chickens

Spring things!

We have had a week or so of totally gorgeous weather. Everything on the farm (including me) is really happy about it!

Strawberries are coming!
Strawberries are coming!
And radishes!
And radishes!
And peas!
And peas!

We had two hens go broody this year so we have two batches of little peepers running around being raised by mamas, with no work required on our parts. Hooray for mama hens.

One mama hen taught her babies how to sleep on the roost today
One mama hen taught her babies how to sleep on the roost today
The other mama hen knows that her babies still need to be under a warm lamp
The other mama hen knows that her babies still need to be under a warm lamp

Last week we scored some free baby turkeys on Craigslist. Several were ill and a few had died, and their owner was sad and stressed about it, and just wanted to hand them off to someone else to take care of them. Two of ’em didn’t make it after we brought them home, but the other nine have recovered and seem healthy. We moved them out to the coop this week.

Turkeys have also learned how to roost
Turkeys have also learned how to roost

And here is a video so you can enjoy their sweet little turkey sounds.

Recommended Feeders and Waterers for Pastured Chickens. (Also, why are there so many hats involved?)

We’ve been raising chickens for five or six years now and, while we’re very much new at this, we have some knowledge that we’d like to share. In particular, I’d like to share some of the feeders and waterers that work for us. As regular readers know, our broilers are raised on rented and borrowed pasture, so we can’t invest in permanent infrastructure. Our laying hens are at home, so we can run hose and build permanent housing for them. Oh, and also let them run all over the yard. Because they’re fun to watch.

Also, as I wrote this up, I discovered the sinister fact that feeding and watering chickens involves an inordinate number of hats for these troubled and hatless times.

Note the complete lack of the iconic galvanized metal feeder and water that you see in every feed store in the country. That’s because I hate them. They’re expensive, they rust, they smell bad, the hats on the waterers bend out of shape, and they’re really hard to keep clean. The top-hat-shaped feeders are held together with flimsy metal rods that are far too easy to lose, resulting in the separation of the body of the hat-feeder from the brim. No fun.

Plastic, on the other hand, is easy to scrub out and can be readily sanitized. The downside is that it photodegrades, especially the hat bit, and thus has a shorter lifespan when exposed to the sun. This is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make.

Waterers

Plasson Bell Waterer

Laying hens (permanent coop, running around all over the place)

At home, we have the laying hens on a Plasson waterer. The red bell is connected via a spring to a little hat, and when the water gets low, the lack of weight triggers it and it just fills right back up again. It’s been very successful for us in that I haven’t thought about them in about four years. We’ve tried other auto-refilling waterers and I’ve had to put on my thinking cap and fix or jury rig something way more often than I’d like.

The Plassons are on a pressure regulator that I also haven’t needed to think about since I bought it and hooked it up. Hooray!

Broilers (rented pasture, in tractors)

QuickClean 5-gal waterer

We don’t have water in the pastures where our broiler chickens forage, so we water them with the QuickClean Five Gallon Waterers. These are so great it’s not even funny. I use them at home when the water lines for the refillers freeze and I need to bring the birds hot water. They are simple, reliable, easy to handle, and easy to fill. I hope to never have to deal with a galvanized feed-store waterer again. Blech!

Against recommendations, I hang the QuickCleans by the handle instead of placing them on the ground, which is very hilly in our rented pastures. Hanging levels them naturally so we don’t have to carry around shims as we move the chickens through the pastures. Hanging them also deforms the handles slightly but I’ve had no serious problems so far. Putting the hat on before hanging the waterer reduces the deformation somewhat and makes it easier for that hat to fit.

Where I have seen these waterers fail is in two places. One is that the lids tend to break after being in the sun after a few years, as anything made of plastic will do. It’s important to replace the lids because, absent that little hat, overanxious chickens can jump in and drown. If that happens, it’s not your best day ever. If you don’t have a chance to order a replacement, the lid from a regular five-gallon bucket will work, though you’ll lose some water capacity.

Chix on pasture, with feeders and waterers: Waterers in front, feeders in back (NOT the recommended feeders! These ones aren't nearly as good). Note that the waterer on the right has not got its hat, and is sporting a hat that belongs to the back left feeder instead. This illustrates the slight loss of volume that happens when you wear the wrong season's fashion.

