Sycamore Valley Farm

Pasture Raised Chicken, Duck, and Goose Eggs
Small batch Jams and Jellies made with heirloom and foraged Ozark Fruits.

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It's been a while...

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on September 27, 2012 at 9:25 PM Comments comments (6)

My website has suffered from much neglect. Farming just doesn't leave much time for computer work, beyond book keeping. So, here is a brief update:

I am finally farming full time. I quit my part time job in January of 2012. I could not be happier. Farming is hard, and the weather never seems to cooperate, but I have enjoyed these past 8 months more than any other time than I can remember.

The past two summers were awful. The hottest on record, no rain, and we still find ourselves in a drought. Thankfully, it is fall and we are getting some much needed rain, though we are still a foot, I believe, below average rainfall. Summer of 2011 caused too many casualties, one horrible day we got up to 109 degrees in the shade and the humidity was very high. This summer was better, it was very, very hot, but it was so dry and windy.

Between weather and some family issues, expansion plans had been derailed for about a year. I am starting to catch up on many projects that had to be neglected. We have added 31 new ducklings to our farm last month. They will be coming into lay about the time the farmers' market starts next spring.

Getting our egg hadling permit is held up still with construction of the room. I would much prefer to get the regulations changed than to spend more money on finishing this room. The inspector could not tell me why the state decided 200 laying hens is the limit. That is not enough to make a living, even selling the eggs at $4.50 a dozen. Other states have the cut off at 3,000 laying hens before requiring an egg handling permit. I want no more than 400 because that is all I can handle.

On the plus side, last year the Cottage Food Bill passed in Arkansas and we can now legally sell jams and jellies without having a certified kitchen. I wish the livestock and poultry commission would take notes from this on the egg handling permit...

We had our Great Pyrenees, Maggie, bred this spring. She had 9 puppies. They are fantastic guard dogs. Three are being trained to protect our ducks so we can untilize more pasture, in spite of our resident red tailed hawks. The other puppies are still for sale. One has found a great home on another local pastured poultry farm.

I look forward to farming for years to come.

It'll be spring before we know it...

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on January 5, 2011 at 7:42 PM Comments comments (0)

I am excited about this new season. This year we are doing a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), hopefully getting an Egg Handling permit, expanding our chicken flock by at least 100 and participating in an ATTRA study.

December was spent going through seed catalogs and drawing up a garden plan. I also started researching the option of a cow share for a milk cow (most likely for 2012). Seeds have been ordered and are on their way here. Only about a week before I will start some seeds indoors, next month the onions will be planted, and potatoes in March. We are planning on lots of varieties of lettuce, new (to us) varieties of beans, kale, peppers, tomatoes, 3 types of potatoes, 2 types of garlic, melons, squashes, and many more things I'm forgetting.

So far this in this new year our farm has thankfully avoided a tornado and unfortunately lost our oldest gaurdian dog, Rain. Later this month we will be ordering 100 new pullets and our newest girls should start to lay in February. The fencing project for our new, larger poultry pasture is making slow progress. Our egg room is so close to being done that it's almost frusterating. At least I am never bored.

The hens are starting to pick up production which means we will be attending more winter markets. My goal for this year is to have more to offer at the winter market.

Thanks again to all of you who have made our farm successful and supported us, we look forward to see you all this coming season.

Naked Chickens and slower production

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on August 22, 2010 at 10:56 PM Comments comments (0)

  This time of year birds shed their old feathers and put on new clothes for the winter, the process is called molting. They do this once a year, typically at the end of summer. When they get stressed, they will often go into a molt early. The extreme heat we have had this summer has put our birds into an early molt. The heat has caused them to eat less feed, so they have lost weight which stresses them enough to start molting. Since growing new feathers takes energy and protein, the birds will slow down or cease laying entirely. Their bodies can't make feathers and eggs at the same time, or at least very efficiently. Our production is down quite a bit for this time of year. As a result, we will only be attending the farmers' market once a week on Thursday mornings.

