Friday, December 31, 2010

Egg Count 13

I've had a chance to tally the egg count for December, and so the final data for an entire year in eggs. First, the month.

During December, the 315 hens of Ecotone laid a total of 353.04 dozen, or 4,236.48 eggs. Along with the cold, the increase in the number of eggs laid has increased the amount of grain the hens ate, up from last month to 78.55 pounds of grain per day. That works out to a grand total of 2,435 pounds of grain, or 6.90 lbs. per dozen.
The daily average for the month of December, then, was 11.39 dozen per day, or 136.66 eggs per day, which is a monthly rate of lay approaching 44% -- not bad for heritage breed hens!

Above and below are photographs of several eggs from a single day of lay in the flock. Note that the extra-large one had two yolks, while the smallest had none at all. It does indeed take all types!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Snow Piglets

On December 12th, the household and friends of farm member and philosopher Sarah Tyson visited the farm. Braving the snow from Nashville, they came to visit the piglets, but helped sow winter pasture seed in the falling snow and collected the day's eggs as well. Below are some photos from the day.
At first, Rambo was the only pig with enough manners to come out and greet the visitors. Well, he may have simply thought we represented the coming of more food. Either way, it was good to see him.
Because they came to visit at a time with piglets from Sadie - who is by far the more gentle and predictable of our Red Wattle sows - they were able to go inside the farrowing hut and visit them under the warm glow of the heat lamp.
Only after everyone left did momma pig and piglets venture out to sniff around the snow. And, indeed, there was food for all!
Above the seven piglets root around the water, with the runt at the front right.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

I'm honored and humbled to report that I've been elected to serve a three-year term on the Board of Directors for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG). For the last twenty or so years, SSAWG has been promoting sustainable agriculture across the South, both with behind the scenes policy making, as well as with an annual practical skills conference.

This year the conference will be held in Chattanooga, TN from January 19-22. Early registration is due by December 20. This conference is by no means for farmers only. There are lots of folks there who are simply interested in farming, learning a bit more, and making agrarian friends across the region. If you're at all interested and have the time, I highly encourage you to consider attending. Next year the conference will be in Little Rock, so it's as close as it'll ever be! If you can't make it to the conference, but are otherwise interested in supporting sustainable agriculture in the South, you can make a tax deductible contribution to the organization here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Piglets 3

On Sunday December 5th, Jonathan and Hugh came over for the always fun chore of "working the piglets." And as is the case with most things on the farm, this second time around was much easier. After luring Sadie out of the farrowing hut, they blocked her re-entrance with an old door while I went in and quickly put the piglets in a carrier and made my way out the back.

The trick is to keep the piglets as close to the ground as possible while you're picking them up. When their feet are off the ground, they scream. When they scream, momma gets upset. When momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

While one piglet mysteriously disappeared on their second night, there are seven happy piglets remaining. Thus, out of Sadie's second litter there were 4 females and 3 males, with the ever-present runt being a male. We notched their ears and wormed them all, and castrated the males.

In other news, I've traded two gilts from this litter for two Berkshire gilts from Trew Organic Farms in Ocoee, TN. This will allow us to do some crossbreeding for hybrid vigor, which will be good for those hogs destined for the table, as well as have piglets for sale more regularly throughout the year. Out of this litter, though, we're keeping the rest to feed out for ourselves and several folks who have already indicated an interest. Ruby, however, is most certainly pregnant, as her milk began dropping early this week, and so I expect we'll have another litter very soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Egg Count 12

The egg count for November was 280 dozen, or 3,363 eggs, from 315 hens, which works out to an average of 9.34 dozen per day. Thankfully, this represents a significant turn around from the last few months. During November, the Ecotone hens ate 1,850 pounds of grain, or 61.67 pounds per day. If you're following the ongoing grain to egg ratio, this is .55 lbs. of grain for each egg, or 6.6 lbs. per dozen. Like the egg count more generally, these numbers reflect a welcome return to the price of a dozen eggs being lower than their cost.

To some, this turn around may seem counter-intuitive. As you may know, the number of eggs a hen lays over the course of a year is directly related to the number of hours of daylight. As we approach the equinox and the days continue to get shorter, in other words, the number of eggs naturally wanes. Because we've had such low numbers over the course of the summer, and because Animal Welfare Approved allows supplemental light not to exceed 16 hours a day, we decided to experiment with this option.

On November 27th, Jonathan helped run electricity through the pasture to the hens (and pigs), and we successfully installed several CFL lights on a timer. I began the hens off slow, giving them an hour or so of extra light at both ends of the day. As of today, with sunrise set for 6:51 a.m., and sunset scheduled for 4:34 pm., we're just barely getting 9 hours of daylight. Three weeks after installing the lights, the hens (and I) are getting up at 4:30 a.m. and going to sleep at 6:30 p.m., which gives them roughly 14 hours of light. Thus, the eggs.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Day Late, Plus Eight

On Monday, November 29th, Sadie gave birth to eight healthy piglets. Not wanting to disturb them too much, I lifted back the tarp covering their house only a little bit, so the resulting video is a little dark.

That morning, C.J. was in the process of getting the farrowing huts ready for the next round of piglets when he realized he hadn't seen Sadie yet that day, and that the other pigs were standing at the fence looking anxious. Realizing what was afoot, he went back into the woods where the pigs are eating this year's mast and - sure enough - Sadie was in labor with two piglets already having been born, under a nice oak tree and right next to several old, discarded tires.

With rain and freezing temperatures approaching within hours, the panicky new farmer began running around trying to figure out what to do. After first preparing to move mom and babies into the fancy farrowing huts he built for them, the plan changed; he now decided to take the hut to them. With the help of Jim and Jonathan Smith - the dynamic father-son neighbor duo that has helped C.J. so much over the last two years - they carefully lifted a lighter shelter over Sadie and her now seven piglets. They were then covered from the rain, just beginning to fall from the sky, and extensions cords provided the electricity for the heat lamps to ward off the chill from the night to come. The eighth soon followed.