Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Back from Southern SAWG

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...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bad Night to Give Birth

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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cold and Heat

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.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ammonia in the Brooder

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.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Goats Stripping

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.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fossil Score!

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.