Donkeys


It has been another few weeks of busy-ness around here.  Sorry for the absence.  I realized I haven’t even taken any photos!  To catch you up a bit, though…

Building:  I built more shelves.  Lots of shelves.  I will die happy if I never build another shelf, but unfortunately, I have at least 3 more to finish, which means planing, installing, painting, you get the idea.  I got a little help on a couple of projects from an in-law who lives close by and is very good with construction, I finally have desks, shelves, and a reading closet in both the girls’ and boys’ room, plus a new “activity counter” with 2 more desks and some shelves in our loft.  I promise photos soon.  I have a little more tweaking to finish it all.

Unpacking:  I’ve been slowly unpacking for almost 4 months.  Every move in the past has taken 2-3 weeks, tops.  Every house in the past, though, has had shelves and not been a farm when we moved in.  This house had almost no shelves, hence all the building.  Trying to move a family of 7 with a large homeschool library into a 3 bedroom, 1900 square foot house with little storage was challenging to say the least.  I’m getting there, though.  My upstairs still has paths, but the paths are widening by the day.  I’m almost there.

Visiting:  Nana (my mom) heard my inner plea for help, and came to stay for a while.  She has been here about 2 weeks so far, and has been a tremendous help.  She is filling my normal domestic and mommy role to a great extent, while I focus on finishing many of these necessary outdoor and construction projects.

Homeschooling:  We started our school year the last week of August.  N is K4, A is K5, M is 2nd grade, and JR is 4th grade.  And I still haven’t taken their annual school pictures.  Add that to my list of “to-do’s.”  We are doing Abeka Academy again this year, and loving it.  N and A take a lot of focus, which Nana is mostly handling right now.  Once she leaves, the first half of my day will mostly be spent sitting beside them as they work.  JR and M are totally independent, though.  R is always into things, so that’s why God gave mommies (and Nana’s) eyes in the back of their heads.

More visiting:  S came home!!!  Only for a quick visit, but it was great!  I had a short list of projects he worked on for me, the kids got their “daddy-fix” while wrestling, jumping on the trampoline (oh, yeah, I spent 2 days assembling that thing!), and just being with him.  Then I got my time with him when Nana agreed to watch the kiddos while we headed over to a Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Goats:  I’m trying to sell my 2 remaining goat kids, but I’m finding dairy goats are not as popular here as they were in CO.  It’s a much harder sell around here.  In the mean time, I have had to move poor Pride (our buckling) out with the pigs, to ensure he doesn’t breed Caramel (our too-small doeling).  To reduce my workload, I’ve also gone to once a day milking.  I’m not exactly sure how the milk will hold up, especially since I’m considering milking through rather than breeding this fall, but I’ll just play that one as the time passes.

Cattle:  Red Bull finally went home.  He was sweet and never gave me a days trouble–unless you count the time he somehow got into an adjacent paddock to the cows, the other time when he bred my dairy heifer without permission, or the time when he decided to scratch on an old fence and succeeded in knocking it down, releasing all the cows into the pig forest.  No biggie, though.  They were still inside the perimeter fence.  I just set up a water trough down lower in the pasture so they had to come out of the woods periodically so I could check on them.  It actually made my day easier temporarily, and started some clearing in the next section the pigs will move to.  That all being said, the day finally arrived for the sweet bull to go home.  As soon as he saw his owner approaching with the halter, he turned into a beast.  He completely mangled a 5 foot cattle panel as he lept over it (trying to get AWAY from his owner), then easily cleared 3 hot wire fences.  Watching a 1,000 pounds of pure muscle soar gracefully over a fence without hardly touching it is a very impressive sight indeed!  I was finally able to halter my jersey, Abbigail, and lead her to a stall in the barn, and that finally got Red Bull distracted enough to follow her so he could be confined and caught.  Once caught, he walked out of the barn and hopped up in that trailer with a grace and timeliness that would shame any horse.

