first snowflakes yesterday, they were mixed in with sleet and rain. I was cutting logs to line the veggie beds, and these big, white flakes were crashing onto my jacket, shattering and rolling off - finishing thier plunge to the ground. It was really pretty.

So this morning, I headed down the hill into the holler to put the dogs up and let the hens out. Near the creek, there were these crazy ice formations on the stalks of some of the weeds, mostly asters and ironweed. My guess is that water had gotten into the hollow stems, and then as the temps plunged into the lower twenties, the water froze and blew out of the stem bases. That would explain why the ice was only at the bottom of the plants. Any better guesses?

The ice is at the base of the weeds

Here's some by the runoff creek near the pasture. Neat huh?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Composting the Scraps

After getting the turkeys ready for the table this year, I had a bunch of "leftovers" - feathers, heads, lungs, crops, feet, etc. I paid good money in feed to grow these turkey parts, and I've got to find some way to recoup as much of my money as possible, so I compost them.

These parts are really high in nitrogen, so they need lots of carbon. I use lots of leaves, which I pick up in yards or on the side of the road this time of the year. It would be best if I could shred them, but I can't figure out a cheap way to do it, so I just use the leaves whole. Whole leaves tend to cake, so every week or so I'll go and mix the pile with a pitchfork. The caking leads to anaerobic conditions (stinky), so mixing it up gets oxygen into the mix and fires up the decomposition process. In fact, I've found that when I turn the pile on a cold morning, it will steam, and you can feel the heat radiating out. Next year, I may compare composting with wood chips as opposed to leaves. Right now, though, I don't own a tractor with a front end loader (or without for that matter) so leaves are a lot easier on the back.

By making compost, all the nutrients in the turkey parts become secured for a time in the humus (compost) that forms. I'll spread the compost on my veggie beds this spring or summer, and get the most for my money.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cedars for Christmas Trees

Some friends came over this weekend to cut a christmas tree out of our pasture, and by christmas tree, I mean an eastern red cedar. Not typically the first pick on the christmas tree list, but they're free, which is a big plus with most of our friends.

Cedars are quite prolific here in NW Arkansas. They play the role of a pioneer species here, and quickly pop up in fields that are neglected. They tolerate xeric (dry) soils well, and if they have a choice, they do well in drier conditions - which means slopes with southern aspects up here, or on the limestone bluffs, where the soils are thin because they're still forming.

I actually like cedars better than the spruces, or whatever it is that people buy for the holidays. The only real drawback for me is that they're so stinkin' prickly. They smell great though, and they definately got the Charlie Brown christmas tree vibe working. Hopefully, we'll go "shopping" for ours this weekend.

One of our friends took some great photos of here cedar tree this year. You can read about it here. I'll leave you with a quote from our friend Josh Spielmaker:

"Everyone knows that the best Christmas trees in Arkansas are found along the interstate."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving - Turkeys, Feasting, and Friends

So a good Thanksgiving starts with a good turkey, like this 14 lb free range bird off of our farm.

Then you add good people, genuine people that are worth thier weight in gold...

And those great people, of course they're great cooks!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey Jailbreak

Heading out to gather up a few of the heritage birds tonite, I discovered that the lid of the pen had blown off. This is the second time this year it's happened, I've obviously got to do something different for the pasture pen lids.

The birds were asleep on top of the pen, and I was able to snatch 2 of birds, a bourbon red hen and a then a Narrangasett tom, before the other birds got suspicious. I managed to snatch one more bird, a bronze hen, before the birds flushed. I caught all but two of the turkeys in the dark by flashing my headlamp off and on to steer them into the pen/bushes where I contain a bird long enough to close the gap and snatch em. Rather than scaring the already skittish turkeys into the woods, I herded the two remaining birds into a felled hickory tree near the house where the dogs will make sure they don't become bobcat snacks.

