mid-summer update: animal chores

(written by Sam)

Vegetable growth is slow – we had about 3 weeks of warm, dry high winds in June. But lately we’ve been getting a fair bit of rain alternating with sun, so the vegetables are about to explode (I’m excited). We’ve been planting trees (over 1000!), planting perennials like berries and asparagus, and figuring out farm infrastructure like irrigation. A lot of my time doing farmwork is focused on taking care of the animals. So in this post, I’ll walk you through the animal chores on a typical morning, and introduce some of our animals.

Milking the goats

My wake-up time for the past few months has been set by the goats. First, I gather all the food (all in reused food containers, because that’s how I roll): dog food, dairy goat ration, oats, wash-water (for the goats before milking) and a clean bucket for milk.

I bring some dog food to both of the livestock guardian dogs, then let them play while I milk and clean up.

Time to play

Now the dogs are happy, so time to milk the goats and give them grain (which makes them happy).

FEEEEEED ME

Rainbow gets milked first because she’s the alpha goat. She’s the easiest animal I’ve ever milked! She’s fantastic.

Rainbow is a Good Goat.

Next I milk Alice, who is also pretty nice. The trick I figured out is that I need to give her 3x as much grain as Rainbow right at the beginning of milking. Of that huge portion of grain, she only manages to eat about 1/3. But if I give her the same amount as Rainbow, she gets grumpy and tries to kick over the bucket. (The goats are training me well). After that, I go back to the house to strain and chill them milk. Sometimes I’ll also start some cheese culturing at this point, if I have a lot of milk (getting about 2L per day currently).

About 1.5L that morning.

Ducks and geese

The ducks and geese sleep in the barn at night, and we let them out on the grass during the day.

The duck and goose flock

They are always very happy to get outside. Then I herd them to their moveable pen, and they eat grass and splash in their water dish all day.

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Turkeys and guineas

This particular morning, some turkeys and guineas had escaped. So then I got to try to herd them back into their moveable pen. They’re harder to herd than ducks, but easier than chickens (which are impossible to herd).

Oh no, escapees
Always a bad sign when there are more turkeys outside the pen than inside.

Once the turkeys are set, I move their pen and make sure they have food and water.

Back in the pen and on new grass.

A couple days ago we switched to using a big electronet (a easily moveable electric fence that keeps out ground predators). They are REALLY happy about it.

Turkeys go zoom

Goats and dogs, part 2

Next, the goats and the little dog, Jack, go out in another moveable electronet (this one is more to keep the goats in than to keep the predators out, since they’ve got a livestock guardian dog with them already).

Yum, thistles and stinging nettles (which are apparently both delicious to goats)

It’s a funny balance we’ve found with the livestock guardian dogs. One of them is fantastic with chickens, but wants to chase the goats. The other is best friends with the goats, but has eaten a couple of chickens now. So, once the chicken-eating dog is in with the goats, the chickens can be let out.

Chickens

Good morning, chickens

The chickens currently have free run of the farm, under the watchful (…ok actually mostly asleep) eyes of Sadie the livestock guardian dog. Luckily, so far it seems that just having the dogs around is deterrent enough that we haven’t lost any chickens to predators.

Cat

Meow

This cat is magical. He literally popped out of a hole in the wall of the goat barn and has been hanging around our farm for about a month now. He’s completely friendly and tolerant of snuggles by little kids, and best of all, he’s incredibly good at catching rodents!

He’s got big plans

…always makes me a little nervous when the animals hang around with power tools.

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Spring (?)

(written by Sam)

The ground is still very, very frozen, and we are social distancing mightily, but growing food for people is the most important job, so we are gearing up for season 1 of Sundog Vegetables: Saskatchewan.  There are seedlings started under lights, but planting is more than a month away, so we’ve been building up our animal team.  We like to think of a farm as a semi-controlled ecosystem, and incorporating pastured animals into our food ecosystem makes sense for us.

P4060539.JPGSo far we’ve hatched out two batched of chicks.  They are a variety of different heritage breed mixes that we got from neighbours, so we’re hoping they’ll be a bit hardier to SK weather than buying from a hatchery (though we’ll be doing that later in the season, also).

