Friday, December 31, 2010


This morning around 6 am a tornado hit a small town to the west of us in our county, a tiny crossroads village called Cincinnati. The tornado came from a fast moving storm that pummeled the county in the pre-dawn darkness. My wife was up town catching a very earlier breakfast with a friend when I was awoken by a text message from her asking where the tornado was. The power was off, there was a lot of lighining, and the wind chimes on the porch were blowning in the breeze. Then there was a steady roar like a jet engine, and I quickly threw on some overalls and grabbed the boys, some pillows and blankets, and we waited in the darkness for 5 minutes or so in the hall. If you've never woken up a 2 yr old and a 9 month old when there's an abscence of power but an abundance of full diapers - well the experience is pretty much how you'd think, except the leg the baby's on gets progressively warmer.

The power came on about an hour later, and the local news (channel 5 their pics are in the post) let us know of the destruction over towards Cincinnati. We've got a friend over there that's a pastured poultry farmer and we got started with poultry on pasture at the same time. She'd slept through the storm, only waking up after the power went out as well. She lives around a mile from Cincinnati, and when I told her the fire station had been destroyed, she remarked that was near so and so's dairy.
Turns out the old man who farmed the dairy was milking the cows when the storm struck. Sadly, there's one less dairy farmer in Washington County going into 2011.

The irony with these crazy winter storms is that the day is always so pretty afterwards. It was a beautiful day, and Carla and I got to get out and work around the house together - me in the garden and Carla brush-eating across the road.

Here's to a storm-free 2011

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Overwintering Hens This Year

One of the lessons I learned last year was that, over the winter, the laying hens have to be pulled off of the pasture. The pitter-patter of dozens of chicken feet over biologically dormant soil is a great way to trample a pasture into erosion and loose what little soil we have or have built up. The hens compact the soil, especially when it's wet.The other big problem is the hens need their greens in the winter and there's not much green out there. They'll keep nipping at any growth that does occur, and will kill the hardiest grass clumps - even the normally cast iron tough fescue grass. Rest is a necessity whether you're a person, family, chicken, or patch of ground.

So this year, I've got the hens housed in the training pen Carla and I built this past late spring. It's very secure, the flock has plenty of room, and once they ate all the grass that had been stored there, a friend and I covered the area with hay pretty thick to compost the chicken poop and keep the area from becoming a mud hole. The area is solid shale in some places, and so by mid spring, when the hens are put back on pasture, there'll be a real layer of fertility there to scatter clover and grass seed on.The hens are seem to be really happy with things. Shelter, no mud, safety from predators. This set up's good for around 150 hens comfortably. In the future, I'd like to overwinter the hens in a hoop house, but this'll do us for now and probably next year with flock cullings.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fence Cost/Ft Estimation & Cost Share

So I applied for cost share through the NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) for fencing this upcoming year. The federal government through the NRCS funds a portion of projects that they deem as encouraging sustainable farming. Fencing of the land we logged and are clearing for pasture is on my list of things that have to be done next year, and the feds consider strong fences - which keep livestock out of creeks and prevent lead-provoking encounters with wild predators - as something they'd theoretically like to help me with. I say theoretically, b/c the original sign-up cut off date was Oct 31 - then Nov 31, then Dec 31, and now it's Jan's frustrating b/c it's a priority thing, and I'm the kind of guy that likes to know well in advance what I'm doing next year so that I can get chew on it for a while....

Anyways, so the cost share is somewhere around 50 cts/ft for high tensile (electric) fencing. Carla and I got to talking about the hassle of dealing with the government on stuff like this, and to see if it's even something we'd do, we ran some quick numbers outloud tonight. Here's what we came up with:
  1. One roll of 10.5 gauge high tensile wire is around 4,000 ft and cost around $120 (includes tax). The fence will have 5 strands so that means one roll of wire will complete approximately an 800 ft section of fence. That comes to about 15 cts/ft or .
  2. I'm guessing I'll use a t-post around every 30 ft or so. More posts closer together in the steeper sections running up the hillside and fewer posts further apart running parallel with the benches. This means around 32 t-posts per 800 ft section and, assuming around $4.25 a post new (last time I scrounged up hundreds for around $1.50/post) that comes out to around $136/section in posts. Add a dollar/post for insulators, and that'll come up to $168/section for insulators and posts.
  3. $120 + $168 = a cost of around $290/section with a cost share of $400. The extra $110 would be used for gates, gas for the truck, Quickcrete to set posts and H-braces (I'll try to find used telephone poles for the posts), etc.
So with the cost share doing all the labor myself, I'm thinking I can pretty much get my fences for free and possibly pay for the automatic post driver we'll get. Seems worth the hassle, especially compared to getting the VA to give me medical treatment for getting busted up in that's real frustration!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Little Hens

