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Catching Up With SlowMoneyFarm

May 20, 2015

Apologies to regular readers for the slack time in posting. There are only so many hours in a day, and unfortunately sometimes blog posts don’t make it into the day. I’m trying to remedy this with some warm weather porch blogging – the middle of the day when it gets warm and slower tasks take time.

Porch view overlooking critters on a nice day.

Porch view overlooking critters on a nice day.

The last few weeks have been full with starting more seeds, mowing, building pens, routine chores (that aren’t always routine) and a host of other chores.

Pullets are on grass during the day in a mobile pen that Connor and his friend Charles made (with a little guidance in problem avoidance). Two more need to be made soon! That’s going to take some 2×4’s for lack of scaring up some scrap lumber, so before that a couple rabbits need to go to new homes…ah the farm juggle begins anew!

Have a filter on the truck that needs replaced – had the money set aside when a neighbor’s child had seizures, and they needed a ride home from the hospital. Water bill is pressing from helping the same family – but we’re blessed to be able to help. Like everyone, sometimes it’s stressful getting everything covered.

The two more mobile pens are needed for goslings and rabbits. The replacement batch of goslings have been eating, drinking and growing for two weeks…and are ready to start learning about the outdoor world with grass. Some cut grass put in their pen was enjoyed, so the clover and mown grasses are going to be a good thing! At the same time, protecting them is good, and right now the pullets need a pen too.

Annabelle - one of two Boer X Kiko cross goats. They're eating grass and weeds!

Annabelle – one of two Boer X Kiko cross goats. They’re eating grass and weeds!

In a barter exchange, two young Boer X Kiko goats joined the place. Annabelle is blonde and white, while Chuck, renamed Cabrito, is red. He is pretty small for his age, but they’d been wormed. Despite chowing down to the all you can eat grass buffet (after insuring they both had CDT vaccinations), he especially appeared thin. As a young wether (he’s been neutered), he should be gaining weight. He’s been treated with wormer, but just made a change. He’s being treated for five days for coccidia, and hopefully that will give him a slick coat and maximize growth. Annabelle doesn’t look as rough, but she’ll get treated too. Both had gotten good care, but coccidia is a problem for young, growing animals.

Yesterday after a bout of rain, four young pullets looked a little rough also. Feathers puffed up, thin, looking tired. They are separated to a ‘hospital pen’ to be treated, fed some extra feed and in a week or so reunited with their buddies. By separating them, and seeing signs before they get sick, a small amount of medication gets them right, rather than more or possibly losing them when they look *sick*. Most may look at them and see nothing wrong, so could think they’re being treated for no reason. In comparison to their normal, and to their flockmates, they tire quicker. They scratch a little then stand hunched over and feathers don’t look as slick as they should, indicating they aren’t grooming themselves as normal. Like the goats, this is easily fixed with a few days of TLC and some Corid to treat coccidia.

Corid is not dispensed randomly or without thought. At just over $90 for a gallon, it’s not something that is given constantly, but when an animal or birds needs it, they need it. A dose is under $1 – if an animal isn’t worth a dollar it won’t be here!

Diva enjoying a nap in the shade.

Diva enjoying a nap in the shade.

Fleas started moving in on the dogs – and they were sprayed for comfort also. There are many good flea control products on the market – I’ve tried several with sometimes limited success. I saw a bottle of Absorbine Ultrashield – a black bottle of spray commonly used on horses for flies. It’s also labeled for dogs for fleas and ticks, and is my choice for horses. I bought a bottle for fleas and within a day Diva and Missy had almost stopped itching. Belle’s coat looks plucked from itching, but after being sprayed she’s not itching. They HATE being sprayed…but it works. And it works fast and well.

Peppers are growing, herbs are growing, a few tomatoes beginning to flower while others are growing, and corn is getting taller. The days are getting hotter, with mid to high 80s common now. Because the mobile pens need supervised, during the day is ‘office’ time, and reading time of late. Now, with portable access I can type while those thoughts are flying during the day and post in the evening when I get back to internet access.

