Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Biggest Hay Crop Ever

This is not a world record, but it is a record for our farm.

We have hay everywhere we can store it under roof as well as some overflow. All together 55 large rolls and something like 400 small square bales.

Almost all of it good feed quality hay from our own ground. Last year the same ground produced zero bales. It's amazing what a difference rain can make!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Poultry Schooner

We looked at the mobile shelters used by our good friends at Cognito Farms. Then we shamelessly stole their basic plan.

We found an old boat trailer that was too screwed up to carry a boat around and scrounged through our various scrap piles and the ruins of our old shelter.

This is the result.

We planed to build it one Saturday. We finished it after two full weekends. I'll admit to muttering a few four letter words in the process.

It is a collection of used materials set mostly at 87 degree angles. Any competent carpenter would be appalled,  but the chickens seem to like it just fine.

The back part, under the tarp, is a varmint proof (we hope) roosting area. The chickens get shut in there at night. We let them out in the daytime. Food and water is outside. The chickens access the nest boxes from the inside. We open the doors from the outside to collect the eggs.

We don't need to clean the shelter, other than the nest boxes sometimes. The floor is cage metal so the poop just falls throught onto the ground.

We just move the whole thing to a new place every few days. We have a hitch on the tractor three point so we can move it without even getting off the tractor.

At the moment we have twenty something hens and a couple of roosters. The shelter can accommodate more birds than that, up to maybe fifty at the most.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The trip to easter dinner

I took a trip to the butcher shop yesterday. Some of the last of the market lambs needed to start their journey to Easter dinner.

The butcher shop we use is over near the County seat, about a 45 minute drive.

There are TWO bear crossing signs on the route. I think that's cool all by itself, even though I've never seen a bear near one of them.

I'm not at all sure how a warning like that is supposed to help you cope with encountering a bear on the road.

I know the deer crossing signs are there to remind us to keep a gambrel and a skinning knife in the trunk.

My little truck and trailer would not do well in a deer encounter much less one with a bear.

Maybe someday the sheep will buy me a dually one ton with a goose neck featherlight stock trailer, but I doubt it will happen any time soon. Anyway a rig like that would look a little silly with a load of three lambs.

Our farm tools and implements are required to have a high "funk" factor. The battered old red trailer has that!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flowering grass

This is a picture I took of my neighbor's hayfield just South of our place. I was at the road end of our driveway when I took it. The flowering plants are actually the hay crop, Coastal Bermuda grass.

Last year at this time the field was clear plowed ground. Lewis, the owner of this farm told me that after he tilled the field he did not seed it with anything at all. It seems that the rhizomes of the plant will lay inert for years and grow when ever conditions are right.

This had been a Bermuda grass pasture for quite some time, the the Bahia grass, which is the other common pasture grass in the area, was choking it out in places. The tillage was done to knock the Bahia back and help the Bermuda take over again.

It flowered up after the last rain. Everyone who stops here asks me what kind of wildflower it is. They have a hard time believing that is just grass.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bummers at Breakfast

These are the bummers. They have just finished breakfast.

One of these is a rejected twin. The other two are siblings from the same ewe, who looks after them but has mastitis and can't feed them properly.

So we feed them. They think we are mama.

You know the nursery rime "Mary had a little lamb ... and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go". Mary's lamb was a bummer.

Looking after bummers is quite a bit of work for the month or so that we feed them. Even after that they are quite tame. Keeping a bummer ewe as breeding stock can be handy because they will follow you around and make it easier to move the heard around. Keeping a bummer ram is a bad idea. They are still rams but will not be shy of people. They can be dangerous, and will likely knock you on your ass if you don't shovel the feed to them as fast as they think you should.

However, the good thing about ram lambs, bummers or not, is that they are delicious!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Planting the succotash patch

I decided to call it the succotash patch. Mixed vegetables, corn and cow peas in this case. I picked the seed at the farm supply store from the plastic barrels they have there, yellow dent open pollinated corn and Mississippi Silver field peas, because the seeds are about the same size. I wanted to mix them together and plant them in the same row. That's what I did.