The second problem I’ve seen with these waterers is that the little hole that lets the water flow from the reservoir to the trough can get clogged. They come with a little hat (of course) over the hole to prevent this but, well, generalized farm entropy being what it is, they get lost. When the hole clogs, I just clean it out using a stalk of grass and life is good. It’s my tiny hat trick.

By no means let these minor problems dissuade you. These waterers are hat-head-and-shoulders above anything else I’ve used. And cheaper to boot!

I’ve found what looks like an identical waterer at my local feed store under the “4-H” brand. The only difference I can see is that it’s green instead of red. Oh, also they cost more money. The “H,” presumably, stands for hats. Four of them.

Feeders

The biggest problem with feeders is spillage. In a stationary application, this isn’t a huge problem because chickens eat off the ground naturally. It’s kind of what makes them chickens. However, our broilers are confined to a tractor and moved every 24 hours and any filled that’s spilled is just lost. Well, mostly lost. The geese and the crows like it. Our grain mill evidently includes some sort of brassica because I can follow the path of the tractors by the freshly sprouted brassicas.

Broilers (in tractors) and laying hens (permanent coop)
22-lb Lancaster feeder

For both broilers and laying hens, I’ve had good luck with the Lancaster feeder from (again) Premier 1. It’s important to buy and use the optional grill which snaps in place like a skirt to prevent the chickens from knocking the feed out as they bury their faces in it. And when filling the feeder, it’s important to pour kind of slowly, or inertia will carry the feed will splash out through the skirt in iconic Marilyn Monroe style. Oops.

Also, hanging the feeder makes it harder for the birds to spill feed. If at all possible, try to hang the feeders. As the old saw goes, wherever you hang your chicken feeder is home.

There’s a little hat-lid that comes with the feeder that I usually lose within days. I’m pretty sure the only reason it’s there is to set off the skirt. Sometimes I use them as frisbees because I’m weird like that. I have found no drawbacks to the absence of hat other than occasionally finding a very happy and very ambitious little peeper *inside* the feeder when they’re still in the brooder. They grow out of this feeder invasion technique. The lack of hat isn’t a problem because this style of feeder is really only suitable for use under cover or in dry weather. If you keep your chickens in pre-1950s America, you’ll want to keep the hat because it was an important accessory for the well-dressed chicken feeder of the time. And for feeding outdoors in inclement weather, something with a more robust cover over the actual feeding areas is needed.

You see my point about the hats? Where did that come from? What manner of haberdashery is this?

How to make an inexpensive, lightweight, portable chicken tractor (Part 1)

This past season was our fourth year of raising broiler chickens in chicken tractors on rented pasture. In that time, we’ve refined our chicken tractor style to suit our needs, but the tractor design could be used in lots of different farm setups and environments.

Happy broilers in their new tractor!

Important! Please note that this tractor style is NOT predator-proof. You should make sure to have some electric mesh fence to surround the tractor, or some other predator prevention method. I’ve seen folks mount a single strand around the base of the tractor, and put a solar charger on the tractor itself, but we haven’t tried that yet.

Why this style?

We rent pasture, which happens to be hilly, so our tractors are designed to be lightweight and easy to dismantle to take home at the end of the season — as well as easy to rebuild the next spring. They are also relatively inexpensive, while at the same time using some storebought parts (a metal-framed carport) to cut down on our preparation time.

A key feature of our tractors is that they are tall enough for us to walk in. This is a matter of personal preference — it’s easier to get in there to feed and water, to say nothing of catching them for slaughter day — but also of animal welfare. Our first year, we had a Joel Salatin-style tractor, which is just a couple of feet tall, alongside a walk-in-height one, similar to the ones we now use. They had the same footprint (10×12 if I recall correctly) and the same number of birds in them, give or take a few. When we processed, we found that the birds in the Salatin (short) tractor showed more signs of physical stress, such as feather picking, and they were also smaller than the birds in the tall tractor.

I am sure that folks can make the Salatin tractors be successful, but since the tall tractor isn’t really any more expensive than a short one, we find it to be preferable.

Our model is 10×10 and we can fit 60 Freedom Rangers very comfortably, or up to 75 with some crowding.

