Rabbits in Colonies

By Cait Carpenter

Raising rabbits in colonies is not a new concept, although it may seem new to the modern rabbit breeder. Monks began keeping rabbits in warrens as far back as the early medieval times, and the idea of caging didn’t take hold until the 1800’s. Propagating rabbits in a group setting isn’t for everyone – it is wrong in every way for exhibition rabbitries, and can make fiber production a complete bear – but for those seeking a more comfortable approach to meat production, colony raising is not a bad way to go.

What exactly is a colony, anyways? A colony is simply a group of bonded animals that live together. A colony could be out on pasture or completely indoors in a barn. The term “colony” means nothing about their management or housing other than the fact that they have a different social structure than conventional rabbit raising.

There are several factors to consider when deciding if you should start a colony. Keep in mind that any aspirations towards pedigrees are going to become difficult. Using tattoos or other identification methods alongside respectable record keeping can help to an extent, but once those babies come popping out of the nest boxes and mixing all together, the game is pretty well over. Purebred breeding is completely possible, but you won’t be able to have the proof on paper, it’ll mostly be on your word of, “One of these could be Dad, and one of those girls is Mom.”

Another aspect to think about before starting a colony is space and resources. Colonies require a different sort of environment. Raising rabbits in a group setting can work, but they require mental stimulation and infrastructure to hide under. Any species – rabbit, chicken, hog, etc – will become aggressive and fight with each other if they are crammed into tight, confined spaces with no outlet for natural activities. When you keep rabbits in a group setting, you’re reintroducing those natural tendencies, and some of those tendencies need attention. Unfortunately, you can’t throw three rabbits together in a typical wire cage and call it good. They’ll all have chewed off each other’s ears by the end of the week. They need a proper habitat with lots of things to do to keep them entertained.

Where colony raising shines is in a homestead setting for small-time meat production. In a set-up like this, significant attention can be paid to injuries, illnesses, and animal happiness, and pedigrees aren’t as important if most of the offspring are going to end up on the table.

Selecting Stock

Finding the right rabbits to meet your needs will make all the difference as to whether your colony will be a success or a flop. Ideally you will want to start out with young females under the age of six months. The younger they are, the more likely they’ll be to bond with each other smoothly. Mature female rabbits already have their personal “bubbles” established, and that typically doesn’t include other rabbits. It is possible to acclimate adult does to each other, but it’s difficult and often not worth the time, energy, and safety hazards to the rabbit. I don’t recommend beginning with a buck in the herd. Let the young ladies get used to each other and settled in before introducing a buck. Most colony raisers don’t keep a buck with the does full-time. If they are kept together all of the time, you’ll have litters coming out your ears, far too many consecutively to be comfortable for the doe. If you do get your buck and keep him in the colony, stick with only one. Bucks rarely get along together as roommates, even if they’ve been raised up as brothers.

Any breed can be raised in a colony. Size, color, and all other factors are solely up to what you want to do. Larger breeds are best for more intense meat production, while smaller breeds around 6lbs make wonderful projects for young breeders and as 4-H projects.

Building a Space

There are many different resources to connect with to design your colony’s home. It’s all relative to what will work for you. I highly recommend poking around online and seeing what you come up with. There is very little professional information regarding raising rabbits in colonies, so the “industry” has taken on a life all its own underground in a sense. I recommend the online forum RabbitTalk, the Facebook page BackyardMeatRabbits, and the series of books published by BYMR administrator Boyd Craven Jr., which can be purchased on Amazon. These are all great resources with a whole collection of great people to glean information from.

I do carry one warning – raising rabbits in a colony in cages is nearly impossible. Rabbits need mental stimulation when in groups to prevent them from taking out their frustrations on each other, and I personally believe that rabbits should have toys and things to play with anyways, even when in solitude. Problems quickly erupt from groups kept in cages, there is lots of ear ripping and fur pulling, causing great stress to all animals. I highly recommend planning for a large floor space with plenty of creative hiding spaces and means of entertainment. You’d bite your neighbor too if you were kept on an airplane for your entire life with nothing to keep you occupied.

