Stay Safe With Home Yard Work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe home is where we spend much of our lives so it’s little surprise the number of accidents there. As time and money becomes tighter there is sometimes the pressure to save and take shortcuts when working in the yard and around the home. Safety in the home is important but many people do not extend that to the yard. Working in the yard can be a source of many accidents and it’s important to stay safe in the yard.

After a long winter people are eager to get in the yard to work. We want to be the first with flowers blooming or the first to have a tomato picked from the vine. In the eagerness to get into the yard the thought to stay safe is sometimes pushed to the background. This can be a dangerous thing, sometimes fatally so.

All power equipment should be properly maintained. Not only will this help you stay safe in the yard but it also extends the life of your equipment. From the weed eater to the mower make sure that it is in good working order. Clear the yard of sticks, rocks and debris before you mow. Use eye and hearing protection and resist the temptation to crawl on the mower, put the headphones on and crank up the tunes. Not only can you not hear a warning or distress call but you also won’t hear if the motor begins running badly, creating a major repair bill. Keep children and pets out of the work area so that they stay safe also. Don’t leave tools, especially power tools, where they can get to them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother big safety point is dressing appropriately. Shorts, flip flops and minimal clothing are not the way to stay safe from flying debris. Use good shoes or boots, long pants and close fitting clothing that breathes well for yard work. It may be slightly cooler to climb on the mower with shorts but it’s better to alter the time of mowing earlier or later in the day when you can dress safely for the job.

Often times working in the yard means running a power cord for a project. Always use a proper grounded outlet and protect the cord from being run over or damaged. Accidents can happen but a big way to stay safe is to be aware. Know what is going on around you. Use extra caution when using overhead trimmers and pole saws not only to keep the branch from falling on you but also to avoid connection with any overhead lines. Sadly this results in fatalities every year.

Another yard chore than can turn from routine to dangerous is cleaning the gutters or other repairs using a ladder. Yes ladders are expensive but invest in a good quality ladder and use it safely. Always have it on solid ground when working off the ground and do not lean too far over to change the the balance, resulting in a fall. A good ladder might cost you $30-40 more but even if it’s three times that it is cheaper than a trip to the emergency room!

Stay safe also when working around the pool. While some hire pool maintenance to be done others see doing it as part of owning a pool, but work carefully and safely. Don’t allow children or adults to run near the pool. Have the area fenced off from the yard to prevent pets and children from getting in and have a ramp at one end that they are trained to go to if they do get in the pool. This can be a lifesaver.

There are many ways to stay safe throughout the year. Be a safety bug around the yard as well as around the home. Safety is not a game but it can save injury and save a life.

Introduction to Sump Pump

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHomeowners who live in low-lying areas, or with low spots prone to flooding, may find a sump pump is your best friend in time of need.

Prices can start at around $70 for a small portable unit and range to $500 or more for the deluxe models. There are different types available and different sizes. A submersible pump, as it sounds like, is out of sight as it pumps water from your basement. There are also pedestal models available.

Pedastal pumps are cheaper initially although they last longer. They are also easier to repair when needed. Submersible pumps, because they operate in water, last a considerably shorter time, up to 15 years with good maintenance. Obviously, the more a pump is used, the more wear and tear and the shorter lifespan.

How much pump you need determines how much money you will spend. They are available from 1/6 to 1/2 horsepower, but a bigger factor is how many gallons per minute (or hour) capacity it has. The efficiency is part of the equation but how high you’re pumping that water is also. For example, if a pump is advertised 2400 gallons per hour, that is great if you’re pumping the same amount of height – if it’s based on one foot and you’re pumping it eight feet higher (as out of a basement), you’ll get less performance. Pay attention to choose a pump that can pass leaves and other small debris often are found in flood waters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnless you plan on sitting and watching the water level it’s recommended to get a pump with an automatic shut off switch. This turns the unit off when the pump runs “dry” – when the water is all pumped out. If you aren’t home to turn off the pump it can burn out.

Look for solid parts – cast bronze, stainless, epoxy coated cast iron for example. Make sure the power cord is the length you need – if you’ll need a pump in the center of a room that’s 10′ get a longer cord than needed for safety. DO NOT use extension cords – remember you’re standing in water. Water that seeps into the connection of an extension cord can result in fatal shocks. Have the power cord secured with tie straps so as to not become kinked or damaged in any way. There are also 12 volt battery driven pumps that have a sensor to detect water levels.

Thoroughly examine the pump annually or more often if it’s used heavily. Always disconnect electrical power before handling, especially if there’s water in the pump.

When installing clean debris away and set the pump on a solid area to help prevent it from getting clogged. Know your plumbing codes and whether you can discharage into a drainage system or dry well. Storm drains are another option for draining water. This is less a factor for those in the country but attention is still warranted to handle the water properly. The discharge pipe should be no more than is needed to get the water out away from the home.

