Homestead News, Volume 17

We are still working on our antenna project. The rains have softened the ground enough that we can’t get in the garden to work on raising the first of three towers. We attempted to raise the first one as the rains were coming, but found out we need a stouter pulling pole to get this tower up. We’ll give you a lot more details in an article dedicated solely to this project when we’re closer to completion.

Our young hens are starting to lay and we get varying sizes of pullet eggs everyday now, and that is great. We were blessed with eggs from Grace and Faith to tide us over until we had enough.

October 29th

The garden is history for this year. There are still a few potatoes that keep coming up out there, but we already have two pots in the greenhouse. I may add another one or two but it will have to be tomorrow if I do since the low tomorrow night is supposed to be 24 degrees. This will be our first hard freeze of the season. We’ve had a few dustings of frost so far, but haven’t even made it down to 32 degrees yet.

Easter & Patch

We brought home a buck this evening that we are borrowing from Faith. It was dark by the time we got him unloaded and settled, so no pictures yet. Faith and her husband have been gracious enough to provide us with an opportunity to add some new blood to our herd, and we haven’t been able to find a permanent replacement buck for our herd yet. Victor, the borrowed buck, has four does to breed while he is here. Our plan is to keep him for 60 days to make sure all of the does are pregnant, especially our two young does, Patch and Easter. Young does don’t always ‘take’ the first time they are bred, so we will be counting days to see if they come back into standing heat 21 days after breeding. If not, it’s usually safe to say they are pregnant.

We tried the pear sauce this morning on some sourdough biscuits and it is very good. To us it seems very sweet even though there is no sugar in it. The very ripe pears I used worked great. Very nice.

The outdoor kitchen work has been on hold because of the wet weather. We need to spray down the plywood walls and let them dry for a day or two so we can paint them before we start setting up the stove, smoker and sinks. Maybe next week it will be dry enough to get the painting done.

We cleared out the stuff that had accumulated in the livingroom around the woodstove so we can get it ready for use. When we paint the outdoor kitchen we’re also going to paint the concrete board that goes behind the stove and get it fastened to the walls. We plan to paint the exterior doors on the house, too. I hope we can finish off the painting soon, neither one of us like to paint, and really don’t look forward to that chore.

The Survival Radio Relay Net continues to slowly grow. There were two new people on the net this week. Our ability to communicate has been somewhat limited with the towers down, so Frank has been calling the net from one of our vehicles that has a CB and a VHF/UHF in it. We are all learning how to be more effective in contacting each other and relaying information between different people. It is a great learning experience and we get a little better at it each time we meet.

Life is good. It has slowed down a little with the coming of winter, but not much. We’re hampered a bit by the weather, but still making good progress. 

The events of the world continue to unfold with increasing speed and TEOTWAWKI comes more into focus each passing day. I often think of Ol’ Remus’ advice, “Avoid crowds”, especially in light of holiday shopping. Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing among us.

Until next time – Fern
 

Barely Enough Milk

And it’s all our fault. Well, maybe partially our fault. We’ve been trying to have year round milk for several years now. This is the closest we’ve come so far, and if we make it this year, we will barely squeak by if we do. There are a number of factors that contribute to having year round milk, or not. Here is a run down of our situation this year.

We had four does in milk this year, starting in January, two experienced and in April two first fresheners. As a general rule a doe will not give full capacity milk the first year since her udder is developing. The second year will be a better indicator of full milk production for a particular animal.

Obviously, if you want to have year round milk, there have to be animals capable of producing at particular times of the year to meet your needs. We have tried to accomplish this by breeding at least two does in the summer to provide the ‘carry over’ milk during the winter. A lot of folks don’t like to milk in the winter. It’s cold, it requires more feed, and it means scheduled breeding and birthing twice a year instead of once. All of this has to be considered to see if it will fit the lifestyle you choose to live.

We attempted to breed two of our does in July. Yes, it’s hot then, but we’ve had animals breed then before, which resulted in surprise babies we weren’t planning. Our Nubian does originated in Africa and definitely prefer hot weather to cold, so summer breeding is not out of the question for them. Our July attempt didn’t work, so we tried again in August with success. One oldest doe, who is seven this year, bred and is due in January. We planned to breed a first freshener as well, but it didn’t take. We found this out three weeks later when she came back into heat. On a whim, we also bred our other older doe when she came into heat thinking we would have three does due in January and three due in April. What we ended up with is two experienced does pregnant, dried off and providing no milk, and two first fresheners not bred and providing very little milk.

