Farmer Engineering

When something works do it a lot!  We were so pleased with how the second turkey coop worked out by using dog kennel panels that we decided to make one for the chickens.  Ya, ya, I know….. so much for the projects being over with.  There’s always something.  After all, there was some empty space…. it had to get used! Because of the “help” the boy goats were being while setting it up, I took a full on jolt from the electric fence!  Thanks boys!  I could feel it run through both arms.  Makes ya jump and cuss!  6700 volts!

We are messing with the idea of having a “by invitation” business here, as well as hatching and raising our own birds for chicken, eggs and turkey.  Because we have so much room, we thought we could include some friends, co-workers and ex-clients (Financial advisor turned chicken rancher!  The lassos are really tiny.).  They get the most awesome meat and eggs organically raised in Colorado, and it, in turn, would pay our feed costs.  Other than a bunch more birds to process (and maybe pigs), along with some general bean counting, it wouldn’t be much more than we are doing now.  Stay tuned!

So the process with these additional coops happen thusly:  Hatch chicks, put the chicks in the warm brooder for 4 weeks until fully feathered, transfer them to the new grow-out coops until they are about 80% the size of the rest of the outdoor flock so they don’t get beaten up too badly, then transfer them to the main coops where the existing grown up birds get processed and sent to freezer camp.  This goes for both the broilers and the layers.  We also have the chicken tractor that we would likely put the “store bought” fast growers in. It can handle up to 30 at a time.

So, we may at some point put together a website/JAZ Farm Facebook page listing times to sign up for the number of birds wanted.  Eggs will be whatever we can provide and ramped up if needed.  Turkeys will be hatched and ordered in the spring for November harvest and we can add to the menu as we go.  A work in progress for sure.  Now that everything here is built and works, I figured I needed something to do with myself.  This might be fun.  If it isn’t…. shift gears.  This is the one result of the spring retreat that resulted from staring at and thinking about something long enough.  After all, it’s not like I don’t know how to run a business.

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In memory of Miz Katherine the barn cat.  Got badly bitten by a coyote.  Left her at the vet this morning.  Wherever you are, may there be mice.

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Imported Labor Out In The Field

We wanted to be able to let the two little boy goats graze and mow down the garden area where we will be putting in an orchard.  They evidently like the vegetation because they have absolutely mowed down the little pasture they are currently in, goatheads, bind weed and all!  In order to do that we needed to make one part of the fence a bit higher to dissuade the little jumpers from jumping, and mount a gate so they couldn’t push it over and escape.  This is almost a two acre enclosure with all the best salad bar fixin’s so they aren’t likely to want to leave, but the worst things always happen if you leave it to chance.  Luck favors the prepared, so we prepared.  Of course it took most of the day.  The day is done.  Dozer and Tank are loving their new job…. eating anything and everything.  They will be left to their devices throughout the summer.  As the orchard progresses we will just cordon off the areas I don’t want them to be in with portable fences.

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The broiler chickens are coming along well.  They have been pretty easy this year.  We are looking at moving away from the Cornish Crosses (aka Frankenbirds) to start hatching out our own heritage birds.  We have primarily Buff Orpingtons for layers and they would double well as meat birds but we are also going to try Jersey Giants that were bred to be broilers.  They take longer to grow,  but that will free us from having to order chicks anymore.  At this point we have the stock to breed our turkeys and layers.  The heritage broilers will come later this year.

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AAA92339-B392-4B1E-9D9E-6039A24B7E06Our newly born turkey babies are getting their wing tips and starting to become a bit more sure of their legs.  A couple more weeks and they go out to their grow out pen.  We are incubating about 18 more.  Turkeys lay seasonally and we have seen a marked decline in egg laying.  This last batch in the incubator is probably our last turkey clutch until fall.

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6D753C4A-2921-4E74-AE7F-6CCD3AD04E3BThe little oinkers are getting less and less scared everyday.  Today they came outside the hut to eat and did a few laps around the grounds to see the new big world before running back inside, falling down and taking yet another nap.

