As is tradition, we've got some great questions to answer this week:
1. Do chickens have a "scheduled" laying time. We haven't figured out ours yet. I have the kids running out there 3 times a day to try and get the eggs before they freeze! I often have cracked, frozen eggs.
Hubby is in charge of all chicken management and right now he's ice fishing so I'll have to pinch hit for him. He will correct me in the comments, if necessary. So, here it goes.
The winter chore schedule is very different than the summer chore schedule. Hubby goes out to "chore" around 10am. This gives the morning hens a chance to lay some eggs. He waters and feeds the hens and Patsy. Then he waters the flerd and then comes in. Probably about a half hour, if he's slow. He does evening chores around 4:30 so that everyone can drink before the water freezes. And Patsy and the chickens go to bed early so we want to give them time to eat as well. He gathers the majority of the eggs at this time. We don't have a problem with eggs freezing (usually) because our hoophouse is so warm during the day.
Frozen eggs are still edible. If we have frozen eggs, we keep them for ourselves and in a separate kind of egg carton. And we put them in there right away, while they are still frozen. Sometimes the crack will come back together and be practically invisible and then you can't tell them apart from the un-frozen eggs.
2. How do you find time to garden with small children?
Well, the first step is to be realistic. Your garden will never look like Martha Stewart's. Your plants will be stepped on, pulled up, nibbled on, and "loved" to death. But we're not just growing vegetables, we're growing garden-loving kids. And a large measure of grace is to be given to mamas and kiddos. Grace to ourselves as mamas that there will be weeds and crooked rows and mistakes. Grace to our kiddos as they learn about the garden, what they can and can not eat, what they can and can not pull up. You'll learn together and soon they will love the garden just as much as you do. My two older kids can help harvest vegetables and know the different kinds. Kiddo3 is still a bit of a terror in the garden, but the great thing is that the older two are teaching her. Kiddo1 helped me transplant all of our tomatoes and peppers. She loves to help plant other seeds. Kiddo2 is good at harvest, not such a fan of planting. The best part is all the eating that goes on in the garden! And in just a few short years, the little ones are big enough to be a real help...until then, grace to us all!
3. What animals would you recommend for a family with small children, a need of further farm education, and plenty of space?
My advice, and this is completely my opinion so take it for whatever it's worth, start SMALL. So many people start farming or move to the country and buy 50 llamas and 10 geese. And then they sit and look at each other because there is no market for llamas and the geese eat all the flowers and poop on the porch. Read, read and read. Talk to people. Go to small farm workshops and classes (I highly recommend Farm Beginnings). Find a mentor that you can ask for help when your goat goes through the barb wire fence and you're not sure if she needs stitches or not.
And then there's what NOT to do:
Do NOT, under any circumstances, start with pets. And by pets, I mean bottle lambs or calves. They are expensive, time consuming and rapidly go from pet to pest. If you want sheep, buy three or four bred ewes (mama sheep who are pregnant). Or better yet, ask around if you can "rent" some for a summer to see if you like them. Same thing with all other livestock. Start with a few and see how it goes.
Do NOT, under any circumstances, buy something expensive just because you have livestock. For pete's sake, don't buy a pickup and a trailer for $65,000 to haul your three cows. Those are the most expensive cows in the country, if you do that. Which you won't, right? Don't build a new barn. There are plenty of small buildings sitting on farmsteads that can be moved or torn down for next to nothing.
Do NOT buy poultry from a farm store or livestock from an auction barn. Order your poultry from a reputable hatchery (we love Hoovers Hatchery in Rudd, IA) and buy livestock from an experienced farmer. You do not need registered breeding stock or even purebred, you want something that will do well for you.
After all of that, what animals should you get? My personal favorites are sheep and goats. (Again, NO PETS.) Buy from a reputable breeder who will support you after you bring them home. Sheep and goats are small enough to be handled without large equipment. Remember, sheep and goats are herding animals and must have a herd to live with...or they will live in your herd. I would say minimum of three. One sheep and two goats doesn't cut it. Ducks and chickens are good for kids to handle. Geese and turkeys can be aggressive. Although our turkeys have never chased our kids and they help to feed them, older turkeys (especially toms) can chase children. We had geese a few times growing up and they are (generally) loud and destructive and messy. Poop messy. Everywhere.
I wouldn't recommend pigs for families with small children either. Even though we have pigs and now breeding pigs, our kids are not allowed in the pig pen. Not because Patsy is aggressive, she's very calm and gentle. But because pigs are so strong and low to the ground, she would easily knock over my kiddos. And not all pigs are as great as Patsy (which is why she isn't in the freezer right now!) so we keep a close eye on our kids and our pigs. And that goes for ANY animal. You ABSOLUTELY do not want an animal that you can't turn your back on. For example, we had a rooster two years ago that was aggressive and attacked me one day as I gathered eggs. Left bruises on my leg with his spurs (toes on the side of his legs). I came in and told Hubby "He goes in the stewpot...NOW!" We have a goat in our freezer who was a horror to milk and a bully. I have ZERO tolerance for aggressive animals.
I think that was our best "Ask Annie" yet!!
Any other questions for next time??