Heirloom Seeds & Poultry
1878 230th Street, Calamus, IA 52729
2014 Year in Review
The new year sort of begins in December each year as we finish up the catalog and get it off to the printer. Saying that, this year began on a rough note as winter hit with force last December and we delivered the catalog to the printer in an ice storm. The entire Christmas break from school was cold and miserable and my usual poultry pen cleaning got delayed waiting for the January Thaw that never came. Winter just held on and on and there were never any real breaks. Just when you would think the next week would perhaps bring a mini thaw it just either stayed the same or got colder. Saturdays in the winter time my student helpers and I spend the day cleaning the poultry pens and restrawing them. Well, it never got warm enough to clean as it froze solid to the ground so each Saturday we just kept adding more dry bedding to try and make the poultry as comfortable as possible. It got to the end of January when we should have started saving eggs for hatching and it was below zero most days and eggs as few as were being produced were freezing on arrival into the nest. It became quite apparent our first hatch in March would be a no go. I kept thinking surely February would be better, but it got colder instead (see our climate page). Next up we had no eggs for the second hatch, except for one days worth when it was not too cold for them to freeze. When March 3 rolled around, the day for our first scheduled hatch, I was grateful that we had no eggs as we set a new record low for March that morning at -22. Any chicks, had we had them, placed in the mail would have not survived. March still stayed cold and the pens just kept getting deeper with litter as we added more and more fresh litter each week and couldn’t take any out. It was now March and any indication of Spring seemed far away, it soon became apparent we would have only 1 day of eggs to set for the first hatch of April. It all began to seem so unreal as two years earlier fruit trees were blooming and now we had below zero temps. The thaw finally came in late March and it took many days to get the poultry pens all cleaned and it took the poultry many days to recover from the long, hard winter. Many frozen combs, toes, etc. and some did not survive the many days of harshness and cold and some other breeds failed to show fertility for many weeks to come. I could relate to their hardship as the 6 or so hours each day I spent caring for them was hard enough for me. I could get a respite but it almost seemed impossible to ever feel warm. I always look forward to warm, humid summer days to recharge my batteries, so to speak, to get ready for the next winter. Well, the summer of 2014 never got fired up enough to do that. We would have one nice summer day and then follow it with many subnormal days. June was wet beyond belief and we missed the dry slot at the end of May to get things planted. Our school year ran long as we missed so many days from the cold and snow we ran past Memorial Day. The first dry day after school was over my helpers and I were all set to haul the poultry manure and begin and boom a simple tractor problem and we waited for parts for a week; then ready to go and manure was spread and started to till and the tiller attachment broke 10 feet into the process. Waited another week for parts and then yet another problem. We finally had to buy a whole new tiller attachment, which, believe it or not, was defective and would break a shear pen after about 5 minutes of work. Calls and visits by the dealership became more and more frustrating as a rain free day here and there made me all the more anxious to get going. They finally pieced it together and gave us a bunch of shear pins and ordered a different tiller, which came August 1! Now, here we are well into June and nothing going. Panic button time and then any little cloud that came across the sky brought rain and more rain. It takes a while to plant and coordinate staggered plantings of all of this material and time was slipping away. Calendar turns to July and hope for success was starting to fade. I am one of those who never likes to give up right to the end, so July 4 I tried to work as much ground up as I could even though it was very wet and for sand to stay wet you know we had a lot of rain. Finally, July 6 we got to plant and planted from sun up to sun down. Of course, June 30 was our last rain then until July 25. So, in our sandier areas things came up and some perished from no moisture. It all seemed rather ironic that first we couldn’t plant because water was setting on top of the ground and then things perished from drought. Actually , as a weather observer, I knew we would likely face such a fate, weather tends to balance itself out. Balance it out it did because as wet as June was, July and August were the opposite.
The continuous cool weather just never brought forth the lush growth but God provided and we had many more successes than I ever dreamed possible. Yes, we had our share of failures as well such as late season corns that struggled in the dry August and cool temps and were loaded with immature ears at frost as well as many pole limas and other beans that just needed some more warmth and a few more days. We discovered our row cover idea works great to keep rabbits out of the sweet potatoes and many did very well despite the cold. The big issue this year was the huge, and I mean huge, population of voles. They hit the sweet potatoes hard and in large numbers, nearly totally devastating some varieties.
The poultry finally started getting their energy back near the end of the season and then molted later than usual when wham! we had the coldest November and many birds were caught with the feathers totally missing when it was 0 outside.
In the midst of all our cold winter issues, we learned a very important lesson about backing up a collection. We had a new propane delivery man this past winter and he kept overfilling our tanks (which we now know causes the heaters to quit in super cold weather). We had 2 occasions where both of our greenhouses froze out when the heaters quit and the small electric backup and water storage tanks could only keep it to about 20 deg. (it was -20 outside). It is rather depressing to discover such things at 4:30 in the morning. We lost some sweet potato varieties entirely (those pots near the edges) and our Naranjilla and Malabar Spinach seed crop as well as years of research on peppers and our 3 banana plants which we have for fun were loaded with fruit. I never realized how nasty frozen bananas and banana foliage can smell. Our pineapple plants survived the low 20’s and went on to make things brighter later on by producing some nice fruit. Our bananas (3 unique varieties) came back from the root. I guess the plants we grow are just as stubborn as I am.
While I will always have poultry, there is a limit to just how much a person can get done in a day. I have discovered in years since I turned 50 that I really enjoy getting 6.5 hours of sleep a day and would rather not cut back on that. While I could hire someone to do chores, it is not the reason I have the birds. I enjoy working with them and prefer to have student helpers just assist me with such things as cleaning pens and sorting eggs. So, the poultry collection will probably remain fairly static for a few years as my teaching job has added some extra responsibilities and I have a strong desire to spend some time growing out as much of the material that I inherited from my friend Tom Knoche’s seed collection. It will take some time and extra funds to work with it all, but just glancing through what I have I realize much of the material is just not anywhere else and I hate to think of all of Tom’s efforts going to waste. When this operation got started in 1989 there was a huge crisis in the poultry world and many varieties and breeds were near extinction. Happily I can report things have changed and I can divert some time to other areas that need a helping hand. We are always grateful that God supplies our needs and some of our wants and wishes as well.
Glenn and Linda Drowns