Thursday, October 29, 2015

Killing almost done.

Number four of ten.

Today was the day!  I was hoping this was going to be the last of the sheep killing for the year.  It won't be but it was close.  One of my friends wanted 9 lambs and he comes to the house and we kill them and his dad cuts them up.  This is a lot more work for me but for Don, the nicest guy I know, I make exceptions.  I did tell him that we would need to kill our ram also.  As an added bonus he usually has to help me band and tag a few babies when we are sorting the sheep and today was no different.  I knew there was at least two babies without tags.  I had just ran them into the barn right before he arrived.  Zeke is proving just how smart a border collie can be today.  We went out to get the sheep and they were all the way down by the school house on the upper hillside.  So we walked down but the gate was at the top of the hill and the bottom of the hill and we were in the middle of the hill.  I was able to teach him how to climb up the rock jack and jump over the fence at the top.  It took some prompting but he did it!  First time ever for this trick.  I then just stood on the hill and hollered commands while he herded the sheep down below to the open gate and over to the barn.  His only mistake was letting one of the babies break ranks over by the barn and get trapped on the wrong side of the fence away from everyone else.  He had to go down and circle behind the baby and push it back to the herd.  Every once in a while he lets a couple squirt out from the edges.

We sorted the sheep using the fancy sheep chute and tagged and banded two new baby boys about three weeks old.  We sorted off fourteen boys and kept them in the barn then chased all the babies and mommys out of the barn.  This is where the killing doesn't end.  We have an all white ewe from a Katahdin ram that mysteriously died of a wasting disease. She is literally wasting away, very skinny with bones sticking out.  No one else in the whole herd looks like her.  She looks just like her father did before we had to put him down.  I will put her down in the next week and just take her body up to the boneyard.  His death is what caused us to go pick up all our new rams from their homes.  It allows us to see how the animals are raised and what their herd looks like before we purchase a ram.  We are sticking to that rule with all new rams.  Our current ram came from a beautiful home and has thrown wonderful babies, but he now has granddaughters in the herd and his bloodline is making everyone jumpy and scared all the time.  So it was time for him to go away, and with those beautiful horns he was not going to a new home. 

We then resorted the fourteen boys and put ten of them into the chute for processing.  Don's dad wanted to know how I killed them.  I said I had learned to kill them by slicing the carotid arteries with a fillet knife by stabbing them behind the trachea then turning the blade 90 degrees and hold the wound open so they bleed out without starving for air because the trachea is not cut.  I said someone had told me this is how the local Basque gentleman had taught him so I have been practicing it.  He said this is how a Kosher butcher would do it without the blessings.  I didn't know that.  Don and I hung each lambs head out the barn window and I proceeded to bleed them out.  I did the first nine without missing.  Perfect every time. Unfortunately, I was saving the ram for last as he is the largest of the animals.  He was getting very nervous by the time we snatched the last three boys out of the chute.  He tried to jump out on the last animal.  So I told Don we had to get him as soon as we finished the ninth one so he didn't jump out of the chute.  We got him into the small section of the chute and I tried to get in with him.  He kept trying to ram me with his very large horns.  It was not safe, then he tried to jump out by going over a gate and caught his back foot in the gate and broke his leg.  I had to go inside the house and get a 22 pistol and shoot him in the head inside the barn.  Next time the ram goes first and I will start taking the pistol out to the barn when I am killing so it is handy if needed.  He was a lot bigger than I had estimated.  He weighed over 150 pounds!  I have him hanging out on the skinning pole.  I will buy some suet tomorrow and then bone out his carcass.  We are going to grind him up and make mutton burger.
Our ram, soon to be mutton burger.

I make a great summer sausage that is even better with a strong flavored meat.  Its pretty good with plain hamburger but with a strong flavored meat it is divine.  Not sure why it is so much better with a strong flavored meat.  I just purchased a meat grinder for our Kitchen Aid and it came two days ago in the mail, all hail the great AMAZON! 

Pasture progress

Mowing lawn one last time for the year.
I keep getting behind on my blog posts.  I do try and make them in a timely fashion but it can be hard to sit down and write when I am on a TV marathon of one show, currently the Game of Thrones.  I love binge watching seasons at a time.  On Monday, I mowed the lawn for the last time this year!  As always I went the easy way and let 50 sheep into the yard and had them mow it for me.  It is far more efficient plus they will get the hillside I cannot mow.  No fossil fuels were burned in the grooming process of our lawn.  See how green I can be?  Annmarie has another word for it, but any good redneck will tell you that sheep are the best lawnmowers ever. 
Upper prime pasture getting ready for grass seed.

