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Thursday, July 21, 2011

There's a fox in the hen house...

Or maybe not.  I saw an email post from Lorraine yesterday that most of the chickens were outside the chicken tractor with the door askew.  Several were milling around the chicken tractor and several were missing.  One was a victim of the marauder that assaulted our chicken tractor and its contents.

Turns out it wasn't a fox, but our new Aussie/Border Collie that we recently acquired (need to post about that now that I think about it).  One of the little girls had gone out the front door and apparently Dally (we didn't name her) had escaped and promptly headed straight for the chicken tractor since that's the happening place for a dog to go on our property (followed by harassing ducks as a close second).  Lorraine said she wasn't sure how long she'd been out there terrorizing the birds but was guessing about one hour.

I traded some texts with Lorraine subsequently and learned that they'd found a few of the birds, but there were still 15 or so still missing by the time I got home from work.   Later in the evening we went out and found another dozen hanging around the chicken tractor.  We managed to get them back into the chicken tractor.  Even later we found four more and got them corralled and put back into the tractor.  I found the last one in the duck coop when it was time to put the ducks to bed for the night.

I made some minor repairs to the chicken tractor and placed a large piece of tin on top to keep the lid shut just in case. 

So, the good news is that we went from thinking that we'd lost half of our laying flock (before a single egg had been laid) to recovering all but the one victim.  The even better news is that they should be laying in just a few short weeks and we'll have plenty to sell to those of you who truly value a quality, pasture raised product.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My hands smell like fish and I haven't been fishing.

Saturday was nearly unbearable for working conditions.  I spent the day sharing time on a jackhammer working on my son's Eagle project for Boy Scouts.  He elected to demolish a limestone grotto at the Basilica of St. John in Des Moines, ostensibly because it was falling apart and a safety hazard.  Eight hours later we quit for the day with another four hours of work left.  Turns out the grotto was built to withstand a nuclear attack with it's 8" thick concrete wall w/ a stone veneer and a 24" concrete base.  This really has nothing to do with me spraying my field other than the similar working conditions.  Both days had lots of sunshine, humidity levels that left eyeglasses foggy and temperatures hovering in the mid-90's. 

My neighbor who has been doing my field work mowed a couple of my pastures last week.  As I've previously posted my tractor is down with no near term prospects of getting it repaired due to the anticipated costs exceeding our anticipated availability of funds.  That means I'm paying a per acre rate for a fair amount of field work that I could have done myself like the mowing and, if I had a sprayer, the spraying. 

Anyway, my neighbor called yesterday to see if I was ready to spray the pastures.  If you've followed my posts you'll recall an earlier one in which I described spraying my newly planted hay field with raw milk, fish oil and sugar.  Yesterday's batch of spray was similar but with some salt added.  Apparently microbes really like salt and sugar.  I can say that neither the salt nor the sugar enhanced the smell of the field (or me for that matter). 

We were spraying about 10 acres.  My formula called for 2 gallons/acre each of milk and fish oil.  I only had about 8 gallons of milk available so I used all of that.  I figured a little would be better than none.  I had plenty of fish oil and put that in.  I added about 10 pounds of salt figuring a foliar spraying rate of 1 lb/acre.  We left a strip down the middle of one of the pastures unsprayed to see if there was any difference.  We'll probably need a good rain to wash the spay into the soil for it to really start benefitting the microbial activity there. 

As with the prior spraying event the nozzles constantly clogged from a combination of sour milk globules, grass clippings that I didn't filter out like I should have and flakes of hose material from the aging sprayer's hoses.  A one hour project took closer to 2 1/2 hours.  Next time I'm going to use a screen honey filter on top of the bucket to filter my amendments.  Hopefully that will reduce my number of steps following the sprayer.

In the picture above notice that the boom is extended to the left but not the one on the right.  We found that the right boom almost immediately plugged with the left boom and center section had at least some of the nozzles spraying almost all the time.   We decided it would be more time effective to make more passes with the tractor than to constantly stop, clean the nozzles and head out again.  Wish we'd have thought of that earlier.

