We have entered a lovely time of the year now when our Spring-born pullets have started laying like crazy! Ideally we would have started our chicks in the Fall, so they would begin laying in the Spring, but our plans were derailed by the stray dog attack of 2017. We had plenty of hens to produce a good number of eggs each week, but our flock was decimated, and so was our egg production for much of the Spring and Summer this year. We aren’t starting any more egg laying chicks this Fall because we are at a comfortable number of hens that are just entering their prime. But, going forward we will probably start rearing our egg layers in the fall and try to implement a plan to cycle through our aging hens to keep production as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Robbo, our farm matriarch, is the one hen that will be granted immunity from the cycle-o-stewing-hens.
So, why am I emphasizing starting our future egg layers in the Fall? Doesn’t everyone think of baby chicks in the Spring? Well, Spring does bring with it the romantic excitement of growth and regrowth as we throw off the shackles of a long winter, but for production purposes, it’s not optimal. When we start chicks for our laying flock in Spring (say March/April), we are not going to get eggs from those chicks for 4-6 months. Well, as you may or may not know, egg laying is triggered in large part by the number of daylight hours. So, as our days are getting longer in the Spring and Summer, our young pullets aren’t in production yet. Just as the pullets come into production in late Summer the days begin to get shorter, thus slowing egg production. Spring-born pullets will be flush with eggs in late summer, but will only have a small, optimized window before things slow down in the fall and winter. As consumers we don’t really think of eggs as being seasonal, but they really are. Some producers use artificial lighting to create the “daylight” required for hens to continue laying through the winter, but we have no desire to do that to our hens. We think it’s important to allow the biology of our birds to act as it would in nature and allow their bodies to have a period of time to recover. We still get plenty of eggs through the winter, but it’s significantly less than the summertime.
Now, when you consider hatching chicks in the Fall (September-November) you can see that these chicks will be spending that first 4-6 months of their lives when they wouldn’t be laying anyway, during the darkest time of year. As you can see, it makes sense to rear chicks at this time of year because they will begin to lay right as our days are getting longer, providing for a much longer and productive laying season.
Since we are flush with eggs right now, I’d like to take a moment to talk about our eggs. I recently heard some college students at Target (who were buying cheap eggs) talking about the price of “farm fresh” eggs they had come across and were incredulous that they were $5/dozen. I was in a hurry, but I really wish I would have had time to stop and chat with them about the economics of local, small-scale, pastured egg production. As many of you know, we currently sell our eggs for $5/dozen (by the way, holler at Shannon on Instagram @1450Farm or email us at 1450Farm@gmail.com if you need some eggs and live in Lawrence!). We have amazing customers that understand the value and quality of our product, so we haven’t gotten any pushback on our price. In fact, we’ve had several people tell us that they pay more for “Organic” eggs at local natural grocery stores. Obviously eggs prices are all over the map. I’ve driven past large grocery store chains here advertising eggs for $0.99/dozen and I’ve seen eggs for $7/dozen. I think it’s important to compare apples to apples (or eggs to eggs as it were) because not all eggs are created equally. Those sub-$1 eggs come from chickens that have been stuck in a wall of artificially lit cages inside a factory (I wouldn’t call it a barn), fed cheap food, and live a horrible life. Some people don’t care about the animal welfare of a chicken, but I am not one of those people. But, beyond the poor treatment of the chickens, the egg coming from that system is nutritionally inferior. So, if you don’t care about the animal, perhaps you care about your own health? Eggs that are labeled “organic” are a step up in that they are fed a better quality of feed and are generally required to have a little more space than conventional chickens, but the organic standards for animal production are pretty laughable. This is where local egg production has such a wonderful advantage over large-scale producers. Well, that and the fact that you are going to get a much fresher product because they haven’t been stored and shipped all over the country. Local producers are typically going to be selling you eggs that are less than a week old and often times just a day or two old.
Beyond the freshness, local producers are more likely to be raising their hens in a more natural system. Most local producers I know either allow their birds to day range on pasture or have them in large, mobile structures with wire mesh ends that get moved to fresh pasture daily while allowing the birds protection from predators. These systems allow the birds to scratch and peck, eat bugs, clover, grass, etc. The end result of these systems is a final product, the egg, that has a more nutritious nutrient profile because of how the chicken was able to get its nutritional requirements filled. Our hens are currently housed in a stationary coop at night and then allowed access to a portion of one of our fields during the daylight hours. Once we have this field perimeter fenced, we are going to start moving them around the pasture along with our meat birds to help spread their manure around and improve the quality of our pastures.
Another important component of our egg production is our feed. As we’ve mentioned in the past, we use only certified organic feed milled here in Kansas. Organic grain is quite expensive, but we feel that it is worth the extra cost. When you account for the cost of grain, the cost of egg cartons (which aren’t as cheap as you’d think they would be), the cost of labor (feeding, watering, collecting eggs, washing eggs, packing eggs), raising chicks, coop and nest box bedding material, water, etc. you can see that our cost to produce a dozen eggs is much more than a conventional production system. So, next time you see a local farmer selling a product at a premium over what you see in the grocery store, please take the time to consider the quality and nutrition of their product over what you see at the store. Take the time to learn about how and why a local farmer raises their food and try to understand the difference in products that share the same name, but are vastly different. An egg isn’t just an egg and not all bacon is created equal.