I had just gotten started on discing the upper prime pasture so it can be replanted.  The sheep and horses had pretty much stripped it down to nothing so it was perfect to work.  There was too much dead grass in places and did make it kind of hard in places.  I had to clean out the harrow multiple times as it kept building up clumps of dead grass.  Tuesday was supposed to be kill sheep day but it was raining so Don and I decided to move that to Thursday and I spent all day on the tractor dragging the disc around then the harrow.  It was wet which meant the tractor had to stay in four wheel drive all day, but the ground was easy to work.  I got it all ready for grass seed.  I had Richard come out and I asked him to give me pointers on using the seeder.  I am still nervous and not sure if spending 2-3 hours working on it then it being too heavy for my little tractor is worth the effort.  I may still seed by hand then run over it with the harrow.  The good thing about it only being four acres.  If I had to do large areas I would have to use equipment.  I still do a lot of things the hard way!  I realize that they are not always the most efficient technique available.  We are supposed to get more rain this weekend and my week is booked up solid with other things so squeezing in the seeding is going to be hard and yet essential.  It may have to wait till Sunday.  I am running out of good weather and time, a killer combination to beat. 

Upper prime pasture ready for grass seed.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sasquatch assist.

Who do you call when you need to open the barn first thing in the morning?  You call sasquatch!  No longer having a child at home has allowed certain clothing restrictions to loosen when it comes to errands first thing in the morning.  I can positively state that is not freezing outside yet. 
Sasquatch to the rescue.  
Annmarie grabbed my cell phone and rushed upstairs to our bedroom to catch this elusive creature on a digital image.  May many more assists happen in the future. 

I am still trying to catch the chicken killer.  Yesterday, I placed an egg in the trap and thought it had gotten eaten but no it had just been moved.  Tonight I baited the trap with some squirrel food.  I know it is a raccoon.  I found footprints down by the front ditch in the soft dirt this morning.  Now that it knows there is chicken inside that wooden structure it will come back every night looking for a way inside.  I found a couple of rocks that had been rolled out of the way so a tunnel was open underneath the chicken coop.  The raccoons did this a couple of years ago also.  The war has begun and I am to finish it. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Predators 3, farm 0

It has begun. War has been declared and I did not even fire the first shot. When your chicken yard looks like a feather pillow exploded it is never a good sign. I know why this happened, I started to like a certain breed over the rest. Both Annmarie and I really like the brahma chickens. They are pretty, mellow and fun to watch. I only had three white ones and two buff colored ones survive the brooder this year. I found the wings only of one, a whole body dead one and no body for the third one. This sucks as I really liked them.  The two buff colored ones are still alive, I saw them after investigating the feather explosion. I am suspecting a raccoon. I set the live trap but I had to bait it with horse treats as I could not find the sunflower seeds. I will try and pickup some sunflower seeds on Friday. The best part of the seeds is the cats don't eat them so it cuts down on extra animals in the trap. 

I let the cows into the car area. Unfortunately, I did not stake the panel nearest to the oak tree. Our bull lifted the panel and then popped it open and pushed the tree over so they could eat the leaves off the tree. I came home the next day and staked up the tree. Put some tree wrap around the tree and tied it up to the stake.  I put in three T posts and then put in a second fence three feet out from the first one!  It should now be cow proof!   I have high hopes that the tree will snap back and survive this heinous assault. 

I have started discing the upper prime field. I would like to get it planted but it needs to be ready for seeding. I keep getting distracted from this job. My third load this summer. It needs to go to the back deck but it keeps getting pushed back.  

I need to concentrate on my battle plans for eradicating the chicken killer!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Last of the gravel.

stepping pad so the gate can open and you don't have to stand in the mud.
I went out and did a few things with the tractor yesterday.  I had left it in the middle of the driveway with a bucket load of gravel.  I had a little bit of gravel left, about 1 yard, and used it to make a stepping spot so you can get off the concrete and open the new fence gate.  I also made a walkway so you can get to the barn lot gate without getting muddy.  I really do hope it is going to rain soon and this will be a needed feature.  The barn lot gets sloppy but I am hoping the gutters and downspout and drain make this much better.  Only actual rain for a few days and weeks will really make it known if this is the fix or else I need another ditch on this side of the barn with another drain line down to the front ditch.  We would like the area to not be a solid mud pit, but it is just a little soil over an entire rock bluff so not a lot of natural drainage. 