I'm going to butcher 6 of them tommorrow for some of our customers. Unfortunately, I'm still without a turkey plucker, so I'll be hand plucking and dressing 10 birds by myself tommorrow. It's going to be a long day...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Roosters

Our hens have been without a rooster for a couple of months, ever since our wonderful rooster, Red, died. I think every flock of range poultry needs a gentlemanly rooster or two. Here are my reasons which are pure opinion based on observation:
  1. Order - a good rooster is the flock leader. Squabbling between hens seems to be much less with a rooster in charge.
  2. Locating the flock - in our pasture we're restoring, having a crowing rooster helps both me and adventurous hens locate the flock when it's not obvious
  3. Fertility - you can hatch your own chicks. This is really easy with a broody mama hen.
  4. I like roosters - they strut, they crow, they tackle hens in torrid spats of (brief) passion
So some of our friends up the holler raise hens, and had some excess roosters that they begged us to take. I picked them up this morning before work. They are beautiful Rhode Island Reds. When I introduce birds to an existing flock, I always do it at night. From experiance, any sex of chicken introduced during the day ends up getting it's butt kicked by every bird in the flock, or chased into the woods to be a bobcat snack. Introduced at night, the squabbling isn't too bad.

Thier business is the ladies and business is good!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Turkey Dinners Dining

Here are some future Thanksgiving dinners having dinner. I found it ironic.

Here is a young Tom who is doing everything he can to show us that he's much better keeping as breeding stock that as someone's meal. Turkeys are pretty neat.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Molting Chickens

Our egg productionis really, really low still. This is because the hens have taken a break to shed then regrow new feathers, a process called molting, just in time for winter. This can be very awkward looking, like the hens have mange - check out the black hen in the (crappy) pic blow.

The low egg production can be pretty depressing, and sometimes it feels like the hens will never start laying. Having extra eggs is always a great thing - they make great holiday gifts. I'm looking forward to Carla's deviled eggs at Thanksgiving...they're so stinkin' good.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheap Insulator

Part of the hotwire that I'm running down to the pasture from the charger at our house goes through parts of the holler in which there are no good trees to nail insulators on. I talked about this project here. I can't hammer a post or a piece of rebar in the ground to attach an insulator either because much of the sloping hillside is limestone bedrock and outcroppings. So I started making the insulators like the ones above.

It's just some plastic tubing and baling wire off of a straw bale tied in a loop. That is, I had some hollow plastic tubing which I pushed some wire into. I twisted this into a loop around the hot wire. Then I attatched another piece of wire around a tree and through the loop. The tension on the line keeps the hotwire in place. I can use smaller, scraggly trees as posts this way, and there's no shortage of those downslope. It costs me like 5 cents an insulator this way, if that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fridge Magnets

Our young son Simmey's toy fridge magnets. We noticed that the little guy had put them all in a line. The crazy thing that really suprised us is that all the magnets are the front magnets. We're really wondering where all the back magnets are...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wired Woods

I got some more work done on the hotwire that I'm snaking down the mountains to power up the fence down in the pasture. You can see the line on the right along with the yellow insulator. That's a bench looking up the holler. Most of the going was A LOT steeper.
Fossils - the land I love used to be ocean. Most of the fossils we find are crinoid rings and anal spines, shark teeth, various types of corals and today I found my first shell.

Here's an old homestead wall down near the creek at the bottom of the holler. Squirt (the Yellow Dart of the Woods) is pretty proud of himself here - between you and me sometimes he acts like he owns the place. You can see the hotwire coming down the center of the pic.
Tommorrow I need to tie into the fence, run a ground wire down to the fence, mount the charger on the cedar log post I put in the ground today, and wire an outside outlet to plug the charger in.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hotspot Healin

Feta, our classy female Pyrennees, developed a hotspot on the back of her neck last week. A hotspot is a topical infection on a dog. A lot of things can start it, usually some type of irritant - a burr, insect bite, cut, or even stress. In Miss Feta's case, it was two ticks that had latched on to the back of her neck. She started scratching, and scratching. The fact that it's rained cats and dogs the past couple of months didn't help.
At first, I noticed a reddish rash one night. By the next morning, it had blown up into a full fledged infection. The spot was large 4x4 inches, and the skin was white, exuding pus (gross). I trimmed all the hair from the area, all the way down to the infected skin. At first, I was washing the site with hydrogen peroxide and covering it with Neosporin.

