Posts Tagged ‘farm life’

NPIP – Exam Time for the Flock


Yesterday, at our request, a representative from the Department of Agriculture came out to visit and test our chickens in conjunction with the National Poultry Improvement Program.  NPIP is a voluntary program that provides testing for common ailments in home and commercial flocks.  NPIP helps us to ensure a safe food supply and avoid the transfer of disease through other means (after all, taking care of chickens is not a hands-off activity here at the Flying T).  In addition, it allows those who raise chickens to avoid unnecessary medicines and antibiotics.  Finally, by working exclusively with NPIP-certified hatcheries and home producers, we can reduce the chances that our healthy flock is infected by birds or chicks we purchase as replacement stock.

Some of the NPIP tests are required for 4H and other shows.

The actual process is quite simple for a relatively small flock like ours (23 birds)… or at least it should be.  First,  you need to make sure they’re contained.  To accomplish this, we simply turned off the coop’s automatic door after the chickens had gone to roost for the night.  Simple, right?

However, about an hour before the NPIP representative arrived, our son went to change the chickens’ water, and six of them slipped out the door.  The three kids and I had a heck of a time chasing them down.  Free range means no fences, and lots of places for them to hide, squeeze under, and run through.  It also means that trying to entice them back into the coop with grain doesn’t work well, because there are lots of other, more tasty things to sample out in the woods.  However, after a bit of running, diving, and even climbing the compost pile, we managed to get our escapees back into the coop.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated the exercise, and so I have no pictures to share.  They would’ve been worth sharing!

OK, it is a simple process, once you’ve got the chickens back in the coop!

We enlisted the kids to help, and they crammed into the grain room along with the NPIP tester, Tara.  One kid would go into the coop and pick up a chicken, then bring it out to Tara, who would start by banding their legs with a numbered tag (for our older chickens, this also required removing their previous NPIP tags).

Then, she turned them onto their backs, and plucked the feathers from a small area under the wing.

A quick scratch with a scalpel to draw blood, a few drops in a plastic vial, and the chickens were released to go .

Within about an hour and a half, the vials were filled and the process was complete.  Tara said that she recently did a flock of 250 birds, and that took all day (with several helpers).


The chickens were none the worse for wear (though they were a bit indignant).

We should get our NPIP renewal certificate in the mail in a few weeks!

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In Like a Lion…


It’s been pretty crazy-busy here at the Flying T (and at our other activities, including the professions that support them), and looking back I can see it’s been nearly three weeks since our last post.  It’s not that we didn’t have anything about which to write – we actually have a ton of material, especially after the superb New Hampshire Grazing Conference last weekend!  We simply haven’t had time to write.

Today, God gave us some time, in the form of a snowstorm that so far has dumped about 9″ on us and is still going strong!

The snow kept me from going to work, and meant that even though the snow provided some additional chores (plowing and shoveling), it also provided lots of time to do other things: Chores we’ve been putting off, completing our 2011 taxes, and of course… writing!  So, I thought about which of the multitude of topics I might write about, and then I saw this out my window:

I said to myself, “Self, this is not a day to spend writing about serious things.”  So, my wife and I put our winter chore clothes back on and headed out to play with the kids.  We even got some sledding runs in.

So, no “important” writing in the post today.  Instead, I’ll finish with some pics of the snowmen the girls put together for the goats and horses to snack on.

Early in the day, a small snowman for the Goats - hay hair, carrot face, alfalfa pellets in the ears.

Jasper's Snowman

Zip's Snowman

Jasper was VERY curious about what was going on in the pasture, and was eager to run out to see.

Zip was next down the chute

Wherever you are, I hope you also have some time to play with your kids!

Unsung Heroes


We’ve lived all over the United States and a bit of time outside the country as well, and we’ve met a lot of great people from all walks of life in the process.  However, one group of wonderful folks we really didn’t get to know before we moved out to our farm.  Boy, have we been missing out!

