Last Call on Candy Hill Farm

I awoke this morning to that crisp cool taste of fall in the air. The silence is broken only by the wind softly rustling the trees, the cat and dog stirring in morning hunger, and my two boys already starting to beat each other up at 6:30am. I lie there for just a moment thinking this will be one of our last mornings like this on the farm. After almost two years of an extraordinary adventure here, we have bought a house in the suburbs. This is the last call here on Candy Hill Farm.

We came to this farm broken, run down, and stuck behind our dreams. My marriage was, lets just say, a little salty. My work in the city, though wonderfully challenging and successful, left me drained personally with little time for my one and a half year old and newborn sons. My husband clearly was miserable at his job. Henry the newborn had spent the first year of his life puking up his guts and after numerous visits to specialists at Children’s Hospital we still didn’t know the cause or the remedy. And it still pains me to think about how my oldest son Jack struggled in the shuffle between nannies and houses. We needed fresh air and space to heal, to mend, and to grow anew. And you know what? This farm, this jump off the ledge from urban to pasture, didn’t just save our family as a unit, it helped each of us move forward and grow individually. A spoonful of God’s intervention and a heaping full of God’s grace proved the remedy.

Now before I get all sappy, I will say it wasn’t without challenges. Run in’s with hunters, snakes, dead chickens and goats, and losing two babies were immense psychological and emotional challenges. However, they were challenges that grounded us and reset our compasses to what is important in life. Suddenly, life was not measured by our successes in the office and neighborhood politics. Life was measured by, well, life. Our body clocks and activities were set by the rise and fall of the sun. Instead of watching nature through a window at the zoo, the natural world has become our reality as we discovered our place in it. We raised baby chicks and birthed a baby goat. We raised a kitten and puppy and became caretakers of horses. We buried chickens killed by wild animals living in dens in the backyard. I held Ginger minutes after she was born and held her sister goat Princess as she died in my arms of Listeria. And my brave husband put our buck down as we watched him cruelly suffer and die of Listeria as well. We watched the farmer till the land and plant in spring and harvest the corn and soybeans in fall. We spent 6 hours a week in spring and fall mowing the grass on a tractor. We poured through seed catalogs and planned our personal kitchen garden like the massive undertaking it was. We know how fast things grow, how much they eat, how they are born and how they die. And somehow, that rat race and social bullying has drifted away and we have been left only with our relationships with each other and with ourselves.

My husband did find a new job and after 6 months it has given him some serious jet fuel in his engine. But I think if you asked him what has made the different in the last two years, he would tell you the freedom to walk out his door in his boots and work the land. That has been a revolution to his soul.

Henry

 

I figured out how to heal Henry. After learning a heck of a lot about listeria bacteria and how bacteria affects our bodies, I put Henry on massive doses of probiotics and guess what- you never knew the happiness of a two year old having his first solid poops in his life. The dark circles have disappeared under his eyes and his humor has emerged. I am not sure what he thinks is funnier- the relief of a solid excrement or mommy jumping up and down clapping her hands in excitement and joy. Mommy’s funny.

Jack, my sweet, kind, bulk of a boy has grown from a quiet pained toddler to this chatty, laughing, smiling little boy. His imagination is par none. His sense of direction is uncanny and has turned him into a backseat driver at age 3. But I think being outside, going on his walkabouts, sledding down the hills, and learning to care for the animals gave him a sense of control over his own life and he has become more secure and therefore happier. Fresh air and a heck of a lot of love and attention from mom has been priceless for us both.

 

And as for me, well, yes, after losing two babies I am pregnant again with a healthy baby that is due in January. But, the farm was not as simple for me as it seemed for the men. After taking myself out of the rat race, I spent a year feeling a little lost. In the city, my identity was defined by my job. I had a nice job and therefore a nice identity. But on the farm my identity as a stay at home mother was set by my children. Their needs overruled mine since there are no sick-days for stay at home moms. I became the full-time unpaid maid, cook, and nanny. I lost who I was as a person separate from a mother, wife, and domestic servant. I went from shopping at Zara to shopping at Walmart. Growing up in Texas I have always found jeans glamorous, but the farm took poverty and family dedication to a completely different level. This was not helped by the fact that lately there is a social movement among my peers to denigrate the “stay-at-home mother.”

