Tag Archives: Cornish X

Lindsey’s Fall “Break”

 

The foliage along Dry Creek is beginning to change colors.

 

Lindsey has had the last 11 days off of work, so on her fall “break” she became my willing helper!  I’ve saved up 2 large tasks that needed two people to complete – cleaning out the barn and setting up the greenhouse.  The greenhouse will be covered in its entirety in a separate post once it’s finished, so stay tuned.

I must apologize for not writing as often as I should.  If excuses are necessary, then mine are:
1.  we’ve had visitors, farmsitters, and went to a wedding.
2.  it hasn’t rained in many moons, so my indoor time has been greatly diminished.
3.  it really does take a lot of work to get this place up and running, and sometimes after completing the physical work the last thing I want to do is rehash it.

The wedding was my brother’s.  It took place in Breckenridge, Colorado, which meant vacation time!  Lindsey’s parents were kind enough to farmsit for us while we went to the wedding.  They took care of all of the animals and gardens while Lindsey and I celebrated with Billy and Keri.  Breckenridge was beautiful in the fall and the weekend was almost perfect.  The wedding was perfect.  The Razorbacks blew the lead they had over then-#1 Alabama, and that was the only perfect weekend foil.

 

Lindsey and I keep Billy's dog Maddie company during the rehearsal.

 

 

Ten Mile Station, site of Billy and Keri's wedding. Isn't it gorgeous?

 

 

Aspens in fall colors provide a backdrop for the wedding.

 

Back in Kentucky the trees are changing colors, too.  Some of them, like the maples and pears, are changing colors because it’s October and that’s what they do.  Others of them, like the cypresses and pines, are changing colors because it’s been so dry here that they are starting to yellow and brown.  Needles are drying up and falling off.  Our brainstormed U-Pick-‘Em Christmas tree idea is starting to lose inventory before December even gets close.  The pasture crackles underfoot.  We need rain badly.  Hopefully it will rain before winter.

If we do get winter storms, we now have a place that can shelter the animals!  Lindsey and I spent 3 days clearing out the barn from top to bottom, eliminating many years of junk, debris, and manure.  Now we’ve got some stalls for the goats in case we get wet windy weather in the winter.

I don’t know exactly when our barn was built.  The previous owner of the property said the 1920’s or 1930’s.  I know that it was standing for sure in 1947, because there is a whole family’s worth of initials from the original family to have owned the property carved into one of the planks and it’s dated “1947.”  My father-in-law’s a detective.  I listen and learn.  The barn is 2 stories with a drive-through lane through the middle of the ground floor.  On one side of the drive through lane are 2 stalls, a large storage area, and a staircase to the hayloft on the second floor.  On the other side of the driving lane is a single stall and an even larger storage area.  On that side there is also a small storage area above the stall.

We found all manner of stuff in the barn.  Greenhouse panels (yay!).  Ancient corn cobs and tobacco leaves (expected).  Large piles of rusty barbed wire (boo!).  Manure, hay, tobacco plates, tobacco sticks, trellises, lumber, scrap metal, an antenna, plastic mulching sheets, planters, draft horse collars.  We learned that baling twine never disintegrates and that it’s best not to think about how old that cloud of manure dust may be.

In any case, most of the barn is in good shape.  Two of the three stalls are usable right now if we needed to put the goats in there during a severe winter storm.  The other stall needs a new floor and a new floor beam.  That’s a project for another day, but other than that and some rotted floorboards in the hayloft the barn is in surprisingly good structural shape.

Almost everything we found got saved or recycled.  We did dump one load at the landfill, unfortunately, but that couldn’t be helped.  One load of trash that we couldn’t think of a use of from at least 64 years of inhabitation isn’t too terrible, I guess.  We paid $13 to dump the load of trash and got $37.50 for the aluminum and scrap metal, so all in all we have a clean barn and enough money to see a couple of movies.  That’s right, big city friends, I said a couple of movies.  For both of us.  Life’s cheaper at the Green River Theater.

Enjoy a few pictures of the barn cleanin’:

 

Lindsey sweeps out one of the barn's stalls.

 

 

No, I'm not robbing the barn. The hankerchief was necessary to keep manure dust out of my mouth.

 

 

Shoveling ancient hay and manure from the barn's hayloft.

