Wyebrook Dispatch

Category Archives: Animals



The cows and calves have stopped their balling and everyone seems perfectly content with their new found freedom. It took exactly 3 days, just like Ryan said it would. All is quiet on the farm once again.

Lauren and I headed to the farmers’ market for the first time in two weeks! They didn’t have a market last week because of Thanksgiving and the weekend before I was out of town and Wyebrook went to a holiday market in the city instead of Malvern. We were glad to be back and so were our customers. However, it was cold. Really, really cold. And we had this misfortune of setting up in a shady wind tunnel. This only made matters worse. Lisa and Donna, the market coordinators, took pity on us and helped us relocate inside the pavilion which was ever so slightly warmer.

Our customers clearly have not read my post about what not to say to someone who works outside. “Stay warm” is not a helpful suggestion. How am I supposed to do that when I have no choice but to be outside and it is 35F with a windchill of 27F? Staying warm isn’t really an option. I have a much deeper respect for all the lovely vendors up in Brooklyn who showed up every Saturday year round, sun, rain or snow. Not only are they 100 miles further north, the market ran 4 hours longer than the Malvern one! I can’t even imagine how cold they must be. Next time I am in NYC on a Saturday I plan to take coffee or hot chocolate to all of them. They are a tougher breed than I am. Thankfully next week we move inside a local church!

Things at the market have slowed down a lot in the past few weeks. Most of our customers today were regulars. Now that it is cold out, people don’t come to the park for a Saturday morning stroll or play date. If you are lucky enough to live near a year-round farmers’ market, show the vendors some love by shopping there. And tell your friends to do the same. We really do appreciate it!

Photo Friday

Photo Friday

Guess what I did? I went wandering with my camera! Finally. One of these days I’ll actually start doing this consistently. One of these days…


A New Game

A New Game


While I miss having Steve around and am looking forward to the day when his back is better, I have enjoyed working with Ryan these past few days. He is a good boss and a generally fun person.

Today was chicken slaughter day. One of today’s tasks was catching some of the moulting layers to be slaughtered as stewing hens. Catching broiler chickens is annoying, but not unmanageable as they live inside the broiler houses. Catching layers is a whole different story.

Our layers are truly free range. They have a coop and most come back to roost there every evening, but they have the full run of the farm. They run between pastures and under gates. They hang out in the woods by the compost pile and even down at the market from time to time. Which makes catching them…complicated.

I went up to get eggs around 11:00 and Ryan came along to catch our stewing hens. He actually did pretty well, better than I could have managed. But after he caught a few the chickens started to catch on and began dispersing away from the house. That’s when I came up with a mildly brilliant plan.

Chickens love eggs. Weird, I know, but they do. If you crack an egg in a flock of hens they go crazy trying to get at it. As I gathered eggs, I gave Ryan any cracked ones I came across. He’d identify a moulting hen and toss the egg towards it. As soon as the chicken attacked the egg, Ryan attacked the hen! Success! I’m sorry I don’t have a video of this. I was too busy looking for cracked eggs for him to throw.

While it was fun and incredibly entertaining, I think next time we need stewing hens, we’ll just grab them late Wednesday night while they are roosting.

There’s Always One

There’s Always One

Steve hurt his back over the weekend so I hung around to help Ryan. We had two big moves today and I was glad Ryan was leading the charge on both of them instead of me!

First we moved the calves. My favorite group! They were going into the woods with the goats. They were hungry and came as soon as Ryan started calling them. I followed behind just to make sure no stragglers turned around and tried to escape, but that wasn’t a problem. The whole thing took maybe 20 minutes. Maybe.  I wish moving calves went that smoothly every time!

Cooperative calves

Cooperative calves

Then we moved the cows. They were the tricky group. We put them above the pond, right below the cottage and café.

Cows outside my window!

Cows outside my window!

There aren’t perimeter fences for that section so we had a lot of setting up to do. Once we had everything ready, we set about moving them. To make it easier to follow, I’ve drawn up some lovely diagrams.


You were hoping I’d actually draw a cow, weren’t you? No such luck. This is the extent of my artistic skills.

The cows were in Pasture 1. The solid black lines are the perimeter fences and the blue dashed line is the temporary fence that was still set up. The two gaps between Pasture 1 and Pasture 2 are coil spring gates and the opening at the bottom of Pasture 2 is the gate that opens into the lane. Our goal: run the cows through the coil springs, through Pasture 2 and into the lane. They would then follow the lane around to the are we’d fenced for them above the pond.


