Saturday, July 30, 2016

New Website!


Check out the new site, www.longshadowfarm.com



We've loved using Blogger all these years for our website. Did you realize this was a free blogging site that I transformed into a full webpage?

It's been a great and easy interface. However, it isn't very mobile friendly. So I started working on a new website. It's not perfect, definitely better for the mobile environment. I've moved almost all the content over there. If you still want to see older articles I wrote (I may move the more educational ones over to the new site)  They will still be here...  you can find this blog by clicking under "Home" "Our Old Blog" and it will bring you back to here.

I do need to scour the net for any links that direct straight to the blogger URL, which I have screened through our domain name, and get those switched over. I will start clearing out some of the sidebar stuff and tabs on this site. It will eventually just be a blog again.

I won't be adding new content here, just taking the best posts and moving them over as needed.

Check out the new site, www.longshadowfarm.com


I think it's pretty darn slick!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Turkey in July!

Kristin made an OOPS!

Here, I'll tell you the long version. I place all my chick orders for the year in December. Usually get discounted pricing that way, and I get to set the exact dates I want. However, turkeys are usually not available for order in December, you have to wait until spring.

This year I waited a bit too long and almost didn't get my orders in. In my rush to get what I wanted, when I wanted, I shopped my 3 favorite hatcheries. Some have different variety options. I usually order surplus heritage birds for my spring delivery. I am not concerned with breed, and they are less expensive that way. Except, I didn't read the fine print on my order this time...

They usually list a bunch of breeds and guarantee you'll get birds from at least 2 or 3 of the breeds listed. What I didn't notice in my rush was that Broadbreasted Bronzes and Giant Whites were two of the breeds listed in my surplus package.

That's ALL I GOT! Not a single heritage bird! (Which is fine, because I ended up hatching 200 of my own, and don't really need them now).

But I did end up with double breasted turkeys in APRIL. I usually order them in June and July to be ready by Thanksgiving (don't worry, I still have those available, my July babies come next week!)

So what I am saying here is.... I have turkeys that need to go NOW. Anyone interested in an early turkey?  We will likely butcher some July 31, and we don't have the freezer space for them, so if you want one, you would need to come and get it!

Turkey in July!

Kristin made an OOPS!

Here, I'll tell you the long version. I place all my chick orders for the year in December. Usually get discounted pricing that way, and I get to set the exact dates I want. However, turkeys are usually not available for order in December, you have to wait until spring.

This year I waited a bit too long and almost didn't get my orders in. In my rush to get what I wanted, when I wanted, I shopped my 3 favorite hatcheries. Some have different variety options. I usually order surplus heritage birds for my spring delivery. I am not concerned with breed, and they are less expensive that way. Except, I didn't read the fine print on my order this time...

They usually list a bunch of breeds and guarantee you'll get birds from at least 2 or 3 of the breeds listed. What I didn't notice in my rush was that Broadbreasted Bronzes and Giant Whites were two of the breeds listed in my surplus package.

That's ALL I GOT! Not a single heritage bird! (Which is fine, because I ended up hatching 200 of my own, and don't really need them now).

But I did end up with double breasted turkeys in APRIL. I usually order them in June and July to be ready by Thanksgiving (don't worry, I still have those available, my July babies come next week!)

So what I am saying here is.... I have turkeys that need to go NOW. Anyone interested in an early turkey?  We will likely butcher some July 31, and we don't have the freezer space for them, so if you want one, you would need to come and get it!  I think I'll create a sign up form....

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Happy Turkey Family

So many turkey babies have hatched this year! It's just amazing.  My incubator was full of eggs from April through June. I actually had to delay hatching some because my big incubator was full, my little incubator was full and I just had to hold some back until space was available.

We had three short term brooder boxes in the house. This got the turkeys through their first few days until they could handle the colder nights in the brooder in the barn. We had all 4 barn brooders full of birds at one point (including chickens). It was crazy.

The girls are done laying and some are hatching their own outside.

This is the tricky part.

#1) You need to provide places the girls will want to lay. That helps you collect the eggs daily, or you can choose to let them brood on it. The main point here is to keep the ladies AT HOME! If they don't have a good nesting spot, they will leave the property, then they are coyote bait. I don't like to lose my mama's!  We provide big dog houses, nesting boxes in their coop, and several hay bale huts that they loved to lay in! That was great, next year we will do a LOT more of those!  It still wasn't enough, and we had girls at the neighbors' houses, by the end of the driveway, in our front yard, etc. If they were out alone in a field, I likely never knew they were gone and they were eaten.

#2) Turkeys are much better at hatching their eggs than my incubator. So we collected eggs from nests that got abandoned. Some of them just wouldn't sit on them at night, so we gathered those up and incubated them. According to my records, we had 644 eggs that went through the incubator. WOW!  WE had an 84% fertility rate from those, and of the 84% that were fertile, 73% hatched. Now, that's a lot of turkeys, but that isn't the survival rate. Some may hatch and not survive for varying reasons - splay leg, wry neck, birth defects (I had one with no legs!), accidents, and other things turkeys seem prone to.  Those are just the incubated eggs! We had plenty of stalwart mamas that hatched their own

#3) So here's the real question - when a mama hatches her own, what do you do?  Typically, we take the babies and brood them. We have a history of mamas hatching their eggs and none of the babies make it. They disappear at night, maybe to snakes or owls. Maybe the mama wanders off with the babies, and SHE was grabbed by a coyote. The other thing is they may hatch inside the turkey run, where there are a LOT of other turkeys who peck at them, and they don't survive. So any babies hatched inside the turkey run get taken and put in a brooder. We had a family in the front yard we thought were doing OK, until she spent the night down by the pond - and she got killed by a coyote. We found 7 of her 8 babies and got them into a brooder.

So this brings me to our latest mama... Actually, 2 mamas! Two bourbon red hens hatched something between 12 and 18 chicks (they move too fast, too hard to count!)  This was after we lost the previously mentioned mama to a coyotes...  I thought back to many years ago when Friend Bird, our chicken, raised 3 chicks on her own to full adulthood. We actually moved her and the little ones into the BARN, so they could sleep inside at night where it was safe. (That third Naragansett hen is one who just sort of joined the brood, silly mama, those aren't your babies!)



Brilliant!  The front yard was scaring them off because out sprinklers go off in the morning. But it's the safest place for them - no other turkeys to peck the babies, no dogs or puppies to chase the babies, no lambs to accidentally step on the babies.... but the sprinklers made them leave the property.

