Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tied to a Chicken Coop

For the first six years that we kept a flock of laying hens they roosted at night in a permanent coop and roamed during the day on about half an acre of ground fenced in around that coop.  For six years, morning and night the chicken coop had to be opened and closed.  When we went out of town it meant that whoever took care of the animals for us had to make a separate trip to the farm in the morning just to open the coop.  Not being tied to a chicken coop door was one of the more appealing aspects of putting our birds in a mobile coop and rotating their pasture.  Now our birds have been on  pasture for two and a half years.  They roost inside a trailer with a coop built on top.  Their pasture is surrounded by electric fence which does a really fantastic job of keeping out predators.

A year ago in January the battery went out on our fence charger and it took almost two weeks to get it replaced.  During those two weeks we lost almost one hen a night to any number of predators.  I believe it was multiple predators because we've found over the years that different predators have different patterns of behavior in what they do with the birds.  For instance, a hawk will eat almost every part of a chicken.  They leave only a backbone attached to wings.  Raccoons and possums tend to eat a large part of the bird and almost always try to drag the bird back through the fence to a treeline. Owls on the other hand eat a chicken's head.  And that is it.  To me they are the worst kind of predator because of the waste they create.  They are also the worst kind of  predator because they mean we have to be tied to the door of a chicken coop again.

Last year after we replaced the battery in the fence charger we continued to lose a bird every couple of nights.  The difference this time was that on all of these birds, only the head was eaten.  At the time we had little experience with owls and were still guessing at the predator.  Until one night we got a few inches of snow.  I had closed the coop door that night and went out early in the morning to open it.  In the middle of the fenced in chicken yard started one set of large bird tracks.  It walked to the front of the coop and then all the way around the trailer.  After a little more research we were pretty sure we were dealing with an owl.

Eventually as spring came around we started taking chances again leaving the coop door open in the evenings.  We didn't have a problem again until about a month ago.  Always in the evening, always just the head pulled off.  So once again we are tied to the door of the chicken coop.  Hopefully just until spring rolls around and other prey become easier to find.  Until then, I'm greeted with relief every morning as I open the door to the trailer and chickens begin to roll out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Last week I had a load of compost delivered from American Composting.  This load will be used to top off the beds in the existing high tunnels and to build beds for the new tunnel we will be putting up over the next few months.  It serves a dual purpose of being entertainment for two little boys while I'm getting work done on nice January days.

The upside to this arrangement is it literally entertains them for several hours at a time.  

The downside is that it feels like I spend several hours afterwards getting the compost off of every single part of their little bodies.  Seriously.  I found compost in Gus' diaper for two days after this, despite several showers.  

And despite the 65 degree day we had on Monday when these pictures were taken, remnants of the weekend's snow still remained in the shade of the tunnels.

While I was working I heard Milan repeating to Gus, "only eat clean snow".  

As I look out and see this.

Friday, January 1, 2016

December Afternoons

I've fallen off the social media radar completely during the month of December.  With beautiful December days, here is why...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tunnel Workshop

This spring I was excited to accept a position on the advisory board for a multi-farm cooperative CSA called Foodshed Farms.  Due to the timing of when we became involved in this program, and the size that our own Farmshare had grown this summer, we did not start producing vegetables for Foodshed Farms until late in the season, after our summer Farmshare was complete.  I am really excited though that we will be involved in growing vegetables for the Foodshed Farms CSA this fall.

Currently Foodshed Farms is transitioning to using growers that are certified organic or certified naturally grown.  To assist in this transition and to ensure that the farmers involved in the program have as many tools in their toolbox as possible, Foodshed Farms is putting on monthly training sessions to provide hands-on experience that many of us would not otherwise have easy access to.

This month our farm hosted the training workshop and the hands on project was how to build a low cost hoophouse.  Yesterday was the day and I want to post a few pictures from the workshop.  It was so much fun spending the day with a group of like-minded, hard-working individuals.  We tend to get so wrapped up in what needs to be done on the farm, we seldom make time to stop and visit.  I so enjoyed yesterday and am thankful for all of these individuals taking time out of their week to spend the day with us.  I'm excited about being part of this cooperative!

The morning after...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Carrots, carrots, carrots!

Milan and I harvested these carrots last week.  Last year was our first year growing carrots and I love them!  Not only are they fun to harvest and beautiful to look at, they are so incredibly sweet!  My carrot seed for this spring arrived in today's mail.  I can't wait!  Sign up for our Farmshare program to get your share of these sweet beauties!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why I'm an Egg-Snob (and think you should be too)

I decided recently that over the last ten years I (unknowingly) became an egg snob.  Shortly after getting married I acquired my first laying hens.  At first I simply no longer needed to buy eggs from the store.  Before long though I made a conscious decision that I WOULD not buy eggs from the store.  Not because I thought mine were better but because of the feeling of independence that came with the knowledge that I no longer needed to rely on the grocery store.  (It wasn't long before this feeling transferred to veggies as well).  About the time my eyes opened to organic methods of farming I became aware of the ethical issues surrounding store bought eggs.  Sweat-shop chickens, factory farmed, whether in cages or loose, housed with 20,000 other birds was no way to ethically produce eggs in my mind.  The longer I kept chickens, learning their ways of life, the more convinced I became that we would in no way support conventional laying methods.

I first sold our eggs several years before we started growing vegetables.  Several years before I ever thought I would farm for a living.  I had about 20 laying hens and Robert would take my eggs with him to work at the Corps of Engineers weekly and dole them out to his faithful co-workers for $1 a dozen.  That makes me laugh now.  And I'm reminded of this every time we are driving out in the country and see a sign at the end of a driveway offering "Fresh Eggs $2/doz".  I wasn't in the business to make money off my eggs.  I thought I was paying for my chicken feed.  Years later, after meticulous spreadsheets have become the norm, I have to laugh.  But I wasn't keeping chickens to make money.  I was keeping chickens because I love having a laying flock.  I love the cooing and the cackling and watching them scratch the dirt.  I love that every day is like an Easter egg hunt around here.  Although, fortunately, due to their current living conditions, I don't have to hunt any further than a laying box these days.

I'm proud that over the years there has become such a high demand for our eggs.  I hear people at market tell me how much better our eggs are than store bought eggs.  I just smile and nod my head because I know that our eggs have stiff orange yolks and they are ridiculously fresh compared to store bought eggs but in the back of my mind I kind of shrugged my shoulders at the notion that they really tasted much different.  Fast forward to the last two weeks where while we were traveling for the holidays I ate store bought eggs on three different occasions.  Having been so far removed from sweat-shop eggs, I now understand what my customers have been telling me for years.  There is a difference between our eggs and store bought eggs.  Our eggs are AWESOME.  Not only is there an ethical difference in the way they are produced, there is a difference in how fresh they are, there is a difference in the way they look and there is a difference in the way they taste.  And if you've never seen our eggs before, oh my gosh.  They.Are.Beautiful.

If you are in our area, I urge you to sign up for our Eggshare program.  This is a 10-week program we are running in conjunction with our Farmshare.  I realize though that this is only 10 weeks out of the year. We are working on the logistics of running the Eggshare  even when the Farmshare is out of season.  If you aren't near us, find a farmer or a backyard chicken keeper near you.  Whether you realize it or not, they are all over the place, it just takes a little work to find one.  And if this topic interests you, stick around...soon to post a bit about egg economics on a small farm.