Homestead News, Volume 6

The days have been so full, Frank’s Tuesday night radio class seems like more than a week ago. It is going very well, good attendance, with more questions coming up all the time. One of his students came by to discuss antennas and towers yesterday morning while I got started on an all day canning spree. We continue to be very encouraged by the interest folks from around our small area are expressing about being able to stay in touch with each other by radio should an emergency arise, short term or long term.

The day before yesterday I harvested all I could from the garden. The tomatoes are finally ripening and taste really good. We don’t have enough to can yet, but we will. The canning spree yesterday included 16 pints of yellow squash in the first canner. It filled up both layers in our canner with some left over that made it into another batch with one pint of green beans and two pints of cowpeas.

After I got that started, I worked over the plums that our friend Grace gave me. They are very sweet and a pretty, dark red. I canned five pints leaving plenty of room for water to make a nutritious juice to drink along with the fruit. 

 

Next came some minced garlic. I bought nine pounds of peeled garlic. I haven’t harvested ours yet, it’s out there, I just didn’t get to it. Patrice Lewis over at Rural Revolution has a tutorial on canning minced garlic and I wanted to give it a try. I have been using dried minced garlic for years, but wanted to switch to fresh. The problem is I never take the time to peel and chop garlic for our meals, dried was always easier. The house REALLY smelled like garlic last night, so much so that Frank wondered aloud whether people would shy away from us today because we smelled like garlic. Well, no one turned up their noses at us, but we didn’t ask how we smelled either. 

The garlic turned green on top when we added the boiling water to it, but when it came out of the canner it was brown, which concerns me. I had added a quarter teaspoon of citric acid powder to each jar. I read in my canning books that when you can onions they darken and get soft. I hope that is the case with this garlic. We had a little left over that is in the frig which we will use first before we open one of these jars. We’ll let you know how it tastes.

We’ve had another rainy spell with a little over three inches in the last few days, but it looks like we’re in for a hot dry spell for a while. The humidity and heat index have been pretty high and look to go even higher next week. We will have to be extra cautious when we’re working outside.

I’m having a time battling the squash bugs and haven’t spent enough time on my efforts lately. We have lost some plants and if I don’t get out there and fight them some more, we may lose them all. This is another instance of not enough hours in the day.

I have started my mulching project in the garden in between everything else like making another batch of cheddar cheese. We are eating the third wheel and it tastes great. I may have already told you that, I’m not sure. Anyway, the cheese is turning out well, even though there are still a few small holes in it from all the yeast floating around our kitchen. And speaking of yeast, the sauerkraut continues to ferment along over in it’s corner, only needing a little water added to the moat every so often. It’s also time to make bread again, which means I need to get the sourdough starter out of the frig and wake it up for a day or two to lessen the acidity that builds up during storage. 

You know what? I love my kitchen. Not so much the physical aspects or aesthetics of it, just the fact that we have a working, functional kitchen. I like to cook. I love having naturally occurring, healthy foods ‘perking’ away on my counters in the form of cheese, kefir, sauerkraut and sourdough. I like having another bushel basket over flowing with Cushaw squash sitting on the floor that I need to can again. I like fixing fresh food that grew from a tiny seed in the dirt outside my house, that I can pick and cook and serve to my husband. Kitchens are a central, integral part of a home and I like the fact that in this house, where you enter is in the kitchen. Our kitchen is the heart of our home and where most of our living takes place. It’s a busy, happy, productive place. Messy sometimes, since I don’t like to clean near as much as I like to cook, but in our kitchen you will find our ‘home’.

 

And speaking of the kitchen floor, a big section of it is now covered with eight half bushel boxes of peaches we picked up from a local orchard today. Yes, I talked myself out of buying five bushels and settled for four. The next few days will be filled with more canning, while fighting off a few squash bugs and spreading out more mulch.

 

The goats are doing well. Cricket has recovered from her worms and scours. She is still a little thin, but is already well on her way back to normal. We had scheduled the vet to come out this week to teach me how to administer the copper boluses, but Frank and I have been fighting sinus issues with all of the wet weather, so we have rescheduled the vet for next week. The day he was coming this week we both had bad headaches and another hours long rain storm would have had us all soaked in the process. I’m glad we rescheduled. I will take pictures and let you know what I learn sometime soon.

Now that Cricket is doing so much better, we have changed back to our original plan of breeding her and One Stripe this month. We backed up the date to July 15th instead of the 1st to give her more time to recuperate. With the hot, 95* to 97* temperatures that are forecast next week, I don’t know if the goats will breed or not. We have had them do so in the past, so we will just have to wait and see.

 

The greenhouse exterior is almost finished. We still need to settle on which doors we are going to use and figure out some final details on enclosing the roof line and corners. Then the door leading from the greenhouse into the house will be installed. There is currently a house window being covered by the greenhouse. That will be taken out and a door installed in it’s place, with steps leading down to the ground level. The gentleman that we hired to

help with the work is on vacation for a few weeks, and in the meantime, Frank and I will bring our 55 gallon water barrels down from the barn and begin placing them inside. They will be the ‘workbench legs’ we will be using. We will explain more about that once we work out the details of how everything will be set up.

