Reduce, reuse, and recycle: tales from the farm and New Haven Trip

sheep and goat

Sheep don’t climb

Here at BOTL Farm, it’s still baby season. We had all our goat kids in February and March is for lambs. The first ewe (sheep-mom) to give birth went early in March and then we didn’t have any more lambs until the very end of the month. For a few weeks, we had one single lamb living in the group of ewes and a single teenage goat (she’s too young to get pregnant so she lives with sheep instead of goats). Usually groups of lambs run around together and do kid-stuff, but since the lamb was ‘all alone’ it started hanging out with the teenage goat. It’s very cute to watch the lamb race around and try to rile the goat up so that she participates. The teenage goat is totally up for running around, but she’s not quite sure why the lamb won’t climb on top of the shelters with her. Sheep don’t climb.

Now we have lots more lambs to keep the single one company. We also had triplet sheep for the first time ever. As big fans of ours, you may recall last month we talked about our goat matriarch tripling for the first time, but it’s not unusual for that breed of goat to triple. However, one of our sheep gave triplets this week, which is fairly rare for their breed! Go triplets!

We can only put a few pictures of adorable baby animals in each newsletter, but if you’re looking for more we have a public photo album you can check out.


‘Who’s that new bird?’

We’ve thought a lot about how to match our laying flock’s productivity with customer demand for eggs (granted, we think a lot about everything on our farm) and have decided on a system where we replace our chicken flock every two laying cycles, when the chickens are about 2.5 years old. In order to smooth out production, we run a mixed-age flock since chickens lay much more consistently their first laying cycle and then it can get spotty afterwards. Half our flock is in their first laying cycle and half is in their second. That means we get new chicks every year and cull half our flock every year. 

Most people get chicks in the spring, but since we’re enterprising farmers we want lots of eggs in the spring as our busy market season starts. That means we buy day-old chicks in November (or that one year we forgot and it was January). Last year we were very organized and on-time with our chick plans, so we have a nice big flock of chickens that are just starting to lay! We got our first eggs from them last week.

Raising a flock of laying hens from day-old chicks takes a fair amount of infrastructure and we have made our process more efficient since we do it every year. We have a stripped-down 30’ RV that we use as a brooder (yes, we have two 30’ RVs for chickens – the other one is used by our main laying flock). When we see the first eggs in the brooder, we know it’s time to combine flocks. It’s a three-night process because it’s easiest to catch chickens when it’s dark (and it’s required by our animal welfare standards). The first night we leg-band our current laying flock so we can distinguish these second-cycle birds from their first-cycle friends at harvest time in the fall. This also gives us an opportunity to count how many hens we have (chickens on pasture are notoriously difficult to count, they never hold still). The second night we catch and move the new flock in with the older birds. Generally flocks of birds don’t like to be mixed, but we’ve had great success by sneakily combining the flocks in the depth of the night. We imagine the bird logic the following morning goes something like: 

Bird 1: “Hey, who’s that new bird?” 

Bird 2: “That one? Not sure I recognize her.”  

Bird 1: “Well, no worries, she was here this morning so she must be alright.”

Bird 2: “That’s true, I wouldn’t sleep next to any strange birds!” 
The third night, we catch excess roosters (day-old chicks are very hard to sex) and harvest them at dawn. This is the only time of year we have young, tender, “fryer” type birds available and we never have many! But we do have a few and we wanted our brave newsletter subscribers to hear about it first.

salted sheep skins on the ground

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Since we’re out to save the world, we have all sorts of ideas on how we can decrease inputs to our farm. Some are better than others. We wrote last month about our latest batch of sheep and goat skins, but this month we’re sharing a backstory that highlights one of our less-good ideas. When we get the skins back from our slaughterhouse we salt them, which is the first step in the tanning process. This requires quite a bit of salt, as in, we’re buying several 50 lb bags. Even though salt is cheap (no really, like $7 – $10 per 50 lb bag), we had the idea that instead of buying new salt each year, we could thriftily dry out last year’s salt in the sun, re-package it, store it for a year, then bust it out next year when we have new skins to dry! 

This seemed like a good idea, but one of the skins we put reused salt on turned an outrageous pink color, smelled weird (okay, weirder than a normal skin drying in salt smells), and the wool started falling out! We had no idea what was going on, but the knowledgeable folk at the tannery explained to us that we should, under no circumstances, be reusing salt (granted, all the tannery websites say not to reuse salt, but those people aren’t out to save the world) because there is a salt-loving bacteria, Haloarchaea, that causes this discoloration and wool ‘slipping.’ 

At this point, we can’t tan the skin with wool-on like we normally would. But, it would make a great big piece of leather in the hands of someone who knows about these things. We don’t have the bandwidth to process it for leather (or find a leather processor who wants to deal with a single sheep skin), but we’d love to connect with someone who can! We’re happy to give this gem of an opportunity to the right person for free for your own uses, but we’ve honestly had pretty bad experiences giving things away for free, so we’re charging a nominal $5 for this unprocessed sheep skin for leather makers/leather workers. 

Don’t worry, we’re now using the spent salt on our driveway during the winter. #reuse

chickens with rubber bowls for feed

We have opinions: feeders for chickens

We often get asked by backyard chicken flock owners what feeders we used for our chickens. Over the years, we’ve tried many types of feeders and we mostly like 3 gallon Fortex rubber bowls. They’re flexible, freeze/thaw well, are mostly indestructible (although our big pigs can rip them apart if they want to), and hold up to years of UV exposure. Not many people like rubber bowls on pasture because they worry about things like the feed getting wet during rain. We don’t worry about this because we dial in the amount of feed we’re giving for our flock. We feed twice a day and they eat most of it immediately and then peck at the rest until next feeding time. If we see totally pecked clean bowls, we know we’re not feeding enough. If we see feed left in bowls, we cut back a little bit. If they’re not eating the fines, consider fermenting. But that’s another topic for another day!

dog for about us

Find Us

New Haven drop point: We’re doing a farmers-night-out in New Haven on Tuesday April 23 (one of us is a HUGE fan of Ben Folds and we got tickets for a show this night). Since we’re driving down, we can bring pre-orders for anyone in the New Haven area that can meet us in a parking lot around 3:30pm (time is a little flexible, we’ll be there all afternoon). Pre-order

On farm store: Tuesdays noon – 2pm, Saturdays 1 – 3pm.  Pre-order

On farm self pickup: Everyday 8:30am – 8pm. Pre-order only.

Ashford winter farmers market: December through April, 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month from 10am – 1pm. We’ll be there each 3rd Sunday. Days we’ll be there in April: April 21. Pre-order

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