These folks have been Godsends to us as we’ve muddled through small-scale farming, visiting us, training us, giving us advice, and even helping us teach our kids about agriculture.

Who are these amazing unsung heroes?  They’re the folks at the Merrimack County Cooperative Extension Office, the local branch of the statewide University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension!

How they get to all the things they do, I’m really not sure.  As we approach the first year on our little farm:

  1. A forester has walked our woods with us to help us with our forest management plan.
  2. A poultry inspector has tested our flock as part of the NPIP.
  3. The office has tested our soils and made recommendations for improvement.
  4. We’ve received advice on garden management and care.
  5. We participated in a seminar on goat care (and are starting another 5-week series)
  6. In the next few months, we are attending clinics on fruit tree pruning, gardening, forages and pasture management, and more.
  7. We’ve pored over the volumes of information available on their website, and used some of their curriculum to supplement our homeschool program.
  8. All of our kids are immersed in 4-H activities ranging from animal sciences to riding to crafts.

I’m pretty sure there are things I’m leaving out.  The bottom line is: EVERY one of these activities is supported to some extent (or entirely) by the county extension office, for a minimal fee if not free.  This is all made possible by the superb staff as well as a huge network of volunteers they coordinate.  We have been overwhelmed by how active and involved these people are and are indebted to them for their help.

Here is a video they produced to tell a bit more of what they do:

We have a long way to go at the Flying T, but we’d be much further behind without their support.  So, we’re taking this time to say THANK YOU to Deb, Nancy, Dot, Tim, Mary, Amy, and all the rest of the unsung heroes at the extension office that do so much with so little!

How about you?  Do you have an active and involved extension office, and how do you rely on them?

The Egg Business – Progress Report


Our 7-year-old son runs the egg business on our farm.  We paid the startup costs – buying the chicks, converting an emu hut to a coop, and buying feed and supplies.  Once the first group started laying, he took over the rest.  He now buys the food, cares for the chickens and eggs, markets the eggs, and keeps records of his production, income, and expenses.

Small-scale farming is not a big money maker, and as we’ve put together our 5-year plan, we can see that we’ll have to get a bit bigger before we can realize any significant profits.  However, based on just the past few months, eggs are a good place to start.

With proper care, we’re finding that our original flock of Rhode Island Reds and Araucanas (10 pullets, one cockerel total) produces an average of about 8 eggs a day.  That’s about 20 dozen per month.  The young flock consists of 12 Barred Rock pullets and their cockerel, and up till now, they’ve been eating and not producing.  Supplemental feed for the combined flock runs him about $25/mo…  less in the growing season and  more in the Winter due to availability of forage.  So the rough cost of production is about $1.25 per dozen.

You just can't get fresher eggs than these!

Out of that 20 dozen, our family uses about 8 a month and gives away another 2.  We pay him at production cost for those.  The remaining 10 dozen have sold pretty easily at $3/dozen, so combined with the ~$12 we pay him for the eggs we use, he’s been clearing a bit under $20 a month.  Of this, he puts a good portion in his “giving” jar (currently he’s giving that to missions in Haiti, but he’s looking at other places for the future), and splits the rest between his “saving” and “spending” jars.

Well, this week, the Barred Rocks started dropping an egg or two, which means pretty soon our production will double.  His first thought was, “that’s OK, it won’t be too hard to sell twice as many eggs.”  However, we had to explain to him that although his production is doubling, the number of eggs he’ll have to sell will actually triple (because we don’t plan on upping our family consumption to 20 dozen a month!).

So, it’s on to more marketing.  He’s already made a deal with the local feed store to buy his eggs, but they only pay $1.50.  That’s enough to make a small profit, especially since his cost per dozen should drop significantly now that he doesn’t have so many unproductive mouths to feed, but it’s not nearly as nice as $3.