Final Notes

Colony raising is a rewarding, albeit complicated adventure. When done properly, your rabbits will be very happy and fulfilled, and we all love happy and fulfilled dinner. Keep in mind that the domestic rabbit is a different creature mentally and instinctually than the wild rabbit. They cannot, and should not, be treated as if they are a wild animal. Be sensitive to each animal’s personal indications of discomfort, and react as such.

Good luck rabbitting!

Bits and Tongues

By Jamie Cleary PH.D

Bits and tongues, tiny yet potent. Both are devices used in an attempt to control another. Ironically, controlling these unruly little tools themselves is such an arduous task, we often find our use of either utterly inadequate to accomplish anything good. It is natural to want to be in control, yet it is one of the most problematic aspects encountered in horsemanship as well as human relationships.

How can we gain control over these remarkable tools to get better results with horses and humans? Both struggles share a common foundation and therefore a single remedy. Now there is some good news to chew on.



There are three elements to consider when seeking to become a mastermind in control: technique, motivation, and end results. Let’s get the conversation started.


It is not an oversimplification to say both a bit and a tongue can be used in one of two basic fashions, as a refinement tool or crude instrument.

Use of a bit as a crude instrument involves hard, heavy hands, accompanied by rather ugly actions such as jerking and tugging at a horse’s mouth. When it comes to tongues, the situation is just as unattractive with yelling, swearing and insulting being a few of the nasty techniques employed. While these methods in milder form may be necessary in extreme situations of immediate danger such as raising a voice to prevent a small child from running into traffic, or firmly lifting a rein to bend a spooked horse to a stop, it is never appropriate to use the more forceful forms.

The converse method is to see both tongues and bits as refinement tools. Bits are to be used to gently correct a horse’s direction, and to perform precision maneuvers, much like holding hands on a walk.


In this way, the bit is merely a tool to enhance a foundation laid through other forms of communication such as body position, energy and focus. The willingness of the horse to be controlled by the bit is coupled to his relationship with his rider and the clarity of these other forms of communication.

Tongues are also refinement tools. As such, they should be used to nurture relationships, encourage and teach. Like the bit, a person’s willingness to be influenced by what you say is linked to the relationship you have built with that person and through other forms of communication such as acts of kindness, time invested, smiles, hugs, tears and example. The benefit you hope to gain with words is merely to augment your already established relationship.


As unsightly a crude use of these tools can be, when used properly, both can produce the most graceful and eloquent results ever beheld. There is little more elegant than a gently guided dressage horse, and seldom will anything out value a word fitly spoken. We all see crude use of bits and tongues as dreadful. We hate seeing this negative conduct in ourselves and others, yet if we are honest we must admit we struggle to refine these behaviors. What causes people to so quickly resort to the use of a bit to control their horse or to their tongue to control another person in a crude fashion? Interestingly, the motivation for both of these behaviors is the same.


The root of the problem is pride. We often don’t think highly enough of our horses or others to warrant our time in learning how to more skillfully live and succeed together. This could be true for any number of reasons but the most common are laziness and fear. We don’t make the investment in developing alternative communication skills, or in developing our relationships, simply because it takes time.

As a leader it seems so much easier to just shout out commands than to have any real consideration for the individual. We are more afraid of losing control, looking like fools, or that somehow the individual will gain the upper hand, or see us for who we truly are to take the time to consider an alternative.

Our pride can allow us to jerk horses and people around for years, even a lifetime, in part because it works. Yes, it works to jerk a horse around with a bit, and people will often do what you command when you holler at them. For example, the child cleans her room, the employee gets the project completed on time, or the horse turns right, so yes, it absolutely works.

The question then becomes, at what cost did it work, and for how long will it work? What happens to the recipient of our actions over time? Do we really get the control we desire most in the end?


End Results

When crude skills are the only skills we have, or conditions become stressful, we often resort to controlling others exclusively with our tongues the same way many seek to control their horses exclusively with the bit. Over time these techniques become increasingly harsh with a decreased response from the victim.

In the case of the bit, a harsher style, or one with more leverage is often the perceived answer to regaining control. With the tongue, we simply yell louder, use increasingly harsh language, or elevate our level of insult. The end result is all too often the sale of the horse, the rebellion of the child, or the loss of the employee, friend or spouse. So, the irony is, it works, but it doesn’t.

This realization forces us to ask ourselves if another method would bring out more in my horse, my friends, my children, or my employees.

