Archive | May, 2015

Spring crunch

29 May

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Grass is growing. Cows are grazing. Pigs are wallowing.

Farmers markets are starting up. (Eagan, we’re looking at you.)

Eggmobiles are progressing.

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Thanks to our friend Nate, the eggmobile will heretofore be referred to as the Winnebeggo.

A Tale of 3 Air Rifles

20 May

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About two years ago I got myself the first real air-rifle I’ve ever owned.  Farming, particularly livestock farming, is rife with pests.  For controlling those pests, there are few better options than a good air rifle.  Air rifles are cheap to shoot, $10 for 500 pellets which is 1/3rd the price of a .22 rimfire rifle.  Air rifles are also safer, being significantly less powerful than a rim-fire or center-fire rifle.  One can shoot an air rifle around and inside of all manner of barns, feed bins and buildings without the risking any major damage.

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When you’ve got several dilapidated farm buildings you’re bound to get every one of the “big 3” invasive bird species (European Starling, House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon) showing up.  These invasive species, especially the starling and sparrow, have a nasty habit of murdering the beneficial native species that we encourage on our farm.  The air-rifle is one of the tools we use to take the nasty invasive bullies out.

I started out with a cheap Crosman Optimus .177 caliber air rifle.  I quickly determined that the gun was more accurate than I was capable of without an optic, so I got a cheap-but-decent 4x scope to go on top.  Despite the absolutely awful trigger, I was able to get some pretty good accuracy out of the gun, managing to take down several starlings at 40 yards.

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This is one of the big problem areas for us.  Starlings and Sparrows, both cavity nesters, love the idea of building a nest in the little hole at the apex of our barn roof.  Normally I try to exclude these birds from such areas, but this particular spot is so high off the ground I haven’t figured out a good way to get up there yet.

So with a cheap rifle that could easily make that difficult shot, you could imagine my disappointment when the cheap rifle-stock splintered into pieces one day.  Naturally, the stock is more difficult to buy than the entire gun, which lead me to my second air rifle purchase, the .177 Gamo Hornet.

The Hornet had a synthetic stock, which was much tougher than the Optimus, and after replacing the just-as-awful trigger, the Hornet became quite a shooter, able to make the same 40-yard shot.

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Imagine my further disappointment when the Hornet developed a fatal fracture at the breech where the cocking linkage attaches.  The cool-looking FRP composite that shrouds the barrel & breech isn’t quite as tough as I would have hoped.

I decided that since I was having no luck with cheap air rifles, I should move up to something at a slightly higher price-point.  After a bit of research I settled on the Benjamin Trail NP in .22 caliber.  It’s pretty well made, with a much nicer stock than the other rifles, but I was prepared for a little bit of a fight to get it as accurate as my previous guns.  I knew the trigger would be awful right out of the box, which was indeed the case.

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I was, therefore, a bit surprised to see it shoot a group like this with it’s first four shots.

That would be the first and last time I’d get a group that small for a month or more.

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I replaced the trigger, as I’d planned to since buying the rifle, but the groups did not improve appreciably.

I applied red lock-tite to the forearm screws that wouldn’t stay tight, and groups did not improve appreciably.

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After putting about 400 pellets through the rifle, I was getting quite frustrated with it.  The groups were awful, stringing vertically like crazy and none of my usual tricks could remedy it.

As a last resort I replaced the fancy 3-9x AO scope that came with the Benjamin.  The cheap 4x scope from my first air-rifle was mounted on top, and voila! My groups shrunk back down to a very acceptable size.  Today the Benjamin earned it’s place on the farm, it made the vaunted 40-yard shot and took down a male starling who was trying to lay claim to the top of my barn.

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Fencing Organizer

12 May

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It’s spring, which means that there’s been a lot of fencing going on around the farm.

Lots of fencing means lots of fencing supplies: wire, insulators, gate handles, tensioners, springs, etc.

We were losing the battle to keep all this stuff organized.

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I finally got around to building this, my brainchild of a few years in the making.

There’s a bucket for every different kind of part.  When you want to go build some fence, just grab the appropriate bucket(s) and get going!

Replacement Gilt Blues

12 May

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I decided to keep a few replacement gilts (young lady pigs) this spring.  I sorted out two of the best looking gilts from the past years litter and put them in with the older sows.  After a few days to make nice with each other and eat three square meals, it was time to be introduced to the boar.

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Getting acquainted with the boar went just fine except for this little lady, the pick of the litter. This girl was playing hard-to-get. She never went into standing heat (where she’ll stand still to let the boar mount her) she just squirmed away as best she could. Until she squirmed her way into some deep mud, or into the rocks on the far side of the paddock. That’s when she injured her back leg.

After a few days alone to recuperate, she was not showing any signs of improvement. The leg was still swollen and tender, and she refused to put any weight on it. It was most likely broken, and as with most livestock veterinary care, the cost of treatment is high enough to make slaughter the most viable option.

Our butcher shop was kind enough to squeeze us in at the last minute, so my replacement gilt has gone to the sausage factory.  Too bad, as she was a really nice looking pig, but the best looking pigs still make great porkchops.

Minnesota’s bird flu outbreak

7 May

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You may have read about it in the news, but we’re living right in the middle of it (well, almost) here in Southeastern Minnesota.  Several counties about 2 hours NW of us were the early epicenters of this particular H5N2 outbreak in our state’s numerous commercial turkey flocks.  We’ve also seen outbreaks to the East in Wisconsin’s commercial broiler flocks and to the South in Iowa’s commercial laying flocks.

 

What we’ve yet to see is a single outbreak in “backyard” or alternative (read: pasture-based) poultry flocks.  This is in spite of the fact that these free-ranging flocks should be MUCH more likely to come into contact with the virus through contact with the outdoors generally, and wild birds more specifically.

Wild birds, especially waterfowl, are the alleged carriers of this particular strain of bird flu.  We’re in the midst of the spring migration here in the Mississippi flyway, which means we’re up to our eyeballs in wild birds and waterfowl right now.  With all these wild birds acting as disease vectors, the USDA’s guidance is pretty simple: keep your poultry locked up indoors and keep all the germs outdoors.

Try as they might, the commercial poultry farmers seem unable to stop the virus from infiltrating their barns.  We’ve already lost 8% of Minnesota’s turkey flock to the outbreak and 17% of Iowa’s laying flock.

So if the virus is getting into highly bio-secure poultry barns, we can safely assume that it’s probably getting into wide-open backyard and pastured poultry flocks like ours.
The big question is, why is the virus killing off confinement poultry and not ours?

I was mulling over all these questions on Saturday morning, when I walked out of my house to find this lying on my patio.

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That looks an awful lot like a recently deceased cooper’s hawk.  Of the ~2500 wild birds that the MDC has tested for avian influenza so far, the only positive they’ve turned up was a recently deceased cooper’s hawk.  They’re asking people to report any dead raptors they find, so that they can be tested for the virus.

Cue panicking about the Minnesota Department of Ag showing up to liquidate our laying flock….

After calling in to report said cooper’s hawk to the MDC, we breathed a big sigh of relief.  They didn’t want to take the bird in for testing, it had likely been dead too long.  Apparently they have to be pretty fresh to still carry the virus.

Here it is several days later, and our chickens are still healthy.

So far, so good.