But sometime in the last 6 months I have pulled myself out of the haze and focused on the future. I have started redefining who I am and what I want from my future. This will include a job because I really miss intellectual stimulation and white-collar problem solving. No, potty training toddlers does not turn me on, but saving the world still does. But I do not regret for one second the “time-out” I took the last two years for myself and my family. Not for one single second. My family needed me. And seeing my men flourish, I know I made the right choice.

The farm has taught me that success in life is completely about balance. Too much rain or sun damages the crops. Shoot too many moles and large birds and suddenly you have a snake problem. Tip the scales too far into the professional or too far into the personal and a calamity is sure to set in. But when the scale finds its balance … you are pretty darn close to heaven.

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Ten Things You Must Have On a Farm

One year into becoming a farm girl, here are ten things you need to thrive on a farm.

1. Muck Books. Don’t even think about buying the imitations, there is a reason these expensive items have been around for ever. Whether you are riding horses, mucking stalls, stomping through the woods in rain, sleet, wind, snow, and hail, there is nothing better to protect your feet. Even with a beating, they last a life time. You just need one pair.

2. Baskets, rubber buckets, carts, and a long large steel chain. I’ve mentioned the baskets for collecting vegetables and eggs, but after going through an embarrassing amount of pretty red plastic bins for water and feeding, I have realized that the black rubber feeding troughs and buckets you get at the feed stores for $4-$30 bucks are indispensible and indestructible even for crazy chewing by 100 lbs puppies and 1000 pound horses. You need a cart, not wheel barrow, for hauling hay from the barn to the animal sheds, cleaning up branches after a storm, and for giving toddlers a ride when you are walking home half a mile after working in the fields. The steel chain is for clearing down yearling trees that spring up all over the place. Tied it to the tractor or truck and it works like a charm.

3. A generator, wood stove, and grill. I can’t even count the times we have lost power year round. The generator in 100 degrees heat hooked up to the water pump, refrigerator, kitchen fan and light can keep you and the icepops cool for days. A good wood stove warms up an entire floor in winter and boils a mean cup of coffee or tea. A grill. Well, let’s face it. As you are rummaging through your canned goods during a multi-day power outage, why even go to eating cold beans? Buy a decent grill pan that you can cook anything in on the grill.

4. Horse leads. I grew up in a pampered neighborhood with pampered pets and have always thought tying up animals was animal cruelty. That was before I found our goat Billy perched on the top of my nice beautiful volvo SUV. Those hoof scratches are going to cost me hundreds to fix and even scaring the daylights out of him has not prevented Billy, or Gigi, or anyone else from ruining my hood. So lately, to enough they get to eat and I get to keep my car, the goats get tied up to trees for a couple hours every day while I am home. They clear the area and get nutrients, I remain a nice person without ulcers. My hundred pound dog? Well she gets tied up too lately when it is cool enough because otherwise she brings me dead half eaten animals. Now I love my loyal dog, but I don’t eat road kill with rabies. Long story short- horse leads are long, strong, and durable enough not just to lead horses but to keep goats, dogs, and Noah’s ark in their rightful places.

5. A Tractor. Someday when my brother-in-law’s poison ivy is no longer a major medical issue I will laugh and tell jokes about the day my husband and his brother took push mowers and mowed the 7-8 acres surrounding the farm house. Manly pride and brotherly competition aside, it was clear why farmers invest in big machinery like most other people invest in nice dish washers. Our landlord got the farm a little Kuboto with a mower and snow pusher attachments. The thing works pretty darn good- even after I poured a glassful of gasoline in it thinking it was diesel. It still takes 6-7 hours to mow the whole thing- but at least you get to ride above the poison ivy mist. It also is a very powerful tool for killing snakes- since it cuts them to pieces before they can strike you.

