Grass Circles

Because of the drought this summer, we fed hay out in the pasture. It is a tradeoff because it is more work to move the hay out into the pasture compared to barn feeding.

We hoped this would convert a localized area into improved pasture. Make the cows busy stomping dropped hay and manure into the soil. That would build up the organic matter and fertility in the top soil and take a scrub piece of pasture into a prime piece of pasture. Maybe.

We didn’t see results over the summer, no rain to make anything change. We did start to see results in the deep fall after some rain.

It was different then we expected. The hay bales we placed in the summer that had summer grass, called second cutting, had some stray germination in the summer then nothing in the fall. The bales which were spring cutting, first cut, germinated like a dream.

Multiple locations of first cut hay turned into good pasture patches. The winter grass seed seems to have carried through into an ideal planting environment. I am hoping this has a cascade of fertility in these locations and begins a seed bank and water retention year after year.

In the final review, moving the bales out to the pasture is a good fertility improver and we’ll do it as much as we can over the winter.

The Grass Can Always Be Greener

We keep the chickens in a mobile coop. We move it everyday. It means new grass for chickens, protection from predators, and eggs always where they belong. Also, they fertilize the grass.

This past year we ran an experiment where the chicken tractors spent most of their time in the yard. The hypothesis is that more fertilizer on the lawn encourages grass growth. Grass growing blocks the stickers from ruining all barefoot activities.

Year 1 was a partial success. There was at least a 50% reduction in time of stickers wrecking the place. The peak season was still just a numerous, but the duration was shortened by weeks on the front and the back ends.

Sometimes you just look at a historical path of chickens in tractors and say wow. This stretch of green patches in the pasture is one of these. The closest patch in the foreground was where the chickens spent a day about 3 weeks ago, and each patch moving away is one subsequent day less, with a u turn at the end. You can see the start of the green shading in front of Jenny coming back to the right.

Next year we’re going to try and run meat chickens in larger numbers in a pasture, and I’m interested to see what grass acceleration we can get from them that the cows can harvest with stronger grass growth on a marginal area.

A Pepper, A Blue, Them Chicken Gardeners

New puppy. Kitten is now a cat. Chickens prepare a garden bed. Conflict around the house.

If you can say Pepper with German inflection, let me know

Pepper the puppy has joined the household. She’s west German working line and comes from friends who raise dogs with effective even hands. I’ve been around many dogs and raised my own. This little pepper girl is incredibly intelligent and managed potty training before 4 months old. She has a bright future here with the family.

Some friends did some minimizing in life and eliminated their chicken setup. We were happy to make a win win deal and bring it home. Now it is set up for winter. The plan is to add high carbon materials like grass clippings, hay and wood chips to the ground. The chickens will poop on it and then use their feet to claw and turn the chips.

Carbon+nitrogen+biome= soil. Come spring, we’ll take this down and plant seeds for a garden in the prepared bed. That’s the theory, anyways.

…I see skies with Blue…

Blue the kitten has grown to Blue the cat. He has worked out how to climb the coop and hunt the chickens inside. He’s very pleased with his little lion king self. I’ll have to add a roof segment or netting.

Little lions love observation

Pepper and Blue have not come to terms yet. Hissing and barking abound in my shop when I forget to shut the door. But I’m optimistic they will become friendly, the other cats and dogs all get along just fine.

Chicken Tractor Refurbished

We moved all the hens into the A-frame chicken tractor, and we have some chicks who need a new home out on the grass. While our original mobile chicken coop was empty, it is time to make some repairs.

Have grinder, will travel

It was a laundry list of small repairs. Rusted metal with holes that needed patching in the roosting box. Metal screens detached from the frame thanks to some grain hungry goats shoving their heads in. Wheel frames bent and making it difficult to pull around. Broken ramp to climb into the roost box. Roosting bars unattached and falling everywhere.

Ready for chicks

Wonderful fall weather made the entire process fun and enjoyable. Somehow we did the entire batch of repairs in perfect harmony, not a single disagreement on how or what to do. These are good days.