It’s been a little over two months since we added our first batch of turkeys to the farm. As you’ll recall, we lost some of our heritage birds in the brooder phase, but added a handful of Broad Breasted White turkeys to the mix for a grand total of 15 turkeys. As of today, we still have all 15 of those turkeys (it’s hard to knock on wood and type at the same time)! We moved the turkeys out to one of our pastures near the garden to let them scratch around and deposit some manure in an area that we would eventually like to expand our garden into. We put up a section of Premier One electric poultry net fencing around the hoop coop and kept them shut in the coop for a little over a week to get them acclimated to their new environment. Since the stray dogs destroyed part of the hoop coop last winter we added a new tarp to the top and reinforced some of the wiring in the lower section of the coop. Since turkeys are pretty hardy we used a tarp that would stretch from end to end, but wouldn’t go all the way to the ground, so they could get sunshine and air flow when they’re inside the coop, but still have protection from the rain. So far this setup has worked really well for the small number of birds we have.
Shannon lets the turkeys out every morning and makes sure they have food and water. They have developed such wonderful personalities and follow us around wherever we go inside their fence. We have both been surprised by how much we are enjoying the turkeys. In the evening we sometimes have to “herd” a few of the stragglers back into their coop for the evening, but for the most part they are getting the hang of going back into their home to roost. The heritage birds occasionally fly over their fence, but so far they haven’t strayed into the woods. Typically we find them pacing the fence line trying to figure out how to get back over to their friends. It’s adorable to watch the little Toms puff up their feathers and strut around when they all get worked up. We plan to eventually build a mobile roost with a roof to move around the pasture once we have it externally fenced, but for now we’re content to move the hoop coop around in the electric net.
Speaking of the future, what’s the plan for turkeys on our farm long-term? Well, 10 of these birds will be going to the processor on November 1stand we will keep 5 of the heritage birds to either grow out a little longer or keep to breed. Since the Broad Breasted turkeys can’t mate naturally, we won’t keep any of them. Feeling pretty comfortable with the turkeys now, we will probably look to incubate some heritage turkey eggs and order around 50 Broad Breasted Whites to finish out for Thanksgiving 2019. We will be taking pre-order deposits for those birds next summer and will keep you posted on how all of that will work. All of our turkeys will be (and currently are) fed organic feed and allowed to roam our pastures during the day. As I’ve mentioned before, both of these elements are very important to us and guide how we’ve chosen to farm. If you’ve been following the news lately you’ve probably seen the reports of glyphosate in breakfast cereals. There is much debate about how much exposure is safe for people, but given the opportunity to have traces of it in my children’s food or not having any in it, I’ll choose the latter every time. If things go well with our 2019 batch, we will probably increase our numbers again in 2020 and hopefully get to the point of doing over 100 a year. Turkey is the centerpiece of most American Thanksgiving tables and we look forward to producing an organically fed, local, pastured bird for our community.
If you look at the labels of things like chicken and eggs at the grocery store you will find a dizzying number of buzzwords trying to entice you to make the “right” choice. Many of the labels are just ambiguous phrases that make the consumer feel good about what they’re eating, but aren’t really a meaningful representation of what the consumer thinks they’re getting. Things like “natural” and “cage-free” sound good to the average consumer who imagines a serene, pastoral setting with chickens scratching the lush grass at the base of a windmill, but let’s talk about reality for a minute. I’m not going to drill down on every labeling phrase, but be warned, most of them are meaningless. Some “cage free” and “free range” birds never even see the outside of a crowded commercial chicken house. That “range” could be a slab of concrete or bare dirt outside a small door that they never even pass through. Most people (myself included) feel good about buying things labeled “organic”, but when it comes to organic meat products, you’re really only being guaranteed that the animal was fed organic grains and not given antibiotics/growth hormones/etc. While that’s better than some production methods, that doesn’t mean the chicken wasn’t still just crammed into a crowded building while it was eating organic grain.
So, what’s the answer? We think it’s locally raised, pastured poultry. What does that mean? Well, who knows? What it means in most pastured poultry operations and in our system is that once our birds have fully feathered out in the brooder (about 3 weeks of age), they are taken out to our pasture and are placed into floorless structures that allow the birds to eat grass and bugs along with their grain rations. Some people seem misled by the term “pastured” and think that it means the chickens are not given any supplemental feed and are gleaning all their needs from the pasture, but that’s not the case. At a production level, it’s not feasible to expect to grow chickens to a marketable size with no grain inputs. The structures, called chicken tractors, are moved to new grass every day to allow the birds to continue foraging for a portion of their diets. This forage allows the chickens to uptake more vitamins, minerals, omega 3’s, etc. than they would otherwise get in a confinement operation, thus producing a more nutrient-dense meat. We are planning to experiment with a day-range system once our pastures have perimeter fencing to allow the birds to range over more ground than a chicken tractor provides. While the final product will remain the same, we think it’s ultimately better for the birds.
