Sunday, March 30, 2014

First move to "foothill"

We finally did it... The first move if live animals to the new foothill property! Last night we loaded up one of the portable hard panel pens and moved the small herd of breeding mini Nubian goats to the foothill property. Exiting!

These guys will stay at foothill consuming the abundant organic grass and weeds until they give birth. Then they move back to the main farm for milking season. This greatly reduces the cost of milk production since the breeders no one need stored hay for most of the year! They also will enjoy a more varied and fresh diet than has been possible.

The lucky first pioneers are Aesop, Besty, Rosemary, Penelope, and four teenage bucks.

With more options for grazing at the main farm, even the milkers will benefit. Err can let the milkers spend more time on a wider variety of fresh grass which further increases nutrition and lowers cost.

We are very excited to spend a Saturday evening in the dark moving these guys... Sort of a Saturday night date night ... Farm style!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Little sprouts cheese!

Yep..  Finally did it...  Ordered that cheese press.  We are going to exploring turning the extra milk into cheese!

This is a learning experience,  and takes time...  60 to 90 days start to finish.   We will need to learn the process,  buy some new supplies,  and finish the cheese cave inside the fermentation room of the new kitchen.

Lots to do,  but so exciting!

Egg production is back online!

Good news!  We finally have eggs to sell again!  It appears that we have production back to fill all subscriptions and may have a few dozen left over for sale.

Thank you for your patience after our fire tragedy.  We truly appreciate all the kind words and wishes,  plus the donations and gifts that you generously provided.   In return we will be bringing you the best eggs available again!

More piglets coming!

We have another litter of piglets due within days!  These will be purebred large blacks,  the heritage bacon pig.  Watching her today,  i am convinced birth will be very soon.

The first 4 are doing great also!

Very soon we will announce availability of hog reservations for the summer!

organic sunflower seeds coming!

We are excited to announce that we finally have a source for organic sunflower seeds....  The absolute best sprouting feed available!   Instead of buying it out of county,  it will be grown right here!  We have a local farmer working on growing 16 acres of sunflowers just for little sprouts and our customers!

At the moment we are not sure on price or availability,  but still we are excited that some time around end of summer we will have seeds to sprout here,  and seeds to sell!

Stay tuned!

$50 freezer that costs $1000 and no poultry for sale for a while

Sometimes saving money is not what it appears at first glance.  This is definitely true with used appliances! This week we had an unfortunate failure in our main storage freezer which housed all of our chickens,  turkeys,  and organs.  Basically everything we had for sale at the moment.  And yes,  we lost it all.

Bad news is,  we will have no chickens,  chicken parts,  turkeys,  organs,  or lard for the near future.  There was about a thousand dollars of food stored inside that all defrosted.

The good news is,  on a farm that raises pigs....  Nothing actually goes to waste!  But boy did they have an expensive meal! 

Note to self...  Dont put a thousand dollars of food in a $50 used freezer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tragedy in the milking herd

We are once again sadly reminded of the dark side of nature.  Among  all the majesty,  wonder,  and beauty is a darkness of animal nature.  By human terms, it is sad, but in reality it is animal nature.

This week we lost two of the best new additions to the herd,  the two granddaughters of rosemary.  They were each born within days of the other to rosemary's twin daughters.  Healthy,  strong,  about 2 months old,  growing perfectly.  There was no siangs if illness,  parasites,  or distress of any kind.  One evening they are fine,  next morning,  gone. 

When the first one died,  we struggled to find a cause.  Nothing fit.  No conceivable reason from a health perspective.   When the second one died a couple days later,  we realized what was happening.  Penelope.

Over the last few weeks,  penelope has become increasingly aggressive to the other goats.  She is the dominant goat in the milking herd.  When rosemary is in the milking herd,  these two challenge each other.  But rosemary moved out a month or so ago to the breeding herd.  That left penelope alone to dominate the herd.  Unfortunately she didnt stop at exerting her dominance,  she found it necessary to abuse her position of leadership.

She started randomly but consistently attacking the other goats.  By attacking,  i mean head butting.  Her strenght on attack increased so that we now have two gates with broken welds.  She butted hard enough to bend and break the welds on the gate cross braces.

