My Five Favorite Chicken Breeds

I think that I was about 9 years old when I got my first chickens: five laying hens in a little backyard coop that my dad and I built together. Flash forward 17 years, and I now have between 45 and 150 chickens at any given time. I have dealt with birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and have formed some opinions along the way. I can’t pick just one favorite breed, so here are my top five:

1. Brahma

Native to the United States, the Brahma is a large, dual purpose breed with a docile personality. Because they are so heavy, they are easy to contain and make for an excellent stew once they have surpassed their productive years. Brahmas lay approximately 150 large brown eggs per year.

2. Buff Orpington

They are basically the Golden Retrievers of the poultry world. Buff Orpingtons are quiet birds, laying around 160 large brown eggs per year. They are slow to mature, but grow to be quite large, making them an excellent dual purpose bird. Buff Orpington roosters are an inexpensive alternative to other meat breeds.

3. Australorp

They don’t have the best personalities, but they have proven to be extremely productive layers. Australorps average 260 large brown eggs per year. Out of all of my birds, they have been the most broody.

4. Ameraucana

These ladies are kind of flighty, but their beautiful blue-green eggs make them well worth putting up with. They are highly productive, laying around 250 eggs per year. They come in a variety of colors, which makes it easy to identify individual birds.

5. Silkie

These are most adorable chickens of all time, and they are SO SOFT! Silkies are very calm and easy to handle. Even the roosters are generally friendly. Silkies lay an average of 160 small, cream colored eggs per year.

All breed photos were borrowed from the Cackle Hatchery website.

Goat Care

All About Angora Goats

Angora goats produce the lustrous fiber called mohair (not to be confused with the fiber called Angora, which is produced by Angora rabbits). The use of mohair is mentioned in texts dating to 1571 BCE. The breed was developed in what is now Turkey and was exported to France and Spain during the sixteenth century, followed by South Africa in 1838, and the United States in 1849. Today, the United States, South Africa, and Turkey lead the world in mohair production. Within the United States, Texas produces 90% of the total volume of mohair, and is home to over 200,000 Angora goats.

Angora goats are often mistaken for sheep because they are similar in appearance. Angora goats can be distinguished from sheep by the distinct ringlet formation of their mohair and their pendulous ears. Mature does typically weight 70 to 110 pounds, while mature bucks can weight up to 225 pounds. Goats of both sexes are horned, although bucks tend to have larger horns that are quite impressive in appearance with an outward spiral away from the head. The ideal goat has a thick covering of mohair on the head and legs as well as on the body. Goat Breeders Association. Although smaller than other goat breeds, Angoras produce a good quality carcass. Their meat is marketed as chevon and is quickly growing in popularity.

On average, American Angora goats produce 10.6 pounds of mohair annually, with a staple length of 12 cm to 15 cm. Mohair takes dye easily and is widely used as an upholstering material due to its durability. The finer hair of young goats is preferred. Mohair is sold in large quantities through cooperatives or fiber warehouses, or it can be sold directly to independent spinners and crafters, or processed on the farm.

Angoras thrive on dry rangeland. They are susceptible to illness and may die if exposed to cold, wet conditions. In climates like ours, indoor housing is required during the coldest months of the year and may be required during the six weeks following shearing, when the goats are most sensitive. Like other goats, they prefer browse to grass, making them an excellent animal for management of brush and invasive species. They will often eat as high as they can reach when standing on their hind legs. Angoras are not the most prolific and grow more slowly than other breeds of goats. Consequently, they are rarely large enough to reproduce as yearlings. Does typically deliver a single kid at two years of age, although a higher plane of nutrition and lower stress levels can increase the incidence of twinning.

Like other goats, Angoras require routine hoof trimming and vaccination. Goats living in selenium deficient areas may require oral or injectable selenium supplements. Angora goats need to be shorn twice per year; this is typically done in the fall and in the spring, just before kidding. Shearing is done by the owner or by a professional shearer that the owner hires. In either case, care must be taken to avoid cutting the animal. Angora goats are said to be more difficult to shear than sheep because of their loose skin. Angora goats are particularly susceptible to both internal and external parasites, and require careful monitoring to prevent infestation. There is even a louse species referred to as the Angora Goat Biting Louse (Bovicola limbatus).

