Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


4/18/2014

I am petrified of bees. This is no secret to the people that know me. Often times I’ll jump up in a shrieking jig if a wasp, yellow jacket, bumblebee or honeybee flies my way. I get stung. Often. Once while I was on the toilet. I once came home to my bathroom full of bees after a hive broke in our walls. I still have nightmares about it.

When my husband spent a summer helping out a master beekeeper and fell in love with bees, I didn’t think much of it. When we finally bought our farm this fall and he insisted on getting a hive of our own, I was anxious. When we ordered our be package in January, I tried to put it out of my head – after all, April was a long way away and we had bigger issues to face getting through the winter.

When March finally arrived, so did our hive. My husband painted it himself, and obsessively read bee keeping literature. I continued to try to live in denial. This Tuesday, the bees arrived. I was at work when my husband went to get our bee package with my father-in-law, but he texted me pictured that made my stomach drop.

The bee box   bee close up

Even though I wasn’t there to witness it, the installation of the bees into the hive went well. Of the four people that were there during the process, not one got stung. I watched the video and did my best not to cringe.

wes with bees

The bees have been with us now for several days, and despite the nights that have dipped well below freezing, they seem to be doing well. My husband goes out to visit them each day. I have yet to face them myself.

bee hive

I do plan on making my peace with the bees. I am planting several varieties of flowers just for them, and will do my part to keep them happy and healthy – from a safe distance. When I see one while I’m gardening I will take a deep breath and think about what a help they will be to plants and my saplings. I will not swat at them, and instead picture all of the delicious honey I will enjoy this fall. And most of all, I will do my best not to have a panic attach when my husband starts to talk about all of the hives he wants to put in next year.

Carrissa Larsen runs a small farm with her husband in southern Maine. To follow the adventures of Feather and Scale Farm daily, please stop by and "Like" their Facebook page or visit their farm website for updates



4/16/2014

chickOur second order of chicks arrived.  Complete with a free exotic heritage breed chick, thanks Murray McMurray!  The healthy chick count is high with an excellent survival rate.  The original chicks, at almost 3 weeks old are growing fat in a couple of huge plastic dog houses on the deck.  They have heat lamps at night, fresh air always and a great view during the day.  A couple managed to wriggle under my hardware cloth door screen in the night and were a fluffy reminder to close that barrier up tight.

Fish the rabbit is now grazing in the open of the poultry yard daily, seems to have settled in nicely.  No ducklings for Jerry yet, she is two days past the 28 day incubation mark and pretty immature herself.  I figure give in to her mothering instincts another week to be safe and then clean out her nest and let her begin again.  

After getting some beans on to simmer for refried burrito filling, rolling some raw veggie n sprout (High Mowing Seeds sprout mixes are the seed bomb!) and getting all the morning feeding done-kiddo included, I went to water my seedlings.  It is never pleasant to be faced with your shortcomings.  No one likes a surprise photo from the rear or brick like bread, I speak from personal experience people!

My carefully tended, lit and misted repurposed egg cartons and trays look mostly like dirt.  A few weak  spindly struggling little troopers attempting to stand.  I read directions, tend daily, and read homesteading references galore.  Like my alarmingly sturdy loaves, these seeds are a mirror into what I lack.  Apparently a green thumb is also useful for kneading...

So I looked through my seed packets to figure out a direct seeding plan, and ordered organic starts from Azure Standard in Dufur, Oregon through the Orofino 7th Day Adventist Church.  They ought to come with our organic produce, field fencing, organic chicken chow and fertilizer order towards the end of the month.  My history with little plants is decent.  I rely on heritage breeds and plants, compost, good intentions and strong fencing for my heretofore gardening success.  The starts look beautiful online and sometimes for the sake of time, sanity and food to eat one must concede.  

Maybe its the soft background music of miraculous chicken fluff, or the glow of a 4 year old rediscovering the soft air of outdoor spring, or just my age; I am choosing my hill to die on and it's not going to be the mounds of freshly planted potatoes. 



4/16/2014

dandelionBees do not live on honey alone.