It never occured to us that she would attack the little ones in the pen.  She seemed to be asserting herself among the other milkers,  especially maggie.  But without rosemary around to keep her in check,  penelope just got out of control in her dominance.

We are now convinced that penelope attacked the babies as they grew and presented a threat to her dominance.  She was definitely strong enough to kill one with a single well placed hit.

So....  We are sad.  And penelope is retired.  We moved her to the breeding stall,  and after a birth we will offer her for sale in milk.  The milk production will drop slightly,  but within our limits.  We cant take a chance on her being around smaller goats anymore.

Nature.....  Beautiful but dark.  Constantly needing the humanity of man to manage it. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

New chicks are in the new brooder!

Everything was ready finally and we moved the chicks that are the starts of a replacement for one of the flocks lost in the fire to the new brooder Bradley built.  56 little chicks found their new home this afternoon.

Fifty six is a start,  soon to be replaced by about a hundred hatched in another week or so.  The genetics in these 56 are closest to the 300+ lost birds.  All the rest will be a couple generations behind them .  Right now we are just happy to be back on the road to our next flock.

The birds seemed happy to be in the open space of the new brooder,  and the children enjoyed letting them go into their new home.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A new sheep containment idea under test

Sheep have proven to be the toughest animal to contain in our approach of smaller movable paddocks.  Feel free to search this blog to understand WHY  we use smaller constantly moving paddocks mimicking the herding action seen in nature. This post is not about why,  but how,  specifically with sheep!

Sheep,  at least our heritage Jacob sheep,  do not respect electric fencing.  We have tried numerous designs and all but one approach fail to contain.  The one is based on very tight lines with permanent end posts.  Perhaps it would be possible to train them to respect electric,  but our sheep seem pretty smart,  they know that if they leap through they seldom get shocked. Their wool lessens the pain to be more of a nuisance than a deterrent. So we finally gave up on electric.

This year we have the new property for the sheep,  so we need a paddock to contain 60 to 80 with movable hard fencing.  The first one was built using tpost driven in and 50 inch hard combination panels.  It will contain them and isn't to bad in labor to move...  But required a tractor there to remove that tpost for every move.

Then an idea...  Why not build a free standing hard panel fence system?  Movable without a tractor,  yet hard fencing you can move by hand.  Sound perfect,  right?

So...  I finally convinced myself to buy that welder I have wanted for so long!  Time to build with metal!   After a lot of research I decided on an old fashioned oxy-acet welder.  Good anywhere without electricity ,  costs less,  and can both cut and weld in one unit. Now  honestly,  I have not welded since highschool...  So that is a bit concerning...  But hey..  Gotta start sometime!

A little u tube instruction,  some practice,  a larger welding tip,  and we are making fence prototypes!   It took a few versions to get a workable idea but I think we have something!

This is based on 6 foot tposts.  I cut one in half and cut a slot halfway down it on one side.  This makes 2 support braces.  Then weld a full tpost one brace,  by sliding the edge of the full post into the brace at right  angles a few inches from the bottom of the full post.  I can make a nice 3 point weld this way for strength.  The result is a full sized post with a piece going front to back a few inches from the ground point.

In the pasture,  you take this assemble,  step on the never to drive the post a few inches in the ground,  paid the supported right angle to the fence line.  Then hard panel sections are attached with heavy duty wire tires.  In minutes,  without a pounder or tractor you have a self standing,  movable,  hard wire paddock!

For an initial test I built one 16 x 32 for the 3 mini nubian goats.  These guys are pretty hard on fencing and will not the first opportunity the see.

After assembly I decided the long 16 for panels had to much unprotected span  and installed a single full size post at a 45 angel,  with a single wire tie.  This really helped stabilize the sides.

It worked!  Except that in the first move I realized some flaws in ease of use.  Corners were tough and had to be fully removed. More work then I wanted,  so I made a corner by bending a wire panel at 90 degrees in the middle (easily done by hand).  Then posts are only installed on the long sides...  No more corner posts!

To help stabilize the corners,  I made sure to overlap each panel one square and attack extra wire tires on the end of the overlap as well as the post a square back.  This helps stabilizer the corner by adding some weight of the long side to the corner if the corner is lifted by am escaping occupant.

