Friday, February 22, 2008

a chicken problem?

I think we have a chicken problem.

Or, you might say, a problem with delinquent chickens.

An add to that the guinea fowl, which in my way of thinking are pretty much delinquent most of the time.

--- by the way, did I ever tell you the story about when I had 40 some guineas, just like the back-to-the-land books recommended, though I got my information from a small farming list serv, how guineas are always out there eating weeds and ticks and fleas. In fact the books claim if you have guineas you’ll never have a tick on your property or a weed worry again.

Of course I went out and bought a passel of them from one of those hatcheries you can contact on the internet.

And they arrived by mail and immediately started to grow and squawk.

Well, for all I know, it might be true, about the ticks, but as far as the weeds the article I read didn’t bother to mention that weeds aren't the only thing they are likely to eat and one day I looked out the window and there they were moving right down a long row of broccoli.

In front were these fine healthy plants just ready to harvest.

And behind... not much.

and speaking of vegetables tehy also do a pretty good on tomatoes.

That herd of guineas would run down the space between two rows squawking and taking a peck out of this tomato and that tomato until there was hardly a piece of fruit without a peck mark ruining it..

That’s why, when the local bobcat decided that she was going to raise a litter of kittens and feed them on guinea dinners, I had no real objections.

Each night, right around two in the morning there would be, coming from that old pear tree in front of our house, the tree, I should mention where the guineas, despite my encouragement to spend the night safely locked in the hen house, it was in that tree the guineas insisted on roosting. And it was from that tree every morning there came a short sharp shriek.

I would wake up, put on my boots and a pair of jeans and grabbing my flashlight stumble outside to where the hollering and come from.

But every night, about the time I got there, whatever has caused the stir was long gone and the only sign that maybe something had been there were a few guinea feathers floating in the air.

That summer our guinea flock dropped from 50 down to three. The three undisappeared birds were the three that had refused to nest in the pear tree and instead had climbed up high in the elm my father-in-law had planted back in the 60’s.

And the bobcat? Maybe I’ll write about her and put it up on the blog. But right now its past time for the farm news.

--Farm news--

Next week is the big week. We officially start the growing season. On Monday we begin putting seeds into flats filled with organic potting soil.

All of this takes place up in our 30 ft by 96 ft greenhouse.

We’ve been working to get ready for this the past two weeks. It’s now close to eight thousand dollars in seeds that have been delivered. And then there’s the organic potting soil, and the flats and trays.

And we were having problem with the water. Our greenhouse gets its water from the upper spring and we’ve been working on what turned out to be replacing a large section of the entire system of pipe running from the spring to the greenhouse.

The pipe runs almost a thousand feet.

And then there’s re-digging the catch basin at the spring (our upper spring, unfortunately, doesn’t just come out of the ground in one place but, instead, seeps over a twenty square foot area so we had to dig a sort of catch basin where the water can be captured and channeled into a pipe.

Then of course there’s the heating system.

While solar heat keeps the greenhouse nice and toasty during the day. At night we need a heating system.

Ours uses wood to heat up water. And the water, the cold water coming down from the spring is made hot by a fire of wood in a wood boiler (think-- wood stove).

The hot water then leaves the boiler and is pumped through half inch pipes that cover the growing tables with the flats of seedlings sitting on top.

Does that make a picture for you?

And all of that comes together next week when we start by planting broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and pac choi.

And when the first planting of those seeds, several thousand of each, are put in trays, we start on the early tomatoes, hot peppers, bell peppers and eggplant.

That should be plenty of work for next week.

Then there’s the, what the new food language calls the eater aspect of the CSA. (you know, eaters and growers, rather than what used to be consumers and producers).

For us, a CSA, this is the shareholders. All of the people that are investing in our harvest.

By the time this newsletter hits your inbox our 2008 vegetable harvest will most likely be over 90% spoken for.

That means at the current rate of people signing up, we’ll be full by the end of next week (I’m guessing it will probably be the next two weeks).

This is some sort of record. I have to go back and look, but I don’t think in the past we’ve ever filled up before Mid-April.

And on top of that we have the second highest renewal rate from last year, which is really something considering what a stressful growing season last year was for the east coast.

As you might remember last year there was no rain to speak of. This area was declared an agriculture disaster area. And we would have been hurting if it wasn't for our springs.

Eggs. The chickens are now laying up to a dozen and a half a day. Subtracting the ones I’m eating that’s leaving us with almost ten dozen extra eggs. a week.

Again, like last weekend. If shareholders want free eggs, just come out. You need to check with me first as to whether I’m around and whether the eggs haven’t already been snatched up. E-mail me.

Hikes. And while it doesn’t look much like hiking weather this weekend, you are invited to come out to hike our valley too. There are different walks around going from about 5 miles down to less than one.

And I can't think of anything else right now, so I guess that gets us back around to the delinquent chickens, only...

Only I’ve pretty much run out of time and space if I’m going to get this newsletter out while anyone’s still at work.

