The places I go

How do chickens kiss? ……They give you a peck on the cheek.

In my perfect world, I would be able to re-tell that joke hundreds of times and no one would get sick of it….In that same world things like generic brand cotton swabs and Kanye West wouldn’t exist. Everyone would know EXACTLY who Jan Brett is…..and when people talked about the Red Sox they would mean the ones in the top drawer next to the black ones.

Daydreams like this are one of the many that I lately find myself drifting off to when I should be concentrating on other things…..like turning the hose off to the chicken’s water before it overflows on my feet.

I’m cutting this blog short to go home and change out of my wet socks.

Happy Chickening!

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Sorry Taylor Swift- Regarding our Molting Chickens

Right now, the chickens on the farm look frighteningly similar to the college freshman version of me on a Saturday morning. Droopy and ragged. The difference is that our birds have a valid excuse for their appearance. (One that has nothing to do with staying out till 2 am the night before.)

Our birds are molting. It’s a natural process that happens once a year when chickens rapidly shed and regrow their feathers in a period of several weeks. During this time, their bald patches and half grown feathers make them look like hell.

A perfect example of molting in one of our barred rock hens.

This photo is a perfect example of molting in one of our barred rock hens.  Several stages of new feather growth can be seen on her neck and chest.

Molting in our chickens has caused egg production to temporarily drop drastically. Currently, we are collecting one egg a day from our entire flock…… that couldn’t even sustain Taylor Swift.

This drop in laying is to be expected. Chickens need a high amount of bodily protein and other nutrients to produce eggs. During molting, that nutrients temporarily goes toward feather growth instead.

Empty egg boxes....

The nesting boxes are empty for now.

One of the signs I can count on to be able to tell my birds are losing feathers from molting (as opposed to being hen pecked), is the sight of newly emerging feathers (shown in the several photos below). To me, they look something like little bean sprouts shooting up from the ground.

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Problems with Heat Lamps and how to REALLY Keep your Chickens Warm in the Winter

A fine line exists between caring, responsible chicken owners and owners who coddle their hens to the point where the birds are denied the unique strengths that make them the tough creatures they are! I truly believe chickens are incredibly rugged, capable birds and when we humans step back a bit, these underrated birds can reveal to us so many strengths.. . like the fact that they don’t need winter heat lamps!

I dislike heat lamps for several reasons. When put into the coops of adult chickens, they strip the birds of their natural ability to stay warm. Most breeds of chickens are equipped with the genetics to adapt to cold weather, (some as low as -20F). When heat lamps are brought into the coop, the flock becomes reliant on the warmth and loses the need to steadily adapt to the decreasing temperature outside. If the bulb happens to burn out (as bulbs do) on a cold winter day or the power goes out, (as it often does during ice storms), the chickens will perish and you’ll open the coop and be face-to-face with a flock of chicken popsicles! Lastly, heat lamps not only pose a fire hazard, but they use on average about six times more energy than a standard household bulb: an electric bill that adds up quick.

The wonderful things about chickens is that they have their own internal heating system. Once they hop onto their wooden perch, fluff up their feathers, and cover their little chicken toes with their down, a warm, insulated layer of air is created between their feathers and skin, keeping a hen (or a rooster) nice and toasty. . .(I added rooster because I don’t want to be labeled a chicken sexist.)

If you REALLY want to help your hens, here are a few ways to keep them warm:

Cover Any Drafts: A cold breeze flowing through the coop can ruffle the feathers and release the warm air beneath, rendering the bird unable to stay warm. (I personally have to caulk all the cracks in my chicken coop to prevent this.)
Wooden Perches not Metal: Never use metal! Wooden perches insulate better and keep chicken toes from freezing.
The Deep Litter Method: Don’t clean out your coop! By allowing the manure to build up, it will compost and actually release heat beneath the chicken’s feet. Throw some grain down on the floor and let the chickens help the composting process by having them scratch it and lift it a bit. Also, it’s always a good idea to add some fresh shavings on top.
Happy Chickening Everybody!

The Bachelor Pad and the “Dudes” -Regarding Sheep Breeding

There are two types of bachelor pads in the male world- those that are created by choice and those that exist  because there is no other choice. The bachelor pad at the farm, (the pasture for our two breeding rams), might be considered the latter.

For most of the year our two rams are kept together with only their male counterpart as company. If one could talk he might tell the farmer, “You’re going to stick me with another dude for the rest of the year? Hell No.” Unfortunately, if they were to be kept with the ewes year round, our farm would be overrun with baby lambs every week. (Obamacare doesn’t cover sheep condoms.)

One of our very handsome rams in his pasture...

