Homestead News, Volume 13

Life on the homestead continues unabated, sometimes it’s like running full steam and sometimes it’s more like a walk in the park. Lately we have been surrounded with steam. Here’s a look at what’s been happening.

Isn’t this a beautiful ditch? You’re probably thinking I’ve been in the ‘steam’ too long, right? Well, the ditch itself may not beautiful, but what it represents is very exciting. Emmet has returned to barter more labor, for radios this time, a few evenings after he gets off of work. Weekends are devoted to his family, which is as it should be. Emmet found many, many more rocks in this ditch than any of us were planning on, so it will take longer to accomplish this task that we first thought. This ditch will hold the conduit, that will hold two strands of wire, which will connect this building to the house. Why is that exciting? Because these wires will soon connect our radio shack and house, to a battery bank and solar panels. We’re not sure just how soon, but sometime in the not so distant future.

Yesterday while Frank and Henry installed storm doors on the house, which are great, I butchered a goat. Frank dispatched him for me and brought him down to the garage in the bucket of the tractor. I have to tell you, though, I did not take one picture yesterday. It was a long, long busy day. The goat provided us with about 45 pounds of meat, 10 pounds of dog food and some soup stock.

Dressing out an animal really doesn’t take that long. Processing the meat does. We only kept two partial hind legs as roast. The rest of the meat was deboned, ground and frozen. I wrapped the ground meat in one to one and half pound packages and got them in the freezer at about 7:45 pm, just a few minutes before our second Survival Radio Relay Net. After the digging, Emmet stayed for a cup of coffee, and to see how Frank ran the net.

As I removed the meat from the bones, I kept looking at all the meat left on the bones. In the past, I have always just thrown these bones away. The longer I looked at them, the more I knew I needed to boil them and make some soup stock. So I did. I cooked them for several hours as I worked on processing the meat.

The net went very well with most people from the previous net returning and some new additions. Not long after the net we received a phone call from a man that joined for the first time. I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes when life is really busy and we wonder why in the world we are ‘putting ourselves out there’ and possibly increasing our danger factor, we get a phone call or a comment that lets us know we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. This phone call was one of those. I almost cried. Not because of the content of the phone call, but because of the unmistakable message that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing. So, I guess I’ll keep writing here for the foreseeable future.

We finally had supper at 10:00 pm in the midst of a very messy kitchen. I actually left this tub of dog scraps and many, many dirty dishes overnight. I had totally run out of steam for the day, and 6:00am would come very soon for the start of another day. I also forgot to bake the bread I had made this morning. I just shook my head and hoped it would taste good when I baked in in the morning. It did. Frank thought it was some of the best sourdough bread we have had so far. It sat for 24 hours after I made the dough and before it was baked. Interesting.

 

This morning it took me a couple of hours to clean up the kitchen. I returned the pots of stock to boiling, made rolls from the bread dough and left them to rise while I fed and milked the animals. Frank and Henry got to work early on the framing for the outdoor kitchen floor. Here it is today, but tomorrow these forms will hold a new concrete floor for the kitchen. We will keep you updated.

Frank worked over the lid and top edge of the All American Canner that wouldn’t seal well enough to reach adequate pressure and we tried it again. It still doesn’t work so we will be sending it in to see if the company can fix it at our expense.

 

It’s now 6:00 pm and there are two canners of soup stock on the stove with more left in the pot to go. So far we have 21 quarts of stock and we will put what’s left in pints. It looks like the last one won’t be finished until about 10:00 pm. Update. It’s now 8:00 pm. The last seven quarts will be ready to take out of the canner around 9:00 pm. I just put the pressure weight on the canner with 13 pints, and it has to come to 10 pounds pressure and stay there for 90 minutes. We won’t be finished by 10:00 pm, but we’re happy with the amount of soup stock we’ll have to put on the shelf.

 

We have one more incubator full of eggs hatching as we speak. At first I took this picture to share with you, but before I could finish writing and publishing this article, they started hatching. That means I need to butcher and can the last 12 or 13 chickens out there from our last hatch. They are a too old for fryers, and we wanted some chicken meat on the shelf anyway. Looks like that’s a job for Friday because tomorrow is mozzarella. The refrigerator is over run with milk again.


There have been several questions and comments about the greenhouse since we put this picture up on the header. It still doesn’t seem quite real that we finally have a greenhouse, and we have already decided it’s not big enough. 

