Looking back, looking forward: Livestock

I’m particularly proud of my progress on the animal-farming front this past year – I’ve never raised any kinds of farm animals before but I just dove right in! I’m glad I did.

BEES

I bought, assembled, and set up my first beehive, Lady Grey. I was determined to raise all-natural, organic bees which meant top-bar frames only. The Fates conspired to make the going very rough at first though – not only did I not know you are supposed to feed package bees until the main nectar flow, but I got a dud queen.

Extremely poor laying pattern, plus the round caps indicate drone brood instead of workers. Useless.

I didn’t know what I was looking for so I didn’t realize she was a dud until much of the colony had died out, leaving barely enough around to raise the three frames of capped brood that my Bee Adviser friend brought over. Those frames saved my colony’s life.  I had requeened already, but she didn’t take and the new brood raised its own queen. The next time I checked the hive I found the queen for the first time… and my bought, marked queen was nowhere to be found. It was a short reign, poor thing.

The new, “wild” queen’s in the middle-right.

I made sure to insulate the hive once the cool weather set in. Lady Grey is still alive today, and I have high hopes that she will survive the winter and give us our first honey in September.

I have ordered another package of bees – 4 lbs worth this time – and it will arrive on May 4th. I’ve been busy getting their hive prepared and prettified.

Finished! Awaiting installation in warmer weather.

This time I did order foundation, though I’m still planning on doing about 50% top bar frames. While I may convert fully to top bar once the colony is fully established, my hope is that the foundation will give them an initial head start when they first arrive and need it the most. I’m using Duragilt (plastic) in the brood box and wax foundation in the honey supers so that I may cut it out in one big chunk when I do my honey processing. I’m only using foundation in the central 5 of the 10 frames of each box. That is where the bees lay all their brood, and that is where they need to get busy first. It will be interesting to see if they draw down the top frames at the same rate as they build up the foundation frames – an experiment.

Top bar frames have to be built from scratch from the top downwards. It lets the bees draw any size cell they need, and some believe the variation in cell size helps naturally prevent parasites.

Foundation is a solid sheet of honeycomb-shape-imprinted wax or plastic inserted in the wooden frame, from which the bees draw out the walls of their cells. Foundation only allows one size of cell.

My bee-advisor told me that this past September he harvested 80 pounds of honey off a colony he installed that Spring. He does use full foundation so his bees don’t have to work so hard as mine will to begin with; but even so I hope that means I could get a respectable harvest.

Natural honey is a fermented food and thus a probiotic. It is said anecdotally to help with seasonal allergies as well. I think dosing myself daily with a single slice of raw-honeyed toast will be divine.

CHICKENS

With the help of a friend, I had a chicken coop built. I raised 6 heritage breed hens to happy and healthy maturity: Penguin, Panda, Orange, Chipmunk, Bossy, and Jopari. Due to a break-in by a skunk or possum though, Nose is currently fertilizing our cherry tree.

Since they started laying in early August I’ve only had to buy eggs twice at the store, which feels really good. So does eating them – maybe it’s just because I raised them, but they taste soooo good! I even like to eat them fried, whereas before I could only eat eggs scrambled. I even sold several dozen eggs this year – and though the total comes out to a pizza or two, it feels good and I’ve made at least one really lovely new friend.

My hens are lucky I’m committed to allowing them free-range. It’s been a huge hassle for me in terms of their breaking into the garden and wreaking havoc – and just making messes everywhere in general. They dig big holes, they throw leaves over the just-swept sidewalk, they eat my tender transplants, this past summer they pecked holes in my squash, cucumbers, and melons. But on the plus side they are super healthy, they keep bugs in check, they can forage most of their own food, and their coop needs to be cleaned way less (and doesn’t stink!)

I’m about to order more chickens, too. We eat roast chicken about twice a month, and I can’t afford the free-range organic birds that I would like to be eating. I strongly believe in ethically raised and butchered meat, but haven’t been able to act towards that in my own life. Now, I think I’m ready. I will get between 15-25 birds of a heritage breed – something other than the frankenbird Cornish Crosses that break their legs under their own weight at 8 weeks of age, at any rate – and that ought to fulfill our chicken needs throughout the year.