How can I get control? In both cases, we need to gain control of ourselves first rather than the other person or horse. Emotional control leads to physical control. We need to focus energy on refining our other forms of communication such as body language, time spent, acts of service, smiles, listening, giving, laughter, tears, hugs, holding hands.


With so much time spent using electronic gadgets, our culture and way of life have caused us to lose so much of our non-verbal communication emphasis. Interestingly, the horses’ only language is non-verbal. They rely exclusively on body language to communicate as do many other animals. There are many lessons to be learned from simply getting outside and quietly observing how they communicate and lead each other with neither tongue nor bit.

In short, if you want to control your horse, start with your tongue, which will lead you to build a better you. Emotional wellness; it is the difference in pretending to be in control, and actually being so.

Turn Your Job Into a Business

The dream of owning your own business brings to mind time and financial freedom. Built properly, your business fulfills that dream. But your business could also become a nightmare of being “owned” by a self-purchased job. I know the nightmare. I have created a Just Over Broke (JOB) when I purchased an existing business. The results were not healthy for me or pretty for my finances. Working too many hours, getting into debt and living a stress-filled life.

Farm Field

I will be sharing some of the major mistakes that I and others have made and how to avoid them. Now that I have learned over time what is important.

Building a business can be stressful. With planning and knowing that what you are about to build is your passion. You dream about farming, gardening and creating the life you want. You wake up in the middle of the night with Great Solutions for the business you want to build.

Reading, researching and talking to everyone who will listen about your business goals. Meeting others who desire to, or are living the lifestyle you are working towards. As an avid “organic food aficionado,” you reject the chemicals, poisons and shortcuts that can damage the land and your family’s health. Knowing that you will continue to work toward the sustainable life until you have reached your goal.

You have the “grit” to continue your plan until your dream is fulfilled. Are you passionate about living the homesteading, farming or sustainable estate lifestyle? Let me share about the mistakes and solutions that I have discovered on my journey so far.

The Dream to Build a Business

Over the years, many of us want to build a business rather than work a job or buy a “job.” Don’t get me wrong, some jobs have been amazing learning and earning experiences. Many skills and talents have been learned from them. However, there is no real time freedom in a job.

I have started businesses that turned out that I just “owned a job” to take care of that business. Overtime, I searched many “opportunities” that I thought could be the perfect business to give me time freedom. You know what I am talking about, lots of us have experimented. But I had a huge challenge ahead of me. That challenge was discovering for myself how to separate business or work from family life.

When I had a job, they could easily be separated. I had time that I worked and time that I spent with my life! But a business, how does that work? They seem to be intertwined to such a point, that life, the business and work was one big blur. Yikes! No time for myself.

My First Large Business

Old Store with Car

Growing up, I started lawn mowing businesses, irrigation pipe changing, bucking bales in fields, cleaning up construction sites and then cleaning stalls, feeding horses, buying-training and selling horses. I learned many of my skills from the people I worked for.

As farmers, we knew many people who had their own businesses, and I thought that would be the best way to do well in life. So when I got out of the military, I had the opportunity to purchase a business with my family. A grocery store mini-complex was for sale 10 miles from the Canadian border in Washington State. It needed a lot of work, but it was a small town and we would be the closest business near the border. Being a hard worker, we tend to look at work as an opportunity.

Hunters, fishermen, travelers and local residents would “flock” to our business! The dream was alive and well! We were on our way to business success!

The Reality of ‘Owning a Job’

Once we purchased the business, the reality of the workload hit hard and fast. Yes, we had customers from day one, well-wishers and those who wanted to know if we would give credit like the old owner did. We said “no” to almost everyone, except for special circumstances.

Here is a list of the major challenges we had with this business:

  • Clean and organize the store.
  • Clean up and remodel the “coffee shop” into a restaurant.
  • Provide firewood for the building for winter.
  • Set up and purchase products that sell for a fair profit.
  • Maintaining the building, gas pumps, restaurant equipment and trailer park that came with the store.
  • Communicate with family members and do our best to stay on task for doing all of the:
  • work
  • taxes
  • banking
  • ordering of products
  • cleaning
  • marketing
  • customer service
  • special orders
    • picking up supplies not delivered
  • etc………

As a hard worker, those tasks were not that daunting. However, as a business owner there were concerns.