Pollen = Protein

Like all living things, honeybees need protein. The protein that bees use comes from plant pollen. Grains of pollen contain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. As bees gather from different flowers, a variety of amino acids are collected and complete proteins are available to the bee. Think of this as like when human vegetarians combine beans and rice to make a complete protein meal.

Bees utilize the protein by mixing pollen with digestive enzymes and a bit of nectar or honey. This creates a substance called "bee bread" which is then fed to worker bee larvae. Bee bread also contains enough antibacterial properties to be stored for a couple of months when there is a surplus. (Queens are fed royal jelly throughout their larval stage.)

Honeybees tend to choose pollen based on odor and physical configuration of the grains rather than the quality. Approximately 15 - 30 percent of worker bees foraging are collecting pollen as they visit various flowers. The hairs on their bodies pick up the pollen grains like a lint brush. As they visit flower after flower, some of these bits of pollen fall off and pollinate. The pollen that remains clinging to the bee is brushed into pollen baskets on their hind legs. If you watch closely when bees are visiting flowers you can see the pollen collected in these baskets. Look for tiny balls of color attached to their legs.

Between 33 and 121 pounds is required annually by an average sized colony to raise brood. Considering that a single bee carries a pollen load of about 18mg, that is a lot of trips back and forth to the hive. This pollen load may be up to 35 percent of their body weight. (1)

What Makes for Good Bee Pollen?

All pollens are not equally nutritious to bees. Different plants produce different qualities of proteins. For example, canola and almond produce a high quality protein pollen. Raspberries, blackberries, willow, and sunflower produce lower quality pollens but these are still attractive to honeybees. Pine trees produce a lot of pollen but it is not used by honeybees. Likewise the pollen on many ornamental plants is not useful to honeybees.

comb

Pollen in the cells should be multi-colored as an indicator that the diet of the colony is varied. Just like humans, bees need a well balanced diet from a variety of nectar and pollen sources.

If you are thinking about planting flowers this spring, consider what might be useful to the honeybees. Crocus, flowering herbs such as thyme and basil, lavender and chives are possibilities. You might even consider letting the dandelions in your yard bloom.

Beekeeping is just one of the many activities at Five Feline Farm. Check out our Facebook page to see what else is happening this spring. 

1. Ellis, A., Ellis, J., O'Malley, M. and Nalen, C.Z. (2010) The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees. University of Florida Extension. Retrieved 4/2014 at www.Gardens.USF.edu



4/16/2014

new backyard chicksThe day had come. We finally received our City of Minneapolis backyard chicken coop inspection during a Polar Votex in January. Our urban chicken permit arrived a month later. Now it is almost Easter and time to buy our new chicks and supplies. We had our hearts set on Buff Orpingtons, an orange, friendly egg layer. We arrived at the cute urban ag supply store only find that they were out. If we’d like some Buff Orpingtons, our best bet would be to order them and they would arrive a couple of weeks later. The looks on my family’s faces confirmed that this was unacceptable. Oh, the best laid plans…

After consulting the internet, we found a local joint a half hour outside of Minneapolis called Anoka Farm & Garden Store. We were greeted by a tiny, jaunty Banty rooster, then by Dave, one of the store clerks. We asked after their friendliest, cold hardiest and least flighty egg layers and came away with with two Jersey Giant Blacks, a Dominique and a Dark Cornish. All these birds are known for good to great laying, cold adaptability and all-round personable natures. The Jersey Giant Black is an American heritage breed developed in 1880 and is the largest poultry breed in the world. This great laying, friendly hen can weigh 10+ lbs! The Dominique is the original American heritage breed, existing well before 1750 in the colonies. The hens are docile, hardy, good layers and exceptionally self-sufficient. The Dark Cornish is a heritage English breed, imported into the USA in 1887. Like the Dominique, they are known for their calm, docile nature and are rumored to be the best bug catchers around. While their egg laying abilities are in great debate, it sounds like even the hens will chase off predators to protect the flock, and they are exceptionally friendly (to humans at least).