A swing check vave will prevent backflow of water, and a relief hole should be drilled in the discharge pipe. This should be below the floorline between the pump discharge and floorline, and reduces the chances of an air lock, in which the pump is running but not pumping water.

A cover is recommended as well as a level alarm. Proper installation and maintenance of the sump pump will help it last longer and insure it runs when you need it!

Endangered Species – Dairy Cattle Need Conservation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the early 1960s Golden Guernsey milk was prized – the Guernsey cow was second only to the Holstein. Today Guernsey numbers continue to fall despite the needed characteristics she has had all along and she is officially a “watch” breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. This designation tells there are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the U.S and an estimated global population less than 2,000. According to some sites this is roughly the same numbers as wild pandas – yet pandas get much attention. The Guernsey is just a cow.

Also on that “watch” list is the Ayrshire, milking Shorthorns and Galloway cattle. Not far up the ranks is the Brown Swiss. Critically endangered is the Kerry, milking Devon, Canadienne and a beef breed, the Florida Cracker. Less than 500 of these animals remain – and they need small farms for existence…they could simply cease to exist.

This is an urgent situation and most of society is blissfully unaware of it. The modern dairy uses the common black and white Holsteins, a breed which for decades has been developed for a high confinement, high grain, high production situation. She is not one for longevity – only highly exceptional cows are 7 or 8 years in the herd. Consumers interested in purchasing milk – or meat – from animals raised on grass are less likely to find it among these confinement animals simply because that has not been a selection trait. She has not needed to walk for hours per day grazing. Even the high butterfat Jersey is often a confinement animal in today’s farm situation. The above breeds, however, CAN supply a good amount of milk on grass. Volume is not everything.

The Guernsey cow is a smaller sized animal, fawn and white or a golden and white color that is very distinctive. Often this high yellow is carried down into the fat of the animal, something that makes her less than appealing to many as a beef producer. She was developed as a grazing animal on a small island in the English Channel, and first brought to the US around September of 1840. Today, with the use of artificial insemination and an aggressive young sire program a young bull might have 1,500 offspring in up to 400 herds across the US. This provides a sound genetic base – but with that the Guernsey needs the other critical thing – demand. Only a demand for products from these less popular animals will truly make keeping them a viable option for more than purists with a love for the breed. The Guernsey is known for producing high butterfat and protein in her milk with 20-30% less feed per pound of milk than larger breeds. She also contributes a high concentration of betacarotene in the milk and adapts to warmer climates. American Guernsey Association, 7614 Slate Ridge Blvd., P.O. Box 666, Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-0666. Phone: (614) 864-2409.

The Milking Shorthorn breed was developed when the shorthorn breed split into milking and beef registries. It is said the milking shorthorn comprises best the characteristics for dual purpose – using for milk and meat. The first shorthorns came to the US as “Durhams” in 1783. They were actually known as a “triple purpose” – having not only meat and milk for the early pioneers but also steer calves were trained for draft use as oxen. They are a colorful breed, being red, white, red and white spotted or roan, the latter a mix of red and white that is unique to the shorthorn. The breed’s hardiness and adaptability along with efficient production made them very popular in early America. They are long lived, easy calving and economical to run especially on grass. They are easily managed and an animal that is injured or not kept for breeding is good enough to provide a good amount of meat for the family. More information can be found at the American Milking Shorthorn Society, P.O. Box 449, Beloit, Wisconsin 53512-0449. Phone: (608) 365-3332 or http://www.agdomain.com/web/usmilkingshorthorn

The Scottish developed Ayrshire cow is arguably one of the most efficient grazing cattle on the planet. Said by some to be nervous, the breed was developed to provide milk and meat to smallholders and dairies in their native Scotland. They are red and white, only – although the red varies from light to dark. Color markings vary widely from almost all red to nearly all white often with jagged, flashy spots. They were known for years for their beautiful horns – something unwanted in today’s confinement system. They are ideal for less than ideal conditions as they were developed under tough conditions with rugged terrain and varied climates. The bull calves can be raised as steers, providing meat for farm families. The overall average for the breed is over 12,000 pounds of milk with some herds as high in average as 17,000 pounds of milk. The current world record for an Ayrshire is 37,170 pounds of milk and 1592 pounds of butterfat. Overall the Ayrshire, like the other breeds, can’t compete with confinement developed Holsteins for volume. A pasture as their food source however and she’ll turn the tables on a good many confinement cows.

The Red Poll is at threatened status with the ALBC – another English native developed on tough pasture for both milk and meat. They are naturally polled – that is they do not have horns – and have been in the US since 1873. They’re a smaller breed, good for rougher less than ideal conditions.

The Dutch Belted breed was a dairy breed originally brought to the US by PT Barnum for his famous circus. There were outstanding individuals milking as the breed became better known as one of the supreme dairy producers alive in the early 1900s. A distinct white belt found only in this breed and the belted Galloway (more of a beef breed) makes them easily recognized.

