Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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A DOG’S PERSPECTIVE. Hi, my name is Coadee, actually, it is Fer Coadee, but my pompous owners mercifully just call me Coadee. My new owners recently pilfered me from my parents. Okay maybe pilfered is a little harsh, but no one asked me if I wanted to go. My new home is interesting and the humans seem nice. However, they say “NO” all the time. I do not know what they mean but they say that word constantly. "Coadee NO biting, Coadee NO chewing on the furniture. Coadee NO biting the chickens, Coadee NO eating shoes,” It just goes on and on with the NO’s. If I got a treat for every time I heard "No" or "Coadee" I would never work a day in my life. The humans do shower me with love and praise but one of them keeps kissing me on my head. What is that about?
There is plenty of room for me to run and tons of smells. There is so much to see and explore but I get too tired and end up sleeping a little. The naps are refreshing but I keep getting disturbed because the humans have feathery things that do not stay where they should. My humans wake me up and show me where these feathers are, they point and say “chickens” and I guess I am suppose to give chase. I know they want me to chase them but I am at a loss as to what they want me to do once I catch them. Therefore, I nibble on them to see what they feel like.
They are some dumb feathers let me tell you. I will be chasing one and it runs right into the fence getting caught up and tangled. I just lay down put a paw on the feathers and get a mouth full. That is all I am doing, okay I might be checking out other body parts of the feathers but I do not hurt them. Honestly, the feathers tickle the top of my mouth and I like that.
While this is happening though the human keeps yelling NO biting; when the human finally gets to me, they take the feathers and put it in the pen. I am learning that these feathers or chickens as the humans say are not the brightest when it comes to running and hiding. The other irritating aspect of my new home is that the humans are forever calling my name. I am starting to think that they have a limited vocabulary. NO COADEE, I hear those words in my sleep. Then the one with a deep voice keeps saying, "You are just killing me", go figure what that means. He is always shaking his head as he says it too.
How many times do they think they have to call my name? I will come back but when I am on the trail of a great scent the last thing I need is to keep hearing my name. It is irritating, especially when I need to find the source of that wonderful smell. I have a lot of work before I get the humans totally trained but they are showing signs of progress.
I saw tiny humans too. Some were smaller than I am and cannot stand up especially when I go over to smell them. One small human let out this loud noise. That hurt my ears so I turned away and saw other little humans running so I went to go run with them. Okay, I was chasing them. For some strange reason I thought they seemed to be getting to far away from all of us and I did not want that to happen. I do not know what that was about but I thought they needed to come back to the group. Well I went to go get them.
The little humans fall over easy too but, I can lick there face when they are on the ground so that works for me. There is something to the little humans they just smell great and they really like petting me. Who can argue with that?
Well I hear one of my humans calling so I will need to go. Probably some stupid chicken is out of the pen. Man, those animals are not going to be winning the Nobel Prize anytime soon. I like them but hey, I keep it real.
Buy Local: If you do not, the humans get it!
p.s. I just wonder sometimes what goes through her mind as we work and I am not explaining how to do things correctly. She stares at me and twists her head from one side to the other, as if she hears me is trying to understand but we are just not there yet.
Posted by Brian
@ 06:55 PM EDT
Fer coadee (Scottish for "protector") is sixteen weeks old. We have her three days and four nights out of the week and Carol (the breeder/trainer) keeps her four days and three nights. She is still a pup but shows great promise.
We have been working her with the chickens and she slowly understands that the chickens should stay in the pen. One night we were putting the chickens in the trailer for the night and Coadee, seeing what we were doing, decided she could help. She ended up herding the chickens into the house with nary an effort. That part was effortless. No training, no nothing she saw we were putting them in the house and she went with it.
She helps weed too. At least I am learning what dog weeding is verses human weeding. While weeding the strawberries, I will pull chickweed and Coadee goes for the green. She has bitten me on occasion while weeding but I get into a rhythm of pulling and throwing. Coadee will chase after the clump of weeds bite them and come charging back. I hope that I have gotten the next handful thrown before she does indeed get back. If not, I ball my fingers up as she comes plowing mouth first into the greenery where my hand resides. With a jerk of her head, she rips green out of the ground by the mouth full. If strawberries happened to be part of the green patch, they go as well. This is part of her instinct; she wants to help her master. The veterinarian told us to make sure we take care of her because her breed will literally work them self to death trying to please their owner.
The English Sheppard is a protector, herder and hunter by instinct. They came to the new world with Scottish and English sheepherders. The dog’s ability and intuition made them a valuable asset to animal farmers. They instinctively want to be part of the action, so she watches what you are doing and tries to help. If I get a stick and throw it, she sits and watches the wood take flight and land. She does not chase it, but if I go get it, she grabs it from me and follows along as I walk. Coadee trots along stick between her jaws teaching me how things work. I was getting water hoses out of the barn, I felt a tug so I turned to see what I was hung up on and there is Coadee, hose dangling out of her mouth going in the opposite direction. I apparently was taking them to the wrong place for her.