  • We had gone into debt to purchase the property and buildings. The local, state and federal taxes had just been increased, which was not in our original calculations.
  • The income for the first month was a bit more than what we expected, but so were the cost of repair parts.
  • The hours of work had increased to an unsustainable 17-hour day. This included the “day of rest” that we had planned for.
  • Health became an issue working this many hours, so we did finally allow quite a few of the smaller items to “just be” as they were. We placed those items on a “to-do” list.
  • Mental health also had taken a back seat for the first six months, another health concern, so once the major projects were completed, we each got one day off per month.

Even though we felt we were on the right track for success, it had become a “job” where even our time off was filled with business related tasks. With a physical store there are specific hours we needed to be open. Due to the local customers “habits and time schedule,” we would open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. We also served the local sheriff and fire department who would need fuel or help sometimes in the middle of the night.

All in all, the people of the community were supportive, but just like any community, there are also certain customers who were a bit troublesome.

In conclusion as to why this business was a job.

  • Our time was dictated by our customers we served.
  • We did not research the business and expenses properly.
  • Our debt load was too high for the price we paid for the property.
  • Our fuel pumps required replacement and continual maintenance.
  • Credit for customers.
  • Major repairs and renovation were needed to improve the restaurant.
  • Our location limited our income potential.

I wanted to learn from the “mistakes” that I made from this “paid job” business, so I got some help.

Revisiting Past Successes

One of the business owners I worked for as a teenager was in his late 20s. He and his wife were living in a small mobile home on the ranch. It was a quarter horse training center built on an old quarter horse race track facility.

The place was in great need of repair, but was able to bring in income year round as a boarding facility and renting the indoor arena for horse training. They hired me to take care of the horses, clean the stalls, as well as clean up after the shows and training events.

They continued to grow toward their goals.

As their reputation for quality care and facilities grew, so did their business. They were able to travel more, they hired a horse trainer to live on site also. The business grew to pay for a new house, new equipment and they were enjoying their lives. Time to spend with family and friends.

Even though they had to take on some debt with the property, the payments were low due to the original condition of the facility.

Why it is a business, and not a job/being self-employed?

When I left that business to go into the military, my younger brother took over the job. The business continued to grow and provide for the family and their customers. It became a profitable lifestyle.

What lifestyle do you want to live? You can incorporate what you love to do into your business. Your entire life becomes ONE BIG LIFE! You are doing what you enjoy as you continue to learn and grow your business and your family.

Solutions to Success

Take time to research what you love to do, as well as assess your skills and stay healthy. Building a business takes stamina and persistence. Here is a list of items that have helped me to once again build a business that is in alignment with my passion.

Solutions discovered:

  • Research the potential of the business.
  • Keep your debt as small as possible.
  • Learn about marketing your product or service.
  • Become creative with time, projects and repairs.
  • Keep learning and growing.
  • Work on your positive mindset.
  • Be grateful for the abundance in your life.
  • Take time off to enjoy life and family.
  • Hire people who are enthusiastic about your passion.
  • Do your best each day.
  • Keep learning and adding more benefits for your customers and employees.
  • Nurture your business to make a profit.
  • Build relationships with other successful business owners.
  • Hire a mentor or coach.

Today, we are building a large greenhouse and farm. It is the lifestyle that we enjoy passionately. We have the time freedom to spend time with family and friends when they come to visit. Our personal life and the business are intertwined to make a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle.

The great thing about farming and gardening and turning it into a business is this:

  • The business grows even when you are not there, when properly managed.
  • You build life-long relationships with customers and employees alike.
  • You get to nurture others who desire to do what you are doing and train them as your business grows.

If you want to learn more about our business and our resources, contact us for a free farm consultation.

Today is a great day to start living the sustainable life of your dreams.

A Guide to Livestock Feed and Forage

Find out how to choose the best livestock feed and forage for the winter months.

By Callene Rapp

Straw is rarely used for feed except when grass hay is in short supply, but a stockpile of it will keep your animals comfortable and warm in winter.
Photo by AGPix/Terry Donnelly

Livestock feed and forage

In a perfect world, with the ideal climate and rainfall, the ideal growing season, and the ideal stocking density, we might never have to feed harvested grain or hay to our livestock. They could graze and forage as nature intended, and we could worry about other things.

