Woe Tex!

Tex came out of the chute ready to work first thing this morning. We fed the sheep, which is easier now that they are all one herd again. Tex helped catch yesterday and I tagged and banded the last four babies we had departed from the herd and we merged those mommas with the main herd.

We got four strands of smooth wire on one side of the gate and three strands up on the other side. The discrepancy is because one section of the fence uses a taller woven wire than the other.

I went over and marked out the rock crib locations and Tex started building them while I made the chicken portal through the fence. Once the discrimination gate was in place I used the trusty mistress to tear up the hillside and smooth it all out. I also had to go across the spring and work the other side of the spring. This necessitates driving a four foot wide tractor over a four foot wide bridge. I made and installed the bridge a long time ago. I am sure its logged in the blog so within the last eight years. I have been using the bridge whenever I need a short cut. Annmarie refuses to drive the tractor across as a tire is usually partially hanging off the bridge during crossing. I drove over the bridge several times today without any issues.

We had to make a run to the fencing supply pile to load the pickup up with railroad ties and the last of my round wooden poles. I only have 6 ties left unused and I may need those in the new section of fencing I have been ignoring.

We are going to have to install wire in the rock cribs to prevent the rocks from falling out when we fill them. I am hoping we can do that on Saturday. Tex went to get gravel to set two posts while I dug the post holes and set the posts down in for final seating. After Tex finished the second post he asked if I wanted the extra gravel in the skinning pit. I know it will take me hours to move all the gravel for the pit so any little help is appreciated.

I had given strict instructions on the first day that any time he was moving around in the tractor that he had to wear his seatbelt. This is to prevent you from getting thrown clear of the vehicle if something were to happen.

I warned him that the bridge was narrow. He then proceeded to attempt a crossing. Woe Tex!!! I saw it happen in slow motion! Luckily, Tex had his seatbelt on so he didn’t get thrown clear of the tractor. I made him stay in place so I could get a picture as I am usually the one in the compromising position.

We still had a pickup bed full of railroad ties so I had Tex grab a chain and drive the pickup around the barn and into the back lot. He had a hard time making the corner with the pickup in four wheel drive. The four wheel drive was mandatory as the entire back area is one giant mud pit. He kept sliding towards the fence as that was the lowest spot on the hillside.

He managed to snag a taillight on the driver’s side with encouragement from me. It looks like we just need a new light fixture.

We hooked onto the hitch and pulled that rear tire down onto the ground. Once we had the rear tire on the ground I was able to drive it out with some pickup assistance. The hardest part was getting the pickup back there and getting seat-belted into the tractor before trying any thing.

As penance, Tex put in a railroad tie next to the bridge. It sits on two very large rocks and widens the bridge by 10″. This will be nice in case I ever miss. He is also going to find me a new light cover to order off of the internet.

He came through for me and for $23 I have a new light cover already on its way!

He was looking a little hangdog by the time he was done for the day. Tomorrow we fill the rock cribs and drill some holes!

It’s my old joy

It was not a giant spider, I told myself after I screamed like a little girl. I was out in the barn doing chores late Wednesday evening in the dark. I waited too long to do chores in the daylight. I went to move one of the inside swing doors and a black and white cat was sitting on top of the door, unbeknownst to me and when I swung the door closed this “thing” dropped down onto my arms. I had a mini meltdown until I realized it was the cat and not a man eating spider. I am sure I lost a a little more hair off of my head due to this life threatening event.

I tried to take a picture of the full moon with my new IPhone. Low light pictures are still not very good with a phone camera.

I lined up some help for Thursday thru Sunday to build some more fence. I wanted to finish the fence I started this Winter and redo the barn lot arrangements. We really want to get a Flow Hive and have at least one bee hive. We feel that we need to supply some sustenance to the bees first. So we are going to build two flower areas in the barn lot. These will be isolated from all the animals and one of the two will be able to be watered. This may even let us grow a couple of trees that the animals cannot eat before they get any height to them.

I got the skinning pole area dug out and ready for gravel. It will be nice to not have to work in the mud when skinning animals. We killed three last summer but the most I have done is ten at once.

I have a new helper, he will here forth forever be known as Tex. I thought about continuing the trend and calling him Mr. Tex but I just could not do it and have shortened it to just Tex. Tex set posts while I ran around on Thursday finding supplies, tools and getting fuel. I even made a trip to the scrap metal junkyard.

