Friday, April 29, 2011

What Is It?

An outhouse?

A little playhouse?


Is it a jail? A cage? What do you suppose is so fascinating?

Can you see it?

"Mom, this is our playhouse... NOT a barn!!"

"Hey, do you like it when I feed you? I thought so. Shush."

He's a 1 day old bull calf. We call him Sir Loin of Jerseyshire. :)

You're calling me WHAT?
He's PRECIOUS. Seriously, he needs to spend the next 1-2 years getting REALLY ugly, because this just won't do for dinner:

I am so excited! Our first 'real live farm mammal'!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Broiler Feeders

We've had trouble with getting enough feed into the broilers after a certain age. I saw a how-to post on some like these (I can't find the blog! She seemed lovely, like someone I'd like to be in another life, but she is lost to me..), so I decided to try my hand...

First I had Hubby detour into the field so we could load a busted piece of gated pvc-pipe into the truck. Then I asked him where he put my tools when he borrowed them (I'm a little bit kidding. Barely.). :) I cut the pipe at about 4-feet, did a very poor job of it too, and then found some scrap lumber to do the ends.

Hubby used some electrical conduit for the handles, and then I had him saw a rib out of the shredded greenhouse, hoping it would slide over the conduit with enough space to 'spin' so the birds can't roost on it. As it turned out, it was a bit too snug a fit, but the conduit seems to spin a bit in the wooden holes of the ends, so He screwed the pvc to the conduit, which keeps the conduit from sliding too far left or right and out of its spot entirely.

So far so good!

Friday, April 22, 2011


... the earth was at a proper angle to provide this kind of sunset:

Once, it was warm enough to stand outdoors at sunset with a camera.

I begin to wonder if it might always be winter (and never Christmas).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Cow

No, I'm not converting to Hinduism. :)

But I'm getting a little overwhelmed with the cow bovine (cows are female bovines who have calved) questions rattling around in my mind. There are just so many options and variables! Maybe if I simplify it a bit, something will come...

The ultimate goal: To have our pasture of ~15 acres producing beef.

Some of the possibilities:

  • buy yearling steers in spring, finish them on grass to harvest in fall
  • buy yearling steers whenever, pasture them, mow and bale excess pasture for winter use
  • buy newborn bull calves in spring (these would be dairy breeds; holstein, jersey, etc), bottle feed into summer, pasture and feed until they are 1.5 years old
  • buy a dairy cow, buy newborn calves, enjoy milk, wean calves to pasture in summer
  • plant and harvest alfalfa for winter feed for some of the above options
  • buy a herd of beef cattle
  • build a herd of beef cattle, starting with young (newborn?) heifers
  • rezone and sell the pasture, use the money to buy sixteen truckloads of frozen beef
Just kidding on that last one.

Each of these has its own challenges. For instance;
  •  I'm pretty sure I can't afford to buy a herd of beef cattle. I might not even be able to buy yearling steers or heifers. I saw one ad on craigslist for a handful of cattle (four, I think) and multiplying the estimated weight by their cost per pound... ouch. 
  • Buying dairy bull calves is affordable, but labor-intensive and the final product might not be palatable to the discriminating connoisseur. Not that I fall into that category, but assuming I might be able to sell some.
  • My dairyman neighbor advises that bottle calves are NOT a way to make money. Fun family project yes, but not economically advisable. I've just priced milk replacer, and with an early weaning, we're still looking at $50 in replacer bare-minimum - assuming no one gets worms or scours or pinkeye or a hangnail. That would have to be followed by calf feed (certainly much cheaper than replacer, but not free like pasture grass). Since I'm only aspiring to hamburger, I'm not sure what quality milk replacer would be required. There is quite a variety and some of it is intended for replacement dairy heifers and the like, and I'm pretty sure they require more, nutritionally. 
  • I'd love to have a milk cow, and that may happen, but the logistics of getting it here, where to keep it, how to milk it, required equipment and learning-curve would put me pretty far out of the calf season.
  • I don't have a way to mow or bale my pasture excess. I have someone who can mow it, but raking would still be an issue, as well as baling. I don't have a place to put hay bales yet either. Pallets and a tarp might serve. Would trying to buy that equipment be wise? Would it pay for itself or would it be another headache? Can you rent that kind of thing? I know you can hire it done, but you're at the mercy of the other guy's schedule, and your nutrient profile and palatability of forage might well suffer waiting for your turn.
I just had a thought, along different lines. We could theoretically put up pasture hay all summer, then buy livestock in fall (when the yearly price is lowest - no one wants to keep and feed them all winter), wintering them on what we baled. I have NO IDEA if this would be remotely economically feasible, wise, doable or not. I need to meet someone with experience in this sort of thing, who might be able to tell me what to expect by way of costs and time and other things about which I'm clueless.

