Thursday, September 30, 2010

12 little chicks so far

There are a dozen little chicks in the nursery so far. There seems to be four different types here. As they grow older we will be able to see what breeds they are.

Looks like hog heaven!

Here are the hogs and baby pigs enjoying an afternoon snack of over-ripe pears. The 'teenager" in the middle likes these so much he laid down right on top and is eating on the side of his mouth!

Ever wonder where the expression 'eats like a pig' came from???

First two chicks

Loud chirping woke us up around 1AM and sure enough... There were two baby chicks roaming the incubator and yelping. They were so active that I chose to get the nursery turned on right away instead of waiting till morning as planned. Now they are resting quietly under the warm heat lamps outside.

5 more are on their way out!

Back to sleep for me....

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

800 lbs of free pears!

We happened across a pear orchard that was not worked this year. There are pears on the trees and a lot on the ground. We asked permission to get the ones on the ground for hog feed and they said 'take all you want on or off the trees'!

So... This morning we loaded up the Gator and 7 large plastic trash cans.. All 3small children, my pregnant wife and away we go!

Droving the gator around the orchard was my wife holding the youngest on her lap. The other two kids and I picked up everything eatable or reachable on the trees. It's was great family fun! We found the largest grasshopper ever and 2 birds nests.

After about 3 hours we were full and headed home. There we bagged about 400 lbs in ice bags and filled two freezers. The other 400 lbs or so will be fed over the next couple days.

So far chickens.. Pigs.. And turkeys love them! This will help offset some food costs and give them a healthy treat we have enough 10 lb ice bags of frozen pears to last a month of feeding a bag or two a day!

Sure glad we didn't miss this opportunity!

First signs of life

If you look closely you can see the first crack in the egg in the corner. Right on time the first chick is starting to hatch out today.

It always amazes me that hatching eggs is so predictable. Nature is a lot more organized and dependable than we give credit.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greenhouse arriving tomorrow!

We finally ordered our greenhouse and will take delivery tomorrow. Our final choice was the Solexx Conservatory greenhouse. The primary reason I ended up with this one is the covering material. I relaly like how it diffuses the light so completely to eliminate hot spots and shadows. This should mean that we can use the entire greenhouse year round for space. This material also serves as better insulation than fiberglass, so heating in the winter is cheaper and easier.

 Our greenhouse is coming from Salem, OR but we are sending a truck to pick it up and bring it back to save on freight. They also gave us a sizeable discount as part of a recent "show special".

Our goal is to use this greenhouse starting thsi winter to provide 4 seasons of additional growing space. It will be great to have fresh veggies for our use and perhaps for sale all year!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The new turkey pen Works (mostly)

Who says you cant contain heritage turkeys?!?!

Well, its partially true.

We are having decent success so far. About a month ago we finished work on the large turkey hoop house (its 14x16), build from 4 cattle panels, 2  16' pressure treated skids, a few 2x4, and lots of chicken wire.  I still need to post the pics of the construction.

The first step was to get the turkeys to stay in the coop happily. After repairing the damage from the sheep (see an earlier blog post) the hoop house was finally working well. The turkeys stayed inside the hoop house for about 2 weeks day and night. I moved it around the pasture once or twice a day. Then we added a nesting / storage box inside. That caused a little problem because the turkeys would stand and walk on the nesting box, making quite the mess and smell. This brought us to pursue the next step.. true pasture raising.

I have a plan for the sheep /. turkey pasture to split it into thirds with electric lines and rotate the water, sheep, and turkeys across the three paddocks. Not knowing much about containing flying birds with short fences, it seemed prudent to experiment on a smaller scale first.

Attempt one failed miserably! I tried the fiberglass straight posts and half inch braided electric fencing wire. I put 2 strands of wire across about a foot apart. This was driven by a solar powered fence charger.  Unfortunately the turkeys saw the big spaces and would run up and right through the wire without getting zapped at all!  That was obviously not going to work.

Attempt two was with the rigid plastic posts that had molded in wire holders and metal spikes at the bottom. This allows much closer spacing. with a wire every few inches, the birds were cautious about e jumping through and when the y got close it would zap them  successfully! after a few minutes the birds were "contained" successfully.

This lasted for about 3 days perfectly. On the third night I watered them late and noticed the feeder was low but didn't want to take the time to refill it in the dark so I left it. On the fourth day, when we were heading out to check on them, the birds saw me coming and immediately took to the air and flew right over the electric fence to get to me! They were hungry! Fortunately they followed right back and happily gobbled the food I brought.

this showed me that while it is possible to contain heritage turkeys in a pen with 3 foot fences, it only works when they are happy! If they get spooked or hungry or unhappy for any particular reason, they will easily fly out.  This still seems manageable, and I am considering changing to the 4 foot posts with more strands of wire when we build the paddocks. For now, they are happily contained in their pen once again.

