Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lessons Learned from our black Spanish Turkey

We raised and processed our heritage turkey as if it was a commercial breed. This was a mistake. Heritage breeds take longer to raise than commercial breeds. Last year, we let our commercial breeds grow a little more after they reached commercial size, and they tasted tested delicious. We did the same with our broilers, with the same results. With the Heritage turkey, we actually processed him before it reached full size, because I didn't realize it would take longer. We also bought it late in the season, because we were too busy. Next year, we will have to be better organized. Heritage turkeys take 8-9 months to reach maturity.
I would like to try White Midget turkeys next year. If possible, we will keep a tom and two hens for breeding. The white midget takes 32 weeks to grow to maturity, so for thanksgiving, we need to get the poults early to mid April at the latest. At the end of its life, it is good to set the turkey in a small pen for 2 weeks before processing to reduce exercize, which makes the meat tender. High carbohydrate feed also makes it build up some fat.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Black Spanish Turkey

This past Thanksgiving, we ate our Black Spanish Turkey tom. We have had that turkey for about 6 months, and we became attached to him. Since he learned how to fly, every night, he would roost on the upper deck railing, so that he could see us through the window. When during the day I would go in the field, he would follow me like a dog. Pretty interesting bird. Then came Thanksgiving. So we processed it, and it was hard. Lots of mixed feelings. Now it is eaten, and we are thinking of what to do next year. Certainly, more than one turkey, so we don't get attached. Probably a different breed, the Black Spanish don't taste better than the Bronze. We may try the Bourbon Red.
Here are pictures of our Black Spanish tom:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rat Hunt Third Night

The Zapper caught one big rat last night. The pipe trap and the Snapper did not get tripped. Total kill is 3.
Considering the size of the 3 kills, I doubt the Snapper can kill one of those rats, it is simply too small.
The Zapper is a very nice device that can kill big size rats. Here it is:
[ Rat Zapper ]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rat Hunt Second Night

Last night the rats tripped my pipe trap, but did not get caught. They may have walked above the pipe. I also had a Rat Zapper Ultra, an electric trap that electrocutes rats humanely, setup. The rats ate the bait, but since I forgot to turn it on, no catch... It is on now! Finally, I had a Snap-E plastic rat trap set in the garage, and it tripped, but the rat got away .. with one missing front leg. I reset it as well. So the count is:
  • Pipe trap = 2 caught, 2 killed, one missed.
  • Zapper = no catch (was just set today).
  • Snap-E = 1 catch, escaped injured.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Homemade Rat Trap Success

I finally caught the rat that was drilling the floor of my barn. Our metal barn is built on a wood foundation resting on gravel. The rats have an easy game drilling tunnels under the wood beams, which weakens the 30 years old beams. They steal food and garden seeds, and leave a mess behind.
I have been trying to catch the rat responsible of this for some time, using a pipe trap. The pipe is resting horizontally on an axis in its center. Once the rat gets in and passed the middle, the pipe then flips vertically, the rats falls in the bottom of the pipe and is stuck there.
That did not work very well. The rat would get in there, fall in the bottom, eat all the bait, and somehow get back out.
Next try was to remove the end cap, and set the pipe above a metal garbage can. Instead of falling in the bottom of the pipe, the rat would fall in the garbage can, and would get stuck there. A foot of water in the garbage can would prevent the rat from jumping back out, and would also drown it, trapped rats can attack you.
After a few unsuccessful trials where the rat would trip the trap and eat the bait, but get away, I finally got him. I actually got two rats at once (which raises the question: how many are they?), and immediately reset the trap. So here is the homemade rat trap:

Click on the image for full size.
The piece of 2x4 at the entrance keeps the pipe in position. Once the rats pass the middle and start moving the pipe, the piece of 2x4 falls, which increases the imbalance and causes the pipe to tilt more rapidly.
Here is the inside of the pipe, with the bait (you can see the piece of 2x4 resting on top of the pipe at the other end):
Here, the pipe after the rats tripped the trap:
Notice how the pipe end just comes to the top of the garbage can, so that the rats slide nicely into it. Here is the graphic result:
I did not expect to catch two at once. They are big with that. Since the pipe does not come back into position after the trap tripped, they were inside the pipe at the same time. Cool catch! So the trap has been reset. I will eventually have a more permanent setup, but for now, this is working well.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Drying off our goat

Poppy, our dairy goat, had kids last year in mi December. It is now time to dry her (actually a few weeks late). I will follow recommendations gleaned from the Fiasco Farm website. First step, starting tonight, no more grain. Tomorrow, I will milk in the morning only, no milking at night. This will go for one to two weeks, depending on how full the udder is after one week of once a day milking. Once the udder is not as full, I will milk her every 2 days for about a week. After that, Poppy should be able to dry off.

