Temporary Fencing Tips

There are some subtle things I do when building temporary fence that make a huge difference. It’s the difference between having the cows where you want them or having the cows in the neighbor’s field. It’s the difference between a fence that shorts out and a fence that registers nearly 10,000 volts.

FenceTester

Keep in mind I’m talking temporary divisions, not permanent or seasonal perimeter fencing. The kind of fence you build each day to hold the cows that one day only. We typically make paddock subdivisions with a mix of pigtail posts and rebar posts. I use pigtails on the ends and rebar in the middle. I would prefer to have all pigtails but they are more expensive than rebar and money is an object. But you have to do it right to be successful. Let’s start with a common error I see in our fencing. I’ll exaggerate each of these to make the point obvious.

InsideInsulator

Do you see what is wrong? The tension on the string will pull the string out of the insulator. We are just one stray deer away from disaster. Disaster! Any small disturbance and the wire will pull free of the insulator, the fence will hit the ground and the cows will walk out. So we try to put the wire on the far side of the post like this:

BetterInsulator

This is more like it. But even this has flaws. Too much tension on the fence (possibly caused by deer or just overtightening) can twist the insulator and allow the wire to short against the metal post.

ShortInsulator

So the real right way to manage a sharp angle is to use a pigtail. The pigtail wraps entirely around the wire, holding it securely with no chance of a short. On top of that, pigtail posts have a foot that will lend stability to the corner. And they are flexible so when that tree branch falls on the fence the corner will give, hopefully preventing the wire from breaking.

PigtailPost

Which is just fine when you are dealing with single-wire temporary fencing. But you aren’t always using single-wire temporary fencing. Which is why you should build your temporary fence in straight lines whenever possible. However, pigtail posts are sized for cow noses, not pig noses and certainly not sheep noses.

Now, I have to share a caution about the pigtail post above. I have several that now short out. Here’s the deal. See that open end on the coated wire above? Water goes in there when it rains. Water expands when it freezes. Brittle plastic coating doesn’t take abuse. Split plastic coating gives the circuit a shortcut to ground. What a pain in the rear. Check your pigtails early and often.

Finally, at the end of the fence is the reel. We hang our reels from the perimeter fence when possible. Otherwise they hang from pigtails. But there is a right and a wrong way to do this too. The twist of the pigtail can either help or hurt us. You may not understand this by looking at pictures but the lean of the reel has either solid pressure against the pigtail or it will fall off in a slight breeze, shorting out your fence, allowing your cows to go for a field trip. This is right:

ReelSuccess

This is wrong:

ReelFail

And for Pete’s sake, make sure the reel is off to the side of the post, not allowing the wire to make contact with the post!

There is more. If your fence runs along a hill, the transition from slope to flat can be problematic for hooked insulators. You need both hooks to have a firm grasp of the wire as below:

FirmGrasp

But if I turn that same insulator around, putting the wire on the other side of the post only one hook has a secure hold on the wire:

WeakGrasp

These insulators are made with two hooks, not just one. You need to leverage both hooks. Otherwise, the cows will get out. Believe me. I have some experience with this.

One final tip: always carry a fence tester with you. Ours can turn off our fence remotely…bonus. It’s not enough to know that the fence snaps when shorted. You need to know if you are at the full 10,000 volts or just 5,000. If you don’t, the cows will get out.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any other fence building tips.

 

 

The Cold December Rain

My apologies to GnR for the title.

Contrary to what you may have heard we have had rain in December in years past. During a previous el Niño some years ago my bee mentor took me to check and feed his hives on a warm January 1st. I got so stung up my fingers were swollen like bratwursts. I hardly react to bee stings anymore.

Sometimes it rains in December in Illinois. Sometimes it snows…though not very often. A White Christmas is a big deal.

I have precious little control over the weather as evidenced by the 6″ of rain we got last night, 4″ of which are in my basement as I type. But I do have control over where my livestock are when the cold rain hits.

How do you feel about cold rain? Would you like to have a picnic outside in the grass when it is 36 degrees and pouring rain out? Do you think the cows want to picnic outside under those conditions? Do you think the pasture wants cows on it during those conditions?

What about the pigs? Pigs love mud…don’t they? What about cold mud? What about cold mud they can’t escape?

