Saturday, July 27, 2013


Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms:

Well, it has been a wet week, with Friday delivering about 5 inches of rain throughout the day. We have still been unable to bring hay up for the chickens.

It seems that our Fire Ants thrive on rain. Last year we did not see many mounds around the farm, but earlier this year they started showing up again. Now, they are all over. We can only presume that they like the moisture the rains bring.

Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis Invicte)
Courtesy of OSU
Why are we concerned about Fire Ants? First, they hurt when they bite. They are small and tend to attack you in great numbers, and you do not need to be standing on their mound (of course, it is hard to stand anywhere on the farm right now without standing on one of their mounds). Second, the feeding on the young tender growth by fire ants occurs through the year, causing damage to soybean crops, citrus, corn, okra, bean, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, potato, sweet potato, peanut, sorghum, and sunflower crops during critical times of growth. They can even move into your house if there is enough rain. Prior to the heavy rainfall Friday, we had isolated problems with them in our house, but Friday they started coming in droves.

A good percentage of the south is quarantined due to the Fire Ant population. The items quarantined include live plants, hay, soil, firewood, soil moving equipment, and unprocessed plant products. The southeast corner of Oklahoma is still in the quarantined area, and LeFlore county is the northern most portion of the state that is under the quarantine.

The problem at Baker Heritage Farms - we are following organic standards and most of the control methods require unapproved chemicals, so we are just living with them for now.

Due to the rain, not much work was done on the farm this week. The turkeys are proving to be a handful. As they grow, they fly higher into the trees at night to roost, and some of the higher branches spread to the outside of the fence line. We are finding the majority of the turkeys outside of their pen each morning. While they are fairly easy to roundup and get back in their pen, they are starting to fly into the chicken pens, which is not good.

We are currently trying to come up with a solution; however, with the size of the pen, its location in the trees, and the configuration of the fence line, we are facing an uphill battle.

The chickens still have their escape artists, but they are not so bad. While we are afraid the turkeys will get into the woods behind the house, the chickens tend to stay close to home. We are currently looking into enclosing the chicken pen with shade cloth, using PVC piping to frame the cloth.

With all the rain, we have wasted a lot of feed. Even though the feed is under cover, it still gets wet, either from blowing rain or wet birds. The chickens are very picky and will not eat wet feed (and it is not good for them as it starts to ferment quickly). The turkeys are not quite so bad. We are looking at ways we can build low cost feeders that will provide cover, keep the feeders further off the ground, and provide full-time access.

We are also looking at converting the little barn into a hen house. It is only a couple of feet away from the current hen house and it will allow us better control over the nesting area (as well as keeping it dryer). It will entail cleaning out the big barn and moving some of the stuff from the little barn to the big barn.

We are getting more eggs as each day passes. Debbie is now using them for baking so we will see how that goes. Once we have an ample supply, we will start sharing them with others before actually selling them (right now they are still to small to sell).

Donald and Debbie went out and picked up more chicken feed today (250 pounds) as well as poultry grit. The chickens are going through a 50-pound bag about every 4 days. Fortunately, the turkeys do not go through as much.

Until next time, Blessings to All from ...

Baker Heritage Farms

"We can't all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." Will Rogers

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

Ahh ... The incredible, edible, farm fresh egg ...
Farm Fresh Eggs
By Saturday, we had 10 edible eggs from our chickens (one was not edible as it was broken), and Saturday evening Debbie and Donald celebrated by enjoying a dinner of fried potatoes and eggs ... farm fresh eggs.

After about 4 1/2 months, our chickens are finally producing. While it generally takes 5 - 6 months for them to start producing, many will start earlier. Our first batch of eggs were very small, requiring 4-5 eggs to meet the needs of what three eggs will usually meet.

Our Silver Laced Wyandotte's can produce up to 200 eggs a year. With 22 chickens, that could be a whole lot of eggs. The eggs are pale (or soft) brown or tan (tinted) and have a very full flavor.