The Kerry, a small breed usually black in color, were developed as a family cow, for longevity. She was expected to produce a calf every year, either females for breeding or the males not needed to breed for meat. She could still be producing at 14-15 years old. Her small size makes her no longer favored and this breed is highly endangered.

470_46717The milking Devon, like the milking shorthorn, was originally a triple purpose animal. Her calves are still used for milk, meat and oxen power. Unlike many breeds where the draft purpose was a side benefit the Devonshire cattle were known for their speed, intelligence, strength and willingness to work as well as the ability to adapt to many climates. The Devon cows provided good milk for cream and cheesemaking. Oxen are no longer a main power source and the beautiful red colored horned animals have dwindled, their characteristics of hardy ability to survive on low quality pasture no longer important in a world of high confinement. Because they were developed as working animal and often handled by children the breed is noted for their excellent docile temperament. There is more information at American Milking Devon Association 135 Old Bay Road, New Durham, NH 03855. Phone: 603-859-6611

Can we continue the specialized highly industrial pace of many modern confinement farms? What if consumers demanded something else…what if by way of disaster the qualities these breeds have are needed and they are no longer alive? Our food supply could well be saved by these animals – we must save them. Using them for food – both milk and meat – and creating a demand for them allows those raising them a means to continue to do so. There are no zoos or conservation places for cattle. Attempts to form one have been met with “great idea!!” but no donations to do so.

These breeds must be conserved. Extinction is forever.

Backyard Playground Safety Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlaygrounds can be dangerous places. It’s preferred that children be active playing than in stationary activities, and when they want something to do outside it takes just a minute for a child to disappear in a public place. Safety tips are well advised but things can happen quickly in a crowd. Take control! Consider a swing set and outdoor play area right in their own back yard but consider safety tips while planning it!

Of course with a swing set there is the chance for injury. We can minimize the risk but unfortunately not eliminate it. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind while designing your child’s play area.

Use sand or shredded rubber to keep mud to a minimum and decrease the chance of slipping as well as cushion the fall around the swings. Secure the swing set solidly into the ground to prevent movement or collapse. If you use chains for the swing keep them in good condition and ideally use the ones with plastic to prevent the chain from pinching fingers. An option for already installed chains is using leaky hoses cut and wrapped around the chain, securely taping in place. Some get around this by using heavy rope but that can wear. Another option is using foam insulation around it, but this is much less durable.

If your swing set has a slide make sure there are no splinters and if it is metal have it in the shade to prevent burns during the summer heat. If you have monkey bars’ or a rope ladder near the swing set pay special attention to having a cushion material under that area. A solid heavy climbing rope used to be a playground standard in many areas and is still a climbing exercise for kids of all sizes. Knots in it help younger children get the knack of climbing.

Small children and sometimes older ones like to play in sand but outside especially with pets around it can be problematic. Some safety tips for those with cats and children include making an actual sand box. Large tractor tires aren’t as easy to come by anymore in many areas but you can make a frame with 1X6″ lumber and have a custom made sandbox, with a lid that fits over it to keep cats from using it as a litter box.

For even more safety tips consider homemade vs. a commercially made product. For example, rope ladders 36 inches wide with marine grade rope and hardwood dowels come ready to install for $60. Smaller 18 inch wide ones are about $40. If you make your own insure the materials are strong enough to bear the weight and abuse doled out to them.

A swing set can also offer a variety a seat swing, disc swing, trapeze bar and climbing rope or ladder, giving children a variety of things to do. Many design a larger swing set to allow adult sized swings also!

If you aren’t using a stationary swing set and making do with the trees in the yard make sure to consider safety tips when selecting the branches to tie the swing to. Insure they are solid and consider using climbing areas, swings appropriate to the age of the child and mulch around the high traffic areas for extra cushion.

A swing set can provide much activity and exercise for children right in their back yard that is better than going to public areas and without the playground bully to steal the swing time! Keep common sense safety tips in mind, consult a variety of sites and plans for the design of the swing set and tailor it to your children’s interests. It’s a can’t miss combination!

The Importance of “me” Time – Indulgence or Necessity?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsn’t it funny how the afternoon of 9/11/01 we promised we were going to slow down, appreciate things more and LIVE rather than just working and chasing a dollar. How many can honestly say they do that now?

It seems we’re still pushed into overdrive. Many areas assaults and homicides are up. Drug usage is up. Property theft and other crime is up. These aren’t signs of a healthy society, community or home – and the trickle down happens.

We desperately need some time away – but can’t afford to go anywhere. Make a retreat – in your home! Or take a vacation – closer to home.

Turn off the phone, the tv and the computer. Plan your “escape” – indulge in it. It’s a fraction of the cost of going on a trip that costs you thousands of dollars. Set up a mini-retreat area in your home – complete with things you like. If coffee or tea is your thing get a special tea pot and mug or coffee maker. Use a small desk or table or a comfy chair in front of the window. Feed some birds or put in a butterfly garden. Curl up on a regular basis with a treat and tune the world out.

