Category Archives: Animal Husbandry

The dog proof compost pile

We recently harvested broilers and turkeys.  What doesn’t go into the freezer goes into the compost pile, such as innards, feathers, etc.  I bury this stuff in a large pile of wood chips.  The wood chips do a great job of absorbing everything during the decomposition process and we humans never smell anything.  But the dogs obviously do and they would love to get their paws on some three week old rotted chicken heads.

Our german shepherd especially enjoys these treats.  He’ll dig into that compost pile like it is a big birthday present.  I decided to head this one off at the pass this year, by piling up some large heavy firewood pieces all around the compost pile once it was constructed.

The Dog Proof Compost Pile

I was not all that surprised the next morning to find that our pup had found the smallest, lightest piece and pulled it away to expose the pile.  He was able to score a delectable turkey foot.  I raked everything in again, and replaced the piece of wood with a larger, heavier one.  So, despite that small setback, I still stand by this idea.

Thanks, Robert.

Mangel beets for our pigs

We’ve got six pigs in the backyard that are getting pretty big.  We’ve been feeding them since May and plan on keeping one for ourselves and are selling the rest to friends.  This is being done as part of our larger overall goal of being able to raise as much of our own food as possible.  And we love bacon, ham, sausage, etc.

They receive a standard feed ration from the local grain elevator of 18% protein, that is made from corn, soybeans, etc.  We supplement this as much as possible with things we grow or glean.  This summer I grew about 30 double row feet of mangel beets.  I learned from the Deliberate Agrarian website that they are an old fashioned livestock feedstuff.  These puppies grow really big, up to 24″ in length.  And the pigs love them!  When these beets are thrown into the pen the pigs literally spin around in circles like a helicopter rotor!

Pigs love to eat freshly picked mangel beets

Pigs love to eat freshly picked mangel beets

Why pigs and not cows?  Some of you know that I grew up on a farm raising beef cattle and so that would be the natural progression for me.  A steer, when raised properly will take one and a half to two years to finish its journey to slaughter weight, where a pig only takes six to eight months.  Feed conversion ratios are also very important.  A beef steer has a feed conversion ratio of something like 13:1.  (this will vary widely depending on the system/style of feeding) That is 13 pounds of feed to one pound of meat gain.  They have very large frames and therefore have a much higher ‘maintenance requirement’ and an animal must meet its maintenance requirements before it will ever make gains.  Pigs, on the other hand, have a feed conversion ratio closer to 4:1 or less.

In other words, it is way less expensive to raise a hog than a steer, when combining the above ratio and the timeline.  That is why pigs and chickens have traditionally been called the mortgage lifters – they’re more profitable!

Thanks, Robert.

We’re still here!

Its been quite a while since we’ve posted anything, but here’s a sampling of what we’ve been up to lately:

Here’s the wide view.  The 30×100 foot garden is along the left, pathway for the truck in the center, and then a 30×30 foot squash/watermelon/pumpkin patch on the right.  A few chicken pens are visible way in the back.

Zucchini in the front, cucumber trellis in the middle row with Armenian, pickling and lemon cucumbers.  The lemon cucumbers are by far our favorite.  Behind the cucumbers are runner beans that aren’t climbing, and then two beds of kale, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower.

Two rows of sweet corn, 100 row feet of potatoes and then one row of artichokes.

Here are our leeks and onions.  Looking a little thirsty, but also tasty!  The rest of the three or four beds were failed direct seedings of beets, parsnips and carrots.  Not pictured is our four Belgian endive plants that we’re very excited about.

In the foreground are two large tomatillo plants.  Further back are several rows of tomato plants.  They are struggling terribly.  It’s due to a mixture of a late start, transplant shock and overall bad tomato growing conditions in our area.  We’ve been told that tomato blossoms shatter when the temps are beyond mid nineties.  We do have at least one tomato, despite all this.  Not pictured are two rows of direct seeded herbs that never came up (except for the cilantro) and we think it is that we didn’t water them enough.

Courtney grew a row of Hopi Red Dye Amaranth in front of the sunflowers.  Outside the fence you can see our 15 plants of rhubarb that we transplanted from our friend earlier this spring.  We did not harvest these at all this year so that they could focus on putting down roots.

And now on to the animals.  Well, you missed the broilers – they’re already in the freezer.

Here are our Buff Orpington laying hens.  We have 13 of them, along with 7 Americauna hens.  The Buff Orpingtons are a dual purpose breed that are great for eggs and meat.  We plan on breeding our own and never needing to buy chicks again.  Courtney has an article planned for the future describing in full detail how we chose this breed.

We started the season with four Broad Breasted Bronze turkey poults, which are all now dead.  Three died of supposed genetic disorder where they go lame.   The fourth was lost to a fox… another story for another day… still not over it.  Above you can see a beautiful heritage Bourbon Red turkey that is 20 weeks old that we bought this past weekend along with the three Blue Slate chicks.  The blue slates will breed, so hopefully we’ve got a male and a female in the bunch.