 

We were asked if these barrels hold a back up water supply. The answer is yes. We don’t plan to use the water very often unless it is needed. We hope to have other sources of water connected and ready to use before long. But since we do want this water to remain potable, we treated it with bleach as we filled the barrels. We did a search on recommended amounts of bleach and came up with 5 teaspoons per 50 gallons of water. Five teaspoons is approximately one ounce, which is easier to measure when you’re trying to pour it out of a new gallon jug.

 

After we filled the barrels and got everything placed where we wanted it, Frank added some brackets to the back of the ‘table tops’ to hold them in place. We brought them an inch and a half away from the studs to allow room to place two trays side by side. This will allow us to use the space more efficiently. The bus tubs, there was a question about them, are the same ones that restaurants use to clean or ‘bus’ tables. Sam’s Club has them with the restaurant supplies. They have been great, but the sun just kills them and makes them very brittle. We will build our own before long and fit them to the trays. I hope they hold up better in the sunlight than the bus tubs did, we’ll have to wait and see about that.

The purpose of the water is for thermal mass. We are hoping it will help even out the temperature in the greenhouse. On sunny days when the outside temperature is in the 80’s, it quickly rises to 100*+ inside. The first day we moved the seedlings off of the porch and into the greenhouse was before we added water to the barrels. I didn’t water them enough, and in the afternoon, a few of them cooked, even with the fan Frank had installed. Since then, I have tried to make sure the tubs are watered very regularly, and we do think the water in the barrels makes a difference. Even if the thermometer is registering 100*, the plants don’t seem to suffer for it. I plan to dig up some strawberries and comfrey and bring them in for the winter and see how they do. That will be interesting. I also have kept the mandarin orange and lemon tree idea in the back of my head that someone mentioned a while back. 

I brought these two black peppercorn vines, piper nigrum, in to the greenhouse. They have been growing on the porch all summer. I also brought in a preying mantis with them. I hope it sticks around and helps with the bugs that may show up.

 

I planted more seeds in more tubs, but there’s not much to show for now. There are carrots, turnips, muskmelon, squash, lettuce and spinach coming up. I also planted some onion sets that I bought in the spring and never planted. Maybe we will have a few onions to eat this winter.

Tomorrow is another busy day, cheese and concrete. If you’re interested in radio communications, stay tuned. We will have new antenna towers going up soon. This will increase our ability to reach the folks in our area which is critical. The solar panel project will also help insure our ability to communicate. The radio shack will be the first thing to go ‘on line’ once we have the 12 volt system connected and functional. We really look forward to that day. Meanwhile the water storage tanks at the barn are still on the docket for completion. We need a few more supplies and some more ditches dug before we can proceed.


There are days that it would be easy to quit, days that we’re tired and worn out. There are some days that we just don’t want to get out of bed and tackle the day. But we do. There is much to complete and time is short. Our pace seems to quicken a bit more each day. When we get out of bed, we pour a cup of coffee and check out the news of the day including the blog. There is usually another comment telling us what you’re doing to prepare, full of encouragement, and we know we’re heading in the right direction. Make sure you are too.

Until next time – Fern

Projects for TEOTWAWKI Life

A homestead is never without a long list of projects. There are the ones that are in progress, the ones waiting their turn on the list, and the ones that fit better in the distant dream category. Nevertheless, if you homestead, or plan to homestead, don’t be discouraged that the list never gets completed, because if it did, you wouldn’t have anything to do, and you’d be bored. Boredom is not something that occurs here very often unless we’re expending our energy avoiding the things on the list that need to be done.

The installation of this lattice work has been planned for years.
We think it turned out great! I see green beans growing the length of the house next summer.

 
 

A friend of mine recently told me that she just couldn’t keep up with us and all of the things we’re doing. There are a lot of projects that are in progress right now, and when Frank and I stand back and take stock, sometimes it seems like a bit of a whirlwind. One thing that has allowed a lot of this to occur is being able to hire a man like Henry. With his help, Frank has accomplished a great deal in the past few months. The conditions of the world are the major driving force behind the pace of our work and the kinds of projects we are completing. The focus of our work is survival, plain and simple. The things we are doing will make the work required to live easier, we hope, so keep that in mind as you read here. All of our planning, work and goals are with an eye to survival.

Most of the projects we are currently working on have been on the drawing board for quite some time, and in some cases, as long as seven years. Over that time frame we have acquired supplies as our budget would allow. Now we are investing in the remainder of the needed supplies and the labor to accomplish some tasks. These investments will pay huge dividends for the rest of our lives.