 

 

The floor in the barn loft could use some work, but at least it's visible now. It was buried under corn cobs and tobacco leaves.

 

 

Any guesses as to what these might be? The one on the left is ceramic. The right one is metallic.

 

 

One of the stalls has a floor that has seen better days. A future project...

 

 

The big pile of junk in the barn. Most will be re-used in Lifestyles Lane, some had to go to the scrap metal place. A little went to the dump, unfortunately.

 

 

The turkeys enjoyed perching on all of the new stuff coming out of the barn and generally getting in the way as much as possible.

 

The turkeys enjoyed sitting on all of the new perches we were providing them as we cleaned the barn.  Being old heritage breeds, they are quite good flyers and are capable of roosting in the trees and on top of the barn when they want to.  Their favorite nighttime roost is the tailgate of the trailer, but I make them go in the poultry house.  We have enough coyotes around here at night without putting sleepy turkey on their menu.

 

Everything's a turkey perch. Fence. Trash. Front porch swing. Truck. Tree. Cold frame. Dog. Chicken tractor....

 

The turkeys are getting pretty big now.  Big enough that they’ve decided that they can chase Scooter, our 45-lb dog, around with impunity.  One hen in particular seems to enjoy tormenting him, but the whole flock will join her.  He will mostly stand his ground with the one hen, but as soon as multiple turkeys enter the fray, he takes off running and the turkeys take off chasing him.  Bailey, our older dog who is roughly twice Scooter’s size, occasionally comes to his rescue and chases the turkeys away.  Mostly she seems to enjoy watching the turkeys do to Scooter what Scooter does to her most of the time.  I’m not sure what brought this on.  Scootie’s new favorite thing is finding the turkey feathers on the ground and running all over the place with the feathers in his mouth.  Maybe the turkeys think he’s stealing them.

 

Scooter's latest fascination is turkey feathers. He loves to collect them and run all over the place with them in his mouth.

 

Besides the barn, our farm is starting to appear more legit.  We’ve made some money lately selling rabbits.  The goats are rotating through the pasture.  The junk, debris, and construction materials have been removed from the fields.  Neighbor David has harvested his corn from the fields he leases from us.  In exchange he’s cut and baled the hay in the front pasture.  All in all, the farm is looking much better than when we arrived in June.

 

Neighbor David's hay bales decorate the front field.

 

In other news on the bird front, the Cornish X White Rock broilers have a date with the processor on Tuesday morning.  This time, in an effort to be as local as possible, we are using the processor 8 minutes away from us for the first time.  We’ll see how he does!  I can tell you that we won’t be having any underweight chickens this time.  Check out these fatties in the video below:

The guineas have also been growing, although we’re just using them for tick management around the house and barn area.  Some of them have fallen prey to a couple of critters, but the remaining ones sure do a great job clearing out ticks and grasshoppers!

Speaking of predators, the coyotes have been coming close at night.  The other night they were right outside the goats’ paddock.  I could hear the coyotes making a racket and I could hear our livestock guardian dog Maggie growling.  Usually she barks a lot at night as she patrols, but this was deep-throated, threatening growling.  The coyotes eventually took off, so Maggie did her job in the first challenge of her authority.  Way to go, girl!

 

Maggie's mug. This is what coyotes see when they sniff around the goats at night.

 

 

Lindsey feeds Maggie while Bailey investigates the possibility of pilfering her food.

 

 

Maggie's goat herd is rotating through the pastures, hopefully focusing on the many weeds that choke out our grasses and legumes at the moment.

 

Our last project over Lindsey’s “break” has been building the greenhouse.  We’ve had our first frosts already, so we need to get our sensitive San Antonio plants inside the shelter of the greenhouse soon.  It should be ready inside of a week now, and we’ll have a post dedicated to it once the structure is completed.

 

We had our first hard frost on October 2nd. The goats didn't seem to mind, but the basil sure did.

 

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Sunday on the Ranch

The garden has exploded with yellow late-summer flowers.

One of the best things about working outside on the ranch every day is getting to see things change.  New plants, birds, and fish show up all the time.  For instance, the flower garden has exploded with coreopsis.  Yellow everywhere!  This garden has progressed from lilies to hollyhocks to coreopsis in the 2.5 months since we’ve been here.  I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors change on the trees in another few weeks and the reemergence of flowers and leaves in the spring.  Fall is coming – 45 degrees here last night.

