Tag Archives: turkeys

Thanksgiving Turkeys Have All Found New Homes!

The turkeys enjoying fresh pasture grasses and clovers.

I’m happy to announce that all available Thanksgiving turkeys have been sold for 2011!

Thank you to all those who purchased one (or two or five…) of our turkeys:
Randy and Pam, Scott, Anna, Stephanie, Whitney, Joshua and Melina, Nate, Barbara, Constanze, Samuel, Brian, and Nancy.

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

The Bad Blogger Update: Adele through Appendectomy

We get to live here!

Every day I wake up thankful that we get to live here.   I’m thankful for the wonderful neighbors that we have.  I’m thankful for the support Lindsey and I get from our families.   I’m thankful that our families could come spend Thanksgiving with us.

I'm thankful for turkey mohawks. Not all turkeys can pull of a mohawk. You just gotta feel it.

I’ve got many more things to be thankful for this year, even though I didn’t get the chance to post this on actual Thanksgiving:

  1. Lindsey and I have just celebrated 2 wonderful years together.
  2. The heritage turkeys turned out to taste wonderful.
  3. The goats humor us by staying behind a fence they are able to simply jump over.
  4. We’ve been able to learn a lot of skills quickly without making too many terrible mistakes.
  5. Randy, Ronnie, and Cody have made handy farm pre-interns.
  6. Wild turkeys take hikes past the back of our house.
  7. We’ve built a sturdy greenhouse and beaten back the jungle that had grown up around the property.
  8. We have gotten to share lots of fruit, veggies, nuts, and meat that we’ve produced here this year.
  9. The flood didn’t do the farm in.
  10. The drought didn’t do the farm in.
  11. The leaves have changed and fallen, and the first flurries of the year have drifted down to earth.
  12. We get a full calendar year to plan, produce, and share next year’s bounty.

Lindsey and Scooter pose on a haybale.

Adele practices for her haybale climbing race in Austin. She's just resting between sets of 15.

Lindsey and I have gotten an influx of visitors lately.  First our lovely friend Adele came in for a weekend from San Antonio.  She got to climb some haybales, visit the animals, and sample some farm-fresh beyond-organic food.  It was great to see her!

We cleaned up the bamboo and the other gardens to help impress our guests.

Then Lindsey’s family came in from Houston and NYC.  Ronnie, Jake, and Cody came to celebrate Thanksgiving with us the weekend before the holiday.  Cody chased the goats and harvested the carrots and parsnips we roasted with the Thanksgiving turkey.  He also took a turkey back to New York with him to share with his roommate.  Jake and Ronnie did a little planning and investigation for the new house they are planning to build in nearby Campbellsville.  Ronnie helped us take care of the chicks, rabbits, and goats.

Finally, most of my family came in from Arkansas and Missouri.  My parents, Randy and Pam, arrived on Wednesday while my brother Will and his new bride Keri got in late Friday night.  We were all having a wonderful time showing them the farm for the first time, getting prepped for our Thanksgiving dinner scheduled for Saturday, and gearing up for the big Arkansas/LSU football game.  Then, this farmer had to go ruin everything.

Friday afternoon I didn’t feel so good.  Saturday was worse.  Lindsey ended up ferrying me over to the emergency room where I had an appendectomy soon after arrival.  So no one got Thanksgiving dinner and no one got to watch the football game.  I felt so bad after my family and come so far and Lindsey had planned so much.  I know one can’t control appendicitis, but one can still feel bad about the impact the appendicitis had on others.

The day after the operation everything was fine.  The next few days everything was not fine.  I developed a condition called ileus due to the gas inserted into my abdomen during the surgery.  It simply kept building up and wouldn’t leave.  Needless to say, very uncomfortable and worrisome.  I was supposed to get out of the hospital on Sunday.  I didn’t end up getting released until late Wednesday afternoon and I still didn’t feel great.  Still don’t, unfortunately.  Nothing is going through the system.

So how does a sick farmer run a farm?

Through all this, poor Will and Keri had to detour through Arkansas to take my mom back home so that she could return to work.  My dad stayed on to help out and has been such a blessing to us.  He’s done all the chores extremely well without very much help from us in terms of showing him how to do them.  All the animals are doing great and he’s even invented a solution to make moving the portable goat shelter easier.  He has done all of this despite having been laid up himself with shingles until only a few weeks ago.  What a guy!  Thank you Pop!

