Author: Josh

Win A FREE Year of RM Cloud!

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Starting Tues. Aug. 11th until Friday Aug. 14th We are giving away a FREE year of RM Cloud to 1 lucky customer. All you have to do to win is leave an honest review of Ranch Manager on G2 at the following link: https://bit.ly/2Cm2uWO. Then email us a screenshot of your review and your Ranch Manager license number. The winner will be chosen on Friday Aug. 14th and we will send an email to get the device ID you wish to use for your FREE year of RM Cloud.

To download Ranch Manager Open go to http://www.ranchmanageropen.com. It is free to download for Windows or Mac.

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Choosing a Replacement Gilt – Feet Evaluation

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swine-feet

This guide is to help anyone raising hogs for meat to effectively screen replacement gilt candidates before adding them into their breeding herds.  The visual appraisal can help you identify replacement gilts with various issues that can negatively impact sow longevity.  In this article I will discuss the conformation and structural soundness, feet and leg abnormalities, and reproductive soundness (underlines, external genitalia).

Identifying replacement gilts with one or more of these deficiencies and culling them, before they enter the breeding program, may be one of the keys to lowering breeding herd replacement rates and/or mortality rates. 

It doesn’t matter if you are purchasing replacement gilts or producing your own in an internal program, this guide provides examples of the types of problems that should be avoided when selecting replacement gilts.

Gilt Selection Guidelines

This guide covers the following criteria that are critical to the selection of functional females that will remain in the herd for a long and productive life:

Feet and Leg Soundness

  • Feet and leg problems represent the second largest reason for sows leaving the breeding herd.  This is particularly true for parity 1, 2, and 3 females.

Underline Soundness

  • Underlines should be visually evaluated and scored on ALL replacement females.

External Genitalia

  • Involves visually evaluating the vulva for size, shape, and injuries.

Feet and Leg Soundness

  • Feet and leg problems are one of the major reasons for culling sows and this is particularly true in parity 1, 2, and 3 females.
  • Feet and leg soundness should be evaluated on ALL replacement females.
  • Evaluation can involve a scoring process that is outlined in these documents.
    • Pork Industry Handbook fact sheet PIH-101: “Feet and Leg Soundness in Swine”
  • Gilts that score “poor” or “unacceptable” should be culled.

Other traits on which selection should occur for replacement gilts.

Growth

  • Gilts should be in the fastest growing 50-60% of the contemporary group.
  • Adequate growth increases the probability of proper reproductive development.
  • Slow growing females (within a group) can have delayed first estrus and may be lifelong problem breeders.

Backfat

  • Backfat is important if replacement females are produced within the herd.
  • Consult NSIF Guidelines for Uniform Swine Improvement to obtain proper measurement and adjustment criteria.
  • Recommended levels of backfat are farm specific and may change due to genetics, environment, and end market.

Traits to Examine

There are a large number of criteria that can be used to evaluate a replacement gilt candidate.  The list below shows the traits that are desirable in a replacement gilt.

  1. Long bodied
  2. Smooth shouldered
  3. Deep bodied
  4. Deep, wide chest floor
  5. Trim jowl
  6. Correct set of knee
  7. Prominent, well-spaced underline
  8. Bold spring of rib
  9. Uniform level top
  10. Long level rump
  11. High tail setting
  12. Deep, long muscled ham
  13. Correct set of hock
  14. Heavy rugged bone
  15. Cushion to pasterns

What is desirable?

The ideal animal provides good cushion and flexion to the joints.  These animals will have an easier time getting up and down and will walk more fluidly.  They will also be less susceptible to stiff joints and arthritis as the result of constant stress on the joints.  Ultimately, these females are likely to remain in the breeding herd for a longer period of time.

Feet Evaluation

Start by evaluating the feet of the replacement gilt.  Large feet are desirable and should be out on all four corners with adequate width between them.  The individual toe size is also important so pay close attention to small inside toes, especially on the rear feet.  Examine all four feet for cracked hooves, foot pad abrasions, and other injuries.  It is critical to also evaluate toe size.  Leg conformation tends to conform to the shape and size of the toes.  The ideal toes are big, evenly sized, and spread apart.  The correct size and placement of the toes result in a better weight distribution.  If there is a difference of ½ inch or more in the toe size, the gilt should be culled.  When the toes are uneven there is a greater risk of cracked hooves and foot pad lesions as the animal becomes older.  Over time the size of the toe will have an effect on the mobility of the animal. 

                Small toes that have little if any spacing between them are considered undesirable.  If the toes are small then the weight is concentrated on a smaller surface area and there is a greater risk of cracked hooves and foot pad lesions as the animal becomes older and matures to heavier weights.  You want to make sure that you examine all potential gilts for the following feet and leg injuries before proceeding to other examinations:

  • Cracked Hooves
  • Foot pad abrasions
  • Other Injuries

Injuries can be very difficult to identify so take your time to examine them thoroughly.  If any animals have an injury be sure to have them treated to see if the injury improves.  If not, use caution if these females are retained in the breeding herd.  Ultimately production is an important aspect of producing pork but we all want the animals to live a comfortable and happy life.  If gilts are not selected for proper feet development it can lead to problems such as excessive toe growth once they enter the breeding herd.  Sows with these types of problems can lead to lameness and poor productivity and must be treated.  Gilts should be culled if the toe size differs greatly; focus on the inside toes.   If an obvious injury occurs that will impair timely mating or thriving in gestational environments, the gilt should be culled.  Also, injuries that will reduce gilt’s productive herd life are another reason for culling. 

