Archive | June, 2015


30 Jun

Here’s a little something for all my fellow farmers that I just stumbled across today.


A ton of good information on forages, grains and the like.

Much helpful.

Velcro: a love letter

29 Jun


Velcro, you’re just about the best thing that a market farmer could ever have.

I have no idea why I don’t see more of you around.


You hold my vinyl banners on the freezer.


And on the folding table.


Or on the tent.


And at the end of the day, you hold them up out of the way, on the wall of the trailer.

Thanks velcro, keep being awesome.

Piglet gone wrong

29 Jun


Warning, this blog post is about a necropsy of a deceased piglet, which includes pictures.

If this sort of thing makes you squeamish, you might want to find something else to read for a bit.

So, one of the sows that I recently culled had two runts in her last litter.

After being weaned the runts, especially the smallest one, never did very well.  Despite having constant access to food and water like the other pigs, he seemed to be losing weight.  As the weeks went by he became emaciated and we put him in a pen inside the barn by himself.  It didn’t help.

We wormed him, fed him extra, and even took the drastic step of giving him a course of antibiotics.  None of it helped.

Finally, he was on deaths door, and the only humane thing left to do was euthanize.  I decided that a necropsy was in order to access what was wrong with the piglet.


Heart and lungs were fine. The heart may be a bit enlarged, but nothing too out of the ordinary.


Down in the digestive tract is where things got interesting. The stomach was full of feed. That’s a bit odd for an animal that practically starved to death. The intestines, on the other hand, were mostly empty, save for a few bits of feed and bubbles of gas.


Liver looks good (near the scalpel blade), which likely means there wasn’t a parasite problem. The spleen (upper left) had some dark mottling on it, I can’t figure out what that might mean.


It was after tracing the route of the esophagus what I uncovered the problem. On this particular piglet, the esophagus went on a direct path from mouth to rectum. There was a tiny fork in the esophagus (being held up by the scalpel blade) about halfway through that lead to the stomach.

Poor little guy wasn’t plumbed right, he never had a chance.
So while this is all a bit sad, it does give me two things to be happy about.
First, it was not poor management that lead to this piglets untimely demise.
Second, I’ve already eliminated the offending genetics (his dam) from the herd.

DIY Parsnip Predator

18 Jun


In the perennial battle against invasive biennial weeds, I’ve been doing a little bit of experimenting.

After last year’s failed attempts at some well-timed cutting, first with the brush-hog (until it hit a rock and broke) and then with a scythe, it was time to find a different solution.

I’d heard good things about the parsnip predator, a specially-designed shovel that’s used to sever the taproot of wild parsnip and other biennial weeds.  All the reviews sounded good but $50-60 is an awful lot to pay for a cheap shovel.

I cleared a bit of thistle and burdock with my 6″ grubbing hoe and my Fiskars post-hole shovel.  Both worked OK, but they were far from ideal.  The grubbing hoe is too wide and too hard to aim. The Fiskars is too heavy (which makes it a great post-hole shovel) and the rounded nose wasn’t helping much, even when kept very sharp.

So I moseyed on down to the hardware store and bought the cheapest light-weight post-hole shovel I could find.


I chopped an inch off each side at the bottom of the shovel (tapering to full-width at the top) and cut a V-notch in the nose.  I drilled out the handle-rivet, rotated the handle 90° and re-attached it with a machine-screw and bolt. After a bit of grinding and hand-filing to get it nice and sharp it was off to the pasture to see how it worked.


In short, like a dream.

Follow the stem of the plant down to ground level, back the blade off just a bit, then push down at an angle to slice through the taproot.


With a quick flick of the wrist you can pop the plant right out of the ground, leaving very little disturbed soil.  It’s amazing that just a few small changes can make such a huge difference in the speed at which you can kill weeds.  This tool can make mincemeat out of even a very large thistle (or burdock, or parsnip) in one second.  The small sharp blade is easy to push through the taproot with one hand, and the V-notch makes it possible to get centered on the stem without seeing the base of the plant.

I wish I’d have made one of these a long time ago.

Testing the Winnebeggo

17 Jun


As I mentioned when I finally finished building the Winnebeggo, the only thing left to do is a bit of real-world product testing.

We were prepared for a bit of a battle in getting all the chickens to accept the Winnebeggo as their new home.  I’d seen a video (I think?) of Joel Salatin describing a 4-day process of acclimating chickens to a mobile coop.  From what I can remember (I can’t find the video now, of course) he said to count on 1/3 to 1/4 of the hens to attempt to roost outside of the mobile coop on the first night.  In the three subsequent nights the numbers would decrease until they all learned to roost inside the mobile coop.

To start things off, we moved all the chickens into the Winnebeggo at night.  After dark the chickens were all roosting in the chicken coop, which means that they were easy to catch.  Additionally, chickens seem to associate “home” with wherever they leave in the morning.  If they spend the night in the Winnebeggo, they’ll begin to recognize it as their new home when they leave the Winebeggo in the morning.


The first night was a bit traumatizing for them with the big move, most of them spent the night on the floor, not bothering to fly up to the roosts.

The next morning we moved the Winnebeggo a good 300-400 yards from the barns and let the chickens out.  They took quite a while to figure out how to exit the Winebeggo, and I suspect that half of them never made it outside the first day.

That evening we were pleasantly surprised to find only 10% of our chickens attempting to roost underneath the Winebeggo.


After throwing the wayward chickens back in, the whole process was repeated for a few days.

