It’s Mud Season 4/8/21

The weather finally appears to be looking up. Even on the cold days, the sun shines warm. It’s starting to feel like we’re no longer in Washington state and more like we’re in the Northeast. The winters here are long, but the promise of spring is worth it.. All except for the fact that we have to go through mud season first. 


Mud season is one of my least favorite seasons, right up there with mid-February, where the wind blows so fiercely and the air is so cold that it feels like your very breath is being ripped from your chest. While it’s nice to see little blades of grass turning green, buds swelling, and daffodils peeking out from the mulch, every squelching step throws mud onto your boots and our favorite trails to the coops are pock-marked with boot and chicken prints. 


Normally, we move our mobile coops around the pasture every week to give the gals access to new grass directly around the pens (they otherwise can explore as far out as they desire), but just driving around with the Ranger causes rutting, so forget pulling a 300-400lb coop. We just have to be patient until the ground dries out. Until then, it’s a battle to keep the entrances to the coop dried out. The hens thankfully are good at keeping themselves clean through preening and hopping over muddy patches. We’re definitely buying our fair share of wood shavings, and every time I drive past a Tractor Supply, another 5 bags get packed into the trunk. The good news is that in another 6 months, we’ll have plentiful volumes of compost!


We also have some work that’s waiting on things to dry out. At the end of this month, we expect our order of 100 fruit and nut trees to come in, and we’ll need to use the tractor to move soil to plant the trees on mounds so that we don’t have trees drowning in our high spring water table this time around. We also will need to move a few tons of gravel to make the pad for our new “Home Flock” coop. Our berries also need mulched. Problem is, a 4 ton piece of equipment doesn’t mix well with sogged out ground. Just look at the fun thing I did a couple of weeks back…

Running a tractor through the backyard in early spring was not the smartest idea I’ve ever had. Backdragging this area has been added to the “to do” list for summer.

Unfortunately, time waits on no-one, and the trees and shed will come before the end of the month. We don’t dry out until June. The yard is going to get more of those beautiful ruts… which means that I’ll have alot of backdragging and reseeding work to do. That’s okay though. At least we have the equipment and seed to do it.

 “Just two more months” I keep telling myself. “Just two more months and it will dry out”.

We’re Back!! 3/23/21

Welcome back, everyone! I know this little blog has been on hiatus for the past 5 months, and to those dedicated readers, our most sincere “Thank you!” for hanging in there. Remember in our last post (all the way back in October!!!) where I shared that we were being pulled in 1,000 directions? Well, that didn’t let up. The shorter days and incessant snow, wind, and below freezing temperatures didn’t help matters any, either. It takes us about an hour and a half to plow ourselves out when it snows and cracking ice out of waterers 1-3 times a day and collecting eggs 4 times daily from 7 coops really eats up all the free time. Now, we should be in the free and clear, since night-time temperatures are getting above freezing and day time temperatures are high enough to solidify us into mud season.

Some exciting news! We’ve had some custom egg cartons made and will start selling eggs in the next week or two! Our ladies are laying up a storm. The groups include the breeder flocks and the ready-to-lay pullets. When Z and I collected eggs a few nights back, we counted, and got 10 dozen out of a little under 200 birds… Quite impressive for girls just getting into the swing of things. Everyone but the 13 birds in Home Flock are about 7.5 months old, which means that egg size has started out at a light medium, and has been steadily increasing to a light large. The eggs are simply beautiful. With the free ranging everyone is doing now as well as us offering free choice oyster shells to everyone, shells are shiny and tough. While there is little around in terms of grass, the girls are picking bugs and bits out of the field and leaf litter in the woods. This, in combination with the alfalfa in their feed, makes for strong yellow-orange yolks. The whites stand tall and hold together well.

These egg cartons are made of recycled materials. How awesome is that?!