Most of us do not live in a perfect world. Many of us will need to plan to feed our livestock hay, processed grains, or some other type of harvested feed in the winter months. Additionally, some stockmen choose to supplement grass with grain to achieve a specific marbling, for instance, or give their meats certain other characteristics.

But at the surface level, how do you know you are feeding the right forage to your livestock?

What’s for dinner, Maaaa?

Livestock feed can be divided into two broad categories: grains and harvested forage — also known as fodder.

Grain feed includes the cereal portion of plants such as oats, corn or milo. It can either be processed into pellets or fed whole. Whole grains can vary widely in quality and nutrition, depending on when they are harvested, their moisture content, and a host of other factors. Pellet feeds were designed to provide a balanced diet and avoid some of the inconsistencies that can be a problem when feeding whole grains. The grains are tested, and if they are low in any of the major nutrients, supplements can be added to balance the nutrients in the feed.

Forages are the wide selection of plants the animal has to choose from when grazing. These could be native grasses, legumes, groomed pastures or woody forbs, and the wide range of plants available in a well-balanced pasture. But unless you live in that perfect world with access to good-quality forage year-round, at some point you will have to supplement your livestock’s diet with hay or grain to maintain good health.

Stock forage

The basis for any good livestock diet is forage and high-quality fodder — the most commonly used being hay. Cattle, sheep, goats and horses have complex digestive systems, allowing them to use plant fiber that humans cannot process. Good digestive health depends on letting those systems do what they do best.

Hays are often divided into two main classes: grass and legume. Grass hay species include brome, timothy, prairie grass, orchard, canary grass, etc., depending on your geographic region. Grass hay is usually harvested once a year, and the growth phase the plants are in or time of year they are cut and baled will make a huge difference in the hay’s nutritional content.

The leaf content of grass hay and how mature the plant is are the biggest indicators of quality. The nutrient value of the hay is at its highest just before the grass “heads out” and produces seed. The nutrient value decreases rapidly as the plant ages, and all of its energy goes into making the seed. The plant will also become stemmier as it matures, making it less palatable and more difficult for animals with smaller mouths, such as sheep and goats, to eat. The majority of the energy and protein in grass hay is in the leaves. Coarse, overly mature, thick-stemmed hay has more fiber and less protein, and therefore fewer nutrients, than finer stemmed, leafy hay.

Legumes include alfalfa, clover, lespedeza and bird’s-foot trefoil. Unlike grass hay, legumes are “nitrogen fixers.” Special nodules on the root system contain bacteria, which are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, making them relatively rich protein sources. Unlike grass hay, legumes can be harvested several times during the growing season. A good stand of alfalfa can yield up to four cuttings a year, but the amount harvested will decrease throughout the season. Early bloom alfalfa (right when the first flowers start to open) has the highest crude protein content, sometimes up to 18 percent, compared with 9 to 11 percent for most grass hay. Weeds can be a problem in the first cutting of alfalfa, and while the amount of weeds in the alfalfa crop decreases with later cuttings, the protein content can also decrease.

Four-legged foraging

For every type of livestock, a healthy diet is largely based on forage. And while every species shares common requirements, each of them has its own slight twist on the deal.

Cattle, being large ruminants, are one of the most tolerant species when it comes to lower quality hay. Their large rumens are capable of digesting more stemmy hay than other species, and they can tolerate a little dust here and there, and even a little mold — within reason, of course. Hay that is extremely moldy can cause all sorts of health problems, not the least of which could be a pregnant cow aborting the fetus. A slight amount of dust doesn’t seem to bother them though, and lower quality hay works for them as long as it meets their basic requirements for protein and energy.

Horses need higher quality hay all the way around. They do not share the large-rumen characteristic with cattle, and while they do have a cecum to help digest cellulose, their stomachs depend on a diet of nice, leafy hay that is free of dust and mold. Dusty hay can cause respiratory problems in horses, especially those kept in stalls. They do not tolerate mold in their hay, and it can cause lifelong issues for them.