So now some of the plans have experienced a slight delay.  We’ll have to wait a month or so before I can do the heavy lifting required to get a couple Lifestyles Lane structures built.  The budget for the fencing probably just took a big hit in order to pay our share of the medical bills.  Frustrating, but I guess you’ve just got to stay flexible.

In the meantime, I’ll just embrace the spirit of the season.  I’m thankful that I have such an amazing family who spring to your support whenever you need it.  I’m thankful that Lindsey and I get to follow a dream in such a wonderful place.

We didn’t get to enjoy Thanksgiving on the 25th, but here’s some turkey pictures for you.  These wild turkeys went on walkabout around the house yesterday.

A quartet of wild turkeys appeared in the hillside field.

The goats are envious of the beards on the wild turkeys.

Getting closer...

The wild turkeys marched all the way up to the backyard.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Thanksgiving Turkeys

The turkeys head off for processing. This is the only time they've been caged.

This morning I gathered up 40 Buff Orpington broiler chickens that have lived on pasture in 2 of our chicken scooters for the last 11 weeks.  It took the Buff Orpingtons almost twice as long to reach market weight as the Cornish X batch we processed 5 weeks ago, and they aren’t as heavy still.  Advantages in their favor:  they ate less feed than the Cornish, ate more grass, were more active, and stayed cleaner.  The Cornish have the double breast that most customers expect and taste great.  We’ll  see how the Buffs taste soon.  I’m interested to see, because to my knowledge I’ve never eaten a chicken that wasn’t a Cornish, White Rock, or a cross thereof.

The turkeys have free ranged all over our property gathering most of their own feed.  We put a little broiler ration and scratch grains in a bin to encourage them to roost in the poultry shed at night (they have to be bribed not to roost in the barn rafters), but other than that little bit of feed they’ve done well at fending for themselves eating grass, acorns, grasshoppers, berries, seeds, and “their” heirloom garden tomatoes.  They’ve swung on our front porch swing and chased the dog.  They’ve discovered that they cannot swim and that they can perch on one of the goats.  Undoubtably a finer life than 99.9% of all American turkeys.

The turkeys were harder to pack off emotionally.  We’ve had them since the 1st of July, and they kinda grow on you.  They’re not real smart, but they do follow you around while you’re doing chores or anything else they find interesting and keep you entertained with their antics.  This year we’ve raised 11 of the heritage breed turkeys to a “light” market weight.  I say “light” market weight because July to November is not quite enough time to grow them out completely.  We’ll see how much they weigh tomorrow afternoon.

You see only 5 turkeys in the picture because the other 6 have received “pardons” this year.  We’ve sold 3 of them and are eating 2 with our families at Thanksgiving, but the other 6 will be breeders for us in the spring.  We kept one tom and two hens of 2 rare heritage breeds – the Black, or Black Spanish, and the Chocolate.  We processed four Bourbon Reds (3 toms and 1 hen) and one Chocolate tom.

We’ll let you know how they are on the table.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Money, Math, and Movie

Part of the money from our very first sale. Lindsey says we should hang it upside down like Chinese restaurants do so it won't run out of luck.

We made our first two sales this weekend!  On Friday we sold one of our “pet type” lop rabbits to a couple who wanted a bunny for their grandson.  They came by the house around 7 pm and picked out a nice black and white lop rabbit.  We boxed it up and off it went to live with a (hopefully) loving child.  The $5 bill above is part of the $15 from the sale of that rabbit.

Then on Saturday we made another sale.  On Monday a customer from Campbellsville called and placed an order for 2 of our meat rabbits.  She wanted to pick then up on Saturday, which is good because after processing they need to chill (literally) for a couple of days to age the meat.  Since we’ve only raised these rabbits for half of the normally required grow-out period of 12 weeks I did the math and figured out that $2 per pound of liveweight would give us a profit and provide us the hourly wage we’re looking for from our farm endeavors.  Because these rabbits dressed out at 60%, that means that we’d be charging $3.33 per pound dressed.  I think that our price per pound will go up on those rabbits that we raise from birth, however.

