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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Chicks

Objectively Determining a Chicken Sale Price: Part 1

Under the banner of full transparency, here are the efforts and analysis I have done to nail down a price point for selling dressed broilers. This chart from the Organic Feed Store aligns with almost all literature I have read on raising broilers. Specifically that one bird will consume ~11 pounds of feed in an eight-week lifetime or ~15 in a 9 week lifetime. After 8 weeks, the birds start to eat more than they put on weight-wise so that is the typical culling age. Simply, they cost more to feed than the meat they put on.

Feed Consumption Chart – Meat Birds – Cornish Rock Cross

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

Even though I am going to cull at 8 weeks, I will use the feed requirements for a 9 week bird as it gives room for spillage, waste and just a general buffer. Now that I have the amount of feed required to raise a broiler, I contacted local feed mills.

One of the feed consultants, in his Appalachian drawl, inquired if I was going to be “One of these more natural operations.”  I responded that it will be a more natural, pasture-based approach but I personally place more emphasis on local sourcing than shipping “natural products from the Midwest” or natural kelp from Iceland. To my surprise, he about jumped out of his shoes in excitement to help me by immediately explaining their local lightly roasted soybeans, corn, alfalfa meal. He spent quite a while explaining how their mill works and the various blades for crimping, rolling or pelleting feed. He also listed the retail prices for all his ingredients as well as feed rations they have formulated for other poultry customers. They are willing to mix small amounts for me as samplers and will happily scale up production along with my operation as it expands. Needless to say, I have found my feed source!

So based on the quoted prices, I can build a model to determine all of my costs that go into each bird in its lifetime. From there it is a simple step to formulate the price per pound at which selling the birds will support my lifestyle. Stay tuned as I will publish the calculations and spreadsheets in a following post.

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Cattle, Chicks, Side Projects

Experiment: Growing Bamboo for fodder

Turns out just about every livestock animal enjoys bamboo at different stages of its growth. Chickens will eat new shoots, cows/horses will graze the foliage and goats will browse any part of it that isn’t overly mature/woody.

 

About Bamboo:

I’ll always remember a poem from one of my rather-hippie forest ecology professors:

“Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints unless there are cops around.”

Therefore, bamboo is technically a grass!

Found on bamboofarmingusa,com, 2 laboratory analysis reports were shared that break down the nutrient content of bamboo.

From Dairy One Forage Testing Laboratory (PDF Link):

 

BambooDairyOneLab

From the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Customer Services:

Bamboo_Lab

The crude protein figures above are high enough to be considered a “Premium” grass hay by USDA guidelines (retrieved from Oregon State University). Bamboo requires significant amounts of nitrogen so some sort of legume ground cover (likely peas or clover) would be a natural companion for the bamboo stands.

Letting animals graze bamboo also has the subjective benefit of breaking the monotonous boredom of extended hay feeding. As bamboo is an evergreen perennial, the stands could be opened to grazing in winter. I am not sure how nutrient composition changes with winter dormancy though.

Containing the potentially invasive bamboo:

Growing up in a metropolitan area that has spent countless resources battling the encroachment of bamboo, I want to take steps to ensure it remains contained. Originally meant for containing hops plants from taking over the garden, physical root barriers were actually invented with bamboo in mind.

Here are my two favorites on Amazon:

18″ x 100 ft

24″ x 100 ft

 

Time will tell how this experiment goes!

A friend brought up an interesting point in a comment on yesterday’s blog post. There is a species of bamboo native to Virginia and the Southeast US called Giant Cane. He provided a descriptive PDF from the USDA that explains the historical value and use of the plant. My favorite passage states:

According to environmental
historian Mart Stewart (2007), “Modern studies
have established that cane foliage was the highest
yielding native pasture in the South. It has up to
eighteen percent crude protein and is rich in
minerals essential for livestock health.” Livestock
eagerly eat the young plants, leaves, and seeds and
stands decline with overgrazing and rooting by hogs
(Hitchcock and Chase 1951).

Which demonstrates the plant is on par with bamboo as a nutrition source for livestock. Not to mention the renewable building material provided by mature stems. I could build chicken coops, green/hoop houses, storage sheds, etc. Interesting stuff to say the least!

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Chicks

Implementing the Farm in Phases, Cattle out, poultry in!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably determined that I want a wildly diverse farm. Since I am embarking on this solo, I need to constantly remind myself to SIMPLIFY!

