Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicken chat

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Lots of chicken activity over the last few weeks around here. Just the other day we got a new shipment of fuzzballs all the way from the East coast. They showed up within 48 hours of hatching and everyone is super perky and doing well.

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For this batch of meat birds we are trying another hybrid strain that was developed for pastured poultry in France. These 'Freedom Rangers' are supposedly more active and aggressive foragers than the Cornish cross though they do take a few weeks longer to finish and are not broad breasted. Raising several varieties of birds will give our CSA members the chance to experience different types of chicken and allow us to see which varieties perform well on our ranch.

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We've been getting lots of questions about the chicken tractors where the birds are raised as of late. These bottomless pasture pens allow us to move the chickens several times a day to fresh pasture with new bugs, grass and tasty bits and away from their manure.

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We have several different styles of pasture pens but they all allow for the birds to have fresh pasture while keeping them safe from predators. We are most concerned with aerial predators like hawks, especially when the birds are small. We could of course coop the birds at night and let them free range during the day, but this way we know they are protected and able to maximize the use of the pasture.

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The pens are moved along by pulling a rope and have a hinged top so we can change out water and feed. By having half the pen covered in tin, it gives the birds a resting place out of the wind, rain and sun. If the weather is especially nasty, we have heavy tarps on hand for added protection.

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Our second batch of meat chickens (Cornish cross) are now about 4 weeks old and ready to move out to the pasture pens. On especially warm days, we put them outside for a few hours but now they are ready for the permanent move. It has been a little chilly at night so we will put out a heat light to help them adjust to the change.

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Finally, the layer birds (which are now about 11 weeks) were starting to outgrow their chicken tractor and were big enough to move down to the chicken house. So with the help of Jerry and Teresa we loaded the whole pen into cages and took them to their new home. They will spend a few weeks getting to know their surroundings before we integrate them with the rest of the flock.

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Having this many chickens is quite the dance of coordinating chick arrivals with available pasture pens with processing dates while rationing feed, meeting target weights and calculating the different grow out periods for each pen of birds. It is very complicated but well worth the effort to create a product that is far and away beyond the average supermarket special.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rainin'

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You know it has been raining hard when the perky lilac cascades like wisteria

It rained really hard last night. Thunderstorms - our first of the year - just dumped on us. Thunderstorms are always a mixed blessing for me; I know how desperately we need the rain but they scare the bojangles out of me. I was never bothered by them when I lived on the west side of the state but out here they shake me up. You can see so far in this country that lighting flashes that are twenty miles away feel like they are "just over that hill". I was out checking on the chicks in the sunroom last night when a red flash lit up the sky across the ditch from the Long House and the thunder boomed instantly, shaking the whole house, rattling windows and sending poor Zoe, who was cowering on the porch, streaking across the yard.

Storms are one of the few times that I really reflect on how isolated we are out here. Bev has me worried about working at the sink during storms, something about how it isn't grounded or maybe it is grounded and that is where the electricity will be channeled during a strike. I can't remember but I do know I hurry my business at the kitchen sink and move away. It is unlikely that a strike will hit the house but it has happened before.

When the kids (Chuck Jr, Teresa and Lloyd) were young there was a rip snorter of a storm come down the canyon. Here's the story as Teresa tells it:

Mom used to always tells us, "Don’t you kids ever play with matches because we don’t have any fire department out here." So one of our biggest fears growing up was that the house would burn down. When a fire came through in the thirties they managed to save the barn but the house burnt clear to the ground.

I must have been five or six when this really big thunderstorm rolled through. The thunder was constant and the lightning hit a few trees nearby and split them clear down the middle. We were all so scared and dad was down working in the shop so mom hurried us down to the shop with dad.

When the storm had passed, we all came back to the house together and when we opened the door the whole house was full of thick black smoke. We used to keep an orange light upstairs so the bugs wouldn’t collect around it in the summer so when mom looked upstairs and saw the whole upstairs glowing orange she thought the house was on fire.

"I was hysterical, I mean I totally lost it and mom took my hand and made me hold on to the doorknob in the kitchen and she told me, "Now you’re not helping us out here so you just stand here and get it together. We won’t leave you behind, I promise".

Turns out the whole house wasn't on fire. Lighting had struck the tall chimney on our little trash burning stove in the kitchen that used to sit to the right of the range where the butcherblock is today. It wasn’t actively burning but was still smoldering in the wall.

Obviously, they got the fire put out and the house is still standing, but stories like this can still rattle the nerves as the thunder crackles overhead. I am always grateful to not be alone during storms and was very glad that Lloyd and Nathan got home just before the storm blew through. Lloyd is such a calming force to be around; he is unfazed by the commotion and cheerily exclaims, "a real hum-dinger this one" and toodles around sweeping the walkways (the rain helps rinse the dust and debris away) and I go back to feeling silly for startling at each crackle of lighting.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Back in action

We have fully recuperated from the plague and while we are in a mad dash to play catch up, we haven't forgotten about the blog. Enjoy this photo of fresh picked garden asparagus and the official start of many harvests to come. Happy Monday and I'll have more posts up tomorrow.

Cheers!

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The plague

Pardon the lack of recent posts. Nathan's been sick and we are a tad backlogged with projects. New updates soon, I promise.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Out South

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Just a quick panorama of the pasture we refer to as "Out South". The dots in the middle are the cattle that we walked back from their overland adventure to the house the other day.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Photo point monitoring

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Part of our grazing management plan involves taking photos before and after the cattle move through a pasture. This way we can compare the two photos and make sure that the cattle are not over- or under-utilizing the space. The goal is to simulate the movement of herds of natural grazers (historically bison, deer and elk) across the landscape. Of course the cattle have their favorite spots and places they don't much care for and both Lloyd and the herd know about how long each pasture will hold them until they are ready to move, but it is still nice to have these types of before/after photos.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Comment feature

Since I have received this same question multiple times from readers I thought I would share how to post a comment on the blog without having to create an account. It is rather confusing how it is set up currently.

- At the end of each post it says "(#) Comments". Click on that.
- This brings up a little box. Type your comment.
- Below the comment box is a drop down menu. Select "Name/URL".
- Another window will pop up, put your name in the box and click continue (URL can be left blank).
- Post your comment. It should show up on the blog shortly.
- Another option is to select "Anonymous" from the drop down menu and just include your name with your comment.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say :)

Cheers!

The cows came home

This morning the yearling heifer herd, which is currently pasturing around the house, was acting a bit cantankerous: stamping around and bellowing. We knew they are a little anxious to go elsewhere and planned to move them this morning.

Then we noticed some were already on the wrong side of the fence, and they were much bigger now! We go up and check and half of the brood herd is standing there. That is too many for a hole in the fence (though maybe they smelled Archie and were looking for a date). Seems we missed a gate and they walked themselves home from Out South (oh well it happens - if it is not an open gate, they find a spot where the elk break the fence down anyway).

We herded them back down the alleyway to Out South. The heifer herd wanted to come along as well and followed along the fence up to the cattle guard. Then a few of them jumped the cattle guard (much to Nathan's dismay as he had to jump the fence and chase them back through). I pushed the brood herd along and left Nathan to take care of the heifers. We walked along the alleyway and guess who was waiting so patiently at the gate at the end of the county road? Good ole False M and her calf. I opened the gate and she walked right through. We got everyone back where they are supposed to be and got the pasture ready for the heifers to be moved along. Just another Saturday morning at the ranch.