General Pasture

Pasture Track- unplanned clover planting update

Update to this post

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Cattle, General Pasture

Utilizing my uncle’s manure pack until I have my own

Carbon bedding bonds to nutrients and ammonia in animal wastes preventing pollution of the air or ground. When animals overwinter on bedding, they pack their manure down tight removing air pockets leading to anaerobic decomposition which provides free heat contributing to the animals’ health and comfort. Letting the pack decompose for 6 months lets the microbes digest some of the material as well as begin to mineralize the nutrients making them bioavailable to plants.

The concept is old and the cornerstone of fertility and soil building on my farm. There is one small problem: I don’t have animals yet!

But my uncle has beef cattle and pigs and was willing to part with some manure so I could start applying it to my pasture.

I wanted to add a bit more carbon to the pack so I lined my truck bed with sawdust before heading to my uncles farm. Upon returning I added ancient hay to the top of the pile and it all mixed together as I unloaded it by hand.

Once I got back to my farm with a truck overloaded with manure, I tossed the first bit into the compost bin to bolster the nitrogen content to rev the compost pile up one last time before the fall temperatures cool it down. On top of the compost I added a bit more sawdust.

The rest went quicker than I had anticipated. I used it to fill in divots and cover rocks that have appeared on the vehicle track through the pasture. There are a few more places along that track I would like to build soil, most notably around exposed rocks. Any future loads will be spread on the pasture around rocks that are barely exposed. When it breaks down a bit more, I can pull back the hay mulch and plant some clover and buckwheats seeds before returning the mulch.

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Forestry

Can’t even be mad at the deer for this one

I’ve been flagging all the Ailanthus trees (tree of heaven) in the pasture so I can take them down this winter. There are a few that are a bit more pressing so I took them down by hand while I wait until I have access to a chainsaw.

This tree was located on the edge of my wildlife plot and blocked my bow lane from a treestand. With a hand saw the tree was felled. Leaves are left on the tree as they continue to transpire pulling water from the stem which aids in the drying/seasoning process.

I returned the next morning to find this:

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The deer had stripped off every single leaf leaving only the winged samara fruit. Glad something enjoyed the tree at least. More importantly the deer, hopefully goats in the future as the two animals share much of the same browsing habits, will be allies by consuming tree of heaven seedlings that sprout in the future!

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Bees, General Pasture

Turning an unfortunate situation around

We planted a wildlife plot in the back of the pasture last week. It involved disking the existing weeds under. All went well until the hydraulic hose shot out the rear of the tractor preventing us from raising the disk out of the ground.

So we had no choice but to lightly disk the main road through the pasture to return the equipment to the barn.

However the mechanical issues created an opportunity to spread some clover seed in the minorly disturbed ground. The soil gains nitrogen and the wild (eventually domesticated too) browsers gain protein and bees will gain nourishment. I’ll take any chance I get to make the farm more pollinator friendly!

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Chicks

Tips for working with Hardware Cloth (and the start of my DIY 40 bird mobile brooder)

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm provides the inspiration for almost every piece of the farm model. However the goal is to keep all of the livestock infrastructure mobile in hopes of expanding to rented land in the future. Therefore everything must fit on a 12 foot trailer for transportation.

Clothing:

Unwelded edges of hardware cloth is very nasty so gloves and long sleeves/pants will prevent many many scratches.

Cutting:

Tin snips or shears rated for 20 gauge steel cut through 19 gauge hardware cloth like scissors through construction paper. This was made apparent after a few frustrating minutes attempting to cut the material with a fence tool then large cutting pliers.

Additionally, working solo required large rocks to weight down the hardware cloth whose memory of being in a tightly wound roll was apparent. Below you can see the large rock used to hold the loose end of the roll in front of the gate. Another rock was used as a chock to keep the rest of the wound material from rolling.