That’s all for this post but in the next one we will discuss front leg evaluation and the things you want to look for. 

If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful please feel free to share it on your favorite social media platforms.

Credits:

Kenneth J. Stalder, Associate Professor of Animal Science, Iowa State University

Colin Johnson, Extension Program Specialist, Iowa State University

Dale P. Miller, Editor, National Hog Farmer

Tom J. Baas, Associate Professor of Animal Science, Iowa State University

Nick Berry, Graduate Research Assistant, Iowa State Uninversity

Allen E. Christian, Swine Teaching Farm Manager, Iowa State University

Timo V. Serenius, Post-Doctoral Associate, Iowa State University

Why Do Pigs Like Mud?

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We’ve all seen a little pig rolling around in the mud and loving every second of it. But the question comes up “why do they do it?” Many people think that it’s because pigs are dirty animals. This is not the case, pigs are actually very clean animals. In this article we dig in to why do pigs love mud.

They loved to be covered in something

Pigs love to covered in something at all times. This typically is mud however if mud is not available they will try and cover themselves in whatever they can find. The reason behind this is simply because it helps them avoid sunburns. Many pigs (especially your pink varieties) can easily sunburn. And if you’ve ever had a sunburn and couldn’t get out of the sun you know how bad it hurts. So they will cover themselves in whatever they can find to help protect their skin. As I said before, many people think that pigs are dirty animals. This is not true at all. If you have ever spent any significant time around a pig farm then you probably will notice that they keep their “bathroom” as far away from their eating and drinking area as possible. You can watch them root around in mud for hours and it’s quite entertaining to watch.

Thermal Regulation

Pigs and hogs have very few sweat glands in their bodies. So, unlike humans they are unable to sweat when they get too hot. So to help keep their bodies at a cooler temperature they will roll in mud since the moisture helps keep it cooler for a longer period of time. Nowadays many pig farmers use misters or sprinklers to keep the animals cool. The problem with this is that pure water evaporates much faster than the water in mud does. Our hogs typically will lay in a mud hole the majority of the day if they can. We don’t discourage the practice, in fact, we encourage it. We want our animals to be as natural as they can be which is why we keep them in dirt and not concrete pens.

Bugs

When a pig is covered in a nice thick layer of mud it helps discourage bugs from biting them. Since typically there is a fair amount of food around them it tends to attract flies and other pests that irritate the pigs skin. By covering themselves in mud they give themselves a barrier against those kinds of pests.

So now you can tell somebody the answer when they ask “Why do pigs love mud?” I also did a video on this exact topic on YouTube which you can watch below. Feel free to share this article if you found it informational or helpful.

Categories: General Info & Tips

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How to Incubate Eggs

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chicken-chick

In Today’s world many people want to live healthier and be more self-sustainable.  Part of this process is hatching your own chickens.  You could want to do this because the hens you have now are getting older and aren’t laying as well or because you want more eggs for your family and friends.  In this article we go through the process of incubating your eggs step-by-step.

Get an Incubator

The very first thing you need to do is pretty obvious.  Before you can incubate eggs you have to have an incubator.  There are tons on the market from small home incubators which you can get in some places for as little as $40 or large scale commercial incubators which can cost in the thousands.  It just depends on how many eggs and what features you want.   You can even make your own incubator if you want.  The process is rather simple and you can use something as easy as a Styrofoam cooler.  Just add a heating element, ensure you have holes for air to circulate through, and add a gauge to show you temperature and humidity.  The two most important things to remember are:

  • Ensure adequate air circulation
  • Ability to maintain temperature
  • And ability to maintain humidity

If you keep those 3 things in mind you should be just fine.

Gather The Eggs

The next step is even easier than the first one.  All you have to do here is gather the eggs that you want to incubate.  You want to ensure that they are recently laid (within the last 24 hours is best) and are relatively clean.  DO NOT wash the eggs before putting them into the incubator.  If you must store eggs for a day or two before you can put them in the incubator then store them in a warm place with the narrow side of the egg pointed down.  Remember though, the fresher your eggs are the better your hatch rates tend to be.  When I’m incubating eggs I typically will have the incubator set up before I go out and collect eggs.  As soon as I come back I take the ones I want to incubate and put them immediately into the incubator.

Egg Storage Reminders
Store Less than 10 days
Maintain temperature between 55 to 65⁰ F
Keep relative humidity at 75%
Turn eggs stored more than a week
Handle all eggs with care!

If the eggs are cracked, misshapen, soiled, or unusually small or large do not incubate them.  It’s rare that these eggs hatch and they can potentially contaminate the good eggs.

Setting Up The Incubator

This part is critical to your success rate.  If you are hatching chicken eggs you want to make sure that your temperature stays at 99.5 degrees F if you are using a forced-air incubator.  If you are using a still-air incubator then you want you’re incubator to stay at 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  You also want your humidity to be at 40 – 50% for the first 18 days of incubation.

How Often Do I Turn Eggs

Up until day 18 of incubation you will want to turn your eggs at least 3 times per day (5 times is even better).  Many people lightly mark an “X” on their eggs so that they keep track of the turning.  If you have an automatic egg turner your life is much easier.  When you are turning your eggs manually, make sure that your hands are washed and clean before each session to avoid transferring bacteria and oils onto the egg. 

What Temperature Do I Incubate Eggs At?

