Well, here in Kansas it seems we have set off some sort of eternal winter. We have had snow (albeit not much) the last three weekends….of April! Nonetheless, we have been moving forward with our plans here on the farm, even if Spring refuses to come with us. Given the weather, it’s been a slow start to Spring, but we’ve still been chipping away where we can. Here’s a rundown of what’s been happening on the farm:
Chickens – As we mentioned last week, our Cornish Cross meat birds are out on pasture. It’s a small batch, so we are just using the A-frame chicken tractor we have. The last couple of days have been a bit challenging since our lows at night have dipped into the 20’s. Since this is our first run of pastured Cornish X we were a bit concerned that they would be able to handle the cold temperatures at less than 5 weeks old. The chicken tractor is protected on the sides, but is only covered by metal hardware cloth on the ends, leaving the chickens exposed to the cold and the blustery winds. While this works great to get a breeze through the coop in the summer, we worried that if we didn’t do something to protect the birds, we would wake up to a pile of frozen chickens in the morning. Well, after some talking and rummaging through the garage, we decided we could fold some old moving blankets in a triangle and fasten them to the ends of the coop with some screws screwed through some big metal washers to keep the blankets from stressing too much and tearing in the wind. We made sure the birds had sufficient water and feed and went to work covering the ends. The following morning I had to go out with my driver and unscrew the blanket from one end to access the door and make sure the chickens survived the night. I was pleased to hear their peeps before I even got to the coop. Success. There was still snow on the pasture, so I didn’t pull the coop forward to new grass like I normally do in the morning because I didn’t want them to be walking around in cold snow. Luckily we have such a small batch of chickens (19) in the coop that they had plenty of forage left to get them through one more day in that spot. After filling up the feed and topping of their water, I battened down the hatches to get them through one more day of unseasonably cold weather. These guys and gals have a date with the processor on May 7th, so we’ll give you an update on how well they finish out at that point.
Speaking of inventorying the garage, at last count we still had something like 76 chickens in our garage brooder. We had to move the two Polish Crested chicks into the side the Cornish vacated because the other chicks were pecking the feathers out of their little “hats”. It’s starting to get a little crowded in there, but hopefully we can get them out to their new coop by the weekend. We’re guessing we’ll have around 50 new layers out of this batch and we may keep another rooster or two, but the remaining 25ish roos will be processed around 16 weeks of age and then we can show you the difference between a heritage chicken and Cornish X after processing.
Did someone say “new coop”? That’s right, we’ve started construction on yet another coop. We’ve gone back and forth on coop design and ultimately just had to start building something since we need to move the chicks out of the garage pretty soon. I’ve been searching for a reasonably priced hay wagon or old running gear to build a mobile coop that we can move around following our future flock of sheep, but nothing has turned out locally yet. So, we decided to build a stationary coop next to the dog quarters. Since we ultimately would like to build a small-scale “eggmobile” we didn’t want to put too much time or money in this structure. After another farm inventory we decided that we would build walls out of pallets and arch cattle panels across them and cover the whole thing with a sturdy white tarp. After we set up the pallet walls, we fastened leftover roofing tin to the lower 3ish feet of the pallets to provide a bit of protection at ground level. Then we ran a 2×4 along the top of the roofing and attached a 2×6 to the 2×4 so that their bottom sides were even with each other and a pocket was created on top of the 2×4 that we could use to brace the cattle panel arch on each side. After the panels were up we secured them all together using heavy wire leftover from a chainlink fence project. Now we just need to build a man-door on one side and a pop-door and window on the other side. We bought some siding to put up on the ends so that it will look nice and be pretty predator proof, assuming they get past the electric fence and our vicious guard dogs. We will put together a little post on the coop so you can see how it all came together when we finish it.
Dogs – The Great Pyrenees pups just turned 5 months old! The stand as tall as our other 90 & 100 pound dogs already and seem to have little interest in harassing the chickens. We still keep them separated from the chickens and work with them in the chicken area, but we don’t quite trust them to be alone with them yet. The dogs have started showing natural signs of alertness and have been giving a few barks to interloping deer. Sure, we don’t really mind deer hanging around, but I suppose they do eat our fruit tree saplings and run through the garden, so bark away babies. I really can’t say enough good things about these dogs. They are wise and mature beyond their years…er, months. It really is hard to believe they are only 5 months old. They are so calm and so intelligent that we already can’t imagine the farm without them. Another success.
Sheep – Well, we still have none. The surveying company was supposed to be out last week to relocate our property lines and provide stakes through our pasture and our woods so we could put fencing in for sheep and pigs. They haven’t shown up yet. Hopefully they’ll come out this week and we can get started working on fence. Well, after we finish the coop and the much-needed detached garage we’re adding to alleviate the strain our house’s garage is currently feeling!
Turkeys – They’re supposed to be coming in the middle of May. I really hope they do because we turned down a trip to Mexico to be here for them! We placed our order for custom-milled turkey starter with the mill we just started using for our poultry feed and now we just wait.
Garden – The weather has really thrown a wrench in our garden this year. I wasn’t able to get the garden tilled before a rain a while back and the weather hasn’t been cooperating much as of late. We have a lot of stuff started in our nursery, but we’re definitely behind. In the future, we hope to do some tarping and stale seed bedding to minimize the impact of weather on our Spring bed prep, but for now we’re working with what we’ve got. Since this is still a trial phase for scaling up the garden a bit, we aren’t too concerned with being behind, but we can’t wait to get things moving along. We did notice some of our asparagus popping through the ground the other day, so we’ve got that going for us. One thing we really need to get a plan together for is irrigation in the garden. With everything we’ve got going on, hand watering just isn’t a feasible option. We’ve probably just run a splitter off our frost-free hydrant across the driveway from the garden and put some overhead sprinklers on an automatic timer. I can almost taste the first sun-ripened tomato already.
Well, as you can see, we’ve been pretty busy around here and things are about to charge full speed ahead once we get some consistently warm and sunny days! I hope our Spring is as long as our Winter.