Categories
Animals Farm & Garden Flock Talk Poultry

Chicken Chat: Falling In Love With A Special Flock

In early 2021, my family was thinking about getting some pet chickens for eggs. Every weekend, we would go to farm-supply stores for supplies. We even had a custom coop built by a local builder. In April, we got our first Rhode Island Red hens: Phoenix, Joe, Eater, Daisy, Big Bird, Karen, Popcorn, Angela, Suni and Jeffrey. The breeder said they were roughly 2 years old, but we believed they were older. 

These hens were the sweetest birds I had ever met. They would hear me coming outside and immediately start “talking.” I spent hours hanging out with them, taking care of them in the morning and night and daydreaming about them during school (especially during math!).

However, most passed away within a year or two. We currently only have two left: Big Bird (more on her later) and Daisy.

Chicken Math

My brother, Carson, and I kept researching new chicken breeds and really wanted a rooster and some more hens. We found a lady selling two Black Australorp hens, one Rhode Island Red hen, one Easter Egger hen and an Easter Egger rooster. She was moving and didn’t want to transport them. 

By that fall, it was time for more chickens! I purchased some chicks at a farm-supply store with my own money: two Speckled Sussex, which is one of my favorite breeds; four Sapphire Gems; and two brown Easter Eggers. The chicks lived in the back of our horse trailer with a heat lamp in a plastic pool lined with bedding. 

Every time I buy chickens, I get more creative with breeds. This round of birds was one of the sweetest but sassiest. This was my first time with chicks, and I really discovered my love for these tiny little creatures. I just loved checking on them, hanging out with them and hearing their little peeps.

chickens

Substitute Teachers

Ever since 2018, Carson and I have been involved in 4-H, and we’re just starting to show chickens. One of our club leaders asked us if we would like to add a few baby chicks to their order. I excitedly started researching the best breeds to show and decided on a Golden Laced Wyandotte. (To anybody who wants sweet birds to start your flock, choose these! They’re the nicest birds and my favorites!) and a Plymouth Rock. Carson chose a White Leghorn and a Buff Orpington. (These two breeds are also super sweet, and I totally recommend them as well!) 

Well, the hatchery messed up the order and didn’t send a Plymouth Rock but instead sent two Black Stars. Although I was sad and disappointed, I am now thankful that they messed up the order because my two Black Stars are such outgoing birds. Every time I walk into the coop, they run up and greet me. 

In early August, Carson and I took our birds to the fair. I showed my Golden Laced Wyandotte, Greta, in the showmanship class and the pullet class. She behaved very well and placed third. I also showed my Speckled Sussex hen, Chika, placing fourth. 

My birds stayed the week at the fair. They loved the extra attention, but by the end, they were ready to get back home and see their friends.


Read more: Check out this young keeper’s eye-catching bantams!


Adding Ducks

In early June, we decided to add some ducks to our flock and settled for four Muscovies. Muscovy ducks are the closest ducks to a chicken and get along great. 

They are very odd because they don’t quack. Instead, they hiss and growl, and red bumps grow all over their head. They sometimes frighten the chickens, but they just really want to be friends. 

chickens ducks

Social Studies

One of my original chickens, Big Bird, kept getting bullied. Her coop mates would even rip her feathers out. I knew I would eventually have to do something.

One day when I got home from school, Big Bird was sitting in the nesting box with her head gushing blood and her flesh showing. My mom and I took her into our basement and put her in a cat carrier. I visited her every day and came to realize there was something special about this small, hopeless, old hen. 

We soon moved her into our shed into a dog kennel, where she loves spending time. Her head healed perfectly, which I am very thankful for. She also sometimes hangs out with her bestie, Daisy. Big Bird is the first chicken that I really bonded with. I hope she has a smooth future and an easy rest of her life.

I love my chickens more and more every day. This spring, I plan on getting more chicks: a Buff Cochin (this will be my first Cochin and I’m thrilled!), a red laced Blue Wyandotte and a Silver Spangled Hamburg.

For any new chicken owners, my advice is to start with older chickens. They are way less maintenance than chicks, they produce eggs right away, and they’re extremely sweet. 

Malia F. lives in Prescott, Wisconsin. She prefers cold-hardy breeds with sweet dispositions. 