Unfortunately, some sad news in finding SMF Dio dead in his cage today. Dio was one of two brothers taken to the Indy ARBA convention, and was 4th in his class, just ahead of his brother, Bargain. He had gone to Michigan after convention, but came home to Alabama some time later. He was a character, and had his own view of the world. They were bred here and when he came home I vowed he’d never have another home. A rose bush marks his spot near Gandolf white, who unfortunately fell to an accident, leaving one gosling from the first batch.

The randomness is real sometimes. Being ready for anything is real and trying to change some things is real. Thanks for catching up on some of the randomness!

Misunderstandings, Apologies, Forgiveness

May 8, 2015
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New Zealand baby bunnies

It was an interesting morning here – working on routine chores and doing Connor’s chores as well as mine…and finding again the incredible asset of a good dog. Even when I mess up.

They day started routine enough – filling water containers, checking animals, feeding animals. Then I lost my keys. Searching for them, I found a baby rabbit escaped from the cage. Diva saw it the same time I did and bounded forth to rescue ‘her baby’. I hear baby bunny screams and saw it disappear – in her mouth.

“DIVA! NO!!!!” She looked confused, ran under the hutch and dropped it. Baby was flat on it’s side, legs straight out. Surely injured and I’d have to put it down. I turned on Diva, who has NEVER hurt anything. “NO Diva! NO!!!” She looked at me, looked behind me, looked at me. I turned and…the baby was GONE. Yes in the time it took to read that. I looked at her. “Diva FIND IT! Baby!” she pointed towards a plastic tarp overhang and sure enough – a very WET but unhurt baby, who was returned to the mama and siblings and wired shut where the door popped open just enough to let her out.

Diva

Diva

The squeals was fear – understandable fear from a prey animal. Diva carefully did not bite down…only enough pressure to carry the bunny. That absolutely cannot be taught. A little too much is deadly. She could have easily killed the bunny – but carefully did not.

With a human we make such a mistake we apologize and explain what we thought perhaps, however wrong it might be. Diva didn’t understand explanations – but liked the extra goodies!

And immediately it was over. Forgiven, if in human terms. She bounded to the truck to ‘go to work’.

May we all take her lead. Word came tonight of the passing of Myron Millman, a friend from the rabbit world. The last time we spoke he was looking forward to some upcoming changes, retirement and tinkering with projects he hadn’t been able to do. His sudden departure from this world means there is no second chance. There is no do-overs or chance to make things right.

May we forgive easily. Tomorrow might be too late.

It’s Only the Wind

May 7, 2015
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Shade on a hot day

It’s been a busy couple weeks! Today Connor went to help a friend for a couple days. While he’s gone his friend came over to help me water and collect eggs. The eggs were given to a family through the Hand Up program we do. This is community. It might be imperfect, but it’s community.

This afternoon I was down at the office – taking a break, overlooking the young birds. Chilly, the rabbit revived from the December cold spell, nibbled in the shade nearby. Diva dozed next to me and I closed my eyes for a few minutes, enjoying the silence.

I heard something…movement. I opened by eyes and the long grass was swirling on the other side of the birds. I noticed the trees, other grass was not blowing. Just there. It flipped a plastic sheet that was on the birds over. Then it stopped and I saw movement to my left. A dust devil caught leaves, dust, grass and was swirling it down the street.

It’s only the wind. Reminds me of the Billy Dean song.

Life has held changes the last six months or so. Much different than a year ago.

The wind we don’t see. We feel it. Hear it. See what it moves. Sense it even with eyes closed. But the actual wind, for all the damage it can do, we don’t see unless something is caught in it. The grass stilled as the wind moved on, much as life stills after the wind blows change.

I looked at Diva resting peacefully, not stirred at the ‘threat’ of the wind. She doesn’t have the experience of negative effects of wind, be it literal or figurative. She stood guard over her charges today for a while, allowing me to do other chores and take a short break.

