Sunday, July 29, 2012

Third batch of broilers in the brooder

Our third batch of broilers is 2.5 weeks old and looking great.  We've had three losses so far out of 121.  For this batch we're feeding a non-medicated 20% protein commercial feed called "All-Grain Meat Bird Maker" by Southern States. 

I think there really is something to the idea of matching the feed to the genetics of the birds. These Ridgway birds are growing and gaining well and far more uniform in appearance than the two previous batches where we using an 18% protein broiler grower ration from Reedy Fork Farm.  We have changed our brooder management, too: nipple drinkers and daily muckout. 

If all goes as planned, this batch will be ready to harvest the second weekend of September!  We will be getting one final batch of broilers in this season once batch #3 goes out on pasture. 

The heifers are coming home tomorrow after their honeymoon with Calvin the Jersey bull.  Hopefully their pregnancies will proceed without complication.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Second Batch of Broilers Harvested

We harvested our second batch of Cornish-Rock cross broilers on Friday, June 15.  We're freezing remaining inventory tonight.  Price is $4.25 per pound for whole birds, packaged with neck attached. 

I will be in Murphy this evening, Monday, June 18, between 4-6pm with UNFROZEN birds.  All you Murphy folks, call, email or Facebook me by 3pm to let me know what you want!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Renegade Pullet

Attention: Be on the lookout for an escaped pullet. Height: ~16", Weight: ~4 lbs, Feathers: (Rhode Island) Red, Eyes: Beady. Suspect has a history of escapes (this morning and this afternoon) and is believed to be searching for a private location in which to lay an egg. If spotted, approach with caution because she spooks easily. If caught please return to pullet pen.

So the pullets are really starting to lay. We are finding six or more eggs a day in the pullet pen. There are 94 hens in that group right now. Within a month we could be looking at six dozen or more eggs a day. Whoa!

One of our next big initiatives is constructing an "egg mobile" so we can move all of the pullets to the lower pasture and be able to easily move them every few days. We will build on the frame of an old single-wide trailer we bought a few weeks ago from a junk yard for very cheap. Although the interior decorating will not be much to talk about, it will still be quite an improvement from the chickens' current living quarters. Once the birds are more comfortable, they will be less likely to try to escape. We may also get our front yard back...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Well... I started the year with a goal of two posts a week between Chicken Mama and myself. Hopefully we can get back on-track with that.

Spring is here! And has been for a month. According to the weather records, we had one night below freezing during the month of March. We hit 80 degrees for the first time on the Ides of March. Virtually everything is blooming early: the pear tree finished blooming a long time ago, the apples are blooming, even the poplar seems to be getting ready. A freeze at this point of the season si going to devastate a lot of crops.

We have also been springing into action. The last two weeks have been pretty much non-stop:

  • Pruning all the fruit trees (a bit late, I know).
  • Planting new apples trees!
  • Fiddling with chickens, as usual.
  • Going to south Georgia to pick up bees for the Beekeeper's Assoc. and re-starting our hives here.
  • Desperately trying to get a proper feed bin built for the two tons of chicken feed that arrived a week ago.
  • Hopefully the broiler chickens will go out on pasture today because the next batch should arrive from the hatchery on Friday.
It is all starting to look good now that we are catching up on a few things. The farm will look even better once we get the next project finished: building a moveable "egg mobile" for the birds we've been raising since Thanksgiving. Sales have been slower than expected so we may have quite an abundance of eggs soon...

All of the work is fun, but it gets stressful when so many time-sensitive things are happening all at once. I was talking with a friend from Church about how I hope next year will be a little easier because of the work we're cramming in right now. He said, "No, it never gets easier. Next year you're going to want to add more (expand)." He's right.

There are two things I really look forward to: (1) seeing this farm in a few years and (2) resting on Sundays!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Baby Chicks!

