Snow Day on the Farm

As a kid, we all loved getting snow days. School was canceled, and we all got to play in the snow: building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, etc. As an adult, however, we don’t really get snow days. A few weeks ago we had some bad weather in our area, and I was called off work. My husband, however, was not called off work. On a farm, the work never ends and there is no such thing as a snow day. If anything, there is more work on a snow day.

During the winter, our daily chores include feeding hay and grain to the cows. With our snow days we do typically feed extra hay to the cows, as they can lay in the extra hay and have some kind of warmth and protection from the wet and frozen ground. We have to count and check our cows daily to make sure that none of them are sick or hurt. If a cow gets sick, they can go downhill quickly. It is really important to do the daily checks so we can catch illness immediately. Mineral tubs are important to check daily as well, and refill as needed.

When the temperatures are below freezing, we also have to add chopping water to our list of daily chores. The cows need water, and we usually take a couple of extra hours to chop the top of the water so the cows can get a drink.

Now that we have started adding smaller animals to our farm, there is extra work that comes with that as well. The ducks really like to make a huge mess in their environment. Our daily chores now include cleaning up their messes, and providing them with fresh food and water. We are ready for the ducks to be a little older, when they will be more free range. Even with them free ranging, our daily chores will include cleaning up their messes AND will eventually include roosting them at night.

Our baby chicks are quite the project, making sure they are fed and watered, warm and happy. We happen to have a perfect little place for them in the barn where they are pretty well protected from the outside weather and critters. This helps a lot. With hatching our own chicks it takes longer to get eggs from them since they do not start laying until 5-6 months. However, we are excited with our new adventure of hatching our own babies.

The incubator itself is a daily chore as well. We found a good deal on an incubator that is a manual turner. This means the machine does not turn the eggs for us, so we must check the eggs every 4-6 hours and turn them ourselves. We also check the water levels in the incubator to make sure there is enough humidity for our growing hatchlings. The batch we have in the manual turner right now will be the first batch hatched from this incubator. Up until now we have been using a smaller incubator that only holds 24 eggs. This first batch will basically be our trial and error run.

Our full grown chickens do require daily chores as well, even though they are free range. We have found that when we feed our puppies the chickens will swarm them and eat the dog food. We now feed the chickens at the same time in effort to avoid this. Their water freezes on the cold nights too, of course. Checking for eggs is a daily chore, although our stubborn chickens like to lay their eggs all over the place. Thankfully, we have got most of our chickens roosting in their coop at night instead of on the back porch! B is working on some new coops this week which will give them a lot of space to move around, but they will be more contained and protected from hawks, raccoons, and other predators… (I’m looking at you, neighbor’s dog!)

Even on snow days, a farmer’s chores never end. They are on call 24/7, and the work is always there waiting for the next day.

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Chickens for the Freezer

One of our new projects that B and I had talked about is the act of buying chickens specifically for our freezer. Obviously we don’t want to butcher all of our laying hens, but we also wanted some chicken for the freezer.

Typically, any chicken that you buy in the store is going to be meat from a Cornish Cross chicken. These chickens are bred to grow really big, really fast. They are supposed to be ready for butchering within 8-12 weeks from hatching. They are such a hungry bird, eating all the time, that you cannot put wood chips or other means of bedding in with them. The chickens will eat the wood chips, and it will kill them. They will eat day and night. Usually after about 4 weeks of age, they will lose most of their feathers. Our chicks have already lost most of their feathers. This is most likely a result of the cross breeding.

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When we originally started our venture with the chickens, we had discussed butchering any freeloading chickens: ie any chicken that doesn’t earn its keep by producing eggs. However, with having such a rough winter and subsequently losing so many of our chickens, we have yet to butcher any of our chickens.

A few weeks ago we decided to go ahead and order some Cornish X chickens. We ordered 25, but they mailed us a few extras. Most of the time, when you order chicks, they will send you a couple of extra chicks because some are expected to die during transit and soon after delivery. We got our chickens, and got them set up in the chicken house with some food, water, and a heat lamp.

