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Animals Breeds Chickens 101 Farm & Garden Poultry

Can You Identify This Mystery Chicken Breed?

Chickens and other poultry members come in all sizes, shapes, colors and personalities. Nearly 400 recognized breeds and varieties of poultry exist, including large-fowl and bantam chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl. Using our illustration and a few selected hints, can you guess which mystery chicken breed we have depicted here?

Find out the answer below!

Hints

  • China and Japan both claim the origin of these unique bantams. The earliest recorded history of them occurs in Marco Polo’s writings about his travels to the Orient. 
  • This breed has black skin, its feathers feel much like hair and it comes in bearded and nonbearded varieties. 
  • Murray McMurray states that they are “striking in appearance with their white plumage and mulberry-colored combs, faces and wattles.” The ear lobes are a light blue turquoise.

Read more: Bantam chickens are perfect for the backyard.


Answer

The mystery chicken breed depicted above is the Silkie. The Silkie is a bantam breed used mainly for exhibition and as pets. However, due to Silkie hens’ extreme broodiness, they make wonderful surrogate hatchers, as well. It was recognized in the American Poultry Association’s first Standard of Perfection, published in 1874.

Silkies are sweet, ultradocile chickens. They lay about one small, tinted egg per week. They are broody hens and are supremely happy to hatch the eggs of other birds. Gray-black Silkie chicken meat is in an element in Asian haute cuisine. 

To learn more about this beautiful breed, click here! To purchase the White Silkie Bantam, please visit Murray McMurray Hatchery.

This mystery chicken breed was brought to you by Murray McMurray Hatchery, which provides the highest quality poultry and auxiliary products to its customers and has been a trusted, knowledgeable industry resource for more than 100 years. Whether you are an experienced or novice enthusiast, Murray McMurray is sure you will enjoy its wide selection of breeds and supplies to assist you with raising your flock!

This mystery chicken breed feature originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.

Categories
Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden

Feeling Magical At 1908 Flower Farm

In March of 2022, Brenna and Paul Nystuen became the official owners of a homestead in the Nystuen family for over 100 years. Situated in Minnesota, the duo now run the homestead as 1908 Flower Farm.

“Paul grew up coming to his grandparents’ dairy farm every weekend and working on projects with his dad and grandpa,” explains Brenna. She originally bonded with Paul over a shared appreciation of the outdoors and farmland. “He thrives in this environment.”

We spoke to Brenna about discovering a passion for flowers and how they successfully transitioned from growing produce to producing flowers. We also touched on the charms of Madame Butterfly Snapdragon Mix blooms.

Finding a Focus in Flowers

Recapping their path to running a flower farm, Brenna says that in 2020, she and Paul moved to the family farm. But that same week she lost her job due to COVID-19 cuts and circumstances.

“I was devastated but motivated to find something new and more in line with my love of the outdoors,” she recalls. “I got a job at the local flower shop in town.”

By 2021, the Nystuens had devoted their garden to vegetables. But, Brenna says, they found “we couldn’t keep up with how big it was and how much it produced. We had big dreams on canning and freezing things, but it just didn’t happen. We ended up donating most of it.”

However, in 2022, Brenna’s boss asked if they had any interest in growing a few flowers for her business. “So in that moment, our passion grew,” says Brenna.


Read more: These old-fashioned flowers can bring something “new” to the garden.


Finding Popular Blooms

“Since we are still new to the flower farming business, we are still trying to find what is the most popular,” says Brenna, when asked about the 1908 Flower Farm’s offerings.

“As a flower shop, we try to carry fun and not-your-standard-everyday flowers,” she continues. “Cosmos and Forget-Me-Nots were my personal favorite to grow and to use in arrangements. The customers that come to the flower shop love that we carry local and fun flowers in general.”

2023 Flower Plans

For 2023, Brenna says that she’s personally excited about adding Madame Butterfly Snapdragon Mix flowers to the collection, along with Sweet Peas. She adds that Paul is “excited for our Tulips to bloom,” plus Celosias, Poppies and a range of Sunflowers.

Just Do It!

Looking back at their formative attempts to grow flowers, Brenna says, “The biggest lesson we learned last year was that it is okay to fail. There was a lot that we didn’t do right and failed at. But we just went back to the drawing board and researched what went wrong and made notes for next year. The other thing we learned is, just do it.”


Read more: You can transplant perennial flowers at the end of summer. Here are some tips.


Farming for Magical Moments

“Every night we would take farm walks and walk around the farm so we could have a moment as a family and enjoy the farm while we weren’t working, weeding or harvesting,” says Brenna. “Taking those moments to stop and enjoy are so special.”

“Overall, it’s scary, exciting, hard and rewarding,” she adds about running a farm, “but the journey is so worth it. And you will learn so much. When you see the buckets and buckets of flowers that you have harvested, it is so magical.”

Follow 1908 Flower Farm at Instagram.