The chickens and turkeys have been keeping us busy. Between feeding, watering (they eat a lot of feed and drink a lot of water, particularly in the summer heat), and keeping them in their respective pens, they are turning out to be a very busy part-time job. If you are not planning to sell eggs, fertilizer, meat, or chickens, 3 - 4 hens should suffice for the back-yard farmer.

While the chickens tend to stay around the pen when they escape, we cannot say the same is true for the turkeys. If you have woods nearby and inadequate roosting in the turkey pen, you will most likely find your turkeys abandoning the pen in favor of the woods. Ours love to roost in the trees. They also tend to fall out of the trees, and are apt to fall outside of the fence line. They also love to fly and several get out at a time. We are fortunate to have trees inside the pen, but we are concerned that they may find the woods more attractive, so we try to get them back in as soon as we know they are out.

This weekend was a loss. The chickens are in need of fresh hay, both in their yard and for their nesting boxes (they apparently rather lay their eggs in the soft grass under the copse of trees in their extended pen, then in the harsh pine shavings in their nesting boxes). Donald planned to go down to the pasture and cut hay Saturday to bring up, but as he was preparing equipment Friday afternoon we were hit with a severe thunderstorm that dropped over 1.5 inches of rain ... so much for getting hay up Saturday. On Sunday, he again prepared to go down and we started getting pop-up thundershowers. We do not want to take a chance putting wet hay in the chicken coop, so he decided to once again postpone cutting hay. Hopefully we will be able to get some cut early in the week.

As he could not cut hay, he spent Saturday morning in the barn working on cleaning it up and trying to get it more organized.

Brenda, Donald's sister, is interested in raising alpacas, so she is doing the research to determine the feasibility of raising them here in Oklahoma. We have looked into this in the past, but have concerns about how they will do in the humidity. If it is determined that they can do well with the humidity, we will look at them as part of our livestock operations.

Until next time,

Blessings from Baker Heritage Farms

"He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment." Proverbs 12:11

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

Finally, a (somewhat) normal week. For Donald it was back to work at his regular jobs and for Debbie it was time to run errands, and take care of the house. For the kids, it was essentially a normal, summer week.

Debbie attended her Beginning Farmers and Ranchers class at Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture Saturday. As always, she enjoyed the class, interacting with the other attendees and the great instructors. It was a long class, going from 9 am to 6 pm. She got some good ideas from the introductions, which is always a good sign. Class covered insecticides, insect pest management, plant diseases, and post harvest handling of crops, as well as business planning, learning that it is better to make mistakes on paper, though they will happen in real life (something Debbie is already very much aware of) and business management. They also learned to research and document assumptions, and that you need to include budgeting for education, as well as other items, when pricing products. They covered pesticide (organic, of course) safety handling and personal protective equipment (PPE). Pesticide is used as an umbrella term for such items as herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, as "cide" means "to kill". Also discussed were the new OSHA standards for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which will be called Safety Data Sheets in the future, and will include universal symbols. Debbie also learned that there are different characteristics between fruits and vegetables that need to be considered during the harvest period, being reminded that they are all alive during the process. It was interesting to learn that you do not mix fruits and vegetables in storage. After classroom instruction and discussion, demonstrations were conducted, including PPE, different types of sprayers and nozzles. She was tired and happy when she finally got home.

Also on Saturday, Donald expanded the chicken pen to give the chickens more room as well as more opportunity to graze growing grass. We are quickly running out of backyard. He also cleaned under the hen house, a chore that we try to do at least every other week. The droppings all go into a compost pile.

New Chicken Pen Expansion
For cost savings and ease of installation and relocation, Snow (or construction) fence material was used. The chickens will only be allowed to graze in this area certain times and/or days, and will not be in the area when there is no one to watch over them. We hope that this will stop some of the escapes and provide better living conditions.

We now have a new dilemma. Some of our hens are "pen-hopping". We have at least one hen that flies out of the main pen and, after grazing on the loose for a little while, flies into the breeding pen. She may end up getting stuck in the breeding pen as we may replace one of the ones in the breeding pen with her.

Our turkeys are becoming quite comfortable roosting in the trees. One night Danielle and Adam counted 10 turkeys in the trees.

