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Monday, September 29, 2008

Good-bye Girls

If you didn't know, my husband and I have put our backyard farm up for sale. Legally it isn't supposed to be a backyard farm, given our postage stamp size lot (.11 acre) and zoning laws. We have prepared everything inside our home to look just perfect, uncluttered, cleaned, organized, etc. I realized that there was one feature of our home that may not be as appealing to prospective buyers. A chicken coop. Now to most of the readers of this blog out there, it is probably acceptable, but I have found the general population does not want a flock of chickens in their backyard. I just couldn't bare to get get rid of all my chickens, so I decided to keep two of the seven. This was somewhat of a difficult decision for me to make, who do I keep, who do I give away, and who is going to get the ax?

I contacted my friend Holly who just got her first flock of chickens this year. Her husband built her an amazing chicken coop, she has a great backyard, and I trust her to care for my chickens. When I asked her if she wanted them she was glad to take them, but asked if she could give two of them to a mutual friend that didn't have chickens, but would like some. Well, of course! If I can get someone started with their backyard farm, that is great! So Shannon is getting two of the girls and Holly is keeping one of them. I couldn't be happier. The ladies are going to good homes. Holly and Robbie when they came to pick up the girls.
Every little boy needs chickens
Holly is holding Jane Doe, she got her name because she wasn't named for so long, I ended up calling her that. She got Jane Doe and Red Hawk (not pictured) both are Red Sex Links. She also took Power Ranger who is a Rhode Island Red (not pictured).

Now, I did mention that someone was going to get the ax. It wasn't hard to decide who was going to be sacrificed. I have two Delaware Whites that I bought when they were 12 weeks old. I never got to properly bond with those girls. They had never been held as babies and were not fond of us picking them up. There is just something extra special about raising your chickens from chicks. Plus, the Delaware Whites are very noisy at 7am, their poop is extra wet and it is stinky, and they are a dual breed meaning that they are good egg layers and good for meat as well. They are still pretty young, so the meat should still be good.

My Chilean neighbor is willing to teach me how to.......you know.....I'm starting to get cold feet.....I don't know that I can go through with it......killing a chicken. I thought I would try to take advantage of learning a new skill from my neighbor before we move. We will see if I can go through with it or not.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Dairy Perspective

I sometimes like to go and look and see who is reading this blog, I'm so honored that we have so many amazing readers. Many of our readers have their own great blogs documenting their own farms. One of these readers that I came across recently is A Dairy Perspective. The blog is a journal of Zachary (25) and Jennifer (26) of Bear Creek, Wisconsin "documenting their life as a married couple balancing the challenges and rewards of running a dairy farm, and still finding time to enjoy life".

When I contacted Jennifer to get permission to feature their blog she gave me the following information about them: "We've been married for four years and in August 2007, we took the first step towards owning our own farm and purchased the cattle from my parents. Our milking herd is about 55. Together with my parents we raise crops for our animals. This way, my parents can "slowly retire" and we can "slowly" grow our farm. Zachary is full time on the farm and I have a full time job off the farm and help out on the farm on the mornings/evenings and weekends. We always plant a large vegetable garden, but it always seems like we are over our heads in produce and weeding! We are learning... We hope to start our own flock of chickens in the spring for laying, we will be sure to read up on your blog for tips."

Go check out their blog, I think you will like it.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Liberate the layers!

In some of my articles I have expressed my opposition to industrial layer houses. Agriculture is my profession and commercial egg production is one of the technologies that I am critical of. I have seen them first hand (visitors are justifiably no longer allowed in them for biosecurity reasons). In layer facilities, 5 or 6 hens are jammed in a cage so small that they can’t spread their wings. Thousands of cages are stacked in a building so that even with air ventilation systems it is difficult to breath. The hens never see natural sunlight or eat a fresh plant or insect during their two years of life. They go through 2 production cycles, the second one following a forced molting through reduction or complete withdrawal of food and sometimes water. View a slide show at the following address that explains the entire egg production process.
http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/poultry/publication/commegg/sld001.htm I believe that layer housing is cruel. I encourage everyone to adopt one of the following strategies: 1. Buy free range eggs in the grocery store. They are usually only $0.50 to $1.00 per dozen higher in price – about the cost of a diet Coke. These facilities liberate the layers from the small cages. They are still fairly congested but it is a good compromise. 2. Buy your eggs from a local producer where you can actually see how the hens are raised. 3. GROW YOUR OWN! This blog has over 20 articles with great ideas for raising chickens. You can do it under most conditions – even in the inner city with cooperation from your neighbors (threaten to turn them in for their marijuana production if they turn you in for your egg production). Order your chicks today. Liberate the layers!

