Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hot and Muggy, 83 degrees
Things continue to move at warp speed around here. So much going on, it's hard to find the time to sitdown and write about it. Seems like I barely get to come in the door at 9:30 pm after doing chores and projects and it's time to go to bed so I can get up and do more the next day!
Last weekend,for Solstice, Birk got to visit with her aunt Shoshana while Karen and I got a little grownup time in with dear friends at their place up north. The weather cooperated, the pontoon boats did NOT break down(!) and Coach and I won at Freestyle Bocci Ball. 'Nuff said about that! Dottie enjoyed swimming in the lake where Mich taught her to swim! Here she is retrieving a swimming 'noodle' Thanks to our farmhand and friend Jason for watching over the place so we could get away for a weekend.

The pigs are doing very well. They did as they were told, and they rooted up the sparse, dry southeast corner of our pasture really well. I moved them off of there, and then I planted forage turnips, or rape. Planted it last Thursday, and it was coming up just great by Monday. Looks like that old Deere drill I got will do the trick pretty okay. Though I do need to adjust it better to try and get it down to only 10 lbs per acre, it dropped about twice that in the space I planted. I'll need to tinker with it more, but honestly, I'm pretty proud of taking a 50 year old piece of fairly complicated machinery (lots of gears, grease fittings, springs, coils, and cups, etc) and making it work. I could easily have spent ten times what I spent on this grain drill. So a few extra seeds in the ground are an acceptable margin for experimentation. Besides, these turnips are going to be grazed by livestock, not harvested by machine or anything. Their mere presence on my sandy hillside is good for the soil. I disced the hill to smooth it out after the pigs and to incorporate their manure, then planted.
However, they continue to really root up some very nice, beautiful soils and pasture. It's not very cost effective or rational to allow them to continue to turn lush alfalfa and clover into mud. There are two alternatives: take them off the pasture, or put rings in their noses. I think the rings are inhumane, I know the pigs don't like them. It makes it painful for the pig to root with it's snout. There is nothing more natural and instinctive to a pig than to root, and to turn that in to a source of pain for the animal seems very cruel to me. I have a very nice alternative for them, the piggie palace, so that is where they are headed during the next pasture rotation. Eventually, we will build a hoop barn for them.
And now, for the big farm news of the week! First though, I'll give a bit of background. In a previous post,I mentioned how we had over 300 bales of hay made from our pasture. Those are now safely stored in the mow of the barn. I don't have any cattle yet to eat the hay, and I'm thinking this hay will be for pigs and possibly one or two larger cows if we get some later in they ear. But the rain hasbeen generous to us this Summer,and my pasture is now again nearly waist high in most places. I'd rather get some feeder cattle in here to graze the alfalfa down, accomplishing two things - avoiding making hay(and the expense of that),and adding value to the standing alfalfa by turing it into beef on the hoof. If I buy cattle now, and graze them on all that hay,they should gain nicely andI'll have heavier calves to sell in the Fall.
I still may decide to make hay out of some of the pasture, but this way I have alternatives. So, that being said, I'm very delighted to say that I am back in the cattle business! I found some calves on Craigslist, and they were dropped off the day we got back from vacation. They are nice, healthy looking calves, most are about6months old. They are a mix of dairy breeds, mostly steers. Dairy breeds are plentiful in Wisconsin, that's for sure, and they sure make for a colorful herd, don't they? That little Jersey steer is simply precious. Almost makes ya wanna bring him in the house and make a pet out of him!

Ain't they cute???
I can't tell you how sweet it was to hear a little 'moo' and smell cows in my field again. It's just so good. And already they've provided us with a little 'entertainment'! Last night(their first night here) we had a big thunderstorm, including of course lots of thunder and lightning. I went out this morning to check on them, and couldn't see them. Not anywhere. Knowing from past experience that even large cows have an amazing knackfor "disappearing' in plain sight,such as in a very slight valley, etc., I didn't panic as I walked through our pasture. But finally, I had to concede that though I had checked nearly every where in our little pasture, they were GONE. I went in to the house to ask Karen to come out and help me look inside our fences one last time before I started to actually freak out. In my everyday job, the times I get called out to help locate or corral loose livestock is always under two circumstances:either they just got moved,or a bad storm panicked them and they stampeeded. And I had both happen at once. Oh, boy. We went toward the one corner I hadn't thoroughly inspected, and sure enough, as we approached, we saw some ears twitching behind the brush pile. There they were! Wheew! I now know that if last night didn'trun them off, they are here to stay. That makes me sleep good at night.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pigs Can Be Rotated

