Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Lessons learned from our first year of raising chickens and ducks Part 2 of 2...

 More learning opportunities...

1. Be flexible with your business plan.  Our entire business plan revolved around selling at the Moscow Farmers Market.  With the COVID-19 taking over in the early spring, the start of the Market was delayed and completely reorganized to allow for social distancing and we were drowning in eggs!  Doing a delivery route was Back up Plan #3 but it became our main selling strategy.  The bonus is that Mark LOVES doing the egg delivery!  It allows him to have a more active role in the business.  Having an online storefront was not even ON the business plan and now we have one!  In fact, I was terrified at the idea of a website to sell eggs but we HAD to put one together to be a part of the Motor-In Moscow Farmers Market and now I love it!  Also, we are getting everything lined up so that we can sell the duck eggs at an actual storefront, the Moscow Food Co-op!  AND we provide eggs to a local farmer for her farm stand!  Grateful for new opportunities that turned out to be successful for the egg business!

2. The shade shelter doubles as a snow shelter too!  We always knew it would be good for the girls to have shade but didn't realize that it really is a necessity if we want them to encourage them to be out on pasture.  Therefore, when we do get the actual coops built, we are going to have to put together some of these little shade/snow shelters in the paddocks.  There are more trees where the coops are located but some of them are still small so they don't provide a lot of shade immediately.  
3. Everything likes to eat chicken.  We already knew this and that is one reason we have the livestock guardian dogs.  They do a great job of keeping the coyotes away but they couldn't get to the west side of the barn where a raccoon entered and killed 3 chickens a few weeks ago.  SO, we have learned new skills of trapping and working with game cameras.  Last year, I did catch an ermine (weasel) in a small trap.  This year, we had to buy some big traps to try and catch a raccoon (more unexpected expenses!).  Grateful we continue to learn new skills and keep the girls safe!
4.  Breaking news...this just happened this past weekend...make sure to check items that are ordered and sent to the farm.  Last May, we ordered a fodder system.  This is a way to grow greens in the winter for the girls.  It has been busy around here this fall and the fodder system got shoved to the bottom of the To Do list.  Henry promised to help me put it together this past weekend.  I opened the "Instructions" and realized that we got the wrong system!  In fact, the fodder system we received costs $1000 less than the one I had ordered!  (Yes, you read that correctly...this is a VERY expensive system...only the best for our girls).  I know you are probably wondering why I didn't notice that this was totally the wrong system when it came.   Well, it came in many many boxes so we just unloaded it all and took it down to the garden porch.  AND the packing slip says the correct item on it!  So, I assumed that we had the correct system...ugh...will be making a call tomorrow...here is a sneak peek pic of the fodder system we are supposed to be getting...look at all those greens!
Lastly, not really a lesson learned, but if you get eggs from ReMARKable Eggs, you might be an egg snob and that's okay!  It is so great to have loyal customers!  Grateful for our egg delivery customers!  We feel so bad that the raccoon is getting so many of our chickens and we can't fulfill all our egg orders right now.  
~Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lessons learned from the first year of raising chickens and ducks Part 1 of 2...

Being Grateful for Lessons Learned

I started writing up about our lessons learned and there were so many that I am going to break this into 2 parts.  Here are the first set of lessons learned...

1. Get a written contract for any work that you need from a contractor!  If you didn't know, we hired a contractor in the spring of 2019 to build a duck coop and a "double" chicken coop (2 chicken coops connected together with a storage area in the middle...so, technically, it is one big building with 2 chicken coops).  Each coop will also have it's own run.  I got the estimate and we verbally agreed that he would start working on them in the fall.  In early August 2019, he said he was finishing up a job and ours would be next and he asked for money to buy the materials.  I gave him the money and then there were many excuses about how his other job was delayed and then it was winter.  I was hopeful that he would get going on it in the spring and some things did start to happen (got concrete pad down for the foundation) but then he just did not show up.  A letter from Mark's lawyer got him moving again in September 2020 and both coops were supposed to be completed by October 31.  The duck coop is finished but the run is not.  The chicken coop has just been started...I don't think it is going to be completed any time soon...
The worst part of all this scenario is that we should be caring for our second batch of chicks and ducklings right now.  BUT, since the coops are delayed, we will not be able to expand Mark's business as we had wanted.  Grateful for the barn that the girls are staying in for now!

2. Buy more poultry than you need.  Those first 3-4 days are hard on newly hatched chicks.  We wanted to have 25 ducks and 75 chicks.  We received 26 ducklings but 5 died in the first 3 days.  We received 78 chicks but 8 died in the first 4 days.  It was pretty discouraging to see them dropping like flies but after those first few days, things went much better.  Next time, I think I will order 30 ducklings and 80 chicks.  Grateful that we only lost one hen during our first year (until the raccoon came last week and now we are down another 3 chickens)!

