Chicken-Run: Updates From the Farm

chicken run 2018

This past weekend Runamuk kicked off it’s 2018 growing season with a bang. We joined our fellow farmers at the Madison Farmers’ Market on Saturday, retrieved the first round of new bees for the apiary, and made a chicken-run for the 50 new layers I’d ordered several months back. The flurry of activity kept my mind occupied (mostly) as I await the appraiser’s report following his assessment of the Hive House on Friday.

Back at Market

It felt good to be back in the parking lot at the park on Main Street in rural Madison, Maine. The weather was fair and the sun was shining, and we saw many members of the community come out to catch up after the long winter. I admit that I felt a little cheesey setting up my table with only my beeswax soaps and salves under the Runamuk sign; at the moment the only honey I have is still in combs waiting to be extracted, which won’t happen until after our impending farm-move. I don’t even have eggs, as I’ve donated my aging flock of layers to Paul’s operation so that I wouldn’t have to move them. My new birds hadn’t arrived yet and won’t start laying for a few weeks yet.

To support my market and reconnect with the community after our winter hiatus, I went anyway. On my table I put a sign that read:

Currently in the process of buying our #foreverfarm! Please excuse our limited availability of products during these next few weeks, as we prepare to move our farm and transition to that new location. Thank you for understanding!”

Most people did understand─my fellow farmers certainly, and dedicated patrons of the market who know Runamuk well enough to know what I am up against at the moment; those people want me there at market even with limited availability. Those are the people I am happy to serve as a farmer.

First Round of New Bees!

runamuk apiary_may 2018
The Runamuk Apiary, May 2018.

Following market I ran home to empty my Subaru of tables, tents and other market-garb, before driving an hour and a half east to Hampden, the home of Maine’s Bee Whisperer, Peter Cowin. I have 10 packages and 12 Saskatraz Queens on order with Peter this year, as I push to expand my apiary, as well as 5 nucs on order with Bob Egan of Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan. Saturday evening I brought home the first 5 packages, and I spent Sunday morning in the sun at the apiary installing those packages. It’s always a thrill to see the bees emerge and begin circling the hive, orienting themselves to their new home.

Note: Check back soon for an apiary update; I have some news to share on that front that other beekeepers might be interested in…

Chicken-Run

I’ve laughingly dubbed my trip to retrieve my new layers “the Chicken-Run”, because riding down the road with livestock in your car is always a good time. This is the stuff that memories are made of. These events bring color and meaning to life, and I treasure them.

golden comets
Golden comets make great layers for commercial operations!

Sunday afternoon, I lay the seats down in my Subaru to allow enough space for all of the boxes and crates I would need to transport the 50 new layers I’d ordered back in March. In preparation for our upcoming move I’ve been collecting boxes from Reny’s in downtown Madison, and I commandeered these for the chicken run. I cut air holes in them (about 1.5″ x 3″ a couple inches up from the bottom of the box─about where a chicken’s face might be if they were sitting in the box), and taped the bottom flaps to secure them.

After 10 years keeping chickens and having moved my flock a number of times, I’ve come to be a fair judge of how many birds I can put in a box and I counted as I collected boxes and loaded the Subaru with them. 3 birds in the small pet taxi; 4 birds in this box, 6 birds in the larger pet taxi and 8 or 10 birds in this larger box, depending on how big these pullets are…. I got up to about 40 or so and ran out of boxes lol; so I opted to stop somewhere along the way to get a couple more and brought the packing tape with me.

I don’t own a truck at the moment, and was a little worried about whether or not the boxes would all fit together in the car, so I filled the car with the empty boxes to test it before I left. It was tight, and I would have to use the passenger’s seat too, but they all fit!

Note: For your reference (cause you never know when you might need this obscure bit of information lol) you can fit 50 pullets in boxes into a Subaru Forester. I’d be willing to bet I could get up to 75 birds into that car; but not a single bird more.  😀

The Scenic Route

I really don’t like traveling at high speeds on the highway, and so I opted to take the scenic route over through Jay and Livermore Falls, which was 15 minutes longer. I set the GPS on my phone and set out on the 2-lane road down through a part of western Maine that I rarely travel through. With the sun shining and a breeze coming through the open windows of the car, I had to marvel at how beautiful and adventurous a farmers’ life can be.

I only got turned around twice on the way to Poland. At one point I was checking my GPS and made the mistake of touching the screen on my phone and suddenly I was being re-routed. To keep my phone bill low I don’t have internet access on my phone at all times, so I had to find a place to stop where I could access wi-fi and reconfigure my GPS. Eventually I made it to my destination though, and within range of being on time, too! I’d promised to arrive “around 6ish” and got there about 6:20.

