calves cattle dexter

Calving Season – 2021

Calving season has finally begun for us this year. We would like to get everything timed for May, and we are working toward that, slowly. Here are the first two, born yesterday, both bulls.

We had a red bull, born out of Cascades Contender and Woodlands Maybelle and a black bull born out of Cascades Contender and an unregistered cow – Buttercup, who is our favorite cow.


Advantages of the American Guinea Hog (AGH)

The American Guinea Hog (AGH) is a great choice for a small farm or homestead looking to add hogs to their land. The AGH is easy to work with, fattens easily on forage or hay, can be very friendly and easy to manage, will not sunburn, and doesn’t get overly large.

This hog is considered a pasture pig – they consume forage from pasture and woods and have lower requirements for grain or other inputs. If moved around a pasture with electric netting or hot wire, they can consume a significant amount of their calorie requirements from pasture. We feed our AGH table scraps, eggs from the chickens, and any carcasses we have. We will supplement with X-cel Premium Blend grain mix, if necessary to make sure they have enough to eat..

The Guinea hog is also a “lard pig”. They put on fat quickly and efficiently. If you don’t watch their consumption, they may get overly fat and not be able to reproduce. They also take longer to grow to butcher size, depending on how large you want them to be. Boars can reach 300lbs with sows reaching 250, although they make take 18+ months to get there. Most will butcher at 10 months at a more reasonable 200lbs.

The AGH can be very friendly. Our hogs are like dogs – they will roll over and ask for a belly scratch. They also allow us to pet and scratch them at will – even during meal times as they jockey for the best scraps among each other. If you’re looking for your own hogs – be sure to visit the breeder and make sure they prioritize these traits. I’ve heard stories of people buying “unregistered” guinea hogs and having very poor experiences.

The Guinea hog does not sun burn. With their dark skin, they have a greater tolerance to the sun and summer. While they still require shade and a wallow, they are not quite as sensitive as pink pigs.

Last and not least, there is a great group of people in the American Guinea Hog Association. The members are very eager to help new AGH owners and provide support to make sure everyone is as successful as they want to be.

compost farming hay soil

Compost Volcano

Creating healthy compost can be a challenge. Too much nitrogen, too little carbon, and too little oxygen are the most common problems. These problems all lead to a smelly anaerobic compost that is rotting (bacteria and moisture), rather than quickly breaking down using oxygen and moisture – aerobic composting.

Other problems with anaerobic composting are that it takes much longer, it gives off methane gas, and does not reach the high temperatures necessary to kill seeds, weeds, and pathogens.

We maintain a large compost pile that gets refreshed daily with a wheel barrow load or two of manure, mixed with hay and some hog fuel (rough wood chips). Every week or two it gets turned with the tractor and then covered with a thin layer of hog fuel. We also bury carcasses and offal in this pile, as well as anything else we need to get rid of. This morning, it was giving off steam like a volcano, showing that it was aerobic and progressing nicely.

Compost Volcano

We’ve found that the layer of hog fuel helps retain moisture, adds sufficient carbon material, and makes it look more presentable.

farming hay measuring soil

Pasture Health

If you don’t measure it, you will be hard pressed to verify that you have improved it.

One of the most basic tenets of improving anything is measuring the thing — recording changes over time. This also applies to pasture health. Last year I began taking a picture of one part of my pasture every month, near the first of the month. While it will generally show variations in forage over the seasons, it will eventually illustrate improvements over the years with regenerative management.

Please note that the timestamp on the camera is incorrect until November, 2021. The camera is an inexpensive eastern model that limits my ability to manage it.

Eventually I will setup a post for each month so that I can see how the pasture changes over the years.

construction farming greenhouse

Greenhouse Construction

Over the past few weekends we have been working on construction of a 12’x30′ greenhouse that we bought from Steve’s Greenhouses in Castle Rock a few years ago. With everything happening in the world, we figured it was past time to get it setup and use it.

Here are a few photographs that illustrate the construction.

The next step will be to build some raised bed type planter boxes along the side walls and fill them with some high quality soil that we’ve been composting from horse manure, wood chips, hay, and cow manure.

adventure agh hogs pigs

New addition: American Guinea Hogs

On Saturday, we went down to Cascade Meadows Farm and collected two American Guinea Hogs to add to our farm. This is a 4 month old breeding pair that should provide us with pigs this fall around September, if all goes well.

So far pigs are the most entertaining farm animal we’ve had. I love watching and interacting with these guys. They are a bit skittish as they have recently had a slew of tests and probes to make sure they are healthy as they were slated to go to Hawaii. The process didn’t work out, so we are now trying to tame them down a bit.

