Spring, Finally

After the most amazingly wet and cold spring ever, the sun is shining. Beautiful weather. I spent Thursday in the Bay Area on business, and got home late Friday afternoon. I put the rotary mower on the back of the tractor after 7 PM and got almost two hours of mowing done before the sun touched the western hills. These long days come in handy.

The grass was over knee-high, even though I had mowed it once or twice before it became too wet to mow again. Never seen a spring like it. Normally, my neighbors would be almost done cutting hay by now. They haven’t even started yet. Strange year.

There’s some whining coming out of the gearbox in the mower. Time to lube it up again. On these “bush hog” mowers, the oil seals give out after a few years and you either have to top them off all the time or use the trick on found on the “Yesterday’s Tractors” forums: squirt in a bunch of grease along with the oil, which thickens it and keeps it from running out the bottom of the gearbox. I tried it and this worked for several years.

Last night’s mowing was a triumph. I consider mowing to be a “success” if I only mow one water line and don’t destroy anything else. It’s a triumph if I don’t break anything at all.

Love in the Spring: My new iPod Touch

Things are awfully busy around here, and I was looking for a new PDA (Personaly Desktop Assistant, such as a Palm Pilot) to help me keep my act together. I have an ancient Palm-based Sony Clie, but it’s sort of big and heavy, and anyway I was looking to reduce the number of things I lug around in my shirt pocket — a PDA, an iPod, and a cell phone is too many.

I carry an iPod not for music, but for audiobooks, so I can combine reading time with chore time and driving time. I’ve written about this before. I get most of my audiobooks from audible.com, which is a book club for downloadable audiobooks.

I also wanted WiFi access so I can check my email or surf the Web anywhere with a wireless signal, with includes my home and almost any public establishment, these days. (Wireless via cell phone is even more universal, except for the crummy signal on the farm.)

I looked at the current offerings from Palm and Blackberry, and almost picked one when a casual reference made me look at the Apple iPod Touch, the iPod that looks like an iPhone. Rather to my surprise, instead of being a mere MP3 player, it has WiFi, a Web browser, email, and most of what I want in a PDA. It also has a wonderfully conceived and easy-to-use touch screen that’s perfectly visible in direct sunlight.

So I bought one. Problem solved. I combined the three things I carry around in my pocket to two. And it’ll go to one if Verizon (the only carrier with a decent signal on my farm) ever supports the iPhone.

I’ve been very impressed by the iPod Touch. I love it! I bought mine at the Mac Store in Corvallis, Oregon, which is also where I bought my first computer (an Apple ][ in 1980).

A typical use for this device, besides reading email, is to look up information in the course of conversation — what other movies an actor has been in, the definition of a word, answers to random questions.

Apple is a weird company, and when you buy their stuff, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Their products are beautifully designed but have a high failure rate — seems like a contradiction in terms, but there you are. Your unit might fail, and its replacement might fail. It’s the cross you have to bear. Their customer service is weird and infuriating. For example, when I wanted my first iPod repaired, they charged me money to evaluate whether they could repair it, and pocketed it when they decided they couldn’t. My recommendation is to recognize that the product development people at Apple are world-class and the rest are maniacs, and just put up with it. Apple retailers are often extremely helpful and long-suffering because of this, and it probably is in your best interests to buy from them. Besides, my local Mac store had a better price than I found on the Internet.

Update on Broilers, Water Pump, and All

Greg Hayslip at Chemilizer sent me an email about my problems with my chlorine-injector unit. Looks like the issue is that, when they say, “Lube the O-rings with silicone lube,” they don’t mean Vaseline. I figured it was something dopey like that. I’ll find out Sunday. (I need chlorine in the water to get rid of the slime bacteria that clog the filters that remove the smell (and also the chlorine) from my iron- and sulfur-rich well water.)

Things have been busy around here. At my day job on the WANScaler group at Citrix Systems, we shipped updates to absolutely everything (including two brand-new products) within a short timeframe. Plus, I invented a spiffy new speed optimization and foolishly volunteered to do all the performance testing myself to help get the feature out the door. “How hard could it be?” I asked myself. A lot harder than writing a test plan and letting the guys with the right equipment do it, especially since I did it three times. This has left with with little energy left for the farm.