These two first fresheners may be producing more milk than we are getting, though. The problem there is that they are still letting their seven month old kids nurse. Yes, I know, they should have been weaned months ago. The pasture we use to wean the kids has now turned into the pig pasture. The first set of kids we had in February were weaned there successfully. The second set of kids we had in April were there for one month, but then we had to get ready for the pigs and they took over the pasture. We crossed our fingers and put the kids in a pasture next to their mothers with an adjoining fence, but that didn’t work. The does let their kids nurse through the fence. We temporarily put the does in the pasture that now has the water storage tanks, but it wasn’t long enough to break that cycle of allowing the kids to nurse.

So, why are we getting barely enough milk? We ended up relying on two first fresheners that are still letting their kids nurse. Not a good choice on our part. We have already discussed successful weaning with the next kids that will be born in January. Now that we have become familiar with the pigs, the weaning kids will go back into that pasture with them. We will pen off the kids at night, with their own little barn and feed them there. In the mornings we will let them out to graze with the pigs. Training Liberty, our gilt, to go into a pen by herself to eat has worked out very well and gives me confidence that we can juggle pig and kid feeding just fine. I will feed the pigs first and get them situated, then feed the kids in their pen and close them off from the pigs. Then we won’t have to worry about competition for feed, housing or water between the kids and the pigs. That’s the theory for now anyway.

I hope to get these two first fresheners to provide enough milk to get us to about January 10th, which will be five days after the first doe is due to kid and the milk will be drinkable. The second doe’s milk will be ready for consumption around January 16th, which means we’ll have more than enough then. That may be perfect timing since we are guesstimating that Liberty may have piglets by then. Some of that extra milk, especially the first milk with colostrum, will be excellent food for Liberty and her babies. There are some things that work out just right.

There are always so many things to learn when raising livestock and trying to meet certain goals. Sometimes things work out just like you want them to, and sometimes they don’t. Speaking of barely enough, our 17 hens have been giving us around 5 eggs a day for a while now, which isn’t enough. We’ve had to buy eggs to fill in the gaps. Sometime this month our young hens should begin laying which will be great. After their production becomes enough to keep us in eggs, the older hens will fill up more jars on the shelf. It all usually works out in the end, one way or another.

Lessons learned, whether from successes or failures, are always valuable. The more we learn now while failure is still an option, the better off we will be. 

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 7

There is not a lot going on here right now, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We have told you about many of our latest activities, so we thought we would give you a run down of our general, everyday homestead life. I waited until evening chores with the sun going down to take the pictures for this article. Just as we were wrapping up and I was going to take the last pictures of the pigs, the camera batteries died.

And speaking of pigs, our American Guinea Hogs are doing very well. They are pretty friendly, and now come running anytime they here one of us holler, “Come on pigs!” They know that means we are carrying a bucket with something good to eat. The contents of the bucket tend to vary

widely depending on what we’re harvesting from the garden, whether we have whey from making cheese, or just getting rid of some older staples that have sat on the shelf for too long. I’m starting to eye the barrows and think of the future meat and lard they will provide. We really look forward to butchering one of them so we can see how they taste. Lance, the boar, and Liberty, the gilt, like to greet me in the morning with mud on their noses. They have become very adept at putting a nice big nose print smear on my jeans, especially if I have just put on a clean pair. I like to think they are just bumping me with their nose in greeting and not wiping their faces. What is it about pigs and shoes? Why does Lance think he needs to taste or try to bite my shoe when I go in there?

One Stripe. See it right there on her side?

We have been putting two of our does, One Stripe and Cricket, in the ‘boys’ pasture during the day for about a week. Cricket has fully recovered from the scours she had earlier in the month which prevented us from trying this a few weeks ago. Our temperatures have hovered just under or over 100* for a couple of weeks now, and we think that has, and will, prevent them from breeding. We had hopes for them to breed in July for December babies and a winter milk supply, but I just don’t think that will happen. Next year I will breed two does in May for October babies. That will require the does to breed not long after they kid, but then we should be on a more even cycle of once a year again. We will see. It is a real challenge to keep ourselves in milk year round, but continues to be an important goal.

