Lawns get cut for their first trim Green grass glistens with morning dew Birdies chirp songs of sunshine delight Daffodils and tulips dance in the breeze Dogs go for longer walks Everyone and everything loves the joy of spring ~Wendy Schreiner
Springtime is my favorite time of the year, especially on the farm. It also happens to be one of the busiest times of the year. We made it through out first year of selling eggs and through trial and error we have learned from our mistakes and made adjustments and still have a few adjustments to make. What has that to do with springtime? With the longer and warmer days, our hens are beginning to lay again. I need to get things ready to begin selling our eggs and there is much to do.
Last year, we sold out every week on the Clemson Area Food Exchange. That’s not saying a lot, because we started off with only 25 hens. This year we are expanding and I need to order 50 more chicks so they will be laying by August. I will keep the 25 I have for another year and then sell them while they are still laying.
Also, last year, we moved from mobile enclosures to permanent enclosures. I believe hens require 108 square feet per bird to be considered pastured hens, but we have well over double that and I plan to add even more. I’m also moving away from the 3′ electric netting and installing 4′ plastic landscape/builder netting. It will cut my fencing costs by almost 75% and the extra foot of height will help keep a few Houdini hens within the enclosure with the rest of the flock.
Other changes for this year:
Expanding the enclosure to encompass a spring. This will give the flock a steady supply of fresh, cool water in the hot summer months.
Swapping the individual plastic nesting boxes with a large metal Best-Nest roll-out box. This nesting unit will accommodate up to 45 hens and it prevents them from eating their eggs. It also keeps the eggs cleaner so that they require less scrubbing when washed.
Get the farm delivery truck ready. This is a bright red 1965 Chevy pickup. Great advertisement.
We are still planning on raising some broilers this spring too. We don’t have our processing building setup yet, but we are working on it. Until then, our broilers will be processed and stored here in our home. Just as we did with the layers, we are going to start slow with the broilers and will probably only raise about 25 this first go around.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~Margaret Atwood
Today I was listening to the radio (country station, of course) and I heard an old Alabama song called “Mountain Music”. One of the lines in the song goes like this…
Climb a long tall hick’ry. Bend it over, skinnin’ cats.
That got me wondering, “how many people know what that line means?” Probably not very many people under the age of 50 have ever skinned a cat. And that got me thinking about all of the games boys and girls played when I was a kid. Games like Freeze Tag, Red Light – Green Light, Mother May I, Simon Says, Red Rover, Hide and Go Seek, Roll the Bat, Dodge Ball, Shooting Marbles, Jacks, Hop Scotch, Jump Rope, Musical Chairs, Crack the Whip. The list goes on! Do kids in this day and age even know how to play and interact with other kids without some kind of electronic device?
Well, I’ve skinned a few cats in my childhood. To skin a cat, you go out into the woods (usually exploring) and you find a tall, slender hickory tree. It has to be a skinny sapling for this to work, but you shinny (for all you folks north of the Mason-Dixon that means “climb”) up the trunk of that tree as high as you can go. If you make it to the top, you might have to sway back and forth to get the tree to bend, but when it does bend, you hang on tight and ride it safely (usually) all the way to the ground. That is called Skinnin’ the Cat.
Remember any of these phrases from your childhood?
Tag, you’re it! Unh-unh, I’m on base. One, two, three, get off my father’s apple tree!
Suzy, take three baby steps. Mother, may I? Yes, you may.
Simon says, take three giant leaps.
Red rover, red rover, send Mikey right over.
Red Light! Green Light!
Now, put up your smart phone and turn off your computer. I’ll count to ten and you go hide.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Ready or not, here I come!
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. ” ~George Bernard Shaw
May is my favorite month of the entire year. Everything is fresh, new, and green. The days are warm, but not hot, and the nights are cool and pleasant. My favorite flowers bloom in May too. One of those is the magnolia tree. Is there anything prettier, anything more aromatic, anything more southern than a stately magnolia in full flower?
My grandparents had magnolias in their front yard and I spent many happy hours of my childhood playing in the shade of those trees and climbing high among the branches. I also used to make Indian headdresses with the leaves and that is what I am going to share with you here.
First, collect several green leaves from the branches and several dry leaves from the ground.
Next, snap the stems off the dry leaves. Discard the leaves and hang onto the stems.
Use the stems from the dry leaves to pin the green leaves end-to-end.
Continue to pin the leaves together until they form a circle that can fit around your head.
For the last step, pin a couple of leaves to the finished headband for feathers.
Now all I need are some poke berries or charcoal for warpaint and I’m all set to scalp a few cowboys.
Melody sure makes a pretty red-headed Indian.
[Childhood is a paper boat borne along by a lazy breeze on a summer day.]
It’s hard to believe, but my last post was July 22 of last year! Needless to say, a lot has happened. Where do I even start? Let’s update on the chickens first.
