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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Magic Poo

Was going through to move the cows this evening when I noticed this nice pile of poo. Yep, I said nice pile of poo.

The perfect poo looks like pumpkin pie filling with a little dimple in the center of it. That means the cows diet is just right in protein. If it is too runny, and you are not suspecting worms or parasites, then your protein levels are too high.

Anyways, kicked it around a bit and low and behold. Dung beetles. Lots of them. Hoooray. If you look at this pile of poo, you can see him in his tunnel (the hole in the center) taking the miracle food straight into the ground and to my grasses roots. Awesome.

You won't see these guys if you use chemical wormer's; this tantalizing pile of food this fellow desires to play in, would then be a pile of toxic death. Makes you think.

Egg Mobile Progress 2

Today I got to work on the Egg Mobile for a few hours. It really does go faster when you have someone to help but when by yourself, you find all kinds of ways to use arms, legs, feet, hands, elbows, hips, foreheads, you get the picture. Especially when hanging sheet metal for siding while standing on a Little Giant Ladder.

I feel it is about 60% finished. The inside is done I just have to finish exterior things.

I still have to put sheet metal on the roof, put doors on the front and back for the chickens to enter and exit, and put doors to open behind the nesting boxes.

I may have to add more roosts but I will have to see once they all get in there. This is only half of the roosts.

I want to paint something funny at the top of both the entrances.

Still need to put doors on the backs of the boxes to lift up when collecting eggs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Working Pens

For the last year, we have been raising 30 stocker steers for the first of our grass fed beef. In some posts ago, I pointed out that our initial vision was to be a producer of fine grass fed beef using stocker steers from a breeder who raised his calves only on grass up until weaning. Then we would get them at weaning time, he would wean them for us using hay, and then we would finish them out on our pastures.

Well, our beliefs in sustainability grew more and more. Land management became the core of our beliefs along with herd management. I quickly learned that if you don't have complete control of your heard, from birth, you will always be inheriting someone elses poor land and herd management problems. Hence the reason we decided to convert over to a closed herd of Red Brangus cows.

We got ourselves into the egg business, thinking that 100 layers would be good, then decided that we would want to finish out 20-40 hogs a year. Well, now we have about 400 layers that will start laying end of August, we are set up to finish out 120-150 hogs a year, we are converting from stocker beeves to a closed herd of Red Brangus, and are in the works of getting an on farm outside poultry processing area built.

So in the next year, a lot of new things will be taking place here as we go from production phase to actually having product to sell. This has finally led us to getting our official set of working pens.

Over the last year, I have learned that cows simply allow us to control them but at anytime, could actually leave the property and never come back if they so desired. No fence, be it an 8' game fence with welded panels on 4' centers, could actually keep a full grown cow in if it really wanted out. Hence the reason for a good set of pens. Plus, my cows haven't yet been trained to simply walk up to a trailer in the middle of the pasture as I point them out and tell them to load up, its time to walk the final leg of your journey. I think they would look at me like I was a bit loony and continue to eat grass.

Naturally, as a cow gets moved to a new environment, they begin to get anxious, stressed, and act a bit whiley (sp?). I know this. And I know that the first time I introduce them to the pens, it will be a bit of a shock for them. But my remedy for that will be through routine and familiarization.

I have found that just like kids enjoy, and need structure, ( you may feel that your kids do not feel that way but that may be the problem, they lack structure) cows are the same way. They like to know things will be the same over and over. Things just go better when it happens this way. You explain the rules and guidelines, and they do their best to follow them. They know what to expect day in and day out. Soon they learn that the handle side of the rope is where they go to move from paddock to paddock. A lead cow immerges and leads the cows each and every time. It makes them comfortable. After a while, they know the system up and down and will perform like clockwork if the time is invested early on.

So my plan is to always allow the cows to rotate through the pens even if I don't intend on working them. Just to let them get use to the routine of going in and out of them. That means that every 30-40 days, they will walk in and out of them. We will gather weights and data, every 90 days, so that we will be able to tell what type of Average Daily Gains (ADG) we are getting. By rotating them through each time, they get use to the gates, the tub, the alley, and the chute. Hearing the sound of the metal rattle and echoes of the moos. Without structure and routine, there is mass confusion, and when working cattle by yourself, you just can't allow that.

We will be getting a pole barn built over the top so that they will be out of the sun and it will be a great place for when we go to wean our calves next year.
****Note to all who have never weaned calves----you really need to have a good set of high panel pens for weaning your calves. If not, they will jump over them or go through them and be back to their mamas by day end.

Here is a little tour of the new set up. From a cows perspective. MOOOOOOO

This is the gate where the cows will enter

Once inside, the will be in a catch pen

They will walk around in a clockwise motion around the partition

Once around the partition, they will go towards the tub

The tub has a gate that comes out and allows the cows to walk in a half moon shape.