How Many Turkeys in the Tree?
You will probably need to get your magnifying glass out, but can you count how many turkeys are in the tree? They have become like college students, trying to see how many people fit into a telephone booth, only they are trying to see how many turkeys can stay on one branch.

We are happy to report that our work on our ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms plan seems to be having a positive affect on our personal and farm lives. We now understand that we cannot do everything at once and have reduced our stress levels substantially. We are finally enjoying the farm and appreciating it much more. Our current goal is to revisit our time resources allocations due to Donald adding a new part-time career and our need to begin thinking about our long-term retirement plans (no, we are not thinking about retiring from the farm, the farm will be our retirement plan, as well as a new and hopefully productive church life).

Update: Posted this blog before we included some important news - one of our hens laid the first Baker Heritage Farm egg - the Incredible, Inedible, Egg. Yes, Danielle found the first egg in the hen house on Saturday. It was small and broken, but it was a good sign.

For now,

Blessings to all from:

Baker Heritage Farms

"The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever." Psalm 37:29

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Update - Week of 13JULY01

Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

If you follow our blog on a weekly basis, you may have noticed that we did not provide an update last weekend. That is because it was such a nice week (and yes, a beautiful week for celebrating Independence Day) that we all worked on the farm. We finally had some time to dedicate to farm operations resulting in spending a lot of time getting the farm back in shape.

It turns out that the loss of our starting crops this year may have been a good thing. We have not had a lot of time to spend on anything but the chickens and the turkeys.

As it has been two weeks since we posted, the timeline may be a little off.

The weekend of June 29th we started working on the turkey pen in ernest. The turkeys were out-growing their brooder tubs and needed more room. The first thing we did was reinforce the fence around the turkey pen by adding additional T-posts and hog rings (to secure the bottom wire). After this job was completed, we moved rock from piles that were around the trees in the front yard to around the bottom of the turkey pen fence. This is quite a job and everyone pitched in, including the kids.

Sunday we moved 5 young turkeys into the turkey pen. This was a crucial point and we spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons. Most of the information we studied on turkeys recommended waiting until they were at least eight weeks old before moving them (ours were six weeks old), but it was either lose some due to space restrictions, add another brooder tub and equipment (that would have only been used for two weeks), or let some out and take a calculated risk (we are good at that, unfortunately, the risks have not always been rewarded) and let at least some out. As the weather at that time was rather warm (in excess of 100 degrees F) and no severe weather was in the forecast (another risk we took, the weather folks have not been very accurate in this area over the past few years), we felt that the weather would not be an issue.

After letting Spunky (Debbie's little dog) do a security check of the fence (no, he could not penetrate the fence, which is good), we decided to let five turkeys out into the pen. This relieved the brooder tubs of overcrowding and limited our risk to 33% of our stock.

The young turkeys did very well, and we released another five Independence Day and cleaned and sterilized one brooder tub and equipment. On Saturday (July 6th) we released the final five turkeys and cleaned and sanitized the last brooder tub and equipment. All the turkeys seem to be enjoying their freedom, even flying (yes, turkeys do fly, very well) into the trees to roost. While they are not very soft, they are very friendly and like to follow people around. They will also talk to you and let you pet them.

Unfortunately, our planning failed us once again. We were not watching our feed closely and we were down to our last 50 pound bag of feed, and the balance of one bag that we were currently using. Debbie went by our feed supplier (Smart Mart) on Monday (July 1st) and they were out (even they were surprised), but had already placed an order that was expected to be in Tuesday. Debbie went by Tuesday, but she went in the late morning on her way back from Ft. Smith and their order was not in yet. On Wednesday afternoon both Debbie and Donald went to Smart Mart and learned that they had already sold out, telling us that they usually order one-ton and were surprised that it was going so quickly. They were going to place an order for two-tons right then, and the delivery date would be Friday. Debbie called several times Friday, but their order had not come in, so she finally called a local feed store (Heavener Feed) and they had ten bags available (just what we needed). Donald and Debbie stopped everything and went to Heavener Feed to pick up the feed. In discussing our operations with the feed store owner, it was determined that we really should be feeding the turkeys game bird feed, which is higher in protein. It is still organic qualified and is non-medicated (we do not medicate our birds other then the initial shots they get from the breeder). We ended up getting five bags of growing and laying feed for the chickens and five bags of game bird feed for the turkeys.

