Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Roadside sign

Lettuce, kale, kohlrabi...

I pass the same roadside vegetable sign every day on the way to work. It's a plain black sign with white letters. Whatever is ready that day is painted on the sign.

Green onions, garlic, green tomatoes...

I've gotten in the habit of reading it each day to see what's new in the farmer's garden. Kind of my way of seeing how another farmer is doing in this difficult growing year.

Bunnies, carrots, cabbage...

This week there was a new listing at the very bottom:


By the time it registered what the sign said I was past the turn. I couldn't resist. I turned around in the next driveway and went back to see what "Bad Advice" the farmer had to offer.

What I found was a thin, young man in a bandana under a lean-to style stand surrounded by vegetables and rather humorous signs. Above his head the sign said, "Have a good day, Have a bad day, It's not up to me it's your choice." Another sign said, "Lost dog: blind, deaf has only 3 legs - answers to the name of 'Lucky'".

I smiled and struck up a conversation. We compared garden woes and successes. Moaned about the wet cool spring and the floods and swapped a few garden stories. I ended up buying some hard necked garlic to add to my garlic collection in the herb garden. I was just about to leave when I realized I hadn't asked about the "bad advice".

"Oh by the way, how much for the bad advice?" I asked.

"It's free."

"Ok, then, what's you best bad advice?"

"Start a farming/garden business in a year when it rains and floods all the time," he smiled.

We both laughed as I got into the car and headed on down the road.

Can't wait to see what the sign says this week! :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What I know about raising chickens

This started out as an email to my friend, Marian, in Missouri. I thought I'd republish it here just in case anyone else wanted to hear my 2 cents worth on chickens. :)

For what it's worth, this is what I know:

Fresh eggs always taste better than store bought. The yolks are thicker and yellower and they stand up nice and round in the frying pan.

Chickens need oyster shell, and a balanced ration (make sure it has B vitamins), and greens to make really good eggs.

Chickens will stop laying for a while every single time you change something in their environment.

Chickens more than 2 summers old should go in the stew pot - slow cooker. They make an excellent flavorful broth.

If you are finding dead free range birds in the morning that are decapitated it's an owl.

Raccoons will kill hens and steal eggs.

Snakes can get through a hole less than an inch in diameter.

Weasels will kill until there are no chickens left and they leave a bloody mess.

Hawks will carry the chicken off and eat it elsewhere... you may find feathers.

Gather eggs in the afternoon around 5 pm.

Most hens lay after 10 am so gathering them early in the am just means you are getting yesterdays eggs.

In winter birds will lay fewer eggs if they are cold... they need all their energy to generate heat. We used to keep a heat lamp in their house.. This year we will house them in the unheated greenhouses.

Banty chickens are tough little birds that can fly an incredible distance - for a chicken.

Chicken tractors are a great way to allow your birds access to pasture everyday without making them targets for any critter looking for a free lunch or a midnight snack.

Little children love to gather eggs.

There you go. Everything I know about chickens in a nutshell.

Coming soon... how we build our chicken tractors.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Our version of the chicken tractor

Our first chicken tractor involved the use of an old sign, a helmet rack scavenged from a baseball dugout that was being torn down and assorted scrap lumber. We’ve made a few improvements since then.

Our hen tractors are 3 feet tall and 7 feet wide by 8 feet long. Brian builds the nest box first. We use a “gang” box. One nest box the width of the pen 10 inches deep and 10 inches tall without any dividers. The back of the nest box is a single 1 X 10” hinged at the bottom to make a door for gathering the eggs. We create a lip on the front of the box to keep the nesting material in by using scrap lumber we scavenge from the local pallet mill. The nest box is mounted at each corner to a 2” X 2” leg, 36” long.

Next, Brian builds the base. The current version of the hen tractor uses landscape timbers that have been split in half using the table saw. It’s what we had available at the time. You could use 2”x 2” or 2” X 4” if you prefer or have some lying about.
After the base is nailed together and the nest box on its legs is attached to the back, then it’s time to put in the uprights (2” X 2” X 36”) one in each corner and one 5 feet back from the leading edge of the pen. Once the uprights are in place, then the top rail is nailed on and 2 crossbars are added to the top. Be sure your crossbars are 3 and 5 feet from the front. These crossbars will support your chicken wire. One top bar will support the door and hinges so you can access the pen. One bar supports your chicken wire so it doesn’t sage too much. We use a roll of 36 inch tall wire and one of 24 inch tall wire. The short wire just fits below the nest box and on the narrow part of the top and the 36 inch wire covers all the rest with a minimum of cutting.

Next comes the door. We built one with a door that goes the width of the cage, but decided later we liked a door about ½ the width of the tractor. It’s easier to manage and easier to open. We used plastic corrugated roofing to cover the door and the area just in front of the nest box. It’s doesn’t add as much weight to the finished tractor as metal roofing. When you are moving these pens every day minimizing weight is important.

Last comes the tedious part - applying the chicken wire. Make sure you have plenty of chicken wire staples handy and a good dose of patience. It takes longer to put the wire on than it does to build the rest of the tractor. We put staples about 6 inches apart. You want a good tight pen so you don’t get nocturnal visitors in your tractor.

The last things we attach are the wheels. We use old lawnmower wheels when we can get them and replacement lawnmower wheels from the local hardware when we can’t. Each wheel is attached to the outside of a corner with a lag bolt.

Tah Dah!! Now all you need to do is add some hay for the nest box and a few chickens and you’ll have fresh eggs every day.

If you have questions or you've created a better design, we'd love to hear from you.
Email us at:

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Over dinner one evening, Brian and I lamented the fact we had so few laying hens and so many people who wanted farm fresh eggs from our pastured hens. We bemoaned the lack of egg salad, custard and scrambled eggs around our house. We jokingly said we wished someone would offer us some more hens. That another 20 hens or so would be great.

