Pasture, wedding prep, etc!

This weekend was a busy one.

First, the pig pen was moved again, leaving a new spot to smooth out and plant for pasture. They have a lot more shade now, which is nice with the weather getting warmer. Much warmer. Very abruptly.

My brother, sister, and a friend came over to help me with this project. We raked out the just vacated pen, pulled any blackberry and scotchbroom stubs the pigs had left, and spread the seeds. We also smoothed our the terrain a bit, eliminating some humps and bumps. I had a pile of parrot composted straw from the bunny barn. Well, I say straw. It was about 3/4 straw and the rest was poo. Anyway, we very lightly scattered that over the seed as mulch and fertilizer.

We also planted the arbeqina olive and the Chicago fig trees that have been in pots for longer than I care to admit. The olive will border the driveway like the pear, apple, and nectarine trees.

The fig tree, since it remains dormant longer than the others, I was able to put closer to the tree line. It doesn’t need sun quite as early in the year as the others, and it’ll get plenty there as it starts to wake up.

The next day I managed to get the old veggie garden cleaned up and raked out to plant the barley. Also found space for a small patch of wheat. I’d have make it bigger but I had considerably less wheat than I thought. Keeping the chickens out of this will be a challenge.

All of this was made more difficult by the pigs. See, they’ve been contained by just those electric wires for almost a month now, I think. With very little trouble. Until this most recent move. The two smaller ones have figured out that if they are quick enough, they don’t get zapped. So now I’ve got woven wire temporarily around most of it with logs and rocks across the front. Rice is the worst, Fried is the second worst. Rice has gotten out at least nine times.

However, I think I might finally have it. Last time I brought them food, he tried climbing the logs to meet me in the driveway, but got zapped and shifted into reverse. Hopefully that’s the end of it.

Last but certainly not least, we picked up some red ranger chicks! While I am sure our chickens can brood enough to feed the wedding, I don’t want to take any chance of not having enough chickens. So we picked up 14!

And seriously, we have the best farm cat in the world. I want to clone her. When separated from the brooder by a door, she napped by the door. When allowed near it, she slept next to it. She’s guarding them! No aggression at all. Also, the baby is very excited to have cherps. Took Freyja a minute to decide the baby was allowed to be there.

It always sucks going back to work after such a productive weekend, but especially when the to do list is still so long. But I am pretty happy with what we got done.

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Pig tilling

The future pasture has been cleared of brush for a while now, but work remains before it can really be planted with the pasture blend. But today I was looking at how much the pigs have rooted up their new pen already and wondering if they’d undo the work we do for the wedding. I figured we might have to keep them out of the wedding area entirely as it grows and until the wedding was done.

But then I looked at the planted part of the yard and got to thinking about how fast that grass grows and realized that there’s enough time before the wedding that we can simply use the pigs to finish prepping for planting. As long as they’re out of the wedding area so we can plant it at least a month out, then they will have actually saved us work instead of made more.

So today I moved their pen. I basically just moved one post at a time so the fence stayed mostly intact. They didn’t even really try to get out. Good pigs.

They tore up the grass in their new area so quickly that I feel confident that I can move them every weekend until they’ve taken care of the whole area for us. Then it’s back to just past where they were originally. I’ll follow behind each move raking and planting.

Other than a couple blackberry canes and scotchbroom stems, they tilled the entire area. A bit of raking was all it needed.

Once it was raked out, I went ahead and spread the seed for the pasture blend. And in a couple of weeks, we will have more grass. The free ranging birds should help keep it from getting too out of control until the perimeter fence is up and the pigs and geese can have it.

Their next move will encompass the actual wedding ceremony area. I may leave them there a little longer to be sure it’s nicely tilled since that’s not just grass, it’s also corn being planted. They should be ready to move out of their just about the time the corn needs to be planted.

In the meantime, I also got a couple fruit trees in the ground. We’ve got some lofty food goals for next year so I’m glad to have that done. I will probably need to go hunting this fall and have a greenhouse up before winter in order to meet those goals, but the fruit trees will help. Bonus, any fruit we don’t get to is free pig food!

Rebellious Poultry and other goings on

Some birds just like to watch the world burn. Or the humans hunt for eggs. For the last several days we’ve seen Diane come strolling back towards the yard, not even having known she was out of it. And always the same direction. I figured that meant she had started laying eggs off in the brush somewhere.

Today I retraced her path and found her nest. It was too far from the house and not well hidden enough to allow her to go broody there so I decided to move the eggs into the coop.

