The Great Spring Migration
May 10, 2022
We may all still be shivering and bundled up, but we’re happy to share the news that we’ve just about completed the annual Spring Migration!
What I’m talking about is the beautiful moment in the year when all our animals leave their winter shelters and are escorted, often with much cavorting, onto the freshly returned Spring grass!
Customers coming to the farm to pick up their orders over the last month or so have seen this project in process as the cows have made their first pass up one side of the driveway and down the other and the chickens have begun a circuit of the farm.
Currently the cows are right next to the pickup location, keeping an eye on things, and the Ritz-Cluckin is just visible from the driveway with the hens scratching away.
Due to the unseasonably chilly weather the Migration is a little late this year, and the farmers have been anxiously watching the grass grow in fractional increments and the soil dry out at what feels like a snail’s pace.
But now our patience has paid off and nearly everyone is out on grass (including, most days, the Farmhands). Whew.
The pigs were the lucky first ones out this year! One spot on the farm, a bit drier than the rest, is also in need of a bit of reworking before being reseeded to pasture.
This is the perfect job for pigs! First they enthusiastically chomped down much of the lush, over-wintering plants and grasses, and now they’re happily tilling it all up.
Martin will need to do some work to smooth it out, but when the pigs move to new pasture that one will be thoroughly nose-o-tilled, naturally fertilized, and just about right for seeding to new grass. Thank you, pigs!
The cows transitioned out to pasture in groups as soon as there was enough forage for them and the soil was dry enough. The cool weather has made this a slow process, but they’re now mostly out doing their important jobs of grazing and fertilizing!
This group has spent the last several weeks traveling the circuit of paddocks nearest the house, and we all enjoy the close proximity. It’s fun to look out the kitchen window and watch them or look up from working in the garden and realize you are being observed quite intently from just a few feet away.
The cows, contentedly full of grass, are curious and often line the fence to see what we’re up to.
You’d think this a not-uncommon occurrence on a farm like ours with so many animals, but because we are constantly moving them to new pastures there are times when seeing them involves a hike. There is no “barnyard” where you can see all the animals at one time.
You may have noticed from the change in egg yolk color that the chickens are also moving out to pasture.
Chickens love to snip off grass and scratch out bugs, and within a week or so of returning to pasture their egg yolks become a very vivid orange. You definitely can’t make a white cake with spring eggs!
How do you move several hundred hens from one house to another? One at a time in the dark!
Well, actually you can carry several at a time, but it still has to be after dark so they’re sleeping and you can just pick them up quietly from their old roost and set them on the new roost.
And it’s hard for us farmers to stay up late enough for the chickens to fall soundly asleep! We wanted to move the chickens much earlier while the days were shorter, but we had to wait for the soil to dry out enough to support the weight of the Ritz-Cluckin and the truck needed to pull it around.
And once they’re moved, the work of retraining them begins! Many chickens, given the choice, would choose to both sleep and lay eggs under the mobile shelter. We can’t have them sleeping under there since we move the shelter to new pasture at night!
And even the kids don’t want to crawl under the Ritz-Cluckin to gather the eggs…it has a mesh floor and there are chickens above… So below you see our chicken “training pen”.
Luckily chickens are creatures of habit. For a few days we barricaded the access to under the shelter, made sure every single hen went in at night, and checked many times per day for eggs laid anywhere except in the nest boxes. That extra work is now paying off – good habits were formed and the chickens are making their way around the farm.
As of this writing, our young hens – of the great Winter Chick Experiment – are still in the deep-bedded, sunny winter shelter. When we started the Winter chick project we were just positive we’d have a second Ritz-Cluckin style mobile chicken coop ready to go by Spring. Not shockingly, we’re a bit behind. Ah, well.
Good thing we’re not gamblers :) The winter got a bit busy with the new human baby and all, so we’re now working on a modified plan B. The young hens will be out to pasture soon and their modestly yellow eggs will soon also be a dramatic orange.
I hope you enjoyed following along as we walked back through the Spring Migration! It really is one of the most joyful times of year for both us and the animals and we wanted to share it with you.
Someday I’ll manage to capture on film our big momma cows, heavy with calf, kicking up their heels and charging around when they first hit the Spring grass!
It makes me smile just thinking about it :)