Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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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.



Natures curve ball

We have a hen that has taken to, let me see, how to say this so I keep a "G" rating.  We have a hen that has taken to being the rooster.  I kid you not.  She has taken on the roll of the fertilizer or pretend fertilizer.  I've said before we've only been raisng hens for three years going on four.  So I might think I've seen it all, but apperantly that's not true.   My wife read a book that said hens can change gender but we never took it seriously.

We thought it was one of those things, except we have this chicken that doesn't really fight the other hens as much as she gets on their backs.  A rooster when he is in procreation mode will grab a hen by the back of her neck holding her down so he can do what a rooster does.  My wife said she thought she saw this behavior in one of our hens, but me being me, I wouldn't believe it until I saw the event for myself.

We were all eating lunch one day sitting outside in the shade and enjoying a slight breeze.  I was facing the pen of the second generation hens.  Their numbers have dwindled due to a neighbor's errent dog, but the ones that survived have rebounded and they are pretty good layers.  It was a Saturday and we had picked corn for taste testing.  We feed our help most times and its always a good time when breaking bread with them.  No matter what I cook they always seem to like it.  Of course when you work on an organic vegetable farm you tend to work up a big appetite.  Male or female they can all put food away.  So I cooked the corn for everyone and we were sitting there enjoying the sweet taste and the respite.  

If the hens start fighting or going crazy I usually yell at them which startles them and is enought to return the flock to some sort of harmony.  I heard a commotion and looked up to see a hen on top of another hen biting and holding her down while seemingly girating like the rooster does.  I looked at my wife; she gave me a look and just shrugged.  I yelled, then got up to get closer and yelled again.  That broke the hovering hen's concentration and her captive scurried away.  So, once again I think I've seen it all.

We kid ourselves by thinking we've got a handle on things.  Then we discover that the learning curve just seems to keep bending upward. WE learn sometimes nature throws a curve ball..

Buy Local - from a farmer, not from a chain that advertises "Local" 



It is Monday night at 7:30 pm we are to take our spent layers to be processed Tuesday morning.  We will take the processed chicken to the soup kitchen with a big sign informing them that these birds need to be stewed in order to tenderize the meat, so that patrons can eat them.

What the note will not impart is the emotional and therefore physical and mental toll that their demise has caused us.  I have no appetite or motivation.  We have taken off of work this week in order to take the chickens up, celebrate two birthdays one 50 years and one 80 years. 

So we have planned how we will get the birds in the cage and take them. We have selected the second flock and the rooster from flock four.  We are taking eight chickens up to be processed.  It has been awhile since I've had such a low point but I am emotionally drained and morally conflicted.  Growing up in the city, decisions never had a life or death outcome.  Who you would pick to field your side of a team was the biggest decision I had to make.  Now we had to select those chickens that needed to be culled and their life ended.

I know hundreds of thousands if not millions of people process or get their chickens processed but, we have fought off this decision for six years.  The anguish associated with it has been painfully documented on this forum.  We are not profitable enough to keep spent layers for their natural life.  As much as we tried, we are operating in the red when it comes to our layers.  The business side of this is very plain, the emotional and anthropomorphized association is stronger yet intellect has to rule over emotions in this equation.

Say what you will, think what you will; we have gotten too emotionally close to these birds.  We need to temper or navigate a better relationship but make sure we stay as a humane farm, and at the same time keep the hearts we had when we first started in animal husbandry.

It is 6:45 am, Tuesday morning and we are gathering strength to go out and pack the birds up.  I can not take flock one.  There are three left of the original six and they lay about a dozen eggs a week, but more importantly when you approach any of these chickens they kind of squat down and let you pick them up.  They trust us enough to stop what they are doing and position themselves to be easily scooped up in your arms.  I cannot take these birds when they show so much trust and security in us like that.  I am not going to easily pick them up, put them in a cage and send them off to their demise.  I just cannot do it.

I have been fighting tears, depression, and low motivation and down rite malaise.  Like everything on a farm we must learn how to be stewards, humane and sustainable.  Last night we discussed stopping the practice of using chickens in our nutrient and pest management practices and let the rest of the flocks run their course.  We will have to see after today how that discussion plays out.  For now I have to get going in order to make our appointment in Pennsylvania.

We got the birds and placed them in the carrier.  The hardest one was the youngest rooster.  He was chosen because he was an unknown.  The current rooster is predictable, not aggressive and crows loudly so having people on the farm with a rooster that does not attack is a good thing.

The drive out was okay, I still have know appetite and I'm in this daze almost like I'm in my body but I don't have control of my body.  I'm an automaton, driving a package to be delivered and I need to wait to take the package to the soup kitchen.   

We get there and we do not know what to do, "take the cage around to the dock," an Amish woman in full length dress and bonnet tells us. I walk it around and there are about ten cages with various birds in them.  I place our cage down and I wait.  A young Amish man comes out, he's blood spattered from head to toe and he asks me about them.  I can't really hear him, I just tell him we need them processed for the soup kitchen.  

I think he might have asked it we wanted any of the innards.  I said just the chickens please and that was it he was gone.  I walked back to the truck and we placed the cooler in the front of the store. We walked outside found a shaded place to sit and started reading my bug book.  As time slowly ticket by I was painfully aware of every sound coming from the back of the building.  Time past and they called us, "Your cooler is very dirty, do you have bags or do you want us to put them in anyway".