3. Ducks are messy!  I had read this many times in preparing for our new venture.  BUT nothing can quite prepare you for exactly how messy they can be.  Mostly it is the water...they get everything soaking wet.  It is helpful that they can go out into the run area now during the day and make a mess out there.  They do not seem to be bothered by the snow at all.  Grateful for their spunky personalities that make it worth the work!

4. Unexpected expenses - we used a LOT of pine shavings and that got expensive! (because of the messy ducks!)  We bought some straw this fall to help get us through the winter and that was also expensive.  I knew we would need bedding but just didn't realize that this would be a major expense.  Now we know and can plan for the future.  Luckily, the coops will be smaller than the barn so we (hopefully) will not need as much hay/shavings.  Grateful that we sell lots of eggs to cover the expenses!

Of course, many things we learn are posted in these blog posts every other week!  Stay tuned...

Have an eggcellent day!  

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Experiment: Baking with duck eggs!

In the Barn 

The duck egg coop is getting close to being finished.  I am really hopeful that we will be able to move the ducks out of the barn and into their own coop this fall.  We are really enjoying the duck eggs and wanted to share a little more information about duck eggs and why they are better than chicken eggs!  

Can you guess which of these cakes was made with duck eggs?  Keep reading to find out...

It's rare to see a duck sitting on a nest.  They usually have all their eggs laid before we come out to feed and water.  I found this duck sitting on a nest of about 6 eggs for 2 days in a row.  I wonder if she was broody and wanted to hatch some eggs...
I think the ducks really like to have a nice deep place to lay their eggs and they tend to cover them up with straw.  We made these special duck egg nest boxes for the ducks but the chickens keep scratching all their nice fluffy, straw out of the nests.  It will be better once we can get them separated in their own coop.
As I mentioned, the ducks tend to bury their eggs in the straw.  Here is a video of me digging for duck eggs...

In the Kitchen

Okay, enough about egg laying, let's talk duck egg nutrition.  I posted this pic on Facebook a couple weeks ago.  I think the first thing that you will notice about a duck egg is that it is bigger then a chicken egg.  The duck egg is on the left and a chicken egg in on the right.  
There are a few more calories in duck eggs (obviously- the size alone would indicate that!)  Duck eggs contain more protein than a chicken egg and the protein is different.  If you are allergic to chicken eggs, chances are that you will not be allergic to duck eggs.

The vitamin and mineral content is higher and there are more Omega 3's in duck eggs.  Ducks seem to be really good foragers and they are efficient layers.  The shell of a duck egg is stronger and that gives the egg a longer shelf life.  

Duck Eggs for Baking

Why use duck eggs for baking?  The higher fat content in duck eggs make cakes rise higher and gives meringues more volume and stability.  Your sweets will be richer because of the larger yolk that contains more fat.

If you are baking for someone who needs gluten free, they’ll be pleased to get some of the ‘body’ back in their baked goods that is lost without the gluten.

I had read that you can substitute 2 duck eggs for 3 chicken eggs.  BUT I could not really find any "proof" that baked goods with duck eggs would be more lighter and fluffy.

So, I did my own experiment.  I did my best to keep everything consistent except for the type and number of eggs.  I used store bought cake mixes and weighed everything in grams and milliliters so everything was precise.  I even weighed the eggs.  The chicken eggs were 60 grams and the duck eggs were 70 grams each.  I tried 3 different scenarios: 3 chicken eggs, 3 duck eggs and 2 duck eggs.  

It is a little difficult to see from the pics so you will have to take my word.  Both of the duck egg cakes rose up about a quarter inch taller than the chicken egg cake.  It even appears that the duck egg cake with 2 eggs rose taller than the duck egg cake with 3 eggs!  I did not bother to replicate the experiment (there is only so much cake you can eat...)  BUT I think this shows nicely that you can use 2 duck eggs in place of 3 chicken eggs and your baking will turn out lighter and fluffier!

What is your favorite way to use duck eggs?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"I'm molting! Molting"

 In the Coop

A couple of the girls are in a hard molt and it was downright scary!  I decided I had better do a little research about molting and how to help the girls out during this difficult time.

Shorter days can trigger a response in poultry to shed their old feathers and produce new ones for the upcoming winter.  Feathers help to protect the birds against rain, snow and cold temperatures.  This happens every year.  Old feathers are dropped and new ones grow in.  

