Home  •  Forum  •  Blogs  •  E-Mail  •  Support Categories
MyCopper Categories Finance Travel Real Estate Games Autos Entertainment
Certified organic poultry farmer in SE Mass

Cold & snow
Things have kept me busy over the past week. It snowed 1/21, starting right around noon, totaling about 10 inches with high winds to create some drifts. Not as big as last storm, but still drifts. Shoveling wasn't too bad since the snow was very light and moved easily. The slaughtered chickens were either sold, cooked or in the freezer. I had a lot of clean-up to do, but that went pretty quickly. I am eating a wonderful chicken soup from one of my Americauna roos who was too tough to roast. But he makes a great soup!

On Saturday, temps got to high 40's. Since it was so warm, I hooked up the hoses and cleaned out under the feeding areas in the pullet yard and scrubbed up the water bowls.

My friend Pete came over and shoveled out more areas for the chickens to roam in the yards. Using a roof shovel, Pete got the snow off the farm stand, duck house and camper roofs. This was a great help. He was paid in eggs & cooking chickens. Plus, I transported him both ways. Pete will be going back to Hawaii soon where he is a WOOF exchange worker. Some years back, Pete worked on my farm as a day-laborer when he had time off from his regular landscaping job. He is a talented and enthusiastic worker who is interested in organic practices. I already miss him!

By late Saturday night, temps were dropping back into the 20's. Sunday was pretty blustery and cold. Monday, it warmed again, allowing me to hook up the hoses and clean out under the feeding areas in the pullet yard & soap up and scrub the water bowls. Even tho' it has been only two days since the last clean-up, there was plenty to clean out!

Today is very cold with wind-chills in the low teens and upper single digits. The birds are mostly staying inside, crapping up the shavings in the coops. At least the water wasn't frozen in the main coop this morning. With early morning sun, it gets pretty warm in both coops, but on cloudy days when the wind is blowing, coops stay cool.

Time to clean the house!

Slaughter day
January 19, 2014

The slaughtering went fine, but was very time consuming. I got a late start and was about 10 minutes late arriving. The manager had me waiting for over 30 minutes before he would even speak to me, then he reminded me I was late when I chided him for the long wait. Every time, he has to remind me he is a Vet. What that has to do with the situation?  My dad was a Vet, so is my sister as was my (ex) husband. Anyway, I left the slaughter house and found my not-so-local bank where I got cash so I could pay the fees. I waited for over 30 minutes (even tho' I called to find out if the birds were done) before the manager brought my chickens out. I had taken in four bags of ice, but I don't think all the ice was put into my coolers. And the manager made sure to put the bag of gizzards on the bottom of the cooler so they would get squashed by the chickens and ice. The guy is a real looser...but I guess that is what it takes to kill animals all day. Someone has to do the job, I just wish he wasn't such a jerk.

I got home at 2:45 PM, just in time to feed. I left my house at 8:45 AM. So, that would be six hours to have 12 birds processed for table. Plus mileage, not to mention the time spent getting kennels ready, loading the birds into kennels and then into the station wagon for transport. On the other end, the kennels have to be unloaded, shavings dumped into compost, then kennels washed and sanitized (disease runs rampant at slaughter houses and transports on equipment). Coolers have to be stored out of the weather in a predator proof area with plenty of ice and then cleaned and sanitized after use. Kitchen counters and sink has to be scrubbed and sanitized, tools have to be assembled & cleaned after use. After all chickens are rinsed, drained and put into vacuum packed freezer bags, all counters, equipment and sink have to be cleaned and sanitized again. This is a lot of work, but at least I am sure where my food comes from!

Today, I sold two chickens right off and got four into freezer bags and into the chiller. Six more to finish up tomorrow.

Weather has taken a turn towards the worst and will continue to get worse over the next week. Rain all day today, temps in the low 40's. At least I can still use the hoses and fill pools for the ducks and water bowls for the chickens. Things are so much more peaceful without those 9 bad boys gang raping the pullets! Flame (resident Americauna rooster, 2 years now on the job) is a much happier guy without all those boys to chase off his girls!  He is almost friendly towards me...he knows I hold the corn container and sidles up to me, cocking his head. I throw four or five pieces of whole corn down and he clucks to the hens so they know he has treats...and he shares. Before the 9 bad boys were gone, he didn't want to share.

The 9 bad boys did their damage to the new pullets. I went out last night to check the hens in the yard where the 9 bad boys were. I discovered two pullets with tears in their backs from aggressive roosters. I treated the wounds.  Tomorrow night, a friend is coming over later in the afternoon and he will help me treat the wounds again and put duct tape saddles on these girls to protect their backs while the wounds heal. Many feathers are broken on several of the pullets, they will have to have the quills pulled so new feathers can grow over the next months. I hope I can get next year's bad boys to slaughter about two months sooner than these boys went.