Well that all depends on what type of egg you are incubating.  Chicken eggs should be incubated between 99 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit (99.5 is considered ideal) and the incubator should hold between 50 and 65% relative humidity (60% is often considered ideal).  The below table shows the details of various types of eggs for incubation:

Common NameIncubation ConditionsHatcher Conditions
DaysTemperature FHumidity %RHTransfer DaysTemperature FHumidity
Canary 13-14 100.5 56-58 11 99 66-74
Chicken 21 99.5 58 18 98.5 66-75
Cockatiel 18-20 99.5 58-62 15-18 99 66-74
Cockatoo 22-30 99.5 58-62 25 99 66-74
Dove 14 99.5 58 12 98.5 66-75
Duck 28 99.5 58-62 25 98.5 66-75
Domestic Goose 30 99.5 62 27 98.5 66-75
Guinea 28 99.5 54-58 22 99 66-74
Macaw 26-28 99.5 58-62 23-25 99 66-74
Parakeet 18-26 99.5 58-62 15-23 99 66-74
Ring-Neck Pheasant 24-24 99.5 58-62 21 99 66-74
Pheasant 22-28 99.5 58-62 20-25 99 66-74
Bobwhite Quail 23 99.5 54-58 21 99 66-74
Japanese Quail 17-18 99.5 58-62 15 99 66-74
Swan 33-37 99.5 58.62 15 99 66-74
Turkey 25 99.5 54-58 25 98.5 66-75

Incubation problems

Insufficient Humidity

If the humidity is too low there are a few problems that can occur.  Some of these are:

  • The air cell to be too large at the time of the hatch
  • The contents of the egg will be too viscous for the chick to turn
  • The membranes will be too tough for the chick to break through
  • The navel will not close properly

Excess Humidity

  • Too little water to evaporate from the egg
  • The air cell will be too small for the chick to reach during the hatching process
  • The chick will drown or be too swollen with water to turn in the egg
  • The yolk sac to be too large for the navel to close completely.

As the incubation period progresses the air cell of the egg should become larger because of the balance between temperature and humidity.  During incubation chicken eggs loose on average 12 to 14 percent of their total weight due to evaporation. 

Hatch Stage

The final 2 to 3 days of incubation, when the chicks hatch out of the shell, is what’s known as the Hatch Stage.  During this time do NOT turn the eggs, the eggs can be transferred to a dedicated hatcher for the last 3 to 4 days of incubation.  If you don’t have a hatcher then remove the eggs from the turner and lay them in the hatching basket, or place them on a cloth or rough paper (not newspaper) in the incubator.  Make sure that the cloth or paper do not cover any vent holes or touch the water or the heating element.  During this stage you want to increase the temperature by 1⁰F and increase the relative humidity to 65 to 70%.  You can do this by adding a wet sponge or wet paper towels to the incubator.  The chicks should start to pip within a day of the incubation period listed for the species above.

Hatching

Hatching from an egg takes a great effort therefore the chick will take long rests.  The entire hatching process takes 10 to 20 hours.  Do not worry about how long it takes the chicks to hatch unless more than 20 hours have passed.  Eggs that are not hatched 1 day after the predicted incubation period should be discarded.  Do not help a chick to free itself from the shell.  Chicks that are unable to hatch on their own usually die.  If you help them and they do survive they will usually not thrive.  Dispose of weaker deformed chicks humanely.  These chicks should never be used for breeding because these traits could be transmitted to their young. 

Once chicks successfully leave the shell, increase the ventilation in the incubator and leave them in it about 2 hours or until their feathers are dry.

When more than 90% of the chicks are dry, remove them from the hatcher.  Move the chicks to a warm brooder and give them water and feed.  Leaving chicks in the incubator for too long can dehydrate them. 

Placing new Chicks with other Chickens

New chicks will want to be kept separate from any other chickens that you may have until they have gained all their feathers.  Once this has occurred you want to keep them in an area where the chickens can all see each other but not touch.  This will introduce the new birds to your current flock and minimize the chance of injury or death.  After a period of 30 days you are usually safe to let the new chicks go into the coop with their new flock and enjoy their lives.  Remember: Chickens have a hierarchy which has to be established.  Some chickens will pick on the new chicks which is normal.  Keep your eyes on them to ensure no injuries occur.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something from it.  Please feel free to share it on your favorite social media channels.  

Categories: Chickens/Ducks

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Is Organic Meat Really Better for you?

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This question has come up quite a bit around my house and probably yours at some point, is organic meat really that much better than regular? The answer is kind of. The USDA allows for certain chemicals to be used in the production of “organic” livestock. I put organic in quotes because honestly in my mind, organic should have NO chemicals. We dig into what chemicals are allowed in this article.

The National List of Allowed And Prohibited Substances

The USDA maintains a list called the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances that details what chemicals can be used in organic livestock production and in what way that are allowed to be used. Some of these chemicals are used to maintain the animal’s health which I do understand, but that still doesn’t make it organic in my mind. So what exactly is this list? In short it’s a list that is maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture that outlines the chemicals that are allowed and not allowed in organic livestock production and how those chemicals can be used.

What Chemicals Are Allowed to be Used?

This is probably the part you really wanted to get into so let’s dive right in.  According to Section 205.603 of the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, the following are synthetic substances allowed for use in organic livestock production.