HardwareCloth

Predator proofing, not flooring:

Predation is the biggest concern through the entire lifespan of chicks here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Specifically, rats are known to carry many live chicks to their nest at a time and repeat the process every night. As such, the role of hardware cloth in the brooder is not to supply flooring, but to prevent access to rats. As a matter of fact mesh, wire and hardware cloth can damage a chicks feet, permanently stunting its growth. When complete, the floor shown below will be buried under about 18 inches of bedding material.

Attaching to Wood

I am still experimenting with the staples so I can’t give much advice. Hardware cloth has some jagged edges that love to dig in to the wood and wedge itself in the wrong position. It is a very frustrating material to work with!

Letting the convex side of the mesh (in regards to the curve memory from being in a spool) sit into the wooden frame helped in a few ways: Will protect the excess material from dragging on the ground when brooder is complete and flipped over, let me stretch material with pliers if I needed a bit more to hold the staple, and it let me drive one side of staple partially in to allow a bit of play before the hardware cloth is permanently attached (Shown below).

 

BrooderFloorTeaser

 

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Cattle

Manually harvesting hay

Believe it or not, there are many places in the world where hay is still harvested by hand. Barring economic reasons, manual hay harvesting to provide winter fodder for animals is generally found in mountainous, rocky or uneven areas where machinery will break or simply cannot be run. As I will only be running 1-2 goats and 1-2 heads of cattle on the 10 acre pasture, there will be plenty of pasture that will grow into maturity and be wasted. Plus my hay requirements for 2-4 animals is very low. Remember from my early post on Grazing Sciences, that the most nutritious grasses are harvested before maturity and left with 3-4″ of photosynthetic material that creates the ebergy needed for grass to regenerate.

I learned the ropes from this article from a 1979 Mother Earth News article titled The Art of Cutting Hay By Hand written by a french author who at least at the time of publication, manually harvested all hay for her farm. Below is a simplified gist of the process

1. Swing the scythe that has been sharpened to a razor edge allowing the blade to do the work instead of force.

2. Re-sharpen scythe approximately every hour or every few rows of grass.

  • While my uncle is a master, I am absolutely terrible at sharpening blades with a whetstone. I found this tool very useful in the kitchen on low end knives and honestly will try it as a scythe-sharpening shortcut (Amazon kitchen knife sharpener). For my nicer kitchen knives and hunting knives, I use this kit which is fantastic, but more work (Amazon Spider Co sharpening kit).

3. The scythe naturally rakes the hay into rows so the fodder needs to be fluffed and spread to dry

4. Rake into rows

5. Once dry, bail the hay using a homemade piece of canvas (or similar material…maybe a tarp?) and tie it up. This is entirely optional! Alternatively just load the unbailed hay into its transportation method.

6. Transport hay to covered storage place

7. Unbail if bailed or spread and fluff to ensure complete drying of hay and prevent spoilage. Salt can be applied to any grass clumps that are still wet to discourage fermentation. Obviously I would use a salt meant for animal nutritional supplementation!

Thats it! The stored hay can be fed in the winter as needed.

There is an antique scythe already in my barn and I absolutely love manual labor as long as the tasks are varied. Harvesting hay manually limits the economic pit of buying single purpose equipment that dooms most failed farm operations. To put it bluntly, in the first year of starting my farm operation, I will have way more time than cashflow so the task would fit well as something productive with no extra equipment-requirements. It is also an homage to a pre-industrial way of life, provides a fun outdoor task and prevents me from buying or renting expensive equipment that would likely end up broken due to the uneven and rocky pasture. Most importantly, I will get to learn what is entailed by cutting, raking, bailing and storing hay without burning a single bit of petroleum. Assuming cattle or goat operation are expanded in the future that requires acquiring haymaking equipment, I will definitely have a deep appreciation of said equipment!

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Chicks

Objectively Determining a Chicken Sale Price: Part 2

Here are the quotes on bulk retail prices from the local feed mill.