6. A Very Long Kitchen Table or Kitchen Island. All your friends, family, and ghosts from the past will follow their curiosity and drive out and visit you for an afternoon on the farm. However, hot or cold, everyone will end up hovering over a drink in the kitchen while you prepare the food. There is something safe and soothing about sitting at the long farm table, legs stretched out before you, beer in front of you, remembering the good old times and looking out the windows at the hummingbirds feeding out of the window feeders. It is a memory you give to your guests.

7. A Poison Bucket. I found an old tin oval bucket and filled it with deet bug spray, spray sun screen, first aid ointment and alcohol wipes, a bug bite stick to take the itch off, wasp and hornet killer spray, aunt spray, and tick carpet spray. I leave it on the table next to the door so we and guests alike can help themselves as they go in and out. That way, no one is having to search your cabinets for things they forgot and need.

8. Soap, Lotion, Hand Sanitizer, and Lysol wipes- EVERYWHERE. So after Listeria, poison ivy, half eaten bloody animal carcases this year, I have become obsessed with liquid soap. Every time we come in and out of the house my children have thankfully embraced my crazy and take off their shoes and dirty clothes at the door and go straight to the bathroom and wash their hands. I try not to harp at other people’s children, but there is a voice that jumps out, “Please wash your hands” after images of deadly bacteria dance like sugar-plumbs in my head. If you wash your hands as many times a day as we do then have hand lotion right there next to the soap and the sink to prevent your hands cracking and drying out. Then you can always grab a lysol wipe and wipe down any handle you think might need an extra scrub. Crazy, yes. Has it kept our skin clear of poison ivy and our bellies clear of Listeria? Yes.

9. Coveralls. I know. But you don’t have to get the jean or camo colored ones, they make them in feminine pink now like the ones my husband gave me for Christmas. You have to go outside and get in muck every single morning no matter the weather. And while you can go out in your cute flimsy underwear at 7am to feed and water everyone, you will come back with strange welts, scraps, and animal crap all over your legs, shoes, and body parts where you can’t even see on yourself. What can be better but peetering out of bed downstairs, starting the coffee pot, slipping on your coveralls that hang on a hook by the door, grabbing your jacket, slipping your Muck Boots on, and going out for chores? Then you come back in, rehang the coveralls, the coat, the boots, wash your hands, grab a mug and pour yourself a hot cup of coffee and sit there in your clean PJs drinking it at the kitchen counter. I get butterflies just thinking of it.

10. A Sense of Humor. I normally have an excellent sense of humor. However, the bugs, snakes, mud, and general sense of physical isolation leave me wanting. So it is very good that I have a husband with a sense of humor that knows no bounds. Not the joke-telling amiable humor, but the kind of humor where I leave for errands and leave him in charge of the boys only to come home and find my darling children running around screaming outside, naked, and unrecognizable under a layer of I-hope-that’s-mud. As my eyes search and meet his across the lawn, I see a smile break in the corner of his mouth and he throws his shovel over his shoulder and heads away to the garden whistling. He knows he’s got me. And even though I willfully order every ounce of my body to stifle it in the name of pride- a large burst of laughter erupts before I order the boys inside and into a hot soapy bath. Laughter cures everything.

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God, Death, and a Baby’s Healing Heartbeat

I am not particularly vocal about my faith. It isn’t because I don’t think that going door to door with a Bible in my hand scaring stay-at-home mothers and children sounds entertaining, but rather that I have learned from some very dark moments that my life is really between just God and I. But deaths on the farm this winter, spring and summer tested my faith on a profound level and left me wondering if I had become the forsaken.

Life is a combination of trials and triumphs with failures painted in darkness and the success in light. Call me Maria Van Trap, but I often hear the head nun singing in her study about God opening windows when he shuts doors. “Climb every mountain” might as well have been my theme song as I gloriously danced through my 20’s in my own version of Bridget Jones Goes To Washington.