P3300438.JPGWe bought a few goats.  They’re dairy goats, but because of various strict rules, the milk will only be for our own personal use.  This lovely goat is now named Rainbow, because she posed so elegantly for me the first morning I had her.  P3300442.JPGThis little herd will have a lot of work to do eating shrubs in some of the more overgrown parts of the farm.  They’re already doing a great job nomming down weeds in this old paddock as they emerge from the snow.

P4090763.JPGThis is the newest member of our farm team: Jack, the very smol livestock guardian dog.  Doesn’t he look like he’ll scare away coyotes?  They’ll be terrified of him, I’m sure.

P4090698.JPGHe’s getting to be good friends with our older livestock guardian dog, Sadie.

P4100821.JPGHe’s already learned a lot from her, like how to nap hard in the goat pen.  He’ll do great, I can already tell.

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Impatient for chickens

Someone was selling a few Leghorn hens online, and we just couldn’t resist, so we officially have our first livestock!  Welcome to the farm, hens.

P2150272.JPGThey’re living in the barn for now.  We had originally decided not to get livestock right away while we learn about how other farmers in the area keep their animals warm and happy for the winter, but we were getting really tired of buying eggs while we have such a lovely barn to keep animals in.

We bought one last batch of eggs from our neighbour, thinking that the hens would be a little unhappy from their trip to our farm, but the 6 of them laid 5 eggs yesterday.  So…time for some baking.

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Proto-chickens

42 eggs in the incubator!  Our first batch of Saskatchewan barnyard chickens are on their way (if all goes well)

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Our land

We are extremely excited and grateful to finally have a forever farm!  A ridiculously HUGE forever farm!  We took possession of the farm on Sept. 30, which happened to be the day of the first snowfall (!).  That first snow did not stick around too long, so we got a few nice pictures while the land was still green.

A farm tour:

The barn

Needs some paint and a new roof, but it’s got good bones

One of the best parts of the farm is there is a beautiful old barn!  This barn makes me want to get way too many animals… but we agreed that we would not get any animals our first winter in Saskatchewan.  First have to make sure we can keep ourselves alive in -35C.

veggie field

Our original farm mentors, Michael and Linda, came to visit in early October and got to see the lovely land. This field is where the vegetables are going to grow

The farm is 153 acres with a large hay field, a large pasture, a big piece of woods, and a large wetland area.

soil!

Beautiful black soil in the soon-to-be vegetable field

woods

An inviting cow path through the poplar woods

wetlands

There is a large lake/wetlands area in one corner of the property.

The lake is intriguing.  The white marks on all the tree trunks tell us that the lake has been much higher in the past, and the dead trees tell us that the lake didn’t used to be there.  Very different water patterns here.  For now, it’s lovely and we’re really looking forward to seeing who migrates through in the spring.

Another weird thing about the lake: the previous owner had a paintball course in this area in the past, so there are a whole bunch of odd structures partially submerged in the water.

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Of course, this is totally not what the farm looks like right now, in mid-February (there will be another post about Real Canadian WinterTM).  After months of frozen white everywhere, it’s nice to remind ourselves that the land will become green again!

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Long overdue update

Looks like we haven’t updated this in over 5 years. Oops!

We are now starting our own farm (as in, we own farmland now, finally!) near Balgonie, Saskatchewan.

We will be getting our veggie gardens started in Spring 2020 and laying plans for berries, fruit trees (as soon as I figure out what won’t winter kill here), and livestock. If you are a local eater looking for healthy organically grown food, get in touch!

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Moving on (again)

(written by Sam)

September, as always, was ridiculously busy.  And even more so, because we moved again.  (More about that toward the end of this post).  First, let me tell some stories about the past month and a half.

Fall on the Farm

It’s been quite a warm and dry fall.  We had field tomatoes up until our last CSA veggie box on Oct. 7!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe orchard has been pretty decent this fall.  But lots of coddling moth damage.  Some of the trees that did badly last year are prolific producers this year, and vice versa.  I guess we need more than 2 years of data to decide which trees to keep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woodpeckers seem to have some ideas for the orchard.  Perhaps they are going to install an outlet in this hollow tree?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe geese (and their 3-duck-army) have been patrolling the orchard for a couple of months now, and seem pretty happy with the arrangement.  Well, as happy as geese can seem, anyway.  They seem to have a permanent attitude problem!

Also, they look really funny when they look at something flying in the air above them.  (It’s tough to look up when your eyes are on the sides of your head!)

Squash

Only a few squash plants survived the wireworm devastation at the beginning of the season, but the ones that survived are prolific!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooks like we’ll be eating a LOT of red kuri squash and Cinderella pumpkins this winter!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurkeys

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey’re beautiful!  I can’t believe I hatched them all from eggs!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHm, maybe saying that they are so ugly that they’re beautiful is a better statement.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, definitely.

But, dear turkeys, the whole reason you were raised was for eating.  We didn’t really know what we were doing and ended up losing a bit of money on the whole venture.  However, we both really enjoyed hatching and raising them, so we’ll probably do it again sometime in the future.  Next time, we’ll start the turkeys earlier in the year, and if we sell them, we’ll sell them at a very high price, as meat should be!  (And maybe not sell them because we North Americans are so conditioned to expect unrealistically cheap food…but that’s a different story).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyway, they were amazingly tasty!  Due to my own vegetarian background/farmitarian eating rules, I haven’t eaten a “standard” conventional turkey, so I don’t have too much basis for comparison.  But I heard from others who tried it that it was an excellent turkey.

Thank you, turkeys!

 

The end of Sun Dog Vegetables?

We always said that Sun Dog is our experiment to see if we can make a living by farming.

As it turns out, the short answer is “No.”

But the long answer is “Well, maybe.”  We’ve learned that it’s really hard to farm with just two people (well, really <1.5, since this is not my primary occupation), and especially with animals.  Never taking a vacation as a whole family, and never even taking a weekend away from the farm is really hard.  To do this scale of farming properly requires more than one family on a farm, so chores can be shared.  We also need more (or really, any) money to invest in farm infrastructure.  With proper infrastructure for irrigation, animal feeding and housing, washing stations, hoophouses, deer fencing, and so much more, the reduction in labour is immense.  It’s pretty much impossible to start from below poverty-level income and manage to make enough from selling vegetables to expand and build infrastructure.

So… what it boils down to is that in order to make a living by farming, we need to find someone else who is willing to pay for the infrastructure, and find farming partners.  And the cool part is, we found a way to do that!

As of a few days ago, Adam is the farm manager for the farm portion of the farm-to-table restaurant 10 Acres Bistro.  And all of our animals get to come too!

Moving (again…gah)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chickens were first.  As you can see, Elvis is king of the new combined flock.  (We had to get up before dawn and grab them all while they were sleeping and put them in dog crates to move them…I felt like a chicken rustler).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext were the geese and their army.  This we did early the following morning, by picking up the entire coffin full of geese.  Holy crap was it heavy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext were the 4 turkeys we kept for breeding for next year (1 bronze tom, 2 bronze hens, and 1 black spanish hen).  The turkeys were easy, it was their house that was a bit of a challenge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALuckily this time we didn’t have to drive 30 km on the highway and take it on the ferry.  Just driving up West Saanich Road was much much less stressful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was really just as funny looking as moving the sandcrawler last year, I suppose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we got the fence set up, the coop inside, and let the turkeys out, then we herded the geese into the pen too.  And they were NOT happy about having to share their pen with the turkeys.  There was lots of hissing and squawking.  Luckily, the turkeys barely seemed to notice the scathing insults the geese were hurling at them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd lastly, we brought the 4 Khaki Campbells, 4 Welsh Harlequins, and 4 runner ducks.  I thought the geese would be pleased that I brought them more ducks to join their army, but I was wrong…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeese are jerks, as it turns out.

They seem to have settled into a state of slight harassment of each other, but nobody seems too offended by it.  Maybe this setup will work?  We’ll see.