Yesterday while I was attending a meeting, Frank and Henry built new steps with a handrail for the front and back door. They are simple, strong, sturdy and wonderful. You see, I like simple, I prefer simple. Anything else just wouldn’t do. We will find another place to use these concrete steps.

Today we planned some odds and ends. While it was cloudy and a cool 68* outside, the greenhouse stayed cool as well. Table tops were cut and barrels were arranged in a workable layout. Don’t they look great? I can’t wait to bring the tubs of plants and seeds in. 

It’s hard to see from the angle of the first picture, but when I take a picture from up here, you can also see the shelves they put along the outside walls. They will show up much better once they are filled with plants.

We had some great comments on the last article about the greenhouse. Several folks mentioned using fans to help with the temperatures. Frank had a fan to use in the building that will house the solar panels and batteries that we hadn’t installed yet. He pulled it out and mounted in over one of the vents in the greenhouse. 

 

He had already put a power pole connector on the wire to the fan, and had an transformer that would work. After mounting the fan over the vent and plugging it in, we were in business. After about 20 minutes the temperature had started to drop.

 

After an hour or so, the temperature had obviously been affected by the fan. Great! One step closer to putting the tubs of seedlings in the greenhouse.

Frank and Henry also utilized all of the sheets of plywood, along with some 1/2″ plywood to cut ten 24″ squares, to put under each water barrel as a barrier from the concrete.

Now we need to rinse out each barrel, place them in their permanent home on a square of plywood, fill them with water and treat them with bleach. Then we will be able to start bringing the seedling tubs and other plants in. That will be a red letter day!

While the men were working on the greenhouse, I was cleaning out the ‘weaning pen’ in the barn. Lady Bug, one of the does we are milking, is still letting her five month old doe, Easter, nurse. I was hoping she would go ahead and wean her, but stay in milk for our use. As I was milking her this morning, and getting very little, I began to wonder if she could be weaning Easter and drying up. This would defeat our purpose of keeping her in milk through at least mid January when One Stripe, Copper and Cricket are due to kid. After this thought hit me I knew I needed to start penning Easter up again at night so I can not only have more milk, but keep Lady Bug producing more, and hopefully longer. Thus, I needed to clean out the pen and get it set up for this evening for Easter. We’ll see how Lady Bug’s milk supply is in the morning. I’ve got my fingers crossed.


We still have some chickens that need to be put in the freezer, so after I finished cleaning the pen, I went down to the house to set up the butchering station. Very soon, this part of the task won’t be necessary. Frank, Henry and the tractor were wrestling with the stump in the outdoor kitchen area when I got back down to the house. Men and machine won out over the stump, although it did give them a run for their money. Now, in it’s place is a nice gravel chip pad and the beginnings of forms for concrete. When we butcher the chickens that grow from the eggs that are currently in the incubator, we may have this kitchen set up so we can dress the chickens here. I didn’t get any pictures of this process because I was butchering chickens down here at the end of the porch, but I was close by and got to watch.
 

My chicken butchering set up, washed and drying for next time.


You may wonder why we are building an outdoor kitchen. It’s not for fun, or looks, or to show my friends. I truly believe that it is something we will need to have in the coming years. It gets hot in Oklahoma in the summer time, and the propane tank that fuels our kitchen stove will run out one day if the trucks quit running. I need a place to cook, process the garden produce and meat from our animals, can food, wash clothes and provide for my husband. This will be where that happens. As we get everything set up and functional, we’ll give you another tour and more explanations. This project is still in the planning stages and has already undergone a number of changes. It will be interesting to see it all come together in a final product. Most of the things installed in this kitchen have been here for a while, some longer than others. A few things will need to be acquired for it’s completion.

Before the wrestling match with the stump commenced, the clothesline poles sprouted wings. We will let the posts continue to cure in the ground for a few more days before we hang the clothesline. I am really looking forward to hanging our clothes out on the line again. As you can see, the clothesline is close to the kitchen which will be very handy. 

After Frank and the tractor won the stump contest, he also ran the disc through the garden again. There are several places that the grass has really grown tall and it’s good he is working it and getting it ready for winter. We will soon be adding barnyard and wood ashes to rebuild what was lost in the early spring torrential rains that took much of our topsoil.
 