As the cows enter the tub, a swing gate is closed behind them and it locks each time they move forward so they cant reverse back.

At the end of the tub, they go into the Alley. You can adjust the width for bulls, cows, or calves so that they cant turn around once inside.

The alley leads to the chute. I like that they are closed panels because it helps the cattle not get scared by movement on the outside of the alley.

This is the chute where we will have our scale so that we can weigh the beeves every 90 days or so. We don't vaccinate, use chemical dewormers, fly repellents, or antibiotics, so the main reason will be for weighing the animals.

This is the work area that can also be used as an alternate pen

Once out of the chute, they will either go to the going to processor side.

Or through this next gate

Where they will go into this next pen to be turned back out to pasture.

The holding pens are pretty good size, 20'x40'

Whether loading in the trailer or going back out to pasture, this will be the gate you leave out.

I really like the idea of semi permanent portable pens because they really are easy to set up and move around.

I was at the fire station when they came out and put them up where I told them to over the phone. Well, when I got home and started to look at them, I realized where I told them to put them was underneath the power lines. I can't put a pole barn in the easement so right away, I got to take them apart and move them. I moved the whole set of pens about 150' away by myself using a tractor of course in about 6 hrs. So I highly recommend them.

So this is the new addition to the farm which I am so excited to get to use. I have about 2 weeks till they rotate around to them. Come on guys, hurry up and eat already.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Egg Mobile Progress

Well we worked on the egg mobile for a bit today and finally got all the framing done by this evening. You don't realize how hard that old steel gets over the years. Now that all the framing is up, putting all the tin on should go pretty fast. Should, but you know how that goes.

We got to get a little bit of the tin on before night time so after seeing it coming together, I think it may actually work. We live right off the highway so we want to get a mural painted on the side for farm fresh eggs. It will be like having a 24' billboard moving around.

The cows are doing amazing. There is a tremendous difference in moving them 2-3 times a day vs 1 like we were usually doing it. They are wiping it clean, weeds and all, in a matter of about 6 hrs per 3/4 acre. It will be interesting to see how the grasses recover with the amounts of urea and manure that are being put into each paddock.

The paddock on the right will get 30-40 days of rest before the cows rotate around to it again.

Tomorrows grass

I thought we might get a bit of a small shower to end the day but that too passed. It was very pretty though I thought.

I get to be a fireman tomorrow so the farm chores will have to be done by Aunt Debbie and my amazing wife. What a pair they are.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Project

I'm a firm believer of not having to have it all figured out before getting your feet wet in farming.

We bought 300 chicks before I had a brooder house set up, but you know what, when you have 300 chicks coming in the next couple days, you tend to figure out a brooder house pretty quick.

We bought two sows, and some feeder pigs before I had a pasture fully designated for them, but as they get bigger, then your motivation comes for getting things further in line for them.

You can try and learn all you want from a book, and try to have things set up absolutely perfect but sometimes I want to write a book, and right when you open the cover, bam, a big wrench flies up and hits you in the face and says, "Now whatcha gonna do?"

The best training is OJT (on-the-job-training) so my advice is if you want to do something, do it. Then learn together and figure out how to fine tune things as you go. The great thing is you should never be satisfied with how you have things because there is always going to be improvements you will see can be done.

So that being said, I have about 375 pullets or so that are going to need a place to lay eggs in the coming weeks, so........

Today is the day for converting this old cotton trailer I picked up a couple of months ago into the first of our full fledge mobile egg machines. I found two at one place and brought one home but the other needed some work before I could haul it the 50 miles at 30 mph. So Old Man Scarmado is suppose to be fixing it for me. These things are old as Mathusila (sp?) but will be great for what we are doing.

So Aunt Debbie and I started our project after I finally got all the materials gathered up. I know a guy that had some old tin that he sold me for cheap so I bought about 600 linear foot of it or so. You can never have enough old tin, especially when it is the good stuff from long ago and not the cheap gauged stuff you have to buy at the local hardware store.

Its so fun when I get to do projects with Aunt Debbie because of her personality. She is the most positive person I know who is constantly uplifting you even when you really feel like you don't know what you are doing. I can hear her now, "Thats okay," as I break the 6th drill bit.

Plus I am always putting her in a bind because I am 6'1" and she is 4'11". Honestly. So out of habit, I tend to put things where they are just right for me but way out of reach for her. I don't do it on purpose but you would think that I could figure it out by now. So that is something I have been trying to get better at doing.

So tomorrow, we hope to be close to done with all the exterior work on the trailer. Then comes setting up the inside for roosts, boxes, etc.

