I like to write (some will say "fantasize") about our "unionized" laying-hen labor here. When I get some time to hang out with the chickens then my story is embellished with things like their political discussions...some will probably miss Barack, some may be saying good riddance, but all of them mention him from time to time...and at our union/management meetings: they balk at most of my suggestions for increasing egg production. Some of it is serious, and some of it is just plain fun.
In the rare times that I can lift this veil of fantasy from my mind, then I see that our laying hen operation has been running very poorly in the last few months, and it's not funny.
Joel Salatin, the "farm-to-table guru," says "anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, first." Without even knowing this, last spring, we added more than 1200 laying hen chicks to the mix here. A portion of those grew up to be our current laying hens, many were lost along the way to our brooding mistakes and to predation, as we didn't have the labor or resources to provide safe enough facilities and processes for that many chickens, along with all the other animals (mostly cows and hogs).
The whole story is too long, but the executive summary is that we made a move to increase our egg production dramatically, and we did a very poor job, first. The result is that our egg quality has not been as high as in the past, we have made mistakes from delivering incomplete dozens to forcing our farm share owners to be "too close to the farm" by occasionally delivering too dirty eggs or eggs rogue hens sat on for a while (partially-developed eggs). In the agreements that you signed with us, you hired us to take care of your chickens and harvest and deliver the eggs they produce. In some cases, our work on this contract has not met our own quality expectations. It has been a poorly done job. The end result is that the layers just quit laying a few weeks ago, so our deliveries halted. Too many chickens out of control, winter here, very few eggs.
The bright spot in this story is the changes that are happening here. A team of young farmers descended on the farm in the past weeks to relieve Kira and I of day-to-day "chores" and maintenance. They arrived here with a variety of mostly city-kid skills from "able to figure out mechanical things" to "never changed a tire", "never hammered in a nail". But they all are learning very quickly and are increasingly enthusiastic, which is a good sign. In fact, as I am in the office writing this blog entry, milking is handled, feeding is handled, problems are being solved, and I'm not in the center of all of it. That means I can finally focus some time on communications, administration, and designing and directing process improvements and the infrastructure projects we need to stabilize our production and deliveries. Egg production is one of my first focus areas.
When the team arrived, the layers were "pastured, ponded, orcharded, woodsed, and down-the-road-at-the-neighbors-ed". In other words, they were scattered all over our 160 acres, out of control. Chickens like to "home" to a daily routine, so collecting them is after-dark work. If they wake up in a new spot, they will tend to go back to that spot at night. The same mini-flock will gather under the same tree every night, or in the same spot in the pasture at night, or in the same place in the barn or on the fence. So the team went out and collected them all up, several rainy night's work, and re-"homed" them to the greenhouse. We are talking hundreds of chickens, several night's work. They equipped the greenhouse with deep bedding, a fresh-water-fountain watering system, plenty nest boxes, lights for 15-hour daylight, just like September, and they are implementing a regularly scheduled lacto-fermented feeding program to satisfy all the hungry beaks and optimize the winter health of the flock. Results last week: production went from about a dozen eggs the first day to almost 12 dozen yesterday. Pretty good improvement in just one week.
We will start delivering eggs again this week.
We are still adjusting their diet for a richer yolk, they are a little pale right now. It takes about 3 weeks for a diet/environment change to become fully realized in the egg quality, so you should see better quality each week. Please let us know your experience: egg flavor, shell quality, egg appearance and freshness. Our eggs should sit up and scream quality at you from the frying pan. They should make the best mayo and baked goods you have seen. They should have the best flavor and be rich in color, so you can all post your comparison photos on snapchat (yes, your farmer knows the word snapchat). If the quality doesn't knock your slippers off in the morning, we aren't delivering up to our standards. Hold us to the highest standards, because that's what you're hiring us to do. If you had a poorly done dozen or two in the past few weeks, let us know about it, and we will make amends.
Meanwhile, I have been trying to figure out where the hens stand (perch?) with respect our new President elect. So far, I haven't even heard mention of his name, almost like the word "Trump" is not part of the chicken vocabulary. It's possible that with all the chaos on the farm and adjustments to their environment, they haven't even kept up on the election results...I still only hear the hens mention "Barack". Also, I can't figure out if the roosters, who were were previously obsessed with Bill, are now talking about Donald. I'll keep listing in...