Tag Archives: broilers

Farming in June

It’s always a splendid idea to move residences just as farm season ramps up for the summer.  I have done it three times now.  You’d think we’d learn.  Needless to say, it’s been a busy month but we are having all sorts of fun!

This is sort of a photo-dump but here’s what has been going on at the farm in the last week:

 

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We’ve been breeding cows (artificially inseminating) up at Carol’s ranch.  She selects good bulls for sires and hires someone to come AI the cows. The Spring 2014 calf crop is percolating as we speak!

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The weather has been nice, so our broiler chicks have been heading out to pasture at precisely two weeks of age.  They still have their fluffy chick down, but they much prefer being on grass to being in the brooder.  They really forage a lot even at this age.

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We have been happy to see the variety of grass and forb, species that are coming up in the fertilized area behind our broiler pens.  Now that there’s been a bit of rain there is quite the diverse landscape. This is a picture of selfheal (prunella vulgaris) in bloom.

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We are even seeing some wild strawberries (fragaria virginiana) ! They are tinier than the tip of a finger, but they look just as delicious as their domestic counterparts.

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Emmie picked a fight with a tougher dog than herself and ended up with a few war wounds.  She was bedridden for a few days but the first sign of life was her intense desire to go with me to the farm when I’d put on my boots in the morning.  She can’t stand being left on the sidelines while I’m working.  It’s been said of Border Collies that each dog has the energy of a small nuclear reactor.  That’s very much true of this one.  I’m glad she bounced back quickly. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to my sidekick til I had to do chores without her.

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We’ve been making hay up at the ranch.  I have been assigned baling duty.  I straight-up love it.   It’s hot, the dust makes me itch and sneeze,  the baler is old, and the fields are rugged.  But the scenery is terrific!  We’re making hay in the foothills of the Coastal range, with covered bridges and vineyards and rivers on every side.  I’d rather be out there making hay on a sunny weekend than doing pretty much anything else in the whole wide world.

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Carol and James first cut the grass down with a swather.  The swather incorporates a conditioner (or crimper) which crunches the grass a little bit to make it dry faster.

Then they come along with a “tedder”, which has tines that fluff up the hay and accelerate the drying process.  Getting the hay to dry quickly is important in the Willamette Valley where mornings have lots of dew and it could rain at any moment.

The next step is raking the hay into windrows.  This puts the grass in nice, straight lines so that the baler can pick it up.  Raking also helps with drying, as it turns the grass and fluffs it up to get more airflow.

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We check the grass by hand and with a moisture meter and when it’s dry enough, we fire up the baler and I get to work.

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James comes along behind me with the bale wagon and scoops up the bales.  When he gets a full stack, he drives up to the barn and and deposits them for the winter.  

And with that, I’m off to go bale some more hay.  We are expecting rain in the early part of the week, so we’re getting it up as fast as possible.

 

 

 

 

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They’re Here!

Our Cornish-cross chicks arrived on Thursday morning, fresh from the hatchery in California.  There are about 600 in all and they are all healthy!  We didn’t lose any even though the shipment spent two days in the postal system.  Those chicks are amazingly hardy for being so small.  They can survive for at least a day on the nutrition they received from the yolk sac in the egg, without needing any additional food or water.

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The chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes with holes in the sides and lids.  Each box is divided into sections with about 25 chicks in each partition to prevent them from piling up and smothering each other during transport.  In the middle of summer, the hatchery usually puts fewer chicks in each box so they don’t get too hot.

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Our day begins when the local post office calls to let me know the chicks have arrived.  The call usually comes at 5:30 or 6 a.m.  We head straight to the post office, where the poor postal workers are enduring the incessant cheeping of hundreds of chicks.  I think they’re always glad to see them leave!  We pull up to the back loading dock of the post office and unload all the boxes off the postal carts and into our car.  Then we head straight up to the farm where the heat lamps are already turned on and food and water is set out for the new arrivals.

 

 

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Keith and I each take a stack of boxes into the brooder and work quickly to unload the chicks.  They are so hungry, thirsty and cold at first!  Each chick makes a bee-line straight for the water or feed as soon as its feet hit the ground.  They run everywhere, peeping in a state of panic and you have to be very careful not to step on them.

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After their little bellies get full and they find the heat, their cries of distress fade to a quiet murmur.  They all huddle under the hovers and cozy up next to the heat lamps for warmth.  Their eyes drift closed as they bask in the heat.  Sometimes they fall over, they get so relaxed.  It’s really adorable!

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We will be getting at least 6 more batches of chicks as well as another couple hundred layer chicks for egg production, over the course of the summer.  This kicks off the busy farm season!  We’re looking forward to a good year in 2013!

