This is a snapshot of what goes into my life on the Nebraska Prairie. What living on a small ranch is like and what goes into running a small business from home. Life is very unpredictable out here on the prairie and activities vary from day to day. Here is to that life....
One spring day near Greeley, Colorado, a young woman by the name of Kate McHale, was riding her horse to a nearby pond to hunt ducks for dinner. As she dismounted to unlock a gate, Kate was startled by a rattlesnake, which she promptly shot. However, the noise brought three more snakes out of the nearby bushes. Kate was able to shoot those as well, but she was running low on ammunition. And the snakes just kept coming.
Being a resourceful pioneer woman, Kate uprooted a “No Hunting” sign and used it to kill snakes. Her battle took nearly two hours and when it was all over, Kate had killed 140 of the critters. Apparently, the snakes were just rousing from their winter sleep and her gunshots stirred the nest.
Her epic battle made her an instant celebrity once word got out. Newspapers all over the world published her story. Kate decided to put the skins to use and made a dress out of 50 of them. She also made a pair of shoes and a neck band which she often wore.
I learned about rattlesnake Kate many years ago when we lived in Colorado. We went were visiting a museum in Greeley. http://greeleyhistory.org/pages/rattlesnake_kate.html At the time I was very intrigued by the legend. It was said that her young son was riding horse back with her. I really never thought that Rattlesnake Kate and I would have anything in common. Well, little did I know..........
The Nebraska Prairie is home to the Nebraska Prairie Girl and the Prairie Rattlesnake. Usually, we are able to co-exist nicely. They exist away from my house and I exist away from their houses. Sometimes our paths cross.......
We have lived on the Nebraska Prairie for almost 14 years now, in those 14 years we have had 6 rattlesnake encounters. This is the about the most recent encounter.
Much like Rattlesnake Kate, I was with my young child at the time. I did not climb off of a horse, but out of my pick up truck. I had just come home from town and was taking my 2 year daughter out of her car seat and into the house. I heard a noise that stopped me dead in my tracks. Looking around I saw a rattlesnake coiled up right beside the house. I backed away towards the truck and told my toddler, "I have to put you back in your car seat, mommy has to kill a snake." Usually, she would get very upset if I returned her to her car seat. However, she must have sense something was wrong. I got her buckled back in and as I am walking away she says, "mommy kill a snake." I can not imagine being Rattlesnake Kate and having her young child on the back of a horse surrounded by rattlesnakes. That must have be one amazing horse and child to stay put during the ordeal.
I ran around the house and went in another door to put on my cowboy boots. (flip flop sandals are not the thing to wear when dealing with a rattlesnake.) I ran out into the barn and found my weapon, a flat shovel. Then I ran back to the house to deal with the snake. The snake was being held captive by three of our farm cats. (side note: Every time we have had an rattlesnake in the farm yard, the snake has been surrounded by farm cats. They seem to always be the ones to find them first, thankfully) I shoed the cats back out of the way and to safety. When I approached the snake to make my first attempt at him, he jumped at me a good 3 feet. That scared me to death! I have killed a few rattlesnakes since living here and have never had one jump out that far. Before he had a chance to strike again I struck him with the shovel. All the while I am dealing with the snake I can hear my little daughter say, "mommy kill a snake"
I have to say I hate killing anything. The rattlesnake has just as much right to be here as I do. However, it is just far to dangerous to move the rattlesnake to another location or allow it to leave on its own.
Once a rattlesnake is dead you have to remove the head and bury it in the ground. What? Of course you do it with the shovel, never touching it with your hands. It is very important to dispose of the head so nothing can come in contact with it. The head will continue to try to bite for a long time afterwards and the venom is still lethal. You do not want a child, person, pet, etc. to come in contact with it and accidentally get poisoned.
With the head safely buried it was time to get back to the business of the day, getting my daughter back out of the truck and unloading the groceries. Of course my nerves were shot and I was shaking from the snake encounter, but life goes on. My husband was on his way home and had missed all the fun. So.......I decided to surprise him with snake body. I took the body of the snake and coiled it up near where I had killed it. (I was careful coil it's body around the missing head) Rattlesnakes will continue to move their body once killed until sun down. Creepy, I know. Anyway, I was hoping he would walk by it and see it moving and freak out. However, my plan back fired. My husband, Tractor Dave, walked right past the snake with out even noticing. Ugh! I had to take him outside and show him what he had walked past. When the snake moved, Tractor Dave jumped back and said, "does it have its head?" Ugh! Would I be standing there showing him a rattlesnake with its head? NO!
Now as I see it, since I killed the snake the least my wonderful hubby could would be to dispose of the body. He did and he remembered to cut off the rattle, (the end of the tail) for my souvenir. We buried the body a safe distance from the head. This is in case an animal digs up the body for some reason. You do not want them to come across the head as well.
