Friday, September 19, 2014

Growing, Harvesting, and Processing Luffa Gourds

We tried growing something this year that we've never grown before on Our Maker's Acres Family Farm: We grew Luffa Gourds!  Granted, I like growing things you can eat.  But believe it or not, I learned that you can eat luffa gourds when they are very small.  They say that they are like cucumbers.  I haven't eaten any yet, so I can't recommend them to you.  But what I can tell you is this: They are so easy to grow. They require no special care.  Well, except...

They grow very quickly and vine all over the place and each afternoon, I have to go pull their vines off of the okra plants or they would completely take them over.  But that's the only downside I can think of.  In the early mornings the yellow blooms of their flowers are beautiful and make a garden that is largely dry and dormant (other than peppers, okra, basil, peanuts, and sweet potatoes) look somewhat presentable during the last days of summer.  Luffa are prolific producers.  I have luffa gourds growing all over the place.  Here are three nice sized ones that have grown from vines that took over a stack of tomato cages.

Luffa Gourds
Since it was my first time growing them, I had to do a little research in order to figure out what to do with them.  I learned that you should wait until the outside of the gourd feels like the texture of a football before harvesting it.  I actually harvested one a little early due to my impatience and learned that it is okay, you just need to let it dry a little longer, so there's room for error without ruining the luffa.  I like that.  It is forgiving!  I brought the ripened luffa inside.  It felt light and if you shake it you could hear seeds jiggling around inside.

A luffa gourd that feels like a football
Benjamin took over at this point and he used his fingernail to puncture the outer skin of the gourd. Then he simply started tearing it away.  It came off easily, exposing the actual sponge.  It is still amazing to me that you can grow something in your garden that looks like it came from the ocean.

Peeling off the outer skin
Now once you peel the skin off a dry one, you can cut it in half and pour out the seeds.  This one required a little drying so I set it outside in the sun on top of the air conditioner to allow it to dry.  The next day I flipped it over to allow both sides to dry equally.

Drying the luffa
Then it was completely dry and we brought it inside and Benjamin cut it in half with a steak knife.

Cutting the luffa in half
Genesis 1:1 says, "Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them"; and it was so."

The luffa gourd growing in the garden was listening very closely to this command, because I've never seen a plant that grew more seeds!  We kept shaking and shaking and shaking and the seeds just kept on falling out.  It was really incredible, I tell you.

Shaking the seeds out
I'll save these seeds, but I think it may be overkill.  If anyone needs any, I'd be glad to share!

An abundance of luffa seeds
Once all the seeds were removed, I poured a little water in a bucket and added a capful of bleach.  I just wanted to clean up the luffa of any seed particles like you see in the photo above.

Soaking the luffa sponges in a mild water/bleach solution
Then I removed them from the bucket after a few hours and allowed them to dry.

Ready to go take a bath!
And that is it!  I've given these to our kids in college and once ours are dry we'll put them in the shower.  These can be used in place of a washrag to scrub or exfoliate your skin.  Simply wet it, apply soap and scrub.  You can use the luffa on the heels and soles of your feet, too.  You should rinse the soap out of them when you are finished and allow them to dry.  It is probably not a good idea to use a luffa every day since your skin needs a certain amount of oils, but once in a while removes dead skin and scrubs the grime off of you that you get sometimes when working in the garden or with the animals.  When Saturday night rolls around and it is time for my weekly bath, I'm ready for a good scrubbing with a luffa.  Just joking, of course.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Of Crumbling Farmhouses and Dreams...

I've long been told in a business setting that it is not acceptable to bring problems to others without having proposed solutions already formulated and ready to discuss. I tend to agree with a small caveat.  Sometimes people really are insulated from reality and don't recognize the problem looming. Bringing those issues to one's awareness (even if you don't have answers) can help facilitate a discussion.  That conversation allows many minds to formulate solutions and everyone benefits.  I'm not going to sit behind the keyboard today and pretend to have the answers or solutions.  Maybe, let's just talk about it.

Crumbling Farmhouses...

Image Credit
I'm reading a book right now by Joel Salatin called "Fields of Farmers."  The subtitle is Interning, Mentoring, Partnering, Germinating.  I've read many of Mr. Salatin's other books and I admire him.  His farm, Polyface Farms, was featured in Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma and he is a pioneer.  His farm is described like this on his website:

Polyface, Inc. is a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Image Credit
This book is really not applicable to our little operation, Our Maker's Acres Family Farm.  Our little farm has no full time workers.  I work a full time job away from the farm and for all intents and purposes, we operate our homestead farm on what I call the "Bluebell Ice Cream Philosophy:"  We eat all we can and sell the rest! The fruits of our labors are enjoyed by our family first.  Our farm is not successful enough to be self sustaining and requires me to work a 'real job' in order to support my family with overwhelmingly off farm income.  As a result, we could not realistically have interns.

