Cota Farms' Blog

December 15, 2013

Micro Trout Farm (3)

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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

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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

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

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.

October 3, 2012

Drugging our Livestock

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By what miracle do we have any animals on our farms?  I am exasperated by the constant call for livestock to be drugged to prevent this malady or that threat to their health.  How is it that these animals have come to us, how did they survive before the pharmaceutical industry came to their aid.  Is it reasonable to believe that without a constant health care regiment there would be no livestock?

The really strange thing is that I have witnessed the seeming inability of some farm animals to survive without these drugs.  But how can that be, where then did these animals come from that once they are with us they become weak?

I have discovered that the answer has at least two divisions.  Foremost, these animals are not the same as those that first populated the earth; they are products of our having domesticated and re-engineered the original animals for our purposes.  Having some experience with engineering I understand that if you take a certain device, one that was created to do a specific thing, and try to make it do something else, there will be problems.  Therefore, if you take a turkey and decide that you want it to provide you much more meat than its body was designed to carry and re-engineer that turkey, there will be problems.

Another reason some livestock require so much intervention is that they are out of place, they are not adapted to live on our farms.  A popular goat here in Ohio is a glaring example.  These poor creatures require regular worming and don’t do well in very cold weather yet they provide for large meat carcasses so people raise them here.

One other issue that must be looked at is how these animals are sometimes kept.  Feedlots are an efficient means of bringing livestock to the desired weight in minimal space.  If you decide it is not cost effective to give your cows the needed acreage of pasture, and put them all in a pen where they effectively live in their own waste, there will be problems.

As I said before, what really pisses me off is that these drugs are presented as the standard and accepted way of raising livestock.  This is what you are suppose to do, buy these drugs and give them to your animals.  It is more accurate to say, because we have created animals that are inherently susceptible to disease, and we routinely practice poor animal husbandry because it is more efficient, we must drug them or they will die.

It is true that these methods provide us with vast amounts of cheap meat; here in America we can eat meat every day and it is more a matter of choosing not to eat meat three times a day that makes any difference from one person to the next.  Of course it wasn’t always like that and may be again before too long.

Here on Cota Farms we use little or no medications for our animals and are happy to provide this higher quality meat for those that prefer it, and yes for those that can afford it.  Once again I will say that we are not crusaders and don’t call factory farms out of their name but we also don’t shirk at calling them what they are.  It is the deception that bothers me, that is where the real danger lies.  If we are told this is the way things are and it is good and right, then there will be no need to analyses it and consider other options, but that of course is the goal.

September 27, 2012

Chicken Mush

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A friend was helping us with our new pet food business; she picked up some chicken for us from a different source when our primary supplier ran out. She kept some of the chicken for herself and began to grind it for her dogs. Immediately she noticed that it was not the same as what she had been getting from me. What we had been supplying her and other customers with was generally farm raised birds that enjoyed at least some time ranging on pasture while the new chicken was from a factory farm. These birds probably spent no time outdoors and didn’t move around much. I won’t even go into what they were being fed.

What she ended up with was chicken mush, like ham salad she said. What she was used to had actual texture, a very different feel and appearance than this new stuff. I told her she now had first hand experience with the difference between the chicken you buy at the grocery store and that grown on real farms.

I spoke to my processor about it as he too was now preparing this chicken for me until he had more of the good stuff. We talked about how some of his customers commented on how his chicken was tough, that is, the chicken that people bought for themselves was not the same as what was at the local grocery. The chicken at the grocery is the same factory farm chicken we were now processing for pet food; we use the pieces that most people here do not like.

My processor was not trained like most of us to eat factory farm chicken as he came from a family that grew much of their own food. I have to be careful when selling our pastured poultry to people who have never had food that did not come from a factory. Most people like the idea of heritage breed animals, raised naturally without chemicals, and they expect the end product to be different than what they normally find at the grocery but they are not really prepared for it. Most aren’t even sure how to cook it. When you add the higher cost of this food to the equation many people will just not bother with it and console themselves with a few locally grown organic vegetables.

September 19, 2012

Somebody Ought To Write A Song

Somebody ought to write a song about livestock guard dogs!  Yes I am enamored with these dogs and want to tell everyone, but maybe you already knew about them.  Since we are relatively new to the whole farming thing we are still fascinated by what some people have known about for centuries.  Working dogs in general are marvelous creatures but to actually be able to work with them is a special experience.

If you have read my past blogs you know that we lost many lambs to coyotes before we got these dogs and have enjoyed no losses since.  It is very interesting that a domesticated canine can be trained to defend your property from its wild cousin.  We are doing something a little different in the way of training though.  We I first began to work with the dogs and did my research, I found mostly just books and articles from long ago.  What more recent writings I found were still focused on dogs protecting flocks of sheep in vast areas of grasslands.

There is still some of this going on but for my purposes, and other farmers like us, we contain sheep on acres of fenced land, often with neighbors nearby.  This is a very different environment.  While the general job description is the same, the specifics are not and so some of what I was reading did not apply or was not going to work.  But what I really wanted and needed was not addressed at all.

On a small farm like ours, close to the city, we have a lot of different things going on; diversity is not just a word here and neither is free range. Our dogs don’t just protect our sheep from coyotes, but they protect all that we produce from a variety of different predators.  I had to make some significant changes to the traditional livestock guard dog training regiment but it has worked far better than I expected.  So we now not only have no more losses of our sheep to predators, but we no longer lose chickens or turkeys or even plants!  Yes I tell you, even the herons are denied the fish from our ponds and the hawks the ducklings on the ground.  We have always had large losses of young birds so we had to steal the day olds from their mothers when she took then from the nest and put them in brooder boxes lest they disappear one by one.  What a labor savings to be able to allow the mothers to raise their own young!

Here is one of our LGDs, his name is Doodle and he is watching over this sheep as she has her lambs right out in the open.  She and her lambs are most vulnerable now but she (and me) need not worry; should something smell what is going on and decide to take advantage, Doodle will sound the alarm and the other dogs will quickly come to help.

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