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

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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

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.