Coverdale Farm

All posts tagged Coverdale Farm

By Ian Stewart

Delaware Nature Society has over 200 nest boxes spread around the properties we own or help manage which we installed to provide nest sites for a variety of birds. Every summer these boxes are monitored by a team of volunteers who track over 100 nesting attempts by 5-6 bird species (and we are always looking for more people to help with this – please get in touch if you’d like to get involved!). You’d be wrong to think the boxes stand idle throughout the winter however – it’s just that most of the action now takes place at night!

Several birds often roost in them during the winter, including Screech Owls, Eastern Bluebirds and some woodpeckers, which they probably do to protect them from the elements such as wind and rain. It is likely several degrees warmer inside a nest box than outside of it and for a small bird on a very cold night this could be the difference between life and death. Bluebirds take this a little further and are famous for ‘bundling’, where several birds squeeze into the same box for the night, probably keeping each other warm with their body heat.

A male bluebird entering a nest box

A male bluebird entering a nest box in winter

This year we’re making a special effort to check our boxes during the winter too. Sometimes it’s obvious that birds have been roosting in our boxes as they leave their droppings behind. The droppings in the photo below were almost certainly from a bluebird that has been eating Oriental Bittersweet. Bluebirds usually eat insects but at this time of year these are hard to find so they switch their diet to berries, and this exotic invasive vine is one of the few local plants that still has berries on it in February. You can help bluebirds in winter by planting berry-producing native bushes and shrubs such as Winterberry, Viburnums and Hollies. We will be following these boxes all through the year to see if bluebirds end up nesting in the same boxes that were used in winter.

Bluebird droppings inside a nest box

Bluebird droppings show they have been using this nest box

It’s also worth checking nest boxes in winter for less-desirable occupants. About 10% of our nest boxes are occupied by white-footed or deer mice during the winter. These nocturnal mice build fluffy nests inside boxes and sleep in them during the day. We always dump out mice and their nests during the winter, which may seem unkind but if left in place their urine and feces can damage boxes or carry disease, and birds won’t use boxes already occupied by mice. If you do this yourself, don’t use your hands to dislodge mice and their nests in case you pick up any disease or get bitten, but instead gently ease out the box contents with a stout stick.

Two deer mice fast asleep in this box

Two deer mice fast asleep in this box

This box at Coverdale Farm Preserve contained a furry nest with no fewer than 15 uneaten hickory nuts, which was interesting as this is not a common tree at the Preserve. These had probably been stored in the box by a Flying Squirrel, a nocturnal mammal which does not hibernate and requires food all winter. The squirrel cached the nuts here to provide a food supply for later in the winter, so to be sure the little guy wouldn’t go hungry we left the nuts below the box.

Hickory nuts cached in this nest box by a flying squirrel

Hickory nuts cached in this nest box by a flying squirrel

So just because you never see anything going inside your nest boxes in winter, don’t assume they aren’t being used!

By Megan McBride, Farmyard Coordinator

Winter at Coverdale Farm Preserve is always a beautiful time of year. With the vegetables fields in the CSA safely planted with cover crops our main focus becomes the health and happiness of all our unique animals.

Winter on the farm can provide many challenges regarding our animal husbandry. Even when the snow falls and the roads are frozen, all of our cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs still need lots of care. Every day all of the animals receive fresh hay or grain, and special attention is paid to their water. The animal’s access to fresh and clean water is critical to their health. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, the animal’s drinking water is refresh and de-iced. Water is the most important necessity for all of the animals here at Coverdale Farm Preserve, including the farmers. All water, including ground, rain, and snowmelt here at Coverdale eventually drains into the Burrow’s Run creek.  The Burrow’s Run is a vital tributary of the larger Red Clay Creek. Special attention is paid to limiting the amount of wasteful runoff here at the farm. Water conservation practices at Coverdale include planting native trees, shrubs, and grasses along riparian buffers and surrounding animal areas to minimize wasteful runoff.

Water conservation is one of our primary ecological objectives at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson.

Water conservation is one of our primary ecological objectives at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson. 

One might think that all of the animals that are living outside in the winter here at Coverdale might be cold.  Each animal has it’s own natural defense against the cold.   Pigs grow extra fat and burrow in the straw to stay warm.  The sheep have a wooly coat that insulates them.  The goats grow an undercoat of downy hair, known as cashmere.  The cattle grow extra thick hair and their fat helps shield them from winter’s icy wrath.  Extra hair might not seem like much extra warmth, and on it’s own it is not.  The hair traps thousands of tiny pockets of air, which aids in insulation.  Chicken feathers trap pockets of air much like an animals fur.  Most animals can stay out in the cold and not be bothered.  However on a windy or rainy day they seek shelter so the wind and rain do not flatten their air pocket insulation.