This week, you’ll see a couple updates to our product inventory. We have some updated pictures of our ready-to-lay pullets as well as updated availability. Additionally, because we are getting more eggs than we can set every two weeks, we will be offering a few of our breeder birds for sale as ready-to-lay pullets. They, like the grow-outs, are around 7.5 months old and will lay steadily through the year before taking a break this coming winter. 

Finally, there will be two changes to the “Chicks” page. I’m going to be removing the estimated hatchling availability table because we have been having some trouble getting our incubators to hold temperature properly and the hatches are not meeting our estimates like we thought they would. Instead, we are going to offer a wait list for each of our hatch dates, and if you are interested, please reach out, let me know which breeds you’re interested in and how many, and I’ll contact you as soon as we have a hatch so that you can select your chicks.


The second change is that in addition to our pure breeds, we are going to offer some Home Flock babies for sale. These chicks will come in an assortment of colors, comb styles, and personalities, and will lay eggs that can be blue, green, light brown, and dark brown. We love our menagerie of Home Flock birds, and are looking forward to sharing them with any who want to add a little spice to their purebred flocks. For those who are not familiar with mixed breed hens, they are a delight. No two are exactly the same, and they get to take advantage of hybrid vigor, which means that they will be stronger and will very well likely be better producers than their parents. If you’re not particular about egg or feather color, these will be for you. We’ll also be raising out a few as started pullets and will do our best to put up photos of the individuals available.

Cats on Eggs
Plume and Egg loved laying on the incubators when we were using blankets to regulate their temperatures. However, after having inadvertently raised incubator temperatures, we have discontinued blanket use and crank up the incubator temps under close supervision.

That’s all for tonight! See you next week!

Waste Not, Want Not 10/27/2020

While we won’t spare expense for the welfare and happiness of our birds, we do like to take advantage of a good opportunity now and again. This saga starts with a deck on our sunroom that needed replaced. The 12’x15’ deck was constructed in two different phases by two different owners, and needed to be removed to allow for roof damage repair underneath. Unfortunately, it wasn’t constructed in such a way to allow for disassembly and reassembly, so we requested that the contractors remove it and put it aside for us to dismantle for storage and later use. They agreed, and we got more than we had ever hoped for; not only did the contracting team remove the boards, but they also removed the hardware and separated the boards in piles by size. AH-mazing. 


While the plan was to use the boards in the spring to build new mobile coops, We had to use them sooner than we had anticipated. It just so happened that we had a mink or weasel get into one of our grow-out coops by sliding through the poultry net and digging under 2 feet of perimeter mesh. That little devil killed 16 birds in one night, the wasteful, wanton thing. We knew then that our predator proofing solution was not going to work and that we’d have to put floors in the coops. That’s just what we did. Turns out, the deck took care of flooring for three of our mobile coops of 48 sqft, 48sqft, and 63 sqft with only a couple boards to spare.


Back in August when we built this, we were sure it was predator proof. How were we to know a mustelid could be so persistent?

New floor going in with supports made from railings of the old deck.

Beautiful pinewood floorboards = safe birds and no more nighttime chicken parent anxiety.

Although we hate to have the birds up off the ground for the fertility aspect in our pasture rotation program, we still allow the birds out in runs during the day to fertilize the earth, and we compost the bedding into a rich, fertile amendment to use in the garden.


Speaking of compost, the railings were one of those deck items that I wasn’t sure we’d have a use for. They were only 3.5 feet long and about an inch and a half wide. However, after the attack, it became clear that we needed to build the compost bin system we’d planned for next year asap to compost the mortalities. The evening after the coop floors were in, Amy went out and built the compost bins. We now have three – one for used bedding (to use as carbon for the composting process), one for a primary compost cycle, and one for a secondary compost cycle.


Classy and functional new compost bin!

I will say that last week was a whirlwind of essential and timely building projects. In the moment, it’s go-go-go. However, only a few days later, I can reflect happily on how we can breathe new life into old things and how we can save items that were destined for the landfill. 


All the chickens are to bed now, and I’m going to sleep well knowing everyone is safe and sound.


Until next week!



