Grazing with Electronet Fencing

Yesterday was the big day. We finally released our grazing animals out on green grass to…well, graze. They’ve been stuck in a small barnyard eating hay since we purchased them in January. We’ve been waiting four months to see this, not to mention the years we’ve been dreaming of this day. It was a beautiful sight.WP_20160427_07_56_18_Pro

We modified our previous fencing plan. We decided we would not fix up the current, permanent electric fencing around the perimeter of our front pasture as it would be a waste of time and money. We will be repurposing some of the posts and the wire for other fencing projects we have on our to-do list, including a new winter barnyard area. Our grazing animals will be rotated across our whole 10 acre property with just the moveable electronet fencing. We purchased four 164-foot fence rolls. We’ll use two fences at one time to create an 82’ x 82’ paddock.  When we are ready to move the animals into their next paddock, we’ll set up the second set of fences and transfer the animals in through an opening between the two. After a couple transfers, the animals will be well-trained and eagerly waiting for their new green buffet to be served each day. Our fencing arrived yesterday and we were anxious to get outside after dinner to set it up.WP_20160426_19_00_34_Pro
First, the rolls of fencing need to be laid around the perimeter of the chosen area to graze.WP_20160426_19_17_46_Pro

Next, the fence posts need to be stepped into the ground and corners need to be secured to strong support posts that also push into the ground.WP_20160426_19_14_28_Pro
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Once the fence is up, it gets connected to the portable solar-powered energizer. WP_20160427_07_59_36_Pro The energizer will run on a battery during the night and cloudy days. There is also a plug-in to charge the battery if it gets low.
We also purchased a voltage detector to be able to test our fence and make sure it is working properly. Ryan went around and tested several spots in our fence and all were kicking out 4,000 volts.

The final step, add the animals. WP_20160426_19_51_19_Pro
Our animals were so excited to be on fresh, green grass. They immediately began grazing. After a few minutes satisfying their craving for new spring shoots, the friskiness set in. WP_20160426_19_54_18_ProThe lambs leapt. The cows kicked up their back hooves. The farmers looked on in satisfaction and contentment. There is something so peaceful about watching animals happily graze on green grass.

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(Side note) You can see in this picture how our hair sheep are shedding their winter coat.  It falls off in clumps, revealing a shorter, thinner coat.  It will stay this way all summer.

With the electronet, anything is pasture. The current paddock the animals are grazing is my future vegetable garden. The animals will mow it down, fertilize it, then we’ll till it and plant our seeds (a project we hope to complete very soon). This evening we’ll move the animals onto a new fresh piece of pasture. This is high maintenance management, to be sure. However, it is ideal for grass-fed animals and the soil. It mimics wild, grazing herds in nature. They never stay stationary. They eat, poop and move on. Under these conditions, the soil, plants and animals thrive.
The shock from the electronet provides enough pain to deter predators and keep our animals safely in the fence. We watched for a few minutes as the animals began testing their new boundary. I think the cows were the first to learn respect for the fence. They would unsuspectingly nose the fence and ZAP! They would jump back. Not surprisingly, our steer needed to repeatedly learn this painful lesson. He ran to a few different areas of the fence, cautiously inching his nose forward until ZAP! You can actually hear the voltage transferring to the animal. After a few times testing the fence, all the animals learned to mind it. We read reviews from users online that attest to the fence’s ability to keep out coyotes, stray dogs and anything else that may threaten the safety of our animals.

We feel so excited and relieved to finally have our fencing plan and infrastructure up and running. The animals are happy, too. WP_20160427_07_56_20_Pro

Warmly,

Becca

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Busy but Fun

The warmer weather has brought an overwhelming amount of projects to the farm. Now that it feels like spring, we are juggling a number of outdoor projects as well as the kitchen remodel and racing to get the top priorities completed before moving on to the rest.  The top priorities at the moment include constructing the broiler pen, getting our grazing animals on our pasture and out of the barnyard and planning the garden.  Unfortunately, the kitchen remodel will have to take a back seat for now.

