Saturday, August 28, 2010

river of hope

Our cow had her calf today. It was an event to say the least. Tabitha has been on *high alert* for over a month week. This build up to bovine crescendo was tedious. Fraught with worry of worst case scenarios Jocelyn gave birth without a hitch. She is a genetic-old-pro.

A whole new set of worries can now consume. We are selling the calf. I admit she is a show-calf and opportunities like her are infrequent. A beautiful heifer--she glows like Jocelyn did when she was born. Kassi is smitten to a degree that only little girls can achieve. I told her that Jocelyn's next daughter is hers. This time is too early. Kassi won't be old enough to milk her in two years, but maybe in three. It isn't that she couldn't take care of her everyday. It boils down to stamina. Milking takes stamina.

It is really hard for me to say no to my only little girl. She understands, in a little girl way. Mostly she loves that calf but abides daddies wishes. It was magic watching the birth. Toly learned volumes today. We have always explained where babies come from but he never believed it. Today was a epiphany. I could see the wheels turning in his brain. I love my boy.

Tristan thought it was really cool "it was like a rainbow on a cloudy day." Where does he come up poetic metaphors at eight? Rome thought it was a huge poo for a while. Of course he did.. Kassi named the calf River. She is the resident namer of things. She has a gift.

Our friend Janet has first option on this calf. She is exercising her option. Even with other interested parties if Janet declined we'd be keeping River.  We need the money, I'll admit it. Jocelyn needs pricey feed for the winter. I can't help but think of Rumpelstiltskin, trading a winters food for the first born.  Kassi and Tabitha are both harboring something subconscious and bitter toward me right now. I accepted Janet's offer to purchase. We set the price, well $50 less than my buyout was.

How much would it cost you to have your daughter and significant-other disappointed with you?

We agreed for the past ten months that we weren't keeping the calf under ANY circumstances. I repeat "UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES." Our farm is too small for a second cow. Our system won't support another cow this is especially true in this economy.

Here are some gratuitous baby calf photos.

the first breath.

the impatient pile

tongue bath

rome took a kitten break.

the dogs were anxious to meet their new charge.

Kassi still had hope that she was keeping River in this photo

Angel the kitten.

true love..........

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Bring out your dead" *CLANK*

No one talks about the dark underbelly of cute little farmsteading. We have had some significant losses in our broiler chickens. Not quite industry standard losses yet but we are closing in on it. Why? Well is is the heat and all things associated with the hottest summer on record.

The chicks are at their most vulnerable state. They are five weeks old. At this stage their size gain is out racing their hearts ability to keep up. Normally they are fine but temperatures have not dipped below eighty at night and soar well into the triple digits everyday. This has been ongoing the entire month of August.

I don't have enough solar fans so that each tractor has a fan. We shuffle the two of them to the sunniest placed tractors. Additional shade *sheets* were added to our borrowed tractors. I thought I had things stabilized. Yesterday, while Ron was visiting one of my water fountains failed. The little lock-nut that locks the adjustment nuts together released. The water had only quit for an hour or so. But, it was during the heat of the day. We rescued several of them near death by dipping them into cool water--whew.

In the future I plan redundant water fountains in each tractor. This will afford a much needed security cushion.

Lessons to remember:
  • Broiler chickens won't step from the shade even to get to the water when temperatures are above 100 degrees.
  • Raise larger batches in the fall and spring. Keep the batch in the heat of the summer small because Missouri summers are too intense.
Since we feed our dogs on a raw diet they are happy for any early deaths. They are perfect guardians though. Even after getting fed whole birds with feathers they would never chase or kill any chickens.

I am alright now, knowing exactly what caused the deaths and how to mostly avoid them in the future. It is still upsetting since we have never had losses of this magnitude. We had an excellent visit with Ron. He saw me at a really vulnerable moment. He immediately got it when I yelled "bring out your dead"

On a better note. Our dehydrator is truly magic. We dehydrated all of the onions, some elderberries and a whole load of tomatoes.

It is amazing that five gallons of tomatoes could fit into two quart jars. We love our dehydrator.

I'm going to go check on the chickens for the umpteenth time today. *running with fingers crossed*

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

bucket fountain to water chickens

Here is an illustration of my low pressure water fountain supply using a five gallon bucket as the reservoir.

This diagram connects directly to the Little giant fountain.

This is the brand we started with and like it as long as we use a (sock) pre-filter. There are other fountains that have benefits and shortcomings. Mostly, this what we started with. The unit has a small screen in the threaded connection point but it gets clogged quickly. Using the sock pre-filter mostly solves this problem.

The bucket can hang from the bail or sit over a horizontal support with a hole in it. I use both methods. In my father-in-law's tractor it hangs from the bail. In my tractors I use a milk crate with a hole cut in the bottom zip-tied to the tractor for security. If I remove the fountain by the quick dis-connect the bucket can lift out of the milk crate for dumping or maintenance.

The piece of hose allows the fountain bowl to hang level and makes swirling the fouled water out quickly and easily with one hand.

