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Archive for August, 2010

…everywhere a chicken, chicken.

We had a plan.  It was a simple plan.  It was a good plan.  I was running a little late home from work, so we would grab a quick supper of organic hot dogs and baked sweet potatoes, then dash to the farm.  We would move the hens from their large tractor to a smaller one and transfer the chicks from the brooder box to the large chicken tractor.  On paper, it works.

Reality was not written on paper.  Somehow, probably by donkey power, one section of the poultry netting was down, so instead of heading to their chicken tractor for safety when we arrived, the hens scattered.  And I mean scattered.

The ‘good news’ ( I used quotation marks on purpose) is that we only had 25 hens in that pen and the pasture they escaped to is only an acre.  But I assure you, an acre is plenty of room for the birds to keep us hopping.  With Brittan making creative use of the poultry netting (think movable fence) and me wielding the catch net, we slowly rounded up the strays.  There was much stumbling and muttering, mostly by me, and there were a few good laughs, mostly Brittan laughing AT me.  But in the end, the humans win again.

By the time we got the ladies transferred to their new digs, it was getting very dark, so the chicks won’t move to their new home until this evening.  Oh well.  At least they won’t escape the brooder box….I hope.

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Another weekend is behind us.  Looking in the rear view mirror, I can say that is was productive and exhausting, with a dash of fun and surprise tossed in for good measure.

The big project for the weekend was fencing.  We are putting in some new pastures in order to get the animals on some good grass before winter.  After discussing it with our landlord, we outlined a plan and started work.  We’re using 4″ x 4″ wire ‘goat fence’ with T posts for the straight runs and log posts for the corners.

I knew all along that driving the T posts into the ground would require some effort, but I seriously under estimated the resistance of the hard baked Georgia clay.  It was like hammering into bricks.  My arms, shoulders and stomach muscles are totally shot; broken down into hamburger.  It will be Wednesday before I am recovered enough to install any more.  Fortunately, I shouldn’t need to do any more of those before the weekend.  We need to put in the corners, but I’m renting an auger for that.  I have no intention of digging a half dozen three foot post holes in this clay with just my shovel and post hole diggers.  There are limits to my stupidity.

Hopefully, by the end if the long Holiday weekend, we’ll have everyone on fresh pasture and can begin the rotational grazing again.  What a relief that will be.

Over the weekend, we had a guest tour our garden here in the burb.  A young mother from a few miles down the road stopped by, with her two wee sons to have a look at what we do, with an eye to starting her own edible suburb next year.  It is always a delight to share possibilities with others.  We had a wonderful time showing them around and talking veggies.

As we strolled through what’s left of the summer garden, we showed here the sweet potato patch and I decided to dig one up to show her how they grow.  I was totally surprised when I stuck my trowel in the soil and pulled out a sweet potato nearly as long as my forearm.  Seriously it was almost a foot long, 3 to four inches around and weighed close to two pounds.  We were stunned.  I reached for another tuber and got the same result.  We sent a bag full of the monster taters home with our guests as a gift.  Some things just have to be shared.

Last night, when we returned home from the farm, B and I dug up a half a dozen or 10 plants and came away with about 40 lbs of sweet potatoes.  Each garden fork full of soil unveiled a new wonder.  If these sweet potatoes are half as good as they look, we are in for a real treat.  We will have plenty to store in the basement and we’ll freeze a few to see how that works.

It’s 6:00 a.m. Monday now and time to do the rabbit chores. My body aches and begs for a nap.  My mind is racing with projects that need doing.  My soul is satisfied in a weekend well spent.  God is good.  My wife rocks.  The work is hard.  The results are worth it.

Rabbits, here I com.

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I think we may need our own Homeland Security Force.  In our case it will be to keep the good guys in rather than watching out for the bad guys.

It has long been opined that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  In our case, it is literally true.  Due to our need to put up new perimeter fences, the animals are restricted to the winter paddock near the barn.  It is not perfect, but isn’t bad.  The trouble is, the tastiest grass is nibbled down and the ever hungry herbivores are now eating less desirable grasses, leaves and weeds.  They are edible enough, just not as tasty.  Besides, blackberry brambles have thorns.

Just beyond the blackberries, on the other side of the old fence are several acres of green.  There are grasses, clover and a variety of untouched flowers and weeds.  It must look like a banquet table to our collection of four footed vegetarians.  Hold that thought.

The morning got off to an exciting start.  After the rabbit chores, I always dash out to the farm on my way to work so that I can count heads, feed the chicks imprisoned in their brooder box and turn the layers out to range.  It is a highlight of my day.  Everyone should be able to start the day with the clucking of hens, braying of donkeys, mooing of cows accompanied by the musical rhythms of a chorus of sheep and goats.  It is peaceful, nearly hypnotic.

