Sunday, March 31, 2013

The New Girl

Goat Song's Listen To My Lyrics. AKA, "Lyric"; in all her black and tan colored glory. :)

She's My Girl

Grande Ronde Rose of Summer. Quite possibly the best purchase I've ever made. :)

I've had her a full year now, and I STILL have yet to get a full body picture of her. -_- Summer has mastered the art of perpetual motion, and it's challenging enough just getting a head shot that isn't blurry. But I love how she has matured over the year. Wowzers, what a pretty doe. 

She's my girl, this Rose of Summer is.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Gift for Peaches

A week or two ago, I found a bulky package in my mailbox. I wasn't expecting anything, but I had a hunch as to what was inside. And I was right. :) One of my dear readers (yep, you all get that term) sent a gift specifically for Peaches. T'was a new fly mask. 

To explain a bit... Some of you who have been here awhile may remember Peaches' first fly mask, and the goofy pictures I posted of her (you can view that old post by clicking HERE.). When Mattie came along, I gave that red mask to her, and Peaches got a new mask that had pink trim. She wore that thing to death. I still have it, but it's so limp from use that you really couldn't use it any more. Peaches needed a new one, and before the warm weather, and flies, came back.

As it happens, the lady who makes these awesome masks is a reader here. And she surprised me by generously sending me not only a new mask, but one made in the newest style that she's created! It's been great! Temperatures hit 76 degrees today, and with it came the few early flies. So Peaches got to sport her brand new gift from a thoughtful reader.

So Kirby, here's for you. :) Peaches and I both thank you!

Lyric. I Call Her Lyric.

Does goat kid cuddling count as being busy and productive? I sure hope so, because that's been my day. This darling wee kiddo has been such a love, and I fairly swoon every time I look at her. ;) LOL. I've decided that her name is Lyric. Pedigreed name will be something along the lines of "Goat Song's Listen To My Lyrics". But right now that pedigreed name is bigger than her; so she's just my little Lyric. 

It's all good, this goat stuff. In the end, it really is...

Pictures coming soon. So stay tuned! :)

Goat Kids!

I woke up this morning with the strange sensation of "something's not right". 

The day had dawned absolutely beautiful, and the weatherman was predicting a high of 73F. Everything seemed calm and quiet, and normal. But there was still that little feeling of "something's not right". So I headed out to the barn. Lo and behold, that feeling, 6th sense, or gut instinct (call it what you want), was right. Jupiter had literally JUST kidded. Beneath her lay two tiny kids. One looked very similar to my preemie bottle baby, Sudden Distraction, that I had around last month, but this one was heavily spotted. And we're talking SPOTTED! Holy kohlrabi did it have color! It was a doeling, and alas, it was dead. And mummified. I've always said a mummified kid was something I hoped I would never have to deal with; it's been one of my worst nightmares (ultimate nightmare: having a mummified, retained kid that I have to help the doe expel in pieces. *shudder*). But this case wasn't as bad as it could have been... It looked like a fairly normal kid; just not fully formed. My guess is that it died 1 to 1.5 months ago.

The second kid was also a doeling, but this one was fighting to stand up! Whoop, whoop! She's jet black in color, with solid black ears, tan trim on her belly and legs, and the cherry on top are the sweetest tan colored badger stripes on her face. Be still my beating heart! ;) She's tiny though. Maybe 3 or 4 lbs. Granted, that's bigger than Distraction was, but boy howdy am I ready for some normal 8 pounders! Jupiter was well fed through the whole pregnancy, but for some reason all that feeding went into putting weight on her, instead of growing those kids. 

The little black kid is inside now, and will remain here until she's perky enough to be outside (which hopefully won't be long!). She's drinking from a bottle well and is currently napping. I've missed having a goat kid inside...

Monday, March 25, 2013

His Name Is Tank

Tank. A fourteen week old, male, purebred Great Pyrenees pup from strong working lines. 

I went and met this fluffy boy today, and had a blast getting to play with a puppy. :) Is he mine now? No. Will he be? Maybe... Just maybe. I know I should give y'all a detailed fill-in about my morning spent at a farm that has one thousand ducks all on pasture, and I'm itching to introduce you to Tank a bit more... But not right now. I'm tired. It was a looooong drive to the farm, and a looooooong drive home. I'm bushed, but I need to get outside to do afternoon barn chores, and get ready for someone coming to look at a pair of goats I put up for sale. After that, I await the arrival of my brother and SIL who are coming for a visit, and are bringing along their lab puppy whose name is, of all things, Tank. ;) 

So I'll just leave y'all with this teaser for now. I'm looking at getting a LGD pup for the place. I hope it will be Tank, the Great Pyr, but I don't know if it will be or not yet. I'll keep you posted though.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Run

I love to run. But not in the fashion that most people think. I despise that exercise form that involves fancy shoes, sidewalks, and paved roads. Don't give me that kind of running. I don't want to pace myself; don't want to be rhythmically pumping my legs as I stomp on hard surfaces. No, I RUN. 

It's a bit of a walk up to the old cow barn. The ground is pockmarked from cattle of long ago, and voles from last year. the dead grass from last summer stands gaunt and off kilter; blackberry brambles hide amidst it, waiting to snare unsuspecting ankles. Branches fallen from ancient oak trees lie buried beneath a layer of decomposing leaves. It's all uphill to the cow barn.

And I run this terrain. 

I got tired of walking to the cow barn. It took a long time. So I started running it. This is no mamsy-pamsy, paced jog. This is a flat out, something's-after-me, run. And I love it. I've been watching this fallow land of 98 acres for five years. I've studied it in all it's seasons. I know it every bit as well as I know the one acre that I live on. I can show you all the deer trails, where the Redtail hawks make their nests, where you'll find the most snakes, where the biggest nettle patch is... I can show you where the clay soil is, where it changes to sandy loam, and then changes to rich soil. I know where the oldest tree is, where the coyotes gather for a hunting spree. I can show you where the owls live, where the deer bunk down and sleep, where the marshes start and end. I know this land. And I run it.

