Future Egg Layers

We got the call from Canada Post around 0715, in the middle of feeding pigs and letting out hens, so headed out right away. We got the chicks home by about 0745.  By 0815, they were all in the brooder, checking out their new surroundings and figuring out food and water.  We always dip their beaks in water when we’re transferring them from the shipping box to the brooder, and it’s also the last time I count them for quite a while.  You’re not supposed to count your chickens before they hatch, but let me tell you, they’re pretty hard to count once they’re running around.

We received a total of 78 chicks;  our eldest daughter wanted to start her own laying flock, so she ordered 25 random assortment (the hatchery chooses pullets from five different breeds – it’s probably a way to make use of odd numbers left over after large orders), and I ordered 50 Rhode Island Reds.  This hatchery usually includes a few extra in case of mortalities, and so that makes our 78.  Guessing from the colour of the chicks, my daughter thinks she got about 12 Red Rock Cross (the black chicks) and about 15 Columbian Rock (the big white chicks).  There are at least 2 we’re not sure about – one is a milk chocolate colour and one is kind of multi coloured.  I guess the chance of at least one rooster should be considered as well.

Looking at these little balls of fluff scooting around, it’s hard to believe they’ll be egg laying pullets in 5 months.  Christmas.  That’ll be interesting, seeing how they come into lay during the short daylight hours of winter, when hens usually lay very few eggs.  That’s something I didn’t really consider when I was ordering them, so we’ll just be back on the learning curve again.  Like we’re every really NOT on it.

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

As true a saying as ever there was…

Hay making 007 small

These pictures show three tractors at work.  The youngest guy is working the rake, and Hay Guy and another man are driving the balers.  The middle of the big field shows the hay all spread out, the young guy is piling it into windrows with the rake and the balers are following him about one circuit behind each other.

Hay making 002 small

I can see they started much earlier this afternoon, since the far field is already baled.  In total we’re looking at about 12 acres of hay here.  This was taken around 7pm, shortly after I got home from work, they were finished about an hour later.  I’m guessing they’ll haul it off the field tomorrow.

002 small

This seemed like the right beer to have with dinner this evening.

001 small

 

Dauntless

 

I’ve been prepping the brooder for the layer chicks due to arrive this week. All my helpers have abandoned me temporarily because the building made them feel like Ron Weasley:

Frankly, I feel this to be a slight exaggeration…it’s quite bright in there thanks to a few windows, and I had the door open while I was sweeping out cobwebs, but I will admit that I wore long sleeves and jeans instead of my usual cut offs, because really, the number of spiders was ridiculous and the size of about half of them was disturbing.  While Vancouver Island doesn’t have much in the way of dangerous reptiles or insects, we do have black widow spiders and a couple of other not very good for you sorts.  At one point in the job the sweat trickling down my back made me think the spiders were in my shirt…after an irrational panicky few seconds outside dancing around like a mad thing, I regained my sanity and went and cooled off with a drink of water before heading in to do battle once again.

Not that it was as filthy as all that, actually – I store the pig feed in there, and empty feed sacks waiting for recycling, and I’d already cleaned it out after the broilers vacated last fall.  It’s just…well, the amount of dust and cobweb and spiders WAS rather much considering the place was practically empty.  Anyway, it’s lovely now, rat proof screen on the window, which is slid open to get some fresh air in there, all the feed bags are gone, and most of the spiders.  (not all, a good many scuttled under the moulding around the edge of the floor – this building was the original creamery for the farm but my Dad turned it into a summer bedroom when my Mum was ill so she could be close to her garden.  So it has some fancy touches not usually found in dairies or brooders.

