The New Farm (starting from scratch)

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I always have good intentions.  I spent the winter learning everything I could about Permaculture and how to incorporate it into our new farm.  I was on fire about it!  The inner garden we did not dig.  We piled on six inches of straw.  To plant I opened up part of the straw along rows to fill in with organic garden soil and plant in that.  The beds will stay well mulched.  The new garden soil will be covered around the plants as soon as they are up and strong.  Eventually the whole garden will settle in and each year we will just add new layers of soiled straw and leaves and let the years work themselves into great soil.

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I saved boxes all winter and threw them into the garden.  Once they were all broken down they sure didn’t cover much space between the beds.  The weeds are peeking around it.  I would need a lot more boxes, and a box cutter to cut them to size, and a lot more patience.  More straw, I think, is the answer for the remaining paths (that is my answer to everything).

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Then I looked out upon the large pumpkin patch we are creating.  It will be a Three Sisters garden complete with five different kinds of pumpkins crawling along the ground and three different heirloom beans climbing organic sweet corn stalks.  The grass is now thick and I am sadly lacking in time or cardboard boxes.  I think we will have to rototill.

The thing about Permaculture is one starts slowly.  Creating one bed at a time.  We now farm for a living.  I have a half acre of vegetables, fruit, and herbs to finish getting in.  I don’t have time to build raised beds for ridiculously long rows of pumpkins or wait six months for a lasagna garden!

I won’t be able to do the whole farm in Permaculture this year.  Some lessons are best taught over time.  Long, windy initial rows will be rototilled into the never before planted area of the yard.  I will add aged horse manure and gardening soil and plant.  I will mulch well.  We will have a good comparison between the inner no-till garden and the traditional tilled rows this year.

Next year I hope not to have to till.  I will keep working up and adding layers of compost.  This year though, we will just do what we know, pray for Mother Nature’s blessing, light the candle for San Isidro (the patron saint of farming), and enjoy all the blessings that come from our humble patch of rented land.

Thank goodness it is spring.

Farm Days (goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and trucks)

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Our little snow globe over here is thick with fog and freezing drizzle this morning.  Hopefully it will burn off soon.  We have a very large space of pasture that we are fencing in.  It has five rows of barbed wire around it, it just needs to be sectioned off from the rest of the ten acres but this goat and sheep mama is rather paranoid.  Coyotes!  Lambs and goat kids escaping!  It wouldn’t be hard.  My old greyhound will skirt under the wires if he feels the need to run five miles.  So pasture fencing will surround the space giving the adorable ruminants room to spread out and more grass to eat.

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feeding time

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This is the last week that the babies get bottles.  I am not sure who will be more devastated, the lambs or Maryjane!  She considers it her farm work.  As soon as we pull into the drive, scarcely awake from her groggy nap down fifty minutes of country roads, she jumps down and starts jabbering away about lambs and milk and bottles.  Nothing the untrained ear would understand, but I can see her excitement.  We may have a new baby next week from our friend’s farm, our own goats are due here in a few weeks and there will be plenty more bottle feeding opportunities for our mini-farmgirl!

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We are getting ducklings this week and today we pick up our farm truck.  Good thing since we need fencing!  This fog makes me want to join the cats though.

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Time to throw back another cup of joe and get to my farm chores.  I leave you with a lovely quote and a wish for a joyous day!

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How To Plant an Orchard (with adorable farmers)

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I had an adorable work crew yesterday on Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  Our mission was to plant trees.  Apple, plum, and apricot trees to be exact.

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“Can we climb the trees?” the younger ones asked.

“Maybe your kids will be able to climb the trees!” I responded.

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That certainly seemed a long time away for my young farm hands.

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We live on the property with our landlords, us in the little, old homestead that was built here one hundred and ten years ago.  They are sweet enough to let us farm this property.  We would like to stay here a very long time.  Trees will outlive me and give future generations something wonderful to eat.  These children have decided to eat all the fruit available in the meantime!