“Let me out!”

A commercial pasture layer operation in Maryland

Dale’s layers stroll through the grass

Dale from Maryland visits Marisa’s suburban Utah chickens.

~Dale Maurice Johnson

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sorry for the lack of posts!

This sign represents why we have been so slow with our posts, we have been scrubbing, cleaning, painting and organizing. Michael and I have decided that it is time to expand our backyard farm. Currently we are on .11 acre and our chickens are outlaws. We are hoping to find a little bit bigger lot where our girls can run free, (not that they don't now) but they can run free legally. Hopefully in the future when I see Animal Control I won't cringe and pray they aren't stopping at my house.

We will keep you updated on our search for our new backyard farm!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Tomato Salad

I love fresh tomatoes and this salad is a fresh and flavorful way to eat them. It doesn’t matter what kind of tomatoes you use. For this recipe I used a bunch of heirloom tomatoes that we harvested from our garden. In this tomato salad we have the following tomatoes: Mexican Midget’s which are a little smaller than conventional cherry tomatoes, Cherokee purple tomatoes, Brandywine tomatoes , and some Bean’s yellow pear tomatoes. We were also able to use some of our Basil from our garden and a cucumber one of our neighbors gave us from their garden.

5 cups tomatoes (or diced to bite size)
1 medium cucumber
1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cloves minced garlic
12 fresh basil leaves
1/ 2 teaspoon salt

Mince garlic and add to balsamic vinegar. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. This softens the flavor of the garlic.
Mix vinegar mixture with olive oil.
Finely chop Basil and add to your liquid mixture.
Slice tomatoes and cucumbers into bite size pieces
Add balsamic mixture to salad and enjoy

Variations: You could add greek olives, mozzarella, or artichoke hearts to this recipe as well.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saving the Earth, One Bag at a Time

Isn't she lovely?

This is my husband Michael's grandmother Doris, this is also Dale's mother. She is so kind, generous, sweet, loving, witty, and crafty on top of all that. At a recent family reunion I saw her crocheting what looked like strips of tissue paper. I then asked her what she was doing and she explained that she was crocheting strips of old plastic shopping bags together to make a sturdy waterproof bag. Wow, what an idea!

Here is how you do it:

Lay a plastic shopping bag flat(the type you get from the grocery store). OK, it doesn't have to be perfectly flat, because I am nowhere close to a perfectionist and it worked for me.

Cut the handles off as well as the bottom.

Now cut the bag into about 1 inch strips, again, no need to be a perfectionist on this!

You should end up with a bunch of loops like this...

To make the "yarn" you link them together. I don't know what type of knot this is....any boy scouts out there know what this is? I just remember linking my jelly bracelets together like this.

I spread out the loops so you could see what it looks like, but you would just crochet as if it was a piece of yarn, you don't really spread it out like that.

Now, here is the part that hopefully you crochet masters will understand because I'm not great at explaining things.....

To make the bag.... You will chain until you get the length you want the bag. Then start your rows. You will continue doing rows until you get the base of the bag as wide as you would like. So you might chain 30 and do 8 rows to get the base. Once you get the base the size you want, you will start going around and around the base in a circle, as you start doing this, it will make the sides of the bag. You will keep going in circles making the sides until it is as deep as you want. To make the straps, you can braid the bag strips or you could double crochet them.

Leave a comment if you have questions about it. If you try it, send us your pictures so we can post your creations.

Tip: if you use bags with different colored logos on them, you will get a speckles of all different colors, which can be fun.

Now go out there and save the earth one bag at a time!


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh, hail! -- A lesson in mutual-fund gardening

I’m mourning parts of my garden today and need to share. Misery loves company, you know.

I awoke to explosive thunder and pounding on my roof. I knew rain had been forecast and welcomed it to quench my thirsty garden. Yay, a break from watering chores! These sounds all around, however, just didn’t seem right.

Hail met my incredulous eyes when I looked outside. I’ve seen bigger stones, but these ones came down in a thick blanket of bullets. My poor squash plant! Its leaves seem to be the paper targets used by expert marksmen trying to outdo each other.

