Chickens Are Hatching

The Silkies are coming!

Silkies are a particular breed of chicken which I find to be adorable.  If you’ve raised chickens before perhaps you know of them. They are tinier than normal chickens, and they lay tinier eggs, but they are funky-looking in a very cute way, and I just find them to be a very enjoyable chicken.

Anyway, I have twelve Silkie eggs in the incubator, and they are due to hatch tomorrow.  I’m excited about their arrival in a way only those with chickens could understand.

And then on the 16th my Cream Legbars are due to hatch.  We are going to raise Cream Legbars because they lay the prettiest blue eggs you will ever see, and they demand a pretty good price since hardly anyone in our area raised them. They are in high demand and we should do pretty well with them. I have twelve more Cream Legbar eggs I need to put in the incubator today for a hatch twenty-one days from today.

Exciting times!

Of course that means I need to build a new coop, but that’s a labor of love and I enjoy doing those projects.

I just finished a quail tractor for the farm.  We’ll move that out to the farm tomorrow and introduce some quail to a new home.

And the farmers market opens next week, where we will sell quail eggs, chicken eggs, and the goat cheese from our son’s farm.

Ya gotta love spring, even though here spring is a bit damp and chilly.

We aren’t even close to planting our garden.  We have the strawberries planted, and potatoes and garlic, but I’m afraid we are a bit behind on the rest of the garden . . . maybe this weekend if I can get the taxes done quickly.

That’s about it from our little slice of heaven.

Bill

 

 

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Building Community One Day At A Time

Farmers’ Markets and community . . .

One only has to look at the small town of Steilacoom in Western Washington to see the connection.

Every Tuesday during the spring and summer, the Steilacoom Farmers Market is open for business in this city by the bay of 6,000 residents.  A street is blocked off in the early morning, preparations are made, stalls are manned, product delivered, and for four hours in the afternoon, the city residents gather for the Market.  When the Market shuts down for the day there is a concert in the adjoining park.

A town of 6,000 . . . I worked a stall at that market two years ago, and I do not exaggerate when I say there are easily two-or-three thousand people who attend that farmers market each week.

Think about that . . . between a third and a half of the city’s residents attend a market, each week, in the middle of a workday.

Community!

During that summer I never once saw an argument.  I sure as hell never saw violence.  What I did see were people coming together in a spirit of friendship. What I saw was a community working together for the common good of all. I saw smiles, I saw conversation, I saw bonds being formed, and I saw commonalities explored.  There were no heated discussions about politics, no protesting, and no exclusion.

There was just community, something sorely missing in our society these days.

That’s what I hope to accomplish as the President of the Tumwater Town Center Farmers Market this year and in the years to come.  I want that market to be a central meeting place for Tumwater residents. I want it to be a safe place where, for four hours, the madness of the world is shut out and only community exists.

Support your local markets! Get out and meet your neighbors.  You all benefit when you do.

Why I Love Farmers

I was talking to the Washington State Department of Health the other day about our upcoming Farmers Market, hopefully stirring up some interest in it, telling them what we have that’s new this year, and explaining to them why I think markets are important.

I told them about visiting my grandparents’ farm back in Charles City, Iowa, back in 1955 when I was seven years old.  It was a magical visit for me. The farm seemed like a fantasy land, the acres upon acres of corn growing tall, the mysteries of that big old barn, the lightning bugs at night and bullfrogs croaking as I slept . . .

My grandfather took me out in the fields one day.  He knelt down on the ground and picked up some dirt in both hands; he put that dirt to his nose and smelled it, then looked at me.

“This is soil, Billy,” he told me.  “It is a living thing, and my job, as a farmer, is to keep it alive so that it grows corn.  My job, as a farmer, is to grow the best corn possible, because my neighbors trust me to do so.  They trust that when they sit down for dinner, and eat my corn, it will be the healthiest, best corn they have ever eaten.  That is my promise to them; I have staked my word and reputation on that promise, and a man is only as good as his reputation.

