Archive for November, 2011

It's a Boy! The Red Claw Gives It Away

The day is finally unwinding.  I’m not, but the day is. And what a day it’s been.

The rumblings of potential issues began last night when neither Brittan nor I could sleep.  B was over caffeinated while I was suffering with a back issue.  Stuff happens. We ended up with about three hours sleep.

When we arrived at the farm today, we expected to load two cows and get them to the processor. What we did not expect was a flat tire on our trailer.  The trailer that weighs 3000 pounds in low humidity.  I grabbed a can of fix a flat and the air compressor and went to work.  It was not a big deal, but trusting a 2 hour round trip on the interstate with wife, truck, trailer and cattle to an aerosol can of foam and air is stretching common sense just a little.

It took us nearly three hours to get one cow loaded. The other one was not going to cooperate.  Fortunately the one we got in was Chuck the bull and he was the most important. In the end, Diane got a reprieve for a season.

B and I were flat out pooped by the time we got on the road.  The drive was fairly uneventful and we spent it with mixed emotions.  We’ll miss Chuck, but this is what we raised him for. On the other hand, we were all excited about coming home to a box of 18 Giant Red Claw Crawfish (sometimes called freshwater lobster) to begin our aquaponics garden in earnest.

Before we could get home, we needed to get some hay for the animals, so we unhitched the horse trailer and replaced it with a utility one and sped down the road to the feed store.  By the time we got back to the house it was 4:50. In the mailbox Brittan found a note that said the Post Office did not deliver the Crawfish. They were at the Post Office and would be delivered tomorrow.

I had ten minutes. Ten. Fortunately, you can see the Post Office from our house. It’s a one minute drive. I raced over there only to find a line of people mailing Christmas Boxes.  Naturally the man two in front of me had 13 boxes to be shipped all over the world.  By the time I got to the desk it was after 5.

I handed my card to the nice lady and she went to get my box. She returned empty handed saying it was still on the truck and the truck was long gone.  My shoulder fell. I groaned, “but it’s live fish. They will be dead by morning.”  She apologized and gave me a dispatch number to call.

With no expectations, I called the distribution center. The line was busy. The line was busy for 6 minutes. I kept trying. I eventually got a very nice lady on the phone.  I told her my situation. I ended by saying, “They’ll be dead by morning.” to which she replied, “They smell like they might already be dead.”

I was not comforted.

After what seemed like a decade, she said, “You know what. I’ve got a truck leaving for the main Acworth office. If you can meet the driver behind the building, I’ll get you your box.”  Folks, that’s customer service.

Brittan and I jumped in the car and headed down the road. The main office is on the other side of town and it was rush hour, which means there’s no hope for rushing.  When we finally arrived, the driver was waiting patiently. He was so nice. As he handed me the box, he said, “I sure hope the little guys are alright.”

Tonight I am very happy with the United Postal Service. They went above and beyond what they had to do.

We got home and opened the box to find our Crawfish very much alive.  As the series of photos shows, we acclimatised them to the water before releasing them. Once released, they seemed to very much enjoy their freedom, while our male cat, Cash, thought all his Birthdays had come at once.  He did everything but climb into the fish tank.

We will keep them together in this one tank for a few days, then split them into two tanks.  Once the females are full of eggs, we will set up additional tanks for nursery and grow out.

One of the Crawfish does not seem to be too perky, but the others appear to be off to a good start. We’ll know more tomorrow.  All that’s left to

do tonight is shower. Even the pigs won’t come near me. I can take a hint.

First, Acclimatise The Fish







Close up of Red Claw Getting Acclimated







Releasing The Crawfish








Who Needs Cable?








Just Milling About in the New Digs







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Here’s our first nursery tank filled and cycling.  It’s a 55 gallon system.  Ultimately it could support a great deal of veggies. For example, you could split a 55 gallon plastic barrel in half, create a grow bed in each half and this tank would feed it. That could produce a lot of food right there.  We also have a 75 gallon tank and two 20 gallons ones.  These will mostly be for housing our breeding fish.  We have a 300 gallon system ready to be put together and will get to it shortly.  Next weekend we’re going to drive north about an hour had get some IBC totes and plastic barrels to convert into diy systems.  Brittan is very excited because she gets to break out the power tools.  Love that woman!


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If you are a body builder, are in hormone replacement therapy or are a Tilapia, you already know the answer to my question.  If you don’t fall into one of those categories, please stay with me, because you NEED to know.

I’m guessing that seeing the ‘testosterone’ part of the phrase gives you a clue.  And you’d be right.  17 alpha methyltestosterone is a synthetic hormone.  It has been used in in hormone replacement therapy for both men and  women and it has been popular with body builders.

