Friday, September 2, 2011

Farm Story for September 3, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

We started about 90 new laying hens back in May. We get our newly hatched pullets from Murray McMurray in Iowa. The day the chicks hatch they are packed up and air freighted to our post office. I get a 6 a.m. phone call from the post office telling me to come get the live freight. I rap on the side door at the post office and they hand out my peeping box. Often I can see a beak or feather poking out one of the many air holes on the sides of the cardboard box.

I race the box of birds home and gently transfer each one into a big empty water trough under heat lamps in the stable. As I transfer each little gal I dip her beak in the water dish and then set her down near a shallow pan of feed. We then spend several weeks raising the girls out. This year we were not so quick to move the girls out of the stall in the stable. As they outgrew their first water trough we drug in another one and split them between two troughs. As they outgrew the troughs we transferred them to the nice dirt floor of the stable. The big window in the stable has a nice screen so that nothing can sneak in to snatch one of them but they still get fresh air and sunshine. And as the girls continued to grow we removed about a third of them to another stall. The two stalls are adjoining with just bars along the top wall. Not all of the hens we moved over stayed in the new stall but since some of the birds in the original stall began roosting on the stall wall at night and apparently jumping off on the wrong side of the wall the numbers remained pretty even between the two bird rooms.

My sweet husband feeds and waters the girls first thing in the morning, I feed and water them at least twice more in a day and he checks them one last time in the evening. The bigger they have grown, the more we’ve talked about moving them to the world of “free range”. We have waited a little longer than we ordinarily would because of the crazy heat. The stable has a great ventilation fan and the concrete floors in the main hall seem to keep the building a little cooler than the outdoors.

Well, the girls have really been ready to go outside for a few weeks now. We usually move them out at the end of a day. The new chickens get along better with the older ones when they just happen to wake up together one morning rather than if they are wide awake when meeting strangers. Between the heat and the very busy days I’ve had lately, I’ve just neglected to initiate the “let’s move the chickens” evening.

I was thinking about that just this morning as I finished the mid-morning feed and water check. I finished caring for the stable birds and walked on to the building where most of the nest boxes are so that I could gather the first round of eggs for the day. A hen anxiously pacing along the top of the nesting boxes caught my eye. It was one of the young White Orpington hens from inside the stable. I looked around for more young hens, thinking perhaps that Al had moved a few outside at bedtime last night. I called him to ask. He had not moved anyone.

It would not be a stretch to think that she’d made it out of her stall in the stable and into an adjoining stall with an open and unscreened window. Had she jumped out of the window she would have crossed paths with at least one of the livestock guardian dogs, a few sheep, a goat or two, a cow and plenty of other chickens. I imagine she kept wandering until she found the largest accumulation of chickens who love to hang out in the building with the nest boxes, lots of food and a good water supply. I also imagine she ended up on top of the nesting boxes to escape a nosy and perhaps unpleasant hen who wanted to know why a newcomer was invading her territory.
Since we were planning on moving the hens out soon anyways it made no sense to pick her up and put her back in the stable. I also didn’t want her to be the outcast in the group so I made what I felt was a good decision. I put down my partially-filled egg bucket, walked back to the stable, swooped up two more hens that looked just like my little wanderer and brought them out to her. One of the older hens immediately ran up to one of the newcomers, rapped her on the head with her beak and trotted away. I lined all three Orpingtons up on the top of the nest box and went about gathering eggs. I guess we’ll try to move more girls out tonight just at sunset and hope everyone can get along in the morning. There are many aspects of running a farm that are like running a nursery school!

I have spent the majority of my week continuing to make items for the Indie Craft Parade. I have only a few more days to be ready as it is the weekend of the 9th. I have spent many hours out in the stable in my little dyeing studio working away. I love that my studio is in the stable as I have plenty of company as I work. The two stalls full of young chickens are next door so I hear them talking to each other. I have two sheep and a goat who insist on being in the stable whenever I am there. I am also joined by at least one of the livestock guardian dogs but often all four who have access to the barnyard join me. They love to nap on the cool concrete floor and compete to see who can lay down closest to the fan. Little Joey, one of the cats from the front of the house, always follows me to the stable if I go in the late afternoon as he’s learned that is when I feed the dogs. We feed dry food to the dogs but I always add a little canned food or some scrambled eggs to make it a little more appealing. For some reason Little Joey has decided that if he is in the stable when I get there he should get first bite of whatever goodie I am adding to the dog food. I feed him but then quickly remove him if I am also doing dyeing work as he likes to join me as I work and just has too much fun walking along the seven foot lengths of cellophane that I use to wrap my yarn in after I have painted on all of the dyes.

I have felted many, many bars of soap in a coat. I’ve also spun up some more yarn and felted lots more pretty flower pins. I love to work with our sheep’s wool, especially when I can walk right out the door and let the beautiful creatures know how much I appreciate their “product”. Once my preparations for Indie Craft Parade are over I will start the process all over again as we’ll still have another month and a half of Saturday Market. I have numerous bags of wool to continue to keep me occupied over the winter and before we know it we’ll be back to spring shearing again. It is a pleasant cycle.

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