More to Come!
Here are some random things that have occurred around the farm since the fall update:
The eventual back garden, which we will use for most of our annual production, covered with tarps for the winter. Check back for a future post that explains why we are doing this!
The bees are tucked in for the winter. We have our fingers crossed that they will survive since we had so much fun with them this year. What you see is old lumber tarps from a local lumber yard wrapped around steel t-posts with the black side out. The hope is that the tarp will provide wind protection and the black will absorb heat and create a warm pocket for them. The open side is the south side, which is where the sun will be shining from . . . when it is shining.
Ya for eggs! Production has increased and despite lack of sun and cold temperatures, we will get up to ten or twelve eggs a day; however, this was only after we found their hiding spot. We thought five eggs a day was what we were going to get, until we determined the sneaky hens had a secret stash. We missed a grand total of 39 eggs before we caught on. Needless to say, the dog and new kitty are happy we missed them as we cook the eggs up and off them as a treat every other day or so.
The new shed was finally finished. Huge thanks to my father and father-in-law for their help. Look forward to a post on this shed where I breakdown why it looks like a baseball field press box and some of the materials we used. We still are missing the double doors, but it's tarped off for the winter . . . and already full!
The Winter Coop. Another post will explain what we did here, but we had to have a winter housing option for the hens and this is the direction we went. It is actually a carport with a ventilation hole in the top. The future post will show you the inner confines of this hen sanctuary.
This is a fodder system for turning dry seed into sprouts for the chickens. In the winter they do not get much fresh food from foraging so we are setting out to make it for them. In doing so, we also hope to save on some feed costs as sprouting seeds can turn one pounds of seed into 5-6 pounds of feed. While still a work in progress, we have successfully increased the yield by at least double. More fine tuning should get us closer to the desirable mark of 4-5 times more feed. The fodder system also greatly increases the nutritional value (vs. feeding seeds) for the chickens. A future post will explain how this came together for ZERO DOLLARS!
More to Come!
We are fast approaching the end of our excursion into raising meat chickens. This second batch appears to have been much more successful and the birds are looking rather huge in their last weeks of grazing and feeding. If you are interested in purchasing some fresh, pasture-raised poultry, just click on the link at the top of the page labeled "Sales." We will have a few ready by September 18th and the remainder of the birds will be processed a week or two later.
Other updates, our first batch of hens appear to be in full production as we are getting 10-12 eggs a day. Just waiting for the others to get laying and we will likely be in the egg business too!
Special thanks to the "chicken sitters," who helped us out immensely as we did a quick trip to Chicago to get the boys an end of summer train ride and introduce them to the awe inspiring skyscrapers. Interestingly enough, they seemed to enjoy the trip, but noted that they liked living in the country.
Projects to finish before the end of the year - just a few. Finish building our shed (blog post to come), build a chicken coop for winter, rework the meat bird pen, prepare the bees for overwintering, harvest the garden and get going on tomato sauce, plant garlic, purchase tarps and get on the back garden. Just a few things.
Finally, if anyone locally is looking for some strawberry runners, let us know. I'll be cutting back the runners on our strawberry box rather soon and while some will get planted, others will be composted. These runners will take well in the remainder of this year and come up strong next spring. While they likely won't fruit well in their first year, they will set roots and produce well in the following year. Just contact us via the blog and we could set up a time to meet or have you come and cut some.
Like most of you, I was anxiously awaiting the epic conclusion of the Polyface Farms Field Day saga. Unfortunately for me, I was tasked with writing it rather than just waiting to read it. Nonetheless, I believe Diana left off on our quest toward lunch. The picture above demonstrates this as we finished our tour with Joel and headed with the crowd. As you can see, I am on the left side of the picture still in a walking boot. This definitely added to the complexity of the field day. I got good with the boot in the previous six weeks, when on flat ground. However, rolling pasture is a different story. Because of this, we were one of the last to get food. That was not a problem as there was plenty to go around for everyone, but was a problem for us as the two farm-fresh eggs that were consumed at 6 a.m. that morning had been absorbed hours before this picture.
NOTE: The older gentleman in the orange hat just in front of me is packing an iPad. I thought that was pretty cool!
