Monday, June 30, 2014

proud moment

One thing has an effect on another. We received a batch of ducklings in January. This was a very long cold winter so it was a while before the ducks could be moved outdoors.

Within a few days their fence blew over (it was only a temporary structure) and the dogs attacked and killed a few.

The ducks were moved to the little water feature on the farm. The fence was well supported. The transfer had to take place after daytime temperatures were above freezing, and that was quite a long wait this year!

For a while we would put the dogs in an enclosure and let the ducks out. Then put the ducks away and let the dogs out.

This is a chore neither of us likes to do. One more in an already fairly long daily list. We did this each day.

On a really hot day this spring the dogs were out and so were the ducks. It was hot enough that only the ducks were moving: the dogs had located dense shade and were in it.

Now, today, the ducks and the dogs can be out at the same time and all is well. 

The dogs allow songbirds to land and live here. But very few crows, hawks and large birds land or prey on our poultry. The dogs let us know when a visitor arrives. They run every inch of the fenced farm.

The ducks investigate every damp patch of earth on the farm and dig through looking for bugs and most importantly mosquitoes. While we keep them out of the fenced portion where we grow vegetables they have access to the rest of the property. When ducks roam all day we rarely get a mosquito bite. When dogs are out we barely lose poultry. When both are out we have the pleasure of ducks meandering and dogs lolling...and each increases the pleasure of being on farm immensely.

Everyday we are so glad these animals have worked this out. It is the small things.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

many things I'm not

I'm not a cloud watcher. I know the names of a few clouds. Homer strings a bunch of cloud names together when they are threatening or impressive. I never know if he is accurate or full of it, but I have a guess.

Today in south central Pennsylvania the sky is amazing. There are clouds over clouds and clear blue skies. Big puffy clouds. Strings of low riding clouds. Light streaming through. Breathtaking.

I'm neither a photographer or painter either. But if I were today would be a day I'd be out there, documenting. The light is lovely, the air is light and it is gorgeous.

My feeble attempts to capture, with the camera on the phone.

As a farmer, I do monitor the weather on a multiple time a day basis. Today is pretty simple. Beautiful. Light until 9:30pm or something ridiculous like that. Followed by fire flies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

feeling just like the Queen of England

One day last week it was misty with a light rain. We put on boots and hats and took a walk with the dogs. It was our little imitation of the queen and her place in Scotland...except we have no tweed and our property is about 1/1000th the size. If that.

Homer always says we eat like royalty. While we eat simple meals they are delicious. I was off farm the other day and purchased strawberries that turned out to be inedible. Their only flavor was chemical. I didn't even feed them to the pigs or put into compost.

We walk about and pick berries and fruit and vegetables and chicken, beef and pork from the farm. Dairy is next.

And soon, note berries. Homer borrowed a mower from a kind neighbor and cleared walkways to what we hope will be bountiful harvests of raspberries and blackberries.

 The various grasses are shoulder height.

The milkweed is in full flower, and there are hundreds of them.

Homer has mowed so that the walkways are curved, there are cross paths and spots to duck in and hide. The dogs run and run chasing each other.

We tried to run poultry in this area, behind the hoophouse. The losses were way to high in this spot. After the berry harvest the herd of cattle will come through here and clean things out. For now, as evenings cool down and before the sun fully sets we will don our heavy boots and walk back here. 

Maybe we need crowns?!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


We are hoping for ducklings. We have 3 drakes and 3 hens, and the hens are laying plenty of eggs. The hens leave them as soon as they have them, so there is no chance of them hatching their eggs!

Two of our Brahma hens have gone broody. We can't get them off of the nest...they are cemented in place. These chickens make the perfect incubator for eggs. Each day we dampen the eggs with water and make certain they have been turned. A large x in permanent ink lets us see if eggs are being rotated by their adoptive chicken moms.

Now we wait to see. 28 days or 42 days ducklings hatch. Fingers crossed we get a flock. Or clutch or whatever a group of baby ducklings is called!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

turkeys relocated

The turkey pens have a larger, wider top than the other pens. This winter the snow loads squished them a bit, so there were repairs that had to happen. For 4 years we had used billboard coverings on them, but this year they had to be replaced. A few of the tires were flat, some handles had gone askew, and ropes had frayed to the point of no longer usable.