Again, we learned. We will be calculating how much a 50-pound bag of feed lasts and schedule our feed pick-ups accordingly. There is no reason why we should ever get that low on feed. While the price is higher at Heavener Feed and they require cash, which we try to avoid for accounting reasons, it is closer.

We may have mentioned Red before. He was our "free" exotic bird when we ordered our chickens. Red is a Golden Laced Wyandotte. As you know, we ordered pullets (a pullet is a hen). Donald had concerns that Red may not be a hen, as he had many characteristics of a rooster (the way he/she carried him/herself, strut, cackle, bearing, etc.). Sure enough, during the week of July 1st, Red announced to the world that HE was no chicken (literally), that HE was indeed a rooster. He started crowing.

To avoid having to candle eggs, we decided to expand our operation to include a breeder pen. As we were having major problems with possible overcrowding in the chicken pen (several have become escape artists, and they ate all the grass the first week they were in there), we thought it would be a good idea anyway to remove Red and move two hens in with him to keep him company.

We turned NaKiTa's old pen into a breeder pen and, due to time considerations, purchased a HenHouse Chicken Coop. It was on-sale at Atwood's for $188.00 (usually they are over $200.00, and this is the first time we ever saw them at Atwood's). The hen house is perfect for two hens.

Donald and Adam put the hen house together and it went together very easily and appears to be very well made. If you are raising chickens in your back yard, you may want to consider a HenHouse Chicken Coop from Precision Pet Products. Not only are they easy to assemble and appear to be well-built, they are very attractive.

Breeder Pen and Hen House
Red and two hens were moved into the breeder pen. It has not helped with our escape artists, even one from the breeder pen escapes occasionally.

Donald brought some hay up from the back for the chickens, and they were happy.

Throughout the week Donald also mowed our front and back yards as well as the property in town.

This brings you current through last weekend.

Blessings from Baker Heritage Farms

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry 1775

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

We are back and it is good to be back on the farm.

Actually, we have been back for over a week now, but have been trying to catch up on work and chores. Not only are we back on the farm, but we are back to work getting the farm up and running.

Just prior to leaving, we planted peppers and tomatoes. Donald went down to the production fields a week ago Monday (the day after we returned) and learned that all of our efforts were for naught. All of the plants were gone. GONE? Yes, gone. It appears that they were eaten, most likely by deer.

As we stated when we first started this blog, the farm would be a learning experience, and we wanted to share that learning experience with others, both the successes and the failures. While it would seem that we have had more failures this year then successes, it has still been a very beneficial year for learning.