Goats at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Goats at Coverdale Farm Preserve. Photo by Christi Leeson.

The sheep, goats and chickens have a hard time walking in high snow and prefer to stay in their shelters when the snow is deep. When this happens, as it so often does, the farmers strap on their snowshoes and break a path to their feed and water. The cattle however can easily move in the snow and will be seen more frequently outside on a snowy day.

Sheep on the "snow trail" at Coverdale Farm Preserve.

Sheep on the “snow trail” at Coverdale Farm Preserve.  Photo by Christi Leeson.

Although it is cold and snowy now, we are preparing for a very busy spring. Our first lambs and piglets are due in late March and shortly thereafter the vegetable fields will be bursting with life. Remember to eat more vegetables, drink lots of clean Delaware water, and sign up for one of our amazing programs today!

By Evan Gruber, Coverdale Farm Steward

There are two new additions to the herd at Coverdale Farm, calves from two local farms have arrived for the next 6 -8 weeks and are being kept in the newly constructed calf yard. A brown Jersey calf is on loan from Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin Delaware, and a black and white Holstein calf is from Old Stone Farm in Lewisville Pennsylvania. Both are bull calves that will eventually be castrated (which make them steer) and raised for meat. They are each fed two gallons of milk per day, and in their time here they will drink around 115 gallons each! They also have free choice grain and hay to eat once they are old enough for solid food.

Jersey Calf

Jersey Calf.  Image by Derek Stoner.


Holstein Calf

Holstein Calf.  Image by Derek Stoner


I would also like to introduce the newest members of our land management crew, Boer goats! The breed is originally from Africa, and is primarily used for meat production. These particular goats come from a background where they were handled quite a bit, so they are very comfortable around people and enjoy their head getting scratched, or to be fed some clover from the other side of the fence. Their diet consists of whatever weeds are growing in the pasture, they get no extra grain or feed. A goat’s eating habits are more similar to a deer than to a sheep or cow, they prefer woody plants and broadleaf weeds which makes them perfect for their main purpose on the farm, which is keeping the cow pasture weed free. A cow’s diet is typically around 90% grasses and clovers, and 10% brush, a goats diet is around 30%grasses and 70% brush, this makes them perfect for eating anything the cows miss. This helps the farm staff because we have to mow less often, as well as reducing how often we need to string trim under the fences.

New Coverdale Staff Member

New Coverdale Staff Member.  Image by Derek Stoner

Come visit the new members of the farm on a Farm Fun Day; Wednesday afternoons 12:00 – 2:30pm, and every 3rd Saturday 8:00 – 11:00am.

Attend a Farm Fun Day and see who is new on the farm!

Attend a Farm Fun Day and see who is new on the farm!

By Dan O’Brien, Community Supported Agriculture Farmer

Spring is finally here and things are finally starting to get rolling at the CSA at Coverdale Farm.

Creating the special planting rows for the vegetables takes time, a tractor, and teamwork.

Creating the special planting rows for the vegetables takes time, a tractor, and teamwork.

Over the past few weeks the CSA team has done loads of preparation in the field to get ready for all of the planting that is happening. So far we have planted over 12,000 onions, almost 2,000 brassica plants like kale and cabbage, and today we just planted over 300 tomatoes in our high tunnel house.

Rows of soil all prepped and planted with potatoes.

Rows of soil all prepped and planted with potatoes.

Also, we planted 500 pounds of potatoes and have direct seeded beets, carrots, two types of peas, two types of spinach, and arugula.

Vegetables planted inside the greenhouse will soon be transplanted outdoors into the fields.

Vegetables planted inside the greenhouse will soon be transplanted outdoors into the fields.

We have lots of little seedlings growing in our propagation house and plenty of summer crops that will be planted over the next few weeks once the threat of frost has passed. Just today I set up all of our fertigation systems that injects our soluble organic fertilizer into the micro-irrigation lines. This system helps get the nutrients that the plants need to grow directly to the root system without much runoff or evaporation loss.

New baby piglets will be growing up quickly at Coverdale!

New baby piglets will be growing up quickly at Coverdale!

Finally, our pig here at Coverdale Farm has just given birth to 12 new piglets!

All in all, there are some pretty cool things happening here at the CSA at Coverdale Farm. Make sure to stop by the CSA next time you are here at the farm so we can show you what’s growing.  Finally, remember to eat more vegetables!

Farmer Dan

There are still spaces left if you would like a share in the Coverdale Farm Community Supported Agriculture program.  Sign up, and then once our season starts, pick up your vegetables each week at Coverdale.  Grown locally, so you can eat locally!  For more information, please click here or call (302) 239-2334 ext. 134.