Wildlife Update

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Great Blue Heron has been hanging out around the pond with the Magpie Ducks. The pond was first dug to honor the heron who kept flying over every time a water feature was talked about in the design of our permaculture systems for Leafhopper Farm. This large, beautiful bird has continued to visit and enjoys the pond, even with new residents of the domestic verity.

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Heron has eaten many of the fish in the pond, and we’re not sure right now exactly how many are still swimming beneath the surface, but there are enough to continue to tempt this large blue bird in its quest for marine feasts.

Bobcats are a common visitor to Leafhopper Farm, though in this video we get our first glimps of a second pair of eyes shyly peeking out from behind mom. The adult female bobcat is feasting on a gut-pile from the black-tail deer I harvested earlier this fall.

This footage demonstrates a healthy population of wild cats which continues to thrive on the edges of rural human development. Though the farm does loose livestock to these cats periodically; the farm’s philosophy evolves with wildness in mind, sharing space with predator species is as important as cultivating the domestic ones. Stewardship of the landscape does involve trapping and hunting, and a bobcat could be harvested off this land without harming the health of the overall population. Making time to catch a cat in daylight will be challenging, and not a priority on the winter “things to do” list for the farm this year.

The bobcats are bold, and will eventually encroach enough to demand action. This footage was taken about twenty feet from the pond where the ducks are now living. We lost one within days of moving them outside. Now a mesh electric net add a layer of protection, but the bobcats are still too close for comfort. They are beautiful animals, but determined opportunistic predators. Our domestic cats are also threatened by these resident big feline cousins. It might be advantageous to invest in a large live trap in preparation for a needed removal of any problem predator. With a growing flock of chickens, goats that are small enough to make a meal for a bobcat, and ducks, the temptation to begin a string of predation might become too great.

Leafhopper Farm greatly appreciates its wildlife, and will continue to build habitat and space for the wild neighbors of the farm to roam and relax. Our soon to be fenced stream buffer will become the encouraged wildlife corridor along Weiss Creek. We’ll continue to develop wilder buffer areas throughout the property, to allow wildlife places to move through the landscape, preferably in directions which avoid direct encounters with livestock and important crops like orchards and vegetable gardens. With smart planning, the property can facility a coexistence between wild and domestic, bridging the different plant and animal communities in a harmonious way.

Helpful Hens

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Flock in Morning Light

Leafhopper Farm’s laying flock reaches 30 birds. Another 13 chicks will soon join their older sisters in the hen house. As temperatures drop to below freezing and light begins to vanish as early as 4:30pm, egg production is down. Today only 10 eggs came from next boxed that only a month ago offered a solid two dozen. There’s also potential rodent issues still haunting the old coop. The cats have wrecked 4 rats that were confirmed exterminations. There are still signs of rats, and they might be taking eggs.

The health of this flock is good, with no feather loss, picking, or other illness. Their diet is dominated by Scratch and Peck Organic Layer Feed. The birds also get kitchen scraps and leftover bread from a local senior center. Rotational grazing offered all these ladies and their rooster protector, Black Jack, fresh greens and outdoor freedom on most days, with rainwater for drinking, and bug bonuses from the meal-worm growing operation from time to time.

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Black Jack and His Ladies

The diversity of Leafhopper’s flock is noticeable; egg verities are also reflective of these colorful genetic traits. Note in the picture above, the black hens with dark brown, almost red looking manes. There are four lined up clearly off Black Jack’s left shoulder. The two hens closer to him are Copper Marans, and the two further back to the right (side by side) are hybrid gals from the farm flock with Ayam Cemani roosters. The black faces of the farm flock bred hens tells me who the father’s are.

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Here we see rooster genetics at work; the red male on left has some typical maran coloration (his red saddle feathers are so beautiful!) The blue legs say Americana genetics are present. Black iridescent green tail feathers and the darker face are aspects of the Cemani genes. Those are reflected again in the white male on the far right of the photo above. He has blue legs, dark face, and even a darkening comb, unlike his brother to the left who sports red comb and light legs like his mother, most likely a bardrock. Big Comb, our other breeding Ayam Cemani rooster, shows off the black genes of his breed. Even his comb is a little more red in pigment than ideal.