   Molting takes a few weeks, so our production will be down for a least a month. The bad thing is that with decreasing daylight, production will be slow for the rest of the summer and fall, most likely. On the plus side, the hens should lay a little better through the winter. Commercial producers use forced (or as they like to say "induced") molting to get better production out of their birds, this wears the birds out fast. Most commercial flocks are sent to slaughter at 105 or so weeks of age. Now, most chickens hit their best laying age at around 2 yrs, so they're squeezing more eggs out of the hens in less time. But as our hens have proven, they continue to lay pretty darn well in their 3rd year with good management and can serve more functions in their later years. I was surprised to just read a guide to induced molting by the North Carolina Extension agency (http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/induced_molting_commercial.html) that makes it sound as though they suggest witholding feed from the birds for up to 12 days! Now, I may have misunderstood this, but read for yourself. If that isn't cruel, I don't know what is. I understand that farmers need to make money, believe me I do, but at what cost? Also, keep in mind the reason you can buy eggs at a supermarket for .99 cents a dozen is because large scale commercial farmers get about .19 cents a dozen. Why can they afford that? Because they can produce hundreds or thousands of dozens a day. Just imagine what that operation looks like, the quality of the product is going to be worth about that. (Not to mention food safety. With that many birds, you can't test them all or notice who is sick and who is not.) And believe me, most of them are not doing well financially. I do feel sorry for them. I have never understood how scales of economy made any sense. I could go into a rant, but I won't for now.      So in conclusion, we do not intentionally force molt our birds but sometimes nature will do it for us. Our birds often live out their natural lives (6-10yrs with the exception of culling ill birds with certain diseases as they would become carriers of diseases even after recovering themselves, but that's a topic for another blog).

Trying to expand into small commercial production

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on July 28, 2010 at 11:16 AM Comments comments (2)

I am in the process of (slowly) getting an egg handling permit. This will mean that our eggs will be able to be labeled as graded (our eggs go through the process of grading as it is, I just can't say it because I don't have a permit) and we can supply local restaurants. The state regulations are non-existent for a business of our size, so the state is making it up as they go along. Unfotunately, the cost of setting up a required egg room is just a little more than I had anticipated. The local bank is not willing to give a small (more like micro) loan, so everything will have to be saved and paid in cash. This is slowing my progress. I was hoping to have things all done by fall. So to all of my restaurant customers who are waiting, I apologize for the slow progress and you can thank the state and the bank.


If anyone has any suggestions about where to get a small loan with reasonable interest rates, feel free to email me.

Our Vegetables

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on July 26, 2010 at 5:54 PM Comments comments (0)

This year we have grown a variety of "unusual" vegetables. This spring we had heirloom lettuce varieties like Yugoslavian Red, RedRidinghood, Lollo Rossa & Dark Lollo Rossa, Red Velvet, Slobolt,Black Seeded Simpson and a newer variety of open pollinated lettuce called Cherokee Summer Crisp. These will return again when the summer heat subsides. We also grew a baby salad mix with a pretty blend of red and green lettuce.

I attempted broccoli and cabbage, but the cabbage loopers made short work of that. I will try again in a few weeks and keep them under row cover to protect them from the bugs. I have started some pretty purple cauliflower, cool looking romanesco broccoli, oxheart cabbage, large flat cabbage and some good old standard green broccoli inside this month. The non-heading broccoli did pretty well this spring, as did the greens mix.

Our pole beans have finally started producing. We have Purple Pod a very pretty dark purple heirloom that turns green when cooked, Cascade Giant that is green with purple stripes, Black Seeded Blue Lake a standard green bean, and Goldmarie a beautiful yellow Italian heirloom. A new thing I have tried this year was the edemame (fresh green soybeans). I had never had these until I went to a sushi restaurant and they were on the appetizer list. They are so simple and so tasty! Just boil them with some salt (pod and all) and eat as a snack. Bite the pod, pull and pop the beans out into your mouth. They are full of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.

The cucumbers this year were the Suyo Long and the Lemon cucumber. I have grown the Lemon cucumbers for about five years now. They are so good and crisp and burp less. They are also very productive and disease resistant.

A new thing for me was the okra. I never really liked okra, but the Burgundy okra has great flavor and is so pretty. It has the prettiest blossoms, almost like a hybiscus or hollyhock on dark burgundy stems with green leaves. I'll post pictures soon.

I have lost track of how many tomato varieties we had this year, it is at least 15. All are delicious, but then again, I just love tomatoes.

I have started asparagus this year, so we will have a small amount next year.


I am sure I'm forgetting the other things that are in the garden, but I should go water everything before it all dies from the heat and lack of rain.

 

Very successful first market!

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on April 3, 2010 at 4:08 PM Comments comments (0)

Thank you to all of you that made the first market day a success! I apologize to all of you who were unable to purchase eggs as I sold out by 11:00 am. We have doubled our flock since last season, but alas, we still cannot fulfill the demand! We have also expanded our duck flock, but the new girls will still not be laying for another two months at least.

 

This year we are still "floaters" at the market. This means we do not have a permanent spot. Some weeks we may not be able to attend due to limited spaces. I will try to make it to some of the weekday markets if I miss a Saturday market. I will email everyone on my email list to let everyone know which market I will be at for the week. If you are not on my email list, just send me an email letting me know you would like to be on the list.