Our main goals in farming are to produce the healthiest possible products in the most environmentally beneficial way we can. As I’ve mentioned in the past, we use organic grains for all of our animal operations that require supplemental feed (future lambs and cattle will be grass-only). We think that the organic production methods used to produce our grain not only provide a more nutritious feed for the animals, but also are much better for the environment than conventional grain production. Another added benefit of pasturing our chickens (and turkeys) is that we are able to evenly distribute their manure as a natural fertilizer across our pasture, which will help in building the quality of our soil and grasses/legumes. With proper stocking density, we’ll be able to add sheep and a few cattle to our pastures and they will graze and trample the grass, which will also help build soil and grass. Over the course of a few years, we should see our pastures improve significantly without having to bring in any additional fertilizers. As our pastures improve through daily pasture rotations, we should be able to increase our stocking density, allowing us to produce more animals on the same land base. All from proper, intensive grazing practices!
While the animal welfare piece and the environmental impact component of this is important, we still have to produce a great tasting product. This is another area where pastured poultry wins out over conventional, confinement chicken. You can taste the difference. When birds are allowed to eat grass, clover, and grasshoppers, all while actually being able to walk around, they develop a superior flavor. Pastured poultry producers usually raise their birds a little longer than confinement operations too, which allows the birds to develop more quality fat and muscling, resulting in a better flavor and texture profile as well. We recently had some friends in town from Colorado and decided to cut up one of our whole chickens, brine it, and grill it for them. Our friend, Sean, couldn’t stop raving about how good the chicken was. He was telling us that he had recently bought some chicken from the store and it had a terrible texture and no flavor. We haven’t bought chicken from the store for a couple years, but it sounded about like how I remember it. If you want the best tasting and most nutritious chicken you can buy, seek out a farm raising pastured poultry in your area. It will definitely cost you a little more, but it’s reflective of the real cost of raising real food.
You guys! This is my new FAVORITE pizza sauce. Shannon here, and I just want to share my new, delicious and homemade pizza sauce recipe made from our own home grown tomatoes (and onions and herbs). Its not a quick process so, make sure to plan it for your day off! Don’t worry, although it takes time – it’s not very complicated.
We are not alone in saying that growing gorgeous, sun-ripened tomatoes in the heat of summer has to be one of our favorite parts of the season. A lot of the times we all consume them straight from the vine faster than we can get a nice stash up at the house. Finally, we had a beautiful pile of tomatoes and the wheels started turning on what to make first.
We have a tradition of Friday Night Pizza at our home. (it’s not always on Fridays but usually once a week). Aaron makes a wonderful homemade pizza dough and we make simple yet delicious pizza with the boys. Instead of buying the jarred stuff this week, I decided to take on making my very own pizza sauce. I kind of winged it and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I just hope we didn’t get spoiled and can still appreciate the jarred stuff when time and supplies are limited.
We are growing a variety of tomatoes from small to large such as Sun Gold, Black Cherry, Red Pear, Valley Girl, Brandywine, San Marzano, Monte Carlo and Lilliput Cherry. I decided to make a party out of it and use them all! Although, you could surely use whatever you have on hand.
I gathered all of my beauties up and weighed them on my kitchen scale – it added up to be 4 pounds. First I had to clean and core the tomatoes and cut an “X” on the bottom for blanching. This will make it easier to peel the skins off. Once you have them ready, use a large pot to boil water. Slowly add your tomatoes for about a minute using a skimmer strainer to both add and remove the tomatoes. Luckily they won’t be too hot since they were only in the boiling water a minute. Then you get to work on peeling the tomatoes (don’t forget to save the skins and cores for your chickens or compost!)
Now you take the skinned tomatoes (Is it just me or do they feel super weird without their skins?!) and you’ll dice them. Set them aside.
Next, I gathered some onions from the boys’ gardens and diced them up – about a cup. Then I minced about 3-4 cloves of garlic. We grow a variety of herbs in our landscaping bed – so, I went out and grabbed a bit of basil and oregano – equalling to about a tablespoon each once chopped.
Now the fun part. With about 2 tablespoons of olive oil warmed in the dutch oven on medium heat, I added in the onions. Once they are starting to caramelize a bit – about 4 minutes or so I added the garlic in for another minute. Then I added in the diced tomatoes, herbs, about a teaspoon of salt and a few shakes of pepper. I decided to also drizzle in some honey – maybe just about 1-2 teaspoons but in hindsight, I’m not sure it needed it with the sweetness of the tomatoes. I also usually add a few dashes of turmeric to things and this time, one bayleaf.
I gave it a nice stir and turned down the heat to low and let it simmer for HOURS. Ok, it was just 2 but it did seem like forever. The aroma was amazing. After the time it needed to thicken, I threw it all in a food processor (or a blender would work!) and blended it all into a nice puree. I wish you could have experienced the savory and sweet aroma! Four year old Arlo licked the spoon and could NOT get enough – he could barely wait for it to be added to the the pizza!
