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!

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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!

Sold out for the season!

The last of the turklets have been reserved for sale! We have three that we will keep for ourselves. One for more eggs next year, one for our thanksgiving, and one to sell for thanksgiving. 

I honestly wasn’t sure for a while there how many we would end up being left with, and I’d planned on keeping more of them. But for our first season selling birds, this isn’t bad at all. The animals have essentially covered 3/4 of their costs for this month and that’s a pretty big deal. 

I don’t expect Diane to lay any more eggs. She seems rather determined to sit on an empty nest for now. Though we are trying to break her broodiness. 

We’ve got more Bielefelder eggs set under Chipmunk, and the bunnies will do what bunnies will do, but I think beyond that we are done adding animals for this year. Time to focus on clearing and fencing the pasture and getting fruit trees in the ground and vegetable garden patches cleared. 

What a lovely skirt…

So, rats found out they could dig und r the coop. My bad. I had hardware cloth under it, but it seems that during the building process, it got into a position of poor contact and the little monsters can slip right past it. 

So, skirt it is. The first step is to dig a shallow trench that slopes away from the coop. Some will tell you to bury the wire one foot down. These people have no real experience with rodents. Rats are smart. They’ll just keep going down. But if the barrier goes down and out, it’s very confusing. To figure out that they need to move away from the barrier before digging requires abstract thinking that is ever so slightly past the average rat. 

So you dig your trench and set the hardware cloth in it. It should contact the wood of the coop enough for staples, but extend about a foot down and away. The more the better. 

Staple it into position and start to bury it. It’s ok if it’s not perfectly flush to the ground, but it should be flush to the coop. 

When you’re burying it, periodically give it a shake or step on it to ensure good soil contact, but also to make sure it doesn’t bend and create gaps where a rodent could slip through. Be sure to overlap at the corners!

When you’re all done, the wire should be barely visible, and just where it connects to the wood. 

I did this about a week and a half ago and there has been no indication that the rats have figured it out. In the meantime, we are setting traps to try to encourage them to vacate the premises. 

We tried a live trap and caught one, but since then they seem to have figured it out. Either that or most of them are too small to trip it. As such, I bought modern snap traps that are supposed to work well. Two sizes, one for rats and one for mice. I know where the little ones come out so I’ll set the small ones there and the big one near the coop. 

To avoid any bird or cat accidents, I got a few milk crates. Turned upside down, they’ll keep larger animals out but let the rodents in. I set the traps next to known burrow entrances with the crates covering the whole thing. 

Disclaimer. I like rodents. They’re smart and make wonderful pets. But when they’re under the house and in the coop, they gotta go. The Snap E Mouse Trap, under an upturned milk crate is incredibly effective. I set three traps about three hours ago. I’ve caught eight so far. 

I think the crate makes them feel more secure taking the bait. Anyway, it’s important to check the traps frequently, as they’ll learn to avoid them if they see their comrades dead in them. 

I don’t like killing, but these are fast, humane, and very effective. 

Another busy weekend

Whew! This weekend isn’t even over for me but I’ve gotten quite a bit done. 

First, I played with the goslings. It’s taxing work, but somebody’s got to do it. They need to not be afraid of us. 

Next, I got some more planting done. We had a packet of sunflower seeds for snacking as opposed to the black oil seeds I already planted, and a little packet of purely decorative ones. Got those in, along with some buckwheat. 

Then beans. And why yes, that is in the middle of the yard. I ran out of other places. But being by the deck means I’ve got a great place for a trellis!

Then there was a bunch of little projects and cleaning up. The rabbits have the nest boxes back, as we figure at least one is probably pregnant now. By the way, like my little rabbit barn? We figure it gives them more space out of rain, and that front board can help contain the very young babies. 

Speaking of babies, they’re getting big! We will probably only keep six of them for the freezer and sell the rest as pets or breeding stock. 

The rat bitten turklet is completely recovered and back outside, though we are triple checking it goes on the roost at night. In the meantime, I’ve installed an anti rodent skirt to the coop. I’ll do a post just on that soon. 

The geese are starting to get real feathers, and are spending every day outside. The pen keeps them confined until they’re big enough to not get through the fence. 

And finally, it’s been consistently warm and dry for long enough that I felt I should water everything. And with the soil darkened, I could see much more clearly that the salad garden is actually doing quite well! That spinach was nearly invisible before watering. 

Same with the lettuce! Several varieties of loose leaf and I’m even doing some butterhead lettuce this year. And the radishes. I wasn’t even planting more radishes, but I found old seeds and figured I’d give them a shot. 

Busy Saturday!

Even though I didn’t get home from work until after 5 am and didn’t get a lot of sleep, I had a rather productive day! First, after more than a week of hardening off, I got the veggies transplanted to the garden!

That’s a lot of tomatoes and peppers! Also got the Brussels sprouts and broccoli out. To be honest, I think I started all of these a couple weeks too soon. Some of them were pretty leggy. They’d have gone out sooner but the weather has not been particularly cooperative and I’ve been pretty busy with the fence. 

Speaking of the fence, I got a bit done between the driveway and rabbit pen. The closest patch is black oil sunflower seed. These are the small black sunflower seeds you see in bird seed mixes. They’re also where we get sunflower oil. The soil was pretty bad. I think the gravel driveway used to be much wider. 

The next plot is wheat. Not sure what variety, we got it from the feed store. But a germination test was very promising! 

After working in some rabbit poop, I broadcast by hand and then covered with a light sprinkle of soil. 

Finally, corn! Specifically, calico popcorn. So pretty!

It’s a good corn for popping, but also a good one for mixing homemade chicken feed. On limited space, I just did six rows. Hopefully I’ll get good fertilization. Next year I’ll have larger plots for all of these. Next year I hope to not be tilling rocky soil by hand!