As a side note, These birds LOVE greens! all the grass inside the pen has just about been eaten in 3 days. They actually prefer green fresh grass to the "perfect" bird food. I hope we can get the grass growing thicker soon and the pasture finished so that can have all the fresh grass they want!

Hunter's First Chicken Egg!!!

Hunter is VERY excited today. He bought (with his own money) a rooster and two hens back when we ordered  this years set of chicks and has been raising them so that he can hatch his own eggs. These chickens are well kept! he takes them out most every day and puts them away in his own hoop house (the original turkey hoop house) to nest at night.  He keeps them supplied with food and fresh water, and has the coop lighted.

Finally, after months of waiting, he found his FIRST egg tonight! Now he is on his way to raising his own chickens!

The happy egg farmer!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The debate over lighted chicken coops

There is a long standing debate in the sustainable farming community about whether it is healthy for chickens to have supplemental artificial light during the winter hours or allow then natural light only and therefore molt.  We have chosen what to do on our farm again this year and would like to share our reasoning.

The background - light and chickens

Eggs in chickens (as most birds) are produced when the hormone levels in the chicken dictate producing an egg. These hormone levels are controlled almost exclusively by light. If the chicken receives less than 12 hours a day of light, egg production stops and molting occurs. Molting is when the chicken puts all of its energy into renewing the body; new feathers, renew organs inside, etc. It is a perfectly normal occurrence that would happen in the wild in much of the world. When the chicken receives more than 14 hour of light per day, it begins egg production again.

There seems a perfectly reasonable explanation for this in nature. Days get shorter as winter approaches. This reduction of light is a hint to the chicken that producing eggs and the resulting offspring should be paused. Baby chick are very susceptible to cold temperatures for the first month or two. If egg production continued during the winter most chicks would suffer from exposure and die. Nature prevents this by stopping egg production when cold weather is immanent. Since the chicken is on "egg vacation" it only makes sense to use that break to renew the body and prepare for the next year. 

(Isn't nature awesome! the more we learn about the interconnected and well planned out relationships between the forces of life, the more impressive is the world we live in)

Natural light only

Those on the side of natural light only point correctly to the fact that in nature for much of the world the cycle of molting and egg production according to weather is expected. Most sustainable farms (including ours) attempt to create a small controlled natural environment where the animals live a sheltered but totally free and natural life. This dictates that no artificial light be used to prolong egg production into the winter. They point to factory prison farms where light is provided 24 hours a day to ensure top egg production, which obviously disrupts the chickens natural sleep cycles and wrecks havoc on the nutritional content of the eggs produced.  There is no doubt that this approach is sad and borders on animal cruelty, not to mention produces eggs that are marginally eatable.

Natural plus artificial light

Those on the side of supplemental light point to the fact that molting is not a necessary part of the chickens life cycle, and in fact most breeds produce as many eggs during their lifetime whether they molt or not. Plus the fact that not all chickens will molt when light drops below 12 hours a day. Many will simply stop producing eggs and wait for spring to bring the sun back. There seems to be no evidence that not molting is harmful to the chicken. Those that supplement on a sustainable farm never take the approach of factory prison farms. Instead only enough hours of light per day are added to meet the 14 hour requirement, allowing the chickens to sleep naturally.

Our position

At little sprouts farm we have chosen to supplement light during the winter. The deciding factor for me is realization that molting actually depends totally on where the chicken lives. At the equator this debate is pointless since days are always 12 hours long all year. In Alaska chickens would only receive enough light to lay eggs for a couple months per year. This tells me that molting is not a required natural cycle that birds need, it is more a mechanism of nature that prevents chicks from being born when its not likely that they will survive.  It seems more of a warning and precautionary mechanism than a natural life cycle.

