Archive for the ‘poultry’ Category

Mangels are great pig food for the winter months since the store very well and are a high-energy food, good for helping animals keep warm when the temperatures drop.   We harvested a 30 x 50 foot bed two days ago; the crop was just fair, but even that is about 1500 lb. of roots, plus there are all the tops to feed out right away — about 200 lb. of high-iron greens.  Fall is abundant in its provision — we are backed up with farm-produced calories for the animals.  It helps to have some experience in determining how to put these to put these to the best use — for timing, for the right animals, in the right proportions and combinations.  On the farm, there is no such thing as waste.


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Cheese making has many permutations.  There are enough curds in a ten-gallon cheese that we can steal some for the chickens’ daily protein ration and never miss them.  Whey goes to the pigs, except the quart we’ve reserved to backslop the next cheese.  Now the cheese cabinet is nearly full, it’s time to buy in a couple of extra calves and take the burden of milk processing off the cheese makers.

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Our average temperature over the last few weeks has been about ten degrees – that’s Fahrenheit, for our friends in Canada – and the impact of such low temperatures reaches into every aspect of our days and nights.  Life becomes a response to the weather, maybe like being on a tall ship in a big storm, where there is some overall plan but also constant adjustment to event.  This morning at five the thermometer said it was 31 degrees, and we are relaxing into the lull.  The chickens, after dropping way down for the cold spell, are picking up again – today thirty-four hens gave us seven eggs, about twenty percent lay.


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Poultry serve multiple purposes on our farm, moving over pastures and gardens in (at the moment) four different flocks of from ten to thirty layers and a couple of roosters.  Some of the birds clean up after the grazing animals, but about half of them are pastured in garden areas where we want to apply some high-nitrogen fertilizer, clean up insect pests, scrap out weed seedlings, or flatten a grown-in-place mulch.  In the fall, though, when laying slows down, we cull non-layers so we don’t carry so many birds through the winter.  This isn’t done on the basis of age, at least not solely — some twenty of our birds are in their fifth year and still productive — but according to a physical examination that considers the space between their pelvic bones, the space between the pelvic bones and the keel bone, the color of their feet and legs, and the condition of their vent.

Two fingers or more space between the pelvic bones, four between pelvis and keel, bleached legs (not yellow), and a moist, open vent are what we are looking for, and three out of four of these will usually win that hen a reprieve from the hatchet.  Last week we went over all the birds; seventeen didn’t make the cut.  A very busy morning for three of us, and (for one) an afternoon with a couple of canners.  Only two birds had eggs in them, which we would consider a good score; the older birds we kept seem to be laying at about sixty percent, not bad for November.  We’ve had a lower rate of lay, but much better luck with longevity in our layers since we switched from commercial laying mash to fermented whole grains with no GM or soy; and our mix of whole grains, supplemented three or four times a week with milk or meat scraps, is much cheaper per pound than commercial feed.

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The new chicken tractor is as easy to move as a wheelbarrow, making it a good choice for use by our oldest grandchildren.  It holds five birds comfortably (27 square feet of space) and creates good impact on the pasture we are presently renewing.  In the winter it will be a great tractor for use in the garden, where we put chickens over the dormant raised beds to clean up weeds.  In the fall, they will be followed by a sowing of winter-hardy greens, or else a green manure of rye; when the weather turns really cold, bare soil will be covered by a good mulch of hay or shredded leaves.

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When August arrives it hits like an express train; suddenly everything needs to be done at once.  Corn needs to be picked, blanched and frozen; peaches need to be canned; fifty Cornish Rock crosses are ready to make the great Transition.  Milk is coming into the house at the rate of between fifteen and twenty gallons a DAY, and if it weren’t for the calves and pigs we would be drowning.

Today was a typical day, or rather on the relaxed side:  all we did was make a five-pound Appalachia (hard cheese) and some butter, freeze corn, pick blueberries, milk twice, move the cows’ paddock twice, thin mangels to feed the pigs, run into town for a couple of hours, cook and clean up after three meals, find housing for two turkey poults that came in from the pasture in somebody’s pocket, work on our various computer jobs, finish the wire in the windows of the hen coupe, pick seven gallons of green beans, process loads of laundry, do lots of dishes over and above the ones for meals, …I’m running out of ideas even though I’m sure I haven’t exhausted the day.


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Wednesday, March 3:

For twenty-five minutes yesterday morning, while the sisters chanted an Easter alleluia and the sunrise warmed faintly the sandstone behind the altar at Our Lady of Sorrows, clouds of snow fell horizontally beneath a clear sky.  Our weather knows no limits.  Referral to our records of past years confirms our memory of warm March days and sunny Aprils, but such are not the offerings of Anno Domini twenty-thirteen in this little corner of the Beautiful valley.

Isabel, the down cow, is still getting up, but we fret to have her out with the animals in the big pasture.  Any question about the superiority of their fodder to our first- and second-cutting square bales is settled by one look at the conditions of the various animals.  The animals on pasture at the monastery hardly look as though they have come through a winter at all; they are solid , stocky animals with thick , fluffy coats.  The three lactating cows which have spent the winter on hay in the home pasture are craggy, scraggy old girls with accumulations of mud and manure on their legs despite the clean bedding we lay down for them.  We are serious in our intention to keep them all on stockpiled grass at the monastery this winter, if only we can work the kinks out of our portable milking house.

The patient Sussex hen who has laid a clutch of eggs in the corner of the wall by the greenhouse is impervious to all discomforts.  She has been there almost two weeks, with yet another week to go if she is to hatch those eggs.  The boys building the summer kitchen first noticed her from the vantage point of the loft of the new building; being wise to the ways of little girls they did not share their knowledge, but left the hen to her delusions of invisibility.  Cowboy, the blue-heeler pup (inelegantly known as “Squirt”), crashed through the English ivy one day and stumbled on her; but not even his shrill conversation was enough to drive her from her post.  When the little girls finally discovered her their too-zealous urge to make her comfortable by crowding in close and offering her food, water, pregnancy books and fruit coolers nearly gave her a disgust for the whole business, but the girls were persuaded in time that the Sussex was better equipped and informed than they for the hatching of hen’s eggs, and now they, and she, observe one another from a distance, and slant-wise.   We fervently wish her luck; it was with the hope of getting hens which could hatch their own eggs that we first bought the Sussex flock.

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