This is our first dairy goat, we will see how that goes.
Normally, Poppy should have been bred to have kids again in December, so that she stays dry only 2 months. We decided a freezer full of milk will keep us going for a while, and breeding goats once a year is hard on them, so we will wait until we breed her again, or maybe we will breed her daughter, Achille, next year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Summer Farm Update

Since the last post in April, quite a few things have happened:

Ziggy the buck has been sold to our neighbor. Difficult decision, but Ziggy was getting stronger. I have no doubt he would have eventually overpowered me, and that would be dangerous. Ziggy, who was lonely with us, has a herd of ~ 10 does for him now.

The geese had two more eggs hatch, those that the hen was brooding. Unfortunately, a predator took care of all the goslings, none survived. Next year, we will have to incubate all the eggs. a goose egg turner will become a useful device.

We got a Black Spanish turkey, she is growing well, and now about twice the size of a hen. She is also pretty agile. I was fixing the barn gutter yesterday, and left the ladder against the barn roof. When I went to milk the goats, I heard the turkey, but couldn't locate her ... until I looked up. She was on the barn roof, apparently scared to move. I had to get her off the roof. I think she got there by climbing the ladder.

Our 2 acre field is now occupied. It is rented by a lady that takes care of miniature donkeys. They are mostly rescued animals, so we rent the pasture for a low rental price. The donkeys are fun, and they take care of the grass. Cutting the grass will also remove rodent habitat. So I think it is a good arrangement. We have 10 miniature donkeys, all females, in our back pasture. I can now proudly state that I am no longer the ass of the farm!

I am cutting all the unused wood I have around, for winter firewood. There is a lot of wood from the old deck that has stayed outside last winter. It is now dried, so it is a good time to gather it.

I have been looking at upgrading our 35 years old electric furnace. I can't convince myself to replace it though, because it performs well, and it is similar to the backup system of a modern heat pump. Part of the cost of buying a new heat pump would be to buy something I already have. I'd rather add to the current system. I have been looking at solar hydronic. The most cost efficient upgrade at this time would be to install a solar hot water system for this winter, and think of upgrading the heat source next year. Weather stripping and some simple zoning would also help.

Our roof needs to be replaced. We are getting ready to have a metal roof installed.

The rainwater tanks are connected to the barn roof. They are both almost full. I need to connect them to the outdoor faucets.

I have located where our bat colony (~12 individuals) enters the house: they roost in the attic, and the entry point is a gap between the roof and the masonry chimney. This winter, I will build the best bat house I can build, and mount it on the chimney, then I will conceal the entry point. When the bats will come back from winter migration, I hope they will move to the bat house. I will also build several barn owl nest boxes, as well as Kestrel nest boxes.

I have two beehives, one survivor from our terrible summer, and a new colony. No harvest this year.

Mid-October is when our milking goat needs to go dry. Until then, we are still enjoying goat milk, yoghurts and goat cheese. The freezer is full of goat milk. The cat and the dog enjoy a sip of goat milk every morning and every night.

We have one room available for rent. Monthly rental is $400, and can be paid with work, partly or entirely, if work is worth. I don't have much skills in small scale farming, so if you are bringing in those skills, that would be worth something to me! The room comes with a parking spot, plus common facilities: bathtroom, laundry room, kitchen, living room with wood stove, deck, small backyard, all shared with only one other tenant. The rented area is 1400sqft. We can also add a barn stall, a small 1/5th acre paddock and parking spaces to the rent, for a fee.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Imprinting is a process that helps ducks and geese identify themselves. They will consider the first being they see as their mother, then the others as their siblings. If they are hatched from an incubator, and handled by humans, they will think they are humans, and will not mate with other geese. They will also seek human company.
To avoid this, I limited eye contact with the gosling, who is still in the brooder, on his third day now.
This morning while I was feeding the goats, the mother hen got out of the nest. I took advantage of this to take one of the eggs from the incubator and set it into the nest. There are now 5 eggs in the nest, and three in the incubator. I also ran a power cord from the barn to the geese shed. The next time the hen gets out, I will try to set a second brooder there, then I will set the gosling in there for a day or two, so that the hen will get used to his chirping. After that, I can try to set him in the nest, in hope she will recognize him.
The next weeks should be interesting as far as the geese.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