It should have been quite simple to set up this space, since I use it as a brooder every year, but I never do things the easy way if there’s a more complicated way to do it.  And there is.  I’ve got the broiler chicks coming in three weeks.  They also need brooder space, and more of it (there are more of them, and they grow faster).  The layers won’t be ready to go out on the field at that point, so we’re having to prep a second brooder area in there.  It gets better.  I only have 2 field pens.  I will need both for the broilers by mid August, which is about when the layers can go out too – except that I won’t have a field pen for them.  They can’t go to the hen house where they’ll be living once they are laying, because the old layers are still there.  The old layers are not supposed to be there, they’re supposed to be in the freezer already, but helper availability and other circumstances have prevailed and the dratted birds are still around.  Moreover, the hen house is in serious need of repair (there is a hole in the roof, a hole in the door, and the plumbing has a split, to name a few issues).  I really can’t move the new birds in until I’ve repaired part of one wall, the door and the roof.  And replace the nest boxes.  It’s going to take a miracle or two to get all that done before mid August given the other priorities hanging over me.

I still need to sell one side of pork if I’m going to make any money on the current pair of pigs.  I also have to find someone to slaughter them, which is proving tricky.  The pigs are supposed to be in their new pasture as we speak, and they are not.  So close, but not quite.  I need to find time to change their existing electric fence to join the one in the new pasture and I need to do that when the pigs are not helping me, ie when I can lock them in the barn.  They are bored right now (nothing left to dig, or chew or tear apart).  Bored pigs are trouble waiting to happen, so I have GOT to get onto this job in the next day or two.

Despite what this may sound like, pigs and chickens are not in fact my top priority this summer.

Painting is the number one priority this summer.  It began three summers ago and was supposed to be done then.  And we’re still at it.  And I am determined that we will be DONE with it by the end of this season.  It’s going pretty slowly – that helper availability thing again, and the weather – too hot, too wet – never just right.  Wasp nests in the eaves.  Having to clear brambles enough to get a ladder into one area.  And we’re just talking one side of the house.  Plus a porch. Actually, we are not talking about the porch if you don’t mind.  There were issues with the paint, and I’m not over it.  Suffice it to say that it is almost finished and at this rate might be the only thing on the painting list to be finished.  Should we by some extraordinary chance get through with the west side of the house as well, then there is the barn to be painted, which has been a priority for more than 3 years.  That should be fun.  Wasps live IN the walls.  Some of the walls want to fall apart and have to be repaired as we go.  There are more brambles.  And other stuff to do when we’re not struggling with ladders and scrapers and wasps – like pigs and chickens.

Dauntless is not how I’m feeling right now.  No, I feel a bit like Ron, actually.  Surrounded and overwhelmed and completely regretting what I’ve gotten myself into.  I’m trying not to think how much worse it got for Ron – that was near the beginning of the second book out of seven.  I take comfort from the fact that he came through it all and emerged battle scarred but successful.  I just hope it doesn’t take me seven volumes worth of effort to get there.

 

 

Part time to Full time Farming

Fooling around on the interwebs tonight, I came across a recent video of Joel Salatin that I hadn’t seen before, on a topic he’s really just begun to expound on in the last year or so.  Maybe that’s not quite accurate – much of the content of the video is well known to anyone who has read Salatin’s books or seen other video clips, or even heard him at a conference.  But putting some of the information together under this one topic heading made a difference in the way I looked at it.

Some points(there were many, these are just a few) that hit me during his talk:

  • all the expertise needed to run a farm cannot fit on one torso.  A farmer needs to be a mechanic, a salesman, a carpenter, a bookkeeper, etc, as well as being able to handle animals and grow crops.  Everyone has skills lacking out of the total package, and needs to surround themselves with people who can help in those areas.
  • bundle chores.  He pointed out that a farmer needs to make sure there is time in the work day for making progress.  If the whole day is eaten up doing chores, the farm will never get ahead.  So get efficient with chores, find ways to cut time spent on routine, mundane, repetitive jobs.  Don’t allow chores to take more than 4 hours of the day.
  • Time and Motion studies.  This is old Salatin stuff.  60 seconds to move a broiler pen.  30 seconds to gut a chicken.  He’s got plenty of examples.  He challenges all of us to know this stuff for ourselves.  How long does it take to put eggs away (I think this means once they’re collected, so basically to clean them, box them and store them)?  How long does it take to feed, water and move the broilers?  etc.  We need to know these things so we know how to improve.  This obviously ties in with bundling chores.
  • Scale.  He spent quite a bit of time talking about the egg mobiles, another well known example from Polyface.  He describes the evolution of the eggmobile from 40 chickens to 800 chickens and the amount of energy, effort, time, fuel, etc that it take to do both, and why scale can make a huge difference for the farmer.  This comes up again in the Q & A near the end, and the answer is worth listening for.
  • Margins.  There are a lot of middle men in farming.  Processing, marketing, distributing, etc.  That’s where a lot of the money goes in commodity farming.  The more of that part of the industry that a farmer can keep for himself, the better.  A small farmer needs to wear more hats.  I find this particular point a little at odds with the first thing he talked about – which was leveraging expertise around you, but that might be because both are probably my weak points.  He went on to elaborate that margins are also about value adding, finding ways to make every possible part of an enterprise contribute to the bottom line.  Even chicken necks and backs.