Categories
Animals Breeds Farm & Garden Flock Talk Poultry

Keeping A Conservation Flock: 3 Threatened American Chicken Breeds

When it comes to poultry classification, the American class of chickens is perhaps the best known category in the United States. Consisting of yellow-skinned, dual-purpose birds, American-class chickens tend to be intermediate in temperate, size and foraging skill when compared to small breeds such as the Leghorn and large breeds such as the Brahma. American-class hens lay brown eggs, tend towards broodiness, and are good mothers.

The American class includes such breeds as the Plymouth Rock, the Rhode Island Red, the Wyandotte and the Lamona, among the most widely kept breeds in the U.S.

Despite the popularity of the American class, several of its chickens breeds are faring poorly and face extinction. Since the majority of American class birds are reared in the U.S., this threat is even more severe as there are few breeding flocks elsewhere in the world. We recently discussed the three American-class birds  rated as critically endangered by the Livestock Conservancy.

The trio of chicken breeds presented here all rate as Threatened. Each has fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the U.S. and an estimated global population of less than 5,000. Consider aiding in their conservation by raising these as your backyard flock.

Buckeye

The Buckeye holds a very special place in the history of American chickens: it is the first and only North American breed developed by a woman. In the late 19th century, Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio, bred her Barred Plymouth Rock hens to her Buff Cochin rooster, producing chicks that grew into what she considered to be large, lazy birds.

The following year, she bred her Plymouth Rock-Cochin pullets to a Black-Breasted Red Game rooster. This produced offspring with maroon feathers and a black tail. In 1902, Mrs. Metcalf exhibited a pair of her birds at the Cleveland, Ohio, poultry show, calling them “Buckeyes” after the state nickname.

Buckeyes were recognized by the American Poultry Association (APA) in 1905.

In the 1950s, when poultry production began to be commercialized, the Buckeye fell out of favor and went nearly extinct. Today the chicken breed has somewhat recovered but it is still threatened.

Buckeyes are very friendly, active birds who do best when they have room to roam. They are excellent mousers, rarely feather-pick each other, and are very cold hardy due to their pea combs. Buckeye hens lay up to 240 eggs per year and are excellent mothers.

Buckeye roosters are known for their wide range of vocalizations, including what sounds very much like a dinosaur-esque roar.


Read more: These three chicken breeds are critically endangered.


New Hampshire

Developed in the early 1900s, the New Hampshire is a relatively new breed of chicken. It is often mistaken for the Rhode Island Red, and rightly so. New Hampshire poultry breeders started selectively breeding Rhode Island Red hens that feathered and matured earlier than other Rhode Island Reds.

Due to the intensity of this selective breeding, a new strain of chicken developed and was named for the state in which the breeding program took place. The APA recognized the New Hampshire in 1935.

The New Hampshire proved to be a pivotal bird for poultry breeders. It was used to create the first commercial broilers, was one of the base breeds utilized for the creation of the Delaware breed of chicken, and is used to create sex-link hybrids. Despite this, the New Hampshire never enjoyed the popularity attained by its parent chicken breed, the Rhode Island Red, and became threatened.

The breed is slowly making a comeback. In 2018, it was proclaimed the official state bird of New Hampshire.

With proper housing, New Hampshires can thrive in both cold and warm weather. New Hampshires tend to compete with and boss around other chicken breeds, so handle your chicks frequently to train them to be gentle and friendly. Roosters can become aggressive during the breeding season and should be kept away from children during this time.

New Hampshire hens tend to have floppy combs. They lay approximately 200 to 220 eggs per year. There are two subtypes of the New Hampshire: the production line and the heritage line. Make certain you confirm which you are adding to your flock!

Rhode Island White

Developed by John Alonzo Jocoy of Peacedale, Rhode Island, in 1888, the Rhode Island White originated from White Wyandotte, Partridge Cochin, and Rose-Combed White Leghorn stock. Jocoy continued to develop this new breed of bird, developing two separate strains: one with a rose comb and one with a single comb.

In 1922, the rose-comb variety of the Rhode Island White was admitted to the APA. The single-comb variety has yet to be recognized.

The Rhode Island White has never approached the popularity of the Rhode Island Red. the chicken breed’s numbers began to dwindle in the 1960s, leading to its threatened status today. This status can be frankly puzzling, as the Rhode Island White has numerous traits that make it the ideal backyard bird.

They are winter hardy but do well in warm climates. They are friendly, inquisitive birds who enjoy foraging and investigating their surroundings. They also do well in confinement as long as they have plenty of coop space for roosting and nesting. Rhode Island White hens lay between 200 and 250—or more!—jumbo eggs, and their egg production continues throughout the winter months.

As hens don’t go broody, the Rhode Island White definitely pulls its weight as a perfect backyard layer.

Categories
Animals Farm & Garden Health & Nutrition Poultry

Overlooked Health Issues To Watch For In Aging Hens

The day you brought home those day-old chicks seems like only yesterday. So tiny and cute, they quickly worked their way into your heart. Since that time, you watched them grow up and lay their first eggs. After those first eggs came along, eight years passed and your hens made another change: They entered the world of senior citizenship.

As a hen ages, she has an increased risk of developing certain reproductive disorders such as ovarian cancer, egg yolk peritonitis and other deadly reproductive disorders. However, reproductive disorders aren’t the only health conditions aging hens face. Arthritis, loss of vision and hearing, and a more challenging annual molt are all common conditions for elder chickens. 