For further reading about the Angora breed, visit:

Issues in Agriculture

Why We’re Raising Goats for Meat

We used to sell all of our goat kids as pets… Until we realized how poorly pet goats are often treated. Many people will buy goats when they’re adorable youngsters, but aren’t willing to tolerate their adult behaviors, or keep up with routine hoof trimming, or pay for costly feed, mineral supplements, and veterinary expenses for 10+ years. This results in goats that experience years of neglect, goats that get shuffled around from farm to farm, and goats that end up being dumped at auctions. For this reason, we now only sell goat kids to exceptionally well qualified buyers: people who have done their research, and are willing to go above and beyond to provide the level of care that all goats deserve. It is also for this reason that we decided to begin raising goats for meat; we wanted to ensure that the goats we breed will stay on our farm, and lead comfortable lives from start to finish.

Another factor in our decision that may be worth mentioning is that goats are trendy right now, but that doesn’t mean that they always will be. Alpacas and emus were both very sought after at one point in recent U.S. history, but the markets for these species have now become saturated. Eventually, everyone who wants to have goats as pets will have purchased them, and then who would we sell our kids to? It would be foolish to continue to grow our business without having a plan in place for when the pet goat market declines.

Neither of us were raised eating goat meat, but we did grow up eating meats from a variety of other species. When we thought about it, we realized that chevon isn’t really so different from lamb or beef. We value sustainability and humane treatment of livestock above all else, and raising our goats’ offspring allows us to check both of those boxes. Goats are browsers more than they are grazers (unlike most of the other ruminant species that are widely raised for meat), making them the ideal animal to convert forages on marginal lands into lean red meat. Our animals will enjoy an excellent quality of life in our pastures, a quick death when we deliver them to our butcher, and respect at every moment in between. At the end of the day, we believe that our goats are providing our family and our community with a healthy, safe, ethically produced source of protein.

Issues in Agriculture

Top 5 Issues Facing Sustainable Animal Production

I was recently asked to identify what I perceive as the five greatest issues facing sustainable animal production for my Diversified Animal Production class, and I thought I’d share it here too! Here’s my list:

1. Availability of cheap, unethically produced substitute products: It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, but there are people out there (many of them, I suspect) who will still choose the cheapest option even if they know that it’s bad for the evironment, bad for the animals, bad for workers, etc. The fact that these products are readily available in virtually every grocery store in the U.S. doesn’t help.

2. A misinformed public: there are some well meaning people out there who care about animal welfare and sustainability, but they get their facts from the wrong sources, and end up working against sustainable animal production rather than for it.

3. Government programs and marketing infrastructure: both were designed to reward agribusinesses that produce a great volume, with little regard to sustainability or other important considerations.

4. Economic viability: sustainable operations tend to require more land and more labor than their “more efficient” counterparts. This can make it difficult for start-ups to reach profitability.

5. Lack of Scalability: what works well for one sustainable livestock operation won’t necessarily work for another, and that’s ok! However, because there is no franchise model that can be duplicated across the country, increasing the supply of sustainably sourced animal products may be challenging.

Farm Happenings

LGDs: Lessons from the First Year

A little over a year ago, we took a leap and acquired our farm’s first ever livestock guardian dogs. Yes, I said dogs as in more than one! We purchased TWO Great Pyrenees puppies within a couple months of each other. We’re sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly about our experiences with our LGDs thus far. To be clear, we do not advise raising more than one pup at a time! Not only is it twice the work, but it puts the dogs at risk of experiencing littermate syndrome, among other issues. It was a calculated risk on our part, and although it seems to have paid off, we don’t plan to do it again in the future.

The Good:

Our chosen breed of LGD, the Great Pyrenees, has been bred for thousands of years to work with livestock, and it shows. Their protective behaviors and gentleness towards the goats are instinctual. Because of this, we’ve done relatively little training with our dogs, other than basic obedience and correcting a few energetic puppy behaviors. We were careful to select purebred Great Pyrenees whose parents were also working dogs to ensure the greatest chance of success within our farming operation.

