Gleaning in the Hay Field

Earlier this week, Bobby got around to cutting our hay. On Thursday he bailed it. After bailing, I noticed there was a LOT of hay left over in the field. It was all over the edges of the field and randomly strewn around the field and in the lane.

So, that afternoon, my mom took the riding mower with the blade positioned high and used it to blow the hay in the middle of the field into windrows and I raked the hay from the edges of the field and the lane into piles. Mr. G really enjoyed riding on the mower with Mom-mom for 2 hours. David drove the truck around the field next to me and I pitched the hay into the bed. After I ran out of steam, 2.5 hours into the process and a dime sized blister on my palm, we pitched half the hay into the run of the brooding house. We have since re-christened the brooding house as the love nest. Since our broody hen solution has worked SO well, we decided that we won’t use the stationary house and coop for brooding unless we have another large batch of chicks. For now, we will be using it for breeding groups or as a holding area for extra roosters. We currently are housing Alfredo, the Dom hen whom we have dubbed Broody, and 3 Buff hens. We are currently testing different Buff roosters in the laying flock to see if they are good flock roosters. As far as Broody goes, we added her into the run to see if removing her from her favorite nesting box would help break her of being broody. Since moving her, we haven’t seen any signs of broodiness and she started laying again today. The chickens LOVE digging down through the hay to get at bugs living in the hay and scratching at the ground.

hay in run

We also covered the patch of dirt that was hidden under the log pile with hay. The soil is so loamy and will make a great garden in the future. However, it is very late in the growing season, so we covered it to prevent weeds from growing.

hay on dirt

When I was finished in the field, the Hay was as high as the top of the cab. We plan to weed the garden tomorrow and put the rest of the hay down around the plants to discourage weeds.

Hay in truck

The chicks are doing amazingly well. We haven’t lost any of them since the first week. The Delaware and New Hampshire chicks are now 10 weeks old. Some of the roosters are now as large as our leghorn hens.

Molasses is now king of the flock. We have put him and the Delaware and New Hampshire chicks out on grass in a paddock next to the laying hens. It is really nice to be able to introduce the two flocks to each other without anyone getting hurt, a few of the chicks have even gone over the wire into the other paddock and the hens and rooster didn’t seem to mind at all.

2 paddocks

The mutt chicks are also getting bigger. 4 of them are a nondescript  white, but three have shown some interesting characteristics. Our grey chick is looking very pretty now that he is feathering out.

There is another little rooster that is pure white, except for the end of one feather on his back which is barred. It looks like he had a Dom or a Dom/cross mother.

onefeather 6w

Two days ago, I was looking at the chicks and noticed that one of them wasn’t as white as the others. I picked her up and I noticed she has gold lacing on the edges of her feathers. Very pretty. I wish I knew which hen was her mother and what parentage she had.

GL close 6w

GL full 6w

GL right side 6w

On a brighter note, we have been getting pullet eggs! Yesterday, I found 2 similarly undersized eggs in the paddock where 6 of the buff hens are residing. Today, I found 2 more in the paddock, and 3 in the love nest (there are 3 buffs in with Alfredo). It is great the the buffs have started laying since they are almost 22 weeks old. Our original layers have slacked off a bit with the heat we’ve had recently. Hopefully the buffs will help make up the lack.

April Showers

The rain has really been rolling in recently and the grass has been coming up like crazy. The view from our front porch is amazing. It is so nice to sit out there an look around. You can practically see the green things growing.Front yard

The Buffs love being outside. So much so, that when a nasty storm rolled in, they all decided to shelter underneath the coop instead of inside.

Shelter

See, no body home in here.

Inside

They have done a very thorough job of clearing the grass from the run. Sometime soon, I need to cover the ground with wood chips. The reason why I want to do this is to keep the run from smelling and being an unhealthy environment for the buffs and any future chicks we have in the area. It is also a great way to create compost.

Inside-oustide run

One neat feature of the run that I am going to miss is the Buffs are current able to do their own “edging” around the run. They reach their heads through the chain link and eat the grass on the other side.  When I put up the 1/2″ hexagonal mesh along the inside for when we have smaller chicks in here next, they will not be able to do this. You can really see the difference in the grass where I already have the mesh on the inside of the gate.

Grass eaten

To supplement their diet, David and I raked up some of the grass that we mowed and whacked down on the property. The Buffs got a little startled when I started pitch forking it into their run, but they soon discovered it was full of spiders, crickets, and other bugs and they went to town on it.

grass pile

We also recently got another undersized egg. Because we didn’t eat the last one, I decided to break this one open and see what was going on with it. It was about half the size of a normal egg, and the shell was very thin and the membrane was very thick. the shell came off when I cracked it leaving an intact membrane. When I tore the membrane, full sized yolk with very little egg white came out. I mixed the egg with some grain and fed it to the buffs.