We were worried that the calves would run past the 1st coil springs and get disoriented. This has happened before. They pass the opening they are supposed to run through and can’t figure out how to get back. They see the rest of the herd through the fence, but don’t know to turn around so they just keep plowing on ahead. To try and keep this from happening, we set up some chicken fence perpendicular to the far corner of the coil springs.

We also had a contingency plan. If any of them did run past the chicken fence, I would drop the temporary fence (blue dashed line) and open the far coil springs and call them down that way. Contingency plans are good. You should always have one because there’s always one knothead who can’t get with the program.

The whole herd came galloping through the first coil spring opening, following Ryan to new pasture while I waited to bring up the rear. Miraculously, all of the calves made it through and I though we were in the clear. No such luck. One of the mamas ran past the chicken fence and got herself trapped. I quickly dropped the fence and called her down to the other coil spring opening.

20131014_0028She came running, but by the time she got through the herd was out the gate and halfway down the lane. I wanted to keep her moving in the right direction so I ran behind her all the way down the pasture.

20131014_0029On paper that might not seem like a far distance, but these drawings are not to scale. Here’s a photo I took from the gate. I ran there from the ATV. Can you spot it?

20131014_0004I’ll help you out.

20131014_0004aI am supposed to run a half marathon on Sunday. That’s pretty laughable at this moment. There is no way. My eyes have been opened and I am no longer under the delusion that being ‘farm fit’ will enable me to run 13.1 miles without any training.

Back to cows. They are happily settled right outside my window! It is lovely.

Cows outside my window!



In the past week our daily egg harvest has dropped from 16-18 dozen down to about 13 dozen. Why? Our older birds have started moulting.

Moulting for chickens is the equivalent of shedding for dogs or a snake losing its skin. Their feathers receive a good deal of wear and tear and need to be periodically replaced. Chickens typically moult once a year, though some bird species moult 2-3 times every year. For chickens, the process occurs in the fall as the strong, new feathers will keep them warm during the winter and will become thinner throughout the hot summer months.

Growing new feathers takes a lot of energy so chickens stop laying eggs shortly before they begin moulting and don’t resume laying until after the process is complete. It can take anywhere from 4-16 weeks for a chicken to complete a moult. Chickens can’t shed all their feathers at once (this would leave them too exposed to the elements) so it often happens in a wave, starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body to the tail. As old feathers fall out, they are replaced by new feathers, called pinfeathers.

Chickens look pretty rough while they are moulting. They are losing a lot of feathers very quickly. Our coop looks like a fox had a field day. That’s how many feathers there are. Then there are the poor, unsightly chickens. I may not like chickens much, but they really are beautiful animals. Not so much when they moult.

Moulting may not be fun to watch, but it is part of a chicken’s natural life cycle. If you are new to raising chickens and notice a member of your flock losing feathers, don’t panic! It is completely normal and once they grow back your chicken will be as good as new.


See how scruffy she looks?


This girl is almost done her moult. Her new feathers are almost completely regrown.




Lauren is enjoying a much-needed weekend off so Emily and I ran the show at the farmers’ market this morning. Shortly after we arrived, before we were done setting up, I got a call from Steve who was back at the farm handling chores and such.

My heart sank when I saw his name on the screen. Given how our week without Ryan had gone, I just assumed he had bad news for me. I really wanted to ignore the call. After all, there wasn’t much I could do from Malvern and I couldn’t just up and leave. Emily and I drove there together; I couldn’t just abandon her. Whatever it was he would just have to deal with it or wait until I got back at 2:00. I fought off the impulse to hit “Ignore” and answered the call.

“I just wanted to let you know we got 81!” Steve shared joyfully. It took me a minute to register what he said. The last calf, the final lost soul, was back with the herd. All of the calves were in the proper pasture. He and Tiana (his wife) had counted and recounted to make sure we had all 35. It only took us a whole week to get them there, but everyone was safely where they belonged before Ryan’s return! I wanted to shout for joy, but restrained myself. I didn’t want to scare off any customers. For the first time all week, I might actually get a good night’s sleep now that I don’t have that weighing on me.

Once every 4-6 weeks we host a chef dinner where a celebrity chef, typically from Philly, comes out to the farm and prepares a 5-7 course dinner for a group of 50. I’m not normally around for them (often they are on Sundays and I am already on the road to DE), but Dean is out of town so he invited me to go and asked me to share about the farm which is what he normally does. I’ll share more about the evening tomorrow, but let me just say it was one of the best meals I’ve had. Ever.

