Monday, January 22, 2018

2017 Rainfall - By The Numbers

Yesterday we talked about tracking egg production in 2017 from our flock of happy hens.  Today we look at 2017 annual rainfall.  We have a rain gauge nailed to the top of a fence post right by the cows' water trough.  I check it each day after a rain event and I record the rainfall amount in a matrix we have printed and conveniently located on the deep freeze in the utility room so that we can keep it updated.

We like to do this just because we're curious.  It also is interesting to see trends by comparing previous years and being able to see typical dry months and typical wet, soggy months.  So let's take a look.  The information below merely represents the sum of each month's rainfall in 2017:


The above shows that you can't get much drier than September was.  But at the same time, it rained enough in August for both months!

The table below compiles rainfall amounts by month and year over the previous 5 year history since we've been recording the wet stuff.


According to the Internet, Jennings, Louisiana has an average rainfall total of 60.35 inches.  However, other than 2015, we have exceeded that figure.  2016 and 2017 rainfall totals were pretty close and rain totals seem to be trending upward.  Our actual rainfall total over the previous 5 years is 69.15 inches.  Also, according to our records August is our wettest month and September is our driest month.  This is all very good information and we find it useful in planning for the timing of gardening and also lets us know when we need to keep our rubber boots handy!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2017 Egg Production - By The Numbers

We try to keep accurate records around Our Maker's Acres Family Farm.  Good record-keeping helps to spot trends, good management ideas (things that went well), bad management ideas (experiments that didn't work), and just gives us benchmarks so that we can compare year to year to see how we are doing.  It is kind of like a scoreboard.  Today we'll look at the scoreboard for the hens to see how they are doing.


In looking at the statistics above, you can immediately spot a trend from month to month.  The season peaks out in early spring when the weather is nice, sunshine is plentiful, and tender plants and insects to eat are in abundance.  The eggs dwindle to nothing in the gloomiest, coldest, darkest months.  There is also a dip in egg production in the hottest months of the summer, followed by a brief rebound in early fall.

We have about 100 hens.  According to our records, in 2017 they averaged almost 100 eggs per hen.  This is really not great production, average production for the breeds of hens we have is more like 200 eggs per bird per year.  This can easily be explained.  For most of the year we didn't feed them a high protein diet.  We fed them rough and milled rice.  If I remember correctly, that provides about 12% protein.  For part of the year (beginning in the fall and winter) we did incorporate hen scratch and laying pellets that provides 17% protein.  Additionally, our hens are getting old.  As they get old, their laying slows down.

Below is a comparison table that we compile that compares egg production year over year.  The variable is the number of hens.  That differs from year to year, but I would estimate that the number of hens doesn't fluctuate by more than 10% each year.

This table shows egg production by year, by month, in total and then converted to dozens.  You can see that 2014 was the best year!  In the 5 year trend you can spot that Dec-Jan are the lowest egg production month each year and that April is the best month for egg production.


There are several things we could do to increase egg production.  We could keep lights on them all the time.  We could consistently feed them a higher protein ration.  We could get rid of all of our older birds and start with a brand new, younger flock, keeping the hens for two years before rotating out.  We could get rid of the Aracaunas (hens that lay blue and green eggs) and replace with Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks or perhaps get some white leghorns.

While we could do some of the practices mentioned above to increase egg production, we probably won't.  Why?  We currently have plenty of fresh, farm eggs to eat, to sell, and to give away at church.  We love having free range chickens.  They provide delicious, healthy eggs for us to eat and they walk around and fertilize our pasture.  They are "eggstrodinary" creatures!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Growing and Processing Luffa Gourds!

Every year we grow luffa gourds.  This is perhaps the easiest thing to grow.  Even if you don't have a green thumb, luffas will grow and flourish.  They take zero maintenance.  All you have to do is provide them some sort of trellis to grow on.  They will inevitably vine to try to take over your garden, but you can clip off the vines and compost them or feed them to your animals.  The leaves are large and sometimes hide the gourds.  You can see a big gourd in the center left below.


