Point of Lay Hens

Let me start off by saying Happy Father’s Day. Dad’s don’t get enough credit in today’s society. We portray them as bumbling idiots on TV, but for those of us who had a great dad or non-blood related father figure, we know the wisdom and knowledge they give us is priceless.

I’m not here to preach a sermon, I’m here to tell you about our first big HOPEFULLY profit making enterprise on our farm. We’ve sold a few animals here and there, sold the odd carton of eggs to neighbors, etc., but this is our first real attempt to take our little farm to the next level. This November we will be offering point of lay chickens for sale!

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We already have these guys on site. We have three great heritage and hybrid egg laying breeds. We have a lot of Easter Eggers, our personal favorite egg laying breed. These ladies lay a variety of colored eggs that go through a spectrum from blue to green as they go through their yearly egg/moulting cycle. They’re beautiful, unique birds that originated from blending the Ameraucana chicken with the Araucana chicken. We love our Easter Eggers for the variety of eggs they produce and for the number. These girls are a very productive breed that will produce an egg a day almost year round, and no two eggs (or birds, for that matter) look exactly alike.

We also have Gold and Silver Laced Wyandottes. This is our first experience with the breed. They are friendlier and larger than the Easter Eggers, and their coloration is absolutely beautiful. They’re mostly black with silver or gold speckles depending on which variety they are. They’re definitely among the prettiest birds that I have ever had and would look great pecking around the back yard.

Lastly, we have a very limited number of black variety Jersey Giants, which serve as an excellent dual purpose bird. They are solid layers, and grow to become a much larger bird then your standard laying hen (ranging 2-4 feet tall), making them a decent choice for a meat bird as well. However, with their gorgeous greenish sheen, un-chickenlike vocalizations, and quirky temperament, we think they’re most valuable as members of your egg-laying community.

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So, why would you want to pay more for a point of lay chicken when you can simply buy a chick at your local feed store or Tractor Supply next spring?

The average chicken needs about 20 weeks to start laying eggs, however the higher production breeds tend to produce after about 6 months.

While chicks are cute and definitely a lot of fun, they are also a lot of work. The first two months of their lives they will need to be indoors or in a garage under heat lights. Let me tell you, they don’t smell great. During that time they will consume about 16 lbs of feed per bird. Currently, chick starter feed is running about $15 a bag at TS. I can recommend Roger’s Feed in Pelzer, for slightly cheaper prices, but I believe we’re paying about $13 per bag there. That comes out to around .26 per pound. Based on that math, you’re already spending about $5 per bird once you calculate a small amount of feed waste, and let me tell you, chickens waste more than a small amount of feed, especially when they are chicks.

But feed isn’t the only expense you’re going to have. You’re going to need a brooder. This doesn’t have to be something fancy-we’re currently using a large homemade crate that usually serves as our goat transportation box for a small batch of birds. Basically they just need to be contained and protected from any predators that may wander into their little chicken world. This could be anything from a coyote, a rat, a snake, or your beloved man’s best friend (I’m looking at you Bo.) Your brooder will also need at least one heat light and some wheat straw or wood shavings for them to hunker down in. Let’s be conservative and say you spend about $48 on the brooder to raise 6 chicks. So that’s $8 per chick.

You’re going to have to feed and water them twice a day (for which you’ll need feeders and waterers about $30 divided by 6 chicks, and that’s another $5.)

Finally, you’re going to have to actually buy chicks. Quality breeds and healthy chickens will run you between $2 and $3 per bird.

So let’s add that up…

$5 – feed cost per bird for 6 months

$8 – brooder cost

$5 – feeder and waterers

$2.50 – cost of chick

That comes out to a total of $20.50 per bird. On average, you can expect a 10% mortality rate… (fancy way of saying one of the cute little peepers in your box of chicks is going to be a statistic.) Also, most chicks will be sold straight run, meaning they will be a mixture of male and female. This should come out to about 50% but in our experience you get more males than females. Then you’re left with the dilemma of what to do with the roosters, who are all crowing in the backyard at 4:30. One rooster is nice. 6 is chaos.

What we’re offering is a chance for you to have instant gratification (EGGS NOW!) at a slight premium over what your chicks would already cost you to raise. We’ll be offering point of lay hens at $25 a piece starting 10/1.

These hens are guaranteed female and are vaccinated against Marek’s, a common poultry disease that will decimate your flock. They’ve been out on grass since they were 6 weeks old and are some of the healthiest and happiest chicks we’ve ever met. We are housing them separately from both our normal laying flock and our meat birds for bio-security. Best of all, we’re doing the hard part, because that’s what farmers do. This is a great way to get into chickens or boost your existing flock.