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Chickens magazine. Have a great story about your flock? Email the story of your birds in ~750 words to chickens@chickensmagazine.com (subject line: Chicken Chat). Be sure to include high-resolution images of yourself, your chickens and/or your coop. The author of each issue’s published essay receives a prize from one of our ad partners. (See print magazine for rules. Sponsor: EG Media Investments LLC)

Categories
Animals Breeds Chickens 101 Farm & Garden Poultry

Hats Off To The Redcap! Historic Chicken Makes A Comeback

Chickens have always held an intricate place in American history. Pioneers settling the Wild West depended on their flocks’ eggs and meat to feed their families. Farmers’ wives sold their hens’ daily efforts for “egg money.” A chicken in every pot was promised as a sign of America’s growing prosperity.

If it weren’t for the humble chicken, America might have developed into a totally different nation than the one we know today.  

 But it’s not just any chicken that helped our country grow. The humble dual-purpose bird not only helped feed a growing America but also played a pivotal role in the growth of American poultry keeping.

And one of the chief chickens that influenced America is the British Redcap

The Definition of Dual Purpose 

One of the world’s original dual-purpose birds, the Redcap chicken originated in northern England, where this standard fowl became one of the most profitable types of poultry a farmer could raise. A highly proficient forager, the Redcap required very little in the way of feed yet managed to produce between 150 to 200 eggs per year.

In addition to its high rate-of-lay, the Redcap also developed delicate yet delicious flesh, making the breed doubly useful as a layer and as a table bird. 


Read more: Keep a conservation flock to preserve endangered breeds.


American Presence 

Although it’s unknown when the Redcap arrived in America, its spread throughout the U.S. is well documented. By the mid-1800s, the Redcap chicken was being shown in poultry exhibitions and was serving as the foundation fowl for egg-production flocks.

By the 1890s, immense flocks of Redcaps could be found across the country, kept by both egg farmers and poultry enthusiasts.  

Vanishing Act 

While the Redcap was taking America by storm, the story back in England was altogether different. Despite its fabulous forage conversion rate and its high egg production, the Redcap fell out of favor with British farmers and fanciers.

By 1900, the Redcap was virtually extinct in its native country. Inexplicably, America followed suit a few years later, and this previously valuable breed all but vanished.  


Read more: Consider these 4 critically endangered chickens for your flock.


The Redcap Today 

While still extremely rare, the Redcap has slowly begun its journey to recovery thanks to dedicated chicken enthusiasts. The breed is classified as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy, meaning that there are less than 500 individual birds in the U.S. and less than 1,000 total worldwide.

In the United Kingdom, the Derbyshire Redcap Club encourages the rearing and protection of the Redcap. In the U.S., commercial hatcheries such as McMurray and My Pet Chicken  are working to help in the breed’s recovery.  

The Remarkable Redcap 

There is much more to the Redcap than its amazing foraging and egg-laying abilities. Its most distinctive feature is actually the one that gives the breed its name: its prominent rose comb.

This nubby comb can extend backward over the bird’s head—like a red cap—to a length of 3.5 inches and a width of 2.75 inches. 

Another notable Redcap feature is that, even though the chicken lays white eggs, the earlobes are red, a trait typically associated with brown egg layers.

And Redcaps possess another noteworthy characteristic: longevity. If raised in a favorable environment, Redcaps can live up to 10 years or longer. These cold-hardy birds prefer free ranging to confinement, fly well, and are very active (but shy) around people.

There is only one variety, with deep-red to black feathers tipped with spangles. Adult males reach a weight of 7.5 pounds, while adult females reach 6 pounds. Redcap hens do not go broody and, due to their long lifespans, lay longer than other large-fowl hens.  

Categories
Animals Chicken Coops & Housing Farm & Garden Health & Nutrition Poultry

Check Out This Essential Chick Brooder Checklist

Woohoo! Your new chicks are in the mail! Or maybe you’re about to make a run to the farm-supply store to pick up some peepers. Either way, make sure to set up your brooder about 48 hours before they arrive. This will allow time for bedding and equipment to dry and for the temperature to set.


Read more: These basic brooder tips will get you ready for baby chicks!


Also, check the following off your list. 

  • Check for your brooder drafts.
  • Ensure proper ventilation. 
  • Repair or replace loose or broken windows.
  • Check for damaged flooring or walls.
  • Check for damaged nesting boxes or roosts.
  • Put down fresh, clean litter in the brooder.
  • Clean and repair feeders and waterers. (Check metal waterers for rust.)
  • Check any lighting or other electrical items in the coop.
  • If coop is heated, check your heaters.
  • Examine the run for holes or damage that could let predators in.
  • Consider wrapping the run in a tarp.
  • Check for debris or sharp objects inside and outside.
  • Provide a small roost for your chicks for the first week or two. 

