Quite a bit of bird-related activity since the predator attack a few weeks ago. We already had plans to rearrange our pen fencing to maximize square footage without having to buy additional rolls of fence. So we pushed forward with those plans… new pens are 75 feet by 50 feet, which allows for up to 34 birds in one pen and still remain kosher with the “pasture raised” buzzword. (From what I’ve read, you need to have a minimum of 108 square feet per bird [on pasture] to be considered “pasture raised”.) So we’ve had to shuffle the flock around as we tear down one pen and rebuild it, etc. As I write this, two of the planned three pens are fully constructed and we’re aiming to do the third one this coming weekend.
And in this pen rebuild process, we’ve added a skirt of chicken wire along the bottom outer edge of each pen. This skirt extends 1.5 feet out from the pen fence along the ground (stapled into the ground), and 1.5 feet up along the fence (zip-tied to the fence). So we’re hoping this will eliminate any chance of gaps along the bottom of the fence (how we suspect the predator[s] got in this last time).
We’ve also obtained 19 new birds. 12 Tractor Supply chicks and 7 near-laying white leghorn hens. The Tractor Supply chicks were sexed (90% accuracy, so we’re probably due for a male or two in the bunch). The whole fam has been enjoying playing with the baby birds.
Overall egg production has been virtually zero since the predator attack, and we won’t be bringing any eggs of any kind to market tomorrow. The attack took all of our laying chicken hens, and the 12 new babies won’t be laying until next season. The 7 older leghorns will hopefully be laying any day now, but nothing yet from them. Meanwhile, our ducks, which seem to have survived the attack just fine, have been molting for the past couple weeks, and it’s apparently common for ducks to stop laying while molting. So, yeah, no eggs these days. We’re crossing our fingers that the ducks and 7 leghorns start pumping them out soon. People have been asking for eggs at the market and it’s tough to turn them away, but what can you do.
At some point during the wee hours of this past Sunday morning, some predator(s) got into our bird pen and killed / took 16 of our female chickens. This included all of our laying hens, plus two chicks. All 7 of our ducks survived, as did our two roosters and one baby chick. We don’t know what type of predator it was, whether there were multiple of them, where / how they got inside our fencing. Maybe a weasel? We aren’t long-time bird owners, but have gotten the impression that this sort of catastrophic event isn’t uncommon.
Anyway, so Sunday was a sad day for us. We’ve had plans to build a larger set of pens (75′ x 50′ each) to accommodate additional birds. (Egg sales have been going well at the market.) So we went ahead and constructed the first of those 3 pens Sunday, but added a layer of chicken wire at the base of the pen to make it harder for animals to get under the fence. We want to try to form a fairly tight seal between fence and ground around the perimeter.
As a result of this attack, we don’t currently have any chicken egg production, so we won’t be offering chicken eggs at the farmer’s market for the time being. Our ducks are still laying, though there has been a dip in production, presumably due to the trauma over the weekend. But we do plan to bring duck eggs to market this coming Saturday.
We plan to replace our female chicken flock, though the new birds may be a mix of chicks and currently-laying females. We’ll keep you posted on progress.
So the market masters have technically cancelled tomorrow’s Manassas Farmer’s Market due to forecasted heat… HOWEVER, we have since learned that a number of vendors are still planning on showing up. Pennington Market Farm will be there! We have a big batch of microgreens this week that risk becoming bird fodder if we don’t sell them (not the end of the world, but if given the choice…) Anyway, it’s going to be a hot one for sure, but it’s been hot every week and we’ll have our tent, etc. We’ll also have eggs and potentially basil (need to check our supply out in the garden). Hope to see you there!
These past 3-4 weeks have been substantially busier around the house with farmer’s market prep / recovery activities. Yesterday marked our third week as a vendor at the Manassas Farmer’s Market and all three market days have been encouraging. Many thanks to everyone who has come by our table. The weather has largely been cooperative each time and foot traffic at the market has been decent (per our limited experience).
Our lineup at each of these markets has largely been the same throughout:
eggs (duck & chicken)
microgreens (cut and live)
herbs (mainly basil, mostly cut vs. live)
We honestly had no idea how microgreens would fare at the market, but so far, the reception has been great, with sunflower and pea being the varieties of choice. But we’ve also had decent sales with our other offerings of kale, buckwheat, and radish. So far, we’ve been “harvesting” (cutting) a majority of our micros a day or two before market and packaging in 1 ounce clamshells (keeping in our fridge until market morning). But we’ve also started experimenting with selling live 5″x5″ trays.
