The blog of Hope Grows

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Local elementary kids discover where Hope Grows

In partnership with the Georgia Southern Botanical Gardens and local elementary schools (5 of them in Bulloch County), we've been spending the afternoons this week doing farm education and discovery workshops with anywhere from 20 to 40 students from Pre-K through the 6th grade. It's injected the kind of energy and enthusiasm to farm life you just don't get with the older crowd (i.e. college students). Granted, we love giving tours and educating folks about what we do--but there's something about seeing a kid get infectiously happy about seeing spinach growing or a chicken laying an egg. They yell. They jump up and down. Their heart seems to be in it just as much as ours is.

We learned about combs, waddles, and how a chicken's feet feel...

Peeking in the chicken pen...

Feeding pecans to the pigs...which mostly looks like throwing pecans at the pigs. They don't mind, I guess.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Clippin' Chick'n Wings (with GSU students)

We were fortunate enough to have three GSU service-learners come out last week to help us with clipping the wings of our layers. They showed up and got right to it. 400 birds later, they were pros. A little uneasy at first--they didn't realize clipping wings was more or less like cutting a fingernail. Here's a video of how to clip a chicken's wings from last year:

And some photos from this year:

You need a catcher, a holder, and a clipper, plus somebody workin' the door. It's all hands in on this project. We wear masks because all the birds in the coop flapping around wildly = major dust. Chickens are chicken, and they freak out a little before it's time to clip, but once they're done it's a non-event and they enjoy the rest of their day.

Thanks, y'all.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Crop Mob Comes to Hope Grows

Next Sunday, April 3rd...right here! Here's the link to Crop Mob's site:

Come on out, y'all. Be sure to RSVP.

Monday, March 21, 2011

They're women now!

Our young(er) "Production Red" layers with their first eggs. They live up to their name. It only took 4.5 months to get the first egg, which is quicker than the 6 month waiting period you can expect with other breeds. Of course, the eggs are small now, but they're coming. In a month or two they should be medium or larger. Now that the days are lengthening and the temperatures are warming, their laying cycles are much more stimulated. In winter, production dips to about 25% of what you could normally expect--and we have to turn many egg eaters away, explaining that eggs are seasonal, just like tomatoes or strawberries. But it's spring and we're headed out of that now. Between our younger and older birds (about 800 of 'em), we should get somewhere around 300 dozen/week in peak season. It's time to start picking eggs 2+ times a day.

Now, if only we could train them to lay eggs straight into the flats...


A bit about our brooder...

From the Georgia Organics tour. Video courtesy of Linda Woodworth!

You can find specs on our hover brooder here:


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whodunnit? A farm mystery...

There's varmints eatin' our meat chickens!

The first couple of weeks on pasture can be treacherous for small chicks. Our broiler pens are heavy and well armored, but not completely impervious to attack--especially when you're dealing with an animal that has deep digging capability. Not sure what it is--fox, coyote?--but we've definitely got an issue on our hands. Here's the evidence from last night:

A 12-inch hole, that is--dug from the outside to the inside. We moved the pens before taking the picture because there were broilers freely roaming everywhere on the pasture this morning. Whatever it is--it's dedicated. Here's a photo of the print to the right of my hand, which suggests fox...?

So far we've tried shoring up the pens with 2x4's on the ground. Our next tactic may include a motion-detector light, or perhaps just a vigil with a lawn chair and a .17 rifle. Whatever it is, it's on!


Friday, March 18, 2011

2010 WWOOFer of the Year: Dillon! Yay!

Chicks dig Dillon. Apparently ducks, too. See the Superwoman cap--she wore it 'cause she could back it up. Dillon hailed from Atlanta, a former corporate career woman "liberated" from her job to pursue life wholeheartedly as a farmer. We were lucky enough to have her around for a couple months last fall and most of the 2011 winter season. Future WWOOFers, take note:

Dillon was awesome because...

1. She was easy going, which balanced our type-A management style.
2. She was self-motivated. She saw something that needed to be done, and did it--or mentioned it to us so that we would do it.
3. She had a sense of humor. It goes a long way in farm life and life in general.