So we picked up 2 Bourbon mamas and brought them into the barn and made sure all the little babies followed. We gave them food and water in the barn and kept them in for a few days. There is a ledge on the doorway out, it took a little over a week before the babies could hop up that ledge.  Now the whole family wanders the front yard during the day, eating bugs and whatnot, and at night they come back to the barn to go to sleep. These little buggers are almost big enough now that if I had brooded them, we'd be putting them outside on their own. They stick together pretty well. We've had to herd them back from the pond a few times, just to make sure they come home. But all is well. It might be the first chance we get at a turkey mama (or two) raising their babies to adulthood!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Farmer's Market

I am a little late in posting this, as the Farmer's Market started the last Saturday in June. We're now in FICKEL PARK! Which is so awesome! Big shady trees, right in the center of town. And Berthoud Local has done a great job of organizing some fun events. We kicked off in the park WITH Hops and Harley, which was great.  Today we are having a Front Range Rally at the market, too!

The secret here is that there will be beer again! How to make my market days so much more fun, food and beer!  Check out Berthoud Local for the dates of our market and other special events, such as Dog Day and the Farm Stand Band!

Monday, June 27, 2016

There's a New Sheriff in Town

A few weeks back, we brought home this little pile of fluff and silliness...



His name is Loki. We got him from SkyPilot Farm and Creamery in Longmont. He's fitting right in on the farm. He's made friends with Squeaky, our little disabled lamb. He loves to follow us around to do chores. He gets attention from Hercules, who keeps him warm at night. And Atlas and Goliath are coming around. Once he gets a bit bigger, I bet he'll go patrolling with them, too.

His mom is Colorado Mountain Dog, and his dad is old-school European Great Pyrenees. He's showing real promise, comes when he is called, knows his name. We'll work on more with him as he gets bigger. But he's loving life on the farm, especially chicken processing days, where he gets hand fed chicken livers. YUM!

Hopefully, he'll be spot on in about an year, and will allow Goliath to fully retire from working. We'd love Atlas to retire, too, but I don't think he has any plans to do so. That boy is a farm dog through and through, and takes his work very seriously.

We're happy to have this little bugger join the crew.  Come on out to the farm to see him, and we will likely bring him to the Berthoud Farmer's Market on July 9 for Kids Day, and  August 13 for Dog Day!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Our barn owls

A few years back, a customer of ours put us in touch with his friend, Scott Rashid from the Colorado Avian Research and Rehabilitation Institute.  He was looking for places to put barn owl boxes on farms to create places for barn owls to nest and hopefully raise their young.  Their main source of food are things like mice and voles, which we are happy to have someone help us eliminate.  (As a side note, we never use poisons, because it puts our dogs and cats at risk of ingesting a poisoned mouse, but also can put wildlife like snakes and owls at risk.)

Our cats do a great job with the mouse population, but they could use some help. We thought this was an awesome addition to the farm, and gives our mouse-fighting army some assistance with an air battalion!

Here's the barn owl house they installed on the east side of our barn.
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Scott has been out to check and verified that not only did we have barn owls living in our house, but they hatched some eggs! We kept an eye out in the evenings to look for mom or dad flying in and out. Photos were hard to capture.  Here is a night shot of one of the adults out on a hunting trip.



Scott set up a time to bring his team out to tag the owls in our house. In this photo, he has the opening covered by a net in the hopes an adult would be there. The adult would likely try to fly out, but we would band that bird too.



No luck on mom or dad being present. But there were 6 owlets in the box! Boy do these owls scream! They sound like banshees, but they were just letting us know they were upset at being disturbed.  Scott brought all the owlets down and put them in containers, so they could be banded.



The metal leg bands don't hurt them, and allow them to be tracked. Scott's research has shown that not only do the parents NOT return to the same nest the following year, neither do the owlets. So once these little guys can fly, we won't see them again. But in the meantime, mom and dad are bringing back lots of mice to feed them, which is great.



Scott has said he has found owls he has banded tracked to New Mexico, Illinois and even upstate New York! I didn't realize these birds traveled so far.  He also said they are not on the endangered list, but their habitats are dwindling, so they are at risk. We're happy to host them on our farm any time. Good luck little birds! You are always welcome on the farm!





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Monday, May 30, 2016

A little extra vet care

We've had an interesting year this year. We've had to step in on a few sheep related activities that we wish we didn't have to. We've had to make decisions quickly and with Merck's Vet manual as our guide.  We love our sheep vet (Dr. Flinchum, if you have livestock and live near us, is worth his weight in PLATINUM, EMERALDS and TUNGSTEN all combined!)  However, there are times when that man doesn't need to be called out. Really early in the morning, in the middle of the night, sometimes we have to take action.

Not sure if this is due to weather, or some sort of planetary alignment, karma, or any other non-scientific excuse I can come up with.  But our world certainly shifted on its axis when Shirley gave birth to triplets, and refused to feed them.

We took over, but we had several weird issues this winter with super-lethargic sheep. We lost two of them. When two more went limp, we read up on some of their symptoms and thought - they are either going to die, or not and some penicillin might not hurt. It didn't hurt. Those two got better. Those were 2 of Shirley's triplets, Spike and Pipsqueak. Spike is a spunky little nugget. He was the one I really thought we would lose. He's growing like a weed. A little over 3.5 months old he is not thrilled that he is being weaned from his bottle.

His brother, Squeaky, though... Something happened to him, and we don't know what. Sometimes, bottle lambs try to steal milk off other moms. Some of them are successful (Princess Celestia never took a bottle after her mom died, and is independent and has another mom who looks out for her). Squeaky might have tried this technique and got butted HARD from a mom who didn't want to share with him. He may have accidentally been stepped on by a cow in the stall, he was so very little.  His body movements were reminiscent of Tetanus. (get your tetanus shots, folks, this is NOT fun stuff).  We didn't have the antitoxin at the house. (I used it all, unsuccessfully, on Ferdinand, our cow. The vet told me that once they show symptoms, the antitoxin is too late)  Larry wanted me to give him the vaccine, just in case. Again, saying if he was going to die anyway, the vaccine wouldn't hurt. We did. He never got better, but has not gotten worse. That was weeks ago.

Now Squeaky is not growing like his brother. His front legs are stiff as is his neck. He has learned to compensate by going down on his front knees to eat, since he can't drop his head. We continue to bottle feed, and likely will for his whole life. He is growing, just not at the rate of his twin brother. It now takes 2 hands to scoop up Squeaky, but I can carry him with ease. Spike is a meaty little handful and I only pick him up if I have to. Spike, Squeaks and Loras (a relatively new bottle baby) all spend their days in the backyard. Since Squeak moves so slowly, and none of the three have a mom looking out for them, they are safest there. I've fenced off my newly planted trees, so they don't eat them, and they are all doing great. They actually all head to the backyard every morning on their own. Spike and Loras can squeeze under a gap in the gate. Squeaky just waits for me to come open it for him. Such a sweetheart. You guys might see him and Loras a few times at the Farmers Market this summer.

