Back when we were investigating which breed of chicken would suit Tree Gate Farm, wintry weather was a significant consideration. Lightweight bantam breeds may be significantly cheaper to feed, but they require some serious pampering to survive a Finger Lakes blizzard. By contrast, our hearty Black Australorps willingly wander through several inches of snow and don't complain any more than we do.
A bonus: their glossy black plumage and red combs look gorgeous against a white backdrop. This morning, as fat white flakes drifted downward, they looked especially glamorous. In the absence of the snow cover typical for this time of year, the hens have reveled in easy access to fresh pasture and big, fat grubs in the orchard for two months longer than usual. Not only have they reduced the population of pests likely to wreak havoc come spring, the birds have made our customers very happy. "It tastes like there's cream in the scrambled eggs," said one. "It's like I put butter on the ones I soft boiled," said another. Having already sold out of meat and potatoes, it's a delight to offer up a carton filled by the Tree Gate hens.
When temperatures plummet, we have yet another reason to appreciate our beautiful birds: They go broody -- just like the farmers. While the notion to nest could vex a larger producer, our hens' inclination to keep their eggs warm until we come collecting makes winter farming a little easier. On days when eggs left unattended might freeze, a hen keeps them cozy til we arrive, sparing us multiple trips to the nesting boxes.
Recently, we've invested that extra time researching better record-keeping systems, working with an illustrator to develop a graphic identity for the farm, crunching numbers to calculate the number of seeds we should plant in the year ahead, and spending time with friends. Perhaps most exciting, we've been scheming about a few new ventures slated for launch late in 2012. Stay tuned . . .