Completely unrelated: I figured out how to work the air compressor when none of the guys could. Steve had already left for the day and Emily’s tire needed air. Steve had removed the nozzle to hook up the air wrench so he could fix the trailer wheel. He’d removed the air wrench, but hadn’t reattached the normal nozzle. Mike and Paul were trying to figure it out as I headed out for the 4:00 tour. They eventually gave up and let me try and I got it! My dad will be so proud when he reads this.




Sorry, boys. The party’s over. Breeding season is at an end and the bulls are now facing 10 months of celibacy before their next hurrah.

We do open breeding with our cows which is where you put the bull in with the herd and let him have at it. The other breeding method is controlled breeding where you only allow the bull in with select females. You’d do this if you are breeding for certain traits or are looking to raise and sell show animals. We aren’t and open breeding is a much easier option.

The bulls joined the herds back in July and had their two month fling. A cow’s gestation period is 10 months so the calves should be born between the end of April and June. Then the bulls go back in and the cycle begins again.

I was pretty nervous about working the bulls. Things went well last time, but we were taking them to the females. This time we were removing them so I was worried they’d be a bit more testy. Bulls and boars are two animals you don’t want to mess with. Thankfully both of our bulls are calm and they cooperated perfectly. We didn’t have any trouble loading them on to the trailer. Then Ryan carted them down to Lundale where they joined the steers.

Today was Thursday which means chicken slaughter day. The only difference was that Brian and Caleb had a big job this afternoon so they arrived at 6:00 a.m. Ryan, Steve and I were out catching chickens at 5:30. In the dark. That was fun. Ryan had a headlamp. I meant to bring mine back to the farm, but forgot it in Delaware. Yes, I own a headlamp. It’s awesome. It has a strobe light setting. But actually the dark helped us out. The chickens couldn’t see and were still half asleep. It was probably the easiest chicken catching we’ve done.

After all the birds had been nabbed and caged, I made breakfast for everyone, Brian and Caleb included. I figured we were all up early and needed a good start to the day. Nothing fancy. Just scrambled eggs. But they were just what we needed to really get going.

I kind of like being up early because the farm is so beautiful first thin in the morning. I always get the best photos then. One of these days I’ll take my real camera out. I keep saying that. Maybe it really will happen soon. Until then, phone photos will have to do.

Ryan and I headed down to Lundale to move the steers to a new pasture while Steve started on chores. I helped him finish up when we got back and Ryan set to work making check lists for us for next week. He’s getting married on Saturday and will be gone on his honeymoon. Steve and I will be on our own for a whole week! I’m sticking around Monday and Tuesday to help.


After that it was time to clean the chick brooders. For the last time! Cleaning the brooders is my least favorite chore. Chickens are gross, even when they are babies. The shed can just be shoveled out in between batches of chicks, but the brooders have to be scrubbed. It isn’t fun. But we moved our last batch of chicks from the brooders to the shed yesterday. Now the brooders are squeaky clean and will remain that way until next spring. Thank goodness!

Does anyone know what these seeds are? My boots and pants are covered in them after walking through the pastures. Whatever it is, it goes to seed this time of year because this is the first I’ve seen them.

20130918_0021Also, Modern Farmer has declared this week Goat Week. In honor of that, enjoy these photos of our sweet goats. I got to hang out with them today! We’ve been so busy I haven’t been able to spend much time with them. And, yes, that is a goat climbing a tree in the 2nd photo.



Tagging and Hoof rot

Stuck, Tagging and Hoof rot
Post by our Farm Girl Becca; Girl Gone Farming
It was bound to happen. Only a matter of time, really. Honestly, with my track record I’m amazed I made it this long. I got something stuck. But that is a story for another time.

It wasn’t all me. It was a joint effort really between Arden and myself. She was driving the Polaris, but I was navigating. The grass was so tall. Above my waist in places. We didn’t see the gully until it was too late. It was so muddy. We tried everything. Low gear. Four-wheel drive. But we just kept spinning tires.

20130529_0006 20130529_0005

After our best efforts to get unstuck failed, I called Rob to come pull us out. He first tried to rescue us with the four wheeler, but that didn’t work. We were really stuck. So he returned with the tractor. The big tractor. The one that pulls the hay wagon, a.k.a The Hulk. That did the trick. We were saved and I’ll be baking Rob some oatmeal butterscotch cookies. Those are his favorite.


Rob to the rescue!


Saved by the Deere

We spent the better part of the afternoon trying to catch and tag calves. Cow 116 had a female baby yesterday and Ryan asked me if I felt comfortable tagging it by myself. I said I did and set off with the two Robs to build a fence and tag what would be calf 344. Turns out calf 344 is a wild child. Young calves sleep a lot so you can usually just sneak up on them and get them tagged before they know what is happening. Not 344. She was up and alert and wanted nothing to do with us. We chased her around for a good bit before deciding to try again later.

