What Laying Hens Deserve

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This is how one hen lays her egg. Afterwards, she spends a few minutes doing a little nesting, and then she leaves the nest. Each hen is different. Some leave the nest soon after laying their eggs. Others will settle down afterwards and sit for awhile.

What they all need are quiet, soft, clean nests with plenty of straw. What no hen deserves is to be locked in a wire cage, unable to be outdoors and enjoy the sun and rain, or unable to lay her egg in a soft nest.

What no hen deserves is to be housed with tens of thousands of other hens in crowded laying houses, where there is no peace and quiet, no quiet walks in the woods, no hunting for food through tall grass, and no sunshine.

How Apple Pie Starts

This is how apple pie starts – as a small flower. It’s late April and the apple trees are blooming several weeks early. Soon, wild bees will pollinate these flowers, and all summer long the apples will soak in the sunshine and grow until they are ready, in early fall, to be eaten right off the tree or made into apple pie. From now into fall, the air buzzes with the sound of wild bees. According to Wild Bees as Alternative Pollinators, by the Penn State:Fruit Research and Extension Center, there are “3,500 bee species other than the honey bee which are also important pollinators of most specialty crops in the U.S.” 80% of bees are ground nesting, so it’s critical to have undisturbed land to provide habitat for these bees to thrive.


The elderberry bushes are also in full bloom. Come June, they will provide plenty of red fruits for wild birds to eat.


The garlic patch is nearly knee high. Lucky, Billy, and Imelda are looking for something to eat along the edges of the garlic patch. Lucky is the most curious hen at a man and his hoe®. No matter where we go, she is sure to come along to see what we are doing. And Imelda seems to have been smitten with Billy, the five year old rooster. Wherever he goes, she follows. At a typical egg or poultry farm, hens and roosters never get to develop these romances. It’s one of the benefits of being a chicken at a man and his hoe®.

Articles on wild bees:

Far, Far Away

These are the train tracks I pedal across nearly every day as I go fetch the mail, deliver eggs, and make other errands. And further down this page is the quiet driveway to a man and his hoe®, the forest floor blanketed with bleeding hearts, and a vegetable bed with fresh greens. Idyllic scenes far, far away from the heavily contaminated farmland of China, or so you would think.

But everyday, along those steel ribbons of railway, which just a few miles away, wind along the breathtaking Chuckanut Coast with stunning views of Guemes, Cypress, Orcas, and Lummi islands, trains more than a mile long haul coal, carved out of the ground in far away Wyoming. The trains take the coal to Vancouver, British Columbia, where it is loaded onto ships and taken across the Pacific Ocean to China. There it is burned in coal-fired power plants which billow out toxic clouds, which then poison the land which grows the garlic and fruit trees and many other crops which then get shipped to the US to be eaten by many of us.

And someday, all the CO2 emissions, burning that coal pours into the atmosphere, will warm the earth enough to cause the sea nearby to rise so much that these tracks will be under water. When that happens, there will no longer be any coal trains traveling through this idyllic countryside.

We know all these terrible things we are doing to the earth. But for some reason we can’t stop destroying the only home we have. We keep saying we can’t afford to stop our polluting ways, but when we read that nearly twenty percent of China’s farmland is now toxic, how can we justify such destruction? There is no economic activity worth destroying a fifth of a country’s farmland.


Contaminated Farmland

Today there were many articles like this one from NPR: China Admits That One-Fifth Of Its Farmland Is Contaminated. The details of the report by the Chinese government are stunning.

The report, issued by the ministries of Environmental Protection and Land and Resources, says 16.1 percent of the country’s soil in general and 19.4 percent of its farmland is polluted with toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and arsenic. It was based on a soil survey of more than 2.4 million square miles of land across China, spanning a period from April 2005 until December 2013. It excluded special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.
In a dire assessment, the report declares: “The overall condition of the Chinese soil allows no optimism.”

Earlier this year we saw images of large portions of China smothered with heavy smog as in this article by Scientific American.


When reading reports regarding pollution or global warming, some often comment that the report is being alarmist and imply that we should disregard the report. This report by the Chinese government is more than alarming, it is calamitous. But will things change tomorrow? Will the industries and coal power generators that are causing the Chinese farmland to become toxic stop polluting tomorrow? And so ever increasing amounts of Chinese farmland will become toxic.

So what does that have to do with me living many thousands of miles away from China? For one, the air pollution in China doesn’t stay there. For one, according to The Smithsonian, some of that air pollution is reaching the west coast of the US where I live. Two, the US imports some four billion dollars of food products from China every year. Here are some numbers from the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, these are a listing of food products whose imports from China exceeded $350 million in 2011:

Agricultural Product US Dollar Value Imported from China in 2011
Fish $2,646,757,166
Fish Fresh Or Prep $1,817,861,314
Shellfish $804,745,740
Vegetables & Preps $626,224,026
Fruit Juices $547,044,940
Grains & Feeds $527,784,428
Fruits & Preps $518,397,511
Apple Juice $504,059,866
Fruits – Prep Or Pres $499,317,088
Other Fruits – Prep Or Pres $478,258,430
Animals & Prods $449,291,071
Vegetables-Prep/Pres $382,588,727
Feeds & Fodders, Ex Oilcake $372,015,556

The US imports a huge amount of agricultural products from China, and if nearly twenty percent of the farmland in China is contaminated, what percentage of the agricultural products imported from China are also contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins?

Enjoying a beautiful day here at a man and his hoe® it’s easy to think this is a problem that doesn’t affect me, but it affects all of us, not matter how far, far away.

First Post Child Rearing Egg

Hens lay special eggs at times. There is the very first egg they lay, which is a tiny egg. There is the first egg they lay after their winter lull. These eggs also tend to be smaller. And then there is the first egg they lay after raising chicks. And today this mother laid her first egg after raising chicks for three weeks. That is on the early side. Most hens take more than a month before they go back to laying eggs.

I get the sense that this mother may not be raising her chicks much longer. They are getting very independent and at times during the day they stray tens of feet from her. When she was up on the nest laying her egg, her five chicks huddled together and waited patiently for her to come back down.


A Shovel Worth Having – and Made in Ohio to Boot

Good tools are indispensable when it comes to farming. And this is especially true with hand tools. A few weeks ago I found a sturdy shovel made by Bully Tools of Steubenville, Ohio, where they make all their tools. What impressed me about the shovel is that the back of the shovel head is sealed. Most shovel heads are not sealed in the back so when you use them, dirt gets clogged between the handle and the head. And if you’re dealing with any clay, they are a pain to clean.

Since the head of the Bully Tools shovel is sealed in the back, there is no place for dirt to clog, making cleaning a breeze. You can see in the photo of a regular shovel, how easy it is for dirt to build up on the back of the shovel head.

The head is made of 14 gauge steel which means it is strong. The handles are made of ash. This is a shovel that last for years. Keep workers in Ohio employed. Make your next shovel a Bully Tools shovel.

Salad Recipe – Five to Ten Minutes

It’s fresh salad season here at a man and his hoe®, and I thought I’d share a simple salad recipe, one that I make nearly every day.

Step 1: Go into the vegetable garden and fill a salad spinner with leafy greens. There’s no need to pull out an entire plant. Pinch off the leaves you want and leave the plants to keep growing and producing more leaves. Today, I’m using Siberian kale and arugula leaves.


Step 2: Find some herbs, like oregano in your rockery, and add them to the pile of fresh greens.


Step 3: Add some chives to the pile of fresh greens.


Step 4: As well as a few sprigs of mint.


Step 5: Rinse and spin the greens. Chop up the herbs.


Step 6: Pile the greens on a salad plate. Top with the chopped herbs. And finish by drizzling the salad with balsamic vinegar.


There you have it. A fresh salad more delicious than any you’ll find in a restaurant, all for just five to ten minutes of your time. Food the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

An Afternoon by the Pond – Chickens in Paradise

Producing food is all about encouraging life. All kinds of life. And life is beauty, so in a way, producing food is about beauty.


So do you think the chicken you buy, or the hens who lay the eggs you eat, ever get to take a stroll by a pond on a sunny spring day?


Do you think they ever get to walk along the shore of a pond and dig for things to eat in the mud by the pond? Maybe that should be a requirement for humanely grown chicken, that they have the freedom to go digging for food on the shores of a pond. How close to nature do you want your chickens and egg layers to live? Or has this inconsequential chicken farmer gone mad?


Enjoying the Sunshine

No, there’s nothing wrong with this hen. She’s just stretching to soak up as much sunshine as possible. When hens are out soaking up the sun, they’ll stretch their legs out and contort their bodies into hilarious positions. From what I’ve observed during eight years of keeping chickens is that time out in the sunshine is a necessity. Chickens really need lots of space to lay great eggs, and they need lots of time out in the sun.


So how do hens in a cage-free laying barn like that pictured below get to have their time out in the sun? They don’t, and neither do most of the hens who lay those cage free eggs you see in the supermarkets.


Where Chickens Like to Live

This is what chickens at a man and his hoe® roam through this time of year. The trilliums and bleeding hearts are up and blanket the forest floor. Various fruit trees will be blooming through May. As the flower petals fall, they provide the chickens with a feast.


A forest is a perfect place to raise chicks. The high canopy and undercover provide protection, while the thick layer of decomposing leaves and branches provides a feast of organisms to eat. For chicks with a mother in this lush environment, every day is jam-packed with adventure.