This article will discuss six of the often overlooked health concerns in aging hens and how you can help your hens live their best lives in their golden years. Note that this article isn’t intended to diagnose, treat or cure any health issues in aged hens. If you notice any changes in behavior in your older hens, take them to a licensed veterinarian that specializes in poultry. 

Arthritis

An orthopedic condition causing joint inflammation, arthritis can affect older chickens, causing pain, joint damage and loss of joint function. Signs that your hen may be suffering from arthritis include:

  • lameness
  • decreased movement
  • stiffness
  • swollen joints

Arthritic chickens should be checked regularly to ensure that they’re staying free from external parasites. Insecticides may be used to treat infestations, but not all insecticides are legal for use on birds in all states. Some may only be used in the coop or surrounding environment. The University of California, Riverside, department of veterinary entomology hosts a searchable database for registered insecticides by state that may be helpful in identifying products you can use.

Another alternative is providing a food-grade diatomaceous earth dust bath. The most effective way to use DE is to mix about 6 cups with approximately 25 pounds of washed play sand in a plastic container, such as a swimming pool or cement-mixing bin.

Simply dusting the birds or the environment is not enough. The birds must dust bathe in it and get the DE into their feathers.

If any of your aging hens suffers from arthritis in the legs, gently rub her legs, feet and toes in between your thumb and fingers. Gently massaging her sore legs and feet may provide some relief for her aching joints and allow her to move around less stiffly. Massage your hen each morning before allowing her out into the run.

Bear in mind that arthritic legs are prone to give out and could cause a hen to trip or fall. Never allow an elderly chicken to perch if she is having mobility issues. Removing perches and any tripping obstacles—excluding waterers and feeders—from the coop and run will help to lessen the chances of older hens falling.

Never allow your arthritic hens to free-range unless directly supervised. (This means that you’re right there with them, not going out on occasion to check on them or looking out your window.) In general, elderly chickens—especially those suffering from arthritis—can’t move as quickly as younger hens and could more easily become a victim of a predator attack.


Read more: Read more about issues often faced by aging hens.


Frostbite

On cold winter nights, chickens tuck their heads under their wings to sleep to protect combs and wattles from frostbite. Arthritis in the neck may prevent aging hens from being able to tuck their heads under a warm wing, leaving combs and wattles exposed to cold conditions and developing a greater risk of frostbite. 

The best way to prevent frostbite is to rub combs and wattles with some coconut or olive oil when temperatures dip below 30 degrees F. On exceptionally cold nights, consider moving elderly chickens into the garage or basement. When housing chickens in a garage, never leave your car running when they’re in there and that all doors, windows and drains are properly shut or covered to avoid predators from entering.

Signs of Frostbite

The main sign of frostbite is ale color spots on combs and wattles that will turn black as the skin and infected tissues die.

If you suspect your chicken has frostbite, take them to a licensed veterinarian for treatment, as frostbite can often cause a secondary infection of gangrene.

Blindness

As hens age, the chances of them developing cataracts increase, leading to poor vision and often blindness. If your chicken is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms, they may be suffering from poor eyesight or blindness.

  • bumping into objects
  • pecking the air
  • seeming confused in their normal environment
  • reduced activity
  • enlarged or irregular shaped pupils
  • cloudiness or discolorations in the eyes or pupils

aging hens hen

Blind chickens’ needs vary a little from chickens with healthy eyesight. Here is a list of things to keep in mind when dealing with blind chickens.

  • Always talk to your blind chicken before you pet it or pick it up, to avoid scaring it.
  • Never allow a blind chicken to free-range, even if you directly supervise them.
  • While all chickens should have access to a completely covered and predator-proof coop and run, it’s even more crucial for blind chickens.
  • Never change the layout of your coop and run. Always keep waterers, feeders and nesting boxes at the same location.
  • If your blind hen is still laying, provide it with a ground nesting box it can easily access.
  • Monitor flock hierarchy to ensure a blind chicken isn’t being bullied.
  • Monitor your hen’s weight to make sure she gets enough to eat. Also, watch her frequently to make sure she can find her way to the waterer to drink.

Read more: Supplemental winter treats keep chickens happy and healthy when the weather turns cold.


Hearing Loss

As chickens age, their hearing can deteriorate. Deaf chickens usually live normal lives. But owners should keep a few precautions in mind. 

  • Always approach a deaf chicken face on to avoid scaring it, as sudden movement can frighten a hearing-impaired bird. 
  • Never allow deaf chickens to free-range, even when directly supervised. 
  • Clinical signs of deafness include being scared by sudden movement and not responding to sounds that would normally cause a chicken to react.

Molting

A chicken’s annual molt is traumatic for each hen in the flock. But for aging hens, it’s an extremely difficult time. If you have ever picked up your hen when she is molting, you have probably noticed that she has lost quite a bit of her normal body weight. This is a natural part of molting, as a hen’s food intake usually decreases during a molt. All the food she does eat is converted into making new feathers. 

