Monday, April 26, 2010

More plumbing

If there was only one constant in farming, it would seem to be plumbing. For one reason or another It seems that I repair plumbing somewhere on the farm every month.

Sunday we installed new sprinkler system in the garden area, and upon testing found very little water pressure. Sure enough, close inspection found a nice new pond in the pasture, fed by a small river heading up to the pig pen. For the last month or two I was playing this game where I would tighten all the hose connections to the waterers, only to find them leaking the next day. The pigs were loosening them every day to create a mud puddle for themselves. Well, it appears they ultimately won. One of them pulled the entire pipe out of hte ground and threw it over the fence, leaving an open 3/4 inch pipe running free.

Fortunately we got it fixed today before the rain hit tonight. Since it was a "work day" for me, we turned to our old friend "Labor Ready" which is a local temp agency. They have always pulled through with a ready worker in a pinch.

This time I tried to be smart and strapped the faucet pipe to a t-post with baling wire, and extended the faucet above the heads of the pigs. Hopefully this will last longer! Not good for the winter, since the height will freeze easily, but I have a few months to figure that out.

Yes, there is a sad side of farming

To date we have lost 4 of the baby turkeys, and two more look like they may not make it. There is no obvious reason for their death, but the reality is that baby turkeys are delicate. Given the numbers 4 out of 35 is not bad, since its just over 10% it would be considered "normal".

Here's an interesting point to consider. Is it ultimately better to try to save weak baby animals or should nature be allowed to play out as it would in the wild? In my opinion this depends on the goal. For animals intended for only slaughter, it would be worth while to go to some effort in giving special treatment to save them, but within limits. Remember, a farm is still a business that must make a profit in the end or it can not exist. So its worth while to expend enough time and money on an animal to save it as long as in the end it will still be profitable. At the point that the effort to save a single animal exceeds the animal;s worth on the market, it is best to let nature play out. This is a case where I believe man should limit his involvement in altering the natural course of nature.

On the other hand, if an animal is intended to be breeding stock the argument changes. For a small farm, the animals kept for breeding must be the absolute best genetics possible. Particular animals may have genetic differences that make them less "sturdy". If those animals are given special treatment in order to survive, the weakness will become part of the farm's genetic makeup for generations and the animals produces will be more prone to problems. This is where natural selection helps the farmer. By allowing natural selection to separate the genetic "defective" animals the farm is ensured healthier, happier, and more consistent offspring in the future.  This is how nature improves the species and removes genetic defects in the wild and the farm is most productive when nature is followed, not altered.

With birds this process in nature is very obvious. As soon as any bird shows signs of weakness in any way, the other birds actually start attacking it in various ways.  This could be played out by preventing the weak animal from eating, or even by direct attacks. Either way, the reality of nature is the weak do not survive, but this is actually for the good of the group by ensuring that the weakest never breed. Genetics are ultimately the deciding factor in the success of a flock, so genetics must be preserved at all cost in nature.

So, bottom line is, this particular flock of turkeys is intended for both breeding and slaughter, so we are going to let nature show us which are the strongest animals. It is sad and hurts my heart every time one dies, but it is a necessary part of farm life.


Unfortunatley we lost 2 more baby turkeys today. That brings the total left down to 29.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reseeding the pasture

Today was another bright sunny and dry day, but the forecast calls for rain in a day or two so we decided to take the opportunity to start reseeding the pasture where the lambs will be housed when they arrive in another month. I'm hoping that we can be successful by just disking the land a bit to loosen it, spread the seeds, and let a few days of rain work its magic to sprout grass. The part of the pasture chosen for this experiment is the highest and furthest portion of the lamb pasture. If it doesn't work out, no harm done since there inst much decent grass back there anyway.

First step is the disking. I found this disc at the local tractor dealer used at a good price. Its not perfect, but seems to do a decent job. Of course my littlest tractor driving helper is along for the experience.

And of course he brought his train along to help with some extra horsepower.

The second step is spreading the grass seeds. Now here is where there are lots of options for efficient and even spreading of seeds. There is no shortage of single use machines we could spend a sizable amount of money on, or small hand held devices that could do the job with leg power.  I came up with a new approach. This might even be patentable! To spread seeds all you really need is a tractor, a mower, and a few kids!

And of course, in the drivers seat is my littlest tractor driver yet again!

Ok, so its unorthodox, but it did save money, times, and provided the kids with some farm fun and entertainment! The only question is just how "evenly" the grass will come out. We'll see in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Christmas Turkeys Arrive!

Today we received our baby turkeys, intended to be ready for sale by Thanksgiving and Christmas. We Chose to go with the Naragansette breed exclusively. Some of these guys will become our own breeding stock to lay eggs next spring. Then we wont need to buy babies, but can save some money and hatch our own eggs for next year.

Here they are in the nursery with 34 little turkeys running around happily!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Garden weekend!

Looks like we finally have good weather for starting the garden. Perhaps a bit late in the season but we had to wait for the soil to dry out enough to till. Looks like we are there and no rain forecast till Monday :)

Got a start on this by working this evening (after the day job) on the tractor to move the barn compost pile and the purchased for the trees but leftover compost pile to the garden. I just used the front loader to spread it around a bit, and ended up pretty much covering the entire garden from the two piles. The barn compost was amazing quality. Down a couple feet was pure rich black moist soil, better than you can buy anywhere! This should really beef up the garden soil even more than last year.

Next project is getting the tiller ready for the year. I like to sharpen the tines and service the engine at the start of the season.  Unfortunately my brand new Hitachi air compressor died completely today so the air powered grinder isn't an option. Something new to deal with... but I finished the job with the Dremel tool I bought to cut rocks with Hunter. It did a pretty good job putting an edge on the tines. Why put a sharp edge on tiller tines? Well, the first tilling involves tilling under the winter growth of weeds and such. I find that sharpening those tines to a knife edge will slice through the stalks and grass much easier, leaving nice soft dirt behind in fewer passes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Best Tasting Turkey Ever!

We prepared two of our recently butchered turkeys yesterday and the results were nothing short of amazing. I am not especially fond of turkey meat myself, but this particular combination of things has produced a flavor, texture and moisture that rivals any other meat in enjoyment. I even found myself nibbling on leftovers today!

Whats the secret combination that produced this near perfect result?  I think the whole point is "combination". I have tried any one or two of these before and produced good but not outstanding results.  It does take all of these to make a turkey guaranteed to please the most discriminating guests.

1. Pasture raised heritage turkey processed at approximately 9 months of age.
      There are three important aspects here... Pastured means they get naturally foraged food with little to no corn based supplement.  Heritage breed means these are not altered by breeding nor genetics to overproduce meat on the bird's frame in a ridiculously short period of time. Nine months is what it takes for these birds to accumulate not only enough meat but to develop enough of the healthy fat to keep the meat tasty and healthy.

2. Brine in salt and sugar
     Brineing is the perfect method for preparing turkey. Simply defrost the bird, place it in a clean plastic bucket with  the brine mix and cover for 1 to 2 days.  When finished remove and rinse the bird for cooking.  The brine is a simple mix of 1 gallon water, 1 cup sea salt, 1 cup brown sugar, and a tablespoon of thyme.  Make as many of these as required to completely cover the bird. If the bird tried to float, I take a brick in a plastic bag on top to keep it under. Be sure to use enough ice so that the mix is below 40 degrees.  Place the bucket in the fridge or outside if its cold. I like to use a one of those big 5 or 10 gallon drink coolers with the spout. They are perfect side, food grade plastic, and insulated.

3. Slow cooking over wood fire
    To cook I use a smoker that takes wood pellets. My preference is hickory or mosquite wood.  In the morning  bring the smoker up to about 300 degrees, place the birds in for maybe an hour, then turn down to only smoke for the rest of the day. keep the internal temp of the smoker around 200 degrees. An hour or two before meal time check the meat with a thermometer. If its not above 170 degrees in the thigh and breast, turn up the temp to finish cooking. Also pull a leg partly off to make sure the juices run clear.

