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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cota Farms @ 8:33 pm
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dogs

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.

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 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

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

June 23, 2013

We Like Sheep

Since I have become a shepherd, I have become oh so aware of what it means to be a sheep and it is quite disturbing.  There are too many references in literature liking people to sheep and it is not just a metaphor.  Among the most disturbing references is the idea that the very small group of men that control the world justify what they do because we are just sheep and therefore they have the right and duty to control, care for (whatever word you can stomach) us.  These people have been called various things for hundreds (thousands) of years and it is these very names that help to obscure their existence because these titles have been discredited, relegated to conspiracy theorists so I will not further help their cause by discrediting my own writing by using them.

It is true that we have greater intellect than sheep, and one would think that would be enough to protect us from their fate but I see that it is not true. Intelligence is a relative term and is not synonymous with thought, or the ability to reason or imagine possible future events.

We have been farming for a decade or more now and once again we are making changes to our operation.  This time the changes are more difficult and eerily consistent with what I see in the world around me.  You see we had a period when our flock grew, multiplied even faster than I had worked toward.  We didn’t have enough pasture to support them all but hay prices were such that we were able to supplement what we had.  Last winter changed all of that.  We lost what we thought we had gained because there were too many sheep and the price of hay increased so much we could no longer buy it.  And of course, not being alone in this predicament meant that the price we could get for our sheep dropped very low at the same time.

We are now culling our flock.  That is an interesting word, cull.  It is not used much in the cities but history teaches us that there will come a time when that word will have greater meaning to the population at large.  I remember when the Chinese government implemented its one child rule and other self-righteous countries like ours said what a terrible thing it was.  As a shepherd I very well understand the importance of controlling population, now more so than ever.

I know that most of us do not accept the idea of controlling the growth of the population unless we are controlling the growth of a certain group of people that don’t look like us.  This is often just dismissed as racism but I believe it is even more than that.  So then is it true that if we do not take responsibility for our own population growth we are just sheep and then it is left to others to deal with the situation?

Of course the powers that be have a way of dealing with this type of thought as well, once again relegating these ideas to the realm of conspiracy theorists.  They are very cleaver in how they go about it, using the classical argument of reducing these ideas to the absurd.  For example, these unnamed powers will harvest human beings for replacement organs maybe even bring aliens from outer space into the story.   Once you get people to laugh at the pure ridiculousness of the idea then the small amount of truth in the story is dismissed along with the rest of it.  Brilliant!

Maybe some of use will get a reprieve, much like this ewe that was a bottle baby and now enjoys a hands off status as beloved petrrr

May 22, 2013

Therapy Dogs

I have wondered about this for some time now.  I have heard so much…incorrect information about Therapy Dogs and their certification.  It is even more confusing as there are so many supposed therapy dog training organizations out there and the laws governing them are different in each state.  I decided to get the skinny and be done with it.  I suspected money was involved somewhere particularly since there does not seem to be a medical billing code for therapy dogs.

This next part will make me some enemies or rather it would if anyone actually read my blog.  I think I’m safe.  There really is no such thing as a therapy dog.  This whole thing with dogs has legitimacy only because of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This federal law says that if you have a “service dog” you and your dog may not be denied access.  So what is a service dog?  Well that does not seem to be as important as how to get one and the only legal way to get one is with a prescription.  If your problem is all in your head then you can get a prescription for that too from your shrink and you can call him an “emotional comfort dog”, not a therapy dog.

There is even a law about what happens if you claim to have a service dog and she is not.  I imagine this is more about whether you have a legal script rather than the qualifications of the dog.

So then what does it mean when you see these “therapy dogs” walking around with their vest and patches attesting to their kind intentions?  It simply means that someone has spent time working with the dog and allows others to enjoy their company, probably for tips and treats.  If they are lucky they have found a nursing home or maybe even a hospital that will allow them to visit.  But I have to ask myself why?  I can’t imagine tips coming close to paying for the insurance.