Needless to say I’m nervous and reluctant to take this step, but I also believe that this is something I morally need to do – no more supporting cruel and unsustainable commercial chicken factories (I mean, have you seen Food, Inc? They don’t even show the worst of it!) The decision to take these animals’ mortality into my own hands is not something I’m taking lightly.

It will also mean erecting more fencing (and a good gate) between the house and the woods where they would be happily free-ranging though, because 25 chickens running around the front yard would not be as quaint and picturesque as 6 are. I’d also have to build another, smaller coop, and move the beehives out of the chicken yard. Guess I better get busy.

OTHER ANIMALS

Josh and I have put off the decision to get other species of livestock at this point.

He was excited and has committed to getting dairy goats in the Spring, and I’m eager to get started with that too. They’d clear out our underbrush and provide us with delicious raw dairy products! The timing isn’t right though, and I still feel unprepared. We’re going to see what this next year brings, have a fence built (48″ welded wire with a strand of electric inside) and then see about buying some dairy goats.

Our other option for the woodlot was swine. Pigs are fabulous animals at clearing underbrush – they root it up and destroy it, eat it, bury it, crush it, you name it! Perfect for all the summersweet out there, that spreads by shallowly networked root suckers. A couple pigs could take care of that permanently. And the woodlot’s full of tiny shallow ponds, too, so they’d just be in seventh heaven out there, rolling in the mud all the time and protected from sunburn by all the trees.

Problem is, there’s only one thing to do with a meat pig… and this year I’ve suddenly become allergic to pork. We could probably find someone to buy our pigs once they were finished, but if my goal is self-sufficiency and not commercial farming then that seems pointless. And we’d still have to build that fence, and buy a sturdy trailer (oh, and install a trailer hitch) to transport them when they’re grown.

So it’s looking like new species of livestock are off the table for 2011 (unless you count meat chickens). Who knows, maybe in 2012 we’ll get both pigs and dairy goats at once!

Speaking of pork and chicken, I’ve spent much of this past year learning new skills in the kitchen. That’s up next!

6 Responses to “Looking back, looking forward: Livestock”

  1. Heidi Says:

    Could you raise a pig and barter it for goats or alpacas (wool) or whatever?or firewood or veges or cheese…
    may not work in your favor…pigs like to eat. oh well. have to find another weed-eater.

  2. Erin Says:

    Do you have a problem with goat meat? It’s “red” too…or maybe just milk? If you need assistance with the chicken butchering let me know, it really was not hard, little stinky though;)

  3. diana Says:

    I’ve wondered about goat meat. I had a little lamb recently with no problems, but it was really a *little* bit of lamb. I’ve been dosing myself with lots of probiotics and it seems to be helping, as I can eat bacon again now. And thanks for your offer of help with the chickens! :)

  4. ohiofarmgirl Says:

    allergic to pork!?!? yikes.. maybe its just ham and bacon because of the nitrates? i have a friend who is the same way but is fine with chops and such. have you looked into Ideal’s Red Broilers? They are the free range version of the ‘creepy meats’ – we loved them. but after gettng the Cornish X’s i have to admit its a good solution for home grown chicken. and of course most of our roosters go to the pot. once you set your mind to home butchering you’ll be able to do it. really. to a person everyone i have talked to who has worked up the courage to get out there has said they would do it again. we no longer buy meat from the store and the difference is amazing.

    great work!
    ps raw goat milk will probably help your belly too. there’s not good time for goats – just go for it!

  5. diana Says:

    Oooh that is so tempting! I’m starting the year with 10 red broilers just like you said! I’m picking the chicks up from a lady on Monday. If that works well I will get 10 more from the farmer’s association around Easter. Maybe I will experiment with the “creepy meats” (you know we’re going to be using that name now, it’s catchy!) at that point. We eat lots of roast chicken so I’m really looking forward to eating some “free” happy birds.

    And the pork thing… yeah it sucks. I’m allergic to beef, too – all kinds except broth. I’ve been dosing myself with probiotics – kefir, yogurt, and live-vinegar-water – and now I can eat bacon again, HURRAH BACON!!!! So I think it might be time to try a chop again and see.

  6. Da' Says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, Dianita! You make me proud!
    Da’

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