The upcoming chick group is full of black genes, and I look forward to seeing more of this pattern in future batches of incubated chicks from Leafhopper eggs. The young flock who will be pullets by next spring and in full production with the rest of the flock by next summer, putting the laying hen count to over 40! That’s a milestone from the original 12 ladies purchased from feed stores in the area in 2014.

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Older Flock from 2015

This flock has grown into a fine collection of active layers. In another five years, Leafhopper hopes to have a strong Ayam Cemani dominated flock with diverse egg colors still cultivated through annually obtained hens with breed specific characters outside Ayam Cemani roots. Some preferred breeds include:

Rhode Island Red– great layers, cold hardy, good “scratch action” in yard-they go for things on the ground and scavenge

Buff Orphington– wonderful brood hens-they sit on nests and incubate eggs/brood chicks *does not mean they are good mothers too, prolific layer of cream colored eggs, larger birds make larger eggs, cold hardy, *does eat more, prefers inside eating (less scratch action on the pasture)

Ameraucana– blue eggs (crossed with white layer and you get olive), cold hardy, good scratching action,a little high strung, good layers, *they can be more feral and try to brood in hidden nests during warmer months -> frustrating!

Speckled Sussex– cream eggs, prolific layer, calm domineer, excellent scratch action, good brooder (maybe too good) *hen will not stop brooding through the summer- put her to work!

Lacey Wyandotte– great all-around duel purpose breed, excellent egg laying, big bird-big egg but eats more, docile and calm

There are many other genetics we’ll try with the Cemani genetics in the Leafhopper Farm layer flock. It’s so much fun to learn about chickens and the strategy to breeding good, home-stock hens and healthy future generations of chickens which work well in our landscape and adapt to the needs of the farm. Without these hens, there would be a severe lack of eggs for eating, meat for soup making, kitchen scrap enjoying, bug gleaning, and fertility of the soil creating. Chickens are an easy, and very cost effective way to introduce livestock to your land, while keeping a low impact on the ecosystem. Leafhopper Farm will continue to use chickens as a major animal system of the permaculture practices and productive stewardship to improve economy and ecology.

 

 

 

Drakes and Hens

Our troop of Magpie Ducks were out in the sun today. It was their first introduction to the pond. It’s been snowing the past few days and the cold temperatures make swimming chilly, so the ducks spent most of their time¬† preening their newly developing feathers.

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The pond is at a lower level right now, and perfect for getting ducks along the edge to help seal the sides. Later this winter, more water will raise the pond another 6-8 feet. If that level raises gradually enough, the ducks will have enough time to circle and seal the rim each time the water level moves up. Today the ducks spent time feasting on small plants along the edges, pulling up rushes and canary grass with gusto. They even put together a little rush matting by knocking a pile of rushes down and laying on it for added insulation from the chilly wet ground.

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After a light dip this afternoon, the ducks spent most of the remaining sunlight basking and preening. It’s so important for these young birds to get their feathers oiled up and fluffed out for insulation as winter sets in. At night these young ones are still going inside where a brooding heater is still on for their comfort. The below freezing nights are early this year, but by next week, things will warm back up again, giving a few more weeks of acclimation to these Magpie quackers.

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If you’ve ever raised ducks, you’re familiar with the thick sticky mat they make with their poop in bedding. Their webbed feet pack down the poop and mix it well with whatever substrate they are living on. At the pond’s edge, mud and dung will form a slurry which will then be mushed around by little feet to seal the ground. Since the water will be rising, the concentration of poop cement will continue to refresh along the rim of the water. There is a concern that all this poop will raise nitrogen levels in the pond. This will happen in the short term, but long term, the ducks will not be constant residents.

Leafhopper is trying ducks again with the hope that our slug population will be compromised by these tenacious bug eaters. Duck poop is also very fertile, and having it dispersed around the landscape will be a great boost to growth in our soil. The design of a predator proof duck hut will also need to happen, as the indoor pen is not suited to long term use (as it’s made of cardboard, which the ducks are melting with moisture power. Luckily, the duck hut can be small and movable, because we only have and want a few ducks for the landscape. Ducks should not be housed with chickens, as they are not nighttime sleepers like chickens, and will keep the roosting birds up with their late hour quacking.