Luffas are gourds that we make bath sponges out of.  I harvest them as they start to turn brown or a little yellow on the vine.  They continue to produce and produce until the first freeze knocks them out of commission.  Here is the last batch of them that I pulled a little early, but I had to as the freeze killed the plant.  I'm leaving them on the patio to dry a little bit.


When you feel the outer covering getting a little dry, you simply peel it off.  It peels right off rather easily.


Once the outer covering is removed (shown below), the inner sponge is revealed.  I'll leave it in the sun for a few days to fully dry, flipping it over in the process to ensure it dries evenly and completely.


But we're not quite finished yet.  Luffas produce a plethora of seeds.  These things are serious about reproducing themselves.  When fully dry, you can shake the gourd and hear many seeds inside.  I place a bucket underneath the gourd and shake and shake and shake some more.


You end up with a LOT of seeds.  I use a few to replant for the next crop year, but I always have way too many for my own personal use.  If anyone needs any, let me know and I'll give you all you can handle.


Now, if you notice in the two photos above, the gourds are a drab brown color.  We use these luffas as bath sponges and find that they are more aesthetically pleasing when they are a lighter color and all cleaned up.  I'll generally get a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with water and add some bleach to it.  Then I'll place a batch of luffas soaking in the bucket overnight.


Most of the luffas are about 2 feet long, so after the first night's soak in the bleach-water solution, I'll flip them over to bleach the other side.  You can see the difference that the bleaching makes below.  That makes a big difference, and the top will be bleached just the same once soaked for another night.


"Let's do this" is right!


Here is one batch of the finished product:


Since they are quite large as you can tell by me holding one below, they are too big to use for a bath sponge.  I like to cut them in half.


Tricia and I each have one in the shower.  We wet the sponge, rub soap on it and use it in place of a washrag.  The luffa is a great exfoliant and is reslient and long-lasting.  You can freshen it up after using it a bit by soaking it in a bleach solution.  I've heard of people cutting the luffa into disks and when making soap, they pour the soap in the middle and let it dry.  I haven't tried that yet.  Luffas are great to give to family and friends as gifts.  Scrub-a-dub-dub.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sunflower Power

Before we switched to a packaged Dairy Ration to feed our dairy cows, we mixed our own ration.  One of the components of the ration was Black Oil Sunflower Seeds.  Black Oil Sunflower seeds give supplemental nutrition to cows, specifically fatty acids and higher milk protein.  Since switching to the ration, we haven't purchased sunflower seeds for them.  We feel that they are getting good nutrition from the ration AND a 50 lb bag of black oil sunflower seeds was doggone expensive!

My parents went on their annual trip to South Dakota to visit with family and friends and to hunt for pheasants and brought back two sunflower heads for us.  I have them pictured below.  I should have put my hand in the photo for comparison purposes as you can't really discern the size of the sunflowers.  Trust me, they are bigger than my head!  The item on top of them is one of the many louffa gourds we grow, and I'll post on that perhaps later this week.


We ate some of the seeds right off the head but decided to go ahead and feed the rest to the milk cows.  These, I think, are confectionary sunflower seeds and not black oil sunflower seeds, but I read that they are still considered beneficial feed for cattle.  It was a beautiful afternoon, so Tricia and I stood on the back patio and pulled all the seeds off the heads and captured them in a bucket.


I snacked on a few walking to the barn.  They taste great right off the flower head.  Mom & Dad also bring us bags of South Dakota sunflowers in dill pickle flavor, barbecue flavor, and bacon flavor.  We devour those things!  The cows, however, are getting the regular unsalted flavor.


