Hay!

The rental portion of our farm was seeded for hay about a month ago.  It’s finally rained enough to see some green out there.  We’re looking forward to watching oats grow (this spring) and seeing the alfalfa mature.  Year-round green is a beautiful thing.

Broiler chicks are just over 2 weeks old.  We plan to get them out on grass next weekend, if the weather cooperates.  They are growing feathers, eating like mad, and are already the size of 6 – 8 week old layers.  We’ll be taking them to the processor around the beginning of June.

The early greenhouse tomatoes are just starting to bloom.  I don’t believe we’ll have tomatoes by May 19th, when our Saturday market resumes, but things are looking promising for early June.  

Our laying hens are finally out of the garden perimeter and into the “real” pasture.  They wiped out the early kale and tore up some garlic in the mean time.  Occasionally a hen wanders into the greenhouse (about 3 acres from where she belongs!) and I do my best to discourage her with the watering hose..

 

Rotational Grazing from Space

Many times, we do something because we know it’s the right thing to do, even though we don’t get a lot of immediate positive feedback.

Today, I was looking to see if I could see a satellite picture of our greenhouses. When I saw the picture of our farm, I quickly forgot about the greenhouses.

I saw the fire ring I set up for cooking down maple syrup. The fence row that is now cleared was not cleared in the picture. I noticed that the chickens were in their winter quarters. The picture is from February or March of this year. If I dug through emails and my calendar, I could probably pin it down to a particular week, or maybe even a specific day. (Of course, the exact date doesn’t matter.)

Among other things, I noticed that the paths our chickens took through the pasture last summer were still very visible.  They’re green!  The entire pasture greens up later in the spring (it’s all very green now), but these images show how our mobile chickens fertilize as they go.  The layers have a less continuous track since they wander around much more. You can see that I plowed up a new vegetable plot on the north half of the area fertilized by the broilers.

Besides being useful for recordkeeping, we now know where to start this year’s chickens.  The north half of the pasture is ready for their attention!

Eggs, labor, and other thoughts

This warm spring has resulted in an egg-stravaganza.  There are more eggs on our farm than we have ever had.  We  have been able to provide eggs to local food charities as well as having plenty of eggs for new customers, old customers, and our own consumption.

We are one of a very few farms in Central Indiana that provide pastured eggs from hens that are given certified organic feed.  The organic feed is a substantial portion of the cost per egg, but I love knowing that pesticide, herbicide, and GMO free grains are going into our eggs!  It takes a bit more labor to move the chickens around pasture and to gather eggs by hand.  However, the dollars you spend on our eggs are going right back into our local economy- our feed comes from a local mill, and, of course, we hire local people to help out on the farm.  

We live in a rural area with a pretty low cost of living, but unlike many farms I do not take advantage of the reduced minimum-wage ($5.15- $5.50 per hour!) that the IRS allows agricultural businesses to use.  For one thing, my employees have to drive several miles to come to work.  I prefer to treat folks fairly and pay them something for their time.   

If you have a strong stomach, The New York Times has another article talking about the hideous nature of commercial egg production.  It’s the usual- dead hens, rodents, ammonia fumes, and salmonella.

I really take issue with the producer in this article stating that the other hens “don’t notice” when dead birds are laying around.  On our farm, occasionally a hen is killed by a predator, dies of natural causes or illness, or meets with an unfortunate accident.  The other hens DO notice this, and if the hen dies in the henhouse, will usually avoid going into the henhouse.  The difference?  My hens have outdoor access 100% of the year and get moved frequently to new locations. They do not HAVE to stay next to dead birds.  And, since we are not raising millions of birds at a time, we are able to notice and quickly remove any birds that are sick or dead!