Entries in Jeff (107)

Tuesday
Jul122016

Lots of Happy Clucking Going on Right Now

The hallmark of farming is innovation and adaptability.  That's because farming is one long continuum of unexpected circumstances that you must then respond to and come up with a solution that fits your specific needs at that moment.

This has been the case with the sudden and unexpected loss of our layer flock to an unknown predator.  It left us in a lurch on a few fronts.  Most importantly, our customers who rely on us to provide them with eggs no longer had their normal yummy nutritious breakfasts.  Also, our pastures were missing the fertility and pest control that our layer flock provides.  Additionally, the financial impact was substantial. 

The first solution we had was to collect our eggs from the remaining flock, breed those as replacement egg layers.  However, that is a seven-month process by the time we incubate and then grow the hens to laying age.  Most of our customers did not want to wait seven months for more eggs, but also could not stomach the idea of going back to eggs from the store.

That's when we had an idea.  This time of year is when our local hatcheries breeder farms are beginning to turn over their farms.  Typically these small farms, operated by Amish families, keep their hens for one year before selling all their current hens and getting new chicks in the late summer.  The hens who have lived on the farm one year have started to molt, meaning they lose most of their feathers while growing new feathers.  During this time, their egg laying drops dramatically as their bodies focus all it's energy on growing new feathers rather than producing eggs.  After new feathers have grown in, they will begin laying again, but at significantly smaller numbers than their first laying season.  Hatcheries have found it is best for their operations to simply start with fresh birds each year.

However, it is our thought that by taking these hens, who would otherwise be underutilized as low-cost meat, we would bring them onto the farm and integrate them into our pasture raised setting.  It is our hope and belief that this pasture-raised and organic-fed system will jumpstart the birds health and give them a couple more years of productive growth laying big beautiful eggs for us....and the great thing is they start laying right away, albeit in low numbers.

 
We traveled several hundred miles and brought home a trailer full of hens -- significantly expanding our original pre-predator flock size and put them is a separate pasture away from all other hens as we quarantine them for two weeks to ensure they transition healthily onto our farm.  It also gives us time to train them to our system.   They need to learn to free range during the day but return to their mobile coop at night.  Although roosting is an instinctual behavior they will do no matter what, without training they don't tend to all go in the roosts, rather they often roost on the undercarriage of the wagon their roost is built on or hide  in tall grasses of the pasture -- not safe. 

How do you train a  chicken?  With persistence and patience.  First, it's not much different than kids.  You have to make it their idea to roost inside.  If we simply scoop them up and put them in the roost, they do not learn nearly as quickly as when they find the way into the roost on their own.  The method we have found that works the best is for the WHOLE family to go out to the roosts each night about 30 minutes before dark and just keep shooing them away from the underside of the wagon and other hiding spots in their pasture - essentially making the inside of the roost the coziest, safest place to be.  It works.  The first night we had to hand carry in about 150 birds that did not get the courage to go into the roost before it got too dark for them to move around.  (Did you know once it gets dark, chickens essentially turn into immobile zombies that just plop down and wait for the sun to come back up?)  Tonight, we only had to put in 23 of the rather slow learners in the group.  We probably only have one more week of training?


SO ABOUT THOSE

EGGS?


We have spent this week collecting the eggs and giving them away to neighbors or using them in various ways with our family until we transition them into our organic pasture raised diet.  A little online research did not give any definitive answers how long would be necessary before the new diet would affect the nutrition put into the egg.  Most seem to indicate that it begins happening immediately and the effect becomes increased until it peaks after 1-2 weeks.  We have been watching the yolk as an indicator of how much grass they are getting in their system. 

