So keeping up kind of fell by the wayside this spring. Record-breaking/scary flooding (nearly two feet of rain over a couple of days) followed by record drought, plus a military deployment alert, and well, a lot of other stuff...and the blog kind of fell by the wayside.
But family, faith, and farm didn't and we've been steadily working on all three this year. Life's balanced and growing, and we're glad for it.
Carla (my wife) and several other people have been on me to fire the blog back up. I acquiesced when I met some random person in Kansas City, and they asked what had happened to the blog. I'll catch you up to speed over the next couple of weeks. Lots of cool things going on...I'll tell you about them soon.
So, we've switched our feed for our meatbirds to a better ration. We're getting our feed from a source a couple of counties over. The ration is ground on spot, in the grinder above. In addition, the most of the ration is (relatively) locally grown, being grown in North Central Arkansas in the Ozarks. The best thing about this stuff is that it's 1oo% from nature. GMO free, but beyond that, the protein in it comes from fishmeal. By the way, did you know that Certified Organic Chicken feed typically uses a synthetic, powdered protein manufactured in a lab? Yeah...well, that's true for the stuff you buy from the major organic producers that use defunct conventional chickehouse at least...
The feed above smells so great...meaty, almost like a really thick beer. It smells wholesome and really nutritious. I'll have to raise our prices around 15-20 cents/lb, which I would have had to do anyways with the sky-rocketing corn prices. We're very happy with this move.
We've switched rations for our meatbirds this year - we're going to a GMO free, locally grown blend of chicken feed that I can get two counties away, from a private mill tucked away in the Ozark Mtns around 70 miles away. That's a whole another story...but I get the feed loaded in 55 gal drums, and they weigh A LOT. Unloading drums out of the back of the truck with a dolly and a ramp, was pretty laborious and turned out to be really dangerous - a 350ish lb drum out or control down a ricketty ramp. I've learned if you do something dangerous enough times, at some point I'll get hurt.
At the same time, Carla was helping me, and we were both starting to get on each others' nerves, so we took a break from unloading, and each other. I happened to look over at two square bales, and well, one thing led to another and this is how we now unload heavy barrels of feed! Just roll the barrel out of the back of the truck onto the square bales. The hay cushions the barrels, and there's no opportunity to get crushed by anything round and metal. It's also really fast...sounds like a win to me.
The combination of a ridiculously bright full moon and warmer spring-like temps have brought the polecats (skunks) out in force, at least the males. I've been seeing dead skunks all over the roads as of late. This is what happens when a potential chicken-eating critter finds a way around or toughs his way through our electric fence. The Great Pyrenees made short work of this male skunk when he got into the pasture. Needless to say, the dogs got sprayed and are pretty rank, but they seem pretty proud of themselves and I'm definatley pleased.
One thing you can see is the special claws adapted for digging on this guy. I'd never seen a skunk up close before, so it was pretty neat to get to take a look at this one.
We've got severe storms moving in tomorrow, potentially all day long, so of course erosion's on my mind. I've been picking up old round bales of hay too far gone or too weedy for cheap, $5 bucks a pop. I finally picked up a little 12 ft trailer on craigslist for a decent price; the trailer even has a ramp, so loading the hay rounds is a lot easier. We haven't been able to get a tractor yet, so any loading of round bales has meant a strong back and luring a unsuspecting friend over for a little "help".
There was a spot in the pasture across the creek that was looking a little bald. So I took a small round bale of hay out there and patched it up. The Boston Mtns are especially susceptible to soil erosion, and our holler definitely fits the mold when it comes to the good stuff washing down hill. The spot above is a shale out-cropping that I drive up to get to the middle and top bench. The soil's so fragile there because, well there never really was any. So plastering the area with hay not only helps to keep the soil there, but makes a great seed bed for some fescue and some hardy weeds. The best thing about using the round bales is that there's always a downhill to help spread the hay! I've been sowing ryegrass and clover and it's germinating well in the hay. The rain coming up should get the rest of the seeds jump started into germination.
By the way, if I ever cut hay off someone else's land, I'm thinking it'll be square bales!
Man, the past week or so has been crazy. The last spate of winter weather dropped over a foot of snow at our place and 20 miles north, over two feet of snow fell, breaking a state record for 24 hr snowfall amounts. The next morning, temps dropped to -20 F, and that's REALLY cold here.
Lately though, temps have been pushing into the 70s during the days and 5os into the night. The ground's even starting to dry out a little. Judging by critters, spring is coming. The spring peepers are out and the bees are finding pollen somewhere, as their pollen baskets are laden with the yellow stuff.
I think we've still got a cold snap or two in store, and judging by the year so far, I'd be suprised if we didn't have a snow or two on the horizon. It's been a rough winter here, really rough. It's been good to see though how rough things can get as we're eyeballing our surroundings are figuring out what and how we need to build. A record drought followed by record cold back to back helps in the planning.
