Quick Update


Grapes, anyone?

I am drowning in work right now, a combination of a four-day-a-week bricks and mortar job to help out a local clinic, plus my usual writing and ranch chores (not to mention the biggest Concord grape harvest we’ve ever had!). So just a quick post:
Nita Wilton is back on the farm, although still at level 2 evacuation status, which means be ready to go at a moment’s notice. At least this will allow her to continue harvesting and processing her food for the winter. The are has been blessed with cooler temperatures and rain is expected next week.
We have literally dozens of small fires around us from a series of lighting storms last week, but most were caught early and small. Nothing is very close.
This made me tear up – here is what it means to be a farmer: http://www.omaha.com/living/year-old-grandpa-still-works-on-the-family-farm-providing/article_b3b4882d-1621-5ff5-b8b3-e61a525fe3e5.html
I’ll post more as soon as I can…

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Wildfire in the West


I have been following the news about the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon very closely, as Nita Wilton –Throwback at Trapper Creek – had to evacuate her family farm, leaving behind most of her animals. Nita lives on her family’s 100+ year-old farm, homesteaded by her grandparents, where she raises grass-fed beef and has a garden that makes my mouth water. If the fire goes through, she stands to lose everything.
Forest and grass fires are the kind of thing that can happen very quickly in the tinder-dry summer. A thunderstorm in our area during the summer is a mixed blessing, because unless we get a real gully-washer and sometimes even then, the risk of fires from lightning strikes is very high. We have a number of fires burning in the northstate right now, one of them the Helena fire in the Weaverville area. Yesterday morning was was the first time in two weeks that I had actually seen sky at sunrise instead of smoke haze. In this case, however, the fire is apparently the direct result of human stupidity – teenagers throwing smoke bombs and/or fireworks into the Columbia River gorge.
Dry conditions, plenty of fuel and even the smallest amount of wind are a recipe for disaster when you have a rangeland fire; the fire will make its own wind as well as whatever the atmospheric conditions produce. A forest fire that is crowning — leaping from one tree top to another — is one of the fastest things I’ve ever seen. My husband, a former hotshot firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, says that a light wind of three or four miles an hour can quickly reach gale force when moving along with a big fire. A fire the size of the Eagle Creek Fire can easily move at 15 miles an hour and will literally obliterate whatever stands in its way. As the fire moves, it heats the area in front of it, flash-drying the already dry tinder and super-heating the air. The combination can warm the air to almost 1,500 degrees Farenheit and cause what’s called flashover — the ignition of tree canopies from superheated, dry air. If the fire is severe enough to produce fire whirls, these mini-tornadoes can create winds of 50 miles an hour.
Add to that steep terrain, choked with brush, downed timber and rocks, and firefighters in many cases can do little more than protect buildings where possible while air support in the form of Foschek bombers and helicopters drop retardant and water on the flames to try to slow the fire’s advance. At night, it’s the men and women on the ground who must take up the slack, as you can’t use planes and helicopters when you can’t see the ground.
The Eagle Creek fire is now over 33,000 acres and no containment in sight. And it’s not even the biggest fire in Oregon – the Chetco Bar fire is over 176,000 acres. Please keep the folks in the West who are dealing with fires in your thoughts, and be careful out there.

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Reader’s Questions


Part of the ill-fated crossbreeding attempt.

Got a comment from a reader named Sandy that will require more than a short answer, so I thought I’d turn it into a post. Sandy wrote:
I have enjoyed your posts on clan mating for chickens. It seems like every article I read on clan mating describes a different way to manage the rotation. I have a few questions.
How long have you been using the clan system you described?
How did you first separate you Del’s into clans? Did you buy from different sources? Or a single source and have to split them based on some criteria?
I would love to see followup posts providing practical tips on working your system, and anything you would do differently, changes you’ve made, etc.,,, day to day tips for the homestead breeder…
Thank you for the good reads.

Hi Sandy – thanks for stopping by!
To answer your questions, for years, I kept chickens and the hens always raised a few chicks. Eventually, I’d get a new batch to add to the flock, keeping genetic diversity going in that fashion. About seven or eight years ago, I decided the commercial chickens just weren’t cutting it. I’ve kept chickens for over 30 years, and what I was seeing with commercial chickens was less disease resistance (in any of the breeds I tried), lower egg production and fewer hens willing to set, even in heritage breeds that do produce setters pretty regularly. I was losing a lot more chicks before adulthood no matter how carefully I managed them and they had more developmental problems.

I’d rather do it myself (not just with chickens, but pretty much anything), so I started reading up on how to become independent in the chicken department. I freely admit I got most of my initial information from the writings of a guy named Harvey Ussery. Harvey’s a professional breeder, though, and I wanted a system that would work for the average ranch wife. I didn’t want to be bothered keeping meticulous records, I just wanted a relatively easy way to track characteristics like setting ability.

First I tried to breed my own homestead flock a few years back with a cross between Delawares and Buff Cornish; I was about five years into that and having some success when a bear came to visit and ate all but one rooster. At about the same time, I also ran across some small breeders who are trying to focus on production qualities rather than the show ring by breeding their own, like Sand Point Preservation Center and Clanborn Farms. For a variety of reasons, it took me three years to get a batch of chickens from Sand Point. (Glenn Drowns, who runs the preservation center, says he sometimes feels like he’s just running a chicken buffet for hawks and foxes.)

In the interests of having a going system before I become too old and decrepit, I finally bought commercial chicks from three different sources. When you’re buying commercial, I don’t really think it matters too much which ones you choose, and you can sort them into the clans at random. I kept all the hens but only the two best roosters (best as in good growth rate, health, size and conformation – didn’t worry about color patterns). I finally got my chicks from Sand Point this year and will keep only one or two roosters from that batch. These will form my third clan. I’m probably going to get one more group (from Clanborn) to add to the genetic diversity. I will keep the Sand Hill and Clanborn groups as distinct clans and let the rooster rotation gradually improve the genetics in the two flocks from commercial hatcheries.

I haven’t hatched anything from these flocks; the hens are just coming into their second year and I want chicks only from older hens. I don’t have a good feel for whether these will set well, either, because they’re so young. If it seems to be an issue, I’ll probably get some banty hens and just keep a few in each flock, letting them crossbreed with the Delaware roosters. If I select hens that set from these crosses, eventually, I’ll have some “pure” Delawares that set.

What I would do differently? Well, I tried to get by with makeshift housing (which was one reason the bear was able to raise such havoc – the other was that the chicken tractor was too far away from the house). We’re in the process of building four good, stout pens and coops that should survive bear attacks and aerial predation (the redtail hawks had quite a few chicken dinners at my expense, too). Second, I would be more ruthless about my culling criteria if buying commercial chickens, even if it meant I had to buy twice as many – they are so low in uniformity that you can’t count on having enough good ones from the average 25-chick minimum order. Third, much as I hate to buy commercial feed, I would use it on commercial chicks for the first two or three months, because that’s what they’re bred for, and they have a very low tolerance for substitutes. Once you get to the third generation of home-raised chicks, it doesn’t seem to be so much of an issue. It also wasn’t an issue with the Sand Hill chicks.

Hope this helps!

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