The first batch of meat birds arrived yesterday. We received 101 healthy, peeping chicks from Ridgway Hatchery. One died today, but mortality is to be expected with Cornish Rocks.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Big Birds Back on Pasture

The grownups are back out into their rotational grazing. We are transforming the deep-litter yard into the comfrey patch! This is where the fruit trees and garlic patch are. The winter of chicken poop and scratching action will ensure a good start for the comfrey.

The view from my front porch now includes the laying flock as well as the started pullets and cockerels.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Just placed my order with Coe's Comfrey for an assortment of plants, crowns, and roots. This investment will pay many dividends over the years. It's a compost/fodder crop like no other.

Comfrey is a handsome plant, no?

These are a couple of shots that I took at Polyface Farm in May of 2011.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

First Two Batches of Pastured Broilers Have Been Ordered

First two broilers orders have been placed! I'm trying Ridgway Hatchery this time. The first batch is hatching on March 7th. I should have 100 lil' broilers in the brooder by the 9th. First anticipated processing dates will be May 4/5.

Our second batch of 100, again from Ridgway, is hatching April 4th and should be in the brooder by April 6th. Anticipated processing dates for this second batch will be fresh for Memorial Day weekend May 24/25.

Stay tuned for updates and ordering/pricing information.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Started Pullets Available Now!

Why keep chickens when you can get your eggs cheaper at the grocery store?

*Have more control over what you're eating.

*Build soil fertility through composting chicken waste.

*Save on dish/cable: Turn the TV off and watch "As the Coop Turns" in your backyard. There's intrigue. There's drama. There's comedy. And you can cuddle the actors if you want to.

Assemble the cast with Jen's Hens (and Roosters). Available for pickup now.

First come, first served. Buy early for best selection.

Brown Egg Layers

*Rhode Island Red* *Barred Rock* *Buff Orpington* *White Rock*
*Silver Laced Wynadotte* *Black Australorp*

White Egg Layers

*White Leghorn* *Brown Leghorn* *Silver Leghorn*
*Golden Campine*

Pick up your birds Monday thru Saturday by appointment


Between February 6 –11

$10 per bird

Between February 13 – 18

$11 per bird

Between February 20 – 25

$12 per bird

Between February 27 – March 3

$13 per bird

Between March 5 – 10

$14 per bird

Between March 12 – 17

$15 per bird

Between March 19 – 24

$16 per bird

Between March 26 – 31

$17 per bird

Between April 2 – 7

$18 per bird

Between April 9 – 14

$19 per bird

Between April 16 – 21

$20 per bird

Between April 23 – 28

$21 per bird

Between April 30 – May 5

$22 per bird

Between May 7 – 12

$23 per bird

Between May 14 – 19

$24 per bird

Between May 21 – 26

$25 per bird

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Angel and the MPU

This past Saturday I bought a Mobile [Poultry] Processing Unit from Lee Menius of Wild Turkey Farms (China Grove, NC). He and his wife Domisty met me in Dallas, NC at the "Putting Small Acreage to Work" conference where he presented on Pastured Poultry. We completed the transaction with no problems. The only thing I had to figure out before driving home was the electrical connection between the truck and the trailer. The truck's female 4-wire to the trailer's female-6-wire plug was NOT going to work without a bypass, hack, or work-around. But I had no worries; Advanced Auto and Autozone were both 200 yards down the road, their parking lots separated by a Waffle House. Lee said that either store was sure to have what I needed.

Neither did.

What Autozone DID have was a kind customer who took pity on me. Jason followed me over to my trailer (parked in the Advanced Auto Parts lot) and then into the store. It took him some time to figure out how he was going to MacGyver a solution with the parts he had in front of him. I was tempted to say something stupid like, "If you can't figure this out, what would you suggest I do next?" But Someone said, "Jen, shut up." I obeyed. This was going to work out somehow. Once Jason had decided on a combination of available parts, I paid at the register and borrowed a tool for Jason to use for re-wiring. Jason had the work-around complete in about 5 minutes! He even showed me how to replace a burnt-out tail light bulb. Thanks to Jason, a local machinist who hunts with Plotts, I hit the road with every confidence that I would get home safely.

