Sunday, April 28, 2013

First quarter chicken financials.


My plan for making millions will not be involving chickens.  I have definitively ruled that out after Annmarie started making me keep track of the financials. 
For the first three  months of this year I averaged 17 laying hens/day, 3.4 eggs/day, 20% productivity (total slackers), 1.14 lbs feed consumed/egg produced, feed cost $0.37/egg, income $20/month, expenses $45.90/month, net income $35.05/month loss, profit to date $105.15 loss, amount of feed consumed 350#.  This is where it gets painful.  My feed cost per dozen eggs produced is $4.07 and total cost per dozen eggs is $5.08.  I currently charge $3/dozen for eggs.  No wonder I am at a loss. 

My chicken experiment is not going well.  I only collected three eggs tonight, 2 white and 1 green.  The sad part is there are only two chickens that lay white eggs and two older chickens that lay green eggs.  Tomorrow is day seven of the experiment.  I am thinking of culling 13 others and saving the rooster just so I will have one.  He looks cool, tends to keep the girls together and on track.  He also calls out when he finds a good food source. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Two more lambs sold.

I got a call today when I was trying to catch up on my sleep.  Someone was interested in buying some sheep.  This didn't really excite me as much as it should have.  I have had three separate parties interested in over 20 of the sheep and none of them are sold.  When the cash crosses my palm, I will believe you are interested.  They seemed excited and wanted a boy and a girl.  I told them the only boy I had was the "one- nutter", and he might not be able to perform.  They wanted to give him a try anyways.  Which is great because I don't have to get rid of him at 6 months old now.  He had one huge testicle and was very rambunctious after catching him.  One of the little girls that came with the parents picked out a white colored lamb ewe.  We spent about thirty minutes talking about the sheep and how to care for them.  We loaded them into the back of their minivan onto a tarp that had been thrown in the little cargo space.  We got the back hatch closed without the sheep jumping out of the car or into the back seat.  They took number 23B and 29R.  All six kids and two parents piled into the minivan and off they went into a new adventure. 

Zeke was the man today!!  The sheep were up on the back hillside when the people came to pickup the sheep.  He was sniffing and harassing them when I hollered from the front yard that he had "WORK" to do.  He came running back and headed for the sheep.  I then confirmed we were going to work the "SHEEP".  I walked out the ram pasture and was able to send him up to the top of the hillside, he circled the sheep then pushed them down and toward the gate into the ram pasture.  He then took them all the way to the barn and guarded the door, a whole five minutes of work and all I did was stand in the pasture and holler commands!  Truly amazing.  We are never ever not having a working dog as long as we have animals. 

We have started to clean up around the house.  I picked up tools and scrap wood today a few more days and it will all be cleaned up. 

The chicken experiment is going, but not producing the results I wanted.  We collected 11 eggs in the last two days.  I wanted to be at a dozen per day.  Annmarie worked on the chicken spreadsheet and added a feed cost/dozen eggs and a total cost/dozen eggs.  My average is around $5/dozen now.  Ugh.  I will get the financials posted soon. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chicken experiment now in progress.

Wind damage over winter.  Door now falling off.
Yesterday Sarah and I finally repaired the chicken coop enclosure.  The wind had blown the posts over during the winter and the constant slamming of the people door had caused it to come off its hinges.  There are rocks about 12 inches down and I could not sink the posts very deep.  We attached a board to the coop building and outer wall then added a second board to stabilize both sides of the door.  It is pretty secure now.  I want to do a quarterly chicken report but the chicken tracker is acting all funky.  It wants the data from one month only to be the years values.  When you add the second month's data it changes the previous month to match.  Annmarie will have to give it some TLC (10 minutes of magic) to make it work correctly.  Once that is done I will get the abysmal 1st quarter report out. 
Fixed!  Support added to building.
I locked the chickens up last night.  Today we got a whopping 5 eggs, not that great for 17 adult hens and 7 teenagers trying to lay eggs.  I have hope and the experiment is going to go on for seven days.  My iron barrel trough I use to catch water runoff in the chicken yard has a hole in it!  It was a hand made trough from forever ago.  I will drag it out and toss it on the scrap pile.  I have the other half over by the wood shed so it will just get relocated. 

