Sunday, February 10, 2013

Learning from other farmers

I'm the sort of person who learns best from seeing how other people do it, so I was thankful to have the opportunity to visit our friends'  farm.  They have Jacob sheep, along with a whole menagerie of other animals.  We had some chickens we needed to cull from our flock, and our friends offered to give them a place to live out their days without the kids needing to worry they'd be eaten.  We had planned to process them so we could have some extra meat, but it didn't work out...I sort of chickened out (haha) when I was faced with the reality of killing an animal I had saved far too many times from our three legged dog, and who was easily distinguished from the other birds.

I have since decided that if I am to process chickens for meat, I will have many of the same type, so that they would not be distinguishable from one another.  Anyway, the afternoon was a nice one, once we managed to catch the chickens we were giving away, and saved our little black banty from the insane dog yet another time.  

We went out to our friend's farm and saw how much of a real live farm it really is.  They have Dutch Highland cattle, pigs, geese, ducks, many, many chickens, peafowl, guinea hens, rabbits and Jacob sheep.  Like visiting someone else's home and getting good housekeeping ideas, visiting a farm and seeing how practically it's laid out gives me very good ideas, helping me to see how I too could do some of what they do.  

We plopped the chickens into their new pen and watched the banty rooster have a little scuffle with a fellow banty rooster, then back off, and we knew it would be just fine.  Our friends showed us how they keep predators out of their pens:  it's a simple little solar powered device called Nite Guard with a red blinking light that goes on at night.  To predators like raccoon and opossoms, it looks like the eyes of another animal, and they will avoid it.  Our friends have only had an attack from a bobcat who managed to drop into the pens from the trees.  What a simple and great idea.  I think we'll implement it eventually since we lost 3 chickens this winter to raccoons.  
A hard boiled quail egg
Our friends also have their quail and rabbits in cages, suspended in a covered area so that it's easy to gather the droppings and the animals are protected from predators.  I have seen this idea before, but I am not sure I'm ready to have such vulnerable creatures quite yet.  But the quail were so adorable, and we were given quail eggs as a thank you for the chickens.  They taste just like little chicken eggs and are used often in asian cuisine.    Our friends also keep pigs for just less than a year at a time, supplementing their diet with tortillas from the local tortilla factory in the summers, and giving them lots of feed through the winter, though they can be raised on pasture in addition.  

And the kids got to hold baby lambs.  Our friends' Jacob sheep ewe had just had them the previous week, and at birth weights of 5 and 7 pounds, they were still pretty tiny.  They looked like fuzzy little holsteins!  Jacob sheep are a heritage breed of sheep, dating back to biblical times, when Jacob asked for his father in law's speckled sheep and goats as his wages.  As a result, he actually became very wealthy.   God had seen the way his father in law had swindled him several times, and so he blessed the flocks with lots and lots of speckled sheep and goats.

The Jacob sheep wool is beautiful to work's very soft, (at least the lamb's wool they gave me last year was) and you have white fiber to dye and black if you want to spin it in its natural color.  I've been enjoying using it for needle felting, but I'd like to make some yarn out of it.

It was a lovely afternoon, and I'm thankful for all we learned, and the simple ideas we can implement on our little hobby farm, hopefully making it more sustainable and productive.

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