Needless to say, after 8 hours in the sun on Saturday and another 2 1/2 hours on Sunday, I was sporting an ever improving farmer tan, dehydrated and near exhaustion.   But, because I love my wife and she asked very nicely, I helped her move the chicken tractor, hauled two buckets of water for the chickens and then agreed to go for a one mile walk on the Earlham H.S. track with her and our new Aussie/Border collie mix (she'll be the subject of my next post).   Isn't farming glamorous and romantic?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

So says Robert Frost's neighbor in his poem, "Mending Fences."  The author disputes this when there are no cows, suggesting that he would ask first what he is walling in or out.  I agree with Mr. Frost and his neighbor.  Without animals (and even kids in some cases) fences probably aren't necessary. 

But, since we do have cows, along with sheep, llamas, ducks, chickens, a goat, a dog and kids, it has become ever more clear each year just how critical good fences are to being a good neighbor.  Poor fencing on our property has alienated each of our neighbors at some time over the 12 years we've lived on our current property.  Some have been more tolerant but each has reached their limit of patience with us, depending upon the emotional or physical damage caused by our wayward animals.  The only neighbors we haven't upset with our animals are to the south of us.  But that's probably because they're a mile away due to crop land being between us and them rather than just a few feet across a property line.

Although nobody was upset that we're aware of, we once received a call from the City of Earlham telling us two of our dogs were lounging near the gas pumps at the Casey's store two miles away.   We also had a Great Pyrenees who found her way (once with part of a young litter of pups in tow) to the interstate a mere one mile away.  Another Pyr was seen two miles away in another direction.  Try as we might to confine them in our pasture with the livestock, where they belonged, they defied boundaries by squeezing through barbed wire, gates and other various efforts to contain them.

It was the long distance Pyr, Chuck, who started the problems.  When we bought our home and 38 acres we had no neighbors to the west.  Within two years there were two new homes built and an older home moved there from up the road.  Chuck routinely patrolled that previouslyvacant ground, sometimes with a pet turkey (ours, not his) following him along the way.  The new home immediately to the west had some nice landscaping and Chuck fancied them territory to be marked.  It wasn't too long before the bushes browned up.  Could have been the drought conditions, but the neighbors had a point.   Our dog peeing on their bushes wasn't neighborly.  In our defense, bushes continued to turn brown well after the untimely death of Chuck in 2001.

The prior tenants of the third house to the west, very tolerant friends I might add, mentioned that neighbor two to the west had told them he was going to shoot Chuck if he saw them on their land again.  Either he was a bad shot or didn't see Chuck again, but they eventually moved and Chuck sported no extra holes.  The new owners were quite understanding when another of our dogs tore open their garbage out by the road (on Christmas Day I might add).  My next door neighbor had already called to let me know that he was a victim of the carnage as well so the boys and I headed down there to clean it up. 

Neighbor one to the west has also been a victim multiple times of cows and sheep straying onto their nicely mowed lawn and leaving piles of bulk fertilizer.  At one point sheep got into their garage and ate newly purchased flowers and dog food.  A gift certificate to a nearby greenhouse was in order there.

Good fences would have prevented all of this heartache and aggravation for us and our neighbor.

We recently approached a full year since our animals' last incursion onto their property.  We were tempted to send them an anniversary card but, shortly before the one year was up we got a call.  A couple of our lambs had managed to sneek through somewhere.  Since the lambs were bottle fed the neighbor walked up to them, picked them up and dropped them over the fence.  When it happened a second time I got the call.  I told him about the anniversary card and, thankfully, he found that humorous.  I couldn't find the spot that the lambs snuck through so I we just didn't use that paddock for a while.  They must have grown too big to get through because we've used the paddock again and nobody has escaped.

Another neighbor gave an earful over the phone to Lorraine one day because of the dog in the road chasing cars.  We've had such a parade of dogs purchases and litters of puppies I can't even remember who the culprit was in that case.   Probably our Newfoundland, Daisy.  The final straw for that neighbor was coming so close to hitting the dog and feeling the need to swerve, almost going in the ditch with a child in her vehicle.  Once again, our failure to contain and control our animals was our fault and they were fully justified to let us know that our dogs trying to herd their vehicles was problematic. 

Good fences would have solved this problem.