Despite the falling temps, we decided to go ahead and put the 2-week-old chicks out in their chicken scooters yesterday.  It’s been in the low 90’s here for the last few weeks, but yesterday was a beautiful 75-degree day and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get the birds out on grass.  Lindsey and I loaded up each scooter with 25 chicks and watched the Buff Orpingtons run around exploring their new environment.  Then we watched the Cornish X chicks lay down next to the feeder as soon as we put them in the scooter, showing little interest in the grass or bugs all around them.  They definitely hung out in the shade underneath the tarp section of their scooter all day.  Their strategy of laying down with their head in the feeder definitely produces a heavier bird, however.  We weighed a couple of birds as we put them into the tractor – Buff Orpington chick 7 ounces, Cornish X chick 17 ounces after 2 weeks.  Damn!

The little Buff Orpington chicks explore their new digs inside the scooter.

The Buff Orps are always moving!

The Cornish X chicks prefer to sit in the shade as close to the feeder as possible rather than explore their surroundings.

The goats have names now.  As I mentioned before these are the first does in our as-of-now-rather-small breeding herd, so they are safe to name because we won’t be eating these.  We rather unimaginatively named the red doe Roja.  Maybe we miss speaking the little bit of Spanish we used to in San Antonio.  My brother Scott suggested Nadine for the little white doeling after Nadine Gordimer (the South African Nobel laureate author) since Boer goats were originally developed in South Africa.  Nadine also wrote about social justice, which is one of the reasons we’re doing this whole endeavor in the first place.

The goats are getting more used to us.  Roja is very inquisitive.  She always comes over to investigate whatever we’re doing when we’re in the paddock with them.  She stops short of allowing us to touch her yet, but she’s getting there.  Nadine, being smaller, is much more cautious.  She is beginning to approach us, but always keeps Roja’s body between her and us.  She is also much quicker to run away if we moved suddenly or do something really scary like stand up.  They both spend a lot of time grazing and browsing, which is ultimately how we want them to get all of their nutrients.  They had access to both grass and pelleted feed at Triple Holler, so right now I’m offering them pellets every other day in an effort to wean them onto grass and browse only without forcing them to go cold turkey.  They seem to be adjusting well, but they really like the pellets.

The goats are very inquisitive and are coming closer and closer every day. Soon we'll be able to play and romp!

They have also discovered the mineral block (like goat vitamins) in their area and seem to like it.  Roja especially goes to town on it.  Nadine nibbles it a little every now and then.  They have also figured out how much fun it is to climb on top of the dog crates I haven’t taken out of the yard yet.

Roja has discovered the mineral block.

Roja likes to take in the view from the top of the dog crate.

Roja munches on the grass in the backyard "paddock."

I also knocked together a very rudimentary shelter for the goats – just something to allow them to get out of the sun or rain if they wanted to.  I used old 2x6s vertically on the bottom for skids and cross-braced them with other scrap wood.  Then I drilled holes in the 2x6s and put short sections of rebar sticking up from the holes.  I then bent PVC pipes from one side to the other to form a hoop structure.  Then zip ties connect the tarp to the PVC frame.  Voìla!  Lightweight portable goat shelter!

The new portable goat shelter we whipped up with skids, rebar, PVC, and a tarp. Nothing new was bought except the tarp.

Other animals are finally proving useful as well.  The turkeys have learned that there are bugs in the gardens and now patrol the 2 raised beds and the tomato patch every few hours looking for tasty morsels.  While they’re up around the house they also like to perch on the trailer, the pickup’s tailgate, and the swing on the porch.  It’s pretty funny.  I’ll try to post a picture of them on the swing if I can catch them doing it.

The turkeys have finally discovered that there are usually bugs and slugs in the garden. If only they'd found 'em before the squash bug epidemic!

This week our neighbor David and I (25% him and 75% me by time, 75% him and 25% me by amount of grass cut) got the front pasture mowed.  David has the large advantage of tractor ownership.  I have the disadvantage of walk-behind bush hog ownership.  Hence the time/productivity disparity.  Oh well.  At least I don’t have to fill out an embarrassing TPS report about it.  The grass started out 3 feet high all over the place and over my head in others.  It’s now a pretty uniform 3 inches and round bales of hay dot the pasture.