True to Salatin’s word, the number of chickens roosting outside steadily dropped until, by day 4, they were all choosing to roost inside the Winebeggo.


So here we are a week later and here’s what we’ve found out about the Winebeggo:

Egg production dropped a bit, we’re attributing this to the big change in their lifestyle, hoping it will pick back up.

Egg eating and egg-breakage have dropped to almost zero!  As a result, egg-cleaning takes much less time.

Feed consumption has been cut in half, particularly when the chickens are in an un-grazed paddock with plenty of seed-heads on the grasses.

Egg quality has gone up with even brighter yolks and firmer whites.

And last but not least, the chickens seem a lot happier in their new digs.

Winnebeggo build – part 2

10 Jun

Winnebeggo build – part 2

When I last wrote, the Winnebeggo looked a bit like this:


With the sheathing and the roof on, it went fairly quickly from there, but there were a lot of little pieces left to do before the Winnebeggo was chicken-worthy.


Finishing up the roost bars under the roof.
The current roost bars are plenty for our current flock, but as we look to expand our egg-production next year it’s likely that we’ll be adding some more roost bars this winter when the chickens go back to the permanent coop.


There was the small matter of separating the nest boxes from the rest of the coop.
We’ve decided to give community nest boxes a go, which means that the nest boxes are a big 2’x4′ box that the many chickens can use at once. The theory goes that since the community nest box is kept pretty dark, there should be less egg-eating, something that we’ve had problems with from time-to-time.


In the interest of keeping things nice and dark, a half-dozen cans of matte black spray-paint were used to tone things in the nest boxes down a bit.


Now it was time to put the floor in, this is where things were about to get difficult.
We’d decided to go with a wire floor. This floor is plenty to support chickens, but it can’t be trusted to support a human.
Why wire you ask?
Because wire does not accumulate poop. Poop falls through wire, down to the ground where it lands as fertilizer. No shoveling or hauling necessary.

Now, stapling some wire down to a few boards isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. But stapling wire down to some boards without standing on much of anything gets pretty difficult.

We went with 2″x4″ wire for the floor, it’s a bit too big for the chickens to have good footing. But if you were to double it up just so, then it would theoretically leave you with 1″x2″ spacing, which is right on target. Sure, you could special-order a big roll of 1″x1″ mesh, but that would take a while to get in and would cost 2-3x more.


Right before the floor went in, it dawned on me that I needed to put in the water barrel. With the floor in place I have no idea how I would go about getting a 55-gallon barrel into the Winnebeggo.
The barrel got two hoses in the top, black and red. And a single red hose coming out of the bottom.
This way the barrel is inside the coop, but still sealed up where no chicken poop can get into the water.


The black hose going in the top of the barrel is the filler hose.
And a fancy sight-gauge to see how much water the chickens have left.


The little bit of red hose poking down behind the barrel is the overflow hose, if you go past “full” on the sight gauge, the excess water will come out of the overflow hose and onto the ground, keeping the coop dry.
The hose coming out of the bottom of the barrel goes to two tee fittings. One for the sight-gauge, and one for the two green hoses that carry water to two of our pastured chicken waterers.


One underneath the Winnebeggo, accessible from the outside.
And another inside, for those days when the chickens need to be cooped up longer.
The big hook under the nest boxes is to hang the usual 40# feeder.


The last five-foot section of the coop floor hinges down to act as a ramp to the world outside.
Again, it’s an all wire floor to promote quick and efficient gravity-assisted excreta removal.


When spring happened and we got busy, the work on the chicken coop controller fell by the wayside. For now we’re using this fancy high-tech rope and pulley.
And cleat; can’t forget the cleat.


After way too much crawling the length of the coop, trying not to destroy the wire floor, we decided that a door was in order for the other end of the Winnebeggo.


After fixing a couple of the the flat tires, it was finally time for the maiden voyage.
We decided that the only way to get it turned around was to take it down my driveway and turn it around in the road. It’s turning-radius is not exactly small.
It’s pretty awesome to see something that big roll by.
The final dimensions are 10′ wide, 20′ long (not counting the wagon tongue) and about 8′ tall.

Now for the scary part, real-world product testing.

First chicks of 2015

9 Jun


It’s been almost a week since we picked up our first chicks of 2015.


They’re pretty cute for the first two weeks or so, then the cuteness drops off pretty fast.  But right now we’re still in high-cuteness territory, our daughter demands to go see the chicks multiple times per day.

I’ve been pretty ambivalent about meat birds this year.  This is partially because last year was such a disaster for meat chickens.  We were not alone in our bad luck, as I talked to a number of other farmers in our area, and every one of them had bad luck with their meat chickens as well.  I’m chalking it up to the unusually long, cold, wet spring.  Chicks (especially in the first two weeks of life) like it hot and dry, something we had precious little of last year.  With 90°F in the forecast tomorrow, the chicks are having a fine time, which is reflected in the mortality numbers (only 2 so far).

Last year we purchased this gas brooder for our last batch of chicks, thinking that our electric brooders were the cause of our high mortality, but much to our dismay the gas brooder didn’t help.

I think it was just a matter of working the kinks out. We got a 100# propane cylinder and a two-stage regulator, replaced the thermocouple and it seems to be working just fine.  Just to be safe, we thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the brooder room before the chicks arrival.

So far, so good.

In another week or so it’ll be time to start repairing the chicken pens for another year of service.  The calves got a little too friendly with some of the chicken pens over the winter and mostly destroyed one or two of them.  I think it may be time to move to a stronger (but more costly) sheathing than the recycled campaign signs that we’ve been using.