We split off our original two dozen laying chickens a week ago, and moved them to their summer garden. Thanks for help from our neighbors Karis, and Theo who are on spring break, and their cousin Quinn who was visiting. Nice to have assistance from friends who think “Chicken wrangling is fun.”
For the past week this garden flock has been tilling up the ground where we will plant our corn, beans, and squash this year. They are eating the weeds and the soil bugs. They are adding manure to the soil which will make our corn happy (corn likes a lot of nitrogen). They are still giving us eggs. In return we make sure they have water and whatever food scraps and grain they need beyond what they are finding to eat from the garden. It’s a cozy little flock, living life at the speed of the soil.
Over on the other end of the land the story is a little different. 200 hens are laying eggs for us – (we’ve gotten up to 12 dozen eggs in a day and this number keeps increasing as molting chickens get their new feathers and start laying again.) We have 230 chickens who are now 7 weeks old (above – eating brewery barley grain): they are on their way to starting to lay at 6 months. And we just this week received 300 more baby chicks. We use different words than “cozy” for this flock. Words like these come to mind – Entertaining, Experimental, Exhausting, Exciting.
And what occupies my thoughts are how to make this big flock work like our little garden flock – living at the speed of soil.
I’ve wanted to write a full post on each new thing happening at Many Spokes, like borrowing our friends tractor for the first time to move wood chips and food scraps and chicken manure into our first compost pile. From the photo I’m not sure if the chickens like the orange color or the tractor or what attracts them most – I know they loved us helping them turn up the wood chips and food scraps they have been living on. Now the chickens are digging in the new compost pile – they are tireless soil scratchers.
We also got 15 cubic yards of apples that the packing shed is clearing out this spring. Apple cider for all chickens!
What’s on our minds even more than eggs these days is soil. We want this big flock to live like our small garden flock – operating at “the speed of soil.” That means thinking about the poop (the nitrogen) these hens are so good at producing. That means finding sources of carbon (wood chips, cardboard) that can be added for composting, and also providing a protective layer against getting too much nitrogen in the soil. That means thinking of our food scrap collection both as food for chickens, and as compost. It means, above all, thinking on the level of the soil bacteria. What does it take so they can happily keep creating new soil for us?
In my mind, as we begin this chicken raising, egg producing operation is the awareness that the root of all life – in fact the accumulated history of all biological life that has ever existed on this planet – lies in soil. And now we are engaged in making more soil, the living history of 700 chickens, the restaurants and stores providing food scraps, the farmer in Waterville providing feed, the tree trimmers giving us wood chips, the apple orchards giving us their excess production, the water, the sun, the air, and our engagement with all of these together.
More coming as our Entertaining, Experimental, Exhausting, Exciting adventure continues.
Blessings for these spring days,