Entries in Eggs (34)

Friday
Mar292013

Labor negotiations with the hens lead to changes ahead

As the sun rises, Jeff tends to the pasture fence a storm blew over before opening the portable chicken coop for the dayYesterday the hens and I sat down and had a talk.  We had some important labor negotiations to work out.  We really appreciated the hens work and we strive to ensure that they have near ideal working conditions.  We try to be the Hallmark of hen employers.  However, now that we are seasoned farmers (by seasoned I mean we have officially farmed through all four seasons), we have been able to go back and review how our first year of farming went in regards to financial sustainability.  We are looking at each enterprise on the farm carefully.

While examining the inputs and outputs of our beautiful hens, we realized that at our current costs we lose money with every dozen eggs sold.  There are many contributing factors to this all related to choices we make that we believe create great eggs.  The overriding factor in our egg costs is the cost of feed.  We choose to feed our hens organic local milled feed because we know it is the best for the chickens and produces the best eggs possible - as a matter of fact - our hens ate almost 10,000 pounds of feed last year. Second, there is a lot of labor involved in raising hens on pasture.  Each morning before the sun comes up, I go out to open their mobile coop and feed them.  During the day, we check on the hens and collect eggs throughout the day and then clean and package the eggs in the evening.  Then, at night, soon after dark falls we go out to secure their coop so they are safe through the night.  Then each week, the entire pasture system is rolled up and moved to fresh grass.

The hens all agreed that they appreciated these amenities and did not want to see any of these things go away.  In fact, they were emphatic that if we wanted to them to keep producing superior eggs then we would need to continue to lavish them with all the luxuries of pastured, free-range living. 

the chickens range on pasture daily (that's the portable coop with nest boxes on the side you see on the left)We agreed with the hens and reiterated to them that they were valuable team members on the farm.  The fact still remained that after calculating our feed costs that we are losing money at $4.00/dozen.  We brainstormed ideas and came up with a few ideas that might help increase efficiencies on the farm without causing any loss in egg value.  In addition, we will be raising the cost of our eggs.

Beginning April 1, our eggs will cost $5/dozen.  This will bring the eggs closer to being a sustainable enterprise and we hope to increase our efficiency on farm to help even more so that the prices don't raise any higher.  We know our Pasture Raised eggs are more nutritionally complete than any egg you can buy and that our hens live happy and good lives.  We want to continue to share these eggs and make them a great value for your family's food!  

chickens free range on pasture @ Synergistic Acres

 

 

 

 

Friday
Sep142012

a closer look @ our front yard flock

Several people have asked for more info on our laying flock's new digs, so here's the (s)coop...

this was at feeding time, so I could gather them for their class picOur 24 hens and one rooster currently have a small flock of Barred Rock meat birds roosting and foraging with them.  When we started to let the guineas free-range, they adopted the same roosts - abandoning their exsiting shelter.  So, during the day, there is quite a bit of roaming and ranging, clucking and squawking.

Their base is the loafing shed attached to the barn.  Their roosts and nesting areas are in the loafing shed.  We scatter their feed in the grass (o.k., weeds - and that's even a generous term in this drought) and set a waterer somewhere nearby.  They also have oyster shell available by choice (the pipe to the left of the nextboxes).  

When we created this area for the hens, we put in some traditional nesting boxes that Jeff's Dad had given us.  However, the hens liked to hop up on the exposed wall boards and sometimes even lay their eggs up there.  Great...except nothing held the eggs in and the 4 foot drop was not favorable for eggs.  So, I put up a simple piece of scrap lumber to create a rim and viola, a new set of nest boxes.  The girls put straw in them and the hens were quite thankful, as evidenced by the large number of eggs we collect from this area.  We call this nesting area the 'apartments.'Stripey demonstrating the apartment nest boxes  

However, ahem, the chickens do search out their own cozy nesting spaces and we occasionally come upon a treasure in some unusual place.  Some recent egg finds were in the recycling box in the garage, in the closed feed room (we then noticed a hole in the foundation via which the hen must have squeezed in) and a whole bounty of eggs under the barn (we knew about this hole and had blocked it with boards, but had to reinforce it with rocks).  Such is the joy of collecting eggs from free ranging hens!  No worries for you though, we have a rule that any egg found in a spot that was not checked the previous day is not sale-able.  So, always fresh for you!