This whole process has become a supplement to our homeschool curriculum, as he’s not just learning animal science, but  math, accounting, business skills, marketing, and communications also.  And of course, he’s learning a lot about both personal and social responsibility, lessons that will be even more important throughout his life than the “three R’s.”  Regardless of what some might say, that kind of agricultural education certainly doesn’t seem useless to us!

If he can manage to sell 30 dozen a month at the going rate, that’s about $75 a month profit.  That might bump up a little if he’s successful in raising chicks this Spring.  That’s too bad for a backyard business, especially if you’re a Cub Scout.

Do you raise chickens or other livestock on a small scale, and if so, do you do it for profit, as a hobby, or both?  How do you market your products?  I’d also love to hear other ideas for getting kids involved in business and financial planning at an early age.  Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

(Mis) Adventures in Long Distance Horse Trailering, Part 4


Our oldest daughter got tired of waiting for me to finish the story, so here is her account of the next day, after the horses had enjoyed a couple days’ break from trailering. Her words start here:

Aww, Dad, you stopped right before the best part!

Anyways, while Dad and Mr. G were hitching up the trailer and whatnot, my siblings, our friends, and I decided to take a walk with the horses in the G’s field. This was partly for our exercise and partly so that Mr. Anti-Trailer wouldn’t see the scary metal box that these crazy humans made him stand in.

FREEEEDOMMMMMM!!!!

After a little while, Jasper decided to walk off, pulling my sister so hard that she dropped his lead rope. We recaught him and walked on.

When we returned, the two G girls were each proudly walking a horse (with help). While I put Zip’s trailer halter on, the youngest of our friends, who was scratching Zip’s neck, much to his snorty pleasure, looked up a me and said, “I think I’m addicted to horses.”

Horse hugs

We pushed all the stuff we’d used back into the trailer (five or so bales of hay make it hard to do this), and took out our trusty Handy Stick. We knew we were ready for anything a twelve-hundred pound horse with a sharp pair of hooves could throw at us.

As usual, we weren’t.

Jasper usually knows that Mom is boss. But, it depends on her tone of voice. If she says “Mister Jabba-Wabba baby, do you wanna get in da twaiwer?” then he will refuse for the rest of the session. If she says “Come on, buster. Let’s get in,” he says “Whoa. She means business here.” (OK, I’m exaggerating – Mom never talks to him like a baby – but she did learn to be firmer with him).

Who's longing who?

At least, that was how it happened in Texas when our feisty steed knew he was going to only have to stay in there, with his haybag full, for five minutes or so. But this day he said, “Wait a second. I’m not wearing my rope halter. I’m wearing the web one with the blue fuzzy things on it. and everybody’s hugging each other like they’re leaving. You know, I think I’m staying in there for a while. Nope, not gonna do it.”

Bllpbllpppptt!!!!! That's what I think about trailers!

With that, he threw out buck and a rear, and galloped off over our friends’ lush lawn. A fairy-tale picture, I know, a Horse with a long mane running, free, over a green meadow.

That is, until you notice the dangling lead and the fact that your fairy-tale mount is gamely crossing a road and going for those tasty flowers in the neighbor’s yard.

Mom, Dad and I ran after him, shaking the treats. Jasper said, “Uh-uh. I know where you’re taking me.”
Mom and Dad cornered him by going around opposite sides of the neighbor’s house, and Dad finally caught his lead rope. Jasper hung his head.

Dad now took over. After longing the escapee for a few minutes, he tried to lead Jasper into the trailer. Jasper refused.

Let me deviate from the plot. May I say that sweet old Zip had been waiting patiently in said trailer for about half an hour, now?

We longed Jasper whenever he refused to get in the trailer. After a long time (our friends, after seeing Jasper’s various bucks, kicks, and rears, decided to watch from afar) we finally got him in.

Drat! Foiled again!

We were headed to Ohio. More adventures were in store.

On the road again!

2012 Farm Resolutions


Traditionally, many folks make resolutions on New Year’s Day.  I can honestly say that I’ve never done that.

