Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Winter 2021 Farm Update

 On the Farm

Spring is here!  Hoping everyone made it through the "springing" ahead last weekend.  It seemed to really hit us hard for some reason.  I guess we are starting to get busier and was needing the rest.  It is okay...we are powering through!  Here is a little update about what has been going on on the farm...

If you follow our farm, you probably know most of what has happened the past few months but it has been such a busy winter that I am going to recap everything here...I have been posting so much more on the Facebook so I am not sure I will be continuing with these quarterly updates...we will see...

I had over 1400 pics on my phone.  What a mess!  I finally got around to deleting them!  I am getting better at organizing them when I take them off my phone.  Yeah for small victories!  Also, I updated the ReMARKable Farms website in December.  Winter is a great time to work on these "computer" projects.

One good thing is that the future duck coop was built in the fall and we got some ducklings and "replacement" chicks and put them into the coop.   
Denise in front of coop in December
Yesterday, the contractor came out and started working on the run for the duck coop.  The bottom is secured and I am going to let the chicks and ducklings out into the run for a little bit this afternoon to get some fresh air.  
Pic of duck coop on March 20
The replacement chicks were to help cover some of the 7 chickens that the raccoon got in November.  The last time we have seen the raccoon was on December 11th when it got caught in a dog proof trap for about an hour and a half but then somehow managed to escape.  Fingers crossed that it does not come back...
New ducklings!
New chicks!

We had to put our Great Pyrenees, Cooper, down because he had some nerve damage in his back.  Benjamin came to the farm in December.  He likes to chase the cats and eat eggs but we love him a lot!
Benjamin is good with helping with the putting the girls in for the night.  They really start moving toward the door when they see him coming.  LOL!

We got the fodder system up and producing fresh greens each day for the girls.  We were battling with some egg eating issues.  I started taking the fodder out early in the morning to try and distract the girls from the egg eating.  It worked for a while but they seem to be back to the egg eating...ugh...
Now, we are anxiously waiting for the run to be completed on the duck coop and then we will be moving all the chicks into the barn with the chickens.  We will take all the ducks out of the barn and put them into the duck coop with the ducklings.  Hopefully, this will be happening the end of the month or in early April.  I am already anxious about "moving day" but also excited that this may put an end to the egg eating!

As you may guess, we have started some seedlings for the garden!  
The only new update is that we got another cold frame!  The "new" cold frame is on the left in this pic.  It has an arm that automatically opens the middle panel when the temperature increases over the day.  I am going to try and actually plant lettuce/arugula/spinach into the new cold frame for an early greens harvest.  I have a cold frame that I put together last year (on the right in pic) and I used it to harden off the seedlings before I put them into the garden.  I will use that "older" cold frame for that purpose again.  When I am done hardening things off, I am going to plant sweet potatoes into that cold frame.  Maybe I will plant some melons into the other cold frame...probably watermelon...
Here is a pic of the new cold frame during the middle of the day where the arm of the middle panel is opened because it is warm inside the frame.
Also, I have started a little "experiment" and you will learn more about that in my next blog post...hopefully...if the experiment works!  Fingers crossed!
Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Uses for eggshells!

On the Farm

Don't throw those eggshells in the garbage!  There are many uses for eggshells.  We rinse ours out and let them dry on the windowsill by the kitchen sink.  Once they are dry, we put them into a small bucket that we keep on the countertop.  Then, once the little bucket is full, we take them downstairs and put them in a 3 gallon size bucket.  We mostly feed them back to the girls so they can get the calcium out of the old eggshells and put it into their new eggshells!  BUT what if you don't have chickens, don't worry, there are many other uses for eggshells around the house...  

In the Garden

Compost and plant fertilizer

Before we had poultry, we put all our eggshells into our compost bin.  They breakdown and can provide calcium in the compost that will be beneficial for the garden plants.  I have read differing opinions about if the calcium is "available" to the plants in the form of eggshells.  I did find this video about how to make an egg shell puree for your tomato plants.  This involves pureeing the eggshells in a blender with some other ingredients, it seems like this would make the calcium more available.  I actually like the eggshells to breakdown and add some good "structure" to the compost.  We usually save the chicken eggs for the girls and put the duck eggs into the compost bin.

Pest deterrent

If you dry the shells and crumble them up, you can put them around the base of plants to deter slugs.  I have read that they do not like to crawl over the sharp edges.  I will be honest, I have done this in the past and I am not sure it provides complete protection against slugs.  You have to put a good amount of eggshells down to deter the pests.  So, if you have a small garden, it may be worth doing.  Especially around tomato and pepper plants that would benefit from the extra calcium that the shells release as they break down over the season.

Use eggshells as little planting pots

I am going to do this this year for my peas.  For some reason, I CANNOT get peas to grow when I plant them out in the garden.  This seems like a great way to start the peas indoors and then plant them out into the garden.  I would crush the eggshell as it is planted into the ground to make sure the roots can get out into the ground.