I also use this style fountain in my rain water collection system for the laying hens. I had to employ a different pre-filter than a sock.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

taste of marrow

Sometimes life seems too wonderful, while other moments are bitter with strife. Questioning the condition is a product of leisure. Busy living one doesn't analyze the moment, hopefully we live it. Lately I have been grasping the instant, the spark. The adoring look of my child's eye I relish. I live there for as long as I can. This moment is mine to cherish until all other memories fail. When I die this is the moment I want to resurrect. Full to the brim, rich like no wealth can describe. I am happy...

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Last year we only planted one German-stripe plant. I saved seeds from several tomatoes from it because I loved how they taste. We planted a whole row of them this year. Most plants were true to type but we had one lucky variation. A whole plant of the most fabulous tomatoes I have ever tasted.

They taste like peaches and vibrate with day-glow iridescent pink and yellow. We have dubbed the tomato Dayglo'melay. We will plant an entire row of them next year. I will save seeds from the best of those and possibly offer seeds for sale. Yeah they'll be cheap, mostly to cover the shipping.

I have eaten so many of them this year. I would normally have a mouth full of canker sores. I usually eat cherokee purple to excess and they have a much higher acid content. Not these babies.

Tabitha has also discovered the perfect canning tomato. We occasionally watch *Lidia's Italy* on the cooking channel on PBS. She is always raving about San Marzano tomatoes. We grew some of them and are extremely impressed. They are not a good salsa tomato nor taste good sliced but add a little heat and they are amazing. They cook down very quickly and make thick rich tomato paste. We also grew an organic version but they failed almost immediately. *shakes fist into the air* They suffered from the blight the earliest and worst. Even the copper spray didn't stop the death. So we are on the hybrid band wagon for the time being. I might try and save some seeds from them anyway. What is the worst that can happen? Poor/no germination or never set fruit might happen. But, I might get lucky and have my own seed. The book gardening when it counts states that most of the newer *heirloom* varieties came from hybrids from the fifties.

My parents sent Kassi a bunch of Iris rhizomes. They are labeled and organized for Kassi to grow them for sale. Four varieties will be ready next year and dozens will be ready in a couple of years.

We planted half of them in the raised beds by the peach tree. The other box of longer term plants are still in my closet. We need to get beds ready for them and it is too hot out to do that kind of work.

Bob is loaning us four fencing panels for a dog pen for Astrid. I know, that doesn't sound like me. It appears that she will go into heat before the boys are ready. Plus we'd like her to not get bred her first heat. So we'll put her up during her heat until the boys are ready and she has had a few heats.

Tucked under the fence panels are four twelve foot long telephone pole sections. They are going to be a play tower for the kids. It will overlook the garden and paddocks. It will be like a guard tower. I'm thinking a zip-line careening into the forest.

The broiler chicks are growing like crazy.

This is my new door design. It requires a pipe bender to make but it is really elegant and simple.

I also put an improved handle on this tractor.

It is inspired from mikes tractors that I am borrowing. We are very pleased with his tractors. They turn on a dime and squeak next to fences more easily than mine.

I also had an epiphany regarding the water fountain for this new tractor. The pipe connects to the bottom of the bucket with a homemade bulkhead fitting and a sock as pre-filter.

It goes straight down to the water fountain using a bit of old hose so it will hang correctly in an incline situation. The whole thing clicks apart and removes from the tractor quickly and easily for dumping, cleaning or repair.

Having the water fountain connected to a flexible hose has the added benefit of easy dumping of the bowl when it gets fouled.

I also added the new style doors to the old tractors.

We zip tied billboard-vinyl-tarp to the doors. So far we are very pleased.

These birds are looking so healthy.

We also turned the sheep loose in the paddocks. They promptly used the dog pass through and went to the upper field. They like being where the dogs are. The dogs love them, respect them and genuinely seem to enjoy protecting them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

solar energy rules

Tristan is now eight years old as of yesterday.

Last week I attended a solar conference in St. Louis. It was great. There were some technology improvements and many more on the way. Five years ago when I was installing solar in San Frisco bay area inverter efficiency was 85% at best. Now efficiency is closing on 99%. This is huge since you needed several thousand dollars worth of P.V. panels to compensate.

I got all excited, met many interesting people and learned about all the new inverter technologies. Tabitha survived my being away for two nights--barely. The kids were so excited to see me my first morning back.

The water heater went out immediately after I left the house for two days. I came home and needed to replace the water heater first thing. I have cleaned it and replaced the elements enough times to make it unreliable. I bought a water heater with a clean-out port so this one should last longer and be easier to maintain.

The broiler chickens have grown like crazy. We have them on an improved feed formula. It is based on Joel Salatin's recipe. Part of the protein is fish meal. This means that the birds eat vegetable and animal protein in a proportion that makes them grow healthier and slightly faster.

The problem is most feed mills won't mix animal protein unless they have a dedicated facility. Our mill has us buy the following batch of a different formula to be sure the that the system is cleared. Our layer ration usually is a good follow-up. We are good customers for them and they work with us in a way that is difficult to find. Finding out that standard (*chicken chow* and the like) almost always has Arsenic in it was really scary. Arsenic is poison both forms of it. If you are feeding your chickens chick-frye or layer-ration call your corporate feed supplier and complain.

I am going to collaborate with Tabitha and make a large post about our chicken raising operation. Promoting healthy local food in an open-source way can only have benefits for everyone. Health conscious people should be aware of what you eat, eats.
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