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Animals Large Animals Poultry

Pasture Goats & Chickens Together For A Dynamic Duo

Today, a common hobby farm goal is increased self-sufficiency and decreased reliance on traditional food sources like grocery stores. One popular method of achieving this is to add productive livestock such as goats and chickens for their milk, eggs and meat.

Space limitations, however, sometimes restrict the types of animals that can be supported on a farm. 

Fortunately, goats and chickens are two species that can successfully pasture together to conserve space, so long as you take  the proper precautions. Things to consider when planning to jointly pasture goats and chickens include the benefits, disease transmission, pasture size and plants, housing and fencing. 

Benefits of Pasturing Together

Putting goats and chickens together in a single pasture does take some additional planning, work and effort. So, you need to decide whether the benefits are worthwhile.

The potential advantages of pasturing chickens and goats jointly include:

  • It’s generally less costly to fence one pasture area as opposed to two.
  • Pasture access should reduce the amount of hay and grain concentrate needed for feeding. 
  • The exercise that livestock get foraging is good for them and helps keep them healthy.
  • Pasturing chickens improves the flavor and nutritional content of chicken meat and eggs.
  • Pastured chickens help control flies, ticks and goat parasites on the farm.

Read more: Rotate your animals’ pastures to keep them on green all season long.


Disease Transmission

A common concern when pasturing chickens and goats together is disease transmission. But, in reality, it’s seldom an issue.

Goats and chickens are susceptible to coccidiosis, a disease of the intestinal tract caused by the parasite coccidia. But coccidia are species-specific and not transmitted between goats and chickens. 

However, Melissa Holahan, a veterinarian as well as the creator of Goat Melk Soap Co. and owner of Chubb E. Acres Farm, does caution that chickens may shed the bacteria salmonella in their droppings.

“Although rare, they could transfer to the goats—mostly from the goats laying in soiled bedding,” she says. “This could have the potential to get on the udder, causing transfer to the goat kids or milk for human consumption.” 

Adult goats or chickens usually have sufficiently robust immune systems to resist serious sickness from coccidia or salmonella. But young or sick chickens and goats are susceptible to developing parasite or bacteria overload and disease. The main indicator is diarrhea, which is followed by dehydration, weakness and death in serious cases. 

To avoid these diseases, prevent overcrowding and keep your livestock areas clean. If your chickens or goats show signs of diarrhea or illness, immediately quarantine them and call a veterinarian.

The faster they get treatment, the more likely they are to survive.

Pasture Size

The number of chickens and goats that can successfully pasture together in a given area depends primarily on the breed sizes that you intend to keep. If larger breeds are kept, then fewer livestock can be accommodated.

Also, you should always plan on at least two goats because they are herd creatures and need a goat companion to be happy. The examples below assume 5-pound hens, 75-pound Nigerian Dwarf does and 135-pound Nubian does.

Stocking Rates

The general rule-of-thumb for pasturing chickens is no more than 50 to 80 chickens per acre. At any higher stocking densities, the chickens eventually completely denude the pasture and add too much manure for the pasture to regrow.

This stocking density assumes that the chickens have continuous access to a nutritionally complete chicken feed. That’s because you can’t rely on the pasture to supply balanced levels of nutrients for that many chickens year-round. 

goats chickens pasture pasturing together
Noemi S Rivera/Shutterstock

When you add goats, the number of chickens per acre needs to be reduced. For example, if two Nigerian Dwarf does were added, then about 30 fewer chickens could be accommodated.

Each goat would replace about 15 chickens (75 pounds/5 pounds = 15). So, using the more conservative 50 chickens per acre rule-of-thumb, a 1-acre pasture could sustainably accommodate about two Nigerian Dwarf goats and 20 chickens:

75/5 = 15; 15 x 2 = 30; 50-30 = 20 

Alternately, using 80 chickens per acre as the starting point, four Nigerian Dwarf does and 20 chickens could be accommodated:

75/5 = 15; 15×4 = 60; 80-60 = 20

Or, if adding larger Nubian does, it would drop to two does and 26 chickens:

135/5 = 27; 27×2 = 54; 80-54 = 26

Again, this stocking density assumes that the goats have access to a nutritionally balanced diet in addition to pasture forage. 

Conditions vary significantly from farm to farm. So does the optimum stocking density, but the previous examples provide a starting range. In general, it’s better to plan on lower densities because overcrowding increases the risk for disease and parasites.

On our farm, we found that around 12 to 15 Nigerian Dwarf goats and 20 to 25 chickens co-exist well on about 4 fenced acres. 


Read more: Here are some things to know if you’re considering getting goats.


Pasture Plants

Chickens aren’t picky about pasture conditions. Even with continuous access to chicken feed, chickens do a lot of foraging. They’ll scratch and eat the nutritious vegetation down at ground level, while avoiding questionable or poisonous plants. 

Goats, however, prefer to reach up to browse rather than down to graze like sheep or cattle. That means areas with woody underbrush make excellent goat pastures.

Making goats reach down to graze on a grassy pasture isn’t ideal. This forces the goats to eat where intestinal parasites (spread via manure) thrive and increases the likelihood of internal parasite problems.  

Goats are happy to eat things that we consider weeds such as poison ivy and multiflora rose. There are, however, plants that are extremely toxic to goats. These plants should be eradicated from pastures before allowing goats to browse.

