Chicken Feed

chicken feed

I love this picture. The grasshopper catcher is a perfect example of Necessity being the Mother of Invention. Insects are a great source of protein. Free range poultry fill up on grasshoppers keeping the pests under control. It's a seasonal feast, though. The pioneers solved this by catching grasshoppers in the hayfield and drying them for winter feed. This is just one example of alternatives to corn and soybeans.

Summer through fall our chickens, ducks and turkeys move through the pasture catching insects and eating greens. Take advantage this summer and send the kids outside with a net and a bucket. Let them catch bugs. Have them turn over rocks and look under logs. They'll find plenty to feed the chickens.

A couple of years ago I heard about the benefits of goji  berries so I planted some. They're full of vitamins but they taste terrible. Now, instead of using them myself, I dry them for chicken feed. Apparently the chickens don't mind the bitter flavor. Goji berries are easily dried and stored for year round use.

In certain areas of the country its not easy to buy small grains. Here in Iowa corn is king, followed by soybeans. Finding wheat is tough – no one grows it commercially in this area. There's no market for it here. Growing food plots gives the flock both exercise and superior nutrition. Plus, you'll have healthy eggs and meat. A food plot of small grains; wheat, oats, and barley inter seeded with clover and alfalfa provides a balanced diet when grazed green or cut and dried for winter feed. These plots are terrific for growing chicken feed.

This is the time of year to think about feeding the flock in the winter. Learn to sprout grains or grow fodder. The nutritional value of the two is quite different. In sprouted grains the white tap-root is full of enzymes. Once a green shoot develops the enzymes are lost to the sprout, but the green sprout is full of health qualities, too. Your hens will be healthier with the forethought.

And, if you'd like healthy meat and you're not raising poultry yourself we'd be happy to have you as a customer.

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Growing Oyster Mushrooms  (click on the main title above to see the beauty of these mushrooms)

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Keith and I decided that we were under utilizing the timber ground of this farm. We planned a few projects to re-connect us with the beauty of the forest. The first two projects were; tapping Walnut trees and inoculating logs for mushroom production.  At the time of year when we would normally be inside the house these projects brought us outdoors to enjoy the timber. This past winter we cut aspen trees for growing mushrooms.   In February we set up a production line to inoculate the logs.

Last March the inoculated logs were stacked on pallets in the timber.

This week we harvested the first mushrooms. We're growing both Grey Dove and PoHu Oyster mushrooms. Now that the mushrooms are growing the next step is to stand the logs up on end in a tepee fashion. These logs will actively produce mushrooms for the next few years.

We bought our supplies at Field and Forest Products   An added benefit of buying from them is that they sell certified organic mushroom spores.

Here's a great book to get you started; Organic Mushroom Farming 

 

 

 

 

 

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On an old oak stump in our front yard grew a Hen of the Woods mushroom. Keith would watch it grow and mature until it was the ready to pick. It was just about perfect.

We were sitting on the front porch when a car pulled up. The dogs were sleeping in the autumn sun, they didn't notice. The driver ran from the car, cut the mushroom, and drove off.

Apparently someone else was watching the mushroom, too. Keith walked around the stump in disbelief, “Who steals a mushroom?”

“Probably the same type of person who tries stuffing a goat into the hatchback of their car.” A few weeks earlier a nicely dressed couple tried driving off with our goat, Midnight and a few of the laying hens.

Poor Keith, I empathized with him. He'd been waiting to enjoying this mushroom for a long time.

Our neighbor, Mike watched the same car pull up to his ditch and cut weed stalks early each summer. One year he flagged them down to ask what they were cutting. What they thought were wild rhubarb stalks in reality was Burdock. Mike just smiled, shook his head and waved them on. He loved re-telling that story.

Here in Iowa folks park along the roadside searching for wild asparagus or morels. The asparagus seekers carry sharp knives and plastic bags. They walk along the ditches and fence rows searching the grass around utility poles.

For some reason the commercial morel hunters irritate me, they don't ask for permission, they're dropped off in an area to begin scavenging the timber and underbrush for saleable product. They wear camouflage and carry handheld GPS devices. Morel's bring a hefty price.

Growing mushrooms is one of our latest projects. We're growing Oyster mushrooms for fun.  Keith loves mushrooms. One year I bought him a shiitake growing kit which was fine, but about the difference between owning a plastic model of a Corvette or the real thing.

It was time for an up-grade, so this year we're growing two varieties of organic Oyster mushrooms; Grey Dove and PoHu.

Keith cut logs from dormant Aspen trees. Each log is about 3 feet long, 6 – 8 inches in diameter. There are about one hundred logs for this year's mushroom project. He used a special bit to drill the holes. Cookie inoculated the logs with sawdust spawn and then capped each with wax. The logs are stacked in the timber, when it's dry this summer we'll use a water tank to soak the logs. The first mushrooms should start growing within a few months. This first year's yield will be sparse, but should increase each season for many years.

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Tapping walnut trees!

Tapping Walnut Trees
Collecting Walnut sap

The local NPR station had a program about tapping trees. Michael Farrell, author of The Sugarmaker's Companion talked about collecting sap from different types of trees. Keith liked the idea of tapping walnut trees and birch trees to make syrup. The Black Walnut trees are abundant in our timber. After reading the book we became interested in the benefits of sap water as a healthful drink, so we're tapping walnut trees.

Keith and our local forester, Jeff  marked trees for tapping. Not wanting to ruin marketable timber, or veneer, the two of them selected twenty-six crooked or damaged trees for this first season's experiment.

The trees cover a larger area so tubing wasn't an option. Instead, collection bags hang from the taps. Walnut's have about the same brix (sap sugar content) as maple trees. The volumes of sap is less, though. Walnut sap is nutrient rich, slightly sweet, with a nutty flavor. It's power packed.

In other cultures tree sap is a valued health drink. Fresh sap is good for five days, after that it needs pasteurization and filtering. It will last indefinitely when it's frozen. To get the benefits throughout the year I'm freezing it in ice-cube trays and glass jars for later use.

Depending on how much sap we collect there might be enough to make walnut syrup, but with a sap to syrup ratio of 40:1, we'll see.

The sap runs for only about five-weeks each spring. Tapping walnut trees is just like tapping maple trees, walnut trees leaf out later than maples so the season might extend longer. When the walnut sap finishes flowing the birch trees are ready to tap. Birch flow starts later in the spring and runs until the trees leaf out.

Sugaring is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and spend time together.

tapping walnut trees
Collecting Walnut Sap

Winter Feeding

It was much easier MIG grazing; Just move the strand of wire while enjoying the sunshine. Now we're using equipment to unroll round bales across the snow. Next year we'll experiment with stockpiling forage for winter grazing. No equipment. No un-rolling. The plan is to plant endophyte free fescue for winter forage and supplement it with fodder.  We'll still put up small square bales of clover, orchard grass, and alfalfa, but if stock piling goes well, hay baling may become a thing of the past. Time will tell.