Get a desk with art supplies – or a comforter to cozy up and watch movies with. Get house plants or do something just for the simple pleasure in doing it. For some people this might be baking – but the key is doing it leisurely because you want to, not because the kids need three dozen cookies for a meeting and forgot to tell you they need it tomorrow! If traffic noises make it difficult to get away go get one of those CDs that have ocean or mountain or other noises and close your eyes and imagine yourself there. Get some artwork and hang in your retreat space and mentally put yourself on that beach.

When the inclination of what you “should” be doing crowds quiet it. Figure in regular mini-retreats – a half hour, an hour. If all you can manage is 15 minutes do that – set a timer and do nothing else for that time. On the weekend skip the bustle and retreat at home – turn the pagers and cell phone off and connect with family and friends who are missed otherwise. Make a private space in the back yard or a room to have a few friends over.

Use the time for what you want to do. Rediscover coloring books or small crafts – forget perfection simply do it for the enjoyment. Get a journal or a book to curl up with. Make it comfortable – if you’re reading get a good lighting where you’re reading at. A comfortable chair might be a $200 investment in your home but is still cheaper than a $3500 cruise!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you enjoy pets but can’t have one take the time to volunteer to walk dogs at a shelter or rescue or spend time with cats who need attention. There are ways to feed the senses and do something for you without feeling guilty about “doing nothing.”

Recharging and unwinding is important to being able to keep the rest of the world going. If you’re tapped out and drained there’s nothing to give back. Give yourself time to recharge and rediscover YOU. Spend the time with family – take the time to spend with a pet or if you have none feed wild ones outside. There are many ways to get away without going anywhere at all – find one.

Look at places to go within 200 miles – this isn’t an extensive trip but might include concerts, museums, outdoor activities – anything that breaks up the “gotta be there now!” of normal life. These weekend trips don’t mean taking extensive time off, can be planned without a great deal of cost and give time to recharge and do something you enjoy.

Make time – life is too short and there’s so many memories to make.

Why Storage Sheds Can Be a Good Investment

A storage shed can be worth a great deal of money on several counts, depending on your needs. For those without a garage it’s a tool storage, small power equipment and often a “catch all” for extra thing that need to go “somewhere.” Sheds can range from the metal ones that go up quickly to those made of recycled materials to those that match the home. There are many reasons a storage shed can find a place on your property and many include a combination of purposes.

Garden sheds can be a haven for the gardener – with shovels, rakes and hand tools for the garden having a place locked up and out of the weather. It prevents things from getting “borrowed” and not returned. It takes care of them so the good tools you bought are an investment that lasts for years. Really ambitious gardeners with a good location for their garden shed can have a potting bench, overhead area to store things or hang planters at the end of the season and an easy place to add an extension for a greenhouse for starting early seeds. A barrel or trash can serves as a compost bin that results in rich compost for the gardening season – using a six month cycle to “cook” you can use compost both fall and spring from “waste” otherwise thrown away. Hoses and other items last longer with good care. By efficiently storing things using floor, wall, counter and overhead space, a garden shed can have considerable room inside for gardening equipment. Hanging baskets can find a home here during the off season.

Tool sheds can provide a place not only for storage of tools but to work on your mower or other small engines. It can be a place to repair bikes, store extra parts for mowers and fluids for cars. It is a place to keep fuel for the mowers and other small engines locked securely up. With a little planning overhead storage can be ued for outdoor sporting equipment such as tents, bikes and other things that need protection but get in the way on the covered porch and aren’t really welcome in the house. Small repairs can be done easily on a work bench in the corner of the shed.

A good outdoor shed can play problem solver for a wide range of storage issues. It can also be a place to store the patio furniture and hammock for the winter. It’s an easy place to store tubs with seasonal decorations and a wide range of things you don’t want to throw out but don’t need in the house. Plastic tubs store seasonal decorations to keep them dry and pest free, and a couple sheets of inexpensive wafer board overhead in the rafters gives a place to store these tubs where they are out of the way yet accessible.

These can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the type of shed purchased or built. Locks on the doors help keep people out but pay attention to hinges and hardware too. A good shed is an investment…what can it do for you?

  • Storage sheds provide a place to put things in an organized fashion.
  • Garden sheds store hoses, tools and other items easily if maximum use of space is made.
  • Proper care of items makes them last longer.

Did you know?That $30 per month rental unit costs you $360 per year…are the things you’re storing worth that much to you? Storing it at home gives better access!

Why Wildlife Should Not Be Kept as Pets

  • Enjoy wildlife but confining them is often illegal.
  • Wildlife taken out of the wild don’t make good pets.

Some people aren’t happy with the prospect of pet birds, reptiles, mammals or other animals commonly kept as pets. Some even advocate wild catching animals and making them pets. This is not only illegal but a bad idea. Why?

A look at pet sites gives a host of looks and sizes of pet birds, small mammals and many other pets for almost all situations. Fish can be an enjoyable project for many. Some revel in the exotic look of animals like Watusi cattle or Barbados sheep. Others seek to cross that line to capturing and confining wildlife as pets. From songbirds to otters to deer and elk it is tempting to cross the line from feeding animals to capturing them. This is usually a bad idea.

