Friday, October 21, 2016

The Pilgrim Goose, rare and perfect for a small farm

I mean no disrespect to the other goose breeds! 
I actually love all geese for their beauty , ease of caring for the adults and hardiness of their goslings. 
Not to mention their ability to turn grass into delicious meat, golden fat , rich livers and the best tasting eggs I've ever had!
Can't forget the down either! Best down on any bird is from the goose.
All geese excell slightly different in qualities but All geese are excellent multipurpose livestock! When you have a smaller farm like we do ( only 35 acres)
The Pilgrim goose is hard to beat has a lot to offer!

Ive had several different breeds and crosses.
 I settled on keeping Chinese and raising pilgrims for different reasons. 
Before I get into pilgrims here's my experiences with the other breed I keep for some comparison...
I absolutely adore my Chinese geese... They are so loud!!! So very,very loud! I personally enjoy their constant chatter and arguments. Many people do not! They are truly excellent 'watch dogs' and scream so loud when they see Hawks.
Most geese make good alarm systems.
I love their slender ,gracefull appearance and the odd knobs on their beaks!
Most of all I love ALL the eggs they lay.
It's a shame that people in the USA have bred this bird to primary be a show exhibit and not a utility egg layer as it was developed to be. They are the heaviest laying goose in the states but breeding for standard of perfection with no thought to egg production has meant their productivity isn't what it once was. 
Still they do produce a lot of eggs. They do not go broody and can be aggressive toward other poultry and each other! They are kinda barnyard bullies..
They are never aggressive to me or other people though.
They arent easily sexed unless you can vent sex them or wait until they start developing their knobs. They are worth keeping around and I enjoy them. Since I primarily want them for eggs, I don't plan to breed them every year. 
They are wonderful but I can see how they would not work for everyone.
They also need extra protection in the winter so their knobs won't get frost bite.

Now , The pilgrim goose. It is the calmest , quietest goose I've ever owned. It's a gorgeous breed and one of the very few goose breeds that can be sexed by color as soon as they are hatched. 
Which makes life very easy! 
Also , they do not fly.
Most domestic breeds don't but the other auto-sexing geese tend to fly better than Pilgrims.. Which do not fly at all!
My main line of pilgrims lay almost as many eggs as a Chinese but because they do go broody they don't lay as long.
They do have larger eggs. Not all lines of pilgrim lay well. Many lines have been inbred severely and are loosing productively as well as the sex link coloring and fertility. Sourcing out good stock can be an issue with this rare goose. 
Once you find good breeding stock this bird is a treasure!
They are medium sized , nice tempered geese. They won't share a nest or feed bowl with the other poultry but they don't go out of their way to be mean either.
They only honk alittle when they see me or if they get separated from each other.
They are protective of their nest and goslings but aren't near as aggressive as many breeds. So they are a great goose if you have small children because they do not attack unprovoked. They are excellent mothers and the ganders are good protectors of the goslings also. He will even stand guard in front of the goose nest while the geese are sitting. 
The pilgrim to me is the perfect sized meat bird.. Not to small not to big.
They never over eat if I have to feed pellets and if my pasture is good I do not need to feed extra. 
They don't need special shelters, a three sided shed is fine for nest making out of the wind and weather. 
They are a very low maintenance breed if managed properly. 

Honestly ,, Any goose is better than no goose at all!
If I had to choose just one goose breed it would more than likely be the Pilgrim.  
I've loved the other breeds and really like the Chinese because they are different and excell at egg laying. 
The pilgrim is the perfect package to me though... Very easy and a joy to keep. 

I look forward to goslings every year! 
Possibly the cutest baby poultry ever!
That's just a bonus 😉

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Low maintenance donkeys have some high maintenance needs