  1. Alcohols
    1. Ethanol – Disinfectant and Sanitizer only, prohibited as a feed additive.
    1. Isopropanol – Disinfectant only
  2. Aspirin – approved for health care use to reduce inflammation.
  3. Atropine (CAS #-51-55-8) – Federal Law restricts this drug to use by or on the lawful written or oral order of a licensed veterinarian, in full compliance with AMDUCA and 21 CFR part 530 of the Food and Drug Administration regulations.  Also, for use under 7 CFR part 205, the NOP requires:
    1. Use by or on the lawful written order of a licensed veterinarian; and
    1. A meat withdrawal period of at least 56 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter; and a milk discard period of at least 12 days after administering to dairy animals.
  4. Biologics – Vaccines.
  5. Butorphanol (CAS #-42408-82-2) – Only allowed by oral or written vet order. 
    1. An opioid pain medication used to treat severe pain.  Is also used as a part of anesthesia for surgery or during early labor.
    1. A meat withdrawal period of at least 42 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter or a milk discard period of at least 8 days after administering to dairy animals.
  6. Activated Charcoal (CAS # 7440-4409) – Must be from vegetative sources.
  7. Calcium Borogluconate (CAS # 5743-34-0) – for treatment of milk fever only.
  8. Calcium Propionate (CAS # 4075-81-4) – For treatment of milk fever only.
  9. Chlorhexidine (CAS # 55-56-1) – for medical procedures conducted under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.  Allowed for use as a teat dip when alternative germicidal agents and/or physical barriers have lost their effectiveness.
  10. Chlorine Materials – disinfecting and sanitizing facilities and equipment.  Residual chlorine levels in the water shall not exceed the maximum residual disinfectant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
    1. Calcium Hypochlorite
    1. Chlorine Dioxide
    1. Hypochlorous Acid – generated from electrolyzed water.
    1. Sodium hypochlorite
  11. Electrolytes – without antibiotics
  12. Flunixin (CAS #-38677-85-9) – in accordance with approved labeling; except that for use under 7 CFR part 205, the NOP requires a withdrawal period of at least two-times that required by the FDA.
  13. Glucose
  14. Glycerin – Allowed as a livestock teat dip, must me produced through the hydrolysis of fats or oils.
  15. Hydrogen Peroxide
  16. Iodine
  17. Kaolin Pectin – for use as an absorbent, antidiarrheal, and gut protectant.
  18. Magnesium Hydroxide (CAS #-1309-42-8) – Only allowed under the oral or written order of a licensed veterinarian. 
  19. Magnesium Sulfate
  20. Mineral Oil – for treatment of intestinal compaction, prohibited for use as a dust suppressant.
  21. Nutritive Supplements – injectable supplements of trace minerals per paragraph (d)(2) of section 206.603 of the National List of Allowed And Prohibited Substances, vitamins per paragraph (d)(3), and electrolytes per paragraph (a)(11), with excipients per paragraph (f), in accordance with FDA and restricted to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.
  22. Oxytocin – use in post parturition therapeutic applications.
  23. Parasiticides – Prohibited in slaughter stock, allowed in emergency treatment for dairy and breeder stock when organic system plan-approved preventative management does not prevent infestation.  In breeder stock, treatment cannot occur during the last third of gestation of the progency will be sold as organic and must not be used during the lactation period for breeding stock.  Allowed for fiber bearing animals when used a minimum of 36 days prior to harvesting of fleece or wool that is to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic.
    1. Fenbendazole (CAS #43210-67-9) – milk or milk products from a treated animal cannot be labled as provided for in subpart D: 2 days following treatment of cattle; 36 days following treatment of goats, sheep, and other dairy species.
    1. Moxidectin (CAS #113507 – 06-5)
  24. Perooxyacetic/Peracetic acid (CAS #-79-21-0) – for sanitizing facility and processing equipment.
  25. Phosphoric Acid – allowed as equipment cleaner, provided that no direct contact with organically managed livestock or land occurs.
  26. Poloxalene (CAS #-003-11-6) – for use under 7 CFR part 205; the NOP requires that poloxalene only be used for the emergency treatment of bloat.
  27. Propylene Glycol (CAS #57-55-6) – only for treatment of ketosis in ruminants.
  28. Sodium Chlorite, acidified – allowed for use on organic livestock as a teat dip treatment only.
  29. Tolazoline (CAS #59-98-3) – only allowed on oral or written order of a licensed veterinarian, in full compliance with the AMDUCA and 21 CFR part 530 of the FDA regulations.  Also, for use under 7 CFR part 205, the NOP requires:
    1. Use by or on the lawful written order of a licensed veterinarian;
    1. Use only to reverse the effects of sedation and analgesia caused by Xylazine; and
    1. A meat withdrawal period of at least 8 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter; and a milk discard period of at least 4 days after administering to dairy animals.
  30. Xylazine (CAS #7361-61-7) – Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the lawful written or oral order of a licensed veterinarian, in full compliance with the AMDUCA  and 21 CFR part 530 of the FDA regulations. Also, for use under 7 CFR part 205, the NOP requires:
    1. Use by or on the lawful written order of a licensed veterinarian; and,
    1. A meat withdrawal period of at least 8 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter; and a milk discard period of at least 4 days after administering to dairy animals.
    1. As a topical treatment, external parasiticide or local anesthetic as applicable.
      1. Copper Sulfate
      1. Formic Acid (CAS # 64-18-6) for use as a pesticide solely within honeybee hives.
      1. Iodine
      1. Lidocaine – as a local anesthetic. Use requires a withdrawal period of 8 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter and 6 days after administering to dairy animals.
      1. Lime, hydrated – as an external pest control, not permitted to cauterize physical alterations or deodorize animal wastes.
      1. Mineral oil – for topical use and as a lubricant
      1. Procaine – as a local anesthetic.  Use requires a withdrawal period of 8 days after administering to livestock intended for slaughter and 6 days after administering to dairy animals.
      1. Sodium Chlorite, acidified – allowed for use on organic livestock as teat dip treatment only.
      1. Sucrose octanoate esters (CAS#s – 42922-74-7; 58064-47-4) – in accordance with approved labeling
      1. Zinc sulfate – for use in hoof and foot treatments only
    1. As feed supplements – none
    1. As feed additives.
      1. DL-Methionine, DL-Methionine – hydroxyl analog, and DL-Methionine – hydroxyl analog calcium (CAS #’s  59-51-8, 583-91-5,4857-55-7, and 922-50-9) – for use in organic poultry production at the following pounds of synthetic 100 percent methionine per ton of feed in the diet.  Maximum rates as averaged per ton of feed over the life of the flock: laying chickens – 2 pounds; broiler chickens – 2.5 pounds; turkeys and all other poultry – 3 pounds.
      1. Trace minerals used for enrichment or fortification when FDA approved.
      1. Vitamins, used for enrichment or fortification when FDA approved.
    1. As synthetic inert ingredients as classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for use with nonsynthetic substances or synthetic substances listed and used as an active pesticide ingredient in accordance with any limitations on the use of such substances