These chicks are hands off. We check them every day to make sure that they have ample food and water, but otherwise we leave them alone. Basically with these chickens, you just leave food out and they eat all day long. Currently, we have around 20. We have lost a couple, but that is to be expected.

We have had our chicks for about three weeks at this point. They will be ready for butchering in another 5-9 weeks, approximately.

Rhode Island Red

Since we got our first chickens, we have been a little obsessed with getting more chickens. An almost daily conversation we have is what we want for the future of our chickens. The chickens originally started out as an experiment that I wanted to do, it has quickly grown to a project that Bryan is more excited about as each day passes.

We have had mostly failures with our chickens thus far. We lost a lot of the first, second and third batches of chickens that we brought in. We have had issues with hawks carrying off the chickens, a neighbors dog killing our feathered babies, and the normal chicken illnesses that had taken some others. Mix this with extreme weather conditions, and chickens that are less than ideal for the wet and cold winter we have had, and we are down to about 15 chickens at the moment.

We have been talking about getting some more chickens, in the hopes that they will be laying eggs by mid to late summer. This led us to reach out to a local chicken raiser who happened to have 2 dozen Rhode Island Red eggs ready to go in an incubator. We purchased the eggs at a steal, $3 per dozen. On average, even the chicks go for about $3 per chick. So we are basically paying 25 cents per chicken and then hatching them ourselves. We brought our babies home and put them in the incubator.

The incubator is one that we found on Amazon, and we have used it before. We love it! It works well, and was reasonably priced. We have talked about getting a bigger incubator in the future, but for now this one suits our needs. The one we use is a JANOEL incubator. It holds 24 eggs at a time. Here is the link to the one we purchased://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wrinklefarms1-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B06XX5P6VX&asins=B06XX5P6VX&linkId=b517bb21585eef6e0c21f15906cd1f12&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

The main features that we looked for when buying our incubator are: temperature regulation, automatic egg turning, and ability to see the eggs hatch. The one we picked met all of our expectations on this front. We LOVE that we can look in at the eggs at all times. When we hatched our last batch of chicks, we could also hear them inside of the shells before they hatched.

We are excited to see our Red’s grow. We are partial to the Red’s for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good about consistently laying eggs year round. Not all chickens do this, and many breeds stop laying eggs in the fall and winter. Second, Red’s lay brown eggs. This is important because many people feel that true farm fresh eggs should be brown, and not white. They aren’t wrong. Third, the Red’s are a good and hardy bird for our harsh winters. They do well in the cold.

Overall, we are very excited to start with our new batch of Red’s. There will be some changes coming to Wrinkle Farm, which will hopefully decrease the amount of chickens that we are losing.

Telling the Bull goodbye

A few weeks ago, we decided to part ways with our bull. We have had him for almost a year now and he just got done breeding all our ladies. I don’t normally sell bulls this fast, but this year it dosent make any sense to hold onto him till next fall breeding cycle.

Ultimately, we decided to sell the bull for several reasons. Our bull has gotten a little more aggressive over the last few months. Aggressive bulls are hard on our fences. In the last two months he has busted the fence a couple different times. One night, we got home to find him close to the house because he had busted loose. It’s scary trying to catch a bull at night when you can’t see what you’re doing, and the bull weighs about 2000 pounds.

Another reason we needed to see the bull go is because he has gotten so big that he runs the risk of hurting our cows during breeding. At this point he actually runs the risk of breaking our cows’ backs, hips, and back legs. He is so heavy and the cows are not big enough to handle his weight. He can actually push the cows down into the ground when breeding that it breaks bones. With his weight, he also runs the risk of hurting himself while breeding. He also can break his penis or rip the sheath when breeding a cow too small.

Since deciding to sell him I have thought about what direction we would like to go next fall with bull choices. I really like the way Brahma bulls crossed over angus cows look and how well they handle the heat and grow. I also have been thinking about going with a Hereford bull to give lots of growth to my calves and also make the more desirable white face black cows.

