The Weekly Digs #211

by Becky

The Chicken Disaster

Some background: before we moved to our land, the kids were so excited to do a chicken business. It started with the idea to breed the chickens, then we found it was more profitable to sell the eggs for eating.

So we adjusted our chicken breeds and got several new chicks this year. We had an accident happen with the newly hatched chicks and turkeys (see THIS POST). Consequently, we were left with just 2 chicks and 3 turkeys to replace our more ornamental flock and introduce the vigor of young chickens.

But we still had about 35 chickens already at maturity and laying eggs. There were 15 that were new as of last Fall. And we were averaging 1-2 dozen eggs a day and selling them via a home delivery subscription where we deliver eggs each Friday.

With chicken business being the kids’ idea, they have always been the primary caretakers of the chickens. They fill food and water each day, let them out, put them up at night, and move chicken tractors.

When we had Riggs, we decided to do a pause on our egg deliveries we normally do each week. This meant we had a little more time on Fridays because we didn’t have to pack and deliver orders.

What also happened was Cam and I were less vigilant about following up with the kids on bringing in the eggs each day because we didn’t need to deliver orders.

Spring 2022, ready to deliver eggs!

One day this past week, I said to Cam, “What is happening to all the eggs?” The kids hadn’t brought any in the last 3-4 days, saying there weren’t any. I thought that was super bizarre and decided to check it out.

So I go outside to where the chicken tractors are, and I’m thinking where are all the chickens? Of all the new Cuckoo Marans I got in the Fall, there were 2 in the tractor and there should have been at least 10.  The new Delaware’s we hatched last year only had 3 left out of 6.

And then I saw it. Feathers spread everywhere. All over the ground on the side of the tractors. 

This is after we moved the tractors to a new location, but you can see the feathers all in the coop. Also note the state of the hardware mesh on the bottom. It needed repaired for sure!

The kids are pretty good about moving the tractors daily, and so they ended up next to the tree line and they were running them along the forest edge. 

It turns out the raccoons had been picking off 2-3 chickens a night leaving little to no trace except the feathers. 

After confronting the kids about it, we found there were many reasons why this was happening. Of course the main one being there were weaknesses in the tractors and the location of the tractors being right by the trees.

When the tractors get moved daily, all the movement causes things to shift and they need regular repairs. For example, hardware mesh lifts and needs to be stapled back down. 

Another problem was I had employed several kids to install the roll away nesting boxes but they didn’t quite finish the job, leaving a small triangle shaped area exposed. Their solution was to place wood logs in the way so the chickens wouldn’t hop out. 

The problem with that is, raccoons are super smart and will figure out a way in even if the chickens can’t get out. 

Another factor in the chicken disaster was the kids were a little less enamored with the business than when they started. It’s been a year and a half now and the excitement had worn off.

Also, the egg profitability was low for how much work they put in each day. Due to lots of work and not enough profit, they were not quite as meticulous at keeping the chickens safe as they have been in the past. 

They often talked about how they wanted to be done with the chicken business and the loss of a few chickens to them meant a little less work. We were ok with the idea of scaling it down but not planning on it happening in this manner.

The kids also didn’t have much skin in the game, since Cam and I were the primary investors and put lots of money toward get it all started. There was a lot of learning lessons in this for us as parents and for our kids.

In an effort not to lose any more chickens, we told the kids the need to pay a fee per lost chicken to cover losses and purchase more food and new chicks. That helped them to be more motivated to keep the remainder alive, at this point there was 13 chickens left out of the 35.

Soon after that, we made repairs, and Cruz sat out there on patrol ready to shoot down any raccoon that came by. That night they tried to get in and Cruz attempted to send the raccoon to heaven, but he missed the target. 

Two days went by and we found that they ate another two chickens! We were at a loss as to how the raccoons were making it up into the coop part of the tractor. 

After some inspection we found they were lifting the white corrugated plastic and getting in that way. There were screws holding it down but they were too far apart. One coop even had a missing screw, see photo below. A determined raccoon can squeeze into a very small space.

In an effort to solve the problem yet again, the kids put more screws into the plastic and last night Cam set two traps and caught one raccoon and one opossum. He made sure they would never come back. 

Today we loaded all the coops on the trailer and moved them to the middle of the field, next to the garden, and in front of the house. This will at least deter the raccoons from getting a super easy meal. They do not like to venture out in the open field much. 

Another thing we are going to do is move all the chickens remaining into the two coops that haven’t lost any chickens. They are all the same design, but some of those tractors didn’t need repairs. We will fix the rest and fortify them better. 

Added more screws here, these plastic panels won’t lift at all now… success.

Cam is going to keep traps out again tonight. I am worried now that the chicken food source is gone, the raccoons will move to my garden next. Last year they ate all my corn and the corn is almost ready now!

Since we moved the fence to put in the shed, we took down the line of hot wire on the top of the fence. It needs to be fixed. I am going to cry if we don’t get corn again this year. So many things to do and so little time.

You may be wondering if we are going to replace the chickens we lost to raccoons with new ones and the answer is yes, but not as many. I think we will only get enough to sustain our family needs this time and continue to suspend the sales of the eggs. 