Tractor construction

Here is how we build chicken tractors for under $300 that are lightweight, easy to move, secure (with electric fence surrounding), and easy to disassemble at the end of the season and reassemble next year.

We start with a metal-framed portable carport. These can be had at Costco or similar, but we get ours from Amazon, where they are $97-140 (depending on sales). We use the Caravan Canopy 10×20 Carport.

Here is a diagram of what the carport is designed to look like, if you use all the pieces:

A diagram of the carport if it were assembled as designed.

When we assemble it, we omit two 5-foot (purple) sections, so that it looks like this:

Next we create the bottom half of the frame, which is just made of regular storebought PVC pipe, some regular storebought fittings, and some specially purchased fittings from Peaceful Valley. In the following diagram, the three-way corners (blue) are from Peaceful Valley and the Ts are just regular PVC joints (grey).

Note that the Peaceful Valley fittings, like most, come in different sizes. Make sure you get them in the same size as your storebought stuff.

Important! When you put the lid onto the bottom, you will drop the metal (orange, in my diagrams) fittings of the carport over the 3-foot PVC uprights, rather than gluing or screwing them. So make sure, also, that your storebought PVC is small enough to fit inside the metal corners. Your metal fitting size will depend on which carport you get, so I can’t say for sure which size PVC you’ll need.

The uprights here are 3 feet tall because we use 3-foot-tall snow fence as the fencing material, and this way we don’t have to try to patchwork it or have extra flopping around.

In all, for storebought PVC you should need:
Four 10′ lengths (one for each side)
Two 10′ lengths cut into 3′ lengths (for the uprights)
One 10′ length for the long sides of the door
Scrap, or another 10′ length for the short ends of the door (to be discussed later)

So, seven or eight 10′ lengths, depending on whether you’ve already got scrap or have another plan for your door.

The joints in the bottom part of the frame will be subject to stress when dragging the tractor. We screw them together with long screws, going through the corner fitting and into the PVC pipe, from various angles as needed.

Now get a couple folks to help you, and lift the lid up and drop it down onto the base!

You’ve got a chicken tractor!

Finishing it

There are any number of ways to construct a door. We generally use the leftover legs from the carport as the door jamb, and some more PVC to make a rectangle for the door. A post on that is forthcoming; I got tired of making diagrams.

Now you just need to put your chosen fence material all around the tractor. You’ll want lots of zip ties. Again, we use snow/safety fence, like this, but 3 feet tall. It’s pretty easy to work with. You can do a whole tractor with one 100′ roll — nearly two tractors, if you use a tarp for your whole roof.

Oh yeah, you’ll also want a tarp roof to provide shade and cover from precipitation. Depending on the size of your tarp, you can do the whole roof, or just half. If you do half, obviously you need to put snow fence on the other half. Make sure you snug the tarp down well so chickens don’t escape. We usually cut new holes in addition to the existing grommets, and zip tie it down really well.

You can see in the picture above that we’re currently using brown tarps. I think ideally we’d have white, to deflect sun rather than absorbing it. Also, the carport comes with a white tarp, which we could modify (read: cut in half) to suit, for even cheaper construction. However, our pasture is in view of the home of the folks we rent the pasture from, and they requested brown, so brown it is. Compromise is important.

You need a tow rope so you can move the tractor. Tie a rope to two corners, based on which direction you want to move it. For extra awesomeness, slide a couple of spare short lengths of PCV over the rope, so you can grab those rather than having the rope cutting into your hands as you move it.

You do NOT need wheels, or a dolly, or anything else to move it. We move ours up a steep hill by hand, solo.

If your ground is particularly uneven, or you have particularly wily chickens, you might want to put an apron (skirt?) around the tractor — to do this, just get 4-foot snow fence (or whatever) and have the extra flare out around the bottom of the tractor, to obstruct any gaps that may exist between the base of the tractor and the uneven ground.

Drawbacks

The main issue with these tractors is that they are *too* lightweight in some ways. Because our pasture is hilly, we would prefer to hang our waterers from the tractor so they can naturally level themselves, but these metal carport frames are too flimsy. It could handle one waterer if it’s hung at one of the joints, but we bent a pipe on our first tractor by hanging a full waterer in the middle of the pipe.

