Back to Farm Life… a do over

15 years ago, we started our first homestead/farming/ranching venture.  Starting from the knowledge acquired through the years of just having a home garden and a few chickens, we bravely struck out.

Over time we developed THE HERITAGE FARM…FarmGraphic

In our culture we seem to think we must know all the answers before we are comfortable making a significant change.  NOPE! not us… you don’t even KNOW the questions to ask, until you are in the middle of a new venture.  While gathering info ahead of time is indeed important you just can’t have all the “right” answers all the time.  Part of the fun is figuring out solutions for different problems that crop up.

Most important, I think, is to continue learning; to explore new methods, to listen to other ideas, to explore why something does or does not work.

We like to have a tried and true method to rely on but history is not always the best teacher. Well hold that thought, it actually can be an excellent teacher of what has been done but has NOT stood the test of time (or test of quality, test of sustainability). Certain fixes look good in the short-term, but often have unintended side effects that create a disaster.

Internet technology has given every man access to knowledge that used to be held only by those in research universities.  Today anyone can “google” or “youtube” information. Our advantage over the past is tremendous.  The everyday man can take advantage of information, results of research, actual trials that was once almost unattainable.

Industrial agriculture has created some disastrous results.  Now that we have basically run out of room to move on to new territory to utilize, we are confronted with the long-term results of our past methods: dead dirt, sick plants, nutrient-poor food, loss of topsoil measured in tens of feet, chemical contamination of our water & soils. Out of those problems has come new research that has opened whole windows of understanding the dynamics of an ecological system that IS sustainable… and avoids the pitfalls of industrial ag.

When I say “Back to Farm Life… a do over” I mean it’s a learning process.  Each step of that journey we learn something new. If we waited until we had all the answers, we would still be waiting to get started! Paralysis by Analysis would be an appropriate term.

This will be our 3rd significant farming/homestead venture and I can see how all the pieces are falling into place.  How the things we used to do have morphed from the traditional into a sustainable model.  And it’s exciting to see; to understand the system nature has created over millions of years, we are learning how to work with it instead of butting heads.

I call it a Full-cycle Systems Approach: It’s all part of the soil succession ecological system that comes into play.  First, weeds; then grasses followed by shrubs, followed by trees. The soil microbial system evolves along with this, first being primarily bacterial based transitioning to fungal. Healthy veggies will have a much higher load of bacterial microbes, while trees will have mycorrhizae microbes (fungal). There is a synergistic relationship with the microbiotic world and plant roots.  The roots trade sugars, that the plants produce through photosynthesis, for nutrients the micro-organisms breakdown into a form the plants can use. 

Our job on the farm is to provide a healthy environment for the microbes to be able to do their job.  Healthy plants that get the nutrients they need are NOT attractive to pests and are resistant to diseases.  Industrial fertilizers tend to be too harsh and actually kill off the very microbes needed for quality growth.  The name of the game is NOT the fastest growth, but healthy growth.  Too fast tends to be too weak.

soilchart2

Our Next “do over”…

Moving onto our exciting adventure, on the farm.  Shortly after purchasing a 4 1/2 acre parcel of land (it took me three, yes, three years to find what I was looking for) we were able to put our well in. Despite the ongoing drought in California we were totally blessed to get 100 gpm output. (Anything above 10 pgm would have been good; 35 gpm awesome).

This meant we would have good quantity of water to actually farm with. Not only that, the water tests came back with”outstanding” quality.  Many wells have too much of this or that to make it palatable for consumption: human, animal or plant.  Our well is down below a clay layer that seals off the products of industrial life from leaching down into the geologic water.

Tragically… well I thought it was a tragedy because it delayed our work on building the farm. Instead we had to move away.

Currently, all that was on the property was an old ricky barn, an old chicken house,  and the debris from a collapsed barn. Instead of being able to start work on building a house, Jim found himself out of work!  He had to change jobs. With only 2 weeks notice we had to move to San Diego; from farm to city.Barn,Pasture,Oaks

City Life, a step back

The few positives of the move were that we had to wait anyway on septic hoops to jump through (required testing) that ended up taking two years to complete BECAUSE of the drought.  If you don’t have enough rain it’s pretty hard to document that the soil drains properly.  I was bummed. We were living in San Diego (talk about high density living) amid the a world seemly completely out of touch farming life.