Today, as I was changing the water in the brooder box, I felt something brush up against my leg.  I instinctively jumped, thinking it was a rodent.  When I looked down, I discovered a three and a half week old rooster chick scampering by.  The little rascal had been roosting high in the box.  When I lifted the lid to pull out the waterer, he saw his opportunity and made a break for it.  The little scoundrel led me a merry chase around the brooder box, hay bales, stacks of wood and containers of chicken feed.  It reminded me of the scene from Rocky when he was chasing the chicken around to develop reflexes and quickness.  The only difference was, well, I have no reflexes or quickness as a baseline to work with; just a fat, old man chasing a chicken around and stumbling over every obstacle in the barn.

Eventually, I cornered him and caught hold of a wing.  While the little guy squawked in protest, I got hold of a leg and the race was over.  The creature with the thumbs reigned supreme.  It is so satisfying to be lord of the chicken coop!

At lunch time, Brittan went out to check on the animals.  She noticed that the grazers had eaten their way through a big patch of weeds in front of the far fence, the one facing the fields.  At that moment, her heart stopped.  The voracious dining had revealed not only the fence, but a gaping hole in the fence.  On the other side, happily harvesting yellow wild flowers, was one of our ewes.

Before Brittan’s heart had a chance to stop beating, the ewe spotted her and came running home.  We are fortunate that our sheep are spoiled and as friendly as dogs, so she wanted to have her ears scratched.

Brittan’s afternoon has been spent patching the fence.  When I return tonight, we will have to do some more permanent repairs.  I had planned to plant some green beans.  Plans have changed.

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I get up way too early in the morning.   I do it because I have so many irons in the fire that I could not get everything done without rising early.  I’m not proud of it.  I’m not ashamed of it.  It is what it is.

This morning is a rare leisurely one.  I got the rabbit chores done, checked out a few of my favorite news sites, then sat in my recliner with a cup of coffee and started daydreaming about what I would do if I was forced into a survivalist mode here in the burb.  Some people dream about winning the lottery, my miswired mind runs toward self sufficiency.  I blame talk radio.

So, what would I do (and…what would Brittan let me do…..) if I was suddenly thrown into a situation where I had to fend for myself?  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

  1. Since we grow so many fruits and vegetables already, I’d be pretty good there.  But I would need to save more seeds.  Right now, it’s easy to buy them off the internet, but B got me a good book last Christmas about seed saving, and I could easily make that move.
  2. I would grow more beans.  They are prolific, nutritious and provide most of their own fertilizer by pulling nitrogen from the air and trapping it in the soil.  They are also a good food source for the animals we would keep.
  3. I would pay more attention to my berries.  Raspberries and blackberries are easily grown and spread.  They are an excellent food source for humans and animals.  I should consider more strawberries.
  4. We already have fruit trees.  I think I’m good there.
  5. I would grow more cantaloupes.  If I could figure out how to keep the dogs from eating them, that is.
  6. I would pay more attention to my worm composting.  I would greatly expand that project.
  7. If I could only keep one edible livestock, it would be the rabbits.  They are quiet.  They easily reproduce.  They eat what we grow in our garden and yard.  They provide the best fertilizer in nature.  They are a tasty and healthy food source.
  8. Next, I would sneak in the Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  A buck would be a bit of a challenge, because of odor potential, but we’d work it out.  A buck and two does could provide an ongoing supply of dairy and meat.  I don’t love goat’s milk, but it’s healthy and the goats are small and quiet.  Our Nigerians are much quieter than sheep, chickens or cows.  They would eat the brambles and weeds in the yard and would help with post season garden clean up.  Since they are small, they’d take up little space and would not tear up the yard.
  9. I would try to keep some chickens.  This is the tough one.  I could hide two or three laying hens, but that would only work for two or three years.  Without a rooster, the chicken thing comes to a halt fairly quickly.  Roosters are noisy.
  10. Finally, there is a piece of the puzzle I have yet to acquire, namely the aquaponics tanks.  With a 200 gallon aquaponics tank, I would be able to raise tilapia, all the food for the tilapia and additional vegetables and greens for human and animal consumption.  It would also require a breeding pair of tilapia.  Since I don’t have that, but live near a major lake and raise my own worms, a supply of fish is fairly convenient already.

Many other pieces of a suburban survival plan are already in place.  Brittan already cans copious quantities of produce that we grow.  So those supplies are available.  We have stockpiled things like candles, soap, toilet paper and toothpaste.  We have a pretty good quantity of water purifying tablets and all weather clothing.

