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Friday, December 27, 2013


The winter solstice has come and gone and along with it our egg production.  Even in the coldest of days we were getting 10 - 12 eggs per day.  Over the past two weeks our production has halved giving us between five and six eggs daily.  We couldn't put our fingers on the cause.  Examining every possibility from water and feed consumption to length of day provided by the electric light and cleanliness of the coop, we couldn't narrow it down.

For the past week we have been closely watching every change we have made in the coop.  New bedding and clean nesters were the first test.  Our flock has doubled in size from last year so the coop isn't staying as clean as it could be.  Focusing on cleanliness, new bedding was added and nesters cleaned as soon as any accumulation of droppings were noted - no change in production.  Water has been carefully checked twice a day since temperatures have fallen and remained below zero.  We noted that the floor in the coop has shifted with the ice outside so the water container was leaking on the floor of the coop - no wonder it won't stay clean.  Balanced platform and steady water supply - no change in production.

Feed has been supplied twice per day since the chickens arrived on the farm seven years ago.  As the number of chickens increased, the amount of feed has increased.  Last night I stayed in the coop and watched the birds eat.  Three and one half pounds of feed were scattered on the floor of the coop to allow all the birds to eat without stomping on one another.  Watching them consume that 3 1/2 lbs in less than two minutes, I realized, they were hungry.  All the birds are still exhibiting good body condition, full breasts and good skin condition, most with large, moist vents.  Feed was the last thing we needed to try. Off to the good old search engine as the reference materials I have did not state how much feed an average laying hen consumes daily.  My search determined that an average laying bird consumes approximately 1/3 lb of feed daily.

To make sense of this, you need to know that we are up to 45 birds in the coop.  Four roosters and 41 hens.
Divide 45 by 3 - 1/3 lb per bird per day - and you get 15.
Divide 15 by 2 - feeding them twice daily - and you get 7.5 lbs of feed.

We were feeding them half of what they needed per day of feed.  They were maintaining their weight, but not getting enough nutrition to lay eggs.  I doubled their feed ration last night and they left some on the floor indicating that they were full.  This morning Little man's father fed them eight pounds of feed. 

If we get seven or more eggs today then we will have solved that problem.  I will let you know what we collect today.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2014 Planning

This is the time of the year when the planning for the farm begins/continues in earnest.  As we close December I look out at all the things that didn't get done.  The roof never made it back onto the greenhouse this fall; many tools and flower pots now sit under three to five inches of snow, two inches of ice and today's predicted two to four inches of new snow.  The same holds true for the lawn tractor, some tractor attachments and so much more.  Too many good tools and equipment now sit under snow and ice because we did not make the time to get them under cover.  Clean up projects remain on the list which should have been completed this fall but will now wait until Spring.  Attempts and efforts were made at the end of November and earlier this month, but too much remains outside.  Returning to full-time, off-farm employment in September brought fall preparations to a complete halt.  With high temperatures next week forecast to be below zero, it is looking like reclaiming these items might be a ways off. 

I could sit here and lament about all the things that weren't accomplished or I could pull up my big girl panties and take steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again.  Choosing the latter, I reached out to my local library for a book by Cynthia Bombach.  The Complete Homestead Planner takes all of the tasks and chores from around her homestead and breaks them up into a month-by-month to-do list.  An electronic version of this book is readily down loadable on line but I am an ink on paper kind of girl.  In New England ice storms like the one this past week I don't need to worry about a battery dying.  At the very least I hoped it might be a starting point.

What it did do was make me think about the whole farm.  This past year I have been putting out fires which I started for myself by taking on too many projects and not having a firm grasp on the time each would take especially with Little man in tow.  Laying things out over the span of a year and incorporating tasks into a monthly to-do list has allowed me to see, on paper or computer screen, the big picture.  Looking at some months, I can see that there aren't enough hours in the month to accomplish all that is listed there.  Some of those jobs will need to be reallocated.  This book was also written with heartiness zone 5-6 in mind.  Northwestern Vermont is located in zone 3-4 requiring a few changes in planting dates, seed starting dates, winter tire change-over dates, etc.

I could have done what Bombach did in her book all on my own and for that reason I would not recommend purchasing this book.  A trip to or request from your local library would be sufficient to get an grasp on what you need to look at for your farm or homestead.  There is also a lot of repetition in here as some chores you need to tackle monthly if not more frequently.  And, this is definitely not a how-to manual, it is exactly what it says, a planner.  A handy guide for beginners, those thinking about jumping into homesteading or farming from their perches in the city or someone like me who has let too many years of grand ideas get the best of her; this is certainly not for the established farm or homestead where things are running smoothly.

Over the next month I will refine the list for our scaled down farming ventures, incorporate some projects that require immediate attention and delete some that are not feasible given my time and budget.  As I look over my 2014 plan I realize that if I had sat down and created a business plan before planting thousands of Christmas trees or increasing the number of chickens in my flock, I probably wouldn't now be stepping back, reeling in and starting over. 

Lesson learned!