Tag Archives: chickens

Spring Chickens

The south-most section of our garden space has been a battle zone for the last two years.  Although we sheet mulched as we did for the rest of the space, in that area the grass continued to be too much to beat back, and each spring would start again with a thick lawn.  So this year, we decided to take a step we hadn’t before, and till in the garden.  Ordinarily we’ve tried to avoid this, primarily because our garden is an old pasture and the load of weed seeds in the soil is pretty spectacular – tilling only invites new weeds!  

However, this year, we have a secret weapon in the fight:  our trial batch of meat chickens are ready to come off the heat lamp and join the real world!  We set up a fenced area for them, and put them on the newly tilled soil — they’ll help us scratch up any new sprouts that come up, and keep the tilled area from becoming a weed patch overnight.

And in return, we’re expecting to harvest 15-20 delicious roasters in mid-June, after which we will amend the soil with some compost and plant in a cover crop to keep the weeds down for the rest of the year. A couple hundred more square feet to garden, tasty chicken dinners… so much to be excited about!

Spring is for Babies!

It’s baby season here on the farm!!  The finally farm babies were finally born a few days ago, so the anxiety of the farmers has gone way down, and now we just get to enjoy adorable sleepy, bouncy babies.

Baby lambs…

…so many baby lambs….

baby goats!  Caitlyn finally had her twins, a boy and a girl.

And baby chicks! These guys are mostly meat birds, an experiment here on the farm.  Looking forward to seeing how pasturing works with these guys!

Rat Hunting

Over the past year or so, we’ve noticed a significant increase in rodent issues in our barn, especially rats. We’ve increased the number of traps, both hand built and purchased, and while we had some initial success (20 rats in 2 months!), coming into the dark barn after lights out would still reveal several in the turkey coop, where the messy turkeys create many a delicious snack amid the bedding even when we raise the feeders at night. A few times a year we’ve knocked them back by trying to gas them with exhaust from the farm truck, thanks to a clever weld on the farm truck exhaust pipe that allows us to fit a garden hose on, and run into the coop floor. But because we have so many animals around, poisoning the rats was never an option.

So when we had the chance to have a crew of trained rat hunters come visit us, we were excited to give it a try!

The first thing we learned is that we made a mistake when we built our chicken coop floor. When we moved in a floor was already in place, and we enlisted family help to tear the rotting floor up and replace it. But when we built the new floor, we just put it at the same level as the old one, which is pretty much perfect for a rat castle, and not so great for ever allowing us to get in there and kick the rats out. Oops. This limited the hunting team’s ability to really go after the rats, as they were safely settled into the middle of the floor under the chicken coop, and unreachable. Glad we’ve put off building a floor for the turkey coop til now, so we’ll know to raise it up high enough to be able to get under it and make it less hospitable.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t catch a few! It was so much fun to see the dogs do what they were meant to do, and they clearly enjoyed it.

Guess we know what’s going on the task list for 2016… new coop floors!

Farm Logo!

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We’ve been working toward this for a long time, and we finally have a logo!  We’re so thrilled with it.  The words are written in Talina’s beautiful script, and the chicken art was drawn by Megan’s sister Ana.  We ordered the stamp to mark the tops of our egg cartons with, so things are a little more official:  couldn’t be more thrilled with how these turned out.

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Poultry Feed Comparison

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We try hard to make sure that the animals who share the farm with us are fed well and treated well. Our chickens and turkeys are always provided with access to pasture as soon as they are old enough to be safe, but, we do also supplement them with feed to make sure that they are getting all the nutrients they need.

In our area there are three 16% Protein Organic or Non-GMO options available to us via retail: Buxton Feed, Scratch and Peck Feed, and Rogue Poultry Feed. All are available in 40lb bags, which is what I compare in the chart below:

Brand Feed Source Feed Type Retail Price
Buxton Feed Non-GMO, Soy and Corn Free Layer Pellet $21
Scratch and Peck Certified Organic, Soy and Corn Free Layer Mash $27
Rogue (Grange Co-op) Certified Organic Layer Crumble $22