Once the posts were set and H braces made with cross wire we got the woven wire up and the gates installed. Tex had built fence before so we just had a couple of small learning curve issues. As in all things there are many different ways to skin a cat. We tied in the creekside fence to the back of the chicken coop so I decided to shrink the coop pen and rip out all the extra. The pen is useful to get the chickens to lay in the coop if they start to stray all the time, but it does not need to be that big. So we moved a post and connected it to the front part only. That meant we had to add a gate against the old house to close off the ram pasture. Now we can let the lambs out here without worrying their moms would try and jump the fast moving creek and leave the babies to make that same attempt. That option would not be healthy for lambs or old ewes.

Tomorrow we will get the smooth wire up and I will have to build a pass through in the fence for the chickens that will hopefully not let the lambs through.

Tex did a great job and I am looking forward to Friday’s progress report.

Winter is leaving

Mother Winter is finally giving up her grip on the weather and spring is trying to come out. For the fifth day in a row we have had above freezing temperatures during the day. This is allowing the snow to melt off at a slow rate. A slow rate is the rate we want. I have been out in the machine shed counting bales of hay to see if we are going to make it. We are going to make it for the cows just barely! We have been feeding the cows twice a day with all this snow on the ground. This morning when I went out and fed there was still hay from last night on the ground. The cows had not cleaned it up. We will go back to feeding the cows in the late evening. This forces them to forage during the day and ensures they have full bellies during the night when it gets cold. It is still freezing every night and dipping down into the low 20’s. I had to go over to Feedeville and buy another ton of pellets for the sheep. This time I picked up alfalfa pellets and more Kountry Buffet, an all purpose general feed. I would have gotten more Kountry Buffet but they ran out. There has been quite the rush on feed with this sudden extended snow storm deposits. It is incredibly expensive to feed this way but we are now getting enough calories into the mothers that they are starting to put weight back on. They don’t usually do that until the grass comes up and they get an all you can eat buffet.

I was sick all day yesterday and slept most of it. I blame my fellow coworkers for spreading the plague. I did manage to move 2400 pounds of food bags from the back of the pickup into the barn and chicken coop. I picked up 300# of chicken food for $12.75/50# bag, this is a good price but unless I buy a ton at a time (40 bags) and save another $1/bag its not really worth the drive. I like having the ton on hand but I hate the mice problems and despite $30 worth of poison traps for the mice they go right for the chicken food and avoid the traps. If I could find flat sheets of sheet metal to mount to the inside walls and floors of the chicken supply room I would feel better but that won’t be an easy task.

I will keep my open when I go to the scrap metal yard next time. I am due to go back and pick up some metal soon. If this 45-50 degree weather keeps up it will be time to start fixing fence soon. One of the barn cats has figured out she stays warm if she sleeps under the round feeders. After the sheep feed they settle down around the feeder and give off heat. The hay is dry and comfortable under the feeder and no one can step on her. It is a recent development and one that she keeps repeating. Our large orange barn cat is starting to mellow out. He stayed in the barn, sitting on a ledge, today the entire time I was working. He used to run immediately to the hole under the barn as soon as he saw us. I guess he likes being fed, I have not seen a single mouse in the barn this winter. Having the cats has made a huge difference. We found another dead cat on the place and have been seeing a raccoon again. I had a single chicken die this week but we think it was due to old age. Very soon we will be getting baby pullets. I just need to place the order.

We are currently trying to fill out paperwork to get a loan for the haying equipment. This is proving to take several hours of our time. Will see how it goes.

We need to start tracking our tractor usage by run hours. At start of March we had 730 hours.

Elk damage

Well the elk did make it down to our orchard, luckily not very many of them came down onto the bottoms. This was a boon to us as they did dig in the snow and try to find the grass. We had one cow elk that stayed low and even spent the night in the machine shed with the alpaca one night. The weather has finally warmed up and the snow is slowly melting off. One of our greatest worries was that the elk would get down into our newly planted grass hay pastures and tear them up. I have been driving up to the upper end of the farm three times a week to look at the pastures and check for elk damage. I can go all winter without ever normally seeing the other end of the farm. I am unclear how me watching for damage will change anything but it did not stop me from looking. People ask why the elk are different than deer. The picture below is a great example. You can see above where the elk dug down and ate the grass. When you look at the picture below you can see the yellow spots on the ground. Those yellow spots are where the elk dug down and ate the grass. They will tear up the grass and eat the roots. In a couple of weeks we will know how much damage was done to the pasture but since it needed replanted we are not going to worry about it. The elk started moving up the hillsides as the snow started to melt off. They did not want to stay low and only came down because the weather forced them out of the mountains.

