Meet Bouncer

He hasn't even been with us for 48 hours and he's already made quite an impression. I've started calling him The Perfect Dog. I hope I don't jinx the whole thing.

Up to this point, he's everything we've hoped for. He's quiet, docile, a quick learner, independent, and aloof. That's not to say he doesn't enjoy attention, he most certainly does, but he doesn't seem to need it like most pet breeds do.

He also couldn't care less about the chickens, which is great! They'll run around all around him and he never gives them a second look. I've heard of Labrador owners or Golden Retriever owners whose dogs can't stay away from their chickens -- they constantly harass and, sometimes, kill them. Seeing how Labs and Retrievers are bird dogs, it's not surprising to me that training them to stay away from poultry can be challenging. That's one of the reasons I was so sold on a Pyrenees (Bouncer is 1/2 Pyrenees and 1/2 Anatolian Shepherd; both of those breeds are Livestock Guardian Dogs); I knew they were generally aloof and not interested in killing small animals, but they are supposedly very protective of their owner's property, especially at night when all the critters come out. I've heard that at night they quietly roam around their owner's property, keeping an eye out.

Right now we keep Bouncer in our little fenced yard at bed time, but after a few nights I'm going to allow him to roam freely after hours. I just want to make sure he's completely "imprinted" with our property. I don't think LGDs have a tendency to run away, but I want to give him a little more time to adjust.

When I picked him up from his previous owner yesterday, he said, "He's not leash broken. He's going to fight you on a leash." And boy did that prove true yesterday. I'd try and lead him on a leash and he'd dig his little doggy heels into the ground -- he didn't want to budge! Today, however, he seemed to understand that I wasn't going to let him have his way, and he passively let me walk him around our entire property while on a leash.

So here are some photos:

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Woof Woof

Yep, we got a dog this morning. He's a Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd mix (and he favors his Pyrenees father), so he's 100 percent Livestock Guardian Dog.

At six months old, he's still a puppy, but he's flippin' HUGE. I'll post photos later.

So far he's been acting like a Livestock Guardian Dog. He's very calm, aloof, and, hopefully, very docile. I think he's going to be good at watching our place for predators at night.

Of course, the kids love him. We call him Bouncer.

In other news, we ordered 12 meat birds that'll be hatched in roughly three weeks. This time we're going to double secure them inside a chicken tractor (cage) and a fenced yard. Not only that, we'll have Bouncer watching out for them at night.

Predators!

Our meat birds were nice and fat, ready to slaughter, and something (probably coyotes) broke into our chicken tractor last night and killed them all. There were feathers everywhere this morning and all of the chickens were either missing or dead.

That. Stinks.

That's life on the farm, I guess. We learned a valuable lesson and we're not going to be deterred! Who knows what we have to do now? Maybe a Livestock Guardian Dog? Neither one of us are into pets, so if we get a dog we certainly want it to have one purpose: guard our animals.

All of our other chickens are fine. We've still got our laying hens, bantams, ducks, and our roosters.

Scenes From Last Weekend ... And Other Stuff

So about a week ago we lost our drake (our boy duck). When we went to dinner he was out in the pasture, and when we got back about an hour later, he was gone. I should have cooped him, but oh well.

With a missing drake we were down to just one lonely duck hen. Today I finally rectified that and acquired a new drake from an acquaintance of ours. He (the drake) has already gotten to know the hen, if you know what I mean. We clipped both of their wings and we're going to keep them cooped up in our little fenced off yard until they produce some babies. Supposedly, those duck hens are awesome about going broody and we can expect at least a dozen or more duck babies here in a few weeks. We'll see. Our long-term plan for our ducks is to harvest their meat and eat their eggs.

Speaking of harvesting meat, the big slaughter date for our meat birds is this Saturday. Come hell or high water we're going to harvest 17 birds this Saturday and eat a yummy fried chicken meal that evening.

Here are some scenes from the farm this past weekend ...

When I got home from work Friday, this was the scene in the garden:
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Our new bantam (miniature) chickens. They're wyandottes, and they're about half the size of a standard chicken. Our plan is to let them live in the garden, once the plants get to a decent size, so they can eat bugs around the clock.
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Two of our laying hens, doing their job:
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Sic 'em

This team, this program, is good. These Bears are a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a legitimate threat to make it to the Final Four.


That's from The Houston Chronicle. Read it all here.

My Firstborn

I wrote a post on Thinklings about him. Click here.

Beyond Organic

We're slowly learning a lot about food, animals, and homesteading in general. Case in point, laying hens.