Chickens:  While S was home, our biggest project was harvesting our 25 Cornish Cross meat birds.  We used our new Featherman Pro chicken plucker too.  Can I just say, THAT.  WAS. AWEWOME!!!!!  Expensive, yes, but totally awesome.  We may decide to rent it to other home poultry raisers to try to help pay for it.  Otherwise, it’ll take like 50 years to pay the thing off.  But, then again, when I consider the fact that I will never have to pluck another bird, I realize it is priceless!  We did 25 birds in about 3 hours, but that includes all the stops and distractions we had with the kiddos and lack of preparation here at this new farm.  The replacement pullets are growing well.  They still live in the barn, but free-range the pastures all day.  Our layers are also doing well.  We’ve had one go broody on us, so I got smart and decided to get some fertile eggs from a friend.  Unfortunately, at the same time she went broody, another has become an egg-eater.  I have no idea which girl it is, but in addition to eating 1 or more of our eggs each day, she has also destroyed 6 of the 8 fertile eggs.  I’m not sure any will survive to hatch.  Other hens are randomly kicking the broody hen off her nest each day to lay their eggs, and one of them is eating some while doing so.  I tried moving the broody hen into the barn, but she refused the new nest, and after 24 hours, I released her, only to have her run straight back to her original nest in the coop.  Oh well.  I guess she’ll just have to go through the natural cycle for a while, and then we’ll try again next year when our new roosters can ensure all our eggs are fertile.  In addition to losing eggs to an egg-eating hen, we are also losing a few chickens lately.  The girls–both the older ones, and the younger replacement ones, have begun doing some foraging deep in the woods, outside of the main pasture and perimeter fence.  There are openings on one side of the perimeter where the hens can get through, but the dogs and other animals can’t.  Obviously, the dogs can’t protect the girls on that side of the fence, so some of them never seem to make it back up.  I remain hopeful that one or two may have gone broody and are just hiding down there.  Realistically, though, I’m pretty confident they were some wild critter’s lunch.  We’ve lost 4 older hens and 5 little ones.  There isn’t much I can do about it right now, except hope that the remaining ones will learn and stay in the fence.  Only time will tell.

Rabbits:  Nothing too new there, other than the fact that we harvested our summer litter.  That takes us back to our one mature doe, 2 mature bucks, and 2 young does that that we brought with us from CO, and will be ready for breeding in December.

Donkey:  The only farm vehicle I have around here is a 4-wheeler.  I use it to haul supplies down to the pig paddocks, to move my portable shelters, to haul wagon loads of dirt, to haul fence posts, and to have fun.  Before we left CO, S and I decided that Shiloh, the donkey would help earn her keep by becoming a work donkey.  We bought a little homemade driving cart to start out with.  After we moved, I ordered her a custom donkey harness.  With the number of projects I had this summer though, I never really had a chance to teach Shiloh to drive.  Then, my 4-wheeler–long over-due for a tune-up and basic maintenance–essentially died on me.  While it’s waiting for a ride to a shop, I’ve had to get creative.  There are still water buckets, feed, dirt, and fencing that has to be hauled.  Time for Shiloh!  I reviewed the basics of long-reigning I had taught Shiloh in the past, spent a few days reviewing all her basics and getting her accustomed to her new harness, and then took full and total advantage of her being a calm and laid back donkey rather than a flighty horse, and hooked her up to the cart.  Since Nana was here at that point, she offered some assistance for safety in the early stages, but Shiloh took to it with ease.  She still has a little trouble turning in the cart, but that is likely due in great part to the fact the shafts on the cart wound up way too big for her.  Now, I have my first real equine-power on the farm.  I can hitch her up to the cart, and then use the cart to haul all the buckets, feed bags, materials, etc, she can drag small logs, and more.  Eventually we will get new shafts that fit better, but I use these in the mean time.  Pictures will follow as soon as I get the chance.

Dogs and cats:  Due to the unintended and unexpected increase in cats around here, I wound up rehoming our barn cat, Katie, and her litter of 6 kittens.  A new farm was looking for a whole slew of cats to stock their barn with, and they jumped at the chance when they heard about her.  That leaves us with Sarah and her litter of 5 kittens, and she is much better mannered as a house cat, so I have a better chance of keeping her indoors until she can be spayed.  The only cat outside at the moment is Shadow.  Callie is still inside, as always.  Will, the house pet, has loved having all these cats around.  He has discovered there is always a dish of cat food sitting around somewhere, and has become quite adept at finding all my hiding spots.  As a result, he has gained somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the last 6 weeks.  At this point, my hiding places are getting higher and higher up on shelves, in an attempt to keep them accessible to the cats, but well out of Will’s reach.  Iris and Athena are doing great.  In fact, Iris has entered her fall heat cycle, and I am debating breeding her this fall or waiting until spring.  I finally found the (hopefully) perfect stud dog.  He is in the next state, so quite a drive, but he is of the Colorado Mountain Dog breeding and quality I am looking for, and has already proven himself as a guardian and homestead-type dog.  As usual, we’ll see how this plays out.

Pigs:  The pigs are growing well on their forest forage diet.  I continue to supplement with excess milk and eggs (though the eggs are few and far between with an egg-eating hen on our hands!), and occasional organic grains.  I am working on setting up their next paddock this weekend.  I estimate their weight to be around 100 lbs. now, so I think they are growing well.  I should research and find out averages for this breed so I have something to compare to.  Whatever the weight, they are big enough now that the kids don’t really go in the paddock unsupervised.  The pigs are very friendly, and in their quest for attention, plenty big enough they could easily knock a child down.

That pretty much brings you up to speed for now.  There’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure!!