MarchPasture7

I have learned to make a few adjustments to our routines to help our livestock and our pastures do better. This was hard-won information. It cost me a couple of vet bills.

In short, plan for rain in December. Heck, plan for rain in February. And ice in April. Last year it rained an inch every day in June killing all of our alfalfa and most of the clover. The year before it didn’t rain in June at all. Weather happens. We just have to plan for and deal with it.

Let me pull back a little bit. I frequently reference Mr. Salatin in my blogs. I do this first because it is relevant and interesting. I also do this because my readers, generally, know who Mr. Salatin is and have read at least some of his work. Yesterday I was burying a pet in the pasture, standing in the rain on Christmas day. As I was digging where we bury our pets I worried I might find another animal long buried and thought, “Alas, poor Yorick I knew him, Horatio…” Shakespeare is commonly read by our culture…his work is part of the foundation of western society. Similarly, Mr. Salatin’s work is foundational to the current generation of alternative agriculture. This allows me to reference his example as I explain our own position.

We pasture our animals as Mr. Salatin does. We built chicken tractors and a dolly like he uses. We buy fence he uses. We market like he markets.

We work to avoid confining livestock following his lead.

Saying that requires clarification. Mr. Salatin confines his hogs, cattle and chickens. But that confinement is conditional and worthy of reflection. The cattle are, in appropriate weather, confined to fresh sections of grass daily. In winter things change. When his herds were smaller and he first started writing he would use barns and deep bedding for his herds. Things may be a little different now that he has more cattle but for the pattern is valid for our needs.

Please notice I said “pattern” there. It’s a pattern. He didn’t publish plans we could follow. He lives in Virginia. I live in Illinois. He is a genius. I am rather ordinary. But by looking at his pattern and attempting to apply it here at home I benefit.

My cattle were in the barn on deep bedding during the heavy rains, not on our pastures. It wouldn’t do for them to freeze in the cold and rain while covered in mud and manure. They are, instead, warm and dry and eating hay.

I have stockpiled pasture to last us for months but it goes beyond those few coming months. It goes into next summer. If I graze heavily over frozen ground in January and February, piling manure densely on pasture, the pasture will look GREAT in May. If I graze heavily over muddy ground in December my pasture will wash into the creek and the sod will need most of June (if not years) to recover…mostly as a weedy mess. So the cows are in the barn for now.

CowHay.jpg

This thinking is even more applicable to hogs. Pigs love wet wallows in hot weather. Wet isn’t a problem. Cold really isn’t a problem. But wet and cold kills. Further, pasture won’t recover quickly when abused in December. Mr. Salatin moves his pigs off of pasture and into hoop houses for the winter. I don’t have that kind of space or setup in my hoop house. I have a hog floor.

DryPigs.jpg

But there is a difference. I am currently missing part of the pattern. Salatin’s pigs are dry and out of the mud but they do get to dig. There is a limit to how much digging they can do because there is, ultimately, concrete under the bedding pack. But they can dig. That is missing in my solution.

Right now my pigs have a foot or so of bedding in their covered sleeping area. Otherwise, they have a concrete pad that is open to the sky and sloped slightly downhill. Will this turn into a sheet of ice in the winter? I dunno. I have never kept so few hogs here in the winter.

But right now, in the cold of the late December rain, our pigs are warm, dry and happy with room to run. All this without being concerned about the health of my pastures.

I can do better. I know I can do better. I can fill the runs with sawdust if nothing else. Or used horse bedding. But I have them out of the mud. And that is better for pasture, pig and for pig farmer…even if only a first step.

But I will never have Polyface farm. I will never be Joel Salatin. I can quote him. I can use him as an example and I can adapt his patterns to my needs but I can’t copy him exactly. Nor should I.

Feel free to analyze, criticize and improve on what I do. That is, I think, why any of us write and share. Not to brag, to find better solutions. I can’t solve rainstorms in December but we can put our heads together to establish better patterns…patterns that better meet the needs of our land, labor and livestock.

