Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Next to Love

Work on a small farm primarily consists of manual labor and is a grueling proposition.  James Carville stated, “Next to Love, the greatest gift someone can give is their labor”.  Never has such a statement hit closer to home then what we experienced during strawberry season. 

We were close to getting into a major retailer, but we had to have our “Good Agricultural Practice,” GAP certificate.  We did not get it in time so the berries destined for the store sent us hustling to find buyers.  Before that, we had to harvest the strawberries.  I was on Agrication last week and was picking strawberries everyday.  I can tell you, first hand that harvesting strawberries six hours a day is back breaking work, eight to ten is down right unfair.  Yet there are migrant workers that do just that.

By Tuesday evening, I was whining like a tired two year old.  My wife being the sympathetic person she is, told me to suck it up and get back out there.  Okay, maybe she did not say it like that, but I know what she meant.  By the end of the day, my feet, ankles and lower back were killing me.  Sleeping did not bring much relief, every time I moved some part of body reminded me of the days work.  I would get up the next morning gingerly putting on my clothes and work my muscles loose.

Then unexpectedly we get a call from a local woman that home schools her kids.  She wanted to know if she and her kids could volunteer to pick strawberries for us.  She is big into the local movement and had seen other organic strawberry growers go under.  She wanted to make sure to help in order to keep us afloat.  Then the Carville statement came to my mind.  Thanks, Kate, the intrinsic rewards we felt and gratitude was overwhelming.  

I have said this before growing and raising food is a humbling experience I just did not know in how many ways it could happen.  The mom and her four kinds came out on two separate days and helped pick over fifty pounds each time.  It was incredible to meet her and talk to her kids.  I cannot help myself I am a natural born teacher, so I took the opportunity to ask them questions.  Like “What is a good bug versus a bad bug?” and others questions about nature.  I have to show them the new layers that were on grass and the meat birds we are raising.

As the week progressed, it was not looking good for sales.  We had about one hundred and twenty pounds in the refrigerator and my wife was contacting every restaurant in town and any other potential bulk buyers.  Being a small farm, you are all things and when there are just three of you, things fall behind quickly.  However, we managed to get them into the Orchard in Frederick City and sales increased on the farm.

Then a group of three adults and four kids came up to pick.  They were repeat customers but I did not recognize them and I asked, “How did you find us,” of course the reply was “We were here last year,” so I made a joke about my mental capacity and took them out to the berries.  They came back with fifty-six pounds of strawberries.  We made a game out of weighing all the different baskets and flats with people guessing the weights before the total displayed.  One family picked 6.66 pounds of strawberries, the display was facing away from me and when I heard them say that I quickly picked up one of their berries and ate.  “Thanks," was their response.  Strawberry season is over for us, but there is still work to do with them.  They produce fruit for about three weeks, then you must renovate, weed, feed, keep them healthy, cover for winter, uncover in the spring.  Then whine like a baby in June of the next year.

It is people like Kate and everyone else that came out to pick that give us hope, finding kindred spirits and people willing to help knowing you are trying to make a difference in an indifferent world and they see that an get to be part of that.

 

Buy Local: Find a grower by you and give it a try.  Now is the best time.

 

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Farm Safety

Our operation is small and we have never had an instance or a concern about food safety.  Being germ-phobic has not hurt us either.  However, we recently received our GAP certification.  GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices.  It is all about food safety and cross contamination.  Being certified organic I shunned being certified GAP I felt we already exceeded the regulations.  I ask people when was the last time you heard of a small farm or local butcher having to recall their products.

Having taken the course I now see the value the information has to all farms, not just small but especially large.  I was in the process of writing our GAP plan.  One of the documents in the plan is a Hazard Mitigation matrix.  The matrix contained all potential hazards, how to identify them, and the mitigation of the hazard once discovered.  I am a contingency planner, so I listed all the possible hazards we face from growing, harvesting, shipping and delivery.  I was running out of ideas so I put "A human defecates in the field,” Then I addressed the mitigation and actions to be taken if there was an occurrence.

Having exhausted every hazard, I could think of, I felt proud and wanted my wife to review my marvelous work.  Upon reading the human defecation hazard, I was chided and I think the comment was "Oh come one, it’s a little overboard, don't ya think?”  I admitted it might be but in the realm of possibility, it was possible.  No matter it was taken out.

Not long after we got our GAP packet from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, there were forms and signs inside and low and behold one sign shows a person squatting in a field, pants around their knees and the international NO sign covers him.  It still brings a smile and little chuckle when I think about it, however, it is real and it is a problem.  We are too small but I can imagine on larger operations it happens. 

There are regulations about how far away a bathroom is from the fieldwork, what a proper hand-washing station is and how long you need to wash your hands and safely disinfect them.  There are regulations about hand washing and packaging area's, break rooms, refrigerator temperatures, co-mingling and many others.  Five logs require data on a daily basis, from cleaning bathrooms to cleaning the delivery truck all in an effort to make the food supply safe.  I cannot find fault with that, no one should die from ingesting spinach, tomatoes or cantaloupes.  I am glad we took that extra step to get GAP certified. .

Each season brings a Farm Safety talk and walk through of the medical kits and fire extinguishers.  Last year one of the folks pointed out that one of our medical kits was Tim Allen’s’ “Tool Time Safety Kit”.  The TV show Tool Time started in 1991.  Given that some of the folks we had working for us were not even born at the time, it was decided we needed to purchase a new medical kit.  Who knew medical kits expire. Farm safety is the number one priority on our farm and everyone is trained on how to properly and safely operate tools, vehicles and equipment.  You must pass my test before you get to use a potentially dangerous object.

We have an extensive medical supply kit in the house.  Given my propensity to cut, scrape, bang, twist, burn, jab, stick, and generally wound myself while working that we have accumulated enough medical supplies to handle most types of small injuries. 

Now along with farm safety reviews, we have incorporated GAP training with the same emphasis.

Buy Local:  You have to search but the journey is worth the destination when you find the right one.

 

 
 

Farm Love

Farm Love Is... 

  The anticipation of working the soil after a long hard winter.

Feeling the excitement and hope that spring brings with the change of season.

When you lose chickens and you feel pangs of guilt, stomach upset and heartbreak.

Knowing what you do makes an impact on people that purchase your product and the generations that will benefit from our sustainable practices.

 

Teaching kids about chickens, let them harvest eggs, wash, weigh, label and package them for sale.  Even though the broken egg count rises by 75 percent.

You find a wounded chicken, clean its wounds and place her in the hospital pen.  Watching and cleaning her wounds, then she recovers and starts laying eggs.

  The flock of layers spot you and start to run towards you, knowing they are about to get food, water or just some attention.

A one hundred degree day so you decide to take it easy, and only weed for three hours.

  Seeing the mothers bringing their kids to the fields to pick organic strawberries and witnessing the joy the family has.

You get a call from a total stranger to praise your efforts after tasting our eggs.

Something that less then one percent of our population gets to experience.  However, more people are joining the local movement in larger numbers.

What keeps us going and looking for that niche that will finally be our cash cow.

Coming home and Fer Coadee comes up to lick my face, out of pure love and joy and I let her, even though I know she has eaten chicken poo.