But my 30s have been different. Suddenly I carried not only the burden of caring for myself, but caring for a husband, children, extended family, and animals. Last summer, as I looked out on corn stalks as high as your eye by the fourth of July, I felt confident in our family’s decision to move to the farm, to get animals, and to fill my time with canned veggies and cheese making that would make my 6th grade Home Ec teacher proud.

But this winter, something began to happen. Death began to come to the farm. The first to go were several chickens. The next, a baby I miscarried in the first month. After Christmas, my husband’s loving, amazing, funny father died. Then 30 keets died in 5 days. By Easter, I lost a second baby. By this 4th of July, two goats lost to listeria. A fear began to grow over me that I would not be able to successfully carry the physical and emotional burden of so many other people and animals. Death seemed all around me, chaotically uncontrollable. And slowly, fear and sadness draped around me and I began to wonder if God, who had always opened big bright white windows for me, had painfully left me out in the cold.

So it was with fear and trepidation that I met that little blue plus sign on the pregnancy test this May. We hadn’t even tried to get pregnant. I wasn’t mentally ready to risk losing another life. Two weeks went by and I could barely even talk about it with my husband. It was as if I didn’t even want to acknowledge it because I didn’t want God to take it away. And then I started bleeding. Within hours I found myself driving on the beltway towards the doctor’s office for a sonogram without even a tear shed- as if I knew it was too good to be true. Of course I would lose this baby too. I climbed up into the cold metal stirrups (could you even come up with a more tyrannical mechanism for a pregnant woman) and looked up at the computer screen ready for those mumbled words of a miscarriage.

Instead, there on the screen, before the technician even opened her mouth, I saw it. A heartbeat, beating fast in black and white. I stared at the blinking light unable to speak as she confirmed I was indeed pregnant and the baby was actually doing very well. Just a little attachment bleeding.

I had barely made it back into my car as the tears began to run down my cheeks. By the beltway, it had turned into uncontrollable sobbing. That heaving, heavy, release. The guilt I had carried for months from not being able to save the other babies, the animals, my husband’s dear father, came gushing out in a torrential downpour that I do not recommend for anyone considering driving on the 495 beltway. HE, had not forsaken me. The proof was in that little beating heart that I craved and loved already. Thump, thump. thump, thump. I’m here, I’m here.

Sometimes life is about big adventures, big failures, and big successes. But this summer, I was reminded that sometimes the most important things are the Simple Gifts in life- and that if we keep our faith strong, by “turning, turning, we come ’round right.”

AG

“Simple Gifts” written by Elder Joseph:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
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Flowers From 2012

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Goats, Goats, and Goats: Our Farm’s Favorite Four Legged Friends

Life on Candy Hill Farm revolves around four main things: our two crazy great boys, lawn and garden grooming, animal husbandry, and cooking. I realized looking back at the posts that I have not written anything about the goats in months. For all you know, the little Escape Artists have jumped the fence and made off into the woods never to be seen again. They have jumped the fence to our chagrin, but they also have made babies and therefore made fresh milk for cheese making!

Now before you get too excited, our milk getting has been limited mainly by my bad milking abilities (I know- hold, squeeze down- but it really is more difficult than it looks) and by our new baby Ginger needing mom’s nutrients, but milk making will start this week. Before it does, just wanted to catch you up with pics on our farm’s favorite four-legged friends.

OUR HEAD DOE : GiGi

Every heard has a Mama-San and in our herd that is Gigi. Calm, agile, smart, loving, she has proved a loving wonderful farm companion. Not only is she sweet to my two toddlers, comes when called by name, but she leads the herd and I suspect keeps those troublesome bucks in check. This month Gigi had Lord Fluffy’s (don’t laugh, not our name) baby (see below). Incredible mother and her milk, fresh and warm, tastes sweet not goaty. Can’t wait to make Gigi Cheese- Oh la la!