Our new farm

Farming for a restaurant does mean that we don’t have quite the freedom in farming that we have had the past four seasons that Sun Dog has existed.  But I have to say, the benefits FAR outweigh the drawbacks right now.  There are so many parts of running a farm business that we really didn’t enjoy, which we don’t have to worry about anymore.  This includes figuring out where to sell vegetables and marketing them, building endless coops and fences out of scrounged wood, figuring out how to fix tractors, cars, trucks, and various other things ourselves (since we never had any extra money to pay someone else).  We don’t even have to worry about paying for animal feed, and have additional help on the farm without having to pay out of our own pockets.  Adam now gets to completely focus on planning the farm, growing food, and teaching apprentice farmers, and have a steady income, which is certainly more than you can ask for with just about any independent farming job.

The aspect of the job I personally am really excited about is getting to learn about raising many different kinds of animals (and not even having to pay for it!)  We’ve already ridden out the turkey roller coaster, but we’ll also get to learn about meat rabbits and pigs, and within the next few months possibly meat ducks, meat chickens, goats, sheep, and who knows, maybe even a cow.

We hope to keep Sun Dog on the backburner, forging relationships with other farmers in the area in hopes of someday creating a farming coop based in North Saanich.  And in the mean time, we will live and learn in our new home.

What can you do to help?  Well, the main reason the 1 family/1 farm plan doesn’t work is because food is too cheap.  We simply cannot grow it for the prices consumers expect to pay.  We small farmers are competing with gigantic farms in other countries who abuse their workers and the land, and sell their produce to giant multinational supermarket/hypermarket chains, who often sell vegetables at a loss to get you, the consumer, in their door (google “loss leader” if you want to read more about being suckered).  So, if possible, don’t EVER buy your vegetables from grocery stores.  Buy your vegetables (and eggs, and meat) from farmers markets, or from a farm stand is even better.  Get to know your local farmers!  Don’t buy vegetables from California (unless of course, you live in California), even though they’re cheaper and available year-round most anyplace in North America (though that may change soon), and only buy vegetables that are in season in your area.  You can plan ahead to have your favourite seasonal foods available year-round by canning, drying, and freezing (and by binging on them when they are available fresh!)  And, what I think is really the best way to break the corporation-dominated food industry: learn how to grow your own food!  Get backyard chickens and have your own eggs!  Raise your own meat!  The world needs to change, and since we to eat at least 3 times a day, the food choices you make add up quickly and have a huge effect.  Eat local!

Thanks for reading our blog!  It may be a while before I post here again, but we may start posting on the 10 Acres blog.  I will leave a note here if that is the case.

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So much food!

(written by Sam)

This is the time of year when those long summer days finally pay off into ridiculous amounts of food.  The tomatoes are exploding!  We probably harvested close to 100 lbs of tomatoes on Tuesday.  SO MANY TOMATOES!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd they’re amazingly delicious, too (Brandywines! I love you!)  Hopefully the blight holds off until a bit later this year, so we get to fully enjoy them (and don’t get stuck with 100 lbs of green tomatoes to try to use up quickly like last year).

We’ve been drying and freezing them every time we harvest, and Adam has also made a couple of batches of tomato sauce and salsa

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACanning tomatoes is a bit more work than other foods, since you have to use a pressure canner, but 2 out of 2 partial Italians in the house agree it’s definitely worth it.

Animal updates:

Geese of delicate sensibilities

The geese (and their 3-duck army) have had free run of the orchard for a month or so now.  We set up a flimsy fence which they seem to respect to keep them away from the rest of the farm.  Their favourite spot to lounge happens to be just outside our bathroom window.  And because we’re out in the country and don’t have a close neighbour on that side, we never bothered putting up a curtain.  So now every time one of us goes to use the toilet, we get offended honking, and the geese often just get up and leave.  So sorry, geese!

Chickens have a new friend

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdam got really tired of watching dozens of tiny little birds flying into the coop every day to feast on our expensive chicken food, so he put together a scarecrow (or scarebird, as Sylvia calls it).  Perhaps he is indeed a scarecrow, since we have not seen any crows out there.  However, the little birds are undeterred.  Oh well.

