Snow Day on the Farm

As a kid, we all loved getting snow days. School was canceled, and we all got to play in the snow: building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, etc. As an adult, however, we don’t really get snow days. A few weeks ago we had some bad weather in our area, and I was called off work. My husband, however, was not called off work. On a farm, the work never ends and there is no such thing as a snow day. If anything, there is more work on a snow day.

During the winter, our daily chores include feeding hay and grain to the cows. With our snow days we do typically feed extra hay to the cows, as they can lay in the extra hay and have some kind of warmth and protection from the wet and frozen ground. We have to count and check our cows daily to make sure that none of them are sick or hurt. If a cow gets sick, they can go downhill quickly. It is really important to do the daily checks so we can catch illness immediately. Mineral tubs are important to check daily as well, and refill as needed.

When the temperatures are below freezing, we also have to add chopping water to our list of daily chores. The cows need water, and we usually take a couple of extra hours to chop the top of the water so the cows can get a drink.

Now that we have started adding smaller animals to our farm, there is extra work that comes with that as well. The ducks really like to make a huge mess in their environment. Our daily chores now include cleaning up their messes, and providing them with fresh food and water. We are ready for the ducks to be a little older, when they will be more free range. Even with them free ranging, our daily chores will include cleaning up their messes AND will eventually include roosting them at night.

Our baby chicks are quite the project, making sure they are fed and watered, warm and happy. We happen to have a perfect little place for them in the barn where they are pretty well protected from the outside weather and critters. This helps a lot. With hatching our own chicks it takes longer to get eggs from them since they do not start laying until 5-6 months. However, we are excited with our new adventure of hatching our own babies.

The incubator itself is a daily chore as well. We found a good deal on an incubator that is a manual turner. This means the machine does not turn the eggs for us, so we must check the eggs every 4-6 hours and turn them ourselves. We also check the water levels in the incubator to make sure there is enough humidity for our growing hatchlings. The batch we have in the manual turner right now will be the first batch hatched from this incubator. Up until now we have been using a smaller incubator that only holds 24 eggs. This first batch will basically be our trial and error run.

Our full grown chickens do require daily chores as well, even though they are free range. We have found that when we feed our puppies the chickens will swarm them and eat the dog food. We now feed the chickens at the same time in effort to avoid this. Their water freezes on the cold nights too, of course. Checking for eggs is a daily chore, although our stubborn chickens like to lay their eggs all over the place. Thankfully, we have got most of our chickens roosting in their coop at night instead of on the back porch! B is working on some new coops this week which will give them a lot of space to move around, but they will be more contained and protected from hawks, raccoons, and other predators… (I’m looking at you, neighbor’s dog!)

Even on snow days, a farmer’s chores never end. They are on call 24/7, and the work is always there waiting for the next day.

Chickens for the Freezer

One of our new projects that B and I had talked about is the act of buying chickens specifically for our freezer. Obviously we don’t want to butcher all of our laying hens, but we also wanted some chicken for the freezer.

Typically, any chicken that you buy in the store is going to be meat from a Cornish Cross chicken. These chickens are bred to grow really big, really fast. They are supposed to be ready for butchering within 8-12 weeks from hatching. They are such a hungry bird, eating all the time, that you cannot put wood chips or other means of bedding in with them. The chickens will eat the wood chips, and it will kill them. They will eat day and night. Usually after about 4 weeks of age, they will lose most of their feathers. Our chicks have already lost most of their feathers. This is most likely a result of the cross breeding.

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When we originally started our venture with the chickens, we had discussed butchering any freeloading chickens: ie any chicken that doesn’t earn its keep by producing eggs. However, with having such a rough winter and subsequently losing so many of our chickens, we have yet to butcher any of our chickens.

A few weeks ago we decided to go ahead and order some Cornish X chickens. We ordered 25, but they mailed us a few extras. Most of the time, when you order chicks, they will send you a couple of extra chicks because some are expected to die during transit and soon after delivery. We got our chickens, and got them set up in the chicken house with some food, water, and a heat lamp.

These chicks are hands off. We check them every day to make sure that they have ample food and water, but otherwise we leave them alone. Basically with these chickens, you just leave food out and they eat all day long. Currently, we have around 20. We have lost a couple, but that is to be expected.

We have had our chicks for about three weeks at this point. They will be ready for butchering in another 5-9 weeks, approximately.

Rhode Island Red

Since we got our first chickens, we have been a little obsessed with getting more chickens. An almost daily conversation we have is what we want for the future of our chickens. The chickens originally started out as an experiment that I wanted to do, it has quickly grown to a project that Bryan is more excited about as each day passes.

We have had mostly failures with our chickens thus far. We lost a lot of the first, second and third batches of chickens that we brought in. We have had issues with hawks carrying off the chickens, a neighbors dog killing our feathered babies, and the normal chicken illnesses that had taken some others. Mix this with extreme weather conditions, and chickens that are less than ideal for the wet and cold winter we have had, and we are down to about 15 chickens at the moment.