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Emmie loves the chicks.  She has to stay up on a straw bale so that she doesn’t step on them, but she watches them intently, quivering with delight.  I think the frenzy of little running birds really kicks her herding instincts into full gear – she really wants to get them all bunched up into one spot.  She’s pretty adept at herding chickens, which comes in handy when these birds are bigger and sometimes escape from their pasture pens.

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C’mon Little Chicks!

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The brooder is all set up – shiny new heat lamps are installed, an overhead automatic watering system is in place, mason jars waterers are filled, feeders are set out.

Now where are the chicks?!

My hatchery in California tells me that my 600 Cornish-Cross babies are enroute but transit has been taking two days instead of one.  I’m imagining fluffy yellow chicks standing in long TSA lines at the airport.  It makes me laugh so I don’t worry too much.  I am looking forward to getting them out of their boxes and into their plush new living quarters!

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On the Move

This farm is on the move!   This Sunday, Keith and I loaded a couple of our brooders onto a flatbed trailer and hauled them up to their new resting spot at the ranch.

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These brooder houses are pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.  Each one cost less than $200 to build and they’ve served us through 4 different farm seasons at 3 different locations and have (mostly) held together well.

Please excuse my “migrant farmworker” husband in the straw hat.  He found the hat in an old refrigerator and spent the afternoon wearing it and dancing a jig to Irish music as he worked.  I can’t really explain any of that previous sentence in a way that makes any sense whatsoever.  Whatever makes him happy, since I took him away from his precious Mt. Bachelor to help me on the farm this weekend.

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Here we are, about to hit the highway with one load of brooders!  We’ll transport the other two next weekend if I can peel the migrant farmworker off the ski slopes again.

 

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Paddock Shift

As I alluded to on Facebook this weekend, big changes are in the works for Provenance Farm. No, we’re not expecting.  Geez people! Asking such prying questions up in here!

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer…Image

 

I’m moving the farm and starting my venture into cattle ranching!

Starting this week, I’m packing up broiler pens and all my farm equipment and heading for the new location of Provenance Farm.  Our friends Stu and Carol Hemphill have asked me to run broilers on some of their nutrient-deficient pastures of their 400+ acre cattle ranch just west of Philomath.  I jumped at the chance because I’ve been an ardent admirer of Carol for a few years now.  She has been raising high quality grass-fed Angus beef cattle for over 30 years.  I’ve been privileged to buy stocker steers and heifers from her for the last few years, finishing them on my own pasture for the latter months of their lives.  The excellent beef you have enjoyed from our farm is primarily due to the hard work and dedication of Carol Hemphill long before I came into the picture.  I’ve often told Keith, “When I ‘grow up’, I want to be just like Carol.” There just aren’t many women ranchers out there, and even fewer with the intelligence, education, animal savvy and dedication to quality that Carol has.  I’ve been eagerly following her for a while now, gleaning any knowledge I can from her wealth of experience.  To say that I’m thrilled to be farming in collaboration with her would be a humongous understatement. Broilers and layers are awesome but cattle ranching is in my blood and it’s the reason I chose farming as my life’s work.

 

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So, many things will be changing around here but at the same time it will mostly be the same.  We will be growing and processing as many broilers as we did last year, if not more.  They’ll be raised on the rolling hills of the Hemphill ranch, high above the Mary’s River and out of the mud (hallelujah! – can you hear the angels sing?!).  The pastures we’ll start on will be the most needy ones – fields that can use a hearty dose of chicken fertilizer.

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Our beef cattle will be finished in the same fields in which they were born.  If you don’t know how rare and wonderful that statement is, you haven’t been paying much attention to the way the US beef industry works.  It makes me unbelievably happy to know my cattle have had a good, stress-free life, so I’m really excited about this.

I’ll be raising lambs at the ranch as well.  We’ve had such a great demand for our lamb in the last few years, that our flock was rapidly outgrowing the space available at our current acreage.  Our sheep will have plenty of room to graze up at the Hemphill’s place.

Our laying hen flock will be staying at our Fern Road location for the current time. The hens are just beginning to lay consistently and moving them would cause them stress.  Stress always affects production and so I’m keeping them in their current place for the rest of the year.  We look forward to settling them in at the new ranch in the future, as their current location is subject to floods from the Mary’s River in the winter.

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Local customers will be happy to know that they can still find our eggs and chicken at the Fern Road farm stand, and that’s not going to change!

There are lots of big things happening around here this year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, overwhelmed and scared to death at times.  But I also love the adventure and the chance to learn and grow and make this farm (and my life) something worth being proud of.  There’s something so satisfying about hard work and new goals.

