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Laying Hens

News both big, small, and in between

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News both big, small, and in between

irrigation-project.jpg

Farm Sign There are so many changes and things moving forward I'm not even sure where to start. What kept us up at night most was installing a new sprinkler irrigation system with the help of conservation district grants and after over a year of planning, applying for grants, and 6 weeks of 14 hour days it is finally done and passed inspection with flying colors. We needed to hire a little help once we got into the project and it was worth its weight in gold. This was a concern as our year was already financially burdened with all the infrastructure additions, but it proved to be the best thing we could have done. Farmers seem to talk about three things when they get together: weather, any animals lost, and how difficult it is to find good help.

Irrigation project

Irrigation is not the most exciting topic but the results we have already seen on the pasture have made it all worth it. The plan we designed utilizes tail water so as of now we aren't using the irrigation water we pay for every year which amounts to something like 8,000,000 gallons of snow melt. A huge Thank you to Mark Crowley of the Kittitas County Conservation District for helping us see the plan through logistically and taking a couple of his weekends to help us get the project done. We would probably still be working on it if it wasn't for him. The boys were also thrilled to have his son Wyatt here who has been a farm boy all his life helping his dad raise pigs and cattle. The boy knows his way around a farm and his confidence was inspiring for the boys and in many ways for me to see. We also need to thank our neighbor Cleatus and everyone at the National Conservation Resource Services office, especially Erin who worked some magic for us many times.

Eggs

Our first Farmers Market season has been successful, we sold out of our first two batches of broiler chickens and our pasture eggs seem to be sold before we have them. The Roslyn market is done for the season just as our ladies egg production is ramping up and we will soon have more pasture raised lamb and chicken available so we started looking for new farmers markets to try out in addition to our Ellensburg one. We didn't have high hopes for getting in to the Seattle markets so late in the year, but just this week we found out we will have a spot at the West Seattle Farmers Market starting in October. We are really excited about the West Seattle one because it is our old neighborhood and we have had so many people reaching out to us wondering when they could get some of our pasture raised goodness. I am really looking forward to seeing friends and familiar faces from my food co-op days.

Heriloom Tomatoes

We had a harder time selling our produce. Partly because there is so many people selling it at the markets but also on this side of the mountains they don't put as many regulations on who can sell at farmers markets. In some of the Seattle markets they actually require that you put signs up if you spray your produce with pesticides and they make it their mission to support small sustainable farms so you are less likely to see large conventional farms selling at the Seattle markets. While growing a market garden isn't our focus, we are dedicated to a sustainable local food system so we hope to influence our local farmers markets and community in the years to come. This experience also put us on the path of looking into getting Certified Naturally Grown. It's a grassroots movement of farmers who could no longer afford the cost of organic certification or all the paperwork and record keeping that went along with it once it became a national certification program. Certified Naturally Grown bases their guidelines on organic standards but they make it much more economical to obtain. For a small diversified farm like ours certifying our pastures, compost, garden, and each different kind of animal organic is not economically feasible. We are already transparent when it comes to our farming practices but this will hopefully spark more conversations with people who are unaware or want to learn more. We often tell people at our market booth that if it isn't healthy enough for our family we won't feed it to theirs.

Scottish Highland Cattle

Our biggest piece of news is that we are adding a herd of Scottish Highland Cattle to our farm. We read about a farm down in Southern California called Apricot Lane Farms with a similar farm model to ours but on a larger scale. They also focus on mixed species rotational grazing and utilize compost tea, apple cider vinegar, and full mineralization to keep their animals and pastures healthy. I was reading about them and their Scottish Highland herd that put us on a path to finding some for our own farm. They are a very gentle and docile breed, but the other important quality to us is that they browse and graze similar to our Icelandic Sheep. So in a few short weeks we will have three cow/calf pairs and two older heifers arriving at the farm. We will still keep our family dairy heifer, Love and the four steers we got from Pride and Joy dairy but the Highlands will be our giant leap into breeding our own cattle. It's exciting, terrifying, but most importantly it means we need more infrastructure as far as a wintering shelter and a place to corral them. For now though I will leave you with a beautiful quote from John Chester of Apricot Lane Farms  "You have to trust the magic is gonna happen when your heart's desire is in sync with your conscience. Never in a million years would I ever have been able to predict that simply watching animals eat grass would make my chest feel like it's going to explode." 1

Corn Tassel

1. Quote from The Stockman GrasssFarmer Volume 13 #9 "California Grass Farm Focuses on the Symbiotic Relationship of Mixed Species Grazing"

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Chicken Palace

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Chicken Palace

chicken-tractor-inspectors.jpg

What once was a vintage hay trailer has been turned into a mobile chicken tractor for our 150 Golden Sex Link laying hens. We liked the simplicity of our old chicken tractors ( City Chicken, Country Chicken) but we quickly learned that they didn't move easily over our rolling and rocky pastures. We wanted more eggs to sell to our community, so we were going to need a larger chicken tractor. Why do we bother moving the chickens around so often? Access to fresh grass and bugs makes deliciously rich deep orange yolks, and a more nutrient dense food. I would also like to think it makes for happier chickens and ultimately a more sustainable farm not being as dependent on feed. So the better question is why don't all chickens have access to fresh grass and bugs? Photo Feb 18, 4 39 34 PM

The first day of work Farmer Matt had some help from a couple of our favorite farm boys, but he was quickly abandoned for a  more interesting pasttime on the farm like making and jumping in mud puddles. Using the Hay Trailer as a foundation will really make a huge difference in where we can bring the tractor but also how much labor we will have to put into constantly moving them around to new pastures. The current chicken tractor has to be moved slowly and carefully in order to not crush any chickens and if you hit a patch of rocks everything has to stop in order to lift the tractor over the rocks or to physically remove the rocks in some cases.

Photo Feb 18, 4 45 18 PM

Photo Feb 24, 5 09 46 PM

Another thing we wanted to improve upon for ease of use were nesting boxes that you could access them from outside the chicken tractor. This will make collecting eggs that much easier, and when you are collecting over a 100 eggs a day every little bit counts.

Photo Mar 02, 11 32 25 AM

Photo Mar 02, 3 52 38 PM

One thing that Farmer Matt added (that I love) is folding roosting racks that hook onto the ceiling. This is especially handy when you are ready to clean the chicken tractor. One of the designs we looked at had an open floor so that the chicken manure would go directly onto the ground but it wouldn't work with the hay trailer we had found and we were worried about predators having easy access at night.

Photo Mar 08, 12 19 39 PM

Photo Mar 08, 12 20 34 PM

Photo Mar 10, 4 24 47 PM

The last couple of details were two sets of doors, one for the chickens and one for humans. Of course we provided a nice little removable ramp for the chickens to have access to all the green grass and bugs. We  close the chicken door at night in order to keep them in the tractor for moving the next morning. We're pretty happy with the results, so are these two little future farmers who did quality control inspections on every inch of the tractor. We are going to be moving the chicks into their new home very soon because they are quickly out growing their enclosure in the hoop house. We need to take advantage of the warm temps in the hoop house and get some vegetable starts going pronto!

Photo Mar 11, 5 30 47 PM

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