On the sides of the trailer I will paint in neat letters, FARM FRESH EGGs. We have over 3000' of highway 105 frontage so surely people will see it and be interested.

This was the sunset as I was moving the irrigation for the night water. The cows moved a couple hours earlier and were loving the cooler evening as some clouds rolled in.

It makes you realize at the end of each day how blessed you were to have gotten that day and be prayerful that you get to experience another when you lay down to sleep.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Same Song Different Verse

I know I have said it before, I'm still alive, just not blogging right now. Well, I'm still alive and I can only say that I am going to try and do better. Things are magnificently great right now and there is a lot to update, but baby steps, right?

Other than not having rain, everything else seems to be going full steam ahead. Rain is a huge part of farming so I will get to that topic in a bit.

We currently have 61 head of cattle grazing on our pastures. As stated in a post long ago, we are moving to a closed herd of Red Brangus cattle. We currently have 25 Red Brangus heifers who should all be about bred now, we hope. We have one bull currently, Pete, who is a frame score 5 bull that we hope we can breed down with. Eventually, we will be down to a frame score 4 or 3.

We have 3 black baldy heifers we are going to keep so that we can see what kind of calves they throw. They are kinda long legged gals though so they may not get to stick around as long as everyone else. It will be worth a shot though.

We have 32 stocker steers we are feeding out for meat until we begin to butcher our own calves in a couple of years.

I thought I loved the black baldy breed but after getting into the Texas summer, I realize, I don't much care for them. Actually, I don't much care for any black cattle. I will try to take a picture tomorrow to show the proof, but after about 11:00 in the morning, they are looking for shade. I actually had to put a water sprinkler out for them because I felt like they were getting too hot. When you do Managed Intensive Grazing, lots of times, there aren't any trees because you are managing where the cattle graze. So in came the sprinkler. The Red Brangus eat all day and even lay in the sun. Not the black ones. They lay under the sprinkler for hours at a time cooling off. Such the reason why we will never, on purpose, own any more black cattle. We're going RED.

Our first hogs are set to go to the butcher on August 1. This is very exciting for us. We have 3 that we are going to get processed so let us know if you would like to purchase some retail cuts.
After that, we will have 3 more then we will be into our Born on Yonder Way Farm Piglets.

I love this hogs blue eyes

Our two sows gave us 20 piglets, of which 18 made it to pasture. One of the runts got laid on, and after castrating our boys, one had a hidden hernia and it popped out shortly after castration. We lost him. My thoughts on castration in a future post. Just say it wasn't pleasant.

So of the 18, we will probably have 15 that will make it to finishing weight. Three somehow had hip problems and they slowly are getting worse. They will probably get butchered at an early age for our personal consumption. I don't know if the hip problems were genetically obtained or what but if we have the same problem on the next litters, we will have to maybe think about culling the sow from the program.

We are up to 4 sows now with 2-4 more in the future. I think we would like to keep 6-8 breeding so that we can produce somewhere between 120-150 hogs a year. Sounds like a large number, but after you start having piglets and seeing them on pasture, you wish you could do 1,000 pigs a year. They are by far the easiest animals on the farm.

"How You's Doin?"

Our pullet count is up to about 375 or so. I don't know, we have chicks, and chickens everywhere. Right now, I just let the ones that are setting outside of the houses hatch them out. This week we will probably get 15-20 more chicks hatching. I figure the more the better. We currently sell out of eggs every week so that is good.

We are in the process of getting a store front built with a kill room attached. We want to process all of our own poultry so until it gets finished, we can only count the days till we get to start raising and processing chicken and next year, turkeys.

We currently have 45 paddocks for rotating. These are approximately 2 acre paddocks. To get a better graze, I have been cutting each paddock into 3 pads and rather than moving the cows 1 time daily, I went to 2-3 moves daily. What a difference it makes.
You would think I had mowed the grass. Saves diesel and who needs commercial fertilizer. When you pack them in this close, they give a pretty good bit in each pad. Cows are such efficient animals its amazing to think how they can turn that grass into pounds.

As stated before, we have been lacking in the rain department. Water is life, and without it, everything living will die. How evident that is when you are farming. We had 18 acres of irrigated pasture put in last year and just last week added 17 more. Now we are up to 35 acres which has been a huge blessing this year. We are looking to be fully irrigated by end of the summer which will allow us to do many great things at Yonder Way.

We use the K-Line system which is a bunch of sprinkler pods that are attached by a poly tubing and pulled around your 4 wheeler or buggy. (Thats what we call the Polaris Ranger.) I really enjoy how it works and you can move them any where you want, as long as they reach, and water only specific paddocks if you like.

So for now, you have been caught up. My wife does an awesome job at updating our family blog, which lots of times flows into farming, so if mine gets stuck for a month or so, check her's out. Hopefully I will do a better job.