Friday, April 26, 2013

Preparing For The Poultry Swap

We will be attending the Oregon Spring Poultry Swap in Canby, OR this weekend. I love going to these swaps. The first one I attended back in the spring of 2011 was held in a city park in Canby, OR. People spread their poultry cages, lawn chairs, pop up tents and other goodies out in the grass and everyone swapped and shopped and enjoyed a day in the park. Now these Oregon Poultry Swaps have grown so popular that they are held in different county fairgrounds and are very big and organized.  Lots of vendors and shoppers and poultry enthusiasts! I love to wander from table to table and see all of the different birds and critters people bring. Chickens are the main attraction, but it doesn't stop there. You can find many types of ducks, geese, guineas, peafowl, quail, turkeys and so many other birds. Not to mention the ocassional goat or other farmyard friend.  You can also shop for all sorts of other farm products, crafts and yummy treats. Over the last few swaps I have purchased fresh honey, homemade cupcakes, goats milk soap, lovely peacock feathers and all sorts of other treasures.  But I think the best part of the whole thing is all of the wonderful people I have met at these swaps.  It is nice to know that there are so many crazy chicken ladies (and gentlemen) in Oregon....makes me feel like I belong to a really cool club :) 

There is a lot of work involved in getting ready for these swaps. We have been busy all week cleaning transport cages, sorting through the birds, and bathing chickens and trimming spurs, nails and feathers to make them all as pretty as possible. We love living here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but we do have to endure a lot of rain. And this year we had an especially wet winter and spring, so there have been a lot of puddles and rain and mud. Of course the animals always find the muddiest places to go forage and play, and as a result they end up with chronically muddy feet and dirty faces.  We don't want to show up at the swap with chickens that look more like little piggies than poultry, so we have to have several chicken spa days the week before a swap.  A lot of work for us, but a lot of fun for the chickens. If you have never given a chicken a warm bath you would be surprised by just how much they enjoy it. Even our fiestiest roosters achieve a total zen state of relaxation shortly after sinking into the warm water. Pretty funny. And they love the warm blow dry after the bath.

But, despite the work involved, these poultry swaps are something I always look forward to with anticipation. I plan to attend as many Oregon Poultry Swaps as I can. As long as they keep organizing them I will keep showing up. So if you ever want to meet up with me or some of my birds, you can always come and find us at the next Oregon Poultry Swap!  You can learn more about the swaps and the dates and locations of upcoming swaps by going to their website here

However, I would share one word of warning. Poultry can be delicate animals and there are many pathogens that spread amongst poultry easily. So if you attend any kind of poultry swap, event or show be sure to follow a strict quarantine procedure. If you ever bring poultry from your place to an event with other birds be sure to quarantine your birds when you get home. And always quarantine any new birds that you bring home, whether they come from a swap, a poultry show, shipped to you or even just picked up at your local feed store.  I always quarantine new birds, or returning birds, for 30 days. The length of time you choose is up to you, but be sure it is long enough for viruses and other pathogens to have time to incubate and show symptoms. Watch for signs of illness such as listlessness, sneezing, runny eyes or nose, weird poops, lack of appetite, fluffed up feathers, difficulty standing or walking, and check birds closely for signs of mites or lice. Birds should be quarantined as far away from other poultry if possible, and be sure to take care of your existing flocks first each day before caring for birds in quarantine. Otherwise you risk transferring dust, dander, poop, saliva or feathers from the quarantine birds to your other flocks on your hands, in your hair, or on your clothes.  Being careful about bringing home new birds helps to ensure that you will get the most enjoyment out of your poultry. Better to lose the new birds than all of your birds.

Okay, one more word of warning, attending poultry swaps and shows comes with the risk of developing a severe case of chicken addiction! Each time you go you are sure to discover at least one more breed or color of chicken, duck, turkey, or whatnot that you absolutely MUST have!  I know this happens to me at every swap :) I wonder what I will discover at the spring swap this year?