I finished the upper fence today.  Another 300 feet done (almost done, it needs stays but I don't have any yet, not till late May or June) and ready for animals.  Tonight, Monica and I went up on the hill and relocated the electrical fence straight up the hillside.  It opened up another 200% of pasture for the sheep.  On a plus note, all that fencing in the yard gave great respect of the white fence to the sheep.  I forgot to plug in the last two strands of fence and the sheep never even tried to push past it!  They just saw an evil biting white fence and stayed away.  This time I remembered to plug the electrical connections together.  This should buy me a couple more weeks.  I will start working on the next 300 feet of fence next week.  I need to dig out the weeds, remove the bottom three strands, straighten half the posts, build a rock crib then tighten the top four strands of wire.  Most of the woven fence is approximately the same height, so I am just going to set the top four strands at the newly completed neighboring height and hope the woven wire fits.  If needed I can add a single strand either above the woven or at the top of the fence to make up any difference.  I called a guy about buying a lot of the sheep, the price is only $1/lb live weight for lamb no matter the age (as long as it is under 1 year old it is still lamb).  So I renewed the craigslist ad.  I didn't change the price but next week I will lower the price on craigslist.  I plan on butchering a couple myslef this year.  I would like to do that in about 6 weeks.  The sheep need to fatten up. 

New cattle guard decoration plans.

Fancy wheel fence in the making.
I needed another project because I don't already have enough!  Years ago when we lived in Moscow, ID there was an old farm house outside of Pullman, WA on the road to Lewiston, ID that had an iron tire rim fence.  The farmer had collected them over his entire life and welded them into a huge fence that was over 1/4 mile long.  It was gorgeous!  I loved it and always wanted to do something like it.  I talked to Annmarie about doing it front of our house but it is about 250 feet of fencing and I didn't know how long it would take me to find that many tire rims. 
Wheel fence will go from left of picture to right side on either side of cattle guard.
I had mentioned my desire for a tire rim fence last year to the owner of the metal scrap yard.  I had noticed he was saving iron rims at the scrap yard.  Even at scrap metal prices I knew it would be kinda spendy so I had been putting it off.  The scrap metal yard is cleaning up and getting rid of "junk" in an effort to clear enough space to build a shop.  So I went over and collected about 3000# of steel tire rims!  They are going to go on either side of the cattle guard out by the road.  This will set off the drive way very nicely and still keep the animals inside.
Goose checking us out for nesting spot.
We had a couple of geese come by the other morning to check us out.  We figure they were looking for a nesting spot but our ram pasture is pretty busy with all those sheep so they didn't stay long. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fencing again.

Creek crossing with no fence in place.
 We put up the temporary electric fence on the back hillside.  The yard deal just did not work out.  I still needed to cover the creek crossing and about 30 feet of fencing on the hillside.  It took three tries of stringing the fence to get it the way I liked it.  That doesn't sound so bad but the hillside is very rocky and it was hard to find places for the poles to go into the ground.  I am sticking with the cow panel concept for creek crossings.  It is just easier.  If needed the panels can be lifted and moved fairly easily (doesn't take hours on end).  I got the upper creek crossing done and then used some wire mesh to cover the last 30 feet of the electric fence. 

Creek crossing with fence in place.

I then went up on top of the hill and started working on getting the barb wire moved. I rolled up the bottom strand and cut it loose from the fence.  There used to be several rock cribs on the fence eons ago but they have disinegrated into a pile of rocks with the occasional piece of wood sticking out.  I needed one to pull the woven fence tight.  Luckily, right were I ran out of woven fencing is where an old rock crib used to be so I implemented my new rock crib plan and used a cow panel.  I used a 12 foot section and formed it into a circle and then bent the cut bar pieces around their neighbors.  It is mighty sturdy.  It took a lot more rocks to fill than I expected.  I had to toss rocks for over 20 minutes to get it full and the rocks were right next to the new crib. 
This is the design I saw when I went and picked up the cows in Antelope, OR last year.  They didn't add the wooden post but I like nailing the fence to wood so I added it.  My total cost is $20 for this crib, not bad at all.  The sheep finally came out and explored the back hillside.  We will see how they do overnight. Tomorrow, I will finish getting the other two wires removed and then I can raise the four remaining strands and attach the woven wire.  Once that fence section is completed we can run the electric fence straight up the hillside and open up about 400% more pasture than is fenced now.  We opened the gate and are going to allow the horses to roam the upper pasture.  The fence won't keep the sheep or cows in but since the horses won't cross the creek and don't usually try the fence we think they will be okay. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Electric Fence Fail