Our adoptive momma hen decided it was time to go back to the flock. One evening when we were feeding and watering she decided to go out into the big pen and visit the rooster, then she walked right back in with ‘her’ babies. The next day she laid an egg in the corner of their pen. That evening when she went out to visit the rooster and the flock she didn’t go back, so now the teenage chicks are on their own again. The young roosters are starting to square off to see who is boss, so it won’t be long before we start butchering them. There are some interesting color patterns developing and we are starting to think about which ones we may keep to replace the current rooster. Once these new young hens are old enough to lay, we will butcher and can the current laying hens, thus renewing our flock and putting more food on the shelf.

 

The baby chicks are doing well, growing and acting like chickens. When we brought them out to the chicken house they made the ‘teenage’ chicks look much bigger. And the ‘teenage’ chicks made these babies look awfully small. The young babies are learning from their next door neighbors. When I bring out greens for all of the birds in the morning, I put the babies greens right up next to the ‘teenage’ pen which encourages the babies to peck at them. It’s been interesting to watch their interactions.

 

The pigs are doing fine. They have adjusted to the routine and environment well. Sometimes they complain if I don’t bring them their desired scraps. They squeal at me, and it’s quite funny. One day they even followed me back to the gate complaining. I kept telling them that’s all they get and if they want something to eat they would have to eat what I brought. It was a funny conversation. I had brought them the Cushaw seeds and peelings from the days canning without any whey or milk or other liquids. Guess that wasn’t their favorite meal. They are all growing well and are a good addition to our homestead. So far.

The days seem to be just flying by, and it’s hard to believe we are almost to the middle of July already. As time ticks quickly on, there are so many things we want to accomplish before the fall arrives, the fall of the year or the fall of the world. We can only hope we can work hard enough and fast enough to beat it here. As we watch the financial markets of the world and read as many perspectives as we can on the complexities of our world, we can’t help but know, really know, deep down that time is running out. But that’s okay. We will do all we can, and it will be enough. As we were talking about it today Frank said it’s like he’s been preparing for this all of his life, and it really does seem that way. There have been so many experiences Frank and I have been given that have lead us to this time and place. We are right where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, and if the truth be known, loving every minute of it. No matter how the world turns out, it truly is a great life.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 5

There are lots of different things going on around here, so I thought I would do another version of the news. In the news lately…….

 

Our latest batch of baby chicks have hatched and been moved to their new abode. Out of 54 eggs we had 47 hatch. Some of them have been fascinated with their older siblings next door. 

The momma hen and the first 36 chicks that hatched had to move next door so the new babies could have the pen with the heat lamp. The ‘teenage’ chicks are almost feathered out, but not quite. They are in the ugly stage.

After the crew finished up the lean-to for the pigs, they started on the other side of the barn. This lean-to is bigger and will have a concrete pad. They poured the first half of the pad today and will finish up the other side tomorrow. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it, so you will have to use your imagination until next time. It doesn’t look like this anymore.

Later on in the week, the same crew will begin construction of our long awaited greenhouse. When we moved here in 2008 we had new siding put on the house along with the porches that extend the full length of the house on the east and west sides. Frank had the foresight to have them pour a pad for the greenhouse when they poured the porches. So, this pad has been awaiting for us for seven years. It currently houses a few ladders and the sections of Frank’s new radio antenna towers. That is another project that is on the list in the near future. We bought the supplies for building the greenhouse a while back, but Frank’s back has prevented us from completing this task. We will write an article on the hows and whys of the greenhouse, including pictures of the construction when it is finished. 

We have a doe, Cricket, that has developed a bad case of scours (diarrhea) that is cause by the barber pole worm. We have never had a case like this and have been doctoring her for about five days. Today we took a stool sample to the vet and found out she has worms so bad, it’s like she’s never been wormed even though we have treated her twice in the last three weeks. The vet gave us a different type of wormer and information about using a copper bolus. I came home, researched copper boluses and ordered some. I am going to arrange for the vet to come out next week after the boluses arrive and teach me how to administer them properly to our entire herd. With all of the record breaking rain, the worm load is tremendous this year. I will take pictures and explain the bolus properties more when we administer them. It’s all new to us.
 

One Stripe


Since Cricket is sick with worms, and has gotten very thin, we won’t be breeding her in July along with One Stripe which was our original plan. That means one doe will breed in July for December babies and five will breed in November for April babies. We’ll see how that goes.
 

The new part of the garden I planted with cowpeas and sunflowers last Monday is growing very well.

I finally got the porches put back together. They sure look better. There are definitely not enough hours in the day to get half of the things done we would like to do.

We watch Greece, Puerto Rico and the financial conditions around the world with trepidation. This causes us to spend more time discussing and pondering what we might need to acquire or learn before we are no longer able. There are many folks talking about the devaluation of the dollar, bank holidays or a total financial collapse. We feel like this is the beginning of a scary roller coaster ride that will not end well. I suspect there will be ups and downs along the way, just like any roller coaster ride, but I really don’t think we will all arrive on the platform with smiling faces when this ride is over.