We have decided to start collecting eggs for sale to you after one week and give you all the information you need to make the decision that's best for your family.  Laura will contact customers who are already on our regular egg schedule and see when they are ready for eggs as soon as they become available.   We anticipate the addition of this many hens will get many people eager to buy eggs, so please let us know if you are interested, especially if you are a first time egg buyer.  The stress of moving into and learning a new environment -- although very healthy - in addition to their current molting status and age can cause their egg numbers to be down for a while.  We're hoping egg production will soon level out and we will begin getting lots of new eggs that we can share with you.  We are looking forward to an abundance of golden yolks!


 
Meet our newest farm workers! click image to play video
Saturday
Jul022016

Farmers on Vacation




This will be a short and sweet email because we just got back from a several day vacation.

Yep, you heard me right.  Farmers on Vacation!  It almost never happens - for good reason.  It is tough!  We are extremely fortunate because Gary - Jeff's Dad - is integral in the farm, he is able to take over farm care while we are gone.  It is a full time job for an entire family, so it's a triple hard job for him.

We took a train trip to St. Louis and really enjoyed ourselves.  So many great things to do.  One of the very interesting things of our trip was that we stayed in an AirBnB and used Uber rides to get around.   We felt great that we were supporting individuals directly.  Reminded us of all the people who support our farm.

Enjoy some pics of the farm instead of a longer post.











Wednesday
Jun222016

Our Summer litter of piglets and why we had a piglet in the kitchen




We had a great litter of piglets born this week.  Laura and I went on an overnight camping trip with the girls to a nearby lake to celebrate 14 years of marriage.  While gone, one of our sows had her piglets.  Luckily, Grandpa was dutifully watching the farm and took care of everything.  Saturn, mama sow, had 8 piglets that survived the birth and they are doing great.

We did have a sad emergency on Sunday -- day 3.  One of the piglets had a small wound on its side that had opened up its abdominal cavity and organs that are supposed to be on the inside of its body were hanging out on the outside.  It was walking around like nothing had really happened.  We decided to give this little fella as much of a chance of survival as possible.  So I brought the piglet inside, calling for Laura to come help.  We laid our new baby piglet out on the counter and began the delicate work of carefully cleaning each square millimeter of tissue to ensure what we put back inside was what came out -- with no extra dirt or other foreign substances.  After we had it all cleaned up, we began the process of gently trying to push the insides in a hole way too small.  How did they ever come out?  During this process, a good friend and neighbor stopped by.  This was fortuitous because she had some experience as a vet assistant and was a very nice gentle set of hands to work alongside with.  After getting everything put back in, we sewed him up and laid him in a basket to be safe, rest and heal.  Sadly, he only lived about 1 hour after the surgery, but passed away peacefully.  The shock of the event ended up being too much for his body to handle.  

Some people would be surprised to see the care and sacrifice we give to our animals.  The very animals we know later we will be eating for dinner.  The truth is, it's about respect.  We strive to make every day up until the very last day the very best for that animal it can be.  Sometimes that means doing surgery on the kitchen counter.  

Sunday
Jun192016

Chicken Harvest, a day of community





We processed our first batch of chickens - our slow growing, pasture raised Prarie Rangers.  These birds had done fantastic on pasture and as a result had grown exceptionally well.  We had several birds in the 7-pound range and had nearly zero under 5 pounds.  We were very happy with this because we know several of our very loyal chicken customers like for the birds to be exceptionally big.  One of our customers commented they were more like small turkeys than chickens.  She was excited to possibly have leftovers for her large, healthy family.  

One of the greatest things about processing chickens is the community feel it involves.  We have our core team of Laura, and I and both girls helping along with both Laura's and my parents.  We were able to get our 100 birds processed and the area cleaned up in good time.  

Friday
Jun172016

Summer Farm Tour





Our Summer farm tour was a well attended by an excited and observant group of people.  Several long-time customers who had not had the chance to see the farm came as well as brand new customers and a few potential new customers -- as well as a few other aspiring farmers wanting to see how it works on someone else's farm.  The weather was perfect -- dry, not too hot, and a beautiful clear sky.  We are always energized by seeing the great excitement people have when they see a way their food can be raised that they can feel good about.

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