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Archive for the ‘Livestock’ Category

dozen_eggsThe incredible edible egg. We love them and we fear them. Should we eat more of them, or run from them? Are they giving us heart attacks or are they full of good things to make us strong and healthy? Where’s the truth? What should we do?

I want to cut through the propaganda, and give you a high level, short answer and hopefully clear things up for you a bit. If you want to know more, there are plenty of articles, stories and research papers out there to keep you reading the rest of your life.

The spark for this post was a Facebook poster showing the inside of two boiled eggs. One had a deep golden yolk, captioned, ‘organic’. The other was light yellow, with those familiar green hues we’ve all become familiar with from traditional boiled eggs, and captioned, “gmo”.

I will leave aside the photo manipulation and let you do your own homework as to how that was done. Let’s just say, it was extremely misleading.

My gripe is with the labeling. There is no such thing as a GMO egg.  And, in a sense, all eggs are ‘organic’. They are laid by living chickens and laid in a natural way, thus organic.

The organic vs. GMO argument is about the feed given to the hens.  And even then, the photo can be misleading.

In a confined, commercial chicken house, where thousands of hens are kept in tight, controlled conditions, if hens are fed grain based diets, devoid of sunlight, then even if the feed is ‘organic’ the eggs will have pale, lifeless, nutritionally lacking yolks.

Conversely, if hens are free ranging, and have access to fields of GMO corn and wheat, the yolks will be rich yellow, and still be ‘GMO’ fed.

It’s all about sunlight and chlorophyll. That color comes from access to real sunlight and omega 3 rich grasses (Remember, corn, wheat, barley, etc. are grasses when they’re at home).

Eggs from free range hens, are more nutritious, and attractive, than those from battery raise ones, because of the variety in their diet, and because of their access to sunlight and the chlorophylls in the green plants they consume.  These greens are full of omega 3s which are good for you.

The chicken house raised birds, generally produce paler, flavor reduced eggs that are higher in omega 6 fatty acids, which are the ones that block our arteries. 

And remember, chickens are omnivores rather than vegetarians. They eat all kinds of things when left to their own devices, so feeding them a restricted vegetarian diet, whether organic or GMO, is preventing them from the balanced, nutrient rich fare they really need.

So, looking for ‘cage free’, ‘vegetarian fed’, or, ‘organic’ labels on supermarket eggs, means very little. They are marketing gimmicks. Don’t fall for them. They don’t ensure anything for you, other than a higher total at the check out.  ‘Free Range’ is the label you’re looking for. And even that might be misleading.

Raise your own birds, if you can, or buy directly from a farmer or at a farmers’ market for the best results.

I know many of you are raising, or want to raise, birds, but don’t have the space to free range them. Perhaps your community has restrictions that keep you from doing so. If that’s you, don’t worry.  If you make sure you have a nice a roomy, dry shelter for protection from the elements, and a run where your chickens can get real sunlight you’ll be fine.  In addition to a good chicken feed, give them access to some table scraps, and include plenty of lettuce, kale, and other greens and they will reward you with lots of awesome, delicious, and nutritious eggs.  I promise.

Do you raise your own chickens or other birds? If so, tell us about your results? We’d love to hear them?  Got questions about how to get started? Then use the comments section to ask this awesome group of readers.  We’re here to help. After all, we’re all in this together.

 

 

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I’ve mentioned a few times that we are needing to downsize and reorganize some of what we do.  As a result of this decision, we’ve had to say farewell to several beloved animals.  Jasper (the friendly goat), Laverne and Shirley, the two most wonderful mules in history, my Kiko goats, just to name a few.  Each has left a hole in my heart as he/she drove away to their wonderful new homes.

Well, it happened again this week.  A few more of my goats went to live in new digs.  We are very happy with the new owners, but my heart aches when I go to feed and they don’t come up to give me kisses.

I always thought farming was supposed to be an objective, matter of fact business, where animals come and go as the business needs demand and that is that.  I thought wrong.

On a small farm, and I suspect on larger ones, too, bonds inevitably develop between farmers and livestock.  I was talking via email earlier this week with a small farmer who simply cannot bring himself to process any of his hens, because he’s grown so attached to them.

