Monday, May 21, 2012

Two Pekins

This mated pair of pekin ducks came to us from an employee who no longer wanted them. I'm not sure why. She lays an egg every few days. They're very quiet, and the male is much less agressive than Blue Duck, our resident male pekin. Ducks do need their water cleaned daily, so maybe that was it.

Anyways, we're glad to have them at the ranch, and they seem happy here. They fit right in and usually stick close together. They both had girl names, but we're calling them Alex and Chloe for now.

Not sure if the female will set on her eggs since BB Goose keeps stealing any eggs in the yard, rolling them to her nest, and furiously guarding them from anything and everything. I guess she wants to be a mom and isn't that picky about what hatches out. In fact, being that she loves Blue Duck so much, maybe she'd be content with a baby pekin.

A Trade

Puffy heads are behind the pool
We have a lot of baby goats this year. On the last Day at the Farm, Angelica found a man who wanted a buck goat. He had three puffy headed female ducks he wanted to get rid of. So a trade was arranged. He came and checked out the babies and chose Star's smallest, Darkstar.
The puffy headed ducks were inducted into the goose and duck yard by the assertive Blue Duck (our male pekin who isn't blue at all). We now have six ducks in the yard and a baby still living in the chicken tractor who will move in as soon as she gets close enough to the door for me to catch her.

The ducks and geese don't get along too well. It's a constant battle for territory, with lots of quacking and honking. Well, except for BB who is madly in love with Blue Duck.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Day at the Farm

I have a lot of dreams and ideas, often so many that I get overwhelmed. One idea is turning the ranch into a functioning, sustainable, CSA farm that would provide a box of produce to its members weekly or monthly. The only way to get to that point is through hard work. 90 percent of the time there is only one person out there working the ranch, and that's me, twice a day, every day, morning and evening. (Realize that fact before you decide you want to milk a goat or cow.) My kids help on the weekends and some evenings during the week, but for large scale change to occur, I really need some extra willing (adult sized) hands and strength.

This past Sunday was an experiment on a work for food idea. My husband and I invited a small group of close friends who had expressed interest in the CSA farm to come out and help. I didn't want to overwhelm them with too much to accomplish in the heat, so we started at 9AM and went to about 12 with bagels, cream cheese and drinks provided.

I was really only hoping to get the weeds pulled from the garden and its pathways, but they all did so much more! A huge amount of firewood was gathered and piled next to the existing pile. A gate was put in place by the pasture, and the goat pen was cleaned, the poo bagged to go home with volunteers so they could place it in their garden.

We paid them with a box of lettuce, dill, green onions, half a dozen chicken eggs, a goose egg, and a quart of raw cow milk as well as a container of homemade yogurt. I hope next time we try this, we can have a wider variety of produce from the garden to place in their boxes.

Thank you to all the volunteers who came out to help: Vlahos, Mitch, Holly, Erin, Koulis, and Camilla. You have no idea how much I appreciate all your hard work!

Here's what they got done:

A gate was installed by the alfalfa pasture so I can control this...
Animals can now be grazed in a controlled manner in this pasture!
This will prevent overgrazing and keep the field fertilized on a regular basis.

The Gigantic Garden was weeded and all the pathways cleared.

Goat poo, a fantastic fertilizer, was bagged and made ready for transport to others' gardens.

A vast amount of dead mesquite wood was gathered up and stacked for future use.

Chicken Tractor In Use

The baby chicks we ordered from McMurray hatchery are all living happily in the new chicken tractor. This tent shaped vehicle with handles (oddly shaped like a wheelbarrow's handles) is a moveable coop. If you don't keep chickens, maybe this is strange and mysterious. The purpose of the chicken tractor is to allow the chickens to free range and eat up plants while being protected from predators. In doing so, they poo on the ground and scratch, effectively hoeing, manuring, and tilling all in one. The ground left in their wake can then be planted on.

The completed chicken tractor. The tarp roof is made up of
feed bags that were sewn together and staplegunned onto the wood.

A view of the inside.

The wheels.

Here you can see the cleared earth behind the tractor after it's been moved.

Chickens eating weeds. 

View of the handles and the weeds that will get eaten soon enough.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

About Free Ranging Chickens

Free Range Chickens are chickens that are allowed access to the outside world. While I would love for my chickens to access every nook and cranny of the ranch for the betterment of their diet and the detriment of bugs and weeds they love to chomp on, it's been a difficult decision that I've come to that I must limit them access to the great big world.

The reason why is simple: coyotes, racoons and a great big red tailed hawk. Predators plus chickens that fall asleep when the sun goes down equals dead chickens. I don't want my chickens dead. I want them alive and happily producing yummy eggs. So, with great sadness they have been penned by four wire walls and a wire roof to keep them safe. It still allows them access to bugs. They are still fed weeds from the garden and veggie scraps from the restaurants, but they are no longer on the menu for the local predators.

I've turned to another method of keeping chickens that involves turning them into compost makers. Chickens naturally love to scratch the earth seeking out food such as grains or bugs. I constantly have a supply of all types of organic waste material from the restaurant scraps to the garden trimmings and weeds. Tossing everything into the chicken yard atop a six inch layer of straw gives the birds something to do and an entertaining way for them to turn all of that organic matter into rich compost. For more on this method of keeping chickens, read this article:

Due to the predation losses of our hens and also due to the fact that we'd like to be able to eat some of our own farm raised chickens, we recently ordered in 26 assorted chicks from McMurray hatchery. They arrived on Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday and are currently home in the heated brooder until they're old enough to be released into the wild.

This second group of chickens will be raised in a rather large chicken tractor. The tractor will be mobile and can be placed in flat areas that have become overgrown with weeds. As the birds trim down the weeds and till the soil with their clawed feet, prepping it for planting later, they will be doing the majority of work that I just don't have time to get done.

I had planned to build my chicken tractor all by myself because it looked like a simple thing to construct. I purchased the supplies and stacked them neatly by my shed until such a time when I would have some extra time (Ha, like that ever happens!). I drew up some simple plans and printed out a nice picture of a chicken tractor I found online. My model would need minor modifications to make it something one person could easily move.

My neighbor, who regularly checks on me to be sure I haven't been squashed by my cow or eaten by my goats, was eyeing my pile of lumber and wire fencing with mild curiosity one morning. He asked what I had in mind to which I replied, "I'm going to build a chicken tractor."

"A what?"

"A chicken tractor. It's a movable pen and coop. Like a lawn mower powered by chickens," I explained.

He eyed me some more with a half grin on his face. "I've never heard of that."

"Oh, it's not a new idea," I told him. "People use them to control weeds."

"You think the chickens are going to eat those weeds?" He looked very skeptical now, but that's nothing new between us. Once more I am reminded that I was placed on this planet to entertain others with my oddness.

"Oh yes. They love weeds. That's who I've been feeding all the weeds I picked from your yard to. They like them better than the grains from the feedstore." Which is, in fact, true. That scoop of grains can go uneaten for quite a while if they have a pile of weeds before them.

I told him I had a picture of a chicken tractor which he asked to see. He laughed and nodded, giving me the benefit of the doubt.

A few days later he came back and asked to see the picture again. He went over the sizes of the lumber I'd bought. He puzzled over the picture some more and told me it was really bothering him how that thing was put together. It bothered him a lot. He really wanted to build it...

It's not quite done yet, but it bothered him so much that I have the frame of a chicken tractor sitting by my garden already...