So please let us know if this is something you would be interested in! You can reach us by any of the usual means. Keep checking back because we have a lot of really awesome stuff going on right now! Our tomatoes are finally producing, and if you know us, you know we love tomatoes, and we made our first batch of cheese from Marsha milk this weekend and it came out delicious! We really love sharing our news with you guys and sorry if this came off as a sales pitch (it was a sales pitch, so that’s probably why.) We won’t make a habit of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Score 2 for Turkeys.

Just when we were beginning to take a look at whether our turkeys were something we wanted to put more of our resources into, score two for our blue slate hens. Over the last few days, these dedicated girls have hatched out two beautiful chicks. Yeah, I know, baby turkeys are called poults. We’re talking baby chickens.

Turkeys only lay eggs for a few months out of the year, ours laid between late February and early May. You can, of course, eat their eggs, just like chicken, duck, guinea, emu or quail eggs. They have a very rich flavor. Unfortunately, these girls didn’t get the hang of brooding until after they were already done laying for the season. So they adopted some chicken eggs.

Our female turkeys are a heritage breed called blue slates. They’re a beautiful grey to lavender color. We also have a bourbon red tom. Let me jump up on a soap box here for a minute. Heritage breed turkeys are the way to go if you’re thinking about raising turkeys on your farm/homestead. In my opinion, they’re also the way to go if you’re thinking about buying a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Whenever someone says heritage breed, think heirloom variety vegetable. These are your old (hence the name) classic breeds, and just in turkeys there is a wide variety. Blue slates, Bourbon Reds, Spanish Blacks, Royal Palms, and Narragansetts just to name a few. There’s a reason these guys are still around. They are quality breeds that have stood the test of time and they’ve come out strutting.

Put these guys up against your commercial breeds, White and Bronze broad-breasted, and you’re going to see a big disparity in size. A full grown broad-breasted turkey can tip the scale at up to 50 lbs. That’s a big bird. Our biggest turkey is about 16 months old and still wouldn’t hit 25 lbs.

So why not broad-breasted? Sounds economical, right? Well, these guys grow so fast that most commercial producers butcher them very early. You’ll rarely find a turkey over 25 pounds dressed weight at the grocery store. Turkey farmers aren’t trying to deny you the Turkzilla of your Thanksgiving dreams. They simply can’t keep broad-breasted turkeys healthy once they get into the larger weight classes. They suffer skeletal and respiratory issues that cause most producers to butcher them after a few months. Many producers heavily medicate their turkeys with antibiotics and tranquilizers to keep them from developing additional issues.

Finally, and a little oddly, broad-breasted turkeys cannot reproduce without help. Self-sufficient breeding has been sacrificed in the name of time. On a farm, like everywhere else, time is money. The longer they live, the higher the farmer’s feed and opportunity costs are.

Heritage breed turkeys, on the other hand, need about six months to mature to a good table size. They’re beautiful, less prone to disease, and not chock full of hormones, tranquilizers, and antibiotics. Also, they taste way better. Happy and healthy animals make the best meat and unlike the broad-breasted varieties that are bred for size and growth rate, heritage breed turkeys are bred to taste delicious parked in between the macaroni and cheese and the sweet potato crunch.

Not only can heritage breeds reproduce without assistance, our hens are incubators with feathers. They’ve literally been sitting on eggs for the last 3 months only to have one chicken coop disaster or another befall their nest. Next year we plan to provide them a  safe and quiet place with a clutch of turkey eggs and no distractions. In the meantime, we’re very excited to see how these little chicks turn out. Since we have a wide variety in our egg laying flock, there’s no telling who laid the eggs these little guys came out of.

Anyways, thanks for reading! We’re really excited at the level of interest people have shown. Also, please let us know if you’re interested in learning more about turkeys. In our opinion, they’re the most entertaining poultry around.

 

 

 

Streamlining

Lately, we have a slight distraction brewing on the farm. We’re currently awaiting our first child, who is due any day now. This means a lot of preparation, and one facet of that is making sure our animals and plants are well taken care of while we’re at the hospital. So here are a few of our streamlining tips that could also apply to vacations or just making life easier.

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Water – Everything needs water. From our tomato plants to our goats, we like to provide everything on the farm with fresh water every day. For a while this meant hauling  buckets, but now we’ve used hoses and splitters to make this chore pregnant-lady friendly. FYI, water weighs about 9 pounds per gallon, so that 5 gallon bucket weighs in close to 50 lbs. We have a main water hose that runs out into the field and splits off to a sprinkler, and another long hose that will reach all water buckets.

Really, this isn’t rocket science. I cheaped on the hoses and got several 50′ hoses for about $12 a piece. Y valve splitters are about $4. Let me tell you. It’s worth the investment.

Food Storage – We are stocking up on every kind of feed we use. We store extra feed in the barn and the current bag in a tub out of reach of the animals but close to where we feed them. We have a tub in each chicken coop, a tub in the goat shed, and a tub near the brooder.