We still haven’t decided where to put the outhouse……


What projects do you have in mind for TEOTWAWKI? In the seven years we have lived on this homestead our purchasing has been with an eye to a future that will probably not resemble life as we know it now. Frank has seen the demise of our country and world coming for a long time. That is why we have purchased many supplies that have been waiting in the wings for quite a while. Now is the time for us to prepare these things, for soon the time of preparation will be past. Even if you are unable to complete a needed or wanted project now, obtain as many supplies as you are able. There will be a time when what you have is what you have, and that’s it. Think about that. What you have is what you have. No more stores or driving to town to get something. If you don’t have it, you can’t get it. What is it that you really need for TEOTWAWKI? Think hard, talk it over with your family. Make a list and acquire what you are able. Now. The time is now.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 11

Outside of butchering seven of our ‘teenage’ roosters a couple of days ago, there isn’t much new to report. We were glad to get five of these roosters in the freezer since our meat supply is literally down to nothing in there. We have quite a bit of meat walking around on the hoof or foot, but the freezer is looking very bare. It reminds me of stories about folks that went out and grabbed up a chicken when meat was needed for a meal. It was killed, dressed and cooked for that day’s food. Refrigeration has really changed the way we are able to live. I have given quite a bit of thought to what it will be like to live without refrigeration again. It sounds much more difficult and not near as convenient as we have it now. Something to ponder. How will you keep things cold or cool that need refrigeration to prevent spoilage and extend the life of your food?

We’ve had a nice little rain today which has helped cool things off. We had planned to butcher the last seven teenage roosters today, but it was 96* by 11:30 this morning. This evening we will have a cold front come through that will make the temperatures much more comfortable, thus it will be easier to work outside.

Our dear friend Faith, that bought some of our goats, took a very bad fall last week. She will be undergoing some reconstructive surgery to her face this week and we would appreciate it if you would keep her and her family in your prayers.

Frank and I have had many conversations about how to set up the greenhouse and all of the possibles that go with that process. As the temperatures start to cool down, it will be easier to work in there. It’s very interesting to see how quickly the temperature rises once the sun reaches over the tree tops and touches the walls. Very interesting. 

We have had a question or two about the exterior sheathing on the greenhouse. When Grace came to visit after we had the sheathing up she looked at it, looked at me and said, “What are you going to put over it?” She explained that she wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it was something more than what it is. The exterior of the greenhouse is a product called Tuftex. Frank did a lot of research on this product before we decided to use it. The type we chose is called Poly Carb which is described on their website like this: “TUFTEX PolyCarb corrugated panels are our toughest building panel. Made with a polycarbonate thermoplastic polymer in an octagonal-wave profile, TUFTEX PolyCarb corrugated panels are 20 times stronger than 5 oz. fiberglass corrugated panels and are designed to withstand a wide range of surface temperatures: 270° F to -40° F.” Lowe’s carried some Tuftex, but we had them order what we needed to have enough of the right type, colors and lengths. We used the translucent white on the roof and clear on the sides. Until we put the barrels in there, from some angles you couldn’t tell the walls were up. It will be very exciting to look at it and see plants inside, especially when we get it full of plants! I know I have said this before, but it will be a real treat to walk out there in the winter and pick something to eat. I think I will be worse than a kid in a candy shop.

It’s about time to make cheese since the frig is filling with milk. It will be mozzarella this time since the cheese frig is full of cheddar. We still haven’t tried to make cottage cheese again yet, but we will. It’s about time to make bread, too. I have set out the whole wheat sourdough starter to feed and lower the acidity level before I use it. Now days after I feed the starter for a few days, I pour half of it into the pig bucket instead of the chicken bucket. The chickens never did like it much, but you know what they say about pigs, they’ll eat just about anything. Except jalapenos. They don’t like them very much. Or really big, hard okra pods. Either they don’t like them, or they are just too hard to eat, I’m not sure which.

Since I tried our milking machine and didn’t like what it did to the goat’s teats, I haven’t tried it again. What I have done is really pay attention to my milking technique. Over the years I had developed a certain rhythm that was comfortable and seemed to be effective. Now I pay more attention to making sure I get as much milk out with each squeeze as I can. This is causing me to slow down some, but requires fewer squeezes per doe. I don’t know if this has made a difference with the arthritis in my hands or not, but I do know that I can straighten my bent finger out more than I could without working on it to do so. Interesting. I have also been told I have trigger finger on the same hand and same finger. Does anyone know of a natural way to deal with this? Grace told me her sister had it and wore a finger guard for a week and that fixed it. I haven’t tried that yet.