I am a hopeless nostalgic, locked in the past, reminiscing about the 'good, old days,' but I also look to the future and ponder how to resurrect the old ways.  There is an excerpt out of Mr. Salatin's book that is written with such emotion and passion that it comes alive and lights a fire within my soul.  It also highlights a problem that I alluded to in the opening paragraph.

In Chapter 6, titled, Investing in People, Mr. Salatin states:

"Unappreciated in society, most farmers have been relegated to the edges of socio-political importance and discourse.  Numbering too few to even merit noting in the census, farmers generally have slipped into a defeated, anachronistic mindset. Growing weary on the acreage they love, many encourage their children to seek a better life.  Abandoned by an unappreciative society, most farmers have emotionally given up.  They plod along because that's what they've always done and they don't know anything better to do.  Too old to learn a new trade, they just keep planting, feeding, and showing up at the Ruritan Club until they can't get up in the morning.

It's sad.  Really sad.  I see it in their faces at the livestock auction barn.  I see it in the faces at traditional farm conventions, and too often even at sustainable farm conventions.  Oh they try to put on a good front.  They tell stories and reminisce about the old days.  Most of the stories happened because lots of people were around... back then.  Whenever a young farmer, boy or girl, comes by, their eyes twinkle as they think of what could have been on their farm.  But most of the kids are gone. They went to Dilbert cubicles to work for Fortune 500 Companies, put their kids in soccer leagues, and joined the Sierra Club in penance for all the chemicals and plowing Dad did back on the homeplace.

All you have to do is drive out through the midwest, the heartland of America, to see that heart stripped bare and bleeding.  Not one in three houses is inhabited.  Many sit abandoned and lonely, crumbling, amidst gargantuan fields of genetically modified corn and soybeans grown for animal factories. In a few years, the old houses will go ahead and give up too, like their former owners, and crumble into the soil.  Then they won't impede the plow anymore.  They will decompose back into the earth, a little spot of fertility, hearkening back to earlier days when the fertile earth sprouted small diversified farms, communities, tax bases, and livestock shows.

How do we get the life back?  How do we create hope in these seemingly hopeless situations?  Only families that have vision, singleness of heart, magnanimous spirit, and optimistic hope can realistically..." (I cut it off in mid sentence, because Mr. Salatin goes on to explain about how having interns on the farm can turn things around.  They most certainly can, but I'm not in the position to start an internship program and I'm ruminating about other solutions.)

Image Credit
I don't know if you appreciate that writing like I do, but it was like poetry to me. Gripping, emotional, evoking a visceral response.  How do we get the life back? Great question.  I don't know if we can. We are a different society now.  We've moved from the Agrarian age, into the Industrial Revolution, and now into the Information Age.  According to ag101 demographics here are some noteworthy statistics that give you an indication of where we (Agricultural folks) find ourselves:

  • Less than 1% of Americans (based on the 2007 Census of Agriculture) claim farming as an occupation.
  • Only 45% of those farmers claimed farming as their primary occupation.
  • The vast majority (87%) of farms are owned and operated by individuals or families.  
  • In spite of the predominance of family farms, there are markers showing concentration in ag production.  A mere 187,816 of the 2.2 million farms in this country (8.5%), accounted for 63% of sales of agricultural products.  (Get big or get out?!)
  • With the advent of productive farm equipment, improved crop varieties, commercial fertilizers and pesticides, the need for human workers has declined from 27.5 acres per worker in 1890 to a whopping 740 acres per worker in 1990.  (This seems great at first glance, but is it really?)
  • The average age of the principal operator of a farm stood at 57 years old in 2007.
Those are some startling statistics and they are 7 years old.  Think about that for a minute.  So, back to the question.  How do we get the life back?  First, I'll say that the majority of people don't want that life back because they never were connected to the land and even if they were, they don't feel a calling to the agrarian lifestyle. For those that do want to either engage in or support local farming, here are my thoughts and brainstorms on how to start:

1. Start somewhere - regardless how small.  The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Plant some herbs in a pot on your patio, plant a tomato plant, some cucumbers in a row you pull up in the backyard.  Get your hands dirty tending for the crops.
2. Harvest and savor the flavor. Homegrown stuff tastes better than candy and is fresher than anything from the produce section at your grocery store.  You'll also enjoy the sense of pride and satisfaction of eating stuff you grew.  Enjoy your own food and the benefits of building a healthy family and then sell the excess.
3. Get your kids or grandkids involved.  Introduce them to the land.  Help generate a love for growing plants and caring for animals.  Let them experience the excitement in watching the miracle of plant growth. Share memories of your family's agricultural heritage to help them see the legacy of the land.  Young people love to be involved in a cause. Enlist their help in healing and building healthy soil. Let them raise some chicks and then collect the eggs.  Chickens are so much fun to watch and care for.
4. Shop Local.  Support neighboring farmers at farmer's markets or roadside stands.  Talk to them. Encourage them.  Learn from them.  Keep the dollars circulating in your local communities, helping local folks.  Work with like-minded folks to develop a market for your produce & meats.  Once they taste the difference, they will be hooked!
5. Read, experiment, expand, learn & grow.  Let your love for the land grow and see where it takes you.  Find a niche and fill it.  Perhaps new family farm enterprises could be incubated.  Maybe you could figure a way to make the farm support itself without requiring off-farm income.  Rediscover your love for the land and the joy of the simple life.  Slow down and take time to enjoy things we've taken for granted in our fast-paced, rat-race world.

These are all minor steps, but very do-able things - not rocket science.  If we did some of this, we could make inroads, and begin to re-ignite/reinvigorate family farms and slow or reverse the advancement of crumbling farmhouses and dreams. It is a noble goal and one that will leave a lasting legacy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Playing in the Dirt

I posted several days ago about our difficulties with bugs or little green worms eating all of the leaves off of the broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage seedlings that I had started from seed in seed pots and was about ready to transplant.  Not to worry. I got busy and planted the seeds directly in the ground. We'll get the work done one way or the other!

I have several old round bales of hay that were given to me and I try to keep the garden covered with hay at all times.  I use it as a mulch around the growing plants in order to retain soil moisture and as a protective covering over the ground when it is fallow in order to discourage weed growth.  It is not 100% effective, but it crowds out about 90% of the weeds.   I got out there the other day and pulled out what little weeds were growing in the rows and then planted (re-planted, if you will) the broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage that I lost to pests.

Some of our 30 foot rows are planted
I gave the newly planted ground a liberal sprinkling of water and in no time at all, we had little plants popping up like crazy!  Although the picture below is so blurry it looks like I took it with a potato instead of a camera, it evidences the happy little plants jumping up out of the ground with such vigor, that it makes me get excited.  I love watching things grow!

Plants Popping up!
But let's back up a bit.  I want to show you a practice I've incorporated that seems to be working.  I don't mind sharing things we've tried that haven't worked.  This is a trial and error farm and we learn from our mistakes all the time.  One of the things we try to do is amend the soil with as much compost, leaves, coffee grounds, and other organic matter so that we are constantly building and improving the soil.

For two years now I haven't tilled the land so that I don't disturb the soil structure. Throughout the year I keep the furrows between my rows filled with leaves, hay, and grass clippings.  Over the course of the year, it all decomposes.  I'm holding some of the material in my hand below.  If you were to smell it, it would smell musty, earthy, rich, and aromatic.  In fact, if you were a plant, you'd want to run your roots through this stuff.

A real handful (of decomposing material)
When I'm ready to plant, I gently take this material and hoe it up on top of the row, chop it up a little bit with my hoe, and then plant directly into it.  Let's take a closer look: 

A Haven for Earthworms
If you take a quick glance, it appears the ground is moving.  A closer inspection shows a plethora of squiggling earthworms.  I spot five nice earthworms in the photo above and that is just what is exposed with one hoe-width.  In the past, I could take a shovel and dig and not be able to locate a single worm.  Now, if you want to go fishing, you don't need to dig very far.

Earthworms are great.  They tunnel, providing aeration for the soil.  They poop, providing fertility for your vegetables, building a great growing medium for healthy plants.

Now I'll just re-fill the furrows between the rows with leaves, hay, grass clippings, coffee grounds and anything else I can get my hands on.  Repeating this process over the years has improved the quality of my soil.  Adding organic matter and keeping the ground covered with hay and mulch makes the ground so much easier to work.  It doesn't pack into a hard pan like it used to after a rain and it enhances the medium for growing vegetables AND these guys:

So after I had a few of my rows ready to be planted, I got out my seeds.  Two of the interesting new varieties I'm planting this year are Purple Cauliflower and Green Cauliflower.  I got these heirloom seeds from Baker Creek.  I can't wait to see how these grow.  I always enjoy a visual feast in the garden and then a gastronomical feast!  I'll be sure to keep you updated with how these grow.