What’s Next?

As you can see there are a ton of allowed substances that can be used on your “organic” meats.  I’m not a doctor so I could say whether or not any of these are hard on your body, however, I do know that there are some things people we never meant to eat and I’m pretty sure a large number of them are on this list.  This is why we don’t even say our pork is organic.  We are better than organic for the simple fact we use ZERO chemicals. 

Conclusion

For many people wanting to live a healthy lifestyle, organic meats is one thing they really enjoy.  But at the end of the day is it really better for you?  In actuality it is.  Organic products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, than traditionally produced products.  As far as beef goes, grass fed is better and in many cases is considered organic.  However, after reading this list what are your thoughts?  If it’s me I’ll stick to our method of raising our pork.  No chemicals, no antibiotics, just pure healthy truly natural pork. 

If you’re in Arizona and would like to eat healthier you can click the shop link on the main menu and browse our products.  Unfortunately we are unable to ship food products and are only licensed for sale in Arizona.  All of our pork is ADA Certified.

If you liked this article and found it informative please share it on your favorite social media sites.  Also leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of this article.  Thank you for reading.

Categories: General Info & Tips

How to Keep Pests Out Of Your Garden

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garden-pests

Every Year thousands of people around the world spend a ton of time working in their garden just to have it ruined by pests.  You go out in the morning and half of your vegetables are gone and what is there is half-eaten.  The frustration mounts and you say “never again”.  So what is a nature-loving gardener to do when rabbits, groundhogs, moles, and other furry pests and insects destroy your garden?  Well, here’s how you can fight back without resorting to harsh tactics or chemicals.

Animal Pests

Deer:

Deer are graceful, endearing, and destructive animals.  They are animals that strip leaves and buds from trees, vines, and roses.  Covering fruit bushes, vines, and young trees with simple nylon netting will discourage them.  The netting should be lifted slightly once a week to keep random branches and vines from growing through it.  You can also hang balls of human hair or soap around your garden which will also help to deter them.  To protect larger gardens, you can use a homemade or commercial spray of capsaicin, the “hot” ingredient in peppers.  Garlic sprays and fish emulsions also deter deer but many sprays need to be reapplied after you water or it rains.

Rabbits:

These little pests are cute but can wreak havoc on your garden.  Eastern cottontails can quickly clear out your vegetable garden and sometimes they can do it in a single night.  Luckily there are many things you can do to deter them from having their way in your garden.  Typically cottontails will avoid areas with unpleasant odors.  Coyote urine, soapy water, vinegar, and cayenne pepper are all deterrents, but need to be applied frequently, as rabbits eventually become used to the smell and taste.  You can also protect individual plants or rows with cages, or mesh.  Physical barriers are generally the most effective though.  Another strategy that you can do is place fake snakes in the garden.  They work like a charm but if you’re like me it could lead to bullet holes in your garden if you forget you put them there.  Plants such as rhubarb, tomatoes, garlic, hot peppers, basil, mint, and catnip are all unpleasant to rabbits so they can also keep them at bay.

Nocturnal Raiders: Raccoons, opossums, and skunks

These pests sure appreciate those ripe tomatoes, summer squash, plums, and berries for their midnight shindigs.  A fence is the best protection against such unpleasant guests, as these omnivores are easily discouraged and will wander off in search of another food source.  You can use netting to protect individual trees or garden rows, but you must be sure to fasten the netting to the trunk or the ground, so the hungry invaders cannot crawl underneath it.  Capsaicin sprays will also discourage them.  You will need to wash vegetables thoroughly when harvesting.  Other good tips to remember are to not leave pet food outside overnight, to clean up any picnic debris before heading inside, and to cover garbage tightly. 