I may not be the fastest runner in the world. If running on the road with someone, I'd probably get left behind. But if you want to race me home from the far corner of my neighbor's land, then you had better lace your shoes tightly; 'cause I just might leave you behind. I'll use the deer trails to my advantage, since I know where they are, and know that they offer the flattest running ground and have good traction on them. I'll take a shortcut past the cow barn, because I know a path is hiding there. I know where the holes are, and how to avoid them. I know where to jump the brambles. I know to follow the shallow stream in the marshes since I won't get bogged down by the rushes, which will happen if you try to run through that soggy ground any other way. I also know that there's only one way out of those marshes; where the rusty barbed wire has been cut. If you don't know that one spot, then you're going to spend a bit of time trying to find your way out.  

Running on uneven ground like this may seem foolish, and most likely dangerous, to many people. I could sprain my ankle, or fall and hurt myself. All this whirls through my mind as I sprint through tall grasses at breakneck speed. But I love this risk taking. I love the running. I love it that I can so effortlessly speed through open land and forest, and know where to place my feet. I know this land. For a long time I feared this place. These 98 acres. Bad things were always happening up here. We got lost, our dog got stuck in an illegally placed trap, I fell through a window in the cow barn and landed on glass; shattering it and cutting myself (long story; happened a few years ago)... I watched the land change, but kept my distance from it. Now I run it. I'm on that parcel of dirt most every day. 

Running through this wild ground is so much more fun to me than running on a road ever could be. I'll probably never be like my sisters who run up the road every day in practice for some 5K (or whatever those are called...). Long distance running doesn't agree with me. But sprinting through untamed land? Bring it on. This is my style of exercise. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Halter Broke

After all these months of failing at getting Peaches halter broken, I succeeded today. And after all these months of trying, it only took my 30 minutes today. I put the rope halter on her, and let her loose. She went wild at first, galloping, bucking, tossing her head... And then she found out that it wasn't so fun when she stepped on the rope! Thirty minutes later, the light bulb in her little head turned on, and she figured out that the pressure on her face meant she needed to move her feet.

She now leads like a dream, and follows you like a happy puppy. Why did I never do this sooner!?

Escaped Pigs, Sold Cows, and Snow???

If there's not a new blog post on here, then it usually means I was too busy to write anything that day. And life's been an interesting mix of busy, and "not busy" lately, if I may be so bold as to confuse you in such a manner. I haven't been "busy" in the usual way that I am... The weather's been awful these past few days, which has kept me inside most of the day, so I've been doing a lot of reading, researching, and plotting. Always with the plotting. ;)

The pigs, Mike and Sausage, are getting HUGE now that they're nearing their 6th month of age. But they're still not *quite* big enough for me to call the butcher. Just big enough to be annoying. -_- And they're getting bored. Who knew that pigs could get cabin fever??? A few days ago, they escaped and were found gleefully running around in the pasture. I was tickled to watch them come running like faithful dogs when I called them back, and with the help of a sister, we had them back in the pen in about 5 minutes. But, not wanting any more escape adventures, I took a gloomy, wet afternoon the next day and worked on switching panels out. Up until now, they had a 3' tall welded wire, hog panel that kept them in their bounds. Er, it was supposed to keep them in anyway. Turns out that pigs can jump roughly 4' from a standing position. Hoorah. Not. So the plan was to give them a 5' tall, welded wire CATTLE panel. I think that was the hardest job I've ever done, switching those panels out...

You see, I had to switch them out while the pigs were still in the pen. The door way is only 4 feet wide, the pen itself is 10 feet in length, and the panel is 16 feet long, and heavy! So which do you do first? Take the hog panel out and then put the cattle panel in? Or put the cattle panel in and then somehow get the hog panel out, over the 5' tall wall of menacing steel? And did I mention that it was raining during all of this? And the mud outside the pen was ankle deep because of all the torrential rain we had been getting? And did I mention that the hog panel had to be dug out because 1/3 of it was buried beneath deep-pack bedding? Or that I had 300 lbs. of snorting bacon making every attempt to get out again? Oh it was fun...

But I got it done. *look of grim satisfaction*

It took me pretty close to an hour, but I finagled that cattle panel in, dug the hog panel out, and then scuttled the whole length of that filthy welded wire up and over the top of the cattle panel. Make sense? Didn't think so... I barely knew what I was doing anyway. BUT, I managed to keep BOTH pigs in during all this hullabaloo! Twice, Sausage almost got out; pill that he is... Mike was as good as ever, content to sit and watch me make a fool of myself. By the time I was done, I looked like I had been in hand to hand combat with a mud monster. My jeans were utterly filthy, boots were caked with mud, hands were scratched up from the panel edges, I had mud liberally streaked on my hands and arms, my hair was dripping wet because I had forgotten to grab a hat and it was pouring outside, and I had mud flecks on my face... I wanted a picture of myself so bad. Hehe. It was great. 

Yesterday I went out to do afternoon barn chores, and upon looking in the pig pen I saw... No pigs!?!? The cattle panel was still in place, everything looked normal, there was just a lack of pork in the premises. This farm is gonna' make me go gray before my time, let me tell you... How on earth did those pigs get out!? And more importantly, WHERE on earth did they go!?

I looked out to the pasture, but saw no sign of them. So I hollered out their dinner call, which is the ever so original, "Pig, pig! Pig, pig!" Yeah, I know; I'm so creative with my calls. ;)

Shortly after my voice died off, two torpedo shaped forms came barreling up from the creek, running through the electric fence, which was on, and sprinting towards me as though the devil himself was on their tails. I was now facing two hungry hogs coming at me at high speed and I had no idea what to do! I had no food on me, no nothing! Sausage slammed on his brakes right before hitting me, and Mike swerved around me, unable to stop immediately because of the mud. Both boys grunted and squealed in anticipation for their food, and in desperation, I tried simply opening their pen up and seeing if by some random chance they would come in without being lured. 