An overhead view of Polyface Farms Field Day at lunch time. Notice the orderly rows of people anxiously awaiting delicious barbecued chicken, smoked pork and beef and buttermilk chocolate cake. Photo was taken by world renowned permaculture expert Darren Doherty of www.regrarians.org with a drone camera. BTW, we aren't in here because we are still hobbling to the back of the line.
More drone pics of the Field Day from Darren Doherty. The first two are of the last stop on the morning tour at the pig glen and the last one is a high overhead view of the lunch lines.
This picture is awesome, again from Darren Doherty. This is the primary 100 acres of Polyface Farms, give or take a few acres. If we start at the pool in the middle area, that is the Salatin house. Directly left is their new store and chicken processing shed with the large pond behind it. The three grey rectangles are hoop houses where they over-winter their chickens and pigs. The four lines of white boxes are the broiler chicken shelters. Notice immediately behind them it's brown from chicken droppings, but if you follow it back you notice the tracks disappear and the grass gets greener. Another strip of chicken shelters is below them and to the left. In the lower left-hand corner is where we stopped to see the cows. The Eggmobiles and the Millennium Feathernet are all in that area. That grass looks different because of it being grazed. Turkeys were in the very bottom left corner and we continued the counterclockwise walk to the food tents. It looks like the tour was with the chickens at this time. The "parking lot" is usually a grazing area and the cows were in that area up until about two days prior to the event. This is why it is not as green, but I'm sure the 2000 people didn't help either.
After lunch we had a protein coma and viewed some of the vendors that were there. Not just any vendors, only Salatin approved vendors. We noticed their "Carbon Shed" which is an area where they dump all of their chicken offal for composting with as much carbon (i.e. wood chips) as they can. We walked by it and while there were a few flies, no odor was noticed.
The afternoon started with Daniel Salatin talking about his experience with rabbits. Daniel has raised rabbits for meat since he was nine years old and all of his rabbits today are direct descendants of the ones he first received from some family friends. This is called line breeding and essentially, he "ruthlessly" culled rabbits in his first few years to select for the "best" rabbits. Many would think the "best" would be the larger rabbits with more meat, but that does you no good if they don't eat the "free" food (i.e. grass/pasture) and if they aren't hardy. So Daniel selected for ease of transition to pasture and healthy rabbits that had good litters. Good litters means more rabbits. Any rabbits that had teeth problems, sniffles, health issues, poor transition to pasture and a variety of other things were culled out. Now, he has rabbits that do not have teeth problems, do not have sniffles, eat grass the moment they can and have great litters.
The rabbits are housed in cages that are installed several feet up off the floor in the Raken (rabbit/chicken) House. Chickens are kept at ground level for the purpose of utilizing their handy rakes (feet) to scratch the rabbit poo, which falls from the cages above, into the bedding. Therefore, there is no build-up of rabbit droppings and the bedding is aerated and easily transformed into usable compost.
What we did not know was that he had some breeding pairs for sale. There was no way we could get some as we had a 12-hour drive home and weren't leaving for two days. However, it would have been fantastic to start our rabbit venture with Daniel's rabbits.
Diana attended a seminar on their chick brooding. They have a giant shed that broods their chickens and the pictures show how they send feed on a pulley system and separate out the chickens into batches so as not to have too many together. This avoids piling up and suffocation. She learned a few pointers from their brooding operation. First, she noticed that the wood shavings used for bedding were of a much finer grade than what we use. Even though the chicks pictured were only a couple days away from going to pasture, the bedding was still clean and there was very little odor, and no new shavings had been added. This led Diana to conclude that we needed to switch to fine-grade shavings for our brooder, since we were constantly having to add fresh bedding to our brooder. She also took note of the clean, convenient method of offering water to the chicks through the use of a nipple waterer and learned about a simple schedule to use for offering grit to the chickens.
We also received a tour of their chicken processing station. Past movies have shown the Salatins processing out in a field, but now they have an open air processing structure that is connected to the Polyface store. Not surprisingly, the processing area is well designed and when all interns and apprentices are there, they can process up to 500 chickens in 120-150 minutes.
We also learned a bit about the use of their hoophouses throughout the year, follThen the day ended with a Q&A event with Joel Salatin, which was both informative and entertaining.
An exhausting day ended with us buying some Polyface bacon to go with the farm-fresh eggs at our rental house. It was a fantastic day and one that I hope all of you can experience at some point. While the Field Days will not be offered again, Polyface Farms is open 24/7, 365 days a year to visitors. As Joel states, he desires to be fully transparent and in order to do this, you have to be willing to see people whenever. We plan on going back to a smaller event or just to visit the farm again some day with the kids.