Now you just add it to your favorite pizza recipe. We’ll post ours here soon! Enjoy and let us know what you think!
Shannon’s Homemade Pizza Sauce
4 pounds of garden fresh tomatoes
1 cup chopped onions
3-4 garlic cloves – minced
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
few dashes of turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp honey (optional)
Directions: Clean and Core tomatoes. Cut an “X” on the bottom of the tomatoes. Blanch for approximately 1 minute in boiling water. Using the X part of the tomato – peel then dice.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. Cook onions for approximately 4 minutes until tender. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add the rest of the ingredients and lower heat to Low – simmer for 2 hours.
When sauce thickens after simmering, put in a food processor or blender and blend. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for a week. Enjoy!
After doing some trial runs with the Cornish Cross, we’ve decided to squeeze in a couple of batches of chickens this Fall that will be available for sale! We secured processing dates on October 11thand November 1stfor two batches of 50 chickens. We will be retailing our pasture-raised, organically fed chicken for $5.49/lb for a whole chicken. If you would be interested in reserving chicken for your family, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are providing a discount for orders of 10 or more birds. Orders will be filled in the order they are received and we will notify you when we are sold out. We are also going to be processing some of our turkeys on November 1st, so we may have a few of them available as well, but we want to make sure we keep them alive long enough to process them before we pre-sell any of them :).
We also wanted to let you all know that next year we will be adding a chicken CSA to our offerings. We are working on setting up a system where we will have 3 package sizes available at discounted prices (the more you buy, the cheaper per pound). We will be sending out an email in late Winter for sign up and will be taking deposits to secure spots in the CSA. Once we have all of the logistics worked out we will post about the details before sending out the sign-up email. If you are looking to fill up your freezer with chicken next year or just get a few birds every now and then, we’ll have a package that fits your family’s needs.
And since we’re talking about next year already. We will be adding forest-raised, organically fed pork to our line-up in 2019. Our first pigs will probably be ready in June or July, but when we have dates and quantities lined up, we will begin taking orders for half and whole hogs. We will also be ramping up our turkey production significantly, so stay tuned in 2019 for pre-ordering opportunities to secure a local, pastured, organically fed Thanksgiving turkey.
I know a lot of this stuff is pretty far down the road, but we are excited for the opportunity to grow our farm in 2019 and wanted to let you know what’s on the horizon. Our pullets just started laying, so we should be flush with eggs here shortly. Email us or let Shannon know on Instagram (@1450farm) if you want to be notified when eggs are available ($5.00/dozen). We can’t begin to express how grateful we are for the fast support we have received this year. Cheers!
As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, Shannon and I both work full-time off-farm jobs. I spend my days running my own business and doing physical labor outside from March – December, while Shannon spends her days inside laboring mentally. Coming from the corporate world, I understand just how taxing mental labor can be, so like most working people, we are pretty tired at the end of the day. Unlike a lot of people, our work starts beforework and ends around sundown. These days Shannon gets up before anyone else in the house and makes her way down to open up the chicken coop and make sure all of the chickens, ducks, and pups have food and fresh water. She typically takes the Pyrenees on a perimeter walk around the front pastures and works with them around the chickens.
When I get home, usually between 4-5, I stop and freshen all of the waterers again since the temps have been 90+ pretty consistently since late Spring here. I make sure feeders are topped off, and I gather eggs. Sometimes we all go down to visit all of the animals again after dinner, but that doesn’t happen on nights the children decide to spend way too long at the table not eating their food. We alternate nights putting the kids to bed, so whoever is not conducting bedtime heads back down to check on the garden and close up the coop. Most of the time in the garden these days is harvesting okra, squash, and tomatoes and gathering tomato hornworms and squash bugs to toss to the chickens. In the height of summer, we have enough sunlight to allow for a good deal of leisure time to snuggle on the puppies before the sun sets. It’s really amazing how mentally refreshing it is to just go sit in the pasture with the pups for 30 minutes or so.
Right now chores are pretty easy. Back in Spring (and coming up again later this summer) we had the pastured meat birds to deal with a couple times a day as well. I would go down to the pasture every morning and move their pasture pen forward to new grass, topping of the feeder, and making sure their water was full. Every night about 12 hours later, we would have to go back to the pens to remove any feed that was left to prevent them from overeating and suffering heart attacks and leg problems. We have a batch of 50 meat chickens coming at the beginning of September and we might try to do some starting in August, too, but we are still trying to decide on that. So, if you are interested in buying some whole chickens, we should have some available after November 1st. The labor of moving the chicken tractor is pretty easy the way we have it set up, but we’re planning to modify how we raise them a bit next Spring (or whenever our pasture is fully fenced). We like the pasture pen method for security, but we want to create something closer to a day-range model since the dogs and fencing will be available to protect them from predators. If we are successful with our range model, it should cut our labor significantly when we increase our meat bird production.
