For this month’s edition of News From the Farm, we very much want you to meet Jesse and Frank, our grass-fired tractors! We are pretty excited about these draft ponies. They stand about 14 hands tall, weigh about 1400 pounds and love to pull. And they are about the most environmentally friendly, low cost solution we could think of for moving heavy stuff around the farm. Bennett, our farm manager, calls them “little mowing machines attached to a composting barrel” and has been spending time with them each day since they arrived on the farm. The three of them have established a good relationship. We are shopping for tack for them now and can’t wait to get them to work pulling out cedar logs from our cedar forest at the top of the ridge.
Those cedar logs are needed to rebuild some dilapidated fence rows. Bennett has collected quite a few of them with the use of a chain saw and the old farm truck, and is working on clearing out and restoring a critical fence row to one of our elderberry orchards. Once that is clear and stable, it will serve as an anchor of sorts for corralling some pretty amazing weeding machines that have just arrived on the farm. What weeding machines, you ask? Chickens! Our elderberry rows got pretty weedy last year, and because elderberries are shallow rooted plants, you can’t just get in there and hack willy-nilly with a hoe to get rid of the weeds.
Once these little gals are big enough we’ll be using portable poultry net to direct the chickens to the areas we want them to weed and scratch up. Its such a beautiful win-win: We get weeded rows and the benefits of the poultry manure dropped right where we need it, and they get fresh grass, insects, worms and other vegetation to eat! We are building a portable chicken coop on top of an old boat trailer (reduce-reuse-recycle!) and will be able to pull the coop all around the farm, set up the temporary poultry net fence, and let them have at it. We learned about this portable fencing for rotational grazing many years ago when Rodger helped a family of sheep farmers set one up. It will be several months before our 100 baby chicks are ready for that; for now they are being kept warm under lights and eating all the organic chick starter they want.
By pasture grazing our chickens we’ll be getting super high quality eggs full of Omega-3’s, essential fatty acids that have all but disappeared from our modern diet. Conventional egg and meat production depends on grain as the sole source of feed for the animals before slaughter and grain is high in Omega-6’s. While we should have approximately equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in our diet, or at maximum twice as much Omega-6 as Omega-3, most Americans consume 10 to 20 times as much Omega-6 than Omega-3 in their diets. Research now shows that this sort of fatty acid imbalance is leading to all sorts of degenerative diseases.
We are excited about seeing how all this works out this year. The elderberry rows have been cleared of the big weeds and are ready to receive the chickens when the chickens are ready for them. We think Norm would be pretty excited with the way things are shaping up on the farm!