The biggest problem with the drug, as best I can tell, is that it is highly toxic to the human liver.  Where I come from, that would be a bad thing. People around here seem to be mighty partial to a fully functioning liver.  Although, come to think of it, that might be contradicted by the recent vote to allow Sunday sale of alcohol. But, as usual, I digress.  🙂

So, where do Tilapia come into the picture?  I’m glad you asked.  Tilapia has become the most widely farmed fish in the world.  And for good reason.  It grows well almost everywhere. It grows rapidly and it reproduces prolifically.  It’s low in fat and it tastes great.

In many places here in the U.S. Tilapia are raised as feeder fish for the more desirable game fish, like bass and crappie.  Yep, everyone loves a tasty Tilapia.

The problem for the commercial food market are those pesky female fish.  You know, females, the gender required to give birth to little baby fish. Well, those darned females were costing the fisheries big profits, and that had to be stopped, post haste.

Fish, of course lay eggs. Tilapia eggs need to be ‘brooded’ like chicken eggs.  Tilapia, though, don’t sit on a nest like hens. When the female Tilapia lays her eggs on the bottom of the pond (or tank), she scoops them up in her mouth and swims around for a few days with chubby cheeks while she incubates her offspring.

Mama Tilapia can’t eat with a mouthful of eggs and if she can’t eat, she can’t grow.  If she can’t grow, she can’t reach market weight fast enough.  In a 6 to 9 month period (normal grow out), Ms Tilapia can have multiple broods. Her maternity leaves are just too costly to the fishery. The ‘problem’ is exacerbated  by the fact that Tilapia have a remarkable propensity to produce 50/50 ratios of male to female offspring.

You see their dilemma. Let’s say each female lays 250 eggs at a time and 200 of them hatch.  Half will be female.  Those females will be fertile (and deliver) long before they reach market weight, meaning that half the population of the pond is growing too slowly for the profit margin.

There were, and are, some natural solutions. 1. barriers can be installed that prevent females from reaching the bottom to pick up their eggs.  I have some problems with that, but only because like most humans, I have a tendency to anthropomorphize (is that a real word?) when it comes to animal emotions. It sounds cruel to the Mama. They might not feel that way at all, but I’m projecting. 2. Hybridization.  If you take the male of one species of Tilapia and breed with the female of another species, the offspring are about 95% males.  Of course, growth rates are not consistent among Tilapia varieties, so hybridization is unpredictable, or so say some.

Someone along the way figured out that if you put 17 alpha methyltestosterone in Tilapia feed that the female Tiliapia will change gender, eliminating the pesky female problem almost entirely.

Still with me? Nearly all the commercial Tilapia sold in the U.S. has been fed a diet that includes 17 alpha methyltestosterone.  How’s that liver of yours feeling at the moment?

17 alpha methyltestosterone would be banned from your beef, pork or poultry, but it’s perfectly fine for your fish. Really?  The drug is banned in Germany.  The EU has banned the sale of fish raised using it, but in the USA? Eat up.

Fellow Capitalists take note; I am not calling for a ban on fish fed 17 alpha methyl testosterone. I’m not against a farmers right to raise his fish using hormones.  I’m FOR informed choices.  I’m for labeling.  No one should be afraid of the truth.  My favorite Book says, “The Truth will set you free.”

The industry has published studies indicating that the fish are drug free after removing them from the diet for 5 days before processing.  These are only short term studies. No long term ones have been done at this time.  Also, since most of our fish is coming from Asia, do we know whether or not they are being taken off the diet before processing?

Not all the feed is eaten. What happens to it?  Also fish excrete just like every other animal. Is hormone residue making it’s way into the ground water? Is it being flushed into lakes and rivers to be consumed by other creatures? What is the long term potential for massive hormone overload on the environment and the food chain as the demand for Tilapia grows?

One more question for those who care about these things; Is 17 alpha methyltestosterone sustainable? The answer to that one is easy.  You don’t even need to ask the audience.

We don’t have all the answers.  Perhaps it’s a tempest in a teacup, but why take the risk? Why not opt for slow food and slow money? That’s what we’re doing at East of Eden Farms.

We are beginning our Tilapia and Giant Red Claw Aquaponics production using healthy, sustainable methods that mimic nature. By June or July 2012 we expect to be serving up tasty, balanced, hormone free fish and shellfish to our friends, family and customers. It takes longer and is a bit more expensive to do it, but we’ll make it up in savings on our medical bills.