Sheep and goats are ruminants like cattle, but because of their smaller size, they, too, require higher quality hay. When left to forage in pastures, goats and sheep will eat weeds and other forbs that other species might pass up. But when mixed into baled grass hay, their smaller mouths find the stemmy, weedy portions of hay unpalatable. Sheep are notorious for wasting hay by eating the leafy parts of the hay and leaving the stems. The important thing to consider when purchasing hay for sheep is that you want the highest nutrient value for the cost, and palatability is a concern in that the more the sheep pass up, the higher the cost per nutrient. Sheep are relatively flexible in their foraging requirements though, and that’s what makes them appealing on some homesteads.

All species of livestock will waste hay if it is fed by tossing it out on the ground. Your best bet for maximizing your hay dollar and minimizing waste is to make sure, no matter what species you are feeding, that you feed the animals in a species-appropriate feeder, or bale ring if you feed large round bales. Some studies estimate hay losses at as high as 50 percent when animals are fed hay on the ground. It doesn’t take much savings in hay to pay for that feeder.

Alfalfa, a popular choice

Alfalfa is one of the most widely grown legumes available. It has been cultivated as a crop for thousands of years. It is versatile, productive, and has a high feed value. This hay is generally well tolerated by most species of livestock. But, as with anything, a few caveats apply.

Blister beetles, which are sometimes found in first-cutting alfalfa, can be deadly to horses. Make sure if you are feeding alfalfa to horses that it is from a later cutting and is free of blister beetles. Horses will also overeat on alfalfa hay, and since it often lacks the fiber content for proper digestion, alfalfa is best fed to horses as a mix.

Dairy cattle have high nutrition requirements because of lactation, and do very well on fine, high-quality alfalfa hay. The cow will eat more if it is palatable, and she will get more out of the hay. Goats do well on legume hay, but if it gets too coarse, they won’t eat it, or they’ll pick through it and waste a good bit.

Drying out

No matter what hay crop you choose, all of them depend on Mother Nature playing nice. A large portion of the United States has gone through extensive droughts in the last five or so years. Drought can take an extensive and far-reaching toll on pastures and hay ground. Lack of moisture can slow plant growth and suppress root development. Without adequate root structure, plants are unable to obtain moisture and nutrients from the soil, which further slows plant growth.

Grazing livestock on drought-stressed pastures will further compromise the plants’ ability to recover from the drought. If you find yourself with insufficient forage for your livestock, the fastest — and perhaps least pleasant — way to salvage your pasture is to reduce your stocking density. Consider selling or slaughtering breeding age females that are not pregnant, ones with questionable productivity, and any that genetically do not improve your herd.

Feeding hay to supplement the pasture is always an option, but hay crops in drought-stricken areas are often compromised as well. As plant growth decreases in response to drought, yield goes down and nutrient quality drops — and prices may very well rise nonetheless. Hay that has been affected by drought may be stemmy, lack good leaf content, and be dry and brown. Hay that lacks good color may be so low in protein that supplementation of grain or other protein sources might be necessary.

Heavy traffic in pastures can also damage plants stressed by drought. So, if possible, remove livestock until the grass can recover. After it finally rains and things green up again, it will take some time for the plants to return to normal, the roots to rebuild, and the plants to recover their energy stores. Most experts advise waiting until the plant has regrown to at least 6 to 8 inches tall before allowing livestock to graze again.

However you choose to feed your stock, whatever species you choose to work with, and whichever program works best for you, keeping good-quality forage in front of your animals whenever possible will go a long way toward keeping them healthy.

How to tell if it’s good hay

The most reliable way to know the exact quality of your hay is to have it tested. Most extension offices offer this service — some for free. A certified forage testing lab will also be exact. But if you’re wanting a quicker, more inexact way of determining hay quality, here are a few things to go by.

Color: Good hay should be bright green in color. Good color indicates it was cut at the right time and should be higher in vitamins. Brown hay will likely have far fewer nutrients. Hay could be brown because it was put up too late, or because it was baled without properly allowing it to cure. Hay that was baled wet will also mold throughout the bale.

Leaf/Stem Ratio: The more leaves the hay has in relation to stems, the higher quality the hay will be.

Snap Test: Take a handful of hay and fold it in half. If the hay bends, it has good moisture content and should be palatable. If it breaks, it’s drier and not
as good.

