Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chickens, chickens, chickens

The following is a few 'learn from my mistakes' poultry -raising stories. I had all sorts of adventures in chicken farming this year. From ravens eating my eggs, and killing over 16 of my laying hens, to having a couple of disasters in raising meat birds. Sigh. I hate blogging about my mistakes. There just seem to be so many of them! Then again, if I don't put it down, who will learn from my bungles?!

My laying hens were crap this year, as I think I have stated before. I have about 40 hens, and for the last few (several) months, I've been getting anywhere from 0 to 3 eggs a day. Yet I am spending way too much money buying feed for the buggers. Grrrr. Arggg.
This week, things seem to be finally changing. This morning, I got 10 eggs... I seriously don't remember the last time I had ten eggs in one day! Of course, now they will start laying like crazy, and I've lost almost all of my egg customers. Hopefully I will start getting a few more of those again soon. I am ALMOST finished paying off my egg share clients... it has taken me so long to do this. I have three dozen owing right now, and then I'm done with the obligations... so I hope I don't start getting stuck with a zillion eggs all of a sudden!

Meat chickens did pretty well this year, for the most part. I am slowly getting some regular customers for those, plus I give away some (my family all got roasters for Christmas) and some away for barter. I still haven't gotten to the point where I actually make any money on them. My last batch was a bit of a disaster, though. They came in much later than I expected. I had decided to keep them for 10 weeks instead of 8 and see what kind of difference it made to the size of the birds. Yet, somehow, they never really grew and I couldn't understand why. When I took some of them into the processor, I found out. (I have a new processor, and I really like the facility, and she is super knowledgable about the birds). The bottoms of the poor birds feet were burned from ammonia. I always do a deep layer system when raising my birds, so I only have to change the coop once after each batch. This has so far always worked for me, but this time it backfired. Because it was so late in the season, and wet and cooler, the hay heated up, burning the little chickens. So, they decided they didn't want to grow anymore. I feel really bad that I didn't figure this out on my own, but I never thought to look at the bottom of their feet! So, now I am doing a shallow layer system and cleaning out their bedding each week, which is time consuming, but some of the birds have started growing again... yippee! They will be going to the processor very soon in the new year. My freezer is starting to look empty! Then, for this coming year, I will know better!

I also had a couple of turkey disasters. Of which I was a complete dumbass, and didn't learn anything the first time, so had to fail a second time before I figured it out. Dork.

Anyway, what happed was this: the little turkeys arrived, really healthy looking, eating and drinking. After a couple of weeks, they still looked really good. All of a sudden, one would die. No warning, didn't look sick, just... dead. Then, another. The next day, two would die. Then they would be ok for a few days, and I would think whatever was wrong had passed. Then, poof! Another death. This just kept going until I only had a few birds left. Three of them were kind of gimpy, and one of their legs was crooked. Two seemed to be ok. After about 16 weeks, the gimpy ones just gave up and died. So, stupidly, I had fed them this whole time. I was left with only 2 healthy birds.

In typical Kelly fashion, I decided it was a fluke that they all died (after all, I was doing everything the same as last year, and I had been super-successful then....) so I got a second batch to try again. The same thing happened. I tried doing some research online, but didn't find anything then. I also contacted the breeders, and they had never heard of whatever was happening to my birds. I asked some other farmers, and no one knew what I was talking about.

Grrrr! Arrgggg!!!

Anyway, since then I did some major research... I don't want to fail again next year! There are two possibilities. One, a calcium/vitamin D deficiency. Which means the feed I have been getting was changed slightly from last year to this one, and now doesn't have enough vitamins and minerals in it, OR, it is a genetic thing, and I'll have to change suppliers. In the spring, I am going to try one batch from my regular supplier, and put a supplement into their water, see if that works. Otherwise, I will have to change suppliers. I have lost so many turkey sales this year...I had to tell everyone I was sold out. It was such a bummer. This poultry raising thing seems to be taking me a long time to figure out. Am I the only one who learns so slow? Do other people have disasters, too? Or am I the only dumbass out there.... !!!?

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Hire

Time to update on my new hire, Heather.
It was a big, big decision to finally decide to hire someone on a regular basis. I've been thinking about it for over a year, but never felt like I could afford it. Then, after I burned myself out this past year, I decided I couldn't afford NOT to. I will just find a way to make it work! She is now working for me every Saturday, and will possibly also work Wednesdays as well in the summer when I go to the farmers' market. After I had hired her, and before she had even worked a day for me, I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders. I instantly started to get more energy, and start to get some things done around the farm.