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.

Categories
Crops & Gardening Equipment

Switching Tanks For Hoses Illustrates An Important Farm Leson

Times change. Situations shift. What worked one year might not work the next. This applies to many things in life, including things as obscure as watering raised garden beds in an orchard.

When I started planting a new orchard in 2018, I invested in a 35-gallon leg tank to haul water to my trees. The front of the orchard is about 600 feet from the nearest water source. The back of the orchard is nearly 1,100 feet away, so a gravity-fed leg tank filled in the barnyard and hauled by tractor to the orchard seemed like the simplest way to care for the large handful of trees I’d planted.


Read more: Water your orchard effectively with a 35-gallon leg tank.


Where a 35-gallon leg tank once met my orchard’s watering needs, I now find it’s more effective to use a dozen hoses to water my plants. There’s a lesson in that for farmers.

Changes to the Farm

Indeed, it worked fine for several years. But as I expanded the number of trees in the orchard (and added a couple of raised garden beds for growing pumpkins … and a couple more for growing corn … and then four more beyond that for raspberries and sunflowers and more corn) the 35-gallon leg tank grew insufficient for my needs.

In 2022, most of my trees were established to the point where they didn’t require regular watering beyond the rainfall they receive. But with a bevy of garden beds to care for, the 35-gallon leg tank simply didn’t offer enough capacity. I often found myself making multiple trips to provide enough water during the hot peak of summer. Between filling the tank, driving it to the orchard, slowly dispensing the water by gravity, and driving it back to repeat the process, watering my garden beds became a very time-consuming project.

A Different Approach

That’s why I’m changing up my strategy for 2023. Rather than haul water in a leg tank, I’ve purchased enough hoses to stretch across my farm from a yard hydrant to the garden beds. That’s right—I’ve invested in 625 feet of hoses to go along with the 50-foot hose on my leg tank. When I compared prices across suitable hoses, 50-foot versions were the cheapest. So I bought a dozen of those (that’s all the seller had available) and picked up one 25-footer for good measure, adding up to 625 feet.

You might be wondering about water pressure over such a lengthy distance. Well, the elevation of the yard hydrant is about 15 feet higher than the garden beds, so the downhill slope to the garden beds helps keep water pressure suitable. I tested this last fall using a bunch of other hoses from around the farm. The water pressure at the end is better than I get from the gravity-fed leg tank, so that should work out fine.


Read more: Read some key takeaways one hobby farmer learned from two years of growing corn.


Evaluate the Upsides

Purchasing 625 feet of hoses is more expensive than picking up another 35-gallon leg tank, which is another option I considered. But the upsides are considerable.

I’ll save time by not filling leg tanks and by dispensing a higher volume of water faster with the hoses. Just as importantly, I can water my beds thoroughly during the heat of summer, without having to drive leg tanks back for refills. That may lead to increased yields.

I’ll still use my 35-gallon leg tank for watering trees throughout the orchard, since it works very well for that purpose. But for thirsty corn and pumpkin plants, my new hoses are the perfect solution for changing times and shifting situations.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Just because an approach worked for a while doesn’t mean it’s the perfect approach forever and always. Frequently reevaluating your situations and needs can save you time and lead to better results, as my hoses-versus-leg-tank example illustrations.

Categories
Animals Breeds Farm & Garden Flock Talk Poultry

Earn Some Extra “Clucks” With Exotic Bird Breeds

When it comes to the list of homestead animals to raise, exotic birds usually aren’t at the top. In fact, for many homesteaders, exotic birds may not even be on the list. As far as usefulness goes, these bird breeds give more in good looks than meat or eggs. 

However, Jake, a Missouri homesteader who runs an exotic bird menagerie and the YouTube channel White House on the Hill, has found that colorful birds such as Mandarin Ducks or White Peacocks actually have real profitability that you might want to start considering. 

Though Jake now lives and homesteads on his own land, he originally started his homesteading career on a rental farm in Missouri. As a farm renter, he realized he had the chance to raise chickens, so he and his family started with a dozen chicks—10 of which turned out to be roosters.

That batch of chicks didn’t pan out as he’d hoped. But these chicks were the first step in Jake’s homesteading career. 

Soon he became aware of other homesteading families who had expanded their homesteading efforts into self-sustainability. “When we started to look up how to take care of chickens, it just kind of opened our eyes to a whole other world,” he says. “There’s growing your own food and raising your family out in the country where you’re doing it all together.”