Advertisements

We are seeing results from our “Forest Hogs” already, and I am impressed.  When they were just 9 weeks old, we turned the pigs out into a roughly 1/2 acre section of woodland, with a small section of pasture adjoining it.  Here is what the land looked like when we turned them out: (Notice the fallen spruce tree in the center to give you reference).

The land before pigs

The land before pigs

Just 2.5 weeks later, I took this picture from the same spot:

The land after pigs

The land after pigs

Now granted, they had a little help.  We turned 2 cow/calf pairs out with the pigs randomly, for a total of 7 days in the forest paddock.  The donkey was out there for less than 2 days, and the goats for maybe 2 days.  Although certainly not necessary, I figured all the animals would create some  “mob” effect, which essentially creates natural competition and encourages them to eat more and faster.  They’re just like my 4 and 5 year old boys, each of whom are convinced it is sole duty to NOT allow the other to eat more of some treat. Because so many different species are involved, their natural grazing/browsing habits complement each other.  After 2.5 weeks, the brush was eaten from the height of the cows’ backs and down.  There is almost no green foliage left.  The next picture shows 2 sections of the 2.5 acre forest lot, with our electric fence netting dividing it into smaller sections.  The right side of the photo used to look just like the left side.  After 2.5 weeks, the pigs were moved into the left side paddock to eat it down as well.

IMG_0937

Here is another view from the adjoining pasture area.  The foreground shows the grazed down paddock and pasture, while the background shows a future paddock to be grazed.  Notice the difference in the height of the grass, which shows where the electric fence ran.  The animals graze right to the electric netting.

IMG_0930

As you can see, they don’t just eat forage either.  Pretty much everything that grows is considered edible.  This photo shows the electric netting again, dividing the already grazed pasture portion of the paddock on the left, and the new pasture on the right.

Happy pigs!

Happy pigs!

I have seen enough photographic evidence to leave me no doubt that if I left the pigs longer, or if I decreased the size of the pen, or if I fed them less supplements, that they would literally clear that paddock down to bare earth.  I have studied a number of pasture-pig farmers who do it that way, allowing the pigs to tear down everything, and then the farmer rebuilds his pasture from scratch.  I decided I didn’t want to do that, though.  I preferred to have the pigs “massage” the land, clean it up a bit, spread some fertilizer, and then move on.  Then, if I have time, I can go in and manually whack down the remaining sapling and brush stems OR I can rotate the pigs through again in a few months.  Waiting a while gives the slightly over-grazed pasture time to replenish itself while also allowing all the accumulated manure to break down and be absorbed in the soil without being overloaded.  By the time the pigs will move through again, they will likely be twice as big, and therefore eat twice as much in the same time frame.

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing "wee-wee-wee" all the way to the milk bucket!

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing “wee-wee-wee” all the way to the milk bucket!

Although it isn’t necessary, I have chosen to supplement their forage diet.  In a paddock like this, they eat not only all the leaves and grass, but also bugs, slugs, frogs, leaves, branches, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and more.  Pigs are not just vegetarians.  They are omnivores, and require high protein levels to thrive.   If I raised them strictly on forage, they would likely either take longer to reach an ideal slaughter weight, and/or be much leaner and lighter at slaughter time.  Thus, I have decided to supplement with my excess goat milk.  I sour the milk for 24 hours (apparently the extra probiotics are better for them), mix in some organic rolled cereal grains, leftovers from dinner, anything I want to clean out of the fridge or cabinets, extra eggs (complete with shells), and so on.  They absolutely go crazy over the “slop” concoctions we come up with.  This also means they come running every time they hear us call, in the hopes we are bringing that slop pail along.

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears...

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears…or the slop pail I failed to bring this time.

An additional fact worth mentioning is that pigs are great manure spreaders!  I don’t mean they poop everywhere, either, although they do that as well.  I mean pigs LOVE cow patties as much as chickens.  My chickens have stayed busy rotating through the the main pastures, helping us break down cow patties there, as well as waging war on the Japanese beetle crop in the orchard this summer.  Meanwhile, I am loath to pet the pigs lately, as these warm….no, I mean incredibly, ridiculously, HOT….days have driven the pigs to desperate measures.  They absolutely love to roll in those fresh cow patties.  They roll, plow, dig, spread, you name it.  Although disgusting to watch, it does a great service. It helps the manure break down much faster, and prevents fly larvae from accumulating, and subsequently hatching out of the patties.  That’s always a good thing.

For the sake of my non-farmer readers, though, I took a cleaner picture to close with.  Isn’t she cute?!

IMG_0827

As a follow up on the Rotational Grazing post I did recently, I figured I would do a post regarding the shelters we are using.

First, we needed a layer coop.  There are lots of ideas regarding portable chicken coops out there, so that one wasn’t too difficult.  The greater difficulty was building it cheaply, using as many already-owned supplies as we could.  S succeeded in using the wood and the wagon wheels, though we did have to purchase lightweight roofing (wood would have made it too heavy).

coop

After the coop was built, it wound up a bit too heavy for one person to move alone.  Since I have to move it every 2 days right now, with plans to move it daily in the future, we decided to utilize our 4 wheeler for the time being.

