Cast and Crew

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bustin' Out of the Brooder Box

The babies are growing like mad. Seriously. This isn't our first batch of chicks, so I know what I'm talking about. Our older girls fattened up at a steady pace, but they took their time, one feather before the next. Not so for the new generation! We figure that the youngest (Dark Meat and Light Meat) are about three weeks old, seeing as we brought them home a little over three weeks ago. Winona and the three Sussex are clearly older, and we think the Sussex are probably two weeks ahead of their sisters. But really, at five weeks of age how many chicks look like this??
Meet Milla. She's the largest of the Speckled Sussex girls, and she's pretty much in charge in Brooder Box Land. Just check out that comb! And wattles?? At five weeks? She and the other no-name Sussex are getting pretty desperate to see the world beyond their plywood walls. They get a handful of weeds every couple of days, which leads to lots of fun, chasing, munching, and scratching, but it's not a fair representation of free ranging. It's already clear that these ladies will not like to be contained.

Sussex are a dual purpose breed, which means they lay great eggs but you can also raise them for meat. Prior to the major industrialization of the poultry industry in England, they were the bird to raise in your backyard or farmyard flock. They have a reputation for being calm, friendly, and hearty, qualities that definitely jive with our way of urban farming. Meat birds also have a reputation for eating tons of food and growing at a frightening pace. Milla is proving that to be true. While she won't be a chicken dinner in our household, we'll be using this opportunity to learn more about dual purpose chickens for our future farm. Ultimately we would like to have our own supply of meat birds in addition to layers. A single breed that provides both of those would simplify matters.
As for little Winona, things are looking up! You can see her bum eye in the picture above. Originally she could only open it part of the way. She can clearly see, and she frequently squints at me with that eye from the brooder box, but we were concerned that the muscles around it were damaged. Her recovery is at 99.9% now, and we think she'll be just fine by the time everyone gets moved out to the big coop.
She may look a little scruffy, but those big girl feathers will fill her out soon. This week we'll be raising the heat lamp in the brooder box by a few inches. Baby chicks need a warm, draft free environment in which to grow up. A heat lamp on one side of the brooder box gives them a warm place to cuddle and sleep, but there's also plenty of room to venture into cooler temps. Since our kids are a mixture of ages, we need a mixture of temperatures to keep them happy and healthy. As their adult feathers grow and replace their baby fluff, they can tolerate cooler, more varied weather. While most books say to decrease the brooder box temp by five degrees per week, I find it's easier to judge the temperature by the chicks' behavior. If they crowd under the lamp they're cold. If they steer clear of it, it's too hot. A good combination of napping, scurrying, and chirping means all is well.

This weekend we attended the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I'll post a few pictures of the tulips in a few days, but the other highlights of our journey included the following.

Golden Glen Creamery is a small, family owned farm in Bow, Washington. They produce milk in glass bottles, flavored butters, and several types of artisan cheeses. They keep gurnseys and holsteins, but with a total herd of about 80 cattle, they are very small in comparison to the large dairies in Washington State. We've been buying their whole, cream-top milk at our local co-op, and we really recommend their chocolate and strawberry milk! The cinnamon butter is heavenly on toast, and their aged cheddar is delightful on a whole grain cracker. Aimee and I toured their facility, and, despite the pouring rain, still had a great time seeing the cows, calves, and cheese-making ladies.

You can find Golden Glen products at PCC, some Whole Foods stores, and many small co-ops in the region. Want to see more dairy cows hard at work? Be sure to visit their farm on June 27th for their open house. We'll probably be there, too!

Hemlock Highlands Ranch is one of the only producers of Scottish Highland cattle. They're a very old heritage breed, hearty, tolerant, and docile. We got to pet a six week old baby, and he was twice the size of our biggest dog, Aengus! His coat was soft and long and pale, much like the bull pictured above. While we have already pre-ordered half a side of beef from another local farmer who raises grass-fed cattle and sheep, Hemlock Highlands will be on our list of farms to try out in the future.
Right across the road is Eagle Haven Winery, producer of several types of local wines. We were impressed by their Sangiovese (an Italian red wine), Apple wine (from their very own apples), and the exceptional Pinot Noir, also grown right there on highway 20. We bought a bottle of each and will likely return to buy by the case.

The bounty of Skagit County sure did surprise us this weekend. Our first forays into eating locally are going well, and the beginning of farmer's market season is right around the corner. It feels so positive to step into the tiny store on a family farm and buy milk and cheese from the very people who milked the cows and stirred the curds by hand. I'm looking forward to more discoveries like the ones we had this weekend.


  1. Boy they sure are growing like weeds! Very cool places, thanks for sharing!

  2. I love to get milk in a glass bottle! It just taste better. lol. Your chicks are growing like weeds. But, hey, that's good!


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