Chckens vs. Tall Grass

Chickens like short grass and do poorly in tall grass. I can see this as I mow the pasture, because the chickens get excited about the foraging prospects of the newly mown swath, rushing around excitedly looking for bugs and yummy young plants revealed once the tall grass has been cut.

Grass has few calories but lots of vitamins and protein. Chickens can only digest grass if it’s young and it still bright green. Once it starts to fade, they lose interest.

Physically, tall grass is an impediment to them, preventing them from going where they want. It also triggers annoying behaviors like laying eggs in the grass rather than in the nest houses, and encouraging them to hunker down and hide rather than run when frightened, raising the possibility that they’ll allow the tractor to run them down. I’ve only ever killed one chicken with the mower. That was enough.


Hooray! The Regular Farmers’ Market Season Has Begun!

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional opener for farmers’ markets. Here in the Corvallis area, we open about six weeks earlier than that, but still, there’s a big upsurge in both customers and vendors over Memorial Day.

Saturday’s market was a tremendous success, with swarms of people taking a relaxed amble through the market on a beautiful spring morning. The Corvallis Saturday Farmer’s Market is set in Corvallis’ Riverfront Park, which is a wonderful setting, at the edge of Corvallis’ old-fashioned downtown.


The Fire-Hose Trick for Towing Vehicles

What do you do when your tractor is stuck in the mud and any vehicles that you use to pull it out is likely to get stuck, too? Put the tow vehicle on relatively dry ground and use an extra-long tow strap! We used a hundred-foot coil of old fire hose (1.5″). This stuff is lightweight, immensely strong, and not too inconvenient to use.

Actually, when I say “we,” I mean “my neighbor,” who appeared with two sons and a pickup truck to rescue my tractor. They loaded the pickup with some of my firewood for extra traction, and plucked out my tractor from the mud. It was nicely done! That tractor was dug in so deep that the wheels were grating on pagodas in China.


Price War!

We’re dropping our prices this week. There’s no more room in the refrigerator, so we need to drum up some extra sales. Since there are other egg vendors at the Saturday Farmer’s Market, undercutting their cheapest eggs with our cheapest eggs ought to draw in some bargain-conscious customers.

Setting prices is a screwy business. Most farmers are too insecure to do it well, and end up setting their prices too low, increasing the odds that they will fail. Just the concept of, “What’s the right price?” is pretty much an imponderable: a question with so many ramifications that your mind can spin around in tight little circles forever.


Tractor Stuck in the Mud

My tractor is stuck in the mud. Now what? (To skip ahead to how I got it free, read this follow-up posting).

How did I get stuck? Well, I lost some hens to predators. I figured that the thing to do was to fire up the tractor, mow next to the fence while keeping an eye out for game trails through the grass, and then move the fence slightly. It’s just a couple of strands of aluminum fence wire on step-in fence posts, so moving it is easy.

That would deal with the grass that’s shorting out the fence and perform a reconnaissance that might reveal where the predators were coming from. On the tractor, I sit up high enough that I get a better view than if I’m on foot.


The Grass is as High as an Extremely Short Elephant’s Eye

It must be spring. The grass is getting way out of hand, but it’s too wet to mow. This happens every year.

Chickens on free range like short grass. Back in the Golden Age of scientific poultrykeeping (roughly 1910-1960), this sort of thing was researched. Chickens did best on grass that was 2″ high. Once it reached 6″ it became a barrier to foraging. If it gets even taller, the chickens are confined to a few paths through the tall grass.

Tall grass also shorts out electric fence and can conceal predators. A field that is kept short has a lot of succulent, green regrowth, and bright green grass is the only kind that provides any nutrition for chickens. This nutrtion, by the way, consists of more vitamins than you can shake a stick at, some protein, but no calories.


Feeding Random Stuff to Chickens

Okay, so someone has given you some exotic ingredient you’ve never heard of, like okra tofu, or banana seeds, or worm legs. Should you feed it to the chickens, and, if so, how?

The general rule for feeding miscellaneous stuff to chickens is to feed it in a separate feeder, while continuing to give them all the ordinary chicken feed they want. The chickens are pretty bored with the same old chicken feed and are sure to take an interest in anything new. They’ll eat as much as they want.

The trick is to avoid trying to make them eat more. Chickens are quite good at figuring out whether feed is good or bad, and how much is good for them. In fact, they’re better than you. So never starve them in order to make them finish off their yummy dish of politician’s hearts. Just take away what they don’t eat.


Tires for Rural Use

My 1993 VW Eurovan needs new tires. We had a flat, and while we were changing the tire we took a good look at the ratings printed on the sidewall, and realized that the tires that were on the vehicle when we bought it (a couple of years ago) are inadequate to the load.

We live two miles up a gravel road, and this is hard on our tires. We get a lot more tire damage than we did when living in the city. Whenever possible, we use six-ply commercial tires on our vehicles. And we do this the other way around, too, preferring vehicles for which six-ply commercial tires are available. I ordered a set of appropriate German-made tires, which of course no one has in stock and won’t arrive for a few days. They cost over $200 each. Ouch! This is the penalty I pay for choosing an obscure imported van. Commercial tires for more popular vehicles are cheaper.


If It Were Any Fresher, You’d Have to Slap It

Karen butchers chickens the day before the farmers’ market, meaning that the broilers you buy from us have been on ice for no more than a day. Compare this to supermarket chicken, where sell-by dates are about ten days out from the date of butchering.

Also, our broilers are lovingly handled and kept on ice the whole time. No middlemen, no half-trained help. That’s what small businesses and buying locally are all about.

And it doesn’t hurt that they’re the best-tasting broilers in the world, or that we raise them with respect.


Uncreaking Your Creaky Old Pets

We have a Dalmatian, Sammi, who’s getting up in years. She gets stiff and sore these days. What’s worked for her is glucosamine sulfate, which is non-toxic and available everywhere. If she gets her twice-daily dose, she’s much more agile.

It’s available in all sorts of forms, including kibbles and dog biscuits. She doesn’t like most of them very much, and we have to smear them with bacon grease or peanut butter to get her to take them. Anybody know of a brand that dogs find irresistable?