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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roosters: 3 Reasons to Rethink Keeping a Cock in Your Flock

- By: Mackenzie Reiss

As we talked about last week, roosters can be super cool additions to your flock for a number of reasons including protection, food calls, the pecking order, and for hatching chicks. However, the constant crowing and the aggressive tendencies of certain breeds can be cause for consideration before introducing a cock to your flock. Here's some things to think about.

Crowing: In the movies, roosters only crow at first light, but reality tells a very different story. Most roosters crow throughout the day, and sometimes even into the night. The reasons for crowing are many: to announce the start of a day, to alert the flock to danger, and perhaps to simply assert his masculine presence. To help minimize crowing, Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens recommends that owners restrict the time chickens are let outside, close coop windows at night, and insulate coop walls to reduce sound.
 
While some owners enjoy the rooster's call, others or their neighbors find the constant noise to be an annoyance. For this reason, it is necessary to check your local zoning ordinance to find out whether or not roosters are allowed in your community. BackyardChickens.com user, melikamiki had this to say about crowing:
If you like crowing, you'll like a rooster. I don't mind crowing, per se. I mind the ceaseless crowing all day, especially when I'm sitting on my porch enjoying the weather trying to have a conversation. For someone new, I think it's a good idea to point out that they do crow all day long and mine does before dawn and after dusk, and sometimes at night when he hears something.
Rooster fights: Roosters fight with one another and with hens if not introduced to the flock properly or in the right conditions. It is best to raise roosters and hens together so that the pecking order will be established at an early age. If a rooster is introduced to a new flock of hens, he will assert his dominance by fighting the alpha hen and other birds he views as a threat, which could lead to disruption of the flock, injury, and even death. If you would like to add more than one rooster to your flock it is important to ensure that each bird has adequate space. Roosters in close quarters will fight each other to protect their territory and hens. You can minimize fighting by adding one feeding and water station per rooster spaced at least 10ft apart so that each rooster may claim his own territory.

Aggressive behavior: Certain breeds are predisposed to aggressive behavior such as the Modern Game, English Game, Belgian D'Anver (Bantam), Cubalaya, Japanese Chabo, Malay, Rhode Island, and Silkie, according to Henderson's Chicken Chart. Aggression can take on many forms, from harassing hens and other roosters to attacking you - the owner! While the latter seems to contradict all logic, from the rooster's perspective, you are viewed as a potential threat to his hens. A rooster may use his beak to attack, but his spurs are what you need to really watch out for. The spurs are the pointed talon-like protrusions on the backs of the rooster's legs. To avoid being attacked by an aggressive rooster, you can prove your dominance by training him. One method is to hold the offending rooster upside-down while firmly pressing his head down with one hand. When he feels relaxed, remove your hand. Repeat the motion until the rooster stays still with his head down even after you have removed your hand.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Roosters: 4 Great Reasons to Keep a Cock(erel) in your Flock


By: Mackenzie Reiss

Nothing says "farm" quite like the quintessential crow of a rooster in the early morning. These stunning creatures are not only visually appealing with their gorgeous feathering, but also act as the first line of defense between predators and the rest of your flock. A rooster is essential if you're planning on hatching chicks; but even if that is not the case, these birds provide a range of benefits to almost any flock:

Food Call: When a rooster happens upon a tasty morsel, such as a table scrap or something found while foraging, he will alert the rest of the flock with a repetitive call or even pick up the food and offer it to a nearby hen. This behavior, known as tid-bitting, is a manifestation of the rooster's natural protective instinct to put his hen's welfare before his own.

