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

Homestead News, Volume 10

Life on the farm, or homestead, is trucking right along. The one man ‘crew’ we hired to help with some of our projects is back from an extended vacation, so he and Frank are back at it.

They started Monday morning by doing some of the finish work on the greenhouse. Now the vents are all in, the outside and top corners are closed in and the flashing has been added where the roof meets the side of the house. The doors will be installed later.

Yes, that’s a radio antenna in the background on the other end of the house.

 

This is used to block rain from blowing in under the edges.

 

8:30 am in the greenhouse

This morning before it got hot, I went out and swept out the greenhouse in preparation for placing the water barrels. On one of the trips to the barn to bring down supplies for their work, Frank loaded up some of the barrels that have been stored there. As he took them out of their cardboard containers he found the invoice. We ordered these barrels from Emergency Essentials in 2009. They had a great sale with free shipping, so we ordered ten 55 gallon barrels. We couldn’t believe we would get free shipping for these in our rural location, but we did. That is how long we have had this plan for a greenhouse. We already mentioned that we had the slab poured in 2008 when we first moved here and had the porches added to the house. This project is definitely a long term dream come true.

 

The reason for ten 55 gallon barrels of water is multifaceted. Initially, it was a place to store water in case of emergencies. It will still be good for that, but the reason these barrels are being placed in the greenhouse is for temperature regulation. It probably won’t make much difference in the summer. The shear impact of hot air temperatures, will create a very hot environment in there. We plan to use the greenhouse in the summer to dehydrate, or dry many plant materials. Right now it easily gets 105+ degrees by noon each day. But in the winter, as the sun heats the greenhouse, and thus the water in the barrels, it will help raise the temperature not only during the day, but all night long. Our hope is that the heat absorbed by the barrels during the day and radiated overnight will help keep any plants that are growing in there from freezing. Will it work? We will find out over the coming months. We will place a 3/4″ sheet of plywood over two barrels, one barrel at each end of the plywood, then will have a working area. This should give us about five areas to pot, store, dry and grow plants or food.

 

The placement of the barrels has to take into account the vents, and shelving against the wall of the house.

This window will be removed and a door installed in it’s place before long. We don’t know if there will be room for another set of barrels in the middle of the floor, it depends on how the stairs work coming out of the house. We’ll figure that out when we get that far along.

These two concrete block were left over from when we had the house leveled. They’ll make nice steps coming into the greenhouse.

The grass and weeds are already trying to grow up inside the sheathing on the greenhouse. After I finished sweeping, I trimmed the grass and pulled everything out of the way. We will spray some of the foam stuff around the bottom of the siding to prevent plants and bugs from finding their way in so easily. Speaking of tools (in the last article), this is one tool that I haven’t taken very good care of. It lives outside under a roof, but the blades were starting to rust. After I finished trimming, I got out the wire brush, gave them a good cleaning, then sprayed them with WD-40. Maintenance of tools is essential if we expect them to last.

 

The projects the men worked on yesterday included replacing the rotting trim around this window and door. The materials that were used to construct the building were of very poor quality and didn’t last very long. Frank chose to replace them with some of the cedar we had left from trimming the windows in the house. While they are at it, they are going to replace the trim on the other window and the other building as well, instead of waiting for the same thing to happen to them. They also chose to put an angled board above the window for rain runoff. Not only is it functional, it looks very nice.

Remember that big patch of zinnias we had in the garden earlier in the year? They’re coming back up everywhere! That’s okay. I hope they bloom enough to make more seeds. They look great, attract pollinators and are supposed to deter some bugs. Besides all that, we really like them.

This old shed was here when we moved here. It has seen better days and needed some roof repairs. We had covered the old aluminum vent system that went down the middle of the ceiling with a tarp a while back because the roof decking was starting to rot.

Well, yesterday off came the tarp and rotted boards, replacement boards were installed and a roll of shingle material was applied the length of the roof ridge. That should hold it for a while. We also put vents in both ends of the building.

