Cota Farms' Blog

September 12, 2017

Small Farm Profits (sheep & goats)

mom&lambsMaking money on a small farm is difficult.  You can do this or that and sell a few dozen eggs or tomatoes but when you count the dollars very often you will find that you have spent more than you made.  And that is if you are already on a farm.  It is not practical in 2017 to purchase farm land, live there, and try to earn enough to pay for it.  But if you are already on a farm and don’t have it over mortgaged, then maybe you can keep it going long enough to make it to the coming time of all things local.  When that happens a small farm will have to invest more in security.

I have looked at livestock for several years now and am still convinced that a farmer with a couple dozen acres will not make money raising cattle.  And sometimes the price of milk at the store is so low I can’t believe they will still have milk the next week.  With what goes in to bringing a gallon of milk to the store, and it sells for less than fancy bottled water… better cut this rant off now!  Pork, well I really don’t understand that.  Around here though, I have seen a few Amish farms where they actually pasture pigs, will look into that some more.  There are more obstacles to poultry than a small bird deserves but if you can develop a market there is still some little opportunity there.

Some thought the influx of immigrants that eat more sheep and goat would bolster that retail market, I haven’t seen much of that.  The Muslims that visit our farm, for example, won’t or can’t pay a reasonable price and then want you to allow them to slaughter there at the farm. From what I can tell, they are buying less expensive imported lamb in many cases.

But still, pound for pound, sheep (and goats) have done best for us.  We finally turned to the stockyards as a fairly consistent and predictable outlet for our lambs.  The profit is not like that of retailing, but we have seen a big decline in that market here in Central Ohio.  Stockyard sales must be understood like anything else though, and not all sheep or goats are valued equally.  Primarily, they want meat animals, commercial breeds bringing the highest prices. I have found though, that while our Jacob crosses bring the lower bids, we have to put far less money and labor into them.  I don’t even know what foot rot looks like.  I have treated a handful of sheep for parasites over the years and never worry about lambing.  I just go out to our humble shelters in the morning and count the lambs.  I rely on our dogs to make sure nothing else is counting them as well.  And best of all, we get two crops a year for the most part, something not generally seen for the commercial sheep producers.

 

 

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September 3, 2017

Changing of the Guard

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Our dogs are older now, they still work most nights but no more day shifts.  The coyotes and foxes became aware of this before me and helped themselves to a number of birds in the morning hours when the dogs were asleep.  This was a sure sign that it was time to bring in some younger dogs to carry the load.  We found these girls nearby…think I will call this sweet pooch Isis.

Ideally, they will be trained by our older girls Lursa and B’Etor.  We don’t live on an ideal farm though.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes with dogs in the past and I pray I have learned enough not to make many more.  Dogs are a lot like children, they both have this window of time when they are very young, when what they experience will shape how they behave from then on.  They are not like memory sticks that can be erased and rewritten. During this period of time, only a few weeks for dogs, they can be influenced to bond with other animals they live with and remain loyal, defending them with their lives. This is not true of all dogs, just those that have been bread for this purpose for many hundreds of years.  I love working dogs, they are amazing.

A child is even more malleable than a dog since they have no real instincts to draw on. For example, at a very early age a dog can, without any outside influence, feed itself and make a life, maybe even find a mate and reproduce.  A child will die of starvation unless there is food in front of him to eat, he can look but not hunt.  So the child is at the complete mercy of his mother for several years of his life; he has nothing else to draw on but what is placed in front of him.  However, once I’ve trained my dog in error, it is not likely that I can undo it and reset him to that very early time when he could be retrained. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!  This is true but I don’t think it has to apply to people.  We are much more vulnerable to influence by forces around us than a dog, and it is true that we can’t erase our memory for reprogramming, and it is also true that we are not born with instincts to help guide us but we do have one thing, we are born knowing the difference between right and wrong and if we desire can choose to act with honor.

August 29, 2017

Call Ducks

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We released the call ducks we raised this spring, took them right to Turtle Town and they were ecstatic. We used to raise a lot of ducks, but not anymore, they are very hard on a farm and its ponds.  Call ducks are a different, smaller, less destructive breed.  They come in a variety of colors and look like the full size ducks they were bread to attract, but the important thing is you can put several in your pond and they won’t destroy it!  They are great duck pets, come when called, and even call to you if they see you first.  They are adorable.  They mostly hang out in the larger pond near the wetland now that they are older and summer is here. (more…)

August 28, 2017

Turtle Town

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turtlesThis past spring was beautiful, one of the best in recent memory ’round here. The small pond outside our bedroom just suddenly took off, after several years of not even a water weed. Never had more than one small turtle but now there are dozens, the baby turtles are more cute than you might think a turtle would be. I call it turtle town and smile.

Turtle Town is a heaven not only for the turtles but me as well. If you have your head up, you are aware of some of what’s going on out there in the world, away from Turtle Town. It’s a show indeed, and we all have front row tickets thanks to this marvel called the internet, you’re on it right now! Most just don’t want to go see the show for whatever reason and that’s okay, but for those of use who choose to brave the up front seating, it hasn’t disappointed. The tickets are not free, even though they may seem that way at first, but there is a price to be paid.