Smell: Good hay, no matter what species, should smell clean and fresh. A little dust is not a deal-breaker, but if it is moldy, or smells musty, look elsewhere for better hay. To tell if it’s dusty or moldy, shake a flake of it out. Mold will appear a grayish-white color.


Farm Fest A Commitment to Preserving our Agricultural Legacy

 Farm Fest 1

The following photo ©Wendy Piermat Mitzel

Farm Fest 2

I live in Suffield,  Connecticut, a small, rural community with a rich, farming history dating back to the 1600s. Each year, the town  gathers to celebrate our past and commit to preserving the town’s agricultural legacy at “Farm Fest.”  This past Labor Day weekend, we participated in the 10th Annual Farm Fest at Hilltop Farm, the focus of which is clearly on entertaining and educating the children about the importance of respecting and caring for our farmland and community. Our children enjoyed activities from harvesting potatoes to shucking corn, milking cows to riding ponies, riding in a tractor parade and observing bees making honey.

Farm Fest 3

Farm Fest 4

Next year, I think I’ll bring real chickens and eggs to give the town’s kids the full experience.

Farm Fest  5
The tractor parade is always a highlight for us.

Farm Fest 6

Farm Fest 7

Farm Fest 8

My friend, Lauren Hastings Kaplan, preparing for a milking demonstration.

Farm Fest 9

Digging for potatoes.

Farm Fest 9a

Being a backyard chicken-keeper has fostered in me a genuine sense of connectedness to the land, my food and my community that I had never previously felt. My hope is that in sowing the seeds of rural pride with our children, their appreciation for the land and sustainability will grow into a feeling of civic responsibility for maintaining it.

Farm Fest 9b

You know you live in a farm town when you can recognize the cows by name. This is Ginger (left). She lives at Hastings Farm, where I sell my fresh eggs.

Farm Fest 9c

The Wingmasters, Birds of Prey demonstration was riveting. The Red-tailed hawk was once on the brink of extinction due to the use of DDT but is no longer in danger due in part to the efforts of raptor rehabilitators such as Anne Collier (shown).  This partiular hawk was hit by a car and cannot be released back into the wild.

Farm Fest 12

This 33 year old Golden Eagle named Dakota weighs 17 pounds and has a wing span of 7 feet. She used to be able to fly at speeds up to 100 miles per hour and take down an adult antelope until someone shot her in the wing, permanently disabling her.


Farm Fest 12a

This Barn Owl is not indigenous to New England and despite having found his way here, is not cold-hardy, which explains why he and his friends can be found in barns seeking warmth.

Farm Fest 12d

A little bit about the history of Hilltop Farm: George M. Hendee, of Indian Motorcycle fame, founded Hilltop Farm in 1913, completing his “Monster Barn” at the beginning of World War I in 1914. Two years later, he retired to this 500-acre farm, raising a prized herd of Guernsey cows known as Hilltop Butterfats, which became well-known throughout the cattle breeding industry. He also established a model poultry plant for the breeding of White Leghorn chickens. Hilltop Farm became an important producer of milk, dairy and poultry

Farm Fest 15

The Hilltop Farm property:

Farm Fest 14e

In 1940, Charles Stroh, a prominent Connecticut attorney and public servant, bought the farm from Hendee, who died in 1943.
Over the years, Stroh downsized operations and subdivided the farm. After Stroh died in 1992, farming on the remaining 250 acres soon ceased. In 2002, the Town of Suffield acquired 117 acres and “The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop,”a non-profit, all volunteer organization, was formed to save George Hendee’s 20,000-square-foot dairy barn from sale and possible demolition.

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The vision of The Friends of the Farm at Hilltop is to help people connect with the land and learn from it. They believe there is nothing that can’t be learned on a farm: caring for the land, growing food, building and repairing, responsibility, creativity, leadership, recycling, teamwork and more.  It is for these reasons that The Friends work to rehabilitate structures and bring the farmland back into production with crops, animals, conservation areas and hands-on learning opportunities. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when this chicke coop might be restored to its former glory. It was a beauty in its time.