 

We are still picking tomatoes, green beans and cowpeas from the garden. The last of the squash plants have succumbed to the squash bugs, and I have already replanted a few hills. The pepper plants are finally growing well and starting to produce. I will pick a few jalapenos next week to make salsa. Tomatoes are filling up my crispers in the frig awaiting enough company to can salsa for the pantry shelves. We have been out for a while and have missed it. We eat a lot more salsa than canned tomatoes, so it will take first place in the canning process.

 

The cucumbers are gradually growing and starting to bloom quite a bit. There aren’t many plants so I don’t know how many pickles we can make. I’d like to ferment them, so it may be in individual jars. I’m just not sure how well they will keep on the pantry shelves. I’m still hesitant to leave them there instead of refrigerated. We only have one refrigerator, and no other cold storage for jars of fermented food, so I just don’t know what to do. I’ve read that fermented veges will be fine on the shelf after they complete the fermenting process, but I don’t trust that practice yet. Any advice you may have for me would be appreciated.

 

In our efforts to clear the weeds and grass from parts of the garden for fall crops, Frank used the disc on the tractor (like we showed you in a previous post). Well, today we went out to work on it again and Frank got a great idea. Instead of raking and removing the dead grass, he scraped it all together with the bucket on the tractor. It made quick work in the hot sun, instead of using a rake and wagon. That was one of those time and body saving ideas that really paid off. Now after one more session with the disc, the ground will be ready to plant. 

Work on the greenhouse and other slated projects will resume before long when our one man crew returns from vacation. Frank’s list of things he wants to complete grows a few more items from time to time.

I continue to do contract work for the school district we both retired from, and with school starting before long, I will be more involved in that process than I have been for the past few months. I will be attending training on a new computer program that the state of Oklahoma is adopting, then spend a day at the school training the teachers how to use it as well.

Frank’s Ham Radio & Survival Communications class is going very well. They have two more weeks of class before some of the members will be testing for their ham radio licenses. The local county emergency management office has arranged for Volunteer Examiners to come to the class location to administer the tests instead of the students having to go 60 miles to another testing session being offered by an area radio club. This is the first time the local Volunteer Examiners have administered a test in this area. The ARRL requires them to administer four test sessions before they will be recognized as a certified testing group. It’s great that Frank’s request for a local test session has lead this group to start up their own program.

Once the radio class is over, the real work will begin. There are several class members that want to set up towers or antenna poles to begin the process of creating a communication network in our area. This is the whole purpose of this class and we are excited to see the interest that is being expressed. Many of these folks know that there are hard times coming and want to be able to look out for each other when they arrive, and for that, we are truly grateful. So even though we expect the deterioration of our country and world to continue, it’s comforting to know there are those that are willing to create a workable communication network in this area.
 

 

This morning we turned 16 of our eight week old hens out with the adult flock of birds. This gives the 17 or so young roosters more room in their pen to grow a few more weeks before they take up space in the freezer. We look forward to having fresh chicken again. We rationed out the last few from last year and are now out of chicken meat. 

 

The young batch of chicks are now a month old and will soon need both ‘baby’ pens to prevent overcrowding. We will be looking at the hens in this group of birds also to see which ones we want to keep. We plan to keep about 20 young hens to replace the current laying flock. We will also choose two young roosters. In about three or four months, the older bird will find their way into jars once the young hens start laying. Then the cycle will start once again.

Scruffy drinking fresh squeezed milk

 
The heat keeps us inside during the hot afternoons this time of year. Our busiest times outside have waned until the weather starts to cool in September. We will continue to work on our projects in the mornings, or when the heat allows. There is still so much to do, and we feel the time gets shorter everyday. 

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

A Rooster Tale

We have a nice, big Barred Rock rooster. He treats the hens well, calling them over when he finds a tasty bug or something good to eat. And most of the time, he doesn’t give us any trouble. Most of the time.

Let me digress. One of the last roosters we had was just fine too, until one day, when I was in the chicken house feeding, he flew up and flogged me hard enough to leave big bruises on my leg, for no apparent reason. When Frank asked what was wrong, he was right outside filling up the water bucket, I told him the rooster flogged me and I was throwing a bucket at him. Next thing I know, in comes Frank with a 2 x 4, and shortly thereafter, we had no more rooster. All of this happened in less than a minute’s time. Frank looked at me and said, “That will teach him to flog my wife!” I stood there for a second looking at him, then started to laugh, and said, “Thanks, Honey!”