The goslings arrived today – one ‘fader’ died soon after arrival. Faders are a non technical term I use to describe birds or animals that for whatever reason just don’t thrive. They have the same care and feed and water as the others, but don’t react like the healthier flock mates. Hopefully the rest of these will thrive. Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll have a second portapen made and they can be transitioned outside too. It may seem like nothing’s happening when the blog is quiet but that’s when much is happening.

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two month old goslings

I watch the goslings, picking bits of grass and tender leaves they like the most. They don’t want everything that’s available. I think of how that relates to what we’re trying to do in providing food choices for a certain type of customer. I think of someone who plays some awesome music, but doesn’t get on country radio like the current popular stuff does. It’s discouraging.

I think of a hero I never met, Ron Payne, and those missing him today, marking 11 years since he gave his life in service to others. I think of the two teenagers killed yesterday, a 15 year old driver and 17 year old passenger that hit a semi head on. Neither had seat belts on, but a little car vs big truck likely wouldn’t make a difference. Families torn with loss.

We don’t see it sometimes, the changes that threaten or comfort. Sometimes we just have to deal with what’s left. Sometimes it’s not only the wind.

Sometimes it’s what’s left when the wind passes.

Quiet Evenings

April 27, 2015

Four years ago tonight it was dark. Scary dark. Quiet. Four years ago today ordinary people became ordinary heroes, and not so ordinary heroes. Four years ago today a barrage of tornadoes hit Alabama that changed the very landscape.

I grew up in the country – so dark isn’t new. Dark where you step off the porch and can’t see the step brings a new level of perspective.

Four years ago tonight was the basis of What Stands in a Storm. Four years ago tonight lives were lost, and lives were forever changed. The following morning the phone started ringing. The days after were just surviving. So many had so much less that our losses weren’t worth mentioning. It changes the perspective of disasters and the heartbreaking images from Napal.

Take a few minutes to view our heroes and nightmare.

Watching this live was incredible. So much going on that day. There had already been several tornadoes by this transmission, taken an hour east of us on Highway 278.

Just west of us – along I22 – too many going to get details on each.

We lost power shortly after this. Life goes on. We still get nervous in storms. This is a rare day, as James Spann said. It’s still a powerful day.

Don’t live in fear.

So You Want to Raise Rabbits

April 23, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA too-common conversation recently surfaced and, as rabbit meat gets more in demand, the numbers get larger. I understand the enthusiasm for a new project. But sometimes enthusiasm needs tempered by common sense. The names here have been changed to protect the foolhardy in an effort to, hopefully, inject some common sense into the conversation for those seeking to get into raising rabbits.

“Sam” contacted a fellow breeder. Had been given a set up that had 160 holes, formerly used for dogs. He wanted to get into rabbits and began calling rabbit breeders to fill up those cages. He began contacting breeders, despite the fact he has never raised one rabbit. When advised to start small, he said he had an Agriculture degree and had raised all other types of livestock.

This isn’t a one time request. Several other folks chipped in about people getting in and six or eight months later they were gone. Rabbits are then criticized as a waste of money, too expensive to raise, not enough return, etc. They can be all of that, especially if going into it like cattle or hogs.

Rabbits are not cattle or hogs! No disrespect to farmers raising either – there are many similarities to hogs in many ways, but rabbits have a whole different set of rules. Getting 120 does and a bunch of bucks when you’ve never had a rabbit and aren’t willing to do the homework needed is guaranteed to not be good for rabbits or people. Then anyone who won’t sell just “doesn’t want to share a market” with ‘Sam.’ He was planning on some practices that are not approved by the processor, and was told that they were not allowed, and he said “what they don’t know, won’t hurt them”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACages aren’t cheap – at $20-30 per hole (cage, feeders, water etc) it can be expensive. They need cages that aren’t used for other types of animals, typically. They’ll need nest boxes. They’ll need feed and handling that isn’t like other animals. The ag degree goes out the window in flames if you’re willing to deliberately violate production standards of the customer buying your product. It doesn’t matter if it’s rabbits, pigs, chickens or purple giraffes – your word should mean something.