Younger chickens’ higher hormone levels help them to bounce back quickly from the molt and regain weight loss. However, for older birds recovering from a molt isn’t as easy as it was in their younger years. Older hens also seem to feel sicker during a molt and will sometimes even refuse to eat.

If your hen stops eating, take her to a veterinarian to make sure her molt is the only health concern. Clinical signs include excessive feather loss.

With a little extra TLC, an elderly hen will usually recover from a molt and regain her normal body weight. The best way to help your hen recover is to feed her high-protein treats and herbs in moderation during and for several weeks after her molt is completed. High protein treats and herbs include broccoli, peas, wheat berries, old-fashioned oats, black soldier fly larvae, fennel, parsley and marjoram.

Avoid feeding bread, corn, pasta and mealworms. 

After your hen has completed her molt and regained her normal body weight, slowly reduce her treat intake until her diet is back in sync with the rest of the flock. Adding probiotics daily to your chickens’ water can also help all your chickens recover more quickly from their molt.

Loneliness

Chickens are flock creatures who thrive on being with other chickens. From day one, your chicks have formed a bond that will build as they mature. Over the course of their lives, most chickens raised together will become inseparable. 

Loneliness often occurs after your aging hen loses her best friend, especially if she is the lone remainder of her original flock. Some older chickens will bond quickly with their younger flock mates, never seeming to miss a beat over the change in their lives. Unfortunately, other chickens do not.

aging hens hen

Trying to help your hen form a bond with the younger members of the flock is the best way to help her get past her loneliness. Oftentimes, you won’t need to help her find a new friend, as younger hens in the flock will realize she is alone and start hanging out with her. 

Spending extra time with your hen and providing her with extra treats or fun mental stimulations can also help your hen overcome her loneliness. Signs of loneliness include:

  • depression
  • refusing to participate in normal activities
  • refusing to eat or drink
  • not wanting to leave her best friend’s favorite sunny spot, etc.
  • hiding in a nesting box or other dark place

Most of these symptoms can be signs of illness, too. If your hen is showing any of these symptoms, take her to a licensed veterinarian to make sure she isn’t sick.

Although aging hens are more prone to health issues than younger hens, with some extra vigilance from you, they can still live full and enriched lives. 


 

More Information

Saying Goodbye

No one wants to think about it, but the time will come when we have to say goodbye to our aging hens. If one passes away peacefully in her sleep, you’re left with the peace of mind that it was her time. However, if your chicken is suffering from pain, cancer or heart problems, the kind thing to do is to end her suffering with humane euthanasia performed by a licensed veterinarian.

Making the decision to end your hen’s or rooster’s life is never an easy decision to make. But sometimes, it’s the best thing for your feathered friend. Before making this important decision, ask yourself the following questions. 

  • Is my chicken having more good days or bad days? 
  • Is there a reasonable chance my chicken’s health could severely decline, leading to suffering?
  • Is my chicken drinking and eating?
  • Is there a reasonable chance my chicken is going to recover?
  • Be honest with yourself when answering these questions. You don’t want to make the mistake of allowing your chicken to suffer. Ask your veterinarian’s opinion—he or she will help you make the right choice for you and your chicken.
Male Menopause?

Roosters age just like hens and are prone to the same nonegg-
related health issues that are common in backyard hens. Being more prone to squabbles than hens, elderly roosters have a greater risk of being bullied or even killed by younger roosters trying to take over the flock.

To prevent the older males from being injured, avoid housing them with younger, more aggressive, roosters.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.

 

Categories
Animals Farm & Garden Health & Nutrition Poultry

Digestive Health Is Essential To Chicken Well-Being

Health is defined as the absence of illness or injury. Things that affect our birds’ health include bacterial or viral infections, scraps and wounds, heat stress, nutritional imbalances, etc. The primary system within the body that works to maintain health is the immune system, although the digestive system and microbes that live within it play a key role. A couple of physiological indicators show how important the digestive system is to the overall health of a chicken. The first is the dynamic nature of the intestinal cells.

The primary role of the digestive tract is to digest and absorb nutrients necessary to keep our birds alive and thriving. The secondary, yet still mandatory role, is for the intestinal cells to maintain a barrier so feed and other items ingested don’t enter the body and create illness. 

To ensure the intestinal cells are at their optimal function, the body replaces them every couple of days. Even though birds have a relatively short digestive tract when compared to mammals, the intestinal tract is still the largest surface area in the body. This means their intestinal tract must maintain a barrier of the largest surface area in the body while still absorbing and digesting nutrients. 

Microbes at Work

Plus, trillions of microbes live within the intestinal tract. Some of these microbes are good, some are bad and cause harm to our poultry, and some are neutral. These microbes play a vital role in helping with digestion and producing compounds that our intestinal cells can use.

Much is still unknown about the microbiome. But its role likely goes beyond the intestinal tract.

The dynamic role of the intestinal cell, the large surface area and the trillion of microbes is part of the reason about 70 percent of the immune system is in the intestinal tract. The digestive system is challenged daily with foreign invaders such as pathogens and allergens. So the presence of the immune system is essential.