Cattle prices are at an all-high. They require fencing, more equipment, incur more risk and have a larger learning curve. As such I am going to cut my grazer efforts down to a hobby level for the first year. A few goats or calves should allow me to learn the ropes and still use them to mow down the pasture ahead of the chickens. Grazing ahead of pastured poultry is required to open up the grasses to access bugs, cut down on cover for land based predation and helps put the grasses into active growth that will readily absorb the 300 pounds per acre of nitrogen that the pastured broilers will put out.

As such I am going to officially declare (to myself more than any other target) that I am going to focus all commercial livestock efforts on raising poultry. That means pastured egg production and pasture broiler production. This removes any immediate need for fencing and removes many of the complications that come with raising cattle. Pastured poultry requires next to no equipment and very little initial investment of capital and time.

A famed pastured poultry farmer warns me that the consumer meat market won’t support small (normal) chicken breeds. It requires the double breasted monsters that have been bred by the poultry industry.

I am at a crossroads. Do I raise birds that I can actually sell and focus on producing nutritious meat through pastured management? Or do I raise heritage breeds that mature much slower and probably won’t sell but hold true to my virtues.

I hope you don’t hold it against me to go with the former. Ideally I hope to re-breed some birds that are a compromise. Currently nothing exists between confinement bred, efficient high-yielding meat producers and forage friendly natural birds. I’d like to bridge that gap but must take these things one step at a time! My compromise is to raise one pen of heritage broilers (males from my laying hatches) and the rest will be market-friendly Cornish Crosses.

Expect this years practical posts to revolve around commercial gardening, beekeeping and chicken rearing from brooding to processing! Next year I may implement beef but the truth is that I was not confident about making a profit after crunching the numbers of local beef sales. Grazers play a pivotal role in my farm model, but every man and animal involved will benefit from me not diving into too much too soon!

Now if only turkeys were not the most skilled livestock animal at finding creative ways to die. They are an awesome pasture species as they can actually forage a large percentage of their caloric intake from grasses while the Cornish Cross broilers will get only 30%. I will raise a few generation of heritage chickens on pasture that can set an example for the turkeys first.

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Chicks

Objectively Choosing Heritage Chicken Breed for Pasturing

Continuing the style of scoring and factoring that I used in Sweet Potato Variety selection, a somewhat-objective scoring system for heritage chicken breeds was used. This time I used a chart published by The Livestock Conservancy. While many organizations have published similar chicken charts, I used this one because it lists forage ability and some predator-savviness information.

For a chicken breed to be considered, it had to be suited for both hot and cold climates as well as lack vision-impairing plumage on its head that would blind it from incoming aerial or land-based predators. For my purposes, forage ability and egg laying rate are the two most important considerations so those scores are factored at twice the weight as other characteristics.

I’ll spare the minute scoring details as you can ascertain them from the end product. The breed characteristics that were considered are:

Forage Ability

Climate Tolerance

Egg Size

Bred for Meat or Egg Production

Laying Rate

Comb Prone to Frostbite

In alphabetical order, the scoring and factoring is as follows:

ChickenScoringAlph

Sorted by highest score:

ChickenScoringScore

As you can see, my top 3 breeds are

Dominique:

Australorp:

Rhode Island Red:

There are also many more high-scoring breeds for consideration when seeing what is available at the hatcheries!

Here is a link to my spreadsheet on google docs if you want to view, download or adapt it to your needs.

And here is one that I will add to the sweet Potato Selection Post.

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Chicks

Modelling the HenMobile

Eggs will be a useful and economical byproduct of pasture sanitation. The chickens will follow the cow rotation on a 5 day delay to allow fly eggs to be laid and hatched in the cow manure. In order to get to their nutritious meal, the chickens will scratch and fling the manure. First this process distributes the manure so the cows can re-graze the entire paddock upon pasture regeneration. The nutrients in the manure are broadcast so they build soil more evenly opposed to inundating patches with the acute manure piles. Lastly, the scattering of manure helps to break and prevent pathogen growth cycles.

My mobile chicken house will provide water, shade during the day and predator protection at night when the chickens are enclosed within. Half inch, 19 gauge hardware cloth will let excrement fall through further fertilizing the pasture while keeping snakes and predators out. Water will be provided via an old 6.5 gallon bottling bucket retired from brewing beer. Via gravity, a short length of hose will feed water to nipples on a pvc pipe. The nesting boxes will be accessible from the outside for easy egg retrieval.

I have not decided on a trailer base for the henmobile, so I put it on a generic 4×8 utility trailer for reference. There are no structural considerations in my model yet. Without further ado, here is the hen mobile modelled in Sketchup!

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