I’ve always thought of myself as immune to that sort of thing.  For example, I’ve heard people talk about ‘buck fever’ during hunting season, when they just can’t seem to pull the trigger even with an unmissable shot.  I have never even has an inkling of such a condition.  So you can imagine my surprise when farming revealed a whole new side of me.

Most of our livestock is merely that, livestock.  We buy them or breed them, raise them, process them. It’s what we do.  It’s part of the circle of life.  But once in a while…

Exhibit A: Miracle the chicken.  Miracle has not laid an egg in at least a year.  She should have been in a crock pot or dog food a long time ago.  When she was only about 8 months old she caught her leg on some rusty barbed wire and got gangrene.  I found her in a pasture unable to stand.  The green went all the way up her leg.  I was sick about it, but was convinced that putting her down was the right thing to do.  Brittan persuaded me to try nursing her instead.  Her logic was, if she dies, she dies, but if we can save her it’s worth the effort.

My own thinking was, chickens don’t recover from gangrene and she’s suffering.  A responsible farmer doesn’t let the animals under his care suffer.  We’d had a lot of loss to predators that spring and many of the chickens weren’t quite dead and I had been forced to put them down.  I was really weary of killing, so I agreed to nurse the hen.  We put her in a corner of the barn with a water bowl and feed dish in easy reach.  For weeks she lingered at deaths door and didn’t move an inch.  She would, however, eat and drink a little.  Then one day we went out to gather eggs and the chicken was up.  She was limping badly and had lost quite a few chest feathers, but she was on her feet.

Each day after that she showed steady, observable improvement until she was back to normal with the single exception that the injured leg was twice as big around as the other one.  That’s when she got the name, Miracle.  Many chickens have come and gone since Miracle’s injury, but she remains, and will until old age finally takes her.

Exhibit B: Patty the Pig.  Patty is a Vietnamese Potbelly and should have been sausage ages ago.  She had one litter and all the other potbellies have been processed and forgotten.  Somehow, Patty never found her way to the freezer.  She now pretty much has the run of the place.  She sometimes sits by the milk bucket while Brittan is milking, hoping for the excess to make it into her bowl, or hoping B will look away long enough for her to pull down the whole bucket and steal the entire contents; all the while, wagging her tail and looking ever so innocent.

Patty has gone from livestock to pet.  It just happened. She will be with us forever.

This week, some more of our goats, a couple of them personal favorites of mine, went to live elsewhere.  I don’t know how, when or why I got attached to them, but I did.  It’s just not the same without them around.

Farming is not nearly as dispassionate as I thought, or hoped it would be, but it is realistic and reality says, things change.  We will go on.  Some of this year’s crop of kids will replace the ones we sold.  I’m going to try not to get so attached this time.  I expect to fail.

 

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American Chinchilla Rabbit

The days are getting shorter.  The nights are slowly cooling down.  I’m loving it.  In fact, I’m taking my morning coffee out to the front porch about 5:30 a.m. and enjoying the early morning cooler temperatures.  Autumn is my favorite time of year and here in Georgia we have long, very long autumns. It’s one of my favorite things about living here.

Fall is also the time of year we start looking ahead to next year.  We review what went well, what went poorly and what didn’t go at all. It’s the season in which we breed our goats, our cows and our rabbits.

Rabbits love this time of year, too.  From September through May they are in their element.  They thrive in cool and cold weather.  Their coats take on a warm, soft extra layer and their hormones kick into overdrive.  We begin our breeding program the first week of September. That’s sort of my unofficial start of autumn.

Rabbits hate summer. They don’t do well in the heat.  We try and keep them in shady locations where they can get any breezes that might blow and we put plastic jugs of ice in their crates to help keep their body temperatures down.  Despite those extra efforts, over the years we’ve lost some good rabbits and even entire litters of babies to heat stroke. So we rarely have any litters from late May till we breed again in September.

Sure, it impacts our profits, but Our Edible Suburb is about much more than profits. Animal welfare is one of our priorities, too. Each of our does will have a maximum of three litters a year. This way they remain healthier, are less stressed and we prolong both their breeding lives and their lives in general.