There was a positive, at least in San Diego, we would get to spend some time with a daughter and meet her “intended”.  We thought it would just be until we got the septic testing completed (1 3/4 years) but we were delayed.  I was chomping at the bit to get back home, in Cotati, but it did not happen. We ended up having to stay another year.

Did I mention positives? Yep…some pretty big ones. One, we had designed a grannie unit (which was limited to 840 sq ft) along with the farmhouse but the housing crunch is so bad in the SF Bay Area – and definitely in Sonoma County (rent rates up 40% in 3 years)…in this last year they changed the limit. An accessory unit could be 1000 sq ft, potentially up to 1200 sq ft. The new square footage allotment would be a much better fit for us.

In the meantime, our daughter & new son-in-law, were expecting their first child.  We would get to be close at hand and get to spend some time with a new grandchild.  An unexpected pleasure! Enough, most definitely to counter the frustration of city life for another year.

Control? what control…

It continually amazes me how life progresses along certain path, despite what we “want” and ends up with a better outcome.  I’m learning to “work toward a goal” but don’t get too hung up on the time frame.  When it all comes together, it will. All the stress in the world doesn’t change anything; better to just enjoy the ride. Hard ’cause we SO like to be “in control”.

So Daughter, Son-in-Law, grandson move to the Swiss Alps (where his family is from) during the summer, this year.  We head up to Cotati to get some work done on the farm, preparing for septic, thinking it would be the next year before being able to move back.

While there, Jim get’s a call; would he be interested in interviewing for a software engineering job, in San Francisco. “HECK, YEAH”! He’s off the backhoe & tractor, scrounging around for some decent looking clean clothes, for an interview.  They offer him the job the NEXT DAY. Bamm, he starts work in SF, two weeks later.

We are back “home”.

Overdrive

Building a pump house, setting up corrals for the two half-lingers draft horses, cleaning out the pond area, setting up drainage for when the winter rains come, planting trees, building garden beds, prepping the pastures for green manure cover crops to enrich the soils.  Running water lines, putting in a small solar system, getting a small flock of chickens that free-range and provide us with the most awesome eggs.  You know, just some odds & ends to take care of. The first 8 weeks back on the farm.

I am in awe of my husband.  He gets up at 4:45 to catch the commuter bus into SF, works a full day; he get’s home after dark (6:30pm)… 5 days a week and then works non-stop on the weekend working his magic turning this place into our homestead.

He plans a plain ol’ funky shed to house the well head, pump, and electronics.  I ask for a mini cottage, with a porch and garden in front of it, with a tiny pond.  Voila! He starts creating it.

Each incremental step, is a piece of love, in creation. The soil (sediment from the base of the pond) he moves over to create the garden area is so rich & dark; it calls to be planted.  Our winters tend to be very mild (some frost) so while the above ground parts of the plant may be dormant, the roots are alive and well, creating a support system that will be able to handle the spring growth without missing a beat.

Building the Base

I’ve already been down to the seed store to buy wild flowers in bulk, and organic cover crop mix for Jim to lay down.  The cover crop he will plow into the soil in the spring, and then plant a rich variety of pasture mix.  I’ve coaxed him into reserving an area for fava beans, alfalfa, and barley.

We had a tiny bit of rain a few weeks ago (that helped put out the fires that were still burning in the range between us (Sonoma and Napa Valley).  It also helped germinate the weed seeds.  Two days ago we had good steady rain (over an inch) which has primed the soil for good growth. Jim completed the turning of the soil, to break up the compacted areas and till in the weeds, with 2 days of dry.  Now he’ll plant the seeds so that the rain we expecting all day tomorrow, will prime the pump.  Germinate those seeds and get the cover crops going before the weeds can kick in.

If we had irrigation we would have watered to germinate the weeds, let them grow a bit, then turn them over, returning their nutrient load to the upper layers of the soil. Do that 2 or 3 times, to decrease the weed load still in the soil seed bank. But we think the cover crop we selected will outcompete the weeds.  It doesn’t have to be 100%… even weeds have some positives.

Do you know WHAT a weed is?

A plant growing where you don’t want it to.  Traditional weeds actually have some significant properties that are important to the soil.  Plants that we consider weeds tell you a lot about the nutrient quality of the soil.  The roots of those plants tend to grow well in nutrient deficient soil because they go down deep where nutrients are.  When their root systems die they release those nutrients back into the upper layers of the soil where the microbes can utilize them. They aerate the soil while doing this. That is the point of us planting a green manure cover crop and then tilling it back into the soil in the spring.  To build the food base for the microbes to use, to feed the plants we want to grow.