One of our very handsome rams in his pasture…

To keep the lambing period somewhat controlled, we release our ram with the ewes for only a specific set of weeks between the fall and winter. By utilizing this time period known as “the rut” or the sheep breeding season, we ensure that each ewe gives birth during early spring.

Yesterday, we put our ram with the ewes for the first time and our boy couldn’t be happier. Unlucky for him, the pretty girl he had his eye on was not in “standing heat,” therefore she was a little too coy for him to catch up to. Check out the following clip to see his first few moments with the ladies.

Chickens & Eighth Grade Girls- Confessions from the Bottom of the Pecking Order

(Published in Edible Berkshires Magazine-December 2014)

Everyone has their own unique place or environment where the best version of themselves suddenly shines through. As a kid, mine was always the farm. By six years old, I could stand up to an ornery goat without getting charged. At eight years old I could take a blow from the spurs of the meanest rooster and cuddle the aggression out of him. At the farm, I felt like the Steve Erwin of goats and chickens: able to handle anything. At the farm, I felt like me.IMG_1795

Unfortunately this feeling had a way of fizzling out the second I walked through the doors of my eighth grade. That specific year, a group of girls in my class decided that I would be the one they chose to bully. In school it didn’t matter how comfortable I was staring down an aggressive goat because in the face of a mean 13 year old girl, I cowered like a chicken at the bottom of the pecking order.

The meanest of roosters has nothing on the viciousness of eighth grade girls.

It began halfway through September. Brittany Johnson was the ring leader and I rarely spotted her without a group of girls hovering around her. On the bus she would snicker to her friends about me, calling me weird, stupid, and most commonly “dumb-blonde.” These comments traveled to the classroom where the rest of the girls soon joined in. In gym class, they began arguing over which team would be stuck with me. On the way to school, my closest friends no longer sat near me. The hurt I felt, stung more than any chicken scratch I had ever experienced in the coop. All I wanted was for my friends to tell me what I had done wrong and to like me again. Soon that would change.IMG_1818

When April rolled around, the end-of-the-year awards, designed by the students, for the students, were given out. These awards were presented at a special ceremony in the cafeteria in front of all the middle school grades. When it came time for my name to be announced, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Brittany Johnson and the other girls snicker. A voice over the microphone said, “The Blond Award goes to Laura Field.” My face turned hot. The teachers had no idea the negative connotation meant behind this award, or who had given it. I and the other classmates knew. I blinked back tears and forced myself to walk up in front of everyone to receive my certificate.

As I stood there, my eyes passed over Brittany and the other girls, clustered at their table like a flock of hens. Was it the angle I was standing? In that moment I couldn’t tell one girl apart from the other. Then the thought occurred to me. Even if I was stupid, or weird, or a dumb blond, at least I wasn’t like them.

Chickens are a lot like eighth grade girls. A group of hens will bully the one they sense is a little different from the rest. When one hen initiates the pecking, the rest join in. A pecked hen rarely regains her place in the flock, but why would she want to? Like chickens, we are social creatures. Our instinct is to form groups. For me, that instinct fizzled out on that April day and. Truth be told, it has never returned. Some chickens, I’ve come to learn, are better off on their own.

Happy Chickening Everyone.

The Story of the Goat and the Fence- On life’s more important questions.

If you could be any farm animal what would you be?

Like most young women my age, I find myself reflecting on this often. But a question of such importance is not a matter to be taken lightly. In fact, Ghandi himself understood the importance of this question. He spent years meditating, fasting, and praying, in a fruitless search to find out whether he was a horse or a duck.

The world may never know.fff

In many cases, most things we search for in life,  come when we AREN’T searching. Two days ago, the answer to my initial question, of which farm animal  I would be, dawned on me. This epiphany happened so unexpectedly that it can only be deemed comparable to accidentally grabbing a wet hunk of chicken poop on the handle of a shovel.

It  happens..

Anyways, on Tuesday morning, as I pulled into the gravel driveway of Woodstock Sustainable Farm, it was then I realized I would be a goat. Here’s what created the epiphany: There, in the front pasture, stood our most mischievous boer goat. She stared out at me from where her head was stuck in the fence, waiting expectantly for me to bale her out of the predicament she was in. Like most goats do, she had pushed  through the fence to reach the grass on the other side. Due to the shape of her horns,  pulling her head back from where it came was a difficult task for her to do alone. Now she was stuck between two pastures. (The best of both worlds? Not so much..)

The following clip demonstrates how unwilling goats are when receiving life advice from the Chicken Lady.

The old farmers used to say- “If you splash a bucket of water through a fence and most of it doesn’t splash back at you, a goat will get through it.”