For example, truth is alienating. Yep, who’d have thought. It seems that all truth is at odds with at least some of everyone’s chosen reality. We accept what we can, change what we can, and ignore the rest. There can be no other way. Whether you live in a palace or a prison cell, truth is there and so are we. The details are often unpleasant in both places from time to time I imagine. Even here in Turtle Town truth abounds. Here I will tell you the truth of Turtle Town, with offense to none, for the citizens here abide in truth. Natural Law is the truth of Turtle Town. It does not vary, as true this moment as it has always been.

March 3, 2014

Common Sense and Feeding Your Dogs Raw Meat – Part 3

While transitioning our dogs from having raw ground chicken in their diet and replacing that with leg quarters, we noticed a distinct rejection of the new alternative.  From some of what I have read they should have welcomed this new food.  Half of the dogs just could not seem to get the hang of it, one not even trying.   Our dogs are too important to us to just let this go; had we been thinking wrong?

I have to admit that when I offered this same chicken to the lot of them except this time I roasted it and striped the meat from the bones, they all gobbled it down.  I had even mixed in some old egg noodles.  The only difference from something I might prepare for myself was the lack of seasoning and mixing in the chicken fat.

I don’t know what this means but I am willing to employ a little dispassionate common sense to the problem.  You see the real problem is we tend to invest ourselves in a position we have chosen to take in the past and filter all new data thru the prism of not wanting to admit to being wrong, misinformed, not wanting to change.

In that spirit, I have observed from a number of different dogs, in different sizes and breeds, over several years’ time, that dogs do in fact prefer meat.  Furthermore, they do not as often as one might expect prefer it uncooked.  Also, I have noticed certain beneficial effects of feeding small amounts of cooked rice or pumpkin.  Additionally, there seems to be no ill effects from sometimes feeding macaroni and cheese mixed with a favorite meat.  I use these specific examples because of the enthusiasm in which the dogs eat those meals.

Of course roast chicken is not a balanced diet and we will continue to offer raw meat if for no other reason than to see if they eat it.  We will still feed organ meat as well but no longer ground, sliced instead.  We will offer it raw but if they don’t eat it we will cook it for them.  Our goal is to feed our dogs as best we can, see that they consume at least a minimal amount every day and if that means cooking for them, well, I would do no less for any farm workers we might employ.

December 15, 2013

Micro Trout Farm (3)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cota Farms @ 4:44 pm
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I’m thrilled to report that the experiment is on track and functioning as intended.  This crude set up performs well even when air temperatures fall into the single digits.  My only concern at this point is that I do not have enough fish in the tanks.  That is not a result of my setup but just plain poverty.  The early winter weather forced us to focus our efforts on caring for the other livestock and we couldn’t continue stocking the tanks.  We should have had several hundred fingerlings by now. Hopefully we can start stocking again after the holidays.

I have noticed that while the water flow is not impeded by the low air temperatures, the air pumps are very much affected by the cold.  In commercial operations aeration is accomplished by means of mechanical agitation of some sort, impellers at the water surface, paddle wheels.  Tank culture is usually done indoors or if outdoors then in warmer climates.  Fortunately as the air temp falls the air density increases making up for at least some of the diminished air flow.  I have a couple ideas on how to fix this problem but the best one is to put a hoop structure over the water conditioner and main tank.  It would be impractical to try and cover all of the tanks because of the fairly steep slope of the ground. It should not be necessary though as most of the air injection is done before the water flows to the downhill tanks.

Another important aspect of air pumps is that they require much less energy to operate than rotating motors.  If larger fish are relocated to the pond though, it would be necessary to add one of these motors there. This is an important point I may have failed to mention.  Once the limits of the system are reach, it would still be possible to increase production rates by using the pond.  The pond also serves as an emergency relief point should all else fail.

While pond culture is common,  for us it is not the best option because harvesting there is a whole other process and is very labor intensive.  We prefer to net the fish from the tanks as needed.  Once the next phase begins this spring, I will be able to determine the actual number or pounds of fish that can be raised with the given water flow rate.IMG_20131210_163301

December 8, 2013

In The Bleak Mid-Winter

That is my favorite Christmas song!  When the population left the land for city living they also left behind their connection to the earth.  Most people now have no idea where their food comes from or what it takes to get it to them.  I have to admit grocery stores seem to be in some sort of magical realm providing all the foods you can imagine, as long as you possess the coin of the realm.  I know what I’m talking about because I too grew up in the city and was oblivious to what went on in the countryside.

When the more modern belief systems replaced what is often referred to as paganism, all reverence for the earth and nature was replaced with the worship of a deity.  Sometimes this deity was just the head of state and then finally a mystical figure that much of the world calls God.  That left a world that became viewed as merely a vessel to hold humans until some prophecy or other took us away or transformed the planet.