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So spring is in full tilt.  All of the garden beds are ready for planting.  I need to install the remaining drip irrigation, but that’s pretty easy.  We are expecting cool weather with a chance of rain everyday next week.  I have to teach a tomato growing class next Saturday and that will be the end of my professorial tasks for the year.  Oh ya, we suspect our little doe, Ginger, is with child.  Maybe we will have babies in the fall!

Now We Can Turkey To Out Heart’s Content

As I mentioned previously, it presents some difficulties when trying to introduce new turkeys or chickens to an existing flock.  These birds are a food source for us, but I was NOT going to put up with blood spattered bird fights like we’ve had with our roosters.  So in order to solve the problem, we now have two turkey coops.  One will house our breeding stock:

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The other will house the babies.  The chicks we hatch will grow out in their own fenced in area.  As they will all be destined for freezer camp at some point, we will just not have any out there during the winter – Thanksgiving being the perfect processing time.  The breeders have an indoor coop but the grow-outs have an old pig hut that wouldn’t do much good in a blizzard.

The new pen is made of dog kennel panels from the local stockyard supply place.  I was so happy that this went up easy.  The guy at the supplier laughed when I told him it was going to be a bird cage, as these panels could sequester a bull! (Yes I over build –  but then again nothing breaks now does it?)  My only injury was dropping one of the panels on my foot (Bruised!).  But!  No blood was spilled in the accomplishment of these tasks!  A rarity indeed!

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NO VACANCY!

JAZ Farm is officially full up.  There is no vacancy and no more room at the Inn – unless you want to sleep in the camper!

The farm is set up in sort of a “U” configuration.  Permaculture dictates that you lay out your place in zones: the house area being Zone 1, the parts of the homestead that need daily attention (like gardens and livestock, etc, thus the shortest walking distance away, being Zone 2, and Zone 3 being things that require less attention, like the orchard and pasture, etc.  We call our daily routine in zone 2 “doing the stations of the cross”.  Go outside and deposit compost, walk over to the coop and get eggs, take care of the boy goats, tend the pigs, and make sure everyone has food and water and is healthy and happy.  Then take a walk around to the west to feed and water the donkeys, then the turkeys, then the girl goats.  After breakfast, go out and work in the gardens.  Do it all again in the evening.

As of today, all the stations are full again!  After having a conniption because my piglet supplier had forgotten me and promised an entire litter to one person, she called and admitted she had forgotten and felt really bad!  GOOD!  Evidently, she has a new 4 month old girl spawn.  Remembering back the 24 years ago that happened to us, I was willing to be a compassionate grandpa figure.

Anywho, she held two little piggies back for me.  As usual, with farm things, I didn’t expect to be getting them today.  At 2:00 this afternoon I found out they were available.  At 5:00, they were in their pen!  I scrambled to rake out the hut, lay down fresh straw, get to the feed store to get something for them to eat, and get water in one of the buckets.  Then off I went in my little POS run around car with a dog crate in the back. Got there ok, and it is always fun to see the mom who sprung ’em.  As usual, she was the size of a Buick and endowed in a way that would make Stormy Daniels blush.  Would guess momma sow to weigh in at 6-700 lbs.

We were also going to get a “gilt” (baby girl pig) to keep for future breeding, but the breeder didn’t have one due to forgetting about holding them for me.  But, after seeing her pregnant future mommas, she told me that there will be many available around the end of June.  We aren’t in a hurry and that should work out fine.  Considering the scarcity of pork that is on the horizon, I’ll take what I can get.

These are the youngest little guys we’ve had (6 weeks).  Today was weaning day so they have never been away from mom before.  If you have ever done the rhyme “This little piggy went to market, etc., etc.” The one that is the little toe:  “Went Wee Wee Wee all the way home”, must have been made up by a farmer.  They SCREAMED all the way home.  I think I need to go to an audiologist.  We’ve experienced it many times before, but there is something about a freaked out pair of baby pigs, in a dog crate, in the back of your car, that really drives the point home.  SQUEAL!!!!

