January 21, 2014

A week in photos

It was such a busy week! I managed to finish Rachel’s quilt for her 10th birthday, a project that’s been 2 years in the making. I fall into UFO (unfinished object) funks and quilts in particular fall to the wayside unfortunately but finishing it has given me renewed vigor to finish a few that have been on the back burner.

This was a sentiment I heard at one time. I don’t know the author to credit but suffice to say, these are borrowed words.

101_1307

King and Snow doing what King and Snow do. The sun’s out and it’s day time which means they snooze and relax and keep watch.

king

snow

Sunday was gorgeous and the goats were thoroughly enjoying the sunshine. We finally got the round bales off the trailer. The girls had pretty much eaten one entire bale down to 1/4 of what it started as. We unloaded it into the barnyard so they could munch on it. Most of them just turned in into a cozy bed . Most of the does are bred, some further along than others. It’s a time of growing good healthy babies!

Mother Daughter Flicker and Bourbon

Mother Daughter Flicker and Bourbon

hay bale free for all

Granite

Granite

While there isn’t a whole lot to eat from the looks of it, the pigs enjoy nibbling the grasses and rooting up tasty things. Ann is due to farrow around February 14.

Ann

IMG_20140119_154433

101_1268

The chickens still range in the winter and find tasty tidbits to eat, there was still a little snow on the ground last week.

101_1254

Sunday Jeremiah and I finished the greenhouse by installing the back window and the plastic on front and back. we also put pipe insulation over the end of the panel and maybe that will cause a little less wear and tear. The strips of lumber that the plastic is rolled up in seems to be doing a good job. We had some pretty forceful winds last night and all it all looks good.I am so eager to start seeds. I went through what I saved from last year and what was left over. I hope to start a lot of flower seeds this year along with all the veg.

Front

101_1323 Front

101_1321

back

101_1324

greenhouse window from inside

Em kidded on Sunday while we worked on the greenhouse. I checked on her every so often. The first kid (boy) was totally breech but he delivered fine. The 2nd kid (doe) was still encased in her sack. I am glad I was there. Usually they are not delivered in their sack and there is no obstruction. When they are, if the doe is not attentive or there isn’t anyone there, they generally suffocate. The 3rd kid (a buck) was delivered about 20 minutes later without incident and Em looks fantastic. Shes enjoying a stall to herself to get to know her kids. I’ll post more photos later, these kids are super flashy!

101_1340

The following photo was not taken last week, but it is a reminder that we have our nuc colonies ordered from Butler Bees. Jeremiah and I are going to tackle the top bar bee hives and leave the langstroth hives to the construction class.

Well, there it was. We were at an auction Saturday and managed to bring home a pretty decent haul of lumber, a huge miscellaneous lot of trim/moulding/baseboards, 125 sheets of sheet rock and 13+ new bundles of shingles. I haven’t yet decided if we’ll shingle the new milk house, I’ll have to chew on that some more. We’re trying to stay somewhat color & material coordinated, the shingles on the house are brown, everything else is metal. We’re going with metal.

Advertisements
January 15, 2014

Wordles Wednesday: Egg-spanding the flock!

January 13, 2014

Weekend = Greenhouse

Ahhh, always such great expectations as to what we can accomplish in one weekend. I will say that with really getting into a good cardio routine, I am feeling SO much better! I’m not waking up feeling like my back is about to break, no pain in my hips (probably because my legs feel like they’re going to fall off from the post-workout burn HA HA!) and around about the 3 o’clock hour when normally I would really want to take a nap I am feeling just as perky as the 10 o’clock hour. That coupled with our dietary changes, a week’s time has really made a difference! Thank heavens! Not to mention I am daily getting a good look at the fencing along the property line as I quickly make my way around. I always said I need to check it more. What was fun was seeing it with snow on the ground. There were so many different prints including a bobcat and from the looks of it, he/she was hot on the trail of a bunny.

That said, part of our weekend was taken up with a trip to town to the hardware store to gather a few things to fix up the greenhouse. We had also hoped to get wood splitting in there and while the weather was absolutely gorgeous, the prior evening’s rainfall coupled with the existing snow made for a bit of a small lake which made access to the green house a pain! The wood splitter and pile was still covered by snow too so Saturday was kind of a wash. I opted to clean the house instead. It was a good trade, I guess. Jeremiah visited the neighbor to weld a tow bar, I think. Although I think a lot of his time over there was spent chit chatting…and they say women yack a lot! Shew.

Sunday we made up for Saturday’s lack of outside work and we got to work ripping the 2×4’s to make the new greenhouse door, and what a mighty nice door it is. We unintentionally framed for a window when we originally built it but covered it up with plastic last year and did not opt for a window. I thought I might like to have a window this year so we can get a bit more air flow in there on the very warm days so we built one of those too.