In other news, the hay field across the lane has been fenced in and turned into a paddock for the horses my mom will be bringing up in a week and a half. The fencing is just electric for now, but my parents will be putting up more permanent fencing in the near future. Currently, Bobby is grazing it down with some of his cows and calves. If it wasn’t grazed down, the horses could eat themselves sick (and possibly to death) on too much fresh grass. For now, it is nice to be able to look out on the field and watch the calves frolicking about.

cows

January Update

Hello all!

This is Grace C.’s sister-in-law, Amanda C.

Grace’s job is eating up a lot of her time and energy and my husband, David C., and I have taken over many of the farm tasks that used to be her job. Because of this, she has asked us to take over the authoring posts that relate to farm chores/improvements/etc that we have our hands in.

First, an update on our egg situation. Our 15 hens are now providing us with 10-14 eggs a day! The color variation is amazing. Our six Dom/Dom cross hens lay standard brown eggs with little variation. Our nine leghorns (actually leghorn crosses) are turning out to be a mixed bag of surprises. A few lay standard white eggs, at least two lay nice pinkish/brown eggs, a couple more lay standard brown eggs (one that routinely has darker brown spots on them). But the prize of the lot is the green egg! Apparently, our hen Big Head has that head shape for a reason, her mother was an Easter Egger hen. If you look up an image of an Easter Egger hen, Big Head has that exact head shape, just covered in white feathers. She lays eggs the color of mint chocolate ice cream, half diluted with vanilla. We aren’t even in spring yet and they are almost laying too many eggs for us to eat. Which I guess is better than having too few eggs.

Second, my husband, has now become a full time farmer. This means that a lot more around the farm is now getting done. The moving boxes that had been inhabiting the living room have now been whittled down by half, if not more, and there is a fairly wide walking path through that room. Getting this room emptied is vital for starting improvements on the house. I’ll be writing more on those projects as they happen.

Third, our rooster population has been cut from nine (eight leghorn roosters, and General Tso) to three (all leghorns). I have been teaching myself how to kill, pluck and dress our own chickens. General Tso was not originally on the cull list, but he volunteered for the chopping block – well in our case it is actually a killing cone – by becoming very aggressive. I will write a more detailed post about learning to process our roosters later.

Fourth, we built a mobile tractor for our hens and are building a mobile coop. We originally had the chickens fenced in, but they were not staying in the fence. So we decided to free range them, until we heard from a neighbor down the hollow that he has lost all but one of his chickens to either coyotes/coywolves, or another neighbor’s dogs. So, we built a PVC pipe chicken tractor. However, moving them from their stationary coop to their tractor and back can sometimes be an exercise in frustration since they have to be coaxed across open ground from one confinement to another. So, we are building a mobile coop that will be attached to the tractor. I will write more detailed posts about both of those projects as well. Now, you may be wondering what we plan to do with our stationary coop. We will be turning it into a broody house for….

CHICKS!!! In our final bit of news of the month, we got word this afternoon that the 30 Buff Orpington chicks we ordered have been shipped and should be arriving in a day or two. In yet another post, that I will also need to write, I will explain why we choose Buff Orpingtons, or (as Grace calls them) Buffingtons, for our main breeding flock.

I look forward to relaying  our experiences to you as we move forward.

One Tomato

October of last year we were invited out too look at the farm that we would be moving to, apart from any surprises. Later that month my parents moved starting us off on this wild ride of reformation. Changing our lives and expectations to conform to a reality utterly different from the lives we lived in the city. A continuing process, of course, but one that has had as many rewards as costs, in my opinion.

Overall, it is like the lone tomato plant that grew in our garden this year. I planted some thirty seeds in the outer circle of the garden and none of them came up. This fall we decided to let the chickens clean up the weeds in the garden and moved their tractor through the dense brush a few feet at a time. The chickens loved the weeds and we were able to save on feed.

But one day I saw a plant that didn’t look like any of the usual weeds in the garden. I marked it with a bit of red yarn and we were careful to keep the chickens from hurting it. In our garden the plants that only have one or two in the garden are likely to be vegetables. However, this vegetable stumped me. I couldn’t figure out what it was because nothing that was supposed to be in that area of the garden looked like it. In fact I didn’t realize we had a tomato plant until the fruit began to grow and I am still at an utter loss to explain how it came to be there.

It is far too late in the season for ripe tomatoes, so my dad and I jerry rigged a mini green house to hopefully allow the fruit to fully mature to seed. If a tomato can grow in a wilderness where it wasn’t even supposed to be, it must be a hardy plant.

