Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015!!

It's the obligatory end of the year post. And it's been a heckuva year.  I didn't make this public knowledge for various reasons, but most of you might be aware that I ran the farm solo in 2014. At Thanksgiving, 2013, Larry took a year assignment at Bloomberg in NYC. That left Shannonigans and I to run the farm on our own. I was promoted to a supervisor role at work shortly before that, so my off-farm duties grew, and my on farm duties doubled. It was quite a juggling act. I'm coming clean now because Larry is back home, safe and sound, and helping with the farm once again. Let's take a look at 2014..

We started the year with a new resident in the house. Her name is Nina, and she's an older Belgian Tervuren. She had some medical issues and lord-knows what kind of training in her 10 years before she came to us. She's a bit crazy at times, but sure takes care of the young'uns around the farm. She helped a lot with our little bottle lamb, Hattie, who was born in a very cold February morning and abandoned by her mama.
Hattie is such a trooper! She even rode in the Berthoud Day parade! She waited until the parade was over before she relieved herself on the trailer, thank goodness it was my trailer so I didn't mind!
2014 was a great year for lambing. Jason StathRam, shown below, was a prolific breeder, and he gave us plenty of gorgeous lambs. We have kept 3 of the ewes and grew our permanent flock to 17 ewes. Jason, however, became a bit of a stinker, and he went to the butcher on June 5th. This was after a brutal beating he gave me, where I took 8 hits in a row before I could safely get over a fence. I fended him off with the heel of my boots before I could scramble to safety. You don't turn your back on an angry ram! We're glad he was a good papa, but he wasn't much for manners!

After a year hiatus, we finally made it back to the Farmer's Market! Berthoud Local organized a wonderful market for us this summer, and at the end of the season, I finally started attending again. It was well worth it and great to make new friends again, at the market!  We also participated in the Farm to Table dinner hosted by Berthoud Local. What a fun event! I enjoyed being one of the sous chefs for the weekend!

We brought home some new mousers this year, and were surprised with a litter of kittens! All the kitties found good homes, and mama and the kitten we kept were both spayed, so no more kittens on our farm! My toes can finally dangle out from under the covers again without being ambushed in the middle of the night!

We amassed a great crew of volunteers for turkey processing weekend and got the work done in record time. We also ran a crowd-funding campaign to purchase our new turkey plucker, that really helped keep the process moving for us, and some decent weather didn't hurt, either! 

I started prepping for winter as early as I could, bringing in hay, setting up heated water tanks and getting in the firewood. Again, all with the help of neighbors and friends, take a look at the list of things we accomplished this year...

We raised a few less chickens this year, due to the reduction in work force, kept sheep activities to a minimum, but tried to keep our turkey flock at increased pace for the growing demand for holiday turkeys. All year long, I depended on volunteers to help all throughout the years. My crew of helpers helped me vaccinate lambs, they helped me shovel a LOT OF POO, and they helped process poultry. We did a lot of work on the farm this year to help reduce the daily chore load. 
  • Automatic waterers for all animal areas to ensure plenty of daily water, rain or shine
  • A new hay storage area that is sheep-proof and safe for people to get in and out of
  • Heated water systems for winter that store enough water for each poultry area for 2 weeks of water usage
  • Bigger poultry feeders to ensure feeding for at least a week in each poultry area - extra benefit is that they are sheep-proof if tipped over!
  • Fenced in turkey run and chicken runs this year to keep poultry safely where they belong - this reduces dog accidents, and sheep eating their food. It also eliminated the need for electric fencing which can sometimes be harmful to the sheep
  • A new duck house that is more wind and rain resistant and provide a safer home for our duckies to sleep at night
  • A 4th compost bin, which we promptly filled. We found that shoveling poo isn't such a horrible job if you have good company and good conversation!
  • WE replaced 8 dead trees in the orchard, and discovered they are likely being done in by voles
  • We brought in Katniss and Ginger (and we "hatched" Lynx) as our new cat army to exterminate the voles and mice around the farm
  • We eliminated the Mycoplasma from our farm!
  • We switched our egg layers and some of our meat birds, and our ducks to organic, GMO-free feed!
A lot of those things eased the chore list and eased my mind knowing my critters would be safe while I was off at work. But there is still more work to do. What did we NOT do this year?
  • We didn't grow any plants. Well, the mint grows on its own. But nothing was planted, and the strawberries were weeded just enough to keep them going for the year.
  • We didn't have eggs. Not a one. We finally started getting eggs laying by the very end of the year, but didn't get our hens until mid-summer so that we knew we were myco-free.
  • We didn't have eggs, which means we didn't hatch anything. No incubator action for an entire year.
  • We didn't raise any cattle. But we're thinking about getting just one in spring.
  • We didn't raise as many meat chickens as we could have. I just didn't have time, and what I raised was way less than my demand, but I had to make some cuts somewhere.
There's always a long list of things to do for the year. And I swear, this is the year I sew some covers for my pluckers. I really hope I do that. And I hope we build a sink-stand and set up a kitchen sink near the processing area. I do hope I can get that done. Little improvements every year. We'll see what 2015 brings for us!
Have a safe, and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Holy moly, we just got home from driving Larry home from NYC. We checked the coops, and voila, we had eggs. Now, these are young birds, so the eggs are still small. And it's the wrong time of year for good egg production, BUT, at long last, after an entire eggless year, we have eggs again.