The future of ducks at Leafhopper Farm depends on how this trial run works. Duck eggs are nice, and getting the flock established with breeding is important, but the farm does not with to raise ducks in large numbers. We’re hoping to incorporate them into our tree islands, which will be well fenced and planted with lushness for the ducks to hunt for bugs in. For now, we’ll see how they work to seal the pond this winter.

Peepers and Quacks

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Chicks are outside in the snow! Winter weather continues here at Leafhopper Farm as we visit with the youngest members of the farm as they venture into November fully fledged. There are a few red combed cockerels in the crew, and they also all seem to be barred. This could be a rockin’ cool sexing color code, but I don’t think so.¬† There are a few larger combs on the solid color chicks too. Lots of fun subtle markings, including white lace neck bands. This is the future of chicken breeding at Leafhopper.

Though we started in the incubator at 18, we are down to 13 now. Last weekend a predator took 3 chicks, and two eggs never came to term in the incubator. This is the reality of chicken raising; high mortality. That’s why commercial operations have hundreds to thousands of birds and are constantly buying more to replace the dead. At Leafhopper, we are trying to reach holistic management of the birds by breeding small batches.

My goal this year was to double the home flock, while making plans to create a portable coop system for a larger flock of layers for our egg co-op. Large populations of chickens at Leafhopper does not feel right, and so, instead of getting commercial layers from a hatchery (like most larger scale farms do) a step up in hatching our own birds began. After two good incubation periods last spring and summer, along with the purchasing of a few hatchery dark layer breeds, the farm reached a flock number of about 40. Until the new portable coop is built, we’re halting breeding. Things will pick up again next Spring. By then, there should be a coop built.

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The ducklings are growing in their feathers! The little babes need a bath, so we’re taking them to the pond later today! It’s done snowing and the temperatures are up again above freezing, so it’s duck dipping time! As you see, these birds are a little dirty. The splatters on the wall are an indication of how wet these animals can get, even with a small bucket to dunk their heads in. Ducks are the most messy baby animal I’ve ever had on the farm. Pigs pale in comparison! It was so silly to incubate ducklings at the end of the summer going into the cold months. Not a good plan!

If I had raised them in the spring (I did try a batch then, but the incubator was not working right and the whole batch was lost) they would have mature feathers grown in and be in an outdoor paddock situation by now. If I did not have the chicks in the round pen at present, the ducklings would be there. In future I will also not raise ducklings and chicks at the same time. Best timeline:

early spring-chicks: March is cold, but indoor incubation can start then with newly hatched babes raised in the shop till it warms up in May

early summer-ducklings: April is perfect for ducklings, and the incubator will be available after the first hatch of chicks. By the time the chicks are out in a movable system, ducklings can move into the shop until their feathers grow in, then it’s warm enough at mid-summer to be outside and hardened off for the cold months ahead

early fall- chicks: a last hatch will give us pullets by spring for egg laying

Winter is just not a good time for baby animals. The cold and damp are hard to keep at bay without a lot of extra energy. All the adult animals are hardened off and large enough to keep warm. It’s rough on the ducklings to still not have full plumage. Even the chicks, who are a smaller heat mass, have a good feather layering to keep warm under by now. The ducklings will fledged out soon, but it’s too cold to let them stay out at night. Consequently, there’s a mess in the shop corner where they reside. It’s not ideal, but they are super cute, and will be outside soon.

My plan this winter, is to let the ducks seal the pond. There will be fluctuating water depths to allow activity along the entire bank at both low and high water flow. The duck numbers are low enough to prevent complete destruction of the wetland, yet enough poop and wallow power to plaster the edges with good duck dookie. This method will be a lot less invasive than pigs. Although, if the sealing does not work with ducks, pigs are the next step. What learning to come!

First Snow

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Leafhopper Farm is getting snow today! It’s the earliest I’ve ever seen snow in Western Washington since moving here in 2009. As a hill country dweller, it’s not out of the question to have snow by the end of October, but unusual. Frosts have been showing up for a few weeks, and many less hardy plants in the garden have wilted into the ground for overwintering. Kale is still strong, along with mustard greens, calendula, and even nasturtium. This blanket of white will have an impact on all the crops left out in the cold. Luckily, cold frames and cloches will keep a few greens alive through the winter for us to enjoy. I got out and covered the beds in below photo last evening to save them from the snow. The rose has dropped her last late bloom in surrender to the coming cold.