Steve posted a picture of the labrynth he created with the electric fence, and described the challenges of containing the sheep in a relatively small space with it.  What he failed to tell you was that he had surrounded the entire house with the electric fence, which is all in all, not so bad, since the idea was to let the sheep into the part of the yard we wanted them to eat, and no other part.  But, he did not leave a path for humans to get out.  The only ingress or egress was over a laid-down portion of the (turned off) electric fence.  Bear in mind that this fence is a net, and is too long to step over when laid down.  Also bear in mind that I wear healed boots to work, and that I usually come home with my hands full.  You can see where this is going, can't you?  The fact that the charger is not on the side of the fence that is accessible from the house just adds to the comedy factor.

Yesterday, I came home and noticed that vast portions of the electric fence were not as I had left them that morning.  Sarah was home sick, so I had left her inside with the dogs (they have access to grass to do their thing, and turned on the fence as I left the yard.  Something had obviously gone wrong, so I went to the end of the house, pulled two stakes and laid down a portion of the fence.  Mind you that I did this with my briefcase, purse, and groceries all in my hands.  As I was stepping on the fence, I could feel it grabbing at my shoes (netting, remember), and was trying to step carefully.  Apparently I was not stepping carefully enough, because I was about half-way across the net when it grabbed my foot and held on.  Yes, I went down.  Unfortunately, I went down when I was close enough to the porch to catch myself on the edge of it with both forearms.  It's better than my chin, I admit, but dang!  That hurt.  Oh yeah, and I spilled my coffee too.  So, being the understanding and supportive wife, I called my husband, who is of course, at work in the Tri Cities, and explained to him that is was not a good idea to not allow for an easy path for people to enter and exit.  He will plan better next time.

On another, note, Pilot Rock is under a flood warning until noon today.  This does not surprise me, as I watched our creek rise nearly a foot in 15 minutes as I was cooking dinner last night.  It was pretty impressive.  Monica and I went out and raised the panels that Steve had supposedly made easy to raise.  Not so much.  The panels are held together with carabiners, and they had shifted a bit so that it took us about 30 minutes, and much silent swearing on my part to get the clips off and the lower panels removed.  They had already begun to collect debris, and were bowing out in the direction of flow, which only made things even more interesting.  Eventually we prevailed, but it was not as easy as advertised.  But, the fence is now clear of the creek, and the creek is still mostly within its banks so no harm, no foul.  There is a log that is collecting tumble-weeds and creating a wide spot, but it's too heavy for me to move, and I can't get to it to get a chain on it, so it's going to have to stay where it is for a while.  I'll have Steve take a look when he gets home.

Continuing the ramdomness, we're still feeding.  The sheep ate an entire bale in about 45 minutes last night, and were still hungry.  I fed them more, along with the horses and the cows.  The cows had been ignoring the hay, but now they are breaking into Mom's yard, so they are getting fed too.  If they don't start behaving, they may have to move to another pasture, but for now, we're still feeding every night.  It's kind of odd because everything is green, but apparently there's not much real food value yet.  The sheep are all pretty scrawny.  Hay and grain should fix it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Biting Fence.