Colorful Cole Crops
I label all of my rows with the crop name and the date planted so that I'll know what is planted on each row and when it will be ready for harvest.  It is very important to label the rows as you go since broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage seeds all look exactly the same.  It further complicates matters when you plant several different varieties of the same crop.

Cauliflower Seeds
Swiss Chard and beet seeds look the same, too.  I have Bull's Blood Beets, Golden Beets, Red Mangel Mammoth Beets and Swiss Chard planted. 

Swiss Chard Seeds
I used a stick to make a slight trench in the top of the row, seeded the row and then sprinkled 1/8 inch of topsoil over the seeds.  Then I watered the dirt to start the seed to swell and then sprout.

Ready, Set, Grow!
It is always so interesting to me how a seed can sit dormant in a package or in a bottle for years.  It waits, patiently, for the right conditions to arise.  When those conditions are present, the seed awakens from its sleep and grows, producing a crop and producing seeds to reproduce itself.  It's a miracle the way our Creator designed things to provide for us.

Indeed, the LORD will give what is good, And our land will yield its produce. Psalm 85:12

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rosie Has a Limp

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast; But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread; But he that followeth after vain [persons] is void of understanding. The wicked desireth the net of evil men; But the root of the righteous yieldeth [fruit].  Proverbs 12:10-12

An event happened last week that really made me do some thinking.  Rosie is our Jersey cow.  She's given us some nice calves and has given our family lots of creamy, delicious milk to drink over the years.  We affectionately call her Rose Ethel, and I don't even know why.

Rosie and her calf

Rosie is five years old.  Our other Jersey cow, Daisy is seven years old.  Daisy is a hardy, tough animal and she just keeps going.  Rosie, on the other hand, has a weaker constitution.  She'll be the first cow to get ketosis, a metabolic imbalance that she's prone to get after delivering calves, and she's the first to get real skinny during a brief period of drought or if the grass in the pasture isn't growing as fast as we'd like.

Daisy & Rosie chowing down on grass

Last week we became aware that Rosie is NOT bred like we thought she was.  We thought she had successfully bred with Bully, our registered Jersey bull, but that is definitely not the case.  It is quite easy to tell when a cow comes "in heat."  They get real rambunctious and will sniff each other and jump on each other.  It can be kind of embarrassing, but has provided numerous opportunities to have the "birds and the bees" talk with the kids.  The cows' hormones are raging and you have to really watch yourself or you'll get run over.  It quickly becomes a full-fledged rodeo in the barnyard.

During one evening last week that appeared to be the case.  Rosie was going crazy. We milked them and let them go out into the pasture in the cool of the evening to eat grass.  The next morning at 5:30 we noticed that Rosie was walking with a very pronounced limp.  She's limped before, but not this badly.  She had scrapes on her back and I'm sure that she and the bull had gotten frisky and can only guess that she fell or twisted her ankle.  Big Boy, our Great Pyrenees likes to dig holes and maybe during the romancing, Rosie fell into one of Big Boy's holes.  Note to self: Fill in Big Boy's holes!

Rosie was barely putting any weight at all on her back, left foot.  That is tough on an 800 pound animal.  We gave her extra molasses and alfalfa because she wasn't getting around the pasture to eat grass with Daisy and the bull.  She just sat in the shade and would get up intermittently and nibble while balancing on three legs. You could tell she was losing weight and likewise, her milk production dropped. We were quite concerned.  We certainly did not want to lose Rose Ethel.

Rosie posing
We pray for our animals.  We're not environmental whackos.  We're not animal rights activists.  It is clear in the book of Genesis that Man is to have dominion over the animals, BUT we are called to be good stewards of our animals.  As the verse from Proverbs states above, we are to take care of them, show them compassion and care. That's what we do.  We treat them well and in turn, they provide for us.

I couldn't see much swelling on her leg and began to think that maybe she had stepped on a stick or object that was stuck in her hoof, making it unbearable for her to walk on.  That evening we tied her to a solid post in the stall and I tried to grab her injured leg to lift up and inspect the bottom of her hoof. Not a good idea. She did not like that one bit and kicked so hard it would have hurt me if I hadn't gotten quickly out of the way.  We made plans to call our veterinarian out to the barn on a Farm Call first thing Monday morning if ol' Rose Ethel hadn't improved.