Check the research done by Dr. Elaine Ingham on the Soil Food Web;

an incredible resource. Dr.InghamSoilWeb

I’ll say it again because it is so important.  It’s all part of the soil succession ecological system in play.

  • First, weeds,
  • then grasses,
  • followed by shrubs,
  • followed by trees.

The soil microbial system evolves along with this, first being primarily bacterial based transitioning to fungal.

Healthy veggies will have a much higher load of bacterial microbes, while trees will have mycorrhizae microbes (fungal).

There is a synergistic relationship with the microbiotic world and plant roots.  The roots trade sugars, that the plants produce through photosynthesis, for nutrients the micro-organisms breakdown into a form the plants can use. 

Again, our job on the farm is to provide a healthy environment for the microbes to be able to do their job.  Healthy plants that get the nutrients they need are NOT attractive to pests and are resistant to diseases. No need to add toxic chemicals to the soil or plants.

We take time to inoculate the soil with the base microbes that create a healthy system.  And then we let THEM do the real work.  I’ll be sitting on my front porch glorying in the view of the garden, sometime next year.

It starts with a vision… and a willingness to learn.

snoopyZen

 

 

WARNING! Ultra-Pasturized Milk issues

Ever wonder what the difference is in the milk in the store?

 What’s the difference between the brands? and why different prices?

 It is much cheaper to move milk around if you take all the water out!

You take the water out, you take out the water-soluble components in the milk. whole-milk-powder

 

 

Many processors “reconstitute” the milk and then ship it to the store. Except for two producers here in california, all milk is pasteurized. Because the pasteurization process can damage the components of milk, much of that is added back via a chemical additive.  Not always the same thing as the “cow” put out.

Think sweetener: sugar, saccharin, stevia, glucose, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)…  all called sweeteners but all very different. So when they “add” Vitamin D to the milk, is it in the same form that the cow produced, that our bodies can absorb?

whey protein chart The “cheaper brands” take the milk apart and then try to reassemble it as inexpensively as possible, to keep that price low.

I know if you make cheese from commercial milk, you have to add calcium back into the milk!  ultra pasteurized milk can NOT even be used to make cheese.

Ultra-Pasteurized WARNING!

 I’m finding that it is almost impossible to find milk that has NOT been ultra pasteurized (even those called organic).

Ultra, High Tem, Low Temp Pasteurization

Ultra, High Tem, Low Temp Pasteurization

 We have another name for ultra pasteurized milk.

It’s called: 

“white water that lives on the shelf

long time!”

It is “cooked” at very, very high heat which alters the milk, and allows it to not go bad on the shelf, for weeks.

 Think of the difference between a raw egg, and an overcooked scrambled egg. They are NOT the same product, even though they had the same beginning and both can be called ‘an egg’. Heat can dramatically alter the product.

 Organic milk, that is ultra pasteurized, is stripped of the very properties that made it a good buy.  I talked with some dairy farmers who provide this organic milk and asked why this was done. They said that they had NO CONTROL despite being a farmer co-operative. The buyer’s of their milk (processor) did it to make the milk last longer.

 Clove:straussLucky, so far, some local dairy operations, CLOVER & Strauss do NOT ultra pasteurize their milk.  If you want to support local dairy operations here in Northern California, these are two great ones. In fact, Strauss (the glass bottles) does a very low heat, slow process that preserves the components in the milk.

 

Remember the adage, “you get what you pay for!”  Yes, their milk might look pricier but you are actually ending up with “more” for your money.

 (I understand that all Clover milk is organic but they can only “sell” so much at the higher price that they get for it, but much of their “non organic branded” milk can be organic. If you have to choose, this might be a less expensive milk to choose! I have been told this, but can NOT verify that this is true.)

Strauss, also, does NOT homogenized their milk. There is some thought that vigorously mixing the milk and breaking up the fat globules to “homogenize” the milk, actually damages it. Thus you will see a separation level in the milk bottles, without this “forced” mixing. Shake to mix before pouring.  Or, better yet, steal some off that top-level, for cream for your coffee!

Pasture-Butter-325A side note:  If you can buy butter, made May-September, do! 

Several companies are beginning to market it because of the higher vitamin, CLA levels from the fresh pasture. You can freeze butter up to a year. But only butter that is from pastured cows!