I forgot to shut the chicken run human door and the horses pushed it open and went into the run.  The only real problem with this is the door will shut behind them and then they are stuck!  I went out to get eggs and there they were stuck.  The funny part is they cannot get to any chicken food just the grass in the run.  They went out with a little coaxing. 

Gravel walkway to the barn lot so you can stay out of the mud and still see the horses.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chicken financials for the first nine months of 2015.

On average I had 21.4 laying hens giving me 9.3 eggs/day for a productivity rate of 44% (no change in productivity.  I have not changed my collection methods).  I am feeding on average 150# chicken feed/month for a grand total of 1350# this year already (I have started to chase house finches out of the chicken coop, sometimes there is 30 of them in there!  They are eating a lot of the food, I need to hang some clear acrylic strips on the inside of the chicken door so the chickens can push through but the finches cannot fly into the coop).     My monthly feed bill is $35.75/month (almost a $2/month decrease).  My feed costs are $1.58/doz (35 cent/doz decrease since last report) with my total cost of production $2.05/doz (a 36 cent increase in cost since last quarter, attributed to another dozen baby chicks I purchased with very poor outcome).  My chickens are consuming 0.53lbs food/egg produced and it is costing me $0.13/egg in feed, this is great and hopefully I can keep my feed costs down. I have collected 1694 eggs to date (142 less than last quarter, poor collection and breakage issues, Sarah was in boot camp this entire time.  I am the only egg collector now, I really need to get more timely).  Total feed costs are $322, supply expenses are kicking in, new chicks for a total of $111, I purchased another dozen chicks this quarter. .  I currently have a profit of $243 (finally  $20/month for labor) for the year. I use my fancy chicken spread sheet.  It seems like every year I find something that needs to be added.  There are a couple of calculations that need to be changed.  It doesn't count chick purchases as an expense against the chicken.  I had to make notes and now see if I can get Annmarie to make the changes.  Until that time I will continue to do the math myself. 

Chicken financials for first half of the year.

I decided it was time to catch up on some accounting this weekend.  I am on the last day of my vacation and am trying to get all caught up.

On average I had 21.5 laying hens giving me 9.4 eggs/day (I had a couple of mysterious deaths of some unknown illness), for a productivity rate of 44% (I like to be over 50% during the summer but I am getting some egg breakage because I am not getting eggs every day.  I need to improve my egg collection timeliness).  I am feeding on average 158# chicken feed/month for a grand total of 950# this year already (50# of this is baby food for the new chicks, which I just throw in here as an expense for feed.  ).  The ton of food I bought from BiMart is still going strong.  I don't expect to buy any more till next year.    My monthly feed bill is $37.64/month (only a 30 cent increase over lst quarter).  My feed costs are $1.93/doz with my total cost of production $1.69/doz (a 24 cent decrease in cost since last quarter).  My chickens are consuming 0.56lbs food/egg produced and it is costing me $0.13/egg in feed, this is great and hopefully I can keep my feed costs down. I have collected 1694 eggs to date (268 more than last quarter).  Total feed costs are $226, supply expenses are kicking in, I purchased bedding and new chicks for a total of %80.  I am keeping with the new charge of $4/doz I started last year.  I am not going to raise the prices.  I don't see me making as much as last year, but I am now covering expenses so I will let it ride for now.   I currently have a profit of $138 (an increase of only $54 for the last quarter, not even $20/month for labor) for the year.  My expenses for babies will be more this year because I kept killing them in the brooder for some reason.  Annmarie thinks I was getting them too hot, so modifications will need to be made next year. 

Plumbing is done for this year, hopefully.

Second time around is the real deal.
I went out first thing Thursday morning and installed the new piece of pipe and hydrant.  Ideally I would have had some end to end connectors and I could have glued this monstrosity differently, but I do not live next to a hardware store and I did not want to wait all day again for the glue to set up.  So I used what I had on hand.  The old pipe to the side used to supply the hydrant.  It was four feet to the east.  I decided that this was just one more thing to break and would just put it over the main line.  It also gives me a visual marker if I need to dig up the line.  I at least know exactly where one spot is located. 
After that quick assembly I went to the dreaded metal pipe in the backyard.  I crawled down into the hole and started digging away from the exposed pipe so I could get a wrench down low when I looked up and noticed that the spigot was on.  Not only was it on but its handle had become bent sometime in the last two years laying around.  I bent the handle back in place and actually closed the valve.  Could it be that the reason the hole filled up was because I did not shut the valve?  Could it be that I actually installed it correctly the first time?  I called down to the house and got the pump turned on.  No Leaks, NONE!  I had done it, I had successfully installed to outside hydrants in 1.5 days.  Luckily, labor is free when I do plumbing.  I used the tractor and placed 1/3 yard of gravel at the base of each hydrant to allow them to drain after closing the hydrant even in winter.  We don't use these much in the winter but they sure are nice if you do because they work and don't freeze afterwards. 
Side yard frost free hydrant.