Goats are mischievous animals that way, always escaping. If one could talk, it might tell you that being a goat, having such a  restless mindset, is not an easy way to live. Goats feel the need to break through fences, for no reason other than  the sake of breaking through. Once they escape, they demand to be put back in. In the end, they escape all over again. That’s just the way goats are; it’s in their blood.photo (3)

The moral to this story might  go something like this: If you attempt to acquire the best of both worlds, you  find yourself without either.  Maybe it’s about finding happiness in one pasture….

-Now that’s a thought to chew your cud on.

 

Disclaimer- *No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. The Chicken Lady quickly and easily pulled the goat’s head out from the fence.

 

 

 

Musings from the other side of the electric fence

Some people enjoy a nice jolt of caffeine in the morning to wake them up. But me, I prefer a good old jolt from an electric fence to start my day off right. Nothing better…in fact it’s so enjoyable that I only PRETEND that the shock is an accident.

For example, yesterday morning when feeding the chickens, I touched the fence that was supposedly off. What sounded like a yelp of pain emitting from my vocal chords, was really just a cough. Shep, my soul witness, understood that it was just a cough, and looked at me with his ears perked…probably just concerned for my allergies.

Dogs are just wise like that.photo (2)

Chickens on the other hand, are much more apathetic to the concerns of human beings. Our birds only blinked out at me from their portable coops.
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In moments I would drag their pen to new ground to provide a “buffet” of  fresh grass and bugs for them to feast on. Usually it’s a competition for which chicken can race to the juiciest piece of grass first.  I love to watch them. Occasionally, they will notice a thing of interest, cocking their whole head sideways, just to get a good look. Sometimes it’s a plane in the sky or Shep, barreling through the field in the distance. Sometimes the object of interest is me.

I watch them back.
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It’s easy for us humans to say they’re dumb animals, but my good friend Todd Burdick once said, “Chickens know what they need to know to be chickens.”

The question is, can most humans even say that about themselves?

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On that note, Happy Chickening…

 

 

A Chicken Tooth Fairy (First Published in Edible Berkshires Magazine)

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At 4 years old, most children have the luxury of losing their first baby tooth in some uneventful yet exciting way, like biting into an apple or discovering their tooth at the bottom of a bowl of Lucky Charms. This initial surprise is usually followed by shrieks of excitement and the thumping of feet running up the stairs to shove it under a pillow.

I was not so lucky. In fact, on that eventful afternoon in the summer of 1994, as my 5-year-old, chubby-cheeked self crouched picking dandelions among the chickens, my first baby tooth was not lost: It was stolen.

Who, might you ask would be such a heartless culprit as to strip a child of the magical experience of losing their first tooth? The culprit was no person. My “tooth fairy” was, in fact, a very insensitive Plymouth Rock rooster that apparently didn’t give a damn about childhood magic.

It’s not that I wasn’t used to handling chickens. In fact, up until that point, I, Laura Field, had spent my entire life playing in as much chicken dust and dirtiness as any good mother would allow their little girl, before getting hosed off and ushered inside for supper. Unfortunately, my “entire life” of five years was not very long to be steeped in chicken culture, and certainly not long enough to recognize certain “chicken truths” of the poultry world.

So on that fateful day, as I glanced up from my dandelion picking to see the face of our beautiful white Plymouth Rock rooster glaring at me from behind a patch of flowers, my first reaction was not to run, but to reach out.

From there, my memory stops. I recall only being rushed to the doctor with tears in my eyes, a bloody mouth, and one less tooth. My mother hounded the doctor with worries of bacteria and every other possible microscopic demon that might lurk in the toenails of a chicken. The doctor, however, was focused on other things.

“My biggest concern,” he said, “is that she will likely be permanently emotionally scarred and fearful from now on.” (Boy, was that guy wrong.)

This event might have sparked some parents to get rid of their chickens altogether, but not mine. The next day, my dad expected me to follow him out to the coop to help with chores like every other day. For the first week, I hid behind him. Because my father paid no attention to this behavior, I soon forgot my fear, and before long I was spending more time playing with chickens again than with kids my own age.

Today, many locals know me as the “chicken lady.” I love nothing more than to introduce young children to farm animals and bring chickens into elementary schools.

The moral of the story? Terrible things have happened to all of us, probably a thousand times worse than getting attacked by a silly bird. For some of us, our own personal “Plymouth Rock rooster” might take the form of abuse we suffered as a child or the death of a loved one. Instead of letting these things break us and emotionally scar us, sometimes the opposite can occur. Sometimes we can use these experiences like a tough workout to build resilience.

What if we harness that pain and use it to better understand what we went through, or better yet, help others? Today, I challenge you to take that one incident, whatever it may be, and channel it toward the greater good. Happy chickening, everybody. . .

