ROYER FARM FRESH BEEF, LAMB & PORK
Natural, Tender, Flavorful Meats from Our Family to Yours
February 2013 Newsletter #94
Mother cows and calves out for a morning graze
Livestock guardian dog puppies of the Maremma breed.
News from the farm....
Pictured above are the two livestock guardian dogs (LGD), Duke and Ranger. This photo was taken just two weeks ago and the puppies have grown a lot since then. I guess that is what happens when you eat about 10% of your body weight in food every day. We have constantly battled predators attacking our chickens, both the egg-laying hens and the meat-type broilers. The determined and resourceful hawks, foxes, skunks and coyotes that like to dine on our chickens were not deterred by electric fence or protective housing. However, our adult LGDs have seemed to keep the troublemakers away. Since our family pet dog did not appreciate being recruited for guard dog duty when a wily raccoon was grabbing the broilers as they slept in their mobile houses, we realized more LGDs would be a good idea. The Maremma breed originated from Italy and is known for their "close-up" working style. The Maremmas tend to stay close to the livestock as opposed to venturing away from the livestock in order to guard a territory. Duke and Ranger are very even-tempered, especially for puppies. They don't get all excited and squiggly like our pet dog did during puppyhood. The only thing that tries their patience is when a greedy hen tries to eat their food. Well, you have to be flexible when working on a farm in Indiana. Some of the mother sheep are committed believers in the philosophy that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (even when it is brown on both sides). A few troublemakers have taken to jumping over the hot wire into the adjacent pasture. Today I was going to install a fourth wire on the fence posts to discourage the leaping ovines but a January (!) thunderstorm came through. Working with an electric fence when there is potential for lightening is a very bad idea. I just was not expecting it to be a problem in the middle of winter. I definitely had the fun jobs today doing the daily animal care while Scott grappled with tax forms. If I recall correctly Scott started doing the taxes many years ago when I still had an off-farm job and I have never felt the need to tear that responsibility from him. He has gotten a lot quicker over the years. The first time he did the taxes himself it scarred our children. For months after April 15th they wanted to play "taxes". This consisted of pushing huge stacks of flashcards back and forth under their bedroom door and yelling, "paperwork, taxes, ugghhh". Shannon (the high school work/study intern) and I were rearranging the barn to accommodate some new sheep we will be caring for this winter when one of the automatic waterers started spraying out water. Shannon had a good learning experience when she took the lid off the unit and water came squirting all over her jeans (if the water pressure is high enough to force water to shoot through the seams, it will really let loose when the lid is taken off). Luckily, it did not take Shannon to long to dry out on a breezy, 65 degree day. Fixing the waterer was pretty simple, too. I am just glad we were around when the problem started or there would have been quite the little pond in the pasture.
Don't touch that electrified wire!
The cattle quickly become trained to respect even a single stand of electrified fence. We use polywire (a thin string made of rugged plastic and wire filaments) to subdivide the pastures and portion out grazing allotments. The perimeter fences that keep the livestock contained on the farm are the traditional woven wire but by using the polywires inside the pastures means less grass is wasted and the plants can have more time to rest before regrazing. Out of the four species we raise, cattle respond the quickest and most consistently to the electric fence. With their big hooves and large wet noses, touching the wire results in a robust zap. The pigs also respect the electric fence but they are ever hopeful that some day the fence may not be "hot". At least every other day some wishful pig will check out the fence in hopes the fence is not turned on and then all the pigs can use the fence as a new toy. Electric fence doesn't function the best for sheep. Their little hooves and small, dry noses often prevent a good animal-to-ground connection so the zap is not much of deterrent (hence the need for a fourth wire around the sheep pasture). When the poultry encounter the electric fence they are just as likely to be startled and jump on through the fence as they are to stop and turn around. However, the electric fence around poultry will stop predators unless they fly, dig or jump!
A hen can scratch through a flake of straw like a flash of lightning