Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another great day, and more progress toward meeting our goals

Great day of work today. Micah really contributed a lot while we worked on fixing a chicken tractor and finishing up the fencing around the new hen house. Farming is a great way to spend time with your children and enjoy an abundance of teaching and learning opportunities as well. The layers are really starting to grow, and we are moving them closer each day to the hen house so that they will be able to run cage free very soon. As one of our shareholders and fellow Quakers reminded me, when chickens get to eat naturally by picking through the grasses and other natural edibles, they produce eggs that are incredibly high in Omega 3. By September, we will have two grown layer flocks, and will have a lot of eggs for next season’s shareholders.
I said we were working on hen house fencing, and perhaps I should explain. We use portable tarp shelters for our layer hens, and they are easy for predators to get into by digging underneath the bottom edge of the tarp. To prevent this, we erect a welded wire fence around the outside of the shelter, and then lay chicken wire on the ground extending out from the welded wire. We zip-tie the chicken wire to the welded wire, then use tent stakes to keep the chicken wire tight to the ground. This has been effective in preventing raccoons from digging through into the hen house, unless you forget to shut the welded wire fence gate.
An interesting thing happened about a week and a half ago, and I didn’t write about it because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. We lost a chicken from our layer flock, most likely because I didn’t feel like closing up the hen house (AS STATED ABOVE). Predators always return to the scene of their kill the very next night, so, as usual, I waited outside to hunt the predator. What I suspected would be a coyote (you can tell by the manner of the kill) turned out to be something entirely different. It was a huge fox! I was unable to raise my shotgun in time to shoot it cleanly, and so the fox went its own way. It did not return, but I got to thinking. It is one thing to kill a raccoon or a skunk, or a coyote. It is entirely another manner to shoot a beautiful animal like this fox that I saw in our pasture. Also, I think that many of our shareholders would feel the same way had they saw this animal. At any rate, the fox did not return, but I had to admit that this might pose a problem later in the season, and I can’t have predators circling the farm and helping themselves to chickens and who knows what else. So, I decided to make a significant investment in hopes of eliminating the need to kill predators.
I invested in a solar powered blinked LED light that guarantees to keep predators away from the area surrounding it. One light will not work, you need one every hundred feet or so, at least that is what is recommended. So we now own six of these lights at a cost of $34 each. This was a significant expense for our farm, but in the end, I hope that it eliminates any shareholder concerns about the need to eradicate predators. I also hope it will allow me to get to sleep at night during the summer, as raccoons and such don’t come out until 1 or 2AM.
Broilers come this Wednesday, and should be ready for pickup in eight weeks. We have a lot of fencing decisions to make before the sheep come, and we are going to feed out Jersey bull calves for beef for next year. We anticipated getting beef steers, but the prices for stock were nearly $600 more than we had budgeted for. We will need to save for breeding stock if we want to get any steers bred for beef. At any rate, the Jerseys are very pretty to look at, and they do well on grass, though they can be somewhat small, Hope to see you soon at Sandhill, bye for now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Pigs Are Here!

Yea, the pigs are here! Jenn’s brother Dan and I drove to Bellevue, MI to pick up the six pigs we purchased with share money. They are awfully cute, and very excited to be moved from a more confined space to our expanded pen. For the comfort of the swine, I doubled the size of the pen. As it turns out, there is a dearth of feeders available this season, and everything we checked out was going at 4-H prices, which is about $75-$100 per pig. We purchased Sandhill’s pigs for $75 each. As we did in Ohio, we decided to buy pigs that were in confinement. Last year, we took rejects from a corporate farm, but they proved to be much less healthy than we bargained for, and did not feed out at a very good rate. That means we wasted a lot of feed.
I also have another pig story for you, one that is favored by Jenn and Emma. One year in Ohio, Micah received a toy train, and when you pushed a button on the toy, it made a train whistle sound and a chugging sound, and the front end lit up like a train light. One night, we had some problems in the barn where the hogs were, and I had to hustle out to see what was going on. As it turned out, we were woefully underprepared in the flashlight department, and it was very dark. So, I had to grab Micah’s toy train, and then continuously push the button on it so that the light would turn on and I could see where I was going. Of course, every time I pushed the button, the train whistle would go off and the toy train would make a little chugging sound. Jenn and Emma were laughing uncontrollably. In fact, the hogs even stopped whatever it was they were doing and stared at me with interested smiles. Thank goodness for rural seclusion.
Sometimes, however, we are not as secluded as we might like to be. Last fall, when we were feeding out the final batch of broilers, we had a problem with a skunk stealing chicks. The first morning, our son Dylan was waiting for the bus when the skunk came, and he scared it away by throwing something at it. The second morning, I heard the chicks making a ruckus (they were right outside our bedroom window). I leapt out of bed, and grabbed a hunting gun. I didn’t want to take too long and let the skunk get away, so I simply ran outside in my boxer shorts and knee boots. I was not paying any attention to time, but I knew I had made a mistake when I heard Dylan shout, “Dad, get back in the house!” As luck would have it, his school bus was just pulling up to pick him up for school. I’m sure every kid on the bus easily identified me as the crazy “militia man” running around in his underwear looking for the black helicopters of the “One World Government.”
More farm news – we are scheduled to pick up the yearling ewes on the weekend of fifth month the 21, in Alma, MI. We pick up our first batch of broilers on the 14th of this month. Our egg production is right around 20 to 24 eggs per day. We are still looking for bull calves to feed out for beef, and as of now, we have about eight shares left to sell.