The Chickens have had the least development of the lot. They continue to grow nicely and seem quite happy and healthy. We expect eggs within a months time and are excited to begin providing them to the restaurant. The chickens are in a poly covered hoop house that is located within the fenced paddock area where the sheep roam and the apples are planted. It is also where the new guard dog resides protecting all with her deep warning bark which sounds as though an arctic wolf is about to lay waste to all your hopes and dreams. Though she is within the fence we believe she has been quite successful in keeping the entire property safe as she is up and roaring at the slightest sound or smell. She is active all night but the deepness of her vocal furry is actually below the pitch of waking us from our slumber except in her most dire of occasions. It is as if she knows when to raise pitch and call us from our bed to check on things. This is rare and has turned up nothing I can perceive as a threat yet. Her name is Scout and she is a Great Pyrenees, my white Wookie, a wonderful beast.
Surrounding the Poly covered chicken coop is an electric poultry fence which we move every few weeks to rotate the manuring and useful scratching of the birds. The electric has also provided a nice buffer for the dog to become used to the birds and come to think of them as objects of her protection and not play things that become suddenly lazy when you toss them by the neck. Scout is young and we are working on her desire to want to play with the sheep which sends them off running with great caution. I say caution because I think they are comfortable enough now to not fear her, we’re getting there.
My feelings are mixed about the Poly coop. We had set out to build it on skids so that we could move it around the yard at first. In frustration at figuring out how to set the dern thing up, however, we simply stationary mounted it. The minute we finished building, it became clear how we could have easily put it on skids, such is life. The directions for setting it up relied heavily on the fact that one already knew all of the unlisted and unexplained materials and methods one needs for setting up a hoop house. A call to the manufacture resulted in dialogues such as, “Well how do we attach the plastic to the frame?” / “You staple it to the furring strips.” / “What furring strips?” / “Well what I do is buy a 2*4 and cut it into furring strips on my table saw.” / “The directions don’t mention furring strips at all. Or the need for a table saw.” / “Oh yeah well that’s the best way to do it” / “What is the other way.” “Well no, I guess I mean that is the only way to do it.” / “But why wouldn’t you make mention of that in your directions?” / “Oh they’re old” / “ …?”
There were several more calls of this nature before we got the thing up.
The apparent benefits to the hoop house is the amount of day light it provides to the birds, the low cost and (now that I have done it) ease of assembly, it’s light weight should you want to mount it on skids, it’s ample wind protection, day time heating ability and night time heat holding ability. The draw backs are that the birds tear the plastic often (though easy to amend), the fact that we did stationary mount it (our own fault) and that deep down I have an extreme distaste for plastics and composite metals. Ok, so the draw backs are few, fixable and circumstantial. The problem is that our pasture in this area is probably only about 2 acres which doesn’t really meet the standards for a movable hen house. We are able to cover a nice rotation by simply moving the electric fence. We will worry about chicken tractors when we start doing broilers. The birds have their laying boxes and a nice big roost. We take turns turning their manure into the straw for decomposition, I with my pitch fork and them by working through for the scratch I throw over the area daily. Perhaps we will build another hoop house in another part of the acreage and rotate the birds with actual greenhouse use in the future.
We have discovered that our mystery bird (a cool little perk from ordering from Murry Mcmurry) is in fact a Rooster. Not just a Rooster but a crow for half an hour at 3am every night sort of Rooster. He then crows again at the right time around 6am but the one with the other still spells Coq au Vin. I worry what our neighbors must think with the dog and the rooster all night and the endless screech of Guineas by day. Personally I like it all, but one must consider community.
We do not wish to cross bread our chickens just yet. The Rooster we did order is a New Hampshire Red and he will be isolated with the 5 New Hampshire Red Hens in an attempt to breed our own stock this Spring, that should be an adventure. The only issue is that Captain 3am seems already to be quite the little Don Juan whereas our best boy has not yet shown any signs of a young mans yearning.
Do we keep the proven cock and throw pure breeding to the wind or hope the tyke gets his sea legs about him yet? As of today we are quartering mushrooms and blanching pearl onions for the braise but we’ll see.
Finally I come to some of the other concerns of farm life and business. I think that Lisa and I have decided to call the place Red Row Farm after the street that we live on. Of all the farm names I like best it is the ones with place that strike me the most. Red Row also evokes images of the red clay soil furrows that are so much a part of turning earth in Virginia. Other options were to call it by our surname as the Richey clan (a Sept of the MacIntosh) are some of the great Scots-Irish peoples to come early to America and settle the South, first in Virginia but finally in South Carolina (Now back to Virginia God bless us.) We also considered naming the farm after the restaurant whose food she will supply, Revolutionary Soup Farm, or simply, Rev Soup Farm. I am so excited to be able to provide a farm to table experience with my own labor, and that of my team, for everyday eating prices. It is done but usually in a fine dining setting, the movement I am proud to be a part of is putting sustainable food in the realm of daily life, not the high end splurge that local food pricing can create.