The Blueness of Blu
Spring is a crazy, manic, hectic, insane, exhilarating, exhausting time on the farm. After the calm, quiet dormancy of winter, spring bursts forth with new energy, enthusiasm and excitement. And there is no stopping it! Once spring has sprung, the hamster wheel starts spinning and the pace just accelerates with ever-increasing speed.
We felt like we still had had a busy winter with so much planning and catching up, yet when one sees spring in nature, one only has to realise that nature has been busy too. Imagine the underground networks of mycelium, bacteria, micro-organisms, nutrients, and little insects rushing about, growing, preparing, extending, and suddenly expanding and bursting out into blossoms, buds, leaves, and a hive of activity.
If I had posted this last week, I would have described the exceptionally hot and dry weather we have had. Days have been over 30C which is unheard of for Midlands Spring! One of our REKO deliveries saw the temperature rise to 38C!!!!!! Madness!
Last week we had a sudden cold snap with heavy frost on two mornings. The frost was probably one of the heaviest we’ve had all winter! Unfortunately, this meant that all the green little buds and blossoms are back to being brown and dry. Our delicate little seedlings are all frosted and we have to start again. This is not only disheartening but very concerning since it means fruit blossoms may not fruit and everything is very, very dry again. On the weekend our fire danger index was 90/100!!!! If you moved too quickly it would start a fire!
When we first lived in the Midlands, cold and rain were exciting as it meant hot chocolate and fires… now we just worry about keeping animals warm and dry! If the rain patters on the roof or the wind whirls up during the night, instead of snuggling into the covers, we spend the night worrying or bouncing around new ways to protect our animals. This is farm life now! And there is no going back.
Our hive of activity started in the last week of August with the addition of 100 more laying hens and a rooster! This now brings our grand total to 168 chickens – 166 hens and 2 roosters to protect them.
The first week of September saw 250 fluffy yellow broiler chicks filling our brooder
A week later, 14 tiny pink sniffly piglets snuggled into the stable.
Our days have been chock-a-block caring for all of these new babies and settling them in. The broiler chicks need to be checked on every 3 to 4 hours, changing water, fresh food, making sure they’re at the right temperature as the ambient temperature goes up and down during the day. Ensuring everything is literally perfect for these chicks is essential in the first few days. If there is a slight drop in temperature, or the temperature is too high, or there is a breeze, or not enough air flow, it can cause developmental issues with detrimental effects. Even down to how the chicks access food and water – if they have to stretch too much, it can cause leg issues! They are very sensitive little bodies!
Last week we moved them out on pasture. It is always special to watch those first few days of exploration, stretching in the sunshine, dirt bathing, pecking at the grass, chasing bugs…
The new layers need to be encouraged to leave the coop every morning, to find the feed, and be coaxed back into the egg mobile at dusk. We start our mornings early with the first checks and feeding and end usually around 8.30/9pm with the last check. Errands, meetings, deliveries, feed collections, egg collecting, guest check ins and check outs, bookings, marketing, etc. all happen in between these tight windows – oh and part time day jobs! We are also bagging compost from a neighbour, prepping beds and planting. Fortunately, in terms of the busy schedule, we don’t have much to harvest at the moment. And this is just the beginning of the season!
So if you are one of those people eagerly waiting for a text or email reply from us, we apologise!
We buy in our layers at point of lay from a commercial hatchery. The broiler chicks are bought in from a commercial hatchery, a technically small private hatchery, but hatching at a large scale. The piglets come from a small scale farmer who breeds and sells piglets to supplement his income.
The scale that these places can produce hens/chicks/piglets means that the cost is far less than we could dream of to grow our own stock. The equipment we’d need makes it unviable for a small scale farmer, initially. The same with bought in feed – we cannot grow near enough to supply the needs of all of our animals just yet, and ensure they have a balanced diet. To supply 20kgs of layer feed alone per day is a tall ask. The broilers will consume close on 40kgs per day by 6 weeks old! Unless we buy in tonnes, the only option is to buy per bag. We are still cautious about where we source our livestock and feed from, aiming to find smaller guys within the commercial production line, and the best feed we can find. And we are always striving for better.
The game plan is still to get there, to get an incubator and nursery set up to breed our own layer and broiler stock, as well as farrowing facilities (not cages!) for pigs. This will only be the second season of our farm as functional and operational. And we are still very much teetering between farmstead and farm – growing for ourselves with surplus to sell as a bonus vs being a viable business! To be truly regenerative, that has to be in our business model.
It is a fine balance because us small guys still depend on the big guys for many of our inputs from seeds, to growing medium, to livestock, to feed.
With every animal that we buy in onto the farm, that is an input that one day we have to produce ourselves to be truly regenerative. It bothers us to buy animals in, yet we also know that they are technically being rescued too. That is 100 laying hens that weren’t bought into a ‘free range’ production house (at best!) or a cage-free production house … or worse. It is 250 broiler chicks that are not going to be raised in cramped, smelly houses. It is 14 pigs that won’t be raised in concrete-floored cages. Our animals will get to experience the sun on their backs, grass under their feet, forage, mud baths (for pigs) and dirt baths (for chickens). They will get to express their natural animal behaviours and instincts. The chickenness of chickens, the pigness of pigs.
You may remember Blu, one of in the piglets in our last batch, with blue eyes. A cheeky character, a curious nature, friendly and sweet. Our hope was to keep Blu long term at Bramleigh. We had wanted to breed with Blu. Unfortunately, many contextual complications meant that this would not be possible. To love her all of her days. Through the bitter tears, we knew that Blu would have been born anyway. But the fact that Blu got to live out her days here at Bramleigh, where she was loved, hugged, tickled, talked to, where she got to run in the grass, to wallow in the mud, to sun her full belly, to forage, to pick and choose what she wanted to eat, to plead with our favourite farmer for just a little more yummy scraps or milk or whatever was on the menu… this meant that Blu got to live a happy life. If her destiny was to be born anyway, then it could be said she was rescued from a far worse destiny that could have been hers. She got to live out the blueness of Blu.
And when we got our new piglets, one of them had blue eyes. Blu chose to come back to Bramleigh.
With this in mind, we have recently run an Adopt a Hen project where people can adopt a hen, paying for her feed, and receive free eggs every week from their own hen! We had a great response with 22 hens adopted for 14 weeks! The adoption fee covers the hens feed for 14 weeks. We will probably be running this project again after the 14 weeks if you’d like to join on the next round. We’ll deliver these eggs to Hilton, Howick, and Notties every week. As a thank you from us, we’ll throw in an accommodation discount so that you can come and visit your hen!
The more hens we can adopt, the fewer hens there are that have to spend their days in confinement!
So that’s all for now… time for the next checks. If you’d like to order, please check out these links: