Spring Chicks

Last week was like Christmas morning here on the farm.  Once again Ryan brought a brown, peeping box home from the post office.  The kids get so excited for “chick day.”  Everyone gathers ’round the box and anxiously waits for Ryan to open it up, revealing little fuzzy yellow fluff balls within.  WP_20170405_07_14_20_Pro[1]Even though this is our third batch of chicks, we cannot believe how tiny and adorable they look.

We are not adding new laying hens to our flock this year, so these are all meat birds.  We ordered 25 broilers, 5 white Pekin ducks, and a pair of white goslings.WP_20170405_07_20_17_Pro[1]

Unfortunately, very soon after arrival, one of the goslings started exhibiting some troubling behavior, and within a few hours it was dead.   Although we’ve only been farming for a year, we are no strangers to loss.  It is always heartbreaking to watch something struggle for life.  We feel helpless, not fully understanding the problem or solution, and questioning our level of intervention.  Not only do I hate watching an animal suffer, I have to guide my kids through it, who are also watching and wondering.  They have many questions and I do my best to answer them.  My honest answer is usually “I don’t know.”

We made up a special box for the gosling in the house with a heat lamp, warm water and clean bedding, away from inconsiderate brood mates.  Every few minutes we’d dip its beak in the water so it wouldn’t dehydrate.  Elijah was monitoring the gosling and remarked, “I don’t like watching it suffer.  It would be better if it just died.”  Indeed, I felt relief when we peered into the box for the last time and found the gosling had finally died.

On a more positive note, I am amazed how resilient and hardy 99% of the chicks and ducklings are when we receive them.  They arrive hungry, happy and healthy.  They immediately begin eating, drinking and growing.  Besides the unfortunate gosling, we have not lost a single animal in this batch.  We have never had sickness or disease go through our free-ranging flock.  WP_20170405_07_39_29_Pro[1]

The chicks, ducklings and remaining gosling continue to grow every day.  These are all “commercial” breeds that grow large quickly.  In two more weeks we’ll release them from the brooder to begin grazing and free ranging on the farm!

Although we just experienced some snow here, new chicks in the brooder is a sure sign of a long-awaited spring.

Becca

A Change of Heart

We hit the ground running upon arrival on our farm a little over a year ago.  We had sheep delivered right away, bought a cow a few weeks later, ordered chickens, turkeys and ducks, planned a massive garden, and began renovating the house and barn to suit our needs.

That’s a lot of work, stress, and countless new things to learn.  We are still in that process of learning and shaping our farm into what works best for us, and will be for the foreseeable future.

However, looking back over the past year, we realized the cost of focusing so intensely on the work that needed to be done.  It’s almost like we wanted to make up for lost time since it has taken us years to finally get the farm of our dreams.  So instead of taking up a sensible jogging pace, we sprinted towards our finish line of having a fully functioning, diverse and multi-tiered farm, while raising six kids and Ryan working full time at a city job with a long commute.  This left very little time for family fun or volunteering in ministries we value.

That is changing.  This summer will not be spent sprinting.  We are scaling back our farm and, in fact, it has already begun.

We sold about half of our bird flock already, including all of our ducks.  WP_20170331_10_08_21_Pro[1]We still have lots of different, beautiful birds that we thoroughly enjoy and collect a delightful basket of multi-colored eggs each day from our coop.  But instead of 3 dozen eggs each day, I’m collecting 15 eggs. WP_20170402_15_07_14_Pro[1] We scaled our 43 hens back to 25.  Much more manageable.  We will still be raising a freezer full of broiler chickens and a handful of meat ducks each summer, but we decided to not overwinter ducks for eggs any longer.  We didn’t get any duck eggs over the winter, so they were another thing to feed and they dirty the water that our other birds rely on for drinking.  Eliminating the ducks simplifies our poultry flock.

Simple is good.

We have marked a handful of our sheep to cull.  One did not produce twins when she should have and also looks a bit thin, one did not have a sufficient milk supply and her lamb died, another is super flighty and nervous and we do not enjoy her in our flock.  So these ewes will be joining the lambs in the freezer this year and thereby reducing the size of our flock and our winter hay bill, while increasing the overall health and vitality of our flock.WP_20170331_10_13_47_Pro[1]

We are postponing honey bees.  I was really excited about adding bees to our farm this year.  However, this would have been yet another new thing to learn and get the hang of.  Already I was feeling the stress and tension.  Instead of adding something completely new, we’ll chew on the operations we already have for a while, and polish up our methods and management.  Honey bees are something we’d still like to try, but we’ll wait until we don’t have quite so much going on.

So what are we going to do this summer?

Ryan and the older kids, especially Elijah (11), are going to be designing and building a tree house in our yard.  It is something Elijah had asked for all summer last year, and our answer was “We don’t have time for that.”  How terrible!  We don’t want another summer to go by brushing off amazing moments and memories spent with our kids.  Of course we made great memories farming together last year, and we still will this year, but we want to do something just for the kids instead of for the chickens, for the sheep, for the house or for the garden. This tree house is going to be so fun, and it gives Elijah the chance to sharpen and hone his building and woodworking skills.  The kids want a zip line, bunks that fold down for sleeping, a slide, swings, and a rope ladder.  Ryan had to buy a book all about building a tree house with all the goodies you can add to make them top-notch.WP_20170402_18_13_39_Pro[1] And even if they get halfway into it and decide to just keep it simple, it will still be an amazing project and bonding time, memories that will last forever and a complete “win” for the whole family.  This tree house has become our top project this summer.

Also, some time for camping and fishing with the kids. This is another priority this summer.

Finally, time for others in need.  We feel we are here to bless and help others, and yet we spent a full year thinking of only our farm and house projects.  God gently revealed to our hearts this winter how much we’ve been focusing on things that are not eternal.  It was a healthy lesson for us to learn, and has reshaped our goals and priorities.

This is going to be a great summer!  Join us as we share the fun!

Becca