When we do, we plan on staying at the same rental house again. Breezy Hill was a fantastic place to stay and only a mile or so from Polyface Farms. We felt very lucky to be one of the first families to stay there and to be so close to the farm.
I could go on longer about what it "felt" like to be at Polyface, or for the Shenandoah Valley for that matter. However, that becomes hard to explain when you talk about "good energy" and stuff. Just experience it for yourself. While Polyface is a long way away (for us, at least), my guess is that you can get that feeling by visiting any farm that is focused on doing things the "right way" and working to maintain happy animals, happy people, and happy plants.
Originally, Trevor and I were planning to celebrate our 10-year anniversary in Las Vegas, but instead decided to take a short trip to Virginia and attend the 2014 Polyface Farms Field Day. Polyface Farms, a multi-generational farm run by the Salatin family, is a self-described "non-industrial food production oasis" that is known for its holistic animal husbandry practices and its use of perennial polycultures. Polyface Farms has been featured in documentaries such as Food, Inc., Farmageddon, and Fresh, the Movie. Joel Salatin has written nine books including The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer and Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.
We arrived at the farm at 6:30 a.m. prepared for a long day of touring and workshops. Since none of the scheduled activities took place until 8:00 we had some time to wander around the farm and peek at the buildings, gardens, and animals. It took me all of 30 seconds to get cow poo smeared on my leg.
At 8:00 a.m. we started the walking tour with Joel Salatin and about 900 other guests.
First we visited the pastured broiler shelters. These shelters are also currently housing pullets that just started laying eggs and will soon be replacing old layers in the Eggmobile.
We have studied extensively the Polyface model of raising pastured poultry and were already very familiar with this operation, though it was interesting to witness the perfectly staggered pattern of all the shelters on pasture. We currently have one shelter that is nearly identical to those shown here, only 60% the size.
One helpful bit of information we gathered is that these shelters are held together by a wire that runs across the ground, halfway through the length of the shelter connecting the two sides. We use a 2'x2' for this same purpose but have had problems getting chicks stuck under the 2'x2' when we are trying to move the shelter. The wire also has the added benefit of cutting down on the overall weight of the structure.
The next stop on the walking tour was a scenic 15-minute hike across a walking bridge and up the hill to visit the cattle. The cattle are contained by 2 strands of electric wire in a long, narrow paddock. They are moved to a new paddock every day. It sounds like a fairly simple operation of moving the stakes, running the wires, moving the basic shade structure, and calling over the cattle (who are eager to move to a fresh "salad bar").
Joel Salatin considers himself to be a grass farmer. His goal at Polyface is to properly manage the pasture by introducing cattle to pasture when the length of the grass is in its "teenage" stage--not too short and not too long, and where grazing results in rapid regrowth. The paddock size should be just right so as to graze every bit of pasture once. If there are lots of areas that are left ungrazed, the paddock size is too large, and if there are areas that are grazed a second time and are too short, then the area is too small.
The "Eggmobile" always follows behind the cattle. Layers in this system are free-ranging birds that earn their keep on the farm by working as the pasture sanitation crew. They scratch out the cow patties to help even out the manure load on the pasture and they gobble up bugs, worms, and fly larvae (maggots). The Eggmobile is always three days behind the cattle specifically because fly larvae turn into flies in four days. Eggs from these birds are just a bonus.
For some reason it just really tickled me to watch the free-ranging layers out amongst us, scratching for bugs and totally oblivious to the 900 people standing around.
The Millennium Feathernet is a large structure at Polyface that houses chicken layers whose purpose is to produce eggs. The large structure is surrounded by a very large electric poultry net and the entire paddock is moved every three days. We use a scaled-down version of this same model for our layers.
Next, we visited the turkeys on pasture, which are raised in a similar system as the chicken layers. They have a very simple shelter for roosting and an electric poultry net for "free-ranging" that is moved every few days. We learned that turkeys are very sensitive and prone to illness and death while in the brooder during the first several weeks of life, but after seven weeks of age they are hardy birds that can tolerate a wide range of weather conditions on pasture.
