We have to keep a lot of flexibility in our work schedule. But we have learned (often by our mistakes!) that understanding the nature of our animals and working WITH them is critical.
For example – it is important to move our laying hens from their winter quarters to the summer pasture at night (once they are snoozing away on their roosts). But, once they are living on the pasture, moving them and their mobile roost each day must be done in the morning.
You might be asking “Why?”
The first big move is at night because that’s when they are groggy. Basically it is easier to move them gently and quietly to crates, take the crates to the field, then transfer them to their new mobile roosting cart. It’s not that different than taking a sleeping child from their car seat to their crib. If you don’t jostle them, they just resettle for the night.
But their day-to-day field habits are different. These same chickens have freedom to strut around and forage for bugs, but they also instinctually know that the roost provides water, food and safety. So, at some point each morning they seem to “geo-locate” where they are, and lock in that location as where they will lay their eggs. The result is, if you move the mobile roost later in the day, they will not want to go to the new roosting site, even if the roost is only moved 30 yards away – totally visible to them. Instead, the remain huddled in the pasture where it used to be.
So, in a way, I guess the chickens tell us when they should be moved. Which just goes to show, they rule the roost.
Tunnels – Above & Below Ground
We did assemble two more high tunnels this past week. They really make a difference because they help the soil capture some added solar energy which boosts plant growth and productivity. And because the high tunnels can be moved, we can place them where most needed as the weather dictates and planting cycles change.
As for digging “tunnels” below ground … well, now that the danger of freezing is past, we completed our water-distribution system throughout the garden and extended it out to the pastures. But we have decided not to bury them underground – just yet!
Although we carefully planned the hose configuration, we are leaving them above ground – fully operational -- for now because once we bury them any changes are difficult. This will allow us time to assess the natural “flow” of our daily/weekly routines. And over time, our worn paths will make it clear if each spigot placement is good, or if we need to make an adjustment. In the end, saving steps (that are repeated hundreds of times) can save us a lot of time.
Frustration Of The Week
You’ve probably experienced getting a flat tire. Ouch. Seems to happen when you have an important appointment. Well, we had three flat tires last week. Don’t ask. Roll with the punctures I guess...
If we have our dates right, we are expecting our dairy cow to have her calf in the next two weeks. That’s great! Our family and team will get a regular supply of fresh wholesome milk.
The challenge is that this new calf will be arriving near the end of May – right around our first CSA delivery. Nothing we can do about it, so I guess we'll just go with the flow (so to speak) and add daily milking to our to-do list! As if we have extra time...
More Help Is On The Way
Last week we got some more field help when Jed English’s younger brother Mattaniah arrived from North Carolina.
This week Nathanael High -- one of Daniel’s old buddies -- will visit for a week or so. He is a student at Virginia Tech (where Joel Barr graduated from – go Hokies!). And we are sure we can find some work for him to do too.
More folks are scheduled over the next month, which we are very glad for. These few weeks leading up to the beginning of our CSA deliveries can be stressful, but having a few extra pair of hands makes it a lot easier.
A Big Blip In The Brooder
We got a phone call last week from the hatchery that supplies us with the baby chicks we raise for meat hens. Their production was interrupted (no actual reason was given) but they were not able to provide us with our anticipated delivery of 260 chicks.
Because our butcher is also on a very tight schedule, we can’t just start a new batch of baby chicks a week or two later. We just have to skip an 8-week cycle (and raise no birds) and then start again with the next batch.
For us, that actually might be good. We’ve go so much going on right now that getting a little break takes some of the pressure off our work schedule.
But what that means for YOU is this – we will have 260 fewer pasture raised, soy-free, transitional organic (and did I say savory yummy too!) birds this season. If you want some, be sure to pre-order right away because our supply will be tighter this season. [Click here to order]
Greenhouse To Garden To … Wash Stand
With our first CSA delivery just a few weeks away, it is critically important to have our wash stand system in place very soon. From now until the end of the season – like most small-scale sustainable farms -- we can expect to spend 30 percent of our time in the wash stand.
It isn’t anything fancy, but it must be functional because every bit of fruit and vegetable passes through there so it can be on its way to our customers in about 24 hours. The fresh-from-the-field crops are brought to the wash stand where they are inspected for quality and quantity, carefully cleaned, sorted for individual orders, packaged and organized for shipment, systematically packed in our van, and delivered to all our customers. The process is almost like a choreographed dance -- in dirty boots.
And what you get is nutrition-packed, locally picked goodness. No synthetic fertilizers. No sewage sludge. No irradiation or genetic engineering. No cross-country semi-truck shipping. No warehouse storage. No preservative coatings.
It takes a lot of hard work. But we think it’s worth it – don’t you?
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We really need your help in spreading the word about our CSA! To sustain our work, we need more members -- this season – to help us get our new gardens established so we can expand our efforts and provide our friends with more fresh and flavorful food. So please, help us get our name to anyone you know. Maybe a quick mention on Facebook … or let them know about our Instagram account. If you know someone who is serious about getting nutrient dense food, please pass our name along!
Joel, for the entire ATF Team