I'm pretty happy with where this ended up..  A few days will tell for sure.  For now aesop,  rosemary,  and besty have volunteered to test it.  No escapes yet!

Here are  some pics of the test paddock

The love birds..... Or..... Love goats

Rosemary and Aesop have been alone together for quite a while...  And it shows!  Seems like the have bonded nicely.  I found Aesop snuggled into Rosemary just like a honeymoon couple.

The new chick brooder

 The new brooder is here!  And not a moment to soon!  As I explained in the last post...  The chicks have grown so fast they are escaping the water trough and roaming our home!

This new design has the following features :


wire bottom easily detachable for cleaning/moving

Sold sides to block cold wind  and escaping chicks

Plenty of room at 8x8 yet light weight

Solid roof to block rain

Lots of ventilation

Hinged top for easy access

Overall it is like he best design so far!  Now we can add heaters,  water,  bedding,  and chicks!

Special thanks to Bradley and Tiffany for making this happen so quickly!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fire update : rebuilding begins

There is one sure thing after each tragedy in life....  Life goes on.  You pick up the pieces and move on.  That's exactly what we are doing after the coop fire we suffered  a couple weeks ago.
The first set of replacement chicks hatched the week of the fire,  many of them donated back to the farm by those who had ordered chicks before.  We really appreciated the generosity....  But also faced a problem....  We have no brooder up move them to!  In fact, the chicks are already old enough to escape the water troughs we put them in for their first night or two and we are finding chicks roaming  our home!
Welcome the farm master builder (also known as our part time farm hand and delivery route driver)  Bradley!  Monday during our regular farm meeting we expressed or desire to have a new approach to brooders,  something movable yet more appropriate than hoop houses. During our chat of options, Tiffany pulled up a picture of a brooder she found on her Internet phone.  We agree that it is a suitable design.  This commissioned,  Bradley springs into action .
No plans,  No list of materials,  No help, nothing but a single picture.  Yet the next morning Bradley shows up with the materials to begin. Three days later there sits not one but two brooders, each 8x8 with a hinged top. And they even look almost exactly like the picture (with a couple improvements).
Ironically the new brooders sit in the now bare ground of the old coop,  a few burnt remains still standing.  A chilling reminder of what was.
This post will be followed by another post on the brooder design complete with pictures.  I wanted first to offer the story of how it was built,  and express or appreciation to everyone involved..  Those who donated chicks, Tiffany for finding a good design,  Bradley for spending a couple days building this masterpiece from only a picture,  and you for all the kind words of condolence,  comfort,  and encouragement.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Trading lifeless wheat for live barley

Remember the post about the wheat bins?   Seemed like such a good idea at the time...  Buy a few tons of wheat at a great price,  store it in homemade grain bins,  and sprout it for animal feed. Seemed like a good idea.

Then there was the reality that the homemade grain Vacuum that worked so well with dry oats,  failed miserably with wet wheat.  Grab the buckets!

But worst was the discovery that the wheat no longer sprouts.  Wet it and we get mostly Cream of wheat instead of sprouts.   We tried different watering strategies to no avail.  Conclusion...  Its dead...  The germ died from the heat generated inside the unventilated bins full of wet grain.

But as luck would have it  (or is it Divine blessings)  an alternative became available.  Through a series of coincidence (or Divine intervention)  we have met a farmer in Klamath with 20 tons or so of organic non gmo barley!  That is hopefully enough to hold us over through summer with sproutable grains.

Yesterday we buzzed over with a trailer and picked up a couple tons for a test.  Nice family road trip.  If it works well (I am sure it will) we will be returning to get the rest within a couple weeks. 

So as usual live and learn.... 

Farming....  Science with enough art to make this unpredictably fun and dangerous. 

Now....  What to do with  15 tons of dead wet fermenting wheat.... Ideas?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Not what you want to see

Not the sight you want to see when loading milk for deliveries....  A turkey in the storeroom,  broken coffee in a puddle on the floor...


Goat feeder / goat stand combo unit

Goats are...  Lets say...  Challenging.  They seem to have their own ideas about the world,  their world.  They often make up their own rules.
Here is a good example.  We hung these fancy new goat feeding troughs on the wall to keep the babies out of the grain.   Well ok,  no babies in the grain BUT it doubles as an adult goat stand apparently!