The window isn’t completed yet. We ran out of screws to attach the strips (top and bottom).

The biggest issue with the greenhouse was the plastic being torn off the frame. We stapled it last year but the wind proved to be too much. Friends of ours mentioned putting up a high tunnel. I looked at the plans for it and took a queue on how their plastic was attached. (Here is the link if you’d like to check out the link on how to build an inexpensive high tunnel: http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Project-Products/Western-SARE-Project-Products/Constructing-a-Low-Cost-High-Tunnel. There is a PDF file that goes a long with it with a materials list and what not). I love this idea, I’ve seen a lot like them and we often think about putting something like this up for year round gardening. For the moment however, our little greenhouse is more than sufficient.

At any rate, they cut their plastic larger than the opening and rolled thin strips of lumber up in them and attached with screws. I think we had thought about doing that last year and we did along the bottom frame but ended up not on the upper portion. I’m convinced the strips are the answer.

We also cut a diagonal to go from the door frame to the top of the shelf just as a additional location to attach the plastic (not installed yet). It’s not needed for structural support. Hopefully this fix will last us a few years.

We never did get to the wood pile and the greenhouse isn’t completely put back together but hopefully after just a couple more hours and I’ll be ready to start seeds. Lots of other little tasks were completed though and I am grateful for that. The weekends pass by so quick and particularly this time of year, the weather can make or break it.

This spring-like weather has me feelin’ the spring fever. I think it does for a lot of people but there’s still a lot of winter yet left. Seeds still need to be planted soon though and it’s nice to think about spring being on its way anyway!

Have a great Monday!

Tags:
January 10, 2014

Incubating

http://paraguinparadise.netfirms.com/Dry%20Incubation.htm

Yesterday’s task was to get the incubator ready for another brood. After a dreadful 0% hatch rate on our first try last winter, I came across a “dry” incubation method that has worked well for us and our hatch rates are getting better and better! Our 4th hatch last fall was 80%.

Our routine varies a little from this method. Depending on time of year, we add more water than recommended to the bottom of our incubator as our humidity can often be as low as 20-30%, particularly in the winter. I make foil shallow bowls to place in the lower portion of the incubator and fill these with water close to hatch (day 18 to hatch). The additional surface area these bowls provide works out better than the built-in deeper troughs at getting the humidity up and maintaining it.

I do leave both of the vent plugs out until day 18. On day 18 I remove all eggs from the egg turner and place them on the wire rack laving a little space in between them. I replace the red plugs in the lid and place a very shallow bowl of water on the wire rack along with a sponge so any hatched chicks will not drown. This water is in addition to the foil bowls in the lower portion of the incubator and the one I add warm water to if needed if the humidity gets to low. If the humidity raises too much I remove one plug. If it drops too much, I flip the plug so it just sits on top of the lid but I can use it to partially cover the vent hole.

I also remove chicks soon after they hatch. I know, I know, most say not to. However, I find the incubator becomes really smelly and disgusting by leaving newly hatched chicks, shells and fluid in with all that heat and humidity waiting for the other chicks to hatch. Not to mention it takes the chicks 3 days to properly dry off and fluff up when left in there more than a day or so once removed to the brooder. If I remove them shortly after hatching to a brooder, they fluff up within hours. To combat loosing too much humidity, when I open the incubator, I put a semi-hot rag in my water cup. The steam helps maintain a good humidity level. I also do not lift the lid off entirely. I am as quick as possible, taking one out at a time, letting the humidity regulate before going back in. Additionally, the hatched chicks move the unhatched eggs around too much.

There have been times where the heat was tampered with and it got as hot as 107 in the incubator. I haven’t noticed this to have an affect but I cannot say for sure how long it went unchecked. If I had to guess, I’d say less than a few hours which may not have been enough to heat up the egg internally to 107 anyway. I won’t speculate to say what is okay and what may not be. All I can say is don’t give up on your eggs if your incubator fell too low or went to high, give them a full 25 days and see what happens.

We have a Little Giant still egg incubator with an automatic egg turner. I bought an inexpensive thermometer/hygrometer at Walmart. I wish I had something digital or easier to read and the thermometer is a pain but I stick a meat thermometer in through one of the top holes and that does the job. It’s pointy at one end so I am careful to keep it away from the eggs.  Having the hygrometer inside the incubator is the main goal I am after. I cannot incubate the full 41 eggs having the style of hygrometer/thermometer I have, but those hatches are way too big for what I need anyway. I place the thermometer in a strip of egg turner that will not have eggs in it. Setting it on top has proven to break eggs.