So JAZ Farm is full up.  The tally is thus:

  • 2 and sometimes 3 bipedal humanoids
  • 2 Labrador Retrievers.
  • 2 Barrow piglets (castrated males)
  • 2 Nigerian Dwarf boy goats (bucks)
  • Two donkeys
  • 3 Nigerian Dwarf girl goats (does)
  • Half a dozen Bourbon Red turkeys
  • 35 laying hens
  • 26 broiler chickens
  • 8 turkey eggs cooking in the incubator
  • Depending on the day anywhere from 2 to infinity barn cats
  • Half an acre vegetable garden and a work in progress fruit and berry orchard

That ought to keep us plenty busy.  If you need anything take a number and we’ll try to act like we are concerned.  Leave a message, someday we’ll get back to you.

Tomorrow I’m going to have to go out and rig up one of the dog fences around the pig hut.  These little dudes probably don’t even weigh 3 pounds at this point so they can likely squeeze through some of the fence holes.  They are secure enough for now, but once they get over being freaked out, they will start exploring.  Right now they are even shorter than the lowest electric wire 12 inches off the ground..  Thank goodness they grow fast.

Here are some initial pictures-  Not very good ones as they kept trying to hide under each other.  They weren’t feeling too photogenic.

PS:  Zina found out we got them and drove all the way out here to see them, just walked in the door.  Could have predicted that one!  Let the worrying and fussing begin.  She loves the creatures!

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The Piggie Count Down Has Commenced! Turkey Babies Are Cooking.

Because of all of the potential for a food disaster in the mid-west due to all of the flooding, the grumpy farmer has heeded that warning.  My sleep schedule usually follows the sun these days.  Rarely am I up past nine, and usually awaken around 4 am.  Laying there this morning, I started thinking about what this spring flooding (which NOAA says is just getting started) will mean nationally.  Bottom line, meat, bread, eggs and Doritos are going to be rarer and more expensive.  Keep in mind that Smithfield Foods, that was one of the largest pork producers in the country, is now owned by the Chinese.  If pork, in this example, becomes more expensive to produce, that company will likely supply its own country of ownership first.  After all, the Chinese don’t have any pretense of following the fallacy that we have of some kind of “Free Market” System.  One article I read referenced our Secretary of Agriculture who said that up to a million calves could already have been lost in Nebraska.  Meat will never be cheaper than it is right now.  Go buy it, freeze it, smoke it, can it or Jerky it.

Because of this, I started shopping for oinkers on- line, on my iPad, at 5 am on a Sunday morning.  By 7:30 I had a response and have secured 3 pigs to be picked up in about two weeks.  Piglets get weaned from their mothers at around 8 weeks so they have a couple weeks to go.  We will get our usual two that will go off to freezer camp in the early fall, and we are spending a little more money to get a show quality female to keep as farm pet and breeder stock.  We had one previously, but I couldn’t handle her because of my back injury.  Now that we have some more infrastructure, and I’m back to living horizontally, we are going to likely try to breed her later in the fall when she is full grown.  Pigs take 115 days to give birth so it stands to reason that we will have piglets next spring!

As long as we can get corn, some feed, and the produce and bread scraps we get from a food bank, we will be able to stay meat sufficient.  We can produce pork at a fraction of the cost of the grocery store, it’s organic, anti-biotic free, and it’s non-GM feed.  Besides!  Piggies is cute!

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The incubator is up and running.  We are cooking up some turkey babies.  We will candle the eggs next weekend to check to see if Mr. Tom is doing his job correctly.  Whichever eggs show themselves to be fertile should arrive as fluff balls in 28 days.

