Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Signs of Spring

Signs of spring have been showing up around the farm this week. When the Daffodils bloom it always seems to early, but we all know that time marches on. March is basically a week away. In addition to the Daffodils, the yellowbells and cherry trees are blooming. All of which is keeping the honeybees busy. As I write this it reminds me that I have a few things still to prune: Muscadines, blueberries, butterfly bushes, and a few trees. Surely winter can't be coming to a close, i'm not finished with all of my winter projects.  Right now we are cleaning and making some improvements to our chick brooder.  Broiler chicks will be arriving in a couple of weeks.  I had better stop typing and get busy with the last few winter projects so I can welcome Spring with open arms.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reinforcements are Coming

There are many issues that work against us as we try to produce free range eggs in the winter. I have written about those here in the past, so i won't dwell on the details. Suffice to say: Chickens don't feel motivated to lay eggs when the days are short and cold. 
However, there is one thing we can do to insure that we will have winter eggs. We should always have a batch of young chickens going into the winter. Young chickens, not unlike other species (cough, cough, humans) are not as wise as their elder counterparts. Young hens are more willing to lay egg through the winter with only a slight seasonal decrease.
Despite our efforts last fall, we were unable to get chicks when we wanted them. They got started late and have not been able to contribute to the cause this winter. As a result we've had an egg shortage for the last several weeks. However, time marches on, and now these new young chickens are almost ready to start laying. Notice, I did say almost. they still need another two or so weeks of growth. So for now, continue to make sure you order your eggs. Soon these new hens will ride into production like cavalry mounted reinforcements and we will win this war on winter eggs. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Darn Grounghog

Yes, that weather predicting rodent has saddled us with another 6 weeks of winter. Surely that doesn't reach you as a surprise, considering the way this winter has been going. Oh Well, as always we'll take the weather that comes our way and make the best out of it. 
I do have some good news. All the grass outside is dull, brown, and dead, but our cows are still able to eat lush green grass daily. This is all thanks to our fodder sprouting system. We realized how much better our cattle perform when they have fresh lush grass, so we created a way for them to have that type of grass daily. The pictures show the finished product, but here is how it works. 
We spread seeds in 6 foot trays that are watered every 30 minutes. One seventh of the trays are emptied and refilled every day, giving the cows a consistent supply of 7 day old grass. In that seven days the grass is able to sprout and grow to around 8 inches tall. There are no chemicals in the system at all, only seeds and water. The seed stores enough energy to grow the grass for 7-8 days. The sprouting process transforms the seed from a tiny capsule of energy to a lush high protein forage. We complete this cycle every day, 365 days per year, but never is it more important than in the dead of winter when green grass is hard to come by. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Winter Eggs

If you have been a Carlton Farms customer for a while, or purchasing any local pasture raised eggs for that matter, you probably know that eggs are hard to come by in the winter. You may ask, Why is that? Well, I'm glad you asked.
First and foremost, it has to do with day-length. The stimulus for producing an egg is based on the chickens perceived photo-period (length of the daylight hours). Chickens start laying heavy when the daylight hours start increasing (spring), and they lay eggs less frequently when the daylight hours get shorter (fall). With the lowest production coming in the dead of winter, Dec.-Feb.  Of course, heavy egg laying coincides with the time of year a chicken would want to be raising a batch of baby chicks (spring-summer), and conversely they would not want to be raising baby chicks in the weather we've had recently. Many people think the chickens don't lay eggs because it's to cold. While its true that cold weather does correlate with the decreased production for obvious natural reasons, in fact the controlling mechanism is length of daylight hours.
Now, as humans our obligation is to think "Now I know the mechanism, surely I can manipulate that". Yes you can manipulate the photo-period, which can lead to more winter egg production. In commercial chicken houses the birds cant even see the sun, so operators are in complete control of lighting (and virtually every other environmental condition). In our situation, we are not going to be able to fool our chickens. They range outdoors daily and can easily tell the difference between sunlight and a lightbulb. We do provide a little supplemental light throughout the winter which keeps a trickle of egg production flowing, but our birds are very much on a natural cycle and will triple their egg production this spring. Until then, we will make due with the eggs that they provide. I'm sure they are looking forward to the spring as much as we are.  
Our chickens are looking forward to
grass like this in the springtime.

Monday, January 15, 2018

New Years Lull

Is anyone else having trouble getting in gear  for 2018. So far, every time we start to make some form of progress, the temperature falls to 14 degrees. I'll try to push through and get something done soon, if for no other reason, then so I will have something more interesting than weather to write about here. But tonight its projected to be... you guessed it... 14 degrees. So for the rest of the day we will be preparing the farm (read: water lines) for the cold. Animals are eating more, and staying healthy. They are probably not "comfortable" in 14 degrees, but then again who is. We give them extra hay, extra bedding, and extra feed in this weather. Keeping the water flowing and not breaking pipes is the biggest challenge. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

How to Get Through the Winter (as a Farmer):

OK, so a lot of the stuff that we do as farmers revolves around the growing season. In the winter it can be a little hard to make much headway. Thankfully, the seed companies are very good at timing the delivery of the seed catalogs.  As we flip through the pages of lush plants with perfectly ripe vegetables, we temporarily forget that its like 30 degrees outside.  
I kid. Kind of.
In all seriousness, the most important thing we do in winter is plan for the upcoming year. We can take what we learned last year (not enough turkeys), and apply that to our plans for this year. Remember: Failing to plan is planning to fail. 
That all sounds great right. Drink coffee, read (flip through) the seed catalog, be introspective, draft a annual farm plan. When the winter is "normal" we do some of that. However, we have dairy cows, laying hens, pigs, and beef cattle. These creatures have requirements in every season. Our work load does decrease with the winter season, until the temperature drops well below freezing. Temps in the mid 20's and below make for some of the hardest days on the farm. Primarily due to frozen watering systems. ughh.  I think after today the temp is going up a little bit. Bring on the coffee and the seed catalogs. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Our Jersey is 8!

Our little Jersey girl turned 8 years old this weekend. This sweet girl is smart, funny, beautiful, sincere, kind, generous, and motivated. And, as you can tell from my description, she has her daddy's heart right in the palm of her hand. Eight years ago on a Thursday morning, I was making a delivery to the Alpharetta/Roswell location when I got the phone call that Julie was going into labor. I quickly called my dad and he drove my truck to the delivery location. He finished my deliveries while I headed to the hospital. Yep, we got a baby and nobody missed their delivery.  If you were there that day, thanks for being patient with us. I'm sure I was a wreck. (Even though I assured Julie there would be no problems because I had delivered lots of calves.) As any of you that have children know, our lives changed that day. We now have three and can't imagine life without them, but Jersey was the first, she was the Trailblazer. I think we are supposed to be training her (and we are doing our very best). In a way however, raising her and her siblings is training us. It's training us to be gentle, yet stern. To be a good example because they are always watching. To push them toward big achievements, but hug them when they fail. To be kind in a world that some days doesn't seem very kind in return. I hope I can excel in my training, thereby allowing her to excel and create the best life possible. That's what we want as parents, the best life for our kids, but there's no road map to get us there. We just continue training and trying to make good decisions day by day. Happy Birthday Jersey, and thanks for all the lessons.