Our back creek is running a little muddy but it is doing great. We have a rock on the creek bank we use to measure the depth of the water. This rock has been buried but the creek has gone down again and it is visible. The water is starting to run clear also. All in all if this will continue for the next 6-8 weeks it is going to be a glorious Spring!

Chicken financials annual report for 2018

These are the financials for all of 2018. I want to preface theses numbers with a disclaimer. I have not even reviewed the numbers prior to writing this blog entry so as to not be influenced by its results. While inputting all the chicken egg financials I noticed one disturbing trend, I was definitely going to lose money this year. Now this was not a total surprise as we had about 40% of our chicks die and we had adults die. We started the year with 19 hens (10 freeloaders from the winter before) and we bought 18 chicks for a total of 37 chickens and ended the year with 21 for a loss of 16 chickens. It is very hard to get chickens to lay eggs when you have freeloaders, old chickens and only a few new birds. The predators came back also again this year and I have not had a lot of success killing them. I am thinking I need an upgrade to the Walther P-22. Something that can shoot subsonic rounds, mount a laser on and semiautomatic.

On average I had 21 laying hens giving me 4.8 eggs/day (decrease of 3.2 eggs/day) for a productivity rate of 24% (15% decrease). I am feeding on average 129# chicken feed/month (decrease 25#/month) for a grand total of 1550# for 2018 (300#decrease). My monthly feed bill is $33.61/month (increase $1.31/month). My feed costs are $2.81/doz (increase of $0.81/doz or 40% increase!) with my total cost of production at $3.17/doz (includes feed and bedding and 18 pullets). My chickens are consuming 0.88 lbs food/egg produced (increase 0.24 lbs/egg). It is costing me $0.21/egg (increase of 0.08/egg) in feed. I have collected 1759 eggs to date (decrease in 1153 eggs or 40%). My total feed costs are $369.76 (decrease of $55.88).

In summary my income was $438 and my total expenses were $463.76. In 2018 I lost money, $25.76.

This is abysmal, we already charge $4/dozen for our wondrous eggs. I am going to have to make some drastic changes this year to our chicken population. I will be ordering 24 pullets. When those pullets get to age 3 months and need to be turned out with the other chickens I will be culling every chicken that is not an easter egger. This will leave us with about 30 chickens (if the pullets don’t die). Unfortunately that means for three months I will have about 6 chickens laying eggs. So probably 2/day, which is not going to leave very many if any for sale. After I take this draconian action I will reevaluate the price next year and unfortunately may need to increase it to $5/dozen. I suspect that is going to be our upper price limit.

This for the BEST eggs you will ever eat. Ours are true free range that have access to running water year round, bugs, grass, animal poop and all the bugs they can eat. All that protein makes a huge difference to how the eggs taste and the variety of their diet makes for some amazing flavor. Buy them from us, first dozen is free!

Water in the raw

Well the weather finally let me get into the upper fields. I drove the mistress up the road, stopped and talked to one of our neighbors on the way then made my way up to the far end of the property. I was able to get into the upper wheat field and drive along the bottom pasture. We do own a four wheel drive pickup but the problem with it is its heavy and it sinks down into the mud. The mistress has four wheel drive and is very light, she also has a bucket that can be used to drag or push you out of any place you get stuck. I have learned how to use the bucket to rescue myself. This does not work if you actually get stuck in a deep hole. You need a second vehicle at that point. I have only needed a second vehicle four times to extricate the mistress out of tight jams. The ground is truly soaked at this point. It is starting to give up water and is now running down the center of the field. I was hoping to get a single large pond that held the water but it does not look like that is going to happen. I also did not dig a channel down the middle of the field like I did in the lower field. It looks like the water is working on creating its own channel. When it dries out this summer I am going to have to deepen the channel that is made by the runoff. This will allow me to install a culvert so I can cross the ditch with the tractor and implements. I don’t want to bother with installing any buried tile network to drain off the moisture. My goal is to get the grass established and get a nice double cutting from the subterranean water soaked ground. If I have to give up some land due to too much moisture then so be it. Unfortunately, the ground is so sloped that there is no pond or reservoir like effect occurring. I am not so sure the ducks will like a mud pit. This is the bottom half of the upper pasture. I still need names for the two fields in the middle. Currently I have the Upper Prime Pasture which is the 4 acres just past the barn lot, two unnamed grass hay fields and the upper field which will forever be called the “7 acres”. I will have to consult the wife as to what the names should be. You can see that the lower channel has a tendency to widen and splits near the fence. The best part of this is that the elk have not gotten into the field and rooted up the grass seedlings!