I have also started drinking apple cider vinegar with the mother in it, with local honey in warm water. This should help some of the sinus issues I have been having, as well as the arthritis. I hope. I used to do this everyday for years until it made my teeth hurt. The vinegar I used back then didn’t have the mother in it, though. This time I will make sure I rinse my mouth well with water after I drink it to protect my teeth. I’ve even thought about adding a bit of the canned garlic we have to the mix. Vinegar, honey and garlic are all very good for the body, so it couldn’t hurt any. I don’t mind the taste of vinegar and honey at all, I’m just not sure how the garlic would taste with it. Probably pretty good if you ask me.

We continue to eat our sauerkraut everyday. The portions are bigger than they used to be, and if there is a day we don’t have any, we miss it. When we first started eating it, there were several people that commented about how our taste preferences would change and that we would really enjoy fermented food. You know what? You were exactly right. We do really enjoy the sauerkraut and the health benefits it provides as part of our daily diet. 

We will be starting another project later on in the week that I will be showing you before long [it’s not the outhouse]. It is very exciting to have so many long term plans coming together. There is also a feeling that time is short to get some of these things completed. Frank and I talk about making plans as if there isn’t a collapse coming also, just in case. But at the same time we know it is coming, so we have to plan for that eventuality. Like I said last time, wishing won’t make it so. Just the other evening as we were getting ready for bed I asked Frank, “So where are we going to put the outhouse?” Another one of our recurring discussions. We still haven’t decided on a location.

Hello everybody, Frank here. The immigrant issues that are happening in Europe will soon be knocking on our doors here at home. There have been mass forced immigrant movements all through history. One of my grandfathers came to America around 1900 as a very young boy. His family was forced out of Russia. It has happened for centuries, and it could happen here just as easily as it has happened there. It’s easy to be cynical, but the fact is, people are being dislocated and they are willing to die or drown to escape wherever they are. It has to be horrible. Don’t kid yourself that it can’t happen right here. As we speak, there is a quiet exodus from the drought ridden areas of California. Towns there are shutting down. No joke. We are about to see many people, many more than are already coming here, from the areas affected by this forced relocation. It’s just one more thing that is happening. Is it a diversion? Could be. You decide. But you’d better get prepared. Frank

Now take Frank’s commentary and apply it to a collapse scenario where thousands of people are trying to escape the riots and starvation of our major cities. People that are desperate for water, food and shelter for themselves and their families. What happens when there are hundreds of them walking down the road where you live? I see the pictures of the Syrian people walking through Hungary, and that’s what I see. Hungry people, desperate to escape the carnage behind them, with hopes of assistance awaiting them at their destination. In a collapse situation there is no assistance awaiting them. I really think some people in smaller towns will actually go to the cities in search of government assistance. We’ve all heard the stories about FEMA camps and the rounding up of people to ‘keep them safe’. Don’t get on the bus. 

What I keep seeing when I look at the Syrian refugees are groups of people at the gate demanding water, food, shelter and assistance. There is no way we can feed them. We’re far enough off the beaten path that there probably won’t be many folks walking down this road, but I can see it happening all over the country. What are you going to do if a group of demanding people show up at your door or gate demanding the things you have prepared for your family? If you turn them away angry they will just come back with reinforcements. It is something Frank and I discuss regularly. If you feed one group they will tell the others and the next day there will be 10 groups, then 20, then 40, then 100. Before the last group arrives you will be out of food and desperate yourself. Then what? We can only pray we will never be faced with this situation. But part of being prepared, probably the most important part, is being mentally prepared. You need to have an answer to that question. What are you going to do?

Frank will be doing another article before long that will address some of this mental preparation. What he will discuss is a very difficult topic that will require very difficult decisions and actions from all of us, but one that should be discussed and thought about. Do all you can to have your family ready for what is about to befall us all. Remember, we would rather be prepared fools than unprepared fools. One minute too late, is just that. Too late.

Until next time – Fern

Gardening, Chickens, Goats & Organizing

 
Yesterday before the arrival of yet another week of possible rain showers, we were able to till part of the garden with the tractor. The day before, we went out with a shovel and dug around a little to see if we could possibly till it up. Some of it was still too muddy from the last few weeks of rain. Although this is not best practice, we knew that if we didn’t take advantage of this small window of opportunity, it would be another week or two before the ground would be dry enough to work. 