 

Buy Local: Your effort and dollars support more then you know

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It is nice to be important

Growing food is a humbling experience; it is also, physically demanding, intellectually challenging and incredibly stressful.  Above all else there needs to be an abundance of patience and perseverance.  Along with the work there is waiting, waiting to see if seeds germinate, if the weather holds or will bring much needed water.  Waiting for the right time to release beneficial bugs to attack during the detrimental insect various stages of development is a critical for our integrated pest management plan.  Waiting for signs, deviations or changes. Which creates the need for contingency planning.  And then a new, one of a kind, problem occurs, one of those once in a lifetime events like when farms were first invaded  by Japanese beetles, ours is BMSB.

The brown marmarated stinkbugs die with insecticidal soap as long as they are in the first four stages (instars) of life.  We have to get the trap crops in the ground early to catch the over wintering adults as they mate and leave their larvae.  We use an early rising crop like radishes and surround that with sunflowers, which take longer to reach maturity.  At maturity, the bright yellow sunflowers attract the adult BMSB and that allows us to use a mix of Pyganic and Surround.  This is a lethal combination and can kill beneficial insects as well creating a negative environmental impact.

There is waiting for the actual fruit or vegetable to appear and then nurturing them to maturation.  You wait for the first signs of things that will reduce the yield or destroy the crop.  Growing is filled with hope, anticipation, failure and joy.  Pulling a tomato off the vine and biting it wakes up most of your senses, first you will taste, then smell the inside, see the red flesh and get the real taste of Umami, the elusive 5th taste that we as humans experience.  Those sensations go with all the fruits and vegetables you grow.

This is an incredibly hard job not just physical, emotional, intellectual and dangerous, but expensive too.  The big picture can be overwhelming that is why we have chosen to be part of a farmer-mentoring program.  The farming community is unlike any other that I have had association.  I have written a lot about calling asking for advice and visiting farms (field walks) to find out ways to do things.  The older farmers have plenty of knowledge, experience and information at their fingertips as well as generations of friends and colleagues.  Without these people and their wisdom there is so much more room for error and failure.  You could say that it is nice for these people to be so important to the rest of us.  However, passing on their knowledge to others they see it as, it is more important to be nice.

Buy Local: Support sustainable, healthy, humane farming.

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Big Tobacco

I liken the GMO debate to what I grew up learning about the decades the  tobacco industry knowingly sold products that caused death to the general public.  Thalidomide, DDT and their ilk was another learning process for everyone.  On one side you have profiteer’s willing to say anything to promote their product to enrich them even though it is to the detriment of the very consumer that makes them rich.  The GMO debate walks like tobacco, sounds like tobacco and smells like tobacco and is history repeating itself.

You have the industrial food complex spending millions if not billions already on sending out misinformation to confuse consumers about the relative safety of GMO products.  On the other side, you have formal, yet independent findings that show detriments to the environment (super weeds and bugs), upper-respiratory issues (increase in asthma suffers, even when increase in population is taken into account), endocrine problems in predictor species (bass and bullfrogs feminized by Atrazine), food-born allergies, anti-biotic resistant strains of bacteria, the list just seems to keep growing.  When growing up I did not know of anyone who had a peanut allergy.  I know they must have existed but today, we have people that are dangerously allergic to peanut, gluten, lactose, soy, egg, latex, shellfish and others.

Corporations are telling us GMO’s are safe, so did big tobacco and the chemical companies about their products in the 1950 and 60’s.  Just look at who supplied money to the anti-gmo labeling initiatives in California prop-37 and Washington’s I-522 initiatives.  Then you have independent researchers finding out there are detriments to the product.  Big tobacco brought out study after study verifying their claim that held cigarettes harmless. You hear there is no science to support GMO and cancer links.  At one point in time there was no scientific evidence that linked lung, lymphoma and other cancers to cigarettes.

Our history is fraught with corporations going after profit over the safety of the consumer, which is why we have some consumer protection laws.  Having grown-up witnessing the ravages of tobacco’s toll on my family and seeing the ills of DDT and thalidomide babies makes me more acute to what claims are being presented and sold to me and by whom.

When first introduced GMO’s were sold based on farmers having to use less herbicides and insecticides in the field, saving them money while increasing yields.  Now, independent research is proving otherwise.  We have the advent of super-weeds and bugs that have become resistant, causing the need for even more and stronger chemicals.  Then there are the other industrialized nations, in the world, that have banned GMO’s.

Right now, what I see from both sides harkens back to the 60’s and 70’s when big tobacco was desperately trying to keep their secrets hidden and that hits too close to home.  If GMO’s are safe, why not label and let the consumer make the choice, even if they are not safe, people still choose to smoke.

Support Your Local Truck Gardner

 

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Minus Four Degrees

“We only have chickens,” that is what I keep repeating to myself as we work each day in the snow covered landscape that has become the chickens grazing grounds.   In Maryland we are use to more green than white.  Chickens eat twice as much food, if not more, when the temperatures drop, which led to a shortage of feed.  There has been little melt so I am now debating on whether to remove snow from around their houses so they can get to some green.  The ground immediately around their houses is frozen, brown and dotted with chicken droppings.

Chickens do get frostbite just like humans, their waddles, combs and bottom of their feet are mainly susceptible to frigid temperatures.  We selected Rhode Island Reds for two reason’s they are a recovering species on the Nature Conservancy List and they are hearty winter birds, hearty enough for Rhode Island’s weather.  We have taken necessary precautions and done the best we can.  There is only so much you can do before nature takes over, which is the angst producing part.  Eggs laid closest to the doors often freeze and break, tempting the birds to peck at them.

Being a humane farm is better for the animal, its workers and the product produced.  The eggs are selling well and we need to step up supply.  We have twenty-five new layers getting ready to start to lay.  We got a call not to long ago from a customer that was very appreciative of our eggs stating they are the best he has ever tasted.  I have kept that voice mail for it is cherished, humbling and fortifying for our mission.  However, being a humane farm at times like these is physically and mentally exhausting, expensive and dangerous.  Yet gratifing and uplifting when we make it through another day. 

There is Fer Coadee, added to this sub-freezing weather.  With the chickens closed for the night, she gets to come in.  During the day, we have had temperatures and wind chills in the single and minus range.  Coadee is a longhair English Sheppard; she has a doghouse loaded with straw and pine shavings.  I know she uses it, because I see her emerge when I come home.  That still does not ease my mind; I already know that I tend to anthropomorphize so I work extra hard convincing myself that she is okay and will be okay until we get home.

Once home she is the first to be inspected for sign of frostbite or ice stuck between her toes, then I go out to the birds.  We have three horse trailers that hold all the birds; each house has a heated water bucket, light and heat lamp.  We use an intelligent plug that turns on when the temperature drops to 34 and goes off when it hits 42.  That saves on electricity but if you never get to 42 the heat lamp stays on which drives costs up.  

Last Tuesday the real temperature was minus four degrees without winds.  I was able to stay home and waited until around noon.  It was still freezing out, but the trailers are not large enough (given humane standards) for all the birds to walk around inside.  I went out and opened the door’s wide enough for a chicken to exit and secured them in place.  It was a very bright day so I was not concerned as much about hawks as I was dogs.  Every so often Coadee would go out and watch the birds.  For their part, the birds would come out look around and go back inside.  As more ground shows the foray outdoors gets, extended.  They are no dummies, they know it is cold and the house gives them reprieve.  The upside is once I feed them they all come in and I can close them up for the night and I can end my day earlier.  We do not have it as bad as the ranchers that lost so many of their animals in the blizzards.  As I said we only have chickens, however, when I read something like that it hits home and my heart and prayers go out to them.