Day by day over the last week (with loads of other work completed) these repairs were made and turkeys moved out of their brooders. The flocks remain in the same groups from brooder to field pen: poultry do not mix and mingle well, so we start flocks and keep same configuration from start to finish. This year each pen holds a little more than 60 birds. Right now the birds are so little they can barely been seen in the pen. 5 months from now we will be looking for empty pens to transplant the meanest or the meekest birds, for now they look lost with so much space in each pen.

In mid-July the brooders refill with 100 more egg layers, girls that will commence laying eggs in January, always our lowest production time and when we need an influx of fresh production! The balance of brooders are occupied by broilers until September, when production runs end for 2014.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

oh my

A few years ago a car pulled into the farm parking lot. A woman stepped out, introduced herself and asked about the farm. Took some eggs. Told us about her partner who is a painter. And a few more visits, photos, donations of feathers, nests, eggs, snake skins, interesting tomatoes...anything Homer sees and asks me if Heather might like it.

Heather is a painter who does amazing work. She paints in a realistic manner on good sized canvas. Her subject matter varies...from human to landscape to natural objects. With microscopic detail.

Today Pat stopped in for eggs. And brought along a copy of a magazine.

American Art Collector. On the cover of the magazine is one of Heather's paintings.

And inside is a story about them, focused on Heather and her work. With photos of even more of her paintings.

So tickled to see Heather and Pat getting recognition! What fun!

Friday, June 20, 2014


A little more than a year ago we brought the third dog onto the farm. A dog named Jasmine. I traded a couple of chickens and a dozen eggs for her in a parking lot in Lancaster. She was so skinny and starving acting that I stopped and got dog food for her, and fed that to her in a parking lot in Wrightsville. Jasmine inhaled that meal. And pretty much every offering since.

She is such a cute and sweet thing. Friendly to everyone. Her tail wags all the time and she usually looks like she is smiling.

Except when we catch her with a baby chicken in her mouth. It seems we have convinced her to avoid the full grown birds, but the baby chickens have proven to be a temptation Jasmine cannot resist. 

When the baby egg layers go onto the fields they start in a baby pen. This little pens halls the little birds get used to the routine. The little pens are put into place where we are near there many times each day. We check on the birds all the time.

That sweet and cute dog Jasmine has been found with a baby bird in her mouth more than once. The pen was inspected and there were no holes in the wire and no loose spots either. 

The nest boxes were discovered to be the source of Jasmines access to the baby birds. Its June and there is a lot to do, so a temporary solution was installed. A length of clothesline tied the lid down. Now she can't sneak in the side and pull out a bird. Its back to kibble for her.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

busy days

As it heats up there is a lot to do. All the little things we have been sheltering need to move to a permanent spot. Tomato, peppers and eggplants have all been moved from pots to their spots. Many of each transplanted and watered on a regular basis.

Chickens and turkeys too. We have moved broilers from the brooder to their field pens almost weekly. The turkeys made the move yesterday, in late evening, when it had cooled off enough to work.

They were looking huge in the brooder and now look tiny in their field pen! By Thanksgiving they will fill this up.

Pen repairs must happen. Sometimes wheels or ropes or additional chicken wire. We test the watering system to make certain there is plenty of fresh water. 

Smart ones get up on the roost.

The laying hens are too young to make eggs yet. Nest boxes are in there for inspiration.

Back to work. Lots to do.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Water to poultry is critical. On hot days 40 chickens can drink 5 gallons of water in just the daylight hours.

We have used bell drinkers fed from a 5 gallon bucket on each of the poultry pens. Algae grows in the bucket and sometimes clogs the tube, which cuts off the flow of water. Without water disaster happens.

It is a love hate relationship with the bell drinkers. In theory they are easy...fill the bucket, done. In reality they are a constant source of stress: did the water run straight out? Is the tube clogged? Is there really water available for the birds?

The use of the bell drinkers on mobile pens is a farm hack. They were not designed or built to use in the way we use them. A redesign of water supply on field is in order.

Last year a system that did not have enough water for hot days was installed on a few pens. While algae was not a problem there was not quite enough holding capacity for 24 hours.

So design changes were made. Slight pen modifications occurred. Larger capacity. Easier fill. Always with the idea that pens are moved daily, when water is almost out and refilled just after moving. Since water weighs about 8 pounds to the gallon, 5 gallons of water changes the daily pen move dramatically. Timing of refilling water containers is critical to keeping the farmers back intact.