Working with his landlords, Jake expanded his homestead into gardening. But since he was on a rental property, he had to keep his main focus on birds. Unabashed, he turned an old shed into a chicken coop, built mobile chicken tractors to house his growing chicken flock and started hatching his own birds. 

“That’s where we got into some other types of exotic birds,” he says. “We got some Red Golden Pheasants and Mandarin Ducks and peacocks.”

Once he mastered hatching birds, Jake was ready to set off and explore the vast world of exotic birds, ranging from White Peacocks and emus to midnight black Ayam Cemani chickens. And much to his benefit, the exotic bird world held a promising niche market.


Read more: The rare Ayam Cemani chicken breed is a solid black beauty.


The Exotic Bird Market

An exotic bird may not top everyone’s Christmas list, but Jake has found the market surprisingly vigorous. “There’s a good market for a lot of the birds,” he says. “Emus can get pretty expensive the more mature they get. An egg can be about $50, and a hatched emu chick can be a $150 and then a 6-month-old can be $300.”

Jake’s rainbow-sheened Mandarin Ducks also do well on the market. Their sales offset many expenses on his homestead, making it easier for him to expand or start other homesteading projects. 

However, though the exotic bird industry is a promising and growing industry, you need to be aware that the market has scammers lurking in it. Facebook is one of the places Jake recommends beginners look for exotic bird breeds, but he warns that exotic bird scammers also consider this platform prime hunting grounds. 

“You have to be kind of cautious when you’re on Facebook,” he says, “because there are a lot of foreign scammers who are scamming people in the U.S. who will pay $200 for a bird. You might try to buy ducks, pay $200 and you never get the ducks.” Jake advises that people buy their exotic birds locally off of Facebook, or preferably, meet up with or have someone vouch for the seller. 

Still, scammers online aren’t exactly a new phenomenon. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for homesteaders to pick up the difference and do well in the exotic bird market. Jake has already noticed more exotic bird breeders entering the market, causing the market to blossom with demand. This demand is leading breeders to import and breed more rare fowl, like Jake’s White Peacocks, Red Golden Pheasants and the vast array of other rare birds he raises. 

Jake has also noted that postal deliveries have made raising and selling exotic birds much simpler and even provide guarantees for the safety of shipped livestock. The exotic bird market demand and new delivery conveniences make it less of a risk for homesteaders to try exotic birds as an investment, at least enough to get their feet a bit wet before taking the full plunge into raising exotic birds.

exotic birds farm
photo Courtesy White House on the Hill

Housing & Feeding 

For those ready and set to bring exotic birds onto the homestead, the first step is constructing an enclosure. Jake houses his birds in stress-free chicken tractors or 6-by-11-foot coops that are 5 1/2 feet high. Concerning how many birds you can keep in an enclosure like this, he keeps two peafowl in one, six pheasants in another and six ducks in another. 

“I also recommend a hallway pen (15-by-15 feet) situation or larger for several birds to breed together,” he says. “For 10-plus birds together, I would go a little larger and build a run and shelter that would be at least 30-by-30-feet with a netted top to give them space to roam, space to get out of the elements and protection from predators.” 

And as with any living animal you raise, you’ll have to consider feed for your birds. The feed Jake likes to use includes layer pellets and game-bird feed which is a combination of corn, milo, whole oat groats, sunflower seeds, Canadian peas, maple peas and oyster shells.

However, he does occasionally use pigeon or chicken feed. And in order to add some natural feed to his birds’ diets, he uses movable fencing and chicken coops to rotate his birds on pasture.


Read more: Build a DIY moveable chicken coop with these plans.


Tricks of the Trade

You may have already discovered the hazards of jumping into a new project with blinders on. Somehow that picture in your mind’s eye just doesn’t pan out like it should have. Raising exotic birds is no different than any other home-based project, which is why Jake emphasizes: Have. A. Plan.

Exotic birds aren’t like regular barnyard chickens and often have different needs that should be well-researched before they are brought onto a homestead. For instance, while chickens might be happy behind chicken wire, a 6-foot emu will kick right through such flimsy fencing. Jake recommends doing plenty of research to ensure the proper enclosure for an exotic bird. 

When he started keeping Red Golden Pheasants, a breed known for flightiness, one of his male pheasants taught him that researching an exotic bird’s needs, like an enclosure, can save a lot of effort later. The bird lived in a structure not built for flighty birds and could easily fly out when someone was entering the coop’s door—which it did. 