Right next to the turkeys is the simple barn that houses cows in the winter and pigs in the spring. The barn is completely open on one side and has many open areas to allow great ventilation for the animals. The cattle are fed hay in the harshest winter months and are kept on a deep straw bedding. As the cattle add manure, more layers of straw and corn are added to the bedding. The deep carbon bedding keeps the cattle dry and healthy, and the corn slowly ferments in the anaerobic bedding. As soon as the cattle are put out to pasture in the spring, pigs are moved in. They root through the bedding digging for the fermented corn, aerating the litter in the process. The bedding is then turned into a nice compost which increases the farm's fertility. Polyface originally acquired pigs with the intention of using their "pigaerator" qualities. Pork was just a delicious bonus.
Pigs are also kept in wooded paddocks and are rotated every 5-10 days. In order to consistently monitor the amount of animal pressure on this land, the determination of when to move the pigs is simply based on when their feeder runs out.
As the pigs have rooted around in the paddocks they have cleared areas in the previously-forested land, which has naturally filled in with grasses, herbs, and weeds. Joel Salatin referred to this area as a pig savannah. What really impressed us was the complete lack of pig smell; it was a beautiful area that had no odor whatsoever.
The tour ended right before lunch. The rest of our day spent at the Polyface Farms Field Day will be included in Part 2.
We have been quite surprised that out of the 30 pullets we purchased as future laying hens, none of them have turned out to be roosters. Everyone told us to hold off getting a rooster because two or three of the "pullets" would wind up being cockerels, but that has not been the case. Either that, or we have a cockerel that has failed to display any rooster-type qualities yet.
We were really hoping to have at least one rooster so that we could hatch our own eggs at some point. So, when we noticed a handsome young rooster listed for sale on Craigslist, we decided to snatch him up. The person selling Charlie (I decided to name him "Charlie" the moment I saw him) had only had him for three weeks but said that he was a year old. He also said that Charlie was a barnyard rooster (meaning he has a little bit of everything), but we think it looks like he does have some Brown Red Ameraucana in him. Either way, he is definitely a good-looking bird. It is hard to see in the pictures, but his tail feathers have a beautiful, iridescent blue-green sheen when the light hits them.
We have been nervous about how bothersome the inevitable early-morning crowing would be, but honestly we cannot hear him at all from inside the house, and (hopefully) neither can the neighbors. On the contrary, we have actually enjoyed listening to the distant crowing while we are outside working. It really adds to the ambiance and it feels like we are out at a farm. Fingers are crossed that his crowing will continue to be a non-issue.
Currently Charlie is being housed in Baxter's dog cage. I took out the bottom of the cage and bungee-strapped it to the top to act like a roof. He will be in quarantine for four weeks until we can be sure that he is completely healthy and won't infect our otherwise happy and healthy flock of pullets. He can see the pullets from his cage alongside the garage, though, and as soon as I let them out of their coop in the morning he really starts crowing away. I am hoping to get the pullets used to him very gradually so that it will be a smooth transition for him to join the flock later on.
In the meantime, our older group of pullets are just over 18 weeks old, so we really hope to find our first egg in the next month or so. We can't wait!
About 2 weeks ago we started fermenting our chicken feed. In all honesty, the initial motivation was to cut down on feed costs without sacrificing nutrition. I remembered stumbling across Garden Betty's article, "Why And How to Ferment Your Chicken Feed" and decided to give it a try for myself.
There are a lot of great resources that explain the benefits of fermented foods, but I won't go into detail here. Basically, fermented food contains Lactobacillus, which is a live, beneficial bacteria that aids in digestion, is rich in enzyme activity that helps us absorb more nutrients, and leads to a stronger immune system. For more info on the benefits of fermented foods, check out article "Fermented Foods Bubble With Helpful Benefits."
I couldn't find any definitive proof that fermenting the chicken feed cuts down on overall feed costs, but some sources claimed that chickens will eat about 50% less. With all the other benefits, I figured it was worth a try. Since this is our first time raising broilers, we don't have any data to compare, so it is difficult to say if they are eating less, and if so how much less. Also, most of the information available on fermenting chicken feed is directed at layers, not broilers. Since broilers are generally given access to food 24/7 and spend a good chunk of their waking hours eating, it has really been difficult trying to determine how much food to give them. The benefits of fermented food diminish quickly, so I have been feeding them fresh feed 5-6 times a day. Every day they just get a couple scoopfuls more than the day before.