It’s not that I don’t think resolutions are important – I’ve made them, just never specifically on New Year’s day.  I guess I’ve always figured if it’s important enough to make a formal resolution to do something, one ought not wait till a certain date to get started on it.  And, I’m not saying that I don’t have a problem with procrastination – the stack of projects I’ve got waiting to get done around here proves otherwise.

This year has involved a lot of getting back to traditions that never were traditions for our family in the first place.  The most obvious is farming itself.  My parents both grew up in a farming community.  My Dad worked in the fields, most of his relatives had working farms, and his Dad co-owned the town’s Ford Tractor dealership, so I guess there is some level of family farming tradition, it just skipped my generation.

After he finished college, my Dad joined the Air Force and he and Mom started moving all over the world.  I was born at pilot training and lived in and around bases until I joined the Air Force myself, and moved my own family all over the world.  My wife grew up more rural, but was never involved in farming.  This year, however, we’ve jumped both feet into the tradition of farming that a few generations ago was the norm in this country rather than the exception.

In that spirit, I’m going to follow the New Year’s resolution tradition this year.  Here are my top ten, specifically related to the farm:

image from wikipedia

10. I’m going to learn how to weld.  When we bought the farm, we also bought a lot of the previous owner’s equipment – his tractor, implements, air compressor… the list goes on.  On that list is an arc welder, gas welder, and gas cutting torch. I haven’t welded anything in my life.  So this semester, I signed up for a class at UNH – Welding and Industrial Fabrication.  This is the fun kind of resolution!

Burning Brush in our Back Pasture

9. By spring thaw, we’ll have half of the back pasture fenced and ready to put into rotation along with the front pasture (which I’ll split into two paddocks).  This will allow us to give each paddock a proper two-week rest between grazings.  Eventually, I want to have four paddocks to rotate, but that’s a longer-term project.

Peaches, peaches, peaches!

8. We’re going to prune our apple and peach trees this February!  They’d obviously been neglected over the past few years, and this year the peaches were so productive that we lost branches due to weight.  The apples were edible, but not optimal.  By pruning correctly, we’ll have a smaller but healthier harvest.

7. This Winter, I’ll finish our farm business plan, forest management plan, and nutrient management plan. I’ve got a pretty good start on all three, but the Summer and Fall workload hit hard and I dropped work on them.  USDA paperwork is next… whew!

6. I’m going to get a hold of the growing list of construction projects and make sure they actually get done.  So far on the winter list: garage insulation, pasture hay feeder, goat grooming stand, and mobile turkey brooder/house.

5. We’ve got lots of studying to do to get ready for kidding.  They’ll come whether we’re ready or not, and I figure being ready is the better of those two options!

4. We’re going to keep diving into 4H and other extension programs, and never miss an opportunity to thank the volunteers and staff in the extension offices for their invaluable contributions.  We would be up a creek without a paddle without them – they are pure gold.

3. I’m going to get out on the tractor and horses more often.  Both of these activities help me shrug off the less important stuff that occupies my mind and put that all in better perspective.  I’m a better husband, father, and overall person when I have things in perspective.  Plus, my wife and kids love to join in on the farm work and horse riding, and that makes it even better.

2. On that note, I’m going to be more intentional about getting involved in what my wife and kids like.  Whether it’s fishing with my son, volunteering at the therapeutic riding program with my daughters, having a cup of coffee/hot chocolate with my wife, or going on a trail ride, a walk or a paddle, this farm isn’t worth the rocks the walls are built out of if we can’t work and play as a family.

1. In all of this, I’ll try not to lose the amazement of how blessed we are to have the opportunity to participate in this adventure called life, and continue to thank God for giving us that blessing.

Pre-Christmas Snow


The snow hit a few days early… we’re hoping it holds for a few days.  Meanwhile, the light tonight was so good I had to drop chores to take photos.