Birds

Blackbirds, starlings, blue jays, and other fruit-eating birds

These guys can strip an entire dwarf plum tree or row of raspberry bushes in a matter of a couple of hours.  Birds quickly become accustomed to scarecrow-type deterrents, like foil strips and plastic owls.  However, if you use foil strips early in the season, and change deterrents every month throughout the growing season, they do work.  Netting can be put over fruiting plants and trees as soon as the green fruits begin to soften.  You will have to be sure to fasten the netting securely around the tree trunks and bushes to prevent birds from hopping up onto the plant from underneath.  I have also seen people enclose their garden with fence and then run fishing line across the top of the garden at 1 inch increments.  This allows the sun to get to the plants without any problems but can also keep birds out.

Moles:

These animals are also called meadow mice.  They are bashful creatures that dig shallow tunnels in areas with lose, abundant, ground cover.  They gnaw on garden plants, bulbs, vines, and young tree trunks.  Weeds and heavy mulch provide them with food and protection, so clear a 4-foot diameter circle around young trees; and mow or cultivate field edges, ditch banks and other adjacent areas.  Moles eat insects and snails, not garden plants, but since they tunnel high in the subsoil they can separate plants from their roots.  They seldom cause significant garden damage, except for the unsightly dirt mounts in otherwise pristine lawns.

Gophers and Groundhogs:

These little furry animals are a gardener’s nightmare.  These mammals will uproot or pull under full-grown plants.  Since they are attracted by the aroma of pungent greens, they head directly to your favorite vegetables and flowers.  They also dig deep tunnels, which make underground barriers impractical, but chain-link fence sunk 12” does help to deter some of them.  Flooding the tunnels discourages them from burrowing by making the soil too sticky for digging and causing it to found their fur.  Bulbs, tubers, and ornamental plantings can be protected by fine wire mesh around root balls.  Many burrowers prefer perennial plants, so when planting or replacing perennials, you can dig a bed at least two feet deep and cover the bottom of it with wire mesh before planting.

Insect Pests

There are a ton of insects that attack your vegetable plants and flowers.  Being able to identify them is important because some insects, like ladybugs, are beneficial.  The well-known red ladybug does not eat any vegetation but does protect plants from aphids by consuming up to 75 of them in a single day.  There are lady bug impostors though as well such as the Asian Lady Beetles, that can do a lot of damage.

Slugs and Snails:

Nearly every gardener has experienced the disappointment of watching curling sprouts emerge from the ground, only to see them disappear overnight beneath trails of sparkling slime.  Hand picking slugs and snails is an effective natural control, but it must be done early in the morning.  As they sun rises, they retreat to holes under cool debris, and can be impossible to find.  When handpicked, they can be dropped into a bucket of brine or sale or even fed to chickens.  Saucers of beer are also very effective traps; or bury a cup of beer in the dirt and fill it with stale beer.  Slugs fall in and don’t come out.  Copper strips also work because they cause a slight electrical charge with deters slugs and snails from crossing the strips.  Copper wire from a hobby supply shop is less expensive than the strips sold at gardening centers, and does just as good.  You must be careful to keep the copper barriers away from plant stems. 

Mexican bean beetles:

These things look like copper ladybugs and feed on bean leaves, pods, and steps, causing severe damage to all varieties of bean crops.  One method that has been used since 1841, and is still effective today, is to cover a row of plants with a light fabric like cheesecloth or spun, bonded polyester fabric that admits light and water, but keeps insects out.  Get rid of overwintering sites by eliminating weeds and burning crop residues in the fall and winter. 

Tomato Hornworms:

These little things aren’t little at all.  They are 3-4”, pale green caterpillars that strip tomato, eggplant, pepper, and potato plants of new leaves and flower buds.  Cabbage loopers are very common and feed on cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli.  Hand picking is the most effective way to get immediate relief from these pests.  To rid a garden of repeated infestations, you can use Bacillus Thuringiensis, a bacterium parasite.

Yellow Jackets:

In late summer, yellow jackets swarm around gardens and your house.  Worker yellow jackets don’t need to feed a nest’s larvae in late summer so they wander, searching for ripe, fallen backyard fruit, beer, soft drinks, and meat.  In addition to having painful stings, yellow jackets are sometimes responsible for transmitting anaerobic bacteria that can cause blood poisoning.  Fruit should be picked as it ripens, and all buckets or containers used for picking fruit need to be kept washed.  Trash cans must be tightly covered, and meat, eggshells, and cheese kept out of compost bins.  Pet food must not be left outside.  A good rule to follow is to feed pets in the cool hours of the morning and evening, and keep the pet dishes clean and rinsed out during the heat of the day.

One thing that many people do is turn chickens loose in their garden during the day and then lock them in their coop at night.  Some chickens are better than others for insect control.  Bantams are some of the best because they typically won’t destroy your garden and instead will focus on the bugs and insects. 

If you found this article helpful, I would appreciate it if you shared it on your favorite social media sites.  Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope it helps your garden produce even more this year.

Categories: Gardening

Beginning Gardening: The Basics of Planting

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Many people ask: “Why should I grow a garden?”  There are a number of answers to this question but my favorite one is “It’s healthier for you”.  Now don’t get me wrong I’m not exactly a health nut but I do know that chemicals and pesticides aren’t good for you.  Also the flavors of fresh vegetables are so much better than what you can typically get in a store.  In this guide I’ll highlight the basics of planting your vegetable garden.  From how to pick the right location to how to select the right vegetables to grow.