“This is a community, Billy; not the city of Charles City but the community of Charles City.  We look out for each other here in God’s Country.  I know that old Mister Jacobs down the road will be selling potatoes this fall which are healthy, and he knows the same about my corn.  He knows that if his son gets hurt I’ll be there to help that boy, and I know that if I ever really needed something that Mister Jacobs would be there to help.

“That’s why I love what I do, Billy.  That’s why I love being a farmer.”

Those words echo in my head each day I go out to feed my birds, and that is why I think farmers markets are important. They help to build community, even in the advanced year of 2018.  Perhaps, more than ever before, our country is in dire need of that sense of community.

Please, support your local farmers.  I really don’t want to live in a world where the small farmers no longer exist.

Bill

My Wife’s Brainstorm

Bev had an idea.

It was a cool idea.

It means work for me.

I don’t mind at all.

The picture you see is part of our son’s farm about four miles away from where we live.  It is a working goat farm on ten acres, but the section I want you to pay attention to is in the photo, the section that borders the driveway.  I would guess it is about 100 yards in length; maybe seventy-five, and about thirty feet wide.

In the background of that picture is a structure, a 10’x20’ aviary where Bev and I keep fifty chickens.  Behind that are two smaller chicken coops where another twenty chickens call home.

As you look at those structures, move your eyes back towards the camera position, all that unused land, that is where Bev’s idea took wings.

Bev wants to build a Chicken Town on that land.

That’s right, I said a Chicken Town!

See, the thing is, Bev and I love chickens.  To us they are the perfect animal/bird for any farm or urban farm.  Provide them with protection, water, and food, and they are really pretty self-sufficient.  They just spend their days pecking around the yard or farm and laying eggs. Sure, you probably won’t find yourself cuddling with a chicken, but a dog can’t lay eggs, either, so there you go!

Anyway, we have discovered that there is better money in chickens than in quail.  We can easily sell free-range chicken eggs for $5 per dozen in our city. We can incubate eggs and sell pullets for $15-$20 each, and that price goes up for rare breeds.

So we are building a chicken town.  It will include a number of chicken coops, one for each breed, and a fenced-off enclosure for each coop.  Bev will be planting raspberries for the chickens to roam through, and there will be a walking path for visitors so they can roam Chicken Town with their children and enjoy the birds.

When will the town be completed? Hell if I know, but it’s going to be great fun building it.

I just thought I’d share that with you.  In the meantime, while I “peck” away at the project, we have over sixty birds laying eggs for the farmers markets this summer.

Life is good in my world.

How about yours?

Bill

In Need of More Stamina

Soon to be a greenhouse

The quail are outgrowing the cage.  It’s time to move them outside.

Of course, that means moving the pullets out to the farm, and that means making sure the farm enclosure is critter proof and ready for fifty chickens.

There’s always something!

Bev came back from the farm (her son’s farm, but we use part of it for our birds) with a new idea. I usually start shaking uncontrollably when Bev has a new idea, because it means more work for yours truly, but truth be told I don’t mind it at all.  It’s fun to see her excited about her new ideas.

This new idea involved raising more chickens, not just egg- layers but different, exotic breeds, and turning part of the farm into a Chicken Land for visitors to see and enjoy.  The kids have been slowly changing their farm into a tourist farm, holding classes, having goat yoga sessions, and producing less goat cheese.  It’s a logical move for them because, honestly, taking care of a full-time working farm is backbreaking, unforgiving work for little financial reward.  So Bev’s idea fit well with the direction they are taking the farm.

Which means more work, of course, for yours truly.

And I love it!

I just wish I had the stamina I once did.  My workdays are shorter than they once were.

Buttercup is on the left

Anyway, this weekend I need to work on building a quail/chicken tractor for the new Chicken Land, and I also need to put the finishing touches on the new nesting boxes in the chicken aviary . . . and then move the fifty chickens we have here at our house out to their new home on the farm . . . thus making room for the quail.