In addition to choosing our birds, Dave set us up with chick feed, a heat lamp, waterer, feeder, pine shavings bedding and some electrolytes to help the birds adapt better and prevent them from getting dehydrated and sick. We were not sure about what container to keep them in. He suggested just using a Rubbermaid plastic storage bin with a hole cut in the top, then cover the hole with chicken wire. The heat lamp can then sit right on the chicken wire to heat the bin. Once the girls are about a month old, we will move them to a large, heavy duty cardboard box, still in the house, then to the coop once they are at least 2 months old and the night time temps are over 50 degrees. It will be at least 4 to 6 months before they begin to lay eggs.

During the drive home my daughter Claire, her friend AJ, my partner Christopher and I solidified our chick’s names. We decided to name them after our great aunts. The two Jersey Giants would be named Maude and May, the Dominique was named Pearline and the Dark Cornish became Chicki Boots. AJ & Claire came up with Chicki and Christopher added the Boots. Chicki Boots is a nickname from one of his racy great aunts. We will have a full summer to get the know our new family members and get them comfortable with their home. Welcome to the neighborhood, ladies!

chick supplies



4/16/2014

People who haven't ever milked a cow are usually very concerned about being kicked when they milk for the first time. This is understandable.  Cows are big, powerful animals, and milking puts you right beside the strong hind legs and feet.  Most properly handled cows don't kick when they are milked.  If you find yourself with what I call a kicky cow, there are steps you can take to manage the animal. Here are my tips for avoiding getting kicked and dealing with a kick-prone cow.

milking a cowMove slowly. When you approach a cow to milk her move slowly and be gentle.  Give her a little pat on the rump, be alert and avoid sudden movements.  Be confident and show no fear.  If this is a cow you have never milked before, spend some time with her before you begin the milking process.  Put your hands on her hind legs and udder to see how she reacts.  Kneel down beside her and check her udder and teats for swelling and or injuries.  Almost every cow will kick when milked if her udder and/or teats are sore.

Know your cow’s movements. If a healthy, mature cow kicks when she is being prepped for milking, it is usually because she is just annoyed — at you for bothering her.  She is not trying to hurt you.  She's just letting you know that she's there. These kicks are slower, softer and much easier to control than the kick from a cow that truly wants to hurt you.  Experienced milkers can usually predict a cow's "slow" kick.  She will shift her balance to her the hind foot that is away from you so she can kick you without falling over. 

Stay calm and get close. This may sound counter-intuitive to people who have little experience with cows, but when you go to prep and milk a kicky cow, it is much safer to stay as close as possible to her body and hind legs.  Approach your cow confidently and carefully. Kneel down beside her, get close and reassure her that you know what you are doing, even if you don't.

Lean in with your shoulder and rest your head on her flank in front of her stifle. This way, she doesn't have the room to wind her leg up and kick out.  If she tries to kick, use your shoulders and forearms as a block. In general, it never works to milk a cow from afar with your arms stretched out.  This freaks the cow out and you just look dumb.

miling a cow

Never lose your temper! Never yell at or strike a cow.  It just doesn't work.  The only thing that works is patient reassurance.  Dairy farmers know how difficult this can be.  You work all day to take good care of your cows and then they show their appreciation with a good, swift kick.  Just remember that you chose to have cows. They didn't choose to have you.

Try not to let your cows kick their milkers off. Detached and fallen milkers can suck up bedding and manure.  Be sure that the milking unit is securely attached to the cow and properly adjusted so that it hangs from the udder straight and with even pressure on all four quarters. If a cow kicks off a milker, don't lose your temper. Calmly reattach the milker and give her a little, reassuring pat. 

I know that holding your temper and staying calm can be a real challenge when milking heifers. They love to kick milkers off.  Just be patient.  You don't want your heifers to learn to fear or loath milking time.  Most cows naturally like to be milked if they view it as a positive experience.  Some of my heifers will kick off their milkers during every milking for the first few weeks.  It's a pain, but the only approach that works is patience.

milking a cowAvoid mechanical devices. I never use mechanical devices like hip clamps and hobbles to keep my cows from kicking.  There is no quicker or more effective way to teach a cow to dread the milking experience than to use these instruments.  I don't even recommend using them in an emergency.  There are better non-mechanical ways to keep a cow from kicking, including lifting her tail (see photo demonstrating this technique) and following my advice. 

