What a Ride!
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. It strikes me in a strange way. On the one hand, we have completed one exhausting year. We have several new ventures under our belt with a litany of successes and failures. On the other hand, we have a new and uncharted path ahead of us, filled with those same elements. If I were a normal person, I think that I would be filled with a certain amount of anxiety. Why would anyone want to go through that mess again? But, instead, I am filled with a different feeling. I think that it is excitement.
Although things have been so tumultuous for us, the one thing that has remained ever-constant is God. It is difficult for me to speak in such terms, but I know that the only reason that we were able to forge ahead at such a speed was because we were being pulled by divine power. That is why I am excited. I cannot wait to see the trials and adventures that await us in the coming year.
I think the reason that this is a strange feeling is because we are in between. With the cold weather we are forced to turn inward and even though 2010 is started, we are in a sort of planning mode, and it feels like we haven’t moved yet.
But we have. We have set in motion great plans already. Plans that will significantly alter the face of this farm for years to come. It is because of God’s faithfulness that we are planning as boldly as we are. He has shown Himself plainly to be a motivator of our works. You would be amazed at how confident you become when you truly believe that the God of the Universe is intimately passionate about your success.
The biggest news is that after many years of back and forth discussions, we have decided to apply for Organic Certification. Currently, as many of you know, we bill ourselves as “Beyond Organic.” If you are not familiar with this term it simply means that we hold ourselves to traditional “Organic” standards but are not beholden to some of it’s more tedious (and arguably superfluous) elements. This worked well for us in the past because our customers were collected by word-of-mouth, but now we will need to expand. Organic Certification allows new customers to instantly know for certain that we believe and are committed to a belief structure that is sustainable.
This transition is just one of several large new changes. We are also going to increase the size of our garden to about an acre. This will allow us to expand into a formal market garden or possibly take on CSA members as well. This will certainly lead to a similar feeling this time next year. It is, however, like we say here often, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the best of our abilities.” I hope that every year we look back and say, wow, what a ride.
Other Things We’ve Been Up To
Hi, I had to add to Andy’s post.
See, we’ve been planning a lot. Since we stopped selling milk to our commercial supplier, we have had a nice abundance of milk. We’ve been reintroducing ourselves to making butter, whipped cream, soured cream and cottage cheese. We have learned that our hens LOVE soured milk, so we have a rotation of 5 gallon buckets in our basement constantly souring. Each day, Andy takes two of the buckets and pours them into the chicken’s waterers. He said when he was giving them just water, they would often have water left over the next day. Now when he comes back in the mornings, the soured milk is sucked dry!
Our production has gone up, too, which is a blessing. For way too many months, we were not meeting demand. Now our egg customers are slowly trickling back to us, but the time in which they couldn’t get eggs from us has hurt our sales. It’s understandable; we became pretty unreliable.
This was a management problem. We had the same hens for too long. We got them old because we needed ANYTHING to start our laying business, and then we didn’t refresh the flock until this year, with our pastured pullets. They have just begun laying consistently in the last month and a half. For perspective, we have been singing the egg deficit woes since the end of June! And 6 months is a long time for a person to wait.
So our market will have to rebuild, but we aren’t worried. There are more outlets than we can even touch for our eggs. And that’s just on farm sales. So, with a little help from milk and a little boost from extended lighting, our hens are on track.
So, a few months back, Andy’s mother wanted some way to invest in our laying business. She bought us an incubator. It’s a nice Hova-bator with an automatic egg turner that can hold 42 chicken eggs at one time. We partnered with a farming couple who wants a flock of their own. We are bartering our eggs and potential chicks for their starting seeds for us. They focus on CSA shares and have a green house.
It works out! They don’t want to raise chicks, but want the benefit of free-ranged hens around their gardens. So we will raise what we hatch until they are about 2-3 months old. Then we will “sell” the chicks to Dick and Tracy. In the mean time, they will be starting tomatoes and peppers and squashes for us so we can custom pick heirloom veggies for our garden. They did this for us last year, and we were able to sincerely benefit from their seed starting knowledge and generous overflow. (They had a lot of seedlings heading to the compost late in June and we took them off their hands and planted them. Hence a hundred tomato plants and pepper plants!)
So we started 40 eggs from our flock on December 29th. Today is day 11 out of 21 for hatch time. We did a lot of research on how to incubate. Turns out, what we didn’t know about egg hatching could have filled a book. Well, I guess it did, since we had to read a book in order to know what to do. Ha. There is a lot of importance placed on humidity and egg turning. Luckily, we just need to fill a water reservoir under the eggs every 4-5 days. The egg turning is taken care of by the machine that holds them. Much like Ron Popeil, you just set it and forget it!
There is a lot of talk about “candling” the eggs are certain intervals. Candling is a term used to describe the process of looking inside the egg with a direct light. In times past, it was an actual candle placed behind the egg that showed shadows of the contents. Now days, there are special flashlights or light bulbs that work. You get in a dark room and shine the light right on the eggs. Depending on what you see, you can tell if the embryo is growing or has passed away, or the egg was never fertile in the first place.