Azalea, hemlock, mountain laurel, rhododendron, rhubarb and wild cherry are all plants that are highly poisonous to goats and should be removed from their pastures.

Cornell University maintains a reference list of plants toxic to goats. It would, however, be impractical to remove every plant on its list. Fortunately, if goats have access to sufficient quantities of nonpoisonous plants, they’ll usually avoid or only nibble those that are mildly toxic to them.  

Housing

Although it’s feasible to jointly pasture chickens and goats, it’s not a good idea to house them together. That’s because goats are finicky and chickens put droppings everywhere.

If a chicken puts droppings in a goat hay feeder, then the goats won’t eat it. You’ll have wasted hay. Or if the chicken puts droppings in the water bucket, the goats won’t drink it.

Because goats need plenty of water to produce milk, housing chickens with goats means frequently cleaning and refreshing water buckets. 

goats chickens pasture pasturing together
Lesa Wilke

In addition to the dropping problems, access to chicken feed is an issue for goats. Goats love chicken feed and will go to great lengths to get it. But once they start eating, they don’t know when to quit and will gorge on it. This leads to bloat which can easily be fatal.

Finally, even if the chickens have nice, safe nest boxes, for some reason, they love to lay eggs in the goats’ hay.

Keep ‘Em Seperated

In order to prevent these problems, it’s best to house, feed and water chickens in their own separate coop and goats in the barn. I

t’s generally easy to keep goats out of a coop simply by making the chicken access door too small for the goats. Then you can provide the chickens with free-choice feed and water inside the coop without worrying about goats getting in.

Keeping goat kids out may be a bigger problem. 

“It amazes me that goat kids can squeeze through literally the smallest doors!” Holahan says. “The only chicken door design that seemed to defy the goat kids was making a pop hole just wide enough for one chicken at a time and elevating it.”

It can also be difficult to keep chickens out of the goats’ pens. Unless you turn your goats out to pasture and shut the barn doors, the chickens are likely to eventually get in. We minimized this problem by placing livestock access to the chicken coop and goat pens on opposite sides of the barn. That way, most of the chickens never found the goat pen entrance doors.

But, there’s always a rogue bird that figures it out and starts teaching other chickens. In that case, we isolated that bird for a few days and it would forget how to get to the goat pens. If a few birds do get into the goats’ quarters and eat a bit of hay or grain, it’s generally not detrimental to the birds. It’s just the issues with chicken droppings and eggs. 


Read more: Ready to add livestock to your flock? Here’s where to start.


Pasture Fencing

Fencing a pasture is a long-term investment. It pays to make sure it’s done correctly.

Many predators think pastured animals look particularly tasty. So give consideration to keeping predators out, as well as keeping in livestock. There are several different materials that can be used for fencing, but for goats and chickens, the fence should be at least 4 feet high.

Woven wire fencing and cattle panels are two popular options.

Cattle panels are 16 feet long and can be configured in many ways. They can also be cut into smaller sections.

goats chickens pasture pasturing together
Kim De Sutter/Shutterstock

Woven wire fencing is a common choice, but it should be supported with sturdy posts set relatively close together (10 feet or less) for stability and to prevent sagging. If using cattle panels or woven wire to create pastures intended for chickens or dwarf goats, it’s important to use a smaller 2-by-4-inch mesh size (at least near the bottom) rather than the standard 4-by-4-inch mesh to keep the chickens and goat kids from slipping out. 

Electric fencing can also be used to contain goats and chickens, but the strands need to be spaced fairly close together to keep them in. Alternatively, electric fencing can be used in conjunction with other fencing types to prevent predators from getting in and discourage any goats or chickens from getting out. 

This is generally accomplished by installing electric fencing along the top and near the bottom on the outside of cattle panel or woven wire fencing. Welded wire fencing is not recommended for goats because they rub and stand on the fence. This will break the welds and eventually destroy the fence.

Some keepers use chain-link fencing, but it’s expensive—especially when fencing large areas. 

Farmers have pastured livestock species together for centuries. With a proper setup, it’s fairly easy to successfully pasture chickens and goats together. As long as you prepare for a few special needs, they happily co-exist and provide delicious eggs, milk and meat for your farm. 


Sidebar: Garden Treats

Garden greens can be great treats for chickens and goats. Keep yours happy by feeding them greens from the following vegetable families.

Cucurbitaceae Family

These vegetables are all great sources of nutrition and are also considered to be natural dewormers.

  • pumpkins
  • squash
  • zucchini
  • cucumbers
  • melons
Leguminosae Family

Fresh beans (avoid uncooked dried beans) and peas as well as the plants make nutritious, high-protein treats.

  • beans
  • peas
Gramineae Family

The original food used for chicken scratch, corn is best fed in moderation because it’s low in protein and nutritional value as well as high in carbohydrates. The entire plant is edible, take care when feeding the stalks and leaves, as too much can cause problems in both chicken crops (stringy leaves can cause impacted crops) and goat rumens.

  • corn
Compositae Family

All of these plants make great additions to their diets, and sunflowers can be dried to feed during the winter.

  • lettuce
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • sunflowers
Umbelliferae family

Chickens and goats tend to love the plants from this family. The tops and roots can be fed and are nutritious for them.