Backyard frost free hydrant

I spread some more gravel over the new culvert in the barn lot.  I don't want it to become a mud pit in the winter.  I would like to put some more gravel on the back yard deck but I don't have enough.  I am waiting for another 10 yards to be delivered.  I was hoping it would show up while I was still on vacation but no luck.  Hopefully, it will show up next week or I will bug the supplier.  I always make sure I have lots of time available for these things.  When you live in a small town/country area there are only so many people to provide services and they are usually busy.  You cannot just get things the same day or even the next, 1-2 weeks is more often the likely time frame. 

Plumbing is for magicians.

Well, winter is almost here.  It can no longer be denied even by those of us who wish differently.  I managed to put off doing any plumbing all summer long.  The real problem is last year I said I would install the frost free outside spigot/hydrant in the front yard.  I had the hole dug and did not do it.  I had to fill the hole with straw to prevent the main house supply from freezing.  I then had to install a cap to the backyard spigot and then apply heat tape and insulation to keep it from freezing. I was again approached by the lovely wife to actually get the two frost free spigots installed this year.  To this end I paid my nephew to dig the back line up and redig the front spigot hole, as it had gotten partially filled in.  This was done by midsummer.  The holes sat there as stark reminders that I should actually do something about them.  I ignored them.  The backyard one is kinda in the way to get to the new deck area.  It is possible to drive the tractor past without actually ending up in the hole.  Wednesday was the day of plumbing.  I had everything I thought I needed already and decided that I would need all day to do this magical task.  I can do a lot of things, and some of them very well but plumbing just seems to elude me.  I have not done a single plumbing task correctly on the first try, EVER!  There is just something about it that I just don't get.  I now plan on simple tasks taking a day or two because nothing is going to go right and I will need to redo the project at least once. 

I wanted to remove this 18 inch section of pipe that actually had a threaded joint and a slip on joint.  I was going to add the hydrant to this section so if there was a problem I would be able to easily replace a small section of pipe and could take it out of the hole to work on.  It sounded like a good plan except I could not screw the pipe joint apart.  It was PVC pipe and it would not unscrew.  I finally resorted to a metal pipe wrench on both parts but still could not get it to unscrew.  I did however notice that I was stressing the joint and wondered if that would come back to haunt me later. I had all the needed parts so I attempted to glue the parts together.  No biggie as I had lots of old cans of PVC glue out in the shed, two from last year.  I tossed out four cans of dessicated and hardened glue.  I had to run to the local hardware store and thankfully they had some PVC glue.  I came back to the house and glued in the T piece and let it sit outside the hole for a few hours.  I then went to replace the backyard hydrant.  I needed to remove a four foot long piece of galvanized metal.  It would not budge!  I tried some WD-40 on the joint but to no avail.  I found a four foot chunk of pipe to slip over the handle of the pipe wrench.  This makes for some serious leverage, but after the few metal things I have broken this summer I went easy on the power and tried more finesse and steady pressure instead of reefing and swearing at it.  The pipe came out and I screwed the hydrant in without any complications.  Five minutes once I had the cheater pipe.  All plumbing jobs should be this easy.  I then went to town that afternoon to get all the PVC parts to do the job one more time.  I had plans to apply water pressure that evening but if there were any complications I would not be able to go to the hardware store and would have to wait.  The $10 was cheap insurance.  That evening I installed the PVC pipe and got it all tightened down and ready to go.  I called my mother-in law to start the pump.  Both our houses are on the same pump and there is no isolation valve so if one of us has a leak we both lose water.  She fired it up and all my joints I added held wonderfully.  It was pure magic, except for the large stream of water shooting out from the old joint I stressed with my large metal pipe wrench.  It had a jet of water leaking by a one inch section.  I had to call and quickly get the water turned off before the hole filled up with water.  I ended up having to dig the hole a little bigger to allow me access with a hack saw to cut the pipe.  I had no simple end to end glue joints.  I glued a hole new section together with parts of the one I just removed and let it dry in the house.

