The ground is thawing and where lush sod once existed is now scorched with muddy tire grooves from a necessary but ill-advised drive with the truck.
Spring is taking hold and the nights are commonly above 30 degrees.
Grass growth is a few weeks away and that means the first batch of chicks is in the brooder getting ready for life on the pasture.
Chicks are shipped through the mail in a vented cardboard box immediately after hatching. They can actually go 48 hours without food or water because they are digesting the remaining yolk during this time.
This year we made a DIY brooder from scavenged materials found around the farm. The main structure is a large (48″x48″x24″) poly produce crate. It was used for shipping watermelons and such. On top we built a hinged lid from 2×4’s, cedar fence boards and chicken wire. The rear half of the lid stays put and supports the heat lamp (secured with 16 gauge wire) and the front half folds back on hinges for easy access to add bedding and to fill waterers and feed.
Our bedding is a thin layer of straw down first, covered with some homemade wood shavings made with a chainsaw cutting lengthwise in a log, rather than perpendicular. This produces high quality, curled shavings that dry quickly.
The chicks need extra attention the first day in the brooder to make sure they are drinking and eating. A couple chicks decided to take a bath in the waterer and needed to be dried and warmed up.
Since we source our non-GMO feed in components, we can custom mix a high protein feed for the chicks start in the brooder. We feed them a 20% feed the first week, then down to 18% for the following 2 weeks and down to 16% when they get to pasture.
Similar to starting the chicks in a brooder, we start our pigs off in stages as well.
While very small, they live in straw bedding in the Quonset hut. Once they reach 30-40lbs, they are moved outside to learn the nuances of electric fencing within our large main paddock. They are rotated around to different subdivisions within that main paddock until they reach 80-100lbs and are then moved to only portable electric fencing on pasture and in the woods.
The main paddock is largely undisturbed over winter due to the ground being frozen. But with the thaw occuring now, the pigs are tilling up the ground and eating roots. Once the pigs move out of this paddock area, we will seed it with pasture grasses, squash, turnips, rutabagas, pumpkins and tubers. This will be allowed to grow all summer without disturbance, allowing the plants to suck up the excess nitrogen and break parasite cycles. Then late next fall, when the ground nears freezing again, pigs will move back in to self-harvest the bounty. All of the remaining roots and tubers will overwinter and then get consumed early next spring as the frost occurs again. Everything happens in cycles, just like in nature.