Monday, December 24, 2012

Time to Set Goals for 2013

As I countdown to the end of 2012 -- not a stellar year here at the homestead -- I am contemplating the focus for 2013. Now, I know that 'New Year's Resolutions' don't last much past February (if that long) for most people. And, I'm generally part of "most people" in this case. But, I have also learned that by setting some goals to focus on, it helps to keep me focused. And, if you knew the constant ruckus that is my brain, you would know that I need to focus!

The first thing I did was go back to see how badly I did with my goals for 2012. Actually, not as bad as I expected! I was about 50/50. That may not sound great to you, but for me -- for considering the curveballs this year has tossed at me -- I consider that a roaring success! From there, we shift to 2013 and what we should focus on to get us closer to our long-term goal of reaching maximum productivity in 5 years. As I discussed back in March of this year, I am giving myself 5 years -- till 2017 -- to reach a point of productivity where I am feeding my family and having food to share with others.

For the Homestead in 2013, I have set the following goals:
  • Plant mulberries, muscadines, figs, hardy kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries
  • Plant more rugosa roses, lilacs, hazelnuts, and other hedgerow plants that also serve as fodder for the rabbits
  • Plant mixed beds of flowers, vegetables, herbs -- both around the fruit trees, along the privacy fence, and elsewhere.
  • Increase the number of laying hens to about a dozen
  • Increase size of rabbitry
  • Build a food pantry-- as much as possible from foods produced here on the homestead
  • Finish writing the eBook for Natural Feeding of Meat Rabbits
As for my personal goals:
  • Work the Get Healthy in 2013 Plan
  • Jealously protect and seek even more time for Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, worship, etc. 
  • Continue to work on blog quality and quantity
  • Finish writing the eBook entitled "WHY"
  • Try to fit in more time for crafts and reading -- some RELAXATION time...what a concept!

So, there you have it. The focus for 2013 here at the Not Quite There Yet Homestead is to try to get a little closer to "there".

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fodder Project Update and New Supports for the Rabbits

Well, the fodder project has been mostly successful. The one issue I ran into was with moisture. No matter how well I thought I had drained the trays, I would find the grain mats too wet the next time I went to rinse them. While you might presume that mold would result, what actually seemed to happen to mine was a definite fermentation odor. The chickens liked that but the rabbits did not. So, I began looking for different trays. What I wanted was something like a vegetable strainer we used to have that was square and flat bottomed. But, I can't find it anywhere!

Today, I thought of the solution! It falls into the category of "if you can't find it, invent it!" I am going to get some plastic needlepoint canvas and fishing line and make trays. I'll be taking pictures and sharing here how it goes.

Hopp, the stud rabbit
Jumpp enjoying her hay.
In other News: The rabbit shed is now sporting some new cage supports. I completed that project a few Saturdays ago. I drilled holes through the front and back 2x4s and ran PVC pipe through it for the cages to set on. You can see Hopp demonstrating his cage support in this picture. The hole in the back 2x4 is not all the way through as it is in the front. I used zip-ties to hold the cage to the front and secure on the pipes. You can see the zip-ties in Jumpp's picture here. Bounce is now reduced to null. Finally, the rabbits and hop and jump around...or do the dirty...without the cage rocking and rolling and upsetting them!

On a sad note: The rabbitry said a sad goodbye to Skipp. His chronic problems suggested a potential systemic problem or genetic issue that should not be passed to off-spring. My friends from K-D's Rabbitry helped me to cull him.

And, to end on a high note: Biscuitt, son of Hopp and Country Mile, has rejoined the rabbitry after being fostered at K-D's Rabbitry. He shows great promise as a future stud rabbit! His litter mate has remained at K-D's and was named Harley.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fodder Project

Growing fodder is my latest step to giving my rabbits and chickens great nutrition while stretching the feed bill. Especially in the winter when weeds and garden trimmings are not available to feed them, having something green and fresh is a very good thing. Fodder, in it's broadest definition, is any food gathered and brought to the animal rather than what the animal can graze. So, technically, gathered weeds, garden trimmings, hay, silage, and pellets are all "fodder".  But, for the purposes of this discussion, my Fodder Project involves growing wheatgrass for the rabbits and chickens.

Finding the grains for sprouting was the most challenging part. I wanted barley as everyone says that barleygrass is even better than wheatgrass for rabbits. (The Organic Chicken folks tell me barley is not good for chickens, though.) But, sproutable barley is just not available to me. All the local "mills" are just glorified Purina Peddlers and you don't want to know what I think of Purina! I was beginning to think I just wasn't going to be able to affordably grow wheatgrass for the rabbits. Then, a google search landed me at a source for "feed grade" wheat to grow wheatgrass.