Some Economic Beef Background:

I don’t know if you know, but the cost of feed/hay has dramatically increased over the last 5 years.  When we started, hay was $5/bale and now is at $20+/bale.  A lot of this is due to the severe drought conditions in the midwest & south… with everyone trying to “source” hay to feed their cattle.

We’re lucky because our costs are lower since we DO NOT EVER feed grain, and we have access to some awesome pasture on the Mendocino Coast.  We have focused on compact heritage Angus beef that have the genetics to do well on forage only. Our beeves are raised mostly on fresh forage. They are only supplemented occasionally, with hay, to protect from over-grazing.

grass fed lowlines

Ranging the land

 Commercial ranchers in the mid-west and south literally dumped their herds into the slaughter houses last year, because they could not afford to feed them, or even in some cases, have enough water for them.  Herds in 2013 are the lowest size since the 1950’s.

 Initially, prices on commercial beef at the store dropped, but you will start to see a dramatic increase in price (in some places it has already started).

The Heritage Farm – Healthy Food: 

 Again, I will remind you of my “spiel” that grass-fed beef has the Omega3:Omega6 ratio that is healthy for the human body.

Because our beeves are raised on pasture, they will have high levels of CLA’s (associated with cancer fighting properties). See EatWild.com for in-depth information on the positive benefits from eating “pastured products”!

Beef from grasslands is a completely different product than that raised in  a feed lot.  So is the butter, 1/2&1/2, milk.

Anyway guys, hope I didn’t overwhelm you with too MUCH info! But I’ve wanted to share some of this and thought you might find it interesting.

The more I see of the health complications in our world the more important I realize it is to provide quality food. It’s the little things we can do, for our family and friends, to help and to protect them.

Products Available:

100% Grass-fed Angus Beef halves available:  Only have 4 half portions available.  Min  weight: 125# (up to 140#)

USDA processed, cut & wrapped  – Works out to roughly $7-8/lb for 100% grass-fed beef.

Our heritage line of Aberdeen Angus has had no hormones, no antibiotics. They are raised on pristine pasture with their mothers, on the Mendocino Coastline utilizing rotational managed grazing, which increases the health of the soil/forage.

$959/per half, whole $1800. Can be paid in 4 installments.

[Cost by the cut: $7/lb ground meat (NO added fat), stew meat

                        $10/lb roasts, ribs, misc cuts

                        $15/lb steaks        ]

 (Please check Oliver’s or Whole Foods and you will find these are EXTREMELY reasonable prices.)

 But the best deal is to buy a half (join up with a friend and share).

Bulk pricing gets you the best deal, which you already know!

We have already done all the work: birthed, raised up humanely, harvest, & custom cut & wrap.

 All locally done (within a 100 mile radius).

– ready April 8th.

CONTACT:

email me if you are interested in a beef half.

Also, we have just got our order of USDA heritage Berkshire hog pork in.  Again, no antibiotics, no hormones, raised in an outdoor setting.

 If you want: pork chops, ground pork, apple-sausage links, bacon,ham, or back-fat to make lard, let me know. Back-fat lard is awesome for cooking and seasoning beans, stews, etc.

I can send you a price list.

Cheers!

Amy

GMO’s – the lowdown (guest post)

Occasionally I cross-post something: “60% of our DNA is identical to that of corn and soy, and we have no idea how this transgenic process of altering genes in our food will affect us in the short term or the long term.” 
Congratulations to Baker Seeds, The Seed Bank and all those who worked hard on getting the signatures for the requirement to LABEL GMO products, on the California ballot!  … and this guest post is definitely one on GMO’s that presents a very clear argument for the issues involved.

The Truth About Genetically Modified Organisms – GMO’s

A Guest Blogger ….It’s a fantastic article that could also be titled; Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about GMO’s.

From April 28, 2012 by Soulsby Farm – A Very Small Farm Blog.

My name is Chris Vogliano and I am currently studying nutrition and dietetics at Kent State University in their Master’s Program.  I am conducting my thesis study on the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms related to Dietitian’s knowledge and perception of them.  According to previous research, the public trusts dietitian’s to relay current and scientific information on this controversial topic.  However, as I hope to prove in my research, there is a significant knowledge gap in the perception of what dietitian’s know versus the knowledge they actually hold.

I chose this topic because genetically modified foods is personal and strikes an emotional cord.  Ever since discovering the topic, I have unveiled more and more unsettling information about this complicated and controversial process.