How about I write those stories up this evening and put them on our blog.


Leigh Hauter

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

chickens on the run

OK, let’s start out with an important question.

Actually, after all things are considered, its probably one of the most important questions there is in life (especially if you were a chicken). The answer to which could be a matter of life or death.

Or, if not that, if not a life or death decision, how about a ’‘should I play it safe and follow the pack (in this case flock) or should I stand here all by myself looking to everyone else like a first class fool. And if not completely a fool, definitely sticking out as a nonconformist, a loner, not a member of the team, possibly a traitor, definitely not one of the (in this case) girls.

And with chickens where there are often rewards for the first one there (related to the early bird and who gets the worm) but seldom do good things happen to the last one, the loner, the individual the one that doesn’t join in.

I’ve apparently started us down the path to one of those high school English teacher questions. One that goes under a Values Clarification heading. One where the teacher asks you to consider a situation where you have to make a decision, a choice and then justify how you came up with your answer, usually in essay form.

But, fortunately, I’m not going to ask you to write an essay.

Instead, I was going to write this story in the form of an early readers. Sort of like Run Dick Run. See Jane Run. Only it would go something like.

See the bird. See the big brown bird.

Big brown bird has big strong feet.

Big brown bird has big dangerous beak.

Big bird is high in the sky but ...

And it was about then I realized I didn’t have very many b words to describe breaking and bashing bones and dropping dangerously down on carelessly chirping chickens.

So I’ll just tell it straight. I’ve been sitting at the computer for the past week or so trying to get a manuscript in some sort of shape and find myself staring off out the window at the chickens.

I’ve set up the pasture with the mobile chicken house on one end and the feeders at the other. It’s all surrounded with that anti-predator/ keep the poultry in, portable electric fencing they make in Germany.

Doing it this way, I’m accomplishing several things. First the laying hens get to be outside. There is no comparision between an egg layed by a chicken locked up in one of those chicken factories and a chicken that’s outside on pasture pecking around.

You can just break an egg open and look at the color to see the difference.

But beside that, forcing those chickens to walk the length of their pasture to eat gets the chickens out there eating the weeds and weed seeds(without the weeds the field is a lot easier to farm, and then there’s the manure. chicken manure carefully deposited from one end of the field to the other. Natural manure spreaders.

A somewhat cunning idea, I thought. That was until last week when I was staring out the window and saw at one moment most of the chickens were down at the far end of the field and then suddenly, with no warning, they all turned and make a mad dash for the other end and the hen house.

One moment the pasture is full of something like 250 laying hens, a dozen guineas, half a dozen turkeys, a few roosters and then suddenly, nothing.

The pasture’s empty.

They’re all gone.

I get up from my desk (always looking for an excuse) and go to the other window where I have a better view of the henhouse and there they are. all of them inside, peering out.

Looking at something.

But nothing I can see.

Several hours pass and the chickens are out again. Doing what chickens do. Chasing each other, scratching, pecking, eating and then it happens again.

All of them take off running. Some of them flying. Going as fast as they can from one end of the pasture to the other only where they disappear inside.

And this goes on and on, over and over again. For the past week. I’ve gone outside several times to see what’s up. What’s causing the stir and bother. I look up in the sky, over in the trees.


Maybe the chickens are seeing something I’m not seeing. Maybe there’s a hawk out there. Or maybe a fox back in the woods.

And then maybe there’s nothing at all. Maybe its just yet another example of group think. Mass hysteria.

I mean, imagine you’re out there, one in a flock of chickens. One of your kinds lucky ones. Or in this case, one of the lucky two hundred and fifty.

No small cage for you. No small cage for you and two or three others. Instead of being the biological component of an efficient chicken laying factory (how else do you think egg prices can be so low?) you are one of those lucky pasture raised laying hens where you have almost an acre of pasture to cavort around in. Running around, socializing with all of your buddies. Making friends, enemies, pecking orders.

And here we are, you and your 250 closest friends out scratching and pecking and squawking way far away, maybe 300 or 400 feet away from the entrance to your home and shelter.

You, personally, have been scratching at a particularly promising clump of grass, thinking that right under the surface there might be a delicious morsel, maybe a great big tender blood worm or cricket or something just as juicy and tasty when suddenly you look up and you are no longer standing around in a group.

No, just like that, you are all by yourself, and everyone else, all 299 of them, are running and flying and jumping as fast as they can across the pasture back toward the henhouse.

The closest one of the quickly retreating chickens is already ten or twenty yards away from you and

What do you do?

Do you run after then, flap your wings and skirt the ground, racing them back home?

Or do you just stand there. Look around. Ask yourself, what is it everyone’s running from. I don’t see anything.

What would you do? What would you do if you were a chicken? A human? And why?

Sounds like a good essay assignment to me. I can just imagine a teacher turning to his class of tenth graders and saying. ‘I want you all to write a short essay. Be sure to use the elements we’ve been discussing for the past week.