Friday, July 10, 2009

One month is too long

I must apologize for being away so long. Life became crippling in June and did not let-up until early July. We had big chickens out on pasture up until the week of June 22nd. That was tough raising 320 chickens on pasture. Our locker did not reserve our processing date so we had to hold the birds an extra week. That also hurt us because we were feeding $40 a day in feed there at the end. We had enough birds that two trips to the locker were necessary to get them all in. I am not doing that again.

Our poultry locker is Hansen Poultry in Kimballton (20 miles north of Atlantic). State inspection begins at 5:00 AM and Jeff Crocker likes me there at 5:00 AM. In order to do that, we load the birds the night before and then wake-up at around 2:00 AM so that we are out the door by 2:30 AM. I have always done this alone, but Janice came with me for the first time that week. Birds have usually all been processed by 6:30 to 7:00 AM. We then have until 10:30 AM for the birds to cool down to an internal temperature of 40 degrees. I usually drive to town and try to nap for about two hours and then go to the cafe for breakfast and to do some work. With Janice, it was harder to nap (two people +dog & small truck cab). We had 180 birds in our first load and left Atlantic around 11:15 AM, after loading every bird and getting them on dryice. We drove strait home and got back 2:15 PM.

If you remember the last full week of June, it was horrible. It was 90+ degrees with dew points in the mid 70's. When we got home, Janice started unloading birds into our freezers. This consists of wiping them off, weighing them, and tagging them. I went out to the pasture to fill waterers. I found a disaster. One of my pens had a waterer that broke. It consists of a big red bell drinker that hangs from a chain, fed from a five-gallon bucket that also hangs from a chain. This was a "Hansen-style pen" consisting of a wood frame with two cattle panels bent over the frame to make a mobile hoop house. String a few tarps over it, add sides, and you have a basic pen. Anyway, the handles on the bucket broke at some point and all the water spilled out when the bucket hit the ground. I am not sure when this happened, but it was likely early in our absence from the state of things.

To sum it all up, many of the birds had died and I had to burst into action to save those that were left. I grabbed watering cans, filled them up and went into the pen sprinkling water on the birds to cool them down. After that, I started to sort through he birds. Those that could stand I put next to a new waterer that I set-up. Those that were barely there, I moved to the shade and put their face into a shallow waterer and forced them to drink. I was not able to save all the birds that were that bad off, but I tried. I have never lost so many birds from any single problem or threat on the farm. All told, I lost 40 birds, half the pen. That was pretty depressing.

I spent the rest of my evening helping Janice with unloading birds and going back out to set-up a new pen for the surviving birds, and to compost those that I lost. What a crappy Monday.
Tuesday was a delivery run to Ames for our customers up that way. Wednesday was consulting work. Let's be honest, I do not make money farming. Right now, if the business makes money it goes right back into the business. I have to do some consulting work and I sell things on craigslist and on ebay from time to time to plug the budget gaps. I had a consulting contract with Practical Farmers of Iowa developing wildlife management plans for several farms in southern, Iowa. All of that work was due at the end of June, so in between farming I was working on these items.

Wednesday night was loading the next batch of birds (103 total). The second trip to Atlantic in the same week (3 days later) went much more smoothly. I was alone and did not encounter significant difficulties. It was just grueling and I slept better in the cab then I usually do. I sat down in the local cafe to do consulting and took some flack from one of the old farmers about the computer and being a college boy. I tried to tell him that I farm in Jasper county, but he thought I was lying. In the interest of being courteous, I held my tongue. Any farmer that is not curious about what other folks are doing or how things work is being a lousy farmer in my book. One the return trip, I stopped at a local locker in Otley to have my birds frozen down. I then went home to get birds together for our Pella customer deliveries that night.
Friday, I was visiting several farmers for consulting. The whole weekend was a blur of consulting work and on into next week. Monday, June 29th, was our Des Moines delivery. Did I mention that we got turkeys a few weeks back too. I will put a few pictures of the little guys. I love turkeys, but this batch has had very high mortality. Anyway, I took some time off over the weekend of the 4th and am getting back into the long list of tasks that need to be done around here. Besides, we are hosting my sister's baby shower on July 19th so I have to get the place together. I apologize for the length between posts (and the length of this one). I will try to correct those failings in the future.


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