The customer bought the live rabbits from us, and I dressed them as a courtesy for them.  So on Wednesday I had to process rabbits for the first time.  The processing went smoothly and the rabbits did not suffer, but it’s still a little graphic for me to describe in writing.  If you want to know how to process rabbits there are lots of good books, internet articles, and videos that you can google.  After processing the rabbits and composting the remains, the meat went into the fridge to age until Saturday when the customer picked it up.  I felt like an actual businessman writing up receipts.

Receipt from the first food we sold!

Now here’s where more patience comes in…  I figure that I work around 11 hours a day for 6 days of the week and for 2 hours on the other.  That means I work roughly 68 hours per week.  We’ve been here 14 weeks so far.  That means I’ve worked about 952 hours so far.  I’ve made $39.  That means my hourly rate is…….  4¢.  And that’s without subtracting the expenses yet.  Ouch.

This week has been really busy, as usual.  I’ve chopped and cleared out our bamboo patch to a more reasonable and aesthetically pleasing arrangement.  Tomorrow I’m going to cut all the leaves off of the chopped bamboo to make poles to dry and use for the garden and building Lifestyles Lane structures.  The leaves will go into the gardens to compost for spring plantings.

Fall plantings are in place and finally sprouting after a small rain this week.  We’ve had several weeks without precipitation, so it took a little while for the seeds to sprout.  The plantings include spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, peas, carrots, onions, and parsnips and are all growing now.  Hopefully they can evade the feet of the turkeys who come by every day to debug the garden.  They’ve really dented the squash bug populations.  The butternut squashes are now curing in the office for a couple of weeks until they go into the basement for storage.  Then into pies and soups!

The turkeys also do lots of other fun things.  See below.

They are doing well and their growth rate really seems to be taking off now.  They are also getting bolder and will explore further from the poultry house every day.  They will go all the way up the hill behind the house and halfway out into the front pasture, so their range is now about a half mile from their “base.”  Now we just have to see what we’re going to do with them.  One has been committed to fill an order (thanks Aunt Sheila!) and one will be our Thanksgiving supper.  We have 1 male and 2 females of the Chocolates and Black Spanish turkeys, so if no one else places any orders we may save them until spring and try to breed our own turkeys for next year instead of ordering them.

On to the caprine kingdom!  The goats seem to be doing great!  They are making short work of the  brush behind the house that was too thick to chop down or bush hog.  The goats have changed that.  Each section that they go through is eaten down to the point that I can now go through there with the machete and clear the rest of it out.  They really enjoy the brush and eat it preferentially over the grass they have available.

Maggie, the goats’ livestock guardian dog, is doing a great job watching over them.  She does take a little getting used to, however, because she watches over them at night by announcing her presence with authority.  That means a lot of barking.  🙂  Unlike the other livestock guardian dogs we’ve been around, Maggie really enjoys human attention.  I went into the goat paddock the other day to fix the shelter that the goats had broken a part of and I could barely accomplish any of the repairs because Maggie kept sticking her basketball-sized noggin in between my arm and my body wanting to be petted.  She really is sweet.

So it’s Sunday.  The dogs are sleeping on the couch, the goats are playing king of the mountain on the gravel pile, the turkeys are catching grasshoppers, and the chicks are cheeping.  Good day!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Good Life Goat Herd

"The Herd"

Today I went to see about some Kiko goats to add to the two Boers that I got from my mother- and father-in-law and Lindsey for my birthday.  Both the Boers and the Kikos are supposed to be excellent meat goats.  The Boer breed was developed in the drier climate of southern Africa while the Kikos were developed in the wetter climate of New Zealand.  I’ve read some things that suggest that the Boers do better in the US when they’re west of I-35 and the Kikos do better east of I-35 because of the climate.  West of I-35 is more similar to South Africa while east of I-35 the climate is more similar to New Zealand.  I like characteristics of both breeds and being a scientist at heart, I want to experiment and see which breed is going to work better for us here in central Kentucky.  We’ll determine which breed works best by breeding these does and looking at the weights of the kids they wean, by seeing how often we have to worm them, and by observing how their hooves grow and how often we have to trim them.

