Archive for August, 2011

Chickens on Strike

They haven’t gone completely on strike, but they’ve really backed off of production. Yesterday it was one and today there was four. It’s really disappointing since I was ready to start selling and making my first dollars from these hens. I recognized that I have much to learn yet about chickens so I did some research. I understand that extreme heat can cause them to slow in their egg production, but we’ve gone from 20 to one in a day! Well I came across this very informative WEBSITE. I was impressed with the useful information, but what I was most impressed with was that the author of the site is a twenty-something who has been raising chickens since she was nine. She provides a lot of practical information and a long list of great websites.

I am seriously considering letting the chickens free range. I just feel that they will be more contented if they can go beyond their little yard. I tend to also think that a contented animal produces healthier food. Maybe, just maybe, they will produce more! The first thing I’d need to do is to extend the top of the fence so they can’t get into the neighbors’ yards. Speaking of healthier though, I am starting to see evidence of a higher nutrient content in the eggs. In the photo below, please not the orangey coloring of the yolk. Yes the yolk is yellow, but i’ts a deeper yellow than what you’d purchase from the grocery store. When you break the yolk, it’s creamy in consistency rather than just runny. This is evidence that they are getting additional vitamins and nutrients from the grass. Hens who have access to pasture, produce eggs in comparison to USDA data for commercially produced eggs, have:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol• 1⁄4 less saturated fat• 2⁄3 more vitamin A• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids• 3 times more vitamin E• 7 times more beta carotene 

So why would you throw away your money on nutrient deficient, high cholesterol, inhumanely produced eggs?


Back to life, back to reality.

Sunday, we returned from our first weekend alone in a long time, and probably the last one in a long time. A while back we had planned on running in the Chattanooga Mud Run, but we needed one more to make a team and no one would commit. So, we still decided to make a weekend of it, as we needed some alone time away. So, we got a little rustic cabin on the Tennessee/Georgia border and had an awesome time.

The cabin was so rustic in fact, I had to cook breakfast outside! The one thing that drove me crazy, was that we couldn’t turn off the porch light. We had a collection of the most monstrous moths waiting to fly in each time we opened the door.

We visited the Chickamauga National Battle Field Park, and came across this homesteader cabin. I really felt the history of the area really came to me. The family that lived here truly lived by their own abilities to provide for themselves. They raised crops in the fields that surrounded their home and grazed cattle in the pastures and forest beyond. They had no supermarket to run to if any crops failed, no fast food joints to grab a bite because they don’t have time to cook, no big orange box store to conveniently pick up building supplies. If they lacked any diligence in their daily lives, they set the stage for loss of food or shelter. But, when the Armies of the North and South converged on this family’s home in September of 1863, they fled to hide in a ravine about a mile away. Now, no matter how hard they had worked and prepared, they now had to start over from scratch with the help of a few distant neighbors. How many modern Americans could hack it like this family did? Very few I’d wager.

At Coolidge Park in Chattanooga is this 100 year old bridge. It is now pedestrian and bicycle only as two other nearby bridges carry vehicle traffic over the Tennessee River. Here there is a restored carousel, river boats, and a fountain kids young and old can play in. But what really attracted me here was the “wallnut.” What’s that? you say. Well, someone decided to turn one of the limestone columns into a climbing wall. I’ve never climbed before and it was a blast!

 Katie didn’t try it, she said she got pretty nervous the higher I went.

So it’s back to reality. I’ve got my fingers crossed that our rabbit doe is pregnant and kindles next week.

Jail break!