Coker's Feed Mill, Inc of Goldsboro, NC
Not only did I locate a source for wheat, I located a fabulous feed mill, to boot! The mill is Coker's Feed Mill, in Goldsboro, NC. They mill feed for livestock, including chickens and rabbits. An email query was promptly answered assuring me that I could purchase feed grade wheat from them through a local distributor.  Another bonus! A local source of feed not from the evil empire!  Clemmons' Hardware in Shallotte is just starting up and the owners are very eager to please. I ordered my wheat through Clemmon's and it came in their next order. Since it was "feed grade" wheat, I expected a good bit of chaff. Was I pleasantly surprised! There is very little chaff at all. My next concern was -- will it sprout well? It sure does! It has a high percentage of germination. This is good wheat, folks!

I was so impressed with the wheat, that I decided to purchase their rabbit pellets as well. (I'd already purchased a bag of their chicken feed.) Now, this was big because I was quite hooked on the MannaPro. But, since I could see that Coker's was using really good quality ingredients in their feeds, I figured this was a win-win -- I can support two local companies while providing my rabbits good feed. The ingredient label on the rabbit pellets was vague, so I emailed Coker's and asked. They are protective of their formulas for good reason but they were able to assure me that corn is not an ingredient in their rabbit pellets. From that fact, and the way they explained why it isn't, I knew I was dealing with a company who cared about the nutritional needs of the animals who would be eating the feed. This really impressed me. You just don't find folks like this very often. And, it isn't often that I give a company such high praises but I think Coker's deserves it! But, then, they are North Carolinian's!

So, anyway, back to the Fodder Project. With good wheat in hand, it was time to start sprouting. I have two buckets, one of which I put drain holes in. Day one, the grains go in the bucket without drain holes. Day two, it is transferred to the other bucket. Day three, it goes into a flat. I purchased four black plastic baskets (upper left-hand corner of picture) and put drain holes in the bottoms. These are working well but I don't think they will produce enough grass. The other flats, the long narrow trays, are actually the "saucers" for planters. I did not put drain holes in those. They will hold almost twice the grains that the black baskets will hold so I'll probably switch to those and save the black baskets for some other project. I will need more of the trays. Essentially, I need seven trays in rotation as it takes between seven and nine days to get the grass to the stage to feed to the animals. The first week, I stuck to just wheat. Then, I started adding in some odds and ends from my old sprouting projects (for me) to see how they will do in the system....and to get rid of them. I'd like to regularly add BOSS (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds) and Flax to the mix but I am going to wait until I use up the other stuff.

If you do a google search on fodder systems, you will see that folks will use different frequencies of rinsing the trays of grains/grass. Some use pumps to recycle water over their trays every two hours. Others only rinse twice a day. I would love an automatic system but that ain't happening anytime soon. I also don't have the time to be rinsing every few hours! I started out rinsing twice a day. I'm finding that most days, twice is not necessary. One must be very careful not to over water as that can lead to mold. So, I watch, rinse when necessary, and make sure I drain well! The biggest key to the system working and getting high germination is initial soak time for the grains. 6 Hours. No more. No less. Well, if you go longer you aren't lost but it will mean the grains have to sit in the bucket longer before you get good germination. You really want to stay as close to the 6 hour mark as possible. The other decision to make is "soil" or "no soil". I've gone with "no soil" but may try the soil option to see if it makes a difference at all.

Once the grass reaches a good size, between seven and nine days from the start of the process, it is time to feed it to the rabbits. The rabbits are taking a little time deciding if they like the wheatgrass but each day I see that they have eaten more of their grass. The Chickens get the rabbits' leftovers and they also get some of the sprouted grains from the bucket after I put most of the bucket load into a tray. So, the chickens get both sprouted grains and grass. They like this deal, very much! I've offered wheatgrass to the ducks and they say "thanks, but no thanks". Silly ducks!

Folks say they get roughly a 1:6 or even 1:7 return from fodder growing. That means for every one pound of grain used, they get 6 to 7 pounds of fodder at the end of the week's growing. A few folks claim even greater returns but I'll be happy with 6-7 pounds of fodder from 1 pound of grain. It is a bit labor intensive unless you set up an automatic system but so far, not too unweldy.