This past weekend the chickens started to show signs of respect. As soon as Coadee comes out of the barn, the chickens that see her start to head back to the pen. Some layers just jump back in when they see Coadee. They are in the minority but it is a start. She is still nipping at them and we yell “don’t bite or no bite”. Then at other times, she just lays her big paw on the back of a chicken until we get there to pick it up and put it back in the pen.
She gets excited still when meeting new people so we try to introduce her to people while she is outside. I took her with me, over to Nick’s when I picked up chicken feed. I knew Dave (the farm manager) would like to see the dog. I did not get her out of the truck fast enough before Dave walked over to the passenger side. True to form, she got excited and I saw that the cloth seat was now soaked. I am learning.
Coadee is in that oral stage of development as well. Everything goes in the mouth at least once. Stink bugs she learned and leaves them alone much to my dismay. Wood, rocks, bark, bottles, hoses, chickens anything that you hold, anything that you wear, anything that you use or sit on, pretty much everything is something for her to sink her teeth into. Nevertheless, she is also an asset. I will be in the barn feeding the flock of broilers, if Coadee were not standing guard at the gate, they would leave and be all over the barn. I bring her in the barn and have her sit by the gate. I then go in to feed and water the group. She has taught me that her patience is very short, especially when a group of birds approaches.
She still does not bite them but she does make the feathers fly. By the time, I get her stopped, you can hardly see due to the dust-up from frantic escapes and chases. So, I learn once more. I shake my head and think who the teacher here is? I was sitting with her in the morning watching the chickens. When a chicken approached the fence I would get up and bring Coadee over, the chicken would turn around heading in the opposite direction. This went on all morning. The ones that actually got out Coadee chased down and I tried to teach her how to herd a chicken back into the pen. This went on all morning; lunchtime I went in made a sandwich, wrapped it in a paper towel, filled a bottle of water and went outside.
In that short period a jailbreak took place with the birds heading for the grapevines. As the layers saw Coadee, they ran into the open barn. I put my sandwich down on the chair, covered it with reading material and took Coadee with me to the barn. We go in and Coadee starts after one, chasing her out of the barn and towards the pen and trailer. A couple of seconds later I am chasing one out of the barn front to the pen. I look to my left and there is Coadee sitting in the shade eating my sandwich. She is in the shade eating a freshly made sandwich and I am standing in the blazing sun chasing a chicken.
Then there was the time I was working with her and it started raining. I had my rain-gear on and kept working pulling weeds. I soon notice that I was alone, I saw Coadee heading towards the barn so I knew she was there. I thought okay, she is going in to check things out, get some water or food and she will be back. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes go by; I am still out side weeding in the rain. I stopped and walked into the barn, over on the side in a pile of straw is Coadee, sleeping.
I sighed, looking at her stretch out frame and that beautiful face of hers and thought who was the smarter of the two of us, the one working in the rain or the one sleeping inside nice and dry.
Buy Local: Local farmers toil for their families, for your family and the environment. Who would not want to support that?
Posted by Brian
@ 09:05 PM EDT
True to the goal of this blog, the following is somewhat disturbing and gruesome. However, it happened and it is part of our experience. We write so that others may learn from our mistakes, to educate and talk about the ills of the industrial food compex. I never wanted to get into the animal side of farming because I have always been squeamish about mortality. It did not matter the cause or the reason, I did not want to be part of dealing with mortality.
As I have documented here this is one of those things that growing up in rural America would have helped me. Nevertheless, I grew up in the city and it was not commonplace to process or need to dispose of an animal.
We started meat birds this year. In order for them to be organic, you must take possession of them by their second day of life. Covered in fur they are the cutest things. No feathers on them, maybe a little wing tip showing but predominately furry. Then there is all the time spent with them to get them past the Coccidiosis stage.
We decided because of last year’s BMSB losses that broilers had to be incorporated into our farm model. It was not a decision that was taken lightly and not without an amount of anguish.
We are into our ninth week of raising fifty broilers. Well we started with fifty. At my own hands, I accidentally drug the pen over top of some of the birds killing them. I cannot describe the feelings, thoughts and utter dismay that I caused. All I can say is at the point that I saw the damage; I did not have the proper perspective to feel anything other than raw emotional pain and revoltion. I got sick to my stomach, failure blares out and then guilt for what the birds went through. I know they only have two more weeks to live but at that instant, it does not matter. This is just another one of those no mercy times.
