A few months ago, we had a predator issue at the farm. Some may have viewed it as a small catastrophe – at least the chickens certainly did. We were raising our laying hens in our ideal set up. We used a mobile coop that, once the automatic door opened, allowed the hens to be unencumbered and free to roam the pasture. We employed several practices to deter predators, but we chose not to put electric netting around the coop. This way, the chickens could roam further from their coop, supply their own fertilizer to more of the pasture, and scratch through more cow patties. When chickens break up cow patties, they end up killing the fly larvae in them, eventually reducing the fly population across the farm. A reduced fly population means that we don’t have to put fly powder on our animals. It also helps evenly spread the manure over the soil.
Well – we went out of town for a weekend, and our chore rhythm was disrupted. A day after we returned home, we came out in the morning to find that multiple predators (probably coyotes) had found the chickens. Almost half of our laying flock was killed in one attack, and we were devastated. Predator losses, even massive losses, are not an uncommon occurrence for people raising laying hens on pasture, but it is not acceptable and is it not sustainable. We kept going over what we had to do differently going forward. The remaining chickens were traumatized, and all but quit laying eggs. I can’t say that I blame them! We had to figure out how to strike a balance between the safety of the chickens and our ideal vision of pasture-raised laying hens.
It seems that some themes consistently pop up in my life, lessons that the universe presents to me over and over. Among them – humility (I will not be recounting those tales here, ha), time management (comment below in solidarity if you’re a lifelong procrastinator like me!), and this current idea of balance. I find that my kids are a great indicator of when our life is off balance. When I get caught up in doing ALL the activities and going to ALL the events – it seems that they always get sick! And then we are forced to slow down and IT IS HORRIBLE. I am so thankful for this new year, because as our farm grows and our kids grow, we keep getting busier but we also keep learning. I’m learning to take steps to consciously keep work, family, and social life balanced. Right now, I try not to commit to Friday evening events (my kids are tired and emotional after a week of school!) The other way that I try to create some semblance of balance every week is to slow down on Sunday afternoons, roast a chicken, and talk about the week ahead with Todd. It’s sort of like a Monday morning staff meeting – except totally relaxed and infused with plaid flannel. I also get the added bonus of an awesome dinner and versatile leftovers!
Our chickens, as routine and simple as they appear, keep us thinking. Todd likes to tell me that “the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps” – that our thoughtful observations and presence are absolutely the best things we can do for the farm. And yes, I made fun of Todd for being SUPER CHEESY when he said this, but I can’t deny that it’s stayed with me! In our current quest for balance, we finally decided to go back to electric netting. So far, we haven’t had any predator issues. We use two large nets to create a loop around the mobile coop and feeder, and we move the chickens to a new spot about once a week. They still have tons of room to flap and run, they still scratch through plenty of cow patties, and they still move around the farm. Even though it’s not exactly how we envisioned things, our old hens have stability and safety, and our new hens are thriving and laying eggs, and we are back to our previous production levels. As the new hens reach full maturity and lay more consistently, we will have more eggs and more availability for our egg route very soon! Our current egg customers have been so patient and I am, as always, blown away by the interest and support of our farming venture. We can’t wait to keep sharing the great things happening here!