“When will there be apples?” they asked.

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The young man pictured above is Will, the son of our neighbors here.  His older sister and husband are here for spring break with their four darling boys.  They are full of fun and energy and a fair amount of humor.  “Hello Mr. Rogers!” they shout as Doug walks by.  “Sanders!” he corrects. “Hello Mrs. Sandra!” to me.  Shyanne and I couldn’t stop laughing at the kids calling Doug Mr. Rogers.  Thoughts of my favorite childhood show in mind.

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Maryjane was in heaven with this many little boys.  She generally stays very close to me, often wanting to be held, but yesterday she wanted to be near the boys.  She walked down our porch and boldly out the gate.  She tried to get them to come back with her.  At one point she was in a large dog kennel with them.  She was completely enamored with these older boys.

To plant trees:  This is a perfect time of year to plant trees.  They are still sleeping and when they wake up next month they will stretch their roots and begin to grow and thrive.

Dig a hole about 18 inches by 18 inches to start.  That very well may be big enough for the trees but you could always make it bigger.  Make sure there are no electrical lines beneath you!

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Then fill the hole half way with water.  This lets you see how fast the water drains.  One of the holes we dug didn’t drain even after two hours so we filled it back up and dug a hole four feet from it and it was perfect.  By watering the hole you are also putting in moisture for the new trees.

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Will and Doug took Maryjane back to Elizabeth when her mom got off work and headed to our favorite nursery to pick up the trees.  I love to support local business and families in the community and Holly Acres in Elizabeth is a great source for plants at a very fair price.

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Stand tree upright in the hole and fill hole half way with organic garden soil.  Then top with the soil that was initially removed from the hole. This allows the pile of dirt to nestle around the neck of the tree and adds a little extra nutrition for the roots.  Don’t put compost on yet as it will burn the sleeping tree.  We will put some compost on in June.

Draw a ring around the tree a foot away from the trunk and fill the little ravine with water.  Mulch with straw or wood chips.

Keep watered year round to ensure a healthy start!

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An Ordinary Day on the Farm

A new day.  I breathe in the fresh air with thanksgiving.

Photo by Emily Sanders

Photo by Emily Sanders

Today’s to-do list:

Pick up granddaughter so she can play at Grammie and Papa’s house while Mama is at work.

Dig big holes in four places and plant fruit trees.

Check on seedlings.  Move larger pots if they are not getting enough sun.

Remove debris from garden.  Five young volunteers are coming Saturday to help me design garden beds.

Bottle feed lambs three times today.  Rough work.

Take goats for a walk.

Spend time with my daughter, Shyanne, who has just moved back home.  It is delightful to have her here.

Reminisce a bit and light a candle for my best friend, Nancy, that died a year ago today.

Embrace the sunshine.

Mail my book to the person that ordered it.

Play with kittens.

Kiss my husband.

I love this lifestyle!

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Smooth Transitions (full time farming and shhing oneself)

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I sat outside in the sun trying to shake the winter chill from my bones.  The meadowlarks sang gloriously as the frogs droned on.  The red winged black birds flitted and barked and the robins demurely looked for worms.  Green sparks cover the land and spring has come.  I started over two hundred pots of seeds, large and small, over the last two days.  I felt an urgency this year.  In past years I may have missed the window of opportunity and had a late start on vegetables and harvest but this year, as a full time farmer, I knew I needed to get these things done.  It is almost time to plant cold crops here and the gardens are not ready.  This will be a busy spring. Busier than usual.

The remaining phone calls trickled in and were diverted to the new owner of my apothecary.  Facebook messages came rolling in and the business stayed exactly the same without me.  For a moment, I thought, “Wait!  I messed up!  I didn’t mean to sell it!”  But of course I had, it was time.  I have long known that a change was coming, a breath of something different, and I am embracing it.  Then I thought, “What if I don’t even know how to farm?!  What if I can’t grow anything?”  I had to shhsh myself.  As I watered the new seedlings and lined them up in the cold frame, I knew I had started my new life.