Frank’s radio class starts tomorrow night, and we are really looking forward to that. It will be very interesting to see how many folks show up and what type of community communications system comes out of this new group of people. We hope to do articles about each class to give you an idea of how it is going, what works and what doesn’t. This may give you some ideas about how to form a group in your area.


We hope everything is going well in your neck of the woods. Keep your ear to the ground, your powder dry and watch your back. Things are looking dicier everyday.

Until next time – Fern


Homestead News, Volume 4

It seems lately our homestead has been a flurry of activity. I will see if I can give you a glimpse of our life on the homestead.

We told you about the new windows we had installed almost two weeks ago. Well, we have made a little progress on trimming them out, but they aren’t finished yet. Frank had a great idea of making the top board longer and angled. I think they look great. But since we aren’t finished with that project, the porches are still in disarray. It really doesn’t bother me much, life goes on with our daily routines even if things aren’t in their customary places.

You may be wondering why two weeks later, the windows still aren’t trimmed. Well, a day or so after the windows were installed, we began a large project on the barn, which is only about half complete at this stage. This project involves building lean-to shed roofs on the east and west sides of the barn, the full length of the building. After much planning and consulting with the two man crew we have hired to do the building, then acquiring the needed supplies, this project got under way.

The day after the barn supplies arrived the local electric cooperative came and set a new pole for us. We have long wanted power to the barn, but it is quite expensive. Well, this is the year. The pole is about 120 feet from the barn so we will still need to run the wire underground to connect there.

We expected to have a meter and power once the pole was set, but then we discovered that we needed to install a breaker box on the pole and connect it to the meter box. Enter Frank and his many abilities to fix and build things. While the work crew began their tasks using a generator, Frank worked on installing the breaker box and connections. In a couple of days, the cooperative was back out with the meter and we were in business. Then Frank got busy installing an outlet on the pole with a 20 amp fuse, so the guys could have power via heavy duty extension cords. This provided stronger, more consistent power for their tools which was great. It is truly a blessing to have a husband that can do or fix just about anything.

As we began the barn project one of the first things that we had to do was dismantle the pig pen. We had already allowed the pigs out into the larger pen that contained their small, initial pen. But the first day of construction, the pens were dismantled and the pigs were allowed out into their two acre pasture for the first time. Needless to say it was a little confusing to them. That was the day I became a pig herder, spending a lot of time with them showing them around the pasture.

Because of the floor leveling and window installation and rain, we hadn’t had the chance to brush hog the pigs entire pasture, so Frank made some wide trails for them to use. They lead to the one, lone tree in that pasture, down to the pond and provide three ‘lanes’ to the barn area. At first, I coaxed the pigs to the tree with food and water. I knew they needed shade, water and mud. So that day and for several days after, I carried many a bucket of water to the tree. After about two days, the pigs would go to the pond on their own, enjoying the mud for a wallow and whatever they found that was tasty at the pond’s edge. Now they comfortably wander around on their own and we don’t have the concern of lack of water or wallow to keep them cool.

 

So, how are the pigs? They are doing great. I have to say, I am really enjoying them. We can pet them and scratch their backs almost any time we go into the pasture. We even scratch their heads while they are anxiously awaiting the contents of the feed bucket in our hands. Every so often one will bump the backs of our legs when we are walking to the feed pan. This is when I remind them not to bite me. But 

really, I don’t think they would, it’s just a ‘Hey! Feed me!” kind of bump. They are really funny, and I’m getting used to their grunting and squealing sounds. We are planning a trip later this week to bring home another gilt. She will be much smaller than these guys we have now, but I hope she will work out well.

The pig side of the barn should be complete tomorrow, if we’re not rained out. Then we will reconstruct a pen and place their house under the shed roof. This will provide more shade and a place to pen them if need be. But for now, they have free range of their pasture. I will give you a more specific pig update in a few weeks.

The west side of the barn is next on the barn project docket. It includes our rain catchment system which we are very excited about. I will do an in-depth article with the whys and hows of that project as we get closer to completion.

 
Our cheese stash continues to slowly grow. We now have 24 wheels of cheddar aging. Well, make that 23. I have been wanting to see how it was doing for a while, so I have opened the first wheel. It is drier than I like, which means I pressed it too hard. It also has a bunch of small holes in it, which it is not supposed to have. Frank read an article recently about why swiss cheese has holes and it was because of the bacteria on hay dust that got into the milk before the cheese was made. This was back in the days before milking machines prevented any air contact with the milk. This made me wonder if something similar caused the holes in our cheddar. It doesn’t appear to affect the taste. This wheel has a very, very mild cheddar flavor since it was only allowed to age for two months. It’s good, though, and we are enjoying it.

We have begun to eat yellow squash from the garden. There is nothing like that first squash of the season. I hope to begin canning some before long.

We have also discovered that we like a dish of turnip greens, collards and beet greens. Not only is it tasty, but very nutritious. Since the turnip patch is almost overrun with crab grass, we plan to harvest the patch and see if there is enough to blanch and freeze the greens. We’ve already done this once and they taste just fine. Not quite as good as fresh, but most things aren’t. Now I need to learn to can them. That will come with the fall crop.

This is the first time we have grown collards and we are very pleased with it’s performance here. The chickens, pigs, goats and humans all like them. They appear to be very hardy and productive. I will be curious to see how they perform in our hot summer weather. The patch is very small, and I pick from it each morning for the animals, but it continues to grow very well. I think I will plant another patch [which I did today] and see how it does this time of year. Just to learn a little more about the plant.

The wild and tame blackberries are ripening now, but the tame berries are not sweet at all. I don’t know if the extended rainy period we had in April and May caused this or not. I do know that these berries need sunshine to sweeten up, but we’ve had a couple of weeks of sunny weather lately. I was hoping that would make a difference in the flavor, but it has not. I ate a few ripe wild berries this afternoon and they were much sweeter, so I hope to pick some in the next few weeks to help decrease our dependence on store bought berries.

The baby chicks and their adoptive mom are still doing very well. Before long they will be moved to the pen next door to make room for the next batch of chicks that will be hatching. Our chicken house will be getting very full of little cheepers, but that also means that in a few months our freezer and canning jars will be filling up as well, and that is good.

The kids we put in the ‘boys’ pasture to wean continue to nurse through the fence at times. We had to do some rearranging when the barn project started, and for now the does are in a pasture adjacent to the weaning kids. It has cut down on our take of the milk, but that’s okay. It just means we only make cheese about one to two days a week, and with the building project and the garden needing attention, that has worked out rather well. We will be breeding two of the does in July for December babies. This is something we tried last summer, but it didn’t work out. Our plan is to breed two in July and the other four in November. This will provide us with milk through the winter and a larger supply in the spring for next year’s cheese supply. We’ll see how it works out this time.

The beneficial insect class I took taught me to identify a few more bees and a few more plants, but didn’t really cover insects specific to gardening. I learned some new information, but it hasn’t really affected my gardening techniques. I did learn that 90% of bees are loners that nest in the ground. I thought that was interesting. 

We continue to prepare for Frank’s survival radio class which will be starting in a few weeks. There has been quite a bit of interest from our small communities, which is exciting. The possibility of creating a communication network in our area is very important to us. It could make all the difference in the world should a natural or man made disaster, emergency or collapse occur. We will let you know how it goes.

Life on the homestead is good. Very good. Busier than usual with projects underway, new animals, a different gardening season this year, and just normal daily chores and routines that come with living a life of producing all we can for ourselves. I know some of you have been wondering if we have made soap. Not yet. We have everything we need, and have talked about it a number of times, but it hasn’t happened yet. One day we will surprise you, and us, with that post. It is almost time to make another batch of lotion. I am really glad we make our own now. It’s quick, easy and not full of chemicals. 

We still have our aches and pains, and our bodies won’t keep up with our minds anymore, but with the exclusion of many chemicals and processed foods, we are healthier than we have been in a long time, maybe ever. That will be important in the coming days, weeks and months. Keep your head up and pay attention. More and more people are saying there is something out there, something in the wind that is unsettling, dark and ominous. Be prepared in all things, but especially in your heart and mind, for without them all of the ‘stuff’ you have will come to naught.

Until next time – Fern

A Fascinating Chicken Story

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

I have an unscheduled chicken post for you. This is not going to be one of those six, twelve, eighteen kind of things, but the other day something really cool happened in our chicken house.

Proud daddy

We’ve had a couple of hens wanting to set for a good while now. For you non-chicken types, this is one of those things that a hen does occasionally. She’ll want to stay in the nest box until the imaginary eggs underneath her hatch. Well, it’s a chicken thing. Everyday we take the eggs out from underneath them.

If you are looking to start a flock of birds, there are birds that are advertised as broody and non-broody. If you don’t want a bird to exhibit this type of behavior, get a non-broody breed. If you think you might want to hatch your own eggs using a hen, then get a bird that will go broody. But just because a bird goes broody, or I will call it setting, doesn’t always mean that they will sit on the eggs for 21 days, hatch the baby chickens and raise them. Some birds are good mommies and some birds aren’t. We have never let a hen set on a clutch of eggs.

Now, back to the story. As mentioned above, we have two hens that have been trying to set. We have an assorted flock, two is not bad. One is a Dark Cornish, one is an Black Australorp. Well, we put our recently hatched baby chickens in the chicken house about 10 days ago. Three nights back, one of the setting hens decided she would go over and set on the opposite side of the pen where the baby chickens were. Now she’s still in setting mode. The next morning, all the baby chicks are crowded on their side of the pen right up next to where this setting chicken was. This hen just happens to be a Black Australorp.