Laundry Time

It’s that time of year again. 90 degrees and 90% humidity at 7 in the morning. Good times. We are generating a lot of laundry. I sweat through all of my clothes before breakfast. Then I shower. Then I put on my office clothes. I wear long sleeves every day because I work in an air conditioned office but am acclimated to life outdoors. But long sleeves on hot days waiting for the car’s A/C to kick in…well, not the best idea. At the end of the day I put on a fresh set of work clothes which I sweat through while moving the cattle. I later set those aside because I will need to wear them again (however wet and/or smelly they are) when I close up the chickens at dusk. Then I shower again.

Every day I generate a lot of laundry. A towel or two, two pairs of jeans, 3 or 4 pairs of socks…you get the idea.

Julie also generates a lot of laundry.

So do the kids.

Let’s paint the picture more fully though. And I can do this without droning on about smelly work clothes.

The grass is waist-high right now and we have been getting heavy rainfall. We need hip waders to get through the grass without taking a bath. Even on the days there is no rain the condensation on each blade of grass is enough to fill your rubber boots with water (Thank God my boots have holes in them to let the water out!). But the tall grass brings welcome relief from the swarms of hungry deerflies, desperate for a level of intimacy I don’t care to reciprocate. There is enough breeze on the ridges to keep them at bay but the valleys are hard to tolerate. I feel for the cattle. There are patches of horn flies on the backs of most animals, deerflies buzzing around and biting and huge horseflies here and there. Man do horseflies hurt when they bite!

Why are there so many flies? Well, there are just lots of insects. More than I remember from previous years. More of all kinds. More dung beetles, more praying mantis, more spiders, more wasps, more solitary bees, more moths. There are more barn swallow nests than I remember seeing in previous years. More frogs and toads.

But there are also more weeds.

Thistle

I started talking about my clothing but now it’s time for the real dirty laundry. I have a pasture full of flies and weeds. And I don’t like it.

But I’m going with it and here’s the theory. I believe, perhaps naively, that what I am seeing right now is a return to soil health. Over time, as soil health builds, we will see a continued increase in plant and insect diversity but a decrease in the number of flies and thistles. For decades the cattle were allowed to make trails through my pastures. Those trails are beginning to heal now but the soil is massively compacted. The Earth doesn’t want to be naked. Right now it’s being covered by anything that will grow in that compacted and eroded soil. But over time things will calm down and succession will push forward.

I see my pastures as being in their awkward teen years, covered in pimples and voice cracking. Hormones are out of balance, diet is poor, sleep is irregular. It hasn’t figured out how desperately it needs to shower and wear deodorant. But it will. Or I will. The pasture succeeds at pointing out my most glaring management mistakes but I see things moving forward. We have seen big increases in palatable grasses and clover density in some places. Other places, I think, just need a little more practice. A little more time.

Time is the key factor.

And the post is really about time, not about laundry. It’s the time of the year when we generate a lot of laundry. We generate a lot of grass. We generate a lot of insects. But time will soon change. The leaves will fall. Then the snow will fall and I’ll shiver under a blanket remembering those glorious days of 90 degree mornings. Right now I look forward to blankets and books. But the shine will wear off of that in January and I’ll start dreaming about hot weather and hay bales.

Sunset Thoughts

So Tuesday evening…

Sunset

What a day Tuesday was. What a way to end the day. Allergies hit me Monday night. Wicked sore throat all day Tuesday. Busy at work. Stuff to do at home. No end.

No end. But we can pause.

Look at that sunset. Since we’re standing here, let’s just keep standing here. What’s it going to hurt?

We have hay down. Not much but some. There is rain in the forecast for the weekend and temperatures are a little on the cool side so we didn’t go bananas cutting hay. Just a few acres. Do you know what a relief it is to have hay down? And to just have a hundred or so bales worth of hay down? Knowing my 1.5 scale human 14 year old will be home from a mission trip on Thursday to help put it up? That’s awesome.

Flora left the farm today. Flora was one of our first cows. A Jersey. A beautiful easy keeper with a great attitude and very forgiving of my ignorance.

 

ZenCows

She always gave us bull calves. Small handles though…like thimbles. Flora must have eaten something this winter…wire or twine or…? We did what we could but she never really came around. Stood hunched with her mouth open drooling all the time. Oh my gosh I don’t want to cry. We could have allowed her to suffer until she died but that’s not fair to her. So we shipped her. And that’s not fair either. But I couldn’t fix her. It’s not fair. But that’s how it is.

