We are excited to announce that Cedar Circle Farm has a new flock of organic laying hens! Nic Cook is our flock manager and in an casual interview over a pint of blueberries he answered my questions about his feathered friends.
There are 28 twelve-week-old hens who arrived as chicks from West Lebanon Feed & Supply at the beginning of May. They were only two days old when they arrived and were so cute! They lived in the upstairs of the barn for some time, gently cheeping under a warm light. Nic fed them religiously and after about four weeks, they grew strong enough to be moved to their new coop across the road near the train tracks.
Nic wanted to start with chicks. He explained that it is really difficult to buy a large amount of pullets, or young hens, that are not de-beaked. Since he wanted to have birds who could happily eat, he wanted them to have their beaks intact. The ladies are content to be living organically, fed yummy organic grain, and pastured on healthy green grass.
Nic selected Barred Rock chickens to establish the flock. He explained that this breed of birds are known to be good egg layers and to have a mild, non-aggressive temperament, toward both humans and other birds. He also added that he loves their beautiful speckled black and white feathers. Barred Rocks, also known as Plymouth Barred Rocks, are incredibly adaptable birds and are especially cold hardy. Thus, they are a great breed for small farming operations.
Chickens are not a brand-new venture for the farm, though Nic is revitalizing the project. We had a flock on the property at least five years ago. Nic says he was happy to reclaim the land around the chickens’ home because it has previously been just a mess of trees and bushes. He began clearing the land in the fall to prepare for pasturing the chickens. The coop that they are currently housed in was on the property as well.
He is happy to see chickens on the land again and feels like animals are an important aspect of any diversified farming operation. Not only do the hens provide eggs that we will eventually be able to sell in the farmstand, but they provide excellent fertilizer, helping to minimize the need for the purchase of such amendments. It is his hope that within the next few years he will develop a system where chickens can be a larger and more integral part of the rotation in our fields with the use of a mobile chicken tractor.
For now, Nic is experimenting, observing, and seeing what he can learn from the birds. This way, he can slowly develop and establish the infrastructure, see how the eggs need to be processed and assess how they sell. He is taking it slow, knowing that suddenly jumping into having a huge flock of birds can be a tremendous amount of work on top of his role as Field Manager. He mentioned in our conversation that having animals on a vegetable farm can be particularly complicated because they have different requirements than the plants vegetable farmers are used to taking care of. So, in the hopes of keeping the project sustainable and enjoyable, he will gradually increase the size of the flock each year.
So far, Nic has had no trouble with predators and hasn’t lost any of the birds for this reason. He did have to give one bird up for adoption to Production Manager Megan Baxter though. Unfortunately, this lady was the runt and was very low on the pecking order, meaning she was getting picked on by the other hens. Other than that, the birds have been happy, healthy, and fun to work with.
Are you excited for some Cedar Circle Farm certified organic eggs? We sure are. But we have to be patient: Barred Rocks don’t begin laying until 18-24 weeks after they are born. We also have to wait out the fall and winter when egg production declines due to darkness and temperature. But it will be worth the wait. Thanks, Nic, for making it all a reality!
Nic Cook was interviewed by Lauren Harris, Education Programs Assistant.
photos: Anya Gendal, 2013