I covered it all with bird netting (held in place by the fence to keep it up off the soil) because previous attempts were essentially just exercises in feeding songbirds. 

When that was all done, my sister dropped by with a couple friends to socialize the rabbits. This involved basically snuggling and squealing at how cute they were. 

Tomorrow is an us day for me and the lady McFarmFace. But Monday I hope to get started on the rabbit barn. But other than that, I got everything on my list for the weekend done today!

DIY livestock gate! Or the fence thing part two. 

While I had the materials to build the gate last weekend, what I did not have was the time. So the yard sat almost ready for the dog for a week. Poor Vasi. If she knew what I was doing back there, she might have been less of a pill. 

Anywho, the ground between the two gate posts was not level because I didn’t think ahead enough so some minor earthwork was in order. Once I had a relatively level area between them, it was time to build the gate itself. 

So, measure between the two posts and accounts for the hinges. The latch will be on the outside so not a big deal. I wanted a different style latch, but it seems most gate latches assume either square posts or chain link. Oh well. 

The gate is constructed out of 2×4, which makes it pretty heavy. Over time, it will sag. To counter this, the diagonal brace takes the weight from the top of the gate opposite the hinge and distributes it to the bottom right next to a hinge. Also, I placed a brick below the gate that it can rest on. Let’s hope that’s enough!

Obviously, two triangles with a nine foot span won’t keep the dog in, so the woven wire fencing was stapled to it.

 It’s tied to itself on the sides much like with the wooden fence posts. All in all, I think it blends with the fence quite nicely!

It’s stapled once up top and twice on the bottom, which stretches the wire down, then up, then down again. So it’s pretty tight. 

Basic gate hinges. Held down by gravity. You do want to make sure they’re plumb to each other, and measure very carefully, as the pilot holes make it very difficult to adjust the huge placement!

A little tidying up and it was time to let the puppy lose! She definitely enjoys the space! But until I can be sure the garden is completely secured, she only gets supervised time outside. 

Upcoming: using the fenceline as support for peas and grapes, planting the areas just outside the fence with grain crops among other things, and using pumpkins as weed control!

This post is no joke!

Seriously, it’s like 8 feet long and almost half of that goes underground!

Ok, so I’ve assisted with fences before, and I’ve used T-posts to make simple poultry fencing. This stuff is hardcore, though. Oh sure, I could rent a trailer mounted auger (hand operated is too dangerous with these tree roots) but that would more than double the cost of the fence. 

So instead I get to dig post holes by hand. It’s not fun, to be honest. But at least I only had to do three near the trees. The hand auger is surprisingly good for these holes. It only takes me about 10-15 minutes per hole (provided no big rocks or roots) but it’s definitely a work out!

With my work schedule, this project has spanned a couple of weekends. Last weekend, I got the materials and plotted where everything would go. I’d have done more, but we had a party. 

Saturday, I got the holes dug and about half of them cemented in. Some people will tell you that these treated posts don’t need cement. I’ll wager these people have never tried replacing a rotted post without dismantling the entire fence. Some people will tell you that in western Washington, you can set a post with dry cement mix and the rain will set the concrete for you. These people have never left a bag of concrete in the rain and then busted it open.

Then there’s people like me. I have a cement mixer. I got it years ago when landscaping and have never regretted it. I don’t expect to have the fence totally done this weekend, but it’ll be done next weekend for sure. Gotta get more cement tomorrow and give the posts time to set. 

Asparagus and onions! Eventually. 

Things have been quite busy here at Huckleberry Hills! I’d been meaning to get asparagus crowns for weeks now, but wanted a better deal than I was finding. $1.60 per plant might not seem like a bad deal, but when you’re getting fifty, it adds up quick!

Amazon to the rescue! I was able to get both a green and a purple variety, 25 crowns each, and spend a total of thirty bucks and some change on them! They arrived during the week and I got them planted Saturday. 

Now, we didn’t really have an ideal spot already prepared so I had to make my own. I knew we wanted them near the house, but with the entire plot being sloped, and the front yard being poultry territory, I really didn’t have any options better than under the kitchen and pantry window. Of course, the soil isn’t fantastic there because there’s a steep slope right below it. 

Enter the bunny. Rabbit poop is one of the best fertilizers because it doesn’t need any aging or composting before applying to the garden. So I shoveled out as much as I could, and mixed it in with some garden soil I’d purchased to make my own seedling mix. 

I weeded the spot under the windows and started digging trenches for them. It’s a little more crowded than I’d prefer, but they should be fine. 

Despite some spotty reviews (largely from people who didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of gardening), they were almost all perfect crowns. Some had even broken dormancy and had tiny spears starting! 

Fifty plants, even if some are female, ought to be enough asparagus for the two (three soon!!!) of us, though we won’t get to harvest any until next year. 

After that, I got the red onions in the ground. Between red and yellow, probably a hundred total. Haven’t even gotten the leeks and scallions outside yet. A few are about ready though!

Also got the tomatoes repotted, for the most part. I don’t have nearly enough space for seedling trays, so I got some of them repotted and then just spaced the rest out in their original trays a bit. I’ve definitely determined that I need a better dedicated seedling area, with shelves and more lights. 

The incubator is set up and ready for eggs, just waiting on that silly turkey. The cuckoo maran pullets are spending the days outside and will be moving to the coop by next weekend most likely. 

As much as there is to do lately, it’s super important to not forget to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Saturday we had a family gathering at my mom’s house, and Sunday after planting, the girlfriend and I went to a local park. We really do live in a beautiful place, and I can’t wait to show it to my baby when he or she gets here!