Dad asked what I would do with him when he was no longer productive. Cows do not equal people. I value people beyond their productive years. I do not operate a retirement community for cattle. I understood dad’s question though. This was a difficult issue for all of us. Maybe our Old Yeller moment.

Really don’t want to cry.

Flora is not the only cow we will ship this year. There are at least five others. One steer who will be delicious. One poor-doing heifer we will put in our own freezer. Two 3 year old heifers who have never bred and never will. And Mrs. White.

Mrs. White.

MrsWhite

Mrs. White is as big as an elephant. And, with the vet’s help, she gave us a calf that is almost as big as an elephant. Her size (must be 6′ at the hip!) and her calf disqualify her from the team. Plus her calf is just as watchful as she is…eyes wide in shock that we would dare to exist in her pastures.

I knew cull rates would be high early on but…wow. Just wow.

You have these ideals in mind when you begin farming. This vision of how it will someday be. It’s a long way to someday. A long, difficult path full of uncertainty. Every choice seems to require compromise. Keeping my dairy cows on pasture in the winter is good for my pride. Keeping them inside in the winter is good for my dairy cows. Sigh. So now what does that make me? Am I a pastured, humane livestock farmer or am I just conventional plus?

I think I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve got. And what I’ve got is, apparently not well adapted to my forage, climate and ability.

So now what? I have 5 animals to sell. Do I replace them with 2x the heifers? Do I just replace them with cows? Is there something else I could do with that money to earn a better return?

Heifers or cows? I see the advantages of each. With heifers I get more rolls of the dice trying to find appropriate genetics. With cows I get proven breeders.

Dunno. I really don’t know. So let’s table that for the moment.

Dung Beetles. We have found a few dung beetles here and there over the last few years but this year there seems to have been an explosion of them. Small green beetles the size of a dime, black beetles the size of a nickel or even huge half-dollar sized ones that dig huge mounds of dirt next to cow pies. Amazing. What has caused it? Is it simply that we don’t worm our cattle? Maybe. Is it that we subdivide our farm and encourage our cattle to spread their manure over the whole thing rather than concentrate it in favorite loafing areas? Sure.

But let’s talk about that subdivision thing. All spring we have split 30 acres into 10 pastures and rotated the cattle daily. Early on I was freaked out that the grass wouldn’t recover.

Pasture8

In some cases it wouldn’t have. We had some hard rain in April that forced me back to the barn to save the pastures. That gave us a few days of extra recovery time. In May it dried up and the grass simply stopped growing so we made a 15-day pass by adding a few additional subdivisions. But we have circled the farm four times in 61 days. Not bad. Now we slow it down.

Last summer I had some correspondence with Mark Bader. My cows weren’t shedding out well. He suggested this was not a mineral deficiency but, instead, an energy deficiency. He said I should move them faster around the farm and allow them to be less selective. That’s what I’ve done. Our star players are all slick. The rest…well, I listed them already above. They need to go.

So we are cutting those ten pastures into 20 pastures. More than that over time as the grass slows growing. The idea is to allow sufficient recovery between grazings so we are moving plant succession forward instead of setting up for a big weed crop. Now, I buy into that theory pretty well but not entirely. Not entirely. I have a hill that is covered in goldenrod every summer. I can’t seem to beat it. Maybe I need more cattle but this year I’m going to clip that pasture behind the cattle then spread compost and lime on the hill. I have to admit, though, that there is an incredible clover crop out there in places that have only grown moss before. Let’s hear it for hoof prints! But the goldenrod and I have a date with destiny.

Moonrise

It’s getting dark. Full moon is coming up to the east. I really ought to continue my chores. I first make sure Mable and her calf have water, shut off the water to the cows in pasture and am joined by Julie as I gather the last of the day’s eggs and close up the chickens. She, too was taking pictures of the sunset and the moonrise. We are humorously frustrated that our phones can’t take better pictures.