OK, here's the real story... I've been wondering if I should tell it. SPOILER ALERT: There is a happy ending.

Here's the part that sucks. We got a new tractor (OK, that doesn't suck) and with a little rambunctious activity cleaning the barn, we've busted both of the bottom beams that go across the stall doors, part of the door farm. One of them is just missing, so there's a gap there.  The other one is cockeyed and it makes it REALLY HARD to close that stall door. I need to use my whole behind to slam it shut and push the latch.

One night, someone closed that stall door. Since it's SO INCREDIBLY hard to close, this individual did not realize anything was wrong. If a lamb cried out, that happens at night as they try to find each other to go to sleep at night.

The next morning, I went and let all the sheep out. I opened said stall door and noticed that it appeared a lamb had gotten a leg caught in the gap between the door and that misshapen board. I thought "wow, she must have been stuck there all night". She didn't get up right away, so I assumed her legs had fallen asleep in that position.  When she did get up, I realized she had been more than stuck. One of her rear legs was broken just above the hoof.

She was only a few days old, and I scooped her up and ran to the house. We poured betadyne over her wound (the bone had broken through) I found a stick about the right length, and some stretch wrap and Larry and I fixed her up for the time. She never cried out, she never fought back, and she hobbled off to her concerned mama and took a long drink.

That night when we got home, Larry made some proper splits out of some aluminum material we had laying around.  We wrapped them up proper, and resplinted her leg. In two weeks, we took those off and resplinted, to make sure they were aligned properly as her legs grew. I realized that of all the bones that could have broken, those on her lower leg were the easiest for us to splint, and a leg she could stand to not use for a little while with little impact. Her mama was patient, since she moved a little slower than her big brother. And mama never went to far from her, even if the rest of the herd was elsewhere. All that fresh milk (and calcium) from mom would help that bone grow together. After 4 weeks, we resplinted again, and saw the the wound had healed and her leg seemed to be fused together. We gave her another 2 weeks and removed the splint for good.

She's had the splint off for several weeks now, and we see that she is using that leg again. Not as well as the other, I think she's got some atrophy to get over, and maybe some of her own lack of confidence that her leg is OK. It's not misshapen, she never got an infection, and she's running around, keeping up with her brother.

Our take aways here, firstly, are to always check the stall doors before we close them. Secondly, we are thankful for all our first aid training from back in the day when we were lifeguards. I've had to use those skills more often than I wish I needed them (CPR on a rugby player, was my most recent use of those skills. Wish I didn't have to do that). But so glad we had a willing patient, and were able to fix her up. It's been such a strange spring with weird animal issues, and so happy that for the most part, we have happy endings. I'll see if I can get some pictures of our little patient, but at the time, we didn't take any, as caring for her was more important than a kodak moment. But I'll try to post a happy picture of her with her healed up leg later.  Thanks for reading, folks!

OK, here she is. The leg in question is the rear, right leg, facing us in the photo.. I'm really proud of her progress here.  This is Cersei. I love her white tail!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hatching Update

We are hatching up a storm this year. My incubator is filled with turkey eggs. There are 244 eggs in there right now, with another 41 in the hatching tray. My inside brooders are filled to the brim, my outside brooder has a few birds in it, and we have already taken some to their forever outside home with the big birds.

My hatching rates are way up this year, as are my fertility rates. I'm not sure what made the big change but I was even super successful at hatching ducklings. I ever have been in the past!

Here's some stats...

My chicken fertility rate was 85%, and hatch rate was 90%.  That fertility rate was lowered, as I discovered my Speckled Sussex rooster would not fertilize his Speckled Sussex ladies, but instead, took a liking to a couple of Rhode Island Reds. I have a few mixed breed chickens out there now.

My ducks this year had a fertility rate of 85%, and hatch rate of 72%. Keep in mind, in past years, these numbers were in the 20s and 30s. AMAZING. And my drake, what a trooper!

For the turkeys, so far, I have a fertility rate of 91% and a hatch rate of 86%. Best year ever. I also have the most hens to lay this year, so I have more eggs than I can get into my incubator, there's a several day wait period before they can even get in. 

Now let's look at the numbers.  I sold about 300 chicks last year, so I thought I would try that again. I hatched about 100 chicks this spring. I didn't sell very many, so I've got a solid start on my replacement flock, as well as some meat roosters for the fall.


For ducklings, I hatched 87 ducklings! Wow, I did sell a few. And Aside from Paddles, most of the drakes will be sold as meat in the fall.


Now, onto the turkeys. that incubator is going to run until they stop laying mid-summer. So far we have hatched 210 turkey poults. HOLY MOLY.  I may start selling them soon, and we have lost a few along the way. Turkey poults are way more fragile than ducklings and chicks. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kristin's Chili Cheat recipe

OK, so when Larry was in New York for all of 2014, I got into a pretty close relationship with my crock pot. Being away at work during the day, and coming home to a 5 year old, and a farm full of animals, dinner needed to be fast and easy. I've been finding more and more amazing crock pot recipes, I really need to start posting more to the recipe page here.

But this is one I came up with all on my own.  It's pretty common on poultry processing days, that I'll fire this up in the morning, so we have lunch ready when we are done with the birds.

Now, you are thinking "sweetheart, I know how to make chili, and I know how to use my crock pot...

Yes, but I cheated. In the middle of winter, when I am forced to buy veggies at the grocery store, I came up with this... (because I prefer fresh, local stuff than anything from a grocery store)

Now, first, what are the main, basic ingredients in chili?  Meat (whatever you like, can be ground or cut into chunks), onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, chicken stock, cumin and chili powder.

First, I always have meat in the freezer. So here is cheat #1:  I use stew meat. Ground meat has to be browned before putting it in the crock pot. I made the mistake once of NOT doing that, it was pretty gross. But browning the meat takes time. You can toss in stew meat still FROZEN, if you let your crock pot cook long enough, it'll all be cooked.  (Of course, you can skip the meat altogether and just make veggie chili). I've used lamb, beef and YAK! It was so good!

