Summer Week #10: Wednesday, August 13th– Group B EOs
We are organic vegetable farmers. This, all of you know. But what you may not know is that we (or rather I, Cassie) dabble in animal husbandry. And by dabble, I mean I’m a ridiculous amateur.
Three years ago, I decided it would be fun to raise just a few pigs and convinced Mike that we could fit it into our farm. I thought this would be a fun thing for the kids to do on the farm. I also liked the idea of eating meat we raised on organic grain and our surplus organic vegetables. And finally, I liked the idea of surplus food amounts still turning into more food. You see, at the peak of cucumber and zucchini season, I am restraining myself when you receive ‘only’ 4 cucumbers and 2-3 zucchini each week. Pigs seemed like an elegant solution to a problem: don’t overwhelm CSA members with too many cukes and zukes, instead create pork.
This system has worked well. This is year 3 of having 3 pigs. And the meat is delicious!
One thing that has been a time drain with the pigs, however, is keeping the weeds on the outside of their fence under control. You see on the inside of the pen, about 6 inches from the ground, is a small line of electric fencing. For the fencing to work, it needs to be kept relatively clean of grass touching it. On the inside of the pen, I do this by hoeing under the line. But it turns out it’s the weeds on the outside of the pen that are the real challenge. They grow vigorously and reach through the fencing and short the line constantly.And heaven knows we don’t need 3 pigs loose in our vegetable fields.
Enter string trimmer. Envision lots of frustration and cursing (I have a sailor’s mouth) as string breaks on fencing over and over.
Enter chickens, 2014. Here was another awesome chance to fix a problem with more food. Too many weeds? Use egg makers to keep them down! By using a moveable A-frame chicken coop that I rotate around the pig pen, we are keeping the weeds down. And we get eggs!
But boy, has it been a journey to honor the layers and learn what their needs are.
We first got the chickens in mid-April. We were told they were 20 weeks at that time, so statistically, they would start laying within the next couple of weeks.
I messed with every possible input variable of food and water, and just couldn’t get the girls to lay. I asked other backyard chicken owners what to do, and they had no idea. It wasn’t until I was able to serendipitously borrow a chicken from a farming friend, that I could get the girls to lay. A sweet, 15 year old boy name Caleb, explained to me that sometimes the girls just ‘need to see how it’s done’ before they start laying. Seriously? So I borrowed a noisy, black hen for 4 days and voila! eggs. Two full months after they arrived, we got our first egg – June 8th.
And when the eggs came, there were so many! Each hen, laid every day. 4 hens, 7 days = 28 eggs per week. Just as you are learning each week how to cook in the kitchen with new and changing seasonal foods, I have been learning how to cook with eggs. Scrambled, soft boiled, deviled; omelettes, frittatas, mayonnaise. Increased baked goods
And then, after 2 glorious months of egg heaven, they stopped.
I had run out of the first 2 bags of feed I’d bought for them, and bought 2 more bags of a different type at the nearby coop. A couple of friends said they used this feed, so I thought it would be just fine. But apparently the girls didn’t like it. It was full of big pieces of corn which they just ignored. After 10 days of no eggs, I took the feed and ran it through my vitamix in the kitchen to get it to a better meal-type texture. Then they gobbled it up. I thought, problem solved.
Still no eggs.
Now maybe a normal person would have stopped after a couple of weeks and took stock. But I’m a vegetable farmer and my life is crazy busy this time of year. So as long as they were eating the meal, I just figured it was a new feed, new texture, and it would take time for them to adjust.
Three weeks later, I realized there really was a problem. So finally I took the time to see if the grain the co-op had given me might not be proper chicken feed. I looked on the 2nd, unopened bag of feed and it said 18% layer. So I think okay, just gotta keep going with this.
Finally, I smarten up and look at the tag on the actual bag of feed I was pulling from. Why I hadn’t done this weeks ago, I cannot say. And sure enough, it reads “shell corn”.
I felt like an idiot. Sometimes, especially when I am new at something, I just go along with what the ‘expert’ people tell me and ignore my own instincts. I thought the feed looked weird, but that’s what the feed guys had given me. It took 3 and half egg-less weeks for me to use my own brain and catch the mistake from the feed coop.
Needless to say, I threw the rest of the shell corn feed into the pig pen. Now the girls are getting actual layer feed again, and the eggs have returned.
So for all you backyard chicken keepers out there, please laugh at my expense. We all start as beginners at everything we do!
Cheers and enjoy your veggies!
Cassie and family