Warm and cozy

Fall Profits

This fall has been a good one for the homestead. Let me show you what’s been happening.

Mountains, Gandalf. I want to see Mountains!

The rain came and pastures grew back very quickly. Within days of we resumed rotational grazing for the goats and the cattle. In the middle of such a day, a little goat doe who was big time ready for her man broke into the boys pen. She spent several hours under the conflict-affection of the bucks. Once she was bred we went ahead and bred the other 10 ladies, looking at a February birth next year and hoping for 14 or 15.

The grass moustache is back, baby!

We also completed some transactions, selling 3 of the boys into the meat market to some repeat customers from last fall, courtesy of their strong family network and a traditional religious festival. We agreed in the spring to hold the boys for them and it worked out well for everyone. They also picked up some chickens, a pleasant surprise for us. We will plan to manage our birds for selling more next year.

A-frame tractor. Pronounced Eh-frame by some.

We built a new chicken tractor to consolidate all the birds into one place. This has a larger footprint with vastly more wing space to flutter and roosting footprint to sleep. It is light enough for one person to comfortably maneuver every day. It solved the feather plucking antagonisms from the older hens and gave the young hens a first taste of what flapping into a laying box is like. Which is good, because they are laying almost a month ahead of expectations. 6 eggs a day is our find sometimes.

Jenny and my father doing focused puzzle work to maximize pieces cut from a truck bed liner. You can see a piece installed in the peak behind Jenny and scraps between them.
A cut from the truck bed liner as roofing cap
Roosting perches run front to back, feeder hanging just out of reach of chicken bomber droppings

We also executed our first beef sales and deliveries. This was exciting for us as it is the first beef we have done nearly start to finish, and we were delighted to find more customers then we had beef to sell.

Local butcher in the hospital district of Weatherford

We loaded up and dropped them off at a local family run butcher. They run a clean shop. We brought more flies on the cows then existed in the entire shop. We left our cut instructions and a phone number and then updated our customers, 3-4 weeks to deliver. Next step was collecting coolers to make deliveries in. And waiting.

The waiting

Pick up day arrived. Load up that trailer! Pack up the kids! Coordinate delivery times! Pick up the beef! Ready, set, go!

Love the shade tree near the loading dock.

Red light! These boxes are not sorted into quarters like we agreed. Oh my. Some of these cuts are completely wrong. Oh, but this one is right… We’re going to have to sort this all out. Back home everybody, we have work to do.

Ready to go!

Start four hours of sorting, weighing, recording, and finding customers happy with different cuts. Then get the beef back into coolers and get to the deliveries. We learned a lot, among them how to better load the trailer.

Every one of our customers was extremely accommodating to our delivery windows. Some met us midway when it made sense. We only had one counting error and we are blessed the customer was satisfied with that error.

We left the farm grumpy and frustrated with unplanned disruptions. We left each of our customer homes with smiles on everyone’s faces. This is business at its best. The finest product made in a sustainable way and delivered face to face with customers eager and cheerful.

Cutting boards for customers to celebrate the year

After seven hours we came home exhausted but very much alive, praising a good God who let us learn new skills to be a blessing to families and his creation. Did we get rich in cash? No. Did we find this all deeply enriching to the soul? Without a doubt.

Now seriously, you gotta try some of this beef. It’s very good.

“What was that noise?”

Last night we learned some lessons while watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When you hear a pop sound from the laundry room, it is not always benign.

Sometimes it is an egg gone bad after 18 days in the incubator. Sometimes those carefully heated eggs go pop and explode all over the inside of the incubator.

In about 6 minutes, the smell will waft it’s way to the couch where your vigilant wife will notice a foul stench. Your dog will not even stir.

In that intervening six minutes, the husband manages to make a bowl of popcorn from the cabinet right next to the incubator. He will also pour a beer with his head 12 inches from the incubator on the shelf. He will not notice anything amiss, but he is inordinately proud of the head of foam he produced in the glass.

