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

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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

There’s Always Something

Sixty chicks make a lot of noise in a garage, the same garage where I write for a living.

Just sayin’

And in one more week, those chicks will be joined by 120 quail chicks.  The eggs are incubating now. They are due to hatch February 5th.

I love my life!

This time of year is Preparation Time!  We are currently laying drainage pipe in front of one aviary to prevent it from flooding. It’s been a wet winter and the chickens need a drier place to live this spring.

We are also laying a thin layer of concrete over the floor of another aviary to prevent critters from tunneling in.  They already defeated the hardware cloth we have buried 18 inches around the perimeter, so it’s on to Plan B. If they think they are going to win this battle they are sadly mistaken.

The Farmer’s Market begins on April 18th.  I’m excited!  It’s a blast, so far, being President of the Market Board….fun working with other people…fun coordinating things…fun trying to make the Market grow in size….

Anyway, all of this is to say I am busy.  As soon as I finish this article I need to build a connected series of nesting boxes for the chickens.

There’s always something!

I sure wish it would stop raining.

Bev spent three hours the other night washing poop off the feet of the chicks. It gets crusted on the bottoms of their feet and can actually be deadly to them.  I’m not that big a fan of using heating pads for newborns for that reason.  Four also had crusty butt, so she soaked their butts in warm water and cleared that obstruction. She talks to them while she cleans their butts.  She says it’s important to do so.  I happen to agree with her.

There’s always something!

I’m thinking it would be cool to raise a couple pigeons since I already have two aviaries here at home.  I know next to nothing about pigeons, but I’m betting I can learn.

And I just found out we are the only people raising quail in large numbers in our county.  We’ve cornered the market!!!  LOL  Someone wants to buy 35 of the newborn chicks and they aren’t even born yet.  I love it!

The chicks need food. Gotta go!

Bill

A Free Resource of Information

Conrad home

Did the word “free” get your attention?

We all want a bargain, right?

Hop aboard my time machine and let’s go for a little trip.  I promise it won’t take long.

When I was a little kid, back in the Dark Ages, we lived next door to Sam and Delores Conrad.  They were ancient when we moved in; I was but five years of age.   As the years passed by, I would spend time with the Conrads.  They were wonderful about making a small child feel important, and they would invite me over for milk and cookies, and always story time.

They told stories of coming west on the Oregon Trail.  Fascinating stuff, mini-history lessons, guaranteed to ignite my imagination and make me thirst for more stories, and they never disappointed me.

The same was true of my grandparents with stories about farming, and my dad with stories about the Great Depression,  and my Uncle Jim with stories about dredging in the wilds of Alaska.  I loved them all, and I learned, a continual stream of free information from people who had been there, done that, and were more than willing to share their information.

They are all gone now, obviously, but an important lesson they taught me still influences me today.  If I am uncertain how to do something, I know where free information can be found: from the storytellers who have been there, done that, and are quite eager to share.

How many young people do you know who seek out free advice from those who have walked earlier paths?  Heck, how many middle-aged people do that?  We seem to be living in a time of instant information, of Wiki-truths, and it seems to me fewer and fewer people take the time to talk to the older generation for information and suggestions.

I think they are missing out!

One thing missing from Wikipedia, or any encyclopedia for that matter, is the human touch.  Humans can tell us what it was like at a certain place in a certain time. They can translate bare facts into something alive and to me, farming is alive and should always be looked at as such.

Bev and I stopped at a farm a few years back. We were fascinated by the old barn and wanted to know more about it.  Turns out the farm was owned by a family named Rutledge, and that barn was built in 1864, and that family was one of the original settlers of the Olympia area.

Fascinating stuff and it’s all free to us if we ask the right questions to the right people.

Farming does not have to be an isolated event . . . in fact, farming is, and always has been, a community event.

Just random thoughts . . .

Bill

Organic, Natural, and Other Random Thoughts About Farming

I’m learning so much, being on the Farmers Market Board of Directors.

Take food labeling, for example.

Some food is labeled “organic.” Some products say “natural.”  And some doesn’t say either of those two things, like Spam.  LOL

It gets real murky from this point on.