Pick The Right Location

Picking a good location is critical to having a successful harvest.  A not-so-good location can result in a harvest that is dismal at best.  So here are a few tips for picking a good location:

  1. Plant in a sunny place. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.  The more sunlight that they receive the better your harvest will be, the bigger the vegetables will be and the better the taste of those vegetables.
  2. Plant in good soil.  Plants roots penetrate soft soil much easier than hard dry soil.  Enriching your soil with compost provides the needed nutrients that may not be already in the soil. Horse Manure is a great thing to compost and is very easy to come by for many people.  Proper drainage will also ensure that water doesn’t collect on top of your garden or drains away too quickly
  3. Plant in a stable environment.  You don’t want to plant your garden in a place that’s prone to flooding during heavy rains, or in a place that dries out a lot.  You also do not want to plant somewhere where strong winds could knock over young plants or keep pollinators from doing their job. 

Choosing a Plot Size: Start Off Small

One of the most common errors that beginners make is planting too much too soon.  Much more than anyone could ever eat or want.  This is a waste unless you’re like me and have hogs and a ton of other animals (including a teenager) that would be more than happy to help them disappear.  It’s always good to start small.  You can always increase the size next year if you need too but it’s better to not let food go to waste.  A good size for a beginner vegetable garden is about 16 x 10 feet and is filled with crops that are easy to grow.  A plot this size (along with the list below) can feed a family of four for about one summer, with a little leftover to can for the winter. 

You can make your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long.  The runs should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.  Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season do include beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.

How to Grow the Best Vegetables

In addition to choosing the right location and the right size here are a few tips that will help you grow your best vegetables so far.

  1. Space your crops properly. For example, corn needs a lot of space and can overshadow shorter vegetables.  Plants set too close together compete for sunlight, water, and nutrition and typically will fail to mature.  Pay close attention to the spacing guidelines on seed packets and plant tabs.
  2. Use high-quality seeds. Seed packets are less expensive than individual plants, but if seeds don’t germinate, your money and time are totally wasted.  A few extra cents spent in spring for that year’s seeds can pay off in higher yield come havesttime.
  3. Water Properly.  Watering your plants the correct amount, not too much and not too little, will give them the best chance at producing well-formed, mature vegetables
  4. Plant and Harvest at the right time.  Not too early or too late, every vegetable has its own planting dates so be sure to check the seed packet.

Suggested Plants for a Beginner’s Garden

The vegetables suggested below are common, productive plants that are pretty easy to grow.  You can talk to farmers in your area or contact your local Cooperative Extension Service to find out what plants grow best in your area, and when the best time for planting them is.  Think about what you enjoy eating and also what you have a hard time finding at the grocery store or farmers market. 

You can also plant Marigolds to help control pests

  • Tomatoes – 5 plants, staked
  • Zucchini Squash – 4 plants
  • Peppers – 6 plants
  • Cabbage
  • Bush Beans
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Marigold (For Pest Control)

So there you have it, the very basics of getting your vegetable garden started so you can enjoy fresh vegetables this year.  It’s not too much work and is something you can do even with a busy schedule. 

If you found this article helpful please share it on your favorite social media sites.

Categories: Gardening

How Do I Start Gardening?

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Millions of people across the country grow their own fruits and vegetables every year.  You may be wondering how you can do the same.  Did you grow up in the middle of town and never had to grow anything? Or, do you come from a family that provided everything for you from the store so you didn’t have to think about where it came from?  Even if those situations aren’t yours you can still enjoy growing your own vegetables and eat healthier because of it.  So how do you start?  Well buckle up and here we go.

Step 1: Research

So one of the first things you really want to do before you start throwing seeds in the ground is look up what region you’re in.  Different regions have different planting seasons.  You never want to plant before the last freeze of winter.  If temperatures drop below freezing it can kill your seeds and nothing will grow.  You also want to do a soil test to make sure the nitrogen levels are where they should be.  You can get soil test kits from most garden supply stores for only a couple of dollars.  Also each vegetable has different soil nutrient requirements which you should also look up for the plants you want to grow.

Step 2: Prepare

The next thing you should do is begin getting the garden ready to plant.  To start with many people put a border around their garden to make it look nicer as well as keep pests out.  Things such as fences are usually a good idea especially if you live in the country and have rabbits, rodents, and other garden pests running around.  There are a number of things you can do to keep them out, some of which work better than others.

Fence

If you decide to put up a fence then here are some things to think about.  Rabbits can dig and they can jump so you will want to put your fence at least 1 ft. under the ground level and at least 3 feet high.  So to make it simple take a 4 foot high fence and trench the perimeter of the garden down 1 foot then place the fence into the trench so the bottom of the fence touches the bottom of the trench.  Attach the fence to your posts then backfill the trench.  You want to make sure that your fence has small enough holes that rabbits and other pests cannot get through it. 

Border Stones

Border stones can enhance the visual appeal of your garden quite a bit.  The downside is they don’t typically keep pests out.  If you have a fenced yard this may be a viable option for you. 

Step 3: Fertilize

Once you know what kind of garden you want to grow and have the fence in place the next thing you want to do is fertilize the soil.  This will add the nutrients that will allow your plants to thrive.  Different plants have different nutritional requirements so this step will vary depending on what you decide to grow.  There are a number of ways you can fertilize your new garden.  If you have horses, you can compost horse manure.  In fact you can compost most anything.  If you’re into sustainable living you can put old vegetables, leaves, dead plants etc. into your compost pile to feed your garden.  You can buy calf manure as well however, horse manure, if composted property can be gold for your garden.  If you live in a rural area and do not have horses you can probably get some from your neighbors who do.  Many horse owners are more than happy to have someone come get their manure for them.  There are also commercially available fertilizers that you can purchase from garden supply stores.  If you decide to use horse manure then read this article where we discuss how to properly compost it so it doesn’t damage your garden.  If you decide to fertilize with manure you want to spread it evenly across your garden and till it in with the soil.  If you purchase a commercial product then you will want to follow the manufacturer’s directions on how to properly apply it to your garden.