Ryan will be constructing the broiler pen during our free evenings this week with the hope we can get our broilers out of the brooder and onto fresh grass very soon. This keeps them healthy, happy and they are able to supplement their diet with bugs and greens.  The broiler pen we will be building is modeled after Joel Salatin’s chicken tractor.

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Joel Salatin moving his chicken tractor

We will be modifying ours a bit and making it a little smaller.  It will be about 8’ x 8’.  Joel uses aluminum corrugated roofing on his and we are having a hard time finding it.  It looks like we’ll have to special order some, which delays our project even more.  If anyone knows where to find some, let us know! 🙂

The sheep are itching for the fresh spring plants they see growing on the other side of the barnyard fence. WP_20160417_19_25_24_ProOur pasture has 3 strand electric fencing, but that is not enough for sheep, neither is it in very good condition.  We are adding two more strands of high tensile wire fencing plus we’ll need to replace a couple of posts.  Our fingers are crossed the electric connection and pre-existing wiring will work once we flip the switch.  If not, our project will take up much more time.  In addition to the perimeter fence, we are going to be making moveable paddocks with electronet fencing.

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Electronet fencing

We can simply move this fencing around wherever we want our sheep and cows to be inside our pasture.  We plan to move the “flerd” every day to a new paddock of pasture.  Not only does this improve the current condition of the pasture by allowing it to rest between grazings, but it keeps the animals healthy as they won’t be back to a particular paddock until after the parasite life cycle is broken.   This keeps the parasite load under control.  Hair sheep are naturally parasite resistant and ours are 50% St. Croix, which is the most parasite resistant breed of sheep around, but by the time any eggs hatch and are ready to find a host, our flerd will have moved on and won’t be back for weeks.  We can even use the electronet fencing to move our flerd around the yard to mow for us.  Releasing those animals out on fresh pasture for the first time will be an event here at the farm.  I can’t wait to see it.

Our Jumbo Cornish Cross broilers continue to increase in size and unattractiveness. WP_20160418_14_56_14_ProThey are feathering out, but you can see right to their skin.  Our Red Broilers, on the other hand, look fantastic.  WP_20160418_14_53_38_ProThey are getting reddish-brown feathers that cover all their skin and appear large but still athletic, however they are not as big as the JCC.  The size difference is becoming more obvious now.  The RB have much more personality compared to the JCC.

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This RB noticed I left the door open and is stretching his neck out to investigate this gateway to a new world.

When we walk into the coop, the RB come and sit on our shoes!  They are able to fly a bit more than the JCC, which don’t get off the ground these days.  If I was picking a favorite, it would be the RB.  I can visualize them doing quite well free-ranging the whole property with our heritage birds.  The final decision will come once we see them both on pasture, compare the time it takes to get them to market weight and of course, the taste test.

Our heritage chicks are so much fun. The kids and I enjoy walking into the coop each day and just spending time with them.  They have gotten so friendly and sociable.  We’ll squat down to look at the chicks and they will fly right onto our knees, arms and shoulders!

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Turkey poult and a Dominique sitting on my leg

WP_20160418_14_55_31_Pro The Dominiques seem especially inclined to do this.   I think Elijah had 3 or 4 Dominques on him yesterday.

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A Dominique pullet, said to be the USA’s oldest chicken.  They will have beautiful black and white barred plumage.

One pullet flew onto my knee the other day and sat there while I petted her head and back like a cat.  They’ll settle in and get comfy on you, too.

We’ve released the ducks from the brooder and allow them to free-range during the day. WP_20160416_13_24_54_ProWe dug an old water tub, courtesy of the previous owners, into the ground to function as Duck Pond 1.0.  WP_20160416_13_58_33_ProThey’ve pretty much outgrown it, so we’ll get a kiddie pool at Walmart to function as Duck Pond 2.0.  WP_20160416_13_52_47_ProOnce we don’t have so many projects waiting on our to-do list (bwa ha ha), we’ll dig and line an actual pond for our ducks’ bathing and swimming pleasure.  I love the ducks.  Not only are they about the cutest thing on our farm, they are so entertaining.  Are you having a bad day?  Come to the farm.  Watch the ducks.  They’ll turn your frown upside down.