Happy hatching! =)

I am including a list of websites for reference that I have found helpful: http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/step-by-step-guide-to-assisted-hatching

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/birds/info/chicken/egg.shtml

http://msucares.com/poultry/reproductions/poultry_chicks_embryo.html

http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/1459/embryonic-development-day-by-day

http://huckfarm.com/chickens/hatching-123/

When things go wrong:

http://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/1608/investigating-hatchery-practice-examining-the-hatch-debris

 

Tags:
January 8, 2014

Huge eggs

The 6 Cornish Rock hens we spared from freezer camp last fall are laying BIG beautiful eggs.

Thanksgiving Day while all the chickens were going into the coop for the night, one of the hens laid her first egg, the shell being pretty thin however. I found a few more of those and a shell-less egg or two but another few weeks and they are giving us these gorgeous eggs. Three of these eggs made one very large fluffy omelet for Jeremiah and I to share this morning. At 5 months old they laid sooner than any of the other chickens and by 5.5-6 months old, they are laying much larger than pullet size eggs. The lay rate is still too early to tell. Everyone’s production is picking up some with the lengthening of the days so I am eager to see how they do.

A few of the more recent online forum posts I’ve come across from others on these birds have said the hens they raised were great layers. The feedback I had read last spring overall wasn’t the greatest but given our experience with them last summer, I was kind of perplexed. I was reluctant to begin with to even get them wanting to opt for Freedom Rangers instead but we decided to try them first and see how we liked them and if we didn’t, we’d have enough time to raise up some Freedoms for our second batch. The two batches of Cornish Rocks we had foraged really well, we had no issues with legs or hearts, no unexplained deaths, etc. and now our 6 month old hens are laying. How exciting!

January 7, 2014

Honey Bees

We’re beginning our bee keeping adventure. The hives are being started in February (made locally) and we are researching in depth all about bee keeping and ordering!

We’re very excited!

I’ll be keeping  running tally of some of the websites I have found that have been helpful in our research and I’ll update as I sift through information out there. Bee keeping is so fascinating to us. I feel like a kid in a candy store with each new website I visit. There’s so much to be decided on, so much to learn, so much to think about, so much to pick brains about =).

This is by no means an all inclusive list, just a few sites that I have bookmarked.

An all inclusive site: http://beekeeping.glorybee.com/content/beekeeping-101

http://www.backyardbeekeepers.com/facts.html

General info & some Kansas swarm removers: http://www.bees-on-the-net.com/kansas-beekeepers.html

Nuc colonies vs. Packages: http://www.honeybees4sale.com/NucsvsPackages.aspx

K-State’s list of swarm catchers: http://entomology.k-state.edu/extension/current-topics/honey-bee-swarms.html

Supplies: http://www.heartlandhoney.com/

Parts of the Langstroth  hive: http://www.almanac.com/sites/new.almanac.com/files/images/langstrothHiveIllus.gif

Trapping swarms with Saul Creek Apiary: http://saulcreekapiary.com/swarm%20trap%20use.htm

I was thinking on what one of the guest speakers at the Mother Earth News Fair in Lawrence said back in Oct. While some may think that the “country” would be a great place to raise bees, often times it may not be. Lack of flowering plants & trees (with flowering trees in particular making up a HUGE portion of a honey bees diet if given the opportunity) make them especially great for cities and towns, however.

That said, I got to thinking about what we may have here within a 1-1.5 mile radius (what was said to be a bee’s territory). Alfalfa fields? Probably. Natural pastures with flowering plants? Yep. Gardens? A few, particularly our own (though I doubt it’s big enough to support a colony over a period of time). Fruit trees? More than likely (our own included). Trees? I got to thinking…our overabundance of black locust trees bloom heavily in May-June (when we don’t get a late April ice storm like in 2013, that is!). That got me looking for black locust trees (which are quite different than honey locust) and I feel like I hit the jackpot! While not always a very strong producer every single year, much like fruit trees continually have an ebb and flow harvest, it seems black locust make some outstanding sought after honey! Cha ching, Lordy knows the amount of black locust trees around here could keep us in firewood for decades without needing to reproduce. But reproduce they do, well…and quickly!

Not only are they great for honey production apparently, but because they are a legume (like beans and alfalfa and clover) they affix nitrogen in the soil. They also reproduce easily by sending out shoots (like Bermuda grass) and sometimes in some very unwanted places (like my garden or the middle of the back yard)! That said, we haven’t found they do extremely well in the weather, they can break easily, probably due to the fact they grow very fast but they do make great hard & hot burning firewood and we’re happy to have the quick renewable resource at our disposal. Let’s hope they help make some healthy bees too!

One of these days soon (a nice sunny day!) we’ll take a drive as the crow flies 1-1.5 miles out as best we can and put our honey bee caps on and try to see the world through their eyes.

Now it’s time to get back to the world wide web and research hives and hive plans a bit more before sending over thoughts and blueprints over to our hive maker(s) so we can be ready come April-June for bees!

 

January 4, 2014

Home

Home sweet home. It’s fun to travel but sure is nice to come home too!