The most difficult part about change is that we are such creatures of habit.  I am an herbalist.  I have an apothecary.  I make medicines.  Well now I am just an herbalist that makes medicines and teaches.  I am a full time farmer now.  It was odd seeing the apothecary go on as if I had never been there but that is how life is, ever revolving, ever moving.  As I am.

When you first make that change, out of a relationship, into homeschooling, out of a job, into a move, the initial response is always, “Wait!  I didn’t mean to do that!”  It is normal and one must just take a breath in and have faith.

The first time you use your new moniker, you will feel like a sham.  The first time I told someone I was a model, a dance teacher, an herbalist, now a farmer, I felt like I was exaggerating, but soon it becomes second nature and it does indeed become your title.

I encourage folks to be brave, have faith, and live life as full as possible, to chase those dreams and not settle into a life of stress and hardship.  It is amazing to see the results.  Life is so full of promises and opportunities.  If you have a passion for something in your heart, is a sure-fire sign that you are to pursue it.  Have fun!  And only feel like an imposter for a moment, life is whatever you make it.

Choosing a Garden Design

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It’s been a long time since I had a blank slate.  I am staring out at the fenced in garden.  26×30 sized plot, no beds.  The porch longs to be filled with pots of greens.  The side field will become a pumpkin patch.  Fruit trees will be off of the porch.  The big blank garden space needs life.

We have made the very possibly crazy but incredibly giddy decision to jump ship into full time farming.  Oh the excitement!  But, that means I have a quota in my head of how much produce I need to sell, how much I need to feed us, our intern, our friends, and for events, plus have enough to preserve for the winter.  That kind of glazed over expression sneaks up and I grab another cup of coffee.

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I read that circles are the most space savvy way to farm.  How do you find things to border circle slightly raised beds?  I don’t have that many rocks.  My friend recommended a hexagon.  Doug was explaining how much square footage was in a circle bed verses a square.  “Well,” he says, “If pi equals….then the bed would be…..minus the path…”  He sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown.  wawa..wawa..wa.  Uh, what?  I am not a math girl.  I could be if I wanted to but I was daydreaming about swirly twirly paths of herbs and water features and the new Asian greens bed I am planting.

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I am going to create this plot in a permaculture fashion.  No rototiller, no digging.  I will outline the beds with rocks, bricks, wood, whatever I can find around and fill them lightly with compost and amended soil.  That will be the basis of my planting.  Two tons of wood chips are on my wish list.  Alas, my daughter has my truck.  Lisa told me to call the utility company.  It’s on my ever growing list!

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But outside of the no digging, building up theory I am stuck in my ways.  I like the look of long rows of potatoes intermingling with garlic and collard greens.  I saw some photos of permaculture farms that do garden that way so I shall too.  I may make it a bit more creative though.  Maybe the lines of the long beds will be a little wavy, like little rivers of vegetables heading down the garden.  A water feature in the middle will add beauty and a water source for visiting bugs and birds.  A handful of arbors will create a walkway to the water feature, yard long beans, squash, and morning glories scampering up their sides.  I can fit 600 square feet of plants in with 1 foot paths minus the water feature area and the walk way.  That’s the kind of math I can understand.  I am so ready to plant.

Spring fever’s got a hold of me!  Would y’all mind checking out my new website for the farm?  Let me know what you think. I am most ridiculously proud and enthusiastic for the next person to ask me, “So what do you do for a living?” “Me? I’m a farmer.”