Well, Fern and I thought that was really cute. And then we thought about it some more and talked about it. This setting hen was talking to these baby chickens. We thought we would try putting this hen in with the baby chicks. We did. We watched her for awhile. Now, remember these are not day old chicks, they are about 10 days old. But these baby chicks took to this hen just like she was their mommy, and she probably is the mommy to at least a couple of them. There are dangers in doing what we did, because adult hens on occasion will kill a non-related baby chick. All the baby chicks are still fine and healthy. This hen has adopted these 36 baby chicks. I can’t necessarily say that they have all bonded with her, but at night many of them sleep under her wings and under her body, and the rest crowd around close. 

So, what does this mean to us, the humans? Now, this is what I have read and been told. If you release a mother with her baby chickens into the flock, then the mother will protect the babies from the other adult hens. After a couple of days, with the mother hen defending her chicks, the other adult hens won’t bother them. 

Here is our plan. We have already started another batch of eggs that will hatch in about two weeks. We will put these chicks in the pen where the current baby chicks are. We will move the current baby chicks into an adjacent pen, still separated from the adult birds, but without the direct heat source that the first pen has. After this move of birds, about three weeks later we should be able to release the current baby chicks with their mom into the general population. That would make them approximately six weeks old at that time. We normally don’t release birds into the general population until about 10 to 12 weeks of age. This will provide us with the opportunity to start another batch of eggs hatching a little bit sooner.

You might say, “Why do you need so many baby chicks?” Well, for all of the babies that are hatching, they will become our replacement laying flock in about six months. We will freeze more friers this year than we have in the past. But our big plan is to can quite a bit more chicken meat for long term use. We also make our own chicken broth when we are canning chicken. 

The cool part of this story is the mother hen and the baby birds. I thought you’d want to know this. If you’ve had any experiences like this, or know of anyone that has, please let us know in the comment section. We’ve heard stories about how you can take a setting chicken with eggs underneath her, and during the night replace the eggs with live day old chickens. But we were just floored with the behavior of this adult hen and the relationship she now has with the ten day old baby chicks. Hope you’ve enjoyed this story. Take care.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

Great Hatch

Hello Everybody, Frank here.

It’s chicken time again. The current flock of birds we have, have not been good birds, they have been egg eaters, not great layers, and they’re not pretty either. I’ve been fighting with these birds ever since we bought the first batch of Black Australorps. If your memory is good, then you might remember that these birds had a cannibalism problem when they were young. So I butchered all the

males, well maybe butchered isn’t the right word, but I got rid of all the males. But the problems with these birds never really stopped. The whole time I’ve had them, they’ve been anti-human. One of those things where you walk into the chicken house and they run like terrorized animals upsetting everybody. In six months, all of the adult birds I have right now will be gone. I use the 6, 12, 18 month rule, and a couple of days back I hatched a batch of baby birds. In about six months, let’s say Christmas, they will start laying. That’s when the adult birds will go in the canner. Then six months later, I will hatch a batch of birds, which will be one year from the time these were born, which was about two days ago, and the cycle continues. When the birds hatched two days ago are one year old, I will hatch their replacements which will start laying in six months, making the birds born two days ago 18 months old. Wa-la! 6, 12, 18 months.

These birds I just hatched got off to an unusual start. I was starting to gather eggs for this hatch, and put them in the little cardboard cartons, then tilt one end up and down. Kind of the poor man’s version of an egg turner. So, I got out one of my egg turners and started using it, just not inside the incubator. A couple of days before I was going to start the eggs

in the incubator, I got out one of the old ones and set it up to try it out. Well, the fan didn’t work. I tried cleaning it, blowing it out, even put some 3-In-One oil on it’s little plastic bearing. Well, it was determined to die, and it did. But, last year I had an incubator, same style, that the heating element went out. No big deal, just take the motor out of it. Well that motor had a missing screw, and at that particular time we were extremely busy. Then I got out my brand spanking new third incubator. I told you about it a while back, it operates off of 12 volts DC. I put the two old incubators back in their boxes, marked on the boxes what was wrong, and maybe someday during the cold of winter I’ll dig those two things out and try to make me one happy incubator. Maybe.

Okay. New incubator, 12 volts DC, new turner, 12 volts AC. Make sure you read the small print. I plugged in the turner and incubator separately to

make sure they both worked. The egg turner did what it’s supposed to do, and so did the incubator. Life is great. I put my brand spanking new turner inside the brand spanking new incubator, filled up the water trough, put the eggs in the turner and set my clock for 21 days. Being the good chicken hatcher I am, I checked the temperature meticulously every time I passed the incubator. This is one of those new fangled type of incubators, electronic. You set the temperature and it does everything else. Well, actually, the temperature was preset, but you can adjust the temperature if your conditions vary. Life’s good.

Three or four days later I notice that eggs are in the same position every time I check the temperature. So, I started checking not just the

temperature, but the egg turner position. Guess what? The turner is not turning. We opened up the incubator, took the turner and eggs out, put the eggs back in the incubator and observed the turner for a couple of days. The turner turned it’s little heart out. Put the turner back in the incubator with the eggs in the turner, watched it again for another day, and you’re right, it’s not turning the eggs. The turner is not a complicated little gizmo. I checked all of the logical reasons why it wouldn’t turn. It wasn’t crimped anywhere. There was nothing blocking it’s movement in any form or fashion. It just wouldn’t turn with eggs in it. Out comes the turner again, the eggs go in the incubator, and we do it the old fashioned way. Took a pencil and marked an ‘x’ on one side of the egg and a ‘0’ on the other. We started turning the eggs by hand.

