Pulling Out All the Stops
It has been over a month since my last update. Honestly, I tried to get a post up before now, but finding the time is so crazy hard. It has been super busy on the farm! We’ve had some interruptions that caused us to shift gears a bit, some from the weather and some from our own choosing. All in all, I’m pleased with the progress over the last month, but always wish it could be more. I decided to break down our progress by the type of activity.
Laying hens – they have increased production this last month. We finally got them moved from their winter location. It was quite the process, waiting for a day that was dry enough so the bobcat and tractor wouldn’t leave too big of ruts in the pasture. All winter long, the addition of layers of straw creates what we call “deep bedding”. It aids in keeping them warm over the winter from the heat the pile generates, but by spring it is becoming a little too aromatic for our liking. We watched our compost pile grow into a mountain as we took bucket load upon bucket load. The bucket on the bobcat is larger than the tractor’s bucket. It took 8 bobcat bucket loads, Once we got the mobile coop moved and the fences installed in the new location, we released them – that is always so fun to watch because they start exploring and going after bugs right away. We also got to install our new range feeders. They hold a lot more feed (50 lbs) and the way they are designed, it keeps the rain off of the feed in the bottom tray. We lost 4 layers this past month to old age and predation (2 decided to stay under the coop rather than go inside and paid the price). One of the 4 that we lost was from our original flock from May of 2013 so she lived 6 years. She was a black Australorp hen and I told her posthumously what a great hen she had been and how hard she had worked.
Broilers – We had to hurry and finish our new style of chicken tractor – it is larger and holds a lot more birds. We have 2 designs we use – the John Suscovich model which is an A-frame style that has a tarp on the outside roof area and holds 30 birds. We love the model, it is easy to pull; however, it takes a lot longer to build, costs more to build, and is very susceptible to wind with the tarps on. Our new model is a Joel Salatin model which is square and low to the ground. It is less susceptible to wind, also easy to pull because we made it out of cedar and holds 100 birds. We push the limit with both models because we had about 35 in the 3 A-frame styles and over 100 in the other. We move them to fresh pasture daily so the birds stay clean. In fact, our processor always comments on how clean our birds are 😊. We then had to catch all the chicks in the brooder and get them moved into their new homes on the pasture. We do 3 weeks in the brooder and 3 weeks on pasture. We would end up with 3.5 bobcat bucket loads and 4 tractor bucket loads of brooder compost to take to the compost pile. Then, we had to hurry and get the brooder ready with new fresh pine bedding to welcome the second batch.
Our second batch of broilers was picked up on 4/23 which was the day before I had to leave for a work trip to FL. I felt so guilty leaving Paul with all the farm chores. He, of course, did fine and along with the help of my neighbor and friend, was able to keep all the poultry alive. I think he was glad to see me come back though.
We took our first batch to the processor on May 1st. Paul had to put together 15 new transportation crates which involves a lot of hammering big giant plastic pieces together. Not necessarily hard, but very time consuming. The night before we took the broilers to the processor, we had to battle the weather to get them loaded up. We prayed and asked God to please give us a window of time to load them and made raincoats out of black trashbags because trust me, it gets very messy catching and loading them. We call it “projectile poop” and try to be prepared for that when it happens. We had started with 245 birds when we got them from the hatchery but would only load out 218. We had several early losses and then some along the way. Even though we did our best to protect them from the weather (by putting a roof on the transportation crates), the combination of wind and rain the entire trip to the processor would cause us to lose 5 more in transit. I knew I would have to raise our prices on our finished product to cover these losses. Fortunately, no one would end up complaining at the market. In fact, we have had improved sales and great comments about the taste of the poultry. We work hard to give our animals a great life with access to fresh pasture and sunshine and we believe the extra care shows up in the healthy, nutritious product we offer our customers!
Turkeys – we got the white turkeys moved out of the brooder and into their turkey tractor. It has previously been the guinea house but when we moved the guineas to a more permanent house, we claimed this for the turkeys. It would only be temporary, because they would outgrow it. That freed up the brooder we use for baby turkeys and we got it cleaned and emptied to the compost pile in order to make room for the Bourbon Red turkey poults that we picked up at the same time as our second batch of broilers. The white turkeys are doing great. We’ve since moved them into the larger turkey tractor. We had to replace the tarp on it (an every year thing) to make sure it was water proof. After moving the tractor around for a few weeks, we finally just this weekend got them moved into their own paddock (electric fenced in area) and now can just open the door on the tractor each morning and get them into it each night. They love it. We had to clip their wings so they couldn’t fly out and possibly become fox or coyote bait. The baby bourbon red turkeys are 5 weeks old today and we need to move them out into their own turkey tractor as soon as we can. We have to do a repair job on the tractor before we can. We have great demand for our ground turkey so we are already planning on how we can add more turkeys to the farm.