IMG_0906

I simply lift the front, and cargo strap it to the ATV.

IMG_0905

Strapped in this fashion makes pulling quite simple.  Braking, on the other hand, is a problem, especially when you consider that our pasture is one big rolling hill.  So, I had to find a brake system to keep the coop from running into the ATV.

IMG_0904

All I needed was a willing party and 2 strong legs.  Don’t laugh.  It works quite well, thank you!  JR usually does this job for me, but S helped me on this particular day.  With gas and brakes working, we can now move with no problem.

As a side note, the coop is still far too heavy for my liking.  As a result, we are hoping to reconstruct the floor, and change it from it’s current wood plank construction to 2×3’s and welded wire.  I think it will reduce the weight significantly.  It will likely be a while before I get to that project though, so for now, I will continue using the ATV.

The other shelter was a bit more of a problem for us.  Again, we wanted to use as many already-owned supplies as we could.  We still haven’t come up with a design we like, but what we currently have is a hoop house, re-designed out of our hay-shelter supplies from our Colorado home.  If you study hoop houses, you will quickly see that when intended for anything other than poultry, they must be sturdy enough for animals to lean on and push against.  Cattle panel hoop houses make a great, very strong house–assuming the ends are reinforced somehow.  Otherwise, the panels can potentially collapse and fold up.  We learned the hard way, when our first windy day came along.  Most people use t-posts to reinforce when the shelter is intended to be stationary, but ours was to be portable and built on skids, so we needed another plan.  S put his engineering brain to work and decided to reinforce with a wood A-frame, attached to the panels with screws, fence staples, and hooks.  Since it was intended only for goats originally, he put the center cross beam as low as he could for support.

The cows took over the goat shelter.   I don't even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The cows took over the goat shelter. I don’t even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The downside of this design is that only short animals can fit in there.  Somehow, our donkey and cows managed to get in, but I suspect they will eventually break down that center support scraping under it like they do.  The other downside of a cattle-panel hoop house is that it is heavy.  We used 2 panels, wood skids and supports, and a heavy duty tarp, and it weighs several hundred pounds.  An upside of panels is that I can easily attach a mineral feeder under the shelter to keep the minerals out of the rain and still easily accessible to the critters.  Because it is on skids, a draft horse could easily move it.  Until we get our horse, though, we use the ATV for this also.

S installed large eye-hooks about 1/3 of the way down each skid on each side, and attached a chain going across the grass from one skid to the other. You can just see the sides of the chain on each side in this photo, one side being just above the bottom goat’s right ear:

IMG_0902There is another chain that loops to the dividing chain, and the second one sits under the front ground support board.  You can see it above coming up out of the grass, just outside the middle of the shelter.  I run the cargo straps through this chain, as close as I can.  When I pull forward, the motion actually lifts the front of the shelter several inches so it slides easier over the grass.

Now the shelter is on skids, so technically doesn’t need wheels, but we were worried about the back center board falling apart as it was dragged over the grass day after day, so we decided to use wheels anyway for the actual move, and just let the shelter rest on the skids when not moving.  In order to do that, we use a standard household dolly with 4 wheels.

dolly

We have a large block of wood that rests between the back board and the end of the dolly, to keep the weight and pull better distributed.

Once everything is set up, I drive the shelter to the next paddock.

IMG_0900

As is usually the case, this is our first trial, and I’m confident there will be many changes as time goes on and we get better at this farming stuff.  This is definitely not our long-term plan….we just don’t know what the long-term plan is yet, so this will have to suffice.

There is an idea out there regarding grazing animals that is quite literally so old, it has become new again.  This type of grazing has many benefits, both for the land and for the animals.  Think about a wild herd of grass-eating animals….the herd comes through, stops and grazes an open prairie for a day or two, and then moves on.  Think too, on what occurs during this grazing time.

Wild buffalo herd grazing and moving across an open prairie.  Source: internet stock photo

Wild buffalo herd grazing and moving across an open prairie.
Source: internet stock photo

Benefits to the land include:

  • Animals “massage” the land, rather than decimate and damage it.
  • Animals manure and urinate all over, thus fertilizing the land.  Since they stay such a short time, they do not poison or overload the land with their nutrient-rich waste.
  • Animal manure contains seeds from the previous pasture, which then grow in that pasture.  Because they generally prefer to eat only healthy, palatable forages, they are thereby distributing seeds from these plants, rather than weedy, less palatable ones.
  • Each time grass is grazed down, the roots die back slightly, and the grass then regrows.  This cycle keeps the grass in a fertile, nutrient-rich, growth state, unlike grass that matures, turns tough, stemmy, and fibrous, and goes to seed.
  • Each time animals pass through, the land is naturally torn up a little–but not too much.  This serves to aerate and churn the soil a bit, making it healthier for all the organisms within as well as the grasses.
  • Between the tearing up, churning up, and eating down of grasses, the pasture is left in a healthy, growing state, which prevents wildfires, flooding, erosion, and other problems often associated with abandoned, overgrown, bare, and/or unhealthy pastures.