Protection: Roosters will alert the flock to airborne or land-based predators and fend them off if necessary. When the end of the day draws near, a rooster will also help corral the hens back towards the coop. Rooster owner, Matthew of Virginia posted the following testimony to his rooster's usefulness on the forums at BackyardChickens.com
Without my roo I would be out several hens even with two border collies and two guard geese roaming. When a hawk swoops I hear him give his warning and the hens scatter. The geese and the dogs don't look up! I haven't lost any chickens to a hawk and I think it has a lot to do with the rooster.
Social Hierarchy: It is a natural behavior for social birds like chickens to establish a social hierarchy to help maintain order within the flock. This pecking order dictates many behaviors such as who mates with who and which hens get the best roosting spots and scraps of food. Because of his strength and masculine authority, it is natural for a rooster to take on the alpha role. This helps prevent disruption in the flock by establishing a firm pecking order. Without a rooster, hens will compete amongst themselves for the alpha spot which diminishes peace and stability within the flock. (The Field Guide to Chickens, Pam Percy)

Hatching Eggs: If you are looking to hatch chicks of your own, you will need a rooster to fertilize the eggs. Chicks will hatch after approximately 21 days of incubation. Conversely, you may also choose to sell your fertilized eggs which can fetch twice the price of regular eggs. Roosters are sexually mature at 25 weeks and will mate throughout the year anywhere from 10-30 times per day. To avoid excessive mating and stress on your hens, it is recommended that you have 8-10 hens per rooster.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

New Farmer Coming Soon! Baby Raff Due November 2014

Dare 2 Dream Farms is happy to announce that we will be adding a new farmer to our team in November 2014! Baby Raff will be showered with chicken love of course, in addition to becoming a loving and worldly little being surrounded by our always changing, ever-awesome crew of WWOOF-USA work/stay guests. We can't wait to welcome little baby to our hearts, home, and farm!




Until then, Baby Raff, xoxoxo.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tips for Integrating Chickens

No matter how sweet, fun-loving, and friendly Lucy and Ethel are with you and with each other, as soon as you add new chickens to their perfect little flock, they will probably transform in front of your very eyes to bullies! The shock of this transformation in conjunction with your concern for the wellbeing of the new little girls may very well put you over the edge. If you’re not familiar with this behavior, we wrote last week about The PeckingOrder so you can understand what on Mother Nature’s good green earth is going on. The most important things to do are: 1) supervise, and 2) have a back-up plan. However, the more you interfere with the pecking order, the longer it will take to finish. Understandably, everyone is looking for ways to make this transition easier! Let’s put to rest a couple of myths about integrating chickens.

Myth #1: If you put your chickens in at night, they will wake up and just accept each other. Here’s the problem with this myth: the need for the pecking order does not go away just because they wake up snuggling. What’s really happening? Chickens wake up as early as 3:30 or 4:00am. You don’t arise until 6:00am or later, meaning your chickens have had hours to duke it out while you’re snoozing away; so the worst is already behind them by the time you greet them with your morning cup of Joe. The benefit of this is that the worst part of the pecking order is watching it. In all likelihood, they’re all going to be fine whether you referee or not. But if you’re not careful with the number and size of the new chickens in comparison to your flock, there’s a small possibility someone might be hurt or worse.

Myth #2: If you take one chicken out and put another in its place, they will never know, right? Wrong! Chickens are much smarter than some humans give them credit for. In a homogenous flock of chickens that all look alike, they can tell the difference between each other even when you cannot. Although you might luck out with a mild pecking order transition, this is no indication that they didn’t notice the sneaky swap, or that this creates a mild transition every time.

So, what can you do that will effectively minimize the bullying and possible harm to the chickens?

Trick #1: Create safety in numbers. The more chickens you add at a time, the more the pecking must be dispersed amongst the newcomers. Adding two new chickens to four established hens creates a two on one pecking ratio; whereas adding four chickens takes their advantage down to a one to one ratio. More chickens running around creates more confusion, and less of an ability to corner and bully one new baby girl.

Trick #2: Create safety with size. Adding chicks that are just ready to go into the coop will be more difficult than adding chickens that have some height and girth to them. If you put a few big girls into the flock, they can stand up for themselves better than a tiny chick who has just been weaned off of heat lamps.