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Apparently an abandoned hula-hoop makes an irresistible impromptu nest for a flock of ducklings.

One thing I wasn’t expecting is how much the ducks will follow us around the homestead.  When the kids go jump on the trampoline, the ducks follow.  When we walk to the chicken coop, the ducks follow.  When we sit down around the fire pit, the ducks follow.  They love to be near us, but they don’t want to be held.  Sometimes I just want to grab one and give it a squeeze, but that would scare the ducks so I refrain.  The first day we let the ducks out, the cows and sheep stopped what they were doing, walked over to the fence and stared at them with ears pricked forward.  I found it interesting that they would notice a small creature they’ve never seen before and move closer to study it.  I love being around these farm animals.  They are interesting, entertaining and I keep learning new things about them.

 

Warmly,

Becca

Duck’s First Bath

We finally had a warm, sunny afternoon. The weather beckoned us all outside and once the animal chores were done, the kids began wondering what else they could do in the sunshine.  So how do kids on a farm spend a pleasant spring afternoon?  By opening up a duck spa, of course. WP_20160413_14_45_21_Pro

They filled up a low spot in the driveway with water from the hose to make a large puddle. Elijah and Hannah took turns getting ducklings from the brooder and placing them in the water.  Some customers were not very cooperative and had to be escorted back to their brooder.  However, Elijah did find this little Blue Swedish that proved to be a rather willing participant.WP_20160413_14_45_17_Pro

The little duckling sat still and quiet while they took turns sprinkling water over its back.WP_20160413_14_46_07_Pro

Once the duckling was deemed thoroughly washed, the kids found some makeshift grooming tools courtesy of the neighboring pine tree.WP_20160413_14_49_37_Pro

WP_20160413_14_50_14_ProThe Blue Swedish is now ready for its close-up.WP_20160413_14_50_50_Pro

The kids loved being able to play with this little duckling. The more they are able to interact with a certain species, the more they enjoy and appreciate owning and caring for them on our farm.  I hope with more one-on-one handling, the ducks begin to grow accustomed to people and able to socialize more with the kids.

Warmly,

Becca

Huge Growth

Week 2 with poultry is going very well.  We have only lost one bird and it was a turkey poult.  I mentioned in a previous post how the poults were the kids’ favorites, so they were heartbroken to come home one day and discover their favorite little buddy, Lightning Poult, was dead.  We are clueless as to why Lightning Poult didn’t make it.  The kids mentioned (after the fact) that he wasn’t eating and drinking as much as the other two, so we’ll go with that as the cause of death.  We plan to order more turkey poults as we’d like to ensure we have at least one female and male to keep as breeding stock, as well as extras for the table.

After about a week of brooding the new chicks in our house, we decided the barn was much more appropriate and made haste to build a duck brooder in our garage and convert part of the old chicken coop into a brooding house for the chicks and poults.  Our weather has been unseasonably cold for mid April, and after moving the chicks and poults out to the new brooding house, I woke up that night concerned we just sentenced them to a cold death as temperatures outside dipped below freezing.  Of course, we had heat lamps going in the brooder, but all the literature we received with our chick order stressed the importance of heat, especially for the poults.  We had just lost Lighting Poult, the kids would be even more sorrowful if I condemned the remaining poults to a freezing death.  That morning I walked with trepidation to the brooding house but, upon entering, I found a happy scene of chicks and poults eating, drinking and huddling together for warmth under their heat lamps.  I was so relieved and thankful they made it through the night.  We’ve learned some valuable lessons so far and we are only 2 weeks in!  Number 1: Brooding chicks, ducklings and poults in your house is cute for only about a week. 🙂 Number 2: Wait until mid April to have new chicks shipped when living in unpredictable Minnesota.WP_20160411_14_39_38_Pro

Here are the ducks in their new brooder in our garage.  They make such a mess with their water!  Aren’t they cute, though?  They have grown so big already!  They aren’t very friendly and tend to not want to be handled too much, which is a bummer for the kids.  Maybe if we only got one or two ducklings at a time the ducks would have ended up being more tame.  We will still enjoy watching them on our farm.  No feathers yet for these ducks.  WP_20160411_14_40_21_Pro

Look at these chunky broilers! WP_20160411_15_10_39_Pro Everyday when I go out to see the chicks, I am amazed at how much our broilers have grown in the hours I’ve been gone.

