Next Year Farm is a real work in progress, although I suppose every farm is. We have learned lessons, need to make changes and have hopes for the future. Let’s do a recap of where we stand today.
Gardens: The gardens are done for the year. We’ve got the chickens free ranging in one garden and a mess in the other. We need to get our garlic planted before the snow flies. We paid $40 for ~30 heads of local garlic. Unfortunately due to Hurricane Irene and the flooding that followed we’ve had a hard time finding reasonably priced garlic supplies this year. Last year we planted our garlic in a bed that was too hard (too much clay) and our resulting garlic, while tasty was very, very small. Hopefully the ~150 cloves that we grow this year will be a little better. We’re rotating beds and the garlic will be planted behind the house, where we’ve had a tomato patch for the last 2 years. Hopefully they like there new home better!
Green House: Our green house is still in a heap near our wood line. We still need to order plastic for it and in the spring we’ll need to get it up. We’d like to put some raised beds in the greenhouse (it won’t be heated) to grow some alternative crops with an extended season. We’ve also talked about raising meat birds in there, but that is still up in the air (we’ve also discussed building chicken tractors for meat birds).
Chickens: Let’s talk chickens for a bit. The chickens have been a source of stress for us for a while now. We’ve learned a lot of lessons and had numerous struggles with the birds.
http://poultryone.com/articles/housing.html states that a minimum space requirement per bird is 2 sqft. We used this guideline and learned that we could keep 32 birds in our coop. We ordered 25 birds (24 hens + 1 rooster) thinking we were allowing enough extra space to be in good shape. From our experience 2 sqft per bird is NOT enough!! Our birds had that, plus a little extra space and a fairly large run and we’ve still run into all kinds of problems.
Our problems started with the rooster. He rode the girls raw. He was butchered soon after. Not only was he causing problems for the girls, but he also attacked me multiple times. Making him into dinner was an easy decision.
Since the rooster we’ve been fighting to get the birds to grow feathers back. We’ve used blue kote, bag balm and rooster booster to prevent picking in the areas, but it’s only gone so far. We’ve had a couple birds go through a full molt and regrow feathers, but mostly they just stay naked. On the plus side, they don’t pick to draw blood, but feather eating is very common in our coop. We researched feather eating and added extra protein to their diets. Cottage cheese, yogurt, beef, etc. They loved it, but we never really saw an improvement in their feather picking habit. With out a rooster gone we’ve now acquired a few “transgendered” hens. They look like hens but fight and “ride” like roosters. We’ve only noticed this with the leghorns, 3 in particular.
Broody birds are obviously a natural phenomenon, but are still very annoying when you are trying to raise chickens for eggs. We’ve had 3 different birds go broody on us and NOTHING but time seems to stop them. They don’t eat much while they are broody, but it reduces our number of nesting boxes that the other birds can lay in.
Prolapse in a chicken is another problem we’ve come across. A prolapsed can happen when a chicken attempts to lay an egg that is too large. We discovered our prolapsed hen the day she prolapsed and culled her that night. There isn’t much you can do to prevent it from happening again if you attempt to save the bird and the risk of infection is high. Culling was our best option.
Eggpicking is our newest problem. Eggs break in the laying boxes for a variety of reasons. Typically it isn’t a major problem. Unfortunately, we’re assuming that that is how our girls got their first taste of raw egg. We don’t know who the culprit is but we have caught a few of them eating their eggs. Additionally our egg production has reduced drastically (more on that below). From what I’ve read once started, it’s nearly impossible to stop the egg pecking habit.
Reduced laying is a problem for anyone who raises chickens. As chickens age they stop laying. It’s a pretty well known fact. Winter and the shorter hours of daylight also reduce laying. Molting and eggeaters also reduce the number of eggs. When all is said and done we’re paying ~$100 a month to feed 23 birds (feed prices just keep going up around here, especially with the loss of crops from the hurricane) and collecting 5-8 eggs a day. We can’t justify the cost. That is ~$6.25 per dozen eggs not factoring in the time, labor and electricity costs. Just as a reference, I sell them to my coworkers for $2 per dozen. Talk about an unprofitable venture.
Saying all of this, we love raising chickens and don’t plan to stop, BUT we are planning to get rid of our birds for the winter. We’ll eat some and either send the others to the auction or put out an add for someone to pick them up. We can’t justify the cost or the work for the winter with so few eggs and such bad habits. Our hope is to put on a chicken coop addition and get new birds in the spring. We can’t integrate these guys with new birds due to the bad habits they already have. Hopefully we’ve learned enough to be more successful with the next round.
Cows: Our “barn” is built, but we need to put in a floor. We’ll have 3 Herefords (our heifer and 2 steers) at my parents’ house before winter. We’re using corral gates for the pen this winter and we’ll fence in the pasture in the spring. One of the steers will be slaughtered this winter and the remaining 2 will stay until spring. Our heifer will likely be bred in the spring and we’ll go from there. The cows will be at my parents’ house as they have pasture.
So that is where we stand at the moment. Feel free to ask any questions you may have!