So we got next year's batch of hen chicks a little over a week ago. This is my first time brooding chicks over the winter, and so far it's going fairly well. It's been particularly cold as of late, so I've got 4 heat lamps in there trying to keep the little girls warm.This is how the girls look when everything's going well. You can see the heat lamps, and the hens are spaced out pretty evenly underneath them. If you watch the chicks, they'll fall asleep under the lamps, some completely conked out, other dozing, until they get too hot, then they'll get up and move to the outside. The danger can come when there's not enough heat, and the chicks pile tighter and tighter in an ever smaller pile to stay warm. The result is dead chicks.

None of that so far, though temps are dipping near the single digits the next couple of nights. In a couple of weeks, the chicks'll loose their poofy down and feather out. Then they'll be tough as nails.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wren's Thicket's Green Thumb

This is our friend Deb who's running the winter market. She and her husband are pretty amazing folks. We've had single digit nighst, and multiple days in the low 20s already this year. Their high tunnel is unheated, and they produce a lot of food in the cold of winter on a less than ideal Ozark hillside.
Carla and I walked in and it was....well, like stepping into the Garden of Eden. It's pretty shocking to see that much lush, luxurious, green growth when there's so much brown and grey outside in the barren hill and mountainsides. Absolutely stunning isn't it?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

120 Laying Chicks On The 'Morrow

So tomorrow we'll be 120+ laying hens richer. 60 (more or less)Sex-links, 60 Rhode Island Red hens. Actually, they won't be hens, they'll be 3 day old chicks. Little balls of fluff that'll turn into big feathery rectangles of egg-layin' sassy.

I've got the brooder up and running - the lights on to warm up the litter overnight so it'll be toasty in the morning when the West Fork Post Office calls. They'll call around 6 am and let me know the birds are there. Apparently, chicks and poults are really annoying in the tiny post office. I showed up last year for 60 turkey poults and the lady that helped me told me "Thank God you're here, they're driving us nuts!". In their defense, chilly baby turkeys are loud peepers.

I'm finding that things tend to seem to grow increasingly faster and faster - kids, chickens, turkeys, tomatoes...what's it going to be like in a couple more decades.

We'll find out soon enough.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wren's Winter Market

Saturday's 9:00-noon, we're selling at the winter market for the second year. This year we're selling meatbirds, whole and halves, that we raised on pasture earlier this year as well as firewood.
There's just about everything you could want to get you through the winter at the market - meat, eggs, greens, root veggies, winter squash, jams, and more.

Simmey's getting older, he'll be 3 in a few months. He's an oversized ball of energy, but if I can get him to stop long enough to listen, he's a well-behaved toddler hurricane - that is of course when he's not yelling at customers how much he needs a bath. Above, he's munching on some popcorn. Below playing with his toy backhoe and the "pumpkin" that another vendor gave him. I like that I'm able to spend one-on-one time with Simmey more and more now whether it's working outside or selling in town. I really enjoy the winter market. The customers are nice, the vendors work together, it's just - well, enjoyable. Plus, I don't have to spend all day there. In fact, most of the folks send their orders in early.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The quest for affordable eggmobile tires

So a while back, I bought a really old haywagon chassis online of Craigslist. The intent is to build an egg mobile on the chassis for one of my flocks next year. I took the rims off, and three of the tires were completely rotted out and needed to be replaced. I found a place in town that would mount tires on the rims - for $160 a piece. I almost messed my drawers. For that price I might as well just feed dollar bills to the goat herd.