This is nice and convenient, but it also makes sure everyone gets the right food. (No chick starter for layers or vice-versa.)

Recruiting – We recruited several different friends and neighbors and made sure they would be willing to help if we have to make a mad dash to the hospital. In our case this means writing out detailed instructions to make sure everyone gets enough feed and nobody gets overlooked. It also meant teaching my parents to milk Marsha.

We’ve talked to several people just in case something comes up. The fact that we have most of our family with 5 miles makes this very easy. We have someone who has volunteered to stay with the dogs/cat and three people who have volunteered to feed the livestock.

We really appreciate the help that has been offered, and in return we are making sure that this will be as easy as possible!

 

 

 

 

Intro to Bootstrap

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Laura and I have only been “farming” for about 18 months. The  first animals we brought onto what was, at the time, our urban farm in Roanoke, VA, were two batches of egg layers.

We got these birds because we already had a house full of dogs and a cat but still wanted more animals. We had also just come around to the viewpoint that our society was fragile and that the ready availability of food wasn’t a guarantee. There is no guarantee that grocery shelves will be stocked next week when you go to pick up your weekly groceries.

By no means am I a bunker style prepper, but I do not think it is unreasonable, in the wake of natural catastrophes such as Katrina and  the financial instability of the last decade, to want to be able to provide for your family if, God forbid, things change from how they are now. Eggs are a good place to start. After all, stock piling canned goods in the basement only gets you so far. An empty can may be useful in some capacity, but it isn’t going to replenish itself. Chickens, on the other hand, make more chickens, and they produce an egg more days than not.

I’ve heard a lot of conjecture about whether raising chickens for eggs is financially feasible, and I agree, it isn’t going to pay the bills… Eggs are cheap and the infrastructure and feed required to successfully raise chickens probably outweighs the number of eggs we use in an average week. So if you’re looking to get chickens to save money on eggs, there are better ways to save money, unless you eat ridiculous numbers of eggs.

My opinion, however, is that looking at egg layers from that perspective is short sighted. It doesn’t account for the independence and higher quality that comes from raising your own food, and it doesn’t account for the fact that supply and demand dictate the value of that egg. A drastic change in supply, (read that as empty grocery store shelves), would drastically change the value of an egg. So my chickens are a bit of insurance against that possibility and the opportunity to take control of what I eat and how it spends its life.

From there we moved into gardening. Growing tomatoes is a bit of a tradition on my side of the family. The last time that I vividly remember spending with my grandfather was helping him get his transplants started for the year. He was dying of cancer, and for the first time, was too weak and exhausted to do this himself. So he recruited me to help. It became clear while we were working that he saw this as more than an opportunity for free labor. He saw this as a chance to teach me to do something that he valued very highly. I’m sure my memory is exaggerating, but I never recall him sitting down to supper in the summer without a plate of sliced tomatoes and an over-generous shaker of salt. So when we started gardening, we planted other vegetables, but my heart was in the tomatoes.

We started all our plants from seed under fluorescent lights in our kitchen. This raised the power bill considerably, and due to the insufficient light intensity, produced stemmy seedlings. It worked, but bang for buck, fell short. We tried to move our plants outside, not aware of the hardening off process, and ended up with some serious leaf burn. A bit of googling and we were educated enough to rectify the mistake. We lost our zucchini and squash, but fortunately, the tomatoes were saved.

We hardened them off and planted them in five gallon buckets of potting soil from Lowes. Again, bang for buck? Bad idea. Bucket gardening has a start-up cost of about $3 for a bucket plus $5 to fill it with soil. Our ten tomato plants suddenly got very expensive. You can buy a pretty good number of tomatoes for $8. Also, despite early healthy growth, towards the end of the season, roots started to appear in the holes we drilled for drainage and the plants failed to produce anywhere near what we could have bought at Kroger for our $8 per plant. Knowledge is valuable though, and this year (thanks to our new rental farm with much more space) our plants are planted directly in the Carolina clay and our overhead on our 36 tomato plants plus a large assortment of lettuces, squash, okra, zucchini, and eggplant is about the cost of 4 tomato plants the way we did it last year. You live and you learn. You’re stupid and then, hopefully, you’re less stupid.

Sometime around April of last year, Laura’s uncle offered to rent us a house with a 5 acre field for the same rent we were paying on our urban home in Roanoke. Home started sounding really good at about the same time. We made the decision to move back to SC (go Tigers!) and we started to make preparations to head South.

Our preparations were a little odd. Most people would have been patient and scaled everything back until we relocated. Patience isn’t something we’re great at. We decided turkeys were our next step, and hey, Thanksgiving is 6 months from May, and a heritage breed turkey needs six months to be ready for the table. So we went out and bought 7 blue slate turkey poults.