“We chased him around the property, and he could have very easily flown away,” Jake says. Thankfully, Jake and his family were able to get the bird back where he belonged. But not everyone will be so fortunate. In the long run, well-researching an exotic bird’s needs will keep both the bird and you happy. 

The big step, and maybe the most exciting, is the exotic bird’s big arrival on the homestead. At this point, Jake always considers what sort of container his birds will arrive in and how he can safely and securely move them to a quarantined area before adding them to his main flock. 

Though many birds come in boxes or are delivered to doorsteps, some birds, such as Jake’s emus, arrive in big trailers and have to be carefully transported to well-prepared pens. Also, since bird diseases aren’t anyone’s cup of tea, Jake aways makes plans to ensure that new birds don’t accidentally contaminate his other birds while they are on their way to their quarantine pens. 

So far he hasn’t had any problems. But when it comes to expensive birds, he doesn’t want to take any chances and always prepares when new arrivals come to his homestead. “There’s always that first time that wipes out other birds, and that’s why we spend a few days observing them just to be sure,” he says.

Like most livestock introduced on a homestead for the first time, the preparation for raising exotic birds is the expensive part. You’ll need some sort of plan to make back the money you put into the project. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a very pretty, but expensive and time-consuming, pet. Jake recommended that, in order to make back the finances put into raising exotic birds, you should make a business plan for selling chicks, adult birds or eggs. 

“When you’re on a homestead, everything costs money,” he says. “You’re growing your own food and raising your own animals. Wherever you can offset expenses or make money is a good thing.”

Of course, as with other livestock, homesteaders interested in exotic birds must keep in mind that predators can still be a problem. Jake must contend with the usual suspects: owls, foxes, hawks, raccoons, etc. Fortunately, trial and error have helped him deal with his predator issues. 

“Most of our birds are kept in coops and closed up,” he says. “We put fencing in the ground and electric outside the fence so a raccoon can’t climb up the fence. We’re trying to make it as protected as possible. Normally, we use chicken tractors, and those are cheap.” 

exotic birds farm
ccestep8/Adobe Stock

Why Should I Do This?

Naturally, you may wonder why you would raise exotic birds in the first place? Homesteaders are supposed to raise things that give back in some way, right? And Jake would 100 percent agree. 

“While exotic birds can’t provide food for us, we can sell them to make money and offset feed costs,” he says. “Having something to provide a product of value is a good thing on your homestead.” 

Jake added that homesteading, in addition to creating income and food for the family, should be enjoyable. Though Jake always seeks to make back his money, he picks many of the breeds he raises just because they strike him as interesting or beautiful. And he enjoys his fowls’ beauty each day as he and his family work to care for the birds that help supplement their income. 

“We want to have beauty everywhere we look, so we really enjoy having birds that are both fun and for profit,” Jake says.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.

Categories
Farm & Garden Farm Management

Nip Your Pest Problem In The Bud With Smart Rat Traps

If you live on a farm, you almost always have rats. They love to hang out in chicken coops, where they can pick up the odd piece of grain. And they thrive under sheds and in barns.

While it’s tempting to live and let live when it comes to these pests, rats can have a huge impact on your farm. They can contaminate animal feed and your water sources, chew through the wiring in your tractor or car, and eat your crops right out from under you. One or two rats can turn into one or two hundred in no time at all.

Before you know it you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

About a year ago I experienced my first true rat infestation as a farm owner. I had only seen the odd rat in my chicken coop or scurrying under my house, so I never really experienced what it was like when rats found their way into the house. When they did they were so quiet our cats were hardly bothered. They didn’t leave droppings anywhere visible, and it was only when I smelled something while turning on the oven one day that I realized what happened.

Two had made their way into my stove, made a nest in the insulation surrounding the oven, and only decided to abandon ship when we took the entire stove outside and shook it until they ran away.

That was the beginning of a year-long kitchen renovation that saw the replacement of the stove, the ceiling and the backsplash. Just when we thought we had them locked out, they would find a way in again. It made me wish there were smart devices to help with what is a really frustrating issue for farmers everywhere.

As it turns out, there is.

Smart tech has evolved to include pest control, and smart rat traps are one of the ways technology is taking care of rat infestations. Here’s a look at what they can do.

Monitoring & Detection

One of the downsides to having a traditional rat trap is how often you have to check to see if it’s set or if a rat has been caught. With smart rat traps, all you have to do is open an app.

These traps have built-in sensors and Wi-Fi connectivity so you can monitor rats entering the trap in real time. Instant notifications are sent to your smartphone or computer so you can take action. And there is also a green light on the trap to indicate the rat has been killed.

