5.31.2012 The Rest of the Story

Aside from all the haying hooha, there are a lot of other things going on at the farm.  Somewhere last week, I found time to plant 50 sweet potato slips.  I watered them in and watered them again the next day and then other things took me away from them.  Surprisingly enough they are doing fine.

I also stopped by the bee hives.  My old hive has now filled out all three brood supers and appears ready to work in the honey super.  The problem with that is, according to the local beeks, the honey flow is over and the summer dearth is upon us.  I kept that piece of news to myself; my bees  are still out furiously working the clover. I’ve got lots of clover.  Still, they had not made any progress in the honey super.  Still only two capped frames.  I took those using nothing more than a bee brush and a lidded plastic bin.  That may be all the honey I get this year – enough to keep us in biscuits but certainly not enough to sell.

The two new hives are doing fine as well.  The queens have moved up again and are working the top super, but in general, there’s plenty of room in both hives for expansion.  I’m thinking I will give them another week or so, and then I will put on queen excluders and give them each a honey super and more sugar water.  Perhaps, they will accommodate me and spend the summer dearth sucking back my homebrew and drawing out foundation, so next year they won’t have to waste any energy making wax during the honey flow.  We’ll see how that works out.

My new bee suit arrived.  I was beginning to worry as I ordered it some three weeks ago from Pigeon Mountain Trading Company.  It’s a ventilated suit and that’s got to be a good thing.  I haven’t used it yet so I will have to report on its qualities another time.

I lost a Sussex hen during the haying.  She just died.  I have reached the conclusion that about two weeks after I put the flock on pasture, the birds contracted “something.”  Other than a severe drop in egg production, I really didn’t notice any other “symptoms” other than feather picking increased.  The first batch of chicks has been in the same pasture, for a while and they are showing no signs of illness or picking. It has been very tempting to just dump antibiotics in everyone’s water.  Very tempting to douse them with insecticide.  But I really am trying to take the long view.

In trying to create a flock that is naturally resistant to the local contagions I have to breed from birds that survive periodic outbreaks with nothing more than adequate feed, water and housing. So I’ve fretted over the egg count and waited.   Because, you know, it is entirely possible the feather picking was due strictly to overcrowding in the coop over the winter. (That’s when it started.)  It is also entirely possible the drop in egg production was due to the fact that I had the birds artificially lit over the winter to force the egg count up.  There are just so many variables, and unless I am willing to sacrifice a couple of birds to the state lab, I will never know if it was an illness or poor animal husbandry.  Using the state lab comes with risks though.  It puts me higher on the government radar and the federalis have been known to destroy entire flocks with no remuneration to the farmers.  Sometimes they do it for good reasons, most times though they are simply painting with a broad brush, just in case . . .

I mentioned the chicks.  In fact, the chicks look really, really good.  I do have one Sussex and the Dorking roolet Boots, both with severely bent toes.  (Incubator issue, definitely.)   Coloring is decent, body shape is looking like it’s supposed to and the oldest roolets have begun crowing conjugations.

My hatching plan for next year is to breed more pairs or trios and then have one fairy large batch of eggs ready to incubate all at once.  Then I will contract out the incubator step to someone with a decent incubator.  Having chicks of different ages is a real bother, because technically, you are not supposed to mix ages.  The older ones tend to beat up on the younger ones (Mine are two weeks apart and are getting along fine now, but the first few hours were pretty dicey.  That still leaves me with the three chicks from the very last hatch.  They have a tractor of their own.)  When the chicks get to be about 12 weeks old, you really should separate the boys from the girls.  All of which really demands more housing that I have.  More tractors to lug uphill.  Ugh!

Uphill.  That brings me to pastures.  I had an interesting, if brief, discussion with the hay guy.  He is of the opinion I should hay my fields twice a year and sell what I don’t need.  (Which means he makes twice as much money off of me.)  But if I take him at face value, he suggested it because he felt it would be better for the grass.

The heart of his argument is an old one.  Do you leave the clippings on the lawn or not?  Since grass clippings are mostly water, I have always used a mulching lawn mower and left the clippings in place.  But the bush hog that I use to cut the pastures is not a mulching mower.  It’s essentially a very large rotary mower that tends to lay down clippings in a very thick row.  The hay guy says that kills the grass.  I say, not exactly.  It may slow down the grass underneath the mat for a season or two, but that mat, disintegrates over the winter and by spring I simply cannot find bush hog “tracks” anywhere.   The hay guy says his haybine finds them.  Those mats don’t affect the quality of the hay, they simply slow down the haybine.

I am of the opinion if you are going to lay down synthetic fertilizers, pre –emergents, and bug killers then yes, you probably need to remove clippings and aerate yearly because you’ve killed the soil biology that digests clippings.  But I have lots of that biology cooking in my soil, so I will continue to bush hog as I see fit until I get organized enough to run a small herd of cattle in quick enough rotation that bush hogging becomes unnecessary.  (Opehlia and Venus simply can’t keep up with the spring growth, especially now that they are muzzled most of the time.)  25% better yield doing it my way.  Nuff said.

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