We got socked by a winter storm here over the past week here in Northwest Arkansas. A wintry storm early Monday through Tuesday dropped a quarter inch of freezing rain, nearly an inch of sleet and then another 4-5 inches of snow. The temperature plunged into record cold, with night time temps plunging to around -10 F and daytime temps not getting out of the single digits - crazy when you consider that we were near 70 F over the weekend! Temps haven't been above freezing for quite some time now, but everyone's doing pretty well. We're down to just one goat, Billy. The dairy does we were boarding were picked up in mid-Jan before we headed off to SSAWG. Billy's been mourning the loss of his lovely dairy doe ladies, refusing to eat and just generally bumming around. The cold weather snapped him out of it. I was pretty worried the first night of the storm...the freezing rain had coated him really well and so I brought him some crabgrass hay. (Some how in goat reasoning cedars are better shelter than a roof in freezing rain!) A full rumen is a warm rumen, and that seemed to do the trick. He's holed up in the cedar thicket above, and what he didn't eat he made a nest out of to keep him warm. With a full belly, he dried out quickly thanks to the warmth of rumenating. The Great Pyrenees down in the bottom pasture haven't been phased in the slightest. Their thick coats are still coated in ice from the freezing rain several days back. Fredo and Alfredo's coat is so thick that the dogs' body heat is kept in tight enough to keep the ice from thawing. When it was below 0 F on morning, I caught the big male rolling around in the snow trying to scratch his back, grunting in relief when he hit those hard to reach spots. The laying flock in the sacrifice paddock have weathered through the cold rather well. Chickens don't like snow very well, and the bottom of the coop started to get pretty crowded as no one wanted to go outside. The lowest members of the pecking order started to get knocked around a good bit, so we filled the bottom of the coop with lots of seedy hay as well. Scratching through the hay keeps the hens busy looking for seeds and their feet stay dry and off the snow. The biggest problem we've had is that the eggs have been freezing before we can get to them. Until the weather warms up a bit, we're just boiling the eggs and feeding them to the pullet hens we're raising.
We got another 3 or so inches today, and another storm is supposed to hit us the beginning of next week...
So Carla and I went to Southern SAWG (Sustainable Agricultural Working Group). SSAWG is pretty much a gathering of farmers from across the Southern US. It attracts a lot of different farmers - Cajuns, young hippies, Appalachian folks, African-American ranchers, the diversity of folks is pretty amazing, as well as the types of farmers, governmental agencies, and non-profits that are there. The last time Carla and I took a vacation was in 2006. No kids, no farm, just us getting started building a life and me trying to find my bearings after serving in Iraq. Carla was long overdue for some time out away from the youngins, work, and the farm. The picture above is us on top of Lookout Mtn in Chatanooga, TN. You can tell Carla's quite happy and I'm actually getting over a cold... It was a work trip for me. I had the privilege of leading quite an eclectic group of pastured poultrymen/women, poultry processors, and potential farmers in a discussion session over challenges in poultry processing and marketing. Some really neat/successful farmers were there, and the discussion was fantastic. The first couple of days are workshops and field trips. Carla went to a local farm that raises pastured/forested pork (note the red wattle hogs below), grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, and has a dairy where they create superb cheese. Then there's two days of 1.5 hour topical sessions, six at a time (choose your favorite/most applicable one) on topics specific to the South.
The most interesting to me were ones given by Ann Wells and Greg Brann, on Management Intensive Grazing with small ruminants and cattle, and several on pastured poultry. There was also a neat course over rabbit production from a rabbit farmer who was so Tennessee in his bearing, that he was almost an Appalachian caricature. Carla went to sessions over record-keeping and planning for retirement on the farm. There was a lot to choose from:livestock, fruit, veggies, mushrooms, policy...it was all covered.
SSAWG will be in our neck of the woods next year - down in Little Rock, AR. Hopefully, we'll see you there!
We're back in Arkansas from a week long excursion to Chattanooga, TN for Southern SAWG. It was a work trip for me, but Carla came along as she was in severe need of dropping the kids off at her parents and taking a vacation. What is Southern SAWG? I'll fill you in a day or two, but for right now I'm heading off for bed...
I came down this morning and one of our goats, Zanzi, had had her babies during the night. Unfortunately, this was in the artic cold snap of the past few days. Zanzi's looked like she was going to pop for over a week, but of course it had to happen in the predawn hours of the coldest night of the year. She had two twins, this was the firstborn. She did her best, licking the little one clean, but the difference from being inside your mama at a balmy 104 F and then in a few seconds being in the cold a 100 degrees cooler sopping wet must have been too much. Zanzi had this one on some hay, and the second one she had in her shelter, but there was nothing she could have done. The weather's going to warm up soon, and so we'll have the next pregnant goat, Kola, up to bat in better circumstances.