We thought they would bag them for us but they didn't.  Luckily I had brought bags with us that I had intended to use in order to leave them at the soup kitchen. We placed them in the bags, threw some ice on top and took the cooler out to the truck.

I'm sorry to be cliché but it was surreal, I only knew what I was suppose to say, which was either "yes, no, you have to ask my wife".   Then the woman said something that woke me up.  She said "all of these chickens were sick", "What do you mean sick?" I asked.  "They stunk inside and their livers were diseased.  There still good for soup though" she added at the end.

It was at those words that my mood, outlook responsibilities and culpability in their demise came full circle.  They were sick.  By divine intervention we forced ourselves to make an emotionally steeped decision to the benefit of the birds and to the people they will feed.  The deed has been done and lessons have been learned.  

Some farmer I make, it is what it is, you can take the boy out of the city but so far the city has not come out of the boy.



Spent Layers and Humane Farming

Raising Rhode Island Red hens has had its ups and downs for us.  We've had to euthanize for illness and we've brought injured hens back to a laying state from a dog attack.  The question of what to do when they stop laying has weighed heavy on us.  I have written of the heartache, guilt and anguish that we face due to the outcome of this decision. 

One day I had a tour for a group of city folks who are environmentally sensitive and wanted to learn about sustainable practises.  For the most part it went well until we got to the hens.  “What do you do with your hens once they are past their useful egg laying life?”  My first thought was to say go to LocalHarvest.org and read our blog.   But instead, I said, “I don’t know, our first flock is still laying and we are into their fourth year.”  Actually we get about six eggs in a week from the five residents.  Without blinking an eye the man says “It’s horrible the way hens are used for laying then disposed of, denying them a full life,” I wanted to ask if he ate chicken but I didn’t.  He’d freak to learn meat birds are processed as early as thirteen weeks.  He wants the hens to live out their life even though they do not produce.  And that is a growing school of thought even though hens can live up to thirteen years.  I had written about this and I wondered if I was being tested.  I’ve learned that less is more so I didn’t say much on the topic.

I did relate some of my dismay with having to make economic decisions for the health of the organization that have the opposite effect for the hens.  I explained feed costs and so forth and h elooked like he was genuinely interested in the plight. 

 When we got to the end of the tour I showed them the difference between a real free range organic egg and one purchased from the local supermarket.  I also talked about the Mother Earth News article that pointed out the benefits of true “free range” eggs.  True free range eggs are high in omega 3’s, lower in cholesterol and saturated fats and have seven times the amount of beta carotene.  I then talked about the difference in price and how our eggs were basically three times higher than in a grocery store and I saw some heads shake.

The tour ended and we were selling vegetables and fruits but the eggs were not moving.  Having extolled the virtues of free range eggs I asked did anyone want any eggs.  “No, we are vegans” was the reply.  My next thought was to ask if anyone wanted to adopt a hen.  And, being the kind of person that has a dysfunctional "brain to mouth" evaluation system, I blurted the thought out.  I got quizzical looks after the question until I started to explain. 

We need help paying for the food; we’d take care of the birds but feed for them costs money.  I’ve been worrying for a couple years about this.  We can not take a chick, raise it from a day old and then dispatch it because they don’t lay enough to pay for their own food.   But we can not stay in business if we keep hemorrhaging money.  But in that instant in front of the group the idea just flashed.  Adopt a hen or the bird gets it.  A similiar threat was used before, on-line, by a young entrepreneur, why not now?  Besides, a person bought pet rocks before, surely adopting a hen so it could live their life out was a beneficial way to spend.

I felt good about that idea but after everyone left I had time to think about how things would work.  When you look at this world and in particular the US and know that people go to bed hungry every day the idea just pales.  Why would people spend money on keeping a hen a live, so they can live their life out, versus giving to a food bank to feed the poor and less fortunate?  I volunteered in a soup kitchen for about a year.  I saw first hand the faces and families of poverty, bad decisions and working poor.

It was then that peace and clarity came to my mind.  We can process the hens and give them to the local soup kitchens.  A sense of warmth came over me when my thought was that the hen’s final purpose was for humanity and we could stay true to our values.  It doesn’t lesson the pain we will feel and the associated guilt but at least we can hold on to the fact that the hen’s last act is helping feed the poorest and less fortunate among us. 

The hens' demise has been on my mind since before we purchased the first flock.  We are a humane farm and we have given our hens the best life they could live.  I too believe that a hen should live a natural life but when you start to accumulate the amount of  hens we have either we need to charge ten dollars a dozen for eggs, or we can process them or we can go out of business.

Going out of business is just what the Industrial Food Complex (IFC) counts on for the small farmer.  They can not compete with local small farmers when it comes to safe, fresh and tasty foods that have a small carbon foot print and benefit the local economy.  This movement is growing, more people are learning of the perils of our industrial food supply and thousands of people like us are doing extraordinarily hard work to provide safe, tasty alternative choices.  We have found a way to use our spent layers as part of being a humane farm and that feels good.

Buy Local:  From an actual local grower not a chain saying they do


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