I had read that young hens (less than 12 months) may not molt the first year but there are definitely a couple girls that are molting.  Notice how "mottled" their appearance is...

Molting can take between 3 and 16 weeks.  Feathers are about 85% protein (keratin protein, to be exact) so it is good to give extra protein while the girls are molting.  Sunflower seeds were mentioned as a good source of extra protein.  Our girls already get sunflower seeds for treats every day.  I had also read that you can feed flock raiser which has a higher amount of protein than layer feed.

Growing feathers is hard work so the chickens and ducks may temporarily quit laying eggs while their body puts all its energy into growing new feathers.  Molting can be mild or severe. Some hens molt slowly, just losing a few feathers here and there over a longer period of time. Other chickens molt quickly, dropping lots of feathers suddenly. These are called 'soft' and 'hard' molts, respectively.  Here is an example of a hard molt...
I have seen this girl get picked on a bit.  This may happen when they go through a hard molt.  I am keeping an eye on the situation and we will put her in the quarantine cage if things start to get out of hand.  So far, she has done a good job of getting away from the bullies.

A hen/ducks egg production is also tied to light, as mentioned earlier.  A hen/duck needs at least 14 hours of light each day to keep laying eggs.  We do provide lighting in our coops to keep the girls laying.  Our chickens and ducks receive good quality feed and treats all year long so we expect them to work in the winter too (after they have finished molting).

We did purchase some game bird feed.  It is 30% protein.  The girls eat about 23 pounds of feed a day so I would put out about 5 pounds of the game bird feed to increase the amount of protein available to them.  I have been feeding this through the month of October but I don't expect to continue this practice.  We also experimented with fermenting some feed but that will be for a future blog post...stay tuned...

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Plum Patch...

 The Plum Patch

When we moved here, the neighbor pointed out the plum patch to the north of the property.  We rode his ATV out to get a closer look...
It looks pretty nice from a distance but as you get closer you can see all the bryony choking out some of the trees.  Bryony is a terrible noxious weed that is almost impossible to get rid of.  It grows on some of the apple trees on our property but I am able to pull most of it out.
The brown vines on the trees is the bryony
The plum patch is also where the coyotes hang out.  Here you can see an entrance that goes back into the plum bushes...
So, we have been here 3 years and I finally got out to pick some plums!  There are 3 different kind of plums in the patch.  The first one pictured is what I consider a "regular" plum...
Then, there were a few smaller purple plums...
Finally, there are a bunch of greengage plums.  These plums are smaller green/yellow colored plums.  They are a European plum but originated from Iran.  They are considered a fine dessert plum.
I was able to pick quite a good size bucket of the greengages.  
I wanted to make some jam.  I could only find European recipes that used grams and milliliters in their measurements.  Luckily, I have a food scale so this wasn't a problem and I got the jam made.  This is the first pectin-free jam that I have ever made.  It turned a deep brown color similar to a plum butter.  I was kind of hoping it would stay that goofy green color...that would have been great for Halloween...
After making 2 batches of jam, I still had plums leftover.  If you have ever worked with plums, you know that once you pick them, they need to be used right away.  They don't really keep that well.  I decided to dehydrate some of the plums...
...and then I made an upside down plum cake with the last of the plums.  I am not sure how appetizing this looks.  It may have looked better with purple plums but it tasted great!
The plums were small and the pit did not really come out easily but I am happy with the results.  Hard to pass up on free food!  I "planted" the pits out by the chickens/ducks so we will see if I get any plum bushes growing next spring. 

A wonderful, egg delivery customer shared his Italian Plum tree with us!  I also made some Italian Plum jam.
I picked up some grounders, pitted them, and gave some to the girls!  They loved them!
Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Summer 2020 review

On the Farm

Autumn begins this week so this seems to be a good time for a summer review.  First, an update on the Langstroth hive: it did not make it ($200 down the drain).  I tried putting a new queen in there but she did not take.  So, I just put it away and will get it out next spring and try again.  I have a bee "art" project that I am going to be working on with a friend so more on that next year.  Since most of the honey we harvest comes from the Langstroth hive, we will not have any honey for sale for a maybe a couple years.  The top bar hive continues to do well!
It's a little hard to see but the bees love the water feature.