We could gab about how great she is in further detail, but we fear it may make future WWOOFers feel inadequate. However, if you are considering Dillon for a work-stay on your farm, we give her our full recommendation and our highest WWOOFer honor--2010 WWOOFer of the year (we had 10ish WWOOFers in 2010). WWOOFer Hall of Fame and Best WWOOFer of All Time will be announced at a later date.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First Pigs, then 2011 Chicks & Ducks Out to Pasture

After a whirlwind weekend with the Georgia Organics (WTOC appearance, panel presentation with Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, farm tour, GROW! premiere, pastured poultry family in town) we're happy to be farmin' again. We spent this morning putting our first batch of 300 Freedom Ranger chicks and 30 ducks out to pasture. It's official--2011 is on. Now we start the 9-month dance around the farm. The first to tango? Pigs, then meat chickens and ducks.

They Came in Droves: Farm Tour at Hope Grows

As part of the Georgia Organics conference program on Friday, a tour bus loaded with 45 people headed out to our farm to check out what we've been up to for the past two years. They came in droves (pig joke--Google it) to hear our story, to look at our ramshackle farm innovations (ramshackle on purpose of course)...

...they came to witness us gesturing this way and that...

What a culminating moment for the struggles and joys of the last two years. I thought a lot about Elliott's dad, Mike McGann. He would have been proud to see that bus pull up to the farm, to see people come to learn about a dream we've given roots and wings.

Photos from this post courtesy of Matthew Bagshaw.

If you have any questions about us or our farm tour, please do not hesitate to call 912-863-6436 or e-mail us at We have an outline of the farm tour available as well as a copy of our conference presentation on pastured poultry. Thanks for your interest!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Innovative Coop Design for Backyard Chicken Flocks

Hello to the backyard flock people! Though we have more chickens on our farm than would fit into this coop, we're often fielding questions from backyard flock enthusiasts or wannabe's. What kind of coop? How big? Should it move? Protection? Cost? These are all good questions answered by the following design--which is not our original idea, but certainly our style. The architect responsible is Zachary Lamb, a Savannah native (and son of some of our beloved co-producers) who now lives and works in New Orleans. He recently took home an award from the American Institute of Architects for this very project. We're not architects, but we do think about chickens a lot, and we like this design because it's cheap to build, uses found or recycled materials, is easily portable, and is just the right size for 3 to 4 hens. Specs from Zachary are below...

The Cart Coop is a prototypical chicken coop that elevates a scrapped shopping cart to a replicable model for urban food production.

There is not any one way to build a Cart Coop. Instead, the design relies on a single shopping cart that acts as a common chassis for any variety of roof and side panels.

With zip ties or rivets and a large sheet of scrap metal, any sort of roof shape can be attached to the shopping cart chassis. While sections of corrugated metal are common urban freebies, any material or large sheet shape can be used. Bendy plastic, rigid foam, or tough plywood can also form this roof plane.

Because found sheet materials differ widely in size and shape, a consistent roof form is not an option. Instead, each chicken coop will have a different roofline, ranging from curved to creased, swooping and flat. Ideally, the roof will arch upwards in at least one direction to shed water and to provide elevated roosting areas for the resident chickens.

The front plane of the shopping cart detaches easily (it is hinged), and this provides access for feeding and egg retrieval. This plane also flips down to meet the ground, allowing chickens to move in and out of their coop at will.

Stacked boxes or mounted shelves on the interior create laying areas, feeding areas and also a lofted roosting space. Straw, newspapers, or towels along the bottom of the basket can be added to make the chickens more comfortable. The interior of the Cart Coop can support up to three chickens at any one time, with a raised roof.

These drawings show the basic anatomy of a cart coop. Each unit would need to feature the following elements:

o A shopping cart chassis.

o A weather-tight enclosure or roof element.

o Rigid side panels with some sort of integral ventilation.

o An egg retrieval hatch.

o A protected laying box.

o Secure entry and egress.

Thanks for letting us share your work!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Meet Your Maker Dinner @ Cha Bella

Last night we were hosted by Chef Matt at Cha Bella, a Savannah restaurant that specializes in local and seasonal fare. Over 100 of their Farm Box recipients came out to have dinner with farmers. We were there showcasing our eggs (which have just been added as a Farm Box option) our CSA (which is a great compliment to the Farm Box), and, as you can see in the picture, the meat (chicken, pork, turkey, lamb, duck, man meat) we have available every Saturday at the Forsyth Farmers' Market.

The night ended with us and other farmers we know seated at the heads of all the tables, talkin' good food with people. It's no small feat to feed 100 people at once...

Thanks for a great meal--and for honoring local farmers. One of these days we'll get pasture raised chicken on the menu at Cha Bella.