Many of the chickens have started molting earlier than usual, probably due to stress from the very hot and dry August.  So it’s the time of year where we have to cull out the older hens who aren’t laying very well anymore (some of them may not start laying again until spring, since it takes them a while to recover from molting, which makes it very difficult to manage to break even on feed costs).  Definitely not my favourite part of farming.

Turkeys eat a lot

The turkeys are growing like crazy, but they’re also eating lots and lots of food.  I need to sit down soon and see how much we would need to charge for them to even cover their food costs.  (Farming really sucks sometimes).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey’re still quite curious, and love drinking out of the hose while I’m filling up their water.  They’re also quite good at hopping their fence, which makes sense because they’re almost as tall as the fence!  There’s still about 6 weeks until Thanksgiving, so it’ll be interesting to see how big they get (and how much they eat…)

Transgender Duck

Yes, you read that correctly.  I read about a duck who did this in “Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks” (also a very good book), but I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that someone who raises hundreds of ducks will see.  But no!  Apparently ducks can actually release the proper hormones to give themselves a sex change, and it’s not terribly uncommon!

The day after we culled the male Welsh Harlequin (the only mature male duck we had), we noticed one of the females mounting another female.  I figured it was just a dominance thing, since they would have to re-establish their pecking order with no male.  But that same female went through a very early molt, and her feathers have been getting darker and darker, and now her quacks even sound more like a male duck’s quacks than a female’s

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the left is one of the Dimmer Wits, and on the right is the transgendered duck, who is getting dark breast feathers and dark head feathers.  He (what is the proper pronoun to refer to the duck in this situation, I wonder?) doesn’t seem to be getting the bright orange legs the other male had, but maybe that takes more time?  It’s really amazing to see this transformation taking place, but the whole reason we culled the male duck was because he was eating lots of food and not producing eggs!  And now this guy’s going to do that too.  Kind of annoying.

On the plus side, the young runner ducks started laying eggs last week, so we’re getting a couple of blue duck eggs per day now, too.  The Khaki Campbells don’t seem to be laying very much yet, which is annoying since they are older than the runner ducks.  And NONE of the ducks will lay their eggs anywhere reasonable, they’re just scattered all over the pen every morning.  Oh well.  I shouldn’t complain too much, we got five delicious duck eggs this morning!

The different breeds definitely have different personality traits.  The Welsh Harlequins are all about the food.  They are not at all intimidated by the very large turkeys and will squirm their way in between the turkeys in the midst of a feeding frenzy.  The Khaki Campbells enjoy the little bucket pond more than any of the other ducks.  As soon as I clean it out and refill it every night, at least 2 of the Khakis jump in and take a bath.  And the runner ducks seem to be afraid of everything.  I’ve never seen them go in the pond, they won’t eat food until all of the turkeys are well away from it, and they avoid me like the plague.  I wish they were a bit friendlier.  I also have to figure out what to do with the SIX male runner ducks I have (figures, all 4 of the Khakis end up being female, but only 3 of the 9 runners are).  Anybody want an incredibly skittish, weird looking pet duck?

Fall is coming

This time of year is always a bit disorienting, with sunset happening almost 2 minutes earlier every day, it’s tricky to plan ahead and make sure we’re ready to do the evening poultry chores at the right time every day (currently they’re colliding with Sylvia bedtime, and soon they’ll be colliding with dinner).  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe garlic and fava beds have been tilled, along with some of the early brassicas and beans.  Apples and pears are around the corner, and the few squash plants that survived the wireworm onslaught have beautiful orange pumpkins forming.

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Preservation

(written by Sam)

For some reason this year I really resisted the beginning of preserving season.  Perhaps because it’s a lot of work?  However, as I’ve found most years, once I start it’s almost addicting!

Our old lazy dog Molly always gets SO excited when I open a new bag of dog food and pour it into her food bucket.  She stands there wagging and sniffing and grinning, happily anticipating having plenty of food for the next few weeks.

And that is exactly how I feel when I look at a box full of beautiful canned food!