The intestinal tract is also a place for the immune system to sample the environment to see what potential disease they could be challenged with. 

It’s evident that the digestive system plays a key role in the overall health of our birds. But how do we tell if something with our bird’s digestive system went awry? Some of the following signs and symptoms are indicators of imbalances or disease in the intestinal tract. 


Read more: Supplemental winter treats keep chickens happy and healthy when the weather turns cold.


Diarrhea

Diarrhea happens when something activates the immune system and is an attempt to clear the potential pathogen and prevent more severe disease.

Thus, the intestinal tract is flushed—aka, diarrhea. It is usually an early sign of disease or stress. 

Reduction in Appetite

Reduced appetite is another early sign of disease or stress and can have a compounded effect on our bird’s health. For example, a heat stressed chicken will decrease their feed intake to try to reduce their internal heat production associated with metabolism.

The drop in feed intake can also cause a reduction in the barrier function of the intestinal cells. This can cause diarrhea and impair nutrient uptake, turning stress into disease. 

Reduced Egg Production, Poor Eggshell or Feather Quality

These are all signs that nutrient digestion and absorption is impaired. Many different dynamics within the digestive system can cause this, such as:

  • birds consuming less feed due to a bacterial, parasitic or viral infection
  • factors affecting absorption and digestion such as antinutritional factors or mycotoxins in the feed
  • nutrient imbalances within the diet.

All of these challenges can cause an unhealthy digestive system. 


Read more: These are the 5 nutrients your chickens absolutely need.


Staying on Tract

So how can a chicken owner ensure digestive health for their birds? 

1. Feed a good quality & balanced diet.

This is key to a healthy digestive tract. Factors that affect the quality of a diet include poor quality ingredients that have high amounts of undigestible nutrients, diets that aren’t formulated properly, contamination with molds or high amounts of anti-nutritional compounds. 

2. Provide supplements.

These are good tools to control the microbes within the intestinal tract. We can’t always control what our birds eat or what environmental challenges they face. So providing a high quality, daily probiotic supplement provides a source of good bacteria.

A higher population of good bacteria versus bad bacteria reduces the chances of getting sick. 

3. When possible, reduce stress.

Stress comes in many different forms, and poultry are prone to it. Stressors such as heat stress or feed restriction can increase the level of their stress hormone, which affects the function of intestinal cells.

4. Keep a clean henhouse.

The cleaner the coop, the less risk a flock will ingest something harmful. 

As flock owners, we can’t change the biological systems within our birds. What we can do is keep a watchful eye and implement beneficial and preventative practices to reduce the risk of injury, infections or stress. Supporting your chicken flock’s digestive tracts will benefit their health and allow them to be better equipped to face any new challenges that come their way.  

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

Categories
Equipment Farm & Garden

4 Reasons You Need A Portable Power Station

Traditionally, if a farmer needed an off-the-grid source of electricity, a portable gasoline generator was an obvious solution. But now there’s another choice: portable power stations.

A portable power station uses a rechargeable battery to provide electricity off the grid. Their output panels are typically stacked with useful options like regular household plugs, USB charging outlets and more.

Here are four reasons why you should consider getting a portable power station for your farm.

1. They provide electricity off the grid.

The most obvious benefit of portable power stations is their ability to deliver electricity off the grid, where regular electrical outlets can’t be found. Maybe you’re out in a farm field building a new fence line and need to recharge your electric drill batteries (hopefully you have more than one) as they run dry. Or maybe you’ve constructed an off-the-grid farm building and need a means to power indoor lights.

A portable power station can serve you well.

When choosing a portable power station, there are a couple of key numbers to consider. First off, how many watt-hours (Wh) does the battery hold? A 300Wh battery will power a 50-watt device for six hours. Secondly, how many watts can the portable power station output at once? If a high-power device runs at 400 watts, a portable power station that can output a maximum of 200 watts at a time is undersized for the job.


Read more: It’s easier than ever to live off the grid!


2. They can be charged multiple ways.

There are several ways to charge portable power stations, providing flexibility for keeping the battery at full capacity. The simplest way is to plug the portable power station into a wall outlet. But this requires bringing the power station back on the grid.

For off-the-grid recharging, you may be able to employ solar panels or a car charger. Solar panels are especially appealing since energy from the sun is free, though it can be a slower means of charging (depending on how many panels you have) and you’ll need a bright sunny day for best results.

3. They’re quiet and simple compared to gasoline generators.

Gasoline generators work great, but they do have downsides. They’re noisy, even when you’re not actively drawing electricity. They put out exhaust fumes, so they can’t be used indoors. And their engines require regular maintenance (i.e. oil changes) to stay in working order.

In contrast, portable power stations are much quieter. Unless they’re running a cooling fan, they can be completely silent. They’re free of emissions, so they can be used safely indoors.

And since they don’t have engines, you don’t have to worry about maintenance.


Read more: Here’s everything you need to know about getting started with solar.


4. They provide emergency power in power outages.

This is a big benefit if you’re concerned about power outages. Even if a storm knocks out your local electrical grid, a portable power station can keep you going, allowing you to recharge your phone and power critical devices. Pair a high-capacity, high-output power station with an array of solar panels, and you can keep your farm running comfortably even during a power outage.