Remember the next time you are at a farmers market, it might be bright, sunny and warm but right now as I write this, it is minus four degrees(outside). 

Buy Local: It might be the only choice our future generations have.

Pearl of Wisdom: When you are holding a basket with 50 eggs in it, do not throw the Frisbee for the dog.

 
 

Loosing one of your own

I had a rather embarrassing experience at the farmers market this past summer and unfortunately, it was of my own doing.  When we first started out farming, we had a lot of knowledge about growing on a small scale.  If it was not for the more experienced people around us, I cannot image how steep the learning curve would have been during the transition from small to bigger than small.

Asking questions about growing, farm operations, animals, grants, programs, resources the list is endless.  It always amazed me how you could call someone and they would give you their time to answer your questions and give knowledge gained from experience.  We do this ourselves today.  When asked we give our time and extensive failure experiences we have had.  We do have success but that is not what most want to hear.  They want to know what mistakes not to make.

 Sure, I can say what tomato or sweet corn grows best for us, but I can also tell them what to do about detrimental bugs and when to introduce beneficial insects to counteract the thieves.  Being prepared for the bad is what makes it possible to succeed.  I might always have a negative to impart but it is a way of making sure they do not fall into the same trap.  We all make mistakes no matter our level of experience and learn from any given season from one to the next.  When someone is generous enough to answer my call and give me insight, it is greatly appreciated and warmly accepted.

Of all the farmers that have helped me, I looked up to every one.  I treat them with the respect they deserve.  They are working and doing an incredible job and for them to spare me the precious time they have is a testament to the type of people they are.  I still look up to them and try to pass on what was given to me. 

This past weekend I learned that one of those people turned to the dark side.  It was by their choice and their plan.  However when I say "turned to the dark side" I mean an ex-organic farmer falsely advertised their products as organic, even though we had asked him to remove his sign the previous week.  We (the other organic) folks were given what we now know was a lame excuse to cover up his deceptive practice.  What is worse he sends his help to the market and blames them for the deceptive advertising. 

People are and can be disappointing, but when someone takes up the organic mantle that is a commitment akin to devotion.  What organic farmers do is for the benefit of all, family, friends, community, animals, dirt, grasses, water and air.  What he has done is the complete opposite; it is one thing to make the change, it is another to mislead and perpetrate fraud.  He feeds his chickens with non-organic feed (which has GMO’s) and lets his customers think they are still getting healthy non-gmo chickens and eggs.  If there is fraud in one part of a business as with his chickens, it makes you question other aspects of the operation.

When it first happened I went over to his stall and talked to the interns, and told them about the regulations and the use of the word organic, and asked that the sign be taken down I also called the owner to talk to him but had to leave a message. I left and went back to the farm, my wife stayed at the stand.  Later the owner came to the market and came over and aggressively inquired about WHO COMPLAINED.  The aggressive part is how my wife and others described his behavior.  Odd, I thought he is wrong, he knows it and he put us in an untenable situation.  Bottom line is the sign came down and he apologized blaming his staff.  Which none of us believed but let it go just the same.

The next weekend came, we put the stand up, and I left to go back to the farm.  When I came back to tear down and leave I was informed that not only was the sign back up, but they had doubled down by writing the following; “formally organic, using organic inputs”.  When I learned that things went south instantly and the next thing I know I am yelling at the market master, I am pointing out the vendor is lying to the market master’s neighbors, that his actions this week is a blatant F-U to those of us who asked to have sign taken down and he is putting the integrity of the market in jeopardy..

I have made a list of all those I needed to apologize to, because of my outburst, I approached each one, and asked forgiveness with the utmost sincerity.  The other list, if those people are honest enough to approach me, I have other things to say.  It was not my proudest moment as a farmer and as I said, I am very embarrassed about how I delivered my message.  The ex-organic person wrote everyone apologizing saying his staff made a mistake.  Only problem was I talked to his staff, I went over to apologize to them that day because they are interns and it was not there doing.  I also wanted to educate then on the regulation at issue and to make sure they understood when you could use the word organic.  They were obviously not getting that education from their employer and they are there to learn.

What they told me was that the owner had changed the sign and told them to put it up.  I could not help but respond back to his written apology pointing out the conversation I had with is staff.  I was not interested in his feeble, disingenuous apology. 

If someone uses the word organic, ask for his or her certification.  They will be organic exempt or certified organic.  That way you will avoid the people that mimic the industrial food complex.  It is tough to see someone you looked up to turn to the dark side and now become the poster child for all that is bad with the charlatans at farmers markets.  When I quit, we will just stop and grow for ourselves.  I tell people we have two things going for us, one is integrity the other is taste, and sometimes we do not have taste but we will at least tell you that. 

Buy Local but be smart ask questions and look for certifications

 

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Economics

The FDA and USDA or I should say the poultry industry announced that frozen chickens could ship to China for processing into nuggets, patties, hot dog’s etc.  Contemplate this thought for a second.  US manufacturers slaughter chickens here, freeze them and ship the frozen bird to China.  They ship the frozen bird to China mind you; the carbon footprint for this part alone has already surpassed the existing footprint for the same product.  Add to that, they are going to allow the kill line to speed up and reduce the number of federal inspectors in the slaughterhouses.  How can the logical mind not see the seeds of destruction that this process creates?  

Researchers have just discovered another avian flu called H7N9.  This particular strain is anti-biotic resistant, but more importantly has the ability to regenerate itself with no impedance.  Guess where this flu originated?  It is dismaying to know that our government, the government that we were taught was there to protect the Country’s interest and us has been bought by corporations. 

In my first year of college, I took Economics 101.  Our first test had one question that still to this day I believe I was right but the instructor said I was wrong.  I argued to the point of being threatened that I would fail the course if I did not shut up.  The question was multiple choice and it went something like this:

Corporations are in business for:

  1. making profit
  2. the good of the community
  3. better the country
  4. give people jobs

I am a capitalist, my father taught me how to invest in the stock market, at young age and I had some business savvy having cut lawns for a bunch of years.  So I chose A.  After all, if a business does not make a profit it ceases to exist.  No, I was wrong.  The answer was B.  You can play out in your own mind how things went during the review of the test after grading.  I could not believe that an Economics professor could be so naive.  What a rube everyone knew the answer was not B and I held steady in my argument.  That was when he had heard enough and threatened me with failure.

Now, today, I wish he were right, now I long for the days when he would have been right.  What we have today is what I knew all along.  Business is a bottom line driven decision-making model.  What has changed though is the sheer greed, narcissism, hatred and down right prejudices of those that lead these corporations along with the politicians that they have bought.  I am tired of all the vitriol that passes for public discourse and the narrow mindedness of a minuscule number of people being bolstered and manipulated by the one percent.  I do not mean the Hells Angles one percent; I mean the other one percent.  We were a country that accepted the worlds tired and poor, where by working hard lead to the path of stability and better things to come.  Where the American dream was to own a home, educate your children and provide them with better opportunities. 

I miss the days when people were cordial and allowed others to express their beliefs without yelling and belittling the person for those beliefs, where government was for the people and by the people.  Those days are gone I know but there has to be an alternative to the course we are now heading.  Sending frozen chickens to a country that produces the most avian flu then all other countries combined seems like an incredibly risky adventure.  Not to mention we loose more jobs.  We have shipped enough manufacturing out of the US to jeopardize a huge part of our population.  They were called the middle class and we were large in numbers.