Benefits to the animals include:

  •  Animals always have fresh grass and forage to eat, increasing weight gains and access to nutrient-rich plants.
  • Animals do not graze manure-soiled grounds, which prevents re-ingestion of parasites.
  • Wild animals usually graze in groups, which creates a competitiveness among them, resulting in faster eating.  This also increases nutrient consumption.

One study I saw showed that one season of mob-stocking (large-group intensive grazing) a large open area with a large group of sheep  for a short period of time, resulted in a 50% increase in forage the next year.  That’s pretty incredible if you think about it!

Because God has designed nature to work a certain way, to the benefit of all, we wanted to model after the natural order of things.  One of the big plans we had in mind for raising grass-fed animals on Red Gate Farm was the concept of rotational grazing.  We studied Joel Salatin, Alan Nation, and other livestock managers who practiced intensive grazing and rotational grazing techniques.  Everyone we studied did it a little differently, ensuring there was no, single, “right” way to do it, but there were some points to consider that were pretty standard to get the most benefit:

  • Animals eat the best, most palatable forages the first day, and each day thereafter the quality of the feed decreases a bit.
  • Animals graze best with competition to push them.  We needed more than one animal.
  • Forage is most evenly grazed with a selection of animals, as each species tends to prefer different plants.
  • It takes most fly larvae about 4-7 days to hatch in the manure.  It takes most intestinal parasites 1-3 weeks to hatch and need a new host in order to continue the life cycle.  Therefore, if possible, the animal should be moved from a grazed area before 4 days to avoid the worst of the flies, and preferably not return until after 3 weeks to prevent re-infestation of parasites.
  • Grass takes 2-4 weeks (depending on the season, temperature, and rainfall) to go from an immature (freshly grazed) state back to a healthy, nutrient rich, “adolescent” state.  Re-graze too early, and you risk damaging the plant permanently because it is too immature.  Re-graze too late, and the plant may reach maturity and be less palatable.

Based on what we learned, we came up with a plan.  Again, everyone does it differently, but the following is what we do.

While cows, horses, and hogs can be fenced in with a single strand of electric wire, this is not the case with goats.  Due to the fact we were planning a variety of animals of all sizes and some with reputations for escape (i.e., goats!), we decided to first fence our perimeter with a solid, 2×4 woven wire fence with wood fence posts.  Good fences make good neighbors, and we do live in a neighborhood of mostly retired folks looking for the quiet life and a nice garden sans the neighbors’ loose livestock.

S and his brother, M, working on a section of perimeter fence.

S and his brother, M, working on a section of perimeter fence.

Then, inside our roughly 7-acre pasture perimeter fence, we subdivided.  Now, this was our biggest concern.  We weren’t sure (and still aren’t) how to best graze our limited acreage with as many animals as we plan.  Of course, it forced us to get more efficient with our animals, as we had absolutely no room for extras.  To get an idea, we first used electric poultry netting to train the animals, and moved it around for a couple weeks to get an idea how much forage they ate in a 24-period.  We then calculated their consumption, averaged it for almost-year-round grazing, and set up semi-permanent paddocks that are roughly 80 feet x 90 feet.  This gave the animals room to move around and frolic a bit, avoid bullies, and still have plenty to eat.  After more experimenting–mostly in an effort to figure out how to keep the goats in the paddocks (little escaping stinkers, they are!), we settled on 3 wires.  The top strand is a highly visible white poly-rope, while the bottom 2 strands are standard galvanized electric wire.  You can also see the portable shelters here.  I will do another post on those later.

You can see some of the paddocks we were setting up.  It looks a lot tidier nowadays, but this gives you an idea.

You can see some of the paddocks we were setting up. It looks a lot tidier nowadays, but this gives you an idea.

Once the paddocks were set up, we stocked one with animals.  Talk about a variety of complimentary species!

One donkey, 6 goats, 2 cows, and 2 calves.

One donkey, 6 goats, 2 cows, and 2 calves share a paddock.

Our goal is to rotate every day by next spring.  Right now, however, we don’t have all the animals we intend to have next year, and we are at the end of the spring growth, so the paddocks last my animals 2 days.  I am literally building a paddock on each move day.  Some graziers roll out a line and set up a new paddock in about 15 minutes.  With our setup, though, I don’t have time to do that long term, I’m not able to move my electric wire charger around as much, the goats don’t pay attention to a single wire anyway, and my watering system is not set up yet.  For those reasons, I decided to set up more permanent (but easily removable) paddocks, with a 10 foot alleyway down the middle of rows to make moving critters and water easier.  This setup actually gives me an extra paddock in the alleyway itself.  Whether the grass will continue to grow there long term, I don’t know, but for now, it is very useful.

A single cow grazed about 30% of our alleyway in 8 hours.

A single cow grazed down about 30% of our alleyway in 8 hours.

One of my favorite parts of this whole system is looking back at “yesterday’s” paddock when we move the animals to a fresh pen.  Moving is simple.  I simply drop the wires between pens, call the animals, and they have already learned that fresh forage awaits!  The next photo was taken after the animals had been on a paddock for 48 hours.  The brownish line down the middle is where I used a trimmer to remove growth under the wire.  The short grass on the left is the grazed paddock, and the long grass on the right is the new, ungrazed paddock.

IMG_0896

Joel Salatin always says that if it’s done correctly, you will see a “quilt-square” type effect, where each square of paddock is in a different stage of growth.  I think we’ve almost got it!

The short grass in the middle is the most recently grazed, the long grass at the bottom is the new paddock, and the brighter green section to the far left is a paddock we grazed 2 weeks ago.

The short grass in the middle is the most recently grazed, the long grass at the bottom is the new paddock, and the brighter green section to the far left is a paddock we grazed 2 weeks ago.

If everything goes correctly, then we will raise all our cows on this lush grass, which should be become healthier, less weedy, and more nutrient-dense with each passing season.  The goats are also grazed on this, supplemented with only a bit of grain at milking time.  What I didn’t go into here, but you can see evidence of in the 3rd and 4th photo is that our portable chicken layer coop follows about 4 days behind the other animals, so the birds can pick through all the manure, scatter it into the soil, and eat all the bug larvae and hatching parasites.  This is such a neat system, and so far, I am really liking it.  I will be tweaking it a bit here and there over the next year or so, I’m sure, but this gives you an idea what we are doing now.

Boy, when people ask what we farm, I am trying to come up with a good answer….”I grow soil (or grass)” just causes more questions.  “I raise livestock the old-fashioned way” just gets a mis-understanding nod.  “I use a polycultural symbiosis to raise a myriad of species on lush silvopasture” sounds like I’m really smart, but results only in blank stares.  Thus, “We have a little God-sufficient homestead, where we grow what we can for our family and sell the excess” is my current one.  It seems to be widely accepted so far.

The vet came out yesterday, and I figured I would post a follow up for anyone interested.  I had photos of the animals’s ailments yesterday, so I won’t bore you with the same here, however, you can find the post HERE.

As it turns out, the calf was banded the day he was delivered, which is apparently a very bad idea in June in this part of the country.  Flies had caused infection where his manhood was all detaching and falling away.  It was definitely beyond anything I could have done at this point.  She gave him a dose of antibiotic and banamine (pain killer and anti-inflammatory).  The good news is that the calf should be fine.  The bad news is that he is no longer a 100% , all-natural, chemical-free calf we can sell for beef.  So, Lord willing, we will sell the other one, which is still doing good and never had anything administered, and our family will eat this boy.  Of course, a year from now, all these chemicals will be long gone from his system, but still, we will always be honest with our customers! Lesson learned for future prevention:  don’t band or castrate in the summer in IL.

Shadow is allergic to fleas.  He doesn’t have fleas now, as I use frontline, but she found a tiny bit of residual flea dirt, likely from when he was in the animal shelter, but she said the flea saliva then was enough to irritate his skin.  If he is sensitive, it is possible the frontline may irritate him also.  However, she said to just be religious with the frontline to minimize the hairloss.  She claims we will likely have a partially bald cat every flea season.  I am going to do some experimenting to see if there is anything I can come up to avoid it, we’ll see.

I was at least right with Iris, as she had a hot spot that scratching was irritating further.  It had gotten infected, which is why my home remedies weren’t working and it also explained the constant ooze from it.  She, too, is on antibiotics.  Lesson learned:  catch and treat the hot spots much earlier, and I should be able to handle it.

Shiloh is suffering from “scratches.”  It’s essentially a bacterial or fungal infection caused by warm, moist environments.  In other words, dew covered grass in an Illinois summer.  Great!  She gave me some medicated shampoo to try, but I am also going to experiment with tea-tree oil.  Tea tree oil has become my favorite human cure-all, so I need to get better at trying it on the animals.  I could probably have stopped Iris’s hot spot with it, if I had treated it earlier.  I am curious to see if it works.

So, there you have it.  I not looking forward to this vet bill, but at least now we know and I can work to prevent in the future.

For anyone who has this romantic notion that farm life is fun and beautiful and romantic at all times, let me tell you, that is not the case.  On the lesser extreme, there’s muck, mud, continual chores, and lots of manure.  On the greater extreme, there’s vomit, diarrhea, illness, and death (not often for us thankfully!).