The wife will go and take the lid off the incubator. She will see the rotted gray green goo splattered all over the interior and will begin to wake up the neighborhood with her protests and gagging over the smell.

Soon thereafter, even the sleeping dog and the covid survivor husband will realize “oh man that is AWFUL”

For the next hour and a half, going right up to midnight, the husband and wife will be involved in sorting and cleaning the good eggs, and the entire incubator twice. You will be throwing out all the malicious looking egg grenades remaining from that one hen your farmer friend gave you to feed your pig because it laid funny looking eggs and you were like “ain’t nothing wrong with these eggs, let’s incubate them!”

You will take everything outside to chemically sterilize under a flashlight. Your bottle will run out of sanitizer. The husband will be helpful and go get the wrong sanitizer.

Then every cat you own on 10 acres will come up to you scrounging for the snacky snack they smelled from the far end of the property. The cows and goats will stir from their sleep and demand snacks, because they have seen the farmer and the farmer is kind. Then you go to bed knowing that is the cleanest the incubator has been since it came from the factory.

It was a good episode of Star Trek though.

Water Falls and Beef Drops

After months without rainfall, North Texas caught up in a hurry. Over 4 inches at our place in a day. News reported over 9 inches elsewhere in the DFW area. Now the record books won’t reflect our struggles because they gets us back to near average, but who needs glory of hard times when you’d just rather have the rain?

Cows are good lawnmowers

For us, there is much rejoicing. Scarcely a week ago we were hauling hay bales out to pastures to feed cattle. It’s time consuming, expensive, and not the best for putting beef on frames. There’s no substitute for fresh grass, everyday, all day. There may be a good second cutting on the market this year to get everyone squared away for winter.

For a goat, this is drive thru fast food

Moving hay is a two man job everytime. Someone drives and someone manages the gates and trailer stowaways.

A more civilized dining process

The rain came in with effective volume and deep soaking. There are still huge amounts of dew each morning from the ground humidity coming up. This native grass is resilient in drought and bounced back very quickly. We’re haven’t planted anything on it and will continue to cultivate what grows on the range here.

You don’t see dirt, you see water

A new experience for us is significant erosion from the rainfall. It smoothed out a lot of peaks and valleys from tire tracks over the years. It also carved large swales and valleys of it’s own in the low spots.

We also made our first beef drop this Monday. Very happy with the quality and cleanliness of the butcher shop. I am certain we brought more flies in on our cattle then they had in the entire shop. Very much looking forward to collecting all the beef and delivering for our shareholders in a few weeks.

Food Recovery Systems

Somehow I never noticed the volume of food waste I produced. Well, not just me but my household. Kids are amazing at taking a plate of food, eating a tithe and walking away forever. By then I don’t want it, they don’t want it, and it’s too good for the trash. Dogs get the runs off it. What to do?

“How’s about us?”

When the garden is up and running, we process an abundance of whole fruits and vegetables. Even without a garden, the family runs through lots of fruit waste. Banana peels, strawberry caps, melon rinds, squash caps, ect. Are there ancient solutions to modern problems?

The bowl of goodies

Enter the chickens and the piggies. Omnivorous and eager, they consume all of our squandered wastes. Chickens get materials in their size first, then pigs get the rest. We’re not into cannibalism either so no chicken or eggs in the chicken stream nor pork in the pig stream.

Previously we used it for compost, but food in the compost invariably attracts vermin and I don’t need vermin. I’ve attempted vermicompost (worm bin) systems but the mighty wrigglers couldn’t keep up. Those systems don’t have the eager excitement or contented full look of the livestock. It’s just fun to give scraps to these protein conversion systems.

The USDA notes one third of prepared food in the USA goes into trash. Bring home 60lbs from the store and throw 20lbs away? What a waste.

Can you imagine a world where people feed the waste to chickens and piggies and lowered the cost of protein for everyone? For many men across man years, that was normal. Our separation of prepared food into trash is very abnormal.

How about eggs in abundance and bacon for dinner. It’s easier then you think to keep some hens, why not pull eggs from your trash?