Portable electric net fencing.
 The electric fence charger came yesterday.  We ordered an all in one unit designed and made for Premier fencing.  They do mostly sheep gear and are a working sheep farm.  Great products, worth the price.  This is a self contained solar charged electric fence charger with batteries, switch and clamps all in one heavy duty aluminum watertight box.  I wanted to hook it all up and see how it worked so I strung it out in the front yard.  Needless to say there were some issues. 
Solar powered with custom metal box.
 I did read the directions this time.  I had to finagle the fence around to get the extra strung out so that it was all off the ground.  I got it up, the charger on and the sheep in the yard.  I then waited to see what would happen.  The sheep would bump it and then jump 2-4 feet sideways.  The real trouble was all 50 sheep would shy.  I had a 20 foot tunnel that caused the sheep to bump someone into the fence.  The teenager panicked, typical teenager, and started running down the electrified fence.  Stupid idiot got physically tangled in the fence and ripped down 40 feet.  I had to run over and turn it off and physically unravel the lamb out of the fence.  I now have straight sections of fencing.  Zeke accidently hit the fence and you would have thought he got shot!  He squealed and ran away and followed me around for the next two hours.  The cat didn't like it either, although she just yowled and jumped between the hot strands.  The sheep did get used to it but they are rough on it.  I need to put the charger on the opposite side of the fence away from the sheep.  They knocked off my cables once. 
Solar powered with batteries and fence generator self contained.

We took the pickup in to be serviced.  Not taking it to a shop for years kind of makes the little things pile up.  $2000 later it runs like a new vehicle!  I was quite surprised by the smoothness and having the passenger side mirror working again is a nice bonus. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Really, there's more?

Yesterday morning our mother-in-law called to say the cows were outside the freshly completed fence and heading for the bulls and the road at the bottom of the pasture.  I said a few choice words as that section of fence was just completed last week.  Zeke and I went out to herd the cows back to their pasture.  Annmarie had to stop and help and Zeke needed a redo as he pushed the cows away from the gate while I was opening it.  Eventually, we prevailed and the cows ended up where they belonged.  I started looking at the fence trying to figure out how the cows got out.  I forgot to install one wooden stay near the apple tree so upon inspection I remembered why the stay was not installed.  There were two large sheep sized holes in the woven wire with four intact barb wire strands above it.  The cows had crawled through the fence!  I fixed the holes and added two stays to stiffen the fence.  The cows have not escaped since the fixit job. 
Egg with NO shell, just a membrane.
Sarah found this cool egg out in the chicken coop the other day.  It had no shell but an intact membrane.  Everything is there but the shell.  Pretty amazing.  We are still not getting very many eggs.  I counted chickens today there are 17 adult hens, 7 five month old babies and 1 rooster.  But I am still only getting 2 eggs a day.  I need to fix the chicken yard fence and then I am going to lock the chickens in the yard for a few days and see if the egg numbers don't improve.  I just need to fill the waterer and fix the fence.  The babies should start laying next month.  I cleaned out the baby area today and bleached the walls and made a new sleeping stand.  I bleached all the food dishes and installed a heating lamp.  The babies should come next week from D&B, 2 dozen pullets.  Tonight I filled in the baby area with wood pellets and filled all the nesting boxes with fresh wood chips.  All in an attempt to get the girls to lay in the coop. 

I went outside to get some dirt to take to work.  We made elevated planter beds and I was supplying the dirt.  I went to hook up the trailer and noticed the electrical pigtail had been ripped off.  I rewired it (it still doesn't work, I wasn't sure what colors went where) and hooked it up to the pickup.  After three loads of dirt I noticed a new dent on the fenderwell on the left side.  After five loads I noticed the flat tire!  So I had to change the tire, using the handyman jack I almost could not get the tire up in the air.  Too much dirt in the trailer, I was hanging off the end of the bar to get the jack the last couple of inches.  I drove to work at a whopping 45 MPH, dropped off the trailer and took the pickup down to the shop.  I am having them fix the passenger mirror, tail lights, brakes, new shocks, transmission and it dies at idle for no reason.  They should call me on Monday with the damage.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fencing frenzy stymied.

Really it goes on forever and ever...

Phase 2 of fencing.
I went up on the hillside to do a little more fencing.  Our temporary electric woven wire fencing shipped on Monday.  So we are are trying to install all the metal woven wire we own to maximize the area covered by the temporary electric fence.  It was cold and windy yesterday but I decided I had better work on fencing anyways.  I went to the top of the back hill and rolled out my last large roll of scrap metal wire.  Unfortunately, I had not made it up to the top of the hill when I was burning so I had to clean up the fence by hand.  There was a lot of dead debris in the fence line and I had left the pitchfork down in the barn.  I just used my boots, a piece of broken wooden fencing and my arms.  I cleaned up about 300 feet of fenceline.  I stopped when I got to the end of the woven fence I had unrolled on the ground.  I then started to take the three strands of bottom barb wire off the existing fence.  I didn't get it all loose before I had to go get ready for work.  I need to install a rock crib at the end of the woven wire so I can tighten that section of fencing, detatch and roll up bottom three strands of barb wire and raise top four strands and then install the woven wire then just tighten it all. 

