It’s that time again – this year is coming to its end. We like to look back at the year because you can forget how much you learned and during that period. We also like to recognize our accomplishments, as well as identify needed improvements. We characterize 2016 as our year of learning on the farm.
2016 started on a sour note, with about half of our small flock of layers lost to predators. We implemented deterrents and learned about the importance of having a vigilant rooster (or two) to keep watch over the flock. We hatched 4 groups of chicks and learned about integrating new chickens into an existing flock. We processed roosters, treated injuries, and let a (surprise) broody hen hatch some eggs.
We started with a small group of Muscovies going into 2016, due to some predator losses. We were thrilled when the ducks began laying, and wanted to expand our flock. We had an unsuccessful attempt with hatching shipped eggs, and greater success with our own ducks’ eggs, hatching two groups of ducklings. We also had two ducks go broody and hatch two of their own groups. We end 2016 with a much larger group of ducks, especially since we added a Runner/Pekin family to the mix late in the year.
We entered the year with a single breed of rabbit (New Zealand). In our search for the “best” pasture rabbit, we expanded our herd by adding pedigreed American Chinchilla and Silver Fox rabbits, and our does produced full New Zealand and full Silver Fox kits, as well as hybrids of the breeds. We were very pleased with the kits’ growth and performance on pasture…and our pastures have never looked healthier!
To accommodate the new animals, we built a large duck coop during the scorching heat of summer. We also reconfigured and enlarged the roost in the chicken coop. We also added more ventilation to the chicken coop with a rabbit wire screen door. We built many rabbit tractors, too. We added motion-sensing solar lighting to the chicken coop and the barn so we’re not fumbling around in the dark when the daylight hours are shorter. We built pens, took them down, and rebuilt them for broodies and their young.
As we learned about incubation, we lost hatchings (some never got out of the shell, some emerged but had problems) and performed a number of “eggtopsies” to better understand what had happened. We lost a newborn kit to a nest box accident, others to unknown causes (we speculate that the first-time mother’s milk didn’t come in until a couple of days after the kits were born), a kit was stillborn, and a tiny runt died after a couple of days. We lost 4 laying hens to hawks last January, 7 juveniles in March, another layer to egg yolk peritonitis in September, and a juvenile pullet to a hawk in early December. Losses of layers is a significant setback because it takes at least 5 months from hatch for a pullet to begin laying.
Sadly, we also lost our favorite Muscovy duck, Coraline, to a hawk in late October. We will remember her fondly.
We continued to refine and hone our processing methods, acquire better tools, and fill our freezer with delicious rabbit, duck, and chicken. We attended our first farmer’s market as a vendor, sold out of our chicken and duck eggs, and met many great people who also appreciate wholesome, humanely-raised food.
We expanded our fermentation skills to include the most incredible sourdough bread (who wants to eat bland old store bread now?), fermented peppers, fruit wine, and beer – even the chickens and ducks started eating fermented feed. We harvested elderberries and mulberries from our property and made syrup and flavored water kefir. We made bone broth, used the slow cookers a lot, and realized that we really didn’t enjoy eating out anymore…and didn’t really miss it.
We ate better and more gratefully in 2016 than in any prior year.
Plants and Bugs
We didn’t get our raised garden beds in this year, but we are already planning for spring 2017 (and the lumber is just sitting in storage). We did, however, have an unplanned sunflower garden and small oat field that grew from the black oil sunflower seeds and whole oats we fed to the roosters that were in the chicken tractor; the ones they missed germinated, and the chickens and ducks enjoyed eating the plants later. We found a wheel bug and learned that they’re a sign of good pasture health. Soldier beetles, also beneficial insects, covered the sunflowers, which had been chewed up badly by aphids; we learned that even if a beetle is on a chewed-up sunflower, the beetle may not actually be the culprit.
Looking Ahead to 2017
We’re excited for the coming year. Ours plans include add larger livestock (pastured pigs, goats, and sheep.); installing the raised beds and planting heirloom and non-GMO vegetables and herbs; and continuing to develop our ideal pastured chickens, ducks, and rabbits. We’ll continue to learn and have happy days, as well as sad. We’ll get better at what we do, share what we’ve learned with others, and keep improving the health of our land.
To all of our friends: we hope that the new year brings you peace, good health, and truly meaningful experiences!