Bulk, retail Quotes from Feed Mill
soybean 519 /ton
cornmeal 194 /ton
wheat mids 184 /ton
ground limestone 110 /ton
alfalfa meal 484 /ton
trace vitamins 60.35 /50 lb use at 5 lb/ton
salt 6.15 /50 lb use at 5 lb/ton
locally roasted soybeans 508 /ton 30% Protein and 20% Fat
probiotic
kelp from acadia 59.75 /50 lb 10-20/ton

By linking the percentage make up of desired ration (from Polyface Farms ration), I can get a estimate of the costs per 50 pound bag

My desired Ration
Ration Percentage Price per mixed ton Price per mixed 50 lb bag Substitutions Notes
Corn 52% 100.88 2.522
Roasted Soybean 29% 147.32 3.683 Soybean meal, cottonseed meal
Crimped oats 11% 20.24 0.506 Whole oats using wheat midds for now
Limestone 1% 1.1 0.0275
Fishmeal 3.50% not mentioned by feedmill Protein booster, not availible from rockingham
Kelp 0.50% 11.95 0.29875 Probably Topdress, unless increases to replace nutrient
Probiotic 0.10% Probably Topdress (fast track)
Nutrient booster 3% 72.42 1.8105 Maybe salt + Kelp + trace vitamin? See PDFs
100% Total 353.91 8.84775

Seeing it will cost me around $9 per 50 bag at retail prices, I can use the chart provided in my previous post to estimate the cost to feed an individual broiler chicken in its lifetime.

Age Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Total # of Bags
One Bird 4.2 oz. 9.2 oz. 3.7 oz. 18.8 oz. 26.1 oz. 34.5 oz. 38.5 oz. 42.6 oz. 46.5 oz. 14.63 lbs.
25 Birds 6.56 lbs. 14.38 lbs. 21.41 lbs. 29.28 lbs. 40.78 lbs. 53.91 lbs. 60.16 lbs. 66.56 lbs. 72.66 lbs. 7.32 bags
50 Birds 13.13 lbs. 28.75 lbs. 42.81 lbs. 58.75 lbs. 81.56 lbs. 107.81 lbs. 120.31 lbs. 133.13 lbs. 145.31 lbs. 14.63 bags
100 Birds 26.25 lbs. 57.5 lbs. 85.63 lbs. 117.5 lbs. 163.13 lbs. 215.63 lbs. 240.63 lbs. 266.25 lbs. 290.63 lbs. 29.26 bags

The above chart from The Organic Feed Store shows that I will need a maximum of 14.63 pounds of feed per chicken in its lifetime.

Next in raising my broilers is moving a pen and refilling feed/water. A total of a half hour per day spread across the 75 birds per pen. Processing a 75 bird batch will take around 4 hours assuming my scalder/plucker builds are successful.

Hours Labor description
0.5 Labor for moving/feeding per day per 75 birds
0.006666667 ^ Per day single bird
60 Days birds are alive
0.4 Labor per bird over its lifetime
4 Processing labor for 75 birds
0.053333333 Processing labor for 1 bird
0.453333333 Total Labor per bird

From brooding to processing, the birds will need to be feed a maximum of 60 days in their lifetime so each bird will take .45 hours of labor to raise.

Adding up the feed and sourcing costs, I can figure my bottom line.

Bottom Line
2.23 Cost of chick at 50 Per order
0.5348 Cost of shipping per chick
5.35365165 Total cost of Chick in lifetime
90% 10% Loss Factor Constant
3.5 Average Dressed Weight
3.5 Price charged per pound
6.206713515 Profit
13.69127981 Hourly Wage

NOTE: I EDITED THIS CALCULATION TO CHANGE MORTALITY RATE TO 10% AFTER MORE RESEARCH

Manually inputting various pricing per pound, I found that $3.50 will provide an hourly wage of almost $15. Keep in mind that all estimated cost are done conservatively and the birds should source 20-30% of their feed directly from the pasture. Any increase in efficiency, decrease in feed costs, minimizing of losses etc. will give me a raise. As a centerpiece of my farm operation, seasonal pastured broiler production will support my desired lifestyle while I explore additional avenues for income.

 Here is a link to Google docs for my spreadsheet if you wish to download it.

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