Rainfall Economics

No rain for 52 days. No grass growing for about 40 of those days. Feeding hay to cows and goats for 20 days now. We’re making plans for hay feeding into next April, and cost overruns are going to happen.

Agriculture is the original boom and bust economy. The boom years are great, the bust years are not. When you can’t grow grass, you feed hay. The hay economy is largely local because hay bales are bulky and heavy to move over the road.

I made a drive to Lufkin this week and noticed many trailers loaded with hay headed back into the DFW area. Our local hay retailer is selling out of every trailer load within two days at double the price per bale as last year.

 Trying to build a solution for the future, last year I set up a handshake agreement with a baler 2 miles from our farm. When we talked this summer to schedule a pickup, he replied that he was in Houston riding his bike because the grass turned to dust and wouldn’t bale. “If anyone tells you farming is a good way to make great money, they been lying to you!” He says.

So we get connected through church with someone who does hay 40 miles away. Make some deals and pay for the delivery included. His seventeen year old son makes the delivery and is far above his peers in maturity and capability. We’re looking forward to what ours will be like at that age . The last load he has available unloaded this past Sunday morning. Thanks to his abilities we have hay to get to Thanksgiving. But what about the actual winter?

Hay is often cut again in August for a second cut, keeping the market filled and ready for winter. But without rain, there’s not going to be a second cut of hay. Might could be one if it rains solid in August for an October cutting. Demand will be very high. Prices will be very high from fuel costs and fertilizer costs being through the roof right now.

Inflation takes time to move from producers to consumers. Because cattle are being culled to cut costs, beef will be cheaper at the store for the next few months. Starting next year expect a whiplash where beef will cost more, double triple range. Inflation and reduced supply are inevitable.

Solution? Buy a freezer, meet a farmer, put beef away today. Buy the dip!

The little spider was eaten by the large spider. My zoology contacts say it’s likely the female ate the male. Doesn’t sound good to me, but the garden moves forward without Mr. Arachnid.

Clunkers and Baby Spiders

I stopped at the end of the driveway to check the mailbox. When I get back in the car, a friendly grasshopper joined me. I gently encourage her to leave out the open door. While she hopped out, two more jump in. I grab them and toss them outside and quicky shut the door. Ain’t nobody got time for that!As I make the drive to the house, there were no fewer then 20 impacts on the side of my car. The grasshoppers clunk spook when you drive past so clunk they jump right into the side clunk of the car. Clunk. As crazy hot as it is right now (111f), there are the equivalent crazy volume of grasshoppers.

Jenny and some of the kids are down sick, so I’ve got all the animals and garden responsibilities this night. Usually I do the animals and maintenance tasks around the farm while Jenny cultivates and nurtures the garden after livestock. After several years of my anarchy gardening strategy, she has come along and enforced rigid rows and strict water disciplines. It’s working, even with the onslaught of grasshoppers doing their best impersonation of locusts this year. Clunk.

Spiders profiting from clunkers.

Gardens are busy places. Among the tomatoes I found flowers in the pollination stage, green tomatoes leveling up, and ripe red tomatoes for harvest. In the middle was a zipper spider, ready and eager to capture and consume grasshoppers tearing through the place. Look! Even a baby spider coming along nicely.

First year for sunflowers to work here

Taking a step away from any garden helps bring perspective. The distress and violence in always in the micro. It’s in the conflict of the insects and arachnids, weeds competing for water with the productivity plants, rampaging fungus flowering in the shadows, and dismal leaves rotting from ground contact.

When you see the whole macro garden you see abundance and re-creation. You see canopies of green making life from sunbeams. You see seeds wrapped in nutrients meant to be consumed. You see nothing is wasted, even the losses cycle back into the system for new life. I see the father God in that cycle, and it’s a reminder for me how he looks at the heart of the man and not just the problems obvious in the micro view.

“Robert make sure you find those two ripe cantaloupes!”

One nights harvest, so many melons to eat and preserve and share. Time to turn these chickens loose of the clunkers.