A couple of weeks of searching, and I tried this place. Coincidentally, I drive past it everyday on my way to work. They deal primarily used tires, which is what I wanted. And between my limited english, and their limited Spanish, we were able to communicate enough to get things done.
Only one of the tire rims sealed the first time they tried. The other two gave them fits around the valve stems. They worked on it for a few days, and all three tire hold air fine now. Grand total w/ my grateful tip - $89 dollars. Compared to the $480 it would have cost at the other place, this was a much easier price to swallow.
The guys running this business are young, and they work hard. The business looks like it's run by 19-21 year olds, but as I mentioned before,they do great work, and have no shortage given the steady stream of customers. I wish them well for mine and their sake.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Free Arkansan Xtmas Tree

So all around town, pricey Xtmas tree lots have been opening up, with trees from Wisconsion and other places up north showing up. Some of us, and by us, I mean ourselves and some of our friends, think a little different and have for quite a while opted for using local cedars as Xtmas trees. Below you'll see one of my good friends and his father after proudly bagging a wily cedar on the top bench of my pasture. It's the biggest cedar anyone's hauled out of the pasture to date.
They've been cutting cedars for Christmas for a while now, around 25 years if I remember correctly. I hope to be cutting Christmas trees with my sons in a couple of decades. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cleaning Up's in Thier Blood

Our Great Pyrenees have done a great job keeping our pastures free of predators. Before the pups and the electric fence, we were plagued with predator attacks, and I came very close to writing the whole pastured poultry endeavor off and callling it quits. It's hard enough to make a profit, and if you're loosing birds regularly to predators, it's impossible. Old-timers told me it couldn't be done, even the ones who were hippies before hippies were cool. That year we came so close to throwing in the towel that we actually put the remaining flock up on Craigslist for sale.

So a two and a half years later, we're still here, and the two goofballs below play a part in it.
You'll notice in the picture above that Fredo, our male dog, is carrying a chicken. The chicken is dead, and he's doing what comes natural to him. Livestock guardian dogs have the need to "clean up" whenever there's a dead animal around. Sometimes it mean hauling the animal off, or often trying to eat it. This particular chicken was on the floor of the coop last night. I knew she'd be dead by the morning, so I moved her out into a pen in the pasture. Sadly, this morning she was dead as a doornail. I opened up the pen door to remove her, and before I could get in, Alfredo walked straight into the pen, picked the dead hen up, and trotted off. I guess he'd been waiting all night to get rid of the bird. Often, LGDs are blamed undeservedly for killing stock - I've been guilty of it too. But my pup crew has earned my trust.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Chickens Say They're Hungry

I pulled up to the pasture yesterday and this is the sight that met me. I forgot to check the feeders the night before, and this is what a flock of hungry chickens looks like. When a mob of hungry chickens runs toward you en mass, you feel a certain amount of empathy for grasshoppers and the rest of insectkind.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Molting Chicken

So people don't think of it much, but birds need to shed their feathers just like dogs shed their hair or snakes shed their skin. That's what's going on here below. The hen in the foreground is molting, or growing new feathers. Unfortunately she chose to do so in a rainy, cold snap. It got down to 18 F that night, but she made it through okay. All mature birds will molt in the fall. This was one of the things old time breeders selected for: chicken molts in late fall - good, chicken molts all her feathers nearly at once - great. These characteristics correlate into the most productive hens - more egg for your scratch.

During the course of the year, feathers get broken, worn down, or simply wore out. The feather functions as the chicken's coat, keeping the hen (or rooster) warm in the cold, shedding rain with oil spread during preening, keeping the skin from drying out or getting sunburnt - you get the idea. A hen's laying slows down greatly during this time, and may even stop completely, but will ramp back up when she's done. This is why commercial laying CAFO's induce forced molts through stress - the producer gets a boost in production when the older hens naturally start slowing down their laying. It resets the flock. Ironically in organic CAFO (free range) operations, the regulations practically prevent forced molting the hens into a molt, so they're typically just sent to the slaughterhouse after the first lag in production, instead of getting a second period of laying out of the ladies.