Meet The Flock: Tolbunt Polish

Dancing Hen Farm: Meet The Flock!

Tolbunt Polish

We have a beautiful flock of Tolbunt Polish at Dancing Hen Farm. This is a rare color in polish, and we think it is the most extraordinary! We sourced our original flock from four different breeders in order to ensure good genetic diversity. We are also crossing some of our birds to nice gold laced polish and then breeding those split babies back to the tolbunts in order to further expand and improve their genetics and their quality.  This is important because only a small group of tolbunt polish were imported into the US over a decade ago and then that stock was repeatedly inbred for too long. The result was very detrimental to the breed. Tolbunt polish in the US became very weak and developed a lot of physical flaws, including such things as poor color, low fertility, crooked feet, and weak chicks.  Good breeders today are working hard to reverse these problems by widening the gene pools of their flocks as much as possible. We did our own research when we decided to work with this breed, and have decided that the best results are coming from breeders who are crossing to gold laced polish. The tolbunt pattern is a gold laced with white mottling, which is a unique pattern to the tolbunt polish, and so good quality gold laced polish can be used to improve the tolbunts. We cross our tolbunts to gold laced polish, and then cross those offspring back to tolbunt. This improves their genetics without losing their pattern.

We have both smooth and frizzled tolbunt polish. The frizzled tolbunts are some of the most eye catching chickens around! They look more like muppets than chickens!  Add a couple of those to your flock and people will be sure to stop and notice!  Our tolbunts are very docile, sweet birds and make very good pets. They would be great birds for children.  The hens lay nice sized white eggs. These are beautiful, striking, rare polish chickens.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Week On The Farm

It has been a quiet week here on the farm. This time of year brings shorter days and a lot of chilly wet weather here on the Oregon coast. The rain makes us all lazy, including the animals.
The ducks are the only ones unphased by all the wet weather. In fact, they love this time of year with all the mud puddles to play in and lots of worms and slugs to be found in the gardens.

This lovely muscovy hen took some time out from her foraging to pose for the camera.
The chickens are all going through their end of year molt right now, and when their molt is combined with shorter days and wet weather we don't see too many eggs. They are not laying much of anything right now, but that's okay. These hard working hens deserve a break now and then. The break from egg laying allows their bodies to recover from the strain it puts on them to make all of those eggs and replenish their stores of vitamins, mierals and pigments. We are definately looking forward to the next season of egg laying from the girls when the eggs will be bigger and richer in color. 

Here is one of our lovely standard buff cochin hens showing off her new coat of soft fluffy feathers. She just finished her molt and we hope to start seeing eggs from her again soon.

With the cooler weather there is less green forage growing, so we have to provide more feed for the animals. Here is a shot of the pigs graciously sharing their dish of grains with the chickens. In the spring and summer our animals are fed a lot of fresh green food, and in the fall they get a lot of squash and root vegetables. Now that the weather is finally starting to feel like winter is coming they are fed more grains. Corn in particular is fed to the chickens on cool days as it helps them build body heat as it metabolizes due to its high fat content. We don't give the animals any corn at all during warm weather or they would just pack on the pounds!
Overall it has been a quiet, peaceful week here on the farm.

The Little Rascals

Four new members joined the Dancing Hen Farm family last August! Affectionately known as "The Little Rascals," they are four sweet piggies that came to us from a farm in Washington state.

Our little mini pig herd is made up of two male kune kune pigs, one little male potbellied pig, and a female potbellied/kune kune cross. They are companion pigs that will live out their lives here at the farm as friends to us all. They will earn their keep here on the farm by providing us with fertilizer to add to the compost heaps, assissting with turning green manure into the soil between crop plantings, and sharing their love and antics with us all.

