Monday, May 22, 2017

Eggs Abound!

If you have been a Carlton Farms customer for a while, you are aware that sometimes we have a shortage of milk or eggs, and sometimes we have an abundance. Let me use this space to help you understand what causes these peaks and valleys.  
Our laying hens follow a pretty consistent pattern. Interestingly, it is mostly based on photoperiod. Photoperiod simply means the length of daylight in each day. As the days start to get long in the springtime, the hens start laying eggs as regular as clockwork. Of course this coincides with moderate temperatures and plentiful forage and bugs available. Most importantly there is a natural correlation also to the best time of year for chickens to be raising baby chicks. It wouldn't make sense for them to lay lots of eggs in the winter, when it would be devastatingly difficult on a newly hatched baby chick.  It makes perfect sense for them to lay lots of eggs in the mild springtime when food is plentiful for a baby chick.  Knowing this gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to eat seasonally, the way the natural world provides food. Eating seasonally goes farther that the vegetable harvest. As livestock farmers that work with nature, we have seasonality too. 
During spring we are likely to find eggs in the strangest places.
This is a flower pot right beside my front door, only steps from the kitchen. 
As for the milk, there are many moving parts to the dairy business. Time of year is important. The dead of winter is a challenge due to temperatures and no lush grass. The heat of summer is also a challenge due to temperature and also very little lush grass.  We are having pretty good luck evening out the milk production with the use of our fresh grown fodder that I have written about in this space before. Unfortunately there's not much we can do about the extreme temperature swings here in Georgia. Another factor that affects milk production is the lactation curve.  Each cow starts producing milk after having a baby. The milk production is pretty high as soon as the calf is born, but then peaks a little higher in about 100 days. Production then tapers downward over the next few months. Most cows produce milk for around 300 days during each lactation. After the lactation ends, they get a break for a few months, called the "dry period". During this dry period, the cows aren't asked to do anything, just rest and get ready for the next lactation.  Why does the lactation curve cause problems in managing milk production throughout the year? It's because cows have babies all throughout the year.  We milk about 50 cows, so for a moment just imagine overlaying 50 different lactation curves over the top of each other. The aggregation of all those lactation curves represents your daily milk production.