Empire Acres Farm

Empire Acres Farm in Poland, Maine is owned and operated by Jim and Nancy Green, who moved there about 15 years ago and immediately took advantage of the big horse barn to begin raising chickens. They’ve got an ideal set up too, with large brooders in the central isle of the barn where they start the chicks, and large stalls that have been converted into caged pens where young pullets are kept til at least 8 weeks of age, at which point the birds are available to sell.

Since most chickens begin laying eggs somewhere between 18 and 20 weeks of age, this is an ideal stage to buy them at. It allows the farmer or homesteader to bypass the whole brooding-of-chicks phase, which was necessary for Runamuk this year as we prepare to transition to a new location.

Being familiar with the going rate for ready-to-lay pullets I had expected to pay $15 per bird, but Nancy and Jim had theirs listed at $10/bird on Craigslist where I found them. They would have a couple of batches available this spring and were taking orders for the Golden Comets.

Note: Nancy tells me they are currently taking orders on their next batch of birds which will be ready by the end of June. If anyone reading this is interested you can reach Empire Acres Farm at: 207-998-3382 to reserve your own.

chicken run 2018
The new flock is temporarily house at Oakenshire Farm in Norridgewock til we are ready to move.

I had hoped to wait til after the move to buy my new flock, but I know that by June or July availability of chicks and ready-to-lay birds becomes much more scarce. When I saw the ad on Craigslist and their price on the birds, I decided to email to see how long they’d be able to hold the birds for. The response was May 15th and not a day longer, so I decided to act on it. 50 pullets for $500 saves me a chunk of money, even if I have to move them twice.

Going Non-GMO

At long last Runamuk will be offering Non-GMO eggs at market. Over the last 5 years we’ve seen an increased demand for them, and with our new #foreverfarm home #comingsoon I am ready to make the leap to organic grain─though I make too much money to call them “Organic” eggs. The law dictates that farmers grossing over $5K must be officially certified as Organic to be able to use that labeling; and, as I have no interest in becoming certified as an organic grower, I am happy to simply refer to my eggs as non-GMO.

Moving On

For years I have been waiting to invest in certain aspects of my farm-operation: the non-GMO grain, the new bear/skunk fence for the apiary, investing in larger numbers of new hives to grow the apiary at a faster pace, and countless methods and projects I have been wanting to employ but could not because I was a landless-farmer. When a farmer has no permanency he/she cannot put down roots and really dig in to a piece of land, and that has certainly hindered Runamuk’s growth in some very big ways.

But that phase of our journey is coming to a close. Soon we will be moving to our long-awaited #foreverfarm home and I will be able to establish my vision for Runamuk and my “pollinator conservation farm”. I’ll finally have the infrastructure that both Runamuk and my family require, and I’m looking forward to spending my next 40 years giving my blood, sweat and tears to this one piece of Earth. Stay tuned folks! Things are about to get exciting!

Thanks for reading and following along with my journey as a farmer, beekeeper and blogger! It is my hope that my compulsion to journal my story both inspires and educates. Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly in your in-box.

Home gardeners beware of pesticides in potting soils & nursery plants

somerset beekeepersThis past Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Somerset Beekeepers, we hosted Gary Fish from the Maine Board of Pesticide Control to talk with us about “Pesticides and Pollinators”.  We are a small group, so I’m always grateful that any knowledgeable speaker should come to Skowhegan to share their knowledge with us, and I know that our beekeepers are eager to learn what these people have to offer us. Read more

The war for labeling of GM-crops battles on

no gmoAnyone who follows this blog on a regular basis is probably aware of my personal opposition to genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs.  Back in Novemeber of 2012 I wrote a series of posts regarding the issues surrounding GMOs as we watched California gearing up to vote on Proposition 37 (here is their website).  I did extensive research, reading and studies, about GMOs and wrote these articles: “How GM-foods affect the body“, “Let me decide“, “Monsanto claims commitment to the honeybee industry“, “10 tips on how to avoid GMOs“, “GMOs, Let’s Review“, “What really demonizes Monsanto“.

Naturally I was disappointed when the proposition was defeated–read more about that here (blog-post from the Huffington Post Green).

However, since then, 18 other states have taken up the fight against Monsanto, including Hawaii, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine.  On Tuesday, April 23rd, the national debate settled at the State House in Augusta to hear testimony regarding whether or not Maine should require labeling for GM-foods.  More than 100 people signed up to testify for or against the LD-718 bill, which would require retailers to label products containing genetically modified seed or ingredients. Read more

Feeding bees non-GMO sugar

feeding your bees non-gmo sugar

feeding your bees non-gmo sugarThere are a good number of beekeepers who object to feeding bees sugar.  And I completely understand their objections.  Sugar is essentially the equivalent of feeding your bees a steady diet of twinkies.  It causes a number of health issues.  Add to that the fact that mainstream sugar is produced from genetically modified sugar beets, which have been proven through scientific studies to perforate the stomach lining, causing numerous digestive problems, and has been associated with neurological issues as well–and you’ve got yourself a toxic cocktail.

