Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

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!
~Denise


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!
~Denise 


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!
~Denise






















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...

~Denise



Sunday, December 27, 2020

Joshua and Fall Farm 2020 Update

Joshua and Fall Farm Update 2020

Joshua update

Joshua got COVID.  We got the call last Wednesday from his counselor.  He was put into their quarantine unit for 10 days.  We were told that he was not displaying any symptoms.  I guess a couple of the teachers tested positive over the weekend and so they decided to test all the boys and Joshua was the only one in his unit that tested positive.  We were also told that he could still call us but we have NOT received any phone calls from him.  We were really looking forward to talking to him on Christmas!  We were also told that IF he did develop symptoms, someone would call and let us know and we have not had any calls saying that things were worse.  I guess Joshua was actually happy about going to quarantine because there is no school there and they get to play video games all day.  

On a positive note, he continues to do great with school and his treatment at Benchmark.  He is really maturing and is looking forward to completing high school a semester early.  He wants to graduate in January 2022 and come home at that time.  Yes, that is another year.  He continues to work on his therapy goals.  This is NOT his favorite thing for him to do but he is trying hard to get it completed.  I did get a call from Telligen last Wednesday (Telligen has contracted with the state of Idaho to provide mental health services) asking about his discharge date of May 2021.  Mark and I were busy with egg deliveries so I did not have a chance to answer the phone and this information was left on a voice mail.  SO, I am not sure exactly about what is going to happen with this situation (May 2021 vs January 2022 discharge) but I will keep you posted when we know more...

Cleaning

Once I got all the produce processed, I started cleaning the house.  I hate to admit that cleaning falls to the very bottom of the "To Do" list when I am busy with the garden.  I have completed the upstairs of the house and I am starting on the downstairs now.  I LOVE to cross items off a list and found this nice printable to help make cleaning more bearable.  Really losing motivation but I only have 4 more rooms to do!

Garden

I ordered my garden seeds for next year in September.  I just didn't want to take any chances with there being any seed shortages.  We added another raised bed to the garden this fall and filled it with chicken/duck compost!  We usually make one new raised bed each year.  Last year, we made one for the strawberries.  I am REALLY looking forward to some strawberries this year!  Finally!  I have tried raising strawberries for the past 3 years and have not had any luck but I know that they are finally going to make it!  The new raised bed is on the right in this pic...I am going to put broccoli, cauliflower, and potatoes in the new bed!

I am trying to do more seed saving.  I kept some seeds from these sunflowers.  These were all volunteers that grew in the garden!  I have already fed these to the chickens and ducks...after I saved some seeds, of course...
Here is some lettuce that I saved seeds from.  See the light fluffy stuff at the top...those are the seeds,,,
We had a flush of mushrooms this fall!  It was such a nice surprise.  These are King Stropharia mushrooms and I cultivate a bed of them on the side of my garden.  BUT the interesting part of this is that they were NOT growing in their little mushroom bed...they were growing out in the garden with the garden plants!  Yeah!!!

More egg laying ducks and chicks!

The "original" plan was to order 25 ducks each fall for 3 years to eventually have a total of 75 ducks.  Since the duck coop is finished, we went ahead and ordered the next group of 25 ducks.  They arrived on December 2nd and they are now out in the duck coop!  They will stay in there all winter.  Hopefully, the run will get built early this spring and they they will be able to go outside once they get their feathers. 
With the recent raccoon/flying predator attacks, we thought it would be best to get some replacement chicks.  My best guess is that we have 50 some chickens.  We really wanted to have a group of 75 chickens.  Since we lost 9 chickens last year (that we know of - 1 died, raccoon got 7, bird of prey got 1) we ordered 25 replacements.  That's called chicken math.  We actually got 26 chicks and they all have made it so far!  I think we will definitely be back up to our ideal of 75 chickens the end of April when these grow up.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

~Denise

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Processing 2020

In the Kitchen

This is going to be a list of the items I put up this past year.  It is really just for me but I like to put it in the blog so I can refer back to it year after year.  I just finished canning right before Thanksgiving!  I didn't think the garden was going to do well but I was pleasantly surprised by everything that I got put up.  I did have to buy some hot peppers this year because mine were just really lagging.  Also, there was no corn, broccoli or cauliflower to freeze this year.  Other than that, I think we did pretty good.  I bought a shelving unit and put it in a closet in the basement and loaded it up with quart jars of food (the pint jars are in a different storage area).

Canning:

Several jars of chicken and beef broth...I just make this up as we go through the year
3 quarts grape juice (thank you Wendy!)
33 quarts seasoned tomato sauce - I was actually shocked (and happy) we got this much tomato sauce.  Believe it or not, the Beefstake tomatoes totally outperformed the Amish paste.  I almost didn't plant them but I had the seed so decided to go ahead an put a few in.  So glad I did!  They will be a staple in the garden from now on!
19 pints (red) salsa
11 pints green tomato salsa
20 pint and a half applesauce
13 quarts applesauce
16 pints hot apples
16 pints pears (thank you neighbors!)
23 pints cream of celery soup
23 pints green beans
10 pints Rotel
11 quarts of Green Tomato Enchilada sauce
4 pints pickled red onions

Drying:

We also dry lots of things.  We dry a lot of fruits and vegetables to make some goodies for the chickens and ducks during the winter.  I am going to put that process into a different blog post.  It will probably come out in January.  Here is a pic of Mark helping me to harvest some apple slices off a dehydrator rack.

Apples
Eggplant
Celery
Mushrooms
Herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage)

Freezing:

Although a lot of my basil got taken out by an early freeze on Labor Day, some plants survived and I still had enough to make some pesto and freeze it.
Pesto 
Spinach
Squash

Fermentation:

1 gallon of sauerkraut
1 1/2 gallons of salsa (I finished this at Thanksgiving and I am using the canned salsa now)

Root cellar:

Potatoes
Carrots 
Beets
Cabbage

Dry storage:

Onions

Leftovers!

I have to actually put a reminder on my calendar to eat some of the foods!  It is kind of an "out-of-sight-out of mind" thing at times.  Leftover from last year...AKA...need to use up right away:
6 jars apple juice
5 quarts Apple pie filling! What? We need to eat more pie!
3 pint and a half pickled cauliflower
5 pints pickled beets (yum!  one of my favorites)
1 pint beets (storing in root cellar now - way easier than pressure canning)
2 quarter pints Candied jalapenos
10 half pints of beet ketchup (I use this when I make meatloaf, I guess we better eat a lot more meatloaf)

So, that is it!  I think I finally have a good handle on what we like to store and the optimum way to store it (for our use.  I am not going to lie...this was a lot of work and I am glad to be done with it for the year!
~Denise





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!
Denise