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! https://www.facebook.com/snowybrookfarm 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!!!

Sarcasm
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