Saturday, August 2, 2008

Calf Mortal Kombat

We've reached that stage of Rural Chic where nothing is stylish unless it is covered with calf spit bubbles and milk. Annie continues to enjoy her status as bottle baby and devotes an (apparently) substantial portion of her time thinking up new designs with the aforementioned substances. Both she and Penny (officially, "Champagne") are progressing beautifully with their lessons in leading. Both step along like little princesses, with only occasional lapses back to their former mulecalf mentality.

Once they have really mastered the walk, we'll progress to "standing while tied." They are good girls, though, and really only balk when they are unsure about things. A little neck and shoulder rub bolsters them right back up. Friday, they were two weeks old. It's been fun to have two that are exactly the same age. They are starting to play with each other, though they are still a little timid about it. Annie also decided that it would be great fun to try to play with me today. I suggested to her that it would not be, especially when she hits about 700 lbs.

Pics are in order: Calf Mortal Kombat, Penny fleeing calf-eating bugs, Annie

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Price of Eggs

Everyone likes fresh eggs and the image of picking creamy white eggs, laid by happy chickens, out of golden straw nests appealed to us. So, one of our first efforts towards greater self-sufficiency was to buy some pullets (young hens), so that we could enjoy our own fresh eggs. This is usually a simple enough exercise that goes something like this: Find someone with chickens and then buy some.

But given our tendency to over-intellectualize things, the reality went more like this:

1. Decide upon the desired breed, age and number
2. Locate person with appropriate breeds and ages through various classified ads
3. Determine method of transport: fly, drive, otherwise ship. How to pack?
4. Decide on coop features: size, access, position, lighting, heat, security, cooling
5. Decide on run features: length, width, height, material
6. Design coop furniture layout: nesting boxes, storage and chicken ladder
7. Construct coop (made easier through the handiwork of the awesome Todd Davis)
8. Select coop color, hue and tint, then paint it
9. Construct run using chicken wire
10. Research various options for hawk protection
11. Install deer netting across top of run to deter the hawks and amuse the deer
12. Determine appropriate diet to achieve desired nutritional balance
13. Make the difficult decision on plastic vs. metal waterers. You won’t find the kind you decide on.
14. Research all health issues associated with chickens and learn words like “bumblefoot,” Practice using them in casual conversation with loved ones.
15. Join several Internet lists devoted to chickens. Set them all on “no mail” because the arguments are clogging up your inbox.
16. Decide on a few additional chickens, then repeat steps 1, 2, 3, 11 and 12 and add additional task of socializing new chickens

Engineers probably shouldn’t buy chickens.

Based on what we spent for them, the coop, feed and materials, we estimate that we are currently paying approximately $1/egg, though the price continues to decrease. Our first egg cost approximately $2000, though it was actually laid in the crate on the way home. It was a nice egg and Tom promptly claimed it, as well as Lady Hamilton, the chicken that laid it. By this time next year, we will be down to approximately $.50/egg. In about two years, we will break even and pay approximately what everyone else pays in the grocery store (assuming no increase in grocery store prices, which probably isn’t realistic). Beyond that, we will some day in the future (I am not doing the math on this) actually come out ahead.

On our farm, we know exactly what goes into our eggs: snakes, germs, lizards, worms and dead bugs. Chickens will eat anything. But no problem with any of that sneaky melamine or ethylene glycol from foreign countries. If the Big One ever hits Burkeville, we and our trusty chickens will be survivors. Our chickens have good lives. They have names, personalities, a 401K and retirement housing. And in the long run, we ended up with exactly what we wanted: fresh eggs.

"No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!".

Sunrise reflected on the trees from our bedroom window the White Rabbit sang in Disney's version of "Alice in Wonderland". Well, Tom and Jorg's version is much the same as the days fly by and we neglect the blog. A typical day starts around 5:30 am and finishes with us tucked up in bed by 10 pm. In between, Jorg does her day job, and I get stuck into the routine of horses in or out (we put the older ones out at night to avoid the sun, which has been giving us temperatures in the 90s), and feeding, and of course the milking. In addition, making sure the chickens and sheep are OK for food and water. We also have three house dogs (all rescues), two birds, and a cat to keep happy. Not that I am claiming special bragging rights, you understand: we have opted to have animals and they need to be cared for. On the plus side, I am probably as fit now as I have ever been, even in my far off rugby-playing days. My pedometer reckons I walk at least 3 miles a day, and there is a multitude of lifting in the 40 to 50 lb range - feed bags, bales of hay, poop buckets. I've manged to get under the 200lb weight barrier for the first time for several years, and if Bessie gets any more accurate when I'm milking I might even get my hair back from the application of cow poop! So all in all, not a bad life - a beautiful farm in sunny Southside Virginia, busy and fulfilled days, and a lovely wife and companion (and also my best friend), truly we live the good life. OK, I'll wipe that smug expression off my face and go and clean stalls!

Sunset from our back porch