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The Jumbo Cornish Cross (JCC) is on the right, a Red Broiler (RB) is on the left.  You can see how much bigger the legs and feet are on the JCC.

I can see some slight differences at this point between the JCC and the RB, but not much.

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JCC is on the left, RB on right.

WP_20160411_15_13_47_ProThe brown chicks on the right are a couple of our heritage chicks, while the rest of the chicks in this picture are JCC and there is a RB, identified by the brownish wing and darker color.  These pictures really show how much larger these broilers are compared to the heritage breeds.  Look at those rear-ends!  WP_20160411_15_18_17_Pro

 

WP_20160411_15_20_17_ProThe broilers spend much more time lying around than the heritage chicks.  The exercise requirements of the JCCs in particular are pretty low.  Indeed, they have been bred to eat, lie around, and get bigger.  We’ve even seen the broilers lounging next to the feeder, belly on the ground, beak in the feed.  They can still get excited and start zipping around the brooder house, wings flapping in an attempt to get their oversized rumps off the ground.  They don’t get much air though, unlike the heritage chicks.

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Check out the Dominique pullet in the top right corner.  🙂

The broilers will spend one more week in our brooder house.  After that, they will be going out on our pasture in movable pens.

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Believe it or not, green grass is beginning to grow in the pasture!

Each day we will move their pen to a fresh spot of grass.  This will keep the birds clean and healthy, give them a new offering of plants and bugs to forage and simultaneously fertilize and aerate our pasture, improving the quality of the soil.  Many people think raising animals causes pollution of waterways and strips plants and soil.  It’s common to see a stationary chicken run or cow enclosure total dirt or mud.  The problem is how those animals are being managed.  With proper management, moving the animals everyday and allowing the land to rest in between grazing, soil is improved which in turn improves the pasture.

 

I may just start our broiler pen in my future garden area first to help prepare the soil for planting.   WP_20160412_08_15_30_Pro Putting our broilers out in fresh air, sunshine and on clean green grass everyday means the chicken we consume will be healthier.  It also means we don’t need to use the medicated feeds and other interventions needed in putrid, crowded, sunless commercial chicken farms.

I’m so excited to be able to put a chicken on my table knowing exactly how it was raised.   We’ll know it was cared for, healthy and lived a happy, sunbathed, soil-scratching and stress-free life on our little farm.  Raising chickens on daily fresh pasture, improving soil and bird health, not to mention the nutrient content of the meat itself, is something we’ve dreamed of for a long time.

Healthy food, healthy family.

Warmly,

Becca

 

Broiler Growth and Behavior

We’ve had our broilers for 5 days and we’re already noticing some differences between the broilers and the heritage birds.  I took some pictures to compare.    WP_20160405_09_07_21_Pro

This shows the Jumbo Cornish Cross (JCC) on the left and the Red Broiler (RB) on the right.  At this point, I don’t see a huge difference between the two broiler breeds.  If you remember from a previous post, the JCC is an extremely fast-growing, agriculture marvel.  They reach market weight at 8 weeks of age (RB can take 9-10 weeks), however, as with anything in nature, this remarkable growth comes at a cost.  In the  case of the JCC, it can suffer health problems and many people think the taste and texture of the meat has declined as the growth rate has increased.  I had mixed feelings when I read in a poultry catalog how you can literally “watch them grow bigger.”  Am I the only one that finds that creepy?  And while I haven’t found the time in my schedule to sit down and watch them slowly expand like a balloon, I can easily see they are bigger than the heritage chicks.  When you pick up a JCC, those little yellow fuzz balls are dense!    WP_20160405_08_54_53_Pro

Now compare the JCC to one of the Dominique chicks.  The JCC is on the left (top picture), the Dominique (said to be the USA’s oldest chicken breed) on the right.