Then, her second day working for me was the day I went to the mainland for a flyball tournament. Now, usually when I go to a function, I sit there all day and check my phone for scary messages... did anything go wrong at the farm? Are the dogs ok? Did anyone escape, or choke? Worryworryworry! That Saturday, I just sat back and enjoyed myself. I barely even checked my phone! I didn't worry, even once. It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling to know that I had someone intelligent and reliable and responsible watching the dogs. Heather has worked at a doggie daycare before, and is quite good at reading dog body language, plus the dogs all respond to her really well. My dogs adore her!

Since that day, I haven't really 'taken a day off' again, but I HAVE been able to work around the farm, getting projects done, knowing that Heather was looking after the dogs, they were safe and happy and getting lots of exercise. Soon, if the weather is nice, I will start going for hikes again. Get myself and my dogs back into shape, and just learn how to enjoy myself again.

Whether I take a day off, or get projects done around the farm, I am pretty certain I will be wayyy more productive around the farm, so will hopefully get more crops planted, which equals more moulah!

So far this fall, the weather has been really, really mild. We've had some cold, frosty nights, but mostly it's been drier and warmer than any fall since I've been on the farm. I've gotten craploads of stuff done (even before Heather!)
I've collected leaves from anyone who would give me some, and put a big layer on most of the garden beds, I've been working on collecting cardboard and expanding the gardens (this is a SLOOWWWW process) and have built a few more garden beds. I bought a used portable car shelter, which will be soon converted into a greenhouse, almost finished building a new turkey shelter (I just need help getting the roof on), starting building a new kidding house for the goats (they might be preggers, so could have babies Feb/Mar), built two new compost boxes, planted 3 new fruit trees (orchard is ALMOST done!!), plus a zillion more things I can't remember right now. All in all, I think this has been my most productive fall to date. It feels so good getting all this stuff done! My next big project (besides the greenhouse) is working on getting some deer extensions up on the fence. I went to harvest some kale the other day, and found that the deer had munched every single, solitary leaf on the property. And there are several hundred kale plants. Bastards. I really need to get that worked on before I start planting more crops. Spring is just around the corner!!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stuck in the Elevator

So, I've been starting to get my Saturdays off. I've hired a girl named Heather. More about her later!

Two Saturdays ago, I went over to the mainland, and went to my first flyball tournament in over a YEAR! It was super exciting. I got to race Kybosh on a team for the first time ever.

And to think, I almost didn't make it...

This isn't a farm story. But, I found it rather amusing, so I am blogging it anyway;-)

I got up super duper early (at 3:30 am, if you must know), peed and fed the dogs, and drove off to catch the 5:15 ferry. Got on the boat without a hitch, climbed out of the car. I was kind of groggy and dazed. Right outside my car door, was the elevator. Now, you must know that I NEVER, EVER take the elevator on the ferry. I always take the stairs. In my whole life, I haven't once taken the elevator. But, it was right THERE.... in front of me. Another guy had already done the hard part and pressed the button to open the door. All I had to do was walk in...

So, I took my lazy ass into the elevator. The guy that was in there said he couldn't see the buttons, so I did the difficult job of pressing level 5... main deck. Up, up we went. Then we rumbled a bit. Then whirred. Then something crackled. Then, dowwwnnnn we went. Back down to the lower car deck. Hmmmm.... Interesting! So, I pressed the button again. I heard a whirr, then nothing. So, I pressed another floor. Nothing. Then, I pressed the 'door open' button.
It was at this point that a slight panic was building in my gut. I wasn't freaked out about being stuck in a tiny elevator with a strange man, I wasn't freaked out about being in a tiny space. What freaked me out the most was the fact that I might MISS FLYBALL! I madly pressed buttons. Nothing happened. I then thought of all the TV shows where people get stuck on the elevator, and they alway have to wait to get rescued.

Screw THAT!

So, I jammed my fingers into the door, and pulled with all my might. Did the man on the elevator try to help? NOPE! He had literally just stood there looking like a dumbass the entire time.

I pulled, and made a bit of a crack in the door. Then, I lost hold and the door closed. I tried the open door button again. Nothing. I have been called stubborn more than once in my lifetime. This is one of those times when being stubborn was going to pay off for me! I jammed my fingers in the door crack again, and pried with a new determination. The door opened.... we were FREE!!! I have never been so happy to see stairs in my life.

Lesson learned: never, ever take the elevator on the ferries again. Stairs are good for you, and definitely the safer way to travel!

I then went on to have one of the best flyball days ever. So worth all the panic!

Flooded Driveway

Flooded Driveway
Too much RAIN!