Thanks to the less romantic side of farming, I get to meet our vet today for the first time.  We have a series of issues that have arisen with multiple animals, and I am baffled by all.  I believe in natural and prevention, but there comes a point where I am willing to call in professional medical help if my home remedies, vitamins, and herbs don’t do the job.  Particularly if there is an expensive life at stake–like my next year’s steak.

One of our new 3 month old calves is ailing.  It started with a mild cough, but as of yesterday, he was acting depressed.  Time for the vet!

One of our new 3 month old calves is ailing. It started with a mild cough, but as of yesterday, he was acting depressed. Time for the vet!

Since the vet is coming anyway to look at the calf, whose temperature was quite high this morning (suggesting infection is brewing somewhere), I figured I’d ask her take a look at several other issues as well.

Shadow, the cat, has scratched himself bald on the back of his neck.  It isn't spreading, but it won't get better either.

Shadow, the cat, has scratched himself bald on the back of his neck. It isn’t spreading, but it won’t get better either.

Iris has developed what can only described as a hot spot on her throat.  I have been cleaning and treating it for a almost a week, with no improvement.  She can't lick it, so she must be scratching it, but I'm baffled either way.

Iris has developed what can only be described as a hot spot on her throat. I have been cleaning and treating it for a almost a week, with no improvement. She can’t lick it, so she must be scratching it, but I’m baffled either way.

Even poor Shiloh has developed raw spots on her legs.  I'm not sure what has caused them.

Even poor Shiloh has developed raw spots on her legs. I’m not sure what has caused them.

I suspect the cat, dog, and donkey are all related to environmental issues–allergies or irritations from the grasses here, since they certainly aren’t used to the area.  I hope it can be cleared up easily and with minimal medications.  I don’t know what else to do, but I’ve tapped out my resources to no avail.

On a funnier note, there are other frustrations too….

Shiloh swatting flies....it's how she burns off her calories that she eats on the pasture.

Shiloh swatting flies….it’s how she burns off her calories that she eats on the pasture.

The cows took over the goat shelter.   I don't even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The cows took over the goat shelter. I don’t even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

Speaking of cows, when ailing baby calf has to go in the barn for treatment, so does mama cow.  Now my barn smells like cows.

Speaking of cows, when ailing baby calf has to go in the barn for treatment, so does mama cow. Now my barn smells like cows.

And then there’s the other cats, the little stinkers.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I am a HUGE advocate for spaying and neutering of pets.  We picked up 3 barn cats about a month ago.  The male was already neutered, and the females had both recently weaned litters and were thought to be OK long enough for us to settle in.  NOT!  Within days, of arrival, one of the females went to heat.  I tried to keep her around the barn as much as possible, and to take advantage of our isolation here, in the hopes that no tom would find her this cycle until I could get her spayed.  I never saw the first sign of a tom, so I thought we came through unscathed.  About a week later, the other female came in heat (competition, maybe?).  UUGH, in any case, I’m pretty sure we now have 2 pregnant cats for the first time in my life, and I will be discussing spaying after they deliver with the vet when she comes.  The kiddos are naturally excited to experience their first kittens, but I’m not sure what we will do with them all.

IMG_0876

Now for some GOOD, totally unrelated news…the sunflowers are sooo cool!  I’ve never grown them before, but I will be planting lots more next year.  They are just turning out to be a fun plant.  Of course, if you are only 4 foot tall, I supposed that could be a bad thing, as you can’t even see the flower starting to bloom at the top of the stalk.

IMG_0861

We’ve arrived!  After many years of waiting, wondering, studying homesteading, preparing the farm, we finally made it!  I cannot express to you how wonderful it feels.  As you read, we had a few unwelcome adventures along the way.  There’s nothing like a leaking fuel line, an unexpected layover at a small-town repair shop, on a hot day with a trailer full of overheating livestock from a cold climate, and a loose and stubborn chicken running around a parking lot , being chased down by 2 kids and 2 helpful truckers, to get the blood pressure up a bit!  I drove the truck and trailer, and a girl-friend drove my minivan with the kiddos.  She was such a God-send through the whole ordeal, and for the whole week after!  What should have been about a 15-18 hour trip turned into a 22 hour trip.   We arrived at almost 2 in the morning, got the kids in bed and began unloading animals.  We had to walk each of the goats, dogs, and donkeys about 200 feet from the trailer to the barn, through the tall hay field.  The tall grass was so foreign to them, not a single animal attempted to take a bite!  They didn’t know what to think of this stuff brushing against their bellies!  Oh, what an adventure that day was!!

While Will, our resident house pet knows and seems to enjoy the place, he doesn’t leave the front porch much.

IMG_0645

The other animals, to the contrary, are still trying to figure out this place.  Some seem to think they have died and gone to a heaven far beyond anything they could have dreamed of, while others are still trying to figure out whether they are in heaven or some kind of purgatory.