My work has dramatically decreased now that the 9 bad boys are gone. They were housed in three different condo units (without any pullets to rape) every night. Three extra feeders, houses to clean, open and close at night. And the past weeks, some of the 9 bad boys were roosting in the pullet house and had to be moved out every night. No roosters sleep in with the hens & pullets at night. Flame sleeps on a roost in with the ducks. This way, there is no interruption with egg laying in the early mornings by a horny rooster. The hens are calmer if there isn't a rooster bothering them and there are less injuries to the hens since they don't fly around trying to escape the rooster.

Well, of to bed for me.
Getting ready for slaughter
Jan 15, 2014. Today, I will get six kennels out of the garage, put fresh shavings inside them. I will empty the  back of the station wagon and cover the back with old sheets to protect from shavings. After the chickens have gone to roost, I will haul out the wheelbarrow and the kennels and put 9 male chickens (hatched here on 5/20 & 6/21, 2013) into the kennels, two in each. My order at the slaughter house is for 12 birds, so I have pre-selected three layer hens that are 4 years old and non-layers. These hens might lay some eggs in the future, but they are not worth feeding for the results.

The young males will be good roasters, altho' they are about two months late going to freezer land. I can only hope they won't be too tough! The older layers will be for stewing. These hens make the best stock and soup ever! I hope the income from selling these birds will help with the grain bill. Next month, I will repeat the process with 12 older hens that are not productive or have some problems with egg production.

It is hard to select the layers for freezer land. I do get attached to some of them that have friendly personalities or show other positive attitudes. One in particular, Smoke, is a 6 year old Americauna layer bought as a day-old from a hatchery. She is very friendly, always eats out of my hand and is a Blue Americauna. Unfortunately, she is not a good layer anymore. I will wait till next month to put her into the kennel for slaughter.

The weather has been more cooperative this past week with temps mostly above freezing. I can use the hoses when temps remain above freezing in the day times. I don't have to haul water out for the birds and that saves my energy for other things, such as cleaning coops. I do sell the soiled shavings for garden mulch. Since I am organic and use no poisons for worming my poultry or in my coops, the shavings are in demand.

People think that soiled shavings are only good for compost. This is not the case! Soiled shavings are best used as a garden mulch to retard weed growth. The shavings should be applied in the fall if possible and laid down about 4 inches thick. Over the winter, the rain and snow leaches the chicken droppings into the soil as fertilizer. The shavings remain on top of the soil and slowly compost into dirt. By having a thick layer of shavings on top of the soil, weed growth is retarded severely. Those weeds that do manage to grow are easily pulled since the soil under the shavings remains moist and soft. Yearly applications of shavings are recommended for best results. No tilling is necessary unless you are going from very hard pan or clay soil and best done after one year of mulching with shavings or leaves.

Weed management is another subject I address on the farm. Some weeds are best allowed to grow since they are food for beneficial insects (or predatory insects). Beneficial insects actually eat other insects but won't come to your yard if you don't have food for them to attract them. Kind of the same idea as a Humming bird garden, but for insects. I have allowed some stands of Goldenrod to stay over the years with spectacular displays in September and October. Of course, there are those who exclaim, "Pull that weed!", but when I show them the small wasps that prey on caterpillars sitting on the blooms, they could change their minds. or not? Only those who are blind to the wonders of natural and organic ways are stubborn and won't listen. I have a great deal of Chicory growing in the pasture. The ducks LOVE it, especially the ducklings! I do dig a lot of roots from older plants but leave the younger plants for forage. Dandelions are another forb I allow to grow. These greens come early in the spring, probably the only thing that springs up while the ground still freezes. The birds eat the greens. When the plant blooms, I dig up the root, sure there are more seeds in the ground, just waiting for light to germinate.

People don't realize the impact of "seed banks". You know what a penny bank is, you put pennies into it and after awhile, you have dollars. Well, weed seed banks are similar, except they comprise of weed seeds, long dormant in the ground. All a weed seed needs for germination is just a brief flash of light and PRESTO! There is a new weed sprout. If you have had a lot of un-managed weeds gone to seed, you probably have millions of dormant seeds, just waiting for the tiller to expose them to light. If you must till, try to do it under the light of the full moon or after sunset. I know this sounds like a strange thing, but if there is little light striking the weed seed, they won't germinate as well as under bright sunlight.

My pasture area was one full of all sorts of weeds when I started to garden. If I had known then what I know now about weed management, I would have realized that plowing and tilling was the largest mistake I had made. But plow and till I did..to my dismay, I spread Stiff-bladed Quack grass roots all over the garden area. And I had a real mess for many years! I finally gave up trying to garden and got chickens. They slowly killed the quack grass with manure droppings and their constant scratching. It took some time, but by re-seeding small areas with clover, I have managed to eliminate most of the invasive quack grass from the pasture. Now clover dominates the area.