I was a little intimidated about this, and perplexed. All the photos and tutorials we’d seen showed bright white eggs; we don’t have white eggs. Upon further research, and stumbling across great poultry help sites, we saw that candling brown eggs is pretty difficult and that most handlers found not candling at all to be a great solution. Over and over again, we saw folks write in that their hatch rates increased dramatically when they chose not to candle. I suppose it’s the lack of handling and temp changes for the tiny baby growing inside.
We decided not to candle. I feel good about this decision, as I learned alternative ways to determine whether or not an egg was still viable. Such as, smell. Also, because they are in high heat, high humidity 100% of the time, a bad egg begins to sort of sweat. I have been peaking my nose in there every day and so far, nothing smells awry. Visually, they look good: dry and warm. Here they are at 7 days old.
We’ll keep you up to date on our babies in the Hova-bator.
We have been purchasing eggs from a neighbor and friend who lost her market at work. She sells them to us by just dropping them off in our store a few times a week and we send her a check at the end of a couple weeks. It has been great for relieving our egg demand, and she has Americauna hens, which lay the blue or green eggs. They are a curiosity for our customers, and we are interested in raising some for ourselves.
Which we talked about with her! She has two Americauna roosters for the exclusive purpose of raising some pure Americauna chicks next spring. Naturally, we got to talking about this and decided to raise some in our incubator once our first babes are hatched. For the cost of splitting the surviving chicks 50/50, we will get some pure Americaunas integrated into our flock! This is huge, as the breed is notoriously expensive from hatcheries, often commanding the costliest chick price (up to $4 per chick depending on when you buy). We are looking forward to hatching many mini-flocks of Americaunas for ourselves and others. They are a hot breed lately and we think if this goes well, we should have no problem selling ready-to-lay pullets.
Of course, what to do with the males? You know what to do with males. We’ll raise them on grass and then “take care of them” at the right age. It’s a beneficial “by-product” of raising our own chicks from eggs. Of course, we’ll keep a few roosters on hand to keep our ladies in check and hopefully keep some Americauna mutt chickens for years to come. Not going for best of breed here; just functionality. Ok, and pretty chickens!
Oh, and the title of this segment? A long time dream of mine is about to be fulfilled. We are getting guinea hens! The same woman has six guineas that she purchased in the summer. She got more than she needed as the death rate is a little higher for them than chickens. Well, all of hers survived and are now of young adult stage. She offered us three for the cost of a half gallon of milk and a half gallon of cream! We will pick them up next week and integrate them with our flock of hens.
The benefit of guineas is great! They protect the flock because of their noisy cackling and hyper-awareness. They eat ticks and fleas. They LOVE cucumber beetles and squash bugs and will debug a garden without harming the plants or eating the fruit. They are notoriously self-sufficient on feed, but will happily eat chicken feed and roost with them all night. Two species for the price of one? How often does that happen? It’s a no brainer, and I’m so delighted that we stumbled across these birds just a mile from our own farm.
The only thing? She doesn’t know what sex they are. Guess I’ll have to do a little research so that we get more hens than roosters. :-) Looking forward to trying some guinea eggs, too.
We got a house kitty. His name is Chester, short for Chesterton. He’s a little orange barn kitten that Andy rescued with his sister just before Christmas. They were both sick with respiratory infections, and Chester’s sister didn’t pull through. The day after “Slinkey” died, we found a full grown stray cat outside in the bitter cold. She was amazingly friendly and followed Andy right into the house! We realized that this was Q-Mii, a little female grey tabby that had been given to us by a family this summer. They could no longer keep her for whatever reason, so they asked if she could be a barn cat on our farm. We were more than happy to have her, but after about two days, we didn’t see her again. Feeling pretty terrible that we’d lost a good friend of theirs, we didn’t have the heart to tell this family Q-Mii was gone.
Then, just as the weather went bitter, she came home, and we’ve had her indoors ever since. It’s actually quite nice as unlike Chester, Q-Mii has had obvious experience with little kids. Ethan is less than gentle with her, even at our promptings, just because he’s too young to understand. But she calmly endures until it’s too much, at which point she moves out of reach. She doesn’t scratch or hiss or growl. Elly lays down next to her and puts toys all over her, and she pretends to be sleeping. And she’s very friendly. So we’re happy with our house cat additions. Chester is still very young, maybe 4-5 months old. He’s into everything, and sometimes I feel like we’ve adopted another toddler in the house, but he’s also a lover and will purr just for being looked at! They don’t like each other much right now, but it won’t be long before they’re cuddling up on a blanket, I’m sure.
Well, Ethan is up from his nap and I must get him. He got his two front teeth for Christmas, and they are very cute! They are beaver sized and have a huge gap in between. It’s pretty fun! The two of them are getting to be thick as thieves and it’s a joy I never knew would happen with more than one child: seeing them play together and make each other laugh. It’s amazing to think that this time last year we were awaiting Ethan’s arrival and little Elly was our only one. Couldn’t think of life without him.
Speaking of which … he’s crying now, so I better go!
Love to all!
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.