While I was musing and working I decided to boycott all future wooden rock cribs.  It takes me about 16 pieces of split rail to make a single wooden rock crib.  The current price for a rail is around $8 each.  So each rock crib costs around $128.  I need to build 6-8 each time I run up the hillside, at a total cost of approxmately $1000.  Plus, I need at least 9 wooden posts to cross the bottoms at $15 each for a total cost of $135.  There needs to be a gate below and above at a cost of $125/each or $250.  Add in one roll of smooth wire at $85 and around $100 for woven wire.  Oh, and don't forget the three panels to cross the creek for  $75.  Creating a grand total of $1775 to run a subdividing fence up the hillside.  Now it did not cost me that this time because I used on hand split rail and tied into an existing fence across the bottoms.  But due to labor and costs I am going to use the cow panel method of rock cribs.  You just take a 16 foot cow panel and cut it in half.  Now bend the eight foot pieces into circles and tie it to itself with its own exposed wire ends.  Tack in one wooden post (an old one from the ground) fill with rocks and you have a $14 rock crib that will not rot as fast as a wooden one.  So I am guessing the next subdivision will cost around $700.  I can substitute a piece of cow panel for one of the gates or save another $110 and just use cow panels for both gates and cut the price down to $600.  $600 seems a lot more reasonable.  I would like to subdivide up the hill four more times.  Once that is done I may even separate out the hillsides from the bottoms to allow us more flexibility.  We need to be able to rotate the animals around so that the pastures all have time to grow back without any livestock pressure. It is getting there. 

Phase 2 of the fencing I went down and walked the fence line headed up to the old well.  In the picture of the bottom pasture above the reconstructed fence would go almost to the power line on the left hand side.  It has woven wire in place for the first 400 feet.  I would just need to install a new H-brace at the end of the woven wire, tighten the wires and add one strand of smooth wire and about 25 metal T-posts to fix this fence.  I would need to cover the metal gate with a cattle panel also.  This would let us use the new electrical fence for the other two sides only. Coincidentally, this would be where I would want to subdivide back up the hill. Not going to happen this year, next year’s project.

 It has been very rainy here lately, which is good because we need the moisture.  The only problem is the ticks like a cool wet spring.  I was looking down at my leg and saw a tick crawling up my pant leg while on the hillside.  That was yesterday, and I am still thinking every itch is a crawling insect on my body.  The dog also had a tick on him, so I treated him with tick medicine.  I don’t like ticks. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fencing and organizing.