First Gosling

Our first live gosling hatched today. Sadly, a second gosling died at hatching. Out of the 5 first eggs, two eggs were bad, two were dead at hatching, and one only survived. So far the gosling is still alive tonight, has dried up, and it now eating and drinking.
I understand better why the two others died. I had to help this gosling to hatch, and realize that the egg shell is way too dry. The incubator doesn't have enough moisture in it. I also need to get a goose egg turner, which will make the incubation process a lot easier.

Here is a pic of our gosling, about 12 hours after hatching:

The next hatch is due 5 to 6 days from now.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ziggy the Buck

Ziggy our buck has a whole 2 acre pasture for himself. The problem is that he is lonely. We have to separate him from the milking doe, to avoid tainting her milk, and the kids are too young, he could hurt them. So he is lonely and complaining every time he sees someone.
Yesterday, I spotted a plastic bag on the pasture, which doesn't look very good, so I went in, first time in at least two weeks. Ziggy is fed through the fence, so he has minimum interaction with anyone.
He let me him, no problem, and then I walked to where the plastic bag was, always keeping an eye on Ziggy, because he has challenged me a few times. Nothing really bad, I just walked away to leave him alone those few times. But yesterday was different, as soon as I tried to walk back, he would stand in front of me, show me he wanted to play or fight, although I don't think he meant any ill. Foam was coming out of his mouth, and he was jumping and turning around in front of me, head up, then head down, showing his horns. I was quite scared at that point. He would not let me pass him.
The only thing I thought of doing, although I knew it was not good as far as training (it would reinforce his bad behavior) was to grab his horns and twist his neck to drive us next to the gate, then push him to the fence to shock him, and hope that would startle him enough to give me time to open the gate and leave. It took me a good 10 minutes to push him back the 100FT or so to the fence. He resisted to touch the fence, but eventually touch it good two times, and run away 10 feet from me. I ran and jumped the gate (not part of the initial plan...). I looked back, he looked disappointed that the game was over, which is why I think now he did not mean any ill, although yesterday, I was not sure at all of his intents.
I was exhausted, and promised myself to buy a cow prod and shock him good to show him who is the boss. These were my thoughts coming back to the house.

After a day reflecting, I am trying to come up with the best response. He is a beautiful buck, and I want to keep him, but not with this behavior, at least not with humans. So here is the plan:

1. Get a cattle prod. I hope to never use it, but I will if I have to (risk of injury for example). The prod will be locked so that nobody will play with it (I have seen kids playing with forcing their dog to walk through their invisible fence just because it was fun to shock the dog...).
2. Always have the prod on me, visible to Ziggy, when I have to deal with him. Put red tape on it or whatever will make it noticeable. Use deterrence as much as possible, rather than punishment.
3. Never go into the buck pen alone. This is the last time I deal with Ziggy on my own.
4. Use a spray bottle against Ziggy, and see if that works. If it does, this will be the main training tool. If not, unfortunately, the prod will, and the training won't be good. Here is an example of how well that simple trick can work: BackYardHerds post.
5. Train Ziggy to make him understand humans are not challengers to his dominance. Does anyone know how to do that?
6. Give him a companion. That will be our wether kid, he is 4 months old only, and still too young, he could get hurt. A companion will help Ziggy stay a social buck.
7. Interact with Ziggy as often as his behavior allows. Probably leave him alone with the wether during rut though...

If you have experience to share, please leave a comment. Thanks for visiting the blog.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

First Goose Egg

Yesterday, the geese took over the goat shed. The goose hen choose a spot to nest, her companion standing next to her, while the lone male was guarding the goat shed. The pic below shows the loan male guarding.

Needless to say, they were fiercely defending the area. I brought them some feed, and got attacked. So I suspected the hen had laid already, and hoped that she would brood her eggs.
This morning, I noticed the three geese were out, and staid out for a while. The nest appeared abandoned, so I went in there, and found three eggs, one been a chicken egg, one a broken goose, and the third one an apparently good goose egg. Here is a pic, the obscurity of the goat shed forced long exposure, which made the pic a little blurry. The broken egg was removed before the pic was taken.

