Tuesday, September 29, 2009


So I've been on military duty at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO for just under two weeks now. From time to time, I get called up for various reasons. Minus 15 months spent hanging out in Iraq, typically, I'm never away from home for more than a month.

For those of you that don't know, I'm in the Army and have two years to finish off in the Reserves to finish up all my military obligations. I'm a Staff Seregent, (E-6), and I enjoy leading troops, but if I wanted to be in the Army, I'd go active duty. I'm not complaining, I'm just ready to permanently hang up my stripes and begin the 100% civilian chapter of my life.

So things at the farm have been rough in my abscense. Carla's been doing a great job holding down the fort (pregnant with a 19 month old Simmey monster, and a 40 hr job), but we've got a VERY LARGE bobcat - 30 - 40 lbs that has been terrorizing all of our critters around the house. By terrorizing, I mean eating. The bobcat has killed half of Carla's ducks, and Rattlesnake the broody hen, orphaning her chicks. It's killed ducks up to 10 ft from the house, slipping past 2 (probably sleeping) mutts. I've got some trapping to do when I get home, luckily, we keep rooster for just such an occasion.

The layers out in the pasture suddenly decided to stop laying in thier nesting boxes, and are laying somewhere in the brush. I'll have to stop this when I get back. This will entail penning them up for a few days, as well as trying to find the egg "honeyhole". The biggest deal is that we've missed the egg sales that would have paid for me hiring help for Carla (pregnant women and slinging sacks of feed is not a good combo).

Also, Alfredo, one of our Great Pyrennes, has chosen to regress in his training, and has killed his first hen. This isn't a big suprise, livestock guardian dogs have a very "motherly" instinct to thier charges, especially smaller ones like chickens. Unfortunately, this attention can be fatal for a hens. The thing is to correct the behavior before it becomes too entrenched in his brain. So when I get back, Alfredo is going to go to "jail" for a while and take a step back in his training. When he's trustworthy enough, we'll post bail.

Army Strong (and the Bobcat's Full)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tearing Sheet Metal

This is a cool trick for cutting galvanized sheeting that I learned a month or so ago. I bought some salvaged sheeting from a guy who tears down chicken houses for salvage - he was barely understandable as he was missing half his teeth and mumbled. When he had told me over the phone to bring a pair of tin snips to cut the metal (20 ft sheets), I had my doubts. However, he showed me an awesome time saving trick. Here it is.

First, make a straight cut with your snips; make a line where you want to cut as well.

Grab the tin on one side of the cut. Put your boot on the other side (closer than I've got here). It will provide leverage as you tear the metal.
Now pull up on the metal with your hand. It will tear fairly easily; readjust your foot as you go. You can nudge the tear left and right by angling the metal as you tear. It's harder to explain than do.
This whole process takes just a few seconds. There's no cutting - which means no noise, no hot sparks, and no sharp edges, as the tearing leaves the sheeting much smoother. I'm definately a fan.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Farewell Red

So Red is our majestic Rhode Island Red Rooster. He was supposed to be a hen in our first batch of chickens. Red was gentleman, both to his girls and to us as well. Unlike other roosters, he always put his hens first. He'd scratch up a goodie, pull it out of the grass and set it down and call his ladies. When the feed was dished out, he'd back up and let the hens go first, patiently waiting for them to finish up. He kept his ladies together, and in the stillness of the early morning, his crow would reverberate throughout the holler.

Red (on right) and Alfredo watching over some of the hens

Two days ago, we found Red in the bottom of the coop. He couldn't stand up. He didn't have any wounds, and for all intent and purposes he looked fine. I carried him up to the house and put him in a hospital pen. At first he ate, and he had a terrific thirst. Yesterday he stopped eating, this morning I noticed that his comb was dark, and was almost purple. He was breathing hard, and within an hour had passed away.

Farewell Red.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Settled In

So the 4-H hens have done well transitioning to free range life. We lost an extremely skittish hen who would have nothing to do with staying in our pasture the second day - she vaulted over two fences, bolted down the creekbed and never looked back. Here's the coop on the second morning, the new hens are the brownish ones for the most part.

The fencing did the trick. Most of the new pullets and hens just hung out inside the coop for a day or so, slowly venturing out as they became comfortable with thier new surroundings. The coop is now home, and the nesting boxes are where to lay.

The Pyrennees pups that we're training had a much harder time with fence. In & out, in & out - just bowling right through the netting. It worries me, I just got a good pair of working dogs!

Who can resist the lovely Mrs. Feta?

So I ended up pulling the fence earlier than I wanted, but the hens have figured out ropes, er roosts, and the dogs aren't loosing anymore battles of wits with netting. We'll call it a go.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Introducing new hens to the pasture flock

So I bought a few hens from the 4-H kids at the Washington County Fair this year. I paid $114 for 23 hens, and they gave me 3 sacks of feed for kicks. This comes out to $4.96 per bird. Minus the 24 dollars in feed, and that's under 4 dollars per hen. That's cheaper than I can raise them and that's not even including time.
Here's the hens after I picked them up. It's 10pm and they're in the back of the truck which is out in the pasture which is soppin wet from all the recent rains
Here's just how sparse the hens had got out on pasture. There's 3 that aren't in there because we've got them working on other tasks at the house up the holler. The Pyrennes pups have stopped all our predator losses. The chicken wire keeps barnstorming owls from killin the hens at night. That was an 8 hen lesson by the way. There's 18 hens and a rooster in the pic. They're used to be 45 and a rooster
Feta (on left) and Squirt who followed me down to the pasture. Squirt isn't fond of the pups, they get on his nerves.

The owl screen made putting the hens on the roosts difficult. So first I put the hens at the edge of the coop. They can't see at all at night, so they stay put.

I then climbed inside the coop and placed the hens on the roosts. I do this at night for two reasons.

1 - If I introduce new hens during the day, they're seen as intruders and beaten down and chased away. If the old hens wake up and gradually see the new chickens, they'll be seen as new flock members. There will be the expected roughing, as the new pecking order is laid out, but no one will be pummeled to death.

2 - this helps the new hens see the coop as home. More than likely, they've been raised in a tiny coop and would spaz out and run away into the woods and open jaws of a coyote if tossed in during the day.

I finished up by surrounding the coop with some old defective poultry netting, to help keep the new hens in. I'll remove it in a couple of days when I feel that the hens learn the coop is home.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


So I dug some potatoes on Monday a task that should have been done months ago, but excuse, excuse, excuse I never got around to it. The resident population of field mice had no such procrastitory incline - under the mulch there were little mousey tunnels that led to chewed up potatoes. That'll learn me.

So this year's tater harvest was pitiful compared to last season's: fewer and smaller taters. When it came time to plant this spring I didn't have any compost or manure, so I just placed the taters on the ground and covered them up. Last year we averaged over a pound a foot row, this year it's much less. At least now I know for next year.

For the record though, they're still delicious.