With a little tweaking, we are ready for the apocalypse.  I figure that if something really dramatic happens, our HOA would become irrelevant, so I don’t worry too much about them.

This may be the oddest post I’ve ever written.  But, hey, it’s Saturday morning and I don’t watch cartoons.

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Burning Daylight

Would somebody please loan me a week?  I have way too many projects and not nearly enough time.  I’m typing this little note at 5:30 a.m.  in case anyone was wondering if I could be working on one of those projects instead of whining online.

I need to get the fall garden in.  Before that, I need to get the summer weeds out.  All the soil in the earthbox containers needs refreshed and amended.  I need to put up fence out at the farm, acres of it.  It’s time to reseed the pasture.  And let’s not forget the manure than needs spread or the stalls that need cleaned.

Forget the week, I need two.  I would promise to return them, but I don’t think I’d find time to get around to it.

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  1. Featherman Chicken Plucker

    Chicken preparation requires a lot of equipment and significant set up.  Since we were starting from scratch, we pretty much had to acquire everything.  We bought a scalder, chicken plucker, catch net and a shade pavilion to work under.  Brittan designed and built a processing table, complete with counter top and sink.  It looks great and works like a charm.  There is a working station on either side of the sink, so two processors can work at once.  My one criticism of it, is that the table weighs a ton, much like the chicken plucker.  But the table is sound as a pound and should last for years.  I’m sure B will put some photos up on Facebook.  Since we live about 5 miles from the farm and store everything here at the house, we had to load and unload everything.

  2. It is impossible to have too many knives, or to have them too sharp.  I spent time on Friday sharpening knives, but they still dulled during the processing day.  If you’ll pardon the pun, I need to hone that skill.  One of the ways we show respect to the chickens is by making sure the kill is clean and the butchering is smooth.
  3. There is gore involved.  Processing chickens is not for the squeamish or sensitive.  It is a real world experience.  Life and death is graphically portrayed.  There is a great deal of blood and stench from intestines, heads and feet.  We also found that the actual killing of the birds is not for everyone.  In the end, I killed all but two of the birds.  There is no pride in being the executioner; it is fairly awe inspiring responsibility.  There is no shame in the inability or unwillingness to be the wielder of the killing blade.
  4. Many hands make light work.   There were 6 of us involved in the process.  Two of us did the catching and dispatching, two handled the scalding and plucking and two did the butchering and washing.  All of us took turns keeping the work site clean.  Once we got into a rhythm, the work became more like a dance.  We had a great time talking and sharing together.
  5. There were some surprising discoveries that made us happy we chose pasturing our chickens.  The main one was seeing all the grass and other ‘natural ingredients’ inside the chickens.  These birds lived like chickens are supposed to live, enjoying the sun, fresh grass and all the critters that live in the grass and on the soil.  Chickens are omnivores.  It was satisfying to know that our birds dined magnificently during their sojourn with us.
  6. It is mission critical to have the water temperature right for a good scald.  We got impatient to get started and scalded the first birds before

    Scalder

    the water temperature was high enough.  The result was incomplete plucking.  That meant some hand plucking and even skinning of birds.  At one point the water temp went above 160 and that caused the skin to tear during the plucking process.  But in a range between 140 and 155, the plucking was a dream.

  7. The Featherman Chicken Plucker rocks.  It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every penny.  We processed four birds at a time.  The machine cleaned the birds completely in 30 to 40 seconds.  It is a wonderful tool.

The day was hard work.  By the time B and I loaded everything up and got home, the day was truly done.  We were tired and sore, but our freezer, and those of several friends and customers are fuller than before.  We are providing a natural, healthy, environmentally friendly and humanely produced food for our table and the tables of other, like minded people.  The planet, the chickens, the American consumer, and our Great God are all respected along the way.  I am content.

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Wow, what a day!  With the help of our good friends, Maggie, Renee, Dan and Molly, Brittan and I processed our first batch of 53 chickens today.  45 were for us and our customers and 8 were for Maggie and Renee (Maggie’s husband, Al, couldn’t make it).

Our first few chickens took a little extra work, because the water wasn’t hot enough in the scalder, so the plucker didn’t get all the feathers.  Once we got the water to a consistent 150 degrees or so, it was a snap.

I will write a more detailed review in the near future, because I want to tell the whole story, but right now I’m hungry.  It’s supper time.  Here’s a picture of Molly holding up Maggie’s first two birds ready for scalding and plucking.

We had fun and we’ll eat well for a long time.  Next chickens will be ready October 25.

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