April 5, 2013

Alpaca Still On The Menu

We have had more and more interest in alpaca as a food source for both people and dogs that cannot tolerate many other foods.  I haven’t had the time to research just why alpaca doesn’t cause the problems that other foods can but I do know that it is an exceptional meat that has no trouble competing with beef, pork, lamb or poultry for taste and nutrition.  It is very lean, more like venison than beef or lamb.

I have to write of our small accomplishment here as it will otherwise go unnoticed, but we were the first farm in the States that openly retailed alpaca.  I understand that there are others now of course, out west mostly, but we also with the help of our favorite chef were able to get it onto the menu of the first restaurant to offer it.  I am proud to say that after more than five years it is still on the menu at The Refectory in Columbus OH.

Unfortunately for us it seems the demand for this excellent meat is growing far from our market place and other farms will ultimately benefit more than we from this new food.  It is new here but has been eaten for a long time in other parts of the world.  I won’t go into why or how we first came to using alpaca meat in this article or the prospects of it becoming more widely used but I do what to make one point.  Alpaca meat is relatively expensive and so not suitable for a dog food staple.  It is not part of the commercial meat industry and will remain high in price.  I believe the new and very trendy emergence of restaurants with alpaca on the menu is as a result of the temporary availability of cheap animals that are being dumped. Won’t say any more about that as it would surely not gain me any friends.

We will continue to carry a small amount of this superb meat as well as alpaca dog treats and bones but for larger orders we suggest purchasing a whole animal and have it custom butchered.  As a service to our customers we will help to obtain and transport your alpaca.

March 10, 2013

Komondor Puppies

PUPPIES!  We have puppies, roly poly, cute and cuddly, adorable and precious.  And not just any puppies but Komondor puppies!  For many years I had watched the dog shows and marveled at the Komondorok as they floated around the ring.  How many times did I remark, “I want one of those”?  Well much has changed since I saw my first Kom on TV, changes that allowed for me to actually have one of these magnificent dogs.  The biggest change is I now live on a farm that uses working dogs, the perfect place for such a dog.

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These are not your average dog and don’t thrive in the cities.  They were breed to endure some of the worst weather that nature has to offer and defend their charge against fearsome predators I love these dogs!  I can put them in the pastures in the midst of a blizzard to fight off packs of coyotes and then turn in for the night without fear of what I will find in the morning.  Nothing can do that except a LGD, not a llama or donkey or other such animal I have read about that some have claimed guard their livestock.  A U.S. Marine could do it but otherwise, no.

We have Great Pyrenees that handle most of the work now as we are just developing our Komondor training program so I will say something about them.  They set a very high bar for our new Kom puppies to reach.  Our dam is Paige, of the Montgomery Kennel as is the sire, Zenta, a Hungarian import.  Paige is the fourth Kom to live at Cota Farms and her litter is the first born here.

In addition to offering our puppies for sale, I hope to have sales of trained pups.  Ideally these pups would be purchased along with the rest but remain here for an additional period for training.  In this way we hope to develop a more modern training approach to livestock guard dogs.  Most of the present training methods are focused on a type of sheepherding that is used less today and far less here in America.  Much of the sheep production that goes on here is done on small farms or on limited acreage.  There is also the likely hood of some other livestock on the premises, like chickens or geese.  In the old countries the dogs may prey on these birds in an attempt to feed themselves but today dog food is abundant and so the dogs can be expected to protect everything in their domain.

We have had rather good success so far.  I can say that our losses under all circumstances are much less than when we did not have the dogs.  I have noted the drive to attack waterfowl seems to be greater than with chickens or turkeys.  This is something I will keep track of.  The smaller predators that like to prey on chickens or ducks are also deterred by the presence of the dogs as we seldom find their carcasses anymore and the dogs don’t usually consume the whole animal even if they do take a bite out of it.

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