In the Kitchen

Eat the shells...

You create an eggshell powder by baking the eggshells and then grinding them into a fine powder.  Once this is done, you can toss the powder into any beverage to give yourself a great calcium boost.  Powdered eggshells get absorbed in our body almost as effectively as purified calcium carbonate, thereby meeting your bodily requirements of the mineral. In fact, certain proteins present in eggshells may boost calcium absorption in our body nearly 64% greater compared to pure calcium carbonate supplements.

Basic nutritional value of an eggshell (1/2 teaspoon of eggshell)

Calcium – 900 mg

Magnesium – 24.0 mg

Phosphorus – 8.4 mg

Potassium – 8.0 mg

Sodium – 9.0 mg

or add them to your coffeemaker...

Egg shells are alkaline, while coffee is acidic. When added to coffee, the egg shells remove much of the bitterness and mellow out the flavor of the coffee.

or add them to your broth...

When you make bone broth, you can add some egg shells in to the mix and the calcium and minerals that are in the eggshells will come out of the eggs and enhance your broth with extra calcium.

Make art!

Use the egg shells to make sidewalk chalk or an eggshell mosaic.  
No, I did NOT make this picture but it is pretty impressive...made from eggshells!  Maybe a good idea with those leftover Easter eggshells next month! 

There are also a lot of beauty products that can be made with both eggs and eggshells but we are going to save that for another day...

Have an eggshellent day,

Sunday, February 21, 2021

How do you provide "pastured" eggs in the winter?

 Growing fodder in the winter

We did it!  We grew green, wheat grass in the winter for the chickens and ducks!   We want to tell you all about it.  It began by ordering a microfodder system in the spring of 2020.  This piece of equipment was paid for with Vocational Rehabilitation funds and we are SO grateful for their help in getting this important system for the egg business.  

The system arrived the end of May.  Well, as you may guess, things are busy around here the end of May.  The last of the garden items are being planted, the grass needs mowed and the weeds are starting to take off.  So...we grabbed the boxes off the delivery truck and stuck them in our "garden porch".  There they sat for about 6 months.  
The end of October, the last of the vegetables and apples were harvested, the grass was dying and the leaves were falling off the trees.  I told Henry that we needed to put together that fodder system so we could start growing green grass for the girls.  He said that he would help me on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).  

The day finally arrived and I went down to the pile of boxes and grabbed the big envelope that said "Instructions" on it.  I opened it up and realized that there was a big problem.  They had sent the wrong system!  In fact, the system that they sent cost a $1000 less than the one we were supposed to get!  I know you are probably thinking...how could you not know that you got the wrong system.  Remember, it was the end of May when it arrived, it came in a bunch of big boxes and we were busy.  We just put all the boxes aside until we could deal with it.  I realize that I probably should have done better inspection to make sure we had the correct system when it arrived.  Of course, hindsight is 20/20.  I never thought a company would make such a huge mistake by sending the wrong fodder system.  This had to be brought in on a special delivery truck and everything (not just the regular postal or FedEx system).

Of course, I had to wait until Monday to call and get it all straightened out.  We finally got the correct system on farm and shipped back the wrong system.  Now, to put it together.  One day, before Christmas break, Logan (farm hand and Mark's Community Support Worker) and his friend came and started to work on it.  They worked for about 7 hours and made good progress.
Fodder system taken out of the boxes and ready to put together.

Building the fodder system...

Then, on Christmas Eve, Henry spent most of the day finishing up the system.  What a great Christmas gift!

Fodder system almost all together!

Now, we needed a reservoir for the water.  I ordered a special tank and pump.  This is a closed system so the water is circulated through the fodder system and then comes back to the reservoir tank.  
Reservoir tank for the water used in the fodder system.

Once we had the tank and the pump, it was time to get things growing.  I also got a timer for the pump.  It is challenging to find really good information about growing in a fodder system on the internet.  I set the timer to come on every 2 hours.  The pump runs for 3 minutes and then turns off.  Unfortunately, that was TOO much water.  The seeds started to ferment.  If you don't know, fermentation does not smell great.  The entire basement of the house stunk for about 2 weeks until I realized the problem and changed the timer.  Right now, it is set to go on every 4 hours. but I am thinking about trying every 5 hours.
Seeds soaking in buckets overnight

To start the system, you need to soak the seed.  We are using winter wheat seed.  I have read that barley is also great for a fodder system.  We are using wheat because that is something that is easy for us to source.  There is a lot of debate about how long you need to soak the seed.  I did not make this video but here is a link to a video that does a little experiment about soaking time.  Spoiler alert: you really only need to soak the seed for 30 minutes.  HOWEVER, it just works better for me to soak it for 24 hours so that is what I do.