Whew!

Good news: spring has arrived. Temps in the 60’s this weekend.

Which means we are getting closer to planting season . . . which means finishing chores in the backyard so we can plant.

Whew!

When I was younger I wished I had twenty-five acres to work.

I don’t wish that any longer.  LOL

Bev found a cool idea online, a strawberry tower made from plastic milk crates.  It’s so easy it’s ridiculous, and it looks like it will work just great.  Add that to my to-do list.  Look it up on YouTube if you get the chance.  Here’s the link.

What am I doing sitting here writing.  I need to get busy!

Bill

I’m Going Crazy and I Love It

I’m going crazy!

Some would say I didn’t have far to go, but I don’t talk to those people very often.  Lol

Seriously, I’ve got too much to do.

And the realization hit me this weekend that I don’t have the stamina I once had.  I can’t get nearly as much done in an afternoon as I once did when I was younger.

Now there’s a sobering thought!

But I’m here to deliver positive news, so let me say a word or two about the health benefits of working an urban farm.

First health benefit: you stay active!  I am convinced that people who are active have a better chance of living a longer life.  No, I don’t have medical statistics to back that claim up, so argue all you want, but it is what I believe.

Second, working in the soil, and working with animals, is good for your mental health.  There is something very soothing and satisfying in working in the garden and raising animals.  I have no idea what you would call it, but I know it’s true. There is something primal about it, a trip back thousands of years to our roots as a species, growing, caring for, being one with the earth and all of its inhabitants.

Third, raising your own food is raising healthier food.  I don’t know about you but I don’t trust the major food producers any further than I can throw them.  Read “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson some day and then enjoy your trip to the supermarket!

Add it all together and you have, for me, a compelling reason to keep on keeping on with what I am doing.

On a different note, I spoke to the City Council last night about our farmers market.  I asked them for their help…asked them to get more involved in the promotion of the market and small farmers in general.  It was well-received.  It felt right.

Gotta go….the critters need attention.

Bill

Three Things I Learned About Chickens

Sixty-five chickens!

About one-hundred and eighty quail!

That’s what we’ll have as we enter the farmers market season.

Maybe five dozen chicken eggs per day.

Maybe ten dozen quail eggs per day.

Everyone is healthy!  Losses were relatively few.  The only thing left to do is relocate everyone to new homes, and that will happen as soon as the temperatures outside rise a bit.  In the meantime our garage is one constant chirp.

Exciting times!

I remember visiting my grandparents’ farm way back when I was seven. Chickens roamed the yard around the house and they fascinated me.  I learned three things about chickens during that summer visit to Iowa:

  1. Don’t run barefoot across ground where chickens have been
  2. Never mess with a rooster; they are not terribly friendly
  3. And wringing a chicken’s neck, like my grandma did, is frightening for a young boy to watch.

I’ve learned considerably more since then.  I think my grandparents would approve.

But I still won’t wring their necks no matter how nostalgic I get.

Bill

The Status of Small Farms in the United States

So I was doing some random Google searches the other day about farming in the United States.

At its peak, the farming industry reportedly had almost seven million farms in the United States in the late 1920’s.

Today there are 2.2 million farms.

At its peak, the average farm in the U.S. had 220 acres.

Today the average farm has 418 acres.

So at first glance, those statistics seem to indicate there are fewer farms in this country, but what farms there are happen to be much larger.  In other words, large agricultural corporations are buying up the small farms and farming is becoming a big corporation enterprise.

But that is only part of the whole picture.

Further research indicates an increase in small farms, defined as under fifty acres, so in reality the large corporate farms are, indeed, getting larger, and they are, indeed, controlling most of the farming (to the tune of 90% of total crops), but the farms which are disappearing are the medium-sized farms, those ranging from 51-200 acres.

Now I mention all of this for a reason.