Cheat #2: This really isn't a cheat. But I make my own chicken stock, I use it as a base in my chili. I don't have to do anything, again, I make a ton all year long, and just freeze it. You can just dump the big frozen chunk right into the crock pot, it'll melt, believe me.   So on a day that you DO have time on your hands... here's what you can do.  Take a chicken - if you buy from us, get a STEW HEN (they are less expensive, but more flavorful and perfect for stock)  Toss that sucker in the crock pot (again, it can go in FROZEN) fill it with celery, onions, carrots, thyme, sage, rosemary... and load it up with water. Let that cook on low in your crock pot for 8 hours. After, you can pull out the chicken.  I debone the meat, and use it for something else (like chicken pot pie, or mix it into my daughter's mac'n'cheese), I feed the bones to my dogs (I know it is a no-no, but they have iron jaws and iron stomachs and they annihilate those bones).  The cooked veggies go to the dogs, too OR to my chickens, who LOVE them. I strain the liquid, pour it into containers and freeze. 

How To Make Chicken Broth In A Crock Pot! | Soletshangout.com #chickenbroth #crockpot #paleo #primal #glutenfree #fromscratch #guthealting #jerf
 

Are you raising your own chickens, and then bringing them to me for processing? Ask to take home the NECKS separately, or use an old layer who isn't laying anymore. I also use chicken necks just for making stock. Same deal as above, but at the end, the whole neck goes to my pups.

OK, so making your own chicken stock isn't much of a cheat. But, before the end, you'll see that almost none of my chili comes from anything bought at a standard grocery store...

Cheat #3: Here is the real kicker, this was my big winter epiphany, my "why didn't I realize this before" moment, my big "what am I going to do with all that" moment... my chili recipe requires onions, peppers (some hot and some sweet), garlic, tomato sauce, cumin....  Guess what ONE PLACE I can get all those things. Don't you dare say the grocery store!!.  CANNED SALSA!  I make my own chunky salsa at the end of harvest from all the veggies I get from either my garden, or the local CSA's I buy from. I make a ton of salsa, more than my family would ever eat as salsa. Not only do I just go to my cellar, grab a jar and pour it in. But think about it, I don't have to chop up all those things. Just grab a quart jar of salsa and pour it into the crock pot. My Salsa is almost done!


(If I want more onions, I also can red onions in honey, and I can add a jar of those to put a little more onion into my chili)

Cheat #4 Well, of course, if I am canning salsa, I am canning tomatoes... get a jar of quartered tomatoes and toss them in, water and all.

Cheat #5 beans.... I don't like buying canned beans. What's in there? Then I have all these cans to recycle, and they are big and heavy, and my pantry shelves are almost falling apart.  I buy dried beans. They are much lighter to store, and I think less expensive, too. I toss those suckers in dry as a bone.  Guess what, ALL DAY in the crock pot, those guys are going to soften up, and they will absorb some of the liquid from the canned tomatoes and salsa and such.

There are no more real cheats after that. I add in a bit more cumin and some chili powder from my spice rack, and I let that all cook all day. If I get a chance, I may stir it once or twice.   But all I have to do is gather 2 spices from my spice rack, 3 jars from my cellar (tomatoes, onions and salsa), beans from my pantry, meat and chicken stock from my freezer, toss it all in... no chopping, no defrosting, no soaking beans... and I have a nice big pot of chili waiting for me.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Baby Birds!

Forget what I said about my dismal hatch rate with ducks. I must have figured out the magic formula. In past years, I was only getting about 20% success in hatching. This year, first of all, my drake is hitting high marks for fertility. My fertility rate is well over 95% with my flock. And now my hatch rate is, too!

A few things that are different... the house temperature is more stable. We now have solar hot water heating the floors of the house, keeping internal temps much more stable, which makes the incubator much more efficient and productive. It doesn't have to fight to hard to maintain its internal temp of 101 degrees.

Second, I started a practice last year of lining the hatching tray with damp towels. This raises the local humidity in the hatching tray, but not to the rest of the incubating eggs.

Third, I started to mist the duck eggs daily. I spray a little water on them, just as mama would coming back from a swim on the pond.

Last,but not least, I give them more time to hatch. Chicken eggs invariably hatch on the appropriate date, all at once and with predictability. I have to let the ducks take their sweet time. It can be 36 hours or more from first pip to them coming out of their shell.

I just hatched 23 our of 27 duck eggs. And that was with several hours of the incubator being OFF during that power outage. I think we went 6 hours before we got a generator turned on, and then another 3 hours when the generator had to go back to its home for use for a bit.

We have soooo many ducklings!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Missing our Shirley

It's been almost a week since we said goodbye to Shirley. It hit me in the gut about halfway to the processor that I would never see her again. I took her in, I didn't let Larry do it, I wanted to be with her as long as I could. I said my goodbyes on the farm, I said them again before I left her. What sometimes feels like the final betrayal, dropping them off in a strange place and then leaving them there. Unlike Alice, she wasn't alone. She was with Hercules. She didn't load into the trailer willingly, but she walked out with him with no fuss, no fanfare.

 I have been enjoying the absence of Hercules. The sheer peacefulness and calm of just sitting near my sheep. I love to just be near them. With Shirley's last lambs sitting in my lap and others coming over to sniff my face, or chew on my sleeves. Hercules' exit has made Shirley's a little easier to bear. But I often forget that she is gone.

 I get asked all the time why we didn't just let her die on the farm. Doesn't it seem best to just let an animal live out its life until it dies, peacefully, on its own? Well, our experience with dogs is that often they don't die peacefully. Often, they are sick, or in pain for some time before they go. We have yet to have a dog die peacefully in its sleep. We've had cancer, hip problems, organ failure and bloating. All are ways that cause pain and difficulty before death comes and eases any of it. All of our dogs have been euthanized. All of them have been loved for every minute, including their last breaths. That's no different than Shirley. It was a quick and painless death, that I can guarantee.

 Sure, I have guilt. Just like I do for the dogs I put down, even when I know the alternative is worse. That the alternative means immobility, pain, confusion and worse. I still feel bad making the decision. But after I put my first dog down, I realized that euthanasia is not murder. It's love, grace, selflessness and compassion. Shirley deserved all of that. Not, she was not, as far as I know, in any pain, but how do I really know? She wasn't producing milk for her babies, so something was clearly wrong. She knew it, too. What else was wrong? I'll never know. But I know she won't suffer, not like others before her. Here's a tiny glimpse. The ladies in grey are mamas that are now passed. I will admit, turning Shirley's name grey was really hard for me.


She's immortalized forever in a spreadsheet. Just like all of her predecessors, and all of her ancestors and friends.  But we'll have so many other memories for her. She means so much to me still. I am so glad I have so many of her babies and grandbabies on the farm.

One of the things that helped me, was that Caleb, from Catching Sunshine Snapshots came out on Shirley's last night and let Shannon and I spend some time and get some photos to remember her by. I think that really helped me let go. 

Just for some perspective... here's a look at Shirley when she was 2, when we first brought her home to the farm.

That's Shirley looking right at us, and Laverne looking behind.