Wild animals haven’t been domesticated and even if they’re familiar with people enough to not be fearful they are not pets. Most people are not familiar enough with their habits and care to be able to keep them healthy let alone thriving. If the animal gets sick what vet will treat them? Are you seriously familiar enough with reading the habits of the species to be able to keep them thriving while removing the chance of predation, the only real ‘reason’ for confining them. Can you mimic an area large enough to eliminate stress?

Many animals are protected, some federally protected. Canadian geese for example – if they land at your pond you may enjoy them but confining them takes a federal permit as they are considered migratory birds. Raptors – hawks, owls, eagles – are equally protected and not for “pet” status as it takes someone knowing the species to care for them properly.

Wildlife that *does* adapt and lose fear of humans opens other doors – not everyone will welcome being approached. Few people take on the lifetime commitment of a dog or domestic poultry much less an animal that was wild. If you do then have to move will the new owners welcome the deer or will they exterminate it when it eats their garden? Or do you have the idea that when you’re done playing with it you’ll just turn it loose again? Songbirds will come to eat in the back yard and even nest in the back yard. Caging them puts them in a habitat they are not suited for. An animal expert that catches and removes wildlife indicated deer kill more people each year than any other captive wildlife animal…these are not Bambi. They can stab with antlers and stomp with feet.

The keeping of wildlife has been used to push regulation on exotic pets. Regulations are in place to move or have many big cat species. Wild caught animals can have a difficult time adjusting, even those such as ball pythons which are often also kept as pets. For people who know what they’re doing and are very familiar with the behavior of the animals exotic pets and wildlife may be a different game, but for the average person it’s not a good idea.

With many domestic animals needing homes the average person is better suited to one of those. Many don’t understand their domestic dog or cat but think a wolf, coyote or larger cat would be better – behavior is then fed by instinct and humans get themselves or someone else hurt or killed, and the animal is condemned to death for acting like what it is – a wild animal in a confined situation without understanding.

Did you know…

Some wildlife such as elk and bison are now farmed but they are not cattle nor can be expected to respond like domestic cattle. People who understand the species can handle this – the average person can’t.

Home Pork Production: Raising Pigs on a Small Farm

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPigs kept properly should not “stink.”
  • Pigs MUST have shade and water to deal with hot days. Without it they will die.
  • A 225-250 pound hog will bring about 180 pounds of pork to the freezer.

Not so many years ago many farms had outdoor pastures for pigs. Confinement operations developed to raise large numbers of pigs in intensive conditions have been criticized by many; but raising pigs for the freezer is not difficult.

Small homestead production of pigs is not difficult nor is it expensive. It does take the right equipment and some important attention to non-negotiable issues. I’ve raised four Duroc gilts (females) in a 16X32 area. Some breeds, such as Large Blacks, Saddlebacks and Tamworths are less adapted to small areas and a larger fenced area suits them much better. Decide before getting ANY pigs and do some research as to which type you want. If you want to keep a few pigs to breed as well as producing meat for the freezer these rarer breeds can definitely use more people raising them and using them. If space is an issue you may be better getting the more popular breeds in a non-pasture situation. Simply buy “feeder pigs” – those pigs that are 30-40 pounds – and raise them to market size – 225-250 pounds.

If the closest you’ve ever been to a pig is the pork chop or sausage on your plate there are things about raising pigs you need to understand. Forget the often repeated statement that pigs stink. Properly housed and handled pigs don’t stink. The massive barns with 2,000 head do smell – so do proportionately sized places with 2,000 PEOPLE. Pig manure can be easily collected and composted – and given a choice pigs will have a designated “bathroom” area of their pen.

Those little cute pigs grow fast. Always keep in mind when handling larger pigs that despite what is often presented pigs are NOT vegetarians. They will eat chickens, lambs and small dogs that don’t get out of the pen fast enough. They can and have killed people and at one time when a work horse died it was hauled into the pig pen, a distasteful view of “recycling” but a fact on farms less than 100 years ago. Pigs are omnivores – they will eat whatever they find. If you bag unsprayed law grass it can be composted – or put in the hog pen. Leftovers, day old bread, several types of grain…several things can go into a pig’s trough. The amount of food needed is not as much as some might think if you use a protein supplement and corn, although corn is raising in cost at present and may not be a cost effective point depending on where you are. If you have dairy animals and an excess of milk that with grains can raise the pigs quickly and result in a great deal of pork in not a lot of space.

