The weekly update is back! We slacked for about three months and now it’s time to get back on track with things. In the past three months, not a whole lot has happened here at the homestead. But we will try to get you up to date with everything in this one long post. There has been a lot of planning going on around here and it is so exciting to have plans for expansion in 2018.
It was a cold winter but spring is right around the corner. We have had a few big snowfalls this year but overall it has not been too bad. Luckily for us, our neighbors help us out with some snow removal.
The challenge for us this winter was more the cold temps than the snow. Keeping the animals water from freezing was our biggest challenge. Heated water bowls were used for the chickens. Some days even those would freeze over. With temps reaching -25° (sometimes colder at night), even the heated bowls couldn’t compete. We were doing rabbit water bottle changes twice a day and probably could have bumped that up to three times a day.
The chickens survived the cold winter. Some of the roosters got a little frostbite but nothing life threatening. We discovered that the leg bands that we ordered are not sized for roosters. Two of our roosters had problems with the leg bands. One got the band caught around its toe (not sure how it managed to do that). We were able to get the band off and there is only a little deformity but the foot is functioning fine. Another rooster had the band get in-bedded into his leg. The band was able to be removed but the hens would not leave him alone so we had to isolate him for a while so that he could recover. We had an old dog kennel sitting around that we put up inside the coop for him. He is still not putting a lot of weight on that foot so we will keep an eye on him for a few more days.
The Delawares that we currently have for meat chickens are not working out for us. They have a slow growth rate and poor egg production. For 2018 our plans are to run 2-3 chicken tractors of broilers in the field and get rid of the Delawares this spring. Raising broilers will be a new experience for us. They are a much faster growing chicken then the ones that we have raised in the past. We will also have to measure their food everyday because if we don’t they will just eat and eat and eat. Ideally we would like to run a couple rounds of chickens in each tractor this year.
Since we will be getting rid of the Delawares in the spring (we will use them as stewing chickens), our plans are to open up both sides of the coop for layers. We will be adding an additional 40 laying hens to the flock this year. The new layers that we ordered will give us a variety of egg colors (brown, green, blue). They are scheduled to arrive in early April. That will fill our egg layers to maximum capacity in the coop (a total of about 75-80 laying hens). Opening up both sides of the coop will allow for plenty of space for that many chickens. They will have two areas to lay eggs, roost, two outside runs, and plenty of inside space to roam around.
We started a home remodel and stopped making fodder during the remodel. The remodel is not complete and will probably be on hold until next fall. With that being the case we decided that we should start making fodder again. Making fodder for the chickens everyday cuts our food cost in half and the chickens love it. Our first batch should be ready to give to them next week.
Yeah, ducks! This year we will be building a duck enclosure on one side of the chicken coop. We are hoping to house the chickens on one end of the coop and ducks on the other. Last year we did a lot of research on ducks and we think that they will fit in nicely at Happy Hills. The ducks will be used for eggs and meat. Since we like to have a variety of animals here we will select a few different breeds to start with and then decide if we want to stick with a certain breed or keep a variety.
Depending on timing we may not be able to get the ducks until later this year or early next year. We would like to have them this year if possible but with other expansions in place we will have to see how the chores go and how much time we have to get this all set up.
All of the rabbits got their nails trimmed over the winter. Some were better about it than others. Lucy thought she was at the spa and fell asleep while we did her nails.
The rabbitry is expanding! We are trying to get the prefect meat/fur rabbit by doing some experimental cross breeding. Last year we did some data collection so that we could figure out we wanted in our rabbits. We learned that our American breeds tend to have more kits and they are ready for processing at about 12 weeks exactly. The New Zealand/Flemish crosses tend to have smaller litters but they are ready for processing between 8-10 weeks. The American fur is thinner and either black, gray, or white, while the New Zealand/Flemish fur is thicker and more colorful with brindle, reds, white/gray/brown. We also have some Rex that we are trying to mix into the blood lines because they have a velvet soft fur. The Rex are slow growers for meat, mainly because they are just a smaller breed of rabbit. See all of the rabbits that we currently have here .
Rabbit math is one of our favorite things. The breeding schedule for 2018 still needs to be completed. We currently have 3 does pregnant and plan to get another 2 pregnant in the upcoming week. We want to map out the breeding schedule so that we have as many litters as we can this spring/summer/fall and have few to none in the winter. This winter we learned that processing the rabbits on winter days that it was -15° without a cleaning house was a little rough. We ended up doing as much as we could outside and then bringing them into our house to finish. With no running water outside we didn’t have much of a choice but to finish the rabbits in the house. Breeding in the winter was a little tricky. We did a few litters over the winter but the challenges were that the rabbits didn’t want to breed and the below zero temps were too much for some of the kits. Getting a breeding schedule set will help us stay on track.
Expansion! We will be expanding the garden again this year! This will be the last expansion that we can do in the gardens current location. If we decide that we want to grow more we will need to add a second garden. All of our seeds have arrived and are just sitting in the office waiting to be planted. We will be starting tomatoes and peppers indoors this year and everything else will be direct sow. The plan is to have extra starter plants to sell in the spring. All of our seeds this year were purchased from Annies Heirloom Seeds . We have had really good luck with their seeds in previous years and hope that streak continues.
I never thought that I would get so excited for garden season but it is now one of my favorite things. With warmer weather on the way I am getting so excited to dig in the dirt again. We really love growing our own food. Now the challenge is figuring out how much of each food we use and making sure that we have enough to get us through the year. The 2017 garden did not provide us with enough beans, peas, or corn so we are increasing the number of those plants for 2018. We are also planting a variety of squash this year that we did not have last year.
At the end of March we are planning to attend the local farmers market conference. Our goal is to have enough produce to sell at some of the farmers markets this year. We know that we will not have enough to attend all of them, but maybe that will be a goal for 2019.
Where do I begin with the projects? We have so many projects running through our heads right now that we are starting to spin. To keep ourselves organized and on track with projects, we purchased an easel and project paper. Each month has a list of what needs to be done with a due date. So far this has helped us stay on track.
We also have many excel spreadsheets going to keep track of our progress. One of the most exciting spread sheets that we have is a cost tracker that I created. It has a break down of chicken, rabbit, and garden costs separately and then it is broken down even further so that we can easily see where we are making and losing money. Having this data will help us decide how to move forward and what changes we need to make to be successful.
Soon we will start building one or two more chicken tractors and at least 4 more rabbit hutches. The duck expansion and garden expansion projects cannot start until the ground thaws so those are just in the planning phase for now.
There was a large purchase made here at Happy Hills this winter. We finally broke down and purchased ATVs to help with work around the farm. This will help us greatly with garden work, coop clean outs, moving compost, getting supplies out to the field for the tractors and many other things. Although we haven’t used them much since we got them, we know that come spring, we will use them often.
Another project that we are working on is our compost. With waste from the rabbits and chickens we have a good base to start with. Adding in kitchen and garden scraps will boost the compost even more.