Since Benjamin will be showing Clarabelle in the Jefferson Davis Parish Livestock Show, we decided to give her the sunflower seeds so she'd get the benefit of the fat supplement in her diet.  Oddly, she picked around the seeds and only ate the dairy ration.  She lifted her big head and chewed funny.  I guess the texture was new to her.  I certainly didn't want to waste the South Dakota sunflowers.  I thought about feeding them to our hens, but then Tricia suggested that we feed them to our other dairy cow, Rosie.  She's in milk and could benefit from the seeds.  We dumped them into her trough, and she quickly gobbled them all up and moaned for more.  Clarabelle's pickiness caused her to lose out on a mighty fine and nutritious meal. 


Monday, January 15, 2018

Extreme Home Makeover - Hen House Edition

I posted last week about our hens going on strike and not laying eggs and how we temporarily installed a light in the hen house to help give them a few more "daylight" hours so that perhaps we'd get eggs in the cold, gloomy, dark days of winter.  We got that done last week.  A day afterward - no eggs.  Two days afterward, no eggs.  Three days afterward - you guessed it, no eggs.

Tricia and I were talking about doing a little renovation to the hen house to solve a sanitary issue we were dealing with in the hen house.  We have nesting boxes that line about half of each interior wall on each side.  The hens, when they are laying, fill those boxes with eggs.  But there is something else they do in the laying boxes - they roost on them at night and poop in them.  They are not good house keepers.  It also means extra work for Benjamin as he has to clean some of the eggs that get poop on them.  If you wash the eggs, it reduces the shelf life as it removes the "bloom" or protective covering that the hen excretes on the eggs to keep bacteria from entering the eggs' pores.

But we have a plan that we enacted to mitigate this problem.  We decided to build some doors that cover the boxes during the night time hours.  If this renovation is successful, the hay in the boxes will stay clean.  Each morning after we finish milking, we'd open the laying box doors and they'd be able to lay.  A while back, a friend had given me some old cabinet doors that he was throwing away.  I figured they might work.  I pulled them out of the rafters of the barn and measured them.  They fit perfectly!  I only had four hinges on hand, but I figured that if I would 'tie' all the doors together with some wood strips, I would only need four hinges - two on one side and two on the other.  We removed all of the soiled hay and poop and composted it in the garden.  Then we filled with fresh hay.  It ain't pretty, but you can see the finished work below.  The doors are open and that signals the hens that it is time to clock in and get to work laying eggs.


Here is the nesting box door on the other side in the closed position.  In the evening when we feed and separate the cows, we close the doors.  The hens will roost on top of the boxes and poop on them.  The nice thing is that the doors open toward the middle of the hen house, allowing all the poop to fall to the middle of the hen house.  The hay inside the boxes is kept fresh and clean.  The eggs are spotless.  You can see how the wood strips tie the 3 cabinet doors together, allowing two door hinges on either side to do the trick.


Here is the other side in the closed position.


Like Motel 6, we leave the lights on for ya (the hens), but so far no eggs.  The inventory of eggs dwindles.  The clock ticks...  Tick tock, tick tock. 


While I was building the nesting box doors, I looked at the ceiling and the rafters was filled with cobwebs.  I've never cleaned it.  Cobwebs aren't all bad.  One time, we de-horned a calf and the blood vessel in the horns would not stop bleeding.  In the middle of the night, I went to check on the calf and there was a puddle of blood where she was bleeding!  We called the veterinarian at night and he told us about an old remedy to stop bleeding:  He instructed us to pack the area bleeding with cobwebs and they would stop bleeding.  We did it and it worked! 

Having a few cobwebs around is sort of like a first aid kit.  But we had more than enough cobwebs.  It was time to spruce things up.  I got the broom and put on a mask and safety glasses and began sweeping all the cobwebs down.  It was time-consuming work, pulling the cobwebs off the broom.  The hens gathered and ate the spiders that fell.  It was a happy time for the hens.  Not so much for me.  Finally, though, the hen house was clean.


The hens were happy, I think.  So happy that they laid two eggs!  You can see them in the bottom left hand corner of the picture below.


