Monday, May 24, 2010

First Hay Cutting

Hot and humid, 90 degrees

Summer arrived yesterday. We went from highs in the 70's to 87-90 in one day.
My first concern in weather like this when the heat index is approaching 100 degrees, is for my livestock. No cows yet, so I only have to worry about the pigs. They have two sources of shade and fresh water available at all times. Pigs also need mud. They can't sweat like we do to cool off. Mud helps keep them cool, and it also helps protect them from biting insects. The mosquitos are not quite out yet, but we all know they are an inevitible scourge. Anyway, I've been going out to the pasture a few times a day to spray the pigs with the hose, which they love!! Tiny, in particular, loves to do the twirling pig dance under the sprinkler. They are doing fine.

The bigger news is that we finally got our first crop of hay cut! We got the name of a nearby guy that does custom hay from some neighbors. This guy came pretty well-recommended. We got a little rain on Thursday and Friday, so the plan was to cut on Saturday, as there was a good 3 day window of clear warm weather ahead. After a little juggling back and forth about whether he was or wasn't going to come Saturday after all, he said he'd send his hired man over around 3pm. At 4 pm, I started to wonder. At 5pm, I was really getting anxious since making hay requires not only cooperative weather, but good timing and lots of luck. I called the farmer, and he said he'd sent the guy my way quite a while back,and he should have been here 45 minutes ago. Hmm. Farmer drove up and said he went looking for the guy on his tractor, and didnt see him anywhere. He said he'd have to go find him, maybe he got lost! An hour later I got a phone call from the farmer saying he located the guy, guess he thought he'd stop home and cut his own place first. But then the haybine broke. Skidplate hit something and bent backward on it. Can't get parts until Monday. Farmer told me he'd call me on Monday and we'd talk about the forecast, etc. and go from there.

But today (Monday) as these folks are fond of doing, he just showed up with his 14 foot discbine! I had two thoughts: Yay, and I hope it doesn't rain in the next three days!

I watched how he mowed the field. That big ol mower/conditioner sure made short work of what had been 30 inch-high alfalfa and clover. It cuts it off at the base,then pulls the plant through two rollers that crimp or squeeze it, opening the stems up. This allows the hay to dry much faster and improves the chances of getting it baled before the next rain. So now we wait a couple days, and he'll come back to rake Wed. morning and then bale it Wed. afternoon. If the weather cooperates, of course. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pigs Got Out!!

You bet they did, and they are loving being pastured piggies!

I had a 4 day weekend, which gave me the time I needed to get a bunch of chores and projects done so we could finally get our little Berks out onto lush lush pasture! I had to trench out a lead wire from their pen to the pasture. In the process, I accidentally cut through the dogs' Invisible Fence wire :( ugh. Something else to fix!

Once I had that wire in place, I layed out a combination of electric netting and two strand poly wire to create a square area inside the pasture. The alfalfa/orchardgrass in that section is mostly up to my knees, so I mowed a perimeter strip for the electro-netting and so the pigs could get an easy visual of where the hot wire is. Since this is their first pasture paddock, I wanted to make it easy for them to understand and prevent accidental escapes, etc. One thing I have learned over the years is it is worth it to do it right and stop problems before they happen. Which, I guess, comes after learning the things that can and will go wrong. From watching them go....wrong. After many frustrating hours of trying to chase errant animals back IN through an electric fence, etc., which I can tell you is about as easy and fun as unwinding a hairball, I don't want to go there again. Guess that's what they mean by older and wiser! A week or two ago, I got a flat rack from a nearby farmer. This is basically a large flat wagon on a big set of axles (running gear). This will be my platform for my portable water tank for the pasture moves, and it will serve as shade and shelter for the pigs as we move from spot to spot within the pasture. Then I built another hoop hut as additional shelter for them.

Once I had the layout of the perimeter of their first paddock set up, I built a temporary chute, or alleyway between their pen and the new pasture so they could go out there without wandering all over the yard. We did the same thing with our other batches of pigs when we moved them to the garden. These Berks moved out very nicely. I've always read that pigs will not want to cross a line where an electric wire was because they don't have great eyesight. But these guys did great coming over with just a bit of coaxing from Karen and I. Pretty soon, they were all racing around in the pasture!

Well, all except one, who suddenly appeared having copious foam coming from his nose and mouth! We didn't see him eat anything weird, but he certainly had all the symptoms of a pig that just licked a poisonous toad or something similar! I offered him some water,but he didn't want it. It cleared up in about 30 minutes, but that was weird. He's totally fine now, and we have no idea what it was he ate.