For the average small farm, small area place such as the pen mentioned above your best choices will be those such as the Duroc, Hampshire, Yorkshire or Spots. These breeds are common on many farms so easy to find. Typically they will have had the needle teeth clipped; and any boars will have been castrated. For what the typical homesteader is looking for – meat production, focus on barrows (castrated males) or gilts (females) rather than the boars. They’ll typically also have any vaccinations and worming needed to get the pigs off to a good start. Look for an animal that is healthy – longer bodied and lean. Eyes should be bright and eyes and nose should be free from discharges. Generally for home pork production avoid the “pot belly” pigs – they are too fatty and inefficient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave a proper pen for your pig(s) before bringing them home…and make the fencing *tight*. For the 16X32′ pen mentioned get six hog panels – these come in 16′ lengths and are about 3′ high – they’re welded steel and will cost about $18 each. You’ll also need a dozen steel T posts at about $3 each – drive these securely in the ground and wire the panels to the inside of the posts, which helps lend strength when larger pigs push against it. You’ll need a tank – secure so it can’t be tipped – for water. Very important is a shade or shelter. It is absolutely important to remember you MUST help pigs in the heat. They MUST have shade. A pig trapped in the sun in hot weather will die – they cannot sweat and have no way to cool themselves. A water area or mudhole is a small relief but they still need shade.

If you pasture pigs be sure to have solid fencing – your neighbors will not be happy with finding your pigs in their garden. Traditionally, as mentioned, corn has been the grain of choice but oats, barley and rye has been used as well as leftovers from buffet salad bars, garden excess. Chopped alfalfa is another means to give pigs roughage and add 16% protein to their diet. You can buy alfalfa cubes for about $10 for 50 pounds in many farm and feed stores. Measure about a pound of these and soak them in water so they break down into useful forage. With this and a pound of corn you’re on your way to some of the best pork you’ve ever eaten. A 225 pound pig will dress out at about 180 pounds of meat – and can be done over the course of a summer. It’s a way to use what is often overlooked – kitchen scraps of many kinds, yard “waste” and a little grain.

When you’re planning on raising a pig plan on two. Pigs are happier with a buddy. For the 5-6 months you’ll be raising them it is possible – and recommended – the pigs be treated humanely. The initial housing investment will last for several years and is at or under $200. Do not be tempted to tether them. Yes many have done it for years. But a tethered animal – be it pig, goat, sheep, calf, dog – whatever without a fence is prey for roaming dogs, coyotes and other predators. There is no excuse for not keeping your animals safe, fed and watered. Your initial purchase of pigs will vary depending on the area, season, etc but generally about $60-90 should find you a pair of pigs. Depending on what you’re feeding there are of course those costs. But for $300 plus feed in roughly six months you’ll have about 360 pounds of pork for the freezer…and remember that fencing outlay is still there for next year!

When the day approaches for killing and getting the pig ready for the freezer there are a few options depending on where you live. It can be done yourself or you can contact a small butcher to do it for you. There is usually a “kill fee” and a small fee for cutting. You choose if you want the hams smoked or fresh. How thick do you want the bacon and chops, how spicy do you want the sausage. Some people use the whole hog for sausage – if your family like sausage this might be something for the second pig – you’ll still get hams from the other. The day of killing keep water in front of the pigs but withhold food. If you’re hauling the pigs somewhere keep loading and hauling them low key – do not stress them. Stress affects the meat – and stress isn’t necessary. If you back the truck or trailer up to their pen and leave them no other place to go but in the vehicle they will go in. Under no circumstances should you hit or start chasing them. If they’re reluctant to load don’t fight them…simply take a bucket and put over their snout/face – most pigs will back up….”steer” them towards the vehicle and when you remove the buckets shut the door and they’re caught. There is an occasional pig who will try to charge through but MOST pigs will back up. After watching some people in frustration use abusive tactics in loading a couple of 600 pound sows I grabbed an empty garbage can – in 30 seconds the first was in the trailer. Seriously. No hitting, no chasing no swearing.

Many don’t realize how large pigs can get. The 225-250 pound market weight is not full grown. I’ve known some pigs – Yorkshire and a Tamworth – that weighed at or over 1000 pounds. Mature breeding animals are very strong and can kill a human if they wanted to. If you’re thinking of keeping animals to breed it’s important to know what you’re getting into and learn a little more about hog behavior. Some breeds of pasture pigs still carry the maternal instincts while others aren’t as much so. It’s important to remember pigs can and will eat anything smaller than them….and for some sows this can include her own pigs. Additionally with some pigs do not ever ever ever pig up a piglet without her securely on the other side of the fence. Pigs don’t normally jump but I’ve seen sows come up a good ways through the overhead door of old type hog houses and there are many who have lost fingers and more to a mama sow in blind defense of a baby pig. You really need to get some experience and be prepared when raising pigs. Each one is unique and many ARE good mothers and aren’t a danger to handlers – but sometimes you don’t know until you have that piglet screaming in your hands. Use caution.

Pigs can provide a freezer of meat in a relatively small area. They were once called the “mortgage lifter” for their ability to use food stuffs that would otherwise often go to waste – the pigs turned it into meat. They’re interesting animals and should be handled with caution and appreciation.

Did you know…

Darker hogs are often used more in the south and in outdoor operations due to the white pigs’ probability of sunburn. All pigs should be given a shady place to escape the sun and heat.