Here's our Shirley girl the night before we said goodbye....

So much grey on her face. What a wonderful old girl. Never gave us any problems, always took care of her babies (until these last ones). She's still the bar I hold all the other girls up to. What a lovely mama, what a kind sheepie. There will never be another Shirley.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Chicks and Ducklings

Our first ducklings hatched this week! We named them Paddles (II) and Cutie Pie.  OK, these two are not for sale, they are keepers for us!

But we have a bunch more eggs in the incubator, as well as my first batch of chicks got sent to lock down just yesterday, so we should have tons of chicks soon!

Of course, our first meat chicks are coming in a few weeks, too. so we'll be surrounded by babies of all types!

Here are our first little duckies!


As we go forward with hatching, you can see how things are progressing here. This spreadsheet shows what's in the incubator, what the fertility and hatching rates are and how many chicks we have available and how old they are.


Baby Chicks
Just hatched:  $3/each
1 week old:  $4/each
2 weeks old: $5/each
3 weeks old: $6/each
 
Duckings
Just hatched: $5/each
1 week old:  $6/each
2 weeks old: $7/each
3 weeks old: $8/each

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hatching!

So excited! It's hatching time again!  My ducks finally started the lay, and they are laying faster than I can sell all the eggs. I only have a small flock of 8 hens and 1 drake. He's been a busy boy. And  I've been wanting to grow my flock some. I've also had some folks interested in purchasing ducklings, so, I got to set up the incubator!!

Now, being an engineer, you know I track everything. Right now, I have several batches of duck eggs setting.  And since my ducks decided in the cold of winter, the preferred sleeping in the barn stalls with the sheep over sleeping in their duck house, they've been laying in the stalls. They are not brooding on them, kind of hard to do when a sheep might step on you. I'd love them to hatch their own, maybe that will happen in the spring, when the weather warms up.

Let's look at some past data. In 2012, I tried my hand at hatching. I think this is the year we hatched Paddles!
This was Paddles!

That year, my fertility rate on duck eggs was 87%, and hatch rate was 23%
In 2013, my fertility rate was 72% and hatch rate was 22%

Yikes. Wait till you see the chicken data, so much better.

So what does that data mean? Fertility rate shows, out of all the eggs I put in the incubator, which ones show signs of being fertile? Not a bad performance!

The hatch rate is a percentage of the eggs that are fertile, which ones hatch. So low. There are a lot of reasons a fertile egg might not hatch. Anything from biological reasons, like bad DNA, to hatching conditions. If the incubator gets too cold, or humidity is too high or low. In many cases, I may never know. But there is something different about ducks that makes them much much harder to hatch.

Right now, I have a batch of 16 duck eggs and only 1 was not fertile! They still have 2 weeks to go. There is another batch of 20 that I have not candled yet. It takes 4 full weeks for most duck eggs to hatch (Muscovy's are a non-mallard type duck, they take 35 days!)


Just another picture of some ducks I have hatched!


So we are so excited to have some ducks. I know the hatch rate will be lower. The other issue I have is that I have a really kick butt incubator at home. By big incubator can fit 288 chicken eggs! I have a mid size incubator that can fit 40 eggs, and my tiny 3-egg incubator just died this year, so I can't use it anymore.  My batch of 16 is in the mid-size incubator, hoping I can control humidity better for the duck eggs in there.

The issue with having one giant incubator, and trying to hatch chickens, ducks AND turkeys, is that I can only have one humidity level and temp set for all the types of eggs in there. The other issue is that humidity needs to be changed for different phases of hatching. During the incubation phase, humidity usually should be around 45% - 55%. Once it comes time for hatching - those 3-5 days where the chick is working to crack through the egg, humidity should be set to 55%-65%.

When I have eggs incubating and hatching all in the same machine, I can't hike up the humidity for the hatchers, as I risk the development of those that are still incubating. Yes, yes, I want a separate hatching unit, and am hoping that selling chicks and ducklings this year might show how that would be useful. So until then, I try to keep the humidity as close to 55% as possible, to be beneficial to both those in the development stage, and those in the emerging stage!

Until then, I am hoping to use my medium incubator as the hatching try for the ducklings moving forward, so I can control their humidity. Humidity is super important. If the humidity is too low during hatching, the babies can actually kind of dry up and the shells can stick to them, they struggle to get the shell off, and that struggle can cause death. If the humidity is too high, fluid in the shell doesn't dry up properly, and they can drown, if their beak is not in an air cell.

Ducklings swimming in the bath

So I am hoping for decent success this year. And I am hoping to share the joy of ducklings with others. Look at those silly birds! We like to let them practice swimming when they are still small. Believe me, my daughter loves taking baths with the little ducks!


Now on to the chickens. Their laying is picking up, too, and again, laying faster than we can sell them. So I started to hatch some of them, too. I currently have 57 eggs in the incubator, most of them Rhode Island Reds. Here are some past stats:

2012: fertility rate 77%,  hatch rate 48%
2013: fertility rate 98%, hatch rate 50%
2015: fertility rate 78%, hatch rate 63%

Looks like I had a rough start in my early years. I've learned a lot about maintaining humidity. And in some cases, we have had power failures and humidity loss. I think one year, I moved my incubator into an upstairs room, where the temperature swings during the day, with sunlight exposure were extreme. When the incubator is in the basement, with much more constant temperatures and humidity in ambient conditions, it helps the incubator stay in control.  Also, I may have hatched too early in late winter, or too late into the fall. The BEST fertility time for eggs is Spring.

Think about it from a biological standpoint. A prey animal like this needs to have their babies during a time when their offspring stands the BEST chance of survival. The roos and drakes get the desire to breed in early spring. The hens allow this to happen in early spring. They want to have babies in spring - when it's warm enough to keep them alive through those first few weeks. And it gives them all summer to learn skills to care for themselves, before winter hits and life gets harder.  So fertility starts to drop after summer, and hatching is much less successful.

Last year, I only hatched during the spring.  The other reason I stop hatching chickens in the late spring is that once my turkeys start to lay, I hatch ALL of their eggs.  If I have no real estate left in the incubator, I can only fit in turkey eggs.  I also have the farmer's market as a venue to sell eggs, and don't have the surplus I have in the spring.

Rhode Island Red chicks

Last year, I decided to sell some chicks. It worked out really well. So I am going to do it again. Mostly Rhode Island Reds and a few Speckled Sussex. I am trying to grow my Speckled flock, so I need to keep some of those. And I can always use some fresh stock in my RIR flock as well.

This is a turkey poult!