SISTER DOE: Princess

Princess came off a farm in West Virginia. I saw her online with her gorgeous black and white coat and ridiculously beautiful nubian ears and had to have her. When I picked her up I realized she had never been handled by humans. Quick to jump, she wouldn’t let us within ten feet of her and eerily cried the nubian’s baby-like screams night after night. A couple weeks after we got her she began getting terribly skinny to the point I called the vet and had the whole herd tested for CAE (an AIDS-like disease of goats).  The test came back negative and instead of putting her down I told the vet I would make a Hail Mary pass and stick her with electrolytes, stuff her with the best feed, and see if we couldn’t turn a corner. sure enough, she did turn the corner, and months later, is the most stunning looking doe I have ever seen. She also has, with the help of my children, become human friendly. She will be bred to Fluffy as soon as she comes into heat.

OUR BUCK: Fluffy

Lord Fluffy came off a farm near Charlottesville, VA. I had planned to buy a different buck, younger, but when the owner/mother of 5 said they were going to have to eat Fluffy because no one would buy him and described how good their last goat was, well, what can I say, those big blue eyes of his just got me. I wrapped his behind in depends and put him in the back of the car with Princess and drove home. True to her word, Fluffy is probably the most gentle buck on the planet. He does not buck, bite, or urinate on any of us. He is a little like Ferdinand the Bull, he simply likes to eat the flowers and keep tabs on his girls, particularly his daughter Ginger. I wondered whether he would have any connection to her and it turns out he does- she cries and he goes up to the fence and talks back to her. It’s beautiful. The only trouble I have had with him is that he had scurs, or horn which continue to grow after trimming. While my husband and I had dutifully been filing them, he did get caught up in the fence which caused a bloody mess, a vet call, and some serious war wounds and pampering (hence his war wound pic above). However, he is back in good form, jumping the fence and eating my flowers.

OUR WETHER: Billy

Billy is the original Escape Artist. It remains an enigma to me how I can spend months during the winter reinforcing their very large pen with metal fencing and ties and Billy figures out the first two weeks how to bite the ties, peel open the rabbit fencing, and hustle through the original fencing. When I reinforce it again, he figures out how to simply jump over the fence- a 5 ft. fence for a nigyrian dwarf. Ridiculous. He remains however the clown on our farm, constantly making me laugh with his antics and endearing to my heart as he shows his crush on Gigi.

CANDY HILL FARM’S FIRST KID: Ginger

I knew Gigi would give birth one day. I went out to feed her and she wouldn’t come over and I knew that she must be starting contractions. Sure enough, when I came out an hour later, two white ears and blue eyes peered back at me from behind Gigi’s legs. In one hour she had successfully delivered, cleaned, and presumably fed this adorable little doeling. However, Ginger’s health took a quick turn for the worst when I noticed she wasn’t milking. Gigi would patiently stand there waiting but Ginger couldn’t figure out what to do. I called in the vet again (thank goodness she lives down the street) and we immediately began to stick Ginger with antibiotics, electrolytes, and Gigi’s milk. One week later she was jumping around like the rock star she has become.

CONCLUSION

At the beginning I had Grand Illusions that we would get back the money we put into the goats by milking, cheese-making, baby selling. I must have been smoking crack with the Sugar Plum Fairies because the financial investment into our four-legged friends is will never provide enough to break even. However, this morning as I got on my Muck Boots and fetched a pail of fresh water for the goats at 7am, the thought crossed my mind that this period on the farm and animal husbandry will eventually come to an end as we are forced to move closer to schools and work. While they may not pay in dollars, this little family of goats has brought us so much joy and a real experience of farm life and farm responsibility and that is truly worth something.