When we raised turkeys, they were on pasture until well after the stormy season started. Their specific location got pretty windy, and the tractors tended to take off. Occasionally they sailed away a bit, or tipped over, but even when they were just hopping up and down a bit, it spooked the turkeys enough that they broke out (adult turkeys are STRONG!) and flew away and got eaten. (That year we lost 50%+ of our turkeys, most as adults. $$$$, also :( :( :(. That was our last year doing turkeys.)

The cost breakdown

We don’t have exact numbers on this because we tend to have random PVC lengths, fittings, screws, rope, etc. laying around to be scavenged, but here’s an estimate:

Carport: ~$100
Four Peaceful Valley PVC three-way fittings: $12 + shipping
PVC from your local hardware store, eight 10-foot lengths (to be sure to have enough) at ~$5 each: $40
Two T-shaped PVC fittings: ?? Maybe $6 total?
Snow fence: ~$40
Tarp: $20-50, depending on sales (hint: buy tarps when they’re on sale, whether you think you need them or not.)
Rope, screws, zip ties, etc.: incidental
Fittings for door: < $10

Total: approximately $230-250

Next up!

How we are currently building the door for this tractor!
Recommendations for feeders and waterers!

Feedback and discussion!

What style of chicken tractor are you using? How did you develop it, and what are its pluses and minuses? If you follow our model, what are the issues you encountered? We’d love to discuss!

On chickens and antibiotics

Why We Can’t See Inside Poultry Production, and What Might Change if We Could,” by Maryn McKenna and posted on Wired, is depressingly unsurprising to me, but worth reading.

In the past months, there have been several troubling research reports, from different parts of the world, exploring aspects of the same problem: Multi-drug resistant bacteria are present in chicken, apparently because of the use of antibiotics in poultry production, and are passing to people who work with, prepare or eat chicken, at some risk to their health.

The author then cites six recent studies from all over the world backing this up. It’s more than a little terrifying. The problem is more or less created by a serious lack of transparency in commercial chicken farming. Another article cited here, an op-ed titled “Why We Haven’t Seen Inside a Broiler Chicken Factory Farm in a Decade,” says:

A full 25,000 individual animals defecate in the same enclosed space for 45 days. They get a lot bigger, rapidly growing from the size of your fist to the size of a soccer ball in that short period. They crowd that space as they grow, with each individual only having space equivalent to less than a piece of 8”x11” paper. It is a sea of chickens from wall to wall, sitting in their own feces, struggling to move, in large part because of their genetics. The modern broiler chicken is unnaturally large and has been bred to grow at a fast rate. This selective breeding produces as side effects serious welfare consequences including leg disorders: skeletal, developmental and degenerative diseases, heart and lung problems, breathing difficulty, and premature death.

 

Our three-week-old chickens moved to pasture

Our three-week-old chickens moved to pasture

We have made directly opposite choices in every respect. We generally run our chickens at 60-75 birds in a 10×12 chicken tractor, which is moved daily to fresh grass and has mesh sides so they get fresh air and sunshine. We choose a breed that doesn’t grow as quickly and that we’re happy to spend time with. We feed Organic grain and the pasture is untreated (though not certified Organic).

But — or maybe “and” — we medicate them when they need it.

In four years, and around 1000 broiler chickens and turkeys, we’ve only had to give antibiotics once, when the alternative was potentially losing a whole batch of 60 chicks. We didn’t love doing it, but we were really glad that we had the option. The chicks were all healthy within a few days and we didn’t see any further problems.

The other key aspect of this, to us, was customer communication. We made sure everyone was informed about the antibiotic delivery. Although it happened very early in the chicks’ lives and presented no harm to the consumers of the meat (at least according to the pharmaceutical manufacturer), we let customers know we’d cancel their pre-orders or honor them later in the season if they wanted to opt out of the medicated batch.

We weren’t perfect; in the future I would try to get an official diagnosis before medicating, if time permits. (It didn’t in the previous case.) I would also plan to remove from rotation the pasture the chicks were on when medicated, and let it rest for … a while. Another time, we gave baby vitamins (the kind for baby humans) to a flock of young turkeys to treat a riboflavin deficiency that was causing paralysis and death, and completely forgot to mention it to customers. (Oooops. They were human-grade vitamins, though, so everything should be fine.)