New light on top, old light on bottom

Today Frank installed a new light fixture up at the ceiling level. This is a great improvement. The old light was down at head level on the bottom of the rafter. These rafters are not even six feet tall. The man that built this shed was short and he only built it tall enough for him to walk under. I can walk under it, but Frank has to duck between each truss or bang his head. Anyway, the lighting up at ceiling level instead of truss level is a vast improvement. Maybe we won’t need to use the flashlight all the time to see.

 

We also had vents installed in the garage today, as well as some electrical repair. These vents had been stored in the barn for a while and had been blown around by a few storms. This one had the screen backing torn, so I did a little repair job before it was installed. Bellen, you’re right about having sewing supplies on hand and knowing how to use them, even if it is in unconventional way.

 

This morning after I finished sweeping the greenhouse, I swept out the old shed as well. Small price to pay for such great improvements.

The goats were waiting impatiently for their breakfast and milking when I arrived this morning. They are always ready to eat.

The pigs continue to do well. Liberty, our gilt, will let me pet her all over while she is eating, even under her stomach, which is very good. I will be monitoring her closely over the next few months trying to figure out if she is pregnant. We haven’t seen any signs of breeding or a heat cycle, but since we aren’t familiar with raising and breeding pigs, I don’t know if we would recognize it anyway. We will see. There is one barrow I don’t particularly care for. He is always jumping up at the bucket or at my hand with his mouth open for a taste or bite or something. I just don’t trust him. He will be the first one on the dinner table when the time comes.
 

10:45 am in the greenhouse

 

This is where the water barrels have been stored for the last six years. These two still need to be taken down to the greenhouse, then the mess cleaned up.


We have been using some of our lumber store while working on our many projects. It won’t be long before we will need to restock this supply. This is one way we are investing our money in tangible assets, and is something we think is very valuable. Let’s face it, when the SHTF, we are not going to be ‘making’ 2×4’s or plywood, fence staples or barbed wire.


Here are some more supplies we will be using in some upcoming projects. You can tell by the layer of dust that they have been here for a while, kind of like the water barrels, just not as long. 

 

This is an area that will soon be involved in a project, along with these water barrels. We are really looking forward to this one as well.

The porch is full of tools that are used daily in our projects. The weather isn’t as hot as it was a month ago, but the humidity sure makes it feel that way. The men start early in the morning and stop in the early afternoon. It makes for a shorter day, and keeps them out of the hottest part of the day.

I want to thank everyone for their well wishes on my sinus dilation. I went back for a checkup on Monday and found out that I was already growing scar tissue back over an area the doctor had worked over pretty good initially. He was surprised at the rate I was healing. I told him it was because I don’t eat chemicals. I don’t think he believed me or paid much attention to that statement. I do think that is the case, though. But because of the scar tissue trying to close off the left maxillary sinus, he had to cut it out. Suffice it to say that it was gruesomely painful and extremely difficult for Frank to see me hurt that bad. It took a while to quit shaking, and I was exhausted. 
 

Noon in the greenhouse


Yesterday I made some mozzarella and waxed two wheels of cheddar which filled up the small cheese frig. Now I need to try making cottage cheese again. There has to be a recipe somewhere that will work with our goat milk. 

Thanks for the flower seed, Grace.


Today I was glad I felt up to sweeping and helping Frank install the light in the shed. Tomorrow I plan to butcher a few roosters, maybe only two for fresh eating, but it will be a start. I already feel better each day and can only pray there will be no more cutting when I go for my next checkup.


As you are aware, the stock markets of the world have been, and continue to be, on a major roller coaster ride. The politicians continue their playground antics pointing fingers at each other and exposing themselves for the weak, ineffective people they are. The world leaders continue their saber rattling and posturing. And most people continue to stare mindlessly into screens small and large for the diversion of the day that is meant to distract them from the fact that the temperature of the pot is fast approaching the boiling point. Folks, you need to work hard and fast to get as many things in order as you possibly can. Many, many indicators are getting closer and closer to that red line, and when they cross it there will be no turning back. 

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

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
 

The More or Less of Chickens

Hello, Frank here.

Hi Everybody. I have some positive chicken news and some negative chicken news. But first, the general chicken news. Last time I posted I was having a cannibalism problem, the chickens, not me. My plan was to butcher all of the young male birds. Well, things don’t always work out the way you plan. I am currently having some health issues, and some days I get things done and some days I don’t. 