To me that is what life on the farm is like. Constant surprises. Much improvisation. Generally an outright defiance of what I had planned. Yet we have hope for fruition.

Garden Rethought

On my post regarding the garden layout I received a comment from UrbanHomesteadNZ suggesting I look into Mandala Gardens. Given that my Mom has been following this blogger for ages and has a huge respect for their experience. I hopped right into research and found that it made a lot of sense. Particularly since we want a design that older or younger people can work with and that can be expanded as necessary.

So after some revision, I came up with this.

gardenplain.jpegIt is plotted to be 33 feet across and broken into cells as this year is the year of experimentation. Oh boy, are we experimenting.

gardenguilds.jpegI’m going to convert it using Adobe Illustrator, funny how useful a graphic design background can be for farming. Here we have a combination of 17 plant mixed and matched in groups of 3 to allow for that highest combination of mixes as possible. Why? Because we want to find the plants that optimally nourish each other so that we can grow those next year.

I’m leaning vey heavily upon a companion growth chart my mom found on PermacultureNews. Which I copied out into the card you see in the lower right for the 17 species we are working with.

The downside of doing it this way is that we will have high yields of some thing that may be harder for our family to eat. Things like Brussel Sprouts, which 3 out of 6 people like. It also means we will have to can. Particularly the tomatoes since we have 2 kinds.

Dryer Part 6

I knew I shouldn’t have dared it not to continue to provide interest. Perhaps predictably, the duct fell off.  So I had to scoot the dryer closer to the wall and re-tape it in back. Also Daddy had the idea to use a plastic strap to suspend the pipe.

dryer.JPG

You would think that the dryer would be happy now. She is nicely situated and has a very attentive family with light needs, if you don’t count the cat hair removal. But no, last night she decided not to start so Daddy was tinkering with it this morning. I couldn’t tell wether or not he was enjoying himself. But he at least has the comfort of useful activity.

Spring Cleaning

The burst of warm weather has shut off the Black Walnut taps so I collected them yesterday. I decided to throw away the old jugs rather than wash them since I’m not convinced I could get them cleaned properly without a hose. Besides there were only 3 of them. From those taps I think I got about 6-8 gallons of sap. Hard to say since I’ve been incrementally reducing it every other day.

Saturday I got bit by the cleaning bug, not the wasps fortunately. So I scrubbed the laundry room and kitchen floors. Then I vacuumed my parents room, both halls, the steps, and half the living room. I guess I had more stamina than the vacuum because she decided to only work when you hold down the on switch at this junction. She too has a screw loose, I guess. It is amazing how frustrating a 7 ft square of dirty carpet can be. 

Mud Baths

We’ve had a bunch of rain this week so more mud baths/showers. Overall not that big a deal. Although I can’t help but wonder how it affects the water heater. It does have some side effects though. One is that my dandruff seems to be gone. Rather pleased about that one. The other is what I have dubbed ‘Mud Hair.’

IMG_0329 copy.jpg

Mind my hair has always been enthusiastically Anti-Government. I have 5 cow-licks and it will burn before curling or straightening. Hence why I have over a dozen bandanas in different colors. The mud baths seem to help with nutrition as it feels better than usual. But the healthier it is the more independent it becomes.

Planning for Chickens

We are in the early stages of hashing out what to do by way of chickens. As a bonus to our budget Bobby is going to give us chicks once we have a place for them.

After some discussion we think we know where we want to put it. We’ve also figured that we need to house roughly 100-150 birds to feed 3 households due come next winter. This was much larger scale than I at least was anticipating and led to a great deal of research.

The rule of thumb for free range chickens is 2-4 sq ft per head in the coop. Given that we are just starting out and we won’t be getting that many chicks right off the bat I figure we will start at about 10 x 10 and expand from there as needed. Our coop is nighttime only so we think we’ll be ok with 2 sq ft per head. We’ll find out. Another aspect is that we pan on building roosts and nesting boxes that don’t count on base sq footage.

So far though the most useful find has been North Dakota State University’s Building Plans. They appear to have designs for everything. I even found a rabbit barn.

Best Laid Plans

I got up early today to drill the holes in the black walnut trees. I have everything I need the 1/4 in bit, a battery operated drill, an equal number of milk jugs and taps, and sturdy cord (in my case yarn, I have lots of yarn).

However my glorious plans were foiled by the drill. You see I have the correct bit. I just can’t get it into the drill. The drill is determined to remain a Phillip forever! Gave it to Daddy to work on. But so far the trick that works for pickle jars is not having much success with the drill.