Losing Feathers

Picture 1859Moments ago a neighbor up the road called to see if we had any extra eggs. ” Not at the moment”, I said, “the hens are molting and we’ve just put a light in the coop a few weeks ago”. The light is to extend the length of day, now that our days are getting shorter. Chickens need at least 14 hours of light a day to stimulate egg production, a light bulb in their coop helps with that. Molting also happens every year as the days shorten and the temperature cools. The chickens will shed their old feathers and begin to grow new ones, most often they stop laying while this is happening. The length of time for the new feathers to grow back in place varies from bird to bird. A lot depends on their diet. It takes a lot of energy to grow feathers ( feathers are mostly protein), so keeping them well fed and watered is important. For some birds their feathers will grow back in about 4 weeks, for others it may take up 6 or 8 weeks. Right now the inside of our chicken coop looks as though a major pillow fight has taken place. That’s kinda fun to imagine actually. We rake them up with the shavings and dump them into the compost piles. Feathers are fairly high in nitrogen, although they can take a long time to break down and to release the nitrogen into the soil. Always thinking about soil here, yes we are!
The gardens are now pretty well put to bed for the winter. Most have been covered with a nice layer of semi composted leaves. In the vegetable gardens, a few things continue to hang on…the kale, some chard, and several rows of carrots. The hoop house continues to produce some fresh greens. Soon however, the last bunch of our ram lambs will be occupying that structure, they’ll put an end to any green growth for sure.
How is it that we’re nearing the end of November already? Perhaps we’ve been tricked with this incredibly warm Fall weather. Maybe I thought September was lingering ( where did October go?) and that we still had months ahead before cold and snow. Let’s just hope those ladies in the chicken coop get their feathers back before a good Nor’easter blows in. I could knit them sweaters, I guess. If I ever find the time to knit sweaters for twenty naked chickens, I’ll definitely post pictures…… but don’t hold your breath waiting!

No Snails In This Mail

CHICKS! ( can you see the one poking its beak through the hole in the word baby?, I didn’t plan for that!)
Picture 1615Picture 1619This morning we received that early morning call from our local post office, “your chicks are here”. 60 little meat birds that is. Off we went to retrieve them, wanting to get them home as quickly as we could. After two days of travel, they were ready for food and water. It is not at all uncommon to have new baby chicks arrive in the mail. Most people around here order their birds from a hatchery in the mid west, there are not too many hatcheries in the north east. Once we arrived home and unboxed our little hatchlings, we set them up in their brooding area. We use the kid’s old tree house. It has access to electricity ( for a heat lamp), is way up off the ground so the chicks are less susceptible to predators, and it’s draft free.Picture 1633Picture 1625 The chicks will remain in their “high rise” until their real feathers appear. Usually they are completely feathered by the 3rd to 4th week. Then they move outdoors into a shaded hoop house, along with an outdoor run so they can spend their time foraging.. Every couple of days we move their housing and their run to fresh grass. Between 8 to 10 weeks they will be ready for butchering. We do all of our butchering here on the farm. This year we are raising birds a bit later than usual. I think in the long run the timing may actually work out better ( than early spring or mid summer), by the time we are butchering it will be the first part of October and much cooler. These 60 meat birds ( remember we cut back this year!) will fill the freezer back up with a winter’s supply of chicken. Home grown, that’s the way we like it! Picture 1623

Days Past

Picture 409Here it is, New Year’s Eve, and what kind of things are we doing here at Fernwood to ring in the New Year? After early morning chores, Rick has been out checking under the plant covers looking for signs of rodent damage. None yet, thank goodness. Long after our season, plants remain in the forefront of our thoughts. I’ve been upstairs looking for some games to play tonight. We’ll have some friends and neighbors over, and playing a new board game is always a part of our New Year’s tradition. Of course, we won’t make it until midnight. We never do. It will have to be a pretty lively game, and our neighbors will have to be wide awake to make it past 10:00 p.m. Ooh boy, pretty rowdy bunch here at the nursery, heh?
While rooting around for a game, I came across some old ‘ The Farmer’s Wife’ journals. This one from the year 1915. 100 years ago. Rather fitting that the articles I would turn to would be about poultry raising. The text from the picture may be too small for you to read, but here are some interesting comments made in the article titled, ‘Poultry Pointers’. ” There are three important foods to consider in feeding for winter eggs – grain, meat, and green food.” “A dish of charcoal placed where the flock can reach it at all times will do considerable toward keeping the digestive organs in good condition. It absorbs poisonous gases and juices and often prevents serious trouble.” “The mangle split in two and stuck on nails for the hens to pick at and the cabbages hung up by their stems until the hens have eaten all except the tough, woody base of the stem.” ” A lazy, sluggish hen is never a good layer.” And the most interesting comment ( at least I think so) is this; ” Women usually succeed better with poultry than men because they are more careful about details.” Picture 411 Check out the sideline advertisements. Did you know that back in 1915, you could buy a fancy incubator for $ 7.85! I would certainly need to own ‘ The Queen’. ” Thousands of women now making all the way from pin money to a good living with poultry started with a Queen.”

My friend Darcy's kerosene fired incubator from Sears and Roebuck

My friend Darcy’s kerosene fired incubator from Sears and Roebuck

Well, here at the farm, as we move beyond 2014, we will do our best to uphold the lessons and wisdom of poultry raisers of the past. Happy New Year to everyone, and thank you for supporting us here at Fernwood Nursery.