Guineas – they are doing well, we lost one and I didn’t even know it until I counted them one evening when I was putting them up. Down to 13 now. But, wow, we have a ton of guinea eggs. Eventually the hens should start sitting on them. We are hoping to reap a harvest on their hard work.
High tunnel – no news to report here – no progress due to 6.5 more inches of rain that has fallen since my last update. We did, however, make progress with our caterpillar tunnel – we got it cleaned out all the way and tilled and added more lettuce transplants and turnips. The lettuce is looking so pretty and we are working hard to keep it cultivated. We recently had to spray it with an organic insecticide due to caterpillar damage. We got a shade cloth ordered and got it installed on the caterpillar tunnel which made it so much cooler and conducive to growing lettuce!
Garden – not a lot of news to report here, again due to how muddy everything is. We did get a row of cucumbers planted (we use cattle panel fencing for the trellis) and put agribon fabric down for weed control. Paul had gotten a lot tilled. He cut down the cover crop and as we can we keep tilling and planting. We got started on planting some peppers and I got more green/red cabbage planted. The onions are looking good and we got them fertilized with organic chicken manure pellets. The garlic is looking good, the 3 rows (out of 9) that came up. We assume the rest just rotted due to too much rain.
Agri-tourism – this is a new area we are branching out into. We had our first farm tour for “beginning farmers” which is a program put on by the University of Missouri Extension office. That was fun. We spent time showing them the various enterprises on the farm and answered lots of questions. Everyone had a good time. I’m excited about my second tour coming up in June for the Kress Farm Garden Tour (fundraiser for Kress Farm). In preparation for these tours, we have done much farm clean-up.
Flowers – I have spent a lot of extra time this past month putting in my flower beds. A total of 9 beds and many containers were filled with annuals and perennials. I love flowers so much and I think they add so much to the beauty of the farm. Plus, with two tours, I had a little extra pressure to make sure everything looked good. This was kind of a bittersweet project as Grandma used to give me $200 every Mother’s Day to spend on flowers. She loved flowers and was an avid gardener in her youth. In her last years Paul or I would take her around in the Polaris to see the beds up close or I would take pictures on my phone and come show her. Last year was the first Mother’s Day without her and I was just too sad to do anything since her passing was a couple of months earlier. This year, I was ready to celebrate her and her love for flowers and fulfill the passion I have for planting as well. I keep thinking how happy she would be to know we have a group coming to tour the gardens. All of this required me getting another dump truck load of mulch delivered. Amazing how much mulch we go through because we also use it to put on the pathways we drive around on (due to the crazy amount of mud).
Other – I had a couple of health issues this month – nothing major – a bout of poison ivy that spread to my face and an eye infection. Both were more of an inconvenience than anything. Paul and I are so thankful for our health. We have so much to do and need our bodies to cooperate to get it done. Just yesterday, Paul took the day off (so to speak) because he had over exerted himself so much the day before doing all the chainsaw work on the large cedar trees. Also trimming the low hanging branches on the large oak trees. We took an afternoon off to see a movie that we had been wanting to see. We got to celebrate Easter at our daughter’s church and our son and his girlfriend attended as well. We had to have our youngest Boxer Roxie spayed since she was 9 months old. We had to get the cargo trailer ready for farmer’s market, making sure we had plenty of brochures ready, business cards, new pricing, plenty of bags, etc. As of this writing, we have had 4 farmer’s markets and have done well at each of them. Had to get the brakes done on my truck since it is the vehicle that Paul uses to pull the farmer’s market trailer. Paul had to get his brakes done on his truck before he took the trailer to pick up the first batch of broilers from the processor. Then on the way home, his power booster hose came off. He limped home and we had to get it in the shop again. We also attended an evening class of “The ABC’s of USDA programs”. We got to go on a farm tour of one of the major vendor’s at our farmer’s market. Her place was awesome and we learned so much. We also got to buy some fresh strawberries from her! Yum!!
Besides all the wet weather we had a couple of nights of very severe weather. We were so worried about our broiler chicks in the pasture because we knew the high winds could toss the chicken tractors around. We pulled out all the stops to get them secured. We took concrete blocks and also rebar that we had bent to anchor them. We positioned our trucks in the shape of an L to shield the tractors from the high winds. Fortunately, we escaped damages of any kind. We are very thankful and our hearts go out to so many as I write this. We have friends and family in Oklahoma that have experienced so much damage due to tornadoes and flooding. Our own Jefferson City was damaged severely by a tornado. We are praying for strength for all those affected by these storms and our hearts go out to everyone that has been in the path of these storms.
Now on a lighter note, Let’s Go Blues! We are excited about our hometown hockey team that is playing in the Stanley Cup finals. It has been 50 years since their last appearance. We are watching in anticipation of a win!