Stay tuned. Stay informed. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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One of my daily joys this last year has been driving up the driveway to the farm to be greeted by Blondie the chicken as she ran to meet us.  Blondie is a Dixie Rainbow laying hen.  She was our first genuine free range bird.  She was the first to fly out of her pasture and roam the farm freely.  She never missed a day of coming to meet us.

I knew something was wrong when she didn’t come running this afternoon when we arrived to feed and do chores.  She wasn’t in the barn, either.   The moment I stepped into her pasture and saw the pile of feathers I knew what had happened.

First, I know it sounds funny to say I recognized her feathers, but she was very distinct.  There was no doubt.  Sometime this morning or early afternoon the hawks came hunting.  It was Brittan who found the headless body lying in the pasture.  My day has been shot ever since.  I know she was just a chicken and I’ve killed hundreds of them with my own hands on processing days.  I’ve carried out dozens more that have been victimized by predation or just died from an accident.  I’m no stranger to poultry mortality.  But Blondie was special.  I committed the cardinal sin of getting attached.  This is a very sad day for me.

I could not save her, but I CAN avenge her.  Can and WILL.  But for the rest of this evening I will grieve.  Farewell, Blondie. I will miss you, little bird.


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Here I go again violating my ‘no blogging on the weekend’ policy.  Ok, I’m a hypocrite. I’ll just have to live with it.

Yesterday, during a stressful meeting at the other job, I got a phone call saying we had a cow on the loose.  Not really good news, especially when you’re at least 40 minutes away.  If you know our location you know how busy the main road is.  Loose bovine on the Dallas Acworth Highway, cannot possibly end well.

Fortunately, B also got the call and is considerably closer.  By the time I arrived, she had retrieved the wandering rump roast and had already started mending the fence.  Have I mentioned lately what an incredible wife I have?

Anyway, together we finished making a patch and I headed back to the office while Brittan toured the farm to see what other potential crises were at hand.

Sometime during the morning, she heard screaming coming from the pig pasture.  As she investigated, she discovered that our female, Patty, is in standing heat. The gestation period for pigs is three months, three weeks and three days. Mark your calendars.

This weekend holds a marathon manure move and setting up three aquariums for the fingerling Tilapia and the Giant Red Claw Crawfish. Can you tell I’m excited about it?  I only talk about it, oh, like, constantly.

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I’m about as excited about our Aquaponics project as anything I’ve done in years.  The possibility of growing fruit and veg all year round in a sustainable, earth healing manner, really jazzes me.  Add to that the ability to raise, healthy, chemical free fish and crawfish and I’m just about floating on air.

We have a long way to go, but you have to start sometime.  If not now, when?

This morning, I took some seed cups, filled them with coconut coir and planted some sweet basil, romaine lettuce and a little buttercrunch lettuce.  I’m not the world’s biggest lettuce fan, but they are reputed to be great plants to get an aquaponics garden started. As the fish get bigger and the population grows more dense, we can add plants that have greater nutrient requirements.

By the time the seedlings are ready to transplant, the fish will be here.  Then we can bring it all together.  I plan to float some plants on the surface of a tank and some will be in flood and drain systems.  As the fish get bigger we will set up a regular floating raft system.  That’s a couple months away.

For giggles, I also started some bell pepper seeds to grow in an Earthbox in our sun room.  The snap peas and cherry tomatoes are doing ok so far and it looks like three of the 4 cauliflower plants are going to make it, so I thought, what the heck, and planted 4 pepper seeds.

In a related note, I have one bucket of duckweed that is still thriving.  I think I’m going to put a grow light on it for an extra hour or two at night and see if I can keep this thing producing through the winter.  That would be awesome.

There are a whole lot of people who know a whole lot more about aquaponics gardening than I do.  I’m learning all I can from them, but there’s no substitute for getting your feet wet, so to speak.  So…here we go.

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There’s not much happening around here this time of year and that’s the way it should be.  We have nothing in the garden except a few sugar snap peas and they are in the sun room in the house.  We have some small cherry tomato plants in there as well as a winter experiment.  Out at the farm things are quiet, too.  The sheep are gone. Most of the turkeys are in the freezer. The chickens are starting to slow down production a bit. The cows are getting ready for the processor.  The goats are finishing up the autumn breeding cycle. The rabbits are a bit behind in their breeding schedule, but are enjoying Fall. The pigs are eating everything that doesn’t move, because that’s what pigs do.  The donkeys and mules seem a bit bored with it all.

The only projects on the move are building some new chicken shelters and setting up the aquaponics tanks. I should be working on some of that right this minute, but I’m being quite lazy this week. So there.

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