 I look forward to sharing the adventure of this upcoming year with you all in person and on these pages.

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Would you like to learn more about our new digs?  Check out a few of my friend Camille’s blog posts about the Hemphill Ranch here:

http://waywardspark.com/feeding-cows-in-winter-at-hemphill-angus/

http://waywardspark.com/april-with-stu-and-carol-hemphill-anguscoast-range-forest-products/

http://waywardspark.com/pasture-with-carol-hemphill-angus/

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February 20, 2013 · 2:26 pm

Everything is Autumn

Early morning fog, yesterday

We wrapped up broiler season yesterday and now our five chest freezers are stocked full of chicken to supply customers for the rest of the winter.  We raised over 3,000 broiler chickens this year and I think I speak for our entire butcher crew when I say we are happy to take a break for a while.

(Missed the opportunity or want another chance to volunteer?  

We are butchering stewing hens in a couple weeks and  turkeys on November 18 and 19.)

Keith catching broilers

I do love the early morning chores and the chance to watch the sun light up the mist that hangs over the chilly fields.  There is something magical about being out in a pasture, listening to the steady grazing of my heifers and hearing my turkeys gobble as they wake up to sunshine.  Here in western Oregon, though, there is always the knowledge in the back of your mind that these delightful mornings are numbered.  Soon there will be an incessant rain, cold fingers, muddy boots and wet hair that hangs in my eyes.  There are still delights, I just have to look harder to find them.

Sleepy kids on the butcher crew – mirroring the sentiments of the grownups. 

It’s time to slow down for the season, start thinking about putting a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup on the stove and begin making goals for the winter and spring.  I’m looking forward to:

  • Pressing more fresh apple cider
  • Thanksgiving dinner with my beloved family
  • Mad Men season 6.  I don’t know when it will start, but I’m on the edge of my seat!
  • Running more.  Maybe training for something big?
  • Having more time to tackle nagging projects that get put off during summer farm season…like equipment maintenance and fixing fences.
  • Reading the next book club selection which just happens to be written by one of my favorite authors.
  • Our church home group that starts tonight.
  • Going skiing and soaking up some Mt. Bachelor sunshine.

What are you looking forward to as the seasons change?

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Broiler Pens

Our first batch of broiler chicks has been ordered and will arrive on May 4.  Three short weeks after that, all 170 birds will be out of the brooder and onto the pasture.

Problem.

I haven’t built broiler pens yet.

Nothing like having a deadline to light a fire under you.

Fortunately, Tyler’s dad Bradd is building ten new broiler pens for their farm this week, so I volunteered my outstanding construction expertise (ha!)  in exchange for some pen-building tips.   The verdict is that these things are really easy to build, and they don’t take long at all.  With three of us working, we made three frames in just a few hours.  The lids and siding are projects for another day, so I’ll post pictures of that when we get there.

For the uninitiated, here are a couple pictures of what a  Salatin-style broiler pen looks like:

Tyler Jones and Joel Salatin at Afton Field Farm. Broiler pens in background

Tyler demonstrates how to move a broiler pen

The pens are specifically constructed to be lightweight yet sturdy.  Unlike copy-cat pens made from PVC, these will hold up over the years.  They are moved every couple days by sliding a dolly under the end and then walking backwards while pulling a handle on the front. (Edit: these pens are moved every day).  The dolly is visible in the first photo, at Joel’s right shoulder.

The chickens are get water from a Bell-Matic automatic waterer that hangs in the pen.  It is connected to a water reserve in the black five-gallon bucket with plastic tubing.  Each pen has one feeder made from 5 ft long, 6-inch diameter PVC pipe cut in half on the horizontal, which you lift out before you move the pen.  I’ll have a feeder construction tutorial up soon, but for the time being here is a crummy iPhone picture for reference.

PVC broiler/layer feeder

So, without further ado, here’s a picture of the frame of a broiler pen.  It is completed; it just lacks wire to keep it taut, siding, and a lid.

broiler pen frame, 10'x12'

broiler pen from another angle

Here’s a clearer picture of the end piece:

broiler pen end

As soon as Bradd gets me the materials list and lumber specifications, I’ll post it here.  I have had little luck finding any of this on the internet, so I’m sure this will be of use to someone.

(Edit: You can see the plans for the broiler pasture shelters on my 4/29/11 post.  Click here: Broiler Pasture Shelter Plans.)

And yes, I realize it looks like I live at Afton Field Farm.  I do, kind of.   So, if you’re learning anything at all on this site, thank them!

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