What do you do with the rattle? Usually, throw it in a jar with the other rattles you have collected. The bigger the snake the more buttons (sections) a rattle will have. This snake was about average and had seven buttons.
I have 136 more rattlesnakes to kill to be in the ranks of my pioneer sister Kate. However, I really hope that I never encounter that many rattlesnakes. The adrenalin rush from killing one snake is enough to about do a person in. I cannot imagine killing 140 at one time.
I have made one decision from this snake encounter. The next time I have to kill a rattlesnake I am going to skin it and eat it. I thought to myself what kind of Nebraska Prairie Girl are you if you do not throw the rattler in a frying pan? I told my husband about this decision and he said, "I want no part of that!" I guess he just does not have the same pioneer spirit...................
This year I decided to raise 700 Pasture Raised Cornish Cross chickens. Yikes. Really, that is not a lot in comparison to other poultry farmers. I have raised meat chickens on and off for over twenty years, for our family. This year I raised 300 for my friend to sell in her Roadside Farm Market. http://www.beehaven-farm.com/ Additionally, I had several people inquire about purchasing pasture raised poultry from me, so........ I decided to raise more. What was I thinking?!!
We only raised 300 at a time in various stages of growth. As chicks they were in one building and fed chick starter until they reached two weeks old. Then we moved them to another building to feather out and switched their feed to chick grower. At four weeks they were moved to the pasture and fed finisher. At eight-nine weeks they are harvested. We continued to rotate chickens throughout the summer from area to area.
What is required?
Water- lots and lots of water
Feed- lots and lots of feed
Equipment- shelters, electric net fencing, feeders, waterers.
Money, money, money
Water, lots of water: It is absolutely unbelievable how much water poultry require. As chicks not so much, but as they grow and develop they consume more and more water. For example, at four weeks of age and weighing less than a pound each, 100 chicks will drink over 25 gallons of water in one day. During hot weather they will consume far more. Once we put our chickens out to pasture they get their water from an automatic system. I really have absolutely no idea how much water they consume daily from then on. (I would guess over 50 gallons a day)
Feed, lots of feed: The amount of food a Cornish Cross chicken will eat is amazing. As with their water consumption, as they grow and develop they require more and more food. Cornish Cross are eating machines! I believe they are the piranhas of the chicken world. At four weeks of age 100 chicks will eat 40 pounds of food a day. By the time those same chickens are ready for harvest they will eat over 50 pounds a day. We limit them to 50 pounds of feed a day to encourage them to search for pasture food, instead of sitting around the feeder all day.
Heat: As a chick, heat is vital for survival. Heat lamps, and many of them, are very important to keep chicks from piling on top of each other to keep warm. As chickens feather out, grow, and develop heat quickly becomes a foe.
Fans: Even in a pasture with housing to provide shade was not enough to keep chickens cool. When the chickens are 4 weeks and older they can not tolerate heat. We have to provide them with fans on each pasture structure to keep them cool. Money, Money: Not only does it require a lot of equipment, and time, it requires a lot of money. The cost of 100 chicks is 1.20 each with shipping x 100 = $120.00. The cost of feeding 100 chickens for eight weeks cost $908. The cost to have the chicken processed at a USDA inspected facility is $5.00 per bird X 100 = $500.00. This does not include electricity required to keep the chicken warm or cool during inclement weather. Since our water is supplied through a well we do not have to pay for our water up front. However, there is cost involved in keeping the well pump maintained. There is also the cost of gas to haul the chickens 120 miles for harvesting.
Time: Raising poultry does not seem like it would be a time consuming operation, however, there are always pens to clean, and pasture fences and structures to move. The chickens are moved to new pens, and feed and watered are hauled. A lot of feed and water. We have our chickens harvested two hours from the farm in Colorado. This requires a day away from the farm.
I know a lot of people are surprised by the cost of pasture raised chicken. I am sure they wonder why it is more expensive than commercially raised chicken. For us to raise 100 pasture chicken it cost us a little over $15 dollars per bird. The weight of the birds raised are between 4-6 pounds. We charge $4 a pound with 5 pounds being an average weight per chicken. This leaves us with an average of $5 per chicken to cover food, electricity, water, fuel and our time. We look at our poultry business as more of a community service. It is nice to offer a healthy alternative to the commercially raised poultry that is available. All of our poultry customers have been very excited about the flavor and quality of our chickens. At the end of the day having satisfied customers is all the payment we need.
So the story begins.......................... I love my friends dog Loki, an Akbash/ Bernese Mtn. Dog cross. They got him as a guardian for the livestock on their ranch. We were discussing how they have not had any chicken losses (except the one he killed, oops) or goats losses since he's been on patrol. Well, that got me to thinking...............
