Free-Ranging Broilers

I just returned from dropping off our first batch of 25 broilers at the butcher shop. It feels so nice to drive back into the farm and see less birds hanging around by the coop and water. Less birds means less work, feed, and manure!

We released our broiler chicks, gosling and ducklings from the brooder at 3 weeks of age to have free-range access to our farm.4When we raised our broilers last year, we kept them in a pen and moved it twice daily to new grass. We also allowed them access to feed all the time. This time, we decided to allow them to free-range, and only allow them access to purchased feed twice daily for about 30 minutes.

Allowing them to free-range is not only easier for us to manage, but it allows them more opportunity to use their legs and get exercise. Restricting access to feed encourages more foraging, while slowing their growth so they don’t grow too big for their legs and become immobile. Our broiler flock this year was all feathered out and healthy looking, as compared to last year where many birds were missing feathers.12It took about 2 extra weeks for our broilers to reach butcher weight since we restricted access to their feed. Rather than being ready by 8 weeks, our chickens needed 10 weeks to reach their full size.

We witnessed our free-ranging broilers eating grass and even running! Based on our experience last year, I wasn’t sure if either of those things were possible until we saw it for ourselves. Besides the intense desire to eat and eat and eat, our free-ranging broilers behaved much more like a normal chicken should and they were better able to express their chicken nature.36We got all set up to butcher chickens ourselves this year as we did last summer, however we got 2 birds into the job, and the chicken plucker stopped working.

Nobody wanted to hand-pluck so we hauled them over to our butcher and paid for the pros to finish processing our broilers. We really have to admit it is so nice to drop off a flock of chickens and pick them up all nicely wrapped and ready to cook.

That just may be our new method of operation!

We should raise one more batch of 25 broilers this summer in order to be set with chicken for an entire year. Nothing beats a juicy, home-grown broiler on a hot grill in the summertime!5

Hand-Built Farmhouse Table

For years I have wanted a solid wood, rustic farmhouse table that would comfortably seat my entire family plus space for guests.

A quick internet search would confirm an item like that is pretty pricey.

Thus we began a search for plans so Ryan could build a table for me.  Even better than a purchased farmhouse table is a husband-hewn table, made with love for his family to use and enjoy many a dinner gathered ’round.  Somehow it feels even more authentic.

He found a free farmhouse table and matching bench plans from http://www.anawhite.com.  The dimensions seemed perfect for our size family and the design was simple and straightforward.  He purchased his lumber and got to work.

It took him several weekends to complete, but that’s mostly because he never gets a full weekend to devote to any one project.  There are simply too many other demands on his time.

Once the table (along with the matching benches) were complete, I sanded, stained, and applied three coats of clear coat.  We chose to use a stain called Weathered Oak from Minwax.  It makes the wood have a slightly grayish appearance, and we wanted the table to look like it was made from older wood.WP_20170612_09_59_31_Pro[1] I love my new table.  Our dining room still needs many finishing touches, however having this table as the focal point of the room has gone a long way towards making this space feel more put together and welcoming.WP_20170612_10_02_06_Pro[1] We still need to order two chairs for the ends of the table.  They will be farmhouse-style chairs, but I didn’t want to even try to match the stains.  Instead, they will contrast and be either white or black.  With the chairs, our table can seat 10-12 people.WP_20170604_15_45_13_Pro[1] As someone with little kids, I know how quickly the dining furniture can get pretty sticky and coated with food residues.  The farmhouse table would be hard to clean, especially with the grooves between boards.  A dumped bowl of oatmeal, a spilled serving of tomato soup, or the two-year old smearing a pb&j around the table would quickly find those grooves filled with yucky, sticky muck that would be near impossible to scrape out.  To make this table more kid- (and mom) friendly, we cover it with a $4 vinyl table cloth whenever we serve dinner at our table.  The vinyl tablecloth is easy to wipe clean, then it gets folded and put away so we can enjoy the beauty of our table. WP_20170604_15_45_02_Pro[1] Although Ryan doesn’t have very much experience with woodcraft, he did an amazing job putting this piece together for me.  I am so excited to have this beautiful and charming table and I love that he took this project on to bless our family with something we will all use and make memories around for years to come. WP_20170612_09_58_44_Pro[1]