Strangely enough, it worked. But once they were in, Sausage decided that if he couldn't eat grain RIGHT THEN, then he would find something else to wreak havoc on. His choices were me and the cattle panel. Great. I couldn't leave the inside of the pen because he was trying to root the panel up enough for him to get out again; but meanwhile, he was also doing his best to chew on me! Thank heavens for cell phones. I called my sister and sheepishly asked her to please bring some grain for the pigs... I was a little tied up at the moment. 

I spent yet another soggy afternoon reinforcing the pig pen still more. You could put a bear in there now without worrying about it escaping. Pigs have got to be the most mentally stimulating livestock out there. Let me tell you...

Aside from the pigs, I do have the news that Peaches finally sold! I was fearing that I would never find a buyer, seeing as the market is what it is right now (nobody's buying...). I'm really, really pleased with where she's going; she'll have a good home, and will begin her milking career when she calves in December. Yep, I have to get her bred before she leaves! So I'm currently aggravating working with an AI tech to see about getting that job done around April 9th, which is when Peaches' next heat cycle is. I'm sad to see my Peach Cow (her nickname) go, but with her sale I can now begin hunting for a replacement milk cow. It's time. I've found two girls that are in my budget. One more so than the other. Both are Jerseys, which I'm not hugely keen on, but it's what I can afford right now. One is a solid brown Jersey being sold for $400; she's only milking about 2 gallons a day right now though, which is one thing that's making me hesitant on her... Mattie was only giving two gallons when I got her, and I certainly had extra milk, but I wasn't trying to raise hogs at that time either. I don't know if I can get by for a few months with only 2 gallons a day. And the stress of the move may make her drop still more. But $400 is a right good price... Really can't argue with it. I'd have money left over to buy needed things for the farm; like fencing and alfalfa hay. The other cow is a lovely brown and white patched Jersey, who just freshened in December and is milking well. Her only downside is that she's $1,200; a good price for a cow like that, but slightly out of my budget if the sellers won't come down to what I can pay (which is about $900 to $1000). So we'll see who wins out... 

As I stated at the beginning of this post, the weather has been *dreadful* lately. We went from 65 degrees and blue skies, to 37 degrees, heavy rains, high winds, and of all things, we had a dusting of SNOW this morning!!! Will wonders never cease!? I wasn't amused at the sight of snow this morning, but was thankful that it melted off by 9:30am. Let's go back to the 65F weather now, please!

Not much else going on right at the moment... Still cleaning the cow barn out, no goat kids landing yet, and I'm spending my mornings on Craigslist, hunting for milk cows. In the end, it's all good. :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ignorance Ain't Bliss

I was tired last night. 

Not hugely tired, mind you, but still ready for bed by 8pm. To keep myself awake a little longer, I pulled my favorite book off the shelf and got comfy in a chair by the wood stove that was muttering quietly. The book in question was Morrison's Feeds and Feeding; the 20th edition, this book was published in 1945. I adore this book. Front front to back, it has a little over one thousand pages. It can be dreadfully hard to read if you're not in a patient mood, but when you slow yourself down and really read through it, you can find some of the most amazing tidbits of information. I've used it extensively for my own animals over the years; whenever I had a question about feeds or animal care, I would pull out my Feeds and Feeding book. 

The house was quiet, the dog was snoring, I was randomly flipping through pages in my book, slowing down in the section about dairy cows... Just reading whatever caught my eye. While flipping through, I happened to land on a page about hay feeding. Specifically, feeding timothy hay. I lazily began reading through the paragraph about it, seeing as that's what I've been feeding my animals for months now and knew I needed to order some more in the next few weeks. 

As I read through the old text on those yellowed pages, I went from sleepiness to rigid alertness. I gasped as my eyes roved the words before me. Heart rate shot up. I had to re-read the same sentences over, and over again before I believed what I was reading.

Like a phantom come to haunt me, the words created a tormenting funeral procession of a sentence.

It read:

“The unsatisfactory nature of late-cut timothy hay for dairy cows when fed continuously as the only, or chief, roughage, is well shown by in experiments by the United States Department of Agriculture. Cows broke down on average in about a year and a half, and died or became sterile, when fed Timothy hay for long periods without any pasture. Calves from cows fed thus were born dead, or else weak and usually blind, and rarely survive past a couple of weeks.”

To explain my plight a bit: I had been feeding Mattie, my Jersey cow, nothing but late-cut timothy hay for months. What's worse, she was off pasture for the last few months of her pregnancy, creating a double-whammy. Remembering that this was a book written in the 40's, I dashed to the computer to do some more research on this. Surely this is outdated, right? Cows don't have that problem with timothy hay anymore, right??

My fears were confirmed as I scrolled through pages on the internet... It was true. Late cut timothy was was extremely deficient in vitamins A and D, as well as being dangerously low in calcium and phosphorus. For a non-lactating animal who was at least getting pasture, this proposed no threat in the least. To a high maintenance dairy cow though, who wasn't being fed a supplementary hay, OR allowed on pasture, it was lethal. One article went on to state that cows often shows symptoms of pneumonia before they die from such a cause. 

I broke down. The symptoms were all so perfect... A dead calf, pneumonia, no pasture, no supplementary hay, straight timothy hay for months... I think I unwittingly killed my cow. 

I'm not 100% positive that this was the cause of Mattie's death, but I'm highly suspicious. What else could it be, to cause such a torrent of problems all at the same time? Why oh why didn't I read that paragraph in my book sooner??? Why didn't I buy any supplementary hay for Mattie?? 

By the time 9pm rolled around, I was exhausted and still crying. I crawled into bed, not caring that it was so early, and tried not to think about the fact that I probably would have had a healthy cow and calf in my pasture right now, had it not been for my own stupidity. 

Whoever came up with the phrase, "Ignorance is bliss", obviously never owned a dairy cow... 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Basic Broiler Challenge: Week ???

*Ahem*. I got really behind in doing the BBC didn't I? I'm surprised y'all didn't start throwing tomatoes, or ranting and raving madly, or just leaving! Do you want me to start reeling off excuses, or shall I just pick up where I left off? Hmm, I'm going with the latter choice.