Besides, meat is only one of the reasons we raise rabbits. Their by-product is as important to our operation as is their meat. Rabbits produce copious quantities of the finest manure on earth.  It is high in nitrogen and trace minerals, but is not ‘hot’ like chicken manure so it doesn’t have to be composted.  When it IS composted it is the richest, most nutritious garden food you can imagine.  You can kick it up further by using it to feed red wiggler compost worms and let the worms convert it, or at least some of it, into worm castings.  Talk about a feast for your soil!

Even in the dead of winter, the middle of the pile is toasty warm and the wigglers will keep working. We keep our compost pile going year round, so that in the spring we can add a nice thick layer of the stuff to our raised beds.  Even the most inexperienced gardener can have success by using composted rabbit manure.

If you start in the fall, one or two rabbits will give you enough manure for a couple of raised beds by the time spring rolls around.  Unless you’re looking for pedigreed rabbits for showing, you can get a pair of rabbits very cheaply at your local small animal auction, from a local breeder, or even off of Craigslist.

If you’re planning to breed, mature bunnies will cost a bit more, but will pay for themselves in just a few months in either meat, manure or both. Since most does will produce 6 to 8 offspring in a litter that are ready to be processed by 12 weeks, it won’t take long to have your freezer full of nutritious protein, or have your compost heap filled to capacity.

We started with about 12 rabbits. We had a mixed bag of young and mature.  We grew out some of the young males for the table and kept all the young does along with a couple unrelated mature males.  That first winter we had rabbits everywhere. There were weeks we had multiple days with two or more litters arriving.  It was work, but it was also fun.  That next spring we had our best garden ever.

If you have a small space, or are not interested in meat, you could consider some of the dwarf rabbit varieties.  Some of them are really cute, make great pets and can be wonderful with

Dwarf Rabbits

children.  Despite their tiny size, they do a great job in the manure department.

Fall is upon us. If you’ve been thinking about adding rabbits to your farm or garden, now’s the time to get started. If you’ve got questions, please feel free to send them our way. We’d love to hear from you.

For those of you already raising rabbits, we’d like to hear from you, too. When did you get started and why? What has your experience been? Don’t be shy now.  You’re among friends.

 

 

 

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What a tasty supper. We had a roast turkey and bbq beef stew.  Sounds autumnal, I know, but it’s one of the advantages of growing your own food and having a freezer (or 3).

Last November we took Chuck, the bull to the processor.  Being a miniature cow, he was only 300 lbs hanging weight. That’s still a lot of food for two people.  We gave a bunch away and still have several roasts, plenty of burger and some steaks left. Oh, we also have the tongue, liver and shanks.  I suspect I’ll be eating the liver alone.  In my opinion, grass fed, pastured beef is best cooked low and slow.  Grilling is ok, but crock pots, braising pans and smokers are best.  Tonight it was slow cooked in the crock pot and doused in bbq sauce. Simple, yet outstanding.

About the same time we had Chuck butchered,  we processed our turkeys.  Several customers cancelled orders on us a the last minute so we had an abundance. No problem, that’s what freezers are for.  On a whim, B thawed one and roasted it so we could have sandwiches over the weekend.  I’ve been standing over the poor bird off and on all evening picking at her (it was a hen).  Its a real treat to have something as awesome as a roast turkey on a week night in July that’s usually reserved for Holidays and special occasions.  Again, it’s one of the pleasures of raising food.

If you could raise your own food, what would be your favorite thing to grow?  Or, if you do farm and/or garden, what are some of your personal favorite treats that are made possible by canning, drying or freezing?  I’d love to hear your story.

 

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Periodically, we have to take inventory of what we have and where we want the farm to go.  This always results in some difficult decisions, because the heart and the head are not always aligned.

We have come to the conclusion, that we are primarily a meat goat and dairy goat farm, with pigs and pork as our secondary livestock and product.

We will continue to raise chickens for eggs, but as mentioned in an earlier post, we are out of the broiler business.  It is not profitable and not sustainable.  We’ll still do a few turkeys every year.