Most of American’s have no idea what genetically modified foods are, even though over 80% of our supermarket foods contain them.  Many American’s believe that simple crossbreeding is the same or at least a similar process to that of genetic modification.  Some American’s place trust in the “assumed” strict regulatory processes of the FDAUSDA, and EPA.

Politics plays a much more pertinent role in our lives than anyone wants or cares to believe, and I adamantly feel this with GMO’s…

The patenting of a transgenic soybean in the early 1990’s has had more of an impact than we would have ever imagined. We have seen a revolutionary agricultural shift in the way we grow our produce form even twenty years ago.

Many see this synergy of biotechnology and agriculture as a positive step towards our goal of creating a more economically sound production method for our food.  Big agriculture business has consolidated hands over the years to just a few large corporations, leading with the illusion of solving world hunger and bridging the world’s nutritional deficits.

As a soon to be dietitian who heavily values nutritional philanthropy, I could not have been more eager to learn more about this technology that could potentially curb our world hunger problems.
Let’s take a step back and look at the role of corporations in our society.

While we all vary on our opinions of specific corporations, deeming some as good and some evil, we have to remember one simple fact.  Through all the humanitarian efforts some might drape over their figurative bodies to display a positive PR image, corporations have one goal and one goal only.

The primary goal of a corporation is to increase profits for its shareholders. Plain and simple.

While some corporations may choose donations and community building tactics to seem selfless, at the end of the day it is simply to make you feel better about being a customer of their product.  This is not to demean the great things some corporations have done, but to call it an altruistic act is not so valid (arguably, is anything actually selfless? a question better saved for your philosophy 101 class).

Back to the grit of GMO’s – The basics of genetically modifying organisms is as follows:

A desired gene from a species not related to the host organisms is transferred into the cultivar or desired product (while sounding simple, this is actually quite a complex process).  The interesting part is that we don’t know how this transgenic, or crossing DNA from one foreign species to another affects humans or the environment.  This technology was developed and implemented into our food supply less than 15 years ago.

Monsanto is the largest corporate sponsor of GMO’s, fighting for their governmental acceptance worldwide ever since their creation.  A quick lesson on Monsanto’s history:

One of the first products Monsanto created was the artificial sweetener saccharin, which we now know can cause cancer

The next major products were DDT, Lasso, and Agent Orange, which we now know are highly carcinogenic.

Now they are trying to sell the idea of “genetically modified seeds” to us as being healthy and safe, when in all reality they are a self regulating organization whose primary interest is not the health of the consumers, but the money in their pocket.

European countries have strict regulatory standards and most countries have stopped the production of GMO’s until further testing has taken place.  Those countries who do have GMO corn must blatantly label their products with the phrase “this product contains genetically modified ingredients”, which protects the integrity of the food supply and the safety of the consumers.

GMO seeds have NEVER been tested in human trials to determine the impact they have on our bodies.

60% of our DNA is identical to that of corn and soy, and we have no idea how this transgenic process of altering genes in our food will affect us in the short term or the long term.

The only test currently being done to determine the safety of these products is happening right now, in our grocery stores.

As American’s, we deserve the right to know what is in our food. There is a serious need for us to take action on this issue that will help define the future of the agricultural food chain. We need the health of our food to lean in our favor, and not that of large corporate interest.

While there has been unethical practices that have been slipped passed the American consumers unbeknownst to them in the past decade, there has never been a more opportune moment to express out opinion than now.  More than ever, people are forming organizations and events to express their desire to have genetically modified foods labeled.  It is out food supply and we deserve the right to know what we are consuming.

think. be educated.

For more information or to get involved (highly encouraged!) visit:

www.Saynotogmos.org

www.nongmoproject.org

www.labelgmos.org

www.truefoodnow.org

LinkedIn Account:
www.linkedin.com/pub//chris-vogliano/41/806/370

WordPress account

http://chrisvogliano.wordpress.com/

Eggs, Eggs, and More Eggs…

Who would have thought that I would be awash in eggs.  Just a few short months ago, people were calling for our farm fresh eggs, and I had to tell them that our hens were in a “drought” situation.  We hoarded each egg they produced and kept only the very smallest eggs (virgin eggs we call them) for ourselves. It was the holiday months and everyone had guests and wanted to serve up some truly free-range pastured eggs.  My newest hens, mostly, had not kicked into laying yet… a few were starting to lay but not reliably.

Large, regular, & "virgin" eggs

The first time I had brand new hens start laying… I thought I had made a mistake and gotten the wrong kind of hens.  I was getting MICRO eggs! I was so relieved when someone told me that they often start out with tiny eggs, but they should get larger. And sure enough, they did! We started calling those eggs, “virgin eggs”.