Our approach

We do desire to keep life as natural as possible for our animals, so we have come up with what I like to call "natural supplementation of light". Here are the high points:
  • One fluorescent light per pen
    • It doesn't seem to matter what color of light is used, as long as its bright enough "to read a newspaper by". We chose fluorescent for the power savings AND because in the cold fluorescent light have a nasty habit of taking forever to warm up enough to glow. I like how this gives a nice sunrise effect instead of a glaring light popping on without warning. This creates much lower stress waking and is .. more natural for the birds.
  • Timer set to turn on lights before sunrise and stay till mid morning
    • Its important to add the light in the morning instead of evening. the birds naturally use sundown as a warning to return to the coop and rest for the night in safety from predators. Adding light in the evening would disrupt this cycle and perhaps leave chickens standing helpless in the dark outside the coop all night.
  • Timer adjusted every month to create a total of 14 to 16 hours of daylight per day
    • We simply take the new sundown time, backtrack 16 hours, and set the timer to turn on at that time in the morning. Here in southern Oregon that means that the dead of winter requires our sunrise takes place about 3am since sunset stretches into the day as far as between 4 and 5 pm
  • Careful attention paid to power outages to ensure timer stays correct
    • One strong warning with this approach is that once you start lighting a coop, you must be diligent with it. Even a day or two with suddenly less light can cause the chickens stress, loss egg production, and molting.
  • Close the coop doors and windows each night and open them after sunrise
    • We learned that this is necessary during the winter because if we leave the windows open as we do in summer, the chickens will wake up, see the "sunlight" head outdoors and see the "night" and go to sleep on their feet. If we forget to close the windows one night, the next morning we have sleeping chickens standing all over the yard. In this state the birds are almost "frozen" in place and wont even move for a honking car horn. It is dangerous both because of predators and because that is again limiting their light exposure for the day.
    • As a secondary precaution, I leave the outdoor porch lights on all night in the winter so that if the chickens do get out somehow, they will head to the lighted house and hang out under the porch light. Not optimal but better than the dark driveway!
So, Little Sprouts will have eggs all winter. Some chickens still stop laying or at least lay fewer than an egg a day, but overall egg production continues. Nevertheless the chickens have a almost completely normal life, worlds better than the poor chickens imprisoned int he factory farms with 2 foot square cages, artificial food, and 24 hours a day of artificial light. Our chickens are still free to roam and hunt for food in the fresh air and sunshine every day.

New carpeting for the hog pen

We ran across an ad on craigslist offering organic straw hay quite cheap. This seemed to be just what the hog pen needed to get ready for winter so we grabbed the trailer and headed to Ashland. What we found was a goldmine!

A farmer there had cut his wheat stubble but somehow it came out too short. The short stems made the bails extremely loose and unmanageable. Most people didn't want it due to the hassle of handling but for us it was perfect! The smaller size means it will decompose faster and sit smoother across the ground. A perfect solution for bedding and building up the organic matter in soil.

We loaded about a ton on the trailer and used it all to cover 3/4ths of the hog pen. You can see the results in the pig pen webcam. They love it! They even use the straw for a quick snack!

I would love to go back and get another 10 tons or so but the distance per ton load is concerning. If we only could find a large trailer!

Picking up the new farm helper

After long consideration we decided I need to make my farm chores a bit easier. This little John Deere Gator is just the thing to help!

It's 4x4 with dumping bed and much more versatile and easier than always using the tractor.

Tonka Tough?

I hope John Deere builds these gators tonka tough!

Ready to go!

The kids waste no time getting ready to get to work with the new Gator.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Egg Hatching Progress

I am happy to announce that it appears 100% of the eggs in the incubator are fertilized and growing nicely. They have about a week and a half left to go and candling shows a live, swimming baby chick inside each egg. Even the two duck eggs seem to be progressing normally.

If all goes well, we will be posting lots of baby chick pics next week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Greenhouse Time!

We have decided this year is the time to put in a greenhouse so we can start growing veggies year around, at least for our own use.  the more we learn about plant varieties (a soon coming blog post about hybrid plants) and plant growing methods, the more we see the value in growing our own food. Even organic food in the stores is NOT what we think it is. Changes have been happening behind the scenes of our food supply that none of us (at leat I didnt) understand. 

So, greenhouse year! I "think" we have chosen to go with a single piece fiberglass greenhouse. I like the abiltiy to move it if necessary without dismantling, and I like hte shape options afforded.  The one we are investigating first is :

these are made near us, and seem to be a well thought out approach to fiberglass greenhouses.  The white top will be a great help in the summer when the sun is directly overhead and too hot to sustain life! The strength and weight are enough to stand up to our wild summer storms and winter snow. And the almost straight sides give much more useable room inside. The material used sounds like it affords the best type of diffused light to allow growing all across the inside. It also has auto openers for ventilation, and.. best of all, its about half the price of comparable fiberglass greenhouses.

We will post our progress as we go down the road of a year round garden!