So the incubator is in full swing. I still have a couple of weeks before they start to hatch. Between now and then, I need to set up my small brooders in the house. Makes a bit of a mess, but I like to keep the birds I hatch inside for at least 3 days before they go to the outside brooder. That's another thing we need to set up!  Ducklings stay in a little bit longer, mostly because of how cute they are!!

We've had a really fun winter with a lot of lambs. Now it's time for baby birds!

If you are at all interested in adding to your flocks, or starting one up, we'll have babies available for sale in March!

Baby Chicks
Just hatched:  $3/each
1 week old:  $4/each
2 weeks old: $5/each
3 weeks old: $6/each

Duckings
Just hatched: $5/each
1 week old:  $6/each
2 weeks old: $7/each
3 weeks old: $8/each

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Processing sign up link is open again

We won't be processing chickens until April, but I am already starting to get requests. I've set the link back to active, so you can submit requests to process birds.

Keep in mind, I need at least 20 birds to sign up, but don't let that stop you. There may be others asking for a process weekend, and if I can consolidate folks to one day, we can make it work.

It's easiest for me to keep everyone organized if you make your request through the link.

We have another upgrade to our processing area this year, too. We got an L-shaped stainless steel table from the Wayside Inn auction, that has a sink in the corner. We need to get it all plumbed up, which is why we won't process until April. We need night time temperatures to stay above freezing to make this all work.  But we should have a better work space, MORE space for plucking, and we're looking forward to getting butchering up and running again.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lamb Skins for Sale

We finally got our first lamb skins back from the tanner. We are never losing another skin! These are so beautiful, I hate to part with them, but wanted to share them with anyone who wants one. They are so soft and so warm. Eventually, I am going to mount one on some rings so I can hang it on the wall. I am also getting back some leather from my last batch, and am hoping to make some gloves and maybe use some raw leather to make the back side of a pillow, and a woolly skin to make a super warm and fluffy pillow. I am just striken by how nice these came out. We have have used them as throws while watching movies, so warm and soft against my face. YAY!



Make no mistake, we are going to take every skin in to be tanned from now on! These are amazing.

You can order onliner here (CSA shares also available at our online store, just too lazy to modify the script today.)


Order Online

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Shirley

This is Shirley. She had triplets (again) this past weekend. She's our best mama. As a matter of fact, I literally gauge all other sheep performance against her. She give us triplets about every other year, the years in between generally are twins. Except for last year, she had a single for the first time. 

This year is different. Twins and Triples often come a little early, as there just is not enough space for them to grow. And these little ones are pretty teeny. However, for the first time ever, Shirley showed limited interest in her babies. So little, actually, that when we came in just before #3 was born, she hadn't even begun cleaning off 1 or 2. We tried to get them to latch on, but we could get NO milk to come out of her at all! Straight to the bottle with these ones. Left to Right, we have Pipsqueak, Spike and Gummy.

In an unrelated turn, with these guys being locked in a barn stall, hoping for bonding to happen, Spike ended up inside her water bucket. He was soaked to the bone, cold, hungry and exhausted. He got to spend the night in the house with us.  His bond with mama is likely broken for good.

At 1AM, when Spike needed a feeding, I decided the others probably did, too. And went out to the barn to feed his two brothers. It seemed as if mama was tending to Gummy, and we are hoping a bond will develop.

However, all of ths is strange. Shirley has always been amazing. So much so, we have several of her offspring in our flock, We love her, her triplets, and we've never had to worry about her before. Now, we have triplets to bottle feed, which is not fun for us. Or them. Bottle babies grow much more slowly, but at least they are super friendly!

Shirley is almost 12. She is our oldest sheep. And one of our first.
This is Laverne and Shirley, the sheep who started it all. This was the day we brought them home, and they got to see pasture (possible for the first time in their lives).  Laverne was pregnant when we got her, and gave us Lenny and Squiggy, our first lambs.

About 7 months after Lenny and Squiggy were born, Shirley was no where to be found. She wasn't on pasture with Laverne and her boys, and I panicked, thinking she might have gotten attacked by coyotes or was sick.

We found her in the barn with these two... Charlie Brown and Linus. Lenny or Squiggy, at the ripe age of 2 months, had gotten her pregnant, and she gave us these darling boys. 

Here they are again, getting a bit bigger...



I care a lot about Shirley. She's been with us since the beginning. When she shared a barn stall with only Laverne.  Always calm, always friendly.


This is her, pretty sure her and I are both pregnant in this picture. I'm just spending some time with my sheep and my dogs.


Here she is again, pregnant. You can see her bags are starting to fill up a little bit.

This was her with her first set up triplets on the farm. Sorry for the image, she's still yet to pass her placenta in this picture, but you can see, even with that, she's tending to those lambs.
This was her with her first set up triplets on the farm. Sorry for the image, she's still yet to pass her placenta in this picture, but you can see, even with that, she's tending to those lambs.


This is her 2 years ago, with a set of twins.

Earlier this week, something happened to Gummy. He became lethargic, lifeless, just exhausted. We brought him and Fancy Pants (who had been lethargic since the day he was born) into the house, hoping warming them up would help.It didn't.  They both died in their sleep overnight, in a box next to my bed.  That being said, after losing Pebbles, Gummy and Fancy Pants all in just 2 days, it broke my heart. Sheep and lambs are here to live a full and solid life on the farm. To have sunshine and grass and time to play. After disposing of Pebbles and those babies, I just can't have Shirley face the same fate. I don't want her to be buried,  I want her to become food. I will miss her so much, but her only option for retirement is sterlization, I don't want her to get pregnant again, not with her age and her behavior this time. I would love for her to retire, but I don't want her to go through surgery just so I can keep her around. And I don't want to come out to the barn and find her gone. 

I know it seems so cruel, and it's different than euthanizing a dog. Although it feels sort of the same to me. Let her go when she can still become food. Let her go on our terms, when I can say goodbye and spend some time with her. Let her go before she suffers in any way. And let her play out her final destiny, as many of her lambs have, to become food. She's a special mama for us. She will always be. I will bawl my eyes out when we take her in. I will give her hugs and kisses every day until then. But I think the time has finally come, to say goodbye to our Grand Dame. I wonder, who in our flock is ready to take her place as the maternal leader of the lady sheep, who will be there to give comfort, guidance, and teach everyone else about treats and the best shady spots in summer.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's been a tough week

We started off Sunday with the news that Larry's Aunt Annie had passed away. Pardon my French,but this was one badass of a woman. Part of a generation that grew up on a farm. She didn't think twice about getting out a bone saw, cutting a turkey in half and saving the other half for Christmas, when we showed up on Thanksgiving with a homegrown turkey that was well too big for our little family. She's going to be missed.
This is Annie with Shannon (and me) at her first Birthday party.