As you can probably tell from the intro picture, I did indeed buy some goats today!  Marty and Janet at Red Brush Farms were extremely nice and helpful.  I encourage anyone interested in Kiko goats to give them a call.  They had high quality goats, were very knowledgeable, and incredibly generous.  I went to their place with a very limited amount of money to spend and came home with more than I ever thought I would due to their kindness and desire to see their animals cared for well.

In the picture above, you can see Roja and Nadine (the Boers) on the left and the Kikos on the right.  In between the two groups is Maggie, the Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog that Marty and Janet sent along with the goats.  Here are some closer shots of the individuals and their names (some of which we kept or used the name of the dam of the goat we bought):

"Maggie"

Maggie is 7 years old and an experienced LGD.  She’s already adopted our two Boer kids into “her” herd and is keeping a watchful eye on everything in her new surroundings.  She’s been introduced to Bailey and Scooter through the fence, and seems to be fine with them so far.  We’ll be careful with the introductions, though.  Maggie’s much bigger than Bailey and little Scootie.  I’ve been watching the herd out in the pasture, and Maggie will snooze while the goats graze around her.  If they move off more than about 20 feet from her she gets up and goes over to lie down closer to them.  Everything I’ve read suggests that the LGDs do this during the day and are very active patrollers at night.  That’s good, because this is what we hear at night: click me! So Maggie’s job is to keep those coyotes away.

"Miss Priss"

This is Miss Priss.  She’s 4 years old and 100% New Zealand Kiko.  According to Marty and Janet she had a single kid her first pregnancy and 3 sets of twins.  She’s also had good hooves and very good scores on parasite tests.  She’s now the matriarch of our herd.

"Fancy"

This is Miss Fancy’s #351, which we’ve shortened to Fancy for brevity.  She’s a 100% AP Kiko yearling and her dam has been a consistent top performer at Red Brush Farms.  She seems very alert and watchful.

"Ebony"

This is Ebony’s #76, or now “Ebony.”  She’s a striking solid black doeling who is the offspring of one of Red Brush Farm’s foundation does.  Marty and Janet said that she weighed 51.9 pounds at 90 days old, so good growth rate is hopefully in those genes.  Ebony is initially the friendliest of the new Kikos, or at least the most curious.  She’s the only one who approaches me when I’ve gone in to check on them – which I’ve probably done too much.  I have a habit of just going in with the goats and sitting for a while so they get used to me.  All 6 goats are pretty flighty right now.

"Ivory"

Finally, after Ebony we have Ivory.  Very imaginative, we know.  She is a 100% New Zealand Kiko and like Ebony had a 90-day weight of 51.9 pounds.  Both Ebony and Ivory were twins (but not to each other).  She’s got a piece of wood taped to her horns right now because she kept getting them caught in the fence at Red Brush Farm.  Hopefully we can cure of that and get the wood off of her so she doesn’t look quite so ridiculous.  🙂

Livestock crate for the truck.

Marty and Janet were so kind to me!  They also threw in this livestock carrier for the back of the pickup in the deal.  It’s much nicer and more functional than the dog crates I’ve been using to haul everything around and will come in useful over and over again for us.  The carrier is chain link with a gate on one end.

Very good day all in all after a rough start – we lost 7 broiler chicks in one of the tractors this morning.  We got over 5″ of rain last night (our rain gauge only goes up to 5″, so it could’ve been more), and in one chicken tractor the chicks slept out in the open rather than going underneath the tarp portion.  When I went out this morning there were 10 chicks that were apparently dead, but 3 of them were breathing a little bit and after being dried off with a towel and placed back into the brooder under the heat lamp they recovered and seem to be doing fine right now.

All the other animals weathered the storm well.  The turkeys do seem perturbed about the ankle-deep water in places, though.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Fall Approacheth

My family poses on (and around, for Grandma Bailey) one of the hay bales in the ridgetop field.

Fall is coming very quickly, especially for those of us who are used to South Texas.  In South Texas fall is more of an idea than an actual season.  No trees change color, there’s no falling leaves, and we really never have a frost until maybe January, if then.  Here it’s Labor Day and we haven’t used the air conditioner in about a week, the smaller shrubs and trees are starting to change colors faintly, and I can definitely see my breath in the mornings.  In our rural neighborhood the second or third haying is being finished, the corn mazes are springing up, and pumpkins are starting to appear at roadside stands.  Alas, the squash bugs got our pumpkins.