Keep quiet. Create a quiet environment when milking.  Avoid loud radios and other noises, especially metal clanging against metal, slamming doors and shouts.  Most cows will get used to dogs and kids under foot and the sounds of laughter and play.  Yelling is never good.

It’s OK to move the cow. Don't be afraid to move the cow over in the stall so that you have enough room to reach the udder comfortably.  A firm push to the side will generally be enough.   She'll need to move her feet and open her stance to keep her balance.  If you trust your cows, you can also put your foot on her hoof or shin, and she'll move.  You can also use your forearm to push a leg back and out of the way.  After a while your cows will learn your routine and you will learn theirs.  It's a two way street. 

Look out for injuries. A cow with an injured teat can be a vicious kicker, intent on making you leave her teat alone.  These cows require the patience of Job as the teat heals. Just reassure her that you mean no harm and do the best you can to get her milked out.  But, stay on high alert at all times.  Some cows will trust you more than others. 

Injured teats could be the subject of an entire book.  Call your vet if you are unable to get an injured teat to pass milk.  You need to get that quarter milked out or the cow will get mastitis. Just do as little as you need to do to heal the teat.

If all else fails and you cannot change your kicky cow’s ways, sell the cow to a commercial dairy where human-cow contact is minimal.  Cows that cannot be rehabilitated aren't worth the effort or the risk of being injured, especially when you have children helping with the chores.  Plus, I have found that dealing with a mean cow first thing in the morning can ruin your whole day. The good news is that, often time, kindness and patience can do wonders to change a cow’s temperament.



4/15/2014

green

This time of year as I talk with pond owners all over the nation, there are a full range of conditions. My friend Mike from Tennessee, referring to Baton Rouge, said, “Yep, I imagine the birds are already a-whistlin’ down there.” And so they are. Just this week, I swam in a pond for the first time to help a friend create spawning habitat for his fish. I also saw my first two snakes. In Louisiana, spring has arrived. Quite a contrast to my Northern friends, who have suffered through the “Polar Vortex,” which seemed like a whole season instead of an event. One thing for sure, temperatures are warming and spring is on the way. Warmer temperatures for pond owners always means algae production. While we welcome spring, it is also the season for the not-so-welcome invasion of algae.

The 3 Types of Pond Algae

Three types...Now these aren’t the only three types of algae, but these are three categories that will likely be important to you and your pond biology.

Green Phytoplankton: This algae is single-cell, free-floating algae. It is most often noticed as a green color to the water. It can range from a just a greenish tinge to pea soup. Green algae is productive and useful in the pond. Assuming you have sunny weather, it is a net producer of oxygen in the water. It is also the basis for the food chain for a bass-bluegill system, and contributes to other food webs as well. While it is a “good” algae, it can overproduce and the population eventually crashes, if the pond is too rich with nutrients. The level of production desired is also a matter of personal preference, depending on your goals for the pond. If you want to use the pond for swimming, typically, you will prefer little algae production of any kind.

blue greenBlue-green: This is the “mutant, evil twin” of green phytoplankton. Blue-greens are difficult classification for biologists. Cyanobacteria: Half-algae, half-bacteria. Blue-green algae are a deep green color, although they can vary from green to distinctly blue. Since it forms dense colonies and floats, it looks like someone spilled green paint on the water. The dense floating nature of blue-green algae shades out the green phytoplankton below, which reduces oxygen levels. Blue-green algae are not net producers of oxygen through photosynthesis. They are associated with high nutrient levels in the pond, and produce bad odors, off-flavor in fish, poor oxygen conditions, accelerated sludge accumulations, and they have been associated with toxic reactions in both pets and humans.

Filamentous Algae: Most often called pond scum, pond moss, or more scientifically, “that #%@# stuff that keeps getting on my fishing hook.. There are several species. Some, like Spirogyra, grow in the winter, which is also the name of a really good jazz group, although the group spells its name wrong. Once water warms, spirogyra burns off. The warm weather varieties, like Pithophora, are the most aggravating. Ptihophora begins as mats along the bottom of your pond while temperatures are still cool and you are unaware. Then when warm temperatures arrive, the bubbly mats float to the surface and drive you crazy while you enjoy your pond.