On our farm, we try to grow food so that all can afford not just the lucky few.  I want to get to the point were my neighbors in the old section of town can purchase safe, healthy organic fruits, vegetables, eggs and chickens.  I am not a good executive; I have too much empathy and compassion for my fellow man.  When people do buy from us, especially those using WIC or SNAP coupons they get extra.  This act is part of our mission; our spent layers are processed and given to soup kitchens or to food banks.  

I know I am not alone but our legions are small compared to the sheer amount of greed.  We will be cutting back drastically this year in the amount of things we will grow, in an effort to stay economically viable.  I know our business model is environmentally and economically restrictive but I cannot change it for it is how we feel and what we believe is the correct thing to do for humanity.  

You really have to ask yourself, "How do they raise those chickens, slaughter them, ship them to China, process them there and ship them back for sale in the US" and still my chickens are too expensive.  Use all the economic models you like, but make sure to take into account, pathogens, residual chemicals, inhumane living conditions, carbon foot prints, quality of work-life in the both raising and slaughter, environmental degradation and medical conditions that we all pay for while the owners make millions for their greedy practices.  

You can change their model; we all can make them change their model.  It is as simple as buying local.  Your choice, the choices you make every day when purchasing food can and does have an impact on their decision-making.  Greed drives these people, not helping humanity or the environment, but lining their pockets with as much cash as they can.  Moreover, you can make a difference if the choices you make help support your community farmer or farmers market.  You will need to do some research to make sure you are dealing with a reputable farmer but that is the fun part.  Ask to see the farm and the operations if you get anything other then “come on down,” walk away knowing you have identified a huckster, not someone that toils to bring you safe, fresh food. 

 God Bless and Season's Greetings from our family to yours.

 

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It's not about looks

We grow for health, our own, plants, layer and meat birds, soil, our customers and the environment.  We supply our community with fresh, safe food and an environmental stewardship second to none.  That is our mission and always our goal.

Our farm uses integrated pest management techniques in order to cut down on the need for sprays.  We plant trap crops, use floating row covers, rotate crops and chickens to keep the bug populations down.  Sometimes it works and sometimes you get new pests like the brown marmarated stinkbug.  

Soils need resting in order to restore nutrients both micro and macronutrients.  We rest soils so that they naturally restore themselves.  Of course, we plant cover crops, nitrogen rich grasses, and winter rye for its deep taproots.  The taproot digs down deep into the soil thus adding tilth and tunnels for water to travel.  We move the chickens on the fresh cover crop and they pretty much turn it back into dirt before taken off the land.  We will move them off to the next resting soil then re-seed the area they just left.  This takes planning and timing.  In Maryland, you will not get a good stand of forage if you plant seed after November10th.  It just does not have time to establish itself before the freeze sets.

Soil rotation also controls pests, viruses and bacteria’s.  If you keep planting the same thing in the same area, trouble will find you.  We take the concept a step further by letting the soil naturally recover with a little push from us.  The combinations of the nitrogen and tilth grasses create a nice biomass.  The chickens eating grasses, bugs, weed seeds and turning the soil, while leaving natural fertilizer expedites this recovery process.  It takes about three years for soils to replenish the nutrients and minerals that are depleted by the food that was grown on the land.  Some food is harder then others, sweet corn is one of the bigger drains on soil nutrients.  Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder along with depleting micronutrients.  We all know what happened in the dust bowl and crop rotation was developed as an answer.  When we say soil rotation, we are talking about using a plot of land to grow fruits and vegetables, and then take it out of production for a period of time and plant cover crops as described above to rejuvenate. 

We use as little spray as possible.  I am not looking to grow perfect looking food.  I am looking to grow healthy, fresh, safe, tasty food.  We will never win any beauty contests because we grow for health not looks.  Looks do not make you healthy but eating healthy makes, you feel good. 

Buy Local: Now more then ever your food decisions make an impact

 

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A true work dog

 Fer Coadee is all work when outside, we still have a lot of training to go through, she is fast to learn but slow to change existing behavior.  To which, when people drive up to the farm she is there to discourage them.  Not good when you actually want the person to get out of the vehicle and visit.  When we know people are coming, I have Coadee on the lead and try to calm her and change the behavior towards vehicles.

However, she is the master of her domain; nothing comes on the property without inspection and vetting by her.  Once she has established that there is no threat to the chickens, she is fine.  Her initial reaction upon contact needs tweaking because although the veterinarian said she is timid and passive, her work ethic is all business.  Her bark is ferocious and to a person that does not know dogs at sixty pounds and all teeth she presents a formidable figure.  We on the other hand know she would not hurt a day old chick let alone a person.  Most people do not get out of the vehicle until she is on lead.

The visitors get to know her and she them and that is when the lead comes off.  Coadee goes back to work protecting her charges.  We have seen Coadee chase off dogs, foxes, deer although the latter is more fun for her then work, I think she gets drunk on power sometimes.  We had one traumatic event with a hawk but it proved to be a positive even though we lost a layer.

Last fall Coadee was in the back of the house up on the porch were she could see all the hens.  I came out of the barn and looked over to see all the birds under the trailer and in the house.  That was odd because when I went into the barn they were doing their usual scratch and peck.  Then I saw something move over near the tree line.  It turned out to be a hawk that had just killed a hen.  Why Coadee was on the porch and not over there I do not know, she had to of heard something, but then again I was closer and did not hear any commotion while in the barn. 

I yelled and started to run to the hawk, thinking that charging would scare it away.  It just sat there, turned its head slowly in my direction and stared me down.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I bristled with goosebumps.  I looked for things to throw at it as I continued to yell, “Get out of here”.  Coadee had come down to see what I was doing as I am throwing wood, sticks, rocks, anything I could find to scare the bird away.  The hawk was unphazed and not about to leave its dinner behind.  I finally got a branch close enough to the bird to scare it off.  However, it just flew to lowest branch on the nearest tree.  I went in the house and got my gun, I was not going to let this bird take one of my hens, dead or not it was still mine.  Federal law prohibits the killing of hawks so I was not going to shoot it, but I could shoot near it to scare it further away. 

After about five shots, the thing finally gave up and flew off.  I picked the bird up and took it to the compost pile.  Coadee was there the entire time, head down just following me as I went about the business of composting the hen.  From that point forward when big birds fly near the farm she goes after them and barks.  It is amazing to see because it took her all of one incident to know that she had another danger lurking about. 

Recently, she showed her true work ethic much to the amazement of those on the farm.  English Sheppards are smart dogs you need to vary the training and keep them active.  If you have large herds (we do not) then the dog will keep itself occupied herding and protecting the farm animals. 

One day, I was working Coadee on the lead, by having her stop, come close, move left, right, straight, sit, lay, stay while I walk away and other mental activities.  As a reward I got the Frisbee out so we could play.  I was  throwing the Frisbee and she was fetching.  One of the things she does is goes out and then I throw the Frisbee to her, other times I throw the disk and she chases after it to catch.

I had her go out and then I threw a short one to her, all of a sudden she runs toward me like she is going after the Frisbee but she passed right under it without an attempt to catch her prize.  I realize she has seen a hawk and she had to go to protect her flock.  My wife and I looked at each other, we had just witnessed a dog, go from playing to protector in an instant.  They say that the English Sheppard is the original American farm dog and after that display, I can see the value in the breed.  I joke about it, sometimes I say it is rough when you have a dog that is smarter then you are but then again, who would complain.