Well, back to our current rooster. A few weeks ago I was out feeding the chickens their morning greens, and one young Barred Rock hen didn’t go out into the chicken yard when I opened up the door to the chicken house. She was the only one. So, on my way out I tried to ‘encourage’ her to go out by trying to shoo her out the door. She didn’t want to go and put

up quite a fuss. In zooms the rooster heading straight for me. I was surprised and continued on down the steps, out of the chicken house. The rooster came at me again, flying through the air, feet first. So, I whacked him with the bucket I was carrying. And then I chased him around and whacked him again. We don’t cotton to flogging roosters around here. I kinda hoped I didn’t hurt him, but I wasn’t worried about it too much. He kept his distance after that, and I left the pen. 

We didn’t have time to dispatch the rooster then because we had company coming to help us dispatch and butcher a goat. I didn’t really feel it was proper to invite the company out to the chicken pen to see the rooster’s demise. Things were busy, the rooster calmed down and didn’t show any further signs of aggression, so we let him be. For a while.

A week or so later we decided to cook up one of our young Dark Cornish hens. She constantly ran around the chicken house squawking and

causing a daily uproar, so we decided to eat her. The appointed morning arrived and I stopped by the chicken house to catch her on my way down from doing chores at the barn. It took a minute for everyone to settle into pecking at their food, so I could identify the culprit and catch her. I had not opened the door to the chicken yard yet to make this task easier. No sooner had I caught her, she set up squawking, and here comes the rooster flying through the air feet first. You know, as I write this, to me, it gets funnier and funnier.

About this time Frank calls me on the radio to see how things are going. Remember, we always keep in touch with our handheld radios around the farm. I had just picked up my bucket and commenced to convince the

rooster not to flog me while holding a squawking chicken and trying to get out the door. So, my response to him was a little louder than usual and entailed something like, “I got her and the rooster is after me!!” I wasn’t very intelligible, and he quickly asked for me to repeat my transmission, which I did, while escaping the chicken house, closing the door so the rooster could not follow me out into the chicken yard. After I dispatched the hen, got her cleaned and in the oven, I went back out and opened up the chicken house with a bucket in hand. The rooster was fine. No signs of aggression.

A few days later we cleaned out the chicken house and added some great fertilizer to the garden. While we were in there scraping and making a racket, the rooster was fine. Although we did have one young rooster that must have gotten injured sometime during that process, because the next

day he was very lethargic and obviously on a downhill slide. We knew we had to put him down before the other roosters began pecking on him. So, as I walked over to pick him up, before he started squawking, I told Frank he would have to protect me from the big rooster, and to prepare for a quick departure. As soon as I picked up the young rooster and he started to squawk, the big rooster jumped up on the roost in preparation for his attack when we left the young rooster pen. Frank made a pre-emptive strike with the bucket that reminded the rooster who was really king of the chicken house, and we escaped without anymore trouble.

The moral of this tale is twofold. Number one, always keep a bucket handy. You never know what you may need it for. And two, we have decided that as long as this rooster shows no other signs of aggression, we’ll keep him. The only time he has offered to flog us is when he was protecting his flock, and that’s not a bad thing. It could come in very handy if any predators attempt to harm our chickens. We’ll just keep a little closer eye on him than we did before this little tale began, bucket in hand.

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.

Changes in Chickenville

Hello, Frank here.

Hope everyone is hopping right along. There have been some changes in the chicken house. As I mentioned last time, the Easter egg chickens were going to be leaving, and they are now gone. You don’t have to use your creative imagination to figure out where they went, because I am going to tell you. A neighbor of mine is a chicken dealer. Well, I’ve never really known much about chicken dealers. I have known some cattle dealers. So, I guess a chicken dealer is in the same category, just less weight involved. I called him up, he said he would take them to a chicken sale. He loaned me the cages. After dark, on a Thursday night, Fern and I loaded them into the cages, about four birds per cage so they had some room. The next morning, they were off to the chicken market. I really didn’t know that there was a chicken sale, but after the sale, he brought me a computerized printout of the transactions that occurred, and the girls actually brought $7.00 a bird. I gave him $3.00 a bird for his trouble and I kept $4.00. So, the girls are gone. And, their rooster buddy, he is gone too. Here is where you have to use your imagination.