Preservation season has officially begun at our farm!  So far we’ve done:

Applesauce:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI estimated this is about 60 lbs of apples off the Transparent apple tree, which has produced quite well in the last couple of years.  Transparent apples are wonderful because they’re so ridiculously early (mid- to late-July!), but as far as apples go, they’re not all that tasty.  They seem to have 2 states: unripe, and horribly dry and mealy, with about 20 seconds of perfectly ripe in between.

Luckily, they make GREAT applesauce, so that’s what we did with almost all of them this year:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHad a couple of hiccups along the way, of course, being the first canning of the year, and the first canning in this house.  The biggest problem was we managed to bust through the bottom of the sieve, so a lot of peels ended up in the applesauce.  After we realized the sieve wasn’t actually doing anything, we decided that our applesauce would just have peels in it this year and ran the immersion blender through the whole giant stockpot before canning.  Oh well.

I figured I made about 6 gallons of applesauce, and canned most of it to save for winter.  Yum!

Another experiment I started is sauerkraut.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdam grew some just beautiful, amazingly dense green cabbages (this one probably weighed almost 5 pounds).  And some kind of buggy purple cabbages (stupid whitefly).  I chopped it up, along with a few grated apples.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI followed a recipe from The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home (which is a book I totally totally love).  Although really, it’s so easy it can hardly be called a recipe.  Chop cabbage, add about a tablespoon of salt per pound of cabbage, and mix.  Let it sit for a few minutes, and the cabbage will make its own brine!  Then pack it into jars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWeigh down the cabbage with something heavy (or be creative…legos are replacing the weight in one of these jars), loosely cover (cloth is fine), and let them sit in a cool place (<20 C) for a week or so.  And poof!  Sauerkraut!  Bacteria are cool like that.

Adam harvested all the garlic, about 600 heads in all

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s curing in the garage (apparently farmers used to cure it out in the field, but now there’s so much UV light that makes it through the atmosphere that the garlic gets burned if you cure it that way. Yikes.)

And last, blackberries are exploding into tastiness all around us!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve already made a batch of (completely failed-to-gel) jelly (I mean…syrup…yeah, that’s it).  And there are still tons and tons of blackberries scattered around the farm, threatening to take over from the perimeter.  Blackberries somehow manage to be so tasty and so threatening at the same time.

The days are quickly getting shorter (we’re closer to the equinox than the solstice now), the chickens and turkeys are starting to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and sometimes at night it’s feeling a bit cold.  The preserving will ramp up in the next few weeks as the last vegetables ripen (c’mon tomatoes! You can do it!)

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Turkey Parabola and Disbanding the Army

(written by Sam)

As usually happens with the farming season, June and early July have been pretty darn busy.  I guess that’s how farm blogs usually go: “Hey, it’s the beginning of the season and I’m so excited and ambitious!” Next post, 4 months later: “Well, it was a great growing season…”  So at least I haven’t slipped THAT much yet.

We’ve now delivered 8 farmshare boxes, and I think they’re pretty decent now.  So far each box has had lettuce and kale, and we’ve rotated through the early vegetables like radishes, peas, and garlic scapes, and are starting to get into summer vegetables like beets, zucchini, and broccoli.  We had our first yellow plums in the box this week, and transparent apples and Mirabelle plums will be ripe shortly.  Of course, there’s still a few disappointments, like the carrots, eggplants, and early zucchini plantings (all destroyed by wireworm), and the artichokes, which didn’t survive the winter, although the new planting is growing nicely.

Now, on to the poultry tales.

Disbanding the Army

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe turkeys were getting way too big for their little coop, the mature ducks hated the coffin, and the goose-and-runner-duck army was growing too large for the coffin.  We rigged up an old market tent and some chicken wire to protect the ducks and geese from owls at night, but it was not a very good solution.  It was time to build yet another coop.

The expensive expensive food was also disappearing disturbingly fast, and we figured the geese were to blame.  They grew SO FAST.  They’re only 8 weeks old, and weigh easily 10 pounds already.  So no wonder!  But, the nice thing about geese is that they are supposed to eat mostly grass, with only a small supplement of grain.  Natural lawnmowers!  But, if given access to grain, they will happily eat that instead of grass and get fat.  So we needed to separate the geese from their army.