What have we learned so far?
  • We spent a good portion of 2012 planning for crops in 2013. While we tried to consider all potential risks, and considered weather, we failed to consider how dramatically the weather could affect our efforts. When you read about large farms, you become comfortable in your abilities, forgetting we are not a large commercial farm that has been in existence for years. We are a brand new farm, preparing virgin soil, and following strict guidelines on what we can do and what we cannot do in order to keep our operation All Natural (organic).
  • Based on our planning, we set out to plant a number of crops during our first year of full operation, expecting to have a profitable farming enterprise based solely on our planning and our willingness to work hard. Unfortunately, we had not yet completed all aspects of our Farm Plan and were not prepared for the disruptions that occurred at the end of 2012 and the first part of 2013. These disruptions included family emergencies requiring us to be away from the farm for extended periods, loss of farm labor, severe weather, and lack of proper timing. On top of the disruptions, we quickly came to realize that we were overly optimistic about what we could accomplish, trying to accomplish too much in too short a period of time.
  • In anticipation of starting a fully operational farming enterprise from scratch the first full year into the enterprise, we went ahead and placed a full order for seed for the first planting (scheduled for February). While the thought process on placing this order was most likely correct (concern about availability, receiving the seed on time, etc.), the logistics were not realistic. It is hard to admit you made a mistake, but we did. We were ready - at the time we ordered the seed. But we were not ready when it came time to plant the seed. As a result, we lost all of our cabbage seeds as well as all of our tomato and pepper seedlings. But not all was lost. The rest of the seed we will refrigerate and hope that it will be good for next years planting.
  • As the pepper and tomato seedlings began to mature, we realized that the trays we were using were too small. Rather than spending the money to get new trays and taking the time to transplant them into the new trays, we let them languish in the trays that were obviously too small, inhibiting their growth and compromising their health. While it may not have helped them survive the predators, it may have helped them grow to a size that would given them a better chance of survival.
  • Rather than take our time and do things the right way, we got in a hurry and skipped steps that have proven to be disastrous, and expensive. In our zeal to get crops planted, we got careless and increased our risk of failure. Rather than admitting we made mistakes, we continued to try to meet our goals and save money, when in reality, we ended up losing more money then we would have by admitting our mistakes and taking corrective action, regardless of the setbacks this would have (and did anyway) caused.
Did we learn? Yes. We learned quite a bit, though we learned the hard way.

What will we change? We already started changing our operation with the implementation of ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms.

  • First, we stopped all seed purchases, as well as many related purchases, pending a new crop plan. This put a stopper on the outflow of cash. It also gave us time to take a breather.
  • Second, we decided to concentrate on poultry, as we were already committed to the purchase of 25 chickens and 15 turkeys. We needed to ensure that we did everything we could to protect the poultry once they arrived. Due to ongoing issues with the poultry operation, it is evident that, if we did not stop crop operations, we would be in trouble with the poultry, as the birds are taking more of our time then we anticipated (not helped by a shortage of labor).
  • We have been taking time to consider the next steps we will take to get the farm up and running. We now realize that we will not be able to begin crop operations this year. In addition, we also realize that our labor force is not going to grow back to it's anticipated levels. Our experiences have showed us that we cannot start too big, that we need to start smaller and work up, especially since we are starting with virgin soil that has not been worked before.
  • We also realize that putting seed in the ground is not the only consideration when starting a farm. While we realized that there was more to putting seed in the ground (tilling, irrigation, and other preparations), we did not realize what impact outside forces would have on our overall plans.
    • We now know that it will be beneficial to start working the land in advance. We need to do this carefully and think before we act. We will need to work the land as much as possible and then use cover crop to protect the land until we are ready to plant.
    • We will have to provide more protection, at least initially, from animals. We are already looking into using netting over younger plants to protect them from predators. This will require extra expense and labor, but without taking these steps, we will just be throwing our money away.
    • We will need to have the land ready for planting before we order the seed. Contingency plans will need to be in place before seed is ordered, so that different seed can be ordered if the original seed is not available.
  • We need to be willing to spend money to ensure the success of the crops rather than try to cut corners to save a few dollars just to lose an entire crop. We need to take our time and work steadily and efficiently rather than get in a hurry and rush things. This will safe money and, ultimately, save time.
So, it is back to the drawing board. ReThinking Baker Heritage Farms will require that we revisit our initial Farm Plan; however, it does not mean that we are abandoning the original plan, just revising it. This will result in the original Farm Plan becoming our long-term plan, and the revisions becoming our short-term plan.

The balance of this year will be spent on improving our poultry operations, working to get the homestead in order so that less labor is spent on maintaining the non-producing property and more labor can be dedicated to productive property, and starting to properly work the production fields so that they are ready to plant next year.

At this time, we are planning on starting crops on a much smaller basis then our original plan, keeping the rest of the production fields in beneficial cover crops until we are ready and able to plant. This will allow us to properly plant and maintain each plot as time and weather permits. This will prevent weather, labor availability, soil conditions, etc. from dictating what we do, when we do it, and how we do it.

Like a good Boy Scout, Baker Heritage Farms will be prepared.

Blessings to all from:

Baker Heritage Farms

"The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah." 2 Chronicles 36:21