We continue to be busy in the garden.  The garlic, carrot and beet harvests was decent and the onion harvest was fantastic.  The eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini are just starting to come on AND we are actually getting a nice harvest of cantaloupe and watermelon!  I canned 11 pints of Rotel yesterday but I probably will not get any salsa canned unless I get some peppers.  
Garlic curing before going into storage

I was able to ferment some salsa!  I had to use some tomatoes that a friend gave me to make this batch.  Fermented foods have increased digestibility and vitamins.  Also, fermented foods promote growth of healthy bacterial flora (probiotics) in your intestines.  I also made a good amount of sauerkraut (which is basically fermented cabbage) and some pickles.
We grew our first batch of meat chickens.  Here is a pic of the electric scalder and plucker that we used.  It went pretty good.  The electric scalder takes a LONG time to heat up (5 hours).  So, we ended up just using a large pot of water set over a propane tank flame for the scalding.  Next time, I will get it plugged in sooner (the paperwork that came with it says it will heat up in 20 minutes).  
Scalder and plucker for processing meat chickens
I was able to make several new jams/jellies this summer.  This is a pic of some elderberry jelly.  This is one of Henry's new favorites.  I have enough berries saved in the freezer to make one more batch.  Other new jams/jellies were white currant, black currant, mint, and roasted rhubarb.  
Trying to get better about seed saving.  I always start with good intentions but then get overwhelmed with all the processing in the fall and never get around to saving seeds.  So, trying to start with simple things.  This is lettuce that has gone to seed (see the white fluffy stuff at the top of the plant) and is ready to harvest the seeds.
This is spinach that I let go to seed.  I did not realize that spinach has male and female plants.  Also, I did not know that the seeds actually grow on the stems of the plant (not at the top like the lettuce).  Learning new things all the time...
The girls are loving the cooler weather and I am still praying for a late, hard freeze.  It got down to 39 degrees the day after Labor Day and zapped the basil and hurt some of the squash and pepper plants but most of the other plants are still chugging along.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

It's a lot quieter around here...

 On the Farm

Last weekend we processed the first half of the meat chickens and since we were chopping heads off, the roosters also saw their end.  We only had 2 roosters but the bigger rooster would attack us (Mark and me) and the smaller rooster kept attacking the ducks.  I could tell that Mark was getting nervous around the roosters and would watch them and not walk past them.  It was just poor working conditions.  If the roosters had been nicer, they could have stayed.  There are lots of great reasons to keep a rooster...


Rooster look out for the flock.  They keep their eye to the sky and watch for predators.  I have seen all the girls run into the barn after the rooster made some type of noise to alert the girls of danger in the sky.  Also, a rooster will also crow if there is danger approaching.  He crowed a lot when Henry went out to the chicken area!  Henry didn't really like the roosters either.
The bigger rooster was almost always the last one in the barn at night, making sure that all the girls got in safely.

Fertilized Eggs

You don't have to have a rooster for a hen to lay eggs.  Chickens have been selected over the centuries to lay eggs most all year.  Now, if you want to hatch eggs, you definitely need a rooster to have fertilization so that baby chicks will develop.  We do not want to hatch baby chicks from our current hens.  They are hybrids so they would not breed true.  Therefore, we didn't really need a rooster.  It just happened that when we ordered the hens, 2 of them turned out to be roosters.

It is really cute to see the rooster do his little shuffle dance to try and impress the ladies.  Also, he will point out little pieces of food for the girls.  He will pick up the food and then drop it again to show the girls.  This is called tidbitting.  

Roosters look handsome but they can be kind of rough on the girls too.  They jump on the hens back to mate with them...(I am really keeping an eye on this girl, she did not leave the barn for several days.  I think she got jumped on too much.  The good news is that I saw her out in the run a couple days ago and she seems much more alert!)
and pull out the feathers in their heads...
I understand this is part of their mating routine but sometimes it gets to be a bit much.  I thought since we only had 2 roosters that maybe it would not be so bad or they would spread their love around but I was mistaken.


Roosters keep the girls in line.  In the absence of a rooster, the hens may start fighting to work out the pecking order.  I have seen some hen fighting and I am keeping an eye on it.  I have even read that the "head" hen may start crowing!  I am curious to see if this happens!

So, it's a lot quieter around here in some ways.  The roosters were crowing loudly at like 3:00 in the morning.  I didn't really mind the crowing but it is nice that it's quieter.  However, on a side note, the dogs have been super noisy lately.  It seems we have a raccoon (the neighbor saw one on September 1st) and a skunk hanging around the farm (we can smell it some mornings).  I think the dogs are barking a lot to keep them away.  Both skunks and raccoon will prey on chickens.

One last note about getting rid of the roosters... 
Eventually, we want to go and visit Joshua and extended family in Kansas and Pennsylvania (after this pandemic lets up).  At that time, we will need someone to come and take care of the girls.  I think it would be difficult to find someone that would come to feed/water the girls and know how to fend off the roosters too.  Now, we don't have to worry about that.

Have an eggcellent day!