Trick #3: Create a separate space where they can see each other, but not touch for at least the first day. Whether you string up some chicken wire across a portion of the coop or run, or put a large dog kennel in the coop for the new chickens, the barrier will protect the new chickens immensely. Established hens will still come over to peck, kick, and bully the new chickens, but will be able to physically hurt them. After most of their aggression has been taken out on the wire, and the new chickens get the point, integrating them should go fairly smoothly. If you’re adding very young chicks, or a small number of chickens to a larger flock, you may choose to keep them in chick protective services longer than a day.

Trick #4: Give them lots of treats to chase and munch on. Although this trick might not last for long, chickens would rather chase tasty treats than each other. Tossing out meal worms or sunflower seeds to the established chickens might just keep them pecking around for long enough to let the little girls relax a bit. It will also give the new girls an opportunity to let the established hens eat first, signaling their submission before the pecking ensues.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Pecking Order: Why Becky head-butted Sophie?


It’s exceptionally difficult for humans to watch the transitional period of the pecking order in a group of chickens. This must be primarily because we love our pets and want them to get along; but also because we would never greet a new friend by head-butting them, forcing them to stand in the corner of the room, or taking their lunch. But chickens can’t say, “Hi, I’m Becky. Let me show you around!” So instead they use dominance to create a social hierarchy that establishes how the flock operates: who is the boss, where the cool kids hang out, who is dismissed for lunch first, and so on.

If the flock contains a rooster, he will generally make his way to the top of the pecking order as he matures. Without a rooster, a dominant hen will establish her place at the top of the pecking order and function much like the dominant rooster. The chicken at the top of the pecking order is charged with protecting the flock. They will keep an eye to the sky and to their surroundings and make a sound to warn the flock of incoming predators or unknown objects. In the case of a shortage of food, a rooster will often prove chivalrous enough to find food for the hens, and allow them to eat what’s available before he eats anything. A dominant hen on the other hand, may lay claim to the last morsels of food if resources are running low. Those at the bottom of the pecking order are mostly required to stay out of the way of more dominant chickens, and are often bullied away from the feed and water until the dominant chickens are finished.

Changing the makeup of the flock – adding new chickens, removing chickens, or mixing different flocks – causes uproar in the pecking order. A new order must be established by pecking, bullying, and fighting. New chickens in the flock will mostly end up at the bottom of the order as the established chickens peck at them. When a chicken stops looking at a dominant chicken, keeps its head low, or moves to a different area, they are signaling that they accept their less dominant position in the pecking order. Although the majority of the bullying and fighting happens immediately, it can take around two weeks for the flock to truly finalize their pecking order.

Chickens simply intend to show dominance to establish their place in the pecking order, but some chickens are stronger and rougher than others. Although it doesn’t happen often, a chicken will occasionally get injured by a larger or more aggressive hen. If a chicken is injured during the squabble and her wound bleeds, it can cause other chickens to peck at the injury. The saddest thing about the nature of chickens is learning they are cannibals. A bleeding chicken may be pecked to death if it is not separated from the rest of the chickens and treated. For this reason, it is always best to supervise when adding new chickens to your flock. If you’re looking for some tricks to make it easier on you and the new chicks, check out our article on Tips forIntegrating Chickens.

If your chicken is wounded, check out our ChickenFirst Aid! But first, get that chicken out of the coop. You can apply a topical antiseptic called Blu-Kote that also acts as a dye to cover up the color of blood. Be careful not to get this on your hands, clothes, or furniture as it stains! You can also use a triple antibiotic such as Neosporin to help the wound heal quickly – just make sure it does not contain “Added Pain Relief”.

Remember that the hardest thing about the pecking order is watching it. Most of the time, the order is established smoothly without any injuries. And if someone does get bullied a bit much, you might notice they’re simply more inclined to be loved on by their human mamas and papas, which you will surely enjoy. Just have a back-up plan ready in case things do head south: a spare dog kennel, a separate coop, or simply dividing the coop to create a safe space for injured or bullied chickens will work perfectly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring Garden Progress

It has been a busy and productive three and a half months since we started our gardens. It all began back in August when Jeremy, Megan, and I made the decision to start an extensive gardening program in the coming winter; it continued with months of researching and planning between ourselves and Will Powell, who signed on as the Assistant Garden Manager and who has been enthusiastic and integral in every aspect of the garden. It finally felt truly underway when I sunk the first shovel in to the ground just before the new year began.