A lot of these chores aren’t terribly taxing, but they have to be done every single day of the year. You can’t just skip a day or two. Obviously we enjoy doing this, so it doesn’t seem so bad to us. We were just talking the other day about how we don’t even know what we would be doing with our time if we didn’t have the farm. We might watch a show or two on tv at night before bed, but we’re not the type of people to just sit and watch tv for long stretches at a time. I’m sure we would find other hobbies to fill our time, but I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than raising our own food and teaching our kids the importance of caring for the land and our food system. A lot of people think we’re nuts, and we probably are, but hopefully we can keep improving and growing our farm while transitioning it away from being just a side-hustle. Thanks for joining us on this journey!
We’re entering the time of year when gardeners and market farmers are about to be up to their ears in summer squash. If you’ve grown tired of it, you can go with the tried-and-true method of leaving a bag of the stuff on your neighbor’s porch, ringing the door bell, and running back to your house, but I would recommend trying a light pasta dish with it first. We got our garden in late, so we’re just now getting to the joyous-abundance-of-squash phase of the year. With our first harvest, we decided to make a light, simple pasta dish to accompany the heat and humidity that have settled into Eastern Kansas this summer. Give it a try and let us know how you like it and feel free to share any of your favorite summer squash recipes!
16 oz of your favorite pasta (we used Strozzapreti)
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 small summer squash (we used crookneck yellow squash & a zucchini)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs Olive Oil or bacon grease
Splash or two or three of Balsamic vinegar
Shredded Parmesan to taste
Fry up the bacon and set aside while you make the rest of the dish. If you want to use the bacon grease to sauté the veggies, omit the olive oil from the ingredients. If you cook your bacon in the oven, I can’t help you. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta per the package’s directions. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the garlic in either olive oil or bacon grease over medium heat for a minute. Add the squash and continue to sauté until the squash is tender. Once squash is tender, add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar to the mix and sauté a little longer. When the pasta is done cooking, drain and return to pot. While pasta is still hot, add butter to pasta and mix. Mix in the cooked squash, bacon, and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Add Parmesan to each serving of pasta.
We like to accompany this dish with a hearty loaf of bread from our local bakery along with a healthy heap of fruit. We’ve also found that alerting our kids to the fact that the food we’re eating came from our garden seems to motivate them to eat it a little better. It’s especially helpful if they helped plant or harvest whatever it is we’re eating. So, if your kids don’t like to eat veggies, try growing them together!
Sometimes in life you get something that makes you wonder how you managed to function before you go it. That’s pretty much how we feel about our Great Pyrenees pups, Bo and Lou. Pyrenees have been on our radar for a long time, but until recently our home wouldn’t have provided the right environment for them to thrive. Now that we are building our farm with them in mind, we are enamored with them.
As you’ll recall, we got Bo and Lou back in January when they were little, squishy puppies. Ok, Pyrenees pups aren’t exactly little, but man are they ever cute. Well, our little fluff balls have since matured into stoic, lanky 7 month-old teenagers. Perhaps “teenager” isn’t fair, because they don’t really act like teenagers, but they’re kind of at that developmental stage where they haven’t filled out all the way and they still like to wrestle around. At every stage of their lives, I have to say, they have been the best dogs we could ever hope for. We absolutely adore our two old-timers up at the house (13 year-old Oscar and 10 year-old Merle), but these puppies have seriously made me question whether I ever want another breed of dog. From the day we picked them up they have been the calmest, most well mannered dogs we’ve ever had. Sure they’ve chewed a few collars and leashes up and they like to carry their food bowls out into the pasture sometimes, but overall, they’ve surpassed our expectations.
Since we got the puppies we have been working with them to get them used to being around our chickens. We plan to have the dogs guard our future flock of sheep, but one of the other main reasons we got them was to hopefully eliminate some of our chicken predator issues. We have set up a fenced off area using portable electric sheep fencing that surrounds a permanent chicken run where we’ve housed some hens after our winter dog attack. It also surrounds our newest “hoop coop” that houses all of our soon-to-be-laying pullets and another area of electric poultry net that surrounds fresh pasture for them. We’ve created an alley around the pullet coop and fence to allow the dogs to patrol their entire perimeter. We often walk them around their perimeter, but Shannon also takes them for a walk around the perimeter of our two front pasture areas so they are familiar with our boundaries. We plan to eventually have both pastures fenced in, so they will have a decent amount of ground to cover.
From day one, we have been working with the dogs inside of the permanent run to get them used to being amongst the chickens and ducks. We started by taking them in on leashes, and corrected any undesirable behaviors, like chasing or trying to eat their food. As they’ve gotten older we’ve begun to allow them in the run without leashes, but still with supervision. They show almost no interest in the birds, even when the roosters mount the hens! We’ve been really pleased with how the dogs have interacted with the chickens, but recently we’ve noticed that if any pullets jump the fence into the dog area, they get a little more excited about the chickens. We’ve seen Bo run toward the chickens, but we haven’t seen any physical altercations yet. We’re wondering if perhaps the dogs distinguish between dog areas and chicken areas and while they are fine with the chickens when they go into the chicken area, they are less so when the chickens enter their area. Perhaps we’re being overly concerned, but we are going to start leashing the dogs and bringing chickens into their area to get them used to having chickens in ALL the areas they will be covering. We are planning to run an egg-mobile down the pastures once we have the permanent exterior fence up and we need to be able to trust the dogs with day-ranging chickens. We’re easing into this because we can’t afford another setback like the stray dog attack. It takes 4-5 months to get a chick to laying age and we don’t want to have to start over from scratch again. I have no doubt that some day we may go down to the field to find a chicken walking on a sleeping Pyrenees, but we aren’t there yet.
