I’m sure we’ve had some of our followers wondering where we have been the last few weeks. It has been several weeks without a post. I wish I could say that we had taken a lengthy vacation to somewhere exciting. That has not been the case.
The last few weeks have been quite hectic. One reason we have taken a break from writing is that we have been awaiting the arrival of our first child. She arrived on June 22, and we have spent the time since adjusting to our new role as Mommy and Daddy. Another reason for our hiatus is that we had taken some time to re-evaluate the projects we have going on now, and to see what changes can and should be made.
As you all may know, this year is a growth/trial and error year for us. We are looking for new ways to expand our farm, and to find a niche that works for us and our schedules while adding diversity. When we added chickens, it was only for free ranging, and the option of having our own farm eggs and having our chickens to eat when they reached end of life. That transitioned into trying to hatch and sell babies, going as far as to becoming NPIP certified. After much discussion and evaluation, we have decided that hatching and selling baby chicks was not for us. As a result, we are now back to free ranging our ladies, and all our girls are much happier.
This summer has been busy for hay. With all of the rain, it has been near impossible to get hay cut in a timely manner. This is a source of supplemental income for us, and it has made it difficult not being able to complete the jobs in a timely manner. The weather dictates our ability to cut and bale the hay, as we want to have as little rain on the cut has as possible before baling. This has caused us to lose a couple of jobs as well, as someone else was able to get to a field of hay before we could. That being said, we have managed to have a good year for hay. The majority of the hay we have cut has been good quality hay, and we have excellent hay customers who have been so patient and understanding.
We do have another project up our sleeves, which I will be sharing with you all soon. We are so very appreciative of our followers, and I cannot wait to share the next leg of our journey with you all!
Farming isn’t easy. As I have talked about in a previous blog, there is always work and chores to be done, always animals that need our attention. Over the winter, we have trialed having pigs and we have added chickens to our farm. Ultimately we decided not to keep pigs, and to expand our chicken flock.
After much consideration, B and I recently decided that we needed to add sheep to our farm. There were many factors that we considered when making this decision, and this was not a decision that we made lightly. We are, of course, keeping our cows and chickens. We just added some sheep to keep things interesting… Or something like that…
As mentioned, there were several factors that went into our decision to get sheep. For starters, sheep are a much smaller animal, and therefore they are easier to herd and work than the cattle. Working sheep vs working cattle is a completely different ball game. The cattle are obviously bigger, and it only takes one crazy cow to get the whole bunch worked up. When the cattle get riled up, they are big enough that they can trample you and have potential to seriously harm you. When the sheep get spooked they are much smaller and more skiddish. They are more likely to run away from you. Another factor that we considered when making our decision is the fact that since sheep are smaller, they are much easier in general on the ground and on the fences. This means less wear and tear, and ultimately less repairs on the fences than with the cows. A small downfall of the sheep, however, is that with the babies being smaller we did have to add some materials to our fences to keep the babies from being able to get out. The babies can fit through the smallest gaps in the fencing!
With our sheep, we chose to have what is called hair sheep as opposed to wool sheep. A common misconception is that hair sheep are a cross between goats and wool sheep. This is not true. Hair sheep are their own breeds. The difference between wool sheep and hair sheep is that hair sheep have more hair fibers to wool fibers, and wool sheep have more wool fibers to hair fibers. This mostly makes a difference in their coats. Hair sheep shed, and as a result do not require shearing as the wool sheep do. They will typically keep their coats until mid to late May, and then begin shedding their hair. This will cause a “patchy” appearance in their coats this time of year, as some of the hair has started shedding while some of it lingers. Some hair sheep do not shed as quickly as others, and will still need a little bit of help with that process. This was important to us because this makes the hair sheep more suitable to our climate in SWMO without us having to work them with the shears.
It is believed that there are more sheep breeds in the world than breeds of any other livestock species (with the exception of poultry.) Worldwide there is an estimated 1000+ breeds of sheep, and there are 50 distinct breeds of sheep in the United States alone. There are two breeds of hair sheep that are considered to be the “most common,” although there are several breeds. Two of the most common breeds are Katahdin and Dorper. We chose these two breeds for our herd.