Laying Hens

A hen starts laying around 5 months old. Daily (or almost daily) egg laying is triggered by the amount of daylight hours… so in the winter months hens typically stop laying, or greatly reduce their production.  On top of that, they are using their food energy for staying warm with the colder, wetter weather.  We do provide a balanced layer feed because if a hen’s on forage & don’t get enough of the essentials, they stop laying.  But besides access to extra food, to keep our hens laying, we have a light and timer in the barn that serves two functions.

One, it provides a light that the hens are attracted to, so that at night they head to the barn where their protected coop is located.  We have had predators come through an avail themselves of the “Heritage Farm” buffet. UGGGH. We got away with letting them roam completely free and then nest in the rafters of the barn, for quite a while, but then paid the price.  I lost most of my hens… and had to BUY store-bought eggs.

An Egg SNOB

OMG, that was an education.  Organic ,free-range, cage-free eggs, hmmm. Nada. I was really surprised at what a snob I had become.  First off, all the labels say “vegetarian feed”… sorry, chickens are not, I repeat, NOT, by nature, vegetarians. Eggs from hens fed that kind of diet are, to me, bland & blah.  We were fairly new to the neighborhood, so in desperation, I had to hunt out someone who had real live free-range pastured eggs… and the difference was total. I was back to the rich tasting nutrient dense eggs I was used to. But my hens, now have a light they are attracted to at night, and they go into LOCKDOWN until morning.

Second, the light encourages egg laying during the winter months. Still not as prolific as the rest of the year, as they are using extra energy for their own needs. A hen needs roughly 14 hours of light to produce eggs. She will produce the most eggs her first laying season, molt (shed feathers) & take a break, before picking up again. Each year thereafter she will produce fewer eggs. Most hens are no longer “used” for laying after two years.

Darker yellow legs

Pale leg color

Interestingly you can tell who has laid a lot of eggs by the color of their legs!! Hens, of the same breed, have  legs of a certain color yellow. The hens with the lightest shade of that yellow will have laid the most eggs. The yellow (beta carotene) gets pulled from the chicken to go into her eggs.

EGG Production

All the eggs the hen will lay, are already there at birth. Just not developed but the germ cell is there. A chicken will have several eggs developing at various stages at once, like a production line. We’ve had a couple of new hens who haven’t gotten the process quite worked out… out pops an egg WITHOUT the shell (just the tough membrane encasing the egg), or all white with no yolk, or double yolks inside one shell. From start to finish, 25 1/2 hrs to produce an egg:  It takes about 20 hours for an egg-shell to form around the yolk/membrane, and only 1 minute to actually lay the egg.

I have been told that pastured eggs always have deep, deep orange/yellow yolks.  Since all our hens have the same diet, I know that this is NOT true.  It depends on the breed of the chicken… they will have varying shades of yellow to deep orange.  I do know that veggie fed hens have very pale, tasteless, almost watery egg yolks!

Rhode Island Red hen, laying champ!

Historically hens would lay up to a 100 eggs a year.  Some of the breeds today will lay up to 300-350 eggs; almost an egg a day.  These hens have NOT been genetically modified via some scientific voodoo magic; just simple selection for a specific trait. The best bred to the best producers… some traits are left by the wayside.  Going broody is definitely a trait NOT bred for.

Some hens will “go broody” meaning they will lay a clutch of eggs and after collecting up to a dozen, will then “sit” (i.e. incubate them for 21 days). She’ll hatch out her chicks and then spend the next two months raising them. But for this three-month period, she is not laying any eggs. You can see why in the commercial industry this mothering behavior is not useful. Me, I WANT the mom to do all the work, because she is MUCH better at it.

Most turkeys cannot breed on their own or raise their own chicks, due to the intensive breeding used to  produce big breasted turkeys. They physically cannot do the “deed”.   We raise heritage chickens and heritage turkeys to encourage specific traits; breeding and raising their own chicks.

Another stunning egg producer, A Golden Wyandotte

Heritage chickens are fairly easy to get that will go broody and raise a clutch successfully.  We’ve had a warm winter and I had TWO hens who marched out from the barn with a clutch of chicks… that I did not even know were nesting. We put a green bracelet on a hen that does this, so I know who I want to keep for eggs production.  Some hens will start but not finish, or can’t seem to figure out what to do with the chicks after they are born (sad).  I’ll put a yellow band on her so I know she should be discouraged from going broody, and that I do NOT want to incubate any of her eggs.