Even though we still have a little way to go before we can fully trust these pups with our poultry, we’re encouraged by their protective instincts. They’ve become pretty good little barkers and will give passing deer, coyotes, and throaty trucks an earful. And when they show each other their teeth while they wrestle, it becomes clear why they are such revered livestock guardian dogs. These dogs are not for everyone, but they are perfect for us.
If you follow the farm on Instagram (@1450farm), you’ll sometimes see Shannon post that farming is hard. It is. As I mention last week, we lost some turkeys in the brooder, and while they were just a few day old turkeys, it’s still not fun to dispose of dead things. While I was sick, Shannon had to remove our neighbor’s dead cat from the garage and last weekend she took on turkey-disposal duty. I’m typically the one that deals with death on the farm, but she had to take over that role recently and it was hard on her. I’ve dispatched several chickens over the years and it’s something that, while I’ve grown used to, still leaves me sad. One of the benefits of death on the farm, however, is that it provides an opportunity to see what parts of our management can be improved to hopefully remediate losses in the future. While not the most enjoyable way to learn, at least something good can come from loss.
Well, since we last blogged, we suffered more loss on the farm. No, we didn’t lose any more animals, but we lost a significant portion of our garden. We had a tremendous hail storm move through the farm in the night last week and when we went out the next morning we saw our once-thriving garden ravaged. Our 120+ tomato plants were stripped of foliage and had broken limbs and dented fruits. The okra plants faired a little better, but still had quite a few broken bits. Our cucumber plants were absolutely demolished and the green beans are pretty beaten down. I tore off all the broken foliage on our squash plants and hope that with a little time and some extra fertilizer we can rejuvenate what’s left. We’re going to reseed some crops and hope to salvage some production. Fortunately we have a pretty long growing season here in Kansas, but it’s disheartening to watch all of the hours of (Shannon’s) hard work be destroyed in 10 or 15 minutes of 60 mph winds and marble/quarter sized hail.
Ultimately we would like to have some hoop houses or caterpillar tunnels to have some protected growing areas on the farm, but I’m not sure how they would have held up in the storm that hit us. I think one of the biggest take-aways we got from this experience is that we are doing the right thing in our personal farm context. We’re diversifying our enterprises. If our livelihood depended on just the market garden, we would be in real trouble right now. Pulling dozens and dozens of damaged fruits off of plants put a dent in the amount of food we’re going to be able to put up this year, but it isn’t going to be a financial burden for us. As the farm grows and we derive more of our personal income from it, that story changes. This has definitely reaffirmed our need to spread our risk across many ventures, so that if we have catastrophic losses in one, we can hopefully offset those losses in other areas.
Farming is hard, but with the trials come myriad opportunities for personal growth and education. There’s no room for complacency, but isn’t that just how life should be? We will replant what we can and hope Mother Nature decides we’ve learned enough lessons this season. In the mean time we’re going to do some brainstorming to figure out if we can diversify even more in the future.
Coming into this farming season, we decided to ramp up our enterprises a bit to trial run some ventures we thought we’d like to add to the farm. The no-brainer first addition was the pastured broilers. Since we have raised egg layers and culled our heritage breed roosters, we felt like it wouldn’t be a stretch to try our hand at meat production. We need to modify some of our infrastructure and dial in our processing ages (depending on what strain of Cornish cross we end up using), but we’re pretty confident in managing a pastured poultry operation moving forward. I have a call into our processor to see about getting a batch of Cornish from them at the end of July, so stay tuned if you’re going to be in the market for some pastured, organic-fed chicken around late September/early October.
The next logical enterprise that would integrate well with our current enterprises is pastured turkey. Well, as I tend to do, I decided that I wanted to try my hand with heritage turkeys first to see how we liked their meat and decide if we thought it was worth raising them over a traditional broad-breasted white turkey (the commercial standard). I saw a lot of people recommend Porter’s Rare Heritage Turkeys (porterturkeys.com), so I decided to order a breeder’s choice assortment of 15 turkeys way back in November. I was under the impression that the turkeys would be delivered mid-May, but we didn’t end up getting them until June 7th. It actually worked out really well that they came later because I would have been sick when they were supposed to come. Also, just to be clear, Porter’s states on their website that they will try to meet your earliest requested shipping date, but shipments can be delayed because of issues with hatches and other things that are really out of their control. I just didn’t want to give the impression that we had any issues with the hatchery.