That’s about as much of a summary the farm as I can offer. Every day is pretty much the same. Right now we are picking at least a gallon of strawberries every day. Soon that will switch to black raspberries and dewberries. More sweat and thorns but basically the same. I’ll still be weighing cows vs. heifers when the raspberries come on. The same moon will be coming up. The same sun will be going down. In spite of some serious setbacks it’s a good life, really. I know I fuss about it quite a bit but this is a great way to raise a family. A fun place to be.

Let it Grow!

MrsWhite

I see Mrs. White in the morning light
Not a cow pie to be seen
A kingdom of grass and forbs
And Julie is the Queen!

Let it grow! Let it grow!
Can’t hold the cows back anymore!

I divided our farm into 10 temporary paddocks late in March and the cows graze 3 acres of fresh grass every day. The idea is to give them the very best of the very best of the pasture without putting pressure on the grass. Right now I want grass growth, not animal density. The more grass there is the more grass there will be because, if you watch, a 6″ blade of grass will double in size faster than a 1″ blade of grass. Bigger solar collector? Different maturity? Both? Dunno. Never finished reading Voisin. But it happens.

So we move the cows quickly to keep them from munching the grass down to the dirt. 9 days later the grass is ready to rock again.

MorningGrass

I hear your questions. “When do we move them?” “How do we know they are getting enough?” “Honey, where is my super suit?” I lack certainty concerning all three. Frozone built a case for his super suit behind the murphy bed. But the suit isn’t there. Did his wife put it somewhere else? Did Frozone simply forget to put it away? I have no idea. It’s one of the great unanswerable questions of life. The viewer is only left to assume he found it somewhere in the house and that his dinner will be served cold.

We move the cattle later in the day when sugar content in the grass is high. Usually the cows are so fat and full it’s hard to convince them to move to a new buffet. We open the fence. We call. We circle behind them and zig zag like a border collie to get them moving and hope for the best. I don’t worry about the cattle eating enough. They obviously eat enough. I worry about them leaving enough behind. I just want the cows to graze a little off of each plant, distribute manure and move on quickly.

But the time will come when I start to worry about them eating enough…eating enough of high-quality. I monitor grass regrowth during each rotation. When the starting point is ready to graze again the cows go back to the starting point. Heck with the rest of the farm. It will grow rank and dense and overly mature and will still be standing there waiting when we enter the late-summer drought. That reserve forage will buy us recovery time. The only thing is we have to reserve a different part of the farm each year. So we start in a different pasture each spring.

But there is even more involved than that oversimplified view. Right now the cows get lots of grass…cause there is lots of growth. Soon we’ll put on the brakes. Instead of covering the whole farm in 10 days we’ll cover the farm in 45 days. Or 90 days. Seasons change. In the early part of April I was worried that I had the cows out too soon and grass wasn’t growing. Now I have so much stinking grass I’m worried that I’ll never get through it all. But it won’t be long and the rain will stop. Then I’ll flip back the other way. We’ll slow the cows down. We will manage differently.

Kind of exciting. Well, I think it’s exciting anyway.

Did you know I have children? If you missed any of today’s pop culture references ask someone who has children.

Strolling Through the Pasture March 2015

Remember strolling through the pasture? I used to do this quite a bit. What has happened to my life? Sigh.

I still walk the pastures. I always have my phone with me. I just don’t seem to stop and look around anymore. Julie took most of today’s pictures. This isn’t a farm walk. It’s just a snapshot of the farm (pun!) in a few places. The cows are way up north of the barn and hog building. Nothing has grazed there since September and that was brief as we were trying to get to the clover field asap.

Let’s start in the trees.

Pasture6

Not much going on here in terms of forage. Maybe this is a good time to talk about goals, intentions, reality and consequences.

The goal is to allow the cows to quickly skim across the landscape, allowing them to eat a little of the new, a lot of the old and to make the most of the remaining hay by converting it into magical brown messy stuff. That’s the goal.

Pasture2

Our intention is to minimize the amount of damage cow hooves make to the muddy landscape while grazing…most of the time. Sometimes a little creative destruction is appropriate. But it has to be intentional. Hooves can cut the soil and allow tiny pools of water to form and increase opportunity for seed germination. But they can also cause soil compaction.