Beef is a difficult one.  We will stick with our two Dexter cows to provide us some meat and some cows milk for cheese.  Our mixed breed heifer will be processed this fall and our bull calf will be processed next year.  We don’t have enough quality pasture to raise large feeder steers for either ourselves or customers.

So, having thought this through, and sitting in my chair praying for wisdom, we are going to make some outstanding animals available for sale.

1.  Our two beautiful Belgian Draft Mules, Laverne and Shirley.  These girls are awesome, but just too much animal for our little place.  They need to go to someone who can work them in harness or ride them.  They are green broke and will need an experienced hand to get them back in practice, but they love attention, stand well for the farrier and load easily. They must go together as they have never been separated.  We paid a handsome price for them, but would let them go for $2,5oo total.  That’s a steal.

2. We are getting out of rabbits.  We have two breeding pair of registered American Chinchilla bunnies.  These are heritage rabbits, barely a year old.  They are worth a great deal and will produce outstanding offspring.  We’ll part with them for $100 a pair.  Again, I know we can get more, but we want to move them.

3. We have some super Nigerian Dwarf Goats we need to sell to make room for bigger goats.  We have some babies, some older girls and even some does in milk.  The milk is awesome, BTW.  We have a couple males as well, one of which has horns, but is positively gorgeous.  If you’re just getting into goats, or have a small place, Nigerian Dwarf Goats are the perfect breed. Prices vary according to age, gender and blood line.

4. We have a one year old pair of Black Spanish turkeys.  These two birds are delightful.  They hatched 14 live poults this spring.  They are good parents and pretty well mannered.  Our place is too near busy roads, though, and they are good fliers, so they need a home somewhere more remote.  They have always been free range.  Call me crazy, but I’ll let them go as a pair for $60 and we get more than that for a Thanksgiving bird.

5.  We have a yearling female Vietnamese Pot Belly Pig.  She is a fantastic mother and had no trouble birthing.  Patty probably weighs a little over 100 lbs. She’s a little bit wild, but if you can catch her, you can have her for $50.

We have three or 4 two year old Buff Orpington hens that can go for $15 each.  They will lay for another year or would make great stewing hens now.  If they don’t sell, we’ll put them in the crock pot ourselves.

I think that’s it.  Our miniature donkeys are not for sale at any price, so no need to ask.  They are expecting a foal again this winter, but we will be keeping it to train in harness.

An opportunity like this will probably never happen again from our farm.  These are quality animals at crazy bargain prices.  Our sacrifice is your gain.  Let us know if you’re interested or pass the word along to someone you know who might be.

 

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Baby goats are everywhere.  You all know about Curry and Zorro, our two early bird Nigerians.  What you need caught up to date on, is the wild week we’ve had.  I use we, quite liberally.  Apart from my being around to do some bottle feeding and serve as a human hot water bottle, the lion(ess)’s share has fallen to Brittan.

On Monday night, we got to the farm later than normal to do evening chores and were met with a big, er, small, er, plentiful, surprise.  Nya, one of our Nigerian does, had delivered triplets. There were two bucklings and a stillborn doe.  The boys were quite cold, having been born in the pasture on a very chilly night, and one of them was quite feeble.  I put them inside my jacket to warm them up and went to dispose of the little girl’s body, while Brittan worked on milking Nya.  Since she is a first freshener, that was easier said than done and the stanchion was put away for the winter.  So when I got back, I used my knees to hold Nya’s head in place, while Brittan milked out some colostrum.

We raced the boys back to the house and got some of the colostrum down them, but the one little one was still too feeble to eat or stand.  We had real doubts about him making it.  Brittan slept on the couch to keep him warm and feed him a few drops now and then.  Fortunately, he has pulled through like a champion.  He’s still not as strong as his brother, but he improves a little every hour.

This morning, as I’m beginning a meeting here at the office, Brittan calls me. I answered and mostly all I could hear was a goat screaming.  Brittan said it was one of our Kikos in labor.  She gave birth in about one minute while I was still on the call.