The tall grass in the front pasture before David and I cut it. The grass was 3 feet high everywhere and 6 feet high in places.

The pasture looks much better now! David also ended up with 45-50 bales of hay for his dairy as well.

After cutting, David baled the hay in the front field.

The huge plus of this cutting is that the front of the property now looks as if someone lives here!  Additionally, the grass is now free of competition from taller woody weeds and should be able to put on a burst of growth here in the fall growing season.  The bad news is that now I can see how little humus and organic matter we have in the soil.  The soil is just bare between the crowns of grass plants.  We’ve got a lot of soil building to do here!  Prescription:  rotational grazing with ruminant animals.  Before we can do that, I’ve gotta put in a fence.  Anyone want to come help?  🙂

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The Cluck Stops Here

The sign greeting customers at SS Enterprises.

Today was our first poultry processing day.  #1 lesson learned?  Eight weeks is not enough time to grow birds out unless you’re raising Cornish X.

Our first processing day was a emotional minefield – excitement, sadness, pride, regret, sorrow, and gratitude all flowed through my system from 6 am while Lindsey and I were loading the broilers until 8 pm when we sat down to our chicken dinner.

Eventually we want to keep the processing on farm.  We believe that’s more sustainable and better for the birds.  Heifer Project International has even built a mobile processing unit that they sold to a university in Kentucky for $1 that we can use if we take a certification course and build the platform and hookups for it.  That may be in our future.  But for now, we’re taking our birds to the processor.

We called and got an appointment at SS Enterprises, a certified organic processor geared towards the small producer.  Our methods are definitely “beyond organic” even though we don’t care about label, so having a processor that cares about the organic process makes a difference to us.

Even though we are not labeled organic by the government, we are definitely Beyond Organic and it's nice to have a processor who believes in organics. And, yes, Kentucky's Secretary of Agriculture is named Richie Farmer.

There are only 2 USDA-approved poultry processors in the state of Kentucky.  SS is in Bowling Green almost 2 hours away.  The other happens to be 8 miles from our farm!  This time we used SS in Bowling Green because I didn’t find out about the other processor until after I’d made the appointment.  We’ll use the other processor for the next batch and compare the service and results to see which one we want to use, but I can tell you the 8-miles-away factor will be tough to beat.

I think the people at SS Enterprises share some of my political views.

However, the owners of SS Enterprises gave it a good shot.  They were extremely friendly and easy to work with.  I felt welcomed and at home from the first minute I drove up.  They introduced me to their staff and the USDA inspector, treated my birds with compassion and care, and walked me through the whole procedure of processing.  And they didn’t laugh at our small birds.

That’s right.  SMALL birds.

Other farmers who are pasturing poultry are mostly doing Cornish X broilers.  As I’ve blogged before, Cornish X have an extremely fast growth rate but that growth rate comes with trade-offs in terms of health issues and how well the birds are able to utilize fresh pasture.  We used White Rocks this time (which are the unlisted part of the Cornish X – it should read Cornish X White Rock).  The Salatins and others finish Cornish X at 6 weeks old and about 4 pounds in weight.  Nature’s Harmony finishes Naked Necks at 12 weeks, so I figured that White Rocks would be somewhere in between and probably closer to the Cornish X because of their role in the cross.   Hence we shot for 8 weeks for this first batch.

I thought wrong.  Our biggest birds dressed out at 1.5 pounds and the batch averaged 1.25 pounds.  Essentially, we have quail.

Lesson:  Right now we can’t hit an 8 week target date.
Adjustment:  Experiment with the cost of raising birds to 12 weeks and with a group of Cornish X.

Both experiments are going on with our second and third batches.  We’ve got a group of 50 Buff Orpingtons that we’ll raise out to 12 weeks and a group of Cornish X (they were the “free bonus chicks”) that we’ll raise to 6-8 weeks.  That should give us some real data from our land and our conditions to evaluate and allow us to make a good decision.  We would like to raise heritage breeds, but they’ve got to be profitable to be sustainable.  Birds that take 12 weeks to get to 4 pounds cost roughly twice as much to produce as birds that reach 4 pounds in 6 weeks.  So to be profitable with heritage birds we’ve got to have customers who are willing to pay more in exchange for the better taste of the older birds.  Any takers?