When I bought the planter, I stopped on the way home with the wood pallet of boxes and big angle iron parts in the back of the pickup. I stopped at a little place at the edge of town where the Old Glory Feed Store used to be.

An old man and his wife live there along with a horse, two mules, a few head of cattle and a number of nanny goats and kids. The old man is an ornery old guy, former Marine, farmer, trucker, and at 83 has forgotten more about most things than I will every know.

I don't know much about planters, but I know they're fussy and planting row crops is a two man job, provided at least one of them knows what he's doing. I wanted help and you just can't get better backup than an old Marine. He started learning this stuff in the 1930's behind a mule, from his dad, who was an old guy at the time.

I like to listen to the old folks. They know stuff and will take the time to share it with me. My neighbor, a professional musician who is my age, says it makes them immortal, to pass on what they know. My neighbor is right, even if that's not why they do it. I think they do it just because it's the right thing to do. Sometimes they are surprised when I show an interest. I'm not sure what that implies about guys my age, but I am sure it isn't anything good.

That was a few weeks ago. The planter came with a little instruction book. I read the book and put it together.

Saturday morning the ground was ready for seed.

We took the planter out with the hoppers empty and adjusted the angle of the planting foot and the packing wheel to the ground. We went back by the shop and set the spacing between the seeds by installing the appropriate gear on the drive shaft and installed the plate for the size of seed we used. Back at the field we gave it a try and discovered the plate that was supposed to keep the planting depth even would dive under the surface every little while on the uneven ground. We took it off. We next found that the disk at the side of the fertilizer spill chute would snag the grass roots and trash in the field and mess things up. We took it off. The spill chute itself then started snagging the trash. We took it off. Planting too deep. Adjusted the top link up and put a limit to the downward travel of the three point hitch.

Finally we found the sweet spot. It was about noon.

I engaged the apparatus and went off down the row. The old man followed behind on foot for a ways just to watch things work. Every few rows I'd stop and he would check the seed and fertilizer, adjusting the application rate at first until it suited him. He filled the hoppers when they needed it, he would snap the lid back on the hopper and tell me over the tractor noise, "Off you go son!". We were done well before supper time.

The first thing I noticed about finishing this job was that their was not much to show that anything had been done. Just the tracks over the ground. The old man pointed out that we had less stuff in the bags than we had when we started. "Might be something will grow", he said. Might be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dirt Farming?

Aside from a vegetable garden, I've never done any dirt farming. By "dirt farming" I just mean anything that involved plowing and planting things in rows.

This is happening because I wanted a way to put more weight on the lambs before they get to market age.

Most small sheep farms just buy feed and add it to the pasture diet of the lambs. This is not something I want to do because many of my customers prefer that the meat they buy has not been feed much grain, and no genetically modified feed at all. All the corn and soy available commercially contain these things.

The main problem of raising row crops on a small farm in the expense for the equipment needed to do it. That equipment includes tillage equipment, planting equipment, weeding (herbicide sprayers and/or some sort of cultivator), and harvesting equipment. Of all this equipment the harvesting tools are usually the most expensive.

My plan is to use the lambs as the harvesting equipment. To harvest the crop, I plan to use electric fencing to allow the lambs into the field a bit at a time and allow them to eat it down to the ground.

So I'm planting about three acres into corn and cow peas. I have a two disk plow, a tiller for my little tractor, and I bought a planter/cultivator just for this and future such projects.

Planting should take place tomorrow, I'll post about it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Shearing Day

It was shearing day here on the a3farm.

OK, so it happened about two weeks ago now, but no one has recently accused me of being punctual about keeping up this blog.

I got a call on a Thursday evening from Elmer, the professional sheep shearer that we have hired the last few years.