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Summer Steak Cuts To Try

Here on the farm there is one thing my husband and I completely agree on- grilling our dinner during summer. Not only does it keep the kitchen cool and pots clean, but grilling steak and corn just evoke childhood memories … Continue reading

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How To Have Your Own Fresh Eggs- A Step By Step Guide To Raising Fowl

If you are like me and have started to make the switch to pick up organic labelled products in the grocery store because you have been reading the news about how our food sources have become more contaminated with poisonous toxins that negatively affect you and your children, then this article is for you. Most people would choose a fresh egg from a known farm with healthy free roaming chickens any day- but the price may prohibit it. The alternative is you raising your own egg-laying chickens or tick eating guinea keets. We have found it not only easy, but a highly enjoyable experience.

A year ago we ordered our first official farm animals- 3 Silkie Chickens- from California. After successfully keeping them alive, we ordered 30 brown-egg laying chicks from McMurray’s Hatchery. This Spring I decided to order 30 Guinea Keets from McMurrays to help us battle the tick population. The following are my tips for keeping day old chicks alive, raising them into adulthood, and caring for the aging chickens.

KEEPING THEM ALIVE

Think of their homing in three phases. The first phase is about two weeks where you are keeping them inside your home (yes inside). The second phase is after two weeks when they are big enough and strong enough to be moved to something like a rabbit hutch. The third phase is when they become too large for the hutch and they either need to free roam or be moved to a large netted pen. The most critical phase is the first two weeks.

Tools You Need:

Phase One: heat lamp, red light bulb, 1 large long cardboard box with sides tall enough they can’t jump out, a plastic or paper plate, a plastic water feeder, medicated chick feed, Newspaper.

Phase Two: Rabbit/Fowl Hutch (raised off ground with metal netting for protection from preditors and weather), plastic water feeder, metal or plastic food feeder, cedar shavings, and a large plastic bin you can buy at Home Depot or Target, and finally chicken or guinea crumble, and a large scoop that can hold several cups of food at a time. Buy the hutch off craigslist or build it yourself from free online plans to save some cash.

Phase Three: Metal Fence with netting above and barn/ shelter from elements, cedar shavings, basket to collect eggs, egg wipes, the feed scoop and feed bin from Phase two and water feeder from feed store.

Phase One

1. Buying. There are several sources of chicks. If you live in the North East you may be a close enough drive from the Amish or Amish market where the Amish sell chickens. Also, many local feed stores take orders for chicks in Spring time. Finally, there are hatcherys all over the country which offer birds year round. I like McMurray’s which is a well established hatchery with lots of choices of birds and a good policy where if the birds all die in the first week, like our first batch of keets this Spring, they will refund or send you another batch for free.

Timing. Most offer egg laying hens, guineas, and specialty birds in Spring and quail, turkeys, ect in late summer/fall. Ideally, you want to order them to be delivered or pick them up early enough in Spring that the birds will lay by Fall (since the chickens take about 6 months to mature to egg layers) and warm enough that you don’t have to have them outside under a heat lamp 24-7 which is a fire hazard. Ideally it is around 80-85 degrees out.

Numbers. The nice thing about ordering from the feed store or buying from the Amish is you can buy individual birds instead of a group. McMurrays only sells birds in groups of 30 or more which is much more pricey. However, as I will describe below, if you are buying fowl from first hatch, the chances are some will not survive and so you get more chicks then you want/need knowing your numbers can drop to about half in a year through disease/preditors/ect. Another option is to get the larger numbers, keep them alive and healthy for two weeks and then sell them at a higher price on BackYardforums, ect.

Shipping. Most hatcheries ship chicks hours from when they were born because the chicks don’t need to eat immediately. The only carrier in the US which ships chicks is the US Post Office. No, they cannot be Fed-Exed. The issue is that if the Post Office loses them and they are a day or two late they starve to death. So – in addition to being ready to drop everything and drive to the Post Office in your PJs before your first cup of coffee because the postman called and said the chicks have arrived – you have to be ready and prepared to nurse sick dying chicks back to health.

