Recently in raising chickens
It's been a while. We're in the throes of the most productive time of year at the farm, harvesting tons of heirloom tomatoes and greens (among other things) and preparing for the quickly approaching autumn growing season. We've been hustling to get all of our farm goodies sold and distributed to CSA members but in my scarce free time I've been working on migrating Brooklyn Homesteader over to a new website that is no longer specific to Brooklyn since, well...I no longer live there.
So, as a result I created a page dedicated to the projects I'm working on, including teaching and farm events. The book I have been working on for an eternity will be out soon! Next season, I'll be tackling management of the farm by myself so it should be quite a ride! Please consider adding the new blog (which I've imported most of the content from this site to!) and following me on this crazy journey.
p.s. Big ups to McKenzie over at Oliver and Abraham's for designing my banner and buttons!
It's going to be over 80 degrees for the next few days here on the New Jersey farm. The warm temps are much needed, after several weeks of near-freezing nights have slowed our progress in the garden.
Here's some photos from the Seven Arrows this week. As you can see, the late spring hasn't impeded the chickens boom in egg production. Things in that regard are moving quite smoothly. I'll post soon about our progress. It's been hard to sit down at the computer to write lately.
Happy Spring, everyone!
A few months back, our neighbor Tim gave us this really great old egg incubator that he had no use for. We thought at some point that we'd give hatching some eggs a try. Well, today is that day. We've had some unexpected losses this winter and so we're going to need to raise a couple more birds to make up for it. Our roosters have been busy making nice with our hens so there is a good chance that most of these eggs have been fertilized.
Normally, we'd separate one of our broody hens to set upon a clutch of eggs but right now it's all hens on deck for our flock. We cannot spare any laying hen's abilities for now, but we feel that letting Mama Nature take care of things is always preferable to human intervention.
Our plan is to not buy chicks or pullets ever again. We've had such a headache with our most recent additions to the flock not being hardy and dying or having deformities that could have been avoided with better management that we just feel like we could do a better job of it here. Ordering chicks feels kind of bad for us because we end up ordering only females and who knows what happens to the male chicks. If we raise chicks at home from our own stock, we can raise a few cockerels for the table for nearly nothing.
We'll keep you guys posted on the process! Interested in hatching your own eggs? The Backyard Chickens forum has a great tutorial on how to do it!
Finally, the gals are back to work! Our hens can pay their own damn rent for once! We're up to 2 dozen a day which is about half of what capacity will be once our CSA pick-up in June! We're incredibly relieved to be able to stop funneling money into these voracious little eater's beaks!
I've heard it on good authority that when training Maremmas, a wise human should anticipate two "exuberant" phases in the livestock guardian's developmemt. One takes place at around 7-8 months and what follows is a bit is a lull in the perpetual chasing and chewing that these young dogs can inflict on their charges. Many farmers new to Livestock Guardian Dogs (or LGDs) expect that the pups can be trusted to do their job now with little supervision. We we're cautiously optimistic around that we could leave them for extended periods of time with little to no trouble. We had been lucky in that the first wave of puppy-like playfulness was only a nuisance and never resulted in injuries to the livestock.
That was, until this week when our gals Stevie and Peach reached the age at which their second exuberant phase tends to hit. They are yearlings now, each weighing in at 70 lbs each. They still near the large paws of dogs that still have not grown to their full size. Boy, are they ever making it known that they think they are large and in charge!
Both dogs have been having a challenging time controlling their chase impulses. Peach, who lives with the goats, is making sure to allot ample time to run circles around the goats, nibbling at their ankles until either Hershey's, our only horned goat, gives her a stern head-butt to the grill or I catch her in the act. Busted, I belt at her a guttural "Hey, NO BITING" in the deepest growl I can muster, bringing the rabble-rousing to a quick halt. To her credit, at least she listens to commands. She's now the easier of the two to keep in control. A surprising development to be sure. I always thought Peach was the problem child. A big goon. That's not the case anymore. She has gentled a bit, and shows signs that she is always listening and processing information.