Thank you, God, for the way you work everything out.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hear the Story Here...

Our latest farm drama happened the other day. You can listen to the story if you download this podcast and cue to minute 45:50.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lots of Changes

A few months ago we were talking with Mary, a good friend of ours from Church who is a few years older than we are. Chicken Mama and I were remarking on how life just seems so much faster than it used to be. Time passes so quickly you can hardly believe it. She kind of laughed and said, "It keeps speeding up as you get older." Yikes.

This has been an exciting week on the farm. I really wish I'd managed to get a quick post in earlier this week. On Wednesday... our tractor arrived! A nice, used 37 horsepower Kubota tractor. This is going to allow us to do a lot of things!

As big of an investment as that was, it is not even the biggest event of the week. Our friend Tyler has been working for us the past few days with his backhoe and lets just say things look a bit different around the property. Unfortunately, a torrential downpour late this morning prevented us from getting holes dug for fruit trees and grape vines, but we're still pretty happy with all of the changes. It will be even better once things dry out - I'll take pictures then. Right now things are a big sloppy mess!

Even with all of the mess, though, it is fun to see some of what we have pictured starting to take shape. It is like a puzzle: the more pieces that are in-place the easier it is to see if/how/where future pieces will fit.

If time just keeps speeding up that means the pieces fall in-place even quicker, right?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Something New

And now for something completely different!

For most of a year now I have been eager to try making cheddar cheese. We have made mozzarella cheese several times over the last few years - ever since I did cheese-making as a special project in the biology class I taught at Tri-County Early College High School. Last week I finally picked up a few gallons of milk and set an evening aside.

Let me tell you, cheddar is a lot more involved than mozzarella!

For those of you who are newer to this than I am, mozzarella falls into the "soft cheese" category. Essentially, you warm the milk, add your starter(s), warm some more, cut the curd and then alternate warming and kneading the curd to get the whey out. The whole process takes less than an hour.

Cheddar is in the family of "hard cheeses". The key difference between hard and soft cheeses is that hard cheeses have to spend some time under pressure. Back in September I built my cheese press based on pictures I found online. It then sat in the basement for the next three months.

Through the course of my Night of Cheddar, I discovered that making cheddar is pretty easy - it just takes a long time. I started at about 7 P.M. and thought I'd be done around 11 P.M. Right...

The recipe I followed was for a Farmhouse Cheddar (from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll). Most of making hard cheeses is simply waiting: at two different stages I had to wait 45 minutes; another step requires 30 minutes of slowly raising the temperature of the curd; another one hour of straining.

My main difficulty was that my thermometer was not calibrated. As a result, the milk/curd got too hot and a skin developed during the straining. This resulted in the curd not actually draining! I eventually figured this out after an hour of waiting - I broke the skin and whey magically started draining! So much for a sort of normal bedtime.

Finally, the curds were drained enough to go into the cheese press. I wrapped the curd in cheesecloth, pressed it for 10-20 minutes in the cheese press. At this point it actually started looking like a block of cheese! Hard cheeses have to be flipped, re-wrapped, and pressed several times. The last pressing for this recipe is 12 hours. Official bedtime: 1:30 A.M.

Once out of the press, the cheese lived on a board on the dining room table for several days. I diligently flipped the cheese a few times a day to allow it to dry out. Last night, I finally was able to wax the cheese! I read somewhere that it was okay to use beeswax.

Last two steps in making cheddar: (1) let the block age for one a month and (2) enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Preview of Coming Attractions

No new crises in the last week. Ah!