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http://pumpkinhollowfarm.net

Ending an Era to Make Dreams Come True (full time farmer and The Homesteading School at Pumpkin Hollow Farm)

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I write a lot about following dreams, taking chances, and working to bring goals to fruition.  It never fails to amaze me how when you start walking toward your dream, the doors naturally open and some close.  The universe conspires to bring everything into alignment, or “Everything works together for the good of those who love Him.” Romans 8:28.  I am sure there are passages and sayings such as these in every culture and in many circles.  It is a fact that if you so desire something and start putting it out there that you want that goal, you will achieve it.  Passions are put in our hearts for a reason and I view them as a guide map of where my journey ought to go.

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Five years ago when Doug left his city job with the comfy pay and benefits and I closed my dance company so that we could go peddle Echinacea at markets with three children at home, it was scary.  How many bottles of medicine would we have to sell to survive?  But we took that leap of faith.  A shop came available.  The money appeared.  The customers came.  The shop closed.  The customers doubled.  For six total years we have had the great pleasure of meeting and helping literally thousands of people.  We have learned and dreamed and succeeded.  And now the few we have whispered to our crazy idea wonder why we would close a perfectly good business that brings in a good amount of income.

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I teach.  It’s what I do.  I stayed in at recess in second grade to teach younger kids how to read.  I taught modeling while I was a model.  I taught acting classes.  I taught dance classes.  I teach herbal classes.  I teach homesteading classes.  I want to teach and farm full time.  Well, with this lifestyle when I say full time I mean enough to get the bills paid and then spend some time in a hammock or writing!

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I have a strong passion for teaching people how to empower themselves with plant medicines.  To not be fearful of diseases in the news.  To not be afraid of broken wrists or high fevers.  Knowledge that was lost must be found and redistributed!  I want to teach all about herbalism.  If there is an underlying worry that the student will become my competition then I cannot be a proper teacher.  If I have to keep all of my tried and true recipes top secret then what good am I doing?  By closing my Apothecary I will be a far more effective teacher.  I also lowered the price of my classes.  I combined the additional Master’s class into the Certified Class for the price of the latter.  A much more comprehensive course at a reasonable price.  Our school is superior to many of the others.  I know this because I have had interns from other schools who knew nothing about practical uses of herbalism.  But I lowered my price to make it more accessible.

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I have a strong passion for homesteading.  I love the freedom of it.  I love having the option to go watch the sunset, then come in and make supper, after I play with the goats, and plant a few more kale seeds.  I love that we can live on a small enough number that it is somewhat easy to get the bills paid and still have plenty of time to be together and play and enjoy our farm.  I love teaching homesteading classes.  Because the second you teach someone how to can, you open up a whole new world of affordable, healthy eating.  If someone can make their own soap, they eliminate the need to purchase expensive soaps and do not need to worry about skin conditions and irritation.  Teach someone how to farm, and they don’t need to depend on the grocery store so much.  Teach someone how to do any of the skills I offer classes for and they save money and are more easily able to attain their goals.

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I have a strong passion for farming.  The soil on my fingers, caterpillars slinking by, birds singing, bees on the flowers near, providing food for myself and others.  I love the animals.  I love this life.

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In the summer I am often too busy to really enjoy any of it.  We do farmer’s markets all week, we make a year’s worth of medicines, we answer phone calls and emails, we fill product, we ship, we wild craft and harvest enough for the year, we preserve all of our own food.  Now we will be getting most of our own wood.  We have a larger space to farm.  We have more animals.  When do I have time to really pursue farming and teaching when I am so busy with the Apothecary and basic homesteading?

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Something had to go and it wasn’t the chickens!  So, June 1st I am closing my Apothecary.  I’ll still be around to help people in a pinch.  I can still work on a sprained ankle or have some salve on hand.  But the retail side will be gone.  I am going to really promote my classes, which will be the make or break of this crazy idea, and I will farm with all my heart and spirit and physical ability.  Doug by my side.

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And when you put something out there, listen.  As the wheels of the goal start turning and coming into being you will be able to feel if you are on the right path by how much resistance comes your way.  Yesterday, a gal that runs a market in Elizabeth asked me to come each week and teach a small class or demonstration and promote my school.  For free.  I had the best talk with my intern from last year who resides in New York.  He’s coming out for two months this summer to help us get this thing in full swing.  I’m on fire, folks!  I am so excited.