Depending on how their production goes, we may have a dozen or two available every other week. We won't have a lot of eggs, but some, on occasion. Some are organic, GMO free fed birds, some (very very very few - we only have 6 chickens on non-organic feed) will be conventional feed. All the birds are outside, free range.

The organics live in our chicken truck, and there are about 150 of them, plus some roosters. These are Rhode Island Reds, and come march, I'll start hatching some more to grow the flock.

The non-organics live in a small coop in our backyard, called the "love shack".  It was used in past years as a breeding house to isolate specific breeds, but now is home to a small flock of Speckled Sussex. I'll be breeding them, too. But for now, the weather is too cold for hatching, and fertility rates will be low. So whatever doesn't get cracked or eaten by us, we'll set aside to sell.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Organic Transition

We are in the process of transitioning our farm to feed our animals organic feed. We will not be able to be certified organic until the transition is complete +3 years after that.  So it will be a while before we can claim we are certified.

We are doing it for ONE main reason - to get GMOs out of our food, and support agriculture that doesn't use chemicals. We are also doing it because our customers want us to, for the same reason just stated. People care about their food and what is put in their bodies. Therefore, we care what is put in our animals' bodies.

Why aren't we just switching overnight? Because it's expensive. I just purchased 2 tons of layer feed for my chickens at over $2000. Those are going to be some expensive eggs. I recently purchased 2 tons of non-organic feed for some of our meat birds at less than $800.  The price difference is ALMOST 3x.

Some of our customers don't balk when I tell them that an organic chicken is $7/lb, or a duck is $7.5/ lb. I haven't priced my eggs yet, but it'll be up there. That's partly why I still raise some meat birds on non-organic feed. Many people can't afford the price difference, or choose not to. Many justify that the bird being happy and living outside and eating grass is enough for them. That's totally fine with me.  It's why I still offer a non-organic bird.

But for many other reasons, I want everything on my farm to be organic. I don't want another penny of my farm's money going to Monsanto. I don't want GMO grains in my feed. I don't want my grains sprayed with round-up, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides. I don't want these things sprayed on my chicken feed because those things kill bees and beneficial creepy crawlies living in the soil. I don't want this stuff.

But this year, the farm is suffering due to the price. What have we done so far?

All my egg layers are now being fed organic feed. It took them 6 weeks to eat $1000 worth of feed. And guess what, THEY AREN'T LAYING EGGS YET. There is no income coming in while they chow down on some very expensive food.

My ducks are also eating organic. Not as much, but one 5 gallon bucket a day. They, also, are not yet laying eggs, or old enough to be butchered. No income coming in for them either, yet.

My meat chickens were about 25% raised organic this year. I will raise more. They pay their feed back much more quickly. But I will still raise some on conventional feed for folks that can't handle the price. Eventually we will switch away and go all organic.

It does require managing 2 types of feed, segregating flocks, and working a little bit harder to keep everyone organized. Which isn't fun. And we were unable to separate any turkeys this year, since they can fly, they would be swapping groups and I would actually not have very many truly organic birds if they kept flying in and out of pens.

So the organic transition has been rough so far, financially. We lost a lot of money this year, as I have been feeding egg layers for 6 months, with no income to compensate for their expensive feed. We'll have to feather it in slowly on the meat birds until we make the full transition, and until our customer base can handle the transition.

So that is our plan, hopefully in a few years - maybe even the demand for organic feed will go up, and the price will come down. Or really, what we need is the government to STOP subsidizing GMO corn production, and get feed pricing balanced. It shouldn't cost 3X MORE to grow grains without using chemicals and patented seeds. Don'tcha think?