There were more than I expected! Seems she’s been at it for almost two weeks. Guess she didn’t approve of the nest box I’d made just for her. Too bad. That’s where they are now. Might have to show her the eggs a few more times for her to remember.

The goose has started laying, too. Very sporadically. One every couple days. Still trying to get her to use a nesting area I prepared. Really, almost anywhere would be better than where I found this one.

But I think she gets it. Just took her a few days.

One of our experienced chicken mamas has been AWOL for a few weeks. I expect she will be showing up with babies soon. Saw her briefly for a meal last week so I’m pretty sure that’s what she’s up to.

Spring is on the way and flowers are starting to bloom, which is always welcome! Sometimes it’s some little purple wild flower, sometimes it’s the daffodils you didn’t know the previous owner planted.

The rabbits have produced a new litter.

The pigs are coming along nicely. They figured out the automatic waterer so now their bowl can be used for things like cottage cheese.

And, just as importantly, if not as adorable, the garden has been started! With the last frost date not yet here, only peas and radishes have been planted so far. Carrots starting in the next few days. I really need to get peppers and tomatoes started indoors soon. This year, the chickens and turkeys are pretty much free ranging so the garden beds are on total lockdown. Welded wire fence surrounding, with bird netting over the top.

One thing is for sure. Springtime is busy time. And I love every second of it. Though I wish that baby would hurry up and get her teeth in. We would really like some more sleep!

Big things happening!

Barring crazy weather or last minute rescheduling, we have a neighbor coming this weekend for some tractor work! I know, I know. I’d initially planned on clearing using animals. But the wedding plans put a bit of a time crunch on me. Plus I got impatient. Making the fence through the brush and trees to contain goats to clear the brush…

Yeah, I ain’t got time for that mess.

So tractor. He’s going to clear to bare soil and drill the holes for the perimeter fence. Since the perimeter fence line goes through the woods a bit, I would not want to drill them by hand!

In preparation for this, I’ve been gathering together materials. We had some awesome sales here this weekend. So I got all of the wooden posts, and enough T posts and fencing to at least do the pig pasture plot. I’ll go ahead and set the wooden posts and just collect the remaining T posts and fencing as I have time and money. Should be entirely fenced before the wedding.

Another thing I picked up has been on my list for quite some time! We’ve talked about getting a generator since we first moved out here. We got lucky not losing power these last two winters. Not gambling on that luck. Besides, portable power for the wedding will be great! Lights, music, etc. I’d looked online to determine what size generator we need. I figured we could run the fridge, freezer, an additional freezer when we get one, and lights with a minimum of 3000 Watts. At first I was looking at a 3200 watt generator on sale at a local hardware store. Best price I’d seen for that size generator and well reviewed online.

So imagine my surprise when I see at our local farm store a generator rated at 3650 watts, with a bigger fuel tank, on sale for a full $40 less than the one I’d been looking at! Again, quite positively reviewed online, though not as many reviews as I’d like.

Once we’ve had time to get the shipping brackets off and get it gassed up, I’ll do a review post. For now, I’m pretty excited.

I managed to get a few other important things handled in the past week or two, but I’m really excited about getting that fence done. Once we have the perimeter done and gates up, we can let that dog run herself exhausted every day! She’s getting more time outside and is being pretty good with the birds first thing in the morning. As the sun rises earlier she will get more and more time. I’m hoping within a couple of months she can be with them full time.

Looking forward to showing you the transformation that’s about to happen here!

Updated before even posting!

Seems February saw I had plans and said “hold my beer!” Probably not getting the tractor work done tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get the piglets settled into their temporary home in the meantime! We are picking them up Monday, which gives me plenty of time to get that pen locked down!

Temporary pig pen pt1

We had decided that we weren’t getting anything other than ducks to add this year. But then we had a ham for dinner… we really love ham…

So there went that plan. Pigs! We will be picking up a couple of Kunekune piglets in a few weeks (hopefully!) and raising them up to butcher size.

Now, we will ultimately be keeping the pigs on pasture, and encouraging them to get as much of their diet from that as possible. We do not intend to buy any commercial hog feed at all. But wait! What’s that you say? Impossible to raise pigs without hog feed?

Depends on the breed. Some pigs do well on pasture, some don’t. Kunekune in particular can live entirely off grass, although in this region they need supplemental feeding for about half the year. Our grass just doesn’t have enough protein in it except for about six months. We will also be growing turnips and grains for them.