We're just at the point now where we have enough hens to provide all the eggs our family eats, and we eat a lot of eggs! Our egg yolks are typically nice and dark orange, a sharp contrast to grocery store eggs and even "farm fresh" eggs where the hens might be cooped up all day and have a diet consisting mostly of feed, rather than grass and bugs. We know because, well, we've bought grocery store eggs all of our lives and we've been buying "farm fresh" eggs, where the chickens eat primarily feed, for about two years now -- there's a big difference! Daniel broke one of our eggs the other day and Brandi said when she was cleaning it up it was like cleaning up orange paint, a very good thing. Thus, the key to the best farm eggs is birds that can free-range.

We have a pretty good free-ranging schedule for our birds. Yes, I say "schedule" because that's what it is. We figured out early on that if we let the whole flock of 10 to 13 birds out at the same time, they can wreak havoc on our neighbor's porch. :-) So we devised a schedule where only 3 or 4 birds are ranging at a time, and when the flock is separated like that the free-ranging birds don't have a tendency to wander off from our property. The birds that are cooped for that period of time are actually not in their coop, but rather in a roughly 500 square-foot fenced-off yard adjacent to our house. So even the "cooped" birds are able to breath fresh air and scratch around and look for bugs. (We do have a true coop that we utilize; it's where the chickens sleep at night.)

Brandi made a good point yesterday and said, "We could buy organic feed and keep our chickens cooped all day, and that would be considered organic." Indeed, it would be organic, but it wouldn't be the best. Right now I'd estimate that our chickens get about 15 percent of their diet from feed (non-organic) and about 85 percent from grass and bugs (beyond organic). During the summer time, when bugs are plentiful, I'm expecting them to only get about 5 to 10 percent of their calories from feed.

So the moral of the story is, if you can have free-ranging birds, go for it! It doesn't get any better than that.

Winter Heating Expense

I figured out our home heating expense for the heart of winter: November, December, January, and February.

We primarily heated our 2,000 square foot home using a wood-burning stove fireplace insert, fueled by wood of course. Since I work for a company that uses a lot of wood, I was able to get all of our kindling for free -- and over the course of a winter, that's a lot of wood! We used our central gas-powered heater sparingly; in other words, we hardly ever turned the thing on. We primarily used the central heat when we were going to have company over and we wanted to warm the house up without waiting for the wood heat to kick in. Out here in the boonies we buy gas (propane) for our home by the gallon and store it in a 250 gallon tank adjacent to the house. Based on the gauge on the tank, I'd estimate that we used 12 gallons of propane throughout the winter. (Of course, some of that propane was used for cooking, but cooking uses hardly any gas when compared to heating a home.) We also have small liquid-filled radiator heaters for two bedrooms. I'm not sure how much those heaters cost to run, but I've heard they're about 5 cents an hour. With that in mind I'm going to guess that we spent an average of $30 per month using those heaters.

So, here are the numbers:

- Twelve gallons of propane at $2.39 per gallon equals $28.68
- One cord of oak wood for the stove insert, $130
- Four months of space-heating at $30 per month equals $120

The grand total is $278.68 for four months, only $69.67 per month. Seventy bucks a month to heat a home -- even in central Texas! -- isn't a bad deal at all. In fact, I still have about 1/4 of a cord of wood!

That sort of savings wouldn't have been possible without the wood-burning stove insert. I love that thing.

Check Out Daniel's Blog

http://thinklings.org/members/daniel

Goat Burgers

Yep. Those are goat burgers. We bought a pound of ground goat at the World Hunger Relief Farm last week and we cooked it up tonight. Nathan said, "It tastes like regular hamburger. I almost forgot it was goat." Actually, the flavor is slightly different, but it's still great! We're officially sold on getting a goat now and we're actively shopping for one.

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Three Sunday Photos

Brandi and Abigail, pulling up roots in our garden:
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Five hens pulling up roots in our garden:
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As far as the photo above, the way it works is the chicken tractor (cage) stays over one patch of the garden for 24 hours and then it's rotated. During those 24 hours the five hens do a bang up job of pulling up roots and fertilizing the ground. Those five hens also lay about three or four eggs a day inside that tractor -- very cool. They're worth their weight in gold.

Some of our Cornish Cross meat birds out free-ranging:
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35

We now have 35 birds living on our farm. We bought a couple of bantam (miniature) chickens from a guy off of Craig's List. We'd been wanting some bantam chickens because their hens are known for going broody, and, thanks to their diminutive stature, they apparently do well as full-time garden residents (bug eaters) once the plants have grown to a decent size. I didn't get home while there was still light to take a photo of our new bantams, but I'll try and do that tomorrow.

Photos From The Past Few Days

From our Goat Tour at the World Hunger Relief Farm on Thursday:
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Our kids rode on the riding mower today (the blade wasn't engaged, of course):
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Our neighbor came over today to plow our garden (again) with his tractor:
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The garden will be ready for plants in a couple of weeks:
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Work Day

Now that the weather is just about perfect, it's a great day for a work day outside. We've already put in a couple of hours so far (it's noon right now). I've got to mow the entire lawn area (about .75 acres that I do on a riding mower; the rest of the land I'll get my neighbor to shred with his tractor at some point), clean out part of the barn, stack some wood, and do a few other odd jobs. Brandi plans on working in the garden, getting it ready for plants.