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Later in the afternoon on this snow day, the participation developed into a constant downfall of white flakes which are starting to stick. I’m so grateful for the firewood I’ve managed to get split in time, along with the awareness that this cold front was coming, giving me time to prepare. Usually snow does not fall often in the lower elevations, but this winter should be a heavy snow year, and this early winter wonderland was expected. November can be our coldest month, and in the past, temperatures have trended in the 20s. With this snow, we say good-bye to the last warm days till next spring, and the farm will hibernate, well, some parts anyway. Livestock is active year round, and the younger animals are hardening off to the cold just in time for these arctic conditions to set in.

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Our ducks have feathers now, and will go outside next week. The young chickens are rotating in a small outside paddock, and should be ready to join their fellow egg layers in the main coop within a few more weeks. The goats stay inside when it’s this cold and wet out, owing to their sensitivity to drastic temperature change and dampness. They will be out browsing any time the weather holds, and enjoying hay and grain treats while enclosed in the barn with a nice layer of straw to bed down in.

Labor intensive projects are also still happening on the farm, including prep for the new stream buffer fence that’s going in this winter. We’ll erect over 650′ of new wire fence, complete with new gates and proper posting braces. Back in the livestock arena, there is still a plan to build a portable coop for future chicken systems, and duck den design for the quackers. Eventually we’ll need to completely rebuild all the livestock stalls, but the current run down sheds are holding, and with any luck, after the completion of minor roof repair work this summer, these shelters will stay up for a few more years.

Though the cold does slow us down, work must go on, and will, through all the season as we celebrate each unique step in developing this active permaculture environment. Winter is a time of introspection and resting, or not, depending on the needs of a young farm. At Leafhopper, when there’s daylight, there’s a task to be done. It is nice sometimes to take a moment for warming up by a wood stove, or taking an evening to enjoy stories with friends. This is the winter season’s gifts, along with snow. As an advanced alpine skier, Liz will get some time out on the slopes of her beloved Cascades, and she hopes to see you out there enjoying the winter sports!

Forest Stewardship Certification

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Leafhopper Farm is now a Washington State Forest Stewardship property! Liz Crain completed the six week class through Washington State University on October 31, 2017. The farm now has a documented forestry plan, meaning there is a written record of tasks and plans for the wooded and soon to be wooded areas of the farm. Because of the some what unique circumstances of Leafhopper Farm, including its permaculture design which bridges agriculture and forestry. The plan has many new features of forestry planning (such as mushroom cultivation) written in. There is also a lot of food forest talk, meaning nut trees mixed in with native under-story trees like vine maple which makes good tool wood (handles for shovels and chisels).

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The Forest Stewardship Plan meshes well with the King Conservation District Farm Plan. Both are guided by county regulation, and encourage land owners to play an active part in maintaining the land for the betterment of future generations. These concepts are not unique to Washington, and I would encourage everyone with land reading this to take a look at what kind fo stewardship planning your county offers. It’s a great way to learn more about your property, take action in maintaining health on your land, and enjoying the financial discounts that proactively engaging with your land can bring. In King County Washington, you do not have to have a lot of acreage to receive great financial incentives. So, even you postage stamp nesters or even multi-unit homes can steward the property with intention.

At Leafhopper Farm, we strive to better the landscape through holistic stewardship. We do not use chemicals to enhance the soil, or feed our animals anything other than USDA certified grains from a local mill. Weiss Creek is getting a generous stream buffer, which will be fenced in this winter. The materials bought to build a goof fence are partially paid for by KDC in a cost share program. They will also pay Liz $20/hr for her work putting up the fence. It’s a win win for all, with the county getting a commitment from the land owner to protect the salmon bearing stream, while offering cash to pay for the fencing and labor, giving Liz a wage for her work! It will also ensure the long lasting protection of sensitive riparian areas of the land, enriching the salmon populations of Washington, and maybe even, the greater West Coast.

For Liz, receiving the coveted Forest Stewardship sign is a landmark event she’s dreamed up since first becoming a land owner. It will be the first of many plaques she plans to work towards in her quest for conservation and biodiversity at Leafhopper Farm. Next on the docket for property improvement is a Public Benefits Rating System application (PBRS). This system adds up all the value added assets of your property, a salmon bearing stream for instance. Each asset has a point attached to it, and the more you have, the better your rating for public benefit. What do the points get you? Well, up to a 90% property tax reduction, which Leafhopper Farm does have the potential of earning. What’s the catch? You have to remain enrolled and participating for a full 10 years or you have to pay back the taxes, plus a 20% penalty. This sounds harsh, but it prevents people from making false commitments to the land.