The problem is we had gone for about seven days not knowing if the eggs had ever been turned. We talked about it. Do we just abandon the 42 eggs we have in there and start over? Or do we let them go for another two weeks and see what we get? We decided to go ahead and let them finish their cycle. We knew that we might get a terrible hatch rate, or deformities, or both. 

The big day comes. Well, actually, the big day came one day early. We heard a cheeping sound, looked in the incubator, and guess what? We had

what would appear to be a nice, healthy, little Buff Orpington. That was Friday morning. Before Saturday morning we had 34 healthy, vigorous baby chicks. That means we only had eight that didn’t hatch. This is the best hatch rate we have had since we have lived here for seven years. They are probably the healthiest birds we have ever hatched. We did all the usual things. We quit turning the eggs three days before the scheduled hatch. We only removed the baby birds from the incubator about twice a day. You don’t want to let out too much of the moisture or heat, you can chill some of the birds that are still wet. But at the same time, we also removed the empty egg shells.

There is a sad part to this story also. Of the eight that didn’t hatch, three had large peck holes, and you could hear cheeping and see movement. It’s real tempting to help these birds out of their shells, and I know some people do. But it’s just not a recommended practice. I took the eggs that didn’t hatch, put them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash. The next morning I took them to the trash dumpsters. I know some will disagree with that. I’ll leave it at that.

Now we have the 34 healthy baby chicks in their temporary brooder, which was very temporary. Baby chickens put off a very fine dust that plugs my head like a stopper. This morning I had a smashing migraine. So the baby chicks are now in their permanent quarters in a secure section of the chicken house. They have heat, they have shelter, food and water. These 34 birds will be part of our replacement flock. We have started gathering eggs for the next hatch, and will probably start them on Wednesday. Three weeks from then, hopefully, we will have another good hatch. This should round out all of the female birds that we will need, and give us another large batch of males to process for the freezer and canner. If we want more meat, then we’ll do one more batch in the incubator for just meat. That’s the plan anyway.

Here in about 10 weeks, we’ll be butchering some friers, and we’ll let you know how things go. I almost forgot something. Last July I had lower back surgery. The surgery went fine and I’m doing well, but I will never in my life tote another 50 lb. bag of chicken feed again. For years we have always mixed our own chicken feed, ingredients were rolled oats, sunflower seeds, sweet feed, and a portion of laying pellets. Those days are over. We have gone to a standard laying pellet that has been formulated by chicken gurus, and this is what our adult chickens will be eating in the future. We do supplement their food daily with greens and other forms of herbs that come from the garden, along with whey from our cheese making. Someday, we will let the birds free range again, but not just yet. 

Sometimes you have to streamline life a little bit. One example, as just mentioned, is going to a standard chicken feed. But we’re also doing the same thing with all of the livestock. The day’s of mixing 500 lbs. of feed are over. Sometimes we just have to accept certain facts of life. But the good news is that I have 34 healthy, baby chicks. For this, I am truly thankful.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

Homestead News, Volume 3

Even with historic rainfall, it seems we have managed to stay busy on our homestead. There are a number of projects that are either ongoing, getting started or waiting in the wings for next week to arrive. Here is a rundown of some of our recent events.

 

Frank has wanted to put another layer of gravel on the road going up to the barn. We had this road constructed when we bought our place, but it was time to increase the gravel depth and width. This should do for this road for years to come.

 

We also wanted a load of gravel placed in the backyard so Frank could spread it out in our parking areas and in a number of other places. Unfortunately, the dump truck got stuck before it could make it down the hill. This necessitated dumping the gravel by the chicken house, which means Frank will have to make many, many trips up and down this hill to place the gravel in the desired place.

The dewberries are ripening, so my friend Grace came over today and between rain showers, we picked a few berries. I hope to pick many more in the next few days. By the way, yesterday and last night we got another 1.4″ of rain, and then today we got another 0.4″. But! This is supposed to be the end of it. There is no rain in the near forecast. Hallelujah!

We have had some issues with the egg turner in our incubator this year and were afraid we would have a very poor hatch rate. Today, the day before our actual hatch date, we already have eleven, no make that sixteen, new baby chicks. We were surprised and pleased with this development. Frank will fill you in on the details in an upcoming chicken story.

Our house was built in 1983 on a stem wall with floor joists. Over time it has settled in the middle and needed to be jacked up and leveled. It was hard to find someone to do this kind of work, but today two of our friends arrived and began this project. After this job is completed, they will be helping us replace some of our 30 year old carpet with new flooring. We are really looking forward to that.

Next week the window company will be here to replace our windows. Many of them are clouded over on the inside, and one on the north side lets the cold air in if it is very windy. This is another project that has been on the drawing board for awhile.

