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Certified organic poultry farmer in SE Mass

Introduction to me
December 22, 2013. This is my first blog and first entry. I am a certified organic poultry farmer on the south eastern coastal area of Mass. I have been here for 17 years, farming for 16. First, I farmed organic veggies for market, then I was stricken with a serious disease and spent two years recovering. I started keeping a few chickens in 2003 in early winter. Someone gave me a small coop, several chickens, two roosters and one hen turkey. I figured if I could keep them alive (without relapsing into a world of pain) for the winter, I might think about keeping a larger flock. I was successful. During the summer of 2004, a friend and I built a new chicken coop from a design I saw in an old poultry book. The coop is fully insulated, has a predator-proof grain room and will hold up to 45 birds. In 2006, I applied to and was accepted into organic certification by Baystate Organic Certifiers. I have had no issues with my continued certification and have added ducks, garlic and grains to the list of chickens & eggs.

It is no small challenge to be organic. All feeds must be certified organic and are 100% more costly than conventional feeds. Certified organic feeds have no GMO's in them, no animal by-products or artificial ingredients. I drive 43 miles round trip to buy my chicken feed. The market is a tough one since "real eggs" are expensive. Certified organic eggs are sold at large supermarkets, but these eggs (and the chickens that lay these eggs) are not really "organic" since they are not allowed outside to play in the dirt, eat bugs and run around in the sunshine. The large producers of "organic" eggs are afraid to let their birds have a normal life for fear of predation, parasites and other threats to the birds. My birds are always at "risk" to these threats. Happily, I have a pretty good handle on these things and have not had great looses to predation.

All birds are hatched under mother hens here on my farm. Mother hens regulate when their chicks go outside into their "gated condo yards" under umbrellas and other covers for protection from rain, sun and hawks. These chicks grow strong and live wonderful lives here on this farm.

After a few years of laying eggs, hens are retired into the stew pot. The excess roosters hatched are also retired into either roasting or stewing. If you don't eat them, you can't keep them! Normally, in the late summer or early fall the birds are "culled". Some years, I don't get to culling till later and then the hens go into a molt. Molting hens don't lay eggs or make good candidates for culling since they are growing new feathers and their carcasses are not very attractive to buyers. This year was such a year. I have a date in mid-January for slaughter and my feed costs are pretty high now. And molting hens don't lay eggs, so there are few eggs to cover the grain bill. Things will improve after the flock has been culled and the young hens start laying eggs.

This is the end of today's story. More in the future.

December 27, 2013.  Christmas has come and gone with little fanfare here. The only visitor was the Cooper's hawk, flying low over the wild bird feeder and the poultry yards and Louise. The hawk left for better hunting grounds and Louise left me some home-made fudge on her way home after her early shift. I had some fudge for coffee break after chores were finished and BB had his walk.

BB is my Shi Tzu. After raising, training and showing Jack Russell Terriers for many years, BB is a nice change of pace, to say the least! With my disability, I can't chase packs of dogs through the woods as I did in the 90's. BB is happy to go for a walk in the field across the road. There, he can be off leash and sniff to his heart's desire and be in less danger than walking on a road or city street. I am grateful to my neighbor for letting me roam his fields and woods with my dog. More on how BB came into my life at a later time.

Each morning when it is freezing (or below) I am always thrilled when the hoses are not frozen so I can have running water in the far poultry yard. That is where the ducks live. They love their pool and I can't haul enough water out if the hose is frozen to fill the pool. My best Christmas present was that the hoses weren't frozen! Such a simple gift but one that really means something to me.

Draining hoses is a process. There is a connector between each hose so I can control water between the hoses, which reach about 300+ feet. Fortunately, there is a slope, so the water can be drained downhill (or down slope, as it really is). I take the connectors off since they are pretty expensive, being "full flow" connectors and made of plastic. The water comes out of a "no-freeze" water font,  but it freezes sometimes when very cold. I take a bottle of hot water out to thaw it on the coldest mornings. The reason it freezes is because it leaks, but fixing it will take more than a plumber (more on why at a later time).

While the hoses are filling the pool, I toss out scratch feed for the chickens. Scratch consists of sprouted small grains. Winter sprouting is done in the bath tub since the sprouting buckets will freeze if left outside. I fill the water bowls and let the layers and pullets out of the Pullet House. Since there are young pullets now in that house, everyone is anxious to be outside and they fly out the people door rather than come out the chicken door. Watch your head or get a chicken in the face! The ducks and the oldest roosters come out second and the young roosters are last to get outside. Mostly, the young roosters want to rape the layer hens and pullets, so the oldest rooster, Flame needs to be out first so he can guard the girls from the horny young boys. I haven't had the energy or opportunity to get the young boys to slaughter and they should have gone about two months ago. They can raise heck with the hens and bare-back them pretty quickly. Bare backs will impact the hens' laying in the future. Slaughter date is January 16. It will be much quieter after then. Flame will be the only rooster in that flock and much happier. This is where the Americauna flock resides.

The other hen house, called the main house or C.G. houses the Dominiques, a rare breed of chickens. I have had Dominiques for 2 and a half years now. The rooster in this house is named Napoleon the Dictator, but he is a very nice guy as far as roosters go. One has to show respect for roosters when entering their territory or you can get yourself "flogged". Rooster flogging is painful and embarrassing. Most roosters have a long nail growing out of their leg, called a spur. They use this spur to impale their foe and it can be pretty damaging. I speak from experience.

End blog for now.