We just let the hens do their thing here at our place.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Solo Heavy Post Sinking

So last year, a huge locust tree was among the trees that got cut down. As I was working through the wood, cutting it for firewood, I noticed the locust and cut it into 8 foot sections. Locust, specifically black locust, is the second best wood for posts around here. Bois d'arc, also known as Osage Orange, is the best, and red cedar is in third place.

I used the lowest trunk section as a post for a gate that I'm putting in to overwinter the hens in a sacrifice paddock. This post is an absolute beast, and Carla was able to help me lift it enough to get it into the back of truck. One of the reasons that locust works so well as a post is that not only is it rot resistant, but it's dense as all get out. This post is probably around 400 lbs. Down in the pasture, I was on my own, and used the truck to get the post dropped and set up right. Once the post was in the hole, I was just a matter of backing up VERY SLOWLY, using the tailgate as a lever. It worked.
A couple of 80lbs sacks of Quick-crete later, things were good to go. A heavy rain that night ensured that the concrete set up solidly.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Post Killing Freeze Goat Browse

So I worked all day in the hillside pasture across the creek today, setting locust posts for a gate and making the corresponding changes in the high-tensile fencing, wiring in corner insulators and rewiring the fencing. Unfortunately, however, I've now got a short somewhere, and considering the line of storms off to the west near Tulsa, I should probably scoot on down and track it.

I walked the perimeter today checking what the goats still have out there in the pasture for browse. Here's a patch of buckbrush, also called Indian Currant. It's a shrubby plant, that the goats have really been turned on to it since the killing frosts have knocked back most of the greenery. The goats really love the berries - they'll stand on their hind legs, lunge into the plants, dragging down the branches too tall to reach, and then strip the berries as a tasty reward for their efforts. You can see the herd tracking me down in the background of the pick below.
When they found me, I quickly took back seat to the buckbrush berries. When the new wore off, the goats started eating recently fallen leaves from the tree on the right. I'm not quite sure what kind of tree it is, and my guess is that it's a really big shrub species, and I definitely am at a loss when it comes to shrubbery. The goats though are still finding plenty to eat, and quite a variety as well. I'll hold off feeding the hay. Luckily, I found a guy selling some crabgrass hay for a really great price, and it's real good stuff as well. I picked up a trailer full the other day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Had to Take The Post Down

Some of you will notice that I took the last two posts down. The short & skinny of it is that it didn't take long that some very good people and organizations were put in a position that they could have been negatively affected and have some major headaches because of me. That's not cool.

So I took the posts down. I stand by everything that was said in them though, and it's a testimony to the lack of transparency and need for reform in a certain system. Money is the ultimate end to some folks, and that's their baggage. Call me an idealist, but having spent 2004-2005 in Iraq, I've seen what corporate corruption 's capable of - but you definitely can't call me naive.

Here's a link that I agree with:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Pasture Progress

Here's some of the land that we cleared starting to get some growth on it. We sowed seed months ago, but with rain as scarce as it has been, it's taken a very long time for anything to sprout up. Normally around here, land cleared for timber & pasture is bulldozed to level things out. Being on a slope with so little soil, we had the loggers leave it "messy". The tree tops, leaves, and ruts have helped hold the soil in place, and once the grass and legumes get up, we can start shifting our focus from holding the soil in place to starting to clear out brush, cut firewood for next year, and get some fencing up.
I've planted ryegrass, fescue, and crimson clover. It'll be interesting to see the forbs and grasses that pop up naturally from the seedbank.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Unloading Birds at the Processor

So I've been compiling a database of independent poultry processors across the nation that are available to small farmers. They are a dying breed, as increased regulation, both federal & state, coupled with a myriad of factors from the poultry industry becoming vertically integrated to a public so used to the often subsized cheap food, have slowly whittled the processors numbers down nation wide. The last independent poultry processor shut down well over a decade ago, and if it were'nt for DARP, 70 miles away in Talequah, OK and Pel-Freeze, up the interstate a county up, the nearest USDA processor would be 5 or 6 hours away. We are EXTREMELY fortunately here to have TWO within driving distance while entire states are lacking.

