Entries in Farm Life (117)


the HEAT is ON!


This has been a summer for the record books.  We have had more rain on the farm than we have ever had in our short but intense farming careers. Although we have had a great amount of rain -- which has thankfully kept our fields green --  it has not been without the heat, just included even higher than normal humidity.  Did you know humidity affects our animals in much the same way it affects you?  It makes it more difficult for their bodies natural cooling to effectively keep them comfortable and healthy.  

As the farmers entrusted with their care, we do everything possible to reduce that stress.  The most important thing is always ensuring they have fresh available water to keep hydrated. (Have you heard about our exciting and extensive pipeline system designed to provide fresh on-demand water to every animal on the farm all the time?)  The next most important thing is to ensure our animals have protection from the heat. We do this with careful planning of their rotations.  Knowing July and August are going to be the hardest months in regards to heat, we always plan places for the pigs, the cattle and the chickens to be where they will have access to shade and if it's not there naturally, we add it.  An example is right now the cattle are at my Dad's nearby pastures grazing on his amazing sweet clover fields. However, there is not much shade available. So we use a 20-foot stock trailer as a mobile shade structure.  It gets moved with them daily to their new paddock giving them fresh clean shady places to lounge.  The pigs are given wallows, or their favorite -- access to the pond.  The chickens and turkeys spend the hottest part of the day in the shade of the trees scratching and foraging there, then coming out to the pastures to hunt the grasshoppers once the heat begins to wane. 

Even the farmers have to take special precautions.  We choose to live without air conditioning in our house which keeps us very in-tune with the cycle of heat that our animals experience.   We find ways of adjusting to Nature's rhythms as we plan our work schedules to be inside when it's coolest and outside when the house becomes too hot to enjoy. 

We know the same things the animals do.  The summer heat is essential for a thriving healthy ecosystem and as long as we do not get in the way of how nature has developed to keep our animals healthy and thriving during this time, they will do great and be ready for the next season which is inevitable and coming too quickly.



There is a reason why everyone doesn't do truly Free Range Eggs

When we say our birds are free range -- we mean they FREE range.  As in they wander over literally 1,000,000 ft2 of our farm.

Our large flock of laying hens range in constantly rotated pastures.  We loosely define their range to mean within a few hundred yards of their elaborately furnished "eggmobile".  This eggmobile is the only home these hens know and therefore they stick close to it no matter where it is moved.  We move the eggmobile to new pasture following the larger animals around to take advantage of the disturbance created by their grazing to open up the environment for the chickens to flourish with new bugs and growth.  After spending a few days cleaning up -- we move their roost to a new spot and they happily work there until moved again.

THAT'S ONLY WHEN EVERYTHING GOES AS PLANNED..... Sometimes however, things can go a little sideways.  We have to remember that we're dealing with chickens.  Chickens are lovable and fascinating creatures who are VERY GOOD at being chickens. However, brilliance is not one of their evolutionary gifts. After all, consider that the egg they lay everyday out their backside is about 3 times the size of the brain that controls the whole ship.  Sometimes, if the eggmobile gets moved close enough to its previous location the flock can still wander back to where they used to be -- but still far enough they can't see the roost while foraging --  then the hens get confused.  They go back to where they were and forage all day -- then when it starts to get dark -- they're stuck.  They can't find their roost and as darkness creeps up they can't overcome their instinct to hunker down and roost.  When this happens, we will usually find them in the middle of the pasture -- in the EXACT spot the eggmobile was last -- huddled together like lost rabbits.

This is where the fun begins.  We don't want to leave them unprotected from their roost at night, so we need to gather them and carry them to wherever the eggmobile is. The problem is that although they are huddled and stationary, at the first sense of danger they immediately scatter and try to evade capture like runaway prisoners.  

Welcome to my Friday night fun. This exact scenario happened as I did my nightly routine of going out to shut-up hens.  Out of habit, I checked their old roost spot since I had moved the egg mobile that morning.  Lo and behold -- there were about 30 birds all huddled up together.  That's more lost souls than typical.  Capturing and moving 30+ hens in the middle of the night was going to be a challenge.  I had a plan.  I turned out the lights of the ATV and drove to the other side of them and parked about 10 feet away.  Then I turned on the lights shining them across across the huddle of hens.  Quietly exiting the ATV, I snuck around to the other side and stealthily moved in for the nab.  I grabbed the first hen before she even expected anything and cradled her in my arms as I carried her over to the ATV where she would wait on the floor until I returned.  I did this 4 times, each time without alarming any other hens.  This was going GREAT.   I'm such a  good farmer!  On the 5th one though -- all that changed.  When I reached for the hen, she let out a quiet but strong cluck that sent the 20+ remaining chickens scattering like uncovered popcorn.  After that, each hen captured required its own special operation mission of tracking, hunting and evading.  It took slightly longer than the average American spends watching their favorite episode of Breaking Bad.  