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One always thinks of the worst case scenarios which hardly ever come up.  What if we need to make more money? (get a part time job or sell something else)  What if a storm wipes out the gardens?  After any storm in life we get up and start over knowing that only good can come out of difficulty.  But life is short and dreams are big, so we may as well start following them now.  I have no doubt that come summer this blog will be reflecting that dream come true.

Now, it’s your turn, dear reader.  Write out that dream or goal, no matter how big or small.  Details, people!  Get it all out.  Now, are you really ready for it to come true?  You wouldn’t want to block your own goal!  Now, place it in the responses so that the wheel can start turning.  It’s going to be an exciting year!

Choosing Farm Animals (no alpacas this time…)

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We went over to Sylvia’s farm Sunday afternoon.  The day was warm and sunny and her alpacas were wandering happily about their pens.  Sylvia was a gracious host and went over again everything we would need to know after taking the two alpacas home that she had generously offered us.

They are very cute boys.  Buddy is small and fluffy and his friend, Carmello, looks like a camel.  Their fleece is lovely and they didn’t kick me or spit at me.  They did immediately head away from anywhere we were.  That is how alpacas are.  I don’t know if I thought these alpacas would be different.  They would run up to me and want their noses rubbed and a hug around the neck.  They aren’t mean but they aren’t really friendly either.  A little newborn kept nibbling at my shirt and was absolutely adorable but would skitter away as I turned around.

We thought it through, we planned.  We decided.  Not this year.

Our Lady of the Goats

When I write something on this blog and set it out into the universe it starts spiraling.  It starts manifesting.  And my dream for this year is Doug’s as well and we are going to make it happen.  (Look for the full scoop later this week!) but for now, our entire income will hinge on the success of our Homesteading School including the Certified Herbalist arm.  Farm tours and interns, vegetables, milk shares, eggs, lots of folks coming to the farm.  The aura of the farm needs to match our intention.  Having families come tour our homestead is always a delight for me.  I love how excited the kids get when they hold a docile chicken or play with Elsa, the uber friendly goat.  When they talk non-stop about bottle feeding goat kids or kitty “hunting” (can you find all nine in our house?).  If we had terrified animals in the back corner…well that doesn’t really fit in.

I am getting two lambs next month that will be bottle babies to make them tame and I will try my fiber fun with them and if I love it, I can always get an alpaca next year to add to the fiber animals but in the meantime, we need more of a petting zoo environment, I think.  A good experience for kids (and adults) to hold onto when dreaming of their future farms.

Keeping Chickens (glamour, ew, green eggs, and opera singing)

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It was my turn to see if there was an egg stuck.  Ew.  If you didn’t read The Embarrassed Chicken and need a laugh, you ought to check it out.  That was Doug’s turn.  So, I found a produce bag because we didn’t have any gloves and went in to see what was the matter.  Oh, the glamours of chicken farming.  There was not an egg stuck but I do not know how far up you are supposed to reach!  Her vent was swollen and she seemed to be clogged but I couldn’t find anything.  So, we stuck her in a pot of warm water.  See if we could soften things up a bit.  She laid there like it was a hot tub and she’d had a hard day hiking, or fending off boys.  We took her out and put her in a warm corner of the coop.

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Daffodil was one of our last three chickens from our original flock.  She laid eggs religiously for three years.  She was tired.  I had read that chickens lived twelve years.  Seeings how Doug and I are not really the ax wielding, chicken beheading types, we figured we’d see these girls for a long time!

Daffodil and Peep, two of our first chickens.

Daffodil and Peep, two of our first chickens.

My friend Sandy’s chickens (she and Bill are not really the ax wielding, chicken beheading types either) lost almost all of their three year olds last year.  Just dead, face down in the dirt.  Sandy commented that she understood now why the farm women in the past culled two year olds in the flock.  You didn’t want to waste meat and if you waited too long you’d find them dead!