Yesterday, on my way to the fire station, I stopped by the farm as usual to check on things. I pulled in the driveway and walked straight over to the Hare Razrs. I peek in the doe’s pen and it’s EMPTY! I do a double take and then go around the pen and I find the hole under the front right corner. I scan the immediate area with a tinge of panic creeping into my mouth. “Which way did she go?” runs through my head as I look towards the hedgerow, the house, and (gulp) the road.
I walk towards the barn and in the reflected glow of my truck’s headlights, I see her hopping along toward the stalls at the back of the barn. She dissappears in the shadows and I’m unsure what direction she went. I still haven’t restored power, so my my only light source is residual headlights and my cell phone. There are three stalls, one houses the chickens and the other two are empty. I look in one, and I see nothing, I look in the second stall and there she is. If ever a rabbit had a dissapointed look, it was this one after such a short taste of unrestricted freedom. I grabbed a cage, closed the door, chased her in and then returned her to her quarters. It was now very evident that I would need to take measures against this happening again so I grabbed some 4×4’s and placed them next to the cage. Today, one of my goals is to make a permenant modification so that if she digs, she’ll have to dig a long time before she  can make another escape!

Rose, the fugitive.

Feeling Fowl

Just a quick post while I wait for Katie’s prescriptions to be filled after her root canal :-(. Last night she called me at the fire station because once again, some of the new chickens had escaped. I was unable to leave, and she was miserable with tooth pain, so I told her to just let them be and go home. I figured that if these chicken were meant to be, then they’d be fine. 
When I got off this morning, I headed over to the farm to find that sure enough, chickens were on the loose. It wasn’t too hard for me to round them up, I guess they weren’t fully awake. I found that they were squeezing past the gate from their stall into the pen, and then they were flying over the fence. The obvious solution to this is there needs to be a higher fence. Below, you can see what I constructed with the netting I picked up at Lowes a couple of days ago.
The netting to keep them from flying over.
The girls were ready to get back on the grass!
A fenced in Chicken Farmer.
How else am I going to get out?

We call this training at the fire station.

What did I just put my hand in?!?

And then there was 36

Looks like we are officially in the egg business now. A couple of days ago I found an ad on Craigslist for a flock of Leghorn (pronounced “leggern”) hens for $8 each. When I got in touch with the lady who posted the ad, I asked why she was selling them. She stated that the county ordinance requires a minimum of 2 acres to have any “farm” animals. They have 1.95 acres, and their next door neighbor complained about the chickens. So I ask what she’d take for all of them and she said $200 and I said “SOLD.” Now, she told me they were “cage free”, which my brain automatically interprets as free range, the two are not the same. When my oldest son and I arrived, I could see why the neighbor complained. The hen house and pen were about five feet from the property line, and there was a powerful stink. If I had lived next door, I’d have taken issue too. The pen was about 20’x40′ and situated under a tall privet hedge so virtually no sunlight penetrated and the ground was a black, sticky, mess. Well I was ready to get this over with  because the stink was becoming unbearable, and I now felt that these hens were being rescued. 
Catching them turned out to be much easier than I thought. The Leghorn is a very skittish chicken that avoids human contact, so we just had to corral them into the hen house, set the cage at the door, then the lady’s husband went in the house and shooed them into the cage. It wasn’t long and we had 32 white hens in my two cages. After we loaded them up, I asked them if they have always had chickens. “Oh yes,” she chuckled, “Back in Oklahoma, we had up to 6,000.” That explained some things, like when she insisted I should buy my next batch from the hatchery they bought from because, “They’ll de-beak and inoculate them for ya.” These were retired commercial egg farmers.
De-beaking is a practice in commercial laying operations because they have numerous hens confined to a cage and because they exist in such an unnatural setting, they will cannibalize one another. The industry’s solution is to cut the tips of their beaks off, leaving them blunted nubs. If you notice in this photo, these birds don’t have pointed beaks, and that’s not sunlight..
Leghorns in a commercial egg operation.
Inoculating, or vaccinating, is necessary because there are so many birds confined to an enclosed building with no sunlight and the air full of fecal dust. This is an environment that breed all kinds of bacteria, therefore they get injected after hatching and then are fed a medicated feed to keep them “healthy.” While these hens I bought were already enjoying a better life than the poor birds in the picture above, I believe they are now living as good a life as most any chicken could hope to.

Now we have 35 hens and one rooster, who the seven year old has named Max. 

Golly Beaver!