Not only are our dogs excellent with the goats, they have proven themselves to be gentle with our ducks, our chickens, and even our new barn cat. They are incredibly affectionate towards everyone they have met, although they put up an intimidating front with strangers and delivery drivers.

The Bad:

They’re HUGE! While their size may give them an advantage over coyotes and other predators, it also means that they are apt to knock over small children, elderly people, and anyone who’s unsteady on their feet. Because they are large, they also consume large quantities of food, which means that we spend a considerable amount each month at the feed store.

Although the dogs took to the goats readily, the goats weren’t keen on the dogs at first. Our goats had never been exposed to friendly dogs before, so of course they perceived the new canines as a threat. We had to carefully supervise their interactions while the puppies were young, in order to prevent the goats from injuring or terrorizing the puppies. Placing a young dog with aggressive stock can quickly ruin the dog’s working career by making them fearful or resentful. Puppies must be protected at all costs!

The Ugly:

Food aggression is real with these guys! “Resource guarding” is a common behavior in livestock guardian dogs. To avoid dog on dog and dog on goat violence, we ended up feeding the dogs in crates. Although this may not be feasible when the dogs are moving from pasture to pasture, it works for us right now. Each dog has a safe space where they can eat in peace.

Sanitary trims… Our male, Thor, needs to have a sanitary trim approximately once every month, to avoid having dog poop sticking to his fur and potential intestinal blockage. He is fairly cooperative about allowing us to trim the long hair around his rear end with clippers, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy it, and neither do we.

Although our dogs have had few behavioral issues to date, we are not out of the woods yet. Livestock guardian dogs can’t be considered fully trained until they reach 2.5 to 3 years of age. Until then, we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

If you’re considering adding a livestock guardian dog to your farm, I highly recommend reading Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care and Training by Orysia Dawydiak & David Sims. This book has proven to be an invaluable resource for us throughout this process.


Too Many Eggs? Try One of These!

Farmer’s markets have ended, which means that we have officially reached the time of year when we have entirely too many eggs. As in, every member of our family could eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and we would still have extra. Pretty much anyone who has a large number of chickens knows what we’re talking about…

Here are some of our favorite ways to use up our excess eggs:

Do you have a good recipe for using up eggs? Share it in the comments section!


Homemade Eggnog

Today I’m sharing a recipe for our holiday favorite: homemade eggnog! Now, I feel as though I’m required to say that consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may cause food borne illness… Because we make ours with raw eggs. One of the perks of owning a farm with chickens is that we can feel super confident about the freshness and cleanliness of the eggs that we eat.

For this recipe, you’ll need heavy cream, milk, eggs, sugar, and spices. You can add rum or other alcohol if you like.

To Make Homemade Eggnog:

  1. Crack 6 eggs, separating the yolks from the whites. The whites will be used in a later step, so set those aside for now.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the yolks with 1 cup of sugar. Mix to a uniform yellow color.
  3. Add 2 cups of milk (we use 1%) and 1 cup of heavy cream to the yolk-sugar mixture. Add approximately 2 teaspoons of vanilla, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and half a teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and ground cloves. Whisk until sugar is fully incorporated.
  4. Using a whisk or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they begin to stiffen.
  5. Fold the stiffened egg whites into the eggnog and serve.

This recipe should yield approximately six glasses of ‘nog. If you don’t need that much, you can keep it in a Mason jar in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Fun fact: eggnog (made with alcohol) can be aged for weeks, months, or even a year! Some say that making eggnog was a way to preserve the bountiful eggs and dairy products of autumn for the cold months ahead.

Issues in Agriculture

How We’re Helping Small Farmers Gain Access to Capital

Let’s talk about a BIG issue that small farmers everywhere are confronted with: access to capital. In the United States, starting a farm generally costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (for acquisition of land, equipment, inputs, etc.) But agriculture is a business that just doesn’t bank well. It’s a cash intensive business, with low return on investment, and unpredictable cash flow. Beginning farmers are at a greater disadvantage, because they don’t have a financial history for their operations, which means that banks don’t have sufficient knowledge to grant them loans.