 

Buy Local:  You do make a difference doing so 
 
 

Predators

 

English Sheppard’s are known as America's farm dog.  English and Scottish herdsman brought them here.  The first known history of the work dog is from Caesar’s time.  As Caesar’s army traveled, they had dogs, what is now known as the English Sheppard, keep the food moving with them.  The food being, sheep, goats etc, as the heard dwindled; the dogs were left behind in the conquered areas.  They were prized for their ability to heard, hunt and protect.  Those instincts are still part of the breed today.

We got Fer Coadee (Scottish for protector) earlier then we wanted but we had suffered a devastating loss to our flock and we had no choice.  After spending thousands of dollars on fencing and housing for protection nothing, we did short of keeping them cooped up all day kept them safe during the daylight hours.  Yes, we had hawk attacks but at least with the hawks you knew the chicken was brought back to the nest and eaten.  Neighborhood dog attacks, on the other hand, just kill, maim, and leave the chicken for dead all for the sport of the dog.

Therefore, we got a working dog to help protect our flock and our growing egg business.  The dog attacks have abated although we have had twin chocolate labs on the property.  Coadee chased them off and it was amazing how she did it.  She took off after them barking they split up and Coadee went after the one closest to her.  I could see her gaining on the dog and my heart started to jump.  I did not want her to catch the lab and get into a fight.  Much to my amazement, I could tell once she closed the distance between them she slowed some but kept up the ferocious barking until the dog past Coadee's area of protection.  The next time the dogs were on the property I did not see them but Coadee did.  She ran about a tenth of mile down to where the dogs were and gave chase.  Again, I could see here gaining on the dogs but not overtaking.  When the dogs got to the edge of the field of our property line Coadee gave up the chase.  After that, I went to inform my neighbor that the law allowed me to protect my livestock to the point of the detriment of their beloved animals.  That and any loses I suffered they were going to be libel for our expenses and future revenue.  Leash laws are in place for multiple of reasons, safety being the high profile aspect, the safety for humans and livestock.

When Coadee came back limping from her last run-off  I inspected her, we found her right paw bleeding between her toes.  We called the dogcatcher who came out a couple of hours later.  They asked about the dogs and after we described them, told us they knew who the owner was.  Apparently, we were not the first to complain about these dogs roaming.  I asked that we get the owners information in case we could not stop the dog’s paw from bleeding and had to take Coadee to the veterinarian.  I was not about to pay for a vet bill I did not cause.

We got nothing from the dogcatcher.  Two days later, I see the same two labs close to our meat birds, three times within the span of seven days.  I got on the ATV and took after them.  This time I chased them back to their owner.  I admit I was angry and I tried to calm down but I have lost too many chickens to dog attacks.  I saw the dogs run up to the person so I got off my ATV and went over to him.  I knew but I asked anyway, “Are these your dogs?”.”  Yes,” he replied.  I went on to explain that Maryland law allows me to protect my livestock with deadly force.  I begged him to keep his dogs on his property and not force me into killing his dogs.  To say I was angry does not convey the total emotions that I was feeling.  I just wanted him to control his dogs and follow the leash law,

Having buried over thirty chickens from dog attacks takes its toll, especially when you come home one day and find fifteen dead.  As I have said before you spend a lot of time with organic chickens in order to keep them healthy until their immune system kicks in.  Then you spend the next couple of years, feeding, watering and caring for them.  At the end of four years, we process our layers and take them to the soup kitchen.  This act helps us process because the last thing the layer does is help feed the poor and less fortunate among us.  We have not been able to do this in over two years because of dog attacks. 

We know they are dog attacks because any other predator takes the bird.  With dogs, they just play with the chicken to death and do not feed on them.  I knew a farmer that looked at predator attacks this way; if a snake gets an egg; well the snake has to eat.  If a hawk gets a bird well the hawk has to eat and so on.  However, dog attacks, they do not eat the birds they just kill and maim them for their entertainment.  .

Thankfully, since that day we have not seen the dogs.  I do not know what the dogcatchers did, the first couple of times they visited, but it did not scare the man enough to keep his dogs on his property.  The dog catchers turned out to be useless, they knew the person, they talked to him before (which means his dogs were roaming off leash) and he continued to let them run.  Then when we called the dogcatchers, they supposedly went over to talk to him.  Yet, the dogs still roamed off leash.  It is sad, to me, how the thought of having your animal killed finally makes one pay greater attention to the animals’ location.  Nevertheless, that point seems to be what was needed in order to motivate the owner into keeping his dogs constrained.

Growing food has never been easy and you do your best to mitigate losses.  However, I have learned that some things are out of my control especially when other humans are involved and responsible. 

Buy Local: It is a value choice made with the future in mind.

 

 
 

Winding Down

We are coming to the end of another growing season and we have had mixed results.  I did not order a cultivator in time so weeds ate up the half acre of corn I planted.  We got very little corn because of that, which means we spent money on seed and overhead only to get no return on the investment. 

Lessons learned, from this year, included having the tools ready for the season before the season begins.  Our newest flock of Rhode Island Reds is laying, so we opened up the nesting boxes and placed golf balls in each one.  This helps the bird to know where to lay their egg.  I know it sounds strange but I read that is what you are supposed to do.  That or place a wooden egg in the nest.  All I can say is that it works; now we do find eggs outside the nest sometimes but I have not been able to figure out why.  The largest stash I found had thirty eggs and they were inside Coadee’s igloo doghouse.  I really need to research laying out of the nest and make sure it is not a management issue. 

Strawberries started strong and ended strong, a much-needed boost for us.  We were flush in squash, so much so we could not sell it all.  A note of caution, we had arranged to sell our produce to a local market, they were a startup so we expected some problems, but we did not expect to be taken advantage of and gouged on our prices.  We were lowering our prices by fifty percent and the store was jacking up the cost to the customer fifty percent.  Their making a fifty percent return and we were losing money.  On top of that, when we took a load down it was rejected for being too small.  The small ones are the ones that sell out first at the farmers markets.  You learn these things as you go along.  When dealing with markets, sometimes you get people that get it and sometimes you get people that are there for a paycheck.

I was taught to keep the intermediary (the middleman) out as much as possible and that is advice I pass on to other folks.  The best markets we deal with pay us what we need to make a small profit.  They then turn around and only charge five percent more to their customer.  Therefore, they talk about helping local farmers and they do by paying a higher rate.  When you find someone or an entity that gets it, hold them close and pay special attention to their needs.  They will help you succeed.  You will have to kiss many frogs; but when you find the one that gets it, be grateful, responsive and flexible.  There will always be rough spots but patience will smooth the course.

We have given squash to the food banks, there is a restaurant in town that has a monthly “Pay as You Can” dinner on the third Sunday of the month and we gave them forty pounds along with herbs.  However, the lion’s share of leftovers (one thousand pounds and counting) has gone to a local dairy farmer for his pigs.  These are the biggest of the big, we could not keep up with harvesting and these things were huge.  It is just amazing how fast squash goes from being a flower to four-pound behemoth.  Our estimate is that it takes less then five days to get to the point of “to big”.  Because we do not have the ability to harvest, everyday we were put in the glut we are in now.

