West Mountain Farm

Pastured Pigs, Free-Range Chickens, Biodynamic Gardening, Homesteading

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog!



My friend, flock protector, entertainment, eager to please, well-behaved border collie/chocolate lab dog. She is 5 years old this November, I bought her as a family christmas present and she has become a loyal companion. Her name is because since she was a pup, she always wanted to be near us. She does not get eggs out of the henhouse or kill chickens, but she knows she is allowed to eat the ones she finds in the woods. We are lucky to have her, a good dog starts with good genetics and develops from persistent care, companionship, and discipline.

Do you have an egg-sucking dog, or a dog that just likes to hang out in the coop and disturb your chickens? If a dog is utterly useless, a persistent problem, and not your best friend, I would consider re-homing, but sometimes we have to make adjustments for our furry or feathered friends. Cutting a triangle on your coop door can be a deterrence to dogs and other large predators. It even deters flying predators because they don’t like to feel trapped. My windows are designed to keep hawks from flying in, from above it doesn’t look open to them like your traditional windows that have hinges on the sides. These adjustments also give you more ventilation and temperature control options. In the winter you can keep the big door closed with the chicken door open.

IMG_3114       IMG_3111        IMG_3113        IMG_3112

*If you have children make it very clear that they are NOT to play in the windows, if they were to remove the wooden sticks that keep them open, they would get smashed head or fingers, same precautions need to be taken for adults! I’m sure some kind of safety option could be made by a creative carpenter. I use sticks of various lengths to prop open my windows, thus controlling the ventilation and temperature. In my opinion children shouldn’t be playing in the coop unsupervised unless they can be trusted (yeah that’s funny). They should beware of flogging roosters as well, and the coop is where someone is most likely to be flogged, as it is the roosters territory and they are protecting their hens.

Back to the chicken door, in the picture you should can see that we used a hinge at the top of the triangle, and a lock at the bottom (yes, it needs to be closed at night if you don’t have a secure chicken yard that closes up). I unlock it at the bottom, flip the door up, and I have a nail that has a hole that is just for it (a bit primitive, but it working for now). You may want to keep an eye on it when you first install it to be positive it isn’t going to fall, and make it where the chickens can’t get back in to lay.

Obviously, this only keeps out medium to large dogs, but I have yet to have a chihuahua get by my roosters, or even try, for that matter. This door option also helps the coop stay warmer in winter-time, be able to open it and ventilate more in the summer, and makes the hens feel more cozy, which reduces easter egg hunting year-round (yeah, that gets old). In this picture I am in the process of cleaning the coop, amending the gardens with the hay/straw/wood chip/manure bedding, and replacing it with new bedding. I practice the deep litter method, but more on that later. Good luck with an ornery dog, I’ve had to send a few to the big chicken house in the sky.



Flat Dutch Cabbage

MMMmm, cabbage and bacon drippings slow cooking in a cast iron dutch oven invoke childhood memories and the jokes that would come later! Cabbage is a beautiful cool weather plant that has the ability to feed a large family during times when fresh produce is in limited supply. The choices are quite wide: red, green, white, flat, round, pointed, smooth, crinkly, savoy, heading, and non-heading. So how do you get the cabbage in the pan? Cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables, may be planted in spring or fall, usually 2-6 weeks before the last frost date or 6-12 weeks before the first frost date. I recommend starting out with healthy starts that are recommended for your zone, especially if you are in the south, you may not have time to sow the seeds in the garden before the heat sets in and ruins your crop. If you are in cooler zones self-sowing is most likely an option, just count out the ‘days to maturity’ located on the seed packet and plant when it will mature before the temps become consistently over 50-60 degrees or in the case of fall planting, before the temperatures are consistently below freezing. Most cabbages take 70-120 days to maturity. Soil amendment is high priority as cabbages are heavy feeders and prone to rot and head splitting. Good soil will have excellent tilth with rich organic matter that keeps the soil like a damp sponge, or moist and earthy like the forest floor after pulling back the top leaves. The soil shouldn’t be heavy and water logged or sandy and dry. It should have organic matter such as chopped up leaves, rotted manure (rabbit is my favorite), humus, compost, straw (especially old straw that was maybe once animal bedding), shredded black and white newspaper and cardboard, coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit and veggie kitchen scraps, cotton burr compost, etc. These things should be rotted and mixed in with the soil until they are hardly recognizable. Add soft rock phosphate for calcium and phosphorous, greensand for potassium, and bat guano or worm castings for nitrogen. All these amendments can be tweaked as long as you have a source of N-P-K, and heavy on the phosphorous and easy on the nitrogen. Plant the cabbage seedlings according to the spacing directions and if it says 30 inches apart don’t be tempted to squeeze them in tighter, they will fill in with proper care! ‘The farmer who sows lightly reaps heavy, the farmer who sows heavy reaps lightly.” Plant 3-4 per person in your household, or 6-8 if you plan on freezing or making sourkrout. A drip source irrigation makes for easier gardening and higher quality heads with less splitting. Mulch well with straw, and loosely cover with more straw or a cloche if temps are going to fall below 20. Decrease watering as heads mature to prevent splitting. If you have a very rainy season pull your mulch back on sunny days to prevent rotting, maybe even add some sand around the base. Harvest when heads are tight and at least 4 inches in diameter. Cut at the base leaving a few leaves and the roots and give the cabbage an opportunity to make another head. If you have a heavy freeze coming or the heat is about to set in, harvest most of your crop and wait, watch, and learn with at least one cabbage of each variety you planted. You may be surprised how well cabbage can withstand a freeze, it is quite fascinating to watch a frozen plant defrost and come back alive as the day warms up, or it may not. They have the ability to move water out of their cells for a short period of time, allowing for their continued survival. Special vigilance must be paid attention to pest, especially in the spring. The cabbage worm is easily controlled with DE mixed with BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis), which is a biologic insecticide and is harmless to most beneficials and all mammals. Letting wasp hang around are also very useful for caterpillar control. Aphids sometimes attack cabbages control options can be found on my organic pesticide post.