A product labeled “organic” means the company has followed some rather stringent, and costly, governmental guidelines to ensure that the product has been grown free of pesticides and other unnatural additives.

The label “natural,” or “all-natural,” means none of the above.  It may or may not have been grown in an organic way. It may or may not have followed any guidelines at all, but the company sure wants you to believe their product is as natural as a baby’s bottom.

And no mention of either “organic” or “natural” means good luck to the consumer!

But some companies who display “natural” labels have, in fact, grown their produce in an organic way.  Our son’s goat farm, where they make excellent goat cheese, is, in fact, organic, but they can’t afford to pay for government certification, so they can’t call their cheese “organic.”

It’s a muddled mess, quite frankly, but would you expect anything less than muddled from the government?

All of this is to explain why I think localism is so important.  Buying from local companies is one safeguard all of us can take to ensure that the food we eat is healthy.  Getting to know local farmers at places like farmers markets is a huge advantage as we walk the “healthy” path.  We may not have much influence on a national or federal level, but we can affect change at a local level.

It’s all about community!

Odd side note: I was watching the State Senate debate a couple bills last night on the local public service station, and one bill I found fascinating had to do with water rights and water availability.  I don’t want to go into the details of the bill, but after this particular bill was passed by the Senate there were, understandably, winners and losers.  Some farmers were very happy.  Some developers were ecstatic. Some residents in one particular county were heartbroken and bitter.  One of the local Native American tribes was really P.O.’ed.

I came away with this thought:  In a community it is impossible to keep everyone happy.  There will always be “winners” and “losers” when any decision is made for the “common good.” That’s how a free society works.  It is an imperfect system which has worked perfectly for over two-hundred years.

And one other random thought: being a farmer is not an easy gig.  It is long hours.  It is heartbreak.  It is a roller-coaster of highs and lows.

Support your local farmers!  Please!  They have worked their asses off and deserve your support.

Bill

Spring is Rapidly Approaching

It may be January, but things sure feel like mid-summer.

It’s time for chicks.

200 quail eggs have been ordered. They will be here by next week.  After that seventeen days of incubation, and then eight weeks of raising . . . and then eggs, just in time for the April Farmers Markets.

And then there are chickens!  We just ordered twenty-five Easter Eggers which we will raise for four months and then sell them off as pullets.  $3 per chick, turnaround $25 sale as a pullet.

We are also ordering fifty chicks to raise out on our son’s farm.  Those will be for eggs to sell at the markets this spring and summer.

All of this activity, of course, means some major projects on my plate.  I need nesting boxes and brooding poles for the fifty egg-layers.  I need to shore up the aviary  in our backyard for when the quail are put outside in four weeks (hopefully it won’t get too cold the rest of the winter), and that means mixing and pouring cement on the floor of the aviary…so my calendar is rapidly filling up.

And I love it all!

And of course I’m now the President of the Board of Directors for the Tumwater Farmers Market, and that is a challenge, a challenge I look forward to, so that adds to the to-do list.

And I love that as well.

I like staying busy!

Hopefully a protector

In a lot of ways, I’m like our new puppy Maggie.

I go and go and go and go, and then about eight o’clock at night, in front of the television, I’ll just crash.  I turn into a zombie until about eleven at which time I fall into a deep, restorative sleep, and then up at six the next morning to do it all again.

That’s how I rock and roll!

Staying busy is good for me.  It keeps me out of my head, which was once described as the most dangerous six inches of real estate on the planet.  It also keeps me in some semblance of good shape.  Since I’m never sick (never as in maybe once per decade I’ll catch a cold or the flu) I have to assume that A) my lifestyle is working and B) I have some great genes.

So that’s where I’m at as of this writing.  The rains have stopped and we have two days of pretty decent January weather ahead, so I need to go shovel dirt and pour cement.

Wishing you a productive weekend, from Olympia,

Bill

Life in the Urban Jungle

The battle continues!