This years version. To the untrained eye it looks like last years version. To the chickens, in July and August, it looks like plenty of cool, clean water. To the farmer, it looks like an occasional off farm trip on a sunny day will not result in devastation.

Its all in the details.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

mosquito control

We try and work low tech methods as often as we are able.

Goldfish from the pet store our our low tech solution to mosquitoes.

One or two in every rain barrel, if in ground or catching rain off a roof, costs about $5. And they voraciously consume all the little larva, keeping the farm with a minimum of those blood suckers. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014


We plant vegetables year round. Some, like lettuce and carrots, are teeny tiny seeds. Some are massive, like sunflowers. Some we plant right in the spot they grow in, others get started in pots and then transplanted.

Water is critical. We use driptape and a timer to water beds on days it does not rain. We use a system of rain barrels and driptape to capture and use as much rainwater as possible.

The first time we put driptape in place we used the connecting valves that are wide open. Water runs through the moment the spigot is opened.

It emptied our rain barrels in no time. It ran our pump to our well to every spot in the system, if we needed water or not.

This year the switch is on. We load seeds and add driptape with these beauties attached.

A simple switch can save us hundreds of dollars in water and electricity. These are going onto the connection to the trunkline to each piece of driptape. Now as beds are planted, harvested, rested and replanted we run water only when needed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

as an egg farmer

This is a happy sight to see!

We like to think we have a plan. Sometimes nature outsmarts us. And yet we keep working to have our livestock be the way we want vaccines, feed as clean as we can get, fields under them with no sprays of any kind but rain and well aged animal manure.

We started this flock of birds in the brooder about 8 months ago. Harsh conditions for day old chicks. It was the last available shipment from the breeders.

Our busiest time of year is the time during markets and CSA distribution. We try and time prime egg production to the market season. 

These girls just provided their first egg. Looking forward to gathering dozens from them...nothing as good as an egg from these sweet gals.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

tree lines

This is our 5th year on the farm. When we moved here the property was open right into our neighbors yards. One one side we have 3 neighbors and on the other side about 15.

We fenced the perimeter. The fence runs about 30 feet inside our property line. It is a permanent fence, and after keeping livestock on land we leased preventing entering and exiting was a priority. In the time we have been here only two animals have escaped and both went through open gates. Totally our errors.

Since we run cattle they need shade. We provide a mobile shade that travels with them to each paddock but shade from trees that shifts throughout the day is the best. It keeps the cattle moving as the sun changes location so that resting spots can recover between uses. Everything grows back.

The first couple years the buffer zone was just grass and weeds. Now it is becoming a real tree line.

Now there are shrubs and tulip poplars. Tulip poplars can be huge. But it takes years before they bloom. When they finally produce those big flowers hummingbirds and a lot of insects, including butterflies and moths, feed from them. 

In this part of the field we will need this new tree. We had a beautiful evergreen in the middle of the paddock but this winter shattered the evergreen. It was straight and about 25 feet tall but now, after such a challenging winter it looks like this.

Not much higher than the raspberries. The entire top split or disappeared. We think split. It is wide when it used to be tall. This tree is not going to last many more years. The cattle used to lower their heads and get under the shade. Now they almost have to crawl but they still get in there. Shade is needed.

Our back fence line runs the width of the property. Only one property borders that fenceline. It was clear years ago but now looks like this.

There is a pig path at rest right next to the perimeter fence that is high grass. The pigs will eat that up later in the year. Outside, in our buffer, lots of big things growing. Most are tulip poplars. Some are sewer trees we will pull out if we have to...but it looks like they will be crowded out. In the established woods that was here when we arrived there are none of those ugly trees. And on our fields few exist anymore. We keep pulling them up. 

Here's the woods...the front line facing the hoophouse.

Shade. Not all day. The plan is for plenty of sun in the paddocks with tall trees providing shifting shade all day. So nice to walk from sun into shade and avoid the beat down of pure sun.

And in the established woods the tulip poplars are old enough to flower. The slope is just right to get a sight of what brings those amazing hummingbirds to the farm.

Later, the cardinal flower will bloom right near the backdoor. And the hummingbirds visit right next to us. 


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