I've had donkeys for just over a year now. As usual with anything I throw myself right in , all or nothing! From a lone guardian donkey ( which is never a good idea to have a lone donkey) to a small herd of potential dairy donkeys complete with a stud jack and some girls with riding potential! 
I've taken on a few I probably shouldn't have. It's important to know your limitations! Bringing home an intact , mishandled Jack and an easily spooked large jennet was not the best thing to do!
I survived and learned from it but I sure don't recommend anyone that's new to donkeys try it! 
I have only been fortunate a couple of times to be able to buy a well trained donkey.
One that never runs from the halter.. Leads,, loads and stands nicely tied for the farrier ... I even had one that was trained to ride one time.
Once you've had a well trained donkey 
It's a pain to have one that is not trained!!
This is one of the things about owning donkeys people usually don't consider. Yes they are low maintenance for feed.. The standard donkeys don't need fancy grains and alfalfa hay, they don't need rich pasture or suffer from parasite problems much( atleast mine haven't) But they need training and to be worked if you want a well behaved donkey for the farrier or if you need to load it for the vet Or lead it to a milking area! Especially if you plan to milk one, the jennet needs training!
They also need special hoof care and not every farrier knows how to trim a donkey properly. Equally important is not every farrier understands how to approach and handle a donkey, so they do more damage than good the next time they need hoof work. Donkeys are smart and remember when they've been mishandled! I've got 2 Jennys that have obviously been very mishandled. It's sad and it's a lot of work to earn their trust.

These are just a couple of things that make low maintenance , easy keeping donkeys a higher maintenance livestock at times. Their need for extensive training and special hoof care.  
Below here is Rani's foal .. I started halter training him at 2 weeks old! He lets me pick his feet up , he leads. We will be working on loading soon!
Who ever buys this guy will have a wonderful well trained gelding that's been raised around poultry and sheep. I want to help ensure the foals born on my farm get good homes.. Sending them out well trained is a good way to do this. 
As I've said most donkeys available are not trained and if given the chance I'd pay more every time and get one trained if I could. A $200 standard donkey not broke for anything or a $600 or $800 standard donkey perfectly trained... Or even the $1000 donkey trained for riding ..really riding ,, not just someone sitting on its back and being lead around . That's not riding that's more like packing a human!
Yes... It's a case of you get what you pay for! 
Unfortunately I don't have the choice of just buying the kind of donkeys I like already trained for the most part around here. So all the work ahead is mine to take on...

Below is the round pen for training and 3 of my donkeys standing tied. None of these donkeys were trained for anything when I bought them. My black jack on the left has been the easiest to train .. He halters, is leaning well, let's me pick up his feet, stands tied patiently and he now loads! 
I've only had him 2 months! He's very young and so is the jennet in the middle .. She has also taken to training well.
The Jennet on the right is much older and has been long neglected. She is harder to train. But she is leading very well, standing and actually starting to load some! She's a challenge though because she does not trust easy! In order to train, the donkey must first trust you.

Another thing to consider is the equipment needed for handling and training. I don't even have any fancy stuff here.. Just basics.. Halters, leads, brushes and other grooming stuff ,some farrier tools ( not really good ones but I'll be buying better ones soon because these aren't strong enough to trim the big girls hooves and to big for my hands) 
I bought a lot of this used... Still well over $200 of stuff.. And now I badly need a tack area for all this stuff!
Unforeseen cost that go with an animal can add up! Once I buy better farrier tools and possibly get into saddles , packing and riding gear that's really going to add up and require more storage space. 
I still consider donkeys low maintenance , but to make living with them more enjoyable and more healthy for them they do have some high maintenance needs that have to be considered.  
I also can't easily put donkeys in the back of the van like I can a sheep so we had to invest in a livestock trailer or rent one. 
Since donkeys are here to stay we bought a used one and it's made life so much easier! 

I hope this helps people looking to get into donkeys. To many times people underestimate the needs of these animals. It's better to be prepared than to get a big 500 pound or more donkey home that you realize your not up to dealing with. 
Donkeys are the most wonderful creatures and well worth the effort as they can fill many roles on a farm! 
They are a joy to work with when they trust you! And very easy to mantain once you know how to manage them. 

I'm still learning all the time! 
They are a huge part of our farm. Love my donkeys ❤️❤️

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Make mine Meishan!