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Between planting, animals, brooding out this year’s chickens, finishing the hail covers for the gardens, the impending visit from Zina’s brother and his wife, teaching gardening classes at a nursery near our old house, and trying to finish a weaving project, things have been anything but dull.  When people are on retreat, don’t they usually just sit and stare at a Lotus flower?  I think I’m not doing this correctly.

Behold!  The grumpy farmer man teaching the city peoples how to grow food for the Zombiepocalypse!

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It’s Spring and We Are Back To Normal…..ish.

The animals are all out and about.  Ross the Ferrier was here to give the donkeys a pedicure, the goats are hopping, the chickens are chickening, the little roasters are downstairs growing by leaps and bounds, the tomatoes are loving the grow room and the turkeys are laying a bunch of eggs!  Still looking for pigs, but it’s still pretty early.

We have a pretty good handle on the “cycles” of the Nigerian does.  April won’t just be known for April Fool’s Day (Both my father’s and BIL’s birthdays) and tax deadline day, and, I guess, Easter. It will also be JAZ Farm goat breeding season.  First up will likely be Cumin and Dozer.  After that, we may wait awhile for the others in order to get them on a spring kidding schedule.  If it takes, she will kid at the end of September (155 days).

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In the picture above, Cumin is the one on the ground.

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Above:  My fave.  Dozer

When we raised our first turkey flock, it was with the intention of hatching their eggs and using them to provide a meat source.  I’d have to do way too much infrastructure work to have cows, and we aren’t trying to feed a multitude.  Ground turkey is quite good and has made a great addition to our pigs, and chickens.  In the last 6 weeks or so, the birds have been getting their turkey on.  We get a few eggs a day and we have been scrambling them.  Tasty!  We held off on incubating them because they were eggs from very young birds and an, ahem, inexperienced and clumsy Tom.  Now that they seem to have their groove thing going, we are collecting eggs and will be putting them in the incubator this coming Sunday.  That way none of them will be even a week old.  They are supposed to be viable for up to 10 days, but anything longer than seven days and things get iffy.  It would be fun to let the hens raise their babies, but we have found, and the literature confirms this, that their motherly instincts aren’t too strong.

Of course, if we have a new dozen birds hatch at the beginning of May, we need a place to raise them once they come out of the brooder.

I did a stupid thing last night.  We went out to dinner at our local taco joint.  Because I’d been working pretty hard, I downed a couple of large glasses of iced tea.  The caffeine kicked in and I lay in bed not being able to sleep.  Zina wanted to know where and how we would raise the new birds up.  It was exactly that that my mind latched onto and I spent the night trying to figure it out! (Obsess much?). That’s my thing.  Thinking things over and over until it’s perfect in my mind before a single board is sawed or screw driven.

Fortunately, we figured it out.  When all is said and done we will have 4 different coops and a chicken tractor.  This time the answer will be made of dog kennel chain link panels and a hog shelter we already have.

I have once again been working myself to exhaustion.  It must be spring. I have been meeting my Fit Bit steps goal without any trouble.   All is well and this spring is FAR wetter than last so the gardens will have a fighting chance vs the severe drought we faced last year.  Plants will get planted. The orchard will get developed.  The broiler chickens will get raised.  The goats will be bred.  The layers lay with epic volume.  The donkeys do their donkey thing, and the farm will do everything we have hoped it would do when we drove the first post to make a dog run 6 years ago.

Of course, we are expecting March snow this weekend.

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And Just Like That…. It’s “Summer!”

It’s a mud hole here.  We still have drifts big enough that we have to keep the does penned up so they don’t escape by going over the fence by running over them.  BUT!  Where there are no drifts, it is starting to dry up!  YAY!  I am so sick of slop.  Of course, after the 70 degree weather we are going to have this week, we have predictions for snow this coming weekend.  Hopefully, it won’t be enough to mud the place up again.  I’m here to attest to the fact that that bomb cyclone was a SOB.  All of our support goes out to the Nebraskans and all those living in river basins and drainage areas.  They are getting water and flooding like Noah and the flood.  We have the BIL and the SIL coming next week and it would be inconvenient to have the Detroit suburbanites come out and have to slog through the mud to meet the donkeys.