If you haven’t already purchased a portable power station, you may want to start shopping for one that fits your needs.

Categories
Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Foraging

Forage Wild Garlic (Or Onion Grass) For Flavorful Goodness

This garlic relative, which my family calls “onion grass.” isn’t a true grass—though it does look like grass to my toddler! More properly called “wild garlic,” Allium vineale can be substituted for either garlic or onion in the kitchen, if you’re willing to take the extra time to clean its tiny bulbs.

Like its common culinary relatives in the family tree, wild garlic shares a host of health-boosting properties for a long list of body systems: immune, digestive, circulatory and respiratory.

Farm-raised garlic and onion, as well as their wild great-great-grandparents (pictured here), are all in the Allium subgroup of the Lily family. Allium is the old language for “garlic” in Latin and Greek. Many of these plants are used interchangeably with one or more species likely to be found wild in most environments.

One way I help my kid identify wild garlic (making sure she shows me before she puts it in her mouth) is the round, hollow leaf, which looks like a stem. Even without inspecting for this, though, you’ll find wild garlic’s distinctive smell is an obvious indicator. The hollow vs. “flat” leaf shape helps you distinguish between wild garlic and actual onion grass. Check out this tiny guide.

It can be hard for some to tell the difference between onion and garlic aromas. But if you smell either onion or garlic when you crush the leaves and bulbs, your plant is likely edible.

Beware of Imitators

Be absolutely sure that smell is there, though.

Please note that the poisonous Death camas is a look-alike to the untrained eye. Especially if you are hunting other edible but non-garlicy flavored lilies, heed the words of author Thomas Elpel: “Virtually everything in the Lily subfamily is edible, such as onions and blue camas, however, there are a few deadly plants in the Bunchflower subfamily (with bunches of little white or greenish flowers), like the death camas which could easily be mistaken for edible Lilies. For this reason, it is important to harvest lilies for food only when you can positively identify them, usually when in bloom.”

And as I always add, when trying a wild plant for the first time, get a plant- knowledgeable buddy there to corroborate your findings before you eat it.

If it smells like an onion, and it looks like an onion, it’s probably an onion—or a garlic!


Read more: Field garlic & wild onions are flavorful foraged treats.


Harvest Time

When my kitchen stores run out of garlic (which happens quite often), I just head out and look right around the house. (It’s also a fun excuse to teach a kid how to eat wild food.)

These green shoots are so bright in the winter landscape! After a dry spell, the rain will also bring a pungent garlic flavor to the air around—even before you touch them. Let your nose guide you, or look for the green-green tufted bunches of chive-resemblance. Slide a long trowel or Hori Hori down deep right beside the edge of the clump. Then rock around the clump a bit from side to side and tilt.

Whether you’ll be able to slide the roots and bulbs right up and out depends on your rain supply and current soil conditions. On a dry day you’ll likely end up with a clump of dirt from which to wriggle the bulbs free.

Once again we are harvesting an herb that self-sows aplenty and that we can eat freely without conservation woes. This time of year, seeds have likely dropped. If you can find a bunch with its long brown dried flower stalk hanging on (probably headless), you’ll know you’ve got a bigger bulb waiting below.

That’s important because, if you’re thinking of farm-bought garlic, these wild bulbs—even when all grown up—are still teeny-tiny versions of the commercially traded varieties. They make up for the size difference in flavor, though. You can even skip the paper peeling step, as their little translucent moist “skins” will usually melt away in a stir fry. And their outer brown skins usually peel back as you lift your harvest, falling away on their own.

wild garlic onion grass

Flavor Variables

Chew on any part of the plant and consider them for use in a dish. I use the bulbs and leaves as I would green onion or chives.

Depending on the environmental conditions, wild garlic will be more flavorful when it’s had to work harder to make its living. Like many wild foods, garlic grown in the compost may have less aroma than, say, the same plant grown in your driveway.  But as always stay clear of chemically treated areas and places where chemicals run off or pool (like your driveway).

For many, this plant is a wanted target for eradication. Its long competitive leaves rise easily above common mowed grass, standing out well. This is bad for manicurists but great for foragers. It’s wise, though, to know the history of treatment for any place you choose to harvest.


Read more: It’s time to fall in love with bunching onions.


A Word About Gratitude

Remember to bring gratitude to your plate and your acts. Pat yourself on the back for having gotten here and for what you are about to do in this modern world. Foraging is primitive and skillful, and it took instinct, desire and knowledge to bring this bright green clump of aromatic, delicious chive-looking garlic-oniony treats into your home.

So please just sit and breathe with the plant for a minute.

Try to count to 60 while you really look at it. Take in what you are about to do to transform it. Then thank the garlic (or onion) for persisting through mowers, drought, rock, clay, depleted soil and drastic climate transitions to offer you its strength and vitality.

A Beneficial Bulb

These amazing spices are not just common for their culinary delights. Like most spices used in cooking, they have health benefits as well. (See below for a DIY earache remedy using garlic or onion.)