Well... All three lines of Meishan have farrowed now!
Illinois state, Iowa state ( which is the most common line but all Meishan are rare) and finally the USDA lines!
We are very pleased with these pigs..
Our pastures haven't been damaged by them.. They are calm and so docile..
They only time they make a noise is when they heat cycle . If it wasn't for that I'd forget they are even here!
Seriously.. We have a total of 40 adults, juveniles and piglets on our property right now!!! 40!!! I can't believe there are 40 
And it's so quite ... Peaceful even!!
Well... Until the geese or donkeys or sheep see us! 😂 they are not so silent!
We are very very happy with the growth rates of the outcrossing if the Iowa state and Illinois lines! They are growing faster than the Iowa state to Iowa state breedings. The Iowa state to Iowa state is still growing faster than Kune or AGH though! Thankfully!! I hated the growth rate on those pigs.. 
And we are looking forward to seeing the growth rates of the USDA lines that have just been born these past two weeks!
This is very exciting to us having the last of the 2 research herds and being able to see first hand how all 3 lines compare.
Above .. Just look at that perfect Meishan face 😃😃

Maybe you think they are ugly .. Weird or just don't get it! But they are the 
only pigs I could ever tolerate now.
After raising AGH, GOS.. Couple of kune .. Looking at other breeds on farms I just couldn't imagine even putting up with any of them after these sweethearts!
Yes... I called pigs sweethearts!
Only these pigs though!!!

Gotta make my mine Meishan 😉
We are so very blessed to have been given this rare opportunity to work with this breed and to be able to save the last ones from the last 2 research centers so the breed may continue in the USA without all the extensive inbreeding that can happen when there are no records of the breedings. It's wonderful bonus to have such nice pedigrees on the USDA hogs!! Which we are able to pass onto others who want to be involved in this amazing pig! With 6 unrelated boars this breed can be saved , with proper management, from the perils of inbreeding depression which takes away from the wonderful qualities this hog brings to the table!
I never thought I could be excited about raising pigs ...
But watching this breed ,, seeing how different it is than any other pig I've seen..
It is exciting!!

Very blessed indeed!! 
They have even been good for our marriage .. Cause now I'm not constantly complaining about my husbands pigs! Lol! 😂😂😂
Great pigs,, fantastic low input livestock!

Happy peaceful farm days....

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Garden Winners and Losers

This year I had some outstanding harvests. Gardening is a huge part of our farm and food supply. 
For the last 6 years no matter how small something is always growing in my garden.
In the fall and winter there may be greens, onions , garlic ,spinach and carrots ... To early spring with mass amounts snow peas , carrots ,broccoli , more greens, radishes and kohlrabi .. To summers filled with tomatoes , cucumbers, melons, okra, peppers, squash , grain corn and more! 
This extra long Summer's end has left us still with peppers, okra, wild tomatoes and sweet potatoes not yet gathered..
Waiting for that first frost to sweeten the fall/winter greens! Spinach , broccoli, cabbage and hopefully Brussel sprouts!!
The garden is never boring .. It's a ton of work.. But boring?? NO! 
But it can be totally overwhelming if you have other things going on.. 
Like kids.. like dairy animals,,or like animals that need more attention & training than other livestock (donkeys!)
Maybe Like so many different hobbies ( I have to many hobbies!) .. Or Like a life! 
And no matter how good you think you are at gardening... There will be failures!
Every single year....
No matter how tried and true you plant the weather will rule your outcome.

Now this year , yes, I had huge harvests and lots of success .. 
But I also had loads of fails this year, mostly because I did a lot of experimenting ...never know till you try!