Turkeys are a basket case

We raise heritage turkeys so they can at least bred and produce fertile eggs. But those eggs we set aside and incubate.  I have one turkey hen who is interested in setting so we’ll see if she can manage a clutch this spring.

Right now we have three different breeds of heritage turkeys: midget white, heritage bronze, and what looks like to be a variation on the Royal Palm (white, with some black markings). We have them separated so that we can prevent cross-breeding.

I have had one Heritage Bronze, when we were on the ranch with lots of acreage, that went broody, disappeared , and came back with a clutch of turkey chicks.  We were so excited to see this, but the downside of her “disappearing” is that she & her chicks became coyote food. Circle of life, I remind myself! But here on the farm we can have more control.

I’m keeping breeding pairs to encourage egg production… but had to separate the males because they began to fight among themselves.  Only the dominate male will mate… with all the available hens. Whoops, not in my plan…. so we had to separate the breeds. Now I just need to get more females of each breed… but that’s a plan for this spring.  We have a couple of dozen turkey eggs incubating right now, so we’ll see what we come up with.  The extra toms will be on someone’s dinner menu.

Eggs Galore

But now that we’ve past spring equinox… I have eggs galore!  Seems like I somehow (I have no idea how.. well, wait.. there were some broody hens last fall…) ended up with close to 40 hens.  Rhode Island Reds, Golden Wyandottes, and Dark Cornish who are all great layers, it turns out… and mothers, as well!

Eggs, eggs, and more eggs!

It’s time for me to learn how to make mayonnaise! All you need is egg yolks, oil (canola oil, olive oil, etc), and some seasonings (salt, mustard) & a bit of lemon/vinegar with water. And deviled eggs, Quiche’s, egg-cheese casseroles…

Anyone need a few laying hens? I’ve got some to sell!

This little piggy….

Whoops: Change of Plans

We were headed out the door to head to town when our intern alerted us.

He walked by the pregnant gilt’s farrowing area… and saw three baby piglets!

Newborn piglets, dozing in the sunshine

One was still wet and working on figuring out which way was up. He was that new.

I grabbed a towel, my cell phone (to call and delay a meeting), and checked to make sure I was wearing something that could get grubby… very grubby. No telling what I would need to do… stand by and just watch a normal labor process, dash in to grab a piglet who was in trouble, or even help deliver babies if the gilt’s labor stalled out.

I say “he was that new” just because I don’t want to check the sex and upset the newborn, and trigger ANY squealing. Turning a newborn upside down and poking around, for some reason seems to initiate an ear-piercing squeal that WILL not stop until he is put back on the ground.  Our new momma has VERY strong instincts and will immediately jump up to defend her newborn.

Unique

Pigs are very interesting creatures as they deliver their young in a totally different way.  Cows, horses, cats, dogs, etc. all deliver and to some extent help their young… usually by licking them to stimulate, to clean off, and to help dry them. But piglets do it all on their own!

Mom lays down on her side and labors.  She gets up occasionally and may go check on the babies delivered (just sniffs them) but then she goes back and lays down.

The critical part is that if there is a newborn where she lays down, he must have an escape route! 300lb momma laying down on a 3 lb newborn can have some very distressing results.

Jim designed and built (with intern assistance!) angled areas in the corners of the farrowing stall.  Enough for a person to stand behind & in.  The angle area cross pieces are NOT all the way down to the floor.

Job, making sure the newborn piglets are safe!

If the momma sow lies down next to the angled area (which of course she does), there is a space that allows the piglet to move away from mom, and she is blocked from that; the piglet can shift into the protected angle.  We have flakes of straw in those areas so the piglets can burrow in and get warm.

Momma pig lays down and breaths/ pants with her labor and then will give a push. Out flies a piglet still encased in its amniotic sac & still attached with the umbilical cord.  As the baby “hits” the ground the sac is pulled away from its snout.  Sometimes the cord “snaps” (i.e. breaks at the delivery & sometimes not).

At first the newborn is totally still. My heart always stops until I see a little wiggle or flip of an ear. I have to consciously “STOP” myself from helping out!

Finally, real movement. The newborn is “shaking off” the shocking introduction to the world! As he begins to move around, the sac encasing him, breaks away.  As he wiggles around, and then finally finds his feet (usually less than 3-4 minutes), he is pulling on the umbilical cord and it  breaks away so that he is free to move away from mom.