At first, when I was trying to have a market garden, I planted clover in the aisle areas between the planted rows. I had a bagging mower and would mow the aisles. I used the cut clover to mulch the plants, at first to retain moisture, then as a green manure. But young clover will die during drought and must be watered, at least for the first two years. However, if the drought persists, even established clover will perish.

Planting clover is an education.If it is planted to early without a "nurse" crop, it won't take. Oats make the best nurse crop. It grows tall with small roots and shades the clover as it gets established. The oats go to seed pretty quickly and the stems remain, falling to the ground over the summer, adding "tilth" to the soil. The stems rot as fall comes along. Late summer and fall rains encourage clover growth. I don't have to mow the clover for the birds will keep it down with browsing. By the dead of winter, there isn't much left to the top of the clover, but the root system is established now and the clover will rebound in early spring. Every year, I recover another area from weeds by planting clover with an oat nurse crop. Of course, I have to fence the area off from the chickens for there is nothing they love better than scratching up dirt to find the seeds. They ruin the planted area. Fencing is somewhat successful. I now have learned the best way to keep the birds off the newly planted areas is to fence (I use 3 or 4 foot tall chicken wire with fiberglass  or bamboo posts), then cover the newly planted area with pruned branches to prevent the chickens from jumping into the area. I am trying a new method this year by putting the pruned branches on the outside of the fenced area for about 3 feet wide instead of inside the fenced area. This way, the branches don't become tangled in the newly growing clover and pulling the branches out later doesn't pull up the clover. We shall see how well this method works.

Polar Vortex
Well, the weather has been pretty unpredictable since my last post. Extremely cold temperatures along with blizzard conditions kept me busy with freezing water bowls, shoveling snow and trying to keep the birds as warm as possible. The past few days have been taxing for all here on the farm. But there were no deaths due to the cold, just cold feet and hands (mine!).

Jan. 2, it started to snow flurry. The temps were pretty low in the AM, but by evening temp was 31.
The wind came up about 10 PM and temps dropped during the night. Jan. 3, temps were below freezing by a long shot. The storm had dumped a lot of snow during the night and wind-chill temps were about zero. I waited till 1 PM when the wind stopped gusting 50 mph before venturing out to the birds. Drifts were everywhere, some about three feet tall. There was a lot of shoveling to do before I could let the birds out. By 2:30, the layers and pullets were out but very dismayed at the snow. Most sat in the doorway, searching for bare ground. There was none in sight except for where I pushed snow. The young males stayed in their condos. I gave them fresh water, whole corn for scratch and fresh food.

Saturday I spent most of the morning shoveling more paths and laying down hay so the chickens would think it was ground. The young males made their way to the feeding stations and began to terrorize the layers and pullets (normal behavior). It was warmer than Friday but still below freezing. As the day progressed, the sun came out but offered little warmth. By late-day feeding time (about 3:30 PM), water bowls were full of ice. Fresh, hot water was dragged in jugs on a sled to be sure all had what they needed before the night came on.

On Sunday, temperatures began to rise and by dark were in the 40's. A break, but I shoveled more snow for fear the predicted rain would turn any snow to ice. The ice from the previous snow storm had melted a few days before the blizzard and I was not excited about the prospect of having to strap on the cramp-ons again. After locking up the birds, I checked the temperature, it was 48 degrees. The wind was blowing from the SW.

Monday morning it was cloudy and some rain had fallen during the night. I was amazed at the lack of snow on the ground! At 51 degrees, I discovered the hoses were thawed, hooked them up and cleaned off the feeding stations in the duck yard. I filled a small duck pool and immediately, the ducks were splashing. I scrubbed out the water bowls, inside and out with soapy water. I don't know if the birds appreciate this cleanliness, but I know it keeps disease down and my conscience clear. Late that day it rained some, but not as much or as hard as the weather predicted.

Tuesday morning the thermometer read 11 degrees! Wind direction was from the west and chill factors were -15 degrees. It was deep freeze again. At least I had cleaned up some of the messes in the yards while the weather was warm enough to do so. The wind was relentless all day, water in the bowls froze in short order.

After morning chores and walking my dog, I went to pick up layer pellets. This is a bi-monthly ritual. The drive to the grain store is 43+ miles, but this is the closest place where I can get quality, fresh layer pellets for my poultry. Just part of the job of organic farming.

I change water bowls twice daily, more often in the heat of summer. During the coldest weather, I haul water out in 3 gallon jugs in a wagon or sled, depending on ground cover. I take hot water so the birds can have some relief from the extreme cold when they drink. This is good cardio exercise on a regular basis during the coldest months when I am not working out in the yards several hours a day.

Well, it is Wednesday and the temps were 11 degrees again this morning. Wind is still strong from the west. Chill factors are in the single digits.

Fresh, hot water will be offered twice today as well as whole corn and sprouted whole grains for energy to keep the birds warm in the extreme cold. They have good shelters with solar gain to hang around in or they can go into their coops or condos as they desire. I do the best I can with what I have.

Time to go for today.