I didn’t get the young roosters butchered and put in the freezer. I was never able to get the cannibalism problem under control. Let me give you an update. When the cannibalism problem started, I separated the males from the females. This was part of my isolation strategy to narrow down the problem, and that part worked. There was no pecking among the females, besides normal, “Hi, how are you?” pecking. But as I said earlier, the butchering never occurred. The cannibalism among the males continued, so one day we got rid of all of the males. Pick any scenario that works for you, and use that to suffice, the birds are gone.

Barred Rock roosters and Australorp hens


So, now I have 15 young Australorp hens. I traded three hens for two Barred Rock roosters that are the same age, and everybody is happy. But, going back a few days, I didn’t know if everybody was going to be happy, and I ordered 25 mixed heavy, day old, brown egg layers. A little quiz here. “But you didn’t tell us whether you ordered male or female.” But, I did tell you that they are brown egg layers. The reason I pose this quiz is because I asked Fern that same question. And she gave me the same answer. “Brown EGG layers.” Okay, our lesson in humble pie for the day.

Well, the 25 little girls arrived. After 10 days, all survived but one. We did the usual, beak dipping in water, and had chick starter on hand. But this time they’re not going to stay inside the brooder near as long. The outside temperature during the day is around 90 degrees, as is the humidity.

Different topic. I love where I live. The winters are mild, but a certain part of summer is hot and humid. If you are not sweating, it’s because you are seriously dehydrated. I haven’t lived in other parts of the deep south, and I can only imagine what it’s like in other parts where it’s hot and has the advantages of the moisture from the Gulf Stream. But, this time of year, I seriously think about shoveling snow again.

Okay, back to reality. Here in a couple of days the little girls will be going out to the chicken house, to their own little caged apartment. 

I’ll be turning the former baby birds, which I’ll now call teenagers, in with the adult birds. This is a slow process. I will open up the teenagers cage door, and just leave it open. I will continue to provide food and water in their part of the pen, that is now open. There will be some serious pecking order issues, but everybody will survive. This is just normal, social pecking order. The teenage hens will be terrorized for a few days. But now we have the young roosters and the old rooster issue. The old hens will also terrorize the young roosters, too. But the relationship between the old hens and the young roosters is mostly just a matter of ‘get out of my way.’ 

The old rooster is a different issue, though. Sometimes, but not often, you can introduce new roosters to an old rooster. But you don’t want blood in your chicken house. As a general rule, but not always, an old rooster will not tolerate a young rooster, it’s just simply a male thing. So the old rooster is going to have to go. I have found that roosters raised together are generally tolerant of one another, even though one is the obvious dominant rooster. But these birds weren’t raised together and the old rooster just will not tolerate a young rooster in his chicken house. Again, use your imagination as to where the rooster goes. He’s too old to fry, he’s too old to bake, so he’s just going to go.

So, now, in the chicken house, I’ll have 25 ten day old baby chicks in their own pen, a mixture of 15 fifteen week old teenage hens, 2 fifteen week old teenage roosters and 19 fifteen month old adult hens. In about five or six weeks, the teenage hens will start laying. They will lay brown eggs. The current adult hens lay green eggs. When the teenage hens’ egg production reaches an acceptable number, then the green egg hens will need to move on to a new home. It’s a whole lot easier to get rid of laying hens than it is an old rooster. You can either take them to a chicken sale, sell them very cheaply to someone wanting to start up a chicken flock, or you can give them away. They will still lay good for another year or two.


So, this is where we are. Some people would say that my chicken plans are not stable, and they’re right. I tried the Easter Egg chickens, and I was just not happy with the bird. Now I’m going to try a new bird. You might be asking, “What about the baby birds?” When they are about 12 weeks old, just about the time the adult birds will be leaving, I will introduce them to the rest of the flock. When the time comes, I will decide which 20 or so hens I will keep. I will find a good home for the remaining birds. Then maybe life will settle down in the chicken house.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the last couple of years. When the brown egg layers start producing, I will let you know how things are going. But, in the meantime, I’m going to have my lower back opened up, and we’ll see how that goes. Take care, and may God be with you.

We’ll talk more later. Frank