We met three new farmers who are starting out growing.  That was exciting to see, young growers getting into producing healthy fresh vegetables.  Some we will help get certified others we have pointed to state and federal resources.  To hear them speak they have the right attitude and understanding of the path they chose.  Pretty much the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “this is hard,” but it is rewarding.  Making it economically sustainable is another function that needs conquering.

 

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Delighting both child and adult!

Rhode Island Red

We have been raising RIR layers since 2005, we picked them because we learned they are a recovering species, and known as a dual bird, used for their meat or eggs the bird is great for homesteading.  They just take longer to get to their revenue generating stage.  They take longer to start laying eggs and for the males to get up to weight as apposed to their crossbred cousins.  Hence, their demise as production birds for the masses and their near extinction on farms.

We found all of their traits to be true.  We also found that the meat bird might be small but it is flavorful.  Moreover, once they start to lay they are prolific layers.  They lay an egg every twenty-five hours or so and they do this for about three years.  They then start to decline from one a day to one every two, then one for every three and so on.

By the fifth year they pretty much stop laying and this is were the worst part of farming comes into play.  I have chronicled coming to terms with processing meat birds, and the layers.  Meat bird are around a lot less time then layers.  Meat birds are only around for ten to twelve weeks and although I work with them, everyday I do not get as attached.  That is because the meat bird never gets over the skittishness.

Behaviorally, the layers go the opposite direction, once they start to lay.  I was giving a tour when one of them jumped up on my shoulder, it was the first and only time that happened but it was proof that they get over their shyness.  When the layers see you coming one will start running towards you with this funny little waddle of a gate.  Another will see the first one and start to run, then the rest will come, some will flap their wings and take flight (if you call being six inches off the ground and cover a distance of three feet flying) but it is the cutest sight and no matter the situation just brings a smile to your face.

By the second year, they not only come up to you, but they squat down to be picked up, they jump on the tractor and ATV and ride with you.  Here is a picture of one on the ATV

I took a couple of pictures and then decided to see if it would ride with me to go feed her family.  I did not think fast enough because I could have taken a video.  I will be prepared next time, but I did take a couple of shots while we were moving.  She stayed on until I got around the barn then she decided the ride was over.  Yes, they are skittish at first, however when giving tours the older ones are at their best while delighting both child and adult. 

Buy Local: Buy non-gmo, chemically free food for your health and that of the land.

        
 
 

Things to Consider for Urban Chicken Farmers

The Backyard Chicken Farmer

There has been news articles recently about how municipal and private animal rescue offices are being inundated with chickens that backyard enthusiast have abandoned. 

One story was about roosters and how when people order from hatcheries they think they are getting laying hens.  However, like us, they find there is no one hundred percent sexing of baby chicks.  By the time, they know it is a rooster it is too late.  Roosters for all their country charm are loud, sometimes aggressive and during certain periods can really harm the hens if there are not enough in the flock to keep him occupied, which in the case of the backyard chicken farmers is always the case.  Most municipalities are changing their laws to allow for small flocks.  There is nothing like eating something that you had a hand in producing.  I can see the growing popularity of backyard flocks as I first started to notice the trend in 2009.

With chickens, things can go wrong quickly if you are not prepared.  It appears to be an easy setup at first glance, a secure house, green grass, access to water and food and you are good to go.  Then winter sets in, it gets cold, you need to heat the house, or you get a rooster or the hen lives past its laying capability, or the neighbor’s dog injures it.  Most people fail to anticipate these possibilities that come with a farm animal.  If that happens reactive behavior takes place which can and sometimes does lead to unexpected consequences.  When things go wrong people scramble to find answers to their problems one of which is to drop the bird off at the local shelter. 

In this situation, we have the good with the bad; I can understand the people that drop the chickens off, processing and euthanasia are the hardest, heartbreaking decisions you have to make on the farm.  Most people do not get that far in their thought process.  We on the other hand knew going into the growing business that we were not going to do animals.  Funny how things change. 

I was against it from the start, because I knew it was going to be me that dealt with injuries from attacks, health issues and most importantly making a decision to end the life of the animal and carry it out.  Whether that decision was based on health or end of useful life and or processing I was the person that would need to step up and do what needed to be done.  I can tell you if you are a caring person, you will feel remorse. 

So if you are thinking about getting a backyard flock, find a local farm near you, at least you will be prepared to take it somewhere where it can be useful, of course ask the farmer first, don’t just drop it off and leave.  That happens and is extremely cruel to the bird.  The best thing to do is find a processor in the area and then take the birds to the local soup kitchen.  That way you help someone in need and the bird does not go to waste.

Buy Local:  By doing so, you really are saving the planet.  I would not lie to you

 

 
 

How to Shop at a Farmers Market

I made a comment the other day about shopping at farmers markets and helping support the local economy.  A person stopped me to complain about “Hucksters,” my word, not hers, and how you cannot be sure you are getting locally grown food.  Making sure not to offend the person I carefully explained that yes, there are some unscrupulous characters at farmers markets, but by asking a few questions and arming yourself with basic information, you could ferret out the poser from the farmer.

I could tell they were upset by past purchases but to damn all farmers markets was wrong and I explained people like them could actually help those of us that feel the same way.  Yes, I acknowledged there were some farmers markets that allowed anything but the markets we established and participated in were “Producer Only,” markets.  I explained that a “producers only,” market is a market that has vendors that sell what they produce.  They range from just fruits, vegetables and meats, to anything the person makes, breads, jams, paintings, photographs, jewelry whatever, as long as the person made the product being sold.

I turned the tables as subtly as possible, “you know,” I said, “it is Caveat Emptor when you go to an unfamiliar farmers market but you can quickly find out if it is a producers only market".  I explained that first and for most know what is in season in your area, if a farmer is selling corn in Maryland before July, he or she is a huckster.  If the fruit or vegetable is in season, ask the farmer what is the name of the product.  If corn they should be able to tell if it is Sugar Pearl, Fisher’s, open pollinated or hybrid or some other characteristic, ask how many days to maturity (DTM).  DTM on corn is typically between 75-95 days.  Here is a great web site that tells you when fruit and vegetables are in season in your area. 

The vendor should be able to give you the name of every vegetable they are selling, the days to maturity, when it was harvested, how long it will last in the refrigerator, is it a heritage or heirloom breed and when it was actually established.  Fisher’s yellow corn was developed in Montana, in the 1960’s by a man name Ken Fisher.  He kept selecting corn that had a short growing season and could withstand cold snaps in his state.  That I know of every fruit and vegetable has a traceable lineage and the farmer who ordered and planted that seed will know these details. If they say they are organic, ask to see their certification. They have to have it with them at all times and they will be proud to show it to you.  If you get an excuse consider them non-organic.

As consumers, we just need to ask questions and follow our gut.  If you start to get a feeling, the person is being dishonest or they cannot answer a simple question like what is the name, then they are hucksters.  All but one market we have participated in has been producers only.  As growers, we know who is growing and who is not.  Those that do not grow only bring down those who do and we are quick to question the origin of the products.  We do this precisely because of the comment I heard and the reality that there are unscrupulous vendors.  

Buy Local: And support non-gmo producers,

 

 
 

Organic Pick Your Own Strawberries

Spring has come and gone, which for us means strawberries season ended.  We have over one-thousand plants in the ground and they produced fruit.  Last year we had four hundred plants in the ground and opened up an organic pick your own strawberry patch.  We did not advertise because this was our first time.  We needed to get our feet wet to figure out what we were doing right and wrong.  As is the only constant on the farm, we were doing more wrong then right, but we knew that might happen.  We wanted a soft open so we would not disappoint too many people and get past our learning curve.