More recently, I awoke one morning to hear the sound of sheep outside our bedroom window.  That's a sound we don't want to hear since the sheep aren't supposed to be in our yard.  In this case I'd had them in what I thought was a secure pasture.  They'd recently escaped from there and I thought I'd figured out where and had "fixed" it.  I rounded the sheep up (this is right before I'm supposed to be heading out to work for the day).  They went back into the same paddock they'd escaped from.  I was walking part of the fence to make sure there weren't other holes in the fence when I heard the sheep "talking."  When one finds a gap they must feel inclined to share the good news with the other sheep.  I turned to see the source of the noise.  They were headed to a spot in the fence like they were going to get out.  I ran over there and, sure enough, there was a gaping hole in what I thought was woven wire in good shape.  The hole was big enough for a sheep to walk through standing up.  Usually, at least they have to expend a little effort going under or over part of a fence.  This hole was low to the ground and in a shadowy area so I'd missed it.  Twice.  I quickly repaired it with wire and rounded up the sheep that had just escaped again.  Even later for work.

What I didn't know when I'd herded them out of my front yard was that they'd already spent some time in my neighbor's garden.  This is a neighbor that is right across a driveway that we share.  Now, this wasn't the first time that I've found my sheep in my yard, or even their's.  But this was the first time they told me that the sheep had damaged their garden.  Apparently they'd been there awhile before I woke up because they told me the damage was extensive.  They're now not talking to us which is not a good thing.  These are good people.  They deserve much better.

So now, as I've reflected on "Mending Fences" a bit, I'm inspired to be a better neighbor and focus more time and effort on my fences.  The bad news is that kids (and even adults) sometimes don't latch gates.  Sometimes the weather is cruel and damages fences.  Sometimes age creeps up and the fences just plain fail over time but don't declare their fatigue out loud.  But I know I don't want my neighbors having a reason to be upset with us.  I also don't want my own animals eating our own raspberries and other veggie which they are wont to do on their way to annoying my neighbors. 

If Mr. Frost were still alive today and I were to meet him, I would assure him that, in fact, good fences would certainly contribute to being good neighbors.  In his absence, we'll continue to work towards repairing the relationships with our neighbors.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hell hath no fury like...

You thought I was going to say, "a woman scorned."  While certainly true, I had a llama feeling a bit scorned yesterday and there was some fury involved that came a close second.  The picture above includes the one year old (white) and the two year old (white and brown).  The "scorned" llama is not pictured here.

Periodically (about every 3-4 weeks) we have to worm our sheep (I'll get to the scorned llama later). Wet weather is a fertile breeding ground for intestinal parasites that can have devastating affects on sheep.  They'll look fine in the morning and you can go out in the afternoon and find one or more dead or dying.  These parasites infect their guts and, at the risk of being a bit gory, suck the blood through their intestinal walls.  That can leave the sheep anemic to the point that they collapse and die.  In order to prevent this we take certain measures to reduce the impact of the parasites.

In a perfect world we would have about a dozen smaller paddocks to graze the livestock in.  By resting the paddocks after grazing, the parasite load is reduced.  It's further reduced by sunshine and a lot less rain than we had in June.  But the weather is something we can't control.

Lacking enough fenced paddocks with access to water our livestock end up grazing the same areas for too long. The parasites they consume lay eggs which they pass out in their manure.  Those parasites hatch, climb up blades of grass and are consumed by the livestock.  The cycle continues.

Since we don't have enough paddocks that means our sheep are getting reinfected by parasites.  In order to control these we have to treat them to kill they parasites in their system.  That can be accompished using garlic and diatemaceous earth for lighter parasite loads.  We much prefer that approach since it doesn't rely upon chemical wormers.  Unfortunately, we're just not there yet from a fencing standpoint.  As a result, we use a chemical wormer.  It's a purple liquid that gets "drenched," or poured down their throats.  I use a little device that looks like an oversized syringe that has a metal tube that gets inserted between the teeth and gums of the sheep.  The syringe holds 4-5 doses which are measured by the weight of the animal being treated. 

