Sunday, September 30, 2012

If you missed the Mother Earth News Fair in PA...

...well, let me tell you, you really did miss out. I hear there were over 15,000 visitors over the three days of the Fair, and the energy and atmosphere were consistently positive. If I'd been swift enough to bring a camera, you'd see one picture after another of smiling faces, families having fun with each other, and altogether a sense of eagerness to learn and connect with other people aiming to live life more sustainably and meaningfully.

As for me, I had a terrific time. The Seven Springs Mountain Resort is quite an amazing place: 5,000 acres of ski slopes, golf courses, tennis courts, indoor swimming pool, even an indoor arcade. I stayed in a large and beautiful condo with three other women: my friend Jeannette Beranger from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, her colleague Alison Martin, and Pat Foreman, author of Chicken Tractor and City Chicks, among other books. It was lovely seeing Jeannette again, and getting to know Alison and Pat a little was wonderful. I learned a lot just hanging out with these three women, and they all have been generous in their encouragement of my writing projects and ambitions.

My two presentations, one on raising turkeys and the other on raising ducks, went quite well. Considering it was raining occasionally on Saturday afternoon, I was surprised at the crowd that showed up to hear about turkeys. I really enjoy the interaction with the audience; in each of the three times I've done presentations at the Fair, I've learned something new. Even if you raise the same kind of birds that I do, something about your situation or experience will be different from mine, and this is where I think events such as the Mother Earth News Fair are so valuable. There are more and more people who, for various reasons, wish to start taking control of their own food supply, and no matter how many books or Internet pages you read, it's always helpful to connect with someone with  real-life experience. (This, by the way, is just as true for me as for anyone who attended my presentations.)

Thanks to James Duft and those of you at Mother Earth News whose names I don't know, for offering me this opportunity once again. Your generosity in arranging for housing, as well as a ride to and from the airport, is truly appreciated. Thanks also to those of you who attended one or both of my presentations; I loved having the opportunity to share and learn with you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Days are getting shorter; should you have lights in your chicken coops?

As we move into fall months, and days are getting noticeably shorter, many of our birds have begun to moult. Our turkeys actually started moulting in August. Our older ducks and chickens are definitely moulting now as well. We always hope that the moult will hold off until later in the fall, since the later it starts, generally the shorter the moulting process is.

Why does this matter? When the birds are moulting, the egg production slows to a trickle, and many birds completely stop laying for the duration of the moult. Since we are in business selling our organic duck and chicken eggs, any drop in production is naturally a concern for us.

So what, if anything, can we do about this? Most books and magazine articles I've read advocate lighting the interior of chicken coops when the days get shorter. The theory is that peak egg production is related to the number of hours of daylight; thus, hens should be laying at their highest rate during the early summer months when days are longest. So it seems logical to add light in the coops as days get shorter.

However, we have chosen not to do this. Why? Most people who know us are aware that we live off the grid and are in the process of installing our solar electric system. They say, "Well, as soon as you have electricity you're going to light your coops, right?"

Wrong. We have spent a lot of time over the years debating this question. In short, our conclusion is that the moult is a natural part of the annual "rhythm" of these birds' lives. We simply feel it's better for them to have a break from egg-laying and not try to artificially circumvent the important moulting process.

As I mentioned, we are in business selling eggs. So how do we address the issue of dropping production in the fall and winter months? Our strategy is to plan the hatching of new birds at a point that ensures that the young birds will be starting to lay around the time the older birds are slowing down. Yes, this involves a lot of organization and management. Yes, we are sometimes caught off-guard by odd weather patterns and other factors that can influence when the moult starts and ends. But overall this strategy has worked quite well for us.

I think since everyone's situation is different, you should ultimately do whatever works best for you and your birds. I would just encourage you to keep an open mind and consider alternatives to putting artificial lighting in your coops. Even if you can't hatch or buy new chicks each spring, the moult usually lasts only a month or two. Cows get a break from milking every winter; think about giving your hens a break, too.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stop calling me a twit!

I know, I know. But here's the thing: This week I finally got around to signing up for a Twitter account.  I don't really know what took me so long, especially considering I don't have much to do other than lie on the futon with my feet up eating bonbons all day. Just lazy, I guess.

Anyway, you can find me on Twitter at @offgridwriter. Feel free to tweet. Just keep in mind that I am, in fact, an off-grid writer, and do not have such luxuries as a full-time Internet connection. So don't be surprised if I don't tweet back instantly. I'm still getting used to it (and the page loads slowly). Besides, I'm busy eating bonbons.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Preparing (again) for the Mother Earth News Fair

As you know, I've had the privilege of sharing my presentation on raising turkeys at the Mother Earth News Fair twice now. This past June I had a great time at the Fair in Puyallup, and was invited to come to the Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, later this month. I will be doing my turkey presentation again, and also a new presentation on raising ducks.

I hope you can make it to the Fair. It runs 3 days, Sept. 21-23, and I hear they are expecting 20,000 people to visit.

It should be a really fun weekend. For anyone trying to find ways to live more sustainably, consume less and experience the satisfaction of moving toward self-sufficiency, the Fair offers a huge selection of workshops, demonstrations, products and books for sale, and the opportunity to connect with the growing number of like-minded people.

One of the keynote speakers this time is Temple Grandin, the well-known animal scientist who has been responsible for many innovations regarding the humane treatment of livestock and other animals. I am looking forward to hearing her talk; what an inspiration.

So come on out if you can! I will be speaking on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy stage, once on Saturday and once Sunday. I hope to see you there!