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

Living/Dining Room Progress

When we purchased our farmhouse, there was a living room separated from another slightly smaller room by a wall.  This other room wasn’t carpeted, so we set up our dining space in this room, although we never planned to keep it arranged this way for long.WP_20170114_14_39_58_Pro[1]
Carrying food and dishes to and from this room from the kitchen is inconvenient and awkward.  The living room, however, connects to the kitchen; it wouldn’t be difficult at all to carry the dishes the short way from the kitchen to this room.  We decided to take down the wall dividing the two rooms.  That way, we can make a dining space to the right of the original living room, right in front of the window, then open up the rest of the space to be a larger living room.
Our first task was to figure out whether this wall was a load-bearing wall.WP_20170114_14_40_38_Pro[1]

Ryan began by removing the sheetrock to get a good look at the wall.  There is no header above the doorway in this wall, which is usually a good sign that the wall is non load-bearing. WP_20170118_15_27_17_Pro[1]

However, we know that many times people make “improvements” to homes without  following proper procedure.  We didn’t want to blindly follow another homeowner’s opinion on the wall.  It’s very difficult to get a good picture of what’s going on with the ceiling joists above this wall just from this slice in the ceiling.  We went back and forth on whether we felt this wall was load-bearing.  Then, Ryan discovered the ceiling was open in the furnace room, which is next to the wall.  Taking a peek in there, we can see one ceiling joist, and it’s running parallel to the wall.  A wall running parallel to the ceiling joists cannot be supporting the weight above it.  That would make this wall a non load-bearing wall.  We are still going to have our neighbor, who works in construction, come and take a look at the situation and give us his professional opinion before we do anything with the wall.  So I’ve been living with exposed wall studs for a couple weeks now. WP_20170208_08_28_57_Pro[1]

Does anyone else agree opening this space will be an improvement?WP_20170208_08_30_03_Pro[1]

I can now visualize how this space will look and feel when the wall is down.  The whole room feels brighter and I love the unobstructed views of the windows on all three sides.  The rooms feel larger than they ever did being divided in two.
While waiting for confirmation on the wall, Ryan pulled up the carpet and began installing the new floor in the future dining space.  WP_20170208_08_28_12_Pro[1]

We chose to continue the wood flooring from the kitchen into this room.WP_20170208_08_28_34_Pro[1]

While we do still have our living room furniture in here, this is just temporary until we get the wall down and new carpeting installed in the future living room. Then I’ll finally be able to set up these rooms the way I would like them to be.

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Future dining space in close proximity to kitchen

I have not felt settled since we moved in here.  Knowing these rooms would eventually be flipped has caused me to not hang up one single family picture or piece of wall décor.  I haven’t even unpacked those boxes since moving in over a year ago!  I have no desire to do “interim” decorating.  I can’t bring myself to do things that I know will be redone shortly thereafter.  I don’t like to just throw pictures on the walls.  I like to carefully consider where each thing should go and arrange them accordingly.  So, my house has remained completely bare since moving in.
Once we get the wall down and the new flooring installed, I can paint the walls, arrange my furniture and finally “move in.”  I will be able to hang up my beautiful family photos and put my personal touch on each wall.  I have been waiting for this moment for over a year.  It’s almost here!

My Basket Runneth Over

When winter began, our egg production dropped so very low.  We were getting maybe 2 eggs a day, despite feeding 40+ hens, not to mention ducks, guineas, and really big turkeys.  That’s a lot of expensive chicken feed!

Chickens are very sensitive to sunlight.  The hours of daylight (or lack thereof) affects their egg production.  Because Minnesota becomes very dark in winter, with the average hours of daylight below 9 in December, our chickens simply weren’t getting enough light to trigger egg production.  We decided it was time to install a light in our chicken coop.  Ryan installed a standard light bulb with a light sensor, so it kicks on everyday when the sun begins to set, and turns off automatically after 4 hours.