While we can’t necessarily do much for other farmers like ourselves in the United States, we do have the power to help farmers in developing nations! Through Kiva, we can fund micro loans to farmers in other parts of the world, where start-up costs are much lower (in terms of USD). This is not a donation, but rather, a very low interest loan that will allow the recipient to purchase materials to kickstart a new farming business, or give their existing business a major boost. The recipient pays the loan back over time, and the money is returned to our account. Kiva loans have a 97% repayment rate. Once one loan has been paid back in full, we’ll find a new project to invest in. The beauty of lending through Kiva is that it isn’t just for the wealthy; through crowdfunding, the platform allows ordinary people like us to make a difference, and to know exactly where our dollars are going and who they’re going to. If you have $25 to spare, YOU can afford to lend through Kiva!

Pictured right is Virgilio, the first farmer that we lent to through Kiva. He is a coffee grower in Costa Rica, and he has been working in agriculture for over 50 years! He used the proceeds from his loan to purchase agricultural inputs to improve the productivity of his plants, increasing his harvest and thus his household’s income.

We know firsthand that the ability to access capital during a farming operation’s early years can make the difference between success and failure. We had a number factors in our favor when we started our business: we both had very strong credit, we had savings (that we quickly exhausted), we had a solid grasp of finance and the banking system, we had some wonderful people in our corner at the Farm Service Agency who helped us secure loans, and we had a supportive family from whom we could borrow. Without all of these things, we may not have made it to where we are today, and we still have a lot of growing left to do! We recognize that we are incredibly privileged, and we want to use our position to spread a little bit of good in the world. We plan to set aside a small portion of our profits each year to be distributed as micro loans to farmers across the globe. In the hands of these farmers, our capital will be put to use creating better livelihoods and more sustainable food systems in their communities. It’s all part of the “Eat Local, Think Global” mantra!


Holiday Shopping in the North Country

We’ve all heard of eating local, but how about gifting local? The holidays present such a great opportunity to support the local businesses in our community. Here’s a list of some of our North Country favorites, and what they have to offer:

Adirondack Blue Co. – wooden cutting boards & serving trays

Berube Botanicals – tonics, tinctures, and all things herbal

DAK Bar – delicious energy bars

Earth Wear – artwork and jewelry from upcycled metals

Lost in the Valley Photography – photography, aprons, tote bags

Olde Tyme Winery – wines made with their own maple syrup

Punki’s Closet – crocheted animals and woodworking

Red Oak Food Company – bread, miso, pasta, specialty salts

Rustic Cedar Goat Milk Lotion – lotion (that we sell!)

Serenity by Jillian – jewelry and other resin pieces

Workbench Collective – ceramics, botanicals, wood carvings

Want even more local gifting ideas? Check out the Adirondack Harvest Holiday Guide:

Issues in Agriculture

Sustainable Ag: What It Is, and What It Isn’t

Preface: I’m just wrapping up my second semester of graduate school. I was asked to write a one page reflection on my changed, enlightened, or steadfast views on sustainable agriculture. 

I can confidently say that I am finishing this semester with a changed view of what it means to practice sustainable agriculture. I don’t know that my definition of sustainable agriculture is very cohesive, as there are so many practices that can fall under that umbrella, but I have a clear picture of what sustainable agriculture does not do. It doesn’t deplete the soil, the water, or biodiversity on any level. It is not dependent on fuels, fertilizers, or chemicals that are derived from a limited resource. It doesn’t exploit laborers, consumers, or governments. Sustainable agriculture is not wasteful.

Sustainability is so much more than just a set of practices deployed at the farm level. Sustainable agriculture requires the participation of all parties: suppliers, producers, distributors, consumers, and regulators. It does more than put food in the mouths of the hungry, it nourishes communities by creating livelihoods and connections between people. Sustainable agriculture will play a part in undoing the environmental degradation that has been done, and in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Sustainable agriculture will never look exactly the same in one place as it does in another. It is adaptable to small changes and to large ones. It’s constantly evolving to meet the demands of an evolving food system and world. There are many groups working to further the reach of sustainable agriculture, and while they may never agree about the best way to do it, that’s ok. Focusing solely on optimizing practices seems to have led us astray, so perhaps there’s room for a little bit of disagreement and disorganization.