The Katahdin sheep are a mix between several different British meat breeds: Suffolk, African Hair Sheep, St. Croix, and Wiltshire Horn sheep. In the 1950’s, a breeder by the name of Michael Piel worked on developing them, and he named them after Mt. Katahdin, which was near Piel’s Maine farm. The Katahdin are well known for being a low maintenance breed, and they are extremely hardy to climatic extremes. One of the most interesting facts about these sheep is that they are naturally resistant to internal parasites. These sheep are typically raised for meat.
The Dorper sheep is the second largest sheep breed in South Africa, and they were developed there in the 1930’s. These sheep are bred by crossing a Blackheaded Persian ewe with a Dorset horn. These sheep are typically either all white, or they have a black head. The Dorper is well known for their thick skin, which makes them hardy to harsh climatic conditions. The Dorper has the most sought after sheep skin in the world. These sheep do lack the parasite resistance that is common in a lot of other breeds. They do not shed as well as other sheep breeds, but they are considered to be a superior breed in the United States, and they are one of the most popular breeds of registered sheep in the U.S.
Our dorper sheep are actually a cross between dorper and katahdin. Because they are a mix of the two breeds, you get the best characteristics of each breed.
With there being so many different breeds, and factors to consider, this was a big decision for us. However, we are excited to add this adventure onto our plate and see where it takes us.
Good afternoon, and welcome to Part Three of my series: Getting to Know our Chickens. I have really enjoyed writing the posts for this series, as I am learning facts about the chickens that I did not know before as well. It is somewhat overwhelming at times how much information is related to each breed, and just how much information is involved in chickens in general. They are quite interesting creatures!
We add Mottled Orpingtons to our flock sometime around February. We initially saw them when we went to pick up some different chickens from another breeder. When we picked up the other chickens, we purchased some eggs and decided to have these pretty babies on our farm as well.
We love Orpington’s. They are such a good breed of chicken, as far as docility. They are great layers, and will often lay through the winter. The Mottled’s (MO’s) are somewhat a “designer breed.” They are considered a rare breed. They have the fluffier, feathered body style that is well known for Orpingtons, and they have gorgeous black and white feathering.
MO’s are considered a dual purpose breed. I have touched on this before, but dual purpose means they are slow growing, great egg layers, and still good for eating (if you choose to do so) when they stop laying. They do lay a light to medium brown egg.
One thing about the MO’s that is somewhat unique is that a lot of breeders have trouble with fertility in their MO’s. With their fluffy bodies, there are a lot of excess feathers around their vent. This can decrease or completely prevent the amount of semen that makes it to the eggs. Because of this, both hens and roosters must have the feathers around their vent either shaved or plucked.
Another tip that we have found with this particular breed, is that two roosters are better than one. We currently have 6 hens, and one rooster. The fertility rates/hatch rates have varied in our hatchings. We will add another rooster soon to hopefully increase our fertility and hatch rates.
In some parts of the world, MO’s are also called Spangled orpingtons. This can get confusing. We have always called our babies Mottled but many in other countries refer to theirs as Spangled. The MO’s were imported to the United States in 1903. They were originally “created” by William Cook. Mr Cook was a skilled breeder, and is responsible for creating multiple Orpington breeds, including Black, White, Buff, Jubilee (speckled), and Mottled (spangled) Orpingtons.
Overall, we are extremely happy with the chickens that we have added to our farm, and I look forward to showing you our other babies in the near future!
To say that I am not a carpenter is a huge understatement. I am quite sure that I have never built anything in my entire life. When B and I first started the idea that we would separate our chicken breeds from the others, we wanted to find a chicken run and house that was simple and cost effective. If you aren’t careful, you can spend a LOT of money on a chicken coop and run.
We decided to do some research on designs that we liked, and proceeded with building our first coop. The first coop we made was supposed to be for full grown birds…. Ultimately it was a failure. At least, it was a failure for what we intended it to be for.
For our design, we wanted to stick to a simple box where our birds could roost for the night, lay eggs, and be sheltered from the weather. The first coop that we built measured 6 feet long, 4 feet tall, and 2 feet wide. We intended for this coop to be split in the middle, and shared between two runs so that two kinds of chickens would share this space. Hindsight is 20/20, and we quickly realized this would not be nearly enough space for full grown birds. Even for the few we planned to have in each chicken run. Along with the design flaw of the first chicken coop, we immediately noticed a couple of things that we wanted to do differently with our second run. I stress again that neither of us are carpenters or builders.. With the run itself, we stapled cattle panels to 2×4’s, and bent them into a “tunnel.” We then attached the board to the back side, attaching our chicken coop to the backboard. We covered everything with chicken wire, and we were done. We recycled a door for the front of the coop, with the idea that this would be our entry and exit into the run/coop.