 Before we tilled the garden I went out to dig up the wandering strawberries that had made it out of their bed and into the garden area last summer. I thought I would order more and use these to start another bed. Little did I realize that there were probably 50 plants that needed to be moved. The more of them I dug up, the more of them I found. Now I don’t need to order any more. I think this is plenty for the new bed I have in mind. They too, will have to wait until the ground is dry enough to work.

Their new home will be back there by that fence.

 

I also pulled up the last few turnips that we have been eating on and feeding to the chickens all winter long. I really hated to see the last of them go. Since the place I have planned for a new turnip crop is still very muddy, I sprinkled a bunch of seeds in an area in front of the herb bed. I’m not sure how well they will do in the summer, but it is early enough that I hope to be able to harvest greens both for us and the animals into at least early summer.

Another turnip patch will be here in front of this shed.

Cabbage

Broccoli

We planned on getting our cole crop seedlings into the ground a couple of weeks ago, but the rain and rain and snow had other plans. The weeks long cloudy weather has also put a damper (pun intended) on the growth rate of the seedlings. They have grown rather leggy, but are still pretty vigorous. Because of that, I planted four or five plants together in the hopes that one or two of them make it. I prefer to have larger plants to transplant, but that just didn’t happen this year. When I

Spinach

went out to check on them this morning, they hadn’t disappeared and most of them were upright and looked good, although rather small. A few of them looked a little limp, but that’s to be expected. The carrot and beet seedlings are still quite small, which is okay since the area they are destined for is still very muddy.

Frank has been working on getting a few things out of the garage and more organized. He came up with this idea for holding some of the extra pvc we keep on hand, as well as some of the extra antenna poles we have here and there. Great idea, and very effective.

Today while I was dressing out our two extra roosters, he also put up this board to make a place for some of our frequently used tools. This area is under a carport that is attached to the garage. It will keep our tools organized and off of the ground. Once he got the places ready for them to hang, we also cleaned them all very well with the drill with a wire brush. It is simple, effective and looks great.

Yes, the roosters. We ended up with three roosters and 19 hens from last years young birds. Two of the roosters are Buffs, either Buff Orpington or Buff Rocks. The other is was red, not Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire, but some kind of red. Well, Red matured first, but one of the Buffs had basically taken over the hen house, causing a lot of daily ruckus and much commotion. Time to get down to one rooster. Besides that, we want to make sure that all of our eggs are fertile because come the first of May we will start saving eggs to fill up two or three incubators. This will give us meat for the table and replacement hens for a new flock. The cycle continues.

Wethers

So, Eagle Eye Frank dispatched the roosters so we could have them for dinner. They were six months old and a little tough, but pretty tasty, too. I will put all of the left overs into a pot tomorrow and simmer them for most of the day to make broth and soup. That will make for an easy meal, which is good, because tomorrow we plan to butcher two of our wethers. We are out of red meat again, so it’s time to replenish the freezer. Our plans are to dress them out tomorrow, hang the meat overnight, then, besides the hind quarters, we will grind, wrap and freeze the rest the next day.

This evening when we fed the goats we moved the does to a different pasture that has more new green to eat. Things are starting to grow quickly now, and even with that, the does had really made a dent in the pasture they were in. This will give the young does some good grazing these last two weeks before they kid. We also moved the ‘boys’, the billy and the wethers to a different pasture. The primary motivation for this was to escape the large mud hole that is right in front of the gate of their previous pasture. If we are going to dispatch two of them tomorrow, we don’t want to have to drag the carcasses through a big mud hole to get them out. We will have to watch for a window of opportunity when it is not raining to kill them and bring them down to the garage. Then we will hang them under the carport to dress them out and wrap them in a meat bag so we can leave them hanging overnight in the garage. Once we get them down here, it won’t matter if it is raining, which it probably will be.

Life’s routines come and go with the seasons and we enjoy them all. Some are a little more work than others. Some make our bones a little more achy than others. Planting time is always a lot of work, sometimes back breaking work. Tending and harvesting, not so much. Raising animals is not generally a lot of work, although we do need to mix feed again. And then again, we would like to raise a whole lot more of our animal feed, which would entail more planting, tending and harvesting. I really admire our forefathers that raised what they ate, year after year. It is a lot of work to do the little we do. We are so much softer, and less skilled at it than they were. They did it out of necessity and we do it out of a desire to be more independent and less dependent. And folks think we’re nuts for living the way we do. But that’s okay. I usually think the same of them.