We are kicking off our farm business with the incredible, edible egg. Remember that commercial? Careful now, you will be telling your age! Anyhow, we are going to be offering two kinds of eggs; large brown eggs and multi-colored eggs. Our colored egg layers are still in the brooder, but they have feathered out and with the warm weather we will be transitioning them to the hen house. They will not go on pasture until they grow large enough so that they cannot slip through the poultry netting we use to protect them from predators. Below are pictures of our brooder. It’s 3 levels with doors in the middle and on each end. The middle section is a breezeway that allows the baby chicks to get fresh air and sunshine. This is also the area where we put the feeders. One end contains the water tank. The other end contains the heat lamp and roosts. We put shavings in this end and the chicks huddle here, beneath the heat lamp, when it is cold. We bought this brooder from a local farm and it has been quite handy. Our first flock of birds were kept in the hen house when they were babies and we lost the majority of the flock to weasels. I’ve since put wire mesh down across the outdoor area of the hen house and it is now weasel-proof.
Okay, so let’s talk about the brown egg layers. Everyone wants big brown eggs to make a big country breakfast and the bird we selected for our brown egg layers is none other than the Rhode Island Red.
The Rhode Island Red is an American breed of domestic chicken. It’s the state bird of Rhode Island and was developed there (and in Massachusetts) in the late nineteenth century, by crossbreeding birds of Oriental origin such as the Malay with brown Leghorn birds from Italy. They are a prolific layer of large to extra large brown eggs and they are as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. We have a few that survived the weasel Armageddon but we had to purchase a new flock and they will not be laying until May or June.
Another thing that everyone wants is free-range eggs. What are free-range eggs and why does everyone want them? Well, let’s talk about why everyone wants them first and then we will talk about what free-range actually means.
There are two main reasons for the free-range craze. First, the eggs taste better. They have a darker yolk and a richer flavor. Second, the eggs are healthier.
Look at the picture below. The egg on the bottom is an egg purchased from a well-known national retailer. Usually, when you buy eggs from a supermarket, they are not fresh. They could be two months old (or older). Now, look at the egg on top. See how dark the yolk is compared to the supermarket egg? This is a free-range egg and the difference in taste is quite remarkable.
In addition to tasting better, free-range eggs are healthier. They have…
1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more vitamin A
2x more omega-3
3x more vitamin E
7x more beta carotene
Now that you know why people want free-range eggs, what exactly makes an egg a free-range egg?
Consider this. In the United States, USDA free range regulations currently apply only to poultry and indicate that the hens have been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range, nor the duration of time the hens must have access. The USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture and there may be access to only dirt or gravel. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means.
What does all of this mean? It means, when you buy “free-range” eggs at a supermarket, you may be purchasing eggs from a producer that has thousands of chickens crammed into a building that has one tiny little door giving the chickens access to a small patch of dirt, gravel, or even concrete. That’s why I believe in buying local. Buy your eggs from farmers who will let you come out and visit their operations. See for yourself where your eggs are coming from!
Now, back to our Rhode Island Reds. The last flock we purchased (22 birds) is on pasture now and should be laying eggs by May or June. Out where we live, we cannot let our birds roam totally free. We have too many predators such as coyotes, foxes, weasels, raccoons, hawks, and owls. To remedy this, we keep our flock contained on the pasture with electric poultry netting. We also have a mobile hen house to give them a place to roost at night and a place for shade during the day. Every two to three days we move this mobile pen to a new location where the chickens can forage on fresh grass and insects. It is the natural forage that gives these eggs their rich flavor and healthy attributes and access to this natural forage designates these eggs as free-range.
Below is a picture of our Rhode Island Reds enjoying a sunny day on the farm. You can see the electric poultry netting in the background. The mobile hen house has 4 nesting boxes in the rear and the roof opens up to allow access to the inside.
Here’s a couple of pictures of the eggs we sell.
One last thing before I close this post. We just started selling our eggs on the CAFE (Clemson Area Food Exchange). I posted 8 dozen eggs for sale Friday night. Half of them sold that night. The other half sold the next morning. To the people who purchased those eggs, I want to thank you and express my humble gratitude. I hope you thoroughly enjoy them and I hope you will continue to buy from us, because when you buy eggs from Porter Valley Farms you can rest assured your eggs are coming from happy, healthy hens that are thriving on clean water, green grass, fresh air, and sunshine, but don’t take our word for it. Give us a call and arrange a visit.
[If an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. If broken by an inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.]
One of the things I love about my small hometown is that I can go to our local grist mill to buy stone-ground grits, flour, and cornmeal. The mill has been grinding without any electricity, using an overshot waterwheel, just like they’ve done for the past 150 years. They operate on the third Saturday of every month and usually have music, food vendors, and various folk-art and Appalachian crafts on site. This past weekend was a banjo extravaganza and several local bluegrass bands performed. Below are some pics of the mill.
Here’s a short clip of the miller grinding corn.
In addition to the mill, there’s a moonshine still.
A working cotton gin.
A museum built over a large rock covered with Native American petroglyphs.
A couple of log cabins built in the 1800s.
An outdoor stage.
Various crafts such as spinning, weaving, quilting, caning, etc.
There were also various little “jam sessions” taking place in the shade along the creek banks. Here’s a short clip of one.
Lots of fun and fabulous grits! If you are ever in the area, check it out. The mill is especially gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are changing.
[It seems like bluegrass people have more great stories to tell than other musicians. ~ Dan Fogelberg]