What usually happens – Sam finds someone to sell him does, or several someones. He can’t keep straight who he’s talked to, so brings animals from different places together and without proper quarantine it’s survival of the fittest. Literally. He’ll start losing kits that are born to disease and mistakes. His feed bill will be higher than his sales. He’s deliberately deceiving the processor, and probably everyone else he deals with. Not listening to an experienced grower is business suicide.

At $20-30 each X 120 Sam is looking at over $3,000 before any babies are born IF all the equipment needed was free. IF that first 3-4 months of feed was free. IF there is no losses of adults during the transition. IF he knows to guard against heat and predators including dogs in the barn. IF he has a plan for manure and other issues.

20141018_181308Too many buy out other rabbitries for instant start, rather than growing into it. They end up with 200+ does, which is a full time job. They produce 50 fryers every couple weeks, and cut off those who could help. They lose does as fast as they buy others, have breeding problems, disease problems and volume loss of rabbits. They sell out, discouraged and defeated.  

There’s a reason I sell trios. Take them, learn with them, learn if rabbits is something you want to deal with. Do it right with 10, then 20 then 50 does. Grow into it, keeping back daughters of the good rabbits you have. Those will be developed for YOUR barn and YOUR management style.

Ask questions. Be prepared to lose litters – new first timers can be clumsy and hurt or kill babies, some does kill a whole litter if things aren’t her way or if she’s threatened. They can harm their own babies. Sometimes everything looks good but a litter fails to grow…maybe it’s a one time thing, maybe it’s not.

I’ve often said the only thing that dies faster than a horse from bad feed is a rabbit. They’re like pigs in that they can’t handle the heat. Heat can render bucks temporarily or permanently sterile. A nest box by a window can cook litters and it’s easy to blame a doe when she’s doing her best in a situation we put her in that she can’t alter. Rabbits can have issues with coccidia, enteritis and bloat. They can’t burp or throw up, and don’t show illness until too late sometimes.

IMG_20141019_163102Don’t get a bunch of animals and throw together with dollars dancing in your head. Be it rabbits or sheep or hogs or cattle, that’s a dangerous prescription for financial loss. Don’t think more volume is more money…be efficient with management and grow into it.

I’ve handled 120-150 head of rabbits before and seen people make mistakes with volume that could have been reduced with experience on a smaller scale. People think if 20 rabbits are good 100 must be great…but everything inflates and some things inflate more than five times!

Manure handling, fly control, temperature issues, breeding schedules, kindling schedules – all of these things take increased importance as numbers rise. Don’t be the know other parts of agriculture and I have a degree so can blow you off kind of person. You’ll end up the financially challenged degreed expert with dead rabbits. The rabbits lose.

There’s more to it than sticking a couple rabbits together once every couple months. There’s ear mites and treating minor issues before they become major ones. There’s learning to adapt from other species because many things aren’t available for rabbits. Our misting system in the summer is adapted from other species. Sometimes looking beyond the species helps, but there are many things unique to rabbits that you won’t change.

Be smart. Start small. Listen. Ask questions. Resist the urge to buy more than you can handle. If you must, buy 50. With the first 25 litters you’ll have, with luck, 2-3 good does from each litter – and easily double your herd.

If you’re looking to raise rabbits, go in with as few obstacles as possible.

NPIP Flock Testing 2015 – Avian Influenza, Pullorum-Typhoid

April 22, 2015
Young layers, raised last year, wait for random testing.

Young layers, raised last year, wait for random testing.

Several years ago we signed up for the National Poultry Improvement Plan – or NPIP – a program with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and, ultimately, USDA. While many see it as the big bad guys at USDA telling us who we can buy from, the NPIP is a voluntary program that insures our birds stay healthy.

There is truth that we must purchase from a pullorum-typhoid free flock or keep new purchases isolated. That is wise anyway. When we purchase from hatcheries like Ideal or Cackle, their suppliers are also on NPIP so we’re assured of getting clean chicks. When we sell to someone else, they’re assured that the flock doesn’t have the disease as of the annual testing.