Stewardship of place is about recognizing that the land is going to outlive you. Trees take several generations to reach maturity, rivers and lakes, streams and oceans will be flowing long after our blip in this living timeline. Holding the land in trust is an honor, and land ownership, though controversial for some, means responsibility and caring to me. My actions today will dictate the shape of things to come. There are also so many factors out of my hands, most of them acts of nature I cannot, and shall not attempt to dictate. May this wisdom carry on to future generations, along with the health and happiness already flowing freely from the landscape.

 

More Wild Harvest

 

It’s been a busy Fall here at Leafhopper Farm, and that’s to be expected. The last of summer’s bounty is gathered, processed, and stored in the larder for the coming dark times of winter. Some foods are best fresh, and mushrooms are no exception. This year, our mushroom spring is slow. Usually by now, I’ve collected a bunch of chantrelle mushrooms Cantharellus cibarius.However, due to our hot, dry summer, the mushrooms are delayed and may not come up at all. It’s a little bit of a let down, but I’m hoping the mushrooms will still come out, making a late appearance in November, before we start dropping into freezing temperatures, which does in fact happen here in The Pacific Northwest.

 

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On the landscape of Leafhopper, Zeller’s Boletes Xerocomellus zelleri are out and prolific, so we do have wild shrooms on the property to enjoy. Well, some people are not fans of the Boletaceae family, but it has some of the most desired edible mushrooms in the world such as Boletus edulis, porcini or King Bolete. The Zeller’s is less flavorful, but not bitter like so many other boletes. In coloquial language, Zeller’s is also called “crackly cap” mushroom, and here’s a picture to show why:

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This sliced up cap still shows it’s “crackly” look. They also bruise blue like many psychedelic verities, but do not fear, these mushrooms are not “magical”. They are numerous on the farm, and find there way into many meals at this time. They do not dehydrate well, but they are delicious pan fried with a little butter. I also use them in soups to add body to the broth. Mushrooms are amazing, and should be treated with great respect. As I’ve stressed before, find a mycologist friend to take you out mushroom hunting so you learn with an expert. Never experiment with eating a mushroom you’re not sure of. Though I feel very comfortable with a few species I’ve worked with often over the years, I never experiment with unknown verities. The risk is too great. Again, if you are new to shrooming, go out with a professional to learn safe verities and key identification characteristics. There are many safe species to harvest in the woods, and once you know, you can enjoy without doubt.

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zeller’s boletes, cutthroat trout (including roe and skin)

Another great wild food to have in your larder is trout. I’ve got a few spots where I can fish year round (if the lake is not named, it does not fall under fishing season regulations). These lakes are very remote, and not listed in any fishing guides so you have to seek them out yourself. I do, and when I go, I’m also grouse hunting (when in season), mushroom hunting, and keeping aware of other food possibilities available in the wild (like wild cranberries from a bog). Usually, I return with something, even if it’s just a load of firewood. But wild harvesting is opportunistic. You have to know what’s out each season and where to find it. You’ll learn about new spots as you explore the landscape, but you have to get outside for success.

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wild cranberries Vaccinium oxycoccos

Wild food is also modest, usually only offering small portions for the time it takes to harvest. This can be frustrating for people with big appetites, but you can find more than enough sustenance if you are willing to take your time. I can say I often overeat as a result of having large portions available, especially in restaurant settings. Americans are notorious for eating more than any other nation in the world. It’s mind boggling to walk into a grocery store after being out in the wilds harvesting food. The underpinning concept to come to terms with is this: industrial agriculture is not sustainable.

On the flip side, wild harvests could never feed our current populations, but our numbers would have never grown to what they are now without industrial agriculture. For better or worse, we’re given in to consumption, and that’s going to make lean times hard to bear. By moving into a wilder diet, the practice of modest eating comes very much into play. I’ve become so much more aware of how precious food is. My hunting, fishing, and gathering is art, and the results speak for themselves. Gratitude to wild places, the chance to enter them, and the sustenance they provide for those who know where and how to look.