This little brown spotted pig is Alfalfa. Alfala is our smallest piggie, and he has a very quiet, sweet disposition. He loves to be pet and scratched, and will come lean against your leg and give you goo goo eyes in hopes of getting a good scratch. He is well known for his habit of falling over on his side for a belly rub every time you touch him.
He is a kune kune pig. Kune kunes are a small breed of grazing pig from New Zealand. The name "Kune Kune" is from the native Maori people, and translates to mean "fat and round." Wgich is the perfect name for a pig! Kune kunes generally range in size from 90 to 200 pounds at maturity, and stand about 24 to 30 inches tall. For a pig that is pretty small. The are a true grazing pig. When grown their snouts are upturned, making them better at eating grass than rooting up dirt. Although at 4 months old these guys are doing a great job of digging hole....everywhere! As grazing pigs, kune kunes need less protein in their diet than most pigs, and as adults they can do wonderfully on a diet made up almost entirely of grass and weeds. Of course they need supplemental feed if winters are cold enough to kill grass. Here at our farm the pigs are fed a mix of mini pig chow that is balanced with all the vitamins they need, alfalfa pellets to ensure they get enough fiber in their diet, oats to provide them with a low fat munchie that helps them to feel full twice a day. To this we add a once daily salad of vegetables and garden trimmings. Then they are given access to forage pasture grass, and woodland underbrush.
This lovely tri-colored spotted pig is Buckwheat. He is also a kune kune pig. He is the largest piggie in our herd, but he has a very melloe, laid back personality. He is actually a big baby at heart, and he loves to give pig kisses to everyone. As seen in this photo, Buckwheat loves to eat pumpkins and other squashes, and he had such powerful teeth and jaws that he does not need his squash cut open for him. We just give them to him whole and he easily bites through the tough outer shell to reach the yummy seeds inside. This activity provides him with mental as well as physical stim ulation, and a healthy snack too! Buckwheat is the best at squash opening in the whole pig herd.

This little black & white boy is Spanky. He is a potbellied pig. He is by far the most outgoing and affectionate pig in the herd. He is so smart it is amazing. He always has his eye on us, and you can see his little mental wheels turning all the time. Spanky never misses anything. He is a super fast learner, and so people oriented that he seems to just live for positive reinforcement from us. A pat on the head, a nose kiss, a friendly word, or a yummy treat....these are the things that matter most to Spanky. He will happily take hugs, or even sit in your lap. This boy is all about socializing. He even enjoys getting kisses from  our dog! 
And finally, this is our only little girl pig, Darling Darla. She is a kune kune/potbelly cross. She is a little diva pig. She is more independent than the boys, and often explores outside on her own. She enjoys being scratched on the cheeks, and she LOVES treats! Some of her favorite foods are carrots and apples. Darla is living with us right now, but in a few months she will be moving to her new home with my mother. My mom recently bought a lovely wooded parcel of land just under 20 acres in size, and is moving down from Alaska next year. As soon as she is settled in Darla will be moving in with her. She will be the spoiled queen pig with her own huge pig pasture to explore and enjoy. This will be a good choice for Darla, as she is not as b onded to the boys as they are to each other, and she often gets grumpy with them when they are too rambunctious for her.
Buckwheat is one very happy pig!

The pigs love exploring outside.

One of their favorite activities is rooting and turning the soil with their powerful pig snouts.

Pigs are super intelligent, affectionate, playful and sweet. We have been delighted with these guys each and every day since they joined us here on the farm.




Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rex & His Girls: Our BBS Orpington Flock


Rex is our English type blue orpington rooster.  Rex is a large fluffy bird.  He weighs in at over 12 pounds! But he never throws his weight around.  He is the calmest, sweetest rooster on the farm.  He heads a small flock of three oprington hens: Rita, Abby and Sasha.

Rita is a blue Orpington hen.  She is a large, fluffy hen who is always at the front of the line. She is brave and curious and loves to receive treats.  She is the alpha hen of this flock, and is the one most often found side by side with Rex.