If you follow these directions, I can guarantee a finished product that will astound you. Who knew turkey could taste this good!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chicks moved to their new home!

Happy in their new home

The chicks where moved to the old turkey pen.. After cleaning and a fresh coat of shavings. The were sooooooo happy to be in such a big space!

The original door was covered with wire too big for chicks... Even after fixing the damage from Romeo. We needed somthing to keep the chicks from squeezing through the wire and escaping

Adding an interior door was intended to keep the chicks contained but within a couple minutes the pooped up on it. So this triple door helped a lot!

The first lamb arrived!

Our daughter Kim decided to use our new sheep for showing at the Jackson County fair this year. The meant that she needed to have the lamb in posession by this week, so we sent her up to Dexter, OR to the breeder we chose of jacob lambs. She brought home Evita, the first of our flock of jacob sheep.

For now, Evita is living with Peep, the last sheep of her last years show stock. He has been a great "uncle" so far as is living with her in the barn now. Wwhen the rest of the sheep arrive, we will move them all to the new pasture.

The first lamb of our new flock has arrived! Her name is Evita. She is soooo cute

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Romeo's First day on the Job.

There is a lot of labor necessary on a farm. This fact is inescapable. One of our goals, however, is to learn how to be smart about getting the work done. The common route today is either to do the work yourself, or hire someone to do it for you. The problem with the first approach is, you get VERY tired doing all the farm work yourself, and that takes away from the ability to enjoy life itself. This is often where farming gets a bad reputation. The problem with the latter is that if you pay someone else decent wages to do so much, the profit from the farm quickly disappears.

I believe there is a third option. The option that our recent ancestors used, the american pioneers. When you view a farm as a bit of an isolated ecosystem with a balanced collection of animals living together, this begins to look plausible. Each animal has abilities, takes input, produces output. What one needs, another can do. Instead of attempting to personally meet the needs of all the animals, there are ways to get hte animals to help each other. Then the farmer becomes a manager, or steward, of the farm system instead of the primary labor source. In addition, less fossil fuel is burned to accomplish work, and the environment is healthier too! Besides, who wouldnt want free labor, or at least labor that works for food only!

In line with this goal, one of our first attempts of this is demonstrated below. Our stationary chicken coop uses the "deep bedding" method. (simply put, very deep bedding is kept in the coop, replced once or twice a year when the garden needs fertilizer). The only downside to this method of bedding is that it needs to be "stirred" or "turned" every month or so. This is a backbreaking job that tends to get put off more often thatn not. So... if we apply the principle oif animals helping each other, we discover that ther eis a particular animal on our farm that is a good candidate! Pigs love to root in the ground for foot, digging and turning the ground for every tiny morsel. Pigs love chicken food. Lets put these together, and put a pig in the coop alone, and sprinkle chicken food around the bedding! Hopefully what we have is a new farm hand that loves his job and works for nothing but a few food scraps.

Romeo's first day on the job! He starts a bit slow but soon gets into his work.

Alarm system

No no... This is not intended to keep Romeo at work longer... But to alert me with noise if he decides to leave early. That door latch was built to contain 5 lb chickens... Not a 150 lb pig!

Tiger the supervisor

Tiger takes a keen interest in the new laborer... Or maybe she's wondering what her new job will be!

Some remodeling

Apparently romeo was in a hurry to leave when he finished work today, or he chose to do a little remodeling and put in a door for himself.

 Chickens take advantage

I locked the chickens out 2 days ago... But they seem happy with the remodeling Romeo did. Is it a conspiracy???

The finished product

Overall the job was a success. Romeo managed to stir up the entire pen, leaving it ready for a new layer of bedding on top and put back into use for the quickly growing chickens in the nursery.