Livestock Guardians: A Guide to Introducing Guardians to the Herd

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  • Guardian animals are some of the most loyal and intelligent animals you’ll ever own.
  • They should NEVER just be turned in a strange field with animals.
  • They will give their lives if need be to protect their charges.

Livestock guardians are used to keep predators and stray dogs out of fields, usually of sheep or goats. Without proper introduction and training the guardian can become the predator. Don’t make mistakes that cost you animals.

Recently I received an urgent plea to place two young guardian dogs – 8-9 months old. It seems the owner had alpacas and was going to run the dogs in the field to keep other things out. She did everything wrong possible – got the dogs, at night put them in the field (with animals they’d never seen before) and the next morning she found a $10,000 alpaca dead and another one chewed up. The sad part – it wasn’t the dogs’ fault. It was hers. And these stories are told far too often.

Two of the most popular livestock guardians are dogs and donkeys. They’re popular for a reason – they’re effective! They’ll guard not only sheep and goats but alpacas, llamas, poultry, deer, exotic livestock and much more. They’re effective because they’re territorial. When something is in their territory that shouldn’t be their instinct is to run it off or if need be kill it. So bringing a guardian home, sticking him in a field in the dark tells him “this is your territory.” How is the guardian supposed to know those animals BELONG there? They’ve never been introduced!

Even a trained, experienced guardian needs proper introduction to charges. A new one needing to learn is 100 times so. Until they are solid and trained leaving them alone is a risk. Introductions should be done in daylight!! You need to be able to observe them and if need be correct them!!

Guardian dogs may be several breeds, or combination of breeds. Great Pyrenees are popular as are Anatolian Shepherds, Maremmas, Kuvasz and several others. They are developed and bred for centuries to do what they do – live with and protect livestock. These breeds will automatically get wound up if you play a recording of a coyote howling…they tend to be barkers. Their first warning is to run something off. If it doesn’t run and is a danger to their charges or their people they can and will run it down and kill it. Anatolians have killed cougars. They don’t play fight – they are serious. When they grab an intruder that doesn’t run there is no mercy.

My dad’s previous Pyr – and there were no livestock involved – was agitated at coyotes being too close one night. His booming bark echoed across the field and a fight ensued. He returned in the morning covered with blood – and not a scratch on HIM. My guess is somewhere out in that field a couple coyotes lost their lives. Each breed is a little different. Generally Pyrs are more accepting of people – Anatolians are not.

The two I had if they didn’t know you then you do NOT go in the barn unescorted. NO EXCEPTIONS. They would die protecting their animals and their territory. In their homeland of Turkey it’s not uncommon to see dogs hit – one writer commented on the stupidity of dogs that were in the road then witnessed something. A flock of sheep were crossing the road with several Anatolians with them. A car approached the herd and to protect it the dog stepped out – they weren’t stupid they were literally giving their lives trying to protect their charges. They live for their herds. But young dogs still need trained – they still need corrected if they seen a flock member as a playmate. They need corrected if they try to run with the herd – they’re still dogs and still predators and the line between playing and killing is very fine.

Donkeys are also an effective deterrent of dogs. Jenneys (females) especially can do amazing things – I’ve seen them stand over newborn lambs and kids to protect them from being stepped on. They will chase, bite, strike and kick any dog they don’t know in the field. In an eight acre field I had a 42″ donkey who I never saw do much – until the day two known killer dogs detoured 1300 feet back, 300 feet across and about 800 feet back up the fenceline to avoid cutting through that field. Angel stood in the middle of the field and walked down the center as if to make sure they kept going. These were purebred Rottweilers – which could of been bad but apparently at some point they’d met her in the dark. I never lost a lamb, goat or bird when she was in the field but they were sure eager to avoid her.

When you bring a guardian home put him or her in a small pen NEXT TO what he’ll be guarding. Let him see his new charges…sniff them, get used to them. It instills in their brain who the guardian is and lets him bond with the herd without being IN the herd. Once he’s quietly accepting introduce him into the field supervised…perhaps during the day when you’re home. Observe him and correct negative behavior. A guardian should never chase, play with, mouth or roughhouse with a member of the flock. It’s your responsibility as flock owner and “head boss dog” to insure that they know this. Once he is reliable leave him out more until he’s with them 24/7. Make him EARN respect and responsibility.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven with experienced guardians don’t set them up to fail. Give them a private space to eat. A dog who is trying to eat while 30 goats crowd in trying to take his food is going to defend it – and in this you’re giving him permission to nip or threaten a goat in order to defend his food! This is NEVER ACCEPTABLE. The thought of having to defend themselves against their flock should never be introduced. You have to remember these dogs will give their lives for their charges – don’t undo that by having them turn on the animals they’re protecting. If there is an aggressive herd member eliminate it. Aggression in a goat or sheep isn’t good anyway, but an aggressive animal that constantly torments a guardian is setting the stage for retaliation – and it’s YOUR responsibility to keep that from happening. YOU put the guardian in the field – make it possible for him to do his job right!