Pasture8

The reality is we aren’t very good at this stuff. We still have the cows bunched up tightly because the grass is not growing fast and we don’t want to decapitate baby grass. So we are spreading out the magical brown messy stuff, allowing the cows access to fresh green, old green and hay but sometimes they make a mess. And that’s my fault. Normally it’s just around the water supply but sometimes it’s in places that just don’t drain well.

Pasture1

I guess it doesn’t look too bad. The soil is covered. The cows have been asked to move. But they will return in a few weeks. In fact, I may try to rotate across the entire farm every 10 days this spring. Yeah. I want to put a lot of energy into the cattle so they shed out quickly. We’ll see how it goes. I have 16 animals grazing nearly 45 acres so they should get the cream of the cream. That’s part of why the hay is out there…to help balance out their digestion. But I want to talk about what cream is and what cream isn’t.

Pasture5

This is not cream. This is grass in its infancy. I have to protect this grass right now. Maybe for another two weeks. So the cows are still bunched up and moving slowly over tall fescue stockpile. Acres and acres of it. With access to hay.

Pasture3

While the rest of the farm just gets to sit and rest. I want to point out the brush in the picture below. All those thorny stems are hedge trees. Hundreds of them. Every one 1″ in diameter and loaded with sharp thorns. That’s what happens when you cut hedge trees without killing the stump. Ugh. Pick your poison. You can either apply a bit of brush killer with a paintbrush or you can apply the loppers every few months for the next few years.

Pasture7

The pastures to the east are recovering after heavy grazing most of the winter…

IMG_2310

..with the exception of the broilers. They move daily, dropping a tremendous amount of manure along the way. Otherwise, we are resting this area. Need to put some clover seed out too.

IMG_2315

So now we are at the part about consequences. What are the consequences of messing up today?

The consequences are pretty serious. If I graze the young grass too soon I’ll lose production all summer. If I compact the soil the pasture will suffer for years. If…if…if…

But if I don’t graze off and smash down some of that dead, oxidizing grass I’ll hurt grass production for the year. And I’ll have to feed more hay. And put down more bedding. And haul bedding later.

So the cows are on pasture. Again. Thank God. And the chickens are following close behind. The old chickens. The ones I should have slaughtered last fall but didn’t. After taking their third winter off they are laying heavily again.

Mess up or not, April will be here soon. Let’s take a look at April 30 of 2014.

CemeteryHill

Look at all that fescue! It won’t be long.

Hopeful. Cautiously Hopeful.

It snowed. Then it snowed again. Then, to add insult to injury, it snowed again…on March first.

Sigh.

There are some years Julie and I plant peas and radishes outside in the last week of February. This is not one of those years. This was a cold, snowy, cold, dreary cold winter. Did I mention it was cold? Oh, it was cold all right.

But the forecast this week calls for 50’s and 60’s in the day and mid-30’s at night.

You know what that means? Well…you know what that may mean? Well…you know what we hope that means?

We hope that means we can move the broilers out of the brooder and onto pasture. And they need to go. They really, really need to go.

I plan to run the chicken tractors on a slightly sloping hill north of the hog building. That should help drainage (I killed an area of my alfalfa field where chicken tractors were parked during a heavy rainstorm) and will make moving the chicken tractors easier each time.

BarnTime travel with me 5 days into the future.

I’m back. You may not have known but I shelved this post for a few days. I was hopeful but cautious. I’m cautious even about crossing my fingers publicly. Let me sum up what you missed.

It warmed up.

Ta da! 75 degrees yesterday! Moving fence for cows I was stepping about half of the posts into swamp, half of the posts into ice. Weird.

I didn’t put the chicken tractors on the slightly sloping hill north of the hog building. I put the chicken tractors where I ran them last spring. That’s not ideal but it’s not awful either. It just is what it is.

Why didn’t I put the chicken tractors up north?

HogLot1

Because I still haven’t grazed and cleaned that field. It is full of saplings and dilapidated fencing and tree limbs and thorns, brambles and bric-a-brac. I need the cows to bulldoze, clean and fertilize it before I even attempt to drag a big metal box full of chickens across it.

So that’s the haps. Many of the broilers are in tractors on the field. Not all of the chickens. The forecast is calling for warm weather but it is also calling for an inch of rain tomorrow. An inch of rain can kill little birdies. I’ll have to come up with some tarps. It’s always something.