After the seed has been soaked, it is placed in the system.  I did some experiments with different amounts of seed.  About 3.5 pounds of seed seemed to work best for our system.  Luckily, we have 8 sets of 2 chambers and it takes about 8 days for the seeds to grow into fodder.  Here you can see the top of the system is read to harvest and the bottom trays are newly seeded.
Fodder system up and running.
Here is a video I made to try and explain the fodder system:

Fodder vs. Sprouted grains

Here I could get into a discussion about sprouts versus fodder.  Our goal is to produce fodder.  At one point in my research, I had read that fodder is about 4 inches tall.  Sprouted grain is less than 4 inches.  I also read that fodder is grown for 6-8 days and sprouts are grown for 4 days.  There is much debate about which is better for your animals.  I am really not going to get into all of that here.  Our goal is to produce green grass (fodder).

Some people think they are going to cut their feed bills by producing fodder.  The thinking goes a little like this.  True story...I took 4 pounds of grain and grew 20 pounds of fodder in 8 days.  If you have 50 hens that eat 0.25 pounds of feed each day, you need to feed them 12.5 pound of feed a day.  You start to think...Wow!  I can grow this 4 pounds of wheat and produce all the feed my chickens need and it would be SO much cheaper than buying grain feed for them.  BUT...when you determine feed for your animals, you have to look at "dry matter."  Fodder is 15% dry matter and 85% water.  Also, you have to make sure the poultry are getting a balanced diet and just feeding fodder would not accomplish that.  The reason we are growing fodder for the chickens is not to save money on grain feed, it is for the greens.  I really do not want to get bogged down in these details.  If you are interested in learning more about sprouts, fodder and feed matter, here are a couple of really good resources:
Sprouts vs. Fodder
Fodder growing to 4 inches tall.

Why do we grow fodder?

It is all about the pasture and providing eggs rich in Omega-3s.  We are doing our best to provide pastured eggs year round and this is one way to do that.  Poultry that have access to pasture produce eggs with more Vitamin E and Omega-3.  In addition, chickens with access to the outdoors have more Vitamin D in their eggs (but this is not necessarily related to their feed, just to the fact that they are outside soaking up some sunshine.)    

A bucket of fodder ready to go out to the girls.

Here is a video of the girls eating their fodder.  They just love it!

Girls on Grass!

Chickens and ducks eating fodder.
Baby chicks and ducklings like the fodder too!
Baby chicks and ducklings enjoying fodder.

One of my friends has a few chickens and she got some eggs from Mark.  She said that she didn't understand why Mark's eggs had such a dark yellow yolk compared to her chickens eggs.  They both are eating the exact same grain feed.  Her chickens were not out foraging but ours were.  It is the pasture greens that make the difference!
I know it's a little anticlimactic but that's it...we are growing fodder for greens to increase the nutritional content of the eggs.  Also, the girls just LOVE it and if the girls are happy, we are happy!

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Egg eating

 In the Barn

It seems that the chickens have developed a taste for duck eggs.  Why would they do that?  Well, there may be several reasons:

1. Nutritional deficiency - A calcium or protein deficiency may lead chickens to eat eggs which are an excellent source of both!  We feed a good quality layer feed that contains a small amount of calcium.   Also, we provide both oyster shells and eggshells to the girls as a treat for extra calcium.  If you decide to feed your eggshells back to your chickens, make sure to crush up the shells so it does not look like an "egg".  I would find it difficult to believe that the girls are not getting enough protein or calcium.

2. Dehydration - Some chickens may be looking for something to drink.  We have several waterers in the coop and they are never empty so I don't think this is the issue.

3. Curiosity - If the chickens are bored they may peck at the eggs for entertainment.  Using rollaway nest boxes is a great cure for this.  The chicken lays the egg and then it rolls away where the chickens cannot get to them.  We have several rollaway nest boxes but the girls prefer to lay in nests that they made around the barn.  The ducks lay in nests on the ground and I think this is the primary problem.  It is just too easy for the chickens to get to the eggs because the eggs are just laying there on the ground.

How to stop egg eating...

Providing good quality feed and clean water can go a long ways toward staving off egg eating.  Also, keeping nests up high and in a secluded, dark place can help to keep the girls from hanging out in the nest and starting to peck at the eggs.  

We started to collect the duck eggs and fill them with mustard and then put them back in the nest.  I heard that the chickens don't like the mustard taste and will stop eating the eggs.
To fill the eggs, you poke a hole through the egg and then blow out the egg into a bowl.
Then, carefully fill the egg with mustard.  I sometimes would use a syringe to do this.  Also, I tried to put some dish soap and mustard in the eggs.  The dish soap was too runny and would leak out a lot so I just went back to mustard...
The chickens are not the only ones that like the eggs.  Here a duck has mustard on her beak.  The ducks cannot break open the eggs but once the chickens break them open, the ducks will definitely try to eat the egg...team work...
Another trick is to add fake eggs into the nest.  We bought some wooden eggs and placed them into the nests.  The idea is that the chickens would peck at the fake eggs and the egg does not break and then they give up.