Well, when we opened the box, after retrieving it from the post office bright and early, we saw 16 little googly-eyed poults staring up at us chirping. At first glance they really just looked like a box of baby chicks, but upon further examination we noticed their bigger eyes and little bump above their beaks where their snood will be. We dipped their beaks in their waterer and set them in front of their feeder and sat back to observe for a bit before heading off to work. We quickly noticed how much more curious turkey poults are than chicks. When we stick our hands down into the chick brooder they scatter and chirp like crazy, but when we stuck our hands into the turkey brooder they would come running over to us to see what was going on, sometimes pecking at us or jumping at our hands or phones (I mean, how can you not take pictures of 2 day old turkeys). They are full of personality.
After the first two days in the brooder we were feeling pretty good about how things were going. We had heard and read plenty of horror stories about how difficult poults can be to keep alive the first few weeks of their lives. People say they’re always coming up with new ways to die. Well, if I’m being honest, I usually cast aside commentary like that and assume that I can manage things better. This time I was wrong. On day three we started noticing a poult that didn’t look like it was doing well. We intermittently dipped its beak in the water and tried to get it to eat, but after a while, it just dropped dead. We lost a couple more throughout the day in the same manner and we have no idea why. We did have the garage door open most of the day, so perhaps it was too humid, or perhaps they were just weak birds, or they never figured out where the food was, or some combination of several factors. In total we have lost five of our 16 poults, but the remaining 11 appear to be doing well. They are actively running around and I know all of our remaining poults are eating. We had already added some brown sugar and apple cider vinegar to their water when they first arrived to help give them a boost and mixed a bit of feed with some plain yogurt to give them some probiotics. After we started losing some birds, we added an electrolyte mixture and then a vitamin supplement. So, hopefully all of these steps will keep the remaining poults alive long enough to get out to pasture.
We can tell we already really like the turkeys. My main concern is that since we got heritage birds, I’m worried that we’re going to have a hard time keeping them where we want them. I’ve read they tend to like to fly up in trees to roost and well, we have around 10 acres of trees for them to choose from. Clipping their wings is an option, but I want to see how they react when we get them out on pasture before we decide to do that. After getting these turkeys I immediately wished we would have ordered some broad-breasted white turkeys so we could compare how we liked raising them and eating them so we could ramp up production next season knowing our preference. Our processor has some chick days for Cornish cross and hybrid egg-layers and also sells broad-breasted white turkeys on their farm in June and July, so I’m waiting to hear back whether they still have any available this season. If we can get some, we’ll probably add another 10 to our rafter of turkeys. My other concern is that my heritage birds won’t be ready to process before this Thanksgiving, so I’d like to at least have some turkey to try this year.
Ultimately, I think we will end up keeping some heritage birds to breed a small number of birds each year and then we’ll round out our turkey production with broad-breasted white turkeys. These birds will all be out on pasture eating bugs, worms, and grass, so they will be full of vitamins and minerals. I should also mention that, as with all of our poultry, we’re feeding our turkeys organic feed. We talked to our feed mill and they were able to custom blend a 28% protein organic turkey starter for us. The significantly higher protein requirement makes the turkey feed much more expensive than our chicken feed, so we will be tracking our costs closely to determine pricing when we are ready to bring our product to the public. I can guarantee that our turkeys will not be competitive with the birds you see in the supermarket, but I can also guarantee that we will produce the highest quality turkey in the area. When I see turkey (or chicken for that matter) at the store for $1.29/pound it makes me sad. Cheap food comes at a great cost. It costs us in our own health, it costs the animals in horrendous living conditions, it costs the contracted farmers who can’t make a living wage, and on down the line. We can’t wait to partner with conscientious, local consumers and to join in changing our food system for the better.
Farmers often have to think about and deal with sick or injured animals, but what happens when the sick one is the farmer? Recently we’ve had the misfortune of finding the answer to that question here on our farm. A couple of weeks ago I (Aaron) woke up shivering in the middle of the night and then again a few hours later to part with the contents of my stomach. The next day I went to work and struggled through the day with little energy and a pounding head (don’t worry, I work alone so I wasn’t jeopardizing anyone else’s health). That night I continued to have a terrible headache, fever, night sweats, and chills, so I went to the doctor first thing in the morning. While I was at the Dr. I mentioned to the PA that I had had well over 50 ticks on me this year and suggested that perhaps I should be tested for Lyme disease. She ran a full blood panel along with tests for Lyme and Ehrlichiosis (another tick-borne illness). When the results came back we were told that my white blood cell and platelet counts were low and that I needed to be tested again to be safe since I’ve had Melanoma in the past. The next blood test came back with even lower numbers and immediately signaled the PA to get me to a hematologist. Luckily between that test and my appointment with the cancer doc we got the results of a blood smear, which I understand as a literal smearing of blood on a slide for a pathologist to study under a microscope, and it showed no abnormal cell activity. After meeting with the hematologist he was pretty convinced that I was suffering from Ehrlichiosis and got me on the appropriate antibiotic for treatment. I went back for a blood test a week later and my levels were all back in the normal range and I was relieved to not be worrying about cancer anymore. You may be thinking, why all the detail for this when I could just tell you what I had, or not even mention it at all. Well, I wanted to share my experience and symptoms so that more people are aware of Ehrlichiosis. I had never even heard of the illness even though it is more prevalent in our area than Lyme disease, yet everyone knows about Lyme disease. It’s a tricky illness to diagnose because the testing commonly shows false negatives (mine was negative) based on the length of time it takes your body to create the antibodies that would show up on a positive test. We are really thankful to have had such proactive medical attention. I have never been so sick in my life and thanks to them I was able to get quick treatment and didn’t have to suffer as long as some people that aren’t diagnosed properly. I’m still not back to being 100% in terms of energy level, but we’ve read that can take some time for people following this illness.