Until next time – Fern
 

Chicken Sequences – Six, Twelve & Eighteen Months

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

I am going to remind you that we’re coming up on another six month cycle date. Our teenage hens are now coming up on six months old, which means they are starting to lay pretty little pullet eggs. Which means, in about six more months, when they are twelve months old, their eggs will be ready to incubate. This is how the cycle goes. 

If you remember, a while back I kind of got out of cycle for a while. But I plan on incubating some eggs in late May, and they’ll hatch in early June. The hens that are starting to lay right now will be the mothers of the eggs I hatch in June. I also have six hens that are mostly Black Australorp, that came from the group of birds that I had the cannibalism problem with. 

Another update. The rooster I’m currently using came from friends of ours that started with chickens this year. Well, he’s become a little bit cantankerous lately, so we’re going to put him down. But, wait! you say. You will need a rooster to have fertilized eggs. Pray tell, you are correct. Okay, back to reality. About 11 weeks ago, outside of any cycle that exists anywhere, we bought 25 mixed, heavy roosters. We bought these just to put some meat in the freezer. Well, being all roosters, I will keep a couple of them to replace my current rooster. Because I’m not going to allow an uncooperative rooster injure either Fern or I. Now, where are we. But, ironically as we speak it is butchering time for these new young roosters. So, I’m in the process of selecting two lucky young rooster candidates, to replace my old rooster. All the other roosters are going in the freezer. 

As you might remember a while back, one of my roosters decided to flog Fern, and I put the rooster out of his hateful misery with a 2 x 4. That certainly slowed my hatch rate that year. This time, I’m going to have a replacement when I dispatch the current rooster. This current rooster has an interesting behavior. Let me qualify. What he’s doing is natural. He is defending his flock. But he is way too aggressive. Back to his behavior. When he is called to protection duty, he likes to hop up on the roost, get about human eye level, and fly at that human. This is why he is leaving. I’m not going to allow a chicken foot, or one of his spurs to seriously injure either Fern or I. Most birds attack your ankles or shin, that’s somewhat tolerable. But I cannot allow this current rooster’s behavior to continue. He’s just started this in the last few days. Luckily, I have the young roosters that I bought for butcher to replace him with.

Hopefully, I can get back on the cycle of 6, 12 and 18. It’s been an interesting year. It’s been an interesting learning year. Having lower back surgery throws cycles out the door. But, hopefully that’s over with now.

Okay, so where are we now? I have young hens starting to lay that are about six months old. In about six months I will incubate and hatch their eggs. Around next Christmas, the birds I hatch in June will start laying, just like the hens that are starting to lay right now. We can either butcher or sell our old hens when they are 18 months old, which is also around Christmas. Then our new young hens can keep us in eggs, and so the cycle continues. With the birds we hatch in June, these will be our replacement hens. All the males that hatch at the same time will be our meat supply. If we choose, we can keep a replacement rooster out of that batch also. Chickens aren’t like goats or horses or cattle. It’s okay to breed father to daughter. But it’s also good every two or three years to introduce a new rooster from a different bloodline. It just keeps the whole flock more perky. Otherwise the tree would never fork.

So, this is what’s happening at our house right now. I was released by my surgeon yesterday to resume normal activities, but instead of butchering 15 roosters, we’ve cut that number down to eight. Easier to transport and less standing time. These are the modifications we make in life. I hope your chicken house is happy and content. I hope you enjoy these little reminders, and if you have any questions, please put them in the comments.

We’ll talk more later. Frank

Goat Butchering, By a Novice

OP

We butchered one of our wethers, or castrated bucks, today. Butchering chickens has been part of our yearly routine for many, many years. This is only the second time we have butchered a goat, and the last time was about two years ago. There are many people that have butchered many an animal that will  

Frank

be able to help point out things that would make this task easier, more effective, and safer. A good friend of ours, OP, who has hunted and dressed out deer for years, came over today to help us out and give us some pointers. 

If you do not want to see pictures of this butchering process. Please do not view the remainder of this article. We will show our set up, process and end result. It’s a little long, so sit back and enjoy the latest adventure in the life of Frank and Fern. We always begin a butchering process by thanking the Lord and the animal for providing us with sustenance and nourishment.

First, get things set up and ready. The table that held the drying sunflowers earlier in the summer was hosed down, brought in, and given a good washing. 

The butcher paper, plastic film and masking tape were brought in the kitchen along with a bus tub. The last time we butchered goats I tried using waxed paper for the first layer of wrapping followed by the butcher paper. It didn’t work well. It did not make a good seal against the meat and allowed for some freezer burn. So, this time I am going back to the plastic film as the first layer. The grinder was set up, then all was ready in the house.