Algae Control

spiro

A common scenario : A pond owner has a flare-up of algae in the pond. The pond owner goes to the local feed store or farmer’s cooperative to inquire about how to handle it. The store salesperson, or Cliff Clavin, the eavesdropping customer, with limited knowledge but in and effort to have some solution, directs the pond owner to use copper sulfate because it is cheap, and they heard about someone using it that one time. Many farm stores carry copper sulfate because they have very limited knowledge, want to provide some solution, it’s inexpensive, and they heard of someone using it once. Satisfied with the consultation and small investment, the pond owner returns home. After opening  the container, he gazes, hypnotized,  at the blue crystals hoping they will magically tell him the dosage to use, since he doesn’t actually know the volume of water in his pond and reading a label is frustrating. Using the scientific method of selecting the largest clump of crystals that breaks off first, he proceeds to use Cliff’s advice of putting the blue crystals in a leg of panty hose and dragging it around behind the boat while it dissolves. Copper sulfate is a very effective algaecide, bactericide, and fish poison when used incorrectly —without regard to water chemistry or volume. Unfortunately, the all-too-common character in this story wakes up the next morning to a pond full of dead fish.

Approach Algae Control … Organically

Physical removal is an option for filamentous algae since you can grab it. A lake rake is a wide aluminum rake with a float across the top. You throw it out with a rope attached and pull it in to shore. This sounds easier than it is since it has a large volume of water and can be difficult to handle., Dragging a chain across the bottom of the pond to disturb the formation of filamentous algae along the bottom also can be used effectively. 

Dye reduces the amount of sunlight penetrating the water to stimulate algae growth.  Shading helps reduce all types of algae. Blue or black dye is available in liquid or packets of water-soluble dry powder.  Blue dye is associated sometimes with the “Tidy Bowl”-blue of miniature golf course ponds. It can be used in a limited fashion to make your pond more attractive and to help reduce algae growth. Dyes are safe for pond inhabitants as well as other visiting wildlife, including humans.

Beneficial bacteria treatments add a high concentration of cultured, beneficial bacteria to your pond. The objective is to create a bacterially-dominated ecosystem, instead of an algae-dominated system.  The bacteria don’t kill algae, they out-compete them — making nutrients unavailable for algae. These bacteria, especially in the presence of adequate oxygen, can be effective and arrest and reverse sludge buildup in your pond. These beneficial bacteria do not cause disease, and are safe for pets, irrigation, livestock, and people.. The secret to predictability with bacterial treatments is consistent, scheduled treatments at the full, recommended dose. I know this means reading a label and possibly doing math, but it really is important this time. Choose a  dry products because they are more concentrated and cost less to ship.

micro

Barley straw has had much acclaim for reducing algae growth.  Its use began as a technique to control algae in open wells in Scotland. Lignin coats the outside of the straw, and is a hard waxy material. When submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, it breaks down, and one of the byproducts is peroxide. Peroxide is algaecidal. The bad news is that this effect is fairly localized unless water is flowing past.. The straw has to be replaced monthly and the old straw removed. This can be a lot of work for an inconsistent result.  Several products, including flakes and extract, give more consistency, with less bulk handling of straw. Peroxide products are available in a predictable, concentrated form for algae control. The good news is that peroxide has an organic label. Green Clean peroxide is available in liquid or granular and is OMRI certified. I have used this product with success. 

Ultraviolet (UV) sterilizers are used for water gardens and koi ponds. This is sound technology and works well at clearing green water from ponds. A filter exposes water  to ultraviolet light. When sized correctly for water volume and flow rate, a UV filter will kill 99.99 percent of algae, virus, bacteria, protozoas, and fungus. A UV filter in the plumbing and kills only the free-floating algae. In water gardens, this is cost-effective and doesn’t use much energy. Vegetable farms use UV technology  to  reduce coliform counts in vegetable irrigation.