2. Prep Time.Before they come, get the cardboard box, cover bottom of box with newspaper. Place paper plate with Medicated Chicken Crumble on bottom of box. I use a paper plate to start because it is large and flat and the chicks like to explore with their pecks so I find giving them a larger source of food allows all the chicks access and exploratory space. Fill plastic water feeder and place in box. Take the heat lamp (hopefully is on a clamp) and clamp it 12-18 inches above one side of the box. I place a stool next to the box and clamp the lamp on it. Fold over cardboard on opposite side and make sure the water and food is under the shaded side of the box. The reason for this is that the chicks will move from the heat to the food and water and back. This encourages them to move and ensures the water and food doesn’t get hot. You want the chicks to be able to get under the heat, then escape the heat depending on their needs.

3. Emergency Room.

I think of the first couple of hours the chicks come as an Emergency Room. They are tired, dehydrated, cold. When chicks arrive, turn on heat lamp. It should get to about 90 degrees. Some people throw a temp gage below the lamp to test the temp but I wouldn’t leave it there because the chicks congregate and poop on it. Take each chick out individually and dip their beaks into the water and then place them on the food plate and let them go. This gives them a little jump start on dehydration and figuring out where food and water is in relation to the heat (which they will find very quickly). Sometimes I put a little chicken electrolyte power in the water as well. Some people sware by it.

4. Then watch the chicks. There WILL be chicks laying down dying. Chicks should NOT be laying down unable to get up. Take the sick chicks and redip their beaks in the trough and place them in a second box and place them under heater in the second box. Basically, you are separating the sick chicks from the healthy ones so that you not only can watch them and give them extra attention, but so that they also have a chance to breadth and not be pecked on and climbed on by the other chicks. So the heat lamp should be split between boxes placed right next to each other.

5. Grab a water glass, fill it with water and a tsp of sugar. dribble that mixture on both troughs. The healthy chicks should be eating it up and walking back and forth from trough to heat lamp area (don’t put trough under heat lamp because then chicks just sit in it to get heat and prevent other chicks from eating). Go back to sick chicks every 15 minutes for a couple hours and redip their beaks in mixture. They should start to come around and stand up. If they don’t, try taking an eye-dropper, filling it with the sugar water, then hold the chick, force its mouth open, and drop in water into its mouth.

6. Amount of Food. During the first two weeks I keep the plate filled. A lot of it will end up on the newspaper (just change the newspaper if it gets yucky from the water/food mix). I also keep the water filled. This means you will probably need to refill plate and water 3-4 times day.

6. Survival. Finally, a neighbor told us the first time we got the chicks that we would lose some. At the time, I was horrified, for not only had I paid money for these things, but a living thing dying in my care was just not comprehensible. But a year into raising fowl, I will tell you, the probability is that you will lose some. We managed to keep the 3 Silkies alive, but we lost 16 of 30 of the original brown egg layers – 3 in the first week, the rest over time to foxes. Three weeks ago we lost all 30 keets in 5 days- they were obviously sick when they arrived and nothing we did saved them. However, McMurray’s sent a replacement batch for free and we have kept more than 20 of those alive and they have moved to the second phase.

RAISING THEM TO ADULTS

1. Shelter Phase Two:

After about two weeks inside maturing we move the chicks/keets outside into a rabbit hutch. It is great because it has a wooden “house” with a door for outside access on one side and a door with clear flap leading to a wire and wood rabbit run on the other. This allows the birds to get outside in the sunlight and fresh air but still be protected from preditors. It also allows them time to get to know who brings their food and where their home is so that once they are free roaming you can actually round them up at night for protection in a barn. The wooden box protects from the rain, wind, and temperature drop at night.

