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.