Today the grower pigs are snuggling in their half of the greenhouse, the breeders are burrowing into their hay piles in the field and the most pregnant of the sows have made their nests and are finishing the farrowing of their litters.
Gronkle and Cracklin started to build their nest last night, but Gronkle was a bit ahead so she kicked Cracklin out of the nest this morning and went into labor. Cracklin didn’t bother building a new nest in the hut we provided but climbed up on top of the hay bale that had been half way dismantled.
We set up a temporary shelter over Cracklin. The forecast shows we won’t have any more precipitation for the next few days, so the piglets should be fine outside.
The snow is blowing in and, as usual, we could use an extra few weeks to get ready for winter.
It is time for the pigs to start heading back toward their winter quarters. The smaller pigs have already arrived at the greenhouse. The larger ones will come up to their winter area next week, and the boar and sows will be making their move shortly thereafter.
It is time for the cattle to make the last passes through the fall pasture rotation before moving to the winter store of hay bales. They have about ten more acres to graze through, but it shouldn’t take them very long. There is some good quality grass out there, but it is on fields that received a hay cutting a bit late in the season, so the regrowth didn’t produce a lot of volume.
There are lots of little details to take care of. Winter fences to be built, temporary laneways and corrals for moving cattle and pigs, miscellaneous repairs to the winter farrowing huts. But as we go into our fourth winter here, we feel that we have a better understanding of what needs to be done. That doesn’t mean preparations are less laborious, but at least we know better what to expect.
Alonzo, a registered Devon, came to hang out with the cows for a couple of months. He settled in just fine the first day, went to work the second day with a red Angus heifer, and has been courting another of the black Angus cows today.
When a heifer (female bovine who has not produced a calf) or a cow (female who has previously calved) goes into heat/estrus, everybody in the neighborhood knows. Such mooings! Such commotion! She is restless and mounts the other cattle, and they mount her–heifer, cow, or steer.
Now with Alonzo, the cows seem calmer. He smells for the pheromones in the cow’s urine and vaginal secretions and gauges her reception to him. He has been grazing near today’s cow and pretty much keeping her to himself. If she starts to wander off, he follows right along, asking if she’s ready for breeding by putting his chin on her loin or rump to see if she’s ready to stand for him. When she is in standing heat, she will allow him to mount. He has about a 15 hour window.
We’ll keep him around long enough to allow the cows to cycle three times, and then it’s back to his own herd at Dharma Lea.
We were hoping to keep her alive for a week. We were feeding her raw pork liver in bite sized pieces, rotating her body every few hours, spoon feeding her milk and tending her kittens. She must have cashed in on another of her nine lives because she’s back and better than ever.
The kittens are in full kitten character and are providing hours of amusement.
Update Jan 2016: We moved the trough and made some plumbing improvements in this follow-up post.
Last week we set up a new water trough for the cattle in the area where they’ll be bale grazing this winter. We started building drinking troughs out of heavy equipment tires two years ago. Tire tanks are heavy enough to stand up to charging cattle and rooting hogs. In winter they do freeze, but with the combination of the heat absorption of the black rubber and the insulation provided by their thick sides, they resist freezing better than galvanized stock tanks. And when we need to chop ice out of a tire tank with an axe, we don’t need to worry about cracking or denting the tank. In fact, it often helps to wallop the side of the tank with the sledge hammer to loosen up the ice.
This installation is temporary. Temporary, when used in the context of farming, usually just means a permanent installation that you always would like to change but don’t have the money or time to change. But the goal is to eventually set up this tank connected to frost-free buried water line so that it can be filled automatically. We don’t have a frost free buried water line for the back fields, so this winter we’ll end up pumping water from a small pond using a gasoline powered pump.
We got this tire for free from a local gravel quarry. They would have had to pay to dispose of it, so they were happy to get rid of it. The tire is just under six feet in diameter and two feet wide. The manufacturer’s website says that this model weighs around 800 pounds, depending on the tread pattern.
The first task is to cut out the sidewall. For other tanks, we’ve removed the entire sidewall so that several animals can drink simultaneously. But in this case we wanted to leave most of the top covered to reduce the winter heat loss. We’re not sure how much effect the top will have on freezing, so this is an experiment. Cutting through the tire is a chore. Loader tires are full of steel wire in both the belting and the radial plies. After drilling pilot holes, we cut through the sidewall with a reciprocating saw.
Next the tire is placed on a gravel base and leveled. We had a small scrap of geotextile fabric in the garage, just enough to cover an 8’x8′ area under the tire.
It helps to have a competent equipment operator on hand so that one person can raise and lower the tire while the other person makes fine adjustments and checks for level.