The lesson from this the importance of timing the breeding. By the end of spring, I'll have another paddock to keep Billy in once I get the fence up around the logged land and next year will be better.
It's cold outside...really cold. I don't care where you live, 1 degree F is dang cold. REALLLLY cold. Watering animals gets really hard in weather like this. This is way below normal for us in these parts, and this is our second day of single digit weather. Luckily, we got about an inch of snow before the cold weather set in, so at least there's a way for the critters to get some form of water in between me busting the waterers open. Eating snow is by no means ideal, but it's better than nothing. Tomorrow, the bitter cold will move on it's way, and the highs in the lower 40s come Thursday will seem down right balmly!
Ironically, with all this cold, our female Pyrenees, Feta, has gone into heat. I noticed Alfredo, our big male LGD, continuously trying "get his swerve on" with her (I say trying, b/c Feta's mastered the art of the sit-down). I checked her...and yep, she's in heat. Feta's got great instincts, as seen by her aversion of Simmey in one of his summertime romps in the pasture.
Feta, in the back, wants no part of this!
This face strikes fear in the heart of every Pyrenees pup
We're fencing off several new paddocks next year, so a bunch of new security guard pups will be highly appreciated.
You know ammonia when you smell it, and if you can smell it you need to get rid of it. Ammonia's a gas that needs moisture, nitrogen, and alkalinity (vs acidity) to form. It's a problem in chicken houses, but also in the brooder for us pastured poultry growers. The nitrogen comes from excess manure that doesn't have enough carbon (from bedding) to suck it up, the moisture is usually from leaky waterers or in the humid summers, from high humidity, and the alkalinity comes from the excess calcium found in the poultry ration, whether chick-starter, grower, or laying rations. The chickens can't digest all the nutrients, and the lions share goes out the back onto the litter.
One advantage with ammonia is that every person has a built in set of sensors - the eyes and the nose. Most folks start experiencing irritation around 25-30 ppm. OSHA's getting the working limit to around 25 ppm as well, so if the ammonia's burning your eyes, throat, or lungs, then you need to do something about it. The effects are typically short term, and only do real damage after chronic exposure. If you've ever walked into a chicken house with a fieldman or CAFO farmer, the ammonia can feel like tear gas, but it won't even phase them. The olfactory sensors in their noses have literally been burned out. As you might expect, chickens don't like ammonia either, and there's been studies that show that around 15-20 ppm, chronic exposure starts decreasing the productivity of layers and the gain on meat birds. Most ammonia spikes are due to leaky waterers, and that's our case. This year, we've pretty much stopped any moisture problems and ammonia problems by just putting a board underneath that catches any spill. A thin layer of shavings on top catches any manure, but allows it to dry out a little before I stir the damp, poopy shavings back into the surrounding dry litter. One of our big problems in the past has been letting the waterers run out as well, which creates a sloppy rush of thirsty chicks that spills water all over the place. Better husbandry leads to better husbandry I guess.
Temperature helps drive ammonia formation as well, so there's a positive for winter brooding of chicks - temps too cold to really get ammonia fired up. If you do find yourself with an ammonia problem, add lots of dry bedding and ventilate from the highest spot you can, as ammonia is slightly lighter than air and rises.
Up on the middle bench. Our house is on the other side of the valley.
The dead brown stuff on the slope is the remains of this year's sericea lespedeza. The only drawback to the stuff is that it drops it's leaves, and really isn't grazable during the winter. Well, that's not entirely true. Last week, I noticed that the goats were grazing the tops of the lespedeza - turns out that they were stripping the seeds out of seed stalks. You can see our billy goat in the background, caught stripping....
The seeds are pretty small, about the size of a radish seed, and taste pretty good - kind of like a a soup pea - nutty with that legumey taste. The seeds have got to be a great protein boost for the tiny herd.
On Friday, Carla and I got out to enjoy the beautiful weather after the storms. I focused my efforts on spreading straw on the raised beds, and in doing so, noticed several patches of Johnsongrass that I needed to dig out. Last year, things got away from us quite a bit, as Simmey (aka the Simster) was old enough to start seriously get into anything and everything with his newfound proficency in footing, and Carla was fully occupied with caring for our new little baby boy, Silas.
So the Johnsongrass needed to be dug out. While doing so hit a rock in some thick clay, and pulled out this monster fossil:and the flip side:Pretty awesome. I'm about 99% sure it's the remnant of an ancient branching coral. Eons ago, this whole area was a shallow sea, and this guy was once part of it. I've found a lot of fossils here on our property, but most are only the size of my thumbnail- crinoids, bits of coral, the occasional shark's tooth, but nothing like this. It's huge and about the size of my hand. Awesome.