We took the boy back to college yesterday.  He was on spring break but I’m not sure he thought it was much of a break.  We picked him up sporting a wicked chest cold.  He had JURY DUTY that took up two days (fortunately he was able to convince the attorneys to let him go – although he was in the pool of preferred candidates going into the last hour), and he spent most of the rest of the week sleeping and re-charging from being sick.  Oh well.  It was a break.  I never got to do much during spring break either…. oh ya, “Hey boy!  Find a job!”

I’ve been Fit-Bit training.  Both of our doctors don’t seem to understand just how many steps we get in in a day just by doing chores and taking care of things (“You need to get cardio in, in addition to the farm work,” they say.  Look doc.  Have you ever even BEEN to a farm??).  So I had to find out.  The first day I wore the new leash, without doing anything out of the ordinary, I had 8625 steps in for the day.  You can set whatever daily goal you wish, but 10,000 steps is that new thing “they” tell you to aim for.  One additional walk up and down the driveway would fill that shortage. The difference here is that one is usually hauling something or pulling something at the same time (Feed bags, tools, wagons, water buckets, poop – you know….. the basics).  I’d say we are good.

The race to get the hail guards done in time for planting is ongoing.  After today, I have 11 of 21 finished.  If I cover one with screen per day, I’ll have them done in roughly a week and a half.  Planting is the mid-to end of May so as long as we keep drying out, we should be all set.  It needs to dry out and firm up as we need to have a semi come in with a load of planters mix soil for the new beds and the orchard we are building.  I have been teaching gardening classes in the city.  Ironically, this next class is all about raised beds and drip irrigation.  Something I know a thing or two about!

We embarked on the hail project mainly because of the drought last year.  The challenge here is the increased intensity of the sun at a mile above sea level.  Last year we had extreme drought that dried everything out and got the best of us.  I gave it some thought and decided that having a cover that we could throw sun-shade cloth over would help tremendously (It works pretty well in the greenhouse).  This year though, is the complete opposite of last year.  The mountains have “mountains” of snow which will likely make our spring thaw the normal violent hail/rain/tornadoes we normally get.  It will be nice to have the shade cloth, but I suspect the hail screening will be the real hero this spring.  I think the screens will work great.  I still have to cover the rough edges so the sun shades won’t get hooked on them.  I’m thinking of globbing on silicone caulking to provide a nice soft edge.  We’ll see.

The grow tables in the basement are filling up.  In the next day or so the plants will all be transplanted from their cubes into the grow-out pots.  Then the next round of seedlings get started, including hundreds of onions.  I go through at least 15 big bags of potting soil a year to get everything started.

Now that the ground is firming up I can finally get to the greenhouse again.  Chicken poop compost is on the agenda for the beds along with the new drip irrigation plumbing for the 9 new beds we are adding.  I’m excited to try out my new in-line fertilizer doser that mixes liquid fertilizer into the drip irrigation lines so the plants can be fed automatically.

We are on piglet search for the spring and our new broiler chicks arrived last week.  All is bustling here once again.  It’s nice to not be contending with retirement, selling a house, unnecessary conflicts, building a barn, having surgery……….   just farming.  My self-imposed JAZ Farm ashram retreat, such that I’m allowed, has been the ticket.  The head is clearing up.  I’m not the same person I was (better for me and my family – the three of us) so some folks will see some serious differences.  For me they are the right answer.  Others will simply have to adapt.  Not my problem.

Weaving, unfortunately, is on the back burner these days.  I have these great napkins on the loom, but finding time to get there and throw the shuttle has been a bit difficult.  Just the way of life on the farm.  It’s spring!  Even the garlic, wheat, and dandelions are coming up!

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