Because the nest is abandoned, we setup our incubator. Hopefully the goose egg will fit inside the egg turner.

On the first pic above, the new Kestrel nest box is also visible.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

About the Geese

We have three geese, of unknown gender until a few days ago. A visitor stopped by to ask us about our geese. Since he seemed to know about geese, we asked him to sex them for us: we have a mated pair, and a lone gander. He also said that the hen is ready to lay. That immediatly got my attention.

The geese have been a pain for quite a while, mostly because they keep stealing the feed from our layer. But recently, they have stepped us their disturbance to our hens by taking over the hen house. Two of the 3 geese (the mated pair) kept getting in there. I had to get them out and was not happy at all about the mess they put in there. Now I understand they were simply looking for a place to lay.
I setup an unused dog house, which got their interest for a day or so, but they didn't seem to like it much, so I made them a bigger shelter with two pallets and a tarp.

They seem to like it better than the dog house (the Dogloo on the left), and the three of them can fit in, while only two could fit in the doghouse.
I approached to get a better shot, but they were getting defensive, so I didn't insist. This is the closest shot I could get:

I also had to feed them grains, since the snow is covering the grass. They are very hungry.

We used to talk about have a goose dinner one of those days, due to their behavior toward our hens (or even toward us sometimes, they are very defensive). Now that I know they are mated and ready to lay, I love my geese.
As always, it is just a matter of mutual understanding...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Attracting Raptors

We have a predator problem in our farm. The first big predation problem we got was the coyotes that took our chickens last year. We lost about 8 chickens, a duck and a goose until I was able to secure the electric fence. No other kill has happened in more than 6 months. I think working on the fence is the best way to control the coyotes.
Since I started a small chicken hatchery, I have also lost more than 10 chicks to rats. Today, the cat got attacked and bitten.
When I was mowing this summer, I saw field mice running in front of the mower. The cats would catch a few, but that was only making a small dent in the population of mice. Once we will grow more crops, they will become a serious problem, so they need to be controlled now.

According to an Ontario survey, 90% of chicken farms have rodent problems.
A single breeding pair of rats or mice, along with their offspring, can potentially produce 20 million new rodents within three years.

Read more: Agricultural Control for Mice & Rats |

The previous owner of the property used poisons, which I really want to avoid. if everything else fails, then I will, but I want to try other more natural methods first.

The field mice can be controlled by American Kestrels, which are the smallest known Raptors living in our area, and second smallest in the World. They feed on mice, but also on insects such as grasshoppers, or amphibians. They can be attracted to our area by setting nest boxes at appropriate locations. There are good informations on the net on how to build and where to set a Kestrel nest box. The top South East corner of our horse sheds look like good spots.
Our land often has a Westward morning breeze, and an Eastward evening breeze. These regular winds are excellent for the Kestrel, which needs a headwind to do his spectacular hoovering flight when hunting for mice.

Rats are not easily controlled by common predators such as cats. They are simply too big and vicious for them. I knew of only one cat that could take on a rat and kill it, it was a feral cat that would also take on dogs such as German Shepherds (the whole neighbourhood knew her, humans ... and dogs!). For that wild cat to kill a rat, it would take 3-4 hours of a very vicious fight, with a lot of hissing and screaming. Usually, my parents' shed was where the fight would occur, and they could hear the rat screaming from inside their house. Knowing what that cat was capable of, I know that our current cat is not going to face those rats, as her injuries show. To control the rat population, I am again going to use their most efficient natural predator, and that is the Owl. An Owl is nocturnal, like rats. She has sharp ears and eyes, and can fly completely silently. An Owl is built to hunt rats, and is extremely efficient at it. If I can attract an Owl around here, the many lakes and ponds will provide plenty of rats to feed her. There are also good informations on the net on Owl nest boxes, so I will try that too.

Kestrels and Owls are cool birds that differ from the common birds we are used to see. Watching the Kestrel hoovering gives welcome diversity from crows eating my chicken feed. As far as the Owl, I hope I will be able to attract them, ear their song and maybe even see one silently flying in the night. Knowing an Owl family is hunting will certainly help the goats and chickens (and myself!) sleep better, and significantly increase the yield of our hatchery.

As efficient as they can be, these predators are not going to exterminate their prey. To them, that would mean suicide. The goal is to achieve a balance between predator and prey. Without predators, our barn would get overrun by rats, and our crops devoured by mice.

Time to study nest boxes, and locate the right spots to set the boxes...