This Fall we have experienced some difficult “firsts.” First harvest–not a huge success… First culled chickens–never pleasant… and first slaughter. Don’t worry, there won’t be any photos accompanying that part of this post.
I have to admit that my garden wasn’t fully ready to be successful this last Spring and Summer when I planted all of my transplants. I had added a little lime, but I hadn’t yet done a quality soil test, or even really incorporated the mushroom compost that topped most of my beds. I hadn’t decided on a garden design or even tilled most of the beds. I had one “lasagna” garden bed that was a kind of a trial for a few choice crops. I had read that tomatoes would do well with untilled layers, and they did ok. They were my best crop for sure. The brussels sprouts showed some promise too, and if the temporary fence that I surrounded them with had worked at keeping the chickens out, we would be enjoying them soon. As it turned out, the chickens found some really tasty bugs all around their roots, to the point that they were all felled in one day. Better eggs, and no sprouts. Otherwise, my other big crop was pickling cukes, and they were a huge disappointment. I couldn’t pickle the bitter out of them.
Thanks to the gal who sold us the farm I do have a lot of berries in the freezer, and I have plenty of frozen sauce tomatoes now too. The potatoes were partially eaten by voles, but the carrots, secure in a cast iron bath tub, survived the voles and are tasting very good. My family doesn’t like squash, so I guess it’s ok that I got lazy and didn’t fertilize my winter squash. I have one good specimen, which I will enjoy all on my own. I learned from a neighbor farmer who spoke to my farming class (who seems to be the only economically viable small farmer in Oregon judging from all of the farms that we have toured this year) that squash plants are all only good for two or three squashes anyway–the next few tend to be of poor taste and texture.
I am happy to report that culling two of my chickens was not hard for me at all. They were eating eggs, and I was happy to see them go to a friend who will be selling them for meat. They were two of my yet unnamed girls and one was a bully, so it was painless. I still have fifteen chickens without them, and so I may cull another one or two just to cut down on the poo. With four of my girls molting, I have few eggs. If you get chickens for eggs, I recommend Leghorns. They are amazing at laying right through the dark season. Daisy is a winner. She is the only one laying right now, and she gives me five to six eggs a week. Here she is in the foreground, with her sisters.
Most chickens need lots of light to lay eggs, so I made sure that the door we got at the ReStore for my coop was a glass door. And when I cleaned the coop out last week, I hung a white sheet on the back wall to reflect the light. So far there is only a decline in laying though. One of the two girls I culled was 18 months old, and I have six more of her generation. The second one was only a year old, and her two brooder mates aren’t molting yet, so I will probably get another year of good laying out of them both. Then I have seven who were just born this Spring and they are just at the age that they should start laying, if they have enough light. Today I’ve been reading testimonials about whether to light the coop and keep the eggs coming or let the chickens have a sabbath through the winter. Of course, factory farms keep their chicken barns lit all the time to maximize egg production, but I’m usually interested in the opposite technique. We shall see what I decide.
Here are two of my elder gals who are molting, with their brooder-mate who isn’t. It’s kinda random. Four are molting, and two who are the same age aren’t. They probably will soon.
This past weekend Jimmy slaughtered our first lamb, whose meat will be our first sold, to Jimmy’s boss. Jimmy’s been walking strangely ever since. He hurt his back pretty bad. I don’t think we will be doing that again. The lamb, who we called “Stormy’s boy” to avoid giving him a name, was quite upset about being separated from the herd. He was our only remaining ram lamb after those that were sold by the kids at the fair. We only have ewe lambs (girl lambs) left now, and most of them will get a chance to show what good mamas they can be before they are culled.
Meanwhile, our second lambing season has also begun, and not without lots of trouble. The order is the same so far. Mamacita is living up to her name, which she was given because she was the first one pregnant last go round. She had one last time (a ewe lamb named Dela, who we traded to our friends for some younger lambs for the sake of fair), but she twinned this time. She prefers one though. She took to her girl, and makes her little guy fight for milk. And her girl was born with eye lids that covered her eyes, so we had to have a minor surgical procedure done on them this past week. That was costly. But both lambs are thriving now, and we wondered if either of them would make it in the first 24 hours. Thankfully we have a goat dairy at the bottom of our hill, and I was able to supplement the milk they got from mom with a bottle. Now that baby girl can see, she’s drinking much better.
We have decided that we will cull Mamacita and her babes will both go for meat probably. I’m getting better at these decisions now. I see that there isn’t enough fresh green grass as all of the babies who are born on the ranch will need. We have to keep the strongest, wisest mamas.