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Hurricane Preparedness for Backyard Chickens

The Chicken Chick

 Hurricane 1

We’re not accustomed to hurricanes here in the Northeast part of the United States and neither are our backyard chickens. With the forecast calling for Hurricane Irene to pay us a visit, I took a crash-course in hurricane preparedness while we waited and thought I would share what I learned. Take care and stay safe.

Hurricane 2


A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, which is a generic term for a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. The
cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms and, in the Northern Hemisphere, a counter-clockwise circulation of winds near the earth’s surface. The main hazards associated with hurricanes are storm surge, high winds, heavy rain, and flooding, as well as tornadoes.

A storm surge is a large dome of water, 50 to 100 miles wide, that sweeps across the coastline near where a hurricane makes landfall.
It can be more than 15 feet deep at its peak. The surge of high water topped by waves is devastating. Along the coast, storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property.
Hurricane winds not only damage structures, but the barrage of debris they carry is quite dangerous to anyone caught out in them. Damaging winds begin well before the hurricane eye makes landfall.

Tropical cyclones frequently produce huge amounts of rain, and flooding can be a significant problem, particularly for inland communities. A typical hurricane brings at least 6 to 12 inches of rainfall to the area it crosses.
Tornadoes spawned by land-falling hurricanes can cause enormous destruction. As a hurricane moves towards shore, tornadoes often develop on the fringes of the storm.



Regardless of where your flock rides-out the hurricane, there are basic preparations all of us should make.

Stock up on enough feed to last your flock at least one week.

Buy extra feed in case it is not readily available following the hurricane.

Store feed at least 2 feet above ground in a dry, flood-proof area.

Stockpile enough water to last at least one week. Each chicken will require at least one gallon of water for every three days. If water becomes scarce, cut back on feed intake.

Stock up your chicken first aid kit with basic veterinary supplies: bandages, Vetwrap, triple antibiotic ointments, etc.).

Hurricane 4


If at all possible, evacuate your chickens to an indoor space like a garage or basement. Damage to the coop from high winds or a tornado can injure or kill them.

Hurricane 5

Dog crates or rabbit hutches make great temporary quarters for small flocks. Wooden pallets can be used to create a makeshift
pen indoors. A tarp on the floor of a bathroom, covered with pine shavings can serve as a temporary holding area. Even cardboard boxes can be used as temporary crates.

If you’ve got the time and basic sewing skills, here’s a YouTube video that shows how to make chicken diapers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm_-glNJlns

Hurricane 6


If it is not possible to bring your chickens inside, there are measures you can take to heighten their safety during a hurricane. Most damage to coops, runs and flocks results from wind and flying objects, therefore, protecting them from these dangers ahead of the hurricane greatly reduces the risks.

Trim dead wood and weak or overhanging branches from all trees around your coop.

Coops can be strapped down to ground ties as trailers are to reduce wind damage.

Inspect your coop and run closely for loose boards, roofing, fencing, etc. Secure any found.

Remove anything from inside the coop/run to reduce the risk of injury to your chickens by flying objects e.g.: loose boards, empty buckets, seats, decorative items, etc.

Unplug or turn off all electrical power and water in the coop to prevent damage when power is restored.

Do not put yourself at risk checking on chickens that remain outside but do check on them immediately following the hurricane.

Securely close all doors and windows. Nail doors and windows shut, if possible. Nail ¾” thick plywood or boards over large windows.

Brace any weak walls.

Check that roof rafters are securely fastened to the wall studs.

Install hurricane straps or clips to help keep your roof attached to the walls.
Hurricane 3


Check for injured chickens and tend to any that need first-aid.

Separate any injured birds from the rest of the flock. Chickens will peck at the injuries of other chickens, creating further damage and possibly killing them.

Most animals are accustomed to being outside in bad weather but will be stressed from the hurricane, Adding vitamins and electrolytes to the water can help those who have become dehydrated.

Ensure a clean supply feed and water.

Do not use feed that has been in contact with flood waters.

Check your outdoor area to make sure that the area is clear of hazards such as broken glass, downed wires and fallen trees
before letting your chickens out of the coop.

Beware of displaced wildlife (predators). The homes of wild animals get damaged during hurricanes and they will be active
after the storm. Shore up any breaches in coop security that may have occurred during the storm.

This is not an exhaustive list of things that you can do to keep your flock safe, but I hope that you find it a good resource for getting