I wonder if half my interest in farming is because it's such a wide plain of knowledge to acquire. :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Broiler Setup

I think we have the perfect broiler chicken brooder for our situation. We have brooded them in big circular rings (they say it's better to have no corners, so they can't pile up and suffocate), on the floor of our squarish hoophouse, and even in cardboard boxes or wire rabbit cages, when some have needed separation. 

Two years ago I was pregnant with Baby, and *really* didn't want to deal with critters anywhere near the floor. I begged Hubby to let me cover the Green Monster with a tarp, or a roof, or something shelter-ish. He did not seem willing. :) I came up with several other ideas, and he finally acquiesced (loudly and violently, if I recall) and fashioned this setup for me:

April 2011 Broilers
This is the bedliner of his small Toyota pickup, propped up on some wooden frame things (oops, Big Sister sat on one corner and collapsed one. No chickens were harmed, but we've "upgraded" to buckets and cinder blocks on that end). The 'tailgate' area (foreground) is framed in with some scrap lumber, and the whole thing sits in our chicken multipurpose hoophouse. There is enough room to walk along the right side of the bedliner, and to stand between it and the door (as I was to take the photo). There is room underneath for extra woodshavings and feed, if you keep it off the ground. Heat lamps hang at appropriate height from the wire 'rafters' of the roof.

I really love this. It's a back-saver, and we've brooded up to 50 chicks at a time (I think it could handle more, but we can't. :) ). We have 35 in there now, and have switched to a larger feeder and waterer since they're 2 weeks old and considerably larger than they were in that photo! We use 125 watt bulbs instead of the 250. We don't do enough chicks at once to worry about a major heat source; with this setup everyone can cozy into the light and heat if they want to.

One downside to this setup is that at about 2 weeks of age, the chicks can and will hop up to higher vantages, and sometimes end up on the floor. It is helpful to have small, limber children upon whom you can call to rescue such vagabonds.

Extra shavings can be added as needed (you don't want to let a 'crust' of manure build up) and at the end of the season we take down the lights and quite literally roll the house away. We lift up one side and roll the hoophouse over on it's roof so we can dump the shavings into the garden. :) The kids think it's great fun.

This year we have one more week before our next batch of chicks arrives. I aim to have a nice floor pen ready for these by then, and I'm praying the weather will be appropriate to have them outdoors (it has not  come even close so far, and the week's weather forecast is not encouraging). Based on reading I've done, I'm NOT going to clean and bleach this brooder, but rather put another layer of shavings in and put the new chicks on top of that. :) We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Broiler Feed

On Thursday, I made an interesting observation. I checked the broiler chicks (still 35!) and fed them. We are feeding them with two quart jar feeder things (like these, but galvanized instead of plastic), and they were both all but empty.

Before my azure order arrived, and after the feed store ran out of non-medicated starter, I bought some organic starter. Organic though it may be, it was the standard corn/soy ration. Within a day or two I'd picked up my azure order, including 100 lbs of organic starter from Magill Ranch. I ordered a bit of this last year, and was impressed with the 'food-like' appearance of the feed (imagine that, food that looks like food...). Last year's had obvious bits of green split peas, the orange/white bits of crab meat, whole grains... Looked almost edible. This year I don't notice the crab (could be because it's too tiny in the starter. I might be remembering the bigger feed), and the peas are yellow. I filled the jars half/half each when I fed them Tuesday night, and on Thursday I filled one with the corn/soy starter (that looks like chicken feed - fairly grayish brown crumbles) and the other with the no corn/ no soy starter.

The chicks weren't ravenous, most were napping in a corner, but a few curious birds came around as I freshened their water. I took the opportunity to count and make sure all were there, and stood and watched them for about 15 minutes. I was very surprised at what I saw.

The chicks ate the Magill Ranch starter. There are about 8 little 'holes' around the base, from which they eat, but eventually twice that were gathered around, fighting for their place at the trough. Occasionally a back-row bird would turn and notice the other feeder, right under his beak, look askance at it, and go back to pecking the castoffs from the real-food starter. The entire time I watched, though it was crowded, not one chick ate from the corn/soy feed. They'd skirt the feeder, make their way to the water, then pass by it again before elbowing their way to the preferred stuff.

I was really amazed. I can't say why they did that; maybe it tastes better, or meets their nutritional needs better, or they, like me, really like MEAT and know that soy is bad for you. :) The feed store stuff might well have been on the shelf for ages (I asked, the lady said they don't sell much of it or the non-medicated starter), and perhaps that is a factor. In any case, I certainly know which I'll be feeding them! Maybe my hens will enjoy a sprinkling of hi-protein starter every now and then... :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Chainsaw, Part 2

Read part 1 here.

I bet you're wondering what this has to do with a chainsaw about now. :)

Realizing we were completely overlooked by my grandpa and my cousin - in favor of good citizens and homeless pets - was hard to assimilate. It hurt. Really hurt. I began to second-guess all our interactions with Gramps' over recent years, his relationship with my husband (seemingly close, when we visited). I took inventory to see if I could pinpoint anything I did or was doing that would deserve (at least in his eyes) this. My brother owed him money (measured in the hundreds, NOT thousands), but I didn't. :) I began to see that even if I didn't feel legally entitled, there was obviously a reason that I felt so slighted.

So I began to blame myself in a more spiritual sense. :) There is a reason GOD chose not to provide this for us. We aren't trustworthy. "What would you do, hon, if we suddenly had $30,000 fall into our lap?" I asked. "Build my shop. Maybe get a bigger truck." Aha! Now I could blame my husband. :D "See honey, that's why God didn't give us an inheritance from Grandpa. We're selfish." (I did say this with a grin) "Could be.." he said.

I reminded myself that God is not bound by my grandpa's will. That HE is far more concerned, involved, and able than my grandpa was. My girls' future is not limited or hindered by the absence of Gramps' inheritance (even if he missed out on that blessing).  And I was told something that made it obvious... something about a chainsaw. :)

Among the crap tools we brought back from Grandpa's overstuffed garage was a chainsaw. I don't know why Hubby grabbed that; we already had a big one and a little one (I think) here. Maybe he wanted a middle-sized one so he could make up his own bizarre Goldilocks tale. Also, there was something wrong with it, and it wouldn't stay on. He gave it to one of our cousins nearby. This cousin ended up giving it to his dad in another state, though he really wanted and needed one. His dad fixed it without any trouble, and Cousin's next-door-neighbor GAVE him one - nearly identical but smaller, which was better - that worked perfectly. Cousin's dad, after fixing the chainsaw, used it.

He used it to cut firewood. He was hired to help some millionaire clear some land, so he has done so. He has been able to sell the wood, gaining much-needed income for himself and his wife. More than that, he has cut firewood and GIVEN it to SIX families - most of them older widows I think - who were in dire straits for heating their homes this winter.

