imageI went to the annual Country Living Expo last weekend. As always, it was interesting and educational, and a time to run into and catch up with friends and acquaintances.

Forage Trials

Dr. Susan Kerr presented on some forage trials they’ve been doing up at WSU Skagit. They’ve been experimenting with the legume birdsfoot trefoil (BFT), a plant that’s of great interest nationwide. It’s a legume, so a nitrogen-fixer, and it has alfalfa-like qualities of high protein forage, without the bloat risk that green alfalfa poses. Also, the tannins in the plant suggest it offers some anthelmintic properties which may help us with internal parasites. BFT also likes wet soils, which is good news to us. Dr. Kerr reported that thought BFT has a reputation for being difficult to start, she merely found it to be slow to start, and suggested patience is the key. Other experiments involved:

* Teff, which is of interest for horse hay due to its low sugar content; struggled to compete with weeds in one plot, but did well in a second plot as a cover crop
* Sorghum-sudangrass which has high volume and nutrition potential, but risks prussic acid (cyanide) poisoning if fed in early stages or growth or at times of stress; did poorly in one site, but better in another site as a cover crop
* Italian ryegrass, which doesn’t seed-out until its second year of planting, so stays in a very palatable, vegetative state with high nutrition all through its first summer; did very well here. Dr. Kerr reported that it also came up very fast, so could be used as an “emergency” crop when some other crop or plan fails, and you need to get some feed in a field quick.
* Pumpkin silage: they did some tests on pumpkin as a fresh feed for ruminants (its nutrition is very good!) and also did some simple ensilage trials, which improved the nutrition even more. Pumpkins aren’t likely a good crop to plant for animal consumption, but knowing that they are available cheap or free after Halloween, there is potential to leverage that holiday byproduct into a good feed. I know our sheep like the pumpkins a lot, though I have found it is very high labor to pick up pumpkins and bring them to the livestock. In future years, I hope to design ways to bring the sheep to the pumpkins instead!   



This was not a class, but a booth that drew me in. The WA Assistive Technology Act Program had things on display that are targeted towards folks who may have physical or mobility limitations, but still want to work outside! Apparently they are really trying to reach people in rural areas, thus their presence at this conference. There were all sorts of neat gadgets on display that would help a person with gardening or other outdoor work. Items on the above table were hand tools with handles designed for better gripping, better wrist position and leveraging more hand or arm strength. There was a Velcro wrist strap with magnets inside, to hold into screws and drill bits while you work (this sounds clever even for people who don’t have impairments!). And a little finger slip-on with a magnet inside, to help you pick up small metal items. They also had things to help the visually impaired: nowadays, of course, there are scanners that will not only magnify small print, but will read the text aloud to you. And, they had voice recognition technology showing folks how you could ask a computer almost anything, and it would look up the answer on the web and verbalize it to you. 

This wheel barrow has deceivingly simple looking plastic handles on its wood handles. The trick is, they hinge and swivel, so that as you raise the barrow to dump it, the handles keep your wrists in a neutral and strong position.Wheelbarrow

Necropsy of Birds

imageClass was taught by this adorable DVM, Dr. Rocio Crespo. She is a Professor of Microbiology and Pathology and the Branch Chief of the Avian Health and Food Safety Laboratory in Puyallup. I have never met her before, and she is a delight. She has a thick accent (which I deduced is from Spain, where she completed her undergraduate work), and is very enthusiastic about diseases of poultry! She breezed into class with a box full of dead chickens, quickly donned a biohazard suit over her dress clothes and heels, and got us right to work dissecting birds. Open-mouthed smile 

The chickens appeared to have been donated from a large-volume egg operation, I don’t know which one. (Curiously, there are some good-sized, organic factory farm operations around here, which should be an oxymoron, but isn’t.) MyChickenNecropsyThey were of the commercial variety we don’t see much on home farms, white, small-framed, with huge, floppy combs. Her advice on how to quickly get into the abdomen was useful, it’s a completely different approach to dissection than butchering a chicken for meat. She trims a rectangle up the belly and through the neck, breaking off the keel from the ribs, so that the innards are easily surveyed.

There wasn’t time in the class to identify cause of death of all the chickens, but we did see one with an enlarged liver and tumor, and one with a heart defect. And, one that was an “internal layer”, where something goes wrong with the oviduct and part of an egg is “laid” inside the abdomen, later creating bacterial infection. Here is my assigned chicken, I did not figure out what was wrong with her.


I also took a two-session Quickbooks course, which was helpful; though it’s hard to tackle such a big subject even in two hours. We got in kind of a tangle over the question of how to reflect it when a customer pays a refundable deposit on an animal, and then pays the balance later at pickup. Do you invoice first, then receive twice against the invoice? Issue them a credit memo? Issue a sales receipt to “deposit on account”, then invoice for the rest later? Ideally, you’d want the credit to stay in your liabilities report until it’s resolved, since you may have to pay it back if it’s refundable. But we couldn’t find a clean way to approach it, where when you pulled up the invoice a 2nd time after some deposit had been paid, the invoice automatically deducts the deposit off the total owed. This is such a common thing, and a pain to track by hand, so I would sure love to know an elegant solution to it using Quickbooks. I usually have a non-refundable deposit policy, which alleviates some of this messiness, but it’s still a pain to keep track of. Especially when a deposit is paid in one year, and the balance the next!

The prime rib lunch was, as always, delicious. I don’t know how they feed over a thousand people a well-prepared prime rib lunch in a high school cafeteria, but they do!

Rabbit Processing

I didn’t take this class, but passing by it caught my eye. These people are all learning to butcher rabbits, they have them hung on the chain link fence while skinning them. In another area, chickens were being butchered and processed. At the Country Living Expo, and at this ag-centric High School, there is no flinching from the art of homesteading, for sure!