But I will say this! It's REALLY hard to take pictures of a chicken single-handedly when the bird gets to 5 lbs. or more. And it's also hard to take pictures when it's raining non-stop. And this particular person doesn't like to blog when she doesn't have pictures. (oh, do those count as excuses??)

But I'm going to blog without pictures anyway. This is getting ridiculous, how long I've stretched this out!

So, where on earth did I leave off?? Hmm, looks like Week #6 was the last update you got... Ouch. That was November 1st!! But on that last post, the Freedom Rangers were each averaging 3 lbs. live weight, and they were officially off grain and on to their milk/cheese/sprout diet. So in this stretch of silence, what happened??

I'm going to spit out the piece of news that you probably want to hear the most: It worked. In the end, the alternative diet worked. And it worked AMAZINGLY. 

Things got really crazy after week #6 because I began drying my cow up, and the goats dried up. So I had to start relying on frozen milk, frozen cheese, and frozen whey that I had stored up. The fodder was also starting to grow slower and slower since we were getting into the cold months. But I had enough of everything to get me to week # 12.

So, week by week, what on earth happened with those birds!?

Let's start back at week #6 for a recap:
Weights at that time were 3 lbs. per bird in my group, and roughly 1.5 lbs. per bird in my friends' group.

I had no idea how much to feed these birds, or how much of each thing, so I was totally going on gut instinct, and watching the birds to see how they did. In the end, the fodder was free fed; meaning I tried to keep it in there at all times, so that they always had food in front of them. With the 25 Freedom Rangers, at 6-7 weeks of age, I was going through 6-8 lbs. of fodder a day. I didn't have a lot of cheese, since my dairy animals had just failed me (thank you 'o cow and goats! Right when I needed you! *insert unamused look*), so I only fed that to them 2x's a day, and gave 1-2 lbs. at each time. One gallon of milk made 2 lbs. of cheese, so it was easy enough to know that each gallon I got would create a day's worth of food. I alternated between the milk and whey, so that I wouldn't run out of either one too fast. For that though, I would fill a 1-gallon poultry waterer with a 1/2 gallon of milk and the birds were allowed to drink that. I experimented with taking away their water for a few hours at a time so that they only had access to the dairy, but I don't think I would do that in the summer time when the birds have heat stress to deal with. I found that the birds would only drink a 1/2 gallon of milk/whey each day; anymore than that and it would just sit and spoil.

Week #7:

The birds had officially been on the alternative diet for 2 weeks, and weights were as follows:

My group:
Average individual weight: 3.5 lbs.

Friends' group:
Average individual weight: 2 lbs.

Week 8:

My group:
Average individual weight: 4 lbs.

Friends' group: 2.3 lbs.

This is where things got crazy... The birds were eight weeks old, full feathered, and had minds of their own. They started flying out of their brooder boxes and getting into each others. If it wasn't for the weight difference, and the fact that my birds were bigger, there would have been no way to tell who's birds were whose! I was getting really stressed out with 52 chickens running rampant in my barn; it wasn't a good situation! I was on the last week in milking my cow and ultimately that's what caused a snap. I was milking once a day, and as soon as I turned on the milking machine and hit the point where I really couldn't leave the cow, in came 30 to 40 Freedom Rangers, all trying to get Mattie's feed!! This was an absolute no-no; birds of any sort are NOT allowed in the milking stall. I put my Freedom Rangers in a kidding pen that was empty, but had no where to put my friends' 27 birds! So I ended up having to give their birds back to them, and finishing my project with only my birds.

Week 9:
Average individual weight: 4.5 lbs.
Average group weight: 112.5 lbs.

Week 10:
Average individual weight: 5 lbs.
Average group weight: 125 lbs.

Week 10 was about when their appetites really began to pick up. Fodder consumption increased to an easy 10 lbs. a day, and they probably would have eaten more. I was no longer giving it as a "free feed" because we were now heading into the beginning of December, and my fodder was getting harder and harder to grow. Milk and cheese consumption stayed the same though. The cheese really seemed to make an impact on their weight gain; I noticed that without the dairy, they didn't do as well. Next time I do this, I would like to try experimenting with feeding more cheese; maybe 6-8 lbs. a day per 25 birds. Just to see if it increases growth rate noticeably or not.

Week 11:
Average individual weight: 5.5 lbs.
Average group weight: 137.5 lbs.

Week 12:
Average individual weight: 6 lbs.!
Average group weight: 150 lbs.

By 12 weeks, the birds were big enough to be butchered. They were the same weight that my Cornish X's hit at 8-9 weeks. It cost me $700 to raise one hundred Cornish X's in the traditional feeding manner (grain. Expensive grain.). Raising one hundred meat birds on the alternative diet would only cost $84. I don't know about you, but I'll take that second price over the first one. I went through a bag and a half of whole wheat for sprouting, and the milk was extra that otherwise would have been dumped because I had no room for it in the fridge.

So, where are those Freedom Rangers right now? Um... Wreaking havoc in my barn. *sheepish look* Yeah, they're still on the hoof. December turned out to be extremely busy for the local processors, and they couldn't fit me in anywhere until January. Then when January came, I didn't have the funds at the moment to be butchering them all. Time sort of just rolled by after that... And they're still here. Hehe. But personally, that really says something about the Freedom Rangers. With the Cornish Crosses, I am SO sick of those birds by 6 weeks. By eight weeks of age I hate them so much that it ain't funny. I've never gone more than 9 weeks with a Cornish X. The Freedom Rangers are now something like 5 months old, and they've been a lot of fun to keep around. The females should begin laying soon, and I suppose I really should get the males butchered before they figure out how to crow!!

Average weight at 5 months? 13 lbs.! These birds are HUGE!