Our second run/coop was a little better. For version 2.0, we put three T-Posts down each side and ran a cattle panel on each side, securing it to the T-Posts. We then put three more cattle panels covered in chicken wire over the top in a “tunnel.” We used wire for the front and back, and then we decided to move our tiny little “first draft” chicken coop over to the second pen. We removed the divider in the middle of this little coop, and viola. We now have a grow out pen for our chicks that we have hatched that aren’t big enough to go with the grown hens but are too big for our brooders. The smaller coop is much more suitable for our smaller chickens in their grow out pen, and we built a new chicken coop for the adult chickens.
For our new coop design, we went with a 4x4x6 box for our hens. Each box is plywood, reinforced with 2×4’s for stability. Each coop has a roosting bar inside, and a couple of brooding boxes as well. Some people out a brooding box for each chicken in their coops. We did not do that. Most of the time (almost 100% of the time) chickens will only use one or two of the boxes inside the coop. It was unnecessary to put more than two in each coop for the amount of chickens that we have in each coop.
Now that we have got our design down, we can focus on making minor improvements and adjustments. For example, we will go back to add a better roof for the coops so they last longer. We have looked at a lot of commercial chicken coops, and they are quite costly. Of course it does help that we have a lot of the wire, T-Posts, and cattle panels on hand. A lot of this design was considered because these are the materials we have free access to, simply re-purposing the supplies we currently have.
When looking at commercial chicken coops/houses, we have found them to be way too small and not cost effective at all. A lot of “good” ones cost $200+ and are quite tiny. We love having the ability to play around with our design to make improvements and build houses for our babies with materials that we have on hand.
Good morning, and welcome to “Part Two” of my mini-series, Getting to know our Chickens. I am excited to be telling you what I know about Black Copper Maran’s today.
Maran’s are a popular bird among “chicken people,” and we are partial to the Black Coppers. The reason these chickens are so popular is due to the fact that they are “chocolate eggers.” This means the eggs they lay are deep chocolate brown. This color of egg is highly sought after. Black Coppers (BC’s) are known for laying the darkest brown eggs.
BC’s are good for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good egg layers. On average a BC will lay 3 eggs per week, or 150-200 eggs per year. Second of all, BC’s are considered to be a hardy bird during the winter months. The flip side of that, however, is that they are NOT considered to be a hardy bird during the summer months.
BC’s are not considered to be an especially docile bird when compared to other breeds, but they are known for going “broody.” Broodiness is an excellent quality in a chicken. Broodiness is when a chicken will sit on the eggs to hatch them. Broodiness is rare in a lot of chicken breeds, and being a good mother hen is rare as well. Although we do have a hatcher and incubator for hatching our own chickies, it is nice to have hens on our farm who would make good mama hens if we decided to let them hatch naturally.
What we like most about the BC’s is their looks. Traditionally, male BC’s are black bodied with copper feathers around his head and saddle. Females are almost completely black, having only a bit of copper around their heads.
BC’s have an interesting history. With a lot of breeds, their lineage is clear. What breeds were mixed to accomplish the final result. With BC’s, the lineage is not that clear. During the 12th and 13th centuries, English ships came to port in French towns. When they docked, the crew would generally release their game roosters who had been victorious in fights. The game roosters would then breed with “swamp hens,” and this was how the original Marans came to be. The local farmers began breeding the offspring with other local birds in the 19th century, selecting for egg size and coloration.
During this time, WWII brought on a steep decline in interest in the birds. Luckily, individual breeders continued breeding and working with Marans. Although BC’s remained popular with individuals, there was not a clear standard for these chickens. In the 1990’s, breeders got together to set clear standards, and there began to be world wide interest in the breed. In 2010 Black Copper Marans were accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. They are one of the most sought after breeds, due to their unusually dark colored eggs.
A few weeks ago, we decided to add a dog to our farm. We thought that a good Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) was in order, and decided between us that we needed a Great Pyrenees. We found someone who had some for sale, and made arrangements to pick up our pup.
On the way to pick up the pup we got to talking, and ultimately decided that we needed two puppies. We messaged the people who were selling us the dog, and luckily she had another puppy available. We got both, Cash and Hank, and brought them home to our farm.