Smarter Trapping

Smart rat traps have the most advanced pest control technology available. There are some models with motion sensors or infrared detection so the trap is only set if it detects a rat is present.

Some traps also have multiple entry points, and there are a few that use artificial intelligence to learn and adapt to the rat behavior in your home.

Remote Control & Monitoring via Your Smartphone

With smart rat traps, you get access to an app or web portal that keeps you up to date on rat activity and captured rats. If you’ve ever wondered how many rats are in your house or yard, you can access data that lets you know about all activity near the trap and tracks your history over time.


Read more: Check out these tips for getting (and keeping) rats out of the chicken run.


Smart Rat Traps Are Environmentally Friendly

With a smart rat trap, you never have to use poison or opt for inhumane methods of controlling pests. They are designed for years of use and run on batteries or are rechargeable, making them more sustainable than glue traps.

They work by luring the rat into the trap with bait. Once the rat takes the bait they are zapped by a high-voltage charge. You can dump the rat out without needing to touch it, reset your trap and start again.

Do Smart Rat Traps Work?

I’m happy to say my home is now rat-free. While it’s not a smart device, I’ve also found that Little Trees Black Ice air fresheners deter rats so well they won’t enter any area with one. I’ve put these air fresheners in my attic, under my house and anywhere I’ve ever heard rodent activity.

For some reason, the smell repels them. As long as I replace them every month or so, I stay rodent-free.

I’ve continued to use my smart rat trap outside in the yard, and for me, it’s been a good option for killing rodents. The only issue I had with my smart rat trap was finding out the best place to put it. I had to move it around a lot because I found rats would just ignore it if one of their ‘coworkers’ was killed the night before. Apparently, word gets around.

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden News Urban Farming

My Walk Across Winnipeg For Food Security

So… 

I just walked across Winnipeg. The entire city! Well, actually I first did about 32 kilometers of smaller walks to warm up across different neighborhoods over a recent long weekend in Canada. Then yesterday, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, I walked 40 kilometers across the entire city through a multitude of neighborhoods, starting well before the perimeter highway (that encircles the whole city) and overshooting the perimeter highway to the north by an extra 1.5 of walking.  

This connected the rural, suburban and urban context. But why did I walk 72 kilometers this weekend? 


Read more: Food security concerns? Just start a garden!


Walking for Food Security

For food security! Specifically, I walked to raise awareness for the concept of having food available for people near where they live. But I also walked because the city of Winnipeg, like all our cities around the world, have immense opportunity for growing food. 

I know this. We all can see this. 

But by taking one step after another step, this Walk Across Winnipeg (tagged as #walkacrosswinnipeg on social media) let me traipse through many neighborhoods and industrial areas, parks, and new developments and all the video and photo footage I captured reveals again and again … and well, again, the truth of this common knowledge. We have underutilized space everywhere with tons of opportunities for developing edible landscapes, community gardens, food forests, orchards, backyard edible Edens and more. 

walk across Winnipeg Zach Loeks

Witnessing the Work

Indeed some of the projects I visited show this with their successes and efforts. And people I met along my Winnipeg walk spoke earnestly of their concerns, their optimism and their overwhelming desire to have food in their communities!

As I walked, I also conducted a survey of the plant diversity in the city. I noted the amount of unplanted replacement trees—elms—for ash have died. And I celebrated the many types of projects people are engaging in, growing food everywhere around the city. People are doing awesome things already!

Would you consider walking across your city or town to observe food security initiatives in practice? I strongly encourage you to.

Stay tuned for my next Walk Across Winnipeg (this time west to east). And check out the links below to learn more about my recent walk.

LINKS

 Best, 

 Zach 

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food Recipes

Recipe: Fermented Strawberry Basil Salsa 

This strawberry basil salsa is not only delicious, but it is also aesthetically pleasing. It’s the perfect springtime (or summertime) salsa to incorporate into your mealtime. The colors are sure to liven up any dish.

The bright red berries, purple from the onion and green basil topped over fish, served with chips or spooned over scrambled eggs is a sure-fire crowd pleaser.  

Yield: 1 pint  

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, stems removed, diced 
  • 2 tbsp. red onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped 
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (optional) 
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt 
  • Dash of ground black pepper to taste (optional) 

Preparation

In a medium-sized non-reactive bowl (such as stainless steel or glass), prep ingredients and mix them together. Stir well to distribute the salt. 