This weekend we took advantage of the wonderful 70-degree weather and went hiking around our property.  We always discover new things and enjoy passing by some of our favorite spots, such as the cave and the Crazy Plant.

Scooter "El Conquistador Timido" examines the entrance to the small cave we've found. Neither Scooter nor Lindsey will go in it.

Lindsey poses next to the Crazy Plant. This unidentified monster has the biggest leaves I've ever seen on a plant this far north of the tropics. Anyone care to ID it?

Bailey and Scooter love to go on the hikes.  Sometimes the turkeys try to follow, too, but they get tired quickly.  🙂  They just like to follow me wherever I go.  It’ll make the week before Thanksgiving logistically simpler if they keep doing that.  Today I was sitting in the porch swing shelling some of the black beans we’ve grown and the turkeys decided to come sit on the porch with me.  A couple of them even decided to sit on the other bench.  They’re funny, I tell you.

The turkeys hold court on the front porch while I was shelling black beans. The turkeys are always doing something amusing.

We also got the fall veggies planted today after a trip to Louisville to buy a suit for my brother’s wedding.  Hopefully we can just cover them during the tricky cold nights and have a good harvest through late November.  Today Swiss chard, spinach, parsnips, carrots, lettuces (Romaine and Simpson’s), snap peas, and onions went into the ground.  I’m trying an experiment, so I just basically swept the squash vine remains into a corner to compost in place and then prepped the soil before I mixed all the seeds together and scattered them.  I’ve seen some permaculture videos about doing that and it seems to work out well for them, so I thought I’d try it.  I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

As noted yesterday, the final batch of broilers for the year was put out on pasture this weekend and they are doing well.  I just wanted to report on the first couple of tractor moves because I’ve never seen anyone else discuss this point before.  In any case, there is a definite learning curve for the little chicks the first couple of times the tractor is moved in the morning.  I can understand.  If my house started to move one length over, I would be freaked out too.  The little chicks don’t know what to do the first few times this happens.  They learn to walk along with it pretty quickly, but the first couple of moves always happen in 1″ or 2″ increments with multiple stops when loud squawking alerts me to the fact that some chick has a leg (or wing, or neck) stuck underneath the tractor somewhere.  Right now we’re still in the learning curve for this batch – today moving each tractor took 4 or 5 minutes.  Usually it’s less than 10 seconds.  The White Rocks from last batch learned quickly, though, and I’m confident that these chicks are bright enough to figure this out soon.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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?  🙂

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rabbit Moving Day


The migration formation of the rabbit scooters, each scooter containing 2-5 rabbits.

We got the rabbits put into their scooters for pasturing yesterday.  Almost all of the males went into the tractors grouped by size.  The only exceptions are the males that we are saving for breeding stock.  The females stayed in the hutches for now.  We’ll select breeding stock from them as well, and the remaining rabbits will be sold for food or pets.  Most of the females were separated so that only 1 or 2 is in each pen.  All of the rabbits are maturing and beginning to fight a little bit, so hopefully this will minimize the fighting.

Lindsey makes fun of me for putting the pens into the formation depicted above, but there are good reasons for doing so and all of the animals in movable scooters will be in this type of formation.  Here’s why:
1.  It puts the pens close together without the sides rubbing (means repairs don’t have to happen as often).
2.  The pens are as close as possible to each other while still leaving space to maneuver around them.  This means that you can service each cage efficiently in a small area without tripping over them.
3.  If there is a slope to the land that the pens are on, staggering the scooters like this keeps poopy runoff from inundating the downhill pens during rainstorms.
4.  You can run the pens without leaving “space” between the sides so that all of the pasture gets the nitrogen deposits left by the animals.  If you put the cages in a straight line side-by-side, you have to leave room to walk between them in order to service the cages.  This means there is grass that doesn’t get eaten and pasture that doesn’t get manure.  Soon, you have a striped field.

The bunnies we’re pasturing right now are crosses between Flemish Giant bucks and various does (mostly Californian and New Zealand types).  Here’s the rabbits inside one of the scooters:

The inside of a loaded rabbit scooter. The 2x2s at the bottom run parallel to the way the scooter is pulled so that the grass stands up for the rabbits.

