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The new year brings a new predator to the farm.  I had my first owl sighting last night.  Coming home in the dark two nights ago I noticed one of the ducks trapped in the poultry netting.  I switched the fence off and untangled the duck.  Once untangled it quacked off happily to join the others.  I thought it was weird but I didn't give it much thought as I locked all the birds into their houses for the night. 

Last night I again came home in the dark to another duck stuck in the netting.  As I got closer and shown the spot light, I heard it.  The unmistakable, 'who who' of the owl, it had killed a chicken.  The duck must have given it more of a fight and both the dying duck and the owl were stuck in the netting. 

After a quick trip to the house, a few moments later I made sure that owl took its last bird.  This was the first time I had seen or even heard an owl up close.  While they are very good looking birds, I cant have this owl taking out my birds every night. 

Predators are all around the farm waiting to strike at any time, this seems more true during the winter months as food becomes scarce.  In this cause I only lost a few birds and I got lucky to be in the right place at the right time and was able to eliminate the predator. 

The attack shows me that this owl was going to keep coming back night after night to take bird after bird until it was caught or killed all of my birds.  Life and death are both constants on the farm.  While you don't ever want to lose any of your animals to predators it will happen.  Going forward we will take a deeper look into how we can all protect our animals on the farm. 

This time I got lucky to catch this owl in the act.  How have you fought back against predators?  We would love to hear about your predator issues and way you fixed the problem.  As always email us or leave a message in the comments.   


 
 
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Grape is the next plant on our Edible November list.  Grapes might be one of the most versatile edibles on our list so far. 

Grape vines grow wild in most areas of the country.  If you have spotted wild grape vines growing up a tree in an old field your region is suitable for growing grapes.

Grapes do require a little bit of maintenance each spring and fall to ensure your fruit crop reaches its potential.  If you have visited or driven past a winery you know that grape vines need a support system.  If you are only going to plant a few grape vines I suggest using a single post per vine system like the Germans use.  This consists of a T-post for each vine where your vine is trained and pruned up the post.  Look for more on this concept in the spring!

Grapes can be eaten fresh from the vine, they can be frozen, they can be dried and made into raisins, they can be made into vinegar, grapes can even be fermented into wine!

In the Northeast US Japanese beetles are attracted to the grape leaves.  I have often walked out and found hundreds if not thousands of beetles on a single vine, they can decimate grape leaves.  If you have chickens or ducks I have a solution to your beetle woes.  First you will want to plant your grape vines in areas where your birds frequent.  Each morning when I go out to feed and water my birds I will check my vines first.  If I notice beetles on my vines I will call my birds over and shake the grape vines.  The beetles will then fall onto the ground and be eaten by the hungry birds.

This not only solves your beetle problem but turns that problem into a protein source for my birds.  By the end of the summer your beetle population will have surely gone down and your eggs should be bright orange as a result!   


 

Egg Hunt

08/19/2015

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When I was a kid I always enjoyed hunting for Easter Eggs.  Although I enjoyed it, I always seemed to have the fewest eggs in my basket, thanks to my competitive older siblings!  Little did I know that years later I would be participating in these egg hunts again.  This time it’s not as much fun and to be honest it’s a little aggravating.  It appears that about half my flock has decided to start laying their eggs anywhere they please.

If we go back in time just after the first chicken egg was laid, wait was it the chicken or the egg?  Either way, the chicken, before becoming the domesticated bird we know today, was a wild jungle bird more akin to the ptarmigan or grouse.  I know it’s hard to believe but these birds would live or die on their own awareness and elusiveness.

So back to today, I let my birds free range within an electric net fence.  As Joel Salatin says about the pigness of the pig, well I want my chickens to have that same chickenness (if that makes sense).  When preparing the area that my flock will be rotated to I look for a couple things.  Tree cover is paramount, this helps them avoid the birds of prey we have in the area while also providing them with shade.  If shade is satisfied I then look for edibles the birds can forage on.  These edibles will help supplement any feed that you provide your birds with, these are generally more nutritious than most bagged feed and way cheaper too!

Next is that wild jungle bird idea.  Once the flock is rotated off a pasture I will broadcast seed over these areas kind of like a cover crop/pasture improvement seeding.  If my timing is right I will bring my flock back to these spots and they will be full of tall grasses, legumes, clovers, and sunflowers.  To the untrained eye you could walk by and look into the chicken paddock and not see a single bird.

Of course my problem now is that they are starting to lay there eggs in this jungle paradise their ancestors used to call home.  Reframed like that I guess it’s a good problem to have.  At least I know that come Easter my kids are going to be finely tuned egg spotting machines!
 
 
PictureChickens feasting on Japanese beetles
It's the matchup we have all been waiting for: Lebron vs. Durrant, Brady vs Manning, Tyson vs. Holyfield, Tiger vs. Phil.  Wait this is a farming blog, Chickens vs. Beetles? 

At first glance Chickens vs. Beetles isn't a fair fight, well turns out you're right.  The chickens seem to win every time and it's a good thing too because Japanese beetles can do some terrible damage.  If you have grape vines and you see your leaves ripped up like the picture below, guess what, you have a beetle problem. 

Now the solution is simple, all you need is a few hungry chickens, a bucket, and a good arm for shaking your grape vines.  If you can't or don't want to place your chickens directly underneath your vines, place a bucket underneath the vine and then shake.  Most of your beetles will fall into your bucket, you can physically remove any hangers-on.  Once you captured enough of the beetles, bring them over to your chickens and watch the feeding frenzy begin and end.  Once a few chickens catch on, it's over quick.  That dish was full of beetles and in the time I put it down and snapped the picture, well you see what is left!

This method of beetle control keeps your chickens bellies full of free high protein food, eliminates the use of any harsh chemicals on your grape vines, and gets you more delicious grapes come harvest time.  Looks like a win, win, win to me!   

 
 
After a long winter its finally time to move the chickens.  Things have greened up a little bit but you can really tell where the chickens spent the majority of their time this winter.  After I move them I will be sure to plant some cover crops and get this winter pasture area restored.