Thursday, August 1, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Our Breeding Program

The small family farm is a physical and financial challenge.    We're not quite ready to offer our products commercially but after our first year, we've

harvested 240 ounces of honey
inoculated 200 Oyster Mushroom logs
inoculated 200 Shitake Mushroom logs
planted 180 high bush blueberry bushes
planted 30 heirloom apple trees
sheared/gathered fiber from 12 llamas and alpacas
gathered over 1000 eggs from our 12 chickens
raised 12 guinea fowl
split 10 cords of wood
fenced 2 acres for produce and prepared land for 18 raised beds in a hoop house

By next Spring we'll have products ready for sale but if we add up the value of everything we sell it will be less than $25,000/year.

Breeding animals is one way a small family farm can improve its sustainability.

After carefully considering the pedigrees of our alpaca, we elected to breed Midas (our 4 year old gold colored male pictured above) with Ella (our 7 year old experienced mother) and Persia (our 4 year old maiden).

After reading several books about Alpaca breeding we decided that a July 2013 breeding leading to a June 2014 birth would align well with good birthing weather in New England.   The gestation period of Alpacas and Llamas is 11 1/2 months and we really don't want labor to occur in the heat of August.

We moved Midas and Ella to our large pasture and left them alone for a few hours.   Then, we returned them to their paddocks.   The following day, we moved Midas and Persia to the pasture for a few hours.

We'll repeat the process this weekend.   Alpacas ovulate on demand - they are always capable of becoming pregnant.   We'll do a "spit test" for pregnancy in two weeks.   How do we do that?  After breeding, bring the pairs together.   If the female spits, kicks, and generally rejects the male, she is pregnant.  If she lies down and is ready to breed again, she is not pregnant.

Alpaca offspring are called crias and sell for $1500-$2500 on average.

We're also raising more Guinea Fowl this Summer.   We've gathered 25 fertile eggs from nests left in the forest and placed them in our incubator.   We keep the temperature at 99.5F and the humidity at 50%.   We use an automatic egg turner to rotate the eggs every 6 hours.   If we're successful, we'll have a new brood of guineas in 28 days and we'll raise them indoors for 12 weeks before moving them to the coop with the other adults.

Guineas are efficient tick and fly eaters, keeping our farm and yard free of biting and stinging insects.   They also alarm (by squawking) whenever a predator or trespasser threatens.    I would not recommend guineas for residential neighborhoods.   Guinea fowl offspring are called keets and sell for $5 each.

2013 has been the year of raising and breeding animals.  2014 will be the year that our produce efforts first become commercial.

Just as with the wine business, I'm sure we can make a small fortune in family farming, as long as we start with a large fortune.   More to come as I learn about the success of our breeding program and our overall economics.

2 comments:

Farrah Darbouze said...

My Haitian family has always eaten guinea fowl. So the idea of raising them sounds quite tasty! Good luck!

Gary Levin said...

John, Thanks for sharing your beautiful farm. Love the alpacas !! .Use to own a bunch of them years ago....Have some kids from Beth Israel visit you there. They love llamas.