In order to have strawberries for a couple of weeks, we planted two-hundred early and two hundred late season varieties.  We have been having weird weather, last year, was hotter than normal, and both types of strawberries came in at the same time, which turned out to be good because demand was overwhelming.  Turnout was from word of mouth and our email list but we quickly learned we did not have enough to meet demand.  That is why we planted another six-hundred bring this years total to one thousand plus. 

We did a lot of research to find out if Maryland ever had a strawberry organic pick your own.  We talked to the people at the Department of Agriculture, some of the older organic farmers and scoured news articles.  It seemed that we were going to be the first farm in the state to do that.  Most of our colleagues said that we should sell them for a premium and not as a pick your own.  My thought was as the people make their way out to the berries they would see the chickens and other things growing and come back for them. 

Sounded like a good idea but it did not really materialize.  Probably because we opened and before we knew it, we had to turn people away.  It was the classic mistake of under estimating demand and consumers not being happy with being mislead.  Although that was not our intention, as I said we did not even advertise but word spread. 

We have worked the kinks out and once again tried a limited pick your own, while at the same time selling berries at the farmers market.  We love strawberries and have grown them every year since we moved in.  Strawberries are one of those future plants, like asparagus or grapes, apples or any fruit tree for that matter.  Which means you put all this labor upfront but you do not get anything until the mature plant is capable of producing its fruit. 

For our grapes, it is seven years and counting.  I know some of you are reading this and turning a skeptical eye.  I would question it too, however, I live it and I can tell you the plant struggles to maintain existence and if you have as steep of a learning curve as we tend to have it might even be extended still.  I think our first bunch of edible grapes came in the sixth year, by that time we had experimented with every organic fungicide and insecticide there was.  We still do not produce a sell-able amount but I do get a few every time I mow the land around them.  Grapes are very temperamental; we picked the ones best suited for our area and climate.  We missed the part about virus and bacterial resistance but that has now become a lessoned learned.

As for the other long-term fruits and vegetables, they are slowly filling in and growing.  Weeding is always a problem but we use and reuse landscape fabric and straw.  Problem is sometimes the straw itself is not put down thick enough and its seeds grow.  Talk about adding insult to injury.  As I have heard thousands of times, “nothing good ever came from something easy” however, it sure would be nice just occasionally.

Buy Local: Monsanto may have the upper hand but you have the choice!

 

 
 

You know it is good when......

Strawberries have come in fast and heavy and as quickly come to a halt in less then three weeks.  However, the work and care done the other 49 weeks is what makes those three weeks possible.  People do not see the toil and hard labor that it takes to bring organic berries to the market.  However, when you find people that really get it their appreciation is humbling and empowering.

I do not always talk about the human interaction that goes on at the farm and farmers markets.  Most all of it is positive; I still do not like the whole haggle thing, mainly because there is no haggling on an organic farm.  You follow the tenets, you do not haggle on whether you do or do not meet minimum space requirements for birds, you give them more then they need.  You do not cut corners, or fudge when growing fruits and vegetables organically.  The guidelines are mostly clear, but if you follow how farmers grew before WWII chances are you are organic.  If you mimic Mother Nature, you will be successful in growing.  I wish I could point to the road of riches in the industry, but we have yet to find it ourselves.  Nevertheless, what I experienced this weekend at the market was magical, heart warming and intrinsically gratifying. 

A mom stopped by with her two-year-old daughter, we had strawberries and serviceberries for sale and the mom let her two year old eat a serviceberry then a strawberry.  The look on that child’s face enjoying the berries was pure delight with an emotion that was honest and pristine, one that only the purity of adolescences brings.  Her smile was large and she was not stopping at just eating one.  Her mom quickly bought some strawberries to let her eat them.  Her daughter was having none of that; she was going back to where she knew the berries were good. 

Eventually, the mom distracted her enough to start eating the ones she had purchased at the same time apologizing profusely about her daughter eating too many berries.  “Truth is,” I said, “I could stand here all day and watch her eat those berries”.  I looked the mom in the eyes and said, “We do what we do because of you, your daughter and her children and everyone that will come after us.  Seeing her joy is payment enough, you do not have to apologize,” I said.  The mom may not have  understood my statement but I saw why our struggles matter, defined in the simple smile of a child enjoying a piece of natural unadulterated fruit.  It was fruit that had no amendments whatsoever, no sprays, GMO’s, nothing, just raw berries at their best.

It was a heartwarming experience for me, a simple reminder of why we took on this job in the first place.  It was also a sign that we are doing something correct, that our food is tasty, healthier, safer and fresher then the industrial food complex could ever chemically engineer.  It doesn't hurt that we have gotten off to the best start in ten years, something, which we really needed from a confidence standpoint. 

Later, when I got back to the farm, I told my wife the story and she said, “Well, you know it is good when a two year old keeps going back and I could not have agreed more.

Buy Local:  Stop GMO and you will stop the poisoning of our earth and our bodies.

 

 
 

Raising Chickens

A rooster hit me the other morning.  For some that would sound like the start of a joke.  However, for me that was just the start of my morning.  It was a morning that included an exercise replete with spring fever, the drive for procreation, layers and of course roosters.  I will explain later.

When we began raising free-range organic eggs, we started slowly.  The first flock was seventeen weeks old when we got them (which knocked them out of the organic category) and there were six of them, all layers.  One of the first things we learned was that you did not need a rooster in order to get eggs from a hen.  After reading and then hearing stories about insane, violent behaviors of attacking roosters, having hens was just fine by us.  We had gotten comfortable with cover cropping, field rotation and mixing grasses and legumes for the chickens to forage.  Family and friends truly liked the taste of the eggs so we felt we were ready to expand.  

In order to sell eggs as “Certified Organic” you need to get hens when they are less then two days old.  Because we did not know any better we expected that we would get layers when we ordered fifteen one-day-old peeps.  I had seen how they sex chicks (i.e., determine male or female) and some chicks are known to be hens based on their color (they are called sexlinks).  We have Rhode Island Reds, because they are a Heritage Breed and a recovering species, and apparently, they are not as easy to sex as one thinks.

When you get day old layers, it is inevitable that you will get a male.  It has happened every time we have gotten day olds.  The number of chicks does not matter, we have gotten 15, got a rooster, got 100, ended up with four roosters that time.  We purchased 50 this last time two are roosters.  The very last purchase was for 100 and we ordered a “straight run”.  There are three categories of peeps, cockerels, straight run and layers.  Cockerels are all males and least expensive, straight run is a mix with no sexing (if you order 50 you may get 10 layers and 40 roosters), that is the chance you take with a straight run.  Then there are layers, which are the most expensive but at least 90+ percentages of all of them are layers.

I am a shining example of why city people are made fun of in rural areas.  After our first purchase of day olds, I called the farm store and asked about our recent chicken order.  "Did we get a rooster with the hens"?  I asked.  "No, probably not" was the answer then followed by "but we can't guarantee all hens at sale but probably not".  So I described the chicken that was more developed then the rest and said that it sounds like it is trying to crow.  "Yep," she said, “you got a rooster.”  Without even thinking when I heard the word rooster I blurted out a question that, as the words were forming in my mind and my lips were audiblizing the errant thought, I knew it was the dumbest question a supposed farmer could ask. 