Chickens Enjoy Tomato Scraps 10/21/20

Chickens like many things. They enjoy birdseed. Corn. Watermelon. Cantaloupe innards. Seedy zucchini. Burnt corn bread muffins. But, when Zach dumped the small bucket of tomato scraps from my canning adventure onto the ground, the excitement was palpable. 

Seeing the chickens go to town on a pile of tomato scraps was a comforting sight in what has been a whirlwind of a month. I’ve been feeling pulled in 1,000 directions lately as the season ends and we get ready for the first snowfall of the season, which, as Zach points out on a near daily basis, is just around the corner. It’s crazy to think of how short our season was this year and how turbulent it’s been in regards to weather. The late, wet spring, dry summer, and early frost made it really hard to determine planting dates and maturity tables for our crops. Our garden got in late, and the slugs had a field day with the warm wet start. Only about ⅓ of our crops made it, which is a pity, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

After some thinking on the uncertainty of Mother Nature, we are going to focus on the fruit side of things for edible products. While the trees and bushes take a longer establishment time than annual vegetables, they are more certain in regards to their production. We found a reputable, quality, local nursery with a large selection of fruit trees and another few reputable nurseries for fruit bushes, vines, and brambles. This year, we planted half of the orchard. A minimum of 5 varieties of fruit have been selected from each tree type, since variety is the spice of life! Stay tuned for the following: apples, pears, Asian pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, tart cherries, sweet cherries, European plums, Japanese plums, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, red raspberries, and blackberries. It’s alot, but Amy has a love of fruit that just can’t be quenched. Plus, she has experience working with it on her dad’s farm in NEPA and is quite excited for the development of the orchard. We don’t expect to have a wide selection of fruits until about 3-4 years from now, when the trees begin to produce in abundance. 

Next year, we will have a limited farm stand, with strawberries from this year’s planting (If I can keep the deer out of them!!), extra vegetables from our home garden, and eggs. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the maturity tables, but I’ll be posting updates to our facebook page! Stay happy and healthy everyone!


Predators – The Bane of our Existence 9/30/20

Let me say it now before I go any further, “Where there’s stock, there’s trouble”. This quote flitted into my mind just as I drafted this update and I know it’s because I’ve been reading James Herriot before going to sleep. It’s a phrase that has been hanging on the fringes of my mind ever since we got the farm and Zach asked me what livestock we were going to have. I knew I could handle the typical problems with poultry without needing to call a vet, so it gave us yet another reason to start with those. But while I was fine with disease pressures, I had forgotten how constant predator pressure is.

We had our first incident back in early June  when we moved the Home Flock to their first coop. The coop was on some bumpy ground, leaving inch gaps under some of the coop bottom boards. I knew that it wasn’t secure, but I thought, “oh, I’ll fix it tomorrow”. And guess what? A predator got in there, pulled one of our Welsummers out, and had a feast. Based on the aftermath, it was likely a racoon. That next morning, I was kicking myself as we moved the coop to a more secure location and added cement blocks around the perimeter to discourage digging. We also made sure our poultry net stayed closed at all times.

We didn’t lose a bird again until July, just after the ladies began laying and we had moved them into the orchard. I was away for a weekend, and at that time, we weren’t religious about conducting headcounts before putting the birds to bed.

At that time, we had a pet White Rock named “Crooked Toes”. His name came from… you guessed it… His crooked toes. He was also the head honcho, making sure everyone was in the coop before he settled in for the night. The night that I’d left, Zach locked up the birds, went to bed, and that was that. The next morning, he texted to let me know that Crooked Toes was gone. All that was left was a pile of white feathers. After frantic texting, a video call, and pictures of every inch of the coop and every bird, we concluded that not only had Crooked Toes met his end that night, but also one of the breeder Easter Egger males and an adorable runty little Easter Egger hen. After sleuthing, it appeared that those three were left out of the coop by accident (the coop had been closed after the sun had gone down and they weren’t seen). Because the bodies had been carried away, we deemed the culprit was a coyote or a fox. It’s safe to say that after that point, we started doing headcounts every night.