The knives were checked for sharpness. We have several knives we have accumulated along the way that I wanted to try out, just to see how they worked on a project like this. 

I have used this trusty skinning knife for many years. It is a good fit for me and works well. 

Once we had everything in place in the kitchen, we set up the area where we would hang the goat to dress it out. We used the tailgate of the truck as a workbench for our knives, towels, bucket of water, and bus tub to hold the meat. We used a reciprocating saw to cut through the bones of the neck, back, legs and pelvis area.


We use a gambrel and pulley for hanging the carcass. 

Now it’s off to the barn. The last time we butchered, we put the goats in the stock trailer overnight with only water to help empty their stomachs. Then we drove the trailer down to the garage and hung them in the same place we are using today. But to do this we had to catch the animals, put them in the trailer, catch them again, and bring them out to be shot. Well, we don’t plan on wrestling the goats through this routine again. We now have to be more careful with Frank’s back, so this is not something we will be doing again. 

This time we shot the goat in the pasture, loaded him into the bucket of the tractor, then used the tractor to lift him up to the pulley to be dressed out. This worked kind of well. Unfortunately, we didn’t drop him with the first shot, but it ended up okay in the long run.


Now for the butchering. As I noted in the title of this article, this is butchering by a novice. One of the things I used to learn how to butcher is this book. And one of the techniques I looked up again is how to tie off the bung (anus) to prevent any leakage from the intestines. When I asked OP what he thought of our techniques, one of the things he hadn’t seen before was this process. He didn’t think it would be necessary when dressing out deer, but commented on how full this goat’s stomach was and that using this technique was a good idea. 

 


Here is a pictorial of the process.


After I got the meat in the house, I washed it thoroughly to remove any hair and blood.


Here is all of the meat including all of the scraps and organs that we saved for dogfood. There really isn’t much meat on a goat, and especially a dairy goat. Since we raise Nubians and not meat goats, the comparison is like butchering a Jersey compared to an Angus, there is a big difference in the amount of meat you get.

 The only whole pieces of meat we kept were the hind legs, backstrap and tenderloin. The neck and front legs were boned out to grind.

After we had enough ground up, we stopped and had burgers for lunch. OP had not had goat meat anywhere except in a restaurant, and his first comment was, “This tastes just like meat.” It’s a very true statement. Many people turn their noses up at the thought of eating goat meat. But if you cook it just like you would any other meat – beef, pork – then it does taste just like any other meat. I realized just how much I had missed having some goat in the freezer after the first bite. It is very good. The only thing I did was add salt and pepper to the meat before cooking, just like I do with any other ground meat. One thing about our ground meat, it doesn’t hold together like other ground meats when you make burgers. I have to be a little more careful with it or it will break and crumble. It is also fairly lean, so I put some oil in the pan as well.

We ended up with a good amount of dogfood from this butchering session. We keep the fatty scraps, the thin layer of meat on the ribs, heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs all as dogfood. If times ever do get hard, we want to have things set aside for Pearl, our dog, as well as for ourselves.


Besides the hind leg and one pound of ground meat we sent home with OP for helping us today, and the burgers we ate, we ended up with one hind leg, backstrap, tenderloin and nine pounds of ground meat. Not much, huh? While we were processing the meat our friend Grace and her husband stopped by for a visit. Grace helped me cut up the last of the meat for grinding and while we were visiting she made an interesting comment something like this. “This is a lot of work for only a little meat. But, if times get hard, you’ll have meat and know how to process it.” She’s right. It is a lot of work, and we wish it was more meat, but we are very happy to have meat on the hoof out in the pasture and the tools we need to process it. This is also the reason we raise goats. If the time arrives when we no longer have access to refrigeration and freezers, then a goat has a smaller carcass, therefore, less meat. It is easier to process and preserve without the worry of spoilage.

After trying out the knives, these three worked out very well. The others were okay, but not near as effective or comfortable to use. This is another good thing for me to know. I think it’s important to have tools that fit your hand and do the job, and the only way to find that out is through experience. One of the important safety factors that I like about these knives is the finger guard. With these knives I don’t have to worry about my hand slipping down the blade while working with wet hands.

It’s been a long, busy day. It’s also been a very good day. We had good visits from friends and family. We learned a few new things about butchering, and we now have more meat ready to eat. Life is good.

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.