The pups have made a great addition to our farm. They are huge now, and will be huge dogs full grown. Already, they have proven to be a good investment. We have had ongoing issues with our neighbors dog (ND) coming over to kill our chickens. The other night, ND came over. Cash and Hank both went crazy, growling and barking at the ND. He was surprised to see them, and hesitant to come closer to the house. As soon as B opened the door and stepped outside, he tucked tail and ran back home.
Cash and Hank were originally meant to be LGD’s, as mentioned above. I am not sure that they will take up with the cows and stay out with them at this point. They have made the back porch their home at night. This is nice because we have two guard dogs on the back porch, and it keeps our chickens from roosting on the back porch, as they are prone to doing. Cash and Hank are more or less indifferent to the chickens. The first couple of days were rough because the chickens were afraid of the dogs, and the dogs were kind of afraid of the chickens. Now, everything is running smoothly and they are all coexisting peacefully.
In the few weeks that we have had our babies, they have proven to be good boys indeed. As soon as we set them free from their cage after the first week, they did an excellent job of letting ND know that he should not be on our property. Although they are still young pups, they are getting quite large and definitely made the other dog think twice about coming after our chickens.
They have gotten used to the chickens, specifically the crows of our rooster. Some of you may know that roosters have several different calls that they will make. One of those calls is an alarm call. The dogs have been around our rooster enough that they can now tell when the rooster is making an alarm call. This morning, for example, the rooster made an alarm call. Both dogs turned their head and were on alert to see what the alert was. Although the alarm call turned out to be nothing, it is still reassuring to know that our animals can communicate like that.
We are excited about the addition of our pups, and look forward to having them around our farm for years to come.
When I was writing my last blog post, it occurred to me that I had not really gone into a whole lot of depth on the types of chickens we have decided to keep, and the reasoning for keeping each breed. Sure, I have talked about the breeds we have right now (Chicken Farmer) and I have talked about our Rhode Island Red babies. But I haven’t really taken the time to explain the specifics of each breed, and why these chickens are the best for OUR farm. After talking with B, we decided that a “mini series” about our chickens would be a good idea. Welcome to “Part One” of our series.
Buff Orpington chickens are an English bird, and were first bred in the late 1800’s. Orpington chickens were “created” by a man named William Cook. Cook was breeding several varieties of chicken to get desired traits that he wanted in a chicken. His first cross was the Black Orpington. The Buff orpington was released to the public by Cook sometime between 1887-1894.
The Orpington chicken was a popular breed, and was being exported from England within 10 years. They were so popular for their coloring, and they are short fluffy birds with pale orange/brown or “buff” feathers. Buff’s were a favorite breed of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She had a flock that won several awards for their beauty and grace. However, by 2016, Orpington’s as a whole were on the endangered list. Thanks to small homesteaders with “back yard chickens,” the breed has been removed from the Conservancy list.
Buff Orpington chickens were the first breed that we really decided would be a good fit for us, as far as raising. There are several reasons that we considered the Buffs.
The first reason we decided the Buffs would be a good fit for us is that Buffs are a hardy breed of chicken, which means that they will withstand the harsh temperatures in our climate. This is important to us, as one of the big killers of our chickens this winter was the cold. Our Buffs that we got in late summer have withstood our cold and wet winter this year.
A second reason that we settled on Buff’s is that they are what is called a “dual purpose” breed. They were bred specifically for producing a higher quality of egg, while still maintaining good meat quality. Basically, when they are done laying they will be good for eating. On average, Buff’s lay between 200-280 eggs per year. Their eggs are a nice light brown color. This is important because if we sell these eggs to individuals, most will want a nice brown egg. Most people consider the brown eggs to be a “true” farm fresh egg, although there are chickens who lay white eggs.
A third reason that we settled on the Buff’s is their temperament. Buff’s are known for being good chickens to have as pets. While we don’t exactly intend to keep ours for pets, exactly, this is still a good feature that we want in our chickens. They are docile birds, and do not make or like a lot of noise. The hens are good for raising babies, and typically make good mothers. This is good because a lot of chickens actually DO NOT make good mothers, and will kill the babies when they hatch.
Overall, the Buff’s are a good addition to our farm. They will be a good bird that we can sell the eggs from, and still eat when they are done laying. We will also hatch and sell the babies from our Buff’s.
The choice of which chickens to keep is a tough one, but the Buff’s were a no brainer.