The pigs are growing, and will be given more room sometime in the coming week when we let them out into the larger pig pen. First we need to add a few stock panels up against the barn. The last set of pigs really rooted out a lot of dirt under the edge of the slab the barn is sitting on. We don’t want to allow any more of this dirt to be removed. All of the pigs are becoming tame enough to pat and scratch while they are eating, and occasionally when they are not. They greet me each time they see me, especially if I have a bucket in my hand. 

Easter on top, Bo in the house

Tomorrow our last two kids will be separated from their mothers for weaning. Easter, our Easter Sunday doe, and Bo, our little bowlegged wether will be joining the adult wethers, the teenage wethers, and the billy goat. The teenage wethers and Patch, another young doe, have been separated from their mothers for eight weeks now. One Stripe is Patch’s mom, and she is no longer being milked, so Patch will be rejoining the doe herd tomorrow. I will be glad to have her back with the ‘girls’ so I can give her more attention. She is already a very sweet, tame doe and I look forward to adding her to the milking line up next year.
 

Patch


Tomorrow morning Faith, our friend that bought Penny to milk, is coming over for a cheese making lesson. We will be discussing how to make soft cheese and making a batch of mozzarella. Faith has been reading a lot, but learns best by watching and taking notes. She is just beginning to put together a list of needed equipment and ingredients. We will have a fun time talking goats, milk and cheese.

The garden is growing despite all of the rain. The zinnias we planted in and around some of the vegetables are starting to bloom. And they are beautiful. 

It seems we are busier than ever, with much to do on our plates. Once the few projects I mentioned are complete there are about a half dozen more waiting to be started right behind them. We’ll let you know what they are and how they go. Life on a homestead always gives you many things to do. Some planned. Some not. Either way, you learn, you work, you live. It’s a good life.

Until next time – Fern

Chicken in the Freezer……Finally

We ran out of our chicken meat some time ago. You see, just like Frank tried to explain yesterday, things don’t always go according to plan, even when you’ve been homesteading for 30 years……

We followed our regularly planned, annual production run of chicken meat this spring, i.e. hatched and purchased baby chicks, with birth coinciding for ease of housing and raising them all together. Everything went according to plan…..until Frank had a serious upper respiratory infection. The chicks stayed in the stock tank brooder much longer than we planned, but finally made it out to the chicken house. They made the transition to a lot more room just fine…….for a while. Then the cannibalism problem cropped up, and in greater proportion than we had ever had. At the first signs of it, we doctored and separated as needed, just like we always had….but it didn’t work. We lost about six or eight birds in a couple of days. We had never seen anything like it. Finally, we killed all of the roosters, which appeared to be the major culprits. That’s what happens to major deviant behavior, it has to be removed. Maybe our world leaders should take some notes. Anyway……

Because of the problems that batch of birds had, staying in the brooder too long, then cannibalism, we decided we would not keep any of them in the long run. We ended up with 15 hens that managed to behave themselves long enough to make it to laying age. That’s where we are now. They are just starting to lay. But our long term plans to get rid of them are still in place. So, back when we made that decision, we ordered 25 brown egg layers which are now three months old. We found some folks that wanted some new layers for winter, so we sold them eight of the problem batch, keeping six for our own layers until the young ones are old enough. Then the final six will go as well, or that is the plan for now.

That finally brings us up to butchering time. We thought about selling the extra young hens, but they aren’t bringing much and we didn’t know anyone else that wanted them. So we decided to butcher them. We don’t usually butcher hens, but this time things changed…..again. You see, things don’t always work out the way you plan, and in a survival situation that can be very critical. If at all possible, redundancy can mean the difference between life and death. Other options for food, clothing, protection, water, heating, and shelter need to be thought about, if not prepared in advance. If you can. Just in case.

We received 10 white hens in our batch of 25, which is a large proportion. The thing is, we don’t like white birds. They are pretty enough, but white is the first color human and predator eyes notice. White is not a natural color for birds in nature unless they change to white for the winter up north, like the Ptarmigan or Snowy Owls. We prefer all of our animals, chickens, cats and goats to be a more natural color to blend in with nature. The exception is our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, and we would actually prefer she be another color, but after all, she is a Pyrenees.

Before we decided to butcher hens, we talked about not having any chicken in the freezer, and we only have one lonely jar of our canned chicken left. We still wanted a supply of chicken. So we ordered 25 day old, mixed heavy roosters. Just for meat. Well, if there is a stunning rooster in the bunch we may keep him and replace our Barred Rock rooster, we’ll see. These chicks arrived a couple of days ago. They are all named variations of Drumstick. The hatchery even sent a couple of Turkens in this batch, and they sure are ugly! 

When we looked at all the hens we had, there were just too many birds. So we sold 8, butchered 11, got down to 21, then got 25 in the mail, and ended up with more than we started with. Hmmm…..that is just how it goes sometimes. Things don’t always go according to the best laid plans. Prepare for that.