Since that first shovel of soil, the pre-existing small family garden has undergone a dramatic change. Our first project was to construct a 36’ by 18’ hoophouse, a structure similar to a greenhouse. It turned out beautifully after two weeks of trial and error. Now fully equipped with heat mats, grow lights, and a sprinkler irrigation system, we can provide the consistent conditions necessary for growing healthy seedlings. This has allowed us a head start on warm weather crops and over the weeks the hoophouse has rapidly filled with tomato, pepper, squash, basil, cauliflower, chard, celeriac, and all manner of herbs and flowers. We now have over 500 tomato seedlings representing eight varieties including cherry tomatoes and several heirloom varieties. The oldest tomatoes are now healthy and sturdy 6 inch plants. Our five squash varieties have grown so quickly that we recently constructed more tables outside to hold them all. We are also excited with the health and vigor of our six pepper varieties and four types of basil: sweet, lemon, cinnamon, and an interesting purple cultivar
 named Dark Opal. We have begun to offer many of these starts for sale.

Our next project was to expand the garden itself. We have fenced in a large area around the chicken barn and more than tripled our planting space. Up until this year, the old garden was tilled every season and shaped in to rows. That worked just fine, but ultimately we decided to go a different route and build no-till raised beds. There are many benefits to raised beds, and many more to not tilling them yearly. We try to incorporate permaculture ideals in to our gardens. This often involves creating an environment closer to nature than the environment commercial farms now typically produce for plants to grow. Raised beds provide us with a wide, flat space where we can plant more densely, and often plant more than one species. Interplanting is beneficial to the overall soil health. Rarely in nature do you ever find just one plant growing over a large area. Healthy soil is comprised of slowly decaying organic matter and a large number of organisms including insects, bacteria, and fungi. Tilling land breaks up the naturally occurring strata in the soil and damages the intricate soil ecosystem. Organic matter is broken up too quickly, many nutrients are lost and more fertilizer is needed. Without tilling, compost is slower to decompose. Over the years, slowly decomposing compost and layers of mulch should start to build fertile, humus rich soil. A much greater amount of carbon is retained in the soil and plants have time to absorb more nutrients as they are released. 

Another measure we take to boost soil health is to inoculate our raised beds with mycorrhizal fungi. In almost any natural ecosystem, mycorrhizal fungi are symbiotically linked with 90% of the plants. These fungi make nutrients easier for roots to absorb, in exchange for a small amount of carbohydrates from the plant. By inoculating our no-till beds, we hope to create a dense fungal network in the soil, benefiting the plants and the soil itself. 

We now have over forty such beds dug, irrigated, and planted. The planted garlic, radishes, spinach, kale, kohlrabi, chard and cauliflower are all thriving in this environment. We have begun harvestin radishes, spinach, Red Ursa and White Russian kale. We are currently digging and shaping new beds as many of our seedlings approach transplanting age and the likely danger of frost in the canyon has diminished. Although it is still a bit cool at night for cucumbers, we recently transplanted five varieties (over 200 plants!) in to the ground under row covers and the warm glow of Christmas lights, a beautiful sight when the sun goes down. Almost all the transplants took, and should flourish more over the next few weeks as the weather warms. Cucumber transplants are quite tricky, so we are thrilled with the success. 

Time has also been dedicated to planting flower beds throughout the garden. Not just a pleasing aesthetic touch, certain flowers are very beneficial to a vegetable garden. Many flowers will attract beneficial insects. Pollinators such as butterflies, moths, and bees are necessary for garden productivity. Insects such as lady bugs and predatory wasps that act as natural pest control are also drawn in by certain flowers. Lupines, scarlet runner beans, and other legumes fix nitrogen in the soil. Several flowers we have growing are also edible! We hope to offer unique salad mixes studded with borage and nasturtium. 