So, back off of the tangent, at the end of the day we did have 22 chickens cleanly processed and packaged.

Pastured chicken arranged in the freezer for storage.

These are too small to really sell profitably, so they will be for the two of us plus any family or guests who visit.  My father-in-law put it best, “At least you get to eat your mistakes as you learn from them.”  And I can now vouch – pastured poultry tastes WAY better than supermarket chicken.

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New Chicks!

Dawn breaks over Chicken Gizzard Ridge. Viewed from our back door.

The picture above is what I get to see every morning as I start my chores and whatever other tasks I have assigned myself for the day.  On this day, the Liberty post office called and that means only one thing – new chicks have arrived!  I snapped this picture on my way to the brooders to turn on the clamp lights that we use to warm our chicks’ brood chambers.  I turn them on before I head off to the post office so that they’ll be nice and toasty for the chicks by the time we return.

The first batch of 25 White Rock chicks is heading to the processor on Monday.  I know that under ideal conditions we would have new chicks ready for pasture rather than the brooder at this point, but I wanted us to raise one batch of chicks from start to finish before we ordered more so that we could reflect on things (ISA students and personnel should try to refrain from screaming at my use of the r-word) and make any necessary changes before we got another batch started.  We learned a few things during the first batch, especially regarding my design of the chicken scooter, and have revamped things a little for this new group.  Additionally, we’ll be raising 75 chickens in 3 different tractors this time rather than 1 group of 25.

We ordered this batch of chicks from Mt. Healthy hatchery in Cincinnati.  We used McMurray hatchery last time, and the chicks they sent worked well.  We decided to try Mt. Healthy as well because Cincinnati is far closer to us than McMurray is and closer means less stress on the chicks during shipping.  Mt. Healthy doesn’t have the heritage breeds of turkeys, ducks, and geese that we want to raise, so McMurray will still get our business until we can “grow our own,” and they may get our business still with the chickens.  We’ll have to compare once both batches of chicks have been raised.  McMurray may be a tough act to follow, however.  We lost the “free rare exotic” chick that they sent us with our order of Black Australorps and White Rocks, but we haven’t lost ANY of the Black Australorps and the only 2 White Rocks we’ve lost were due to a marauding cat rather than any issue of health and vigor with the chicks.

I ordered 50 Buff Orpington chicks deliberately.  They are supposed to be a good meat breed and very calm and quiet for chickens.  The White Rocks have grown wonderfully, but are quite feisty with each other.  The Buffs are also a very pretty color – see the pictures below.  Mt. Healthy was offering 25 free chicks “hatchery choice” along with our order of 50 chicks, so I took them up on it figuring we had the tractor space and the feed anyway.  The website said that the free chicks would not be Cornish X, but when the box came it definitely said “Cornish” on it and the chicks look a lot more like Cornish X than Dark Cornish so I think they had some extra of those this week.

As I’ve stated in the “Livestocking Plans – Chickens” post, we don’t want to raise Cornish X even though they are the premier meat bird around today in terms of rapid growth, feed conversion ratio, and price.  We don’t feel they are meant for pasture life, and we want a breed that will run around and forage more than Cornish X do.  So initially I was pretty disappointed when I saw the box labeled “Cornish.”  As I thought about it more, though, this will be a good opportunity to take some data and we can compare the Cornish X to another breed on our pastures under our management at the exact same time.  Back to science for me!  My favorite part was when Lindsey said the exact same thing when she came home and saw them.

Both the Buff Orpingtons and the Cornish X chicks had 1 DOA, unfortunately.  The rest of the chicks appear to be settling in well.  Check out the photos below.  As you can see, we went the cheaper route with the bedding this time and utilized the chippings and shreddings from all of the brush that I’ve cleared over the last few weeks – thank you to Phillip and Eldon Beachy for repairing the chipper!  This bedding is coarser than the store-bought wood shavings but should hold more waste per unit because of the higher C to N ratio.  We’ll see!  It is definitely free and local, however.

A group of Cornish Cross chicks. They were the "Free Bonus 25 Chicks."

A cohort of 50 Buff Orpington chicks.

The Buff Orpingtons again. I think these chicks are the best color!

Buff Orpington chicks from their point of view.

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