All in all, I would say my Basic Broiler Challenge was a success. I set out to see if meat birds couldn't be fed more cheaply, and I found that they could. I want to order some Cornish X's (yes, even though I hate them) soon and see about raising a test batch of maybe 50 birds on the alternative diet. Since these birds need a higher octane feed than the FR chickens, I think I might see about giving them fermented grain as well, since that's such a high protein. Chicken sells well around here; I just need to figure out how to make it cost effective to raise them! And if this alternative diet idea works with the Cornish X's like it did for the Freedom Rangers, then this could be a very good side business to have along with the dairy...

So. Questions?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Hayloft Is Clean

In the cow barn, that is.

Took two days of sweeping, but I got it done. The entire floor was covered in a solid layer of rat droppings and oak leaves that the critters brought in. I also swept the feeding alley clean, and swept cobwebs off the walls.

The perimeter fence is almost completely unburied as well. I've left that job to my sister, and it looks like she might only have about sixty more feet to uncover. 

It's tiring work, and that's the gospel truth. But it's coming together. Slowly, but surely. We'll carve a farm out of this forgotten patch of land. It'll just take some time and sweat. But we'll do it. We'll do it... 

Fermented Grain: The Old Timer's Secret

Last autumn, I was told a little secret by an old timer.

Our conversation was done completely via the computer, as the gentleman lived in Alabama, and I'm here in Oregon. He raised nearly-forgotten breeds of cockfighting fowl such as the Plucker, Sweater, and Roundhead; and whether he takes part in that sport or not, I won't say. But his birds were beautiful, and the man knew what he was about when it came to livestock. He was old enough to be my grandpa; possibly old enough to be my great-grandpa, and that's what I was looking for. I seek out these old timers because of the wealth of knowledge these people have. They grew up in different times than what I know. And I want to know what they know. These older people are treasures.

Our conversation started because he mentioned that he fed only fermented grains to his animals and that was all, besides what they foraged for themselves. My ears perked at this; always on the lookout for a cheaper alternative to grain, I wondered what this whole "fermented grain" thing was about. He told me about it, and I was intrigued enough that I tried it that week. Now I'm hooked. And I thought I would share his secret with y'all too, since you can feed fermented grains to your meat animals, your laying hens, and your dairy animals, and not only will it save you some cash, but it does amazing things for your animal's health. The clincher for me though, was that when you ferment grain it raises the protein content to 18% to 21%. That bag of dried barley sitting in my barn is only 11% protein, which isn't enough to make milk, meat or eggs. It needs something to pick that protein up, and most folks have to add something like alfalfa, linseed meal, BOSS, or what-have-you. Protein is expensive. I don't like expensive.

So what is it, already!?!? Yeah, I hear you... :) 

In a nutshell, fermented grain is:
. Any grain you can lay your hands on
. Apple cider vinegar; raw, and with the "mother" in it.
. Water

Seriously, that's all.

Okay, let's start this off with explaining a small batch (I make a gargantuan batch, which I will explain shortly).

Pour some grain into a 5-gallon bucket. You can measure this out, but you don't have to. It won't spoil, because of the ACV. You can use whole grain, cracked grain, rolled grain, a mix of grains... The only thing I don't know is if you want de-hulled grain or not. I think it would be fine (considering how this works), but I have yet to try using something like hulled oats. But now that I think about it, I may have to try it soon, since whole oats are super cheap in my area. Anyway, I'm currently using rolled barley, just because that's easy for me to get, relatively cheap, and I was feeding it to my milk cow along with my meat animals, and the cow needed rolled grain for digestibility. 

Okey dokey, so you've got that grain sitting in the bucket? Good. Now, cover the grain with enough water that it's 3" to 4" above the grain level after the grain has absorbed some of that liquid. So basically, just cover the grain and if you notice that your grain absorbed everything, just throw in some more. I know, I'm an extremely technical person here. Should have been a scientist or something...

Now for the fun part. Put a glug of ACV in yon bucket. This is the part that makes people balk. "What on earth is a "glug!?" Sigh. I am the type of person who cooks by the "pinch of this, dash of that" method. I hate measuring. So a "glug" totally works for me. But if you are the kind of person who needs specific instructions, then try this: Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar in your bucket. If you filled it halfway full of grain, then use 1/4 C. of ACV. If you packed that thing full, then go with a 1/2 C. of the stuff. 

cover your bucket loosely and let it sit somewhere quiet. I just take my bucket lid and set it on top without actually sealing it. It's mostly just to keep invaders (hint, hint, you pesky chickens!) out and the grain in. You don't want to seal it because of the fermenting that's about to happen! Actually, that might be a kind of fun experiment to try... I did that with a bucket of molasses once. The stuff fermented inside a sealed container, blew up from the pressure, and went flying at least eight feet across the barn. And I missed the takeoff moment. -_- All I found was a mess to clean.

But there I go, getting sidetracked! 

So you've got your grain all wet and sitting somewheres? Alright, if the weather is warm (which it obviously is not right now; but spring and summer are coming!) then in 24 hours you should have bubbles a'bubbling in your bucket. That's what we're looking for. When you see the bubbles, then you know you've reached your goal! Fermentation!! Whoop, whoop! If it's cold, then it's going to take longer. How much longer, I can't say since I do not get the cold weather that some of you get! But with my winter temps dropping to 20 degrees (balmy weather to you East Coasters, right??) I was finding that it took 2-3 days before I saw bubbles. The bacteria required for fermentation needs warmth to really do its job. If you're using the 5-gallon bucket method, then you might think about bringing it inside to ferment. I promise it doesn't stink.

You would feed the fermented grain in the same quantities as normal grain. I usually pull out the amount needed, and let it drain for a bit since my dairy animals don't like eating wet food. The meat animals never cared. It may take a while for some animals to get used to eating it, since it *is* fermented after all... And wet. My cow balked at it for the longest time. My pigs adore it.