Will my plants recover? Only time will tell. But as I surveyed the damage in my yard, I saw hope. I realized an interesting thing. Because I had placed some plants here, some plants there in a horticultural hopscotch across my property, not all plants suffered from the hail’s wrath.

The tomatoes I planted on a lark right next to my house only because I had a few extra starts after planting my main garden were sheltered there by the roof’s overhang. You can see them right behind the less fortunate pumpkins.

Elsewhere, I’ve lamented most of the summer that my neighbor’s branches were infringing over the fence next to my main garden. Yet what do you know? They offered extra protection for my plants below. In other places fences or structures extended a gracious windbreak.

We can’t always predict what forces of nature – weather, insects, disease -- will ransack our gardens, just like we can’t guess which way the stock market will go. By diversifying our plantings, however, through both variety and location of crops, we safeguard ourselves a bit for whatever may fall.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Proper Snake Removal

My 13 year old son, Mark, went into the chicken coop to gather eggs. Seconds later he let out an ear piercing scream that reverberated through the whole neighborhood. I came running expecting to see him covered with wasp stings. “SNAKE!” was all we could understand of his gibberish. He had casually stuck his hand into a nesting box to get an egg and grabbed a big black snake instead. Well that explained our recent reduction in egg production. I went in the coop and there was the thief contently coiled on top of three or four eggs. A bulge behind the head convicted him of his crime. We yelled for my older son, Allen, who has taken care of this problem in the past. He came down from the house with Catherine, his new wife of two weeks. She quickly proved her metal. She took control of the situation going in after the snake. The snake slithered through the back of the nesting boxes and under a laying hen. This hen was undeterred, so we chased it out and Catherine carefully captured the snake. “It’s a beauty” Catherine exclaimed in a Steve Erwin Aussie accent. While Catherine was carrying the snake, it vomited the egg. She took the snake down to the creek and threw it in, the idea being that it would swim to the other side never to bother our chickens again. Instead it swam back to our side. So Catherine climbed into the creek and grabbed the snake again and walked it in waist deep water to the other side. In a matter of a few exciting minutes our wonderful new daughter-in-law Catherine became an important asset to our backyard farm.

~Dale Maurice Johnson

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fieldtrip: The Soldier Hollow Classic

During the Labor Day holiday weekend, my family spent a day up at the Soldier Hollow Classic in Midway, UT. You might not have ever heard of that event but if you've seen the movie, "Babe" you might be more familiar with the competition than you know. That's because the Soldier Hollow Classic is a sheep dog competition. It is the largest annual trial of it's kind in the world, bringing competitors from as far away as South Africa.
Sheepdog trials are events where sheepdogs herd sheep around a field through fences, enclosures, and gates as directed by their handler. First off, I was surprised by how large the competition area was. As you can see below the dogs start down with their handlers and must run up a large hill to the sheep - which in this case was a long way. It seemed to be more than 400 yards away taking the dog several minutes just to reach the small herd. It's kind of hard to appreciate how far it is in this photo so I put an arrow to point out the dog and herd of sheep. They are so far away you can barely see them! It was super interesting to watch the dogs and how they work with the animals. A well trained dog will not bark or nip at the sheep but use what the announcer called a steady eye to basically intimidate the sheep into heading in the correct direction. Some of these dogs really knew their stuff and would work hard not to scare the sheep to keep them from scattering and running wild - instead they would work patiently and consistently until the animals headed in the right direction.

The Soldier Hollow Classic has only been in existence since 2003 but events of this kind are not anything new. The sport was apparently started certuries ago by shepherds who were proud of their sheepdog's abilities and wanted to show it off to their neighbors. Since then it has grown to an international sport with large competitions like this one and small events at local fairs across the globe. There were other activities up at the classic including games for the kids and exhibits on sheep, wool, Navajo rug making, and of course sheepdogs. Also, a puppy whose parents are prize winning sheepdogs will fetch a pretty penny but there were "retired" dogs for sale at the event for $90.00 as well as puppies for $120.00. We plan on saving our money and getting there early so that next year we might take home one of the cuties.

One of the funnest events to watch was the duck herding - the backyard farming version of sheep herding. The dogs do primarily the same things but on a much smaller scale and with ducks. It was really entertaining to watch the ducks waddle and quack as the dogs herded them around the small arena. It made me miss my chickens.All in all, the event was great for families - especially when you get some ice cream and ice cold lemonade. My boys had a great time and are already dreaming of training their own future sheepdogs.