We’ve been fortunate to have no serious health issues with our birds. A lot of that has to do with the way we raise them, but we’ve also been lucky. We feel that medicating sick animals can be the correct thing to do from an animal welfare standpoint*, but that relies on the medication still being effective when it’s time to deliver it.

Blanket applications of antibiotics, as in the commercial chicken houses, are a crutch that allows the producers to raise the animals in unhealthy conditions, which then require more antibiotics, setting up a sad, scary vicious circle. We’re committed to finding a better way.

Whew. On a lighter note, here’s another post from the same author about a Georgia initiative by chefs to support small-scale chicken farming by promoting the birds’ quality and flavor, as a way to “advocate for change in chicken raising.” Yum!

And I’m off to take a chicken out of the freezer for dinner tomorrow …

* We’re not certified Organic (though our purchased feed is) and we’re largely unfamiliar with the regulations simply because we’re so small that it wouldn’t be cost-effective even a little. The question of being able to deliver medication when needed would be a key decision point when we do look at getting certification.

Dropstone Farms chicken is here for 2012!

We are doing just one batch of chicken this year, and here it is!

Most of the details are as in previous years. It’s all explained here.

The most pressingly relevant is that processing day(s) are August 25 and 26, and September 1 and 2. You can pick up on the 26th (Sunday) or the 2nd (Sunday) at Day Road Farm, same location as last year, starting in the afternoon. The price is $6/lb this year, and no deposit is required. We will be taking orders for ~75 birds in order to budget for losses and birds damaged in processing. If you’re interested in helping out, please let us know.

Order here: http://bit.ly/chickens-2012! And order soon!!

As always, we’ll be in touch soon with more details for volunteers and/or a reminder for customers. And please feel free to get in touch with us for any reason! You can email us at farmers@dropstonefarms.com or call 206-855-5493 with any questions, concerns, ideas, feedback, etc.

Thanks for supporting local agriculture!

Chicken update: Imminent, but no firm date yet

Wow, I guess I have been meaning to post and then putting it off for several weeks now … oops.

We have a batch of ~140 chickens this year and we will be selling ~100 of them — SOON. However, I realized a week ago that I forgot to renew our permit to slaughter and sell pastured poultry: it is a two-year permit now and unfortunately for me that is a long enough time that I didn’t have to worry about it = I became complacent = I forgot to take care of it. Another big OOPS.

So we sent our stuff in on Monday and now we cross our fingers, because those birds are getting big. They are gorgeous and healthy but they’re starting to try to crow already!

We are HOPING to be able to process on the weekends of Aug 25-26 and Sept 1-2, but I can’t say for sure until we get our permit in place.

As soon as we know, we’ll start taking orders, so be on the lookout, and be ready to spread the word.

Well, it was worth a try

After a couple of raccoon attacks a couple of months ago left us with just one adult duck, we placed an order at the feed store for four more Khaki Campbells. They are champ layers; they lay an egg a day every day year-round, while the chickens dry up in the winter.

Ducks are also pretty messy, and not particularly friendly, but they get us through the winter so we put up with them.

Anyway, we currently have a broody hen. This is moderately annoying and in the past we’ve had success in breaking their broodiness by giving them eggs or chicks. Last summer we had three broody at the same time and we got them six chicks and put two under each. One got out of the nest and died, but the remaining five chicks were very happy with their three moms, who they all shared.

So, we have a broody hen, and we have ducklings coming and we’re tired of brooding poultry in the house, so … hmmm.

We put the ducklings under the hen in the middle of the day today, which is not ideal, but they did seem to bond. The ducklings snuggled right up under her fuzzy butt and went to sleep. Later when they were exploring the coop, and I reached for one, Mama Hen pecked at me with serious authority. So it seemed like it was going well.

However, as the ducklings started to range a little bit further away, and she tried to call them back, I realized the major flaw: they don’t speak Hen. She was saying “hey, don’t go so far away, get back here,” and they didn’t realize it. (I have seen hens do the same thing for chicks, and the chicks definitely understand.) She was very flustered by her inability to round them up and get them back into the nest; they were oblivious.