As I was saying last week, 2012 will be very busy for the Chicken Mama and myself. Here are just a few things on our agenda (in no particular order):

  • Get grapes, fruits trees, and berries planted before Spring starts.
  • Double the apiary (going from four beehives up to hopefully eight hives)
  • Restore and manage lower pasture (kill multiflora rose, maybe fix drainage, etc.)
  • Raise at least 200 chickens (broilers) for meat to sell.
  • Sell all of the little birds Chicken Mama is raising to sell as laying hens.
  • Learn how to properly care for and manage these two little heifers - they need to get bred this summer.
  • Grow lots of corn - about 3.5 acres (on leased land). Most for chicken feed and some for a high-end cornmeal.
  • Its time to eat healthier - we're trying to move away from eating so much processed food.
  • Plant our own (small) garden.
  • Remain active in promoting local, sustainable agriculture.
  • Post on the blog at least twice a week.
Just seeing that whole list makes me tired. Time for me to get to bed. We'll have to be up pretty early in the morning to accomplish all of this by the end of December.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men...
(Colossians 3:23 New King James Bible)

Monday, January 2, 2012

How do we do this?

What is the chief end of man?

To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

So... how exactly do you farm to the glory of God?

That is what we get to try to figure out this year... Here we go!

Although chicken Mama and I have not been doing anything here on the blog, we have been very busy. In the Fall of 2011, we raised our first small batch of meat birds on pasture, have started raising ~200 baby chicks for Jen to sell in the Spring as started pullets (hens getting ready to begin laying), fenced our pasture for our two new heifer calves, and...

(one hour later)

Well, so much for waxing poetic. As I was typing that stuff above, I heard a small chirp from the front yard where the baby chicks are housed and glanced out the window... The heat lamps were off. It is already completely dark, cold, windy and the first snow of the winter is falling lightly. Tonight is supposed to be the coldest night of the winter so far (lows in the mid-teens). Not so good for month-old chicks to be without technological aide, for the first time, on a night like this.

The stereotype seems to be that all farmers have their horror stories and/or tall tales (depending on how they choose to tell the story) about something going completely haywire in the worst kinds of weather. A few months ago, my Mom emailed me and said that I made what we are doing out here sound so idyllic. Well, Mom, there are lots of those moments, but here is the other side of the coin.

So Chicken Mama and I pull our jackets on and get outside. Who has time for a game plan? This is the third time that the lights have shorted out in the last 28 hours. Fixing it again is obviously not really an option, but something has to be done. Why are there chickens running around outside of their shelter? Great.

We start catching the birds who have managed to get out of their "coop" into the cold and who do not know what to do now. Chicken Mama stuffs a few inside her jacket to warm them a little while she hunts for more. In just a few minutes we had all ten or so birds inside again. Straw bales. We still have a few dry bales of straw we can spread around and make little nests with. I grab a bale and toss it over the electric poultry fence so Chicken Mama can start getting to work. As I toss the bale over the poultry fence the flashlight... why are there chicks outside of the fence? Lovely!

By this time apparently the chicks had been in the cold long enough that they were slowing down - they barely even try to avoid capture. Poor little birds. They'd have been frozen to death long before morning. Thank God I saw them. That is five more returned to the nest. How many others are out here?

Before continuing the search, I have Chicken Mama unplug the light which we knew was causing the short and I reset the GFCI outlet to return half of the heat lamps to operation. After quickly grabbing the rest of the bales for nesting materials, I continue the search for missing birds. The snow falls a little more heavily as I pace the entire chicken yard fence line. Eventually I find another three or four birds and get them under the lights. At one point I am crawling on hands and knees along the entire front of the house peering under the azaleas with the flashlight. If there are any more chicks out there, they have hidden themselves well and I wont be finding them tonight.

The last touch is to grab the bales of wood shavings and place them along the outside of the tarp wall for just a little bit more wind protection.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is life on the farm. Sometimes things cannot wait and you do what you have to, no matter what, because that is what is required of you. Perhaps that is part of what Jesus was talking about when he said,

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. (Gospel of Matthew 12:45-46 New King James Version)
I certainly do not feel faithful or wise, but we are stewards over our little wanna-be farm - even over these chickens.

Here is to farming to the glory of God!