Speckled Sussex

Speckled Sussex

The speckled sussex is a hardy dual purpose breed that lays about 200+ light brown eggs a year when fed a well balanced diet and a constant supply of fresh clean water (as all animals need especially laying hens!). I ordered my current flock of chickens from Cackle Hatchery and this is what they have to say about them: “This chicken originated in the county of Sussex and is a very old English breed.  The Speckled Sussex chicken was recognized as a distinct breed in 1914.  The Sussex is a very gentle and colorful bird. This variety of the Sussex breed makes for a good backyard chicken and dual purpose for meat or egg production. This bird is a very good layer and handles confinement well.  Their speckled coloring makes them blend in with the background and camouflages them from predators such as coyotes, and foxes. They molt year and more speckles appear so they become even more colorful the older they get.”

The hens are around 7 pounds and the roosters around 9 pounds. They tend to take a little longer to mature than other similar classed breeds, 8-9 months versus 6-8 months. I do not use artificial lighting once the need for warmth is gone, until they are in their second season of producing, as I want them to mature slowly, I find they are hardier birds in the long run if given proper time to mature sexually and support egg-laying. In the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas we have hot humid summers and cold winters, they do well in both extremes. They also forage well and have a good feed conversion ratio. If you have a garden, flight ability is another thing to consider, they are too heavy to get over a 6 foot fence, which is a bonus if you want to have some tomatoes for yourself. Wing clipping is an option, which I avoid doing because I think they need the freedom to fly properly to run from predators and because it doesn’t feel right to clip a birds wings (there’s the hippy talking).

Over all, they are a highly recommended bird for the backyard poultry owner and pleasing on the eyes. Here is a picture of my rooster and one of my hens, they are 8 months old, and have not gone through a molt. They are laying daily and have almost reached their average weight. Rashie the roo is one of my dominant roosters out of the 8 I have, and he tends to be a bit cocky to everyone but me, he knows who is boss!

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

Non-stick spray a small-medium sized pan with some depth (anything but teflon!) add a pat of butter (or two), while the pan is heating up and the butter is melting hand whisk up your eggs with milk, but don’t over whisk. Add no more than 5 teaspoons milk per egg (I eyeball it), the milk is the key to fluffiness as it creates steam pockets as the egg cooks. I cook 3 eggs per person who will be eating, this makes sure everyone is full and the dog may get some leftovers. Pour your eggs in the pan once it is heated, be careful not to overheat and burn your butter. Let the eggs begin to set up, then begin to gently fold and stir, waiting for the eggs to set up some before moving and mixing. Eggs taste best when care is taken to not overcook and left slightly moist. And a generous helping of fresh cracked blacked pepper!

If you want to spruce up your scrambled eggs add diced onions and/or peppers to the butter, let it saute a moment, maybe add some chopped meat (ham and bacon would be a favorite, strive for local humane sources) or mushrooms, then add your eggs, top with cheese near the end of cooking, and maybe some salsa if you like it spicy.

Remember, milk is the key to fluffy eggs, not beating the eggs to death.

Wheel Bug- a Beneficial Assassin

Arilus cristatus, The wheel bug is a carnivorous bug that preys on soft and hard bodied caterpillars and insects. It is easily identified by its wheel shaped armor and large mouthparts. It injects saliva that dissolves tissues making the insects edible. They can also inflict a painful bite and are best left alone in the garden or wild to do their job. They are found across North America. Here is a picture of the adult wheel bug eating a japanese beetle.


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