Originally I had planned on buying two pigs for the year.  Courtney convinced me that we needed to tell everyone we have the “Three Little Pigs” so I had to get one more.  I love piggies, so it was an easy decision.  They love their mudhole and eat anything we throw in to them.

And of course how could we forget Cowboy and Wolfey!?  They absolutely love the wide open spaces we have out here in the country.  And how about that lawn?  We have a dirt lawn, and don’t really care.  Grass requires water, a lawnmower and wouldn’t grow anyways with the dog and kid traffic.  We’d rather spend our time on stuff we can eat.

All in all, life is great.  We’re very busy, but doing things we love.

Thanks, Robert.

Chicken Plucker in Action

The chicken plucker I built last winter has finally seen some action.  Sunday afternoon, despite the 25* temp and winds, we were out harvesting ten laying hens that reached the end of their productive life.

The only other type of plucker I’ve used or even seen in action was a table top, drum style plucker, sort of like this one.  Oh my what a difference this made.  My friends commented that this machine took what used to be the hardest part of killing chickens and made it the easiest.

The only difficulty was when we had to wait a little while for the scalding water to come back up to temperature.  The clumps of feathers froze together and seized the drive belt to the pulley.  Running some water from the hose over the feather clumps thawed them out and operations continued.

In his instructional book on how to build the chicken plucker, Herrick Kimball recommended 145* water with a 30 second scald for optimum results.  We weren’t using a thermometer, just the old fashioned finger test.  The plucker pulled all but a few feathers on the heads (which would be discarded anyways) and a few of the larges ones on the wings.  Easy to pull by hand after the plucker was shut off.

All in all, this was a monumental success, so we celebrated with a newly canned Black IPA from our favorite local microbrewery, hence the product placement above.

Thanks, Robert.

Harvey is back

One of my favorite websites is active again.  The Modern Homestead.  The author, Harvey Ussery, took some time off to write a new book, but now he’s back at it, writing all sorts of interesting articles.  He centers mostly around raising poultry and fowl, but also has an extensive gardening advice section as well.  I really like his idea about setting up worm bins down the middle aisle of your greenhouse.  I spent a fair amount of my spare time last summer reading everything on that website.

Thanks, Robert.

Dog ate my cucumbers!

Our German Shepherd puppy, Wolfey has been at it again.  Born Christmas Day 2010, he’s just a little over six months old, but over seventy pounds already.  Courtney’s mother and sister visited over the weekend for our son’s birthday which meant we were preoccupied.  The poor dogs stayed at home while we were out on Saturday afternoon and got into trouble.

Wolfey ran out of things to do, so he started munching through the strings used to make a trellis for our cucumbers.  I found a cucumber plant laying lifeless out in the yard with its leaves removed.

Here is my response: a dogproof cucumber trellis.

I wrapped the whole thing in chicken wire.  That ought to do the trick, I thought.

I was wrong.  Yesterday, I caught him reaching his head up and nibbling on a leaf that was cascading over the top.   The next step is to dust everything with cayenne powder.

Thanks, Robert.

Proper Care and Feeding of Dogs

As most of you know, we have two dogs: Cowboy, our English Shepherd and Wolfey, our German Shepherd.  I am amazed at the differences.  Wolfey is only six months old and already outweighs Cowboy by ten pounds.  He eats faster than Cowboy and I sometimes have to act as referee at the bowls because Wolfey chows down his larger portion before Cowboy finishes.

I’m sharing some information I found on how to determine the proper amount of food for dogs.  After all, you don’t want your dog to be overweight.  An overweight dog is an unhealthy dog and will be prone to problems such as joint pain and heart trouble.  Most people don’t seem to understand that a dog’s body condition is important.  This is evidenced by the amount of fat dogs I see running around.   And when I meet them and pet them, I can’t feel their ribs at all through all that blubber!  Disgusting!

With that in mind, the best way to tell if your dog is overfed or underfed is by feeling the ribcage.  You should feel some rib, but they shouldn’t feel like a bag of bones.  Here is a great reference with some more description. Increase or decrease the level of feeding based on how they measure up to this standard.  Don’t make changes too drastically though because it will cause stress on the dog.

There are a number of websites out there that can help you determine the appropriate feeding level for your dog, but here is one of my favorites.  Combined with the information of the back of the bag of food you can determine the appropriate amount of food.

Thanks, Robert.

Our dogs are enjoying the nice weather

Here are a few pics of Cowboy and Wolfey enjoying themselves and running around the back yard.  Wolfey is now bigger than Cowboy, at 55 lbs, compared to Cowboy’s 51 lbs.

Cowboy, our English Shepherd.

Wolfey – our German Shepherd.

The chase.

They spend most of every day at each others throat.

