Its always pretty busy on a farm. In the fall there is the rush to prepare for winter. For us it means butchering the last of the broiler chickens, fattening up the pastured pigs, building or repairing any animal shelters, finishing up canning, and trying to get the most out of what remains of the pasture.
This week we were given a round roll hay feeder. Nothing fancy but it still has a few years left in it. We had a roll or two of hay that were laying on their sides got rained on so we decided to feed it to the cows, goats, and sheep before it ruined. This will allow our field to grow up a bit before we have a killing frost so the cows will be able to have more green stuff further into the winter.
Our very pregnant Dexter cow, Bessie was very happy to have all the hay she could eat. She stuck her chin out a bit and had the most content look on her face that we had to smile. Hopefully she will give us a Dexter heifer to add to the herd the first week of January. We are really excited because it will be the first Dexter calf born on the farm. Her daughter is also expecting a calf in March.
We wanted to dehorn our Dexter bull by putting bands on his horns (the same bands that one uses to bloodlessly castrate) but we had waited too long and the bands just popped off so we have decided to just put brass horn knobs on him and just let him keep his horns. He is a big Mamma's boy anyway. Next breeding season we will let him breed one of the cows. Neither calf that will be born this year is his. He will be a year old this January.
Jeb the Great Pyrenees has been enjoying the cooler weather.
Our chicken plucker is broken, so we have been very slow about butchering off the broiler chickens. We have about 20 left to do and hope to get that done next week. These birds are going to be roasting birds because they have had a couple extra weeks to grow off. We usually butcher them at 8 weeks old and these are 10 weeks old. Our broilers are raised in a chicken tractor we move daily and fed 20% protein food that is free of any antibiotics or hormones. It has been years since we bought chicken from the grocery store.
I think chickens are a lot more hassle to raise for meat than pigs or cattle because they are more labor intensive to process because of the scalding and plucking. It is worth it though even though the profit you get is lower because of the added labor when compared to raising a pig or cow. Part of the reason it can take us so long is that we have been processing our birds into cuts of thighs, legs, wings, breasts, etc. instead of just vacuum sealing and freezing them whole. I canned 6 chickens last time we butchered. I have a previous blog post up about that experience for those interested. We are highly considering turning an old but clean concrete mixer into a tub style chicken plucker to help us get the job done a bit quicker.
If the weather ever gets cold enough, it will be hog killin' time on the farm. I think I am going to have to hang a pig or two on my porch this year since I don't have a smokehouse yet. We will see how it goes. This year I think Matt and I will be butchering pigs by ourselves for the most part. We learned a lot last year about the process and have a better set up for gutting and hanging. We are also butchering some of them before they reach 350 and 400 lbs. If we have one or two get that big this year, we might have to enlist some help. Our pigs have been growing at a remarkable rate here lately. We have been feeding them a diet of corn, milk, sweet feed, and apples.
About 6 months ago there was a tree crew chipping branches near the road we live on. We asked them to dump the wood chips at our place so we got a whole box truck full of mulch. If you ever see a tree crew working near your home you can oftentimes give them your address and phone number and they will dump you a load. You have to let it compost down for awhile before spreading it on anything that is not acid loving. We usually get a load dumped each year. If we had to buy that much mulch and have it delivered it would be about $400 in our area. This week we started mulching our garden. We are going to spread all the mulch and a layer of chicken manure and straw so that the garden will be in good shape for spring planting.
We have been free ranging our geese and ducks but will be putting them up in movable bottomless pens for the winter. Hawks and other critters become more desperate for food the further we get into the winter, so we put them up. The “chicken tractors” they are in are a good compromise between protection and free ranging. I have got to figure out how to deal with my geese come spring. They can be rough on a garden.
This year we have the added responsibilities of finishing up our house. We should have the insulation installed soon. We are doing all the wall insulation ourselves, but we are having a firm come and blow foam insulation into our roof. The house is small and will be very energy efficient with foam in the ceiling.
Yep, there is always a lot to do to prepare for winter on the farm. After the house is done we will be able to concentrate more on the vegetable farming. The spring will also bring other projects such as building a pole shed for the cows to loaf under and so we can have a place to keep the hay dry. This year we have had to cover our rolls with plastic, and it keeps blowing off. A few rolls were placed on their sides so they got wetter than I would have liked. We will have to feed those first. Next year will be a lot easier as far as dealing with hay goes. I wish we could find square bales at a reasonable cost. The rolls of hay are hard to deal with without a tractor but much, much, cheaper than buying bales. I will end with some pictures of the farm from this fall and last winter.