  • carrots
  • celery
  • fennel
  • parsnips
Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food Homesteading

Excerpt: In Search of Mycotopia (Doug Bierend)

Fungi are fundamental to life. As decomposers, they are critical to the formation and sustenance of soils and ecosystems. As endlessly innovative chemists, they devise and secrete enzymes that can break down a vast variety of materials, mitigate bacterial and viral infections, and interact—for better or worse—with the bodies and brains of animals that consume their fruiting bodies, commonly called mushrooms.

In In Search of Mycotopia, Doug Bierend introduces readers to an incredible and oft-overlooked kingdom of life and the potential it holds for our future, by way of the weird and wonderful communities of citizen scientists and microbe devotees working on the fungal frontier.

The following is an excerpt from In Search of Mycotopia by Doug Bierend. It has been adapted for the web.

fungal fungus
Cheslea Green

Fungi: Around and Among Us

Earth teems with fungi. Throughout forests, jungles, grasslands, and deserts; in puddles, at lakeshores, and on the ocean floor; between cracks in stone and on the peaks of mountains; in all climates and on every continent. Fungi can be found as easily during a walk in rain-soaked woods as in the produce aisle, or simply by jabbing a finger into healthy soil. They are essential and ubiquitous. Turn over a rock, dig under the roots of a tree, scoop up a handful of water, open your mouth: there be the fungi. Stop reading for a moment and take a deep breath—you’ve just inhaled their spores.

Whether we know it or not, our daily life is rife with fungal encounters: in the beer and wine we drink; the bread, cheese, yogurt, tempeh, and soy sauce we eat; thousands of the medicines and chemicals on which we rely; and the fuzzy splotches that turn our tomatoes to mush.1 But more than providing conveniences, inconveniences, or culinary experiences, in a meaningful, even literal sense, quietly and largely unseen, fungi bind the living world together. Their exquisitely fine fibers aerate soils, enhancing water retention and bracing against erosion.2Meanwhile, fungi churn endlessly underfoot, mobilizing the makings of new life. They are called primary decomposers because they’re often first in line to dine on dead or dying trees, leaf litter, and other organic detritus, unlocking nutrients and kicking off the chains of succession that power our planet’s ecosystems.3

Mycological innovator Tradd Cotter uses the term molecular keys to describe their ability to unlock a wide range of chemical bonds, such as those that constitute plants, bugs, bacteria, and anything else that lands on a mushroom’s menu.4

In these capacities, fungi connect all living things in essential relational webs; without them, entire ecosystems would collapse.

And yet, while fundamental, fungi are not at the center of things; rather, they exemplify the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. Our own health relies on dizzyingly diverse communities of microscopic organisms, in what we have come to call our micro- and mycobiomes. Scientists have found that only 43 percent of the cells that make up our corporeal form are actually human; the majority of what counts as “us” comprises bacteria, fungi, and other microbes.5 For every human gene in our bodies, there are 360 microbial genes.6 It’s enough to inspire an identity crisis.7 As professor Ruth Ley, director of Microbiome Science at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, put it, “Your body isn’t just you.”8

Even as microbes have gained prominence in science’s view of the world, fungi have remained marginal figures. Fungi were regarded as a funky subset of plants until the latter half of the twentieth century; not until 1969 were they formally recognized as a completely distinct kingdom of life, on par with any other—animals, plants, bacteria—in terms of their scale, variety, and ecological importance. The point is often made that animals, amoeba, and fungi are more closely related to one another than to plants, which may explain something of why they can seem at once strange and uncannily familiar. Many do look like something squarely between animal and vegetable, with an ostensibly rootlike structure underground and mushrooms above that are often described as “fleshy.” Some even protect themselves with melanin; leave a shiitake mushroom out in the sun for a while, and its flesh will surge with vitamin D.9

The oldest confirmed fungal fossil is dated at about 800 million years old,10 though it’s possible that fungi—and if not fungi, then something quite similar—were found in fossils from 2.4 billion years ago.11 Regardless, most current views of the evolutionary tree show animals separating from fungi at around a billion years ago.12 That’s around the time when life on earth was still confined to the oceans, and indeed, fungi were at the fore in the move to shore, intimately tied up with the lives of the earliest land plants, in symbiotic relationships that persist to this day.13 Fossils in Quebec and elsewhere paint the picture of a 400-million-year-old world in which the largest things living on land were the prototaxites, twenty-five-foot-tall spires of what appear to have been a kind of lichen—themselves entanglements of fungi and photosynthesizing algae—that loomed over Ordovician landscapes like blind watchtowers.14

fungal fungus
Doug Bierend

Nowadays, plants are the biomass heavyweights of the world, but fungi remain deeply enmeshed with them and their environments, moving nutrients and transmitting chemical information, a sort of circulatory and nervous system in one.15

As old hands at symbiosis, fungi form networks in a literal sense, as weblike beings below the soil and inside other organisms, and also in a relational sense, serving as interfaces among organisms. All species of plants have been found to harbor what are called endophytic fungi, which live as hidden threads woven in and among their cells—in the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits—serving to metabolize nutrients or dissuade foraging, essentially acting as adopted organs to their host, and vice versa.16 Meanwhile, the vast majority of plants—some 92 percent of known species—extend their roots’ reach thanks to intimate entanglement with mycorrhizae. Literally “root fungi,” mycorrhizae solubilize minerals from the soil in exchange for plant sugars produced by photosynthesis.17