In the middle of this fun, unplanned Friday night adventure I wondered - as I often do -- Is this really my life? Belly crawling across the ground trying to outsmart a chicken to ensure it is safe on its roost at night.  Then, just as quickly, I say it is -- because we provide food with integrity, food with a story,and food with a  purpose.

When we say Free Range -- we mean Free Range.  And sometimes free range means that the farmer had to crawl around in the cockle burrs so you could get your favorite eggs.

It's not just green grass that makes our free range hens happy and healthy

Every Job has a Season

One nice thing about farming is that there is such a  nice flow to the seasons.  Although there is never down time, there are always transitions and just about the time you have worked so incredibly hard on one thing, it's time to move on to something else.  We like to think of this as rejuvenating -- rather than never-ending.

A great example of this is our on-farm chicken processing.  Processing hundreds of birds on farm every spring and fall is a LOT of work for the whole family.  The good news is that this hard work has a season.  Once it's done, we transition to the hard work of summer and by the time it's time to start processing again in the fall, we will be ready and approach it with all new enthusiasm.  


Synergistic Acres is in the NEWS

Synergistic Acres - Natural Pasture Raised Pork, Beef and Chicken

Located near Parker, Synergistic Acres raises free-range, heritage breed cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens. Owned by Jeff and Laura Hamons, the 40-acre farm began four years ago when the couple left behind their urban roots in Kansas City to farm in greener, rural pastures.
Ten years ago the Ham-onses never would have guessed they would one day own a steadily growing farm. Neither Jeff nor Laura grew up with any farm experience. The couple shared that their path to farming forged from a strong desire to connect themselves and others with access to healthy, locally-grown food.
The Hamonses spent several months thought-fully researching heritage breeds before selecting prize winners for their farm. They currently raise Galloway cattle, Large Black hogs, a number of heritage chickens and turkeys.
Galloway cattle are recognized as one of the world's oldest established breeds of beef cattle, named after the Galloway region of Scot-land where they originated. Wikipedia notes that the first Galloway registry was intro-duced in the United States in 1882. The Hamonses practice rotational grazing, moving their small cattle herd at least once a day. Though time consuming and labor-intensive, rotating their cattle often helps the grass to rejuvenate and the cows en-joy fresh pasture every day.
Synergistic Acres relies on portable electric fenc-ing to build their cattle and hog pastures, meaning a lot of fencing is needed to go around. "The extra effort is worth it as our pastures are improved by the grazing," she added.
A herd of heritage Large Black hogs can be found at Synergistic Acres, an old breed recognized for their docile temperaments and strong forage abilities.
Heritage pork at Synergistic Acres is raised with a similar mindset, though their hogs experience life in wooded lots as well as pastures. Hog paddocks at the farm consist of wooded sections with access to pasture. The pigs are rotated approxi-mately every two weeks. Regarding their role on the farm, Laura noted that the pigs are essential because they root, forage and fertilize the land, helping wooded areas to thrive with each rotation.
Heritage poultry also resides at Synergistic Acres. Laura pointed out that raising poultry from eggs to adulthood takes a sub-stantial amount of time and effort, noting that chickens are actually the most labor-intensive livestock on their farm.
The Hamons daughters, 9-year-old Elise and 6-year-old Alaina, are known around the farm as the "chicken tamers." The two girls spend countless hours each week with chickens of all ages, learning each animal's unique personality and ensuring that they are cared for.
With long days and constant chores, the big-gest challenge facing the Hamonses right now is a simple one: water. Jeff noted that animals always need fresh water and finding an efficient way to provide it while minimizing damage has been difficult.
The couple is currently working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to build a perma-
nent watering system that will bring a steady supply of fresh water to most areas of the farm.
In late spring and early fall each year, Synergistic Acres offers farm tours when the public is invited to come out and see how the farm operates. Jeff and Laura find great joy in sharing informa-tion about their manage-ment practices with others.
Each season brings new challenges and joys for the farm. The Hamonses agree that their variety of heritage animals working together as a whole positively contrib-utes to the farm far more than each individual species alone. Laura concluded, "This is not just our work. This is our life. It's more than just a job — it's a lifestyle and we love it." 



Try to stay out of the Rain!