As you can see, the rabbits have plenty of room.  Additionally, since they eat a TON of grass, we’re moving them 3 times per day.  Though that seems like a lot, it’s really only 1 extra trip out to the area because the other animals necessitate trips out to the pasture in the morning and evening.  So I just go out there once more before lunch and move the rabbit scooters one length to fresh grass.  This seems to be worth the trouble, because they reduced their pellet consumption by at least half yesterday and today so far.  I’ll get solid before and after numbers for comparison and share them once they’ve been on pasture for a while longer, but that amounts to a $12 savings per week if that trend continues.

Why pasture rabbits at all?  The USDA already says that “domestic rabbit is the most nutritious meat available” and that rabbit has the highest percentage of protein and the lowest percentages of fat and calories when compared to veal, chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and pork (USDA Circular 549).  This table comes from that circular:

SPECIES CALORIES PER POUND % PROTEIN % FAT
RABBIT 795 20.8 10.2
CHICKEN 810 20.0 11.0
VEAL 840 19.1 12.0
TURKEY 1190 20.0 20.1
LAMB 1420 15.7 27.7
BEEF 1440 16.3 28.0
PORK 2050 11.9 45.0

So if rabbit is this healthy to begin with, why pasture them?  Well, we believe that the compounds found in fresh green plants add vitamins and minerals (CLAs, carotenes, etc) that simply can’t be created in the meat any other way.  There are lots of studies that have been done on beef and poultry to verify the added health benefits.  I’d be really interested in seeing actual data comparing pastured rabbit to conventional rabbit, but I haven’t seen any such study anywhere.  As a science teacher, I would make the hypothesis that if pasturing beef and poultry increases the nutritional level of the meat, then pasturing rabbits would also increase the nutritional level of the rabbit meat.

There are other producers in Virginia and Tennessee that I know of who offer “pastured” rabbit.  However, they bring the pasture to the rabbit in the form of green-chopped materials.  I feel that this is more labor than moving a few rabbit pens.  Plus, having the rabbit scooters means that the fertility from the rabbit manure is placed directly on the soil without me having to haul it or compost it.  Second, and more importantly for us, the rabbit scooters allow the rabbit to act more like a rabbit, hopping around on the pasture, eating a variety of fresh grasses that change three times per day, and selecting what grasses they eat themselves.  So hopefully this system will work out.  If anyone reading this knows of advantages rabbit hutches have over the scooters (other than reduced labor for the keeper), please contribute a comment and let us know!

Other news from the poultry department (the USDA considers rabbit as “poultry” for regulatory purposes) is that the turkeys are starting to really act like turkeys.  They range far more widely than the chickens or the guinea fowl and eat lots of grass, seed heads, and insects of all kinds.  Watching them try to catch grasshoppers is extremely entertaining.  They are gobbling a lot more often now, and are losing most of the feathers on their heads and necks.

The turkeys are growing quickly and spend the day free-ranging. They explore the farm and "gobble" up lots of grass and insects.

The laying hens are doing a great job making compost for us underneath the rabbit hutches that are still occupied.  They are great labor-savers.  All I do is throw down some wood chips or straw on top of the rabbit manure and the chickens go to town on it, scratching through it looking for grubs, worms, and fly larvae.  In a couple days, I throw down some more carbon and they repeat.  Once it builds up in volume, I’ll haul it off to the gardens.

The broilers are in their last week on pasture. Next week is taste testing!

The broilers are almost ready for processing.  They go on Monday morning at 7:30.  Shhh – they don’t know this.  They are pretty large.  I got a little scale yesterday, so once it quits raining and the birds and rabbits dry off I’m going to go weigh some so we have an idea of how much chicken and rabbit we have in terms of poundage so that we can price things accurately.  I want to make sure we set a price that covers our expenses and pays us a decent wage per hour from the start so that we don’t have to have a price hike too soon and chase away our hard-earned customers.

Have a good day!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

July 16 – August 6, 2010

In this post I will attempt to fill you in pictorially on everything that’s happened on the ranch since the Great Isolated Internet Earthquake of 2010.  There’s too much to relate in an extensive post, so please read the captions on the pictures. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements