There was a farmer who had a…worm?

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Ya you heard me. Worm. Or I guess I should say worms because I am starting a mealworm farm. Luckily mealworm farming takes up very little land. In fact it takes up no land at all and only uses a small plastic tub.

On the lists of things I thought I would do with my life worm farming definitely was not on it. But here I am 32 and farming chickens and worms. Actually the chicken farming has caused the worm farming because chickens are a gateway livestock. I don’t know if you have seen the best video ever of a woman warning you of getting backyard hens but she is hilarious and you must watch it because it’s true and you should be warned.

So worms. Mealworms. Chickens freaking loooooooooooooooooooooove them. I mean you can pretty much get a chicken to do anything you can think of if you promise it enough mealworms. Just kidding but wouldn’t that be awesome? I would have my chickens doing laundry and putting away the groceries – now I know what you are thinking. Chickens putting away the groceries? Won’t they poop on the floor? But that my friends is why they make these.

I just made your day didn’t I? All chicken diaper jokes aside mealworms are a great snack for your chicken. They are full of protein and they must taste delicious because the chickens just go completely crazy for them. But dang they are expensive. A big bag of them at Rural King sets me back almost $10.00! Yikes! And that doesn’t last me too long.

You only need to give them a handful a day to share among them but that adds up when you have 24 birds. Right now I am giving them dried mealworms but in the future once I get my own mealworm farm up and running they will get fat, juicy, fresh worms. There is nothing my Lady Loo’s love more then following behind me as I garden fighting over who gets the next fresh earthworm or grub I dig up.

I have everything I need to set up my mealworm farm except mealworms. Where the heck does one find mealworms? Bait shops? Field and Stream? Petsmart?  I have been searching high and low so if anyone out there knows where I can find me some mealworms. I would be much obliged.

What you need to start a Mealworm Farm:

+Some sort of plastic tub

+Bran meal for bedding and food (found at feed supply stores like Farm Target)

+something for moisture like a slice of bread, potato, or carrot

+some kind of small plastic container (like the lid of a to-go container or egg carton) for a pupa habitat within the larger storage unit

+some kind of stand to place your bread or potato to keep bedding below dry

How a mealworm farm works…

01. You put the meal bran down as bedding (there are other things you can use but this is what I am going with)

02. Place in your bread or potato or carrot preferably on top of something plastic to keep the moisture off the bedding.

03. Place pupa habitat within tub.

04. Put in the live worms.

05. Wait for them to do their thing.

It takes about 2 months for them to really produce more worms. Mealworms are the larva of the Darkling Beetle. What I love about this is that this is the science that Charlie is going to learn it in such a natural way. I love the way a farm teaches. It’s the best preschool I can offer to her.

Together Charlie and I will learn all about how the Darkling Beetles start off as eggs and we will separate our beetles from the eggs every two weeks or they might eat the eggs. I know all mothers can relate to that. The eggs hatch into tiny worms that grow into larger worms also know as the larva. This is what we feed the chickies.

But not so fast! We can’t feed them all to the chickens or we won’t have any new eggs. The trick is to save some and let them mature into the pupa and then the beetles, who lay more eggs, to hatch more tiny worms, to grow into more larger, plump delicious chicken treats.

Once a month Charlie will have to help me remove the worms and wash out the tub, replace the food and replace the worms and beetles to their rightful posts. She gets to learn animal care taking, life cycle, scientific definitions of pupa and larva, and responsibility. I love things that are a package deal.

Plus eventually the worm farming will be just Charlie’s job. It really only takes about 10 minutes a week and very minimal effort. It will save us a lot of money. We are The Happy Chicken Farm after all and happy chickens demand mealworms and mealworms a plenty.

If you or anyone you know has seen mealworms please contact me! Send wormy thoughts my way. They have to be around here somewhere…

 

 

Farm Girl Style: Vol II

I use to love this Hallmark line called Fresh Ink.  They were hilarious. Sadly, I must have been one of the only people to think so because they no longer make them. One of my favorite cards read:

“Wear cute boots. Cute boots make you feel like you can do anything

-that or kick it really hard…”

And I kind of have to agree. Boots instantly make me feel cool. As cool as a 32 year old stay at home mom turned chicken farmer can be…Sometimes I just can’t wait for summer to be over because I am SO excited to wear boots again. But I don’t want to wear my good cute boots when I do my farming and sometimes I need something more heavy duty then rubber. But they still need to be cute. I need the cuteness factor in my farming. It’s an important ingredient. Just like one must cook with love, one must farm in the cute.

It’s a rule. Write that down in your homesteading journal.

Plus I just keep picturing myself in a cute pair of skinny jeans, a flannel shirt, and some Timberlands only laced halfway up. Is that cute or weird? You know what? I don’t really care I think it’s gonna happen. Not the Timberlands. Don’t get me wrong I like them. I just don’t spend that kind of money on shoes and by I, I mean Ryan doesn’t let me, I.

You should start a go fund me page for boots for farmer Ashley. Then I would get the Timberlands. I don’t know why you are pressuring me so much to get the Timberlands. I’ll think about it ok?

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How adorable are these boots from Rural King? (Still need a go fund me page for these babies, goodness looking good in work boots is expensive business.) Makes me wanna put on a sundress and go to a county fair. You know you want to too. Mostly because we are all ready for it to be SUMMER?! Can I get a Mama amen?

We need summer. We need summer bad. Every day it’s nice enough I shove Charlie outside, tell her to breath as deeply as she can and we stay out as long as possible. Then she sleeps like the dead instead of rolling out of bed at 6:30 am. Wednesday we made it a record 3 1/2 hours outside. Woohoo! I love it.

It was seriously the sweetest thing. I was cleaning out the brooders, sweeping the garage, and cleaning out my disgusting car while Charlie was playing mama hen to all the baby chicks.  This little one went about picking up and rocking each little chick. She would quietly sing to them until each one was just a little piece of chicken putty in her hands.

Literally they would just lay belly up, eyes closed in complete and utter chicken contentment. This is why we are The Happy Chicken Farm. We sing and cuddle each chick- ok and we give them mealworms for treats. Chickens can’t resist a mealworm. It also gives them a nice little protein boost and I like to think the eggs have more protein. But I’m no scientist I would have to google that.

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What are you favorite things to cuddle? Do you snuggle your poultry too? Or perhaps you have cute boots. I like links to cute boots…

“Puppy” to be or not to be?

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I am not a dog person. At. All.  My first official job beyond babysitting was a pooper scooper at the local vet in my hometown. Everyday after school I would walk, thats right kids WALK. For all you millennials and younger out there who don’t know what I speak of let me explain…

walk
wôk
verb
  1. 1.
    move at a regular and fairly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once.
    “I walked across the lawn”
    synonyms: strollsaunterambletrudgeploddawdlehiketramptrompslogstomptrekmarchstridesashayglidetrooppatrolwanderrambletreadprowlpromenaderoamtraipse;

    Who does that now right? Walking to school? Borderline abusive these days.

    After I walked to work I would start taking out all the dogs that were staying in the back post surgery or boarding. There were four runs, you put one dog in each and then went inside to leave them to do their business. Dogs don’t like to be stared at when they do their business. It’s a private matter and I respect that.

    Back inside I would clean their cages, if they had surgery a lot of times there was vomit pawed across the entire space. I would put down fresh newspaper after sanitizing and then prepare their food and medication. Then I would go back out, get the dogs, put them back in the clean cage for them to instantly destroy it to their liking, and then go back out, scoop poop, spray down the runs, and bring out the next round of dogs. I usually worked 2-3 hours. Cats where smaller and usually less mobile if they had surgery and easier to manage. Plus have you ever seen a cat coming out of sedation? Hysterical. Does that make me a bad person?

    While this job was very interesting and I loved the people I worked with, animals who are at the vet are very stressed animals most of the time. Stressed animals are mean animals. The ones who could be aggressive were marked “careful” to get a “careful” dog out of the cage with a lead on is a very refined skill. You have to maneuver the lead without getting your hand in the cage within biting range.

    I never got bit hard but it definitely was wearing on me. I just started to just HATE dogs. By the time I was done working there I was over dogs. The hair, the slobber, the vomit, the licking, the biting, the growling, the weird anxious behavior,  the hair, the licking, the hair, did I mention the hair? There is so much hair. Why must animals shed? Why does animal hair bring out my inner Monica Geller? I don’t know the answers to these questions but dogs just weren’t/aren’t my cup of tea.

    My senior year, a few years after my tenure at the vet, my parents told me one night they planned on getting a dog. “I don’t want a dog.” I could tell they were thinking what kid doesn’t want a dog? Who has two thumbs and doesn’t want a dog? Thiiiiiiiis girl. I knew a dog meant chores and I wasn’t about to go back to poop scooping. Nah-uh. Not I.

    Parents- “You can’t play with the puppy or pet it if you don’t help.”

    Me- “Promise?”

    Game. On.

    I don’t think they thought I would be able to resist an adorable Golden Retriever puppy named Maggie but I did. I didn’t pet her, take her out, speak to, or really even look at her. We were two ships passing in the night. Except for her eating my shoes a couple of times I ignored her. I was uninterested and unimpressed with doggie breath and doggie kisses.

    Ryan has always wanted a dog. I never have. Cats? Oh yes! I love me some kitties. There was a time when we had four. Walter, Skippy, Kitty, and Tilly. Then Walter went all emo on us after we moved and he left. I’m pretty sure he went back to Urbana. He never adjusted to life on the farm. He was a city cat.

    Charlie has always wanted a dog. She talks about getting a puppy allllllllllllllllllll the time. She spent a good part of her third year of life telling people we were getting a puppy. Were we? Sure we are sweetie, sure we are…(I’m clearly patronizing her).

    Only after we watched my in laws dog this winter when they were out of town did my Elsa ways towards dogs begin to thaw. Murphy is little and extremely lovable. He makes these little snorts and grunts and they are just so stink in’ cute and then he just looks at you with his head tilted to the side and I just melt into a puddle.

    What has happened to me? Who am I? What is this farm doing to me?

    It’s time for a dog on The Happy Chicken Farm. I keep thinking about soft little puppies and snuggles but I am also trying to mentally prepare myself for more poop to clean up, one more thing to keep alive, and of course spending mo’ that money honey.

    So what are we looking for in a dog here at The Happy Chicken Farm?

    -needs to be great with kids

    -needs to be a breed that protects chickens (this is called a livestock guardian)

    -needs to be big (to be intimidating)

    -it needs to stay outside (I just can’t do it. We have a heated garage that is huge and nice. It’s like a giant doghouse complete with tv)

    So the breed I have settled on is a Great Pyrenees. They remind me of Labradoodles which is the kind of dog I would really LOVE to get but just can’t afford this time around.

    Some qualities I like about the Great Pyrenees:

    -they are a large breed 80-140 pounds (intimidating)

    -loyal and extremely gentle with kids

    -intelligent

    -safe to have with my chickens they will make it their job to protect them and the borders of the farm

    Some qualities I am not thrilled about in the Great Pyrenees are:

    -they can be stubborn and a little hard to train but that doesn’t mean they will be aggressive

    -barking can be a problem, especially at night since they are livestock guardians they are nocturnal by nature up to keep the flock safe and therefor barking at whatever they think might be a threat to their job

    -high maintenance grooming required they need about an hour of grooming  a week

     

    I at least feel mentally prepared for this and that my friends is half the mom battle. Now I just need to get a game plan and find some breeders. I know there are a lot of dogs already in shelters and believe me I would love to get a shelter dog but with chickens being my livelihood I just can’t risk getting a dog that will kill my ladies. There is no way to know if a shelter dog will be aggressive towards the birds and if they are one dog can take out 50 chickens in one afternoon easily. I have to train the dog and it needs to be a breed that is meant to be paired with the chickens.

    Do you have a dog? Give me all your doggie tips and tricks. Also do you know any Great Pyrenees breeders with puppies available or going to be available soon???

     

     

Farm Girl Style Vol. I

I love aprons. I use to wear them all the time and I have a huge collection of vintage ones but I never wear them anymore. So you know what? I’m bringing aprons back.

I decided that if I’m going to go full on farmer I need to look the part and I need to look cute. I’ve decided my farm girl style is going to be somewhere between hippie dippie mother earth and vintage- of course you knew the vintage part because you are smart and know me so well.

Are you having a hard time picturing what I mean? Allow me to share with you a few pictures that inspire my inner farm girl…

 

-Silkie Bantam Chickens-

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Guys I got new rubber farm boots with chickens on them from Farm Target!!! Oh I’m sorry Rural King, Farm Target is what I call it in my head because I can do about as much damage to our bank account in Rural King as I can at Target. True story. Sometimes I get banished from both places. It is an addiction that I fight.

Ok I’m kidding. I don’t fight it. I give in and get in trouble later. Usually it’s worth it but sometimes though I end up with something like a rabbit that hates his life and me…and then I think maybe I should listen to my husband at least sometimes. But don’t tell him I said that. We will let him find out if he is wise enough to read my blog…anyways…back to my story and Farm Targ- dang it Rural King…

I was really excited to find out that I already have a heritage breed animal on the farm! Two actually. Putin and Elsa my Silkie Bantam Chickens! I found them one day when me and Charlie went to Rural King for some chick feed. Obviously when I saw chicks with fluffy feet I had to have them. Duh.

Silkie chickens are what I had wanted all along because Tori Spelling had the cutest Silkie chicken ever on one of her many shows. It was the sweetest, fluffiest chicken I had ever seen and I needed a fluffy footed chicken. NEEDED. They are suppose to have great personalities. They are suppose to. That doesn’t mean when you go to Farm Target and you randomly pick up five chicks with fluffy feet against your husbands wishes that you will get a one with a great personality. Sometimes you get what you deserve.

And I got Putin and Elsa.

Really their names should say it all. Putin and Elsa? Fascist dictator and ice queen. Yeah pretty self explanatory but I’ll indulge your curiosity into the inner workings of The Happy Chicken Farm.

Much like the real Putin of Russia, our rooster is a bully who thinks he owns everything he touches. This coop? His. That patch of grass? His. The hens? HIS. HIS. HIS.  A lot like the real Putin. Everything in Russia? His. Crimea? His. Bashar al-Assad? HIS. Our Putin’s favorite activities also include a lot of crowing and chest puffing. I’m sure if he could ride a horse it would be topless.

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Elsa, poor Elsa, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. She is the smallest female and without the protection of Putin she is the victim of many injustices. She must watch her butt or it will literally get bitten -or pecked. She hangs back when I first bring out the treats or table scraps unless I throw some far away from the other girls. She won’t touch boo it until they have had their fill. But a pecking order is a part of a chicken’s life and someone has to be last.

Silkie chickens are suppose to make excellent mothers. Elsa’s sister, Anna, was always broody and trying to sit on eggs. That is unfortunately how she passed. She was sitting dutifully on her clutch of eggs and some predator got into the coop when Putin was out with the other ladies and I was gone. Only a trail of white feathers remained. Poor, poor Anna.

Elsa isn’t broody like her sister and I’m not sure if she is even capable of laying. She never started last year but sometimes Silkies can be late layers. Elsa is also my youngest chicken so that may have something to do with her not laying yet. White Silkies lay tiny cream colored eggs. They look like they should be filled with chocolate and placed gently in an Easter basket. I was really hoping to have some to use for Easter decorations but I don’t think any of my Henny Pennys are in the mood to lay eggs yet. A little more daylight needed. Soon enough it will be the needed 13+ hours of sunlight that chickens need to lay eggs. I cannot wait!

 

 

-Heritage Breeds-

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I’m a romantic and a foodie so that pretty much sums up my current obsession with heritage breeds of farm animals. Heritage breeds are the farm animals that would have been on the farms of the first settlers in America. They are hardy animals with a long history and natural bred qualities that help them endure. Heritage breeds are more disease resistant and have a better taste but they do not thrive in the mass market production of todays modern livestock farming. But who would thrive in those conditions? They are a disgrace just so that we can eat meat with EVERY MEAL on the cheap.

We do not need, nor do we deserve meat with every meal. We no longer appreciate the gift our food it is. It simply is there. We cover it in steak sauce and ketchup or we process it and add deadly preservatives to it. To keep prices down the conditions and life quality of the animals also have to go down.

Most of the meat you eat from supermarkets comes from animals who had no quality of life. They lived in terrible crowded conditions and probably spent the majority of their life in a state of stress which affects the health of the whole animal. Then they were pumped full of antibiotics to cover up all the symptoms and illness of the terrible treatment and then we eat them, well kind of, a lot of the time we throw them in the garbage too.

You aren’t going to throw your heritage pork in the garbage because there won’t be any left to. Also you will pay so much for it that you won’t want to waste it. But isn’t that how it should be? I mean an animal sacrificed its life so that you can eat it. Maybe if we pay a little more for our food we would be less likely to throw it out. There are people starving all over the world and we can’t learn to eat what we cook? That’s one of the reasons I love the life cycle of the farm so much. We don’t waste any food. If we don’t eat it one of the animals can will.

Heritage animals have to be raised on a much smaller scale then factory farming. They require space and the ability to forage and do the things that come naturally to them. They are bred naturally and raise their own young if possible. There is a real relationship between farmer and animal. To me this is the sacred part of farming. You are in trusted to take care of these animals while they are on this earth. We must have the integrity to treat them right. Just because they are going to die eventually doesn’t mean I do not engage with the animal or give it the best life possible it is all the more reason for me to.

Heritage breeds are also beautiful and most are endangered species. So why should we eat them? Well if they are being raised right, the strongest animals will be kept for breeding to continue a strong bloodline and the weaker animals are the ones you harvest. This is the balance of life. Eating them causes a demand for them which causes more people to raise them, causing more people to keep the strongest animals and continue on the species. Isn’t that beautiful?

Why are these animals endangered? Because there is no longer demand for them and so no one is raising them anymore. When you eat a turkey for Thanksgiving what you are most likely eating is called a Broad Breasted White. It has been bred so that you get maximum white breast meat on the cheap. The cost of this breeding? A weird looking fat chested bird that can’t fly due to its weight and cannot reproduce naturally. What are we doing to animals to supply our demand? We have removed ourselves so much from the farm  so that we do not have to think about where our food comes from or how it was raised anymore.We do not hold ourselves responsible because we choose not to see it.  We care about Cecil the lion but we do not care about the animals being inhumanely treated right here in America every day. We are a nation of hypocrites.

This has really become a passion of my heart. I am invested in making animals lives better and helping to educate people so that they can make better choices in how and what they eat. The only way to end the factory farming of animals is for the demand to go away. The only way that happens is when people like you and me to decide to support local farmers (or become local farmers!) providing alternatives instead. We have the power of demand let’s use it wisely.

So turkeys are going to be my next farm endeavor. Narragansett Turkeys to be exact. They are a beautiful heritage bird and I am excited to add another animal to the farm. My first heritage breed but hopefully not my last. I think I am going to start with 15 poults in May and they will be ready just in time for Thanksgiving. You can reserve your bird for $50.00, they will be 11-15lbs.

The dark meat on a Narragansett is darker and this turkey has a stronger turkey flavor then your average store bought bird. The breast is also smaller due to the fact that it is the natural size and the birds are able to bred naturally and raise their poults. My birds will roam the land eating all kinds of yummy things they find. This should be almost 90% of their diet but I will also give them an organic feed. Since I have read that store bought feed has low levels of arsenic.

Factory birds are fed arsenic in low levels because it makes them grow faster. The USDA will allow meat to be sold even if it contains arsenic with levels up to 0.5 ppm…yeah. Even though it is a carcinogen and know to cause health problems.  Say what?!?!? Again I ask where is the integrity as we raise our food?

So who wants a delicious heritage bird this year? Let’s be choose animals that have lead a wonderful  pasteurized life here on The Happy Chicken Farm and say no to factory birds together! Email me at TheHappyChickenFarm@gmail.com for more information…