When our cousin told me this story, I was encouraged. Encouraged that God can take so little, and bless so many. Just because my grandpa and my cousin limited our portion does NOT mean that our portion is worthless. One faulty chainsaw barely registers in the Total Estate Value, but look! It provided heat for six families and income for another! Plus, someone is getting their land cleared. I believe, if we keep an open hand, that these blessings will multiply and GOD will be glorified. We won't be resting in the faith we have in Grandpa's money, but in the faith we have in God. And perhaps Jesus has a better plan. Just maybe. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Chainsaw, Part 1

My grandpa died a couple years back. You remember I got his dishes. :) It has been a journey for me in several ways, some parts are harder than others. It wasn't until last winter that we were able to lay some rumors to rest, find out truth, and live with it. :)

By nature I'm not someone who feels a lot of entitlement. I don't think I'm "owed" much by others. When hugely and obviously slighted by (someone I thought was) a friend, I grieved only before my husband, and the "friend" didn't know I'd even noticed (she admitted months later to doing it on purpose, to gauge my reaction and therefore measure my connection to her...!). I don't think the rich should be taxed so I can have the benefit of the money THEY earned. If you invite a roomful of people to something, I won't assume I'm part of that unless there is eye contact and clarification. :)

I found this challenged, however, when the details of my grandpa's estate became known. The man died with 1 living child (my uncle) and four grandchildren, as well as a son-in-law (oh, and five great-granddaughters either here or on-the-way). He also died with about a half-million dollars, plus his guns, vehicles, and 'stuff' that we helped clear out. We were tremendously blessed to be able to have the aforementioned dishes, various power tools and the like. The will (which we only saw by researching public records) gave his son anything he wanted from the 'stuff ' (the car, several guns), and the remainder to my 2nd-cousin-once-removed - Gramps' nephew. At the time of the memorial, my cousin made a show of taking my and my brother's addresses and contact information, so he could reach us "when everything gets sorted out." That contact never came, though we did pass a few emails back and forth. In one, I was very humble yet very frank in some questions. The biggest one of which was whether or not he knew why my grandpa made no provision for any of his own great-grandchildren. Whether I had done something offensive, or if this was one of his 'moods' where he just became angry at the world for no apparent reason (I was a little more tactful than this). I also asked details about the will and estate that I understood he might not answer. :) The response to this, after being more-than-forthcoming/accommodating in other emails, was a curt, "I'm sorry you weren't able to get your questions answered while your Grandpa was still here." Of course, it's hard to know the details of someone's private will when they're still alive, but anyway...

Eventually I found out that my uncle was given a portion of money - probably to keep him from asking for anything more. My cousin took a tour of Scotland and England with his wife (they have no children) and set up some charitable funds. One is for youth organizations and good citizens, the other is to help our state's homeless pets. I forget the terms (one is only to have the interest dispersed, maintaining the principle forever, the other can be distributed at my cousin's determination. I think you have to apply for these like grants, and my cousin, maybe a board of people at the overseeing firm, makes the decisions).

At the end of the two years or so of wondering, and finally figuring out the facts, I was left with some pretty hurtful realizations. My grandpa (and/or my cousin) thinks homeless pets are more deserving than his own progeny. OUCH. The will made no mention of my brother or I, mentioning our mother only as deceased. OUCH. A fraction of that money could have changed my girls' world - but a faceless 'good citizen' merits favor instead. OUCH.

I was also sad for Grandpa. "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children" Proverbs 13:22a. He missed out on this. He could've reached past himself and touched those in his own family, those who bear his image, in a fashion. He could've provided opportunity to his own great-grandchildren, who would bless his name their entire lives. His benevolence might've been passed down to future generations even. - I'm not even talking about what hundreds-of-thousands of dollars would do. More like a fund for education, or towards a home, or...? A way to start out more financially secure in life, or money to fund missions trips, or...?  And he missed out on that. Homeless pets are important, but his efforts* on their behalf will not make a lasting impact on the world, or even on his family. If, as I would imagine would be likely had I heard this story from someone else, there was something completely objectionable in my life or my brother's that warranted the obvious and pointed disinheriting, I would have wished him to make an effort to counsel us. Even if we disagreed, I would at least have the knowledge that he had purpose and reason for his decision. He chose not to.

To be continued....

*I don't believe homeless pets were in his will. I think my cousin made the choice toward these charitable foundations, but in either case, Grandpa didn't leave any instruction otherwise.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More Facebook

I know I made up some Facebook Etiquette a while back, but I continue to be perplexed at what this window into human behavior offers. Now, I am NO paragon of wisdom when it comes to discretion or good judgment, but even I can be surprised by others.

