Life on the farm is tough. If you have any experience, have read the stories or have been keeping up with the blog, this is evident. The fall was hard on the flock. In the the span of about a month we lost countless hens (all heavy layers). This led us to two very important realizations.
Option 1) With the flock getting picked off at a rate of at least one per week, we were not going to have any left, especially going into winter when the hawks are even hungrier. Hawks are our biggest predator and impossible to control. Because they are ‘birds of prey’ and subject to the Migratory Bird Act. The federal fine for illegally killing hawks come with a $10,000 fine, 2 years in jail and seizure of the weapon used. And then there are separate repercussions from the state. There are permits that you can get if you can prove you have taken measures to protect your animals and that they are impacting your farm financially. But, while I now hate hawks with an incomprehensible burning passion, I just cannot kill one. So option one is off the table.
Option 2) Get a guard animal. Donkeys are supposed to be great for guarding large animals. They are often used to guard cattle and sheep and are great at controlling larger animals such as canines (foxes, coyotes, wolves, dogs, etc.) but they really could care less about the ones that are cleaning us out, the opossums, raccoons and hawks. So the next bet is a guard dog. We did quite a bit of research and decided that we wanted/ needed to get a Great Pyrenees. Deciding to get one is significantly harder than finding one. Luckily I had some friends, Noah Ranells and Ben Bergmann of Fickle Creek Farm that I knew had have litters the past two years. They have a very large and divers farm in Efland and depend on their Pyrenees for their livelihood. I called, emailed, had friends put in plugs for us and just plain BEGGED for them to part with one for us. Things had become dire on the farm. We finally connected and they agreed to sell us a 2+ year old dog named “Clarice”.
She is SO sweet. But she is first and foremost a GUARD DOG.
She is adorable, sweet and a damn good guard dog!
Clarice took quite a while to warm up to us, but she has come a long way. While she is not exactly a lap dog (and in no way should be – she is first and foremost a guard dog). But she loves ‘belly-rubbies’ a good scratch behind the ears. That is, if you can catch her. Se loves to play the good, ole “catch me if you can” and will finally fall on the ground roll over and expect lots of love.
Most important, we have not lost a single chicken since her arrival. Again, we were losing about one a week. We were so convinced that we were on our way to losing the entire flock, we placed an order for 19 chicks to replace the flock. Well… we currently have 17 adults, 19 1-month old chicks and then seven 2-week old biddies. Yes, if you do the math… that makes 43 chickens. FOURTY-THREE CHICKENS!!! In 4 locations on the farm. Things are a bit complicated and time intensive!
It is that time of year! The daffodils are up, the redbuds are flowering, my winter garden is bolting and of course: IT’S BABY CHICK TIME!!! On April 2 we received 19 little angels.
* PEEP * * PEEP * * PEEP *
(Our first ‘peep’ into the box of fluffy adorableness)
I always forget how fast they grow. When they arrived Monday they were tiny little puff-balls. By Wednesday they had all of their primary and secondary wing feathers. Friday they are working on tail feathers! Oh… and we are working on flying now, so get ready.
And let’s not get caught up in all the cuteness and forget about everyone else! Colonel Woodford has had his hands full with the ladies. All sixteen of them. Sooooo many ladies, so few hours in the day. Egg production is pretty dang close to maximum production. We are collecting somewhere around 11 eggs/ day. Not bad. Being realists, we know a few of the girls don’t lay or lay very erratically. When the spirit moves them. There some that we just can’t cull.
So let’s stop for a moment and take a headcount.
19 chicks + 17 adults = 36 chickens
Some may think that is a lot of chickens. And some might say that is TOO many chickens. And I could not agree more.
So there are a lot of things you need to know about chickens. I’m just gonna drop a couple nuggets on you for now.
1) Araucanas/ Americanas (the blue egg layers) really don’t like the ‘boundaries’ that theegg box presents. There are some that think they are not particular where they lay their eggs. However, I go with the other camp. The ones that think they are the most secretive, finding the tiniest, littlest, darkest, dankest, most out of the way, “oh… they’re never gonna find them here” place to lay.
2) There is nothing meaner than a broody hen.
Well… luckily the meanest f the crew, the hateful spinster Queen Mary decided to go broody last week. She’d sit on anything – anywhere. We’d drag out of her daily hidey-hole and put her up at night. Next day she’d find another spot. That is just what broody hens do. Guys you know, ‘chicks’ and their hormones… So you can imagine our surprise when the perfect storm came together last weekend and Mary found a clutch of 7 blue eggs to sit on. Funny thing – the day after we found Mary and her 7 blue eggs, mysteriously there were no blue eggs in the laying boxes. So I risk life and limb, go into the dark, dank, corner of the barn (also the same corner that I wrestled THE snake), gently lift the Queen and find that while she was taking a little break, some of the girls snuck in and laid another 2 eggs in her clutch. So she is now sitting on NINE eggs. Let us revisit our math.
