June 20th- The Last Day of Spring

wedding day-  6/20/81
wedding day- 6/20/81

On this day in 1981 Bob & I were married. 34 years. The beginning of dreams becoming reality. It continues today.  34 years of dreaming & doing. Best Friends. Sharing. Love & laughter, tears & heartache. Working side by side, blisters & backaches. Slowly growing a home, a family, a farm.

Now the kids are grown & gone, pursuing  their own lives & dreams. Bob has recently retired from a long career as a firefighter/paramedic and now is a full timer on the farm. Our lives continue to change & evolve. The dreams are the reality. The constant is us.

Here is a snapshot of the last days of Spring 2015 here at FullCircle Farm.

Dreams Do Come True!

Retirement day-  3/15
Retirement day- March 2015

Dexter Calves at FullCircle Farm

FullCircle Walter- 5/28/15
FullCircle Walter- 5/28/15

On the night of May 28th, @ 10 pm to be precise, we were once again witness to the miracle of birth. Our first Dexter calf of 2015 was born that night. Our matriarch momma cow Belle Fourche Merrideth, @ the age of 11, was preparing to give birth to her 9th calf. Experienced. She began her labor, walking, circling, up and then down and then up again. Laboring, contractions, pushing. Contractions getting closer. Lying down, a giant push & the water broke. Up again, walking, circling, up and then down and then up again. Hoof toes appear, then 2 pale colored hooves, soles down… so good to see the correct position. Labor, contractions, pushing. A nose appeared, a pale colored nose & a tongue… so good to see.  Quickly there was a head, then shoulders, then a warm wet calf dropped to the straw covered floor. Merrideth spins around, nose to her new baby, licking with earnest. She begins her gentle low chorus of momma moos, encouraging. The calf shakes his head & snorts, eyes open, legs moving. The little dun colored bull calf makes many attempts to rise. 10 minutes later, 4 wobbly legs under him, he stood for the first time. Standing, walking, circling, up and then down and then up again. 5 minutes later he found his momma’s udder, then the teat and then milk. Lovely, warm, powerfully nutritious, life giving, first milk. Mom licks and licks and licks until his beautiful silvery coat is clean & dry. Nap time.

Happy Birthday FullCircle Walter. Welcome to our world.

Raising Freedom Ranger Fryer Chicks

1 day old freedom ranger chicks
1 day old freedom ranger chicks

Here at FullCircle Farm we raise several small batches of chicks each year for fryers as well as an additional batch for layers.  Our breed of choice for fryers is Freedom Rangers. Freedom Rangers are brooded, hatched and shipped from a family farm in Lancaster County, PA. Freedom Ranger Hatchery originally imported breed stock from Burgundy, France that met the high quality standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range Program. Their straight run chicks are ordered in quantities of 25 with the added options of GMO free chicks and/or Marek’s vaccinations. The chickens themselves are an active, robust, red or tri-color bird that thrive in a free-range or pasture-raised system. Production rates are high, reaching into the 5# range in only 9 weeks. The hatcheries chicks sell out quickly so it is wise to order early to get your desired arrival date/s. They hatch on Wednesday and chicks are shipped Priority Mail but often arrive overnight to the West Coast.

We prep the brooding area a day or so in advance so it is warm and ready for the little peepers. Often times I prepare a first brood area in a small water trough in the house for the first few days so they can be more closely monitored. An absorbent bedding material is used, we use wood bedding pellets. A heat source is placed above the bedding, a simple clamp light with a 60-100 watt incandescent light bulb that can be raised or lowered to get the correct temperature has worked well for us. There are many options, just make sure it is safe.  A small feeder with chick starter feed, we use non-medicated Organic feed. A small waterer that the chicks can’t drown in. In the first water I use a quart of lukewarm water with 1/8 cup of raw honey, 1 tablespoon of organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar and 1 pressed clove of garlic added to it. This seems to give a welcome boost to the young travelers. After the 1st day I switch to plain water.

When the shipment arrives at our local post office we get an early morning phone call to let us know that they are ready for pick-up. Once home, the little fluff balls are taken one by one from their shipping box and we gently dip their beaks into the water, making sure we see them swallow before releasing them. These hardy little freedom rangers get active quickly and it is hard not to linger awhile and just enjoy their cuteness.

After several days and all the chicks seem to be thriving I move them to their final brooding area.  We have adapted an old homemade chicken tractor into an outdoor brooder. This chicken tractor was a might heavy to move easily about for layer hens but parked next to an outdoor power receptacle it has made a fine chick brooder. The roof lifts up for access, there is a removable sliding door at floor level in the rear wall for easy access to clean-out soiled bedding, a sliding front door on the front wall that opens up into an enclosed outdoor wire covered run. Depending on the weather the run door is opened when the chicks are only 1-2 weeks old. They love to get outside and run about, peck at the grass and nap in the sun.  At night the chicks are safely locked inside the house away from predators. The feeder and waterer are a bigger size in this brooder as their consumption of both goes up greatly. I also add some small bits of greenery each day, or as in the photo below a tray of sprouted greens so they can begin to work on their pastured chicken skills. A sprinkling of small chick grit in the tray of the feeder each morning is also a good idea, especially if you start feeding greens.

With only a small amount of attention given to their care each day we are able to raise happy, healthy, robust chicks that will be, weather permitting, moved to a pastured hoop-coop at 3-4 weeks of age. More on that part of the raising of pastured fryers in another post.

So that is how we start chicks on our farm.  I hope you find this helpful as you start raising your own day-old chicks.

