“In spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
–Blue Beard’s Egg Margaret Atwood
I wanna dish about dirt today. Let me tell you right now you should be outside as much as possible. No excuses like work or other adulting crap. Get. Out. Side!!! There is no better medicine then the great outdoors. Literally. Research now shows that getting outside and breathing in the microbes from the soil actually has the same effect on our brain neurons as serotonin producing drugs like Prozac. There for dirt = medicine. Soul medicine.
Serotonin is a chemical the body produces to make it feel relaxed and happy. It is produced in the brain and in the gut. That’s it. Those are the only two places. So if you have depression and gut problems they go hand in hand. You’re welcome. You are having issues because your body is depleted of serotonin and it is going to try and get it wherever it can therefor starving your brain or gut of the serotonin it needs to function correctly. Serotonin deficiency can also cause problems with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, and bipolar disorders.
I know a lot about this because I have obsessive compulsive disorder. When I first started to notice the benefits of gardening and working in the yard I thought it was the action keeping my mind occupied but the more I research OCD and the science behind this “nature deficiency disorder” the more I was convinced that it was actually my body producing more of a much needed chemical- serotonin.
Some research is showing that depression could be linked in part to anti inflammatory disorder. Allergens trigger an inflammatory response in the body by activating immune cells to suppress the allergic reaction. So how does dirt help any of this?
The soil is full of good things like microbes and bacteria or maybe microbes are bacteria I’m no scientist. But the soil is full of it and this good guy bacteria called mycobacterium vaccae. This guy powers through the soil up into your nose hole down into your lungs and releases the same effect on yo brain as Prozac. True story. Or it can get into your blood through cuts on your hand.
You can even eat it off a carrot or some greens. That’s right we have literally taken the happy out of our food. We use so many pesticides and disgusting not necessary things in our food that we can not eat it with out washing it. And then we wash off all the happy. It just goes right down our drain.
Then we sit around, eating more crap, wondering why we feel so depressed and unhappy. I didn’t really understand the benefits of being outside until I lived in Germany. In Germany to keep a child indoors all day is a sin. They go out no matter what the weather. Rain or shine. Snow or sun. You dress for the weather and you stay out. Every. Day.
At first I heavily resisted this. In all forms. Biking 10 miles round trip to shop. Hiking flipping mountains. I don’t get it. I mean I do because it’s beautiful but if you want to hate you life then let your friends convince you to hike down Hoch Reiss because its super easy and will only take 30 minutes. And by that they mean it will take 3 hours and you will crawl to the bathroom the following day because that is as far as your body is able to make it. Eventually I became so accustomed to the “I’m going to make you climb a mountain to see what kind of girlfriend you are” move that I was actually starting to like it a little. Very little but still a little.
And those bike rides? Began to love how my booty was looking so I put that on the positive side too and liked it a little more. And when it came to my job as an aupair nothing could wear three kids out fast then fresh air. Knocks them out. Positives. Positives. Positive. Yeah, so I didn’t like the great outdoors. Except heres the thing. I didn’t like it until all of a sudden I did. The trick with getting outside is realizing it’s one of those things that seems like it isn’t going to be worth the extra effort to fit it into our agenda but the research is in my friends and it’s SO is worth your time to fit in. Soon you too will be addicted.
Join me this summer in making a family pact to get outside a minimum of 3o minutes. I’m going to call it the #mydirty30journey. It is as simple as this get outside for 30 minutes every day and get dirty. Take a hike. Work in the yard. Breath deeply and acknowledge that this time is important.
Then take a picture and post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the #mydirty30journey so we can all inspire each other this summer to get out. On our lunch breaks, after dinner, or whenever we can squeeze it in because it is as easy as that. Get dirty and breath deeply. Secret of life? Possibly so.
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…
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…
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: stroll, saunter, amble, trudge, plod, dawdle, hike, tramp, tromp, slog, stomp, trek, march, stride, sashay, glide, troop, patrol, wander, ramble, tread, prowl, promenade, roam, traipse;
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.”
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
-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???
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…
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…
Some dreams are ambiguous. The beginning is fuzzy. You can’t recall the exact moment it starts they just ease into existence. But other dreams, big dreams usually, you can go back to the moment they started over and over again. That is how chicken farming was for me. It was a dream that was born late one Friday night, pregnant and sick watching food documentaries on Netflix.
Maybe it was the hormones but the cruel treatment of even “free range” chickens for eggs and meat broke my heart. It was no life to live. Chickens thrive on foraging. Scratching and pecking for a little bug or grub, taking a glorious dirt bath, and of course finding the perfect hangout spot and hanging with friends are all important parts of chicken life.
Chickens cannot achieve this life if they are in a cage with 8 other chickens and only enough room to turn around. Chickens poop a lot. True story. Which is great if they are running around your lawn fertilizing it for free but terrible if they are trapped in a tiny cage pecking at the ground where they and 7 other chickens are pooping. This means they are eating poop, breathing in poop, and then having to be pumped full of antibiotics in order for the poop not to make them sick. An egg is only as healthy as the bird it came from. Still want to eat those store bought eggs?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against antibiotics. Sometimes animals get sick and they need them just like you and me. I am not going to let my animal suffer just so that an egg is antibiotic free. I am going to fix my animal but I have had chickens for a year and not one time have I needed to use antibiotics. Tiny shock collars for not leaving the yard and crossing the road- yes. Antibiotics? No. Not so much.
So, after that Netflix binge I decided that I wasn’t going to put up with it. I was going to have chickens and raise my own farm fresh eggs. Maybe I would even go super farmer and raise meat chickens. Or get really crazy and get a pig- or maybe two pigs so that someone else could buy the second pig and then pay for my pig at processing time. Well then I would need some land and if I was going to get some land I was going to need a tractor too and before I knew it I was going to be a farmer.
I think when I first said I was going to have chickens my husband just kind of laughed and was like ok and lovingly (or was it patronizingly?) patted me on the head. Then three years later when I came home with five chicks he was livid but still in denial. And then when I came home with five more he was starting to realize there was no stopping me. He might as well embrace the chicken. But you know what? The ladies won him over because chickens are awesome.
Chicken watching is therapeutic. If you have a long, hectic day there is nothing more relaxing then pulling up your lawn chair and watching your birds. They do silly things, they love a treat, and they are always exploring, and establishing “pecking order”. They are friendly and even our cats love them. Thats right our cats love our birds and I don’t mean the taste.
Our barn cat Tilly is like a sheep dog when it comes to chickens. She goes with me every day to feed them. She keeps the rooster, Putin, in line because just like his name sake he can be a bully. She watches over the baby chicks and will even jump into the brooder with them. You would think a cat, especially a wild one, would eat them but she doesn’t. She loves them as much as me.
What I love the most about chickens though is what they teach my daughter Charlie. We practice counting by counting baby chicks. She learns where food comes from and seasonal eating by collecting the eggs. It teaches her responsibility and gentlness by feeding and caring for them every day. She is engaging with the world around her and learning to have empathy for other living things. Basically it encompasses my world view of living simply to live fully and the kind of lifestyle I want her to create when she is grown.
So why do I chicken farm? I think you could say because I was meant to. I am the steward of a gift. I get to watch over these funny, friendly ladies and take care of them and in return they feed my family delicious, golden yellow yoke, nutritious eggs. It is a great trade off. Especially with an egg shortage going on. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Been on the fence about chickens? Get one. We can make a difference one chicken at a time together.
Or you can chicken farm vicariously through me…all good options.