These guys scared us to death. They didn’t travel well from where we bought them back to our house in ROA. It took about 36 hours to get fluids and food into them and I definitely thought we were going to lose the whole batch. Also, side note. Baby turkeys can fly. They can fly at one week of age better than an adult chicken. These guys were hitting the 10 ft ceiling in our kitchen. So we added a lid and a baby chick (their “mom”, now our rooster… oops) and they learned by observation. We did lose one due to impaction and a broken leg.

A few months later and we were relocating 6 hours south through the mountains in a Honda Fit, and a Toyota Highlander with no ac, in August, with two cats, 4 serious sized dogs, about 25 chickens, and 6 turkeys.

It was rough, but it was worth it. We couldn’t have been happier to be in our new home and to have a 5 acre field for our dogs (Bo ((Husky mix)), Lima ((lab mix)), Darlin ((coon dog)), and Elam ((Bloodhound)) to run in. I don’t know if you know, but dog parks breed some serious drama. It’s nice to have our own private one.

Soon we added two ND goats, a billy and a doe with the goal of breeding them and milking the doe.

About this time, Darlin, learned that no fence built by man could contain her. I don’t know your exposure to coon dogs, (she’s a redbone treeing walker mix), but they’re bred for a few traits that make them less than perfect pets. 1. They’re stubborn enough to stand at the bottom of a tree and yell their head off for hours waiting on their owner to come shoot the raccoon out of the tree. 2. They’re bred to be loud so the owner can hear them from literally about a mile away. 3. They’re freakish athletes bred to go all night long. 4. They’re crafty more than they’re smart. That said, we love her to death and wouldn’t trade her for a dog that could do our taxes and mow the yard. But as I was saying, no fence can stop her. Except as it turns out, an electric one.

After the umpteenth time Laura left work to get her out of our kind, wonderful, understanding neighbor’s yard (are ya’ll reading this?), we decided Darlin getting hit with 10,000 volts was preferable to her getting hit by a car and Laura losing her job. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to our farm. Up until this point we had been relying on welded wire for all of our fencing. We typically used 5 ft horse fence, which comes out to roughly $1 per foot. That’s not including t-posts, wood posts for corners, or staples (or zip ties depending on how lazy I feel.)

After the initial investment of a fence charger, electric fencing is cheap and very easy to put up. I subdivided our field to separate dogs and goats, about a 200 yard run, in about 4 hours for about $75. With welded wire it’d be closer to $250 and would take about a day. I’m planning to do a full post on electric fencing because it was a little difficult to understand with no prior knowledge.

Anyways, this allowed us a pretty large goat lot just in time for the arrival of twin doelings. We jumped the gun and ran to the feed store, worrying that the doe was favoring one kid and neglecting the other and spent a chunk of change on bottle nipples, colostrum, and formula. By the time we got home, both girls were feeding happily. Lesson learned… give them an hour or two to adjust before you panic.

We messed up picking out our goats. The original two were very shy from the get go. It wasn’t until we bought Savannah, a Kiko-lamancha mix (mutt goat) that we realized how cool a friendly goat is. Savannah walks on a leash, follows us like a puppy, and genuinely considers us part of her herd. The babies had picked up their mothers fear, and all four ND’s rejected her from the start. Well, the male seemed interested, but only when his old lady wasn’t looking.

We started talking about selling the ND’s and replacing them with friendlier goats. It’s not fun to catch a goat that doesn’t want to be caught, and the thought of doing that daily to milk wasn’t pleasant. So we sold all four to a farm down the road (literally… not like your parents did to the misbehaving dog…)

Here’s where we had another, “hard lesson learned” (tip of the hat to Ethan Book, Crooked Gap Farm and “The Beginning Farmer Show.”) We sold the ND’s and very quickly realized how lonely a lone goat is. It was so bad, in fact, that while I was out of town for work, Laura ate on the porch with Savannah tied to the railing so she wouldn’t be alone.

To make a long story short, we ended up with Marsha. We bought Marsha from a show goat farm in Colleton, SC. She actually won 7th nationally for yearlings in the ADGA Nubian show in 2016. We had to learn how to milk really quickly, because we got Marsha home at 4 and she was due to be milked at 5. Marsha made us fall in love with the Nubian breed. Over the last few months we have amassed a small herd of the floppy eared, loud mouthed, extremely personable breed. We picked up YiaYia from an Eastern European farmer who spoke about as much English as I speak whatever language he spoke. We also picked up twin boys from a local farm (Esau and Jacob).

We currently have a batch of meat birds going on 5 weeks. We have a batch of 22 egg layers of the same age.

So that about has you caught up! We plan to update this site with farm news as well as sharing what we learn along the way.