The goats are roaming between rains here at Leafhopper Farm. There are a lot of yummy fall seeds and final leaves to grab across the landscape, and our three girls are scavenging the ground for nibbles. These three goats are the start of a new herd direction at the farm; the final years. Yes, goats have been pushing back blackberries for years, and it’s time to start thinking in a new direction of animal management. In working with goats now for six years now, I’ve learned so much from my animals and really loved the work they’ve done on the land to keep things clear.
Now, with our footpaths and pasture spaces well established, we can return to electric mesh rotational grazing with sheep to keep the bramble at bay and utilize the infrastructure we already have to put in place. The goats have been rotated in a tether system, and will continue to move about for another year, but long term plans have goats phasing out, and that’s important because the goats have been the most difficult animal for those helping me here on the farm to handle. By replacing them with sheep, we reintroduce a grazing system with animals docile enough to stay within the electric mesh netting. This makes livestock management easier for average experienced people.
We’ll introduce Katahdin sheep next week from a flock on the east side of the state near Entiat. These two yearlings will be a test herd for setting up new fencing for this rotational animal system. We’ll fold it right in with the hens so all the netting can be on the same electrical current from the shop. After years of struggling with a solar charger that failed in winter, we’re plugging directly to the main grid for a strong charge in our fence. This will keep animals in, and predator out without worry about the sunny days that never come in winter months. At night, all animals will be shut up in the barn for protection and shelter.
In the hen house, shelter is at a premium. The 14 young hens hatched in August are moving in with the main flock and roots are filling up fast. I’ll have to get on building the new coop soon because as these newest ladies grow up, the perches will not be large enough for the whole flock. That’s another great motivator for me to build, and I’m sure we’ll have time this winter to get the new coop together and ready for spring laying season. It’s great to know we’re over 50 birds right now at Leafhopper Farm. We’ll be culling a few more birds later this winter, but this is our ideal full flock, including the full range of ages and productivity. Our ideal is 30 laying hens, and another 15 younger birds in development, with about 5 old hens to be culled next season.
The oldest hens perch at the top on the roost; younger hens are stuck at the bottom of the pecking order and perch lower too. Our new coop design will give more space for roosting, safer enclosure, and more layer boxes for eggs. The flock will remain around 50 birds with 30 layer hens, 15 young ones to replace old hens, and 5 older hens to be culled next season. This is the optimal small farmstead flock. We’ll continue breeding with Ayam Cemani roosters to develop a flock of pure bred Cemani birds with good layer genetics thrown in to up production while retaining the more primitive jungle fowl instincts. These birds continue to show great skill in survival and hardiness. They are still smaller than the layer hen breeds I’ve introduced, but the new Cemani hens we’ve been breeding are gaining in girth. The Leafhopper Farm bred hen on right in the picture above is a similar body weight to the heritage Delaware layer on left. We’re excited to keep working with this breed, and hope to one day have a good Cemani layer hen.