Art of Proprietation

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nobody here but us chickens

That's the result of our latest chicken hatching endeavor. A reprieve for the rooster, since I don't want to slaughter before I am sure I don't need him any more. What hatched looks pretty good, lively and vigorous, but I wanted more than 7. I think it is my own fault though. I let the hatching eggs get too cold while I was storing them to get enough for the incubator. Our trap room, a cool room that gets no direct heat, got down into the thirties. It was that really cold spell in December. I should have kept them in the pantry that is closer to the wood stove in the kitchen, more like 50's. It also didn't help that it took 10 days to get enough eggs for the incubator.

So it looks like on rock barred, at least one Americana and the rest are Buff Orpingtons mixed with our Brahama, maybe Buff Cochin rooster. All the light colored chicks have the side stalkings, showing the rooster's trait. I have not seen it on the dark chick, though. Interestingly, the previous chicks that a hen sat back in November did not get their side stalkings till later. These chicks had pretty downy side stalkings from day one.

I was looking through Murray McMurray's spring catalog and Buff Cochin is what the rooster looks like the most. He was a the extra free rare breed they throw in to keep everybody warm / generate interest in rare breeds. I did note that the Buff Cochin's are listed as poor layers and small eggs to boot. Luckily, it isn't eggs I figure he brings to the table, so to speak... He is looking huge these days. He is twice the size of our laying hens. I would not want him to hear it, but I am looking forward to finding out what he tastes like. He is broad and heavy in the breast. I wonder if he has trouble mounting the hens like they talk about broad breasted turkeys having. Probably not since at least 70% of the eggs showed at least some development when I candled them.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

I sort of lost my way there

In my previous post I set out to talk about some things I have had to come to terms with since getting dairy goats. And I made a good start on it, the relationship between milk and the fate of the offspring that made the milk possible are an important aspect. But I did get side tracked.

Another aspect of all livestock raising is the element of risk. All us living things are finding new and different ways to end our existence every day. Some are hardier than others, but in general, at it's core, there is a spark of life and if, for even the briefest moment, that light goes out, it can never be lit again. Life is not only precious, it is fragile. Some short story I read, maybe in a college lit class, the author said a chicken can die from a thousand different ailments. I think he may have under estimated.

When we got our dairy goats, they were both in milk. One of them I had been milking part time for a friend for about a year before I bought her and brought her home. The first day we brought the does home, we milked them and had that milk to drink. That spoiled us, I fear. We had an immediate return on our investment and it continued to return for eight more months. Since then I have read a lot more about goats. Many of the descriptions talked about first time goat owners buying a spring kid and raising it up over the summer, getting to breeding weight, finding a buck, sheltering it through the winter and kidding in the spring. Going through all that without getting a drop of milk until the very end. That takes a lot of faith. All the things that could go wrong, even if it didn't extinguish the spark, if it just failed one of those tests, all could be for naught.

I think our first introduction to fear was coming up on kidding. We had read many books and sought advice of experienced handlers. But the anxiety starting about a week before kidding was due was acute. And, as it happens, it was not completely without reason. We had a not so smooth kidding from both goats. Two bad presentations, a still born and a retained placenta. The retained placenta was probably our fault, at least in part. While the first goat was kidding and things weren't going so well, I had enough spare thought to think about where it might lead. If that goat could die in childbirth, well, then the other could too. What would losing one or both goats mean to us? We had invested in our fencing, feed and housing the goats. We had accepted that we were drinking expensive milk in order to gain more control over our food sources. But what if that source were of a sudden not there. And it would put us at least a year back on breeding up a critical mass of our own herd. And if things went wrong on the first try, would we have the fortitude to try again anyway? I'd like to think so, but when I had half a kid sticking out of Our Doe Goat Sparky the wrong way, there was some doubt.

And now, nearly a year further into it, I have found ever more issues to dwell on. Are we doing enough to protect them from parasites? Do we practice enough bio-security to prevent someone else's problem from becoming ours. Are our gates and fences strong enough to keep them in and out of the grain bin? If they did get bloat, would we react soon enough? Will the neighbors dog be a problem. Will the neighbors kid be a problem (I worry more about the kid, by the way). What if we don't spot the heat and miss our breeding window? Does Sparky have scar tissue in her womb from the hard kidding? Can she still conceive? Will we be able to get hay for winter? Did I buy enough? Is the barn dry enough to prevent mold? None of these were worries when I got my milk in a plastic jug at the store in town.