Your respiratory tracts and blood circulation get a boost with garlic’s help. And those distinguishing  aromas are vapors that irritate many pathogens—including bacteria, viruses and even parasites—as the chemicals from the plant come in contact with tissues in the gut, intestines, sinuses and pores.

So these wild garlic relatives can thwart invaders while they stimulate your innate immune response. That’s why onion and garlic are base ingredients for the increasingly popular DIY folk remedy/ panacea known as  “fire cider”.

Onion as a Home Remedy for Earache

You can make this simple home remedy for ear pain with wild onion or wild garlic, or even farm- or grocery-bought onion!

Most commonly, people use a whole onion, heating a bulb in the oven or microwave until it’s piping hot. Cut in half.

Drop one half of the onion into a canning jar, cut side up. Let the steam rise upright, then lean your ear over the jar. Get as close as you can comfortably withstand, trying to cover the jar with your ear.

Stay in this position for as long as you feel the rising heat.

As an alternative to ear oil, this method allows heat and vapor to enter the ear without mucking about with solids. The heat and steam itself does wonders to soothe an achy ear, while the antimicrobial volatiles can enter the sinuses and ear canal to ward off infection.

Categories
Animals Health & Nutrition Poultry Poultry Equipment

Video: Make An Affordable DIY Chicken Water Deicer

One of the most dreaded farm chores for everyone is breaking ice in waterers. It’s cold, messy and tough! However, drinking water during freezing temperatures is extremely important for animals, because their bodies burn extra calories trying to stay warm.

Water consumption is directly linked to food consumption. If they are not drinking enough, they will not eat enough to stay healthy. 

Water deicers are a great way to ensure the water stays fresh and available for animals. Commercially available deicers for chickens cost upwards of $60, a pretty hefty price tag for items you likely need in multiples.

Luckily, you can make your own chicken water deicer for a fraction of the cost. Follow these very simple steps to make your own deicer for less around $17.


Read more:Your chickens need water, no matter the weather. Here’s why.


Supplies

Steps

  1. Find a safe base area. Do not build the deicer on straw, hay, bedding or cardboard. Find a spot in your coop that is solid dirt or concrete, or lay a piece of sheet metal down and build on top.
  2. Place the cinder block in the center of your working area.
  3. Chisel a groove in the top of the block to lay the heating lamp cord flat.
  4. Prepare the heating lamp. Remove sheathing and clamps. Place the 40w bulb in the bulb holder. 
  5. Place the bulb in the groove of the cinder block, dangling towards the ground.
  6. Place the chicken waterer (at least 1 gallon) on top of the cinder block. 

Using a 40-watt bulb ensures the water will not absorb too much heat. The goal is to keep water above 32 degrees, which does not require the same wattage as standard heat lamps. Animals really want their water to stay around 40-50 degrees for drinking.

The cinder block acts as an oven to intensify the heat in your chicken water deicer. 

As with any use of electrical components in coops and barns, you will want to check on the deicer multiple times during the day. It’s important to keep an eye on such factors as weather elements and chicken behaviors (you don’t want them to knock it over). Also check to make sure the deicer is working so your birds are still able to drink. 

Myth Buster

Snow does not suffice for water. Many people believe animals will consume snow in lieu of water. But the amount of snow consumption needed to equal out water is very high.

In addition, snow is cold enough to lower animal body temperatures, which is something you definitely do not want to do. Simply put, do not rely on snow as the animals’ watering source during inclement weather.

Categories
Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Equipment Farm & Garden Farm Management

Two-Wheel Tractors Are Ideal Tools For Community Gardens

Community gardens are springing up around the world. 

Increasingly we find urban and suburban spaces being conserved as growing space for vegetables and small fruits. These spaces can absolutely show great productivity, but they sometimes embody a very ad hoc approach to land management. 

It can surely look charming to have some beds with log sides, some with boards, some earthen-mounded and others with rocks. But a more productive approach to the whole system would (and should) benefit the long-term sustainability of the community garden. 

Two-wheel tractors offer a unique opportunity for these small-scale growers.

Why Two-Wheel Tractors Are Perfect For Community Gardens

The benefits of two-wheel tractors are appreciable, and all of these apply to community gardens. Two-wheel tractors are:

  • affordable
  • efficient
  • maneuverable in small spaces
  • multi-functional  

If community gardens can manage to secure funds for mutually held equipment, then the two-wheel tractor is the most affordable option. This device can allow community gardens from 1/4 up to 3 acres to manage their landscape at a fraction of the cost of larger or more specialized equipment—and with great labour savings. 

For instance, a two-wheel tractor and multiple implements can be purchased for under $10,000. A compact four-wheel tractor alone, without implements, will cost more. 

Additionally, a single two-wheel tractor with only one engine and general systems to maintain can achieve a multitude of jobs such as:

  • forming garden beds
  • preparing beds for planting
  • applying compost to bed tops
  • mowing access paths
  • mowing cover crops
  • maintaining perimeters and paths for winter access 

Other specialized equipment such as lawn mowers, walk-behind tiller and snow blowers would cost more and require much more maintenance. And storage of these pieces of equipment would take way more space than the multifunctional two-wheel tractor with attachments.