New Water System

We finally finished repairing / replacing our water well system. We chose to go with a new larger pump with a variable speed controller.  The old pump was actually ok, but had reached over half of its lifetime. It stopped because the cables down the well had rubbed through completely.  The original installers neglected to put a torque control device on the well, so everytime it started up the torque of the motor would swing hte pump around in the well rubbing hte wires. There were three spots rubbed almost through, and one area whetre the hot wire was compeltely broken and coroded off.

The new pump is 20 gal/min instead of 10, and the variable speed controller is very nice! This thing maintians water pressure to within 5PSI regarless of water flow. Its like having constant pressure of city water! The old pump was a reagular 40/60 system where it the motor would come on at 40psi, run till it reached 60psi and cut off. The constant cycling on and off while watering is what killed it. This new system run the pump only as fast as necesasry to maintain the water flow, saving energy, wear and tear on the pump, and sprinklers maintain a constant pattern.

With the increased size it will be possible to water the garden AND not worry about house water usage destroying the pattern.  We might even keep a little grass growing in the summer for the grass eeating animals :)

One extra great side effect is that we were able to remove the large galvanized storage tank in the pump house, sinc ehte new system doesnt rely on large amounts of water to buffer the shock of cycling. This tank will make a perfect waterer for the soon to be expanded pig pasture.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Running water!

Perhaps it looks a bit odd but we have running water at the kitchen sink for today :)

Hope the well service gets here soon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The hard way

How to water the pasture pens when the well is dead? The hard way!

Our neighbor provided some water to fill our tractor mounted water tank.

The well pump is going to be replaced tomorrow.

Amish morning?

Last night our dsl line went dead so there is no internet access. This morning the faucets are dry. It appears the water well is out. We are feeling an appreciation for the Amish lifestyle today!

Hopefully the problem is in the pump controller. I replaced the pressure switch two days ago because the contacts burnt through. Today the pump relay was burnt and the coil wire fell off from heat. I'm going to replace the entire controller first and see if that works. If not... The well service is coming over this afternoon to see about replacing the pump motor itself with a high tech variable flow pump!

As these things go... We might be watering the animals Amish style through tomorrow too.

UPDATE: Turns out the well pump is dead and needs to be pulled. Unfortunately it appears that the pump is hung below 300 feet or so of rigid plastic pipe of 20 foot sections.  Not something I want to handle by hand alone! The well service will be here tomorrow to pull it up and see if we need a whole new pump or not.

The good news is our DSL line just came back on tonight so the webcam is working and we can answer email again!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kitten update

All 9 little kittens are doing great... Eyes open.. Walking... Crying for mommy when hungry. Almost time to move these mousers out of our closet and provide real food.

We will be offering them for free to anyone who needs a kitten or two. Little sprouts has plenty of cats!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010


The turkeys are out in the big pasture again in the new turkey pen. I'll post pics as soon as I can of the pen.

There are 13 toms and 13 hens. This month marks 5 months so we should start seeing eggs soon!

This batch will be our breeders... Except for some of the toms who are destined for our frezer. Next year we should have quitw a few for sale!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Next batch loaded

Now that the first 2 chicks are out and safe, we loaded the incubater with 18 more chicken eggs plus the 2 duck eggs.

Candeling the duck eggs showd that at least one is fertilized and growing. The other might be too young to tell yet.

The incubator we use is Sumo 20... And I must say it's perfect! Holds 20 eggs... Auto turning... Auto humidity... Safe to incubate and hatch in... Easy to clean... Accurate temp... Digital control... What else could you want! It's plenty big for our operation and i'd buy another in a minute if we need more.

Second hatching!

The second egg finally hatched out about 9pm tonight. Both eggs on time and the chicks look healthy! They are spending the first night in our converted little chick cage in the kitchen.

Good thing this hatched before night! That first chick was screaming loudly whenever left alone in the kitchen. Now they are both sleeping peacefully. Alone is not their thing!

Free at last!

This little chick was in a hurray! It didnt even wait until the shell was cracked all the way around before popping hte top off to say hi!  Heres some pictures of the first process.

Just popped the top off the egg

His little eyes found us watching him!
He tries out his liuttle feet
And he's up!

And here isa short video of the newborn. Be sure to turn on your speakers to hear the chipring!

No lunch break here!

This little guy wasted no time in breaking free of his shell this morning!


We put a few eggs in the incubator to let the kids hatch some baby chicks. Two were fertilized and started hatching right on time!


A bit hard to se but if you look closely there is a hole started in both eggs. Should have chicks by tomorrow!