The trip to California was amazing, as always. The drive is so different every time, particularly in winter which can make for last minute changes in travel plans. We try to vary our route so we see something different each time and leaving later than we had originally planned due to weather here in Kansas on Saturday left few options than a more direct path to be there in time for Christmas.

The pup traveled really well and had more training walking on a leash along the way. He was delivered to a delighted friend on our way down the hill to Lincoln. He was sure great to travel with even in the hotel rooms which are so much different than a barn. It takes a lot of reassurance along the way to keep them mentally healthy and keeping the cab cooler to keep them psychically healthy does not always make for a warm and comfortable ride for the humans.

We visited with company and neighbors and friends and took drives to some of our old “stomping grounds”. I miss it in some ways but there’s much about Kansas I like too. The grass is greening up back in Ca. and the spring bulbs are starting to poke their heads out of the ground! We came home to snow and semi-bitter temps.

My Mom and I exchanged some veggie seeds and I am just about all set for spring planting here which with the green house can start in about a month! I have a few large windows too that I will be making into cold frames. I dug up a bunch of first year blackberry vines to transplant here in Ks. Super excited to get them in the ground. We mulched their roots down well with damp sawdust and wrapped them in a bag, just like they would come from the nursery. These would have cost me a fortune to buy them in the spring so I am thankful these were free and they came from “home”.

We will need to replace a couple of the fruit trees in a month or so when the new stock is in. That late ice storm in April 2013 really deadened some wood on some of the young trees enough that a few couldn’t recover. They came with a warranty thankfully which I originally thought was kind of silly to offer but not so much so when they need to be replaced =)!

The weather fluctuated in Kansas a lot while we were gone and I think most of the snow melted on the days it was warm and sunny but I don’t think there were many of those days. It snowed again the night before we pulled in and there are places that are a bit icy. All of the animals look fantastic and we’re so thankful to have great neighbors who feed and care while we are gone.

The pigs apparently made an escape and helped themselves to a few barrels of food in the barn. I moved their electric fence before we left and either the somewhat deep snow shorted it or they were rooting around one of the posts a lot and a post fell over (taking the wire to the ground and shorting it). Either way, my fault. They don’t normally get so close to the fence but one of the new areas that was opened up was a rooting heaven from the looks of it.  I should have known better. Jeremiah and I spent a couple of hours yesterday re-installing a lag bolt for the gate they lifted off its hinges. We use the cheapy poly-wire electric wire within a pasture to rotate them within it and keep their access smaller than the 1/2 an acre pasture. They didn’t have access to the walk through and drive through gate into the barnyard being behind the poly-wire and we don’t install the gates correctly technically, we install them for ease of removal (by just lifting them off if we need to). The upper lag bolt on the post is supposed to point down and the portion on the gate that receives the pin from the bolt slides up, this keeps animals from lifting the gate off. The goats don’t lift the gates off their hinges. Once the pigs went over/through the poly-wire electric, the gate was fair game. The other 3 sides of their pasture is 5 strand high-tensile electric. Lifting gates off their hinges is apparently easier to deal with.  It’s never dull around here!

The electric fence wire was partially salvageable but I am not going to reinstall it until spring. How on earth it got so tangled is beyond me! The ground is frozen anyway and I cannot get the posts in so they’ll get the run of that whole pasture and I’ll install insulators along the paneled portion between the pasture and barnyard so they don’t root along the fence line. They sure looked pleased to have such a big area!

Speaking of the pigs though, it’s amazing how different things look when you don’t see your animals for 12 days! Ann pig is looking quite rotund, she’s scheduled to farrow Feb. 14 and our first does due are looking ginormous. Emmy will be 4 in February 2014, this will be her 4th kidding. After 3 years of nothin’ but bucks, we’re really hoping for a doe this year!Most of the does are bred to kid later when it’s warmer.

I’ve taken a break from milking for about 4 weeks. I hemmed and hawed about milking the yearlings who kidded in June through Christmas but decided to dry them off too. I like the little break before the routine starts all over.

We have plans to expand the garden a bit and put corn and melons in another location and I think we’re going to just go ahead and buy several lengths of electric poultry netting to contain and rotate the layers. Fencing the corn and melon plants at that point may not be necessary though there may be issues with rabbits and racoons once the melons start to ripen, so we’ll have to see about that.

The melons were hit and miss last summer taste-wise. I am hoping a little different location and a change of water routine  will change that. I don’t think we have plans to travel this summer so I am really looking forward to a big garden. After going across country 3 times in the past year (Ca. twice each Christmas and WV) over the summer, I am kind of traveled out. We have a lot of projects we’re working on/planning and after all is said and done with Jeremiah’s school schedule, he doesn’t get but 5- 6 (staggered) weeks off.