Read more: Yes, you can till responsibly—using S4 tilling principles.


What Two-Wheel Tractors Can Do

But do community gardens really need a two-wheel tractor?  Can’t community gardens be maintained by hand tools? 

Well, sure. But the benefit of a two-wheel tractor for community gardens is in systematizing the function of the garden. 

For starters, community gardens benefit from a highly organized system of raised beds. Permabeds of equal width, length and height—all organized into plots—would enhance garden organization for crop rotation, fertility management, weed management, irrigation and harvest. 

Permabeds, with earthen sides and made with two-wheel tractor,  would be easy to weed using customary garden hoes. (Weeding around wooden and rock edges is notoriously difficult.) Also, if there were disease issues in one section, it would be easy to cover crop the Permabeds, flail mow and turn in the debris to break the disease cycle using two-wheel tractors. 

Additionally, growers could easily reform a bed using a power ridger, making a quick pass down the paths to turn over diseased plants and allow enhanced soil building by moving path material to the bed tops.

Disease, weeds and desperate management systems are notorious issues in community gardens. Uniting these obstacles under a standard bed system, as market gardeners do, would be of massive benefit to this important setups.  

The two-wheel tractor is the correct equipment scale to make this a reality and has the affordability, storability and maneuverability to meet plots of this size.

Grow On,

Zach

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food Recipes

Recipe: This Tasty Beet Relish Goes Great With Everything

I have a wonderful collection of old cookbooks from my grandma, great-grandma and great-great-grandma. In one of my cookbooks is a beet relish recipe I adapted last winter and changed the yield to a smaller amount (who needs several quarts of beet relish—seriously?).  

The relish can be used any way you’d use any other relish—on hot dogs and sausages, spread over sandwiches (or a melt) or topped on a cheeseburger.  

Yield: 3 pints or 6 (8-ounce) jelly jars 

Ingredients  

Main
  • 2 lbs. fresh beets, medium in size (about 9) 
  • 1/2 lb. yellow onions (2-3 onions) 
  • ½ lb. red bell peppers (about 2-3) 
  • 1 tsp. pickling spice mix (wrapped in cheesecloth or tea infuser) 
Brine 
  • 1.5 cups 5-percent distilled white vinegar 
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar 
  • 1 tsp. canning salt 

Directions 

Wash and prep produce. Be sure to scrub the beets clean and remove the stem.  

To remove the skin from the beets, place them in a pot of water and bring them to a boil. Cook beets until they are tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and allow to cool. 

Once beets are cooled enough to handle, trim off the root-end and use your hands to break the outer layer of the skin. Use your thumbs to rub away the skin.

Removing the skin can become a messy job. I recommend having a bowl for the discarded skins and another dish for the peeled beets. I personally do this over a large cutting board to collect any juices. It will look as if you dyed your hands bright pink, but it easily washes off with soapy water.  

Once peeled use a food processor, with the grater blade, to grate beets, onions and bell peppers.  

In a medium-sized non-reactive pot, combine the brine ingredients. Heat the brine and stir until the salt has dissolved. 

Strain the beet mixture and add the vegetables to the brine. Add in the pickling spice mix. Heat to a simmer and cook 15 minutes until the peppers and onions are tender. Stir occasionally. 


Read more: Beets are a tasty, three-season crop. You can’t beat beets!


Refrigeration Instructions

Remove spice mix and ladle the relish into warm prepared jars (canning jars washed with warm soapy water and kept warm until filling). Add washed lids and tighten on the rings. Once cooled, transfer to the refrigerator and use within two months.  

If Water Bath Canning

Ladle the relish mixture into warm prepared jars (canning jars washed with warm soapy water and kept warm until filling). Leave a 1/2 inch headspace (room from the relish to the rim of the jar).

Use a clean, dampened, lint-free towel or paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars clean, removing any spillage. Place the canning jar lids on the jars and screw on the rings until they are gently snug (not fully tightened). Lower the jars into a hot water bath, and cover the pot with the lid.

Turn up the heat to high and, once the canner reaches a rolling boil, set the timer for 10 minutes. Adjust cook time for altitude as needed.  

Once water bath processed, carefully remove the jars from the canner and place them on a towel-lined surface for 12 hours without touching. After 12 hours, remove the rings and test that the lids are completely suctioned to the jar.

Label and date jars. These preserved jars of relish will keep for at least one year in the cupboard. Refrigerate after breaking the seal. 

Notes  

If you don’t have access to a food processor, finely dice all the produce instead.  

Feel free to use apple cider vinegar in place of the white distilled vinegar in this recipe. 

Consider adding in some ground horseradish root to this recipe during the simmer. However, be aware that the horseradish flavor will dramatically decrease due to the high heat. If skipping the canning process, stir in the horseradish once cooled, before refrigerating.   

Add some kick to this by adding in 1 tsp. (or more) cayenne pepper. Stir in ground cayenne pepper when you pour in the vegetables into the brine. Taste test to determine if you want to add more.