Eventually she got tired of it, apparently, and went back to her nest on the top tier of the nest boxes — which was another issue; they couldn’t get back up there and she didn’t want to use the nest box we prepared for her on the floor. We put a heat lamp for the ducklings and wondered if she’d come down to them later, but she didn’t. We didn’t want to leave them out all night without her, so we brought them inside into the laundry room, which is our traditional brooding room.

Bummer; it would have been a lot easier to have her raise them for us. But it was worth a try, and we got some super cute pictures out of it.

Broody hen loves the little ducklings by laurenipsum, on Flickr

Why the eggs are currently numerous and beautiful

We’re getting 9-12 eggs a day from 15 hens. (Anybody want some eggs?) The eggs have a gorgeous deep orange yolk because we haven’t been chasing the chickens out of the downstairs garden when they get in. There’s nothing but cover crop in there right now, and we don’t mind them having some extra greens and eating it down, since we’re just going to till it in anyway. So the delicious fresh grass and vetch and chickweed and whatever else is making the eggs extra beautiful.

Foraging chickens in the garden

Foraging chickens in the garden

Little Red Hen in the garden!

Chickens love chickweed

Rooster

About a month ago we had a pretty bad raccoon attack. He got into the coop by climbing up to a hole in the rusty chicken wire on the door, way up high at human-eye-height. He killed three hens and a duck and scalped another duck who had already been injured, presumably by this same raccoon. We found out about it because I heard a commotion and recognized the rooster’s voice, and we went tearing out there with our flashlights and our pajamas. The raccoon must have heard us coming because it was no longer in the coop when I got there, but as soon as I opened the coop door, the rooster took off after him.

We cleaned up the dead birds, found the raccoon in a tree and took care of it, and then went in search of the rooster and the other couple of hens who had scrammed. I found the rooster, face all bloody, near the front porch of the house, all bedraggled in the pouring rain. I scooped him up easily and carried him back to the perch.

In the morning we were pleased to find that the blood all over his face, though it had been (mostly? entirely?) his, was just from his comb; there were no other wounds that we could find, and his eyes were fine. He hung around in the coop for a day or two and then started venturing out a bit. We figured he was just taking a well-earned sick day … though it was strange that he didn’t crow anymore.

Well, he still hasn’t crowed. And then just over a week ago we noticed him limping a little, and then more. I felt like this was unrelated to the raccoon, but couldn’t really be sure. We captured him after dark, when they’re blinded and easy to grab, and looked at and felt up his leg and foot for any injury, but found none. A couple days after that he wouldn’t walk at all. But his eyes were still bright and he was alert and talkative and could get himself around the coop to get to feed and water and a cozy spot to sleep.

A few days later he got himself sorted out and started hopping out of the coop and around the yard on one foot, which was great to see. He could go to the place where the hens take their dust bath, and he could go sit in the sun or get out of the rain.

Garth took the dog to the vet for his regular checkup the other day, and asked the vet about the rooster; she said if we couldn’t feel anything broken, there wasn’t really anything she could add to our general knowledge unless she did an x-ray.

After a few days I decided I wasn’t at all confident in my own ability to feel if anything was broken or not, so today I called and asked if I could just grab one of the two chicken-trained vets for five minutes to assess him and either tell me “yes, treat this minor infection” or “it’s broken, splint it” or “it’s a loss, put him down.”

(Apparently it turns heads in the vet waiting room full of dogs when you walk in with a rooster in a Rubbermaid tub.)

Anyway, the wonderful Dr. Barfield felt the leg, and poked and prodded the rooster in general. She said the leg isn’t broken, and it is all healthy vascularly (i.e. the flesh is still alive), and that the hock (ankle-ish; the place where the leg scales end and the feathers start) is a bit swollen, but there’s no fluid in the joint, which there usually is when there’s an infection.

She seemed to think, however, that it might be a neurological thing — his foot didn’t have the grab reflex that it should. But all the same, we decided to treat a possible infection, in case that is the answer, and I sprung for the $23 bottle of antibiotics pills so that I could give them just to the rooster and didn’t have to worry about putting it in the water in the correct dosage AND then not eating the hens’ eggs for 10 days + withdrawal period. (They are at 10-12 eggs a day right now, so it would be quite a loss to have to throw a hundred eggs out!) So we are feeding him a pill a day for the next ten days. He doesn’t like it, but Dr. B. showed me how to shove a pill into a chicken’s beak and all the way down into the crop.