Eggs have also been selling well, and if we continue to sell at this rate, we may need to scale back what we bring to whatever our birds lay the week before market day. I want to take a look at the numbers, but if the math works out, we may add more birds to the flock to try to increase production. As with everything, we’ll see how it goes!
Basil has been doing well in our garden, and we’ve brought that to market each time and it’s sold well. We have a number of other things growing in the garden (tomatoes, melons, peanuts, etc), but most of that isn’t yet ready to harvest, and we’ll have to see with each veggie whether we have enough of a surplus to warrant bringing to market.
All in all, these summer days have been busy, but we’re really encouraged and thankful for the response we’ve gotten from everyone at the market. Looking forward to what’s ahead.
We’ve arranged to be a vendor at the Manassas Farmer’s Market on Saturdays! First day will be this coming Saturday, June 29th. The market runs from 8:00am – 1:00pm and is located in downtown Manassas in a commuter parking lot across the street from Baldwin Elementary School.
Our game plan for this coming Saturday is to bring about 9-dozen eggs (some duck, some chicken) and an assortment of microgreens. Hoping to have sunflower, pea, radish, kale, and buckwheat in both cut and live offerings (5″x5″ tray with soil). We have our canopy tent, folding table, company banner, business cards… we’ll see how it goes!
We got two nucs (pronounced “nukes”) of honeybees back on May 12. This is our first foray into beekeeping, but then again, most of these farming endeavors lately have been “firsts” for us. With the bee thing, this is 100% Elissa. She took a beekeeping class for a couple months earlier this year and scoped out and purchased all the necessary materials, etc. So far so good. Our understanding is that the bees will spend roughly the first year building up their hives and stocking them with honey… eventually generating surplus honey in the second year (ie more honey than they’d need to get through winter). So for now, we just make sure to supply them with sugar water (simple syrup) to supplement their pollen intake and do weekly status checks on the hives, like Elissa is doing in the photo, to make sure there aren’t any issues (mites, signs of swarming, etc).
Maybe a month or two ago, we heard about this website called The Fresh Harvest which is basically an online grocery store that focuses on selling locally-farmed goods. In this case, “local” is anywhere within some radius of Remington, VA (near Culpeper). So the deal is, customers do their shopping at this site online, submit their orders by Sunday each week, and then the orders get processed and delivered the following Thursday. There are a few standard delivery drop-off locations (I believe there’s one in Warrenton, for example), but you can also request the order be delivered to your door.
So we ended up contacting the company’s owner, Matt Coyle, and started a discussion with him. A few weeks later, our eggs are up for sale on The Fresh Harvest! So check it out, give it a try if you’ve maybe thought about shopping at farmer’s markets but haven’t had the time to get out to one, etc. It’s like Peapod, but local, small-business goodness.
Our largest egg on record came today, we believe from one of our New Hampshire reds. 111 grams! They typically lay some larger eggs, but this one is off the charts. To put things in perspective, this egg exceeds the USDA’s “jumbo” size category threshold by over 1.5x. In the photo above, the egg on the left is a standard store-bought chicken egg… 59 grams would put it in the “large” category.
Believe it or not, we actually log the weight and date of every egg we get from our ladies. We can use that data to help set prices and provide “use by” dates on packaging, etc. Our white bantam eggs typically fall in the “small” category, our brown eggs are generally “large” or “extra large”, and our ducks are typically “jumbo”.
Egg laying rate has really picked up over the past month or so with the sun staying out longer and temps starting to warm. Those red racks hold 30 eggs each… so, by my count, that’s 83 duck eggs (shorter stack) and 142 chicken eggs in our fridge. And more coming everyday! Contact us if you’d like to get some of these.
Still cranking on microgreens. We’ve been focusing on four different varieties:
black oil sunflower
…and playing with different quantities of seed, soak time, varying air flow, etc.
In the photo we have two batches of peas. Same start date/time, same soak duration (12 hours), same seeding density (60 g per 8″x8″ pie tin), same lighting, both bottom watered, both harvested at the same time (after 8 days of growth)… only difference was that the tray on the left had peat moss and vermiculite as the soil medium and tray on the right used organic potting soil. We got 118 grams of sellable product from the right tray and only 61 grams from the left tray. It seems the organic potting soil is the clear winner here.