On Friday, someone asked me if I was disappointed that I would not be able to work outside on the farm this weekend because of all the rain.  I laughed it off with her as I gave her a humurous response that mentioned taking some soap out and getting my weekly bath whether I needed it or not.  This however was just my way of diverting myself from saying what I truly wanted to say --- Dear, Farmers don't get the option to stay inside when it rains because animals don't suddenly stop needing care in the rain.  If anything -- they need it more. Today was no exception.

Luckily, this was a well-predicted and reported upon weather event so I was well aware that we were going to have just shy of biblical flooding this weekend.  I thought it was interesting that they would preface these news reports with the absolute worst case scenario -- the Royals might be rained out.  A reminder we have become slighly disconnected from our agricultural backgrounds.

On the farm, we were not rained out.  I was able to get morning chores done plus a couple quick projects before the rain started.  After breakfast, we decided that the girl pig pasture would be our first priority today. Breakfast is always our farm planning meeting. On a typical day in the summer when I am not teaching, I'll get up in the morning and do morning chores which takes about 1.5 hours before coming in to breakfast that Laura is cooking.  During Breakfast, my Dad often shows up (funny how that works) and we go over the plan for the day.   We decide first priority and then list other hopefuls.  We decide if we are working together or splitting up.  We list supplies we might need, etc.  Today's top priority was moving the girl pigs and we would all work all together on it.

As soon as we started working, the rain began.  All 5 of us were out working.  We did not go running for cover. We knew the rain was only going to increase throughout the day so we stuck through it and finished building the new pig pasture.  With so many helpful hands, we can build a new pig pasture, move all their feed and water and clean-up the old pasture in right around 2 hours.  Today, that 2 hours was spent in the rain.  After coming inside in the afternoon for some food, we changed into dry clothes.  Laura mentioned everything was soaked except for her underwear.  I mentioned that we obviously had not worked hard enough then - and I got a grumpy sideways glance.  

The rain tapered off in the afternoon and evening and I was able to get the evening chores done staying fairly dry -- about 1.5hours.  

After dinner, the rain really picked up and I had gone to check on the animals.  I could tell as soon as I pulled up to the chicken tractors something was up. The flock was cheeping fairly wildly which always indicates some type of stress.  The chicken tractors were  flooded.  The ground was saturated and not absorbing any of the heavy rainfall and as a result water was just flowing along the surface.   It was several inches deep, which if you are a fat young chicken, leaves you with water up past the tops of your legs.  This was happeing to hundreds of birds.  I knew I had to get these birdies dry, because although I always suggest soaking your chicken in a brine before smoking or roasting, I do not suggest doing it while the bird is still alive.  The solution I came up with was to create dry land above the water using hay.  

I went to the hay barn and grabbed a few bales of hay to take out.  I also stopped into the house and told Laura and the girls thay I would not be in for bedtime. About this time, the rain was at its strongest.  I took the hay out and carried it flake by flake into what now was more of a swimming pool than a chicken pen.  I had to move giant gaggles of mobbed chickens to one side of the pen -- lay down enough hay to create dry land and then move the gaggle over onto the newly laid hay -- to create dry land on that side.  Then lastly -- spread everyone out so they would hopefully not smother each other.  This whole process was repeated for the rest of the chickens that were out on pasture.  Pictures would have been a great illustration of the fun that I was having, however, the headlamp I was wearing was nowhere close to providing enough light for a picture.  It was also not light enough, thankfully, to show what the water I was wading in around looked like.  This was a good thing because although Pastured Poultry is a magical product -- they do still poop in massive quantities.   

Thankfully, the hay worked and almost immediately the chickens calmed down and began drying themselves off. Knowing that it was going to keep raining all night long, I decided it was best to check on them regularly. I set my alarm for 3 hours with the plan to sneak out every few hours in the middle of the night and rendevous with a bunch of chicks in the pastures.  Not near as exciting or nefarious as it would seem.  But it was necessary, becuase the water level did continue to rise and more hay was needed.  

In the end, it was worth it.  Not a single chick lost their life last night and as the sun came out this morning -- we could see everyone was dry and happy and waiting for their breakfast.  

Gotta go, I just saw the news -- 2 more inches of rain scheduled for tonight.  

Current Items for Sale:

Eggs - Pastured and organic fed.  Pick up on farm or in Lenexa.

Chicken - Spring Batches of Prairie Ranger, Heritage, and Cornish Cross have Sold Out.  Contact us to be on the waiting list if we have extras. 

Beef - Sold Out until fall of 2015 - Email to be on the list.  

Pork - Italian Brats, Ham, Bacon, Breakfast Sausage.  We make FREE weekly deliveries to Lenexa, KS if you are ready to try pastured pork.  Go directly to Natural Pasture Raised Meats.

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