Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Best laid plans

The hot and dry weather has hammered our pastures as well as our flock for the last several weeks. In this weather the ewes are not overly motivated to graze, which is good considering the pastures have all but burned up. What are some of the things we are doing and not doing to ease the stress on our flock and pastures.

To alleviate the stress on our already brutalized pastures, we have started to feed baleage leftover from last year. The lush springs of 2010 and 2011 (which are but just a memory) provided us extra feed from the proceeding year. Since, 2010 we have had extra baleage, though it seems we will have just enough to get us to the hopefully green pastures of 2013. The Big Bale Feeders were pulled out of storage sooner than expected and our late born pasture lambs will be weaned sooner than anticipated, but as the saying goes "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

photo: Ewes and lambs eating grass hay from a Big Bale Feeder. 

For those who maintain CRP land (Conservation Reserve Program), they are now able to hay or graze these pieces of land. Premier has a few employees who have CRP ground, we suspect they will take advantage of the grazing (check with your local FSA for rules and requirements). Premier has some ground that we keep as prairie. The sheep are on it in the Spring for lambing and are off it for the rest of the year. This year we will graze it in order to extend our grazing season before breaking into stored feed.

photo: Ewes grazing a late planted soybean field. Soybeans can tolerate heat better than some of the other grasses on our farm. 

When it comes to working the flock in the high heat, we do it only when necessary. For example, last week we had several ewes demonstrating classic worm burden symptoms; lethargic, loose stool and bottle jaw, thus they needed to be wormed. Worming in 100° weather is not comfortable for the sheep or the shepherd. So our shepherds drove and wormed the flock in the early hours of the morning while it was still cool. This cuts down on the amount of stress our ewes experience. 

photo: Building fence during a drought is not an easy task. The spikes often refuse to go into the hard dry ground. It is often necessary to use a drill to make a pilot hole for the spike (below). If you're lucky, there might be a crack in the ground where you want to put the post.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Determining the right poultry waterer

Summer typically brings a few questions regarding water consumption and chickens. Water consumption is hard to nail down as there are many factors that influence intake; salt and protein levels in the diet, humidity, temperature, productivity (growth or egg production) and the birds ability to process feed and water.

A quick internet search will show that the average daily consumption of a chicken is about .3 liters in the cooler months and up to .5 liters per day in warmer months. Remember that there are many factors that influence intake. 

To determine the number of birds per waterer, convert the gallons to liters (3.78 liters per gallon) and divide by .3 for cooler months and .5 for warm months. For example, a 5 gallon Quick Clean Bucket Waterer holds 18.9 liters of water. This is sufficient for 63 chickens in cooler weather or 38 in hot weather. It is best to have more water available than what is actually needed. 

Another way to think of it is, 7-12 birds per gallon of water. (1 gal = 3.78 liters = 7-12 birds). Make sure to always have clean and fresh water in front of your birds. If your birds run out of water between chore times, they a need a larger or an additional waterer. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Drought fencing tips

It has been very dry throughout much of the country. Many of our incoming calls entail this question, "my fencing was working but now that it's dry it's not, why?" When the soil lost moisture it also lost conductivity. It is harder for the positive charge to travel from the fence, through the animal, ground and back to the energizer. Here are a few tips to help make sure your fences are up to the task. 

Make sure you have enough ground rod(s). A ground rod completes the electrical circuit between energizer, fence, animal, ground rod and energizer. Adding an additional ground rod can increase a fence's effectiveness. Soaking the area around the ground rod aids in conductivity as well. This can be done with a garden hose or a bucket with a small hole in the bottom. The slow leak from the bucket will seep into the ground over time (that way you won't have to stand around holding a garden hose. 

For those with short lengths of fence, it is helpful to walk along the fence and water it. This is a more time (and water) consuming option but it does help. 

Wide impedance energizers are able to deliver high-pulse energy levels and high voltages through a wider range of fence situations. This includes those with high total fence circuit resistance due to inferior polywire/netting; dry, sandy, rocky soils; dry brown grass; and fewer ground rods. 

Positive/Negative netting is useful for sites where soil resistance is high (brown grass, dry soil, snow). The horizontal strands of the netting alternate pos/neg. An animal needs to touch two strands, a positive and a negative, in order to receive a shock. Care must be taken to ensure that nothing is touching two wires at once (brush, grass, sticks) as this will render the net ineffective. 

In some cases an all hot (positive) fence will need to be converted into a pos/neg fence. it may be necessary to add wires to the system and ground them or change positive wires to negative wires in the system. Please call Premier 1-800-282-6631 if you have questions on this. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mad dogs and englishmen

The high heat and humidity is not only making us feel sluggish but our flock as well. The sheep do not enjoy grazing in the heat, thus their intake decreases and gains are not as significant as they are in cooler weather.

To beat the heat, the flocks spend a lot of time in the shade and close to their water sources. We also avoid working the animals to reduce the amount of stress they are exposed to during the heat of the day. If we absolutely have to work the livestock, we do it early in the morning to avoid the hotter parts of the day. Soon the heat will break and things can go back to normal. Until then we will have to be vigilant in providing cool drinking water and shade for our flocks.

As the saying goes, "only mad dogs and englishmen go out in the heat of the midday sun".

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Garden fencing

It seems that raccoons raid a garden just before it is ready to provide the first ear of corn or cucumber for the season. Many folks combat these pilfering pests by trapping, baiting and other means of discouragement. 

At Premier we respond to such situations with our answer to just about everything—electrified netting. In this case, RaccoonNet™and VersaNet®.

For specifically deterring raccoons, we like to use RaccoonNet. Its low height is easy to step over when going in and out of the garden. 

VersaNet features tighter spacings, multiple heights (20" and 30") and is available in white or green. Green VersaNet blends in nicely with the background which is more aesthetically pleasing to some. It is not as visible as white VersaNet.  

VersaNet is able to guard against a wider range of critters. The tighter spacings help ward smaller pests such as skunks and rabbits. White VersaNet is much more visible than its green counterpart, both humans and animals see it better. For areas that will experience high traffic (human or animal) white VersaNet is recommended.