New sheep paddocks built

We managed to put up the first new sheep paddock at the new property this week.  Of course,  we picked the rainiest day of the week to do so....  Whats fencing without rain!?!

The design is simple to start, tposts and hard panels.  Moving every 2 to 3 weeks.  Inside the paddock is a divider wall to provide a smaller nightime spot for safety.  This will require the tractor to pull the tposts and move 3 walls every time,  which is not optimal. 

We have a design in mind for making portable hand manageable tposts to hold the hard panel up.  (finally have a reason to buy that welder!  Woohoo).  That would save lots of time in moving.  Details to come if it works :)

We also decided to go with zip ties to hold panels to posts.  Quickier and easier to install and remove....  So the cost is offset by the time savings.  This will be a learning experience all around.

Hopefully we will move the sheep next week and have them on the new grass :)

First meat duck eggs started!

Yesterday marks the start of yet another venture at the sprouts.....  Meat ducks!  We put our first silver appleyard eggs into the incubator!  Instead of buying ducks,  we decided to follow our model of hatching our own,  so our first 4 from last year have become our permanent breeders,  and our new flock will arrive soon!

First year will be a little light,  so far we have about 40 eggs started,  collecting 4 per day for the next couple weeks.  Hopefully most are fertilized.  We will soon see.

The end result will be local,  heritage,  pasture raised,  soy free,  nongmo,  organic,  hand processed meat ducks for sale!

Friday, March 7, 2014

No eggs available for sale this week

We have used every single egg on the farm to try to replace the flock destroyed in the recent fire,  so there will be no eggs for sale for about a week.

We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.

Incubators filling again, slowly

After a long emotional week after the fire,  we are finally starting to rebuild our flock.  Today we put the remaining eggs into the incubator a total of 120 eggs,  hopefully hatching out about 100 chicks.

We also want to thank a number of customers who had ordered chicks before the fire,  which hatched this week.  Through the generous actions of several customers we retained about 40 more chicks that were hatched on order. 

That brings us back to about 140 chicks in the new flock.  The genetics are not the same as the ones lost, and the timing is wrong for winter layers,  but its something to start.  In another 2 years we will be about where we were.

So the week ends,  time to move forward.  We will be needing to build a new brooder within the next week or two.  I have not yet decided on the architecture. 

We would like to say a big heartfelt thank you to everyone who called,  emailed,  and otherwise shared kind thoughts and encouragement this week. We truly appreciate each word and deed.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Update on the fire - pictures

Today was a long emotional day. Lots of paperwork, phone calls, scheduling, and then manual labor.  After we received clearance from the insurance company, we started the process of cleanup.  With so many free ranging birds here I didnt want to leave the remains of the burnt  coop for the birds and small animals to scavenge.  We ordered a dumpster, removed all the charred wood and burnt plastic or fiberglass, and then  scraped the top few inches off the deep bedding.  Underneath was beautiful compost, which we scooped up and placed in a large compost pile behind the bug barn. By the end of the day, not much was left except mud, a few posts, and a half wall or two.

Special thanks to everyone that has sent kind emails, calls, and facebook notes . It is heart touching to see so many people willing to help and donate.  Thank you!

In retrospect, we ask ourselves why is this experience so emotional? As I finished the milking tonight, I strolled by where the coop was yesterday full of hundreds of growing baby chicks, only to hear silence and see emptiness.  It's only chickens and an old coop , right?


First , these were special chicks, our own cross breeds that, unfortunately , we can not reproduce easily. Due to many factors, it will take one to two years to recover where we were.

Second , the full grown chickens were our original chickens... the ones that launched Little Sprouts. The little flock that were the first farm animals we ever owned, the ones the children made us promise never to process.

Third, and most importantly, is this. ... a farmer (small family farm with lots of animals) is given these animals as a charge to care for, responsibility for them rests on the farmer's shoulder. they are not tools, not inventory, not "things", they are living animals  that deserve respect.  We, "I" was responsible for these animals and, whatever happened in the coop last night was my responsibility.  I accept that, embrace it, and feel it. No animals on our farm is expendable, they all deserve respect.  So, bottom line, we , "I" let these 400 chicks and chickens down. Its one thing to make a mistake and pay for it.... something completely different to make a mistake and watch other dependents pay for it.