Step 4: Set Up Irrigation

This is an optional step but most people do it so they do not have to run a hose to the garden to water all the time.  What I’m doing in my garden this year is running 1-inch PVC with some small holes drilled into it between the rows of plants.  Doing this allows me to connect a hose to the end of the pipe using a ball valve and water the garden that way.  You can also connect the PVC to an outdoor hose bib if you have one available.  But remember you will want to add a way to turn the water on and off for the garden itself.  You can place a timer on to the hose bib and connect the hose to that so you can actually have your garden watered without having to go out to do it manually.  I picked up a 2 station timer at Wal-Mart for $20.  A 2 station timer has 1 input and 2 outputs.  These outputs can be set to a different schedule for watering so if you have 2 different gardens you can water them separately automatically.

Step 5: Plant

Now that you know what you’re going to plant, the soil is prepared and irrigation is in place the next thing you want to do is get those seeds in the ground.  This can be the most rewarding step as the hardest part of the work is over.  Each plant will produce multiple vegetables or fruits so you don’t need to go hog wild with seeds.  Space each seed out evenly in rows and add some type of sign so you can tell what row contains what plants.  You will want to keep testing the soil after you plant to make sure the nutrients are there throughout the growing season.  You will also want to ensure that your plants get adequate sunlight and water every day. 

Wrap-up

This is just a high level overview of the steps you should follow to get started with your new garden.  Each step can be a lot more in depth than this but this is the jest of it.  There are still a few things you will have to deal with once you’re planted such as pest control, bird control, etc. but for many people these things aren’t a big problem. 

What tips do you have for new gardeners?  Let me know in the comments below.  Also if you found this article helpful please share it on your favorite social media channels. 

Categories: Gardening

How to Compost Horse Manure

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It’s that time of year when people are out getting their gardens going. One of the questions I’ve seen asked a number of times is how to compost horse manure. Horse Manure is one of the best types of fertilizer you can add to your garden and is called “Garden Gold” by a number of people. Horse manure can be very effective in your garden if its composted properly. In this article we discuss that very thing and give you a step by step process on how to compost your horse manure so it will supercharge your garden this year.

How long does it take?

Horse manure takes between 4 and 6 weeks to fully compost to the point where you can add it to your garden. It’s not a good idea to use fresh manure as it can burn the roots of your plants.

Hot Potato

If you are starting a new garden that you don’t plan to use for several months, then you could spread fresh horse manure on it. But, composting the manure before using it is the best idea. Although horse manure contain less nitrogen than poultry or sheep manure, they can still damage young plants. Fresh manure also attracts flies and has a strong odor, and manure runoff can pollute nearby streams and lakes.

Composting

Horse manure is very easy to compost and takes about 4 to 6 weeks to turn from stable waste into garden gold if it’s done properly. Composting does take a bit of work but it can pay off big time come harvest season. Constructing a small pile of 3 by 3 and 3 to 4 feet high helps the process to go much faster. A purchased or constructed bin helps keep the contents in place. Moisture is also necessary for composting, so if it hasn’t rained in a week or more, spray the pile with a garden hose until you dampen the material slightly to the consistency of a well-wrung out sponge. If you have accidently over-watered then you can add some dried leaves to the pile.

Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio

The most important part of the composting process is the carbon to nitrogen ration. This is what allows you to turn fresh horse manure and bedding into finished compost in a few weeks. Layering the manure with dried leaves allows the air to flow freely and keeps the pile from smelling too bad. The ratio for horse manure is 15 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, so for every inch of horse manure added to the pile, add a 15-inch layer of high carbon material, such as dried plants or leaves.

Turning up the heat

To go from fresh horse manure and bedding to finished compost in a month, make sure the pile gets enough oxygen. Turning the pile, ideally about three times per week, adds oxygen that speeds up the composting process. A properly built compost pile heats up to 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit as it works. When the pile no longer feels hot and the composted manure resembles dark brown garden soil, it is safe to use on your garden.

Hot Bed

Fresh manure transforms a cold frame for over-wintering plants into a hot frame where you can grow vegetables and plants even in the middle of winter. Cold frames, small garden enclosures covered by windows or heavy plastic lids, only keep plants from dying in freezing temperatures, but do NOT encourage plant growth. To make a hot frame, dig a two-foot hold underneath the frame, add about four inches of gravel for drainage, one foot of horse manure, tapped down and moistened with water, and six inches of garden soil. Check the temperature of the soil with a soil thermometer, and place your plants in the hot frame when the temperature registeres between 70 and 75 F.

Word of Caution

Hot compost piles can catch on fire, so make sure that you locate your pile away from buildings or combustible materials. Do not smoke near a compost pile, and if the contents begin to smell like alcohol, DO NOT add water but instead turn the pile to give it more air.

What is Composting?

Composting is the process of allowing organic materials to decompose in a more or less controlled environment, so that the resulting material can be used as a beneficial soil additive. For gardeners and farmers, composting is an essential activity; it is easy to do, and makes use of large amounts of organic waste. Growing with compost allows you to recycle naturally. This can be a convenient option for your home’s farm.

Categories: Gardening

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