Lately, we are swimming in chicken.
We buy meat birds from a friend and had already stocked our freezer for the year. However, I had hatched 2 batches of chicks this summer and we purged the roosters as their rooster-ness became apparent. Then with the new hens coming on (they aren’t laying eggs yet, but we should have some soon!), we decided we could decrease our older hen numbers because not all of them are laying. John culled 9 of them and we are still getting almost the same number of eggs. That’s a lot of chicken.
Then, a neighbor called and wanted John to kill her old hens (15?), in exchange for the meat. They were eating so much and not laying at all. Read: looooong cooking time. And this week another neighbor called with the same dilemma. Maybe we don’t need to buy meat birds! Someone else do all the raising and grain feeding, and we just get to jump in at the end?
On a bigger note, farm organization and simplification has been a theme for me the past few months.I felt like we could improve what we’re doing, making it more streamlined and thoughtful. There is, as always, so much room for improvement. I went to see a few other small farm set ups, talked to people about what they have and how they manage it, and now I’m considering how to apply it.
Of course downsizing was the first order of business. We went down to 3 mama goats and one boy that we hope to cull soon. We decreased our hen numbers since we had new hens coming on, a constant process. We beefed one steer and then we made the hard decision to beef a heifer as well. For cows, we had Lila plus her two heifers, but we don’t need 3 cows having babies- we aren’t set up to manage that. One heifer had horns, bullied the other cows (because of those horns), and was also unpredictable. It’s hard because you expect to keep heifers. We tried to sell her but no one else wanted horns either (understood). Then, someone approached us wanting a whole cow for beef and the decision was easy. Although at times I had fought to keep this cow around, I feel good about this decision. She made me feel uneasy, and goodness, why on earth are we keeping something that makes us feel uneasy! My mantra around the house is that if it doesn’t bring joy, get rid of it. Applies to the farm as well.
When I looked at small farms, most people I visited had a similar set up to ours. We have several buildings so we’re hauling things from one place to another and we are using the buildings we inherited. However, I clearly got why people of old had a big barn with all their stuff in it. When I saw a set up like that, it clicked. Chores are at least 10 times easier (and this person was totally organized…amazing). I saw the perfect set up but there is literally no way to do that here with our current buildings. So, now we have our next goal….
As to farm-improvement ideas, here is what I have:
- free choice kelp for the cows and goats…I’m still working on this goal from last year, because I had trouble sourcing it at a reasonable choice with shipping, but I’m closer.
- building up our garden soil with more than just compost, doing a soil test and applying the micronutrients that we are specifically deficient in.
- a bigger barn with most animal activity and storage centered here: grain, hay, chickens, goats (with birthing stalls), cows (with milking stall), and any animal tools. To go in one place in the winter and do all chores would be amazing and way more enjoyable. This is a big and expensive one!
- a piglet (or 2) in the spring for rooting up the manure pack in the animal shed. Cleaning this out is a huge chore each year and a pig could do a lot of the work for us.
That’s what is new in our neck of the woods (on the farm at least!). As always, we are so thankful for this farm and these gardens and animals.