This year there is more interest in the other test – the one that is putting fear in the hearts of poultry keepers now. Avian Influenza. It’s been in the news, it’s been on the minds of poultry keepers and it’s a concern for both indoor and outdoor keepers. Obviously, outdoor birds have access to wild birds. However, indoor birds have also been getting sick.

As we prepared to test, we talked of the nightmare up north. Turkeys have a 95% mortality rate and no time to treat. My birds, he said, would be negative because positive is dead. Grim, but true. My friend Lara has been on the front lines of a headline nightmare. Tens of thousands of turkeys.

Then the news from Iowa of over 5 million hens being put down from active cases. Unspeakably heartbreaking.

In a light hearted banter for a serious test we joked of angry birds, hair cuts (Connor was amazed one of the testers noticed my hair was cut – from last year introduction!) and facility improvements, as well as serious talk of the nightmare of working through killing five million hens. It is timely that our annual test comes up while this is a news story, but there have been no reports of issues thus far in Alabama.

Swabbing a baby gosling to test for Avian Influenza.

Swabbing a baby gosling to test for Avian Influenza.

Although young, our two remaining goslings were swabbed – as well as the turkeys, and a sampling of the Muscovy and chickens. Burnable protective suits were worn for the protection of our birds – a reason we don’t have visitors around the birds other than those of us working here regularly. The suits were taken off and burned here, all equipment was disinfected and cleaned before it went back into the vehicle.

In a test time shorter than it takes to describe it, or even catch the bird, each bird targeted was swabbed and stuck. This sounds simplistic, but the older birds had the indignity of having a small amount of blood pulled and mixed with a solution, an immediately visible indication of pass/fail.

For the goslings and ducks, the swab was taken via the cloaca – tail end. Chickens and turkeys get essentially a quick throat swab. Our Speckled Sussex was nice enough to semi-pose before swabbed.

A quick swab for chickens and turkeys - actually paused for the camera briefly and this hen held her mouth open waiting.

A quick swab for chickens and turkeys – actually paused for the camera briefly and this hen held her mouth open waiting.

The photos here give an idea of how the testing is done. Under the wing, a few small feathers are pulled to access a vein in the wing. A small tool is used to stick the vein, and a drop or two of blood is pulled and mixed in with a purple solution (see photo). These are normal colors…all is good.

The purple dots have not yet been mixed with blood. The others have a small drop of blood mixed in.

The purple dots have not yet been mixed with blood. The others have a small drop of blood mixed in.

This visit is done once a year, about this time of year, to insure that birds remain healthy from threats to them and to the poultry industry as a whole. As indicated in the last post, chickens and eggs are major industries in the state of Alabama, and keeping it viable is good.

 

 

Testing completed for another year. Suits, including plastic boots, reduce tracking anything on their clothes to my birds, and eliminate carrying anything out to others.The suits were removed and will be incinerated here as part of biosecurity.

Testing completed for another year. Suits, including plastic boots, reduce tracking anything on their clothes to my birds, and eliminate carrying anything out to others.The suits were removed and will be incinerated here as part of biosecurity.

Test site on an adult turkey is easy to see than on smaller birds!

Test site on an adult turkey is easy to see than on smaller birds!

On the under side of the wing, heavy feathered birds may have a few small feathers pulled to provide clean access to a vein for testing.

On the under side of the wing, heavy feathered birds may have a few small feathers pulled to provide clean access to a vein for testing.

Sustainable Agriculture – Earth Day 2015

April 22, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASustainable agriculture has become a buzz word, a fashionable thing to be. Sustainable is not just water, waste, environmental, but also financial and part of a community ecosystem.

Each state, each type of farming or ranching, each management style all has a community ecosystem. There’s one for the outdoor hog people, one for confinement hog people, one for feeder cattle, one for stock cow/calf production, one for purebred cattle, one for sheep, one for purebred sheep, purebred hogs, laying chickens that are free range, confinement layers, broiler production, turkey production…and not even getting to all livestock let alone crops, fruits, inedible agriculture! How often do these folks get out of their own type of agriculture? Many are so busy tending to their operations there’s not time to get beyond unless at a general agriculture event like farm bureau meetings. Many seek out others online.