When we go out of the house, the chickens often run up to greet us.  It helps that we often have food scraps for them.  From inside our house, we look out the window and see chickens wandering by.  Our favorite is when they get their eye on an insect and they chase after it - and you know how spastic insect movement can be!  The girls spend hours each week watching and interacting with the hens.  The Araucanas all have names and though the girls can tell them all apart, I'm still learning.  The Rhode Island Reds are nearly indistinguishable, so they generally get about three names that are shared.  We really enjoy tending to our front yard chicken flock and they get lots of love and attention in exchange for a few eggs and a plethora of entertainment.  

I'll wrap up this chicken talk with a couple of jokes my Grandpa recently shared with us:

Why did the chicken cross the road halfway?  She wanted to lay it on the line.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Grandpa: In my day, we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road.  Someone told us that the chicken had crossed the road and that was good enough for us.

 How 'bout you, got any chickens...or chicken jokes?

 

Wednesday
Sep052012

recent FAQ, surviving the summer

a spectacular summer skyAnother few minutes to share the answers to some recent FAQ we've been getting.

Q How did you survive the summer without a/c? It was soooo hot!

A Well, I figure if we could survive this hot, drought-filled summer, we can probably manage most years. Our house is old, and designed pretty well for natural ventilation. We are truly comfortable inside until the temps get into the triple digits outside. At that point, I managed the south windows, used ceiling fans and transom windows and drank a lot of water. I can hardly believe I am saying this, but you really do get used to it. When there is no 'escape' into a nice, cool room, you deal with it and move on. Having a window unit would be harder in some ways because we'd want to retreat to that room and stay there. Who knows what next summer will bring, but we were pleased with our ability to survive a/c-less this year.

Q How is painting the house going?

A Our big summer project was to repaint the house. After two months of replacing rotten wood and scraping off what was left of the old paint, we used a paint sprayer to prime and paint the whole house in about 2 days. Loved that big change! I've painted some of the trimwork, but have lots left. We also have a lot of touch-up spots to tend to where the sprayer didn't reach as well. But, we really like the new colors (think chocolate) and the house itself looks much refreshed.

Q Do your eggs taste different?

A We think so and customers have said so as well. Being pastured and free range, they are often much different than store offerings. Even a store organic egg only indicates organic feed, not access to the outdoors, which is such a huge part of our chickens lives and we believe a huge part of the flavor profile. Try some and see for yourself!

Q Speaking of eggs, do you have eggs for sale?

A Though we are not shouting it from the barn rooftop just yet, we are getting several dozen eggs each week. We are happy to meet up with you in the city or arrange a time for farm pick-up. We have a whole second flock that will start to lay very soon and then our egg offerings will be better still.

Q Do you have any farm experience? Why did you start a farm anyway?

A Why yes, I can answer with pride that we now have 9 months of farm experience. Visitors are often surprised to find out we didn't grow up on a farm or have grandparents that farmed. Instead, our inspiration came during dinner one evening, as Jeff and I were discussing options for better aligning our physical space with our values, and a naturally-minded farm emerged as a very real option. With some planning and saving, we moved forward with that idea and jumped in whole-heartedly. The ups and downs on the farm are very real, more so for newbies perhaps, but if we hadn't jumped in and moved forward, we wouldn't be any closer to our goal, so we are glad we were able to make the change in a relatively short time period.

Q Are there a lot of bugs and yucky stuff on the farm?

A Yes. It took a while to convince the mice that new residents have moved in after an 18mo vacancy. We check regularly for ticks, Jeff being the consistent winner in that department. We see snakes and moles and skunks and giant grasshoppers and lizards. There's a lot of spiders. We have a lot of poison ivy, especially on one side of the house (luckily, no one in our family reacts to it!). Oddly, we do not have mosquitos. I thought it was just a good year for no mosquitos until I visited a friend in the city. We sat outside for a half hour and got tons of bites whereas on the farm, I haven't got out the bug spray once.

This summer, our daughter noticed a small snake in the kitchen. It was stuck on some tape and upon seeing it, our daughter gasped and ran off. She wasn't running in fright though, she was excited to get her snake identification book and look at it closely as it wouldn't be able to slither away. We relocated the snake outside and fortunately have not seen any more snakes in the house. In the house crosses a line for this city-girl turned farmer. Generally though, there is enough space for the creepy crawlies to have their space and us to have ours, so we happily coexist.

Share a comment with any questions you'd like me to address in a future FAQ. It's a potpourri of thoughts and info which is how my brain likes to work!

Wednesday
Aug222012

chicken update

our 17 month old niece adored the chickens!Our chickens have continued to improve since our post about the illness that we unknowingly brought to our farm.  Our original flock of hens is doing much, much better.  Once again, we hear the pleasant happy clucking of the hens as they forage and explore during the day.  They actively roam their spacious pasture, our front yard.  At night, we no longer hear stuffy beaks as they breathe, but peaceful chirping and the rustling of feathers.  We ended up losing nearly half of our flock, but the rest were able to overcome the illness and resume their happy lives.  As they regain their strength, they can afford the extra energy needed to lay an egg and we collect more eggs each day.  