There is one final option I have thought on: renting one of the above bulls. The cost for me to buy a bull is around $2000-$4000 every 4-6 years as I would want to sell before they get too big to breed. Rent would only cost me around $500-$700 a year and I would only have to feed the bull for 90 days instead of 365 days.

One thing is for sure what ever choice we do decide we will get the best genetics we can afford so we can have the best calves possible.

Stinky pigs

I was always told pigs stink for more then one reason, but I never really knew why. Late last year, I decided to buy a couple pigs to fatten up for stocking the freezer. So far, this has proven to be a stinky mess. Pigs are one of the worst smelling creatures that I have ever smelled before in my life. In addition, we are spending a small fortune feeding them.

Before we got our pigs, we had purchased half a hog from a local who sent the pig off to the butcher for us. All we had to do was pay for our half plus the butcher fees, and tell the butcher how we wanted the meat packed. In hind sight, this was the cheaper option.

There are pros and cons for both of these options. If you raise the pigs yourself, you obviously know exactly what the pigs have eaten. You also have more freedom as far as when you want to butcher. But, as aforementioned, the stench is almost unbearable. Pigs are also notorious for throwing mud anytime you get close to the pen. Pigs are well known for eating everything. This can be an advantage, but also a con if you think about it too much. Our pigs ate their sister.

An advantage of buying a butcher pig from someone you know is that you still have a general idea of what they are eating from day to day. You also are not the one who is out any cost if the pigs get sick or die at any point.

Both of these options are WAY better than buying meat at the store. It is way cheaper, and you know generally how the pig was raised, and in what type of environments.

In the future, I do believe that we will just buy our pig from someone that we know and trust, and forego a lot of the extra costs.

In the meantime, does any body want to buy a pig?

Chicken feet

Within the next few weeks, we are planning a mass butchering of our chickens to stock the freezer. When we do this, I would like to use every usable part of the birds, including the feet. I have done some research and, in some cultures, chicken feet are considered to be a delicacy. I would really like to try them.

The most common thing that people do with chicken feet when cooking is to make a stock with it that is then used in soups and stews.

With some searching, it is easy to find recipes for basically anything. Below is a recipe that I found, which I would like to try. My fiance is a little iffy about it, and doesn’t think she will try it.

Is Hay quality really that important in Beef cattle?

I have heard for years people talk about the difference between horse hay and cow hay. Some people think that a mixed grass hay is not suitable for horses and that feeding something high quality like brome and alfalfa to cows is just crazy. Personally, I am not experienced in feeding hay to horses. I do know a lot about what to feed cows.

This year, like many other years, I am feeding a fescue grass mix. Our cattle seem to handle it well and it’s been several years since any have lost their switch or hooves. I know some people have issues with their cows on fescue but in this part of Missouri there seems to be fewer issues annually.

Cow that lost her switch on her tail

Fescue is nice for us because it allows us to abuse our pastures, running far more animals than we should and it still grows back. Most other grasses won’t handle that kind of stress. One draw back is we have to fertilize it each year. If we don’t, the grass that grows back will be thin and not grow as tall. I have considered switching to other grasses, due to their higher protein content. However, it is hard to justify that when fescue stands up to all the abuse and produces a good crop each year. 

In years past we have fed other grasses and have never noticed a difference in growth of the cows or calves. The protein in fescue is lower then some of the finer grasses but our personal experience has not shown a difference in growth. One thing, however, is that in years with a higher mold count the miscarriage rate increased in the cows. There is some mold in the hay every year, but it varies. In years where mold content was lower, there was no difference in our cows and calves. 

This year, they hay is not the best. This has been due to the rainy fall and winter. After having such a dry spring and summer, it was hard for a lot of farmers to get enough hay to make it through the winter. We didn’t have that problem, but the high precipitation has increased the amount of hay that is wasted. The rainy weather turns the outside of the hay bale into waste. Even with the extra waste, it seems to be providing good nutrition for the cows, and all the calves are growing well.

Here is a link to a nice article that talks about how to manage when you feed fescue to cows. https://www.agweb.com/article/minimizing_the_risks_of_fescue_toxicosis_in_cattle_naa_university_news_release/