DARP workers and my left sleeve

If you know of a processor not on the database, would you mind commenting below?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Monsters in the Holler!

Happy Halloween from the Spencers and their Little Monsters

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hillside Mulching

So there's a lot of bare ground on some hilly slopes as a result of the logging for pastures this year. We haven't had very much rain since spring - just enough to trick a little bit of seed to sprout her and there. Poor sprouts, must be getting pretty thirsty.

So I found a guy in Elkins who'll sell me round bales of hay for $5/bale. They a year old, and have sat out in the rain. He's got dozens of them, and will sell me as much as I need/want. The bales are easy to spread...just push them out of the truck and let 'em roll. I'm doing three things in one here, for really cheap.
  1. I'm protecting soil. I'm concentrating on the roads the skidders used to haul logs out. They're compacted, and are chutes for erosion. The hay covers the soil and stops run off.
  2. Seeding for pastures. The hay came out of cattle pastures - mostly fescue, ryegrass, clovers, foxtail, etc. This is grass that grows well here, even in a continuous grazing system. The first step is to get grass growing to hold the soil. Maybe in a couple of years we'll worry about the finer points.
  3. I'm fertilizing. Believe it of not, hay has a lot of nutrients - actually comparable to an equivalent weight of chicken litter except that litter has more nitrogen than the hay and the hay has more potassium (K) than the litter. The hay, as it slowly breaks down, releases it's nutrients over time instead of all at once like chemical ferts and can be taken up, even by the small seedlings. Essentially, I'm mining nutrients from someone else for $5 a pop.
Getting the hay efficiently is yet another challenge. It doesn't make sense now to buy a trailer - it would tie up a bunch of money for something that would get used only occasionally (although greatly appreciated when used). Some day, we'll end up getting one, but for right now, it makes sense just to trade firewood for trailer use with a neighbor. I've got an abundance of wood, but a paucity of trailer.

The ball sizes were different, so while Carla and I double teamed the hitches to get 'em changed. I was pretty impressed with her strength...she's one good-lookin and strong lady.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hay Wagon on Blocks

So I bought a very old, very neglected haywagon off of Craigslist last week. It's around 60 years old and spent the last decade or two rusting in a pasture. The boards and tires were rotted out and, needless to say, it is in sore need of some love and care.

Late last night, I headed out to southern Washington county and put the wagon chassis on blocks. Before that though, I had to bust the lugnuts loose. The guy I bought the wagon from had rigged up an electric impact wrench for me to use, which sounded like a good idea.

Unfortunately, decades of neglect and rust made the only feasible way of busting the lugnuts off human power, more specifically Spence-power. Taking care not to blow my back out (thank you Operation Iraqi Freedom), I was able to use my weight to bust the nuts loose (the tires', not mine!).
Some were in there VERY securely, like the one above. I actually sheered the bolt in two us. Yeah, I got super-strength. So what?

I'm taking the rims into town on Monday and see if I can find some used tires somewhere. I doubt it, but it's worth a try. I'm not sure if I'm just going to rebuild the wagon or turn it into a Eggmobile. Probably the former. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lost in Translation

Truck means jungle gym in goat speak

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple Picking

So a week ago, we headed out to a co-worker's organic apple/pear/fruit orchard. He and his wife used to run a mail order nursery a while back, and he's an amazing resource on all things fruit. It was amazing to see what he built on his hilltop.

Northwestern Arkansas was at one point the heart of the nation's apple industry. At the start of the 20th century, there's account of nearly the whole county being bathed in white when the apples bloomed in the spring. Cider abounded, pigs gorged themselves on apple millings, and apples were packed into barrels and shipped all across the country.

Then the fruit industry packed up its bags to the Northwestern States, where the grass was greener...or at least fireblight and cedar apple rust free. The mills shut down, the factories closed, and the orchards were neglected and eventually cut. The ban on unpasterized cider in the 90s killed the last vestiges the local apple industry.

But these trees soldier on, and produce even through summers as tough as this years. I really need to plant some fruit trees...

Apples, Here we come!