On average piglets delivery every 20-30 minutes. We’ve even had them deliver an hour apart.    Our new sow proceeded to deliver piglets at the rate of one every 10 minutes! That includes taking a break occasionally, getting up, nosing around to sniff & nuzzle her newborns.  After a brief check, she goes back to lay down…  carefully, so that any piglets in the way can move, and if they are trapped under her, squeal. A good mom whe will immediately jump up to prevent any squishing of newborns!

Cautious, is the name of the game!

Job, our intern, had never dealt much with livestock (thus part of the reason he is at OUR farm).  Jim had gone over a few techniques to use when working with the laboring mom, and he went right to work.  If mom gets a little bit shook or worried, she can be calmed by rubbing her belly.  Initially he stayed in the protected angled area, where he was in place to rescue a piglet if he needed to. He was just a hands-breath away, and had a clear view of what was happening.

It’s an unknown situation with a first time mom. Some sows can become confused, very aggressive and protective.  We had a sow who started to attack her first baby (it was her first litter) because it was squealing.  She hadn’t quite made the connection that it was her baby squealing but thought the baby was “attacking” her newborn.  We quickly had to scoop that newborn out of momma’s reach & calm her down by rubbing her belly.

As this was a new sow, and this was her first litter… we had no idea how she would act.  I must say, we were really impressed. She will be a keeper. First off, she had 12 healthy piglets (no runts & no super big piglets)… all pretty much 3-4 lbs each.  She was mellow during her labor and very careful of her newborns, even in the middle of labor.

Some TLC for the babies…Nursing

The first group of piglets are now quite hungry and search for a teat to nurse on. Momma sow has a minimum of 14 teats, seven on each side, but getting on for the first nursing can be a challenge. Job works out a method.

Piglets first nursing

When all 12 try to nurse and get to the upper seven teats, nobody gets to eat! Oh, I’m sure eventually they would but to short cut the drama, and make sure each piglet has gotten a good first nursing of the colostrum, we  assist. Remember?  that first milk which has lots of goodies in it for the baby – immunities passed from mom to babe. If a newborn does not get a good nursing within hours of birth, he will tend to be sickly or just not grow well.

So Job divides the group up into two parts, each made up of 6 piglets.  He corrals up one group away from mom, and then makes sure each piglet finds and attached to a teat.  Over a few hours he has made sure all the babies have had several good nursings. What an outstanding start!  And whenever mom would get a little anxious, he would just rub her belly and she would flop back, and snooze.  When Job brought her sweet cob, grain, and curdled jersey milk (her favorite), in a low bucket, she didn’t even bother to get up. Just picked her head up, pushed on the buckets edge until it tilted toward her, and munched away happily on her treat.

In the past, when we’ve had a sows labor stall out, we’ve put piglets to the teats to nurse, to stimulate more contractions. The nursing process releases hormones that trigger the let-down of  milk, and uterine contractions.  I think it’s Nature’s way of making sure the labor process is completed and the placental tissue is passed.

Nighttime…

Enough for now; we’ll leave the babes & mom alone and “pray” they get through the night OK.  I always worry about the little ones getting squished but this mom is very careful. She moves slowly, watches, and nuzzles the straw before she lays down.  If she hears someone start squalling she will immediately jump up, and then carefully try again.

Mom and babies sleep separate! All the babies bundle together, overlapping each other, usually burrowing into the straw… and keep each other warm.  When mom carefully lays down, she will then call to her babies and they all come running, to nurse. But when done, the babies gather together and sleep in their little angled protected area, or huddled together under a flake of straw.

Reducing Losses

If you don’t have a “good mom” you could have a 25-100% loss of piglets! That’s why in the swine industry, in their confinement system, the moms are put in farrowing crates, that barely allow her any movement.

We have lost several piglets in the past, with different sows, because the moms were not careful enough during and immediately after labor. We switched breeding lines to see if we could improve our delivery numbers and survival rates.  In the past we would have 8 piglets, with 6 surviving delivery. Generally never lost a piglet after the first day.

Selecting for Survival

But our approach is different from the industrial model. Instead of using every sow, even if she is not a good mother, we selectively choose who will breed. That way our stock will get better… need less intervention, be healthier, and more productive. Strikes me that the industry method is decreasing the quality of the breeding livestock, over time.

We aim toward a sustainable model, where livestock don’t actually need humans to survive!

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