Baby animal post!

Gratuitous cuteness enclosed!

Diane has successfully incubated 14 out of 15 eggs. So we have turklets! How many we keep will depend largely on how many people are interested in a thanksgiving turkey.

For now we’ve got them in the brooder, and of course Freyja is guarding them.

The wedding menu includes chicken. So naturally we needed more chickens. Enter the red rangers! We grabbed 14 of these little guys on the 20th and they are now outdoors full time. To train them to go into the coop we placed a dog kennel with their food and water against the automatic coop door. They could go into the coop or out into the kennel and we just opened the top coop door for the adult birds. About the time half of the rangers learned to follow the big birds up and out, they were released.

So far, I’ll say this about the breed. Excellent foragers and free rangers, bit of an attitude problem. No respect for boundaries like the door to the house, either. But they grow fast and that’s their job!

We’ve also got a small litter of bunnies just starting to explore outside the nest box. Hopefully a lot more bunnies on the way, since we don’t have enough just yet.

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Come along, pigs.

Getting the new fences up has taken longer than expected, largely because the guy I hired to drill the post holes had some mechanical problems. I’d do it by hand but in that sense of woods, it would take me hours to do just one with all the roots.

Speaking of roots, pigs root. I knew this. It’s not a surprise. However, I expected they’d be confined to the small pen for a much shorter time. However, they’ve torn it up pretty thoroughly and need to be moved. So I did what any pig farmer does when he needs a temporary pig pasture.

Behold the temporary electric fence! Since they’ve been trained to the polywire already, I don’t expect them to test this. But we will be monitoring them closely until the final pen is constructed.

It was surprisingly difficult to find these fiberglass step in posts locally. But installation was a breeze. I just had to go back and trim a few weeds that would ground it out.

Probably move the pigs this weekend, so I can be home to observe and make sure they don’t immediately make a fool out of me and walk right through it. Would have done it last weekend, but between 8 chickens, a jackfruit, dealing with a new litter of rabbits (and that’s a whole other post!), and bottling mead, making that fence is about all I had time for.

The jackfruit was, quite amusingly, heavier than my daughter. Also a bit overripe so quite an ordeal to process it! But dehydrated jackfruit is soooooo awesome!

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!

Thank goodness for homesteading friends!

People usually say what they’re thankful for last Thursday but I march to the beat of a different drum. Or orchestra, as my mother would tell you.

Of course I’m thankful for my family, especially our newest member, and our friends. But today I find myself exceptionally thankful for a fellow homesteading friend, and my neighbors.

My friend let me borrow his plucker, since he won’t be using it for a while and I have a lot of chickens I’d rather be in the freezer than the yard. Today I got through five chickens and the total time to capture, kill, and pluck all five was under an hour. And I’m not gonna lie, a third of that was spent chasing them.

Meanwhile, the Lady McFarmface had a dentists appointment and couldn’t take the baby. Oh no! Luckily, our neighbors were quite happy to watch her so I could get some work done. They have baked goods in their future.

I still have another six or so birds on my list, but now that I’ve used this plucker for an afternoon, I feel like that’s a day of work rather than a weekend or two. I may never pluck a bird by hand again! Oh. Except that goose. Oh well.

All together, that was 18 lbs 4 oz of chicken. I’m incredibly grateful for the use of the plucker. It made it far less of an ordeal. I really need to work on getting my own built.

Good dog!

As Vasi gets older, we’ve been eagerly anticipating the ending of some of her puppy behaviors. Namely, thinking chickens are squeak toys. She guards the front yard at night as an added measure to keep rats out of the coop, but we have to bring her in before the coop opens. For the last year, if a chicken hits the ground, she wants to play with it. Instantly.

However, with work keeping me late a lot recently, and daylight savings time, she’s been out there as it opens a few times recently. At first she was excited and bouncy, however she hasn’t hurt one in months. To be safe, I have still been bringing her in the moment that I realize chickens are out.

Then this morning, I was feeding the baby and watching Star Trek because that’s how I roll, when I get a text from the bedroom.

“I think I heard a chicken.”

Uh oh.