About a month later, Zach and I were sitting in the kitchen after breakfast when I heard frantic screaming coming from a chicken. Well, I heard frantic screaming… Zach was just getting used to chicken noises and that one was new to him. Anyway, I stopped what I was doing, shoved my feet into boots, and ran as hard as I could over to the pen. Unfortunately, all I saw was a pile of feathers and no Brahma Girl (our lone Light Brahma). I also realized that while everyone else was safe inside the poultry fence, her feathers were about 5 feet outside of it. It appeared that she was outside, doing her chicken thing, and was caught blind-sided. Poor lady. 

Following the trail of feathers, I figured whatever took her wouldn’t get far and might drop her because of my quick reaction and chase. The feathers led into the newly dug drainage ditch beside the coops that I had let grow up on the sides because I wasn’t concerned about weed whacking at that point. Bad choice. I found poor Brahma Girl at the bottom of the new ditch where it empties into a horizontal culvert. She was gone, but still very warm. So warm, in fact, that I hung onto her for about an hour to make sure she was really gone. All the signs of death were apparent when I picked her up out of that ditch, but when an animal is more a pet than livestock passes, it’s hard to accept that they are gone. Well, after that hour had passed, in true “waste not, want not” fashion, I processed her and we had chicken soup for dinner. We also moved the birds into the front field, which is more or less in our backyard. There, we figured, we would at least catch predators on camera…

Then came today. 

Circles was a light, warm, gentle soul. He was a Classic Roman goose that had been shipped to us as a blind, runty gosling. While he was supposed to be one of twelve, we only received him and his brother. Needless to say, our idea of starting a small breeding flock of geese for livestock guardians went out the window and both Circles and Goosey became pasture pets. Circles was extra special in that we would hand feed him daily to ensure he got enough feed into him to grow, and we carried him lovingly into and out of his mobile coop to ensure he stayed safe overnight. When you came near, he’d use his bill to search out treats in your hand and nibble your shirt. 

Over the months, we let him have more and more freedom. Because he couldn’t see, he’d simply wander blindly in circles, plop down in a nice soft patch of grass in the sun, and nap. Sometimes, something would frighten him and he’d circle off into the brook on the far side of the field. We kept our eye out for him every hour or so and would bring him back towards the coops when he strayed. 

Today was the same as any other day. Circles was sitting out in the field, enjoying himself. We were in the house working. We had last checked on him earlier that afternoon. Around 4:30, Zach asked me if I’d seen the goose. I hadn’t. He went to check our security cam to see what direction he’d wandered… but he hadn’t wandered this time. In the footage, about an hour prior to us noticing he was missing, a large dog-like animal came out of seemingly nowhere, attacked, and dragged him off. It was horrifying to watch, much like a trainwreck.. My eyes were glued to the screen. What’s worse is that the camera had also recorded the sound of that final struggle. Even now, I can’t get that image and sound out of my head. It’s one thing knowing that an animal was taken, but another thing entirely to watch it happen.

Quickly, Zach thought to use the drone to see if he could find remains. He found them. Just inside the woodline. Along with the predator: a coyote. With his ninja-like reflexes, he snapped a picture before it ran off with the partially eaten body of our dead pet, leaving only the head and a pile of feathers, as I later found when I went out to recover him. Although it sucked to see all that remained, it gave me a sense of closure. The remains of Circles are now in our compost pile, becoming nutrients to feed more life on our farm. The circle of life continues on. 

We never in a million years thought that a coyote would walk into our mowed 10 acre field and snatch Circles, or any bird for that matter, in broad daylight. The only thing I can think of it that this animal was desperate. Otherwise, why would such a shy creature risk himself so close to people to get a meal? I have all of my fingers and toes crossed that this was a one-off sort of thing. But I’ll tell you what… I am watching out the window constantly now. I jump up at any strange sound and make sure everyone is ok. I make sure the doors to the coop are closed a little tighter, and I hold my favorite birds a little closer.

