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 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 we first started the adventure of having chickens, we never dreamed that it would be as in depth as it has grown to be, or rather that our interest in raising different chickens would become what it has become. Initially, we wanted chickens to eat the fresh eggs, and eat our own free range chickens as they stopped laying eggs. I am not sure, to be honest, where that stopped and our new adventure began, but here we are separating out our breeds and building new chicken coops.
When we got our first chickens back in late summer, we had a smattering of random chickens. We had Americeunas, Buff Orphingtons, Lavender Orphingtons, Rhode Island Red’s, and a smattering of others. From there, we have purchased some more chickens and traded for others. Over the winter, we had a massive decline in our chickens, as you may have read in our previous post, titled Rhode Island Red.
Since the weather is starting to get nicer, we have gotten a little ummm… chicken crazy. After hatching our Red’s in the smaller incubator, B decided that we needed a bigger incubator. We had looked for several used ones and decided upon a good used one. The one we purchased is actually meant to be used as a hatcher, where you put the eggs to hatch after they have been in the incubator for the allotted amount of time. The chicks will hatch there, freeing up the incubator for more eggs. The hatcher we bought has 6 racks, and can hold up to 600 eggs for hatching. The nice thing about the machine that we purchased is that it can double as an incubator.
We purchased some hatching eggs from several different people. First we got 4 dozen Buff Orphington eggs, and we plan to keep around a dozen of the ones that hatch for our personal stock. We also purchased some pure Ameraucana eggs, which we will keep about half of. We have Lavender Orphington eggs in the incubator, along with a few mottled Orphington eggs. We recently put in some eggs from our new Polish chickens as well.
Buff Orphington eggs in our Hatcher
Ameraucana eggs in our smaller incubator
Over the last two weeks we have acquired several new breeds.
First, we got our trio of Polish chickens: one rooster and two hens. They are currently residing in the dog house and pen that we had set up when we first got our two Great Pyrenees. We love looking out at their weird hair, and they have obviously settled to contentedness as they are already laying daily.
Second, we got some Black Astrolorp pullets. At least they were supposed to all be pullets. We are about 99% sure that one of them is a Roo, but that is not confirmed at this point. The Astrolorps are an Australian chicken, and are well known for laying brown eggs. They are basically an Australian Orphington. These guys are perfect for our flock as they are hardy in the winter, and lay dependably. They are also considered to be a rare breed.
Our Astro’s at eight weeks
The third big addition to our flock is the addition of a Copper Maran Rooster. The Copper is a great addition, and he will serve two purposes. With him, we will be able to keep our Ameraucana’s and our Copper hens all in the same pen with the Copper roo. Copper will be able to fertilize both breeds of hen and we will still be able to distinguish which egg is from which bird, which will tell us which babies are in the eggs. Copper’s lay dark eggs, and from them we will get full blooded Copper chicks, of course. The Ameraucana’s will lay the blue/green eggs, and from them we will get a breed called Olive eggers.
Overall, we are quite excited about our chickens. Although we haven’t resorted to naming them yet, that just MAY be the next step. We are learning as we go, and growing our flock. We can’t wait to share the next step with you!
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.
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.
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.