But I remain hopeful. Cautiously…

Melting Away

Weeks of cold and snow. Snow on March first. That may not seem like a big deal to readers further north but many years we have our first rows of peas and radishes in the garden at the end of February. Snow. Snow. Snow. I’m so tired of snow. Heck, the cows are tired of snow…tired of being locked in the barn lot. But now it is finally melting.

Snowmelt1

Which means mud. Mud, mud, mud. I’m so tired of mud.

Snowmelt3

Guess there’s no pleasing some people.

February’s average temperature was somewhere around negative infinity. This week the average high temperature is 55. That’s quite a change. So much of a change I doubt we’ll have a maple run this year. But it really saves my bacon because the chicks are ready to exit the brooder. A few more days of warmth and melting and runoff and we’ll get things going outside, a little at a time.

With tails and heels in the air the cows ran out to pasture today. Of course, two of them found a low place in the temporary fence and invited themselves to cross it. And to make things worse I put the heifers we weaned at Christmas back into the herd so there was a little pushing and shoving and other family reunion stuff. But then they put their heads down in fresh grass and went to work.

CowsBackOut

Not all of the pasture is snow-free. The north-facing slopes are still covered.

Snowmelt2

I’m hoping to keep the cows up high where drainage is good both for cow health and for pasture health. I don’t want to let them churn up a mud bog. I noticed a line in the snow where the cows grazed a month ago when they were last here. That line is where the fence stood, where the cows had trampled up to. The cows were reluctant to cross that line. Calves always lead the way.

DangerCalf

Just making a few notes about the transition here. Should be nearly 60 degrees today. Hopefully that will take care of the remaining snow.

Brooder Blues

So after I bragged to the internet about how great I am at brooding chicks I have to talk about my failures too.

These are management issues. Totally management issues.

The blame falls on me. That’s it. I failed to follow through on a conversation Julie and I had. Julie moved a heat lamp to the third tank in preparation for moving birds. We just wanted to warm things up a little bit. We made a bad decision.

The second failure was a lamp burned out and we didn’t have a spare. I thought we could make it on two lamps.

The third failure was using a lamp that didn’t produce as much heat as expected. So the chicks in brooder #2 weren’t as warm as they should have been. And they all crowded up under one lamp.

The fourth failure is a lack of fresh bedding in the brooder. The remaining birds aren’t as clean as I would like them to be.

I should have bought extra lamps. I should have made sure the temperature under each lamp was consistent. I should have spread the birds out among the brooders immediately. I also rolled the dice on weather, trying to brood chicks when it’s negative infinity outside.

But here’s the end result. For four hours brooder #2 was a little cool. Over the following 48 hours 32 chicks died.

One little mistake.

I’ll recover from the loss of chicks. It hurts. It hurts badly. But I can never take back words said in anger and frustration.

My worst mistake in this was blaming others.

That too is a management issue.

Well, They Were Full…

The cows were checked at 3:00 in the afternoon. Everybody was fat, full, napping and chewing cud  in the sunshine so she decided they didn’t need another section of pasture for the day.

The next morning? Empty bellies all around.

What happened?

She looked at the wrong data.

You know to look at the cow’s left side, between the rib and the pelvis to see if there is an indentation or if the rumen is full, right? Cool. That’s what she did. The cows were full. But she didn’t look at the pasture.

When the cows got up in the middle of the night for a snack there was nothing left to eat. The cows were full at 3:00, seventeen hours later they were not.

Being people who want full cows, we took several lessons out of this experience. We have to look at the cow. That’s good. But we also have to judge the pasture. That is particularly difficult as everything looks brown to us and the cows seem to graze fairly selectively. But we have all kinds of pasture remaining ungrazed. All kinds…like 15 acres. And grass will start growing in a month so there is no need to be stingy with it.

And we have all kinds of hay remaining. As extra insurance, I’m going to just put out 20 or so small squares right in the paddocks so Julie just has to untie and spread them a little. If we offer too much hay and the cows use some for bedding the chickens will scratch it out later.

The cows didn’t get enough to eat overnight. One night of that treatment is not a huge deal. But it shouldn’t happen again tonight. Tonight they will get an extra move.