You can do two things with a rooster on a farm.  One is to eat him.  The other is to let him fertilize the eggs.  That is it; they also protect the hens but those are the only things roosters can do on a farm.  Anybody having heard the birds and bees speech knows this.

Of course, I knew this, once the words were ringing in my ears, but as I was forming the question, and the sales clerk on the other end was hearing it, I couldn't stop myself.  When she told me it was a rooster I was dumb founded "What am I going to do with a rooster," I blurted out mindlessly.  There was dead silence on the other end of the phone line or maybe muffled laughter I do not remember.  What I do remember is questioning why I had just asked such a simple question.  She composed herself enough to say that indeed we could eat it or we could you use it for its reproductive capability.  Neither of which were planned nor wanted, so I ended the conversation quickly.  So the damage was done, at least I hadn't given her my name 

We never wanted a rooster, we were not at the processing stage and we did not want to hatch chicks or deal with crazy violent birds.  With our luck if we hatched chicks we would get more males then females.  Roosters were not a thought until we started seeing and hearing the signs.  By that time it is too late, it is yours.  We tried to sell it, then offered to give it away but had no takers.  Over time, we have found a fourth function a rooster can serve on a farm and that is ambience.  We love to hear them crow as do our customers.  Our customers see a beautiful Rhode Island Red in all his plumage and in full throat.  We still keep roosters around to have a run of the yard, hens to keep them company, and protect. 

I have learned when it is spring and you open the chicken house door the last thing you want to do is be between an amorous rooster and a flock of hens.  The rooster leaped from his high perch and flew out the door way.  My head was down as I was looking at the hens and my body was in the door way.  The rest they say is history, the rooster is okay, I got scracthed a little bit.  So far their have been no signs of insanity, violent behavior, or unprovoked attacks.  Oh, and the roosters have been fine too.

Buy Local - From a farmer not from a chain hard selling the words

 

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My Mom

I took this picture on May 26th, 2013, with my wife.  It is of her rose bush, that she planted last year.  That I kinda ran over once or twice, mowed a little and let weeds over come the entire bush.  I spent some time last winter, weeding, re-staking and securing the plant. 

We were out by the berries and I saw it and called my wife over so she could see it and admire my handy work.  "You have got to take a picture of them," she said.  So, I got my phone out. took some shots and notice the rays of sun coming through the trees.  I tried to capture both rays and rose at the same time.  Below is the outcome:

   

I showed her the picture and said "My mom always loved roses, and that ray of sunshine must be her admiring them".  It was just a comment based on the beauty of the situation and the fact that I miss my departed mother. 

It was May 27, 2009 when my mom passed away, which makes the timing of the picture above and the comment all the more poignant.  After her passing I wrote the following post a few days later:

My Mom passed away Wednesday May 27th at 5:00 am, I knew this because at 6:23 the phone rang and it was my sister.  She couldn't get it out but she didn't have to, my mom suffered from breast cancer and it spread to her bones.  She was in terrible pain and in the end it was really a blessing for her, we were selfishly hoping she would be around longer but it truely wasn't fair to her.  She had given us everything she had from life lessons to cooking lessons and she was crazy about spelling and grammar.  I, unfortunately, let her down on the latter two.

She was delt a cruel hand for life but she raised three really good kids and she always had a smile, a laugh and strong shoulder.  She was a great cook and loved to entertain.  But what was endearing was her ability to laugh and look at the bright side of every cloud.  She lives on every time I cook tomatoe sauce, bread, meatloaf, pizza, well you get the picture.  Mom is with most of her family now, they are all probably sitting around playing cards and joking and laughing.  She had the ability to forgive like no other, a trait I am still trying to emulate.  We grieve and we miss her terribly but she wouldn't want us to morn, she was a partier and that is what she would have wanted.

I never stored the details of time the day she died, I could not have told you the day, the month, or the year for that matter.  My memory of the day was that she died and left that void that we all feel or will feel at some time in life.  She died and that is what remained as my memory of the event. 

This single shot of a rose with sun rays coming through the trees as a backdrop made me think of her love for them and of her .  It is sad but at the same time it is so heart warming, being one of those things that makes this hard life we live easier.  It made me go back to that post, to re-read what I had felt only to find that I was reading it on the date of the day she passed. 

From her I learned it is what we do for others and the impact we have on those around us that makes me a good person.  If you look for someone to help, you will find them.  Your reward will not be know to you but things will happen that you do not understand.  It is not the materials that we own or the clothes that we wear by which we are judged, but by the people we help and lives we touch.  Which is how my mother lived her life.

Thanks mom,   .

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Damn learning curve

Farming for profit, has there ever been a greater oxymoron?  Okay, maybe humane slaughter is bigger.  At least from the small farmer's stand point, when more than seventy-five percent of all small farms in the nation, bring in fewer than ten-thousand dollars a year, of farm income, I ask can there be true economic sustainability in small farming. 

This year we changed our business model in that we are concentrating our selling on only high dollar produce and fruits.  We are still selling mainly on farm but have joined a market in the city.  We are hoping that by cutting back on different varieties and concentrating on a few things we can turn profitable.  Because of our size, we cannot grow, as much so consequently we do not have a large variety.  I want to be a successful grower, but we need to make a profit.  Selling only what we grow is hard because we do not have a bevy of different fruits and vegetables, so variety is not going to be our strong point.  

What we will have this year is strawberries, blueberries and sweet corn.  These crops sell for a premium and there is great demand.  We will be able to conserve the 12,000 gallons of collected rainwater because we will not have so many different plants to water.  Our organic chicken meat has not taken off as we hoped but this is only the third year.  We have increased our layer flock to 120 layers.  We are selling most of our eggs directly to Dawson's Market in Rockville.  Dawson's does not put them out on the shelves.  Instead, they call customers to let them know the eggs have been delivered.  We continue to expand the layers (we have 50 more day olds started) striving to get to where we deliver more dozens so we can make it onto the store's shelves.

Being a small enterprise has great disadvantages, especially, when we go up against the bigger growers and grower associations.  We did not take on this farm without knowing the physical, mental, emotional and economic sacrifice and that failure was more likely then success.  We are going back to the model that first made us money and that is by growing a few things and concentrating on value added products.   

We knew going into this that it was not going to be easy.  What we were not prepared for was all the different ways your heart breaks.  We lost another layer last night.  It was stuck under the trailer.  I had moved the house in the morning before I let the layers out.  I was tilling and I noticed the trailer looked low in the back.  I knew I did not crank the front back down after I moved the tractor away from the ball.  I saw it and made a mental note to lower the front of the trailer when I was done tilling.

Well the day got away and I did not lower the front.  Sunset comes and I go out to put the layers away for the night and that is when I found one under the backend of the trailer.  I can only surmise that it was stuck and died of a heart attack.  I took her over to the compost pile and as we have done with every other body, returned her to the earth that helped nourish her in her brief existence. 

I take it personally, you are not supposed to, you are supposed to let it roll off but I don't.  I know I am too attached at times to see the forest for the trees but that will not change.  As long as they are in my care, I will always take my mistakes hard and demand a greater awareness.  Five years we have been working with layers.  I thought I had been exposed to all the perils of layer life, yet here I am still in this damn learning curve.

BUY LOCAL: Do your family justice, find a local farm, ask questions and then support it if it feels right.  If you do not get straight answers, it is probably because they are hucksters not growers.  

 

 
 
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