Abby is a splash orpington hen.  She is the adventurous hen in this flock.  Second in the hen pecking order, she is always eager to get out and forage.  Abby can often be found a litte further from the rest of the flock, scratching around at the edge of the woods or beneath a thicket of blackberry brambles.  She also enjoys digging through the insect rich compost pile.

Sasha is our black orpington hen. She is the youngest hen in the flock, and the lowest in the peck order.  She is a quiet, reserved hen who is a little shy but still very sweet.  She enjoys human interaction quite a lot.  She is usually at the back of the line, and last to the food dish.  However, Rex loves her as much as his other girls and often reassures her with his sweet cooing noises and gentle clucks.

These are such wonderful birds! Big, fluffy, gentle chickens.  They are a breeze to care for, and the hens lay 5 to 6 huge brown eggs every week. And Rex is such a devoted rooster.  He loves his girls, and they absolutely adore him, following him everywhere.  Rex finds treats for for his hens every day, calls them to the the feed dish when we fill it, and always lets his girls eat first. He also fluffs up the straw in their nest boxes for them and often sorts the straw piece by piece to make sure it is just right.  And of course he also does his one-wing-down spinning rooster dance for them to win their affections.

Rex is so gentle.  He is even good with very young chicks.  Even when the chicks are from another flock.

We recently hatched the first test batch of eggs from this lovely flock.  Rex and his girls are now the proud parents of six healthy orpington chicks! They hatched out four blue and two splash orpington chicks.  We are very excited to watch these little ones grow up and see how they develop.  Hopefully they will be as big and sweet and fluffy as their parents.


Friday, August 3, 2012

We are currently in escrow for a larger piece of farmland that will eventually be the new location for Dancing Hen Farm!  We are very excited!  We are buying a lovely piece of land here on the Central Oregon Coast. It has pasture dissected by a meandering stream, and woodlands comprised of a lovely mix of both soft and hardwood trees, including some HUGE Oregon big leaf maples.  We plan to initially use the extra land to grow food both for us and the CSA, as well as for our poultry.  We will be planting a large mixed berry patch that will hopefully include blackberries, marionberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and more.  We will be planting a fruit orchard of cherries, apples, plum, and more.  We hope to also plant a small nut orchard that will include hazelnuts.  We will be planting a large herb garden that will include as many different herbs as possible, with a focus on the species that will best perenialize here in our climate.  Mixed into this herb garden will be various flowers and other edibles that are hardy in our climate, such as artichokes, nasturtiums, and more.  Then we will be planting poultry feed as well, to help supplement the feed we buy for them right now.  We will be planting things like oats, wheat, rye grass, field peas, mangela beets, chard, dandelions, and anything else we think the birds will enjoy. 

Eventually we will also be setting up a new homestead on this land and moving ourselves and the animals there full time.  Although this is a long term plan that won't happen for a few years.  We hope to build an eco-friendly farm, using as many natural building techniques as we can.  We will start by building chicken coops using a combination of cordwood masonry and cob building techniques.  We plan to use this blog as a place to document and share this entire journey as we learn and grow and hopefully move closer to our dream of an earth-friendly, mostly self-sufficient farm here on the beautiful Oregon coast.

This is our future driveway.  I just love the mossy driving into an enchanted forest.

Future pasture for the animals.

More pasture land.

Stream running through the property.

This hillside will be cleared and planted as an orchard. And probably the berries will go here as well.

We saw a lovely deer in the woods while inspecting the property.

Here are some more shots of different parts of the stream.

I just love the huge mossy trees.

This sunny field is the location of my future kitchen garden. 

Someday I hope to fence this in, clean it up a bit, and turn it into a goat pasture.

There are some lovely views of the surrounding hills and forests.

There are a lot of beautiful trees on this property.  As we walked through the woods the air was alive with the songs of so many birds.  I think the chickens are going to love living here.

I think I am going to love living here too!