Now, our big birds are the black Australorps that are about six months old. They’re just starting to lay. There are 15 of the black girls and we are just starting to see about 3 brown eggs a day. But, to our amazement, we got a green egg the other day. One of these black girls is a half and half from

the eggs we hatched at the same time. So, I guess technically, we have 14 black Australorp hens, one cross breed hen and two Barred Rock roosters. These two roosters we traded three black hens for. So, these are our big birds now. There is no cannibalism, they are a much, much more docile bird than the Araucanas were. 

 
We now have a dilemma. My new baby birds that were 25 mixed heavy brown egg layers are getting to be about 10 weeks old. Of the 25 about 10 of them are white, which could be an Orpington, a Rock, or a Giant, of the white variety. Here is the dilemma: Fern doesn’t like white chickens. So, all toll, 15 + 25 = 40. I will keep 15 of the now young birds, but I only need about 20 chickens, so I will keep 5 of the black Australorps. Which means I have 10 black Australorps, that are six months old, and 10 white hens that are 10 weeks old that need to go to a new home. This doesn’t need to happen immediately. So, here in a couple of weeks when the babies are 12 weeks old, I will turn them in with the older black Australorps and let everybody live happily ever after. For a while anyway.

 
A side note here. When it comes time to catch birds, for whatever the reason being, transporting, butchering or other, it’s much easier to take a bird off of the roost after dark, than it is to try to catch one in the corner of a pen during daylight. Especially if you’re older and have just had back surgery.

Of the 40 birds I have right now, I have a couple with some minor issues. I will cull these from the flock. In our decision making process of which birds to keep, we’ll take into consideration size, feather pattern and color, demeanor and we have some birds that have curled toes that we will not be keeping. 

With this last batch of baby birds, it was during a time frame when it was pretty warm at night and adequately warm during the day. We have normally kept chickens in the brooder for three to four weeks or longer, depending on outside temperature. Well, these birds we kept inside in the brooder for about five days. It was plenty warm outside, so we put them in a corner of the chicken house with a long extension cord and a heat lamp. Worked great. The little guys got to stretch their legs and flap their wings and become baby chickens a whole lot sooner than any other bird we had ever raised. Hopefully, this will affect the overall outcome of these guys. We’re hoping that they will be more mentally adjusted, if that’s capable with a chicken. 

Another topic. We didn’t hatch any meat birds this year. Well, actually we did, that was the cannibal group. All of those birds are gone, but the issue here is, we don’t have any fryers in the freezer, and we also didn’t can any chicken meat this year. The reason, mostly due to my back problems, which, by the way, are on a nice recovery path. So, the point here. We decided to order 25 meat birds. Not the big, white hybrid birds, but instead, 25 mixed heavy roosters. They’ll be here in a couple of weeks at about the same time the baby girls will be 12 weeks and going out in the pen with the big girls, and I’ll have pen space for the new babies. About 12 weeks after their arrival, I will butcher them. If there happens to be a stunning looking rooster among the group, I will keep him. If not, I’ll fry him.

In one of the other posts I mentioned that there appears to be no logic, or consistency in my chicken patterns. And, as I stated then, that may be true. But, I enjoy mixing and matching different breeds, seeing what the outcomes look like when I hatch them. It’s just something I find to be enjoyable and satisfying. We tried the Araucanas (Easter egg), and for me, it just didn’t work out. Maybe a flock of 20 with one or two Easter egg birds, maybe, maybe not. Because my chicken house is much quieter now than it was two weeks ago. Much quieter. Less ruckus, less chasing and stirring, more peaceful.

Over the next couple of months, I hope to start getting lots of brown eggs, and an occasional green one. All of the white birds will be going. And eventually, some of the other birds will be, too. So, I wanted to keep you up to date and give you an example, that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to do whatever you want to do. Because outside of your family, the only other person you have to answer to is your Creator. If you want chickens, go back and read the previous chicken posts. Or, if you’d like to see the antics of a small time chicken farmer, enjoy the posts. I’ll let you know in a couple of months how things are going with the new baby roosters, and any other changes we make.

We’ll talk more later.  Frank