We prayed for her while milking and at mealtime and watched her closely.  She was definitely on our minds during the day. Guess what?  She started making improvements.  At first just gradual improvements, and we held off on calling the vet.  On Tuesday morning, she had more pep in her step and actually ran into the barn at milking time.

I'm alright.  Don't nobody worry about me!
Tricia and I both looked at each other and said, "Thank the Good Lord!"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Let's Start This Thing Over

He gave also their crops to the grasshopper And the product of their labor to the locust.  Psalm 78:46

Ever since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, things have been tough in the garden.  Man was going to have to toil by the sweat of his brow to have the soil yield food to eat.  There would be briers and thorns and weeds and inclement weather and pests of all sort.  Our garden cannot even be remotely compared to the Garden of Eden.  Most of the time, it is more aptly named, The Garden of Weedin'.  Today's post is about insects, though, and how sometimes things just don't work and you have to start again from scratch.

This year I was scanning the Internet for different ideas for the Fall/Winter Garden and I stumbled upon a website specifically for Louisiana that had a monthly planting guide.  I've traditionally planted all the seeds for my fall crops directly in the ground in early - mid September.  This publication suggested planting the seeds in seed pots in late July - early August and then you'd transplant the young plants into the garden.  The idea is that you'd get a jump on the Fall/Winter crop growing season.

It sounded like a great idea.  We would be eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels Sprouts earlier.  I planted my seeds, watered them and they grew.  They got a little 'leggy' seeking the sun, because I kept them on the patio out of the blistering heat.  But that's okay.  I would simply move them into the garden and watch them continue to grow and we'd be eating fresh homegrown vegetables a little earlier this year!

Fall Seedlings ready to be transplanted
Or so I thought.  The very next day I brought my hoe out to the garden and walked around back to the patio to begin carrying the trays of seedlings.  I was surprised to see that some sort of insect discovered my plants  and at almost every leaf off of them!  Argghhh!!  Oh well.  I tried a new idea and it just didn't work.

Next year, if I try this again, I'll be ready with some sort of organic pest control spray like Neem Oil or soapy water to try to combat the bugs.  It is just doggone hard to try to grow anything in the hot summer months of July and August.  To be safer, I may just stick with my old tried and true plan of planting seeds directly into the garden soil in September.

Planting early to 'get a jump' on the Fall crops seemed to only succeed in giving the insects an opportunity to 'jump' on my Fall Crops.  Planting the seeds a few weeks later allows the heat and the insect pressure to subside.  But that is what gardening (and much of life) is all about - trying new things, sticking with what works and learning from mistakes.  In the next couple of days, I'll show you how we started again from scratch.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Large Box of Chicken To Go

Our 23 baby chicks that we hatched in our incubator turn 3 weeks old at the beginning of next week. Once they hatched out and were completely dry, we moved them to our brooder in the garage.  We kept a heat lamp on them for the first couple of days, but let's be serious.  In late August you don't need a heat lamp to keep the temperatures in the 90's!  We just kept our eyes on them.  They'll tell you if they are cold by huddling up together.

Chickens that are kept in a confined space for any time at all will start to smell. They soil the bedding in the brooder rather quickly and the resulting odor in a hot, humid garage is not one you look forward to when opening the door to the car. Normally, after two weeks we move the chicks out to the pasture and into a chicken tractor where we allow them to grow on grass.  We push the tractor so that they enjoy fresh grass each day.  We normally keep them in the tractor until they are around 24 weeks of age.  When they lay their first egg, we open the door to the tractor and they are free range birds.

Keeping them in the tractor does several things:  It allows them to be on grass while they are growing and protects them from predators, both the four-footed kind and the winged ones.  It also trains them where they are to roost.  Our tractors have roosting bars on them and they return each night to roost there.  One of our tractors has nesting boxes, so they learn to lay their eggs there.  Here is Benjamin holding three of the chicks now:

Three week old chicks
They are just getting their feathers and are fat and healthy.  Tricia was able to find some Organic, Non-soy, Non-GMO, Non-medicated Chicken starter feed at the feed store.  They have been doing well on it, but it is about $10 per bag more expensive than the regular feed and the little boogers tend to waste a bunch of it.

The chicken tractor that we normally move chicks into has been used as our Great Pyrenees, Big Boy's, dog house out in the pasture.  Big Boy promptly tore the chicken wire off of it, so I'll need to repair it.  In the interim, Benjamin and I devised a way to move them out of the brooder until I can get their chicken tractor ready. We moved them out of the brooder and into a chicken coop that we sat on top of our utility wagon.

