Sunday, October 9, 2016

Eggs and milk

October 7 , 2016

It’s 11 am and I just collected three eggs from the chicken pen as I let out the flock (three hens, one rooster, and seven 3-month-old cockerels and pullets) for free-range pasturing the rest of the day. At sunset they will go voluntarily back into the 8 x 12 ft pen to roost safely for the night. In the morning I feed them corn and keep them enclosed so that they’ll lay their eggs where we can find them.

Our chicken pen: the roosting area is protected from the rain, and there are two nests in boxes in the covered area. A passion fruit vine covers the rest of the pen, including the extension.
Last month two of the three layers went broody, meaning that their hormones changed, they stopped laying and started sitting on the nest day and night, even though we’d removed the eggs. For those who aren’t familiar with chickens, brooded eggs hatch after 21 days and the hens spend another six weeks or so protecting their chicks and keeping them warm at night, before starting another period of producing eggs. To bypass the 9-10 week brooding and little chick phase it’s necessary to break the hormonal cycle by cooling down the hen’s body which has heated up to hatch the eggs. Some say to dunk the hen in ice water, which I’ve tried several times without success. Instead we put our two hens in little elevated cages with wire bottoms and left them there for four days with only a bit of water and corn. It worked but still took another week and a half for them to start laying again – about three weeks without eggs. Any day now the third hen will probably go broody.

The separate extension provides an area for little chicks. Right now it houses six Rhode Island Red pullets.
To the left of the main chicken pen is a smaller extension (4 x 8 ft) where my six Rhode Island Red pullets live. I got them by special order in Anapolis, five day old chicks that I raised in a cage in our pantry until they were old enough to be outside. Now they’re about nine weeks old and have joined the older fowl for the run of the property where they gobble up insects, worms and bits of choice vegetation. Thanks to Grace’s work in January and February we have two enclosed garden areas for our vegetables, protected from the chickens.  Two or three months from now nine pullets will begin laying eggs, and we’ll finally attain our goal of all the eggs we can eat plus plenty to share.

The Rhode Island Reds grazing in the open range - enclosed veggie garden (fallow now at the end of the dry season)
and the goat pen in the background.

Our newborns, doeling at left and buckling at right. (Guy's photo)

Polly, one of our original goats, nursing her newborns (Sept.20th) Guy's photo

This morning we started milking Polly, the mama goat. Eighteen days ago she delivered two kids, a buckling and a doeling. This is her second birthing and we hope to get more milk, three or four cups a day, which is enough for our needs when it’s just the two of us here. Guy and I have learned to house and feed and to milk the goats in the past year, since June 2015 when we got our first two pregnant does. Our little herd is up to six and one of the does that was born here is off at a neighbor’s to get pregnant from one of his billy goats. We don’t have enough space to keep a buck.

2011: Clearing the old foundation - a jabuticaba and a mango tree.

2012: another angle, a second jabuticaba tree; babassu palms in the background.
We’re entering our sixth year on the farm. The photos above show our land before we started building anything. Now our brick and mortar house sits on the old foundation we cleared, and just beyond the little jaboticaba tree on the other side of the foundation we’re building our cob house. I plan to write an update on the cob house very soon – hopefully by the end of the month we’ll have a roof!
Guy sitting in our future sitting room. The foundation was completed last week. 

The first house, brick and mortar, completed in November 2012. The two houses face each other.