Fresh snow in April!
We had a productive weekend.  It has been raining for several days so I was authorized to burn weeds.  My track record in the past is a pretty grey when it comes to using fire as a cleanup tool.  Don't get me wrong it works great, I just tend to burn down some "extra" stuff.  It was actually raining on Saturday when I started to burn, I had to get a cheap yellow plastic rain jacket to stay dry.  It was almost perfect burning weather.  I would have liked the weeds to be a little drier but eventually the wind started to really blow and that made up the difference!  I burned out about 80% of the fence line that needs woven wire.  I ran out of propane early and had to run to town to get more.  I came in from burning for dinner and Annmarie informed me I was not answering my cell phone.  I reached down and no cell phone was on me.  After dinner while it was still light we went back out and traced my burn path.  I lost it 20 feet from where I stopped burning.  Luckily, it stopped raining during dinner and had just started when we found the phone.  It survived. 
Hillside fence completed, upper portion.
 Kelly came by on Sunday and we went outside to work on fence despite the blowing wind.  We split all the wooden stays we could from my pile next to the road and loaded up on tools and tackled the hillside fence.  We strung three more strands, installed all the stays, erected a gate and completed the upper 16 feet.  Panels across the creek are the only thing left.  I have the panels they just need to be drug over there and installed.  By the time we finished the wind was howling!  It was easier to walk uphill then downhill.  I sprung the door on the pickup trying to get inside.  It took me almost a minute to get the door shut.  It was crazy.  We opted to quit fencing for the day and went into the old house to organize my tools and to see if there really was a floor.  A couple of hours later all the tools were put away.  The used toolbox I got this fall has tools in it now!  I used the wooden draws on the new dresser for bits and pieces and screws to get them organized.  My screw shelf was overflowing.  I am going to start putting bolts and misc in the the dresser and just screws and staples on the shelves. 
Hillside fence completed, lower portion.
Now the drawers just need to be labeled so I can find everything.  We did install my second fluorescent light (from my sister's garage) over the workbench and plugged it in tandem with the other one so the wall switch operates both.  The lighting is much better now.  Our sheep pasture is very short.  We need a solid week of warm weather to get the grass to jump up and grow.  Since that is not happening I am going to use the last large roll of woven wire I have to go across the top of the hillside from the newly completed hillide fence.  We just purchased 450 feet of electrified woven wire fence on spikes and a solar energizer pack (panel, charger, battery and case) to electrify the temporary fence.  We are going to start moving the sheep out into the unfenced pasture.  There is a lot of grass out there just no good fence to keep the animals inside.  If we keep bordering our good fence we will be able to expand the area the electric fence covers. I ordered everything on Saturday (97#, thank goodness for free shipping) so it should be here this week.  I will go check the scrap metal yard today for more woven wire, it is going to become my habit until I have a mile of rolled wire, a weekly constitution. 

Kelly has offered to help me out a couple of days a week when he is up working at the base.  So I might be able to get the fencing done in a month with his help.  If I do it alone it will take me about 2-3 months.  We feed him well, plus he doesn't even have to pay me for the exercise regimen I put him through.  I guarantee he can lose 10-15 pounds over the summer helping me out on the farm!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Processing improvements.

Skinning/washing pole and cutting table.
 Yesterday was a productive day.  Kelly, from work, came out to the house and we worked on installing a pole system so we can skin out and wash off an animal carcass.  I put it near the chicken coop so we could get a hose to the area for cleanup and it is out of sight from the house.  So if you are inside the house you cannot see it.  There were a couple of old small power poles stashed on the property so we used them.  I may have to shorten the chain so it is right next to the cross pole.  It will give us a few more inches of lift.  The poles are sunk into the ground three feet so they are pretty sturdy.  We reused the old wood bolts and washers from the foot bridge that was replaced last year.  The 45 degree pieces are from the trumpet vine arbor that got broken from the ice sliding off the house roof.  I am trying to repurpose as much stuff as possible so we don't have to buy new. 

The cutting table is a stainless steel top from a restaurant remodel that Lee is doing and he brought it out for me.  I happened to have some cedar left over from the new foot bridge so we used cedar legs and supports to make the new feet for the table.  I still have to install three braces about 18 inches off the ground but we used up all three drill batteries and needed to wait for a recharge.  So after a snack we opted to go up to the boneyard and shoot guns instead. 
Just installed poles and farmer me.
 The weird thing was the sheep carcass I had just taken up there last week was gone!  A few tufts of hair was all that was left.  Yet there was a whole dessicated possum that had been untouched by the predators.  I guess everyone likes lamb. 

I found another piece of old equipment out by the CRP field.  I will try and drag it down to the scrap pile after I figure out what it used to do.  Just looking at it I cannot tell.  I am pretty sure it is missing a bunch of pieces so it is most likely going to be scrap metal.  There was an article this week in the local newspaper about theives stealing old scrap metal from farms and selling it.  The sheriff's solution for this problem is for the farmer/land owner to sell the scrap themselves before someone steals it.  A very pragmatic solution for a problem that you cannot police.  This was why we moved all the aluminum irrigation pipe near the house last summer.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I will roundup the last of the pipe this year so it is all in one place. 
Stainless steel cutting table. 
I would like to install a little deer netting around the newly installed apparatus and plant some pasture grass seed.  I need to protect the seed from the chickens then as it grows protect the new sprouts from the sheep.  I can hopefully get that done this weekend. 

Now I need to start back in on the fence and making some more fence stays.