 

Farm-to-Fork-Week Six! (Regarding selfies and other things to be avoided)

Each week I’ve watched  Deb and Lisa cook the Farm-to-Fork meals with the same strange fascination that I imagine my grandmother would have felt if she ever lived to watch “Jersey Shore.”  I never understood how Deb and Lisa actually LIKE to cook. I long ago filed cooking under the category of Things-In-Life-To-Be-Avoided (right next to taking “selfies” and bumping into people at the supermarket).

Chopping vegetables, however, I can do. During our meal prep of  Southern Indian Lamb Curry on Monday, this girl was an onion-chopping master!

I wasn't trying to make a statement with the sunglasses, I just found whatever I could to keep my eyes from stinging from the onions.

These sunglasses might make me look like a goofball, but they were all I could find to semi-shield my eyes from the onions!

I sliced the vegetables, wearing my ridiculous sunglasses, while Lisa and Deb bustled back and forth around the kitchen, doing the actual cooking. Sometimes  Deb tended to the stew, sometimes they switched. Every so often, Lisa would hurry back to flip the vegetables in the cast-iron skillet. Knowing I didn’t cook, she always offered up bits of culinary advice to me.

“In order to add taste, you want to sear the meat in the same juices,” she’d say, glancing over to where I was prepping vegetables.

“Cooking is all about building layers of flavor.”

Until I began spending time around Lisa and Deb, I didn’t realized how much was actually involved in the process of cooking. The way Lisa talked, she reminded me of those artists on TV, explaining their use of lighting and brush-strokes.  I’d always enjoyed art and eventually it occurred to me that maybe I could learn to enjoy cooking too..

Chef Extraordinaire Number One!   Miss Lisa Cassettari, also Woodstock Sustainable Farm’s Director of Operations

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Chef Extraordinaire Number Two! Miss Deborah Farquhar: Also Woodstock Sustainable Farm’s Manton Greene Farmhouse B&B manager and mother hen!deb

Will Kirk- Official taste-tester and Woodstock Sustainable Farm’s Farm Manager

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The Final Masterpiece of Pasture-Raised, Southern Indian Lamb Curry!DSCN1369                   

Ready to go on the truck to the staff at Electronic Environments!DSCN1372                                                                                                                                    

Some benefits of our pasture-raised lamb vs. conventional store-bought lamb include:

  • A less fattening cut of meat  (Studies have shown grass-fed animals to have as low as a third of the fat of their grain-fed counterparts, the same amount of fat as skinless chicken breast!)
  • Higher levels of Vitamin A: This contributes to a list of health benefits, including healthy skin, healthy vision, tissue healing, and cancer prevention
  • Higher levels of Vitamin E– A strong antioxidant that helps stabilize cell membranes and protects body from free-radical damage. It also protects the tissues of the skin, eyes, liver, heart, and lungs.
  • Higher levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids– This is known to reduce symptoms of depression, ADHD, rheumatoid arthritis, and memory loss. Grain fed animals contain so little, that most people have come to think of fish as the only source.

When it comes down to it, the answer to health is simple: You are what you eat. Healthy, pasture based animals=healthy people.DSCF3780

First Month rollout of our Farm-to-Fork Meal Program!

To me, the thought of cooking food was always a lot like reading War and Peace. I loved the idea of doing it, but could never quite bring myself to actually carry out the motions…..Until recently.

This week marks one full month of Woodstock Sustainable Farms rolling out its Farm-to-Fork employee meal program.  For four weeks, I’ve watched extremely talented chefs prepare meals so beautiful, that even I, the girl who would rather cringe through a cheese-stick sandwich than turn on an oven, suddenly had the inspiration to go home and cook her first rice dish in almost five years. YIKES.

Below are some examples of the meals, prepared by our very own lovely and talented Lisa Cassettari and Debbi Farquhar! Imagine eating these on your lunch break!

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Our Creamy Greek Garlic Chicken with rice, kale, carrots, celery, and onions

one of our dishes

Cherry Barbeque Pork with sweet potatoes, snap peas, and carrots

 

Mediterranean Chicken Pesto-with vegetable rotini pasta, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and feta

Mediterranean Chicken Pesto-with vegetable rotini pasta, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and feta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Korean style beef and noodle stir-fry

Each of our dishes are portioned and delivered in our compostable containers with nutritional information and ingredients listed on the lid.

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Lisa, finishing up the last phase of packaging before the labels go on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every start-up phase for a business is a period of learning, growing, and changing. We’ve already improved our labels from week one. (pictured below)

Our Debbie!

Our Debbie!

To what they are now!

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