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Rogue’s organic feed is a crumble. Rogue’s feed ingredients are significantly different, and to be honest, not something we prefer to feed our animals because of the dependency on Corn and Soy (even organic, there are other reasons to avoid these). Rogue is the organic feed available for retail nearest us, though, so we wanted to give it a try! First 8 ingredients:
Ingredients
Organic Grains, Organic Corn, Organic Barley, Organic Soybean Meal, Monocalcium Phosphase, Vitamin Premix

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Buxton Feed prodices their feed as a pellet. They used to mill feed for Scratch and Peck, so they are intimately familiar with the ingredients used, and the two feeds are virtually identical ingredient lists.  We find that the pellet format results in a significant amount of feed dust in the bag, which our hens tend to leave behind in their feeders. First 8 ingredients:
Ingredients
Peas, wheat, barley, camelina meal, common vetch, cane molasses, Limestone, oyster shell

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Scratch and Peck produces their feed as a “mash”, in which basically the same ingredients that go into Buxton’s pellets are offered in their original form (the peas are cracked, as they’d be too big otherwise).  First 8 ingredients:
Ingredients
Organic Wheat, Organic Peas, Organic Barley, Organic Linseed Meal, Organic Camelina Meal, Limestone, Oyster Shell, Fish Meal

What they eat goes into the eggs that we eat!  Given the three choices above, which one would you rather eat?  On the farm, our choice is Scratch and Peck – if we picked out the limestone and oyster shell, it looks good enough to boil up for dinner.  You can see from the chart above that that choice comes with an increased price… we think it’s worth it.  We hope you agree!

Pasture Poultry

I’ve mentioned previously that this year we have a plan to raise a few dozen laying hens for sale as layers, while also doing the Neutral Zone pasture some good.  Our birds are old enough now to be off the heatlamp and out in the world, but they needed somewhere safe to spend the nights!

After much discussion, the actual end product seems like it sprang fully formed into life – it took just one day to go from theory to reality!  And here it is:20130423-142158.jpg

Based on a cheap trailer bed, we leveraged old fence posts for the wood frame, covered it with a metal roof, and sided it in chicken wire.  The floor is a powder coated smaller guage wire mesh that’s easier for the birds to walk on, and strong enough to hold both them AND a food container if it needs to.

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The teenagers took a few days to get the hang of the door — we spent about 4 nights having to go out after dark and carefully migrate all 25 of the oldest birds into the coop from under the coop, but they learned quickly and now it’s an easy process to shut the door and open it again each morning.

Looking forward to hauling this across the road and getting the birds out on their future pasture home!

Pasture Chicks

Pictures don’t turn out well in the brooder, because of the dark barn and the red heat lamps, but, as you can see, we’ve added new babies to the mix!  It’s hard to believe that our now-four-week-old chicks are SO HUGE, compared to the new babies we added this evening.

We’ve added 10 Marans, who lay very dark chocolate brown eggs, and 5 white egg layers, since the contrast will be fun!  Luckily everyone seems to be getting along well.  Just a few more weeks for the first batch, and they can head out onto the pasture without a heat lamp soon!  Very excited to see them growing so much.

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Spring is Here!

One of our farm goals this year is to continue to improve our pastures.  Pastured chickens can contribute a great deal towards this goal, so this year we are experimenting by planning to raise about 50.  And so… chicks!

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We built a brooder in an unused stall in the barn, leveraging an old chicken run donated by our friends Joe and Courtney.  Raising the chicks in the barn will mean a LOT less mess in the house this time around.

Our first arrival was an order of 25 chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery – mostly Ameraucanas, but also a mix of fun breeds.  We hope to be able to sell some of the birds as laying pullets once they reach 5 months old – and in the meantime they will do us the favor of working on our thatched pastures.

Leaf Piles

With the goats set up for a winter, and the freezing weather on it’s way, we turned our attention to the chickens today. Their original bedding was straw, thick stacks of it put in in March. But a years worth of chicken scratching, and the bedding was more dirt than straw.

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The fallen leaves froze along with the dew this morning – winter is on it’s way!

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We scrapped out the last of the original bedding, and swept the floor clean.

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Then we hauled huge loads of maple leaves down from the trees by the shop, and filed the coop up 3′ high with leaves.

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The chickens were a little weirded out by the leaves at first, the ground shifted so much beneath them!  But soon they’ll get the bedding flattened out, and in spring, we’ll have new mulch to add to the garden!