This is Annie and Shannon at Thanksgiving in 2014, when Annie had just gotten out of a long stay at the hospital. 

So we have finished off a bad week with some farm losses, too. 

Cindy had babies this week. One is doing great.The other needed help being born and just never had any energy. We helped him out with some bottle feeding, but he just never seemed to get it. When his lethargy spread to one of Shirley's triplets,Gummy, we brought them both in the house to see if we could feed them more and keep them warm. It didn't help. They both passed away in a box next to my bed overnight. That next morning, Pebbles, one of our mamas, was breathing so heavy, she sounded like a growling dog. And I mean a NASTY growling dog. I got some penicillin, thinking maybe she had a respiratory infection and it might help.

 You might recognize this picture, it's from the year she was born. That's her brother BamBam (the white one) in that picture.  She was born in 2009, to Cindy. She's not a stellar performer, but we've never had any real issues with her. She was always calm, gave us 7 lambs in her time, and never abandoned a baby or had  a stillbirth. 

This is Pebbles just earlier in January, with her lamb, Celestia. She was always a strong and healthy sheep. Now we have another orphaned baby to feed (although, she seemed to be drinking from Meg when I got home today).
We went to work this morning, thinking in a few hours, if she had a respiratory infection, she would start to get some relief from the antibiotic. When I got home from work tonight, I should have known when a random lamb (not so random, it was Celestia) was running around baaing and looking for food, when I was looking to feed Pipsqueak and Spike, that something was afoot.  Being dark by the time I got to the barn, and our barn lights currently burned out, I looked all over for her. Ran back to get a flashlight and I looked at every sheep in the barn, looking for that little bracelet of white around her front leg... and I didn't find it. So I ran around the corral in the dark looking to see where she might be. She had laid down in a corner, in the snow, all by herself. I am heartbroken.  She wasn't our best mama, just middle of the road with lamb size, but she never gave me any issues. The only thing I won't miss about her is that we had to shear her on occasion. 

And if you think all of this is bad news, wait until my next post, where we struggle with the idea of culling Shirley, our oldest and first sheep. This is not my favorite winter.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lamb Prices

I wrote a really detailed post last summer regarding egg prices and how much (or very very little) profit we make on eggs. People sometimes question our prices, so I like to be able to justify it. We did  a lot of research on our lamb prices when we first got  started. We haven't raised them. Ever. Hay has gotten more expensive, but we've gotten better at sourcing it. And again, our pricing models don't even take into account our time and labor, any electricity used (to heat their water), the water they drink, and any expenses related to the truck and trailers we use to take them to processing, and to bring home their winter hay.  So, yeah, not really profitable at all when you put all that together. However, our farm is breaking even at this point, so it is paying for itself.

But I reposted my Craigslist ads last night, as they expired over the holidays and I almost immediately got this anonymous email last night. So I am calling this person on the carpet....


They took the time to create a fake email just to tell me this. Wow! $2.50, you got a heckuva deal. Didn't tell me what you bought, if it was on sale, or if it had any of the same qualities as my pastured, humanely raised lambs.

So let's break it down and see how outrageous my prices are, compared to lambs that were probably raised on a CAFO and bought at the auction to be sold at Atlas. (not picking on Atlas, we don't use them, but have friends that do, and so far, they seem to do a great job, just not sure where their retail lamb is coming from)

Alright, so the costs that are obvious for me to identify, and keep in mind, raising lambs also means keeping their moms and bringing in breeding rams.

So here are the costs we have:

$3000/year for hay for the winter. Pasture grasses don't grow year round in Colorado, so we source local hay to feed the lambs and their mamas.
$300/year for a breeding ram
$300/year for needed vaccines for the flock
$75/lamb for processing

OK, again, this does not consider the maintenance and gas on our truck that we use for getting hay and taking them to the processor. It doesn't consider water, or electricity (running commercial freezers isn't free, either!), or our time for taking care of them and their barn (that means I don't get paid to shovel poo!)

So here's about what we get per year for lambs...

We have about 35 born each year, in a strong year, they weigh on average 70 pounds at time of processing. We get back about 35 pounds of meat from each lamb.

Taking the prices above, our costs are about $85.71 per lamb for hay, $8.57 per lamb for vaccines, $8.57/lamb for the cost of the breeding ram, and then the $75 for processing.

That equates to about $102 profit per lamb.

OK, there are some other  things to note here, we sell a lot of lamb to our CSA members, at $7.50/lb. I was using the $8/pound price for the analysis above. ALSO, my price per pound is the price of the WEIGHT OF THE MEAT YOU TAKE HOME. A lot of folks charge by the pound for hanging weight or live weight. That is not the same as what you take home.

But if I were to drop my prices down to $2.50/lb for butchered weight... I'd lose $90 on every lamb. That doesn't sound sustainable.  And if $102 profit upsets you, multiply that by the 35 lambs I raise per year, that's a net profit of $3575. Again, not being paid for my time, electricity, water, diesel, etc. That pretty much could pay the property taxes of the pasture they eat 6-8 months out of the year. Thanks, sheepies!!

And then there are the cut prices. Yeah, not only do we sell most of our lamb bulk, we really really encourage folks to buy enough to stay in the $8/lb range. But if someone really only wants one cut, we have prices for those, and yeah, they are higher. This is driven purely by supply and demand. The higher demand cuts get the higher prices... this is to help drive consumer behavior to try and purchase all the cuts of lamb, and not purchase all the prime cuts, leaving the lesser meats behind. That helps ensure we always have a good selection of meat for all our customers and especially our CSA customers who get ALL cuts at $7.50/lb.

For us, it's imperative that we make a little profit on each endeavor so that the farm can keep going. Again, I don't know the source of Atlas' lamb products, but I do know mine... pasture raised, grass fed, babies that live their whole lives with their mama, never exposed to chemical sprays or antibiotics, and live a happy, healthy life, outside in the sunshine, and even so spoiled they get a full barn to sleep in when the weather is cold.

I guess, as is with anything, you can't please everyone. And I don't intend to. When I research prices for other pastured lamb, such as at Whole Foods, and other pastured lamb enterprises around the US like ours, our prices have always been lower. This individual doesn't need to ever buy my lamb, I sell it all just fine to folks who appreciate what we do and why we do it. This individual also didn't really need to take all the energy to send a negative note to us, either. We know where our prices stand, and we know the quality of our product. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

OK, so after that, here's a picture of a cute lamb to put a smile on your face....



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Lambs Lambs Lambs!

We have 18 lambs on the farm right now, and still have 9 ewes left to give birth. Three of which are visibly pregnant and very far along in their pregnancies. So much so that every morning we expect to see their lambs, but not just yet.

