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.