Buffered alum binds phosphorus and also drops out small particles like clay in the water. Phosphorus is one of algae’s main nutrients, and vascular plants also need it. Alum, or aluminum sulfate, binds phosphorus into a salt crystal and takes it out of availability for algae. When aluminum sulfate goes into solution, however, it makes an acidic reaction and shift in pH. Your fish won’t appreciate that shift much, and will express disapproval by gulping at the surface in a stressful manner, and possibly floating upside down in your pond (this isn’t so you can scratch their belly). Fortunately buffered alum products on the market prevent this reaction. I have used this product in both water gardens and natural ponds with great success and without harming fish. As a bonus, this product will help to clear your water of small organic particles, clay particles, and even tannins that cause tea color.

“Phytoremediation” with plants along an edge or in bog filters, work for water gardens, natural ponds, stormwater ponds, and even septic and industrial waste treatment. Running the water past the roots of plants allows them to take up nutrients and even pollutants. Coupled with correct sizing, some proven design for the construction, and a commitment to some maintenance, the results can be incredible. 

Next time I will visit with you about a fantastic addition to the edge of your pond or water garden, Louisiana irises. 



4/15/2014

Seashore Near Bittersweet Heritage Farm in Maine

Mornings in Maine come softly and quietly. My days begin with tending flocks and herds. Then Penny, my English Cockerspaniel, and I slip up to Harborside Market for a cup of coffee before heading to Marshall Point Lighthouse. As Penny runs along the rocky beach, across the hills surrounding the lighthouse, and through the woods behind, I sit on a granite bench engraved with a local family’s name. I drink in my coffee and the view. Islands dot the watery landscape. It’s March, and they’re still dusted in white.

I take time to do this each day. It’s more than just the dog needing to stretch her legs. These trips remind me of the history of the people who, for generations, have worked these waters. Likewise, there are those who have eked out an existence working the lands that hug these coasts. It’s not an existence for the faint of heart.

Sometimes, usually when I least expect it, I get rewarded for keeping at it. Small things, like a tiny newborn goat kid laying its head on my shoulder after a bottle feeding. A doe in labor, resting her chin on my knee in the stall, awaiting her new arrival. A lamb falling asleep in my lap as we sit in the sun on a hay bale. On days when my patience has worn thin from spending time repeating the same daily tasks, I’m reminded why people before me chose this life.

Sunrises and sunsets here remind me why artists are drawn to coastal regions. Whether a cold wintry morning or in the heat of a summer sunset, colors intensify around the water. Who cares about the weight of a hay bale when you step out the barn door and are greeted by such stunning skies?

Turkeys on Bittersweet Heritage FarmSome people say farming is too much worry. Worry that predators, either overhead or on land, will snatch up a tiny one when you’re not looking. Worry that winter snows will never melt and uncover buried fences, leaving flocks vulnerable. Worry that the hay won’t stretch through until next season.

Worries fade when sacks of newly spun wool, rich with color from each flock member, wait by the spinning wheel. Milk sits in shiny stainless totes, so white and creamy you can’t help but pour big, tall glasses of it. Vats full of curds evolve into fresh, crumbly cheeses. Eggs in shades of every brown imaginable softly rest in nest boxes.

We’re moving from winter to spring on the farm. It may not feel like it or look like it when you glance out the window. But it’s in the air. The animals feel it, too. They are anxious to get back to grazing, foraging, scratching in the earth. It will feel good to have luscious green blades underfoot after such a long, cold winter. We’ll take our morning walks again through the pasture, into the edges of woods. The herd will nibble at green shoots and emerging buds. I’m happy to let them take it all in. They deserve it after a long time being stuck in coops and stalls while the snow drifted high.

Fishermen will lay their traps out soon. They, too, will be glad not to be cooped up. Just as the girls are being sheared for their wool, lobsters will begin appearing on a more regular basis. Witch hazel will be popping, forsythia budding.

The last vestiges of winter are fading. I’ve already received my application for Open Farm Day in July, when Maine farmers throw open their barn doors to visitors. It’s sort of like being invited aboard a lobster boat. Bittersweet will, once again, celebrate farming. I’m happy visitors can stop by, take some time, sample fresh made cheeses and farm fresh milk, ask questions about wool, and simply share what I am privileged to experience every day, on my farm by the sea.

Rainbow Over the Shore Near Maine's Bittersweet Heritage Farm

This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.

Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

Photos by DYAN REDICK









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