If we end up with underweight birds at our processing day next week, then we will know that they weren't receiving enough food and will have to make adjustments next time. I have also decided to start feeding the chickens fermented feed only in the morning at night, and then go back to offering them their dry food free-choice throughout the day. First of all, it is too much work to feed them every couple of hours, and secondly, I believe everything is best in moderation, so feeding the chickens solely fermented food may not be the best choice. On the other hand, the choice to reduce fermented feed has nothing to do with observation, because the chickens look fuller and healthier than ever!
To start we just filled up the fermentation bin halfway or so with the dry chicken mash, then covered it with several inches of well water (it needs to be chlorine free), and stirred. The feed was already bubbling away 24 hours later. Now we just scoop out the feed with a slotted spoon and fill the 5-gallon bucket to take to the chickens. I put a few more scoops of dry feed in the bin, cover it with more water, stir again, and cover. I am constantly subtracting and adding to the same bin so that it is never empty. That way the bacteria will stay alive and happy--as long as it is stirred regularly and kept covered with water.
Who wouldn't want to watch baby chicks fighting over meal worm treats? If you were a chick who found the cache of meal worms, wouldn't you quietly eat them all up instead of alarming the rest of them?
As we endeavored on this farm, one of our goals was to utilize scraps and repurpose random things into the items that we needed. This hasn't always been the case as some things were needed "right now" and a trip to TSC worked better than trying to build chick feeders at that particular time. However, looking around there are a number of interesting builds on the property that have come at almost no cost, minimal cost, or at a cost far less than what one could have purchased the originals. Perhaps some of this post is pride, but also a chance to help others move past their commercial addictions and use their creativity to "MacGyver" things with the items one has at hand. When you succeed, its quite a sense of accomplishment.
Bee projects were a combination of scrap and new melded together in a good way. Hives built by myself and my dad this winter. Bee feeder thrown together with scrap by me. Tables by me. Overall, not bad considering bee feeders are $25 and top bar bee hives are much much more! We love Christy's bees, but we can build the rest!
The above pics are associated with the chicken tractor and the hens/pullets. A lot of new, but a lot of repurposed and invented things. Chicken tractor is mostly based upon the plans of Harvey Ussery. With the brooder, we also repurposed a broken baby gate for a lid and the other lid was a divider from a dog kennel. Not pictured, but I just made a chicken feeder with a "found" bucket that I drilled holes in the bottom and then glued that to the bottom of a cheap laundry basket with the top 3/4 cut off. It looks similar to this, just without a garbage bucket, but a standard five gallon bucket.
More chicken stuff thrown together at the last minute . . . the best way!
Broiler pen and accessories. Pen frame was all new, treated wood and new screws. Some pics of construction. Most of it was 1" 2x6s that were ripped. Found some plans online for Salatin-style pens and made it 6' x 12' instead of 10' x 12'. Framing was pretty much to plan. Chicken wire was scraps and a roll found in under the work bench at my dads. Steel was leftover from a building and was free! Used leftover screws to connect it together, so that was good. I have this pickle jar full of extra screws that finally came in handy. Small changes is the framing under the door for stability and added another stabilizer beam on the back to make the steel sturdier. Salatin-style pens sit flush on the ground and require a dolly to move. These are often made of steel tubing like this. While I'm sure his is very sturdy, why not repurpose a seed rack. HUH? Well, we took a leftover seed rack, cut off one set of legs on back, found a steel rod that went through some old lawnmower deck wheels and wired that on for now. Then, we smashed the remaining feet flat for ease of sliding and added buffers to keep the pen off the wheels. Frankly, we didn't think it would be sturdy enough. WRONG! It works like a charm. This was definitely a Trent Grice creation. The last pic is our broiler feeder. We cut some scrap tile and nailed it to a leftover, weathered deck board, added scrap for a handle. It needs stabilizer feet, which I was going to do before my foot exploded. However, what do you use for end caps? Why empty worm dishes of course. They fit perfectly in the tile and slid nicely into the groove. This a cool build for sure.
