Sunday, February 26, 2012

Moving the animals

Small Hen-a-bago next to the pond
We have moved our animals to other parts of the farm, into a new pasture that has recently been completely fenced.  While the chickens and goats can be contained by electric netting, Sofie, our livestock guardian dog, needs a "real" electric fence to define the border of her "patrol" area.  As we have three smaller groups for her to protect she roams the larger area in which the smaller enclosures are fenced.  Sofie really loves being in this larger pasture!

The goats now have a view of the creek bed and the smaller flock of Delaware chickens have a view of the pond. The large flock of chickens (Rhode Island Red and Partridge Rock) have gone to the oat field--yes the one we planted a few months ago.  We rotate our animals around the farm in order to  keep them from eating all of the fresh seeds and grass on the pastures, to give the pastures a chance to rest, and as a form of parasite control on the pastures. The animals also provide a healthy source of fertilizer for the soil.  The garden should grow really well this year!
Delaware layers next to the pond

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dottie the Chicken

Dottie on her rhododendron nest
Last Fall, we rescued our Wyandotte chicken and her friend the Speckled Sussex from mistreatment at the beaks of the Delaware chickens who don't seem to get along well with other breeds.  We moved them into the brooder house to recover and they began free ranging wherever they pleased, returning to the brooder house each night to roost. However, a month or so ago, eggs stopped appearing daily in the nest boxes we'd put into the brooder house for their use.  Unbeknownst to us, Dottie had scoped out a new nesting area. We found her one day sitting beneath a rhododendron bush in the front yard (as pictured above). When she got up, we were amazed by the nest full of eggs she had accumulated--18 in all before she was discovered!
Rhododendron nest full of eggs! 
Rhododendron nest emptied of eggs
We moved the eggs to the nesting boxes in the brooder house, hoping Dottie would change her mind and return to laying in a more conventional spot.
Egg cache in the nest box in the brooder house
Although Dottie returned to the rhododendron bush for 2 days to lay, the eggs were gathered each time they appeared and Dottie soon stopped visiting the no-longer-secret nest.  Although the nest in the rhododendrons was not being used, Dottie would also not use the nest boxes in the brooder house.  She and Speckerella (the Speckled Sussex) have been relocated to a small coop with 4 other pullets.  Dottie is now happily living and nesting in the small chicken coop.  She and Speckerella seem to have taught all of the others to roam but, fortunately, they favor the compost pile and the pastures rather than the front yard near the road--and the rhododendron bush.  Perhaps Dottie is learning from them as much as she seems to be teaching.  The added benefit to us by having 6 "yard" chickens is fewer bugs all over the yard as the chickens devour all they find.
Rhododendrons without any signs of nesting

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eggs 101

We constantly have eggs on our minds! Our refrigerator is full of eggs and we cannot seem to eat enough, sell enough, or donate enough (to the Servant Center) eggs to get rid of them! We think each day about the nutrition our pastured chickens are providing us. In each of our boxes of eggs we put a small piece of paper with nutritional information about the eggs and the chickens.

Mother Earth News compared pastured eggs with a recent study by the USDA on supermarket eggs. They found that the eggs laid by chickens allowed to eat a natural diet and run free on pasture have the following:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 1/4 less saturated fat.
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Alas, people seem more interested in buying the cheapest eggs they can find, assuming all eggs are the same.  Educating shoppers about the health benefits of eggs from pastured poultry and the long-term savings through reduced medical bills that can be realized by eating eggs produced as nature intended is challenging.  Through our blog we try to do a little educating to help people realize the benefits of eating "real" food rather than "packaged nutrients" (thanks to Michael Pollan for that term).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Full Fridge!

Our farm refrigerator filled with eggs!
We are certainly blessed by abundance! As you can see we have eggs-a-plenty! Our average daily total recently has been over one-hundred eggs with the biggest day topping out at 129 eggs.  The next morning we sold 10 layers to someone who lost some of hers to a fox.  Our chickens apparently didn't get the memo that their egg laying slows down in the winter or maybe, like the rest of us, they have been waiting for winter to arrive.  Perhaps tonight's colder temperatures will slow them down for a while.  While we don't get such high numbers from the 137 remaining layers, we are still getting over 100 eggs a day.  If you are in the area, be sure to stop by the Farm Store in order to buy eggs!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Winter Snacks

We had some small pumpkins that were going bad brought to us as a treat for the chickens. When we got out to pasture, they all came running!
The Delaware chickens in anticipation of treats
The guineas tagged along too!
They quickly ate the seeds from the pumpkins and then began devouring the inside meat.

We had to move a few pieces of the pumpkin, particularly in the pen with the most chickens. It turns out that with two roosters in a pen, there are divisions where some chickens go and some chickens stay. In order for everyone to have some pumpkin, we put a few chunks up by the hen house. This was also in the hopes that all of the chickens laying eggs at the time will have a chance to eat some pumpkin too!