The light bulb did the trick!  Our hens are ramping up production.  Every morning the kids bring in a handful of eggs when they go out to do morning chores.  I go out midday and my jacket pockets are stuffed with eggs by the time I’m making my way back to the house.  Ryan goes out in the evening and returns with his pockets full of eggs, too.  We are getting almost 2 dozen eggs a day!  wp_20170203_15_41_25_pro1

Even our Bourbon Red turkeys have begun laying eggs!wp_20170203_18_26_22_pro1  So today, as I’m walking back to the house with my pockets packed with farm-fresh brown eggs, I decide it’s time to begin selling our extra eggs.  My egg basket simply cannot hold anymore eggs and we’re eating all we can!

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All ready for market!

It sure would help offset the chicken feed bill!

 

Becca

Lambing Season is Here

Our first ewe lamb of last year, Cotton, kicked off lambing season this year with a ram lamb of her own.  Ryan walked out to the winter pen to feed the sheep one evening and discovered a newborn lamb resting by the barn!  He knew it belonged to Cotton, as he had been monitoring the ewes and knew she was closest to delivery.  Sure enough, Cotton kept running back over to where she had left her lamb to check on him.wp_20170125_19_54_30_pro

We decided to get all the ewes into the barn, and separated from the ram, so the kids could play safely with the new lambs.  (Ever since the ram knocked me over, I trust him about as far as I can throw him!)

A few days later, we awoke to find that Poppy, our largest ewe, had twin ram lambs in the night.  Both mom and babies were doing well and nursing by the time we entered the barn.   wp_20170130_14_02_21_pro1

Lyla, who we were confident would deliver twins, disappointed us when she delivered a singleton.  This combined with the fact that she had trouble shedding out her winter coat last summer (a major fault in hair sheep), has us questioning if we want her genetics in our flock.  So far, Lyla is the only mama who has delivered a ewe lamb this year.wp_20170130_19_02_43_pro1

Statistically, we should get about 50% rams and 50% ewes.  The “girl” team has some catching up to do!

We are getting pretty accurate at predicting when a ewe is about to deliver, and I think we’ll have the third member of our original ewe trio, Olive, deliver shortly. Her udder looks huge and full, a good sign that lambing is imminent.  We are expecting twins from her, as well.  Olive gave us such a nice ram lamb last year, and we’d be delighted if she could produce a nice ewe or two for us to add to our flock.wp_20170130_18_55_36_pro2  Olive always looks healthy and strong, plus she shed her hair quickly last spring, an indicator of good genetics and health in hair sheep.

All the new lambs are doing well and we are enjoying stealing a few snuggles from them when we can.  They are so cute and playful!wp_20170125_21_15_34_pro1

The weather has been so nice and mild for a Minnesota winter that it makes spending time out in the barn with new lambs much more enjoyable.wp_20170130_19_02_00_pro1

I get a few questions from people wondering why in the world our lambs are arriving in January.  Admittedly, nature’s way is for new babies to arrive in spring, when there is plenty of new grass and sunshine.  The simple answer is because that is what the farmer who owned the sheep before us did, so that is what the sheep are accustomed to.  We never separated our ram (we didn’t have a good place to put him last year) so we simply left it all up to the flock, and we aren’t surprised they stuck to their old pattern.

Since our farm came with a handy barn and horse stalls, we have decided that winter lambing isn’t too bad.  The lambs are never in danger of freezing or becoming a hungry predator’s lunch while safely tucked inside the barn.  Also, since these are meat sheep, it gives the lambs a few more months of growth before the fall slaughter.wp_20170130_19_02_30_pro1

The arrival of new lambs is always a much-anticipated event on the farm.  They grow so quickly!  In just a few short months, they’ll be grazing right alongside mom on green pastures.

Becca