Brome fertilization is fast approaching. Every year that we keep up with it, the fewer weeds the grass has t to contend with and the better the pastures look. Not that I think weeds are bad, some are more nutritious than the hay available but we’re trying to get more of what they’ll eat and less of what they won’t.  I don’t know that we’ll be able to bale this year just yet. We’re still looking for a decent sickle bar mower but the pastures looked better last year than we’ve ever seen. Course, the rain helped that but over-seeding in brome was a good choice.

Our milk barn has been started by the building construction class at the high school. The floor and the outer walls are up. We’ll take care of putting on the metal siding and probably the roofing although the corrugated rubber composite stuff like we put on the chicken coop is really nice and has held up well. We may stick with that, I am not sure yet.

The Sept. chicks look more and more like young pullets now than chicks!It’s amazing not seeing them for 12 days. With any luck, they’ll be laying in the next month or two. I still think we’ll incubate a hatch or two and I am eager to see how the crosses that came about from the Sept. home- hatch turn out. Two greys have lacing and are just so so pretty! No idea what cross they were but my best guess is blue laced red wyandotte with one of the other wyandottes, for young pullets they have such a nice plump hen shape! The 6 broiler pullets we kept and didn’t butcher are laying now too, going on 6 months old, still getting around and foraging well. We’ll probably butcher them come spring time when the pullets are laying well but for now it’s nice to have “meat” chickens who are layers! They lay a really pretty dark brown speckled egg.

We’re in for some cold temps Sunday, Sunday night and Monday so we made a quick trip out yesterday for more straw for the pigs.  I was down to half a bale. Because they don’t have a lot of hair to keep them warm, they snuggle underneath their bedding and it acts like a blanket and they also munch on it as well.  Looking forward to new baby goats and new piglets and seed starting. Spring is a ways off but it’s nice to plan for it!

Time to end for now. Have a great weekend.

December 19, 2013

B’s custom crayon rolls

crayon rolls brenda

I just LOVE these things! These are for two twin girls, age 3 who love dancing…and there’s sparkles in the fabric. It’s just so doggone purdy!  crayon roll brenda

crayon roll brenda

December 17, 2013

Pigs and fodder, a cost analysis

fodder 029

In my last blog post I mentioned the new feeding ration for the goats and touched lightly on our barley fodder. If you’d like to read more on our fodder experience, click here.

Be forewarned, there’s a lot of # crunching below =).

Last winter we started our barley fodder feeding for the goats. It’s turned into a viable option for the hogs and chickens more so than the goats due to space constraints for growing fodder we’re placing on ourselves (you can read all about that in the previous post).

With the fodder set up we have currently in the basement, we can easily make 4 bins a day – a minimum of 100 lbs. of fully grown fodder a day, but it’s closer to 126 lbs. on two 36″ x 18″ shelving units (a  72″ x 18″ footprint). Technically one of those shelving units is 8 shelves tall, the other is 7 shelves tall (we modified 3 units to fit into the space of 2 with the top shelf being at a height of about 6′ on the taller unit). If we grew another 2 bins on that extra shelf, we could increase our weekly weight by 200+ lbs. (252 lbs. if you want to be technical or 1008+ more lbs. a month!).

What it translates into is this: 882 POUNDS of feed a week in a footprint that’s 72″ x 18″ (on 14 shelves using 4 bins a day). We could easily grow half a ton of fodder in our basement a week by using all 15 shelves & 30 bins (or more than 2 tons (4,000 lbs) a month!) in just a 72″ x 18″ footprint!

We don’t need 4 bins a day to feed the hogs and chickens. We could drop it down to 2-3 bins a day just for those animals but we could also leave the set up as is and feed the 4 bucks one-two meals in addition. We’d either have to cut back on goats in order to be able to feed all of them based on the 4 bins a day we get or increase fodder 2 fold. It’s best if we switch who gets the majority of the fodder.

I won’t get into how good the experts say fodder is for animals or digestion percentages over a 100% grain based diet (corn, soy, etc.), etc. I will merely say that it’s supposedly great for them. We did our own trails and were very happy with it. I hadn’t intended to include our feeding ration, this post was strictly meant as a cost analysis but a blog commenter asked if our supplement(s) made any sort of significant increase after the initial posting. I talk about our feeding later in this post to explain our ration and how our supplements do not affect the bottom much financially. I have included several links at the bottom of this post also and I urge you to do your own research.

I did some rough calculations this morning just based off of tonnage. A 50# bag of 14% hog feed from the local co op runs $10 (not including tax). Bulk price for hog feed into one of our barrels or back of a pick up/equivalent is cheaper but I am strictly using a bagged price as an idea of savings. A 50# bag of barley costs us approx. $18. (It may be cheaper in other parts of the country. A friend in Alaska can get it for about $9.)

