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Farm Life Show (Ep.03) - Migrating 10,000 Animals on the Farm

June 11, 2021

Summer’s here! And that means we’re just completing one of each year’s biggest challenges at Seven Sons Farms. Moving over tens of thousands of pigs, cows, and chickens from their winter homes out onto 550 acres of summer pastures…

On this episode of The Farm Life Show, Blaine and Blake Hitzfield share their humane approach to putting the animals out to pasture and share lots of awesome footage along the way.

Of course, an undertaking this big doesn’t happen without some bumps in the road - including Blake’s truck bursting into flames! As always, The Farm Life Show offers you an insider’s look at the people — and the animals — that help bring nutrient-dense, pasture-raised food from our family farm to your family’s table.

Chickens Leave the (Winter) Nest at Seven Sons Farms

As a pasture-based farm, we keep our animals out in the green grass and sunshine for as much of the year as we can. But being in Indiana, Seven Sons faces a cold and bitter winter every year, with nighttime temperatures often lower than 15°F.That means that our animals live in spacious, well-heated winter homes for some of the winter season. But there are few more exciting and rewarding things in farm life than putting our animals out on spring and summer pasture. In the winter months, the chickens live in greenhouses covered with transparent tarp, allowing the sunshine in. The greenhouses are deep bedded with wood chips and straw. The temperature inside is very mild — and always above freezing. The greenhouses also give the chickens access to roam freely outside, even in the depths of winter.After their daily migrations, the hens return to their greenhouse coops built in the middle of the pasture. The process of migrating the chickens to their summer homes is super stress-free, both for the hens and for us. We rotate out the portable winter greenhouses and build new ones right alongside them. We then move the chicken’s feed and water from the winter coops to the summer ones, and over the next few days, the hens naturally migrate to their summer homes.

During the summer, the chickens prefer to spend most of their time outdoors. We surround a large area of the pasture land the greenhouses are built on with electric netting to keep the chickens safe from predators.The fencing is a sensible precaution, but our pack of specially trained guard dogs does an even better job of keeping any unwanted intruders at bay.This summer, we have about 10,000 hens to take care of, so Bruce (Son #6) and his crew had to build three new greenhouses in a short period of time.

We also needed more open pastures for the animals. This necessitated clearing acres of land by cutting down trees and even building a culvert so water could reach the newly cleared fields and drain effectively. 

Going Hog Wild in the Pastures at Seven Sons Farms

In the winter months, our pigs have a similar housing situation to our chickens. They live in large greenhouses out in the pasture and (by choice) spend much of their time snuggled up on the warm straw floors. Our hogs have free access to the outdoors and spend much of their daylight hours foraging in the forests and fields — whether it’s winter or summer. For both the chickens and the pigs, transporting them to summer pastures is relatively easy, as their winter homes are built nearby. But the pigs require a little more work.Like every other process on Seven Sons Farms, we try to make it as stress-free for the animals as possible. When it comes time to transport the pigs to their summer homes, we start by just opening the gates to the open fields and forests, where they naturally want to migrate. There, their limousine awaits.

We sweeten the deal for the pigs by throwing some non-GMO corn/soybean feed into the truck bed of this cool hydraulic trailer — and they happily climb right on board. 

New Calves Arrive at Seven Sons Farms

Cows are thousand-pound animals. Partly because of their mass, it’s not practical to harbor cattle over the winter months. Though it’s mostly freezing cold, the weather varies considerably over the course of late autumn, through the winter, and into early spring. There’s a lot of freezing and thawing and, as a result, the pasture grounds are very wet. Allowing the cattle to graze during these months would turn our pastures to mud and make them a mess by spring. Consequently, we finish and harvest much of our cattle herd as winter takes hold each year.Each spring, a number of calves arrive from partner farms.

Cattle requires a LOT of pasture land, so that means we have 30 miles of electric fencing to inspect and maintain. We manually check every stretch of fencing to make sure there aren’t any electrical shorts or other damage.An abundant freshwater supply is also a requirement, so we have to repressurize the water distribution system and check for any sprung leaks.

Checking the fencing and water supply is a challenge every year, no matter what. But with Farm Life, you learn to expect the unexpected, and something came along to make this year even more of a challenge.The truck that Blake uses to carry all of his fencing and waterline supplies, as well as the equipment used daily to move the pigs and cattle, burst into flames! All of the equipment and the truck were lost, but luckily no one was hurt. Just another day on the farm!

Quiz Time at Seven Sons!

On every episode of The Farm Life Show, we like to do a quiz to offer our viewers and readers a chance to win some Seven Sons prizes.This month, we’re playing Name That Steak! The quiz is tough, but this cut of steak is extra tender. You’ll need to check out the video to enter Name That Steak — and have a chance to win this month’s prize.Blake and Blaine also name the winners of previous quizzes like Name the Puppies, Name That Pig, and How Many Eggs Can a Hen Lay in a Year, so if you participated in any of those, you might want to check out the video for the results.

Next Month on The Farm Life Show

Blake and Blaine will be back next month to update you on:Gardening disasters and how not to make the same mistakes we did, footage of baby foxes on the farm (Spoiler alert - they’re darn cute), and many more surprises from The Farm Life.In the meantime, don’t forget to hit that YouTube Like button and subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode of The Farm Life Show.And don’t forget to “shake the hand that feeds you.”* *Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Blake Hitzfield

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