So the question of whether he’s sticking around is still open — if it gets better with antibiotics, he’s fine; if it doesn’t, and it is neurological or something else, it comes down to a quality of life decision: he can’t really be a rooster very well when he can’t scratch the ground or — let’s be honest about his priorities — mount his ladies. It’s easy enough to get another rooster for free or cheap on Craigslist or the bulletin board at the feed store, but we feel like we owe this guy a good chance at life due to his excellent raccoon-fighting skills and general hen caretaking. So we’ll just have to see. And if he pulls through, he might finally get a name.

Solstice eggs

Recently at the WAYFC meeting, while touring Becky‘s backyard farm and meeting her bunnies and chickens, she mentioned that they weren’t laying much because of the short days, and I commented that I am always surprised at how quickly their laying picks up after the Solstice. There were many murmurs of assent, including someone’s comment that sometimes it’s even the day of Solstice.

Solstice was two days ago. That day we got one chicken egg. Yesterday two.

Today five.

Solstice eggs

(The blue one and the white one are duck eggs.)

On the disappearance of critters

One morning a few weeks ago, on a day with Garth was in class so I was covering morning chores, I rolled out of the house on my way to milk the goat, and I noticed a pile of white feathers on the dewy ground … no wait, make that several piles, strewn about the yard. Hmmm. As I was milking I realized I wasn’t seeing Little Red Hen anywhere, and I couldn’t recall having seen her in a few days at least. Similarly, the white chicken who had decided to roost in a tree — I had a picture, can’t find it now; it may be on Garth’s phone — was gone, and I suspected those were her white feathers all about the yard.

So, some critter or another figured out this is a great place to get a meal at night, apparently.

Saddest, though, is the fact that no one comes in to eat cat food anymore. There is a cat door into the laundry room, and a dish of cat food in there, and it hasn’t been touched in weeks now. Little H.P. Lovecat has had a tumultuous relationship with us: she started out pretty wild, then got used to us, then got used to the dogs, then became almost a housecat, then decided she belonged to Ruby dog. Then a dog we were sitting chased her up a tree. The next morning she came in her kitty door and tried to come into the house (from the laundry room) to rub about my ankles as usual, and I closed the door and showed her through the glass that the visiting dog was inside. H.P. looked at me, and looked at the visiting dog (who had chased her up a tree), and went out the cat door, and I never saw her in the house again. (I still feel guilty about that.) She was around for a while, and would come hang out with me while I milked, but eventually she stopped speaking to me completely. I think it was when Fry, the new kid, moved in; he barked at her. I am afraid that Ruby forgot that she loved H.P., and that she also barked at her. In any case, she was still coming in to eat, even though she wasn’t speaking to us or really letting herself be seen much.

We'll get there, I think.
H.P. and Ruby, before they were BFFs.

But now she’s not. I’m leaving the kibble just in case. My brain is simultaneously containing two true stories: one, she’s obviously dead, because that’s what happens to cats on Bainbridge Island, and what we always expected to happen to her; two, she’s obviously given up on us and moved in with another kind family down the street, and is living it up. They are both true. (Not originally intended as a Schrödinger’s cat reference, but hey, it works, I guess.)

Last call: chickens for pickup, Monday 9/26 at Day Road Farmstand

We have about 30 chickens left to sell. They were processed today, so with the WSDA’s 48-hour pickup requirement, we can make them available for pickup on the farm at the Day Road Farmstand on Monday during the day. Six dollars per pound. They will be a mix of sizes, some small fryers and some larger big-family roasters, but mostly in the mid-4- to mid-5-lbs range; some have giblets and some do not. If you can, email us at farmers@dropstonefarms.com or text or call 206-855-5493. You can also just show up and see what you get … but that is first-come first-served, obviously.

More details are here.

This batch is nice-looking birds! You will not be sad …

This is the last batch of chickens this year, but if you want to be notified of our turkey orders for this November, and chickens for the future, please sign up on our mailing list for poultry notification and other news. The mailing list always gets first dibs.