For instance:

I don't post angry hate-filled rants against people (called by name)... or end the rant condemning the hatred of the other person. Truly, I can't decide if I'm more annoyed at a public rant, OR the absurdity of raging against a 'hater.'

I don't post obvious information about my hormones (I'm sure they have authored a few status updates, but I try not to advertise them).

I don't post about my birth control choices or undergarments (unless laundry counts as this...?).

Now, these are mostly silly, personal preferences. I have good reasons (do all the men on my friends list want to know about some of that??), but none of these things qualify as dangerous.

But what about the smart phone updates? Now, my phone is not smart enough for this, but I'm still trying to wrap my brain around anyone posting exactly where they are right then. I know anyone seeing it is a "friend" (unless you don't have your privacy cinched up tight), but really? Do you want people knowing you're not at home? Or out of town even? Maybe I'm just being weird, because certainly we all may update that we're going on vacation, or something. I'm not sure why the instant updates seem more nefarious to me... If anyone does the little " at Olive Garden" updates, I want to know why. Does that sound snarky? I hope not; I really don't know why people would post the restaurant they're eating at, or the store they're shopping.  Perhaps this is my fear-of-man showing up, feeling inferior that I don't get to eat out at that place, or that often, or have ever shopped there...{I wonder if there's a " killing chickens." app for the iPhone...} Or, MORE nefarious, maybe my friends AREN'T posting... Maybe the phone is doing it for them! Hmm... Should I warn them? "Jane, your ANDROID is advertising your location! They know where you are. Be careful!"

Then again, I'm sure there might be people who find my "barnyard updates" a little too informative for taste, too... :)

Sunday, April 10, 2011


We're still not ready with the pasture, but have been thinking about cows. Thinking a few bottle calves might be a good way to get started, even if it's not enough to really graze the whole field. We've never raised calves, and don't have any little calf hutches, but we're adding that to our higher-priority list. And reading. :)

Also, I've picked up Keeping a Family Cow again. Our fresh milk source was ready again mid-march, but after a few days of enjoying it, we were told it would be another week, since the Mama had mastitis. I was assured by my friend that she would call me when milk was available again. Days and days, then weeks passed, and I heard nothing. I was very concerned, so finally called to check on things. The dear cow had died! We are so heartbroken. On the up side, last year's calf was a heifer, and she is due in October, so there will be milk to be had by then. I did find another source of milk, in a direction I do not often travel, but am considering the logistics of keeping our own cow. I added up our typical monthly spending on dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, butter - and came out with a pretty hefty number. There is a lot to consider (the advantages of knowing how your food was produced and what's in it, possible sales of some of it, possibly raising calves/pigs/chickens on the excess, education for the girls; but also disadvantages of having to be home at a certain time every day, the time involved with the harvest and production of these products, the infrastructure required, the knowledge base needed..), but we're at least doing some considering. And praying.

One step at a time, maybe we'll be a little closer to "farmers." :)

Friday, April 08, 2011

It Begins...

Photo from 2007

On Tuesday this week we finally picked up our first batch of broiler chicks. They were ordered for the previous Tuesday, but the hatchery messed up and didn't send them.

We are doing things a little differently this year; instead of 50 at once, we're doing 35 twice - this way we will have two processing days, but they won't be as utterly time-consuming and exhausting. I think we put up 42 last year and that was a. lot. of. work. We're nowhere near Joel Salatin's 200 birds/hour obviously, and I don't know that we'll ever get anywhere near there, but this will be - hopefully - easier and more productive.

We had to push back the second batch by a week; I wanted them four weeks apart and the hatchery overruled my order and made them 3 weeks apart. That is bare minimum, and they'd have been 2 weeks apart with making our first order late. This way I can use the same brooder facilities, in succession.

