I pulled up to the pasture yesterday and this is the sight that met me. I forgot to check the feeders the night before, and this is what a flock of hungry chickens looks like. When a mob of hungry chickens runs toward you en mass, you feel a certain amount of empathy for grasshoppers and the rest of insectkind.
So people don't think of it much, but birds need to shed their feathers just like dogs shed their hair or snakes shed their skin. That's what's going on here below. The hen in the foreground is molting, or growing new feathers. Unfortunately she chose to do so in a rainy, cold snap. It got down to 18 F that night, but she made it through okay. All mature birds will molt in the fall. This was one of the things old time breeders selected for: chicken molts in late fall - good, chicken molts all her feathers nearly at once - great. These characteristics correlate into the most productive hens - more egg for your scratch.
During the course of the year, feathers get broken, worn down, or simply wore out. The feather functions as the chicken's coat, keeping the hen (or rooster) warm in the cold, shedding rain with oil spread during preening, keeping the skin from drying out or getting sunburnt - you get the idea. A hen's laying slows down greatly during this time, and may even stop completely, but will ramp back up when she's done. This is why commercial laying CAFO's induce forced molts through stress - the producer gets a boost in production when the older hens naturally start slowing down their laying. It resets the flock. Ironically in organic CAFO (free range) operations, the regulations practically prevent forced molting the hens into a molt, so they're typically just sent to the slaughterhouse after the first lag in production, instead of getting a second period of laying out of the ladies.
We just let the hens do their thing here at our place.
So last year, a huge locust tree was among the trees that got cut down. As I was working through the wood, cutting it for firewood, I noticed the locust and cut it into 8 foot sections. Locust, specifically black locust, is the second best wood for posts around here. Bois d'arc, also known as Osage Orange, is the best, and red cedar is in third place.
I used the lowest trunk section as a post for a gate that I'm putting in to overwinter the hens in a sacrifice paddock. This post is an absolute beast, and Carla was able to help me lift it enough to get it into the back of truck. One of the reasons that locust works so well as a post is that not only is it rot resistant, but it's dense as all get out. This post is probably around 400 lbs. Down in the pasture, I was on my own, and used the truck to get the post dropped and set up right. Once the post was in the hole, I was just a matter of backing up VERY SLOWLY, using the tailgate as a lever. It worked. A couple of 80lbs sacks of Quick-crete later, things were good to go. A heavy rain that night ensured that the concrete set up solidly.
So I worked all day in the hillside pasture across the creek today, setting locust posts for a gate and making the corresponding changes in the high-tensile fencing, wiring in corner insulators and rewiring the fencing. Unfortunately, however, I've now got a short somewhere, and considering the line of storms off to the west near Tulsa, I should probably scoot on down and track it.
I walked the perimeter today checking what the goats still have out there in the pasture for browse. Here's a patch of buckbrush, also called Indian Currant. It's a shrubby plant, that the goats have really been turned on to it since the killing frosts have knocked back most of the greenery. The goats really love the berries - they'll stand on their hind legs, lunge into the plants, dragging down the branches too tall to reach, and then strip the berries as a tasty reward for their efforts. You can see the herd tracking me down in the background of the pick below. When they found me, I quickly took back seat to the buckbrush berries. When the new wore off, the goats started eating recently fallen leaves from the tree on the right. I'm not quite sure what kind of tree it is, and my guess is that it's a really big shrub species, and I definitely am at a loss when it comes to shrubbery. The goats though are still finding plenty to eat, and quite a variety as well. I'll hold off feeding the hay. Luckily, I found a guy selling some crabgrass hay for a really great price, and it's real good stuff as well. I picked up a trailer full the other day.
Some of you will notice that I took the last two posts down. The short & skinny of it is that it didn't take long that some very good people and organizations were put in a position that they could have been negatively affected and have some major headaches because of me. That's not cool.
So I took the posts down. I stand by everything that was said in them though, and it's a testimony to the lack of transparency and need for reform in a certain system. Money is the ultimate end to some folks, and that's their baggage. Call me an idealist, but having spent 2004-2005 in Iraq, I've seen what corporate corruption 's capable of - but you definitely can't call me naive.
Here's some of the land that we cleared starting to get some growth on it. We sowed seed months ago, but with rain as scarce as it has been, it's taken a very long time for anything to sprout up. Normally around here, land cleared for timber & pasture is bulldozed to level things out. Being on a slope with so little soil, we had the loggers leave it "messy". The tree tops, leaves, and ruts have helped hold the soil in place, and once the grass and legumes get up, we can start shifting our focus from holding the soil in place to starting to clear out brush, cut firewood for next year, and get some fencing up. I've planted ryegrass, fescue, and crimson clover. It'll be interesting to see the forbs and grasses that pop up naturally from the seedbank.
So I've been compiling a database of independent poultry processors across the nation that are available to small farmers. They are a dying breed, as increased regulation, both federal & state, coupled with a myriad of factors from the poultry industry becoming vertically integrated to a public so used to the often subsized cheap food, have slowly whittled the processors numbers down nation wide. The last independent poultry processor shut down well over a decade ago, and if it were'nt for DARP, 70 miles away in Talequah, OK and Pel-Freeze, up the interstate a county up, the nearest USDA processor would be 5 or 6 hours away. We are EXTREMELY fortunately here to have TWO within driving distance while entire states are lacking.
DARP workers and my left sleeve
If you know of a processor not on the database, would you mind commenting below?