This past week, we had 3 ewes give birth for the very first time.



This is Skadi, her mama was Marcia, who is one of our better moms. Skadi's dad was Jason, who was a full hair sheep, but Marcia is one of our last remaining wool sheep. So Skadi is a big scraggily. She gave birth to a ram and a ewe, the Ram is hiding in the back, Braeburn. He's got a solid hair coat, and the most adorable markings on his ears, I'll have to get more pictures.  The ewe in front is Cheerilee, and she appears to be the first lamb of the season with a wool coat, like mom.  They are doing great.




This is our beloved Hattie! She road in the Berthoud Days parade a few years ago. This is her first lamb, and boy is she vigilant with her! She's almost all black, with a white spot on her head. Her name is Rarity, she's got a great warm hair coat, and these two are going to do AWESOME!  Now Hattie was bottle fed. She got abandoned by her mom in the bitter bitter cold, and she ended up being a house lamb for a while. Because of that, she's super friendly to people. However, I often notice once a bottle lamb has babies, that their attitude about wanting to be petted changes. She's all about her baby right now, possible when Rarity gets older, she'll go back to being her friendly self!






These were the first ones born and not a great start for Persephone. Well, first of all, twins at the first round are a good start for us, knowing she's capable of twins, and possibly will always drop twins. However, for a new mom, twins can be confusing. Sometimes, they either build the bond with their first born, and when the second is born, are confused and show no interest OR they get so involved with the second born, that they ignore the first and don't know it belongs to them. I think the white one (Fluttershy) was the first born. She was clean and dry when we found them. The colored one (Applejack) was still wet and not cleaned. We haltered up Persephone 4 or 5 times that first day to let the baby drink. She really wanted to. Without the halter, mama kept pushing her away. She spent her first night in the house, getting bottles, but when we put her back out, she kept sleeping on the lamb heating pad with her sister. She is very resourceful and is trying to drink from anyone who will let her. Hattie is too vigilant to let it happen, but Persephone sometimes doesn't notice and lets her drink, and sometimes she manages to sneak from Skadi, too. Every time I try to give her a bottle, I find that her belly is already full. She might not have a strong bond with her mom, but she certainly is a fighter and wants to get to food wherever she can. We like this trait, and we think we might keep her, just like Hattie. Just because her mom got confused, and we give a lot of leeway for first time mamas, doesn't mean she'll do the same.

Now the only downside for Miss Persephone is that we will watch this trend. Most of our ewes are on a "Three Strikes and Your Out!" Policy. 3 nonconformances, especially in a row, and we usually put you on the cull list. Culls typically include a combination of the following infractions: lamb abandonment, skipping lambing seasons (not getting pregnant), stillbirths, and birth defects.  Birth defects we have only had once, that ewe is gone, as is that ram, so hopefully that was a fluke.  Aggressiveness is also added in, not as an infraction itself, but if it presents with other issues, it doesn't help. We've only had one, but she sent Shanny-bug flying across the paddock when she had lambs. Not OK for our critters to go after MY offspring!

That being said, we have a mama going to the processor next week. She's almost 5 years old, and has only given us 3 lambs in that time. Her lambs are always small (of course, she gave us a HUGE ram lamb this time.) Another lamb that was born the same time as her, has given us 8 lambs already, and they are much bigger than hers. So we will be saying goodbye to Clarice, before she gets pregnant again. I'll be sad to see her go, as I always am, but letting go of a non-productive ewe helps us keep our average flock age low and allows us to pick a lamb from this season to keep! We already have eyes on little resourceful Applejack.

The irony of keeping Applejack is that we had really high hopes for Clarice. She's the granddaughter of Shirley, and daughter of Peppermint Patty, two of my BEST ewes. Applejack is also the granddaughter of Shirley, as Persephone is one of Shirley's daughters. I have high hopes for all of Shirley's genetics, but Clarice didn't play out as we hoped. So let's see how Applejack does in her stead.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Shout Out to my Rhode Island Reds

So we, for many reasons, used to have a mish mash of a chicken flock. We started with Production Reds, a hybrid breed, no doubt with lots of Rhode Island in them, that was a sex link breed. This meant you could easily identify the males at hatching due to the absence or presence of a dot on their heads. They were also supposed to be superior layers.

Great.  Year two, in order to know the age of our birds, we switched to Black Sex Links. So far so good. Year 3 we went to Barred Rocks. Somewhere along the line, I also brought in Americanas for the green eggs, maybe some other random breeds like Silver Lakenvelders, that I thought were gorgeous. They turned out to be terrible layers and very unfriendly birds.

Somewhere in there, WiMo farms gave birth to their first little dude, and decided to get out of the egg business for a while. They brought us 40 gorgeous chickens, and a few roosters. We had Brahmas, Astralorps, Wyandottes, Hamburgs, even Fang, the fabulous Polish rooster. In the midst of this I also started hatching some birds. Oh lord, the things we hatched. They were gorgeous, but of complete unknown heritage, so many roosters, and our flock became colorful and unidentifiable. Aside from the Americanas, we didn't know who was laying what, or where.

When it came time to eliminate the flock and start over, I decided to settle into one breed. ONE. This way I could hatch them true, know what I was going to get, and replace my own flock by incubating right here on the farm.

I settled on these guys.


Aside from hybrids and White Leghorns, you know, this guy...
Image result for Foghorn LEghorn

Rhode Island Reds are the best egg layers of brown eggs. The White Leghorns lay white eggs.   So I decided to give these guys a try - supposedly good layers, even in winter, calm, nice birds. And how I could hatch my own replacements because I would know what I would get every time.

Like these little ones... who grew into these not so little ones...


And got to go outside when they were these not at all little ones.



So what's the big deal, and why am I so excited?  This is their first winter as FULLY mature birds. My flock is maybe 40 birds right now. We used to manage 300 because we sold to restaurants. I don't have data all they way back to the beginning to compare to that original Production Red flock. All I know is that with about 40 hens, I collected 20 eggs last night. Usually, this time of year, with temperatures like we have right now, I am lucky to get 2 or 3 eggs. 20. TWENTY.

According to me records, in 2012, I was getting NO EGGS AT ALL in January - 300 chicken flock of mixed nuts. In 2013, I was getting 3 per day, still, probably 200 chickens that winter. This is amazing and awesome, and I love my Rhode Islands!

And a tiny shout out to my mini backyard flock. It's 1 Speckled Sussex Rooster, 4 Sussex hens and 2 Rhode Island Hens (they jumped coop, I need to move them back before I start incubating again), so 6 hens in my little backyard coop, and I still get 1 egg a day from them. I suspect it's the two Rhode Islands! You go Girls!