Monday, May 31, 2010

Chicks are in the mail


Our chicks (advertised as "Day old," which means they are actually born in the mail) will be shipped tonight, from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. They should arrive tomorrow or Wednesday, the post office will hold the package so we don't come home to a box full of sun fried chicken. The general wisdom is to purchase chicks from a hatchery that is nearby, so that the animals spend less time in the mail where they can be subjected to all types of stresses. Shipping stress is mostly related to cold temperatures, so if we were trying to get chickens on the ground 2-3 months ago we'd want to use a geographically closer hatchery, but this is not a worry now that it's June. Hatcheries have minimum orders of birds so they can stay warm during travel by huddling up, we will end up with 27 birds (minimum order is 25 for chicks.) McMurray seems to be a rather large outfit, so we were able to get a variety of breeds, which is part of the reason I chose to go with them.

Blue Andalusians

These birds are intended to be egg layers, as well as eye candy. A good laying hen will plop out an egg a day, and even with voracious eaters like Johnson around we will not be able to eat that many eggs (although at least 7 will be roosters). What will we do with all the excess? Well, we can sell the eggs, obviously. We can also sell the laying, known as pullets. The chicks cost an average of $3.37 shipped and the market for laying hens ($15 or so) is kicking butt right now, everyone wants a backyard flock. We can butcher them for eating, although many are single breasted/razor breasted so they won't look like/cook like the double breasted chicken you're used to. I imagine an ideal laying flock for us would be 6 hens. We could have bought a small quantity like that from Agway or Tractor Supply Co. but I figured if we couldn't sell 20 chickens then we're doomed as farmers.

Red Modern Game

Once these chickens vacate their brooder (4-8 weeks) we will be getting a Barnyard Mix, which will include ducklings, goslings and turkey poults. One of these turkeys will be part of the Big Meal, and the rest of the birds will be kept either for eggs, meat, or eye candy, we're pretty flexible.

Single Crested Leghorn

I didn't purchase any meat birds, when the time comes we will probably buy Cornish Crosses, an often maligned but efficiently designed bird. I've worked with these birds before and while they are quite ugly and quite dumb, they are able to convert feed to meat like no other. We will raise them on pasture, but these birds are too large and lazy to free range on their own. If given the choice they would just lay down next to their feeder and only ever eat and sleep. Sustainable farmers usually use chicken tractors to manage these birds, a 10'x10' pen that you move daily. Many people will say that they do this to give the chickens fresh grass, but in actuality you're forcing the chickens to eat the newer grass, otherwise people would have perfected a free ranging system for the Cornish X. This system also helps to spread out their manure, a valuable soil amendment. In order to do this we'd need a stretch of flat land with short grass to move the chicken tractor along, if the grass is too long or the land too lumpy the chickens can sneak out of their enclosure. While we could mow up a nice patch of grass for this purpose, that'd be work we can delegate. Once we fence in our first pasture we can buy some goats, and those goats will do the mowing for us. Long story short, if all goes well we'll raise a batch late summer/early fall, worst case we'll wait until next year.

Silver Spangled Hamburg

Their brooder is all ready, it's pretty simple. A large plastic cow trough with a chicken wire lid, a waterer and feeder and heat lamp. Since the water trough was free the total outlay was pretty minimal, about $15. A picture will come in due time, I figured it'd be more interesting full of chicks.

Silver Polish

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Evolution of a Garden

Today the Big Man and I spent many hours digging walkways out of the garden and making raised beds. It was the last of many steps that made our shitty backyard weed patch look like an actual garden. I am actually too sore to type very much, so I'm just going to post some pictures and then sit on the couch with a crappy movie and an excellent cocktail.

First, you need to find an awesome dude with a tractor and a sweet tooth that can come down and plow the sod with a tractor in exchange for some brownies and honey peanut butter bars and eternal gratitude.

Then, you need a sexy man to use the tractor to scoop tons of horse manure on top of the freshly plowed garden.

This is in the middle of that. The manure is the black piles in the back row. You also need to rototill.

Then you stake out the beds and paths, and spend a lot of horrid time with a shovel and a pitchfork moving earth about. But then it totally looks like a garden and is worth the seven-and-counting blisters and the total soreness from toes to upper back that neither cold compresses nor a complete lack of movement can alleviate.

The red ladies, meanwhile, have been doing an excellent job of fattening up and muffling about.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

short notice

If anyone was debating whether or not to visit this coming weekend, 5/21-5/23, please let me encourage you to do so. We have a lot going on with the garden, tons of manual labor, and a fair amount of skilled tasks as well if you're up to it. Also the weather is looking nice. I'll grill you some chicken.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tardy Garden

Some of you have inquired as to the status of the Ambitious Garden. Well. It is often hard to focus on such endeavors when there are so many soothing post-work activities.

I mean, when 5 o'clock can be rosé in a jar and a pristine forest lake, how can one spend time churning up garden soil with a pitchfork?

Clearly, not us. But it is also clear that, due to freakish snow and completely unacceptable wind situations this week, it is probably a good thing that the seedlings are still safe and cozy inside. Procrastination has yielded nothing, it turns out, but prudence.

The seedlings are getting a little big for their britches, it is true. But we have an ace up our sleeves for the garden this weekend, plus at least 27 feathery surprises to prepare for.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Midweek Literary Device

From the ages of maybe 10 to 17, I carried Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in my suitcase on every trip I went on. It was a kind of literary teddy bear -- even if I never opened it, I got a strange comfort from knowing that the Duchess, the Cheshire Cat and the Mock Turtle were nearby, along with the non-sequiturs, poems, and the general reign of nonsense that the book celebrated.

So, when the White Rabbit showed up, I immediately knew he was trying to tell me something.

One would think that he would act more, you know, late, and I was assuming his pocket watch would be more obvious. And, apparently, he had abandoned his waist-coat. A smart move, since he likes to sit on manure piles.

I've attempted to follow him a couple times since he showed up (uncoincidentally, shortly after Easter), but I think that the Big Man's attempts to kill him with a hammer and make him into soup the first time he hopped into the barn have made him somewhat skittish and protective of his rabbit hole.

Nonetheless, I've seen him every day for the last month or so, a pink-eyed, brilliantly white non-sequitur who has somehow contrived to evade local birds of prey, dogs and coyotes all the while managing to be the only very white thing for miles, who seems to take great pleasure in sitting for hours in the open.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Meet the Ladies

Finally, in addition to the celery and its ever-growing seedling army, we have Actual Animals on the Farm: three two-month-old yorkshire-duroc gilts.

So, now, when you come to visit, we can chase piglets about. It is very fun to chase piglets about. Also: difficult to catch them.

I am very into the ladies, and have already identified and classified at least 12 kinds of noises, which vary from bird-like to very piggy sounding to growls (the last only when they met Ursula). They are lively, inquisitive, smart and hungry: exactly what a piglet should be.

They came from a farm that feeds its pigs only on pasture, which is wonderful for us, because as soon as they saw grass they knew what to do.

Of course, they also gobbled up the sweet potato peelings that we threw them last night. They are also oddly interested in munching on shoes.

For now, they are indoor pigs unless supervised, since we don't have the electric fence up and running yet, and on their first couple excursions into the outside pen they proved themselves to be extremely adept rooters, even walking along on their front knees like warthogs. We're enhancing their diet with some corn mash for now, and I will be letting them out for some extremely entertaining play-time each evening after work.