One thing you DO need to do, no matter the batch size, is to keep oxygen injected in your bucket. If you're pulling grain out every day to feed to animals, then that's fine. If not, then just give it a quick stir or two, and that'll do it. I *ahem* was wondering what would happen if no oxygen was injected into a batch... And I found that you get the world's most epic science project in mold growth if it's left stagnant. My experiments sometimes get a little out of hand... *sheepish look*

You can scale this idea up or down as much as you want. Like I mentioned earlier, I make a BIG batch of grain. I use a plastic, 55-gallon drum that I dump about 100 lbs. of grain into. It takes I don't even know how many buckets of water to fill that thing... And then I pour about a 1/2 gallon of ACV in it all and use a big stick to stir it every day. LOL. This stuff sits for a really long time, and the longer it sits the more fermented it gets and the better it is. As long as you don't have mold, your grain is only going to get better and better. The gentleman who taught me this always said that he got his very best feed at the end of winter, when he was scraping the bottom of his barrels and the grain had fermented so much that you had a hard time telling that it was grain. That was the stuff he used when he wanted a bloom on his animal's feathers or coat. 

So there you have it! By fermenting my grain, I've been able to go from paying $40 for 100 lbs. of 18% protein feed, to $15 for 100 lbs. of grain that will be fermented. And I could probably get that price down still more if I looked for better prices. 

To wrap this little tutorial up:
.Pour grain in bucket.
. Cover with water.
. Put in a glug of ACV.
. Feed when you see bubbles!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Had An Idea

So in case you hadn't noticed by now, I dream big. You probably came to that conclusion some time ago, but I figured I should throw it out there for those who are new, or hadn't caught onto that fact yet. Hehe. Sometimes my plans work out well, sometimes I learn what not to do, and sometimes I find that an idea has to go on a backburner for awhile, even though I may not want to.

Such was the case with one idea that I've been holding close for a few months now.

Back in October, I watched a beautiful video by the Farmstead Meatsmith about cutting up a side of pork. If you haven't seen that video yet, I would highly recommend watching it (click the second highlighted part of the previous sentence). Watching Brandon do his work, in the way that he does, was absolutely inspiring to see. He takes what most people see only as a gruesome and gory task (slaughtering/butchering) into something beautiful. This guy is more than a butcher. He's an artist. And one who knows what his passion in life is.

I watched all the Farmstead Meatsmith videos that I could. I read his entire website over. This guy was quickly ranking himself among my heroes in life.

A couple weeks after watching that first video, I brought home my first pair of pigs. They were only 10 weeks old, but I already knew who I wanted to butcher them.

I had an idea. 

I wanted the Farmstead Meatsmith to come out and teach a butchering class to a group of locals, using my two hogs.

Two months ago, I contacted Brandon and his wife about my idea. Would they be willing to travel all the way down here to my neck of the woods to teach a class, and butcher a pair of Tamworth hogs? They were more than willing. They were excited by the idea and gave me some dates to choose from. It looked like April 12th and 13th were going to be our days. It was going to be a 2-day event, and folks would get to learn how to slaughter a hog, and then everyone would get to learn hands-on how to cut a side of pork up. I was so excited about it all that I was fairly giddy. Dairying may be my top interest in life, but butchery has an extremely close second-place in my heart. Something about it just feels right to me; working with raw meat, making it into edible cuts and providing high quality protein for people. 

Then disaster struck. My cow got sick and then died. Leaving me with vet bills to pay, and a sudden lack of a way to pay my butchers. I had to call the event off... I will be using a normal butcher this time, who will do the job quickly and cheaply, but it won't be the same.

All is not lost though... I told Brandon that perhaps we can resume our plan in the fall. I'll have more hogs to butcher by then, and perhaps I'll have the funds to bring the Farmstead Meatsmith down. I sure hope so. I don't give up on an idea easily, that's for certain. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

LGD's: The Gentle Giants

Breaking Ground

Remember those pictures of my neighbor's old cow barn? Well guess what? It's about to be resuscitated. Yep, as of last Saturday, this farm girl got herself a big ol' barn, and 5 - 10 acres to expand her farm on!!

My neighbor came by last Saturday so as to work on the land a bit; check on some old trees, pull down some scotch broom, and see what was new in the forest. While he was here, I asked him for permission to clean out the barn and put it to use again, as well as asking for some pasture. My neighbor was delighted with the idea and has given me full permission to do what I like on the land; rent free. He didn't even flinch at the idea of pastured hogs. LOL. 

So now he and I are looking into hooking the electricity back up into the barn. The power lines are there, we just need the electric company to re-install them. Or at least, we're hoping it will be that easy. Meanwhile, my dad is considering ideas to bring water down to the barn from our nearby cistern. My most present task is to get cleaning. That barn needs it.

Today I spent most of my day fighting with blackberries. You see, there's a perimeter fence that runs along the back half of the barn, but it's overgrown by who knows how many years' worth of blackberries. I'm trying to unbury that perimeter fence so that I can make some minor repairs and make it livestock worthy. Once that's done, then I'd like to introduce some hogs into the area to dig those blackberry roots out. I feel good about the amount of work that got done today, though. Before I started you couldn't even see a fence. It took me quite some time just to find it, it was so overgrown. After a few hours, and with the aid of a sister (I knew those sisters were good for something!!), we're now about 2/3's of the way done. I don't know how old that fence is, but it's still horse high, hog tight, and bull strong. Amazing. 

Pretty soon I'll start cleaning the inside up. That part is still a bit daunting to me... I may have to call reinforcements in for a day. Many hands make light work, right??

Seeing the farm finally getting to expand is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I have room now to think about more animals, more possibilities, more ideas... But at the same time that means more responsibilities, more risks, and more stress. It's a trade-off, but one that I accept. On top of thinking about normal everyday tasks and upcoming summer projects that always pop up, I now have to think about the fact that I need fencing, a solar charger, livestock, some sort of predator control (whether that's a Nite Guard or an LGD, I haven't decided yet.), and the fact that time is ticking and the pasture is only going to keep growing in the meantime. 

But first things first. Clean the barn out.

I'm breaking ground though, my friends. Goat Song Farm is growing.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Watch For The Daffodils

I love grass. 

That may sound like a somewhat strange statement for a twenty year old girl to make, but when you're a grass farmer like me, then grass means everything. 