There are 40 (50#) bags of hog feed in a ton. Priced with tax it runs $432 a ton. From a 50# bag of barley I get somewhere in the neighborhood of 350# of return. I am not counting  electricity (minimal to run 2 lights & pump water from the well), I figure it evens itself out with fuel and time to go get commercial hog feed so I am calling that a wash.

It would take roughly 5.71 (50#) bags of barley at $18 to grow a ton of barley fodder (2,000 lbs). We get approximately 7 lbs. of fully grown fodder from 1 lb. of seed. Some get upwards of 12 lbs. with ideal growing conditions and high percentage germination seed. 2,000 divided by 350 (approx. return of a 50# bag of barley once full grown in to fodder) = 5.71 bags. Multiply 5.71 by $18 and the total cost to grow 2,000 of barley fodder is $103.

Subtract $103 (price to grow a ton of barley fodder) from $432 (price per ton of bagged hog feed) and I end up with a savings of $329! I save $329 a ton to feed the pigs fodder over pre-mixed hog feed. WOW!!! I had no idea until I just crunched numbers that it was that much!

What’s better is that in the spring and summer a majority of their diet is pasture and goat’s milk. Growing fodder in the fall and winter allows them access to the same pasture based diet that we love. Now I know how much money it saves!

I suppose at some point I will have to do calculations for the chickens as well. So much of their spring/summer/fall diet comes from free ranging that what we actually spend in feed is minimal. The majority of the benefit of feeding them fodder, as I see it right now, is strictly health benefits. I’ll save that for another time.

Learn more about pigs and barley fodder by reading the links below or do a simple search for “pigs & barley fodder” through Google or your favorite search engine. I have also included plenty of links accessible via the “fodder tab” and clicking link that has additional information.

Information for feeding pigs fodder in the first link below, sheep and goats is toward the bottom. This link may provide valuable information as to possibly why it may not be nutritionally effective to feed just fodder for those considering. Few things are always perfect. We incorporate a supplement into our pig’s diet along with the straight barley fodder and they also get clabbered goat’s milk during times when it’s feasible. Our supplement cost is minimal (it’s a mineral ration to incorporate more calcium we feel they need.) We also feed them more fodder than what is generally the recommended daily rate.  The mineral supplement has little effect of the overall savings/expenditure, literally less than a penny a pound (of fodder). The goat’s milk in their diet is excess, depending on time of year. We do not consider that cost as a supplement to be added to the cost to raise the pigs as it’s not required to be fed in addition to the fodder, we just happened to have it.

You’ll see that some individuals mix their sprouting seeds and incorporate legumes, etc. As I said, it’s best to do your research. When searching for information, go beyond the first page of the search engine page.  Look for experiments that may have been done. Look for the cons as well as the pros. Looking for both pros and cons allowed us to make a better overall decision.

http://www.sheepandgoat.com/articles/hydrofodder.html

http://www.foddersolutions.org/csfeedback/traditional-pigs-thrive-on-sprout-diet-toowoomba-qld/

http://www.foddersystems.com/benefits/swine.html

December 15, 2013

Alfalfa pellets work for us

The summer of 2011 and 2012 were brutal with the drought. Hay was scarce, good hay even scarcer and the cost was premium. The summer of 2013 was so much better with farmers getting an unheard of 2nd cut of brome grass hay. The winter of 2012/2013 we decided to experiment with barley fodder. That went off great an we continued that until the weather got too warm. All of that is explained on our “fodder folder”.

We found a supplier for alfalfa in the spring of 2013 that wasn’t already filled up with “regular” customers (meaning, he sold a certain amount of of the field to his regulars and was not taking new customers). He is a supplier I trust puts up good hay and therein lies some of the problems with hay we’ve come across. We’ve gotten entirely too much bad hay, particularly in big rounds and when hay is already at a premium price, having several bad experiences with 1,000+ lb. bales when the cost was cheaper certainly isn’t something I want to bet my money on when it’s twice as much!  In July of 2013 we decided to go with alfalfa pellets for a month and see how that panned out. If we didn’t like them, we could still get in on the 4th cutting of alfalfa and be set for winter. If the pellets panned out, we’d save ourselves the labor and cost of putting up all that alfalfa (and trying to find room for it besides).

We were gifted 3 blue 55 gallon food grade barrels from a friend and one was left here by the prior owners of this place.  I had the kids get out and clean them so they could be filled. We take them down to the co op where they fill them from a hopper. The cost for “de-hy” pellets is running about $356 a ton right now (December 2013). Sun cured pellets are just a little over $300 a ton. That price difference (alfalfa was sitting at about $290 a ton baled but has since dropped to about $240 for dairy quality) in pellets over baled product being $90-110 a ton, maybe you can see my reservations about going with pellets.

barrel racing

However, after going and having the barrels filled, offloading, seeing the space the 4 barrels (1200 lbs) occupies, how the goats eat it, their body condition and milk production over the course of the 6 weeks those pellets ended up lasting us, the pellets by far won out over baled alfalfa. I never would have thought pellets would be the way to go on so many levels, but they are for us!