Butchering the 10 hens reduced our flock to 20 hens, 14 of them young. Having 2 roosters, would then be too many, so we picked one to stay and one to eat. That made 10 young hens and one six month old rooster to butcher. The morning we chose to butcher, Pearl came up with an eye abrasion that necessitated a trip to the vet. We had already been doctoring it with triple antibiotic ointment, but it wasn’t doing the trick, and that morning, it was much worse. Things don’t always go according to plan. Once we got her home and situated, it was time for lunch and our morning butchering session had been moved to the afternoon. We had gathered the chickens up the night before and put them in a pen. They had a longer wait than usual, but it couldn’t be helped. We do this to help their intestines empty out somewhat. It makes them easier to gut without leakage into the body cavity.

If you do not want to see some of our butchering process, please do not view the following pictures. The choice is yours.

We choose to use an ax when butchering our chickens. This routine has been tweaked over many years and many, many chickens. Initially, I would hold the head, and Frank the feet, as he chopped off the head. He was uncomfortable with how close my hand was to the landing of the ax, so we devised a simple noose to hold the head, which works very well and increases our safety. When we begin this task we always thank the animal for the food it is providing, and say a prayer of thanksgiving and a request for safety.

Since we had not butchered chickens in a while, we had forgotten a few details of the routine, like Frank’s gloves. The very first chicken, once we had relieved it of it’s head, curled up and started ‘pecking’ Frank on the wrist with it’s neck. Yuck! It managed to ‘get away’ and not land in the trash can we use for them to bang around in until their muscles quit jerking. So, you know that old saying, “Running around like a chicken with your head cut off.” That’s what happened. But we caught it by stepping on it’s feet. Interesting. Then it happened again with the last bird, the extra rooster. He managed to escape the trash can as well and bounced off the side of the garage and both vehicles leaving blood in his wake before we had him caught and safely ensconced again. This required a quick session with the water hose before cleaning the carcasses could commence. It just wouldn’t do to have the blood drying everywhere the rooster chose to decorate. Things don’t always go according to plan. 

As birds age, they get harder to skin. We don’t pluck them, we skin them, which is much easier and faster. It is one thing we will change when the SHTF because the skin is another source of food. And unless we plan to can up a batch, we won’t be butchering this many at once then. The six month old rooster was much harder to skin than the three month old hens. The connective tissue that attaches the skin to the muscle needs to be cut away in many places slowing down the process. If we had very many older birds to butcher, we would only do about five at a time. You can easily skin and dress out 10 young birds in the time it takes to do five older ones. This rooster will be baked slowly like a turkey, otherwise it would be very tough. The young hens make great fryers. 

I always use a knife with a guard to prevent slippage and injury.

We dressed out the birds on the tailgate of the truck, replacing the saw horses and plywood of the past, which works well. I did the rooster first, because I knew he would take much longer. I wanted to end up with the hens which were much quicker and easier. 

After they are all dressed, rinsed and soaking in a sink of cold water, we do the final washing and get ready to package them for the freezer. When we first started butchering our own chickens, we froze the carcass whole. This took up more space and allowed for freezer burn due to the airspace. We know many folks that use a vacuum sealer for all of their meat and vegetables. We have looked into them over the years, but in our effort to remain frugal, have never invested in one. The replacement bags have to be kept on hand and cost more than we care to pay.

Now we cut the birds up into these pieces, nest the parts together to allow for as little airspace as possible and double wrap them in plastic wrap. This box of wrap came here with us from Alaska six years ago. I don’t remember how many years we used it there before we moved, but it seems to last forever and is very inexpensive. Then, we wrap them in newspaper we save, seal with masking tape and mark it with the date. The rooster gets a circled ‘R’ for roasting. The rest are left with just the date to indicate fryers.

We really enjoyed our meal of fresh, homegrown fried chicken. It has been a long time since we were able to sit down to this meal. If you have never had homegrown chicken, you will be surprised at the difference in the taste and texture, and once you get accustomed to eating homegrown, store bought just doesn’t hold a candle to it.

The weight of a twelve week old homegrown bird is about half of a six week old store bought bird. That is because of all of the steroids, antibiotics and genetic engineering of production birds. We feel much better about eating our own meat that is fed a different ration from our recipe along with daily meals of comfrey, turnip greens, kale, other garden scraps and fresh goat milk or whey. They get to scratch around in the dirt and eat the passing bug. Once we make a few more modifications to some gates, they will also be able to range and increase their natural intake even more.

L to R: Two 3 month old hens vs. 6 month old rooster


We wanted to share our chicken story to help folks realize it is very possible to raise your own meat and eggs, but also to let you know that even after raising chickens for 30 years, things don’t always go according to the best laid plans. And when they don’t, there needs to be alternative plans that can accomplish the same goals in a different way. We all need to have the flexibility to change plans in midstream when the need arises. It won’t do to run around like a chicken with your head cut off yelling the sky is falling. Not if you want to survive.

Until next time – Fern

P.S. Fiona, over at Confessions of a Crazed Cattlewoman has started updating her blog. She and her husband, Ralph, are sharing the process they are going through to locate and set up a new homestead. Please take a look and share in their adventures.