Then I remembered I had not checked on the backyard hydrant.  The entire hole was filled to the top with water!  The main pipe at the bottom of the hole has a 3/4 inch valve and a 90 degree elbow and a reduction joint.  I was not certain where the leak was at.  I am sure my gentle application of pressure with a four foot cheater bar had broken a piece of the 80+ year old pipe buried in the ground.  There was so much water that it was just going to have to wait until morning, plus it was starting to get dark.  I smelled like pipe glue and primer so Annmarie made me go to my mother's house and shower.  Plumbing is always painful, never easy and done twice at a bare minimum. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Winter is coming.

Milk shed area scrap cleaned up.
Well I spent most of Sunday just tinkering around the place.  I had volunteered for a closet remodel at the church rectory and it took four days to get it to the trim needed status but the lumber yard is closed on Sunday so I had time to get a little work done around the farm.  I went out and installed bungies on all the new gates in the barn.  I thought I had bolt on eye hooks but I could not find any so I had to use the threaded kind.  I am not sure how well they will hold up.  The bungies keep the doors shut even when they are not latched.  Annmarie had threatened to add a pull cord to make the new double door latch work from the outside.  She used some bailing twine.  I rearranged it and added another eye hook and used some parachute cord to make it all pretty and easier to operate. 
I cleaned out the milk shed.  We had stacked all the old wood earlier in the summer but there was a large trash pile by the entrance.  I tossed it in the pickup and picked up more nails from the ground.  I had a list of 34 things that needed to be done before winter.  I am down to 14 now but some of those are pretty big items.  They are going to have to wait till next year. 
I put the cow protein lick out by the machine shed so as soon as we let the cows in to the car area to feed them everything is ready.  Our two picked on alpaca have had access to our front yard and they come in every day and work on the lawn.  I may not have to do the last mowing of the year!  The larger black one is getting fat, the super skinny one is starting to put on some weight.  He looks better, doesn't look like he is going to keel over and die at any moment any longer. 
My baby chickens are still alive and doing well.  The hen throws a fit whenever I have to reach in and fix the water or add food.  Last night when I went out to the chicken coop my five new brahma chickens were roosting in the nest boxes.  I had to throw them all out while I was getting eggs.  That could be why the eggs are getting broken. 
I have put off installing the yard water hydrants so long that now they must be done.  Tomorrow is the big day I have to do some plumbing.  I cannot wait...

Milk shed crap.

They really are alive.

They want a treat.  They will come to me just calling their names.  I almost always have a treat!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Eureka baby chicks!

New babies!  Homegrown.

13 babies.
Last week Annmarie spotted a lone white chicken out in the barn hidden under some hay.  She was sitting on 20 eggs.  It was the beginning of the month so we had decided to give her 25 days to hatch any chicks.  Annmarie started checking on the hen every day to see if any chicks hatched.  Yesterday morning she found chicks!  Lots of chicks.  I was heading out to get the cow hay so there was no time to catch chicks.  We decided to do it later in the afternoon.  I hauled over 24 bales of hay and our neighbor brought the 25th one and stacked all the big bales in the machine shed. 
We went out to catch chicks.  The hen was not happy.  She kept trying to peck us.  Eight of the little buggers were stuck between the outside door and barn.  Annmarie was catching them when one dashed under the barn.  I had to try and squeeze past the outer paneling I installed a few years ago.  There was some loud discourse on the fact that I did not install a gate to get under the barn.  It will need to happen eventually.  I ended up crawling halfway under the barn and could not catch the chick it disappeared.  I had Annmarie run to the other side of the barn and the chick had snuck out.  She snagged it and we tossed the hen into the box with the babies.  We took them to chicken fort knox in the coop.  I had to go back out to the barn to get the dog and decided to throw out the eggs from the nest that had hatched and the unopened one.  I didn't want them to rot in the barn.  I heard the occasional chirp when I was grabbing all the eggs and kept digging around in the straw for any missing chicks.  I never found any and the sound was pretty infrequent.  I took the eggs out to the barn lot and started breaking them on a rock so they would get eaten.  Most of the eggs broke right open, but a couple just bounced.  Then I heard the chirping again from an egg I had just tossed down.  I had to peel the shell off a baby chick.  It was still alive!  It was barely moving.  I found another one that had to be peeled out of its shell.  I decided to take them back to the coop and put them under the warming light in the hopes that they would survive.  I do realize that natural selection was at work and I was violating the principles by helping the chicks out of their shells.  When I went out a couple hours later to check on the two stragglers one had survived and one had expired.  Not bad 50% survival rate.  Today all the chicks were running around chirping their little hearts out!  Free baby chicks!  Now I hope that more than 50% are girls and not boys. 
Alfalfa for hay.