Moving Day
We lined the bottom of the chicken coop with fresh hay and moved the waterer and feeder into it. Then we began moving the little birds into their new, albeit temporary, home.  They have a lot more room to run around and were noticeably excited.
Inspecting the new place
They look so alert and healthy!  As discussed earlier, we have many different breeds of roosters and hens so many of them will be mixed breeds.  The ones in the photo below with the black legs/feet have some Aracauna in them and if they are hens, that means they'll lay the pretty blue and green eggs.

Our Fine Feathered Friends
So here is our plan:  Until I get the chicken tractor ready, we'll keep the chicks in the coop atop the wagon.  We will wheel them outside in the fresh breeze during the day and then pull them back into the garage at night - a mobile chicken ranching operation.

"I'd like a large box of chicken to go, please."
Here is the bottom of the brooder.  It is full of soiled hay and a lot of wasted Organic, high-dollar feed.  Around here, though, nothing goes to waste.  Benjamin and I carried the brooder out to the pasture and turned it on its side.

The bottom of the barrel
In no time flat, we had attracted a whole bevy of birds that scavenged through the feed that the little birds wasted.  They scratched and pecked and ate everything that was left over.  

Our chickens don't let anything go to waste - they recycle
Once the brooder was cleaned out, we put it back in the hen house, where it will sit in storage until we need it again in early Spring when the meat birds arrive.  And about that time, the pullets will have laid their first eggs and be ready to set free to forage on the pasture.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Momma Hen and her 3 little Biddies

Yesterday we talked about a broody hen that we're letting her sit on her eggs in order to hatch them.  I thought it would be good today to check on the Momma hen and her 3 little biddies that are out in the pasture.  This Black Star hen hatched out four baby chicks exactly 3 weeks ago.  She had a secret nest up in the hay loft that she sat on until four of them hatched.  One of the chicks subsequently died in a driving rainstorm.

We found the secret nest about a week after they hatched when Tricia smelled something rotten.  She got a ladder and found a nest full of unhatched rotten eggs. As she carefully tried to remove them, a couple popped and she she told me that they emitted a sulfurous cloud of odor!  She persisted and got them all removed. I'm assuming that when a few of her chicks hatched, she stopped setting and started tending to the babies.  Perhaps some weren't fertilized, too.

The Mother Hen and her brood
The hen is such a good mother to them.  She's constantly watching over them, protecting them, and caring for them.  She takes them to water and we've seen the chicks imitate her as she scratches.  The chicks seem to be growing fine.  We aren't even giving them any chick starter.  They are finding plenty to eat just foraging around in the pasture and the edge of the woods.  It is much cheaper to have hens hatch out chicks rather than purchase them.

The chicks are very skittish and won't let you get anywhere near them.  The momma hen clucks and the little ones come running as she leads them away to safety.

"Come, come, little ones"
We usually keep the lid to the molasses tub full of water so that the chicks can drink.  The bigger chickens drink the water, too, so we have to constantly fill it. You'll see it is empty below.  Chickens require a lot of water in the hot weather. Sometimes they will hop up on the edge of the water troughs that the cows drink from and they'll drink out of it too.  Unfortunately, last month two hens (both Aracaunas) fell into the trough and died of hypothermia, I'm guessing.  We keep close watch now to ensure the troughs stay full.

As I followed the chicks trying to get a good photo, momma hen led them around one of the troughs and next to the fence.

That is their little trick.  When they get next to the fence, the chicks pop through the 2 x 4 holes and go to safety on the other side.  Pretty soon, though, they are going to be too big to fit through the holes in the perimeter fence.  I originally had just a hogwire perimeter fence that had 4 x 4 holes.  I had to overlay some 2 x 4 welded wire fencing over it when a neighboring dog got into the pasture through the 4 x 4 holes (he was a little, devious dog) and killed 17 of our hens!  It was tragic indeed, but the 2 x 4 welded wire fencing ended the carnage from the canine.

Speaking of the fence, some of the older chickens' feathers have grown back and they have been flying over the fence.  It is time that I get the clippers and net and catch them all and give one of their wings a clip.  I've done this to a few already.  All you need to do is clip one of them as she'll be unbalanced and won't be able to fly very high off the ground.  I've already caught some of the Aracaunas that were roosting up in the rafters of the barn and given their wings a clip.  No more chickens on the rafters after that!  And no more secret nests in the loft.
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