Then the bottom of the tank is prepped. We installed a piece of bent rebar to provide a lifting hook so we can move the tire if we ever need to. We also installed a four inch PVC pipe as a sleeve for a future water supply line and overflow tube. For now, we’ll just cap the pipe with a rubber fitting. We needed four sacks of concrete to fill the tire up to the bottom bead.
To finish the tank, we filled in the sides with a few inches of crusher run gravel to provide a firmer base. If this were a permanent installation, a concrete apron all around the tank would be a good addition.
The total cash cost for the project was $53 ($16 for four sacks of concrete, $20 for two tons of gravel, and $17 for a package of reciprocating saw blades).
I read about this a while back and wanted to ask your thoughts on the issue. Forgot about it until I came across this NPR bit in my newsfeed. What do you do with your eggs/chickens? NPR: Why the US Chills Its Eggs and Most of the World Doesn’t
But all that nitpicking aside, it certainly makes sense that eggs should last a long time without refrigeration. Modern production breeds of egg laying hens crank out five or more eggs per week for several months at a stretch and never have the biological urge to hatch eggs. But an “unimproved”, traditional hen will lay eggs until she has between ten and fourteen in her nest, and then she’ll “go broody” and start sitting on her eggs for three weeks until the chicks hatch. Many old fashioned breeds of chickens don’t lay eggs as regularly, so that means it might take a hen three weeks to lay all her eggs before incubation. During that time, the eggs remain viable.
If we were to sell eggs, by law we would need to wash and refrigerate them. Most states also require eggs to be candled (checked with a bright light to detect cracks or blood spots within). Since we consume all our eggs, we have the prerogative to enjoy detergent free, unrefrigerated eggs. Realistically, most eggs don’t hang around here for more than a few days anyway since we do a pretty good job of eating as many eggs as we collect each day.
And to answer the inevitable follow-up question — yes, we do eat them raw when we make mayonnaise, ice cream, and Orange Julii (is this the plural of Juliuses?).
Mama Cat is slipping away today. She has produced a remarkable amount of kittens (most of whom must have gone to feed coyotes) in the last 3 years, and we will miss her mousing prowess.
We noticed a few months ago as the mama cat was preparing to kindle that she had some growths on her breasts. We don’t know what happened to the two kittens she had. But almost as soon as we realized they were gone, we could see her big with another kindle. She delivered in our milk shed this time. The rains drove her back to the barn next door where we visited the kittens daily, bringing the mama liver and fat and table scraps. We could tell the cancer was growing.
Then a few days ago the kittens disappeared and the mama was at our house much more frequently. Last night we noticed her back legs giving way beneath her and knew the end had come. We did a search of the field next to ours where we had seen her walking a few times, and we found her kindle–all safe and snug and big! By the time we had them all settled in the summer kitchen in a cubby, the mama had all but stopped using her back end.
She worsened through the night and remains on her side now. Allie fed her chunks of pig heart since she can only move her head and barely hold up the front of her body. The kittens have a small chance of survival at this age.
She has been a great mother all the way to the end. When her kittens mew in distress, she tries to move to them despite her inability to get up. Early this morning we took them all out on the grass, but the mama was concerned and attempted to drag one away. She didn’t want them exposed, so we settled them all back in their nook.
The kids are keeping vigil.
A coopers hawk has a nest in a near pasture, providing lovely glimpses of these beautiful creatures soaring above the valley. But of coarse there is a darker side. A few years ago our free ranging meat birds provided the hawks with many tasty meals. Last year our rooster fought them off on the few occasions that they came after the laying hens. This year we have had too many disappearances, and we continue to startle a hawk away from our milk house, compost heap, hay bales and pine trees. It seems that he or she is spending more and more time watching our little laying hen chicks as they scurry around with their moms. A couple of days ago we found him trapped in our hoop house. Since the only way in is the open door at ground level, his presence meant he had chased one of our birds inside.
On the one hand, I felt disappointed that such a gorgeous, fierce and independent creature was trapped and spending his day flapping against plastic sheeting. On the other hand…we are loosing hens.
We ended up leaving the door on the upper level open and when I went out to check yesterday afternoon, he was gone. Soon after, a hawk swooped low over me in chase of a flock of red-winged black birds. And soon after that he tumbled with another of his kind through the air and soared into a new group of black birds.
So there they are, gracing the sky over the valley with their beauty and living to kill the beautiful birds we love to watch as well as the chicks we try to raise.
Our main fence charger blew because of nearby lightening last night. Dave discovered the problem around midnight and turned on our backup. It was nice to catch the problem so quickly– this post could be about the excessive rain rather than a morning of rounding up cattle and pigs.
You can read about the local flooding here.
Our farm has a seasonal stream running through the low point. Today it didn’t look much like a stream.