Yet despite fungi’s ubiquity and importance, many people lack even a fundamental understanding of what they are or how they live. As mammals we can’t help but have an intuitive sense for what animals are and what’s required for our survival: water, food, oxygen, temperatures within certain ranges. Even without any botanical background, many will be familiar with the basics of plants: they soak up water and minerals from the soil through roots, convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis, “breathe” in carbon dioxide, “exhale” oxygen, and cast cooling shade. These are the barest basics, but it’s more than many people know about fungi. Ask someone what a fungus eats and perhaps they’ll guess manure, or rotting fruit, or houses, each of which counts as a correct answer. Considering what a vast variety of things fungi consume, though, or can consume, it’s difficult to guess wrong; cigarette butts and cicada butts would be equally correct guesses. But ask a stranger how fungi eat, and it’s a good bet you’ll stump them. (Stumps, by the way, are also fixtures of the fungal diet.)

The average person can be forgiven for a lack of fungal literacy. After centuries preoccupied with plants and animals, the institutions of natural science have been slow to prioritize fungi, and few of us receive even a basic education in their biology or ecology. Nevertheless, a great deal is now known, thanks largely to the efforts of passionate mycologists both inside and outside those institutions. Yet many details of fungal biology, their evolutionary history, and their ecological roles in soils, among plants, and in human culture remain cloaked in mystery. For the curious, it offers a lifetime of inquiry and many opportunities to contribute to our understanding of a vital dimension of nature. Luckily for the nonscientists among us, it doesn’t require a biology degree to learn about, or from, fungi.

Notes

1. Sixty percent of the enzymes used in industry come from fungi, 70 percent of which come from just seven species; see Willis, State of the World’s Fungi 2018.

2. Elaine R.Ingham, “Soil Fungi,”USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, accessed June 25, 2020.

3. Peter McCoy, Radical Mycology: A Treatise on Seeing and Working with Fungi (Portland, OR: Chthaeus Press, 2016), 53–55.

4. Tradd Cotter, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2014), 3.

5. James Gallagher, “More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human,” BBC News, April 10, 2018.

6. “NIH Human Microbiome Project Defines Normal Bacterial Makeup of the Body,” NIH News Release, June 13, 2012.

7. From a genetic perspective, the twenty thousand or so genes at the heart of our cells share our bodies with between two and twenty million microbial genes. Humans even share a fair amount of genetic code with fungi, perhaps due in part to our common heritage. In 2015, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin tested a yeast that could survive after any of its 176 genes was replaced with a human analogue. For an account of that discovery, see Marc Airhart, “Partly Human Yeast Show a Common Ancestor’s Lasting Legacy,” UT Research Showcase, The University of Texas at Austin, May 21, 2015.

8. Gallagher, “More Than Half Your Body.”

9. Glenn Cardwell et al., “A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D,” Nutrients 10, no. 10, (October 2018): 1498.

10. Jason Arunn Murugesu, “The Oldest Fungi Fossils Have Been Identified in a Belgian Museum,” New Scientist, January 22, 2020.

11. Stefan Bengtson, “Fungus-Like Organisms in Deep Time and Deep Rock,” Nature Research Ecology & Evolution Community, April 24, 2017.

12. David Moore, Geoffrey D. Robson, and Anthony P. J. Trinci, “The Fungal Phylogeny,” 21st Century Guidebook to Fungi, 2nd ed., January 2020.

13. Bin Wang et al., “Presence of Three Mycorrhizal Genes in the Common Ancestor of Land Plants Suggests a Key Role of Mycorrhizas in the Coloniza- tion of Land by Plants,” New Phytologist 186, no. 2 (2010): 514–25.

14. David Moore, Fungal Biology in the Origin and Emergence of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 157.

15. Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo, “The Biomass Distribution on Earth,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 25 ( June 2018): 6506–11, Fig. 1.

16. Ekta Khare, Jitendra Mishra, and Naveen Kumar Arora, “Multifaceted Interac- tions Between Endophytes and Plant: Developments and Prospects,” Frontiers in Microbiology 15 (November 2018); Kusam Lata Rana et al., “Endophytic Fungi: Biodiversity, Ecological Signifi- cance, and Potential Industrial Applications,” in Recent Advancement in White Biotechnology Through Fungi, vol. 1, Diversity and Enzymes Perspectives (Cham, CH: Springer, 2019), 1–62.

17. Michael Phillips, Mycorrhizal Planet (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2017), 6.

Categories
Farm & Garden Farm Management

Video: Find Water Lines Before Digging Using Water Witching

When it comes time to dig around the farm, you need to know the location of potential lines. It’s worth noting right at the top, though, that you should always contact the local locator service when it’s a question of power or gas lines.

But for private water lines on your property? You don’t want to encounter these while digging and either have to change your plans or, in the worst case, bust your pipes.

Well, that’s where water witching can come in handy.


Read more: Water dowsing can help you find water for a well, too. Here’s what to know.


What’s Water Witching?

Water witching (or dowsing) is commonly used to locate water for a well. But you can also use this ancient (and, to some, of dubious scientific repute) method to locate water lines before digging.

So how does water witching work? Well … nobody’s really sure about that.

But the method by which witching does work is as follows. First, you need two “divining rods.” These don’t need to be anything fancy, and many people (including me in this video) just cut and bend two metal clothes hangers into L shapes.