We took an easy day today. Not that we’re wanting for anything to do but, Katie is tired of peeling wallpaper and painting, and that was excuse enough. I still feel as though a lot was accomplished though. I finished Hare Razr #2 for our doe Rose, the garden was tilled, and we registered with the Farm Service Agency or (FSA). 
I finished the second Hare Razr in about half the time I took on the first one. It really made me feel good to release Rose into her new pen. She immediately inspected the entire area from corner to corner. I swore I could detect a pleased expression in her lupine features. It had to feel awesome for her to be able to hop around with no bars under her feet, nothing but grass. Now if I could just get them to reproduce! Yeah I know, so far my rabbit breeding leaves a lot to be desired. I put them together; they do the deed; a month later, no babies. What the heck. 
Now on to more exciting stuff. Our garden was tilled up today! Our friend Rich came over with his tractor and went to work. He says it’s more like playing than working. I wanted to video this, but my video app on my iphone stinks.
And here it is all done! 
While Rich was tilling, we took a trip to Calhoun to register with the FSA. Yes, ALL the way to Calhoun. For some reason (because with government, there is no reason) the office there covers Cobb. While I was there, I picked up a bunch of info about different conservation programs and financial assistance that farmers (who make less than $700 thousand a year!) can access. So now I’m waiting for my farm number and map to come in the mail since the person who does that is on vacation.
When we got back, Katie and the kids went on home to the old house, and I took care of the critters. I decided to take a walk around the pasture and see what I could see. The fence on the South and West lines is nearly perfect. The fence on the North line is in much worse shape than I first realized. It is almost all rusted out barb wire overgrown with trees and privet hedge. In the Northwest corner is a HUGE gap that I could easily walk through, so I did. About fifty yards through the trees I found this:
A beaver pond! (Fake enthusiasm) This is supposed to be a stream, but it’s more like a brackish swamp.
This leads me to believe that the back of the property would be under water with a heavy rain. Oh well, all silver linings have a touch of grey.

Hare Razr, yellow jackets and the hell hole.

So you’re probably asking, “What is a Hare Razr? Ummm, hell hole?” Well, I’ll start with the yellow jackets. Last night, I happened to spot a steady stream of yellow jackets buzzing in and out of a bed of liriope (or monkey grass) at the end of the walkway. I checked it out and spotted a hole right in the middle. It was wild to see how it looked as if someone had trimmed the leaves with a pair of scissors. 

So we took a trip up to the Big Orange Box to get some wasp killer. While we were there, I figured I’d take a look at all that I might need to do what I need for the master bath. Well, it did’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed and I realized that I needed some help. So I called up a firehouse buddy who said he’d be by this afternoon. So I spent the day cutting down wires that were strung up between the house, barn and shed. Then I got busy working on building Hare Razrs.
Hare Razr is the name Tim Young came up with for his rabbit pens. Here is a video he posted on YouTube.
Mine is similar, but I’m forgoing the strip of hardware cloth around the bottom.  We’ll be moving them every day, so I don’t think they’ll dig out before I move them to a new spot. Here is our buck, Aster in his new home.
All right, now to the nasty stuff. When Terry arrived to look at the house, it was now to finally slide down under the house to see how the plumbing was situated. All I can describe it as, is it felt like I was entering the first level Hades. It was dank, dark, and disgusting. I landed in a dug out area about seven feet wide and extended to the other side of the house. There is a thick layer of white mold on every joist and there were drops of water suspended from them as well. Terry asked me if there was a broken drain pipe, but I couldn’t find one. Then I spotted the culprit, an 18″ tunnel that led to the old well. Ever since 1946, when this house was built, there has been this open tunnel from the well to under the house where the pump must have been. We deduced that the house was built on piers and at some point in time they closed it all in which cut WAY down on ventilation, leading to a massive build up of moisture. Here are some lovely photos of the underworld.

Scary aint it?

The tunnel
See the water drops?
Now I have a whole new set if issues to address. Anybody have a heavy duty dehumidifier they’d care to donate?