I’ve been feeding them kitchen scraps, as available, as well as an expired bread/milk/All Stock mix twice a day, mostly to tame them down. They love the bread and milk, they love the kitchen scraps, and they like the All Stock grain mix. I also make sure they have an abundance of dry hay to bed in, and I put out a high quality flake of second cut timothy every day or so that they eat quite a bit of.

We’re housing them in a very large dogloo that I had bought for our dogs long ago and they would never use. I don’t recall the exact size, but I’ve had two 115lb+ dogs inside one after throwing a particularly tasty treat inside and both of them wanting it pretty badly. They were able to turn around and get out with a minimal amount of growling and scrambling (the dogs). The pigs have made a nest in the dogloo with all the hay and don’t appear to be soiling it at all yet.

We also have a pallet shelter to provide them with somewhere to go during inclement weather, which is more often than not in western Washington state.

Cascades Contender is not happy to be left out of the bread and milk sessions:

He’ll stand there until after all the bread and milk is gone. Poor guy, we fed him some bread when he first got here to get him used to us, but we stopped that long ago. (Contender is in a large pasture – he looks like he’s in a cage because we have the pigs inside a set of hog panels that are inside a quarter acre holding paddock until they get used to us.)

butcher cattle slaughter

Second Farm Slaughter

After waiting for 7 months, we finally got our two bulls slaughtered. It took us 7 months from the time we scheduled, to the time we could get them into the butcher. All the butcher shops around here are booked up for months. If you need to use a butcher, get it on their schedule ASAP.

We had an 11 year old bull and a 22 month old steer butchered. The 22 month old steer was steered 4 months ago, due to concerns with behavior, and recovered well. The bull dressed at 744 lbs and the steer was 446 lbs. Those are great weights for grass fed dexter animals.

The slaughter company that came out was A & L Slaughter. These guys were very professional and skilled. They had both animals in the truck in an hour.

We saved all the entrails, hide, head, and anything that wasn’t edible to compost.

cattle cattle management

Calf Update with Pictures

The calves are doing great – we have 1 bull and 2 heifers so far this fall. Here are a couple of pictures from late August. The red calf is a heifer.

cattle cattle management hay large square bales

Feeding large square bales…

I bought a couple of large square bales of hay last time I was at the local feed store to try them out. They can be a disaster! If you have a tractor that can lift them and enough cattle to put them in the field with little waste before they get too wasted, they would be great. The big advantages, IMO, are that they stack really well, and are very large. The biggest disadvantage is that if you store them in the barn and feed portions at a time, they completely fall apart when you cut the strings.

I ended up building a carrier for the tractor out of a pallet and some scrap lumber that will allow me to carry a couple of flakes out to the cows using the pallet forks. It works really well so far. I also used a bungee strap and a couple of hay hooks over the top of the bale to hold the bale together and allow me to release a couple of flakes at a time instead of the entire bale falling apart.

Here is the contraption on the pallet forks, with a couple of hungry dexters eating from it. Cascades Contender looks like he wants to climb in and go for a ride.

Update: I recently bought a bunch of large square bales and have been using my round bale cradle feeder to feed them. I attached a section of hog panel to the base of the cradle feeder to reduce waste, and I am getting 4 days per bale, if I move the herd each day. I have 12 head of cattle right now.

The square bale does not fit initially, but I when I cut the strings and pull a little bit off each end, it falls into the feeder.

adventure arrowquip cattle cattle management vet work

Cattle Handling with Arrowquip

On Thursday I went to Pearson Farm & Fence in Moses Lake, WA to pick up our new Arrowquip Q-Catch 74 Series Squeeze chute. This is a new design that is much less expensive than the 86 series. I believe it’s a bit smaller and they have been running a special at $4250, so I felt the price was right and I needed one, so I bought one.

I can’t say enough good things about Pearson Farm & Fence. They helped me out every step of the way and were very good to work with. Check them out if you’re ever in Moses Lake, WA.

Arrowquip has been great to work with as well. The chute looks and operates very nicely. I have never had or used one before, but this one has so many cool features, I am glad I bought it.

I set it up right by the pen where we keep our yearling bull, soon to be steer. We have some tarps setup around his pen to keep him from seeing the other bull in the pasture. I think this greatly reduces the bellowing, especially at night. Having more than one bull can be an adventure, and I don’t recommend it.

Here is Beauford, the circus bull, on his way to becoming the circus steer:

Sure wish I didn’t like grain so much.

I setup the chute and put a bucket with a little scoop of grain inside, as well as some apple slices. I came back a few hours later and he had eat them, so I put a few more apple slices in and he walked right in. I clamped him down and gave him a tetanus shot. Much easier than I expected. Next step, call the vet and schedule the second step.