But I still have a mystery to solve.  Did they begin laying because of the light?  Or was it the clean nesting boxes?  Or perhaps a high protein diet of spiders?  Too many variables.  All I know is that the hens are putting their picket signs down and slowly beginning to lay eggs again.  That's something to crow about!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The (House) Coat of Many Colors Quilt

Beginning in Genesis 37 and proceeding through the end of the book, there is a wonderful story about overcoming adversity.  It is a story about having great faith and persevering even when things look bleak.  It is a story about patience and blessing and restoration.  It is also a story about a father's great love for his son.  Jacob made his son, Joseph, a "coat of many colors" and presented it to him.  It was probably an ill-advised move, as it showed favoritism and his other brothers began to hate him.  If you ever feel that you have a dysfunctional family, you need to read this story!  It will make you feel better.  The coat of many colors started a daisy chain of events that causes Joseph's life to go from bad to worse, but the story finally culminates with a happy family reunion, great blessing and shows that God has a plan even when things seem bleak.

I was thinking about the story of Joseph today and thought, "I have a coat of many colors" too!  My maternal grandmother, whom we called "Bumby" always wore what she called "housecoats."  To me they were like a gown or a robe.  Bumby also called the couch or sofa a "davenport."  Bumby was quite a lady and I have many fond memories of her.  Bumby passed away almost 12 years ago, but I always like to keep memories of loved ones alive, and so it was with great pleasure that my Mom & Dad presented me with Bumby's "Housecoat of many colors" quilt.

Mom gathered a bunch of Bumby's housecoats, cut the fabric and had a quilt made out of them.  I think it was a fantastic idea.  You can see it below:


We keep it on our bed during the cold months and as I look at the quilt, I can recall Bumby wearing the housecoats represented by each square of fabric as she made us cinnamon toast and served us Rice Krispies with sugar sprinkled on top as we'd eat breakfast in her den on TV trays.  I remember her laughter and funny faces she'd make.  I remember how she'd make us pimento cheese sandwiches and prepare games for us to play in the car to keep us occupied on family vacations.


I'm grateful that I have the House Coat of Many Colors Quilt to help keep Bumby's memory alive.  The quilt keeps us warm and provides us with warm memories, too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Casualty to the Freeze

During the latest cold weather that we've been talking about, we've heard about many people that had broken pipes.  We just aren't prepared for that kind of stuff down here.  Fortunately, we didn't have any broken pipes of dead fruit trees.  But we did have problems with our main water trough.  After the freeze, I noticed that the trough was leaking from a place that had previously been patched with an epoxy resin fiberglass repair kit.  But after the freeze, drip, drip, drip...  I assume that the thick ice perhaps stretched the sides of the trough and ruptured the seal of the epoxy resin that had previously held for years.  Suddenly, I had a muddy mess and an empty water trough!


But I think it can be fixed!  I bucketed out the sludge and leaves from the bottom of the trough and moved it into a blue tub and scattered it in the garden.  I cleaned all the algae off of the sides of the trough and let the sides dry.  Here is a close-up of the two places on the outside where the trough was leaking.  I'll  leave that in place.  I'll concentrate on removing the epoxy resin fiberglass patches from the inside of the tank, cleaning the area and then roughing it up with some sandpaper.


Then I'll apply some JB Weld Water Weld.  It costs about $6.50 for a 2 ounce tube.  I have used this before and am sold on the product.  It works!  It is a putty that you simply roll into a ball.  A chemical reaction occurs when the putty on the inside mixes with the outside and then you press the putty over the cracked area that is causing the water leak.  It sets up in 15-20 minutes and then has a 1 hour curing time.  You can see the two areas where I affixed the JB Weld Water Weld.


In about an hour and a half, I began to fill the trough with water.  Time to see if we did any good.


As the water began to fill and cover the places where the trough was leaking, it was time to start checking the exterior for leaks.


When it got completely full, I inspected the area that was previously continuously dripping water.  Not a smidgeon of water!  It was as dry as the Sahara Desert.


I highly recommend JB Weld Water Weld. 
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