This is a case of be careful what you wish for.

The next morning the phone rang bright and early. I picked up. "Hi this is Terry. Is Marilyn home?" Marilyn is my mother who lives with us. "I'm afraid she's not," I replied. "Can I help you?"

Well, Terry went on to tell me that his neighbor was in poor health and needed to find a new home for a few laying hens. I took the neighbor's number and gave it to Brian. I didn't think anymore about it. I needed to pick veggie shares and get off to work.

That evening at Brian called me at work. Brian never calls me at work unless it's an emergency. My heart was in my throat as I answered the phone.

"Honey, can we buy 100 laying hens this week?"

"What did you say?"

Brian repeated himself again.

"I thought Terry said "a few hens"?"

"If we want them we have to get them tomorrow."

I did some mental math. We really could use more hens. We'd need to build 4 new movable pasture pens pronto. Opportunity only knocks once, so they say.


Now we are the proud caretakers of 100 Golden Comet hens. :) The girls along with the 6 Araucana hens we already had now give us 6-7 dozen wonderful eggs a day.

Who says God doesn't answer prayers?

Got eggs? We do!!


Saturday, July 5, 2008


Night before last, at about 10 o'clock, we had our first experience with a weasel. In all the years I've lived on a farm I'd never seen a weasel. I'd heard about the way they can slip into a seemingly pest proof henhouse, that weasels get blood lust and just kill and kill until all of the hens are dead.

Brian suddenly remembered we hadn't gotten the mail. So he hopped in the Honda and headed up the driveway. A minute later, he came backing down the driveway like a NASCAR driver stuck in reverse.

He hopped into the house (he has a very sore knee, but that's different story) yelling, "Weasel! Get out of the way!" He snatched up his 22 rifle and headed back out the door. A few seconds later mom and I counted upwards of 10 shots fired.

Geez, I thought. There must be a whole herd of weasels in the hen pen. A few minutes later Brian came triumphantly through the door.

"What happened?" Mom asked.

Brian gave us all the gory details. When he'd gone to get the mail he heard the commotion in the hen pen and went to check it out. There was the weasel with his pointy little teeth embedded in my favorite Buff Orpington.
"Just one weasel? So why all the gunshots?" I asked. Well it seems the the first shot put the poor little frightened hen out of her misery, then the weasel tried to escape so most of the other shots chased him back into the hen pen so he couldn't get away. The last shot dispatched the little maurauder. We're hoping he doesn't have cousins, aunts and uncles out there waiting to dispatch the 6 remaining hens some dark night.

Our "redneck" honeymoon

I said I'd write about our honeymoon when we got back. Well, we've been back for almost 2 weeks, but it's been so busy I haven't had time to blog. It's been weed, pick, mow, bale, build, feed, water and on and on.

So here we go. On the morning of June 17th we headed to the justice of the peace for a simple ceremony. My daughter in law took pics of the ceremony outside the courthouse. Then we dashed home and picked veggies so I could deliver a CSA share on my way to work. I barely got to work at the hospital on time!

Next morning we left for Missouri, stock trailer in tow. We had a nice visit with Marian and Erik at Five Ponds Farm where we picked up our 3 Red Wattle Hogs. Catching 3 squiggly piglets and getting them into the trailer is tricky. Erik caught the piglets in the pen one by one and handed them to Brian. Did you know piglets poop when they are scared? Yuck! Luckily, I was taking pictures and well out of poop range. Brian, on the other hand, had to change clothes when we were done.

Then we set out for Lexington, Ky via Paduca. Brian and I were taking turns driving. When I took my turn just before we crossed from MO to KY, he neglected to tell me I would have to drive over a bridge built exclusively from some kids erector set! I don't really like bridges and this one was long, tall, narrow and looked like it would fall in the river at any moment. I think I held my breath the whole way across the bridge.... except when I told Brian I wasn't going to drive over any more bridges! When we came down off the bridge, I took a deeep breath and said, "That wasn't so bad." Brian laughed, "I'm glad you think so, cause we're on the island now... you've got one more erector set bridge to go!" "UUUGH!"

We survived the bridge ordeal to check into our hotel in Lexington. We convinced the hotel clerk to let us have a couple of jugs of water for the pigs and got our little red oinkers settled in for the night. We took much needed hot showers. Then it was off for dinner at the Mexican restaurant recommended by the hotel clerk. More food than 4 people could eat!

We spent a restless night and at 6 am it sounded like every car in the city revved up and 50 Harleys pulled out of the parking lot. We got up then even though we had planned to sleep in. We couldn't wait to get back to our quiet country home.

Friday we went out to C2H2 farm to visit with Carol and Clayton and pick up 6 percentage Boer goats to add to our herd. While were there we got an empromtu lesson in tattooing goats. Goats do not particularly like having ID's tattooed in their ears. It's sort of a messy enterprise. The goat goes into a stanchion which secures the neck so the goat can't leave. Then one person tries their best to hold the goat's head still while the goat baas and tries to do everything but hold still. The other person tries to get the tattoo in the right place on the ear. Brian ended up with green hands from the ink.

We finally got everybody tattooed and headed north. We got home late Friday afternoon, turned the new goats out with our herd and set to moving pig panels into place for a temporary home for the Red wattles.

And if all that wasn't enough excitement for one vacation, the next evening I tripped in a tractor rut on the way to take treats to the new pigs! I sprained my ankle and spent the next week on crutches.

So there you go! The tale of our redneck honeymoon. :)

Can't wait to see what we bring home on our next vacation!!