Why must we feed alfalfa? 

I am not comfortable putting the goats on an all grass diet. Calcium and the added protein are critical to dairy goats and hypocalcemia and milk fever are always a clear and present danger in my opinion. A diet that is too high in phosphorus (grass hay + grain) and low in calcium (a diet void of calcium rich feed) is potential for nutritional imbalances and nutritionally related health problems. I have yet to fully understand how to incorporate a natural calcium supplement throughout the year that will be sufficient enough for their diets without incorporating alfalfa in their diets. Forage (leaves and roughage up high from trees and bushes) contain a lot more nutrients than grasses do. Goats are naturally foragers by nature. Why do forages often contain more nutrition than grasses? Forages from trees and bushes have much deeper and wider root growth than pasture grasses and therefore are able to penetrate farther and deeper to consume more nutrients. Mimicking a safe diet on all grass that readily available to us is not something I have been comfortable with doing, especially considering and seeing the long term effects of a doe suffering from hypocalcemia.

Leave a goat to themselves on a pasture and they will readily go for the most nutritious (which is usually the most tasty to them) foods. Without proper rotating, pastures become void of anything readily nutritious to eat for goats. Goats do not survive well on just any old thing when they are being asked to produce milk or kids or both.

All grasses are not all equal in terms of nutritional value. I have yet to find a grass that rivals alfalfa in terms of protein and calcium that is available to us. Weedy grass that the goats will eat isn’t easy to find. Some “weeds” contain more calcium and protein than what is considered prime weedless brome hay. It’s not like we have a wide variety of grass hays to readily choose from. What is  most readily available is brome and prairie. Given the fact that we have tried prairie grass before, the does would just assume starve to death (and I am not kidding) than eat it (the bucks eat it fine), it would be silly to buy it. If I knew a reputable hay grower who put up clover or lespedeza, I’d be all over it! I’ve considered taking a trip down to SE Kansas or up to near KC to check out people’s clover or lespedeza hay, but in the end, all of that needs to be compared to the ease and cost of buying pellets and anything from farther away than 1.5 hours is not cost effective for us to get ourselves and then a haul company would come in to play and that translates into $’s.

How could it possibly be a savings to use pellets when we’re spending more than $100 more a ton?

Well, several ways. #1 going and getting a baled product is time consuming. Not to mention, a lot of work. Additionally, if the product cannot be fetched out of the field, the cost rises substantially as soon as the farmer puts his hands on it and places it in his barn, which is totally understandable. If an individual cannot put up enough hay in one fell swoop and/or doesn’t have the room to do so, as winter wears on, that already more expensive stored product becomes even more expensive.

We don’t exactly have the room to store as much square baled hay as we would need for an entire year (so we could get it all at the “out of the field” price) and to be honest, the summers are already brutal. The thought of spending 100+ degree afternoons plucking bales out in the hay field putting up hay is not my idea of a good time! Additionally, it’s wear and tear on our bodies and Jeremiah being a diabetic, we saw the effects of that this past summer after bucking hay nearly put him in the ER when haying took longer than expected and his lunch meal was skipped. That’s not the hay’s fault but still!

  • What about just getting all round bales then?

While round bales are a significant savings per ton (as they require less labor to put up), we don’t allow access (for the most part) full time for the goats to round bales. Once opened, they are stored under cover and their ration is dolled out. There are a couple of reasons for this but mainly because there would waste from trampling and the cost to build a bale feeder to hold it so they could not trample is not in the time cards right now. I also do not like feeding out hay from  big round in the wind and cold. It takes several trips with the pitch fork, half of it usually flies away in route and it’s time consuming to feed like that. I like to have square bales put up for that reason.

The cost savings isn’t just in labor and storage alone. More than half a ton (1,000 lbs. is half a ton. Our 4 barrels hold about 300 lbs. each or 1200 lbs. total) of storage space of pellets takes up the same amount of room as 10 bales of alfalfa which is only about 600 lbs. of baled product, max 900 lbs. if the bales are newly off the field and still retaining moisture so they are larger.  That right there is huge for us. Our barn is a decent size and our outbuildings are substantial but having hay here there and yonder is a pain and I loose valuable animal shelter/breeding space. Not to mention, our loafing sheds are over 30 years old and are in need of some repair (A.K.A total overhaul!). Having hay in them sort of nixes any overhaul on them.