Have you ever seen a pig eat grass? I mean, really eat a LOT of grass?? It was quite amazing to me to watch these pigs simply go crazy munching away on the tall grass. I know now that pigs can and will eat grass, but I had never seen them fully graze like that! For such little pigs, it seemed like they must be stuffing their stomachs full!
Now, pigs are not ruminants, they have a single stomach like us. They can digest grass, but not as well as cows or sheep can. An adult pig can get as much as half her diet from pasture alone. But smaller pigs don't have as fully developed digestive tracts, and so cannot utilize grass as much as bigger pigs can. Plus, growing pigs need a good amount of protein, which is low in forage, and they need lysine, an amino acid they cannot manufacture, so we continue to offer them their regular feed while on pasture. the pasture,however, is particularly full of beta-carotenes and sugars especially this time of year. I'm sure the sugars in the grass is what's got them eating it like candy. this is the sweetest time of year, literally, if you are a grass eater. the brix, or sugar levels are highest on the lush forages while the days are warm and the nights are cool, and it is receiving plenty of moisture. Once the daytime temps go over 80 degrees, grass stops growing very much, and it lignifies. Which in plain English means it gets kinda starchy and bitter tasting.
My pasture are getting ahead of me, and I need to get some cows out there to eat it down, or it will go to seed and quit growing altogether.

Moving the pigs out is not all we got done. If you want to know what we do on our days off, or for those of our friends who think our life is just like vacation all the time, here is an incomplete list:
Fixed car door, pumped up low tire, took the truck and trailer to Farm & Fleet and picked up some gates and fence panels, put up 125 post insulators (still need about 225 more to go), planted three birch trees, weeded, watered and planted the vegetable garden, picked up the yard, mowed the lawn, scraped the rust off of a galvanized stock tank and repainted it, removed the bottom from the grain hopper to clean the rust off that, ordered a hog feeder, fixed the Invisible Fence, cleaned the house, smoked a ham, had family over for a nice day on Saturday. My brother helped me cut down a tree, and as I was hauling brush away, my mom joined us and even she pitched in and started hauling brush! That felt good, it was sweet to be working side by side like that again. Even Dad was there for supervision! We also had a little family time and got to play some badminton and had two nice campfires.

Next on the list is to build a corral for receiving cattle....!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The wind continues to be the wildest I've ever known it. So many days these past two months have had winds in the 20-30 mph range, and I'm talking about sustained winds, not just gusts. It's pretty unusual for this part of the world. I sure hope things go back to normal soon. My pig hut remains on it's roof, I can't really even think about turning it back upright in winds like these. I saw a semi-trailer today that was flipped and twisted off the freeway. It's also been drier than normal, we're about 2.5 inches below our normal totals at this point in the year. We do get rain occassionally, and we're not in a drought yet, but I do wonder about what this pattern of dry wind will turn into.

Been slowly but steadily getting bits and pieces of stringing barbed wire along the bottom of the fence done, to prevent pigs from rooting under. I've had many of my "weekend" hours taken up by other stuff these past few weeks and I haven't had too many good solid days to just get stuff done. And when I have, well you know that's when it rains!

Billie has so far hatched 4 baby chicks! They are so cute, I'll try to post pictures soon. We have been letting the chicks dry off and get their feet while under Billie, then pull them out and put them in a brooder with food and water. (Speaking of their feet - each one has tiny little feathers on their tiny little feet - eeee!) Normally, the chicks will all hatch within a few hours of eachother, and when they are done, mama will leave the nest with them and lead them around the barnyard, clucking to them and showing them how to scratch and peck and generally hunt for food, etc. Unfortunately, I didn't know that Billie had started setting when she did. I think Karen knew, but she didn't mention it. Other hens were laying additional eggs under her, which meant that the hatch dates would be all stretched out over about a week. Now we are just doing it this way, and hoping that when all the eggs have hatched, we can re-unite the babies with their mama and she will still want to mother them. If not, it won't be too big a deal to raise them in the brooder.

We've been working on our flyer and other materials, took a soil sample in for the pasture, been working on long-term plans. Loaded, hauled and unloaded 60 bales of straw last week, it's good to have on hand. We use it for animal bedding and mulching the garden. Using my new Weber Smokey Mountain to smoke chickens for my first tries, it's been coming out super great!

Karen has been hard at work in the garden. We seem to have settled into a division of labor that suits us both, she doing most of the gardening and me doing most of the yard and livestock stuff. I am still waiting for the cold nights to pass though so I can plant this years' sweet corn!

This weekend I will use what time I have to work on getting the pasture ready for the little piggies. Well, the pasture is ready, the fences are not yet. Need to get it set up, and get the hog hut fixed up and back on it's feet! And then it'll be pastured pigs!