It's cold! The fields are covered with an inch or so of ice from the last storm, with the cover crops just reaching through. On the sunny days the ice will melt away from these leaves first, gradually breaking up the original smooth sheet of ice. The lettuce and greens in the tunnels are tucked under fabric row cover for the long cold nights. They should do well with a couple days and nights above 20 degrees to recover.
Perhaps surprisingly, our chickens are laying well! We count the eggs everyday as we collect them into baskets. At the end of the week, we calculate the percent production (assuming one egg per chicken per day). In January, we've been at 93-94% each week, a better yield than we see regularly in summer or fall. It has surprised me, and Jim says he also never understands why exactly, but over the years, the middle of winter (January and February) are good times for our laying hens.
A question I've often received about our eggs is, "What do the chickens eat?" Our hens go outside nearly every day, hunting for insects, slugs, and tasty plants in their pasture. We also feed them the trimmings and loose leaves generated as we pack out the produce for market. They learn quickly to come running to the person with the bucket of fresh treats. Both of these help to keep them happy and healthy, producing tasty eggs with the bright golden yolks. However, the foundation of their diet is a blend of ground grains, mostly corn and soybeans, vitamins, and minerals. We've been very pleased with our current feed supplier. For the past four years, John Lapp, northeast of us near the Juniata river, has a small feed mill, and uses only locally grown, non-gmo grains.
We're very happy to have such a great source of feed which is clearly tied back to its origin. With a commodity like corn or soy, everybody's corn is considered to be just like all the other corn, mixed together, and most of the time with no origin information. I've seen this most directly for organic corn and soybeans destined for animal feeds. Shiploads arrive in New Jersey from South America and, as a commodity, it's absorbed into the organic feed supply stream without being distinguished from the locally grown lots or grain from other sources.
The commodity system also makes it difficult to align our feed choices with our values. For example, we could buy organic chicken feed, but it would be almost impossible to ensure that the grain was not coming from the rainforest cleared for cropland in South America. John's mill, using only local, non-gmo grain, and our direct relationship has allowed us to better align our egg production with the local economy, the farmer's growing the grain, our values, and we hope, with yours.
We might face some gloomy weather this Saturday. We're preparing with our tents and sidewalls and will be there rain or shine.
See you at market!