This looks like a pile of rocks, which it is. However, I'm excited for this one. This is the foundation for our future shed. The stones are the limestone strippings from my father-in-law's driveway after he had it flattened in preparation for his asphalt driveway. I also got three other loads on my driveway to help some trouble spots. While this is cool, I'm more excited for the shed that will be built. Walls are expected to be old plant display tables, siding will be leftover steel siding/roofing, base beams are treated 4x6's that are laying around my dad's place. We will try to use other "found" stuff as well as we search for leftover windows, doors, etc. The plans are in my head, but hopefully on this foundation by the end of the year. The shed in the back was just saved from my brother-in-law's place as he almost tore it apart for scrap. Not sure what we'll do with it yet, but it's still good and sturdy. I guess it's like 40 years old. It was pretty easy getting it on the trailer. I sat in the hammock and watched my dad and brother-in-law do it. I had to keep my foot up. What did it cost? Sounds like it may cost us some chickens.
I have a post on the "hugel" mound, but this is also one of the cool builds on the property. I was going to dig this by hand, so I'm glad I used the tractor when it was here. The woody material is brush and tree branches we had for free. Top soil was originally in the previous owner's raised bed garden that I forgot about and the mulch top layer is free wood chips from tree trimmers.
While this is a small breakdown of some of the stuff that we are doing on the farm, I also shared this to show that if you look around, most anybody can get started on projects. We don't need to go and buy everything. Sure, not everybody has a bunch of tools or woodworking know how, but the worst thing you can do is not try to build it. You learn a lot during the process. I look forward to "MacGyvering" more stuff as we go along
Most of you have been introduced to our first fifteen egg-laying ladies. No eggs yet and not expected for another 6 weeks or so. They are enjoying their time out on pasture, enjoying their chicken tractor and love being in the compost area. We do throw some food on the pile, but they will spend a lot of their time on this pile getting bugs and other delicacies. We will be putting them to work soon as we have decided not to utilize our second garden spot as the soil was too low in nitrogen and rock hard clay. We sowed a number of seeds on the plot (i.e. buckwheat, mangles, clover, field peas, "soil buster" radishes and others) to work on breaking up the soil and adding nitrogen. We then covered it in mulch, which will hopefully break down a bit and add some topsoil to the mix. In a couple of weeks, the pullets will be in paddocks on the garden and they will get to work eating the seeds and greens and dropping their own nitrogen all over the place. If all goes well, we will have much better soil ready to go for next year.
Because we are crazy, we felt this was not enough. The chicken tractor has enough roost space for over thirty, so why not? We decided that in addition to getting 50 or so meat birds, let's get a few more pullets. So we have added fifteen more ladies to the bunch for a total of thirty. They were already 5 weeks old, so we saved on brooder time and feed and only kept them in for a week before we tested them out in Baxter's dog kennel. We then moved that kennel in with the original fifteen pullets to help with them getting acclimated before letting them out. They were small and they would go in and out of the electronet fencing. Not to mention, they continuously get bullied by the older pullets. That's what they call it a "pecking order." Due to age differences, we only got Black Star/Black Sex Links and Araucanas/Easter Egg Layers. The Silver-Laced Wyandottes at the hatchery were much younger than the other two breeds.
Like I said before, we also got 55 meat or broiler chicks. The hope was to get 50+ Cornish Cross birds, but Duck 'N' Coop Hatchery, where we get them from, did not have enough. So some of these chicks are also Freedom Rangers (they are the more brown looking chicks).
We have lost four of these chicks through the process of brooding. Expected losses should have been more like two, so we are analyzing what we may have been doing wrong. One thing that has helped is Diana found an excellent organic feed from Raub-Rae Farms in Brown City, MI. This feed just smells good and the chicks loved it when we gave it to them. Prior to this, we were feeding them Nutrena feed from TSC. It was the best we could find that did not have antibiotics in it. We will be raising these chicks in a Salatin-style manner following their brood time. Joel Salatin has revolutionized pastured poultry by putting his meat birds on pasture, with food supplements, and raising them up to butcher weight in only 6-8 weeks. His process calls for 80-90 birds in a 10' x 12' pen.
We decided to do a "half-size" Salatin pen of 6' x 12' to start off. We got the chicks in there yesterday and despite their initial fear of sunshine, they eventually wandered over to their food and water. Check out the forthcoming "builds" blog post as I go through the construction of this pen and how it works. We placed the pen on our front lawn as the lawn there is good for now, but will burn up as the summer heat commences. By that time these guys will be in the freezer, or pretty close and we will put the next batch on a better stretch of lawn. If you would like to snatch up some of these birds, just give us a call. We are not keeping all fifty and would be happy to bring in our first dividends for the farm.