This year...
Winners: •little tyke cucumbers ( extra early hybrid) planted in wall o waters in March .. I was harvesting cucumbers in April!
•Red stripped greasy beans( hands down best tasting green bean I've ever ate,, we loved these! unfortunately so did the rabbits.. Next year I will protect longer!)
•paymaster dent corn ( a grain corn that can be grow on sub-standard soil,, needs another run because my goslings broke in and ruined most of it.. But it did produce even without the additional mid fertilizing I have to give other grain corn)
•red ripper cow pea
•Dixie Lima peas
•Bertha low Lima beans
•snow on the mountain Lima beans
•Charleston grey watermelon (amazing!)
•spaghetti squash ( 88 day , netted and planted extra early to avoid SVB. Planted late it couldn't hold up to the heat) 
•tender green mustard ... Love!
•dragon tongue mustard .. So hardy! But very hot and sharp! Needs frost to mellow the flavor. 
•glacier tomatoes ... This is an extra early , more cold tolerate tomato and only does good here ( zone 7) planted extra early! I start seeds end of Janurary and plant in wall o waters in March . 
Done right this plant will give you tomatoes by the end of May/first of June .. Which is way better than waiting until July for most tomatoes! They do die out end of June. 
• sugar Ann ... Great sugar snap peas! Early and long producing for a pea here!
Losers never to be planted again...
• any *new* specially bred OP tomato .. I devoted huge space to plant these new improved tomatoes .. none of them could hold up in the humidity here. Some never produced a single tomato , some produced a small amount of unimpressive tasting tomatoes! I'll stick with my 3 tried and true favorites next year! Maybe try one of the hybrid specifically bred for humidity! 
•mouse melons .. Hardly produced until late summer.. Took up a lot of space..Then they produced a load of tiny fruit and have an odd , unappealing texture. Nope!
• buttercup squash.., supposed to be more insect resistant .. Lol! Produce 2 squash and died from SVB!
• shark fin melon ... It's huge .. Grew and grew took over a huge area..and it's weird and it produced 2.. Never again!
• cassabanana ... No.. Just no!!
•triple treat pumpkins... A naked seeded pumpkin that's supposed to be good for eating and carving..Produced 3.. They were terrible keepers.. Not a lot of seeds.
So.. No...
•Job's tears... Used as a grain like barley .. They grew beautifully! Formed perfect seeds and then kinda molded ☹️ not good for high humidity obviously..,
•tiger nuts... Grew great!! Produced well..But what a pain to harvest and clean!!! Would be good in a food plot to draw in turkeys though 
•any variety of sweet corn ... Just no! They suck up a huge amount of nutrients , attrack pest like crazy and take a lot of space For very little food.. And are kinda a one trick pony compared to a good heirloom dent grain corn .. Which can be eaten off the cob in its milky stage or left to dry for cornmeal either way. Either one the Cobs can be used to make corn cob syrup though (which I made this year and it's amazing!) 
• flour or flint corns... They are just to attractive to pest here. And they typically only produce 1 ear per stalk. I like dents that produce 2 ears per stalk. For obvious reasons ..
• any snow pea but Norli ... I planted 4 different types this year. Snow peas don't exactly like this climate and must be planted very early to get a crop .. I plant in February.
 But most snow peas still yield to little for me .. All but Norli. I won't bother with any other again.
•runner beans... Did surprisingly well planted extra early but wow! They take up tons of space! Not worth the space for the yield for me. 
• fava beans... They are yummy and different but they yield low and I've decided they must hate it here. Only 1 variety I planted produced anything. I'd rather just have more snow peas anyways. 

I think that sums up all the experiments this year!! Except for the sweet potatoes which haven't been all harvested yet..

Next year I will more than likely stick with tried and true since I'll be milking sheep and cheese making again on top of planting, training donkeys , managing baby poultry and lambs! 

Hope some of you zone 7 gardeners find this helpful! 
Blessings for great future gardens!!!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

New plans for a favorite farm animal

Live and learn... An example of what the hobby farm glossy type magazines don't tell you...
Sure! They tell you to rotate sheep to minimize damage to pasture .. Because sheep naturally eat very close to the ground...
But none of my magazines or books told me the most important information...
The most important information I got about sheep management came from a long time shepherd ... But it was to late.. Damage was done... And on top of the limping problems and other issues I had already sold my sheep. 
Now,, With sheep back in the picture grazing management has to be a big priority to protect the pastures. I don't have acres and acres of lush pasture so I have to be donkeys also run the same areas . And donkeys aren't exactly easy on grass either!!! ( if you really like your grass and don't have much of it goats work much better.. If you can stand goats! Lol! I can't!) 
The grass these sheep in the picture below are feeding on here in 2013 was totally ripped out by the sheep and turned to a dry lot come late fall. 
Despite rotating my 9 dairy sheep ( that's right only 9!) between 5 areas!!! they still ripped up any grass come Sept./October when the sugars of the grass went to the roots...Where ever I put them they uprooted it immediately. 
I did not know this would happen and thought simply rotating would be enough .. It's not!
So now in the fall they will be run into a dry lot area to be over wintered. And also during droughts or during times when the conditions of the barberpole parasite are at a high.. A.k.a. death to the sheep!
Unless I actually want the grass ripped out so we can re seed an area!
Sheep... Are So not a low input animal!!
Especially dairy sheep or fancy big longwool breeds ( loved those so much! but totally did not work well here for various reasons...if I ever think I can figure out how to make them work I would try! I have to say Hair sheep do seem much lower input!) 
But what an amazing , useful addition to a farm if you can figure out how to make them work for you. 
How many animals can you get meat, milk , leather, tallow and even some even fiber from for yarn or felted material!! Lanolin too if you want to bother with it. And Don't forget all that poo/wasted hay fertilizer mulch that can be put on the garden without composting.
Not to mention the joy of seeing them, hearing them and smelling their wonderful lanolin wool everyday! 
Totally special livestock! 
Here's to hoping and praying I can make them work here! 
One of my new lacaune Friesian dairy sheep above 😘 gorgeous girl!! 
Many blessings! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dealing with limitations and healing donkey milk