Yet at the same time, I refuse to loose a colony simply because I was unwilling to budge from my principles.  Bees can regain their health after a late-winter diet of sugar, but if they starve to death that’s it–it’s over.

How much honey should you leave your bees?

The guidelines state that, here in Maine, two deep boxes filled with 14-15 frames of stored honey, 4-5 frames of pollen, along with the brood and bees, should be able to make it through our long winters.  Check with your local or state beekeeping organization for over-wintering methods in your area.

Why would you need to feed your bees?

feeding bees sugar
When you find the brood nest at the top of the hive like this, it’s time to think about supplemental feeding–be it honey, candy, or dry sugar–or risk loosing the colony to starvation.

Even if you leave your colonies an adequate supply of honey, any number of factors can affect the outcome of your apiary throughout the winter.

Un-Seasonable Weather:  Above average temperatures can mean that your colony will go through their honey stores quicker than they might during the average winter, putting your colony at risk of running out and starving to death before pollen and nectar is available to them.

Un-Seasonable Seasons:  An early spring can mean that the population inside the hive will build up more quickly, and earlier than they would otherwise, again eating through their stores prematurely at a time when nectar and pollen sources are not available to the bees.

Large Population:  A strong colony that goes into the winter with a high population will also be at risk of going through their food stores before spring.

Unless the beekeeper has extra frames or supers of honey saved aside for such an occasion, he or she is left with only two options.  Either they leave the bees and hope for the best, accepting fate should death befall the colony.  Or they resign themselves to feeding the colony sugar.

A compromise on sugar

non-gmo sugar for feeding honeybees
50# Organic cane sugar.

usda organic labelThat being said, beekeepers who choose to feed, can choose to feed their bees organic sugar, certified by the USDA and stamped with the Non-GMO Project’s seal of verification.

I brought home a 50-pound bag, having ordered it in bulk through our local health food store.  This will supply both my family and my bees with GMO-free sugar for quite a while.non-gmo label

 

 

 

Decide for Yourself

Like gardening, many aspects of beekeeping are the personal preference of each individual beekeeper.  There is no right or wrong way to keep bees.  What works for one beekeeper, may not work for another.

For me–with much of my business plan hinged on my honeybees–it is crucially important that as many as possible of my hives make it through the winter so that we can continue to expand the apiary.  Colony loss does happen–with colony collapse disorder still affecting the numbers of honeybee colonies across the United States–the death of a hive is not an unusual occurrence–especially as we move through the winter.  It’s a fact of life that the weak will perish and the strong survive, that being said, with so many other ailments plaguing the bees, I’d prefer that starvation not be the cause of the death of a hive if I can help it.  Organic sugar seems like a good compromise.

What do you think?  Do you feed your bees sugar? or do you take your chances?  How has that worked for you?  Feel free to share your perspective with us!

What really demonizes Monsanto

It was brought to my attention recently that Monsanto is not bad–it’s just a corporation looking to make money.  At the recent MSBA meeting Monsanto affiliate Jerry Hayes spoke about the company’s desire for sustainable agriculture (you can read that post here), but if that is true then there are some seriously misguided people leading that corporate entity.  In my opinion, what really demonizes Monsanto is their complete and utter disregard for man and nature, and their incessant corporate greed. Read more

GMOs, Let’s review

A recap of the health issues with GMOs:

Previous posts in the GMO series: What’s the problem with GMOs?, How GM-foods affect the body, Let me decide, Old Mansanto had a farm, 10 tips on how to avoid GMOs.

Next post: What really demonizes Monsanto

10 tips on how to avoid GMOs

grass-fed meat

With genetically modified ingredients in just about everything processed, it can be a daunting challenge to avoid them when you go to the grocery store.  It’s startling when you begin to realize how pervasive GM-ingredients are–it seems like they are in all of the things you love and have been eating for years!  But with a little dedication and your family’s good health in mind, you can avoid the dangers of GMOs.  Here are 10 tips to help you on your way to avoiding genetically modified foods. Read more

Old man Santo had a farm

Previous posts in the GMO series: What’s the problem with GMOs?, How GM-foods affect the body, Let me decide.

Check out the next post in the GMO series: Monsanto claims commitment to the honeybee industry

How GM-foods affect the body

In the first post of my series on GMOs (which you can read here), I explained that genetically modified organisms are plants that have had foreign genes inserted into their DNA.

While not all impacts of GM-foods have been fully researched, specific aspects of how the altered foods may be affecting our bodies have been documented.  Many doctors and scientists believe that GMOs are related to the unprecedented rise in allergic reactions, gastrointestinal disorders, autism, fertility, changes in major organs, and even cancer. Read more