The broilers who had an inexplicable case of coccidiosis are fine now, through the totally explicable effects of a sack of medicated feed. Chalk one up for modern technology.

The older broilers, who are eight weeks old now and were totally coccidiosis-free, are a little disappointing in size, dressing out in the 2.5-3 pound range. We were hoping they’d be at least half a pound larger. There are Privett Slow Cornish broilers. We have a couple more tricks up our sleeve, but if the next couple of batches aren’t any bigger, we’ll probably revert to the fast-growing modern hybrids.

The issue is that slow-growing birds cost more to raise, because it takes more labor per pound of product — and not many customer are willing to pay, say, $2 more per pound just for birds that we like better, but which don’t taste any better. Worse, once they hit ten weeks or so, customers start complaining about toughness. So the clock is ticking.

Modern hybrids are lethargic and less fun to raise, and you need to raise them more gently and carefully than other chickens, but they sure grow fast.

And it’s raining, raining, raining. I feel sorry for the people who rely on their hayfields, because the grass is all headed up already. By the time the weather is dry enough for haying, it’s going to be more like straw than hay, and you only get one cutting a year here in the Oregon Coast Range. Another good reason to raise chickens instead. They don’t mind a little rain, or even a lot of rain, if there’s a roof to get under when it comes down hard.

Coccidiosis on pasture? Impossible!

Man, I thought I’d seen everything. But this one’s weird. The life cycle of coccidiosis is interrupted if you move the chickens to a new patch of ground every day. Coccidiosis is a in intestinal protozoan parasite, and it depends on infecting and reinfecting the victims through feces. Not just any feces, either — feces that has been aged enough but not too much. The coccidia in the poop aren’t ready to reinfect the birds until they go through a life-cycle change, which takes about three days. With daily-move pasture pens, you leave yesterdays poop behind before (to get technical about it) the oocysts can sporulate.

Well, it’s not working with one pasture pen of broilers. This has never happened to us before. Our best guess is that the chicks we were getting from Jenks Hatchery all these years had received the coccidiosis vaccine and we didn’t know it, while this year’s ones from Privett didn’t get it. If they got a good solid infestation in the brooder house, maybe it keeps getting worse for a while even with daily moves on the pasture. Don’t know for sure.

Anyway, the symptoms were the usual: pinkish spots on the poop (that’s blood, ewww!), listless chicks with dirty feathers.

Also, the fix was the usual, and seems to be working fine: Switch to medicated chick starter. Works like a charm, and the chicks look a lot perkier already.

Some people don’t like medication — they dislike it so much that they’d let their chickens suffer and die rather than cure them. I hate that.

I think that over-medication is silly and is also bad form, but coccidiosis is no joke. We do what we can to prevent it, including the deep-litter system in the brooder house and daily moves on pasture, but when prevention doesn’t work, one needs to go to the cure without hesitation.

Anyway, the chicks are doing better, and that’s the main thing!

Sweet, Sweet Compost: The Hydrated Lime Trick

Here’s an old trick that might help you: if you sprinkle hydrated lime on top of your compost heap, pets and wildlife won’t dig it up, flies won’t land there, and there will be no smell.

Not that compost heaps are supposed to smell if you do it right, but our compost heap has broiler-processing waste in it — such as blood, feathers, and offal — which are mighty tempting to your average raccoon. Trowel on some hydrated lime, and voila! Problem solved.

This came to mind when our dalmatian, Sammi, went for an unauthorized dig in the compost heap. Yuck! Shame on us for forgetting the lime.

Hydrated lime should be available in any building supply or farm store. Feed stores carry it for some reason — don’t ask me. It’s a slightly caustic, very fine powder, so don’t get it in your eyes when you use it. It doubles as a soil amendment. It’s good for your compost heap.

I’ve also used it for hen repellent. The hens don’t like it, but it doesn’t seem to cause them any distress. They just avoid areas with a heavy dusting of hydrated lime. I use it to make them stop laying in inappropriate places. (I discovered this by accident; I thought it would be a good thing to add to a dust bath, but they avoided it instead.)