I went down to Brambleberry Farm today to help out my friends with their fruits, vegetables, chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, sheep, and… well, I think that’s everything. It’s a very small farm run by a husband and wife who are very into homesteading and small-scale farming. I am learning a ton and wanted to share some of the information. I think it’s essential for everyone to understand where our food comes from, even if we are not in the position to grow it ourselves.
The big news on the farm today is that a batch of chicks hatched. They are quite cute and fluffy and peep in a cute way not quite as deafening as the spring peepers (frogs), although I’m sure they’ll get there. Espri gathered the fertilized eggs a few weeks ago and has been keeping them in a little incubator, which looks rather like an alien spacecraft, probably due to the large amount of aluminum foil and the heat lamp that blinks on and off every 3-5 seconds. The chicks started peeping inside their shells a couple days ago and began breaking out this morning so Espri was transferring them a batch at a time to their new temporary home in the greenhouse. They have to be taught how to drink water, by dipping their beaks in the water trough, and are also introduced to their feed trough. In a few weeks they will be big enough to join their parents in the chicken tractor outside.
A chicken tractor is basically a portable shelter for chickens with no floor. This allows the chickens to scratch and dig for worms, grubs, insects, grass, clover, and whatever else tickles their taste buds. After awhile, the tractor is moved to a new plot of ground, leaving the old plot tilled and fertilized (with chicken manure). Espri & Darren’s chicken tractor is a little more elaborate, with a large fenced area adjacent to the shelter providing even more ground for scratching. The design is pretty clever; it’s a simple wooden A-frame made of mostly scrap lumber with an old billboard for a roof. The billboard is lightweight, waterproof, light-colored to let in some light but dark enough to provide shade, and is a free waste resource. I helped install the roosts, which are long boards strung from the ceiling so the birds can perch above ground at night. There is also a wall of nestboxes where the hens can lay their eggs in peace.
Chickens offer a lot of benefits. They lay eggs, which can be either eaten or sold. Their droppings make great fertilizer. Their scratching provides both tilling action and some pest control. They can also be used for meat or feathers. With a little more work, they can be bred and the chicks can be sold, or even just fertilized eggs. (On a side note, did you know baby chicks are often shipped by mail? It’s the craziest thing but they don’t seem to mind although they do peep a little.)
There are a few downsides to chickens, like the way they constantly fight with each other to establish dominance, or the fact that hens really only lay well for a couple of years and then you have to decide whether you want a pet or perhaps a meal. They can also be extremely loud although I think they’re a lot of fun to listen to. I’d like to have a flock of my own some day but for now I’m happy to be a part-time assistant farmer. Wait until I tell you about the pigs!!