Asian pears...the drought proof fruit
This is us - the Spencers

This is the usual course of family outings these days...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tarp Goat Damage

So apparently, a bent cattle panel covered with a tarp, like the one on the pen below, is an irresistible climbing challenge for a goat.

For weeks, I couldn't figure out why my tarps were falling apart. It's not like we've had any hail (or rain) in months, so any weather-derived pounding was ruled out.
What the ?

The culprit, as it turns out was an adventerous (or onery depending if you're human or caprine in nature) goat. I was feeding the layers one morning when a goat just ran up and over the hoop pens. The goat's sharp little hooves punched right through the tarp, but up and over she went. It reminded me a lot of running through snow that has a crust of ice on top.

The goat herd up on the hill, no doubt enjoying my consternation

Three steps forward, one goat hoof back.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Willie Nelson at FarmAid

So work sent me to FarmAid. I met some really awesome people there. The show was at Miller Stadium in Milwaulkee, where the Brewers baseball team plays.
Front View of the StadiumLot's of room inside - around 35,000 people came
I ended up doing an interview over Sirius radio, and luckily the interview was backstage. The DJ doing the interview was from a small town in the Ozarks in Southern Missouri. When he found out that I was from a small Ozark town in Northwestern Arkansas, I was golden. I ended up staying backstage, and the producer to me to one of the best spots in house, and told me to enjoy the show. I did.From left to right - Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews throw down to "Homegrown". All together - Pretty neat!

There were a lot of bands there, but the headliners were the board members for FarmAid - Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews. It was pretty cool. Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) dropped in for a song as well. Unfortunately, my view was blocked by a piano.
His mouth scares me
Considering that the pics were taken with my iPhone, you can tell how sweet my view was. Despite how cool it was, I would have preferred to stay home and hang out with Carla and the boys. We had turned our last batch of meat birds out onto pasture just the day before...well, I don't have to explain - it's my life and I really dig it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Batch of Meat Birds on Pasture

Well, the last bunch of meat birds have hit the grass across the holler up in the pasture.
I'm doing some new things this batch. I've rigged a switch that enables me to use the perimeter fencing for the electric poultry netting. In the past, I've used solar/battery chargers that have had 3 faults off the top of my head:
  1. Drained batteries - lespedeza, fescue, and various other grasses and forbs conspire to short out a weak charger, but they are absolutely no match for our high joule, low-impedance perimeter charger. No more electrically dead netting.
  2. Grounding - with a portable charger, I was always having to move grounding rods, hammering into rock-hard soils, or else I was stringing out grounding wire all across the pasture. Now, I can just use the grounding off of the perimeter fence
  3. Heavy Batteries - There's no heavy solar "portable" chargers with marine cycle batteries anymore. Woo Hoo!The birds now are on the second bench of the pasture, the middle bench about half-way up the hillside. Having the new truck, with 4X4 capability makes such a huge difference, it opens up so many more possibilities.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On a radio show

On Tuesday, I was a guest on a radio show/podcast - Sustainable Agriculture Highlight. You may find it interesting. I stumbled over my words quite a bit, and I think it's horrible, but some others think different, so if you're up for it, feel free to download and listen.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hogs vs BAMA

You know tomorrow's game is a pretty big deal when the Goodyear blimp's in town.
A lot of the people reading this won't really care about tomorrow's college football game, but tomorrow's game here in Fayetteville pits #1 Alabama vs #10 Arkansas, the local school.

It's the big game in the nation, and so Razorback Stadium will be packed with around 72,000 people on Saturday. You know you want to cheer on Arkansas, so feel free to call the Hogs tomorrow, we're the dangerous underdog - you know you want to cheer us on.

I like college football - to me it's a lot like local food. Arkansas doesn't have, nor will it ever have a professional sports team. This is true of a lot of the big college teams, especially in the South, Mid-west - Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Oklahoma State (my wife Carla's a graduate), Nebraska, Oregon & Oregon State, Boise St, etc - you get the idea. How about you? Who do you root for?