As it turned out, Vasi was standing calmly about six feet away just watching as the birds came filing out of the coop. No bouncing, no wagging, just watching. I brought the chicken food outside for them and she followed me around but still paid the birds very little attention.

Our little puppy is growing up! Sniffle! Actually this is wonderful on multiple levels! We will need some tests during daylight and for longer times, but if we can trust her around the birds then she can patrol the entire house and have a lot more room to roam. But also, we intended from day one to have at least two Anatolian shepherds, but didn’t want to have to train a new puppy while having to watch the old one like a hawk!

Also, bonded LGDs can help with training new puppies around the animals. All in all, I’m very happy with this and very proud of that dawg!

Edit: in between writing the above and actually getting ready to post it, we’ve continued letting her be around the birds every morning. In fact, I just brought her back inside. She spent the past hour with unrestricted access to the geese and turkeys, with the biggest incident being that Christmas bit her tail and she ran away. She was laying down dozing as the chickens exited the coop. I’m really excited by this!

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 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!

A day in the life

The other night I didn’t get off work until after 4, which means home around 5. Sucks but it is what it is. 

My lovely fiancée makes a point of making dinner for me each night so I can avoid fast food or needing to cook after a 10-12 hour shift. So she was up for a bit in the wee small hours. 

At around 8, she wakes up and makes sure all the animals have food and water. That’s the chickens and turkeys out front, the goose water out back, the rabbits’ food and water, the chicks in the brooder, the dog, and the cats. Then she goes back to bed for a few hours. All told, she may get a full 8 hours of sleep on a good day, but it’s in 2-3 chunks. 

She helps me get ready for work before she does some work around the house such as cleaning, both inside and out. She often cleans the chicken coop for me because I rarely have the time during the week. She handles the shopping and usually has to go to multiple stores. 

She also plays with the puppy so she doesn’t get bored and chew on things (the puppy, that is), and socializes the baby animals so they don’t act feral with us. Her shopping is masterful and we eat as if our foodbudget were twice what it is. 

She does all this while being pregnant. But most people don’t see the work she does. When they call or visit they just see that it’s done and either assume I did half of it, or that it’s quick and easy to do. But here’s what I would like people to remember. We have 16 chickens, 4 turkeys, 3 geese, 11 rabbits, 3 cats, 4 chicks, 1 turklet, and 1 very large and demanding dog. They are all healthy, happy, well fed, and tame. The house is clean, and we eat well. I could not have this homestead and this life without her. In a way, we both work full time. 

I am well aware of how lucky I am to have found her, and absolutely do not take her hard work for granted. But I’d really appreciate it if people didn’t assume she sleeps and shops all day. 

It’s a McFarmFace birthday!

Of course, planning ahead as I do, I didn’t request my birthday off. Oops. Oh well, got a good weekend planned. But that’s not what I want to talk about today!

Self sufficiency. Lots of homesteaders talk about it. Preppers shout about it. But is it really attainable?

Are we self sufficient? Well, we have fruit, nut, and berries. We have a sizeable garden, and four types of livestock for eggs and meat. But we get electricity and water from municipal sources. So let’s say we get solar installed and our own well dug, and we can grow or raise all we need to eat. Does that make us self sufficient?

I don’t know how to make solar panels so I will rely on others to do that for me. I can raise my animals but I learned that from others. There is not a single aspect of my life that is independent from the rest of the world. Self sufficient is an illusion. Even if the only thing we get from others is knowledge, they earned it before us. 

That’s sort of the point of society. And it’s not just a human construct either. Many animals have discovered safety in numbers or cooperation increase their odds of survival. Primates teach skills to young and protect weaker members of the group, geese migrate at the pace of the slowest bird, and fish move as a single unit to discourage predators. 

I’m not saying that the skills and habits that we generally call “self sufficiency” are in any way bad or useless to have. On the contrary, I gain great satisfaction from growing my own food and raising livestock. In the event of an emergency, I know my family will be fed. In the meantime, we are healthier for the food we produce. But in recent years I’ve seen something approaching paranoia regarding the way society works. 

We are stronger together. When we divide ourselves into arbitrary groups based on skin color or religious beliefs, it weakens us all. Yeah, it got a little preachy there. But hey, it’s my birthday!

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.