For the last 5 years, I have been learning everything I can about pasture management. When we first moved to the country, the grass on our one acre plot was hideous. Deficient in calcium, magnesium and potassium, the grass that did manage to grow was coarse, and was outnumbered by all the queen anne's lace that was also growing in the pasture. The most fertile spot in the pasture had 1" of topsoil. The worst spots (which was most of the rest of it) had absolutely none. The previous owners had horses on the land, and those animals completely tore the ground up. 

For the first couple of years, I had no idea what I was doing with the grass. We would usually just let the grass grow tall, and then borrow some sheep or some other critter to eat it all down before giving the animals back. Looking back, that was probably the best thing we could have done for the pasture. It was MIG (management intensive grazing) in a wonky, topsy turvy way as it allowed the forage to grow and the soil to heal. 

By the third year, I had found Joel Salatin's book, 'Pastured Poultry Profits' and learned what pastured poultry can do for grass. My pasture greened up so dramatically after that third year that I was hooked and wanted to learn more.

The average pasture in my locality can have 1 cow to an acre. Some areas have to do 1 cow per two acres. After five years of babying my pastures, balancing mineral levels, and watching the topsoil come back, I am pleased to report that my pastures can comfortably hold 2 cows and up to 10 goats on it, without sacrificing anything. I felt good about that fact until I learned that a local cattle farmer has gotten his pastures up to 3 cows per acre. His pastures are gorgeous, let me tell ya'. 

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 OSU Small Farms Conference. I went to three classes that day, and all had something to do with grass: Pasture Management 101, Pasture Management 201, and building a grass-based breeding program. I learned a ton of stuff there, and I thought I would use today to share some of the info with y'all. :)

If there was one thing that I would say totally made my day at the conference worth it, it was one tiny tip that one of the grass farming panelists gave to us attendees: Watch for the daffodils. 

Apparently daffodils and grass both start growing at the same time; so when you see the daffodils 'a blooming, then you know that grazing season is about to begin!! I was tickled with this tip. What a nice visual to tell me that it's time to get things ready! The lady also said that if you apply nitrogen fertilizers to your pasture (which I don't do; but to each his own.), then the best time to do it is 10 days after you see the daffodils. Applying fertilizer at this time can extend your grazing season by 3 - 4 weeks!

The above picture was taken yesterday. My daffodils bloomed two weeks ago, and my grass is taking off!!

Generally speaking, you want your grass to be between 4" and 8" when you let animals in to graze it. Any shorter than that and you'll stunt it for the year; any longer than that and the animals don't graze it as well and will stomp most of it down to the ground. If your grass is 3" or shorter, then you've overgrazed. 

I have three different areas in my pasture that all look different at the moment, due to how I treated them last fall... One is excellent, and one needs re-seeding.

Below are two pictures of the best part of my pasture. It's rich and fertile, and the grass is already 4" tall in most places. This is the first area to green up and last to dry up. It also grows the most forage on the entire property. (and yep, I took those pictures yesterday!) With this pasture, I didn't graze it until summertime, and the grass was in the 8" tall range. I was cutting it close, but the animals did super well on it. I also took the animals off it by October, and nothing has touched it since then.

Pasture #2 is in the mid-quality range. It's the second to green up, and once mid-March to early-April rolls around it rockets off and grows like crazy. I let the animals graze this ground until November though, and it shows. Some areas are only 2.5" tall (yeah, shame on me. Overgrazing!! Lesson learned though.) but most of it is right in the 3" range. 

Pasture #2

Pasture #3 has become what livestock people know as the "sacrifice pasture". If I needed the animals out of the barn for the afternoon, I shooed them into the 3rd pasture. It shows. 

Pasture #3

During the winter, you do not want animals on the grass at ALL. If they're leaving prints, or making mud, then they need to come off. I had a relatively easy time doing this; only occasionally needing the animals out of the barn. My grass was coming back nicely, and I had reseeded red clover in there.

Then Peaches happened.

So for the record, you do NOT want to see a picture like the above one. That grass is like a half inch tall. There's mud; see her feet?? Mud. And she's trying to graze?? That cow makes me cringe every time I go out. But, this is my sacrifice pasture, so I just have to sigh and know that this is not permanent. And that this pasture is going to need some TLC once that darn heifer gets off it. She's out there right now, because she can't be in the barn with the animals. So she's happy with her freedom, and I'm unhappy that my clover sprouts are now trampled. 

To show you what Pasture #3 COULD look like... Below is what's growing in my chicken tractor, which has been sitting in the same spot in Pasture #3 since October:

That grass in there is 4.5" tall, which is better than anything else on the property right now, and is lush and vibrantly green! Had I not put the animals on the 3rd pasture during the winter, it all would have looked like that. Oh well. It'll come back.

This leads us to another subject: What on earth do I do with my animals if they're not on pasture from November to March?

They get to laze around inside the barn. :)

This type of wintering out is known as the "deep bedding" method, and is what Joel Salatin does with his animals. Instead of cleaning the dirty bedding out, you just keep adding a new, deep layer of clean bedding whenever it's needed. The thinnest layer in my barn is about 1' deep. The thickest part is about 2.5' deep; maybe slightly more. Once the animals are put back out to pasture, then you get to introduce some pigs into the pen and those grunters have the time of their life tearing the bedding apart, starting the composting cycle, and making the bedding nice and easy to clean out.

This was my first year to try wintering the animals in the barn, and I have to say that I've been really pleased with how it's gone. The animals are all warm, dry, clean, and content. There's been no hoof rot from them wading in mud, there's been no churned up pasture (except the 3rd pasture which I sacrificed), and once the bedding is ready to be cleaned out, I will have a lot of compost to spread on my pasture which will increase the fertility still more! Whoop, whoop! 

I keep two large barn doors open for air flow where the animals are. The door that leads out to pasture has a cattle panel in front of it to keep the stock inside. As you can see in the picture, their favorite place to hang out is in the warm rays of the sun as they recline on clean, dry bedding. The panel bows inwards so that Peaches has shelter too, which works nicely. 