Today's all about the Hogs though - Woo Pig Sooie!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dogs First Confirmed Kill

Well, it's a start. Even though this little possum couldn't have done much damage now, it's comforting to know that the dogs will kill smaller potential predators. I know coyotes drive them nuts, but coons and possums can do a great deal damage to a flock as well, so their protection against the little guy brings some piece of mind.

This constitutes quite an invigorating day if you're a hen as you can see in the picture above.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Think Before you Cut

I'm steadily clearing out rouge trees from the pasture. In some spots, the trees are sycamores a foot in diameter at the base, in other spots they're just really dense stands of locust, cedar, or elm, depending on the soil type, depth, and moisture. Since the pasture is on a north facing slope, some of the big sycamores were casting pretty big shadows. So I've cut them down and used the branches and logs to dam up gulleys. The leafy branches go in first and the heavy logs on top - it makes a good soil trap.

Below was a chinquapin oak that had to come down. This thing was trying to kill me. As I looked over it, there was just about every trap that could be built in this tree old barbwire strands running through the middle of the tree, a limb high up that would have caught and angled other trees down on top of me if I didn't cut this tree get the idea. Dropping trees is pretty safe as long as you're alert, take your time, eye your tree, back up, eye the other trees around, and your saw is sharp. The thing that really burns you is when you do something stupid like above. This limb was holding the felled oak up, and I did a stupid cut that pinned my Husq as you can see in the picture above. It took me about an hour to extract my chainsaw, and my extraction strategy consisted of a handsaw and beating the branch with a steel t-post driver. Eventually I was able to get the saw back out. The closest calls I've had happened on felled trees in this exact situation. It's a good reminder. Spending an hour banging on a log because of stupidity helps you pay attention next time.
In between bashing the limb with the t-post driver, I noticed a rough green tree snake that had taken an unexpected earthbound trip. He got away before the chickens found him and had a snakey protein snack,

The goats were quick to munch on the tree's leaves. Normally, they don't get access to oak leaves, so it was a welcomed treat. Chinquapin oak burns hot, not as hot a hickory, but it'll keep us warm next winter after it ages a spell.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gerald Fry - Selecting Good Grass Cattle

This Saturday, I went to the local Grass Grazers Group. It's a pretty neat deal, typically they do pasture walks once every month or so, and if you want to talk about rotational grazing, this is a pretty good group to do it with. Unfortunately, like most agricultural groups around the country, there's not a lot of people in the group that have any color left in their hair. The average age of the group was probably just under 60 years.

Gerald Fry, a grazing/hay only cattle farmer from down in Rose Bud came up to speak to us about selecting good cattle. The run down of what he had to say was showing us how to select masculine bulls and feminine heifers and selecting a proportional cow. We also looked at determining meat quality through things like the thickness of the hide, etc.
This bull was judged a not great male to expand a herd. The hide was tough, his nuts were twisted, etc. The guys up above are measuring him, checking his proportions. It was guessed that he'd have a really poor tenderloin, and the meat would be tough.
This heifer was judge to be a really good, feminine cow. Turns our she was from the best cow in the farmer's herd. It was neat to hear the guys judge a farmer's cow, make guesses about the cow's performance and have the farmer grade their guess.

I've seen this same stuff work miracles breeding productivity back into turkey, laying hens, and meat breeds of chickens that have lapsed into inefficency since they've been largely replaced by modern hybrids. Ironically, a good structured cow gets dinged in the sale barn. Feedlots are in the business of selling supplements and inputs, not efficiency. They don't care if a farmer stays in business or not.

Coincidentally, I was talking to a friend last night who came over to our house, telling her about the workshop. Turns out her dad is a buyer at a sale barn in another part of the state, and he has beautiful, productive cattle, but those aren't the kind of cows he sends to the feedlot.

Have you ever noticed that old black and white pictures of cattle, sheep, etc look completely different than the same breeds today? Back in the day they looked like furry barrels.

Carla and I are looking into getting cattle in the next few years. With the new pastures opening up, we'll have around 20 acres of good pasture in a couple of years. Enough to have a small herd to feed us, and once we get past the learning curve of figuring out what we're doing, we have the option to lease land and build up a small herd. Or we may not get cattle at all. We'll make the choice when we get there.