Final total, 15 older pullets, 15 younger pullets (all thirty out on pasture) and 52 broiler/meat chicks means chickens chickens everywhere!
The asparagus spears made an appearance last weekend.
Man was it nice to have the chicks in the house, plus it helped keep them warm. Well, that was until we introduced their dust bath. This led to a room in the house that was literally uninhabitable for two weeks. At four weeks we moved the chicks to the garage and were left with the following devastation. Notice the layer of dust on our exhaust fan. Now, imagine that on everything in the room. Gross! What did we learn, chicks in house = okay. Chicks in house with dust bath = NO GOOD!
Here is the brooder in the garage. The chicks were not happy with this transition, but they did adjust to the colder temperatures. However, the thing we think made them the most unhappy was the ever-increasing size of fifteen pullets and the static size of the brooder duplex.
Following Harvey Ussery's plans for his chicken tractor the above contraption was constructed and covered with old greenhouse plastic. It rolls well and moved rather easily to the back garden. Here, we started the chicks outside so that they can help to prepare the beds for planting by eating up bugs and weed seeds. We kept them in the tractor for two days to establish this as their home. Now, they roam free for most of the day in their "pasture."
The "pasture" for the chicks is established by 160 feet of electronet fencing from Premier 1. It is charged by a Patriot fence charger connected to an old lawn mower battery. While initially left outside, we decided to put it in a battery box to protect from the elements. We used some scrap wood to create a brace for the solar charger. This charger is a 1.5 Watt solar charger from Harbor Freight. The hope is that this will charge the battery in line with usage for the fence to create a continuous use system.
After a field trip to Battel's Sugar Bush farm, we were inspired to tap a few maple trees on family property for the first time ever. We used a total of 7 taps on 3 Silver Maples, and in just a few days got roughly 30 gallons of sap, boiling down to almost one gallon of syrup. We started with a rough attempt with old tubing and Hawaiian Punch bottles, then upgraded to multiple taps into buckets, which worked fairly well. However, next year we are planning on using more flexible tubing with appropriate fittings and doing more trees. Also, figuring out how to boil the sap down by open fire would help save on using propane and be more sustainable.
Most of the below damage was done on purpose and not some freak spring tornado. Our neighbor graciously agreed to allow us to "adopt" some apple trees from her retired apple orchard, so we heavily cut back several branches and are currently working on raking up all the leaves and apples to compost for our gardens.
We have been behind schedule with planting already, thanks to the cold and/or rainy weather and waiting on soil amendments, but we have begun planting peas, broccoli, carrots, onions, cauliflower, spinach, and several varieties of flowers. We prefer to direct sow whenever possible, and will be experimenting with direct sowing luffa gourd, tomatoes, peppers, and other plants traditionally grown from transplants. More on this later.
We also received our first plants in the mail this weekend--hardy kiwis, We put those in pots for the time being and placed them into the greenhouse until we determine their exact location on the property. This is a pretty cool plant as it is hardy in our planting zone and creates smaller, but more tasty fruit than its fuzzy cousins that are sold in the produce section. If it does well, one plant can yield over 10 pounds of kiwi fruits.
Pictured are catalpa, sugar maple, and locust seedlings in the greenhouse.
Our beehives have been done for some time and are awaiting the bees, which should be here around May 15 or 16. We have three hives for 2 nucs of bees. The hope is to catch a swarm this year for the third one. However, we should already have our two trap hives out and baited with lemongrass oil if we want a good chance of this. Just not enough time it seems. Nonetheless, these will be out soon and we will begin our adventure as amateur apiarists. We are putting them to use though as the above pic shows us using the hives as a makeshift potting table.
Overall, things are progressing. More apple tree shrapnel to pick up and move, more seeds to plant, more plants coming in the mail and the fact that bees are almost three weeks away. Not to mention baseball is starting for our boys and soccer will be right around the corner. It's been busy, but we all have noticed less time inside, less screen time and more productive time outside. In some ways, this was the plan all along.
- Diana + Trevor
Dandelion Hills is a family-owned farm in Caro, Michigan, established to provide beyond-organic food to its owners and the local community while improving the soil quality.
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