I generally procrastinate the worming event since I'm pretty worn out (not to mention cranky) by the time we're done.  It requires rounding up the 50 or so ewes and lambs and getting them herded into a single stall.  That's sometimes an adventure in itself since they don't all want to squeeze into that small stall  If I were a "smart farmer" (see my post about the frickn' cow) I'd have a nice chute system with a head gate to handle the animals.  Since that takes money for one of those set ups we make do with what we have and that means putting them into a stall.  Having them crammed in there actually makes it a bit easier to manage them since they can't run away.  One of the boys grabs a sheep and brings it over by the gate where we check their eyes for anemia. 

There's a particular parasite called Humuncous which causes anemia.  We have a neat little laminated card that has pictures of five sheep eyes with various shades of pink ranging from almost red down to white.  We assign a score based upon the color of the sheep's eyes.  A 1 is the best and a 5 means you're lucky they're still alive for you to treat them.  We had a lot of 4's and 5's yesterday but we weren't too surprised.  We hadn't treated them in over four weeks and the rainy weather means a higher than average amount of parasites lurking in the pastures to be consumed by the sheep.

We proceeded to check all 50 ewes/lambs and treated probably 60% of them.  With proper pature management we could probably reduce that level to below 25%.  What's really amazing is that we have a very small number of sheep that we never need to treat.  They are naturally parasite resistant which is a desirable genetic trait that can be passed on to subsequent generations.

Those that get treated can still have some serious side affects.  One of them is their blood chemistry getting very alkalyn as the parasites die off.  We learned a neat little trick a couple of years ago that we believe brought one of our best rams back from the brink of death.  We treated him with raw apple cider vinegar.  That simple ingrediate helped to neutralize his ph sufficiently that he actually recovered fairly quickly.

Anyway, after we completed treating the ewes and lambs it was on to the llamas.  Now we get to the "hell hath no fury"part.  But, first, a little explanation about the difference between sheep parasites and llama parasites, at least as far as our flock goes.  Our primary concern with the llamas is something called meningeal parasites.  These little varmints are dropped into the pasture by deer passing through our property.  Interestingly, llamas can't pass these on to other llamas.  They can only get them by eating pasture that's been exposed to deer droppings where the parasite eggs hatch and latch on to blades of grass.

Once consumed these little buggers move their way through the llamas system and deposit themselves in the spinal column.  They then begin to grow and cause nerve damage.  Eventually that leads to partial or complete paralysis.  Unfortunately we learned about these the hard way when we lost one of our llamas to them this past winter.  She got to the point that she could no longer stand and could only sit up if we propped her up.  She still ate but lost weight.  It got to the point where it was necessary to euthanize her.  That was heartbreaking.

In order to prevent the ravages of this parasite we treat the llamas with an injectable wormer call Ivomec.  In order to inject  this you have to hold the llama still enough for someone to slide the needle under the skin just behind a foreleg.  Easier said than done.

With some effort and the help of Seth and Spencer who combined are outweighed by two of the four llamas, we got them done.  The first two were a two year old and a one year old.  Small, but still pretty spunky.  The third was our adult male and the largest of the four, weighing in at well over 200#.  He was probably the easisest of the four ironically.

Now, this is really where the "hell hath no fury" part of the story comes in.  Our fourth patient is a female who is the alpha of the four.  She's about 50# less that the big male, but she has a real attitude.  When a llama get's annoyed enough they spit.  It starts with a sound sort of like a phlegmatic clearing it's throat.  Then you hear the hiss of the spit.  If you're lucky it misses you.  If you're not so lucky, you're sprayed with a gooey mist of partially digested green stuff. 

We managed to grab the female llama.  Seth and Spencer held her but her ears went back and the throat clearing commenced.  The ears going back are the first clue you're about to get sprayed.  The throat clearing just confirms it.  Not unlike that signficant other in your life when she's "spittin' mad."

I bent over for the injection when I heard the first of the spits.  Fortunately, (for me anyway) her target was the boys.  I felt the air from one spit go by my arm but the contents missed me.  Seth is yelling,"yuk, that's disgusting," but I couldn't tell at that point what he was referring to.  While Spencer was spared, Seth caught a shoulder full of the green stuff but dodged the others.  I quickly finished the injection and they turned her loose still trailing the rope around her neck which quickly came loose and dropped to the ground. 

Can't wait until thet last week of July to do it all over again.   This was our first time injecting the llamas.  They're pretty smart animals, so it may be the last.