We are a diversified small farm specializing in organically grown vegetables, with the support of laying hens, meat rabbits, honey bees, one loud-mouth dog, and two hard-working farmers, we work to maintain a balance of biodiversity and allow the soil, microorganisms, insects, plants, animals and people to work together to create the healthiest product to sell to our customers. We do not use synthetic harmful chemicals or fertilizers on our property, crops, or animals.
We believe that nature's design is what is best for our farm and animals, but we also are aware that animals for livestock are bred for desirable traits, not always traits that are for survival. We are manipulators of the soil as vegetable farmers. We till, we feed with compost and manure, we sow seeds, we remove the natural cover (weeds), we harvest and repeat. So we, as farmers, must balance the two ends of the spectrum.
By feeding the soil life well rotted horse and alpaca manure and incorporating crops specifically to cover and nourish (cover crops), we work to treat our soil for what it is, the center of everything we do. In turn, our soil and plants naturally repels diseases and fungus that might hurt or destroy a crop, and gives the plants the strength it needs to repel pests that crawl or fly, and through all of that create something the is harvestable and incredibly, deliciously, edible. Even when we are experiencing a heavy pest infestation, we rarely use sprays to repel or kill insects, realizing that there are losses we accept in this endeavor. If we do need help controlling some insect, we only use OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed, plant or organism based products. We identify pests before managing for them, so we can best use our resources and not use broad spectrum sprays that may kill beneficial insects as well the pest.
We create space on our farm that is only for wild things, trees, shrubs, leaf piles, flower and herb gardens that provide space for birds and pollinators food for life. We have space that provides cover and habitat for native and non-native species of birds, wild rabbits, and insects (good or not-so-good). We create space for our chickens to practice their natural inclination to scratch, peck, and roll in the dirt.
The specifics on animal husbandry and management:
We raise chicks from one day old, purchased locally or ordered through Murray McMurray Hatchery. We raise these birds on unmedicated feed and fresh water in a brooder box in the barn until 6 weeks old. At 6 weeks old, weather dependent, we move them to a small hoophouse with a light if needed and begin their pasture training. This hoophouse is a 3'x4' mini house and is moved daily to fresh grass.
If the nights are especially cold, we cover the house with a heavy blanket. The plastic on the house is not airtight. This would be especially bad for bird health. There are loose edges around the top of the house to allow for ventilation. Chickens make a mess quickly, spilling feed and water along with the ability to produce copious amounts of manure quickly, moving this house daily is especially important. Between 2 and 3 months of age once the chicks outgrow the mini house, they are turned into an enclosed coop to protect from predators.
We do not house birds under 5 months of age with birds older the 5 months due to the increase of a bird-only disease called Marek's. We have not encountered this disease, but know local farmers who have. This is a precaution taken for the safety and health of our flock. Also, when they are 5 months or younger, they are much smaller than full-grown birds and can be picked on easily. At 5 months, they become a bit more gutsy and will compete for roost space and ranking just fine. In 2014 we are implementing a sprouted grain/fodder system for the early spring development of the birds and will give them high quality nutrition until they are ready to go out into open pasture with the mature birds.
Once moved outside the brooder, birds are fed a local feed mix of barley, peas and wheat mixed with camelina meal for protein, Fertrell Nutri-Balance, and calcium carbonate. Along with pasture to roam, once grown, our birds roost in a small coop in the field just large enough for the number we have, a sheltered area where their feed bin is kept and the nest box. The majority of their life is spent outdoors in the fresh air.
During the harshest winter months they are moved into one of our three hoophouses where they have a dry space to take dust baths and help us clean out growing space from pests who might overwinter in the soil or plant detritus. We follow National Organic Standard practice and move birds off growing space four months before a crop will be harvested. This is a safety precaution in dealing with raw manure and time to adequately rest and incorporate this manure without harmful pathogens coming into contact with low growing plants and greens. We till the dry soil just after the birds are moved out to speed up the process of breaking down this raw manure.
On our scale, we do just one batch of 25(ish) laying hens per year. We then sell or cull two year old birds. If you are interested in purchasing a two year old hen with another year or two of moderate egg production left, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org