I don't want to discourage anyone from trying their hand at goat herding. It is, in general, a pleasant pastime. It rewards us with sustenance and moments of triumph and joy. Our animals are sweet, even Sparky who complains too much. But it is not without anxiety or dark days. I don't think it is something you can put in a balance scale, though. There is not a beam strong enough to weigh these matters and the pans would never accommodate all the details needing to be weighed.

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On Kids, Kidding and Breeding to have kids

We still have one goat milking, we hope she'll milk through. She has milked at least two years per freshening in the past and we hope she will continue.

Having a dairy animal in our family has brought us in touch with what milk means, and it is not an altogether pretty sight. Often people say they couldn't kill to eat meat, but milk has a charismatic image of wholesome goodness, warmth of motherhood. Having dairy animals has brought me closer to the more stark reality that milk requires breeding, and more often than not the resulting prodigy is not an animal that will live to maturity. For the success of the breed, most of that offspring probably should not complete the cycle of life. That means slaughtering kids. And that's the basic equation that becomes obvious after being in the dairy vocation for any amount of time. Milk equals killing kids. We get the doe pregnant in order to take the milk made for the kid for ourselves. And more than likely, we will slaughter that kid and eat him too. Milk has an unseemly side. The knowledge has not slowed our consumption of milk, but it is a sobering reality.

This idea is similar to many that have become lost in our anonymous industrial food system. The element of risk has been removed from the consumer's experience. Consumers never need worry about a failed harvest, weather events that destroy seedlings or an out break of disease in livestock. And just about any unpleasant experience, from washing off dirt to dealing with the slaughtering or butchering. The luxury if specialization has allowed our modern society to make huge gains in productivity. But I think that with the outbreaks of super bacteria and virus bred on a steady diet of low level antibiotics on CAFOs and the changes in our landscape from monoculture agriculture are beginning to make their costs known.

I don't think it is realistic to suggest that the average person should become food independent. But I do think the pendulum has swung too far towards industrial agriculture and anonymous food.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

The south end of a north facing goat house

We like stock panel structures. They help us house goats and chickens, dry and protect firewood. They provide a wind break and keep their contents dry. They are easy to erect and economical on a small scale. They are easily adapted for a variety uses. They allow us to provide for our animals needs with flexibility.

Pictured above is Goat House North. It has a goat house in each end with access to seperate paddocks. There is a human section in the middle where we store a week or two's worth of hay, minerals, etc. We can feed the goats from the human side and check on things. The goat house is made from six arched 4 X 16 stock panels sitting on top of some wooden side panels that give us an extra foot of headroom. the wooden sides are attached to posts. the posts help us keep the first two feet of stock panel vertical. For this year we also added pillars at the ends and a 2x4 ridge pole to insure against heavy snow. I have been successful in the past just using bailing twine cords to keep the arch in shape. But now that we have a total of 4 goat stall houses, a green house and a woodshed made from stock panels, I decided I didn't want to have to stress about keeping the roofs clear after snow storms.

We get between 20 and 40 degrees of temperatur difference from inside the goat house to the outside, depending on how sunny it is. That often makes the difference between frozen water bucks and not. It also keeps the animals comfortable on hard winter days and nights.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

2009 Incubator

That's our mighty rooster. He looks like a Brahma. He was one of the free ones the hatchery threw in to have enough warm bodies in our shipment of chicks last spring. Just a bit of luck. I am not much for fancy chickens, and when I saw his side stockings and I didn't think he was going to last long with us. But he has turned out to be a gentle rooster who does not harass the hens. He is a big bird, maybe twice the size of the hens with a pronounced large breast. We are hoping we have found a good eating chicken that we don't mind keeping.

This is our beat up old incubator, I think a little giant. We have a similar hovabator also, but the auto egg turner fits in this on. This one also has the fan unit that keeps the air moving around the incubator, helping to cut down temp variation in the incubator.

We bought all of it off eBay. No complaints. And that auto turner makes for much better results. Maybe the constant turning is better, maybe not opening the incubator keeps the humidity / temp more constant. I like it, though.

Today was the final day of egg collection. Not quite enough eggs to fill the racks, but I didn't want my collected eggs to age out. We didn't have the best storage temp, a little on the cold side. I hope it doesn't destroy our hatch. We stored the eggs in our cold room and with the cold temps outside, we got well below the 56' optimum storage temp.

Given that, I think I am going to hold off slaughtering the rooster until we see the results of this hatch.

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