There was no mercy for the chickens and no mercy for it was at my own hands. I can live with my failures; I have made enough of them such that I am comfortable. However, these kinds of mistakes have a different affect on me then most others. This one has caused a lot of angst and anger; I am supposed to be their protector, until they are processed. Yes, they are raised to be processed I understand the paradox. It bothers me but I have to make mysef understand.
I want so very much to succeed at this, not only because I am goal driven, but I love working the soil, growing fruits and vegetables, creating a complete meal from things I have grown and knowing that what we do benefits others, future generations and the environment. I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into this place and I want to remain humane. I do not want to become desensitized to the lives of animals on our farm. You can say all you want about it being business and not taking it personal but those thoughts are not our motivations.
I put all the dead chickens in the compost pile and thanked them for being a part of our lives. I told them that we were returning them to the soil that once helped nourish them. I know it sounds utterly crazy but it was a way for me to make peace with the mistake I made and to acknowledge their sacrifice. It was a way for me to remind myself that we are humane.
That weekend I explained to the staff what had happened and what the new rules were for moving the chicken pens. In the mean time, fifty are in the barn ready to go out on pasture and fifty peeps are in the brooder.
So, we continue. I wish sometimes that the learning curve were just not so steep and emotionally draining.
BUY LOCAL: There are people out there, like us, who need your support.
Posted by Brian
@ 12:11 PM EDT
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We tore down and packed up the high tunnel that collapsed this year. We are still loosing layers. Now, whatever is getting the chicken has learned to jump the electric fence to get to the birds. We have fifty broilers on pasture and another fifty more in the barn, with fifty more in the brooder.
Much to our surprise, the RIR males are coming up to weight quicker than anticipated. This means we may be able to process them in 8-10 weeks instead of the 10-12 weeks as predicted. For someone enthusiastic this is good news. I cannot help but look at them with out a certain amount of dread.
I am not use to growing something and taking care of it in such a way that it thrives and remains healthy, only to turn around and end its life prematurely. One of our returning staff is a vegan. When we decided that we needed to get into the bird business, in order to stay in business, we talked to her. We wanted to be up front with what we were doing. We did not want to lose her because she is a great worker and an even better person.
We just wanted to let her know, so if she had a problem with us raising animals for eating she could get a jump on finding another job. Much to our surprise and delight, she said she would be okay with it as long as she did not have to do any processing. Heck, we do not want to do any processing so we were on board with her.
Our other apprentice has been building “Salatin type” pens for the broilers. Each one he builds gets better than the one before. He is already thinking about adapting the pen for layers so we can protect them better than we are currently. The pens are a work of art, functional, self-contained, sturdy and most of all great protection from all predators, except maybe black bears. I think if a black bear got to one of the pens, they would have a little trouble but they would get to the broilers. Fortunately, the bears tend to stay further west than were we are located.
We are late in planting. We are losing control of the 400 strawberry plants to weeds and heat. Not the heat provided by the sun but the heat provided by yours truly. I learned a valuable lesson this year. I am old. I was flame weeding for about two hours straight when I started on the strawberries. The flame-weeder is a five-gallon propane tank strapped to a heavy-duty backpack with a torch. The whole get up weighs about forty pounds when fully loaded. We had eight rows of fifty strawberry plants before I started flame weeding. For those of you familiar with our weeding you know were this is heading. If not, see “Are We Done Planting”.
It was getting late, I was tired, and one of the straps was digging into my shoulder. I just kept pushing myself. You can actually see how tired I had become by the look of each row. They first three rows had no fried plants. The fourth row had a couple burned plants. It was not until you got to the very last row that you could see just what damage I had done. Out of fifty plants, I am embarrassed to say that we have about twenty-two alive. I should have quit earlier and done something else. I just kept pushing myself and eventually paid the price, as we all do when we make dumb decisions.
We planted the first three rows of sunflowers around the perimeter of the garden. The sunflowers, we hope, will serve as a trap crop for the stinkbugs. The trap crop area is fifteen feet wide by eight hundred feet. We are also planting about two hundred pumpkin plants in the outer ring of the sunflower perimeter.
We will plant, inside the pumpkins and sunflowers, everything that we lost last year along with some fruits and herbs. Then we will collect stinkbugs per the Michigan State Entomology protocol. The bugs will be frozen counted and reported back to Michigan State via the www.bmsb.opm.msu.edu website. If you have not registered on this site, I strongly encourage you to do so. The more information we all share about the BMSB the better chance all organic farmers will benefit.
For now, we have to get stuff in the ground if we are going to be able to generate revenue. I just wish we were not so far behind on everything. Then again, if we were not than it would not be spring.
Buy Local: Keep the momentum going, just be wary of hucksters and the industrial food complex
Posted by Brian
@ 06:53 PM EDT