We have been talking about getting some more chickens, in the hopes that they will be laying eggs by mid to late summer. This led us to reach out to a local chicken raiser who happened to have 2 dozen Rhode Island Red eggs ready to go in an incubator. We purchased the eggs at a steal, $3 per dozen. On average, even the chicks go for about $3 per chick. So we are basically paying 25 cents per chicken and then hatching them ourselves. We brought our babies home and put them in the incubator.

The incubator is one that we found on Amazon, and we have used it before. We love it! It works well, and was reasonably priced. We have talked about getting a bigger incubator in the future, but for now this one suits our needs. The one we use is a JANOEL incubator. It holds 24 eggs at a time. Here is the link to the one we purchased://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wrinklefarms1-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B06XX5P6VX&asins=B06XX5P6VX&linkId=b517bb21585eef6e0c21f15906cd1f12&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

The main features that we looked for when buying our incubator are: temperature regulation, automatic egg turning, and ability to see the eggs hatch. The one we picked met all of our expectations on this front. We LOVE that we can look in at the eggs at all times. When we hatched our last batch of chicks, we could also hear them inside of the shells before they hatched.

We are excited to see our Red’s grow. We are partial to the Red’s for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good about consistently laying eggs year round. Not all chickens do this, and many breeds stop laying eggs in the fall and winter. Second, Red’s lay brown eggs. This is important because many people feel that true farm fresh eggs should be brown, and not white. They aren’t wrong. Third, the Red’s are a good and hardy bird for our harsh winters. They do well in the cold.

Overall, we are very excited to start with our new batch of Red’s. There will be some changes coming to Wrinkle Farm, which will hopefully decrease the amount of chickens that we are losing.

Telling the Bull goodbye

A few weeks ago, we decided to part ways with our bull. We have had him for almost a year now and he just got done breeding all our ladies. I don’t normally sell bulls this fast, but this year it dosent make any sense to hold onto him till next fall breeding cycle.

Ultimately, we decided to sell the bull for several reasons. Our bull has gotten a little more aggressive over the last few months. Aggressive bulls are hard on our fences. In the last two months he has busted the fence a couple different times. One night, we got home to find him close to the house because he had busted loose. It’s scary trying to catch a bull at night when you can’t see what you’re doing, and the bull weighs about 2000 pounds.

Another reason we needed to see the bull go is because he has gotten so big that he runs the risk of hurting our cows during breeding. At this point he actually runs the risk of breaking our cows’ backs, hips, and back legs. He is so heavy and the cows are not big enough to handle his weight. He can actually push the cows down into the ground when breeding that it breaks bones. With his weight, he also runs the risk of hurting himself while breeding. He also can break his penis or rip the sheath when breeding a cow too small.

Since deciding to sell him I have thought about what direction we would like to go next fall with bull choices. I really like the way Brahma bulls crossed over angus cows look and how well they handle the heat and grow. I also have been thinking about going with a Hereford bull to give lots of growth to my calves and also make the more desirable white face black cows.

There is one final option I have thought on: renting one of the above bulls. The cost for me to buy a bull is around $2000-$4000 every 4-6 years as I would want to sell before they get too big to breed. Rent would only cost me around $500-$700 a year and I would only have to feed the bull for 90 days instead of 365 days.

One thing is for sure what ever choice we do decide we will get the best genetics we can afford so we can have the best calves possible.

The Slow Down

Winter brings a slow time of year. While there are animals to feed, and some chores outside to take care of, that typically only takes a few minutes of each day to complete. This leaves me with the task of trying to find other ways to occupy my time, including indoor chores.

In June, we are expecting our first child. With this adventure getting closer each day, I have been tasked with cleaning out our upstairs bedrooms to make space for the baby.

Over the years, the two upstairs rooms have become storage space for my grandparent’s collections. Both of them have several collections upstairs, and it has not been an easy task sorting through all of it. The main reason this is such a difficult task is because of the sheer amount of stuff that there is to go through. On top of Grandpa’s gun and fishing lure collections, there are also collections of antique dishes and other stuff that has been in boxes untouched for years. The task of going through all of these items has been especially hard on Grandma, as she has a hard time letting go of some of Grandpa’s things.

Despite the setbacks, we have made progress. One of the bedrooms is almost ready to go. That bedroom will become the office. We have successfully moved the roll top desk upstairs, and have a couple more things to move out before we get all the office space set up.

The other bedroom will, of course, be the baby’s bedroom. We have already started accumulating some of the bigger baby items needed. Tiffanie has also began collecting some of the smaller items, a pack of receiving blankets here, some bottles there. We are ready to have the room cleaned out so that we can start setting things up for the baby.

While it does make me sad to go through some of Grandpa’s things and ultimately throw it away, we are ready for this next chapter to begin.