The new chicks suffered greater losses, and were still visibly sick after three months, at which time, we made the decision to cull them.  It was a difficult decision as we preferred to integrate them with our laying flock.  But, with their continued signs of illness, we couldn't justify reexposing our healed hens.  

We know that our flock remain carriers of the illness, and will keep an eye on them to ensure their health.  The symptoms will only recur in times of stress and they live a pretty happy chicken life, roaming the front yard chasing after grasshoppers, searching for that elusive blade of green grass so we made the decision to retain the flock and just separate it from the other birds.  

We are raising several breeds of laying hens to replace our original flock.  They are in the egg-mobile now, following after the cattle.  They are not quite old enough to lay eggs, but we are every hopeful to find that first egg treasure!  We are also reserving some fertilized eggs to incubate so we can increase our laying flock for the spring.

We are regretful that our mistakes caused lives to be lost and consider this an experience from which to do better as we go along this journey as farmers.  We have appreciated all your support.

Wednesday
May232012

sadness on the farm

It's been a tough few weeks on the farm.  We've waited to share this story until we knew the scope of what we're dealing with, but we do want to share, not only because it is part of our story, but also in case it helps someone else avoid the painful and costly problems we've been experiencing.

The story begins in early May when we were wanting to increase our layer flock. Demand for our amazing pasture based eggs has been incredible and was far exceeding our supply. We purchased 57 chicks, ranging in age from 3-12 weeks, from a breeder in nearby Chanute.  As they would mature into layers, we put them with our existing flock of 40 layers.  Two days later, we noticed some signs of illness in one of the new chicks.  Within a few days, a few more chicks showed signs of illness.  At this point, we separated the new chicks from our flock and kept them in a separate pasture.  Unfortunately, it was too late as the illness had already spread to our existing laying flock.  This was two weeks ago -- now several chicks and chickens have died, some still appear congested with swollen eyes, and yet others do not show any signs of illness.  It just depends on each chicks immune system and how their body reacts to the germs.  Our laying flock has completely stopped laying eggs for nearly two weeks now as their bodies focus on getting healthy.  We went from 200 eggs a week to zero.  

We sent some of the deceased chicks to a vet lab for a necropsy as we wanted to know exactly what we were dealing with and how it might affect our flock in the future.  We learned the chicks have a chronic respitory disease.  It is more common in young chicks, spread easily through the air and mucous, and rears its ugly head in times of stress.  We think the new chicks were infected before they arrived and the stress of moving caused the symptoms to rear up.  Then, our flock became infected (showing signs 6-10 days later) as they were sharing pasture and water for a few days.  Symptoms typically last two weeks and then the birds recover with about 25% of the flock not surviving.  Unfortunately, the survivors are now carriers of this disease and will infect other birds added to our flock, should symptoms reccur.  Additionally, the other birds on our farm including our broilers and turkeys are vulnerable to being infected.  So far....we have been able to keep them healthy by not allowing cross-contamination.  This may not be possible long term and any infection in those flocks would make an already bad problem worse.  

The hardest part of this entire endeavor has been the strong feelings associated with losing animals for which you are responsible.  We've raised these chickens from just a day old.  They were part of the excitement of starting our natural farm. Our daughters have helped with the daily chores and tending of the flock, seeing these chicks grow from fuzzy balls of yellow fluff, to beautiful and unique chickens.  It's awful to see the chickens not feeling well and to hear how congested they are.  Sadly, we have had to say goodbye to some of our favorite chickens.  Our 6yo daughter wrote this story in memory of her very best favorite chicken, Jane, who died in our daughters arms due to this illness.

Janeybelle

Jane was a good chicken with her feathers so black.  She was small so I could hold her easily.  She laid blue eggs that I loved.  Name, Janey Belle Hamons.

We learned the hard lesson that a quarantine is critical.  A quarantine would have given us time to notice the illness and keep the birds separate - which might have prevented the spread of the disease.  We of course knew this, but mistakenly thought illness wouldn't be an issue and were trying to avoid adding an additional chore to our list.  Now, we are faced with some difficult decisions about keeping or replacing our entire flock, the new chicks, and all future birds we add to the farm.  There are no easy answers.  Our hearts have been heavy this month.  

Synergistic Acres - 21733 Iliff Rd, Parker, KS 66072 - 913-735-4769
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