So with that little summary, I want to credit the Practical Farmers of Iowa, who put on the conference at which this speech was recorded, and who have some great resources for all kinds of farmers.  I first learned about them from Ethan Book of The Beginning Farmer, who is an enthusiastic member.

Here’s the video:

Happy as a pig in…mud

The pigs normally spend a lot of time in their shelter on hot days, but I was out working on the fence for their next bit of pasture, and they are curious beings, so were out “with” me. Though they technically have names, I can’t really tell them apart anymore, especially when they’re covered in mud. Much like the declining energy one expends on baby records after the first child, I have not been keeping track on the calendar of how old these piglet are – but working it out from the purchasing info, they are at 12 weeks, or three months. They look about on track for growth to me, which certainly adds up with the voraciousness of their appetites, which increased a couple of weeks ago. If you look closely in a couple of the photos, you can see they are a little sunburnt behind the ears – probably the one place they haven’t managed to get mud.

These pigs are bred to be raised indoors, but seem to have pretty good pasturing instincts judging from their rooting ability and their clear enthusiasm for eating grass. They are quite different from last year’s pigs, which has surprised me a little even though I should have expected it. For instance, last year’s pigs were meticulous about their bathroom corner. These pigs use all the corners. Last year’s pigs never even considered bashing their water bucket around, let alone trying to turn it over. These pigs have managed it a few times, despite it being hooked to the corner, and wedged in with paving stones. These pigs also routinely turn their feed bowls over, which happened about twice last year. On the other hand, these pigs are less pushy, more amenable to tummy rubs, and more respectful of the electric fence.

Their new pasture is one part of a bigger pasture which I intend to rotate them round, and they should be in the first bit by the weekend. Fence is set up, but I still have to figure out how to get water to them there, and though I’ve rigged it so they can go back to the barn for shade and shelter, it won’t be feasible for the next phase of the rotation, so fixing up some kind of shelter is moving up the priority list. With roughly close to zero carpentry skills this is starting to look more and more like a straw bales and plywood kind of set up, though back in the winter, it was going to be an A frame type hut on skids. Originally I didn’t want to go with straw because it’s actually not very plentiful here, and can be hard to get. However, I have about a dozen bales of pretty low quality stuff that I picked up fairly cheaply to use as spare pig bedding if I needed to keep them in the barn longer, and I will probably use that to build a shelter, banking on the fact that I can get better straw from a friend up the road when he starts harvesting grain in a month or two.

Father’s Day


(Thanks to my friend Petkid for the advice on making circle pictures)

Two weeks of secretive assembly work in the barn, and the younger daughter managed to put together the new barbeque we’d lugged home almost a month ago. She almost got caught a couple of times – her Dad arrived home at the exact moment she was shutting the door one night, and when he asked what she’d been up to, she told him she’d been putting away the lawn tractor after mowing (fortunately he didn’t realize she’d mowed the day BEFORE).

After the delicious Eggs Benny breakfast made by our eldest daughter (with our own eggs and ham, of course!), he was thrilled to meet his new toy, already assembled and ready to cook on. Younger daughter was none to confident about actually firing it up (which I’d forbidden in the barn for obvious reasons), but it passed the test with flying colours, so it’s steak for dinner tonight.

Though it rained in the morning, the afternoon cleared up enough to go for a little beachcombing at nearby Coles Bay, where the tide was way, way out.

All in all, not a bad way to honour the special guy in our lives.

.