The technique for using these rods is simple, too. Loosely hold the rods parallel to each other in your firsts. They should move around freely—you’re not gripping them or anything.

Then you just walk around the area you suspect contains a water line. When you’re above the water line, the rods will “sense” the metal or water, move toward each other and cross.

Put a flag into the ground at this point, then keep walking around the area. When the rods cross again, place another flag. Once you’ve got a few of these points marked, you’ll have a good idea of where the water line runs underneath the ground.

You can call it what you want. I’ve heard witching called everything from pseudoscience to hogwash to dark magic. And while I can’t say what exactly is happening when I’m dousing for water, there’s one thing I know for sure—it works for me, and knowing where my water lines are saves me when I want to safely dig on my land!

Categories
Beginning Farmers Equipment Farm & Garden

Is Your Pickup Truck Ready For Life On The Farm?

As every farmer knows, a pickup truck is one of (if not the) most important tools around the acreage. So, it’s worth making sure that your truck is ready for everything you’ll ask of it. Small improvements like installing a trailer hitch or headache rack will make your truck a much more versatile farm vehicle.

Before investing in any particular upgrades, make sure you have a good idea what you’ll be using your pickup truck for. And, make sure to take some time to get to know your truck before adding on too many improvements.

Here are some of the modifications to help get your truck ready for its best life on the farm.

Trailer Hitch

Odds are at some point you’ll find yourself needing to tow something, whether it’s a livestock trailer to take your animals off the farm or a utility trailer to haul hay. So, if your truck doesn’t already have a trailer hitch, consider investing in one. 

You might also consider purchasing a tri-ball mount to go with your hitch. Being able to attach to all of the common ball sizes will give you the flexibility to help out a neighbor or easily haul a rental trailer if you need to.


Read more: In the market for a stock trailer? Here’s what you need to know.


Tool Box

If you anticipate using your truck to help with on-farm projects, consider mounting a toolbox in your bed. 

I also recommend outfitting your toolbox with all of the basic hand tools you might need while you’re fixing a fence post or patching an irrigation leak. Nothing’s worse than having to drive (or walk) all the way back to the shop to get a screwdriver that you forgot. 

Skid Plate

If you plan on using your truck to frequent your farm’s backwoods, consider installing an “off-road” skid plate.  Pretty much all trucks are equipped with a skid plate to protect your radiator, oil-pan and everything else underneath your engine block.  But, in most cases, these skid plates are made of plastic and don’t do much more than prevent mud splatter. 

If you plan on taking your truck up into the woods to load it up with firewood, for instance, consider upgrading your skid plate to a steel model.

Headache Rack

For those who don’t know, a “headache rack” is designed to protect you from the headache (or much worse) of having the cargo in your bed come smashing through the cab window after a sudden stop. 

They’re not all that expensive. They’re also well worth the money if you plan on filling up your truck bed with some frequency.  Consider it a recommended safety feature. 


Read more: Keep safety first with these farm safety tips.


Bed Rack

If you plan on using your truck to haul larger materials around your farm with some frequency, consider buying (or building) a bed rack. Bed racks are especially helpful for carrying anything that’s too long to safely fit in your truck’s bed. 

Do you anticipate needing to move many fence posts, pieces of lumber or PVC pipes?  If so, a bed rack might come in handy.

What you need from your truck will become apparent over time, so don’t feel like you need to make too many changes all at once.  Just enjoy getting to use your truck for what it was meant to do.

And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to get it dirty and a bit dented.

Categories
Food Recipes

Recipe: Creamy, Savory Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken

This creamy sun-dried tomato chicken dish has bold Italian flavors. Sun-dried tomatoes pair so well with the creamy sauce and flavors from the fresh herbs. One of the reasons I love this recipe is because it speaks to my Italian heritage.

I actually developed this chicken recipe because I had homemade sun-dried tomatoes from my mother that I needed to use. Because the Italian in our family comes from her side, I thought it would be the perfect tribute to that heritage! 

Yield: 4 to 6 servings 

Ingredients

  • 1 1⁄2 cups chicken broth 
  • 4 ounces oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and minced 
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced 
  • 1 cup heavy cream 
  • 4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, halved lengthwise 
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped or whole 
  • 1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided 
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped, for garnish 
  • 1 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish 
  • 1 pound cooked pasta, for serving (I prefer fettuccine) 

Read more: Check out this recipe for poached egg carbonara!


Preparation

In the slow cooker, combine the broth, tomatoes, salt, pepper and garlic. Nestle the chicken breasts into the mixture. Turn the slow cooker on high for 2 hours or low for 4 hours. 

Add the heavy cream, spinach and 1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese and replace the lid. Let it cook for about 30 minutes on low, or until the spinach is wilted and the cheese is melted through. Garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, basil and parsley, and serve your sun-dried tomato chicken with the pasta.

This recipe originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Chickens magazine. Author Alli Kelley is a frequent contributor to Hobby Farms magazine. For more great slow-cooker recipes, check out her new book, Rustic Farmhouse Slow Cooker. For more recipes on the site, click here to see what we’ve collected!

Categories
Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden

How To (Safely!) Clean & Prepare Gourds For Use

The hard-shelled bushel gourds I grew last season had been hanging up in my garage for several months before I noticed any significant changes. Then, practically overnight, they’d become lighter and covered with molds in shades of pink, gray, tan and black.