Daffodil lay on her side, barely breathing, her feet sticking out.  We moved her to the rabbit hutch because Owl wouldn’t stop humping her.  Teenage boy chickens, I tell you…

She died overnight.  We had known something was wrong because she was floofed up, sitting in corners, head down, eyes glazed.  But what exactly was wrong could have been anything from being constipated, a virus, or old age.  ‘Tis the life of a chicken.  She had a pretty good one here though.

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On a positive note, we have an interesting chicken.  I had looked at the local feed stores to see if they would get Olive Eggers but did not see them on the list.  The next day we had an egg in the coop that was a beautiful olive green.  The green against the blush, beige, blue, and chocolate colored eggs was breathtaking.  Our own Easter egg hunt each day.  Reeses, who was assumed to have been an Araucana like her sisters, must be an Olive Egger.  Does anyone know?  She is very friendly as well as showy.

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And our final surprise was when Owl started crowing alongside Christopher Robin.  There is a lot of opera singing going on around the chicken coop!

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Ups and downs and ins (ew) and outs, having chickens is fun, entertaining, sometimes sad, mostly fabulous work.  And the dozen plus eggs we are getting each day isn’t a bad reward!

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How Much Do You Feed Chickens?

I think I was starving my chickens.  I am not proud of this.  Further reason that this blog serves as a place to educate folks on exactly how-to because I can never find the answers on these things until it hits me in the face!

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So, when we first got our chickens, we had eight.  Three or so scoops two or three times a day to spoil them, lots of scraps, running around the yard, they were all set.  We lost some, got some more, now at fifteen, upped the food ration some, everything seemed good.  Lost some, gained some, now we are at twenty-four as of last August.  Upped it a little (now at nine scoops a day, probably the equivalent to a cup and a half a scoop) and that is when I noticed as the girls (and rooster) got bigger over this autumn that they seemed more desperate.  We blamed it on our move, then their molting.  We noticed that the gate kept being opened to the chicken yard.  We asked the neighbors, no one had touched it.  We put a cinder block in front of the gate, they moved it.  They meaning twenty-four hysterical birds.  They did indeed descend from dinosaurs.  Velociraptors, I think!

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I began to ask around how much should we be giving the chickens.  They stopped laying eggs all together.  They didn’t look emaciated, but they certainly weren’t happy.  Sandy and Lisa both just fill up the feeders in their coops.  Doug said the chickens will go through it in one day!

“Then they were hungry!” was Sandy’s smart reply!

So, he filled up the two foot high feeder.  And it was half gone the first day.  But since then it has leveled off and we were indeed starving our chickies and we feel terrible about that.  Sandy also mentioned that throwing out a bowl full of scratch daily is added protein and food.

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We read several articles and books.  None of them ever mentioned just filling the feeders up.  In fact, I have read that you don’t free feed because they will just eat and eat and eat.  I also read that you don’t keep a heat lamp on or they get “weak” and that if the power went out on a cold night they wouldn’t be used to it and would die.  I have read all sorts of things, but here is the conclusion that this farmer has come up with.

Henry Higgin's replacement.  Meet Christopher Robin.  Let's hope he's nicer than Henry!

Free feed.  Particularly in the winter, without being able to run around and find bugs and such.  They need more food in the winter to keep warm.  They produce eggs for me which is food to me.  They deserve fresh water, treats, and plenty of food.  They deserve a red light in the coop.  It was negative twenty-two degrees last night.  We turned on the lamp!  They may not be pets in the sense that the cats are, but they are still in my care and on my farm and should receive the exact same care and treatment as the indoor animals.  I free feed the cats and dogs, why not the chickens.

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I hate learning farming lessons the hard way but then at least I can help out a new chicken person when they ask the internet, “How much do I feed my chickens?”