That was yesterday morning. This morning we went up with the same plan. Find her sleeping and sneak up on her. Well, we found her sleeping, but when I was about 10 feet away she jumped up and bucked and ran. So much for that plan. The first time Ryan tasked me with tagging a calf on my own I failed miserably. He ended up having to chase her down on the four wheeler and lasso her to get her tagged. That made me feel better. It wasn’t all incompetence on my part. She really was wild!

This afternoon we headed over to the heifers to treat two calves for hoof rot. Hoof rot is almost exactly what it sounds like: a bacterial infection that rots the foot, though it actually attacks the area between the “toes,” not the hoof itself. It is very contagious and can lead to lameness if left untreated. The telltale sign is limping. We treated the calves yesterday so today they were pretty skittish. We finally caught and treated one, but the other wouldn’t let us get close enough to rope her so we will try again tomorrow. Hoof rot spreads through the soil so I am hoping that a few warm days will dry out the ground and prevent the infection from spreading to others.

For those who have been wondering about Sir Fluffkin, he is doing well, though is minions are almost as big as him these days. He’s still with his friends up in the broiler house. I am hoping to move him down with the layers when we get the 500 new ones. Chicken-dog will have so many distractions that she shouldn’t single him out. Sadly, he is becoming increasingly less domesticated. He won’t let me pick him up and hold him like he used to. It’s my fault for not spending more time with him every day, but that’s just the way it goes.


Rainy Days and Mondays

Rainy Days and Mondays

Post by our Farm Girl Becca, GIRL GONE FARMING

Another cold, rainy day here on the farm.

The crazy weather is really starting to affect us, even the animals. The cows don’t seem to mind it too much, probably because they are still shedding their winter coats and the cooler air is more tolerable, but the layers spend their days huddled under the house and the pigs in their huts. We are keeping a close eye on the piglets because they aren’t growing as fast as we’d like and several have been coughing. It’s likely just a cold from the cool, damp air, but we want t stay on top of it. When I first got here back in March, we lost a few piglets to pneumonia and we don’t want that again. It’s frustrating because this should be the perfect time of year for piglets!


Even so, I am thankful for the rain. When you are out moving cows, soaked to the skin and ankle deep in mud, it is easy to forget all the benefits of the rain, but it is a blessing. As a future reminder to myself, here are 10 things I am thankful for when it comes to rain:

  1. It suppresses pollen
  2. It cools things down
  3. It keeps the grass growing
  4. Setting up fencing is so much easier when the ground is soft after a shower
  5. The smell after the rain
  6. The sound of rain against my window as I fall asleep
  7. Running in the rain keeps me cool and hides how sweaty I am
  8. Free car wash
  9. Rainy evenings provide the perfect excuse to curl up with a good book (or Arrested Development…)
  10. Because no matter how old you are (or what you are), jumping in a puddle can put a smile on anyone’s face

Grassfed Memorial Day

Grassfed Memorial Day

Post by our farm girl Becca. GIRL GONE FARMING

One thing about life on a farm is that animals don’t celebrate holidays. That means farmers don’t get holidays either. Be it Christmas or the Fourth of July, the animals need to be fed and watered every single day.

Steve is off on his honeymoon so I volunteered to hang around and help Ryan. Given that it is Memorial Day, we treated it like a weekend which means we pretty much just did chores. Arden, the girl from VA Tech, came in, too. We fed chickens, moved cattle, caught 2 pigs and 2 heifers or slaughter, and gathered eggs. We also tried to tag a new calf but after 20 minutes of searching for him in waist-high grass, we gave up and will try again tomorrow once the cows have eaten the grass down a bit.

We sell raw grassfed milk in the market now which is wonderful on many levels. We had a few half gallons left over from this past weekend and we don’t hold it over so I used some to make ricotta to take to garden night tomorrow. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as well as it normally does. I’m sure it was either the ultrapasturized cream or the bottled lemon juice. Normally I use lightly pasteurized cream and fresh lemon juice or vinegar, neither of which I had on hand. The curds and whey didn’t separate well which left me with a somewhat watery final product. Oh well!

Wyebrook Farm Grassfed Beef Wyebrook Farm Chicken Dog Maremma Anatolian mix Wyebrook Farm Sheep Chicken Dog and Sheep Wyebrook Farm Chicken Dog Wyebrook Farm chicken Dog and Sheep