I'm not quite a fryer yet...
I’m not quite a fryer yet…

Signs of Spring & Rhubarb Pie

rhubarb pie
rhubarb pie

Spring is full upon us. Beautiful warming sun one day, light drenching rain the next. Yesterday was the warming sun day. From sun up to sun down, life giving sun. Tickling the soil to life. Encouraging life to spring forth. The air heavy with the scent of lilac & daphne & freshly mown grass. Mmmm…

Today is the light drenching rain day. A thorough gentle watering for all. Grass & flowers & leaves heavily laden with it’s raindrop weight. In the greenhouse the air heavy with the scent of lemon blossom, rosebud & warm moist soil. Mmmm…

In the kitchen this afternoon, the scent of Rhubarb pie baking.  It must be Spring! A pie crust of freshly ground flour & butter, worked lightly with experienced hands, rolled thin, crimped on the edges like Mom showed me so many years ago.  The filling of crisp red rhubarb, sugar & flour with a sprinkle of nutmeg, piled high. Into the oven this right of Spring. The house fills with the scent of baking pie, not any pie, Rhubarb pie. It bubbles and browns and wafts its heavenly scent. Mmmm…

Dessert tonight a celebration of Spring. A gift of Love from farm to table. Mmmm…

Lilacs
Lilac

Farm Meanderings- Spring Unfurling

apple blossoms
apple blossoms

All about the farm life is unfurling to greet the lengthening days. The tasks are many & varied. Life changes along with the seasons. Come take a walk-about the farm with me…

The Rising of the Dawn… Birdsong

rising of the dawn
rising of the dawn

Sunday morning. The darkness of early morning surrounds me. Stealth downstairs in the early morning silence. I love this time of day before the world around me awakens. Click on a lamp, pick out a book, wrap up in an afghan. This mornings read, Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping by Dewey M. Caron. This is one of my go-to books on the art of beekeeping.  The quiet inspires me to research and refresh my memory as we start up this new year of beekeeping.  I get lost in the pages, absorbed. Time passes. I am catapulted back to reality when silence is interrupted by birdsong. I glance up and it is dawn, the birds know, they remind me.

The light is just breaking thru the trees. Silhouettes are becoming visible. I grab the camera, my jacket and mud boots and go out into the brisk air. Rain has blanketed the earth with it’s regenerative powers. The beauty is overwhelming. The stillness, the scents on the air, the kiss of drizzle on a cheek, the birdsong. A melancholy sky thick with gray clouds overhead. Slowly a glint of golden possibility appears on the horizon. For just a few moments I am witness to the glow of a perfect plum blossom on a gray canvas. Lovely…

Birdsong awakening a day.

Farm Meanderings- Winter Ends… Spring Begins

grape hyacinth
grape hyacinth

Let me start by saying- Condolences to all of you who have had, and in some cases are still having, a brutal Winter.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, 2015 was the Winter that never was. It feels like Spring & has for awhile now. Though the calendar, and experience, says not quite yet. Restraint. There is a palpable stirring of life on the farm. Sweet scents in the air, a pop of color here and there. An awakening.  Come take a walk-about the farm with me… Eye candy for you beleaguered sufferers of Winter.

Beehives- A New Invention- A Humble Opinion

capped honey
capped honey

We have a very small apiary on our farm & are relatively new to the art of beekeeping. Admittedly we are totally smitten with honey bees & their world. Recently there has been quite the buzz (sorry) about a new beehive called the ‘Flow Hive’. It is an invention being launched by 2 beekeepers from Australia. It seems the hive does the honey harvest for you, with photos showing sparkling clean honey running directly out of the hives into mason jars for the honey lover to consume.

I have heard many excited comments & gotten multiple questions about this ingenious new bee hive invention. What do I think? I must admit that this whole ‘Flow Hive’ thing makes me a bit cranky. It does have great marketing, eye-catching photos & seems to appeal to many folks. But I’m not convinced of the concept.

We humans have a propensity for things that are, or seem to be, easy. The Flip-A-Switch and Ta-Dah syndrome! Minimal input, maximum gain. This makes me cringe on so many levels.
First- It is called beekeeping, not honey extracting. What about the bees? I didn’t find any mention of caring for the bees, only excitement about crystal clear honey flowing from a hive into open mason jars outside the hive. Hmm- not a good practice, ask any beekeeper.
Second- Like so many other animal products for human use or consumption, the emphasis is on the product not on the care of the animal. Which is just wrong. This exploitive attitude is what has brought us CAFO’s for beef, pork & fryers; gestation crates for sows & battery cages for egg layers. Minimal input for maximum gain & the animals are the ones to pay the price in these systems.

Collecting sparkling clear honey directly from a beehive for your morning toast sounds too good to be true, and probably is. Does it work? -insert shoulder shrug-. Most of the comments I have heard or read have had nothing at all to do with the bees themselves. Only about honey, which by the way, they do not make for us, they make it to feed their colony. Well this hive sell? Probably. Is it a great idea? The jury is still out on that. Is it the next great beehive invention? Probably not.

If you want honey without the ‘bother’ of the bees, go to a farmers market or buy directly from a local beekeeper. Let the beekeepers, who enjoy working with bees, who understand bees, who care about bees, produce the honey for you. If you are interested in starting a hive/hives of your own. Read, study, educate yourself about honey bees. Join a bee club, take a class, find a mentor to help get you started in the art of beekeeping. There is so much more to honeybees than just their honey.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, this is simply mine.