I don’t want this country to be a mega-corporation with regards to food production and thus I am very, very happy to hear that small farms are increasing in number . . . which is just one of many reasons why I so strongly support farmers markets and buying locally.

I’ve heard all of the arguments against buying locally and supporting small farms, and most of those arguments center around the increased cost of that food . . . and I’m sorry, but I just find those arguments silly and illogical.  In a world where more and more people are becoming disenchanted with the Federal Government and regulations and Big Money, this is one area where we all can actually influence and support change in the system.  Yes, you might pay a little more for locally-grown produce, but seriously?  Life is all about choices.  One less movie….one less carton of cigarettes….one less bottle of fine wine…one less, one less, one less, and the extra cost of local produce will be offset in your budget.

It’s all about choices!

Please, support local farmers!

Bill

Mistakes Will Be Made

A word to the wise: don’t use pine wood shavings in a cage with a heat lamp.  Evidently the heat draws chemicals out of the shavings, and it will kill young chicks.  We lost three quail babies learning that lesson last week.

I feel like shit about it, but that’s how I learn most lessons . . . painfully!

We moved the sixty chicken chicks outside the other day. They are about four weeks old, and you will read countless articles which say don’t move chicks outside until they are fully-feathered.  But we put three heat lamps out there with them, and they made it through just fine even though it got down to freezing on two nights. (update…24 last night and they were fine)

So there’s another lesson for you, free of charge.

When do chickens start laying eggs? They can start at four months . . . plan on five.

When do quail start laying eggs? They can start at seven weeks . . . plan on eight.

We are getting rid of our rabbits . . . giving them to good homes . . . we decided to use their outside enclosure for our vegetable garden this year.  It’s a big space, ten by twenty, so we will more than double our vegetable gardening space by doing so, and the soil in their enclosure is beautifully fertilized and ready to plant.  I’ve mentioned this before but it is worth repeating: rabbit poop is probably the best natural fertilizer you can use.  It is slow releasing, does not burn roots, and produces just about the best soil you could ask for.  If you can get your hands on some do so.  An added bonus: it doesn’t smell and it isn’t gross to touch. J

That’s all I have time for today. I need to take advantage of this sunny weather and get some things done.

Just a head-up…if you are more interested in writing than farming, you can find me at www.artistrywithwords.com, my other home away from home.

Have a great week/weekend/life

Bill

Birth and the Rhythm of Life

Birth!

I’m listening to life.

I am humbled by the sound.

Truly humbled!

I hold every single one of the babies.  Over one-hundred quail…sixty chickens….I think it’s important to hold each of them.  They provide so much joy for me; the least I can do it provide a soft, welcoming, human touch for them as they enter this scary world.

The ones born deformed . . . I hold them, tell them I’m sorry, and then dispose of them.  It’s my job to put them out of their misery.  It’s not all roses on any farm.

We are rapidly approaching the rotation phase of our operation.  The chickens are getting too big for the garage, so we will slowly move them to the outside enclosure where two heating lamps await them.  The quail will then be moved out of the brooder into the cages the chickens were in, and new eggs will be incubated.  In a couple weeks the chickens will be moved out to the farm, the quail will take their place in the aviary under the heat lamps, and the new eggs will crack open and we begin again.

We’ll get more chickens, too, and raise them until they are pullets…and sell them for $25 each.

So it’s a busy time here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m still debating getting pigeons.  I don’t want to rush into that decision.

Let’s see, what else?

Bev is teaching a class on raising chickens this Saturday.

She and I will teach a class together on the 24th.

March 6th I give a presentation to the Tumwater City Council about the upcoming Tumwater Farmers Market.

And On March 22nd, I believe, I give an informational “meet and greet” to state workers about the Market.

Busy times!

Not as busy as my grandfather once was on his hundred-acre farm, but I do what I can.

Have you ever smelled soil?  An odd question, but not to anyone who loves gardening or farming.

Bill