Fill Yer Boots Farm and the Trailer Park Lay-dies

Hello all! This is Marshall from the farm next door to Abundant Acres: Fill Yer Boots Farm. My wife, Hilary, and I were customers of the Abundant Acres Farmshare back in 2012. With my experience and interest in farming and ecological food production, I ended up working for Abundant Acres in 2014 and still do part-time to this day. Thanks to Jen and Dave’s mentorship and support, this city kid started to learn the ropes of growing food and got hit hard with “the farming bug”. When land came for sale next door to Abundant Acres in 2016, my wife and I took the leap and Fill Yer Boots Farm was born.

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We hope to work cooperatively with Jen and Dave to provide the Warehouse market with a greater diversity of delicious, nutritious, locally, and ethically produced food. We provide most of the pasture raised eggs you see for sale at the Warehouse Market and we also grow strawberries, garlic, sweet potatoes, sweet corn and winter squash. This week I’ll be taking over the blog to talk a little bit about our pasture raised egg production and why we do what we do.

So what is the big deal? Why are pasture raised eggs better?

To put it simply: it’s the pasture, man. Our “lay-dies” spend their days doing what chickens know how to do best: foraging outside for anything and everything they can find to eat.

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Aerial view of Abundant Acres farm. See the chicken paddocks in the top right?

Chickens are omnivores and love eating insects, vegetable scraps, grass and legumes. We do what we can to provide our birds with access to these natural feeds as much as possible. We rent pasture land from Abundant Acres and every 10-14 days the hens get access to a new half acre of pasture to graze. Through proper pasture management the hens can receive as much as 20% of their diet from the pasture forages.

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Vegetable waste from the farm is given to the hens so they can get their peckings in. They love eating kale!

The hens are given access to compost piles where they love to dig for treasures: i.e. any and all insects they can find! This compost is then used in our fields to grow crops to complete the natural cycle.

 

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The rest of the hens diet consists of a non GMO grain ration that provides all of their nutritional needs.

So what does this kind of farming do for the egg?

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Sometimes the ladies get creative.

First of all, have you tasted them? Give it a go. Experiencing the flavour speaks to it better than anything I can write here. The yolks are deep yellow to orange and the flavour is richer and creamier than any egg you can buy from Sobeys or Superstore. This excellent flavour is not only delicious but also an important indicator of a healthier egg. The darker yolk colour is obtained from the hens foraging foods high in carotenoids found naturally in grasses and vegetables. 

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Fill Yer Boots Farm egg (left) – Grocery store egg (right)

Beta-carotene is one of these carotenoids (yes, the one in carrots!), and is an important precursor for Vitamin A production. It is no surprise then that pasture raised eggs have been shown to have as much as 40% higher Vitamin A than hens raised in cages. Pasture raised hens also tend to have double the concentration of Vitamin E and double the amount of omega 3 fatty acids. The modern diet common today tends to be high in omega 6 fatty acids and lacking in omega 3 fatty acids. This high consumption of omega 6’s has been correlated to the development of many prevalent chronic health conditions plaguing the western world today,  including cancers, inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, and heart disease. Conversely a higher omega 3 content in the diet has been shown to help suppress and decrease the risk of some of these conditions.

OK so, pasture leads to better flavour, and the flavour highlights it’s improved nutrition. But what about the hens themselves? Are they leading their best lives?

 

We sure think so. In pasture production systems we have a unique challenge of allowing hens access to ample space and an ideal environment that encourages their natural behaviours, while also maintaining the flocks safety and health. We have accomplished this by assembling our very own trailer park!

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One of our many mobile chicken trailers.

By redesigning these camper trailers to be mobile hen houses we are able to give the trailer park laydies access to pasture for foraging, scratching and dust bathing (see below video) but also a safe and comfortable place to roost and lay.

The trailers provide the hens with ample housing space according to the National Animal Farm Care Council of Canada’s Code of Practice (over 2 sq ft per bird). They are also equipped with ample nesting and roosting space for laying and sleeping. The houses are bedded with wood shavings from a local woodworking shop. This kind of dry litter bedding encourages the hens natural scratching behaviour and also has shown to be optimal for their respiratory and intestinal health.

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Each hen house has an automatic hen door that opens with the sunrise and closes at sunset. The laydies let themselves in and out as they please! The video below shows them learning how to use the automatic door and the ramps for the first time.

But when they are outside, what’s keeping predators from attacking them? We use a moveable electric fence mesh known as electronet. This electric fence keeps the local foxes, raccoons, and skunks at bay. The electricity doesn’t harm the hens or these predators but definitely teaches them to steer clear!

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Testing the voltage on the electronet fence. ZAP.

We try to leave the hens access to tall grass and shade from trees on the edge of pasture to help them take cover from any predators from above. They keep a close eye on the sky, and warn each other of any suspicious activity – including airplanes! – and will run to the coops for cover.

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The hens have constant access to clean well water that is kept enclosed and free of contamination in our homemade automatic waterers. They also have continued access to a complete layer ration so they never go hungry.

OK so the hens are healthy and happy, the people eating the eggs are healthy and happy, but what about the farmers?

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My wonderful wife Hilary responsible for all the lovely photographs in this blog and continued love and support on and off the farm. (check out her art at https://www.ffttphotography.com).

By purchasing our eggs you are helping our small farm grow and prosper. Not only that, you are supporting our local food system as a whole. Through supporting the practice of family farming you are helping rejuvenate the rural economy, build the agricultural community, and preserve the integrity of agro-ecosystems here in Nova Scotia. Thank you!

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If you would like to learn more or have any questions about our farm and it’s practices please don’t hesitate to contact us. My number is 902 880 3141, my email is mzuern645@gmail.com. You can also follow us on facebook at FYBFarm and instagram @fillyerbootsfarm. 

References used in the blog post:

ATTRA. Pastured Poultry: Egg Production

Laying Hen Code of Practice – National Farm Animal Care Council

Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens

The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.