But wait! What’s that you say? Our pasture is still blackberries and scotchbroom? Well, it needed to be cleared and planted for the wedding anyway, so why not combine that project with another one while we are at it? I’ve talked to a local guy who can get it all cleared and post holes dug (not even trying to do it by hand out by the trees) for an exceptionally reasonable price.

Once that’s done, I figure it’ll take two days of hard work to get the area raked out nice and smooth, planted, and fenced. While Kunekunes are known to not test fences as much as other breeds, they are still pigs. So there will be a hot wire at nose level in addition to the top perimeter wire. Once planted, it should take about a month, maybe two, before the pigs can graze it.

While that’s growing, they’ll need a place to stay. The timing works out to them being in a smaller pen for a month, two months tops. Enter the hog panels.

For a small breed, just a couple months old, I figured it didn’t need to be huge. So I bent the hog panels to a roughly 8×9 rectangle with a two foot space for a gate. The panels are connected to the posts and to each other with T Post clips.

We placed this temporary pen in the back yard. It’s in a convenient location for feeding, watering, and socializing, and we can check it in a hurry from the deck if anything sounds amiss. Plus it helps that we already have grass there.

To try to ensure the piglets get enough grass in such a small pen, as soon as I build the gate I’m going to drape bird netting over the entire thing and overseed it. Since we’ve got at least a month before we get the piglets, that should get some decent growth in there.

Wedding Prep!

Huckleberry Hills is back for 2018 and a whirlwind of activity! As soon as the weather cooperates.

We are getting married this year!

We’ve decided to have the wedding here on the homestead. We have the space for it, beautiful scenery, and we might be able to train a turkey to be a ring bearer. Maybe. Possibly not.

But there is a lot to do. The area we plan to hold the ceremony is currently covered in 4-6 foot tall blackberries, scotchbroom, and other such unpleasantness. We have chickens and rabbits to raise for the reception, a vegetable garden to plant, some renovations to the house, and all the while we still have a baby to raise and a full time job to go to.

It can be frustrating watching the to do list grow rather than shrink, but we have eight months, and the weather will start improving soon. I just have to be patient and use this time to do what I can.

But, the wedding invitations are finished, just need to address and mail them. The menu is done, just need to plant the garden and wait for the animals to breed.

Turning a raw bit of forest into a wedding venue is quite a lot of work. But most of it is stuff I needed to do for growing the farm anyway. So even though things are a bit slow right now, expect a flurry of activity in the coming months!

The little things

This whole farm life thing has a lot of big things. Fences to build, irrigation considerations, gardens, crop planting density, creating new pasture on poor ground, and so on. But it's a lot of little things too.
The daily chores aren't huge but there are a lot of them. I know this. I knew this. But as we prepare for the arrival of our little girl, I'm slowly trying to take over or at least practice on the weekends. It adds up! And small mistakes can have huge consequences.
We had some chicken losses because I forgot to tell the house sitter to check a specific spot for some birds that stubbornly refuse to enter the coop each night and the dog wanted to play with them.
No ones fault but mine. But it reinforced that I need to spend more time acclimating the dog to the birds so she doesn't see them as playmates.
Primarily this means she goes on a very short leash and I try to keep her sitting as the birds come and investigate. The turkeys and geese are the only ones not afraid. And Christmas Goose is downright brazen!

I actually had to separate them because Vasi was only going to tolerate being bitten and body slammed for so long. She did nip half heartedly at him once and had to be told no but all in all she did really well. Eventually I had to bring her in because she got too excited.
While all this is going down, we've got a new litter of bunnies just opening their eyes!
I've got some ideas for reducing the feeding and watering chores, but so little time to build the stuff. I already know that next year I need to have some sort of irrigation system and better soil amendments.
The black oil sunflowers have started blooming but they're a bit short, probably a nitrogen issue. Still pretty though!
Anyway, just a short post to show I'm still here and get some pretty pictures out there. This heat is unbearable. We need rain!

Reducing feed costs through forage based pasture pt 4: unleash the embden!

Seems to be the topic of the summer, eh? Well, it seems to be a success so far!
While patch 3 is growing in quite nicely, patch 2 has been deemed ready for the geese.
So we turned them loose! Honestly, it was far less dramatic than we were hoping for. But still cool. They enjoyed it. But I really think the turkeys enjoyed it more.

But ultimately, the point is that they were eating a renewable food source. The geese eat a ton, and that adds up.
But here they are, eating something we grew ourselves. Something that will keep growing and keep feeding them. And that's what this whole experiment was about. More to come on this!