Every year we feed the coyote, fox and raccoon population a good many of our chickens. If Loki is such a great guardian then I needed to look in to a livestock guardian of my own. What is a farm without a guardian? Yes, we have dogs, a Dachshund and a Golden Retriever. The coyotes just laugh at the Dachshund and as for the Golden Retriever, well, he is a therapy dog and rather spoiled, so he lives indoors most of the time.
I decided to start researching guardian dogs and was looking on many of the guardian dog rescue sites. Finally, I decided to check Facebook. There is always time for Facebook. Low and behold, an acquaintance of mine posted she had puppies for sale. They were Great Pyrenees/ Border Collie crossed. What a coincidence! I thought it was certainly an answer to prayer. This is just what we needed. The guardian instincts of a Great Pyrenees and the intelligence of a Border Collie. SOLD!! We will take one.
We met a couple weeks later and got our puppy, who was of course, very, very cute. And very, very, itchy. And very, very thin. This puppy scratched and scratched day and night. I gave her a bath several times and put medicated ointment on all her little sore spots. Poor little thing! I took my little guardian to the vet, very concerned about her health. Well, she had MANGE! AWWWWWWWWWWWWW! Home we went with a bag of medication. Four weeks and two additional appointments later, we'd spent three hundred dollars and I had a much more complete understanding of the term "Mangy Mutt"
In her life time she will have to save around 75 chickens in return for the cost of the veterinarian bill!! Not to mention the cost of having her spayed . I am so glad that I have a "do not ask do not tell policy". My husband did not ask what the vet bill was and I did not tell. I am sure that if he knew, the puppy and I would both be outside in the dog house protecting the chickens together.
On the bright side she is a wonderful puppy! She is very smart, at 12 weeks she already knows her commands, sit, lay, and stay. The vet said that with out treatment she would have died. In the end I guess she needed us more than we needed her!
The moral of the story is to never buy a puppy off of a social media site.....................unless you are prepared to fall in love and possibly spend a lot of money.
The puppy, Shyanne, is now 10 months old. She has definitely earned her keep. We have not lost any livestock or poultry on her watch. She is up all night barking and patrolling her territory. She makes her presence well know to any potential intruders. She has also become a great herd dog and is able to return the goat herd to their pen in no time flat. Good job, Shyanne!
Lazy W Diamond Ranch Awards Employee of the Month!
My sister Amy was just awarded employee of the month for October. So it got me to thinking, here on the ranch we should have an employee of the month. What a great way to increase moral and productivity. My sister gets to move into a fancy office for the month. She gets her own personal refrigerator, fancy desk and keyboard, massaging office chair, Bose sound system, sunshine, and
a paid day off. Look at this office who wouldn't be excited to be the employee of the month.
This got me to thinking what can I offer my employee of the month?..........................
Here is what I came up with. Their own personal office, that includes, a stainless steal desk on wheels, concrete flooring, antique wood walls, two separate work areas, and designer rubber mat.
A vintage sound system.
Now, not to make light of the Bose sound system my sister was awarded in her office. How can you compare it to this Panasonic sound system complete with 8 track player and antenna. I mean seriously can you even find these anymore?
Due to the lack of a windows in the office awarded. I have installed a wonderful heat lamp converted into a hanging light.
Unlimited Pool Access
Not to out do my sister's employer, okay well maybe. I am offering my employee unlimited access to the ranch swimming pool.
And their own personal assistant!
I did not hear her mention this little perk.
And a paid day off!
Now that I had implemented "The Employee of the Month" program, I needed to go out and find our employee. I was so excited, I told my family about the new employee incentive program. They all smiled, scratched their heads and said, "mom you are our only ranch employee, you do not get paid" WELL THERE GOES THE PAID DAY OFF!
How much are your eggs? That was the question asked of my 11 year old daughter when she went to the farmers market a couple weeks ago.
I am a vendor at our local winter farmers market. My children often times take turns going with me to help out. I sell all my goat milk bath and body products along with my apothecary wellness line. I told my daughter Josie, "You should go with me this time and set up a table to sell your eggs." All winter long Josie really did not have spare eggs to sell, however, the egg production had picked up and she had several dozen.
Josie was excited. Not only was she going to sell her eggs, but help out a friend of ours and sell hers as well. She went and found a small table to set up and even had a table cloth to cover it. When we got to the farmers market she set up her table and put together a nice display of the eggs she had for sale. I told her that it should not take long for her to sell her eggs once the market opened for business.
Customer after customer came up and asked, " How much are your eggs?" To which she replied, "Four dollars a dozen." Customers kept coming and no one was buying. Josie asked, "Mom what is wrong with my eggs?" "No one wants to buy them." Sadly, I noticed the same people walking around with eggs that they had purchased from other vendors. They were selling their eggs for a dollar a dozen cheaper.