He was in the area and needed a days work, could I be ready for him? I got ready.

I can shear sheep. I have sheared sheep. They don't like it much and neither do I.

When I shear a sheep they look like they have been run over by a lawn mower. They are generally bleeding in several spots. So am I. Usually we don't require stitches. Usually. I can do about ten sheep in a long weekend.

When Elmer shears a sheep he just sits it down on its butt and basically undresses it. It takes only a minute or two. The sheep doesn't seem to mind. Sometimes it barley seems to notice.

We worked most of the day, him shearing and me just making sure he had a constant supply of sheep. He trimmed all their hoofs while he was at it.

Many of our sheep are hair breeds or wool breeds crossed with hair breeds. They don't all need to be sheared but most of them do.

Except for about a dozen Florida Native ewes, the wool is not worth keeping. We shear them just to make them more comfortable in the summer heat. Most of the wool winds up in the compost pile.

He trimmed the hoofs of 71 head, all our adult ewes. He sheared 44 head. After doing all that he had an appointment at another farm nearby to do another 30 head or so. It was all done before dinner.

Some jobs it's best to hire done. I paid his fee and was glad to do it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is the Bald Egale endangered?

I don't know the official status of these creatures, but we have several more than we really need around here. What is becoming endangered here is laying hens.

For some years now we have been watching bald eagles fly over the farm as part of their commute. Apparently they nest in the thick woods to the south of us and fish in the lakes to our north. We enjoyed seeing them and until recently they never caused us a problem.

We have occasionally lost chickens to hawks. We found that hawks can be deterred by setting up strings with old computer CD's hanging from them in the chicken yard. This is the same thing your grandmother used to do when she set up pie plates to keep the birds out of her vegetable garden. The plates (or CD's) reflect sunlight at odd angles and tend to ward off birds including hawks.

Eagles are much braver than hawks I guess. They ignore the CD's and sometimes even knock them down when they drop in for a meal. An adult hen is too big for an eagle to carry off so they just eat about the top third of the chicken and leave the rest.

When hawks prey on the chickens they perch nearby for quite some time, apparently to make sure there is no danger. The roosters usually see them and raise an alarm causing all the chickens to run into their roosting shelter. The eagles do something similar at least some of the time, but from much farther away. This goes unnoticed by the roosters.

My bride tried to look up methods of scaring off eagles on the internet. Everything she found indicates that the only way to keep eagles from eating your chickens once they start is to run out of chickens.

It is illegal to kill eagles of course, which we knew. I would not do so even if it was mandatory. According to one source a federal permit is required to "harass" an eagle.

Just so you know, the loud noises, clapping, and gunfire you hear around the farm are part of our program to build up the self esteem of the raptor population and encourage them to renew their interest in fishing.

A permit? Good lord, we have some real intellectual giants working for the Feds don't we.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lambing Season

In past years I would do a post for each new lamb born. Last year I did a post for the first half dozen and then just a more general post for all the rest.

The operation is big enough now that lambing is a season rather than an event or even a series of events.

We moved up the date we expected lambs this year by two months.

This was because we wanted a bit more age on the lambs when the stress of the hot summer weather set in. Last year most of the lambs were quite small when tropical storm fay hit us. The adult sheep and even the oldest lambs seemed to do OK, but the young ones suffered. We lost some and some of the others were slower growing out than they normally are.

The down side of lambing now is that the grass is dormant, feed is all hay we put up or bought, plus what ever supplements we provide. We give a small amount of soy meal to the ewes to help them with the nutritional requirements of lactation. That and free choice hay cost money.

Still, lambing has been going well and the whole flock seem to be in good condition even if our bank account is getting a bit thin.

We have 70 some lambs so far and expect to wind up with somewhere around 100.

Our ewes tend to be younger than is typical, we have been keeping ewe lambs for breeding stock for the most part to build up the size of the flock. Several of the first timers don't quite seem to have a handle on the motherhood thing. We have three young ewes penned up with their twin lambs to prevent them from totally rejecting one of them.