Cam and I both agree that it is better for the kids to learn things (like the egg business) at home on a small scale, while still under our direction. Instead of having them make a bigger mistake later in life because they had no experience at all.

So even though the business may be looked on as a failure, it was not. It was successful in teaching our kids a ton of things that could only be taught by experience.

Though we won’t sell eggs for awhile, we are still selling our beef and pork locally. Having a baby also had us planning on changing the business model of meat sales.

Instead we plan on selling in bulk so we no longer will need to do a weekly delivery service. It will work better with our current family dynamic.

Ok, that was a long story! Now for the regular updates.

In the garden

Harvesting lemon squash, melons, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, kale (last harvest), arugula, and basil.

This week’s big accomplishments were starting our potato harvest and putting away all the onions that had finished curing. Our total harvest of bulb onions is 180 lbs. This is 20 lbs less than last year and I was surprised!  Our onions were noticeably larger this year and it was the same amount of garden space used. 

Potatoes under a tarp in the shed curing

But I actually think what happened is I may have included the weight of the wooden crates in the pounds from last year.

I hadn’t realized how much they weighed but they are 7 lbs each. We filled four crates last year with onions, which would have added 28 lbs to the total, making the yield more similar to this year.

In the photo below, on the right side, I planted buckwheat.

Preserving

It’s really getting to be the heavy preserving time of the year. But I’m pretty behind on this.

I did manage to harvest tomatoes and preserve them as a pizza sauce. 11 pints total.

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11 comments

Katie C. July 23, 2023 - 2:06 pm

Amazing chicken business and your pints look good. I had to purchase some tomato seconds at the farmers market. I canned 14 quarts of crushed tomatoes.

Why do you cover the potatoes with a tarp? I would think the tarp would keep the moisture in.

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theseasonalhomestead July 23, 2023 - 10:48 pm

Thanks! That’s awesome you were able to get some tomatoes canned. The tarp was to keep the potatoes in a dark area. I had the same thought about it keeping a lot of moisture there. Potatoes do like high humidity, but like everything else, too much moisture will make them rot. I’ll keep an eye on it!

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Elise Napier July 23, 2023 - 4:37 pm

It is so important for kids to try and fail and know they supportive parents will catch them when they fall. Good job to mom and dad, you guys are awesome!

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theseasonalhomestead July 23, 2023 - 10:50 pm

Thank you 🙂

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Joanna July 24, 2023 - 2:47 am

That’s too bad about the chickens 💔 Hopefully the kids learned a value lesson 🤞 Gosh, I hope your corn stays ok!!! I would definitely keep trapping until there are no more coming to the traps 👍 Did you harvest your potatoes because of all of the bugs? I know this is SUPER early for you to harvest them. How’s the baby doing ? ❤️❤️❤️

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Emma L. August 2, 2023 - 5:39 am

Hi Becky! Unrelated to your blog post, but I know that you’re always really good about responding to people’s comments on your blog and I would like to know your opinion on a personal matter! I just made a really big mistake today; I was making applesauce and decided to save the scraps to use for jelly. After simmering them for an hour and straining out all the pulp (was planning to put the resulting juice in the fridge overnight and then use it in my jelly recipe tomorrow) I realized that I’d forgotten to pick out the apple seeds in my scrap pile!!! So now I’m all freaked out that I’m going to give my family cyanide poisoning. But I have a LOT of juice and I also really don’t want to waste it all…do you happen to have any insight on the matter? I’m leaning towards tossing it all but perhaps that is just me being over paranoid, as beginner canners often are. Thanks in advance for any advice that you can give me, Emma

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theseasonalhomestead August 6, 2023 - 6:30 am

Hi Emma! I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier! As far as I know, the juice would be ok to drink. I would toss it if you ground up the seeds, but since I’m assuming the seeds where still whole and came out with the pulp, I lean towards it being ok. I did some steam juicing of apples this year with whole apples including seeds, and it was fine.

I think crab apples are treated slightly different because they are smaller so more seeds for the ratio of pulp and juice. I would toss if it was made from crab apples because the risk is higher.

As with most canning things, if it makes you nervous, you may just feel better tossing it for peace of mind. Sometimes it just needs to be counted as a learning experience even if you don’t get preserved food out of it. I have done that many, many times.

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Tiffany August 8, 2023 - 7:49 pm

I was curious, your soup that you make with the cowpeas, what was it called and where can I find it???? grew alot of these this year because it looked so good on your videos!

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theseasonalhomestead August 13, 2023 - 4:57 am

Yay! It’s super yummy, I hope you like it! The recipe title is called “Cajun Cowpeas”. It’s in the Complete Guide to Pressure Canning Book. Here is an affiliate link to the book if you don’t have it already. https://amzn.to/45lhyM2

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Vanessa L January 27, 2024 - 8:03 pm

Hi Becky,
Do you have the written plan for the chicken tractor design? Thank you!

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theseasonalhomestead February 3, 2024 - 4:50 am

No, but I will have it by this summer! We just barely found someone to help us get it drawn up!

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