Thursday, February 11, 2010

Summer of the Chickens

Hello all!

These past few months of winter have given me a chance to read extensively on subjects like pastured poultry, rotational grazing, heirloom gardening and bee keeping.

Several things are actually getting done around here - we've got one 'hen tractor' built, and a dozen hens are fertilizing the garden area as we speak, with a second tractor in the making to prepare the orchard for planting in June.

Six trees came down! My dad has to rent or borrow a chipper, but there should be a great mound of chips come summer when I hope to try a hand at butchering broilers and need composting materials.

Jani and Mattie are building up a wonderfully deep bedding pack in the upper barn, and I'm laying down grain for the two pigs we plan to buy come March.

I love my family <3 They are my worst critics, and staunchest advocates. After all of my research, I came up with a game plan for our small farm this year, and of course the dreams are too big for one person to accomplish... so I did a little recruiting ;)

Nathan (18) is to take on the laying hen business. He ordered 100 black australorps over the phone today (10 for a friend, and hoping to raise 30 to sell as ready-to-lay hens for customers), and they should be here around February 19th. We're converting the cat room (those spoiled felines need to toughen up, anyway) into a brood pen, and using wood shavings to create a deep bedding system. Then later in the summer, we'd like to design and build a portable hoop house for the layers around 20' by 20' which we can shuttle around to wherever we'd like to build up a deep, fertilized mulch.

Marcus (15) is perhaps interested in raising bees. As the hardest worker in the family, all he has to do is catch the vision of natural apiculture and he'll follow through. He is also planning to buy a log splitter with some of his savings, and sell all the firewood from the trees.

Joshua (13) likes the idea of raising a couple porkers for sale, since enough milk customers have expressed interest already for him to sell all the pork right away.

Caleb (11) wants to help feed the broilers (I'm hoping for 4 batches of 100 each, but that's me being overly-optimistic again, considering I haven't actually tried out butchering, yet). With me promising him half of the profits after chicks, feed and equipment are paid for, there's enough motivation for him to try. We have neighbors with 2 Salatin-style broiler pens that we might be able to buy and use.

Abigail (8) and Lydia (6) want to help mom and I with the garden this year - and milk customers have already expressed an interest in buying extra produce we may have throughout the year. All the seeds are bought, and peppers, herbs, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are started, ready to go out in the ground when the time is right.

And I'm praying about purchasing a third Jersey and a newborn heifer as a future replacement, so all three calves can nurse on one while the other two are milked exclusively for customers. Our nearby neighbors have a large field (perhaps 2 acres), and I'll be building a portable electric fence corral to house the cows and move each day to fresh pasture. One of the most exciting ideas I have is housing the cows for the winter months in the two upper barn stalls to build up at least a four-foot bedding - I figure those three cows and their calves will produce enough manure to spread compost on half of our fields each year! That's good stuff. I'll spread soft rock phosphate and calcium in the bedding to tie down the nutrients and add extra minerals to the field in a more easily-accessible form. I've also tried to prepare the ground for 8 more fruit trees and a row each of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

... continued...

As I wrote the above, I was interrupted by a brother yelling, "Chuck's out!"

And there he goes, out the driveway and down the road to visit our neighbor's cow. I jogged over there, got the rope halter around his neck, and he raced off, dragging me across my neighbor's lawn. Eventually Marcus was sent over to help me, and we chased Chuck around in circles for a few rounds before he decided to cut his little visit short and trotted back home. Grrr. I could have strangled the durn animal.

Our electric fence is turned off because some of the trees had to be felled across the line, and of course Mr. Chuck Roast took this chance to waltz through the flimsy wire of his pen and out the wide open main gate. Lesson learned the hard way.

Why on earth did I decide I like farming?

Perhaps it was chatting with Mattie over the gate yesterday in the warm sunshine, as she licked her nose and gazed at me with curious brown eyes. They really understand you, these critters do. I love them to pieces, and wouldn't trade them for the world, even if they get an evil streak once in a while...


Gwennie said...

You know, Emily, it could have been worse...Chuck could have been in a prize-winning cabbage patch! ; )

King's child said...

Reading your post about EVERYTHING you will *hopefully* be doing this year was very inspiring!! Except the escape cow episode... I could do without that! ;)

Well, I guess keep talkin' to those cows and keep on keepin' on!


Karen said...

Fun post to read, Emily! About butchering...we've raised fryers before (on a smaller scale, though), and if you're going to do a mass butchering episode, I HIGHLY recommend finding a plucking machine. It's the slickest thing I've ever seen, and will more than quarter your butchering time. Good luck on all your endeavors! I agree with Caity - it was inspiring to read!