While this stage doesn’t look very appealing, the molds actually help to degrade and soften my gourds’ outer skins. This process makes removing that outer epidermis much easier.

And once I slough off that mess? I expose the gourd’s hard, golden shell—complete with intricate blotches and circular patterns the molds left behind.


Read more: Grow hard-shelled bushel gourds in your garden!


Why Clean Them?

“A [cleaned] gourd is very similar to basswood,” says TeriLu Adler. An Indiana Artisan and owner of Purple Pig Studios Creative Arts, Adler has been working with gourds for more than 20 years. Once cleaned, gourds provide artists like Adler with hard, impermeable canvases.

She continues, “Because you don’t have to deal with [wood] grain and sap, gourds are perfect for things like wood-burning and cutting.”

Although not every crafter removes their gourds’ exterior skin, Adler thinks they should. “If you don’t [remove the epidermidis], it can slide off on its own in the future, and all your artwork would be lost.”

‘Gourd Flu’?

Exterior cleaning, interior preparation and even some gourd crafting techniques can pose health risks, if you aren’t careful. “Many people are very sensitive to that mold [on the gourd epidermis],” Adler notes. “That is one version of ‘gourd flu.’ They inhale that mold and it creates a respiratory issue for them.”

To mitigate your risk, wear a respirator or N95 mask while cleaning gourds and clean them outdoors. You might also want to wear goggles and gloves.

“I’m not that sensitive to gourds, but I do clean them underwater,” Adler says. “I bring them into the house and soak them in my kitchen sink. Some people will add bleach, but I’ve never thought I needed to.”

A dash of soap, a metal scrubby—and some degree of patience—are usually all it takes. (I scrubbed my gourds clean using small, circular motions.)

cleaning gourds gourd artwork art craft crafts
Original works by TeriLu Adler. (Courtesy photos.)

Other Methods

There are less labor-intensive ways to expose your gourds’ hard shells. For instance, Adler continues, “Some people bury them in potting soil and let them sit.”

She has been known to put her gourds and some water in black trash bags and place those on an asphalt driveway. “I’d let them bake for a day or two,” Adler says. “The point is just to get that skin to loosen, because sometimes it’s just almost impossible to remove.”

How easily the epidermis comes loose depends in part on the type of gourd you have. The way you store your drying gourds is another factor. “When I’ve grown them, I leave mine outside through the winter, because that freeze-and-thaw [cycle] loosens that epidermis and makes it easier to remove,” Adler says.


Read more: Feeling crafty? Try making paper out of turkey tail mushrooms!


Greenscraping

Adler has also tried “greenscraping” with mixed success. “Once their gourds are ripe, some people—instead of letting them sit outside all winter—they’ll take a butter knife and literally scrape that epidermis off,” she explains.

The benefit? Without that outer skin, the gourd won’t mold. “That’s how they have gourds that have no blemishes on them,” she continues. “I personally kind of like the mold patterns.”

Still, greenscaping can be risky. Greenscraped gourds can shrivel, crack or even collapse—particularly if they weren’t completely ripe or if they dry too quickly.

On the Inside

Planning to make baskets or bowls out of your gourds? That means cutting them open—and creating fine dust in the process. “That is the second kind of ‘gourd flu,’” Adler says. “People inhale that dust just like a woodworker, so they should always wear a respirator when cutting.”

Exposing a gourd’s dried seeds and pulp can further trigger respiratory responses. So can scraping and sanding the inside of the gourd. In addition to wearing protective gear, consider taking these activities outdoors.

Of course, unless you’re saving seed, it isn’t always necessary to remove your gourds’ guts. “A lot of people make them into birdhouses, and I can tell you from experience that birds don’t care what’s inside,” Adler says.

“So, I usually just cut a hole out for the birdhouse and let the birds clean up what they don’t want.”

Long-Term Storage

Adler stored her cleaned gourds in airtight, plastic bins. “If your gourds are thin, the mice will go after them,” she warns.

But, if you can keep the mice away? Finished pieces—especially thick-walled, hard-shelled gourds—can last for decades.

Categories
Animals Poultry

Chickens & Art Inspire Peace In Uncertain Times

After watching the news of COVID-19 in other countries in late winter of 2020 of what was possibly about to happen in the United States, my family decided to raise some chickens. Let me start by saying I have always wanted chickens. 

We are fortunate to have bought one of the few remaining larger lots overlooking Lake Travis in central Texas. My wonderful husband built me a dream art studio on our land (I’m an art educator), which I share with our community for camps, workshops and, now, chickens. 

However, after watching the news of what was slowly unfolding in other countries across the world, I realized we were in it for a long run of sheltering in place. 

chickens art
Amber Gordon

Getting Cooped Up

I wanted a family project to create with my twin boys (Adrien and Julien) during this time. So the Thursday of spring break, I preordered a chicken coop. That Friday, after I left school, Adrien, Julien and I went to the farm-supply store and purchased some baby chicks.

We drove home listening to the beautiful chirping of the sweet chicks now in our care. I told my boys that Daddy might not be happy with this, but he loves us and will get over it! 

Needless to say, my loving and supportive husband quickly got over his initial apprehension. He soon accepted our new flock of friends. He even helped us in assembling the coop and fencing in the chicken run area, installing an automatic door and creating a few sturdy bench swings and roosting areas.

His research and support created a safe environment of enjoyment for our chickens.