2. Food: When I first move them to their new hovel, I put them in the wooden box part and I block the flapped door so that the fowl get used to their safety zone first. I put their food and water in plastic containers. For how much food. At two weeks I move them off the medicated chick food and onto either chicken crumble or guinea crumble. The feed stores carry these thin long trays that are perfect for many birds feeding at once but really any kind of plastic plate will do so long as it holds enough food to get them through half-all of the day depending on how large it is. I take the food and put it into the large plastic bin from Home Depot, market “Chickens” on the top and sides with black magic marker, and place it inside the rabbit hutch run. Because we live on a farm, we have lots of animals (racoons, mice, skunks, birds, and therefore snakes) interested in the food bin. We found out the hard way that putting the food in a bind that closes tightly and is hard to chew through and is off the ground is the best way to avoid it getting attention and being broken into. If you can keep it safe in a shed or barn that may be an OK option except that then for every feeding you have to drag your scoop of food back and forth to the chicken hutch. So if you can manage to put the bin inside the rabbit run part of the hutch, it protects it while making it fast and easy to feed.

3. Cedar Shavings. Fowl are messy and their poop stinks. Cedar shavings are a controversial solution. I spread a thin layer on the bottom of the boxed in portion of the hutch. I do this not only to mask the smell, but because it allows for nesting and then a quicker clean because the poop isn’t sticking to the bottom of the hutch. However, some say the birds will peck, eat, and inhale the cedar shavings and kill them. I have never had that problem, but there is both sides for you.

4. Phase 3 Shelter.

You have three choices at Phase 3 of what to do next. If you only have a couple of chickens and the hutch is large enough you may consider leaving them in the hutch or letting them free roam during the day and penning them up in the hutch at night (do this by teaching them to feed at sundown when you come out with food that you put in the hutch and they jump up into the hutch to eat and then shut them in). You can let them just free roam. The last choice is to barn and pen them. Because we live in a place with so many preditors roaming around at night, we barn and pen them.

Our farm already had a chicken barn and pen constructed. The barn is tall and fairly thin with nesting boxes off the ground and two roosting poles. It has a door where we enter to clean and collect eggs and three “chicken doors” one at the bottom and two at the top to allow the chickens in and out into the penned chicken yard. At the beginning, I used to open all of the doors and then shut them all at night once the chickens were in the barn. This was after foxes dug under the fence and ate a bunch of the chickens. Lately, mainly because I am lazy, I have been only opening the top door doors so the chickens actually fly in and out of the doors which are too high for a fox to get into (but not a raccoon). The chickens have learned to fly into the barn at nightfall and roost off the ground for protection and that seems to be working. Regardless, the bottom of the barn is cement which is VERY helpful because after I clean up the cedar shavings (yes, I put them on the bottom of the barn too), I cleanse and hose off the concrete to provide more sanity conditions.

The fence is metal and about 4 feet tall. It has netting covering the top in a tent like fashion. This keeps the chickens from getting out. However, our suggestion is to place some kind of metal or wood barrier at the fence base for animals that dig under fences. We ended up taking metal coat hangers and cutting them into long pieces that we inserted at the bottom of the fence line to make it harder to dig under (they are almost like stakes).

5. Phase 3 Nesting.

Our barn has some nice nesting boxes but when I accidently forgot a bale of cedar shavings in their barn that became the communal nest. It has worked beautifully. The chickens each take their turn laying and nesting and at the end of the day I get to collect all the eggs from one very clean place. My suggestion is for you to create the same kind of nest and encourage the communal laying.

Also, you need a container to collect the eggs. I actually just use our Easter basket. You don’t need anything fancy, just something that can support and keep the eggs from cracking as you put them in.

PRODUCE

I collect the eggs once a day in the evening when I put the chickens up. After I collect them I bring them inside and rub them down with an egg wipe which gets any gook or bad bacteria off them. We ordered 50 egg cartons from eggcartons.com, stamp them with a pretty blue nest stamp, mark them “Candy Hill Farm” and gift or sell them to friends. Each chicken will lay at least an egg a day so if you have 12 chickens, you have a dozen a day.

But one thing I will tell you as a “didn’t eat eggs before I moved to the farm” kind of girl….. once you taste the goodness of fresh eggs… all the work and cost is totally worth it.

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