The geese are so big that they look like fully grown geese, but they still peep and cry when you pick them up, which is what we had to do to separate them from their beloved runner duck army.  We set up a small pen in the orchard for them, so they can mow the lawn for us under the apple trees.  And we thought we had found the solution.

The next day the geese barely moved.  They just sat in the shade and did nothing.  It was really sad.  Later in the day, we moved the duck/turkey pen into the pasture section of the field, and had to herd the ducks over.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the chaos of trying to get 3 separate duck flocks to move 100 feet together, the runner duck army broke away and found their goose leaders!  They were so happy!  And so were the geese!  They found a weak spot in the fence and busted through so they could be together.  We watched for another day, and saw how much happier and more active the geese were with ducks around, so we decided on a compromise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the ducks (a tall white runner duck) had always flocked closer with the geese than the other ducks (maybe he thinks he’s a goose?) so we left him with the geese.  And the Welsh Harlequin female (the Dimmest Wit, the only one), has a hard time keeping up with the runner duck army, so she also got to stay.  And the geese seem pretty satisfied with their much smaller army.  Good to keep your generals happy, I suppose.

The Turkey Parabola

We decided to build a really light and large turkey/duck house.  We weren’t trying to make a predator-proof house, just something that would stay inside the electric fence and keep owls out.  I had originally thought we would just do a half-circle, because it’s easy to figure out how long the frame pieces need to be, but that would make a house that’s only 4 feet tall.  Adam really wanted to make it taller, but we wanted to keep it narrow enough to fit on the back of Noo Noo if needed for longer moves.  We could always just wing it, but how would we know how much wood to buy? (Yes, we’ve finally exhausted our landlords’ junk pile in the back of the property, and had to resort to actually buying building materials this time).

Luckily, we’re both gigantic nerds, and we know lots of math.  After a short debate about whether an ellipse or a parabola would be easier, we settled on the parabola.  So, the equation of our turkey coop (in feet) is

y = -0.36 x2 + 6

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s just a 2×4 wood frame with reinforced corners for the bottom, and some 2×2’s for the door frame and some framing on the back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hoop wall/ceiling is made out of 2 “concrete panels” which I think you’re supposed to use in pouring large concrete areas (like a driveway).  We added some chicken wire on the back, front, and door, and it was ready for the turkeys to move in!  The best part is it’s light enough for me and Adam to pretty easily carry it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the turkeys have given their seal of approval.  Hm, we’re going to need to reinforce that roost pretty soon…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe turkeys are still delightful.  When we put them onto a new patch of grass, they ran around happily cheeping and catching little leafhoppers.  And they still come running up to the fence every time we walk by.  They are also incredibly curious: while I was doing some repairs to the chicken wire on the coop (staples are NOT strong enough to hold in the turkeys and frantic ducks), they kept coming up and pecking my fingers while I was working!  Somehow annoying and endearing at the same time.  They’re really starting to look like little ugly turkeys now, instead of cute little chickies.

Chicken Update

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs an experiment, we put the chickens onto weedy, grassy pasture, untilled and unmowed, just to see how long it would take them to break it down.  This is pasture that has only been growing weeds and grass for at least a decade, so this is a pretty big job.  It took about 6 weeks for 25-30 chickens (we killed some roosters in that time, so the count went down a bit).  Good work, chickens!  They were quite happy yesterday to get some fresh pasture (and bugs) after being in the same spot for so long.

But, the most exciting news!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chicks that I hatched back in February have laid their first eggs!  I can tell because they are tiny eggs, and because I’m suddenly getting way more blue and green eggs than ever before (way to go Elvis!  Thanks for the Ameraucana genes!)  What’s interesting though, is I had read that the blue/green egg colour genes are dominant, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Some of the new tiny eggs are brown.  Perhaps Elvis is not purebred?  Anyway, I’m happy to get more eggs.  Thanks, chickens!

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