Agriculture is diverse! Consider these quick facts about just Alabama agriculture, found recently in an Alabama Agriculture publication I picked up at the farmer’s cooperative when I picked up feed.

The annual economic impact of agriculture and forestries provides $70.4 billion to the state of Alabama. Cullman county is the top producing poultry county in the state, with 85.5% of agriculture dedicated to poultry and eggs (2010 figures). In Alabama there’s an average of one cow for every three people in the state. One of every 4.6 jobs in Alabama is associated with agriculture, forestry or a related industry.

Top 10 agriculture products in Alabama:

1. Broilers. Over $3.6 billion and 2nd in the US is chickens for meat.

2. About 1.24 million cattle and calves make the 2nd largest ag sector. Most are, indeed, outside on pasture!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3. Up from last year, and 9th nationally in 2013, egg production, with an average of 237 eggs per layer. That’s a lot of eggs!

4. A product that makes plastics, explosives and high quality paper products, with 789 pounds per acre, Alabama is 10th nationally in…cotton!

5. Increasing exports of soybeans, soybean meal and soybean oil put soybeans as the 5th largest crop in Alabama.

6. Alabama is 4th in the US of peanuts, with the Alabama Peanut festival a highlight in the state.

7. Grown in all 50 states, corn brings $139million to state farmers.

8. With an average yield of 69 bushels per acre, wheat is another big crop in Alabama.

9. Fourth in the US there are 156 aquaculture farms growing tilapia, trout, bass, carp, catfish and flounder. More than 25,000 acres are dedicated to aquaculture in ponds or other water systems.

10. Hogs round out the top 10, with nearly 10 million pounds of pork produced in 2013.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlabama farms are 91% family or individually owned. Agritourism is increasing, from farmers markets and stands to winery tours, farm stays and other ag related entertainment that is educational. Alabama is 5th nationally for electricity generated from biomass – and first for pulp production in the US. Renewable energy, sustainable building products, and 60% of the biomass found in forest resources, Alabama is a big market for forestry. With decreasing focus on coal, increasing focus on wood pellets for fuel, switchgrass cubes and other crops seek to increase in turning natural products into biomass. Alabama is developing growing bamboo for a domestic market for sustainable building products.

Alabama has more than 77,000 miles of streams and rivers, with 120,000 irrigated acres. The timing of water can call for irrigation needs, which is hard to remember when everything is muddy and wet! This time of year it rains more than it’s sunny, but crops of all kinds will need water during the hot summer too.

Niche crops like satsumas, kiwifruit and shiitake mushrooms, with research on Asian pears, jujube, pawpaws, pomegranates and bananas being done. While 100 acres of satsumas doesn’t compare to the chicken receipts, the small, slow growing fruit can be container grown or in ground, and look like a small orange.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAForage is another big crop, with the biggest quality forage production in the north end of the state. Turkey production is limited to one commercial farm but many small keepers of America’s favorite holiday meal producers.

While horses, rabbits and other vegetable crops weren’t mentioned, all have a prominent spot for those living and making home in Alabama.

These are done with sustainability in mind – keeping waterways clear, taking care of the next generation whether that’s the next batch of chickens or the next high school graduation class it’s important to not only look around now, but look back and look ahead.

For agriculture, every day is earth day. We plant trees, use windbreaks, make use of grass, strive to make new options available and balance production with profit as much as possible. We enjoy an abundance of food with an incredible amount of choices every time we step into a grocery store or farmer’s market. We started our day with an opossum that wandered into the barn and was caught in the box trap set out.

Sustainable. With songbirds and other visitors who do no harm it’s a balance. Destructive pests are something else, but striving to reuse, recycle and make the most of everything that we can, it’s important to keep our eyes on the goals we have. American agriculture both large and small is important for the environment. Much of America’s wildlife is at home on America’s farms.

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