Here is the lower of the two fields. This field has a channel dug into the center of it from five years ago. The water seems to be going directly to that channel. I would really like it to go to the already dug old original channel at the middle left of the screen. That is the original ditch from the 30s. I think I could easily direct it that way as you can see a low spot is already there. I would just need to encourage that water to make the jump to the front ditch instead of creating its own. This is the lower pasture. Last year I created a series of small connecting channels and they are working. This entire area in the picture used to be a mud fest area. I don’t dare go out in either field for at least two more months. The deer are living in the bottoms with the elk living on the hillside and up on top in the CRP. This is a good thing and I have high hopes for our grass hay crop this year.

We are going to work on our taxes this weekend. I need to do the farm categories and the chicken spreadsheets. Once that is done we are going to work on our loan application for the hay equipment.

Uh oh Elk

Mother Nature finally drove the elk out of the mountains last week. There is so much snow up there that the elk cannot dig their way down to fodder. When this happens they move to lower elevations which means wheat fields, hay patches and CRP. The real problem with this is the elk are very destructive. Not only do they just tear down fences by going through them but they dig up the ground looking for food. We have about 80-100 animals on our property. My real worry is that they will find the 14 acres of planted grass I put in this fall! I don’t mind the deer nibbling the green tops of the grass but I certainly cannot afford for the elk to go down there and dig it up by the roots. It would cost me about 2 weeks of time and another $1000 to replant but the hard part is we would lose the growing time. Which would mean we would lose an entire first cutting on the grass fields, maybe even both of them which could cost us 30-60 ton of grass at a minimum loss of $4500-9000. This would hurt us on top of the extra feed costs we are incurring now due to the late and deep snow. So far we have put out for 2 ton of bagged feed for the sheep and may need to buy another ton still so we are out about $850 so far. We have just enough alfalfa to keep the cows going for another three weeks, longer if the snow will go away.

Several of my coworkers have offered to come kill elk if if I had land owner depredation tags. The problem with that is there are thousands of elk in the area. Me killing a handful is not going to make them go away from our property. So we just suck it up and hope they don’t tear up our fields.

The problem with the snow going away is there is a lot of snow! At this point we want a nice gradual warming up or our back creek will flood and try and rip out fence. I know it seems like a farmer is always bitching about the weather but in all reality they live or die or succeed by the whim of Mother Nature therefore giving them more right to complain. That is my take and I am sticking to it. The damage to the fence is gonna cause me problems. I had the upper fence all repaired and tight. So far I have not noticed any damage to the lower sections but I cannot get to the upper fence without just hoofing it up there and there is currently nothing I can do about it so I am leaving it for a surprise later this spring when I can inspect it on the tractor.

Annmarie tells me that last night the elk came down into the orchard to eat grass. We have been seeing a couple of them here or there but she said they came down en masse. I didn’t see any this morning when I went out to feed except for a lone cow elk down by my Mother-in-law’s house. She ran off when I came with the tractor to feed our cows.

The sun was shining today and melting snow despite the temperature only being 30 F. The elk are still on the back hillside. We have mostly cow elk with the occasional bull, there are larger bull elk in other fields, just not ours. We are getting so much moisture that the bottoms are starting to create wet spots, this one below is in the 7 acre barley patch that we are going to turn into alfalfa this spring. This wet spot is going to delay planting. The deer are hanging out in the bottoms away from the elk.

No horrible raging runoff creek yet. It is very sedate and clear at the moment and we hope it stays that way for the next six months.