Once mixed well, transfer ingredients to a clean, wide-mouth, pint-sized glass canning jar. Push down ingredients so that none are on the side of the jar. A jar weight is very helpful with this ferment, as it keeps all of the chopped bits held under the natural brine that is created.

Wipe off the rim of the jar and place the canning lid (or airlock) on the jar and tightly screw on the ring. 


Read more: These 5 supplies will help you get started with fermentation at home!


Fermentation  

This strawberry basil salsa is a two- to three-day ferment. Ferment at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.

If you notice that food has floated to the top of the brine, use a clean utensil to push it back down. Give the salsa a taste after 48 hours of fermentation. If the ingredients still taste too raw, allow it to ferment another day and give it another sample.

Once the ferment has reached your ideal flavor, transfer it to the refrigerator. This ferment is best enjoyed within two weeks.  

Notes 

If you don’t want a spicy strawberry basil salsa, consider adding half of a medium-sized green bell pepper in place of the jalapeño.  

 

Categories
Animals Farm & Garden Homesteading Large Animals

Raising Baby Pigs: Advice From An Accidental Farmer

I never set out to be a pig farmer. It just kind of … happened.

I started my first garden in college, while taking an environmental biology class (pesticides!) and digging into my family history of farmers, country folks and other rural types. It didn’t go great—raccoons ate all my sweet corn, my tomatoes dried up and the green beans got gobbled by some kind of caterpillar.

Fast-forward to a decade or so later. My wife and I have purchased a modest home on a corner lot, on a street chock-a-block with amateur (but avid) horticulturalists. As we watch our next-door neighbor’s side yard fill with plump red tomatoes, our thoughts turned to starting a garden of our own. In just a few seasons, this notion has grown into multiple beds of greens, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash and herbs. We also established a backyard pocket orchard of pear, apple and cherry trees, as well as patches teeming with blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.

And then, moved by our agricultural endeavors and inspired by the subscription to Hobby Farms we’d recently purchased, we added four Golden Comet hens to our little homestead, installed in a hand-built coop tucked behind our little brick house.

It was a suburban agricultural wonderland … and we wanted more. Within a few years, we’d sold off our business and moved with my parents to a Civil War-era farmhouse out in the county in central Kentucky.

“Please Take Some Baby Pigs!”

This is where pigs entered our bucolic (and chaotic) life. On the way back from closing on the sale of our redbrick homestead, we stopped off at a friend’s organic farm to say farewell. There, our friend entreated us to please purchase two Berkshire growers from her, as her farming partner had returned from a meet-and-greet with an unexpected litter in tow.

We have headed to our new farm anyway, and pigs sounded like a good plan. So we loaded the little porkers into our Labrador’s large dog crate and drove six hours south with two young pigs in the back of a Honda Pilot (functional but not advisable; swine do carry an odor…).

Our family enjoyed watching the two purebred baby pigs grow, finally loading and transporting our full-grown (well … in time we learned they could have finished out a bit more, a common mistake) porkers to the processor. Then, a few days later, we returned to pick up our meat.

Oh, it was so much pork. We crammed cuts into a dedicated freezer, surmised we had plenty to spare and hooked up with the local farmers market, where our Berkshire meat—red, marbled and almost beef-like in flavor—quickly drew a dedicated following.

And that is how one becomes an accidental pig farmer (or, this is how we entered the fray, at least). My wife and I found a breeder within driving distance, where we coaxed baby pigs into a retrofitted horse trailer for delivery to our farm. We made this trip a handful of times, until a breeding pair of Berkshires came up for sale locally, at which point we found ourselves learning the fine art of pig breeding.


Read more: Consider the boar and sow when thinking about raising pigs.


Pig Pointers

We don’t breed and raise baby pigs anymore. After some years as market farmers, we dialed things back to a small chicken flock and large garden once again. (This, it turns out, is our sweet spot.) But our slapdash, learn-as-you-go lessons in pig husbandry did leave us with some critical knowledge surrounding adventures in porcine entrepreneurialism. Here are three things you should take the time to think about before getting baby pigs for your farm.

Plan Your Season

Pigs breed by the book, with a 115-day gestation period—three months, three weeks and three days. Then, if you provide rations, a pig should reach the ideal processing weight in about 6 months (maybe more, if you’re raising heritage hogs in the colder seasons; pure pasturing can take up to two years).

So you have all the information you need to make a solid pig-raising plan. Try not to farrow in the dead of winter, when baby pigs need heat and protection against hostile elements to survive. Breed with a plan in mind to have enough meat to get you through the market season and keep your own freezers stocked through the winter.