Here’s something they don’t tell you when you are a kid, and your mom is reading you a book about Farmer Bob, and it’s all fun in the hay and frolic with the animals . . . there are predators out there who aim to eat your animals the moment you let down your guard.  It probably makes sense that they don’t mention that in the Farmer Bob Series.  Little kids don’t need to know about disemboweled chickens and headless quail, do they?

Winter is a particularly brutal time of year.  Raccoons and other critters are hungry in the winter, and finding food is tough for them.  Hell, we live in the middle of the city, and I’ve spotted two coyotes walking down our street.  A new neighbor lost his cat to a coyote last week.  They are out there!  I don’t blame them at all.  In fact, I applaud their ingenuity and determination in finding something to eat.  It’s my job to make sure their next meal doesn’t include Bill’s chicken & quail tortilla, minus the tortilla.

Hopefully a protector

That was quite the introduction, all leading up to the fact we have lost eight quail in the past month.  Something has dug a hole and gotten into the enclosure.  Drags the quail out one at a time.  Leaves feathers behind.  Annoys the hell out of me.  So I have work to do.

We also lost a chicken recently.  Bev had brought home four rescue chickens, and we introduced them to their own coop, did everything correctly, and the next night two of them decided they would rather roost in a nearby tree.  So we played that game for a few nights, dragging them out of the tree, putting them in their coop, until one night they were more clever in choosing a hiding place.

Well, eventually, their cleverness cost one of them their life.

Raccoons are always hungry in the winter.

So life goes on.  Winter will be over soon, and then spring chores will begin, and repairs undertaken, and the trees will bud, leaves will appear, and temperatures will signal the coming of a new season, one of promise, one of hope, and one filled with more things Farmer Bob should never speak about to little children.

Winter Randoms

Sorry I’m late with this . . . the holidays tend up upset the apple cart a bit.

GRuB

It’s interesting, serving as President of the Tumwater Farmers Market Board, the things you learn about farming.

Here in Thurston County there is a non-profit organization called GRuB.  I’ll let the information on their website explain what they do:

  • We inspire positive personal and community change by bringing people together around food and agriculture.
  • We partner with youth and people with low-incomes to create empowering individual & community food solutions.
  • We offer tools & trainings to help build a just & sustainable food system.

 

Cool, right?  A great mission statement with great benefits for many . . . what could be wrong with a program which does all that?

GRuB is subsidized by the government.  The low-income children who work on the GRuB farm are not paid but instead are taught the skills of farming and gardening.  All well and good, but . . .

What we are seeing, and what we are hearing from local farmers, is that GRuB is hurting the family farms by undercutting them in price, so in essence this non-profit organization, which is serving a real purpose, is also hurting some small farmers in the process.

I’m not here to bad-mouth GRuB.  I love their organization and what they are trying to do.  My only point is there are always pros and cons to any undertaking, and we should always be aware of both sides of a debate.

THE MARKET

We are in the dead months of the Farmers Market.  No one wants to discuss a farmers market in December, so we will meet again in January and begin nailing down the specifics of the 2018 Tumwater Town Center Farmers Market.  We have decided on a location (same as last year), and now we have to decide on which vendors to retain, which new ones to invite, increase our sponsorship, and develop a successful marketing plan to increase sales.  Since the market begins again in April we really won’t have that much time to get the ball rolling, and I’m excited to be involved in expanding this valuable community asset.

QUIET TIMES ON OUR URBAN FARM

The soil is healing and preparing itself for the next growing season.  All is well.  We lost one chicken to disease last month, but gained four more as rescue chickens.  In February I’ll incubate quail eggs and start raising the quail once more.

I am determined to increase our gardening space next year (the straw bales are already out seasoning), and I’m also determined to do more canning of berries.  We also need to pick up a freezer to handle the bounty next fall.

The cold rain falls.  The woodstove is warming the house.  The cat is sleeping.  The puppy is wreaking havoc.  Christmas presents are being wrapped.

Life is good!

Bill

A Word About CSA’s

A word about CSA’s, or Community Supported Agriculture:

Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

We do this.  We bought a share with a local farmer we met while working the Tumwater Farmers Market, and each week we pick up our bag of veggies, and it worked out quite well for us.