Read more: Meet another family who filled the coop with pandemic poultry! 


A Poultry Palette

As an art educator, I love rainbows and color, and our area for chickens was no exception.

With the inspiration of my students and the stay-at-home orders, the kids were busy sharing the creations they were making at their homes via emails and such. Thus, we decided on the idea of the rainbow stained-glass-looking backdrop. 

The art students that came to our art camp over the summer found more than art to relax them. They enjoyed a flock of feathery friends to catch and adore!

One of the pleasures of being around children is hearing their laughter as find their happy place with their creations and watch them chase and catch chickens.

I thoroughly enjoy sitting on one of the swinging benches and watching the chickens’ personalities. However, I have come to realize that my chicken therapy is also therapy for children, as well. Several parents have messaged me asking if they can swing by to let their child visit our chickens.

We even had a family chicken-sit for us!

chickens art
Amber Gordon

Adrien and Julien have named all our chickens, and with the help of my art students some have been renamed. St Patty, Lucky, Strawberry, Raspberry, Blue, Blueberry, Owl, Hedgy, Blackberry, King Boss and First Mate. I thoroughly love what I do, creating art with others and chicken therapy!

Amber Gordon is the owner of ArtBarnATX. She teaches art at Laura Welch Bush Elementary in Austin, Texas. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Chickens magazine. 


We Want To Hear From You

Tell us your story, and we may choose it to run in our regular “Chicken Chat” column! Email the story of your chickens in about 750 words to chickens@chickensmagazine.com (subject line: Chicken Chat). Be sure to include high-resolution images or photos of yourself, your chickens and/or your coop. The author of each issue’s published essay will receive a special farm sign and T-shirt from Stromberg’s Chickens and Game Birds Unlimited (800-720-1134; www.strombergschickens.com), which offers a selection of birds, books, supplies and equipment for the breeding, rearing and management of poultry, ducks, guineas, waterfowl, game birds, peafowl, pheasants, quail and doves! 

Categories
Poultry

Getting Started: Moving On Up To The Coop

The past three months have been memorable ones, full of discovery, growth, and—if you’re like me—dozens (hundreds?) of photos of your baby chicks as they transformed from fluffy infants to gawky juveniles. You’ve had to move your growing flock to a larger brooder one or more times.The day has finally come for one more move—into the coop.

That’s right, it’s time for your birds to move into their permanent home. You’re taking them to the coop you lovingly and painstakingly prepared for them a while back.

Before you transport your birds to their new digs, however, you’ll want to review these four suggestions to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.

Final Walk-Through

If you’ve had your coop equipped and ready to go for months, you’ll want to thoroughly inspect it prior to moving your birds in. Check the interior—floors, walls and ceiling—for condensation, water streaks or any kind of moisture.

These are signs that your coop roof might be leaking or that the coop’s joints, windows or doors are not weather tight.

Carefully inspect your roof for minute openings. Add caulking, weatherstripping or sealants along gaps in the framing and walls.

Be sure to thoroughly dry the coop’s interior. Replace any moist bedding.

Let the sealants dry at least 24 hours and, preferably, wait until it rains again to check if your repairs held up against the weather.


Read more: Consider these things when buying or building your chicken coop.


Eviction Notice

It’s quite possible that, in the time since you set up your coop, some squatters may have moved in and made themselves at home. Wild animals always seek shelter. An unoccupied outbuilding like a henhouse provides a perfect home for a variety of critters.

Check under eaves and in interior upper corners for wasps’ nests. Remember not to use insecticide to remove these. The chemicals can be toxic to your birds.

If you have an elevated coop, peek underneath to make sure no one claimed that space as a den. If you have a natural floor, examine it carefully for signs of digging, tunneling or burrowing. These can indicate anything from snakes and skunks to rats and raccoons.

Be sure to look for ants, earwigs and other local insects that may have set up house in your henhouse. If your henhouse has high rafters, you may want to also check for bats.

If your coop has become a wildlife residence, you may wish to consider calling a wildlife control expert. Then thoroughly inspect your coop to discover how these creatures got in to prevent their return once your flock takes residence.

Chill Out

Even though your chicks are fully feathered, this doesn’t mean you can plunk them into their coop and leave them to the mercy of the elements. This is especially true if you live in a northern or southern state where weather extremes are common.

A week before you plan on moving your juveniles out, take a temperature reading inside the coop. A well-built henhouse—especially one that’s insulated—should have a comfortable temperature within.

If it is too warm inside, consider opening windows or adding cross ventilation to create a breeze and get the air circulating. Ensure your windows are securely screened and that any vent holes you cut are covered with quarter-inch hardware mesh to keep predators out.

If the temperature is too cold, look for and seal drafts. And if your coop is equipped with electricity, consider mounting ceramic heating panels on the walls to add some safe heating elements.

Recheck the interior temperature a couple of days later to make sure it’s closer to what your youngsters are used to before they move in.


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Bring It Down

One mistake that those new to poultry-keeping commonly make when setting up their coop is equipment placement. Feeders and waterers tend to be secured at heights appropriate for adult birds rather than for juveniles.

Moving to a new home is confusing enough for your little ones. Make sure they can easily access what is already familiar to them.

Bring raised feeders and waterers down to your coop floor. Then adjust their height using bricks as your birds grow. If your coop’s roost is not adjustable, consider purchasing—or building—a stand-alone perch you can easily remove once your juveniles can jump up to their grown-up sleep spot.

