Today I thought I would post a little update about what has been happening around Willow Lane Farm these days and where we are at with some of our plans and goals for 2017. As always, things don’t always go according to plan, and new things come up that become the primary focus! Read on to find out more….
Living in the foothills of southern Alberta, we experience a lot of strong wind, including the famed Rocky Mountain Chinooks. Much of the winds are from the west. Our garden is to the west of our house and we plan to expand our farmyard to the west as well to help centralize our buildings and infrastructure in one area. Since we do get so much wind, we would like to plant a shelterbelt to help break the wind and protect our garden, outbuildings, and house.
Alberta has a Prairie Shelterbelt Program through which we will be ordering our saplings. This year the intention is to plant caragana saplings to the west, and berry bushes (saskatoon and raspberry) to the south and west within the yard adjacent to the house. Saplings require quite a bit of care and attention in order to get established with a good start in our harsh climate, so a sizeable chunk of our chore time this summer will be spent tending to the young trees and bushes. I will be putting in the order within the next couple of weeks and the trees are set to arrive in May. A time consuming, but important project for the spring and summer!
Ducks & Geese
Our winter this year in southern Alberta has been very… well, winter-y. We have experienced more cold temperatures and more snow than we’ve seen for several years.
The hardy flock of ducks and geese don’t mind at all. They still gladly immerse themselves in icy cold water during the coldest and windiest of days. It chills me to the bone just thinking of it! Waterfowl are very well insulated and suited for the cold temperatures. In addition to their generous layers of fat, they have thick down and feathers to keep them cozy, made even warmer thanks to special water-proof oil their bodies produce.
Chickens are much more fragile and susceptible to the cold. Our chickens are housed in insulated coops that are each heated by both a heat lamp on a thermostat and a space heater. Waterfowl do not need this level of protection from the cold. Ducks and geese dislike wind, so the most important aspect of their winter shelter is protection from cold wind. Our waterfowl have a hay-filled house to go in, but we’ve noticed that they prefer to sit outside even on the very coldest days. A few days ago Alex decided to rig up an outdoor roof to keep snow off of they hay he placed underneath on the ground (pictured in the first image of this blog post). The birds love it – I see them laying there all the time! Much better than the cold ground. They even snuggle together in the hay. Adorable. Win!
Come spring, our geese and ducks will part ways and the geese will be moved to their own pen. Archie, the male goose, has grown and changed a lot from the sweet and friendly gosling he was last summer. He is getting quite the bratty attitude – I call it “bratittude” – and has taken to lowering his head aggressively, hissing, flapping his wings a bit, and charging at us when we enter the pen. He’s nipped me a few times and likes to attack our shoes. We don’t take it too seriously, it’s just posturing and he is doing what he thinks is right. I understand that this is just what geese do, and he is now a mature gander doing his job by protecting his flock (though this doesn’t make me miss the cuddly gosling he was, following me around and climbing onto my lap to say hello!)
I think that once the two female geese (Betty and Veronica… cute names, right?) start laying and possibly nesting, he will become even more protective. He is a large bird and I understand that geese can do quite a bit of damage if they set their minds to it. I’ve noticed that he also nips at the ducks a little bit, which is fine right now and nobody is being harmed or distressed, but I don’t want this behaviour to escalate. Therefore, I feel it is best that the geese have their own space, and this will be safer for the ducks too!
As much as I love my purebred heritage breed fowl (see Little Farm’s “Hen’s on the Homestead” post for more, we have decided to give commercial laying hens a try. Our local feed store sells “ready to lay” pullets, meaning that you get instant eggs! I have placed an order for 15 pullets and they should be available for pickup sometime during the first week of April. Though each bird is more expensive than purchasing day-old chicks, we won’t have the hassle of raising chicks and the expense of buying chick starter feed. It was a bit of a trade-off, and the convenience factor won in the end!
Apparently these girls are “laying machines” and we plan to sell extra eggs to friends and neighbours. In the interim we need to get the broiler coop set up and ready for their arrival, and build nest boxes to accommodate these new additions. Why will the laying hens be occupying the broiler chicken house, you ask? Well….
I hate to even say this. I’m not sure why, it feels like a little bit of a failure to admit, but… we have decided not to raise meat chickens this year. Maybe it’s because we felt so accomplished last year raising, butchering, and storing our own meat. The fact is, we still have about half of the chickens we raised last year left in the freezer. We also are hoping that this summer we can focus on buildings and infrastructure, as well as on the garden. All of this, plus the extra attention our shelter belt saplings will require in order to become established, means that our time will be stretched a little bit thin.
If you read my post about setting effective goals for the homestead, you may recall that I mentioned how it’s not a failure or a loss to readjust and redefine your goals as you go. There is no sense in charging ahead to do something just for the sake of doing it or just because you said you would. If it no longer makes sense or isn’t the best use of your time and resources, well, there you have it! So, we gave ourselves permission to follow our own advice and this is where we arrived! No meat chickens this year, and the laying hens will have the most spacious and roomy coop to call home for now.
In the fall we will also have our two year old Light Sussex laying hens to butcher, so it’s not as though we won’t have some chickens to process and meat to add to our freezer.
My next project will be to plan the garden! I will post in more detail about this, but basically I will be planning how much and what we will plant, and where. I also need to take a look at all of the leftover seeds we have stored from last year (there’s a lot!), and make a list of any seeds we will need to buy.
And we haven’t forgotten about part 2 of our raised bed garden feature… this post about how to build your very own garden beds is coming soon! In the meantime, be sure to take a peek at part 1, if you haven’t already!
Well, there you have it – all the latest news and views from our farm. We hope you’ll visit again, we will certainly keep posting on the blog and social media throughout the spring and summer with photos and updates as we go along!