We have also planted and irrigated another 135 raspberry plants. We now have over 200 raspberry and blackberry plants, traded for with our friends over at Sweet Pea Farm. These plants are already three years old, meaning they will produce fruit this summer. 

In the coming weeks, we will be continuing our germination rotations in the hoop house, directly sowing the next round of kale, spinach, kohlrabi, carrots, and parsnips, and preparing space in beds for all our cauliflower, chards, cabbage, and broccoli seedlings. We’ve made so much progress but now that most of the infrastructure is in place, I’m expecting the garden to really take off. We just sold the first of our harvests to the Vitamin and Herb Store, at 525 West Central Ave here in Lompoc and I hope you’re as excited as we are for the multitude of fresh, local, organically grown produce we will soon be offering. Stay tuned for news on our upcoming farm stand, CSA, and other retailers where you can find our produce and seedlings.

I would also like to give a shout out to all of our WWOOF volunteers without whom the garden would not be possible. Weeding, digging, and sifting compost can get very monotonous but it is all done without complaint because we have plenty of fun in the garden as well. Kristen and Andrea in particular have been especially involved and dedicated and help the garden run much more smoothly. 

By: Alan Callaham
Garden Manager

References and Further Reading:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dare 2 Dream visits Fairview Gardens

As we expand into organic farming, we have looked to another local organic farm for inspiration and direction. Fairview Gardens is nestled in the Goleta Valley; their twelve acre operation is fully dedicated to sustainability, education, and their community. They are a truly urban farm, surrounded on all sides by ever-expanding development. Though a fairly small farm, the impact that Fairview has on their community is enormous. They continuously educate children and adults through their farm camps, cooking classes, and after school programs. Their delicious, fresh produce is sold through their farm stand, CSA’s, farmer’s markets, and restaurants.

The Dare 2 Dream crew headed out to Fairview Gardens to further educate ourselves on organic farming. Julie Beaumont, the Director of Farming Operations, gave us a great tour of Fairview, showing us everything from their seed houses to their irrigation systems, and letting us taste some of their farm fresh strawberries (Fairview is famous for their plump, sweet strawberries) oranges, and kale. We even got to get some hands-on experience helping in the garden, spreading mulch around the pomegranate trees. 
WWOOFers Heather and Morgan mulching and having a blast!

Afterwards we were rewarded with a beautiful, mouth-watering lunch; chard soup with cumin, cilantro and lime, turnips with a miso glaze, smokey kale and sweet potato cakes, arugula salad, carrots with grapefruit juice, and an orange and rosemary compote drizzled with honey for dessert. It was phenomenal. All the ingredients were freshly picked from Fairview Gardens’ fields that morning.

During our short visit to Fairview Gardens, some of the things that really astounded us about their project was being able to see organic practices on a large scale, getting new structure ideas, learning about the necessity of crop variety, and feeling the satisfaction of knowing your food. The Dare 2 Dream crew had an amazing time at Fairview Gardens and we cannot wait to see what’s in store for us as we embrace our new future in organic farming! 

By: Shelby Corwin
WWOOFer
Photos by: Mackenzie Reiss
WWOOFer
WWOOF-USA | Dare 2 Dream Farms  

Lef to Right: Casey, Megan, and Jeremy of Dare 2 Dream Farms

Their lovable goats were fun to watch and play with before lunch.
  
WWOOFers Kristen and Shelby

WWOOFer Andrea

Julie Beaumont with WWOOFers Joachim and Victor

WWOOFer Morgan

Jeremy Raff spreading mulch under the pomegranate trees 

WWOOFer Victor admiring Fairview Gardens

Megan Raff having fun hard at work

WWOOFer Andrea gets a different angle on the mulching
   
WWOOFer Alan having a great time on the tour

WWOOFer Shelby enjoying the sun after some hard work