If you’re considering getting pigs, grab a notebook and pencil, sit down for an hour or so, and make a plan before any baby pigs set hoof in your barn or pasture.

Meat Matters

As I said earlier, folks quickly took a liking to our Berkshire meat, which is distinctively tasty. So when we changed course to raise and sell meat from a litter of Large Blacks, people noticed—and they voiced their preferences.

Before you start raising pigs, spend some time thinking about what you want to raise. Distinctive hogs are great for marketing, but you do need to decide if this is the breed for you—before customers make the decision for you. There’s some variation in heritage hogs (lard pigs, bacon pigs, etc.), but if you train your customers to appreciate the variety, pasture-raising herds of different (or mixed) breeds is a good option, too.


Read more: Here are some pointers for finding spring pigs for purchase.


Breeding or Buying Baby Pigs?

You can breed your own baby pigs to raise up for pork. Or you can establish a relationship with a breeder who will provide pigs for you.

Both avenues for acquiring baby pigs is viable, just as each has pros and cons. Breeding offers up-front cost advantages, but the cost of feeding a hungry boar and sow(s) absolutely needs to be considered, too. Buying baby pigs eliminates the losses (like, actual loss of baby pigs, who do not always make it) breeding all but guarantees, but you should know that the breeder’s sale price is set to recoup these lost funds.

A properly equipped farrowing setup requires some upfront investment, too, that you won’t encounter when simply loosing little baby pigs into a lush pasture.

So spend some time thinking about what experience you want to have with your pigs—the breeding to birth to market route, or the raise ’em and repeat method.

Baby pigs are a lot of fun, and many days I miss watching them cavort in our Kentucky pastures. Maximize your enjoyment of these delightful little creatures by planning out just how you want your time with them to go.

 

Categories
Animals Beginning Farmers Farm & Garden Large Animals

Start Now For A Successful Fall Lambing Season

Sheep have a 152-day gestation period and can safely breed twice a year. May and June are prime time to encourage and promote a safe fall lambing season. A second round of lambing can increase your farm’s profit margin or make up for the ewes who may not have had a baby in the Spring.

Sometimes ewes may miss a spring lambing season. Several things contribute to lack of being bred including moving farms, drought, a new ram, weather or just plain missing the window in the fall.

Nonetheless, there is still time right now to get both a fall and spring lambing season from your ewes.

CIDRs

A healthy and less expensive alternative to Artificial Insemination (AI) is to use CIDRs (Controlled Intravaginal Drug Release). Deemed safe in 2009, Premier 1 Supplies explains, “CIDRs are used for synchronization of estrus resulting in out-of-season breeding and larger groups of ewes that can be bred at the same time in order to narrow lambing periods. CIDRs deliver progesterone to a ewe in response to the introduction of a ram. Progesterone is a steroid hormone naturally produced by the corpus luteum of mammalian ovaries; it diffuses through the cell membrane and the nuclear membrane, binding to the progesterone receptor in the nucleus, thus causing a change in cell physiology. In vivo, progesterone functions to maintain pregnancy and provides a potent suppression of estrus, making it important for estrus synchronization in animals.” 

Several websites sell CIDRs specifically for sheep, which are easy to find and use. They are generally sold in packs of 20 for $130 to $150 with a $15 applicator. The product includes all the necessary instructions to perform the breeding practice on your farm.

CIDRs do not guarantee pregnancies and are not as effective as AI. However, they do encourage hormone stimulation, which leads to natural breeding between the ewe and ram. Studies have shown CIDRs increase the probability of pregnancies and multiples.

The convenience of synchronizing cycles for ewes is advantageous for farmers as well. Having all ewes synched up makes it easier to schedule feeding throughout the pregnancy and know when to expect and prepare for healthy deliveries.


Read more: It’s important to evaluate a ewe’s body condition before breeding. Here’s how to score breeding sheep.


Steps for May & June Breeding

Follow these steps to encourage healthy May and June breeding:

  • Confirm the ewe is not pregnant.
  • Use CIDRs as instructed by the product guides.
  • Use a breeding harness on the ram and watch for signs of marking.
  • Chart dates of marking and begin counting 152 days in preparation for lambing.

Keep in mind, several breeds of sheep will naturally cycle twice a year to allow breeding. If you do not want fall lambs, you should definitely separate your rams and ewes now through the fall, when you want them to breed for spring lambs only.