The daffodils have bloomed, and the grass is growing. It's almost time to put the animals back out on grass, and then put the pigs into the deep pack. I am so excited for it all that it's almost ridiculous. :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Posted Her On Craigslist

Now we'll see what comes of it...

She's going crazy being by herself here. I can't bring myself to keep her like this, when I can plainly see that she wants and needs the company of another cow. Some cows do fine by themselves. Peaches does not.

The Old Cow Barn

On my neighbor's property, there are quite a few old buildings. But there is one in particular that holds my attention, and that is the cow barn.

This old barn has been sitting quietly for at least 5 decades... No bovine has set foot in there in that span of time. It's just been sitting all these years. Being home to only mice and rats.

And let me tell you, 5 decades of silence makes for some impressive rat nests. :-/


All those sticks on the straw bales? That's a rat nest. And one of the smaller nests at that. I've counted 6 nests so far. The mice don't build those; instead preferring to live in old pots and suitcases (why there are suitcases in that barn, I have no idea...). This I know from experience, when I kicked said suitcase, and had a bunch of mice skitter over my boots. 

Rodents aside, the barn itself is in stunning condition. No rot, no rust, everything's sound... It just needs someone to evict the rats and bring a heart beat back into its walls.

Below is a picture of the feeding alleyway. It's a concrete floor where you throw hay, and then the cows stick their heads through the slats in the walls. There are 22 holes in all. And the barn is big enough to hold that many cows.

Closeup shot of the feeding holes...

Across the wall from the "big cow" pens (for there are two of those), there is a smaller area for calves; complete with two nice hay mangers, and a little stanchion for dehorning/castrating/medicating the youngsters.

On the far right side of the barn, if you go through a little door, you'll find two awesome dairy stanchions that are built onto sloping concrete that has a drain leading outside. To a dairymaid, that's enough to make her squeal in delight. Farther into that room you'll find kidding stalls, calf pens, and at the very end of the walkway is a very large calving stall. I didn't get pictures of any of this though, because *ahem* I'm a chicken and didn't want to squeeze past the biggest rat nest in the entire barn:

That's not a beaver's dam. The rats have built that, and did it relatively recently. I went back into that room last week, but only because I had a friend with me who wouldn't let me say 'no' (which was a good thing). I'm not afraid of rodents, mind you, but those nests are just creepy... And when I'm in the barn by myself? Um, thanks but no thanks. I'll stay in the open areas. 

Here's another fun part of the barn (and I say that with sarcasm):

I'm guessing that this wreck was once where all the meds and supplies were kept. Now the rodents have trashed it. (and yep, those sticks you see on the right side are another nest!) There's a lot of cool stuff in there though; I think I can see the top part of an old cream separator in that picture... It's a small room, and wouldn't take a huge amount of effort to clean it out. It's just when you first see it... All you can think to say is, "Wow." As you stare at the mind boggling amount of stuff.

Below is a picture of one of the "big cow" pens. This is the smaller of the two, and only has 8-10 feeding holes on it. The ground is pock marked from cattle hooves grinding it up, oh so many years ago... It's hard as rock now; leaving one feeling like they're walking on Mars; what with the uneven terrain.

There's also a hay loft that runs the entire length and width of the barn. Sorry, no pictures of that. This farm girl is afraid of heights! It's neat though. :) The barn also has electricity, and it appears that it used to have running water; whether that water can still run or not, I have no idea. Oh yeah, and there's also a decrepit cattle chute (unusable), and a farrowing pen and crate in the barn for pregnant sows. I had never noticed that until last week!

I've lived across the road from this barn for six years now, but never really thought about using it... It overwhelmed me, and I didn't like going in there alone. It wasn't until I went in there with my friend and together we REALLY looked the place over (okay, he did most of the looking over; I mostly just told him to be careful, and that he had better not do anything to disturb the rats!!) that the idea of fixing it up seemed doable. 

I don't know if anything will come of my wanting to fix the old cow barn up, but I thought I would at least share some pictures with y'all for now. :)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When A Farm Girl's Bored

It's pretty rare that I find myself "bored". It just doesn't happen! But today there was no way around that fact... I was bored. I'd read all my books twice over, it was pouring down rain outside, there weren't any barn chores to do, and I was suffering slightly from cabin fever. 

So I set out to remedy my problem.

I made pie.

It had been awhile since I'd done any pie making, so I pulled out some frozen cherries, and grabbed my MP3. My goal was to stay busy in the kitchen for as long as possible. 

I have to say that I accomplished that goal pretty well. Hehe.

I flipped my MP3 over to my favorite playlist and turned the volume up, up, up. Sometimes a body just needs to drown out everything else for awhile. ;) I listened to the bounciest music I had and lip synced along with the lyrics. 

My plan at first was to simply make the usual lattice-top cherry pie... Then I went to Pinterest. And of course you know what that means. Suddenly, the idea of one pie turns into lots of pies!! LOL. The cherry pie idea got switched into one dozen mini pies, so that I could play with the tops, and have cool serving size desserts for everyone. That worked out tolerably well... Frozen cherries always bleed horrendously, so my little creations kind of overflowed their bounds. But one can forgive a bit of exuberance on the pie's side when there are cherries involved, right?

I was honestly going to stop there. But then I saw the neatest idea on *ahem* Pinterest. Wait for it...

*waits for gasp from audience*

Oh come on, you have to admit that the idea of a cinnamon roll pie crust sounds absolutely amazing! So right there and then I decided I would also whip up a pumpkin pie just so I could try this crust out. :) 

So far the pumpkin pie looks good... It just came out of the oven a little while ago, and then I'll cut into it tonight. The cherry pies taste as good as ever. *innocent look*

It's probably a good thing that I don't get bored very often. Otherwise we would run out of baking supplies fast. But every now and again it could be a good thing. After all, what's not to love about pies inspired by One Direction and Secrets in Stereo?? Hehe.

All photo credit goes to my sister @ Emily Nicolle Photography. I was too tired from pie baking to take any pictures today.