Sure, there are a few lessons leanred here... dont leave to go to town while romeo is at work.... build better doors on coops that pigs will work in.... bury some of hte food deeper to keep him interested for a longer time.  Nevertheless, i'd rather fix the door than stir all those pine shavings by myself. It was fun to sit outside the pen with a cup of coffee and watch him work. Ever closley watch a pig "snort" to blow light dust and shavings away to carefully uncover one tiny chicken pellet? It is actually quite amazing, reminded me of watching a archeologist carefully unearthing a dinosaur bone.

I suspect that if we can regain an appreciation for each animal's natural instinct, and leanred to mange and make useful their abilities, this concept will work, saving money, keeping animals busy and happy, and increase farming profit with less human labor.

Grass is Greener

Apparently not only is the grass greener on the other side..... But the bugs are juicier too!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Conclusion of the compost problem

So... The trailer loaded with compost the didn't fit through the garden gate.... After contemplating all my choices... I decided the pasture really could use a load of compost anyway.

Hooked the tractor back to trailer... Pulled it into the pasture with the back left down and drove to barest spots. Each one got a few shovels full.

It won't go to waste. The pasture is really poor now and needs more organic material anyway to grow decent grass.

Tomorrow.. It's back to a bucket at a time to move the rest to the garden before rains predicted sunday.

A look at the pig "pasture"

When we decided to try our hand at raising pigs, we needed to build a pen. We wanted them outside in the sun and open air to simulate the wild as much as we can on our farm. Our goal is to learn how to create a farm that makes the3 animal feel like they are in their natural habitat. This is a real challenge with pigs unless you have part forest in the pasture, which we dont! 

The Original Pen

This is the first pen we built a year ago... It is the ladies quarters and birthing center. Built syrong with 2 by 4s and plywood and a real roof. The interior is fixed for housing little ones. It has a protective shelf, heat lamp, and even an evaporative cooler if necessary. It is oversized itself by modern standards. Many pig farm barely provide room for the pigs to turn around. Nevertheless after a year, this seemed just way too small to us.

Bachelor Quarters

So this year we built the bachelor's quarters. Here is Romeo's 'pad' when he is seperated from the girls to prevent constant breeding. Built from scrap wood for the cost of a bag of nails, it contains no new lumber. Retired fence posts.. Leftover roofing panels.. And the rotted decking from our patio rebuild. He loves it!

If you look closely on the left side you notice the self made pond. Apparently the pigs have leanred to turn on the faucet. I have found a small pond of water and an open faucet every day this week!

The "Pasture" Area

Heres a look at the roaming area for the pigs surrounding their pens. When the door to either pen is open, they are free to roam and graze, but return to the safety and warnth of their pens at night. This gives them a LOT more area to roam than even our oversized pens. and ROAM they do!

The Happy Trio

Girls in the front chasing the cameraman... Guy in the background... Eating as usual. They are very happy to be all together again. We separated them for a few months to time the baby births.

Hunter the Lumberjack!

He loves driving the tractor, and today he got to work the frontloader bucket also!

A pig play spot

It's not much, but this will be the starts of simulating a real forest. Looks fun? It will be torn to shreds by tomorrow.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Some things dont work according to the plan

So today was the day to start moving the compost pile into the garden so that we can get the ground ready for planting. The compost pile by the barn has been building and working since last summer and should be exactly what our garden needs to get a great start.

The compost pile ready for the garden... Just gotta find an easy way to get it there.

Last year I just drove the front loader back and forth a bucket at a time, but it takes hours to move the entire pile. There has to be a better way!

The Garden Area

The garden waiting for compost and tilling

So I had a bright idea... instead of making a hundred trips back and forth, why not just load the flatbed trailer, drag it into the garden, and throw the compost around. Seems to make sense right? Well, the first step went fine... loaded the trailer high with compost only took a few minutes.

BUT is there a problem?

Maybe I should have measured the gate! It would seem that the trailer is a foot or so wider than the garden gate!

This is just embarrassing!

Oh well, perhaps tomorrow will bring a new idea as well as a new day.