When we farm, we are at the whims of mother nature, and we have to do what we can to protect our stock, while respecting all she throws at us. After every attack, we have learned something. Our system gets better. Our birds become safer. We’ll find a way to maintain balance.

Fall Feelings and Where We Are Now 9/22/20

It's Finally Feeling Like Fall

September 22, 2020

It’s beginning to feel like Fall.

A few nights back, Zachary told me that it was going to be a cold one, getting down to 37 degrees overnight. For life on the plateau, it’s not too unusual to be colder than the surrounding towns or Buffalo, but this seemed unusually cold for the season. And it was. Zach went out to check the birds that first night of three and made sure that the heat lamps were on the smaller birds and that the larger birds were all inside where not only would they be safe, but also cozy sleeping up against their flock mates. We are pleased to report that everyone made it through the cold snap. I was worried about the little 5-week olds that we’d just moved onto the pasture the week before, but being fully feathered, I shouldn’t have been worried. I don’t have enough faith in the hardiness of chickens, I guess! I’m pretty sure that it’s a residual effect of having worked with commercial meat and egg lines (which need the upmost attention and careful management) for so long. But I digress… 

That morning, we saw patchy frost on the grass in spots, but the garden didn’t look worse for the wear. However, today, the damage really started to show. Most everything has been nipped if not killed by the frost, which is a darn shame considering this week is supposed to be up in the 70s. Things could have grown more! Ah well. Now we know for next growing season to expect frosts before the end of September. The tomato plants still have a good amount of life and green tomatoes on them, meaning we should have quite a bit of sauce yet to put up this year.

As the nights are getting colder and longer, I realize that winter is just around the corner, and I begin to think back on all we’ve done up to this point to get our farm off the ground. It all started with ripping apart and cleaning out an old mini house that we were going to turn into a chicken coop before realizing that termites had done a number on it. Wanting the birds closer to the house anyway, at least during the brooding period, we built a brooding coop that would hold 150 birds from the ground up. Then, we planted an orchard, blueberry, and strawberry patch. Following that, we worked on getting the garden in, cutting down the overgrowth in the field, and started to rotate our first flock of birds, home flock through the orchard. Along the way, we’ve had some bumps, like predator issues, deer pressure, drowned trees, and flat mower tires, but these were learning experiences to help prepare us for a more fruitful 2021.

As we worked through this first season, the plan for the farm began to take shape. We’ll focus our efforts on heritage poultry, fruit, and honey for now, with the primary focus being on the fastest evolving part of the farm: the poultry. We’re now 4 mobile coops into building this venture, with the intention of housing breeds that we love for their temperament, feather colors, and egg characteristics. More and more, I find myself sitting here on slow, dark nights like tonight, brainstorming breeds that we want to focus on and which characteristics we want to focus our breeding program on.  Zach jokes with me that I obsess about poultry, but I’ll take that as a truth and a compliment. As long as we have a vision and long-term goals for the farm, we are moving forward. And that is something that ignites a fire within. Farming and poultry are near and dear to my heart, and I’m over-the-moon excited to see what next year holds for us.

Wow, this is what I get for writing in a stream of consciousness. Hope you all were able to follow that and I look forward to more regular installments on “Life in the Coop” (:

We have a website!!!

A picture of our website in case you didn't know we had a website

Thanks to a rare weekend where the CEO was out-of-town, I was able to take a moment of respite and  play Overwatch work on developing a website for Snowy Brook Farm to share the latest news, current products, fun stories, and maybe some cute chicken pictures every now and then. Admittedly, it’s probably a little early to be needing any sort of dedicated website, but if we’re going to be a small business one day, we might as well hit the ground running! While our first year living here may be slim pickings in terms of things to sell, we hope to be able to expand our selection and availability starting next spring.

Hehe… Amy probably thinks I’ve just been playing Overwatch all weekend. She’s currently stuck in Virginia with a flat tire, so hopefully surprising her with this at 3am will be a bright spot in her day