19 chicks (hatched) + 17 adults + 9 “Mary clutch” = 45 chickens
So instead of gathering around the water cooler Monday mornings and hearing all about Susan’s crazy aunt with like 50 cats – you know, the one that was just on Hoarders – you can talk about US. And ALL of our chickens. At least we can eat chicken. Well, I guess there are some cultures where they do eat cats and dogs. Probably tastes like chicken. So we have come full circle – that there is NO difference between us and Susan’a crazy aunt… great.
Let’s end on some cuteness!
Having worked in agriculture for the past 11 years (in some capacity) I am AMAZED at how difficult farming is. Our soils don’t help. Highly compressed white, acidic, Triassic soils, impermeable when dry, the exceptionally fine grained soils expand, making the soils very slippery, earning it the name and characteristic “slickenslack soil”.
So, enter my six raised beds. They are the best thing I could have done. The fall/ winter garden is in and thriving. I have planted: 3 kinds of onions, 3 kinds of garlic (although I don’t seem to have luck with either one – but I keep trying), lettuce mixes, cabbage, collards, 3 kales, 2 mustards, 3 turnips (mmmm… for the greens), 3 carrots, beets, 2 radishes, cilantro, 4 spinach, peas, and my first try at cover crops. It looks amazing! All that, plus I have a greenhouse full of citrus, ginger, herbs and ornamentals.
The chickens LOVED my garden far more than I, so I had to erect a fence. So far it has kept out the the chickens, donkeys and deer. So far, so good. All for the update on Acorn Garden. Happy growing and remember, EAT LOCAL! Nothing more local than your backyard! No matter how small, a pot in your window sill or more, it is highly worth it!
Well… this post got lost somewhere along the line. So here it is, a bit a late but there is no way I am missing this report. I love the fair. There are few things that I look forward to quite like the fair. The bigger the better.
The NC State Fair takes place in October her in Raleigh. Being a livestock geek, you get to see cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, mules, donkeys, chickens, turkeys,guinea fowl, geese, ducks and lots of other specialty animals. There is nothing like it, especially when you have some kind of personal investment (i.e. chickens). You get this nervous feeling in your stomach, winding through the rows of hundred of birds, looking for your babies, and finding them with ribbons!
We decided to enter 10 chickens. And we received 10 ribbons. Damn yes!
Blue Ribbons – FIRST PLACE:
1. Ms. Ancona (Ancona – pullet)
2. Schpreckles (aka Specks) (Speckled Sussex – pullet)
3. Goldie 1 (Gold-laced Wyandottes – pullet)
4. Silver 1 (Silver-laced Wyandotte – pullet)
5. Gobbles 1 (Light Brahma – cockerel)
6. Cornelia (Dorking (like Eric) – pullet)
Red Ribbons – SECOND PLACE:
7. Gobbles 2 (Light Brahma – cockerel)
8. Silver 2 (Silver-laced Wyandotte – pullet)
9. Goldie 2 (Gold-laced Wyandottes – pullet)
10. Big Jen (Light Brahma – pullet)
So cool. Downside, it is like sending your kids to preschool, essentially a huge petri dish of bacterial and viral infections. Our poor Schpreckles came home with Chronic Respiratory Disease. It is ubiquitous in all birds, just some fight it off and some don’t. We are way too compassionate when it comes to our birds. But it seems like when one gets sick or injured it always tends to be one of our favorites. Schpreckles is back to normal and has been reintroduced, but it has really made me take a good long look as to whether or not we will enter any birds that will come back to the farm…
Oh ya, and we get $$$ for our babies getting ribbons. We managed to rake in a net of $98 for our winnings and then we sold both Gobbles for $50. Not bad at all!
Coco Chanel: That is one nappy girl!
Fall update. Since the fair, everyone seems to be doing okay. But it’s time to molt (eject old feathers and replace with pretty new ones). It takes a lot of energy to do this so between that and the decrease in daylight length laying has taken a big hit. We have 23 layers and right now are pulling in about 6 eggs a day. Putting a big dent in the egg sales.
While they are going through their molting, they look pretty rough. We are getting late in the season for molting but Coco Chanel did not get that memo. And for some reason, she has decided to eject most of her feathers. As Eric says she looks like she was a truck. Then that truck back up over her a couple of times and then we buried her in Pet Cemetery, bringing together the quote “Sometimes dead is betta”.