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Top view of the Dominique (left) and JCC (right)

The Dominique is actually two days older than the JCC.  We have also noticed how the heritage breed chicks resemble wild birds in form and appearance more closely than the broilers.  I also decided to compare a JCC with another heritage chick, a Welsummer.WP_20160405_12_48_33_Pro  The Welsummer appears to be about the same height as the JCC, but I think the JCC isn’t standing up to its full height.  However, you can see how much rounder the JCC is.  WP_20160405_08_58_34_Pro

 

Here is a picture comparing a Black Jersey Giant (left), JCC (middle) and Bourbon Red turkey (right).  Interestingly enough, the Black Jersey Giant will be the largest chicken at maturity, weighing in at 10-13 pounds, but as chicks, they are smallest of all!  The JCC will never get much bigger than 6 pounds, but the turkey will grow to be 20-25 pounds.  At this point, the two appear similar in size, but the JCC is heavier.

Another interesting difference between the broilers and heritage breeds is their propensity for foraging bugs.  I have read of this but now I have seen it firsthand.  Ever since bringing our chicks home, I have delightfully thrown any box elder bug found trespassing in my home into the lair of hungry heritage chicks.  They snap those bugs up in a flash!  The kids enjoy gathering around while I narrate the event like a sportscaster.  (“A Dominique grabs the bug!  She’s off and OH!  She jumps over the feeder.  A Welsummer is closing in, AND SHE’S GOT IT!  She dodges under some chicks and WHOA!  She’s trapped between the waterer and the opposition!  Here comes a Buckeye…”)

"MINE! MINE! MINE!"
“MINE! MINE! MINE!”

As soon as I lower a bug on some tissue, it’s a flurry of fluffy down while the first chick bobs and weaves through the mob of opponents attempting to relieve it of its treasure.  This continues to go on, with the bug changing beaks several times, until finally one chick eats it.  Once in a while, two chicks will play tug-of-war with a box elder bug, which either ends with one chick winning the match, or the boxie being split into two pieces, which each lucky chick promptly gobbles down.  Ah, it warms the heart to behold. 🙂

But not so with the broilers!  I have dropped a boxie into the broiler brooder on multiple occasions.  They do show some interest (curiosity?).

"What is this strange creature?"

It seems something deep within them remembers they are supposed to care about small, crawling insects.  All they do is watch it for a few seconds, then walk away.  I have seen the broilers take a few pecks at a bug once in a while.  But they have never played keep-away from the others or consumed one.  If the bug is actively crawling towards a group of broilers, they will move away from it.  They’re all like, “Eww, a bug!  Run!”  I always end up scooping the bug out of that box and tossing it to the wolf-chicks next door to be devoured.

I am going to continue to enjoy noting the differences in behavior, size and health between our heritage breed birds and broilers.  This is all very interesting to me as we decide which breeds of poultry we want to continue to keep, raise and feed to our family.  Maybe we’ll decide the JCC truly is a fantastic accomplishment of modern agriculture and we’ll enjoy them on our farm and table.  I mean, they are just chickens… right?  Just freakishly-fast-growing, mutant chickens.  How bad can they be?  And although they will never win a beauty pageant as adults (well, if you can even call them adults at 8 weeks…) they were extremely cute chicks in our brooders these first few days!  WP_20160401_08_22_33_ProWarmly,

Becca

Chicks and Ducklings and Poults! Oh, My!

Wednesday morning on the way to work, Ryan got a call from the post office in our small town. Our chicks had arrived from the hatchery in Missouri.  He turned around and decided to take the day off to help get the chicks settled.  While at the post office, the man behind the counter told Ryan that one of his mail carriers had recognized our last name on the chick box and had remarked that we just put out a cute, new, chicken mailbox, which she got a kick out of!  That was fun to hear.  Ryan picked up our chicks, grabbed some coffee to help celebrate the occasion and returned home to a waiting and excited crowd.