It's so hard to go back to the grocery store to buy what you once made yourself....especially with an animal product, 
The taste is better... You know it's fresh and the animal was treated well... You know it's chemical and antibiotic free.. 
Because seriously , believe the labels???
Luckily raising your own meat isn't to hard if you have the right facilities , land, commitment to learn about the animal and the right kind of animal to match your expectations.
Luckily raising our own eggs is easy and I adore poultry and waterfowl ....
Dairy animals.
Totally different story!

The quest for farmstead milk from an animal that can live here without drama!
And without sucking all my time away!
A dairy animal , especially a high production dairy animal, is more than a commitment .. It's more like total devotion! Take anything that can go wrong with a meat animal and double it..
High production = lots of milk = lots of time sucking problems.
It has been a very long , tiring journey my friends! 
And yes, I have limitations! I can not have 1 group of animals take time from my other much needed farm chores and goals. 

If you've read my blog you know I've had so many breeds of dairy goats and tried so many different ways to make them work ... I just can't deal with them, their extensive health issues and their neediness!
You know I've tried dairy sheep which I loved so much better!!! But the wool is a pain to deal with, even as a spinner it's a pain to raise fiber animals for me because of our cedar trees , brambles and the humidity that can felt the wool right on the animal! And shearing is such a tiresome job! A good shearer is almost impossible to find...on top of I just do not have sheep land for a high maintenance wool breed sheep. Most wool sheep breeds are just as delicate as goats when it comes to parasites... A big problem I do not want to deal with!
And yes I tried katathins! The premier miracle hair sheep breed.. And I couldn't stand them! That's been several years ago ...
I do hear they have come along way... But the first 2 I had scarred me! I know many many people who milk them and rave about the milk. But I couldn't get near mine ! They were crazy and feral! 
Hair sheep meat is lean and that breed honestly tasted more like goat without the flavor. It was good.. Just not what I expected from lamb. Which I understand is the way most hair sheep meat tastes.

Since I'm sensitive to milk products with casin and really shouldn't pig out on them.. (Which is what I did with my lovely gallon a day dairy sheep) I really shouldn't have a high production bred dairy sheep anyways..,
Seriously , It was all SO good!!!! Sheep cheese had to be one of the best things I've made! 

So now what?? 
Dairy goats , dairy sheep.., 
And yeah, if you've followed my blog you know I now milk donkeys!! 
My *dairy* donkeys work beautifully here on our land,, also fill the need for a poultry guardian and do not suck my time away ... But...,

I can't make much with donkey milk in the way of dairy products because it lacks casin.
 It takes a long, long year for a Jenny to have a foal.. Then another six weeks before you can milk... And then you can milk for around 6 to 7 months.. The amount you get can vary greatly from animal to animal because they haven't been bred for milking purposes.
We more or less treat it like a medicine really ... It's worth the wait and the trouble if you have health problems!
It obviously can't take the place of the farmstead dairy products I want to have but .., 
It's incredibly healing!!!
And has worked wonders with my digestive problems!! 
After drinking donkey milk for almost four months now I can eat goat and sheep milk products again without pain!!!
If we eat out somewhere off the farm and I get sick , just 1/2 cup of donkey milk and my nausia goes away!
It's amazing!!! And so refreshing to drink!