We ordered about 20 pullets as well, to replace many hens we lost last fall, and five turkeys. I was hoping to brood them in succession too; pullets first, then turkeys later in the season, but they're coming together in May. :] I'm guessing this hatchery isn't terribly user-friendly. :)

In any case, we brought our 35 home in wild winds and cold weather. NOT my ideal, but with 2 heat lamps and only 35 chicks, they can all huddle right into the warmth and no one gets left to freeze. They've survived one night so far, and that's good since temps aren't even going to hit 60 within the next week, according to the weather folks.

I ordered some organic starter from Azure, which will hopefully come this time (I ordered it last month and it never arrived). In the meantime I'm giving them a non-medicated starter. I'll use regular grower (or gamebird feed, if I can't find a non-med, high-protein feed) for most of their growing days, and then try to finish them up with a final bag or two of organic feed. I don't know if this is ultimately a huge difference, using it only for a portion of their feed, but at $30/50lb, there's no way I'm using it as their main feed. :]

To keep track of costs, I'm going to keep a list in the sidebar.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Fear of Man

I do pretty well in this regard. After all... well, my blog speaks to how I dare live. :)

But sometimes I *do* have those moments.. Moments where I'm not comparing myself with what God has called me to, but with others. I was clicking through facebook (first mistake, I know) to a family I lived by when I was very young. I was friends with the oldest girl, and we used to play together all the time. She had 2 younger brothers, which we were fond of 'tricking' into play. We would play monopoly with them, and laugh hysterically as we "made change" with the play money, as they mistakenly thought they were getting more money. On a few occasions we convinced them to let us dress them in dresses, complete with makeup and hair accessories. Their dad put a stop to that, however. Their baby sister was the first newborn I ever remember laying eyes on. We were next-door neighbors, and we seemed on even ground back then. :) Of course that wasn't completely true; her mom had a career on hold while she raised her kids, her dad was a lawyer that served in the state legislature. My mom was a handicapped divorcĂ©e who moved with her 2 kids into her grandma's home.

Her parents still live in the (nicely remodeled) home, and my great-aunt still gets rent payments from the next-door address. But that's about it, for similarities...

Today my friend is mom to two little boys, works full-time in the public education system after getting her post-graduate degree(s?) in California. The boys we used to dress up like girls? Working in DC and running a business in another major metropolitan area. The newborn is now a 6'3" college graduate who just moved to Australia...

...And me? Um, I kill chickens. Yes, that is the thought that comes to mind when I compare myself to everyone else's accomplishments. :)

I need to remember (and I do most times) that I don't live this life thoughtlessly. I am purposefully living as best I can, the life I'm convinced I will not regret 50 years from now. We all pour ourselves out for something, and if it's for self, well, that dies with us. God, home, family, children; these things will last beyond ourselves, and I pray my efforts in these areas will produce and re-produce after I'm gone. I do not mean to imply that the family I mentioned above is in any way inferior to this: Indeed, I have no idea of their lives beyond that shallow "facebook profile" and would not presume to know anything more.

My mom used to quote some scripture to me: "They who compare themselves with themselves are not wise." Huh? That never made any sense to me. Of COURSE if you compare yourself with yourself, you're a little weird. But I came to understand that we are talking of groups here. We are not wise to compare our fallen human self to another fallen human. Looking at that mom with a cleaner house, or more consistent discipline, or more time to minister, or salon-cut hair... that's just not wise. It doesn't add to us, it doesn't edify. We either come away from the comparison thinking, "Yep, *I*'ve got it together more than her! Good thing I'm so holy..." OR (which is probably much more common) "Why can't I do it the way she does? What did I do wrong to miss out on that kind of opportunity?" THAT doesn't do anything for us, either.

What then do we do?

We compare to God, and His plan. We never come away from that thinking "Good thing I'm so holy.." We align with what He's called us to, and realize that is the only opportunity that matters.  We keep our eyes on God, and He can work out whether he wants us publishing research in a respectable scientific journal, or feeding a group of children decent meals every day. It's not the research, nor the feeding, that matter ultimately, but whether we are doing that which God has called us to.

I am going to try to remember this, to hide it in my heart for when I run into facebook profiles, for family reunions, and especially holiday newsletter time... :)