So it was an emotional day, and still is.  Perhaps a good night sleep will help.

Here are a few shots of hte action last night. Didnt get many,  kinda busy.

Fire trucks everywhere in the circle drive

The smoldering fire almost out

Here are some shots of the coop this morning:

A shot from the pasture side

Here is the third stall where the custom built brooder / hospital that bradley built was. Now its a small pile of ashes towards the back

Here is the center coop where 300+ baby chicks lived. The heaters  that might have been the cause of all this are not even visible, completely disappeared into the ashes. 

Here is where the old birds were.. the ones that started it all, in the coop that was the very first farm structure we worked on, 5 years ago. Where I learned to staple chicken wire with a hand stapler. 

A shot from the road

Here is a view from the end

this is what is left of the custom built brooder / hospital

the back side of where the chicks were

The back side of the older chicken coop. Notice the amish made rollaway nesting box on the left, warped beyond repair. 

This is where the heater batteries sat on a shelf. The little box on the center left is the battery charger. 

Fire at Little Sprouts

making this blog post, heart still heavy with loss, hands shaking,  I tried several creative titles. But no. sometimes it just is what it is. We had a fire.

The front chicken coop caught on fire around midnight.  Cause undetermined. I have my strong suspicions, but there is so little left, it can not be determined with certainty.

What I am certain about is the death and destruction. All of our original chickens, and all of our recently hatched 4th generation birds are gone. The building and all of its contents a total loss.  Fire has the ability to destroy so much, so fast.

The weather station we just installed was mounted to the top corner of the chicken coop. around midnight the temperature started rising. It reached 129 degrees at 1:22am and went offline.  I woke up about 1:30 with a strange feeling inside. An old feeling, long since forgotten. Fire truck. They have a particular sound. As a volunteer fireman in texas for a number of years I got accustomed to that sound. Tonight I awoke with a dread in my stomach because that was the first sound I heard. Firetruck. Sure enough, the units were just rolling into the front drive as I ran out to see the building about half gone. My heart sank as I ran back inside to alert all the sleeping children and my wife that we needed to wake and prepare for the worst, just in case.

Fortunately the fire was contained to the coop, the light rain helped to keep it from spreading.

Nevertheless, after the fire was out by the experienced efforts of our local fire department, It is heart breaking to see about 400 chicken bodies on the ground-- trapped,  burned, cooked. not a one escaped.

Tomorrow will be time for retrospection, cleanup, paperwork.  Tonight is time to consider the delicacy of life, how easily it can be taken from any of us in an instant, how powerful nature is in spite of our best efforts, and how human we are.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Learning to Shepherd the flock, today at little sprouts

Last week was such a fun success,  we have decided to repeat the experience ,  perhaps indefinitely.

I am of course referring to the "shepherding the shepherds that Shepherd the flock"  post last sunday.  We decided to do our family bible study in the neighbors pasture with the sheep out,  and help the kids learn to Shepherd the sheep while we read bible scriptures.  It was a fun,  enlightening,  and moving experience.  So much so....

We are heading out again this morning to repeat.  Might even take the ole guitar out and have a few songs.

The most exciting part is..  You are invited!  We would like to share the experience with anyone interested.  Just come by the far between 10 and 12 this morning and look for the little clusters of chairs in the pasture on the left.   Dont dress up...  Be prepared for mud and perhaps bring a chair or blanket.  Bring a bible if you have one. 

Shepherding is the central theme in the bible concerning mans interaction with each other and with god. Learning to shepherd sheep,  just like so many patriarchs in the bible,  is full of life lessons.  Truly our creator is the good shepherd who can show us the way to those green pastures.

Just so you know,  this is not affiliated with any group,  church,  denomination,  it is literally our family bible study opened up to you.  We invite you to join this morning.

Stubborn goat? ... Grab a wagon!

What do you do when a stubborn goat refuses to move?  Yes...  Its true....  Just like in the movies...  They are stubborn!

This one is Patty,  and it's time for her to retire from the milking group and rejoin the breeding group.  But she had other ideas and just stopped halfway.  So...  Wagon!  She hopped right up and enjoyed the ride!

Might look a little strange...  But...  Well...  Not strange for this place!