Categories
Animals Poultry

Technology Keeps Chickens Happy At This Homestead

We have kept chickens for five years in a small urban town in Rhode Island. Our inspiration? A visit to Hawaii, where we enjoyed fresh eggs every day.

We started with buying a used coop in preparation of getting chicks the next spring. But to our surprise, the coop came with a hen named Sunshine. And our flock of chickens (not to mention our coop and technology) has only grown since then!


Read more: Keep these coop considerations in mind when starting a flock!


Growing Flock

We had two hens for a few years, then added to our family. This also started the coop development for the girls.

The expansion included three coops, a covered run and a chunnel through our greenhouse to a recreational area for the girls to forage during the day. Even though we are surrounded by concrete on three sides of our property, we have experienced many predator attacks, therefore they aren’t able to free-range through the yard anymore. 

chicken coop chickens
Andrea & David Rollin

We have a flock of Mille Fleur d’Uccle, Polish Frizzle, Blue Cochin, Ameraucana, Cream Legbar, Plymouth Rock, Brahma, French Copper Marans and a Silkie. They provide a variety of eggs (when they want to): blue, chocolate, white and brown.

Our chickens are very friendly and have even visited after-school programs in the past.


Read more: Which chicken breeds are right for you? Here’s what to know.


Modern Birds

We utilize technology to care for our chickens. Wyze cameras show us their activity, and we share the links with friends to see them. Amazon’s Alexa plays music for them and also turns on the greenhouse lights.

A Wi-Fi enabled door is going in the chunnel that will close off the recreational area each night to keep the girls safe. 

It’s not all technology here, though, and our chickens enjoy plenty of nature. We reside along the Pawtuxet River with a tree-lined view that overlooks a waterfall. We keep the girls entertained with Japanese knotweed, hanging lettuce and a chicken swing. 

The coop has been repurposed with various materials and retrofitted with Brazilian cherry walls, French doors and teal blue accents. An old sink makes it easy to wash our hands when we’re finished playing with the chickens. 

chicken coop chickens
Andrea & David Rollin

The hens have been a great addition to our urban homestead, where we grow our vegetables, plant 250 garlic bulbs a year and have more than 100 different variety of plants! — Andrea & David Rollin, West Warwick, Rhode Island

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Chickens magazine.

Categories
Farm & Garden Farm Management

Does Your Barn Need Fresh Paint? Spring’s The Perfect Time

Have you ever wondered why we paint farm buildings? Some folks might assume that exterior paints serve a primarily aesthetic purpose. A farm isn’t truly a farm unless it has a red barn (or at least a red shed), right?

And don’t the windows look better with their trim painted white?

Granted, aesthetics are a viable reason to paint farm buildings. And the more artistic among us can get very creative with hues and color schemes. But painting also serves a critically important practical purpose: to protect buildings from the elements, and prolong their existence as a result.


Read more: Does your barn need a new coat of paint? Think green!


What Wood You Do?

Consider a classic wooden barn. Wood is a natural product that doesn’t last forever. Left unprotected, it will eventually rot.

No one wants their barn to come crashing down as the wood degrades.

Some types of wood are more resilient than others. And treated lumber will resist degradation even better. But painting the wood adds another layer of protection, sealing out moisture and blocking harmful ultraviolet rays.

Basically, a coat (or two) of paint is a straightforward way to help your farm buildings stand strong for decades.

Paint’s Impermanence

There’s only one problem. Paint doesn’t last forever, either. It can chip. It can peel. And eventually, your bright barn will look decidedly less cheerful, with spots of bare wood showing through wherever the paint has lost its frontline battle with the elements.

So when you paint your barn and farm buildings, it isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s an ongoing process, resumed whenever the current coats start showing their age.

You might be able to get away with touching up spots that have weathered prematurely. For example, a farmhouse porch might start to lose its paint between the door and the walkway, an area that sees heavy foot traffic. But once exterior walls start losing paint, you may have no choice but to remove the remaining paint (a pressure washer can do the trick) and start from scratch.


Read more: Get the job done right—keep these tips in mind when you paint your barn!


Springtime is the Right Time

Spring is a good time to evaluate your farm buildings and determine if your barn and outbuildings might need a fresh coat of paint. Not only does a spring review give you a chance to analyze how winter weather affected your buildings, it also leaves you with plenty of time through the spring and summer to repaint as necessary.

If you’ve been on the ball with painting, you might find every building is in perfect shape, and none require any attention. In that case, good work and congratulations!

But if paint is peeling and you have a round of revisions on the horizon, consider this an opportunity to follow all the right recommendations. Maximize the time until the next paint job.

For starters, the type of paint you use is important. Latex paints are frequently recommended for exterior surfaces. But it’s equally important to paint in the right weather conditions.

The temperature should generally be above 50 degrees F. But don’t assume hot weather is better than mild weather. Hot weather can cause latex paint to dry faster than ideal, preventing it from adhering like it should.

And it goes without saying that you should avoid rainy weather, both before and after your targeted painting days.

Staying on top of painting farm buildings requires commitment—it can be easy to let peeling paint slide when there are so many other pressing projects battling for your attention.

But keeping your barn and outbuildings properly painted is well worth the effort. They’ll thank you with their longevity!