The idea that our planet is not just a rock in space but a living organism that sustains us was lost and so there is no need to care for it as if it could be hurt or injured, poisoned or depleted.  Some people began to preach the idea that we are not even part of this world: “we are in the world, not of the world”.  It is no more than a cosmic bus station that we are forced to pass through on our way to something better.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to break away from the thought control that dictated my way of thinking before we came to the land.  Having been there, in the frame of mind that did not allow for other possibilities, I understand that it’s not enough to bring facts and artifacts to others and say you’ve been deceived.  As Morphius said in The Matrix, “you have to see it for yourself”.

There is no better time than in the bleak mid-winter to reconnect with those life forces that sustained us long before emperors became gods and church dogma told us how to think about one another and the world we all live in.  Even the high holy days follow the seasons.Dec2013 030

November 6, 2013

Micro Trout Farm (2)

Once we secured the water source we had to determine how much water we had, the flow rate.  For large scale commercial trout facilities the flow rate is very large, even thousands of gallons per minute.  There are few places in America where that much clean, cold water is available for private use.

Many of us however can have access to smaller volumes of water, perhaps enough to produce fish in sufficient quantities for it to be self-supporting.  A simplified analysis may look like this:  $150 per month for electric to pump water and air; $100 per month for feed; $400 per month replacement stock.  This simplified analysis assumes a up and running project and does not account for any capital investment like the cost of the well and raceway.

So $650 is the monthly cost to produce 400 fish for market.  Another assumption is that the project has been running long enough to produce a marketable item, a 1.5 pound fish.  If we sell 400 fish each month for $7.50 per pound then we net $3850 per month.  More than enough to service any capital investment with some pocket change left over.  OK let’s say my figures are suspect even though they are not that bad and we double our input costs to $1300 per month, still not too bad.  At any rate, it seems to be self-supporting.

This project has brought together all my favorite sciences and opens up a lot of potential new avenues for any other agricultural engineering fans out there.  A few came out to see my prototype; its already had an important modification and is growing trout.  You will notice I am using a variation of the common raceway and tank culture systems.  Both methods have advantages so why not bring them together.  I am also experimenting with different off the shelf tank designs that are readily available for far less than those tanks sold specifically for aquaculture.  Oct27 011

October 6, 2013

Micro Trout Farm

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cota Farms @ 4:02 pm
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This blog will show how we are setting up our small aquaculture business; visit our website for more information.  This isn’t our first attempt at raising fish but this time we are changing our expectations.  Our target production rate is much lower now.

Rainbow trout is one of the finest foods you can get from fresh water!  It’s not something that you can generally find at your local grocer here in Ohio and it is not imported from China.

As with pretty much all meat raised on small farms the biggest obstacle to retailing ones product is processing costs.  This single problem is what thwarted our first two attempts at bringing fresh fish to our farmers market.  Now we will just offer the fish whole.

Things are changing at a faster pace now and not for the good in spite of what the media has been tasked with telling us.  It’s kind of like looking out the window watching the rain fall while the news caster tells you it is warm and sunny outside.  It feels better to believe what you are being told because it is what you want to hear so you just draw the curtain and say yes it is a beautiful day.  We recognize the changes coming and have adjusted our expectations accordingly.  Raising and selling several hundred fish is now good enough!  A profitable farm endeavor has given way to a sustainable one; we are now in survival mode.

A small farm is a very personal thing and cannot be duplicated but you can borrow from those components that fit with what you are doing.  What’s important is the economics, does it work for you?  That will be partly determined by what resources you have available.  Since we are talking about trout, then the most important thing you will need is clean, cold water.

The best way to get this is to own land with a spring on it, the bigger the better.  One reason I am writing this is there seems to be little out there in the way of raising small numbers of trout.  I believe the reason is of course money.  It is the answer to most questions.  Is it possible to raise a few hundred trout a year so that is does not cost more than the value of the fish?

If you own an artesian spring then the answer is easy, yes.  But for the rest of us is it possible?  The first step is securing your water source and for us that meant a deep well.


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August 2, 2013

Young Swans At Cota Farms

A rare opportunity came our way this summer and we jumped on it!  We had swans before but lost them largely through inexperience with keeping these majestic birds.  The availability and cost of these birds vary so much it is difficult to price them but from what limited experience we have it was a deal that could not be passed up.  We are not likely to come across so many swans for sale at a price we could afford and distance we could easily travel.

For me having these magnificent birds on our small pond, watching them explore the wetland is a dream comes true, again.  We are very protective of them as we understand we may not get another chance and certainly not without paying much more than we did this time.

They are still young in spite of their size and take several years to mature.  We try to keep them close to the house because it is easier to care for them and protect them but they are drawn to the water and high grasses and get by us when we are not looking.  Fortunately we already have security in place.  We were sure to make introductions to the guard dogs when they got here and the entire farm perimeter is fenced.

Here they are scheming to get past an inner fence.  It did not take them long to discover they could slip through an area that the dogs had made in a fence not yet completed to a pasture in the opposite direction, then go around to get over the hill; they had to travel a long way but they made it.  So now they are where they want to be.  We will have to herd them back up the hill before winter though as it is too difficult to get food to them out there once the snow flies.  swans 017

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