Ms Feta, you're healing up quite nice

Apparently, this was the wrong thing to do. I called a great local vet, and they set me straight. On a wound like this, you actually want it to dry up. I left it alone, and the wound has healed up nicely, aided by the long needed and happily greeted current dry weather we've had this week. Her hair is growing back nicely, and in a couple of weeks, the spot won't even be visible.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blackberries for Firewood

Last night I dropped off a truckload of seasoned unsplit oak and hickory logs in exchange for 60 blackberry plants. The plants are from my friend, Chris, who works in the Horticulture department at the U of A. They're primocane blackberries from Chris's masters thesis, and the plot is being pulled up.

Tasty big berries this summer!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tiny Lumberjack

The tiniest lumberjack in these parts needed some help

So we made it a team effort

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Putting Meat in the Freezer

So we harvested a batch of meat chickens on Sunday morning. An (extremely) rare sunny day and cool temps along with great friends made it a rather pleasant morning. The lure of pancakes and free chickens coupled with poor college student hunger helped draw out the volunteers.

The chickens were placed upside down in killing cones. Being upside down and being confined in the cones keeps the birds very calm. A quick cut on the side of the neck severs the jugular. The birds don't get very alarmed, looking around clueless until they start nodding off. Then theres a few seconds of spasming as the blood runs out and the heart starts pumping air. It's about as humane as killing animals can be.

The only disappointment of the day was that the motor crapped out on the automatic chicken plucker, so we had to hand pluck the birds. Here's a picture of a Canadian plucking his first hen.

After plucking, it's time to remove the feet, head, neck & innards (in that order). As you can tell from Jeremy's face, it's better than Six Flags.

Then off to the kitchen for some good eatin!

We ate off these birds for over a week!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The power company came up to check the right of ways last week. I asked them to cut back a lot of trees, and they were more than happy to comply. During the ice storm, we were out of power for 13 days. This should help a lot in the future.
They took out several trees that threatened to fall on our shops as well as a group of hickories that blocked out a lot of light to our greenhouses. You can see they've started on the right of way on the left hand side. They knocked a lot more back. I'd like to turn it into pasture in the next couple of years.

Release the Hounds (at Night)

So since our guard dogs have regressed in thier trustworthiness, we're having to keep them away from the chickens when thier not being supervised. Alfredo & Feta are getting better, but they'll still hurt two chickens a day if we don't keep an eye on them. Alfredo will pluck all the feathers off of a hen and Feta will chew on the left wing and tail of another. The problem is that they don't do this while I'm around, so I have to hide in a cedar thicket to catch them in the act.

So this means that the pups get let out during the dark hours when the chickens are roosting for the night and they're pinned up during the day, unless I'm down in the pasture. So a routine has formed:

After sundown, I head down to the pasture. Harley & Squirt usually follow me down the holler. I appreciate them because they flush out and skunks or other critters along the paths.
In the pasture, Alfredo and Feta are excited to see me.

This is the best time to feed them. My chickens REALLY like the dog food, and will actually get into the pen to get at the dog food. Feeding at night stops any problems. It also lets the pups digest throughout the night, and they'll relieve themselves so they don't mess in thier pens.
These goofballs will spend the night snooping around, barking at any real or imagined threat, and thier presence keeps the predators at bay.
I also pick up any hens in the nesting boxes and stick em back in the coop with thier sisters
Then back up to the house, I've got to put the dogs back up before sunrise, so it's off to bed.