Honey bees:  definitely think they've died and gone to heaven!  I've never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers' legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs.  The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

Honey bees: definitely think they’ve died and gone to heaven! I’ve never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers’ legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs. The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

When we first arrived, the chickens weren’t quite sure what to think.  Until today, they were living in the stock trailer, using it as a makeshift coop until we could get theirs’ finished.  Notice the rabbit cages are also still in there, until we get a permanent area set up.

IMG_0604

It took a couple of days for the hens to learn to go INTO the trailer at night, rather than hide out UNDER it.  It also meant that M has stayed busy hunting eggs when they decide to lay in the grass or under the trailer, rather than in the makeshift nestboxes we put in the trailer.

Look closely, they're under there, enjoying the shade.

Look closely, they’re under there, enjoying the shade.

Hens foraging the hay field.  They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven!  Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there.  Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

Hens foraging the hay field. They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven! Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there. Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

The donkeys aren’t sure what to think.  Probably depends on what time of day you ask them.  Most of the day, they hang out in their spacious stall together.  I added a few toys to keep them entertained.  In the late afternoon, they get to go out to the trimmed pasture as we wean them on to the rich grass here.  As long as the grass is short, they enjoy it, but if you ask them to go into the longer field grass, they get pretty nervous.  They don’t seem to realize it is food as well.  In addition, the bugs are driving them batty.  I have had to start using a bug repellent ointment in their long ears due to all the bites they were receiving.  After a few hours in the buggy, humid outdoors, they are usually standing at the barn doors waiting eagerly for me to let them back in to their cool, bug free stall.

Donkeys:  Too short to see over the rails!

Donkeys: Too short to see over the rails!

 

Dogs:  Totally in heaven here!  As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated.  The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.

Dogs: Totally in heaven here! As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated. The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.  The only problem so far is that my white dogs have turned a clay-orange color since we are in the midst of a very wet, muddy spell here. 

Like the donkeys, the goats’ thoughts seem to vary with the time of day.  At night, or when the donkeys are out, the goats are stuck inside a stall/alley area.  They have plenty of room, but get very bored.  Latte tends to bully Joy to no end during those times (hence the reason I allow them 2 areas to roam).

IMG_0621

Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds, and drinking almost a gallon a day of Latte's milk!

Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds free-choice nursing on almost a gallon a day of Latte’s milk!

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out.  They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first.  They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out. They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first. They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The only issue the goats have had is that the stress of the move combined with the heavy milking from Joy and Latte caused them both to drop a lot of weight.  To make matters worse, none of the goats were eating their portions of grain like they used to.  As a result, I was forced to purchase my first non-organic feed in the form of Calf-Manna.  This is a product that contains a load of B vitamins that work to stimulate the appetite, as well as high carbs to help with weight gain.  Despite the non-organic nature, it is a pretty good product for such issues.  It works.  Faith is due to deliver next week, so I am eager to see how that goes.  She also shrunk in size SIGNIFICANTLY, but I can’t tell if she has lost weight, if the baby shifted, or what happened there.

We also have 3 new faces around the farm.  Two days after our arrival, my friend and I were working on cleaning out the barn when we saw several mice run out of their hiding spaces. The next morning, I called the local small-town animal shelter and told him I was in need of some barn cats.  I told him I would take ferals or otherwise unadoptables, but couldn’t pay a lot of money in adoption fees since they were destined to be barn cats and I had no idea if they would stick around.  He told me to come on over for a visit.  M and I went over, and came home with 3 new kitties.  The added bonus is that all 3 are SOOOO sweet and lovable!  It’s a bit hard to milk with a kitty intent on helping, but we are getting by.

Sarah

Sarah

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Katie

Katie

A few other random Red Gate Farm happenings, and some of the projects that have kept us busy this week (in addition to the normal unpacking associated with a move):

My first hay!  My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage.  It isn't much at around 150 pounds, but I'm pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

My first hay! My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage. It isn’t much at around 150 pounds, but I’m pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won't cooperate.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won’t cooperate.

My garden!  I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March.  Many of the seeds sprouted!  We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more!  There are plenty of squares that didn't grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.

My garden! I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March. Many of the seeds sprouted! We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more! There are plenty of squares that didn’t grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.  We also plan to expand on these beds quite a bit. 

Chicken coop got finished today!  I will have better photos later.

Chicken coop got finished today! I will have better photos later.

Fruit in the orchard.  Some of the trees seem to be having a problem -- blight maybe?--so I treated with some copper sulfate.  Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Fruit in the orchard. Some of the trees seem to be having a problem — blight or leaf curl maybe?–so I treated with some copper sulfate. Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn.  She likes to know what's going on at all times.

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn. She likes to know what’s going on at all times.

That’s it for now!  I’ll post more as I have time.  Tons of work to do around here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Page »