Reducing feed costs through forage based pasture Pt 3

Yeah, I'm still going on about this pasture stuff! It's kinda my thing this summer. I wish it had been my thing this spring. It's hot out now!
The first test patch out front is doing really well. It's taken a little bit of foot traffic and even a couple of chicken escapees. The second patch is doing pretty well too. But the third patch is what gets me excited.
In terms of area, its larger than the other two combined. It had a substantial amount of useless weed grass and moss that the birds had already decided they didn't like, and poor drainage from years of neglect as a yard. Remember, this place was a rental for years before we bought it!the above shot is from the deck.
So naturally the first step was to get the old grass out. I don't know if I mentioned this but I don't have a lot of power equipment. I do have a mattock.
I quickly found out that while compacted, the soil quality wasn't actually that bad. It still took the better part of two afternoons to dig it all up. Probably about six hours of digging and mattock-ing all together.
Then pretty much the same procedure as before. Rake it all out and spread the forage blend.
Add mulch (this time I mixed the mulch from the front yard with some organic potting soil I got for next to nothing).
Add pasture grass seed, and cover it all up again.
Now we wait. But hey, I just reduced the birds' foraging area by nearly 1/5th! Luckily, patch number one is in need of a trim! Patch 2 not far behind. In carefully managed sessions, I'll be letting the birds in the first two areas to mow it down a bit, just on the weekends. That will, hopefully, keep them satisfied and not decimate my hard work. And in a couple of months, I can move the fence in the back yard to start a new patch, letting the birds into the first two.
Just one week and it's already started growing. Time allowing, I'll be doing another patch in the front that will be just a couple of weeks behind patch 3. With a little luck and a lot of sweat, by this time next year the entire yard will be lush, green, and reducing my feed costs! And as a totally unrelated benefit, it'll be a really pretty place to have a wedding.

Reducing feed costs through forage based pasture part 2: dearth of information!

While formulating my plan for turning the yard into pasture, I stumbled across an interesting problem. No one seems to have done it before. 

Now, to clarify, I mean no one seems to have done exactly what I was planning. Plenty of people have created pastures, or even seeded a pasture with just forage crops. Or grew a forage blend for their chickens. But not the way I was wanting. People created whole new pastures with grass, or an entire field with turnips, or grew forage greens in trays for confined birds to pick clean. 

I could not find any source for information on a mixed grass and forage pasture specifically designed for poultry and waterfowl. It was even difficult to find info on when new pasture could be grazed!

Piecemeal, I’ve been able to find a few things and I want to share them here for anyone considering a similar project. 

First, it can be done! Best time for it is in the spring while there is still some rain in the forecast but it’s starting to warm up. Most forage crops do need to be planted deeper than grass so I would suggest two separate sowings for that purpose. Keep them moist until germination and don’t let it dry out until it’s well established. 

What constitutes well established? Well, it depends on the plant! Now this was one of the toughest bits to find so I definitely want to share! From the university of Georgia’s college of agricultural and environmental sciences, for most forage based crops, you should wait for a specific height before a first grazing, and then only allow it grazed down to a specific height before a recovery period. 

Here is a screenshot of a chart provided at their page. Another super useful tip that wasn’t easy to find is the “pluck test.” 

Yeah. That’s it. “Pluck test.” No further description provided. Basically everyone talking about it assumes you already know about it. Like it’s some common knowledge farmy thing that everyone knows. Can I get a facepalm?

Ok, so enough vague references and one blurry zoomed too far out picture, I think I’ve figured it out. So you’ve got your tillered (grass with multiple blades coming from the plant or something like that) grass plant. Grab a blade of it and pull. If the plant starts to uproot, it’s not ready for grazing. If the leaf just comes right off without disturbing the roots, then it’s ready.  In my photo you can see that the blade of grass severed when I tried to pull. That particular plant is ready for grazing. 

Was that sooooo difficult to write, other bloggers and authors???

Others recommended 6-8 weeks of no grazing to establish, but of course that would vary based on soil quality, what kind of forage you planted, what you’re planning to graze, and how much water and sun they’ve received. I feel height plus pluck is the best route. 

If you do a quick Google or YouTube search for growing forage for poultry, you’ll mainly find city dwellers growing patches or trays of this stuff for their birds. They are allowed to eat it all the way to the roots and then it’s replanted. 

I want a stable pasture that will reduce my feed costs while giving the birds something to do. If you have any additional insights, you know where the comment button is!