 

I hope to have a few veggie offerings for next week if all goes well. Hope to see you there!

How do we control predators?

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on December 4, 2009 at 9:52 PM Comments comments (0)

Predators are a huge problem with free range poultry. Most other free range egg producers I meet tell me their horror stories of how their flock was totally decimated in one night by a raccoon, skunk, coyote, dog, possum, etc. Others ask what causes their birds to just dissapear during the night without a sound or any evidence left behind, this would be because of an owl.

So, how are we able to keep 200 birds safe without ever locking them up when we live in an area with such an abudance of wildlife? The answer: guardian dogs, and lots of them.

 

This actually happened for us by accident. We had dogs before we had chickens, I have a habit of rescuing or being given dogs that no one else wants. Before I knew it, our pack was up to 8, not including the dogs we were fostering for a local rescue group. After adopting two foster dogs, I had to stop fostering. So our pack currently stands at 10.

 

Traditionally, gaurdian dogs are big, usually white, dogs that are used to guard sheep and other livestock. We do have some of these breeds: great pyrenees, akbash, and anatolian shepherd. But our other dogs have proven to be just as good, two border collies, a strange beagle/corgi mix, a hound/pit bull mix, and a full blood deaf pit bull. Each seem to have their specialty. Some prefer to just bark at anything while others hone in on specific creatures. We have a skunk and rat specialist (who always reeks!), a snake specialist (snakes are actually our biggest problem out here, mostly eating eggs, but we've had them eat whole broods of chicks and strangle hens too), and a predatory bird specialist. For the most part, the smell of  the dogs will keep things like raccoons, possums, coyotes and strange dogs away. Those that venture too close will get a warning bark, and those that still come closer will be chased (this is rare as most of the time the sound of ten dogs barking will turn most predators away).

 

The predatory birds were a challenge for a while, until we adopted Pig (he is a deaf pit bull). Being deaf, Pig seems to have a better tuned sense of smell and responds more quickly to visual cues (probably from being taught hand signals). Pig is our predatory bird specialist. He will chase anything that flies over our farm, be it hawks, song birds or low flying airplanes. He proved himself yet again just two weekends ago when an opportunistic hawk tried to nab a hen. While all the other dogs were taking a midday nap (the hawk seemed to know they were all asleep) I heard the chickens fussing and opened the door to see what was going on. Pig flew out the door and to the chicken pasture barking and snarling just in time to save a pretty little rhode island red hen from becoming a meal. He had either seen or smelled the hawk before I knew what was going on. None of the other dogs seemed to know what the heck was going on either, but they weren't going to let it ruin their naps.

 

So yes, we have a lot of dogs, but they all earn their keep in some way.

What do the hens eat?

Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on December 4, 2009 at 8:12 PM Comments comments (0)

One of our customers asked me what our hens eat. This is an important question because what the hens eat affects the quality of the eggs they lay.

Our hens are kept on pasture 24/7, 365 days a year. They have houses on wheels that can be moved frequently, so a good portion of their diet is grasses, legumes (such as clover and vetch), weeds (wild amaranth and lambsquarter are some of their favorites), and whatever bugs they can catch or scratch up. But (unfortunately) chickens cannot live on grass and weeds alone, or at least live AND lay lots of tasty eggs. Chickens are actually omnivores and will eat just about anything put in front of them (which is why I am careful about what my hens get fed). Their digestive tracts are very short and they cannot efficiently process grasses and weeds. To give them the protein and other nutrients they need to lay eggs and stay healthy, our hens are fed a grain mixture twice a day.

The grain mix is made of a vegetarian layer ration (uses plant proteins instead of animal proteins) with a calcium and vitamin supplement mixed in, cracked corn, and whole oats. There are no hormones or antibiotics in the feed. The USDA prohibits the use of hormones or antibiotics in ANY ration made for laying hens, even commercial laying hens. The rest of their diet is kitchen scraps (I am a vegetarian so there are no meat scraps in the kitchen scraps, just veggies, bread and fruit) and old bread from the local health food store where my husband works. I have also set up a way to capture japanese beetles that I put in our deep freezer to feed to the hens later (freezing them eliminates the problem of them flying away before the hens can eat them).

I don't add flaxseed to the ration because our eggs will be high in omega fatty acids naturally from the grass the hens eat, plus flaxseed can make the eggs have a fishy flavor. I have supplied the web address to a fantastic article about the nutritional comparison between true free range eggs and conventionally raised eggs: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx

 

If you have any questions about our hens diet that I didn't cover, please feel free to email me.


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