Do we eat everything we receive?  Honestly, no! There are some items we simply do not enjoy eating, but that’s not the point.

Is it more expensive than, say, shopping at Safeway?  Yes, but again, that’s not the point.

So, what is the point?

From Local Harvest.org:

Advantages for farmers:

  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

 

Advantages for consumers:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

 

And it is that last item which is so important to us. . . we get to know the people who grow our food, and that fills us with a sense of community which we believe is so important in this modern society of ours.

 

 

We have gone from 50% of the U.S. population working as farmers in 1870 to 2% today.  There are 2.2 million farmers in this country today, with an average farm size of 460 acres.  The farmers I know have nowhere close to 460 acres . . . more like 100 acres or less . . . but the point is this is an occupation which is rapidly shrinking in this country, and it takes very little imagination to picture a country where 99% of the food produced is produced by a major corporation, and that vision depresses me.

Anyway, we are doing our part to support local agriculture, and that makes us feel better as we move along this path of localism and sustainability.

Bill

Memories and Metaphors

I had this written once, but it was about meat processing, and after I finished it I didn’t like it, so here we go again.  When in doubt, fall back on favorite memories.

Rewind tape . . . second take . . . and action!

Charles City, Iowa, is, was, and probably always will be a farming town.  The population today, for the city on the Cedar River, is 7,700 people.  It seemed bigger to me when I first saw it at age five.

Our family drove back there in the summer of 1953 to see my dad’s folks.  I remember brick storefronts.  I remember friendly people.  And I remember corn literally as far as the eye could see, miles and miles of green stalks, reaching for the blue sky, swaying in the breeze, and farmers on tractors, big men, their faces shielded from view by John Deere caps, waving as we drove by.

By 1953 my grandparents were twenty years removed from losing most of their corn farm in the Great Depression.  When I first met them, when I first arrived in Charles City, my grandparents were down to twenty acres and a weathered, two-story farmhouse, built in 1883 using wood from the forests of Minnesota, my dad said, but even those twenty acres seemed like a huge spread of land to me, and I was convinced my grandparents must be rich to live with so much property.

Chickens pecked in the yard, under a hot sun, Grandma out there daily tossing corn to them, shooing them off her porch with a broom, a couple piglets running around, not fenced in, seemingly aware of property lines, and huge oak trees with inviting limbs, providing shade, wooden chairs underneath them, family members sitting in them, drinking lemonade, neighbors stopping by to meet the relatives from the distant State of Washington.

The nights were special with lightning bugs and bullfrogs, the sky so clear, the stars so close, a warm breeze rustling the corn stalks, that rustle a constant companion into the night as sleep came, and the next day grandma on her knees, tending to her small garden, quiet in her work, most likely remembering days gone by when that small garden was much larger, and the dreams of a young couple were smashed by economic forces they did not comprehend.

My Uncle Ike came by, riding a scooter, probably a Vespa, an odd sight for 1953, probably had it shipped home after the European war, and he took me for rides, across the walking bridge spanning the Cedar, me standing in front of him, his large arms on both sides of me, smelling of Old Spice, gripping the handlebars, and I swear that man knew everyone in town, all seven-thousand of them waving at us as we passed by on our way to the A & W for an ice-cold root beer in a frosted mug, and he introduced me to friends, me feeling like royalty, and they all treated me as such, Mister Bill they called me, heady stuff for a scrawny kid from Tacoma.

There’s a point to this story if you look hard enough for it.

I’ve thought often of that Iowa town. I saw it a couple more times, but it was never as special as that first visit in 1953, the sun never again as bright, the stars never again as close.  My grandparents both died within months of each other in 1962, and the town itself was leveled by a F5 tornado in 1968, an honest-to-God weather metaphor sent by the gods, the message learned by some, missed by others, and now just a footnote in Iowa history.

But I will remember . . . and I do every single time I work outside on my urban farm, and every single time I do a farmers market, and every single time I sit in the backyard and thank those same gods for a little slice of the past.

Bill