 

I have to say, when I saw Ryan carrying in the box of chicks I thought, “That’s it?” We ordered 75 birds and all he brought in was one measly box.  Upon opening the box, we realized the hatchery didn’t ship our 30 broilers.  Disappointing!  The hatchery apologized for their mistake and sent our broilers out immediately.  We’ll pick them up from the post office on Friday morning.

One of our chicks was dead on arrival. Poor little thing.  They have quite a rough start in life.  As soon as they hatch they get placed into a box and spend the next two days being shipped across a few states.  By the time they reach us they are cold, hungry and thirsty.  Cackle Hatchery, where we purchased our chicks, threw a handful of extra chicks into our box to cover any losses.  We ordered 45 birds (minus the 30 broilers) and we now have 48.  Bonus!

Besides the one unfortunate chick, all the others were active, hearty and healthy-looking straight out of the box. We placed them in their brooders and they immediately began eating and drinking.  The ducklings were, and remain, especially active and entertaining.  They are also the cutest, in my opinion, and most difficult to snuggle!

We were warned turkey poults are fragile and may not do well. We have ours with our ducklings at the moment, which we later read is a no-no, and all seem to be doing very well.  The turkeys appear active and thriving to me.  I think they copy the ducklings!  They enjoy piling into a corner with the ducklings and napping. WP_20160331_16_12_03_Pro We notice the ducklings will occasionally sleep right next to the waterer with their bill resting on the rim, and before long, we could see turkeys lying down next to the ducklings, resting their beaks on the waterer, too!  The turkeys are especially cuddly and thus, quickly becoming the kids’ favorite.  The kids enjoy snuggling the poults in their laps and watching them fall asleep in their hands.  They have named each one and somehow are able to tell them apart.WP_20160331_08_28_31_Pro  When the turkeys sleep in the box, I have to pause and check for signs of breathing because they look as if they have expired!  See what I mean?WP_20160330_11_27_29_Pro

We’ve only had one small issue with a couple of chicks. It began with our Welsummer rooster.  The naughty little bully was pecking at the other chicks’ eyes.  We removed him from the chick box and placed him in with the ducklings and turkeys, as they are bigger and, in the case of the ducklings, more boisterous.  He would occasionally still peck at the turkeys and even pull them over by pulling on their eyelids.  Unacceptable!  We quickly located another small box and isolated the little deviant in the “naughty box.” WP_20160331_10_59_52_Pro.jpg He remained all alone in the naughty box for the rest of the day, until we noticed a Dominque chick (a hen) beginning to go after other chicks’ eyes.  She promptly found herself in the naughty box, as well.  WP_20160331_10_59_37_Pro.jpgWe watched the two carefully.  At first, the Welsummer rooster (the kids have named him Dr. Claw) began to peck at his new roommate.  We decided not to intervene and he soon moved on to a different activity, sleeping.  After a few more minutes, the Dominique began to peck at Dr. Claw’s eyes.  Again, we did not intervene.  We figured maybe the two needed to feel the effects of this action for themselves.  Apparently, our behavior reform program is a huge success because now the two snuggle together and coexist quite peacefully!  I have seen no more pecking from either one.  I’m not sure when we’ll allow our rehabilitated chicks to re-enter the fold, but I feel they should be kept separate for a bit longer.

It’s so fun to have baby poultry on the farm! What is cuter than ducklings and chicks?  I also love watching the kids interact with and care for the new babies.  I couldn’t even pull them away to help with outdoor animal chores this morning.  Guess who got stuck doing chores all by herself?  Yep, me!  Being outdoors and doing chores on a farm is like therapy, though.  I’m convinced we’d see much less mental and emotional issues if everyone was outside each day, breathing fresh air, working in the soil and interacting with creation.

Warmly,

Becca