After about an hour watching my daughter's eggs sit on the table untouched, I told her to start selling them for three dollars a dozen. I could not stand to see how disappointed she was that no one wanted her eggs. Low and behold she was able to sell all of her eggs and some of our friend's eggs as well.
This is were the story takes a turn, and I get on my soap box. I do not think people realize how much money and time it takes to raise chickens for egg laying. We buy all the feed for the chicken and Josie does all the chores. In return for her work taking care of the chickens she gets to sell the eggs and keep the money. This is her way of earning a little income. It is our way of teaching her responsibility. If we did not supply the feed for the Josie's chickens, she would never see a cent for her eggs because the expense of raising chickens is so high.
The chicken feed that we purchase cost anywhere from $18.00-$21.00. We buy good all natural feed in 50lb bags. Each bag of feed lasts one week. Not one week and one day, just one week. Josie has 20 laying hens and she gets about 10-12 eggs a day. (chickens do not lay one egg a day like folks think) So, if Josie gets seven dozen a week she feels pretty good. Take seven dozen eggs and divide that into the cost of feed. Let's go down the middle on the feed prices and say $19.50. It cost Josie $2.79 cents per dozen to feed her chickens. To purchase the egg cartons costs .45 cents each. (we usually try to use recycled cartons, but that does not always work) Now for a dozen eggs, Josie is up to $3.24 in costs. That does not account for water, time to care for the chickens, electricity, oyster shells, range cube, bedding, or the cost of the chicken initially. So, at four dollars a dozen Josie makes a whopping .76 cents per dozen. At three dollars a dozen she is losing .24 cents a dozen.
I do not think that people realize what goes into putting high quality food on the table. I think people need to question their local farmer about what goes into the care of their livestock and poultry.
Questions to ask in regards to poultry:
1. What are they fed (is it commercial feed, all natural, organic)
2. Are they free range (do they have access to green grass, bugs, dirt, and sunshine)
3. Explain free range (is it a pen that is outside or are they allowed to roam free)
4. How do you handle the eggs produced ( how soon are they gathered, washed, and how are they stored)
5. Are the eggs labeled with the producers information (name, address, phone number, and the date the eggs were packaged)
6. Does the producer have the appropriate licensing required by the state of operation
7. What type of housing do the chickens live in
8. What kind of chickens do you have
9. Is there a rooster in your flock (some people do not want fertilized eggs)
10. Are any chemicals used on the farm where the eggs are produced
11. Ask to tour the farm (I would love to give our customers a tour of where their eggs, pork, beef, milk and chicken is raised) Most farmers would be proud to show you their farming operation. If they are not willing to do a tour you might ask yourself why?
Some of these questions might seem a little out there to you, but that is one of the benefits of buying local, getting to know your farmer. You can not go in a Big Box store and ask them how their free range eggs are raised. Buying locally ensures that you can educate yourself on the food that is being placed on your table. If the chickens that produce your eggs are not cared for in a manner in which you agree with, you can go to another local producer who does.
The moral of the story is ask your producer why their eggs are four dollars a dozen. Or why they are only three dollars a dozen. Ask them questions about the care of their poultry. Otherwise, you might be getting eggs equal to in quality to the eggs sold at the Big Box Stores.
Meet your farmer!
When you see a eleven year old girls selling her eggs at the farmers market talk to her, ask her about her chickens. You might appreciate the conversation and learn about the care that went into her eggs. The dollars you might have saved getting the eggs somewhere else might not seem so important if you get to know your farmer!
Ha, you thought this was going to be something really racy and juicy. Actually, it is about my most recent home remodeling project. Part of that project was giving my 100 year old home a breast reduction. Let me explain! My house when we bought it came with 3 flush mount dome lights, which my dad coined boob lights. He was always jealous because my boob lights where bigger then the boob lights he had in his house.
I recently sent a text to my oldest son telling him that we were getting rid of the boob lights and installing ceiling fans. His response text was, "you are giving the house a breast reduction." To which I laugh and laughed. My response was, " Well yes, yes we are."
Now, I really have nothing against those particular lights. They just didn't provide the lighting we needed. Plus, the fact was that every time I cleaned them I thought of the name coined by my father. Do you know how hard it is to wipe down these lights while standing on a step ladder laughing? So now, my house has had its breast reduction and has had three lovely ceiling fan lights installed that do not have dome lights.
I had my boob lights all packed in a box ready to donate them the Good Will. I called my father and told him we had taken them down. He said, "Don't throw them away," to which I responded, "Oh, no I was going to donate them to Good Will, unless you want them." Do you know what his response was? You guessed it, he wants them!