If you know who is eat the eggs, you can try to isolate them in a cage for a couple days to help break them of the habit.  Here I have 2 chickens that were caught with pieces of egg shell in their beaks so they got put in time out!  They really do not like it...
Sadly, I don't feel that the mustard eggs really worked.  The chickens still ate the mustard duck eggs!  

The chickens don't seem to be eating their own eggs, just the duck eggs.  I am hoping when we move the ducks out of the barn and into their duck coop, this will break the egg eating.  The worst case scenario is that they would start eating their own chicken eggs since the easy access to the duck eggs has been taken away.  BUT hopefully, the chicken coop gets built this spring and then the chickens will be moved to the coop and they will use the rollaway nest boxes and they would not have access to the eggs.  Time will tell...

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Dried goodies for chickens and ducks during the winter

 In the Garden

Last year, we grew lots of herbs, flowers and vegetables.  All summer and fall, we would harvest and dry some to keep for the girls to use during the winter.  There are lots of benefits to feeding herbs to poultry.  

1. Herbs can provide vitamins and minerals that may not be in their feed.  
2. Herbs are aromatics and this helps to deter pests and make the coop smell better.
3. Finally, herbs and other dried treats can make your poultry happy and happy hens lay more eggs!  

Here are some of the items we dried.  Here are bins of yarrow leaves, kale/swish chard, and comfrey.  I also had a good amount of parsley to add...it may be in with the yarrow.  These were basically the "greens".  Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator so it has lots of micronutrients.
Once the greens were crumbled up, it just filled the bottom of one tub.  Then, I added some dill... 
After that, I cut up some yarrow flower heads...
Added some lavender...
Then, some dried vegetables...mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, and celery.  I had already kept what we needed, this was all extra that we had grown...
Next came some sage, nasturtium flowers, echinacea and marigold petals...
Now, some fruit, apple and plum...also some carrots and beets...
I did my best to mix this all together...
Then, I divided it up among smaller boxes so we could use one each week for the winter.  
I put it into a rubber tub and let the girls pick at it.  Usually, it's all gone in a couple days.  It is a great boredom buster for them to have something different to pick through...
Here are a couple pintables I found in a blog post by timbercreekfarmer.com about using herbs to keep your chickens healthy.
Here is a pic of Mark collecting comfrey leaves out of the air drying baskets...

Last week, I made a dust bath for the replacement chicks and put some of the herb mixture on top to encourage them to explore the dust bath.
I am still working to grow even more herbs to add to the collection.  I would like to have more oregano for the girls.  Also, I read that chickens love to eat dried rose petals.  We have a couple rather large yellow rose bushes so I want to make sure to collect and dry some this year.

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Kombucha Christmas gift

 Christmas gifts

This year all my family got a "Make Your Own Grape Soda" kit for Christmas.  It was really grape flavored kombucha.  I thought it would be a fun activity for my nieces and nephews to make.  

I started making kombucha for myself a few years ago in an attempt to reduce my Diet Coke habit.  Kombucha is fermented tea that originated in China or Japan.  It is made by adding bacteria, yeast and sugar to tea and allowing it to ferment.  The bacteria and yeast is a living symbiotic colony and is called a SCOBY.  Some bacteria gets into the kombucha and provides probiotics in the drink. The tea is also rich in antioxidants and other nutrients.  There are lots of benefits to drinking tea.

I have a a continuous brew system.  I take out the brewed kombucha from the bottom and add fresh sweet, tea to the top each day (the sugar in the sweet tea helps to feed the SCOBY).  Then, I add flavoring (which is usually left over jelly/jam) and put the kombucha through a second ferment in a closed bottle to make it bubbly.  Here is a pic of my set up.  I keep it on top of a water heater so it stays warm.

Every 3 months, I clean out the whole system and re-start it.  I cut up the SCOBY and usually just feed it to the girls.  They love it!

This time, I cut the SCOBY up and distributed it to my family in their Christmas gifts!
I also put together a kombucha starter kit to go along with the SCOBY.  I included a jar for brewing the kombucha, tea, funnel, brush, grape juice and bottles to complete a second ferment.  Of course, I gave them directions on how to make the grape soda too!

There are limitless ways to flavor kombucha by using herbs, fruits, or even vegetables.  One of my favorite flavors is grape so I thought it would be a good gift for family.

Here is another gift I gave out this past Christmas.  Eggnog truffles!  I thought they looked cute in the little egg carton!

Did you make any homemade gifts this past Christmas?  I have already started some for this next Christmas but need some ideas for 2022...