But ,,, so now I can have cheese again..
After pretty much avoiding it for a year except in very small amounts.
And I still shouldn't pig out on it!
I have missed it so much..
Store bought cheese just doesn't hold up though 😟

After talking, talking and more talking we decided maybe try a cow.. A rugged small zebu cow!! They are about the size of my smallest donkey, can handle tough pastures , provide A2/A2 milk and a much needed lean red meat source! 
They do well in southeast heat and don't have the parasite issues of goats and wool sheep... It would be perfect!!!!!!

But I am so not ready for a cow...
Zebu heifers are expensive... Just not quite ready for that commitment to a cow. Next year if we have another barn built and a handle on how many donkeys I'll be keeping regular then we'll be ready!

But for now... It's St.Croix hair sheep..,
Lean red meat, and yes some people do milk them! And I will try! It won't be like my well bred dairy sheep with their huge capacity and nice soft udders.. But like I said.. I shouldn't pig out on cheese anyways 🙄
They Handle rough pastures and heat.. They Don't even need a shelter!! 
Though mine will have one. 
Low maintenance sheep if I've ever heard of one... They are supposed to do well eating browse and weeds and I have a plan to keep them from destroying pastures in the fall with they start to up root the grasses. 
Now I typically do not believe 'breed hype' but I personally talked to several people that have been raising them for more than 3 years. And I like what I heard... So here we go...

Hair Sheep.... Round 2....

Where oh where will this subsistence farm take us next! 

It's a wild ride!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A place for Quail

I've always thought of quail as something you raised for your hunting dogs or something people raised who didn't have a lot of land or restricted land that couldn't have chickens...
These are both reasons to raise quail...
But there are other reasons to raise this neat little bird...
They are easy to care for...,
And they are tasty.. For both Eggs and meat!
The eggs are nice , fluffy and light..I love them!
The meat is delicious! Not like anything else we raise. 
And they have to be the easiest things we've ever processed. 3 to 5 minutes per bird!! Total. 
 It takes me 12 to 15 to pluck a pekin duck on a good day , if we slaughter at the proper time before the big pin feathers come in....
and that doesn't include kill time or cleaning out the guts. Pekins and bantam chickens take 20 to 25 minutes per bird .. Not bad!
Muscovies and geese take Atleast 40 minutes per bird. Yeah, it's a lot more meat.. And when broken down its a lot of meals!
But sometimes it's nice to have something so fast to get in the freezer and not as dramatic to kill. Geese and Muscovies do not go down easy ☹️
Makes it harder and sadder to me ... 
But they can't all be breeders and to many males hurt the females. So it's part of life here. 
These little guys... Still makes me sad to kill anything but we are not vegetarian .. 
So these guys do make quick and easy meals. 
Let me start by saying though, they are not a low input animal!
Yes, I said they are easy... Especially if you just want them for eggs. They start laying at just around 8 weeks! Lay around 300 eggs a year.. Feed, water, gather eggs..simple.
The high input comes in with the feed.. 
They need fairly high protein food and eat quiet a lot , as most poultry does.
They can't really even be free ranged because they will fly away .. So all their food needs must come from you.
And they are high input if you want meat or replacement layers. They won't brood their eggs so you have to collect, incubate and brood Everytime you want new quail...,
So why quail for a farm that has no restrictions & plenty of land to raise lesser input livestock?
Besides being easy to care for day to day..
They are high output.. And from what I can see very Efficient!! Steady supply of gourmet meat and different tasting eggs from the other egg layers I raise..
Yes please!
Loads of eggs fit in the incubator.. So even if you just get a 50% hatch rate you should still have plenty of quail. Though I see most people getting 60 and up to 75% hatch rates. Incubating and Brooding birds isn't something everyone enjoys.. If you're one of those people quail wouldn't be a good fit obviously!
Always having to incubate and brood would become a huge drudgery if you hate it.
I happen to really like incubating and brooding baby birds though.. Especially in the winter when I don't have a lot going on here on the farm. 

So Fast eggs, fast meat... Outstanding taste.. Easy care...
All good reasons to give them a try!

Plus I'm able to make good use of all those rabbit hutches I've got!
We tried to raise meat rabbits for 4 years..I tried angoras for 1 year.. High input , high out put didn't work for us that time ... Hoping these will fit in much better! 
Time will tell ... More on them later 😃😃
Have a blessed weekend !