Stevie, the more socialized of the two, who is alone with the runner ducks and chickens, has developed some undesirable chase behavior. I think it is a result of the introduction of 30 young pullets to the flock last week. We've had them sequestered from the big girl hens, in a room screened off with chicken wire. Stevie has managed to squeeze through a gap in the screen and has mauled several of the birds, causing some pretty cringe worthy injuries. We've lost only one bird, but all of the others are on the mend and it appears that they'll make a full recovery.
This hasn't stopped Stevie from picking up the ducks by the neck and trying to carry them off, never actually harming them but scaring them half to death. I've had to give the roughest of the correction to her, flipping her over on the ground by the scruff of her neck, pinning her down, getting into her face and fiercely growling "NO". If I were an older, trained Livestock Guardian left to teach her the ropes, she'd surely receive worse treatment. In this situation I have to behave like a beast, one that she finds intimidating, but still manages to love and respect. I hate being rough with her but I couldn't stand it if we failed at her training and she couldn't work with livestock. We have no place for her if she can't work. It's what she was born to do. I'm not sure how she'd adapt to being a house dog.
I'm getting ahead of myself, here. Failure is not an option. This dog will stop chasing and she will become a trustworthy livestock guardian. I have faith in her.
Once I pulled back from the recumbent dog and put all of the molested poultry back where they would be safe, I returned to where Stevie remained sitting and waiting. I gave her a warm pat on the head. I knelt down and wrapped my arms around her neck and told her "I forgive you. Please be good." She nuzzled her fuzzy head into my open coat and all was well again. This is the Stevie that we want around. A gentle giant.
The gap in the door has since been sealed tight. I go out to work with the girls for an extra half hour a day, practicing commands. They get extra rations of food just in case winter hunger is what's causing them to chase with such intent. We just have to work through this phase and hope that in the next couple of months the little fires in those bellies simmer down and things become more harmonious in our critter kingdom.
Never before has the fact been clear to me that every critter, human or animal, needs to either fulfill or get a sense of it's purpose in order to be contented. Our dogs, who each day endear themselves more to us, have been teaching us lessons in purpose. Stevie and Peach are both young working dogs, just nearing a year of age. They are a breed called Cane da Pastore Maremmano Abruzzese, or Maremmas as they are called here in the states. If you've never encountered one of these fine animals (you probably haven't, they are pretty rare.) you understand what I mean when I talk about an animal's purpose shaping it's identity and quality of life. Maremmas are born with an natural inclination to protect whatever living thing they consider part of the pack. They spend all of their time with the animals they are meant to defend, and as a result, when they become separated from them, they can become depressed or anxious.
I'd learned this in theory by reading books on Livestock Guardians and perusing Jackie Church's website for tidbits of advice in regards to training our young pups. I've actually witnessed the phenomenon of livestock withdrawal first hand this week after both of our gals got spayed.
After their surgery, we thought it best to keep them indoors for a couple of days to ensure they didn't pick at their stitches. During that time, we thought the dogs would be overjoyed to be inside with us, sleeping on blankets in the warmth of the house. But instead the dogs were very fidgety and quite depressed. We'd take them for walks to visit their charges during the day and no sooner than they caught a glimpse of the outbuildings, they'd begin pulling with all of their weight, tails whipping and eyes shining. They missed their work. It became very clear to me that they were actually happier outside in the cold doing their job rather than inside, bored but cozy.
I can relate to this. I was comfortable at my old job. I had plenty of money and never really had to struggle to thrive, but I felt I had no purpose. What I was doing didn't quite fit who I was. I was like a Maremma on the bedroom floor. Idle and out of place. It's been two years now that I've been on my own, making my way on my terms. 6 months now that I've been on this farm, doing work that makes me feel like I belong. I'm often scared, wondering how I'll be able to continue to afford feed and a roof over our heads... I barely can. But I'm happy. Never more so. I've found my Meg-shaped place in the world.
With that in mind, what sort of work makes you feel like you've found your place?
And they live on our street. Neighbors! 29 more shares to go...let's go, let's go!
If you live in the Navesink River region in Monmouth County, NJ and are interested in finding out more about our CSA, click HERE!