A rare occurrence: synchronized sitting, or synchronized obedience.

Thanks, Robert.

We got our dog a dog

I mentioned it a few times already but we got a new puppy for Cowboy.  His name is Wolfey which is short for Wolfgang.  He is an all black pure bred German Shepherd and so we picked out the most German sounding name we could find.

Flattering picture, sorry Wolfey.  Look at those long legs.

While we are completely in love with English Shepherds, but this opportunity presented itself and we jumped at it.  I posted before about the puppies our neighbor had, well Wolfey is from that Christmas Day litter.  We have always been impressed with Wolfey’s mother Cinder.  She is a massive German Shepherd with impeccable manners and a calm easy going spirit.  This was quite a contrast to our puppy Cowboy whose every muscle twitched with excitement.  Don’t get me wrong we love Cowboy’s personality and the intense love that he shows us.

A friend and fellow dog lover suggested that we consider getting a buddy for Cowboy to help him release some of that pent up energy.  We really struggled with this advice because we thought how could two dogs possibly be easier to handle than one dog.  It seemed so contradictory.  But we trusted her advice and dove in head first.  We introduced Cowboy individually to a few of the puppies in the litter and then we let Cowboy decide who his best friend would be, also from the advice of our puppy expert.  We thought that it would be tough to figure out which puppy to pick because Cowboy would like them all but that was definitely not the case.  Cowboy quickly bonded with Wolfey and they set to playing and running around right away.  The other puppy was scared and sat in the corner during the visit.  We instantly knew who we would be taking home.

Wolfey felt right at home and played with Cowboy nonstop until he crashed for a nap.  Which is where we had another confirmation that we made the right choice, Cowboy whined the whole time Wolfey napped and even tried to wake him up several times so that they could play.  Fantastic we thought.  Cowboy was so busy with Wolfey he didn’t even notice that we were busy moving and couldn’t pay attention to him.  We’ve had Wolfey since the last week of March and the dynamic between the two hasn’t really changed.  They play all day and can’t be separated.  Cowboy has not dug one hole since we got Wolfey, he also barks less and is less dependent on us for his every need.  He was quite obsessed with playing frisbee, whenever we came outside he would drop his dirty frisbee in our laps over and over and over.  He couldn’t get enough.  Now we throw the frisbee for him to try and capture his attention away from Wolfey.

They are quite the pair and Wolfey is shaping up to have a very similar personality to his mother’s, calm, relaxed, and quiet.  He even seems a little lazy compared to Cowboy.  He smiles a lot, wags his tale and give kisses frequently.  Our son is not quite sure what to think about all the kisses because Cowboy never gives them.  His huge tail makes us laugh too because he can’t go anywhere without being heard thumping it along the walls.  Cowboy is much more of a vocal dog and prefers barking and whining to get our attention so we are enjoying this quiet guy.

Wolfey is descended from the old world genetics of German Shepherds.  We were told that Adolf Hitler did a lot of breeding of these dogs to make their backs sloped so they looked more aggressive, as if they were ready to pounce.  Those genetic lines are more prone to hip problems.  Wolfey, however, is of the older variety and has a significantly reduced risk of those problems.

Thanks,  Courtney

Anticipating Laying Hens

One of our goals is to live on a homestead in the meantime we are renting until we find that perfect home.  Okay well, at least a home with it’s own well water.  On that homestead we want to raise all our own meat.  This includes grass fed beef, pasture raised chickens, all natural pork, and laying hens.  Robert has much experience in the grass fed beef department and we have one season of experience with pastured poultry.  While Robert has raised pork we do need more experience with heritage breeds and all natural raising practices.  What he has never raised is laying hens. But my family did raise laying hens.  We lived in the suburbs on a little land and we always had fresh eggs.  We didn’t have a pastured system and I don’t remember the breed but the eggs were brown and the yolk was dark orange.  Just the way it should be.

We will soon be at our new rented home and we have decided that laying hens would be a reasonable and valuable addition to our backyard.  Robert has done some research into breeds and I will let him share that in a later post.  What I am asking for today is your input.  What breeds have you tried and loved?  Who are the good producers?  Who are the gentle girls?  Who are the hardy gals?

In this experimental stage I think it would be neat to try a few different breeds and see how they compare.  I would love to have an egg carton filled with multi colored eggs, not Easter eggs colors, but all those shades between green and brown.  I also think we will probably get started pullets.  This means that the bird is older and ready to produce eggs.  They are more expensive but seeing how this is our experimental stage I think it is necessary.  Truth be told I am impatient and want instant gratification.  It feels like a lifetime ago that we raised our own eggs and I just can’t wait anymore.

Another worry we have is Cowboy.  How is he going to react to new roommates in the backyard?  I have a feeling we will have to be quite diligent about watching him and very strict.  Cowboy is smart and learns rules quickly.  I am just worried about the mistakes he might make while learning.

Thanks,  Courtney