I had to rush off of the call for my meeting and tried to call back as soon as I was done.  No answer. I left a message. For two hours I couldn’t get an answer to phone or email, so I high tailed it to the farm on my lunch break.  I found Brittan shivering in the barn with two mamma goats and 4 kids.  It seems that the Kiko had twins, a boy and a girl.  As soon as she was done, Zeta, on of our Nigerians, also went into labor.  She had twin  black and white girls.  Since Brittan had no towels or rags, she took off her shirts and used them for clean up.  She had on a thin jacket and a cold wind was blowing directly on her.  On top of everything, her phone had gone dead so she couldn’t call.  Not a good morning for the woman I love.

I rushed sped home (any excuse to break the speed limit) and got her a sweatshirt and a heavier jacket along with some cloths and her phone charger.  Unfortunately, I had to dash back to work for some mandatory afternoon meetings.  I got an email from her eventually, saying all was well with the new mothers, except Zeta wouldn’t let down her milk, so she had to feed the baby girls regular goat’s milk.  We’ll try again this evening. I suspect I will be on nursing duties tonight. Fair’s fair.

The Kiko babies (father is a Boer, so they’re really crosses) are feeding nicely and will stay with their mamma.  The Nigerians will come home for a couple days and be bottle fed.  Their mother will join the dairy herd.

Our living room now has 4 goats in residence.  Two boys and two girls.  We will wether the boys and probably offer all 4 for sale.  I’m thinking we will keep both of the meat goats since they have outside bloodlines.  We still have three Alpine does and one more Kiko still to kid.  It’s been quite a time.  Did I mention that we love it?

 

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Every breed of cow has its strengths and weaknesses. Every breed has its proponents and detractors. Popularity of breeds waxes and wanes like the tides, or the phases of the moon. In my lifetime, beef breeds have come and gone like the flavors of the month at Baskin Robbins.  At one time, it was Herefords, then Charolais. For a while everyone who cared about beef wanted a mighty Simmental. These days, Angus are en vogue.

Dairy cows have pretty much gone the same route, with Milking Shorthorns, Brown Swiss and Guernseys having their day. Those who are big on butterfat, swear by Jerseys. For sheer volume, nothing beats a Holstein.

Across the country, there are dozens of other breeds who have a following; Brahman, Longhorn, Pineywoods, Murray Grey, Belted Galloway and many more have found a place in the pastures and barnyards of America.

There is one breed though, that stands head and shoulders above the crowd as the ideal family cow.  The Irish Dexter has functioned for centuries as a beef, dairy and draft animal for small farmers, crofters and homesteaders in its native Ireland. For nearly a century and a half, the Dexter has served a similar purpose here in the USA.

Saying Dexters stand head and shoulders above other cattle, is a bit of a stretch as they are the smallest Heritage breed of cattle, standing only 36 to 44 inches or so tall.  A mature female will top out at 600 – 800 lbs, while a bull might tip the scales at 1000 lbs.

Dexters are outstanding foragers and can thrive on the best or even the most marginal of pastures. They are a great choice for those who want to supply their families grass fed beef, but have only a few acres of pasture available. It is fairly easy to keep two Dexters plus their calves on a good acre of grass.

High producing Dexter dairy cows will give up to 2 gallons a day in sweet, rich milk. A 100% grass fed cow will provide ½ to 1 gallon a day; more than enough for most families to drink and to have extra for butter and cheese.  The leftover whey and buttermilk will be a fantastic supplement for chickens or a feeder pig.

A family raising two cows can plan their breeding so that one of the cows calves early in the year and one late in the year so that milk is available year round.  The calves can be raised as beeves or sold for extra cash.

Did I mention that I don’t think any breed of cattle comes close to matching the Dexter for temperament?  They are easily trained to halter and rope. They enjoy being petted and handled. Ours will follow us anywhere as long as there is a treat at the end of the journey.

We are slowly building our herd of Dexters. For a while, we’ll still be buying feeder steers from the auction, but within a couple of years, we expect all our beef and dairy to come from Dexters.  Whether you have just a couple acres and want to raise a cow, or have hundreds of acres and want to be an honest to goodness rancher, you should give Irish Dexters a serious look.

If you want to learn more, you might want to check out this website.

 

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