It takes one of us approximately an hour round trip to go get pellets (drive time + fill time). We’d be driving about the same distance to get hay but the time to put up the hay and the labor involved is astronomically more.  The only labor involved in the pellets is putting the barrels into the back of the truck. Once we get home, we drive the tractor up to the back of the truck bed, scootch the barrels into the loader bucket and offload them into the barn, a task that takes max. 20 minutes. That computes to about 1.5 man hours every 6 weeks or so. With baled hay we’re looking at at least 12 man hours worth of work for approximately 100 square bales which we would need to do about 3 times in a season! Our pellet ration drops at the beginning of winter as only the bucks and heavily pregnant does are on alfalfa pellets. Newly dry does and does that aren’t heavily bred get mostly brome only. They do not need the extra calcium, they also do not get grain either.

How does it save us money in terms of feeding? 

I never would have believed it, but we feed less pellets than we do baled alfalfa with better results. I thought perhaps I’d go through 4 barrels of pellets for the lactating goats, a little for the others (growing/dry kids) and bucks in a month (4 weeks). It takes about 6 weeks to use the barrels in entirety. I had to cut back on pellets because the milking does were putting on more weight than they should have been and the pellets took the bucks in to winter in better body condition than baled alfalfa.

WASTE, the dreaded word. They waste a lot, alfalfa falling to the ground is worthless gold! They won’t eat it once it’s fallen to the ground. Sure, the pigs might but we don’t house our pigs and goats together. Why not just scoop it up and give it to the pigs? We could but there-in comes more work! Don’t be fooled, we aren’t strangers to work. We work a lot, working smarter and not harder is a phrase my FIL likes to use. We like to work smarter so that our time is well spent on meaningful tasks, not to save a penny here while we spend a $1 there on waste. That said, there is absolutely ZERO waste with the pellets. They lap every single morsel and flake up. We’ve since switched from “de-hy” pellets to all sun cured. The sun cured are a little cheaper and they are actually formed pellets. The de-hy pellets we were getting varied in their texture, sometimes being well formed pellets sometimes being just dust. They ate it fine both ways and since the guaranteed min. protein was the same, why not save $ and get the sun-cured? What’s the difference between sun cured and de-hy? Google search it. Some say one can be more nutritious (de-hy) than the other (sun-cured), but after further reading I came to the conclusion that both can be equally as good under the right manufacturing conditions and there’s really no set result on how well the animal’s body digested one or the other so I am not going to split hairs.

So, financially speaking how do pellets save you money straight up (and not in terms of labor)?

Well, considering waste is zero on the pellets I look at it like this:

They would have to waste 25% of baled alfalfa hay to equal the cost of pellets on a ton per ton basis (alfalfa being at about $250 a ton (supreme) to alfalfa pellets’ $310 a ton. Would you believe me if I said they waste upwards of 50% or more baled alfalfa? Believe it, sometimes more if its all stems. And this is for round or square bales of alfalfa (not small squares) which right now are sitting at about $9 a bale (say an average of a $60 lb. bale x 30 bales to a ton and that’s $270 a ton!). So, they are wasting more AND there’s more work in getting the hay and putting it up AND then there’s more clean up from the baled product? YEP! Someone’s gotta haul that wasted alfalfa out of our barn. Alfalfa makes dandy fertilizer no doubt, but so does goat manure and goat manure is a product of a fed goat. Wasted alfalfa is not!

So there you have it. Why we didn’t switch ages ago is baffling to me. I guess I needed to see it with my own eyes before I could see it have an effect on the pocket book, and/or our time and bodies. If we could not get bulk alfalfa pellets it may be completely different. To buy it by the 50# bag would cost us a minimum of $10.50 from the co op (before taxes) to upward of $15 (before tax) from the farm store. Then it would almost be no difference in manual labor to put it into the barn, storage would be same as the barrels obviously. Also, the price of pellets doesn’t usually vary much during the year like the baled product so buying it any time of the year will not compute to more per ton, like hay.

I guess the way I always compared the two was completely wrong. I didn’t take into consideration the fact there is no waste with the pellets and the amount of the baled alfalfa they actually do waste. I was seeing 50# of pellets costing me between $10.50 to $15 and 50# baled alfalfa costing about $7.40. I should have been looking at it like baled alfalfa costing me $300-375+ a ton after waste AND I still have to put in a lot of man hours and manual labor to get it and pellets costing me $240 a ton and there’s 99% less manual labor an 75% less man hours.

It’s a no brainer for us.

Will we continue with the fodder for the goats this winter? 

No. Our fodder room would need an additional 3 shelving units (modified to fit into the space of 2, you can read all about that on our fodder folder) and it would force my bulk fabric rack out and into my sewing studio. Additionally, another gutter would have to be installed to take the drain water away and from a further distance. The fodder is probably a savings over the pellets in the long run, but the ease of the pellets overall weighs out. Since the chickens and pigs need more than pellets, the fodder for them will be more advantageous so the fodder during the winter months will strictly be for them and what used to be fed to the goats will now feed the pigs and chickens both meals a day.