You have to understand these guardians are on duty all the time. They live to work. They are focused on one thing – protecting their herd. If you cannot make concessions to help them do their job then it’s your fault for losses and really you don’t deserve the loyalty of a good guardian. The only thing they ask is food, clean water and a decent working environment. Many don’t even ask shelter – they’ll stay out in the snow or under an object in the rain so they can watch and observe for intruders. My Anatolian would not use a dog house or even sheds. They had access to 4X8 foot sheds with the goats – but if they were in there they couldn’t watch for incoming problems.

Training a guardian is not difficult – a good one HAS the instinct. All you have to do is properly introduce them and direct what the ground rules and boundaries are. Guardian animals are some of the most intelligent animals you’ll own. They think on their own, they evaluate if that person is a threat or a buyer, they sense things and notice things we don’t even see! You will not ever have a more loyal worker than a guardian animal. They don’t ask for much in return but DO need some early effort. Those not willing to learn and do this should not get one.

Did you know…Guardians normally have positions – if they see a threat one will go out and confront it while another stays with the herd. With multiple guardians the jobs are further split – this takes care of a threat while insuring others don’t come in behind.

Bats in Need of Conservation

  • Bats are in need of conservation
  • Bats provide all natural insect control.
  • Bats do not harm humans.

Do you wish there was a better way to control mosquitoes? Do you enjoy attracting birds and butterflies to your yard? With a minor adjustment you can invite bats – and here’s why you should do so.

The often repeated fears of bats are of sucking blood and transmitting rabies. The fact is even the types of bats who do feed on blood don’t suck it, they lap it. You’re many times more likely to choke on your food, fall victim to a doctor’s mistakes, be hit by a car or struck by lightning than you are to be bitten by a bat. As with any animal if cornered and pestered they will bite to defend themselves. A bat house, hung 15 feet or more up in a tree, can be the answer to your neighborhood bug problem. With all the repellants, sprays, candles and other measures we take to repel bugs we ignore the most obvious ones – bats, purple martins and other birds that feed on them – all creatures who need help to survive.

There are hundreds of types of bats – some with common names like the brown bat or vampire bat with others less commonly heard of, such as the hoary bat. They are highly developed nocturnal insect eating creatures and, contrary to popular commentary, are not blind. They use sonar type echos to hone in on their prey. Between 60-70% of bats eat insects – not only mosquitoes but beetles, flies, crickets, gnats, mayflies, wasps and others. Some bats will eat scorpions, fish, nectar, small mammals and even pollen. Ten species in central America are carnivorous, with a meal specifically small birds, small mammals or other bats. Only three types of vampire bats consume blood, usually with a nip on livestock then licking the blood from the small injury.

Often people see what they think are birds darting through the bug filled air at night – and they may well be bats. A small brown bat colony for example comes out at late dusk – first searching for nearby water where they feed just above the surface. They can be poisoned with pesticides however so need a clean area to live. Red bats can hang in trees, often looking like a dead leaf. Their young are often destroyed by blue jays while adults must survive possums, hawks, owls, cats and people. They are apt to migrate, sometimes flying with birds.

Bats may use old buildings, abandoned mines, caves, rocky bluffs and other means of housing. For someone wanting to bring bats in a bathouse may be used. There are ways to live in harmony with bats. While there is fear of getting rabies from bats one statistic pointed out that world wide over 30,000 humans die from rabies annually – 99% of these were due to contact with rabid dogs. With dogs and cats often vaccinated for rabies, the chances from getting it from bats is very small. The most common bat normally found in bat houses is the big or little brown bat – who have been traced to four cases of rabies in US history. Their primary meals are insects. Some cases are preventable, such as the one who dunked a sick bat in his beer and was bitten. Still, adults and children shouldn’t handle the bats – just like any wild animal. If you should find a bat in the home it’s normally a youngster who simply wants out. Leaving a window or door open may allow him to escape or, alternate plan B can be implemented, using a small box to quietly cover the bat, slip another piece of cardboard to seal him into the box without touching him, and take him outside to release him. Bats may roost in attics, soffits, louvers, chimneys, under siding or eves, behind shutters, between concrete beams, under bridges and – of course – bat houses.

Bats help with pollination in some cases – such as the agave plants where seed production drops to 1/3,000th of normal with out bats. The agave plants are used to produce tequila. Many forest areas also benefit from the bat. More than half the bat species in America are on the decline or listed as endangered. These animals, perhaps not warm and fuzzy, have a vital part of the natural order. For those wanting to get away from chemical sprays bats will eagerly take a free invitation to the insect buffet over your fields. It’s quite probable that you would benefit and seldom see them.

Did you know…one little brown bat can catch hundreds of mosquito-sized insects an hour, and a typical colony of big brown bats can protect local farmers from the costly attacks of 18 million root-worms each summer. A bat colony is an obvious low cost solution.