There are only two bottle bummers so far, one is being looked after by it's mama, who has some mastitis and and just does not have enough milk to feed it. The other is just a lamb that is not claimed by anyone that we put in with one or our reluctant mothers.

We had one ewe who had trouble with a very large single lamb. We tried to help, to pull the lamb, but only wound up chasing the ewe around the pasture while the poor lamb rode around with its head out the window, so to speak. After the ewe struggled with this for several hours my brothers family arrived for a visit from their home up north. My two nieces, 16 and 11, helped me catch her. I had warned the girls that the lamb may well be dead, but when we caught the now exhausted ewe, I pulled the lamb. It was alive and before long stumbled to its feet. The ewe was tired but otherwise fine.

My nieces, city kids, have told the story to everyone since and seem to think this whole farm thing is pretty cool.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Putting up hay

OK, so I am way behind on posting, better late than never I guess. We put up hay about two weeks ago and here finally is the write up.

Here are photos of the cutting, baling, and hauling.

Our old and small equipment did a good job, but as is most often with small equipment the work was slower than it would have been with big equipment.

As is also often the case with old equipment, we had to stop and fix things several times during the process.

Having said that, the hay is in the barn and there is enough to last the sheep through the winter.

Lots of help was received this year from big brother Jon, who came up for several days and worked like a dog the whole time.

The quote of the week from him: "I can't believe some people actually do this for a living!"

Misters Cooney and Nelson, the legendary "Over the hill gang" were on hand to bolt the machinery back together every time it fell apart, which was fairly often.

I'm grateful to everyone for all the help.

There is nothing like a barn full of hay to give me that "No matter what happens, we can make it" sort of feeling.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I generally think of fall as the beginning of the yearly cycle of the farm. The cycle could be said to start and end at any point during the year I guess, but in my mind it starts in the fall because that is breeding season.

Photo: One of the breeding groups, this one with our mature Katahhid ram

The ewes have spent the summer in a rotational grazing pattern after having their lambs weaned off them in the early summer. They have dried off and regained the condition they lost due to lambing and lactation. They are in good shape.

We have four rams we are using for breeding this season on about seventy ewes. Two of these rams are mature rams we have used for several years now. The other two are young rams we bought this year.

The ewes were separated into four groups. This was done in such a way as to:

  1. Prevent inbreeding; rams are not bred to ewes they are related to.
  2. Yearling ewes are bred, where possible (see 1 above) to a ram likely to through a smaller lamb.
  3. More mature ewes with a good lambing history are bred to rams likely to through big, fast growing lambs.
  4. For purebred ewes, to produce purebred lambs.

For us, two Katahdin rams are used to produce big fast growing lambs and two Florida Native rams are used to produce smaller lambs. The only purebred ewes we have are Florida Native so obliviously we use a purebred Florida Native ram on them.

Friday, August 15, 2008

So that's what farming is about!

If anyone asks why we are into farming, we can show them this. Warning, it's full of profanity but really funny IMHO.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The rest of the story about lambs

Looking at this badly neglected blog, I see I left off with the Florida Native lambs.

We did have other lambs, about 70 of them. Here they are last weekend as we moved them out from working them going back to their pasture.

We have yet to separate the lambs by gender, that will happen in two or three weeks. Then we'll put the ewe lambs in with the mature ewes. Over time we'll decide which of the ewe lambs to market and which to retain for future breeding.

We have 70 mature ewes now, 5 of which we a culling. We want to grow to about 100 breeding ewes eventually, but we don't need to get to that number in a single year.

The ram lambs will all go to market sometime close to Christmas.

On another positive note, it looks like we will have plenty of hay this year without having to buy any. We did a deal with a friend to sharecrop our ground with his nice new equipment. Lots of big round bales.

I'll still be able to get a second cutting of small square bales come October.