Here's a photo of the kiddos gathering hay this morning:

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Cluck

We acquired five more laying hens yesterday, so our total bird count is now up to 33. Out of those 33, 13 of them are layers. That many hens ought to give us more than enough eggs for our family, and we'll probably have a surplus that we can sell. We'll see.

It was kind of cool getting home with the five new birds yesterday. It was after dark and the kids came running out, all excited to see their new farm birds. I took them out of the container they were in, one at a time, and had Brandi help me clip their wings before we dropped them in their chicken tractor. (We'll keep them in the tractor for a few days to let the other flock get used to their presence, and then we'll slowly integrate them into the flock.)

I emailed a Mennonite hatchery in Pennsylvania yesterday and I'm waiting to hear back. They're one of the only hatcheries in the United States that is currently hatching Freedom Rangers. Freedom Rangers are broilers (meat birds) that thrive out on a free-range pasture. Unlike the quintessential American meat bird, the Cornish Cross, Freedom Rangers weren't bred to sit around and eat feed all day, but they were bred to get nice and meaty!

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Anyway, Brandi and I want some Freedom Rangers as a nice compliment to the Cornish Cross chickens that we currently raise. The breast meat on Freedom Rangers isn't as massive as the breast meat on the Cornish Crosses, but, supposedly, the meat is every bit as flavorful. (In case anyone is wondering, Cornish Cross chickens are the kind you buy in the grocery store; they're an American innovation, and their advent has brought cheap, big, juicy chicken to the masses. The Cornish Crosses eat primarily feed, but, in a situation like ours, they have access to fresh grass and bugs, so they're considered to be more "natural" than Cornish Crosses from factories. They also don't live on their feces 24/7 like they often do in commercial chicken houses.)

That's the bird update for the day.

Goat Tour

At 1 p.m. tomorrow Brandi, the kids, and I will take a "goat tour" at the World Hunger Relief Farm. "The Farm," as it's called, is only about 20 minutes from our house. By country standards, we're neighbors. So tomorrow some folks at The Farm (not to be confused with our place, which we also call The Farm) will give us a tour of their goat facilities and give us the skinny on raising goats and answer any questions we may have. They even have goats we can buy.

At some point today or tomorrow, Brandi's going to head to Homestead Heritage (only 10 minutes from our place) to buy seeds and plants for our garden. We hope to have the garden ready to go by the end of the month.

Between Homestead Heritage and the World Hunger Relief Farm, we've got a couple of great resources right down the road from us.

He's On The Mend!

Brandi warmed this chicken up with her hair dryer, and he's been perking up ever since. We think he's going to be able to fulfill his destiny now as a fryer. :-) He'll join his 16 brothers and sisters outside tomorrow morning.

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Hang In There, Chicken

We had a huge downpour about an hour ago, and our meat birds didn't like it. They all seem to be doing ok, drying off and everything, but one of them seems like he's knocking on Heaven's door. He's looking pretty puny. We have brought him inside and we have him next to a radiator heater. He's still breathing, but he's not looking good.

In other news it seems like we're closer and closer to getting a goat. We want to have one sometime within the next month or two for sure. He'll spend the summer mowing our lawn and then we'll have him processed around October. That's the plan anyway.

Photos, photos, photos

A few photos from the past few days ...

From Daniel and Abigail's shared birthday party last weekend:

Daniel's alligator cake (I'd like to add that my lovely and talented wife made the cakes)
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Abigail's princess castle cake
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Abigail, half a second before she blew out her candles
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Nathan and Abby inspecting the cakes
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A family dinner later that weekend
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Daniel and Abby, "happily" eating at the bar (they really were happy, despite their droopy faces)
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Our meat birds (we have 17 of them and we'll slaughter them in less than three weeks)
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Our new-to-us chicken tractor! It's pretty big, roughly 50 square feet, and I plan to put four new laying hens in there this week (notice the cool nesting box on the right side for easy egg collection)
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Oops

We forgot to close the coop last night and this morning we realized that one of our laying hens went MIA. I'm thinking a pesky Raccoon or something got her. What a bummer. Now we're down to eight layers; we need at least 11 or 12 layers to keep our family stocked with eggs (we eat tons of eggs). I'm thinking I'm going to buy four or five more laying hens from a friend of ours who's selling them for $5 each (a very good price). I'll probably do that this week.

I hate waking up in the morning and realizing we've lost an animal, but that's life on a farm I guess. We're getting used to it.

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