So, other than bringing awareness to an illness I had never even heard of prior to a couple weeks ago, my other motivation for writing about this is how it impacted the day-to-day operations on our farm. I physically couldn’t do our farm chores while I was sick. I could barely do the work required of my main job, but luckily my dad was able to take time off of his job to come help me get my work done. Being a solo operator of your own business is usually a good gig, but this was a real wake-up call for me. With me out of commission, Shannon had to take over all of the work on the farm. I’m usually the one lugging around 50# feed bags and 5 gallon buckets of water, but now it was all on her shoulders. Fortunately, Shannon is strong and determined and is fully invested in the farm. If she had not been on board for all of the farm enterprises I’ve been setting up, it could have been a real strain for her to have to take on chores that she didn’t want in the first place. Our set up right now is pretty simple, but this made me think about how we need to plan everything on our farm in the future. I started wondering in hypotheticals about what would have happened if this had occurred at a time we needed to load pigs to haul to the processor or some similar physical activity. We need to start looking at systems and making sure that they can be physically handled by other people and that they can be easily explained to another person if we are both unable to do the chores, even for a short period of time. We also need to make sure that we are both aware of every aspect of the farm. As the initiator in most enterprises on this farm, I know what is happening, who gets what feed, when things need planted, etc., but Shannon has no way of knowing any of these things if I don’t tell her or if it’s not on a calendar. I think this is an important area that a lot of young, able-bodied people don’t really consider when they’re setting up their farm enterprises. Do you really want to lug buckets of water when you can have buried irrigation? Is there an easier way to haul feed? Do you want to have to move portable electric fencing frequently when you could have permanent exterior fences with easier to manage interior fencing? Sure, a lot of these more convenient options are significantly more expensive up front than their cheaper counterparts, but when you factor in your time and energy savings, it won’t take long for them to pay for themselves. Something that doesn’t require a great deal of capital is just simple job aids. Going forward, I think it would be wise for us to create job aids that detail the steps of everything that needs to be done on the farm. They need to be clear, concise, and set up so that a novice could look at it and understand how to do the task. An added benefit would be that if we ever have anybody come work on the farm we can make sure that all tasks are being done the same way every time to eliminate potentially negative variability.
We all get sick occasionally. No matter how much kombucha and kefir we drink or how many fruits and veggies we consume, we cannot eliminate illness from our lives. Sometimes we have to just work through the suffering, but that’s not always an option. It’s important to take steps to ensure that things will continue to run smoothly even if you aren’t. On the plus side, you’ll also have systems in place if you ever want to take a vacation (whatever that is!). If you don’t want to take the time to create systems, it would behoove you to not get bit by ticks.
NOTE: Going forward, we are using a natural bug repellent (like Bug Soother – it smells amazing!) on our skin and a standard bug spray that contains DEET on Shannon & Aaron’s boots and clothes every time we head out to do chores. Then, a full body tick check on everyone every night. It is also recommended to shower after spending time in tall grasses or wooded areas. The Pyrenees pups are on a Bravecto and the house dogs are on Vectra. We won’t be taking those tiny, little bugs so lightly anymore!
I can’t stand letting bananas go to waste after their prime and here in our family, we LOVE us some banana bread. It makes a great, quick breakfast for the boys on busy weekdays and Aaron loves to have a slice as dessert when it comes out of the oven.
I’ve mentioned this before, but we try to cut unnecessary cane sugar out of our diet whenever possible. Someday I’ll go into that more, but for now, just trust us that once you become used to your baked goods being a little less sweet, you will NOT miss it.
One of the key ingredients here is of course the very, very almost black bananas (the darker the sweeter) but also, using farm fresh eggs really makes a difference as well! I love replacing all or most of the cane sugar with local honey for the additional sweetness and I think you will too!
4 ripe bananas (I mean really ripe)
3 1/2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
5 farm fresh chicken eggs
3/4 cup of honey
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup of melted coconut oil
Optional: Powdered sugar or chocolate chips.
Preheat oven to 350. Grease two bread loaf pans.
In a large bowl, combine all of your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) and set aside.
Next, in your mixer if you have one, you’ll mash your bananas until blended. Start your mixer and begin adding ingredients one by one – buttermilk, vanilla, eggs individually, honey, canola oil, and coconut oil.
Once blended nicely, slowly add your mixed dry ingredients you’ve already prepared. Once well incorporated, you’ll pour into your greased loaf pans.
For a slightly sweeter loaf, sprinkle with chocolate chips OR powdered sugar.
Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake 40 more until toothpick test comes out clean.
Cool on a cooling rack. Serve with a little butter and a drizzle of honey for a richer treat!
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