Overcast, 85 and muggy
Finally have a few minutes to write again. I wish I had pictures to go with these last few posts, but the danged digital is broke again. Sigh.
Last weekend I got the pigs moved to the next spot in the pasture. It is essentially about an acre away from where they were, down in the southeast corner. I wanted to move them there next, since that is our most sparse ground at the moment. Since it's not growing much forage, I want to try planting some forage turnips there. This is a big deal for me, as this will actually be the very first time I've ever actually tilled ground or planted anything - like a real farmer! LOL The turnips are a good choice for pigs. They grow very well during the slump in summer growth of other pasture grasses and clovers, and they are an excellent source of nutrition, next to alfalfa. The pigs will be allowed to graze the tops of the turnips, which will grow back if allowed a break from being grazed. Cattle can eat them as well.
So the pigs are out there now, helping to prepare the soil. And I must say,they are doing a fine job of it. Eating the weeds: I watched them tonight as they were really seeking out a common pasture 'weed', White Campion. They carefully sought out each stem of the plant, then they dug below it with their snouts and pulled out the taproots and munched them up. I'm guessing there are some good minerals or carbs in those roots. Or both. I am also really pleased with the distribution of manure in this paddock. Pigs tend to designate a bathroom area,and are known to often concentrate their dunging in a specific area. But they are not doing that on this paddock,the manure is pretty well evenly distributed out there. I think this is because I have moved their furniture three times now (shelter, feeder,and waterer) within the week. This keeps their rooting at a shallow level, and distributed in different spots (again,to bring up rocks,loosen the soil in preparation for planting). This ill make it easier on the tractor when I am ready to work the soil with the disc and then plant.
I have been told that it is hard to move pigs compared to cattle. Pigs like their home base, and want to go back to it. Plus,they dont like to cross a line where there had been electric. They can't see well,but they remember, and are hesitant to test it.
Since this is my first time actually trying to rotate pigs on pasture, I came up with my own ideas and thought I'd try them even if other guys said it didn't work very well.
First, I created their shelter and waterer as one unit,and made it mobile. I bought a heavy duty flat wagon, which is big enough to serve as their shelter and shade. It is more than adequate for the warm months. I put a 500 gallon water tank on top of it. This will be the resevoir I fill their drinker from. All I have to do to move them is to hook the tractor up to the wagon, put their feeder in the tractor bucket, and go.
So last week was my first trial run, and I knew it would be agood test. I was not just moving the whole herd of pigs to an adjacent area, I wanted to take them half way across our pasture,i nto a whole new world as far as they were concerned!
I got everything ready to move, and I removed the existing electric fence netting that had been holding them in. Note: turn fence offf irst!
The next thing was to simply start out fort he next paddock (which I had already put up, ofcourse, except for the section I wouldd rive in through. Like I said, pigs don't want to cross electric lines. Neither do cows or farmers,for that matter.) Making sure there were no pigs in the path of the tractor or the wagon wheels,I creeped outof there in low gear, calling the pigs. I slowly ventured out into the big open space of the Back Four, still calling them. Next Note: this is where it really, really pays to have tame, handled pigs! The pigs thought this was one of the best things ever! They followed right along behind the wagon,which remember,is their shelter. So me and 6 little black and white piggies slowly made our way throught he clover field. Two pigs stayed back for a while, worried about crossing the line. But finally, even they mustered upt he courage and came running to catch up with their herd. I steered into their new paddock, and set up the wagon, unhitching it from the tractor. The pigs had taken a bit of a detour and were sampling forages along the way. No bigdeal, I expected that. It gave me time to get everything set up in their new space for them. I drove the tractor out,and then I pulled out the treats - a whole case of organic milk and buttermilk from the co-op! I filled their treat bowls, called them once, and they came stampeding in. While they sipped their delicious dairy treat, I simply closed off the open gate, and the pigs were now moved into a whole new paddock. It took less than 20 minutes. Like I said, since they have been in this particualr paddock,I have moved the wagon within it 3 times,to get them used to being moved,and to keep their digging shallow and distributed vs. deep and in one place. So far so good.
I've been working on the half-century-old grain drill I got about a month ago. Cleaning it, greasing it,replacing feed tubes, fixing it up in anticipation of using it to plant the turnip seeds. I hope it does what it's supposed to. As I was scraping away a ton of grime and trying to locating grease fittings, I remembered the other peice of old John Deere machinery I owned at one time. It was a manure spreader,bought at auction. That thing was a consternation, always breaking down, and I hoped this drill would not also bring me frustration. Oh well, I didn't pay more for it than the scrap price,so if it's a bust I can always drag it to the scrap yard.
The hayfield is growing back really well as we've been getting rain and sunshine both. Our barn mow is pretty full, so I want to get some cattle to put out there and harvest the forage before it gets out of hand. It will be easier to let some cows eat the grass,and add value to the grass through them, then sell them in the fall when the pasture is done, and hopefully make a few bucks at it. Plus they will fertilize while they eat. A lot easier and more entertaining than filling the barn with hay!
Someday we'll have a proper beef herd, but for now, I need some ruminant mouths, and I'm not going to be too picky. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hay and Air Lock

Rainy and cool, 72
To update on the first cutting of hay, it did get rained on the next day. We didn't get as much rain as some neighbors, though. In all, we got three big bale wagons full of hay off of our 5 acres, over 300 bales. Karen, Jason and I had the job of unloading all those bales and stacking them in the barn mow. It took us two evenings, but now the barn is so full of hay I need to add some supports under the joists! Some of them have started cracking under the weight.

We sure have been busy these days. It's hard to remember everything that has gone on. A few days ago I finally got around to fixing a little problem on my tractor, and wound up with a much bigger problem. The gasket on one of my fuel filters was a little twisted, so a small fuel leak had developed there. So I finally got around to fixing that. Took it off, set the gasket, replaced the filter, and the tractor refused to run. Somehow I had managed to introduce air into the fuel line. Must not have bled the vent properly when I was done. I monkeyed around with the tractor several times over days. I cracked the injector lines open while I cranked the engine, no change. I removed the fuel supply line to check for crud in the line, it poured out in a stong stream, mostly on my boot. I dropped not one, but two tools into the bucket full of spent fuel I had below the filters to catch draining fuel,and had to fish them out. I spent a lot of time covered in diesel. Diesel is oily and slippery. I dropped one of the glass sediment bowls and cracked it. My last gasp effort was to finally try replacing both fuel filters with new ones, and of course replace the broken sediment bowl. If that didn't work, I'd have to call in reinforcements. I finally got to replace the filters the other night as the sun went down. It was quite dark when I finished, so I re-opened the fuel line from the gas tank, and let her fill up. I let it sit at least 24 hours to ensure maximum fuel re-fill. And that did the trick! I sure was happy today when I got her to start up and run smooth for a good 5 minutes. Success!