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Posts Tagged ‘pastured poultry’

I’ve mentioned a few times that we are needing to downsize and reorganize some of what we do.  As a result of this decision, we’ve had to say farewell to several beloved animals.  Jasper (the friendly goat), Laverne and Shirley, the two most wonderful mules in history, my Kiko goats, just to name a few.  Each has left a hole in my heart as he/she drove away to their wonderful new homes.

Well, it happened again this week.  A few more of my goats went to live in new digs.  We are very happy with the new owners, but my heart aches when I go to feed and they don’t come up to give me kisses.

I always thought farming was supposed to be an objective, matter of fact business, where animals come and go as the business needs demand and that is that.  I thought wrong.

On a small farm, and I suspect on larger ones, too, bonds inevitably develop between farmers and livestock.  I was talking via email earlier this week with a small farmer who simply cannot bring himself to process any of his hens, because he’s grown so attached to them.

I’ve always thought of myself as immune to that sort of thing.  For example, I’ve heard people talk about ‘buck fever’ during hunting season, when they just can’t seem to pull the trigger even with an unmissable shot.  I have never even has an inkling of such a condition.  So you can imagine my surprise when farming revealed a whole new side of me.

Most of our livestock is merely that, livestock.  We buy them or breed them, raise them, process them. It’s what we do.  It’s part of the circle of life.  But once in a while…

Exhibit A: Miracle the chicken.  Miracle has not laid an egg in at least a year.  She should have been in a crock pot or dog food a long time ago.  When she was only about 8 months old she caught her leg on some rusty barbed wire and got gangrene.  I found her in a pasture unable to stand.  The green went all the way up her leg.  I was sick about it, but was convinced that putting her down was the right thing to do.  Brittan persuaded me to try nursing her instead.  Her logic was, if she dies, she dies, but if we can save her it’s worth the effort.

My own thinking was, chickens don’t recover from gangrene and she’s suffering.  A responsible farmer doesn’t let the animals under his care suffer.  We’d had a lot of loss to predators that spring and many of the chickens weren’t quite dead and I had been forced to put them down.  I was really weary of killing, so I agreed to nurse the hen.  We put her in a corner of the barn with a water bowl and feed dish in easy reach.  For weeks she lingered at deaths door and didn’t move an inch.  She would, however, eat and drink a little.  Then one day we went out to gather eggs and the chicken was up.  She was limping badly and had lost quite a few chest feathers, but she was on her feet.

Each day after that she showed steady, observable improvement until she was back to normal with the single exception that the injured leg was twice as big around as the other one.  That’s when she got the name, Miracle.  Many chickens have come and gone since Miracle’s injury, but she remains, and will until old age finally takes her.

Exhibit B: Patty the Pig.  Patty is a Vietnamese Potbelly and should have been sausage ages ago.  She had one litter and all the other potbellies have been processed and forgotten.  Somehow, Patty never found her way to the freezer.  She now pretty much has the run of the place.  She sometimes sits by the milk bucket while Brittan is milking, hoping for the excess to make it into her bowl, or hoping B will look away long enough for her to pull down the whole bucket and steal the entire contents; all the while, wagging her tail and looking ever so innocent.

Patty has gone from livestock to pet.  It just happened. She will be with us forever.

This week, some more of our goats, a couple of them personal favorites of mine, went to live elsewhere.  I don’t know how, when or why I got attached to them, but I did.  It’s just not the same without them around.

Farming is not nearly as dispassionate as I thought, or hoped it would be, but it is realistic and reality says, things change.  We will go on.  Some of this year’s crop of kids will replace the ones we sold.  I’m going to try not to get so attached this time.  I expect to fail.

 

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I’ve done some work on the East of Eden Website text this week in preparation for the switch to our new site.  After three years it was time for some renovations and that work is in progress.  As a part of our upgrade, we’re also making some changes in this blog page.

The biggest change, apart from everything… is in the nature of this space.  When we began publishing Our Edible Suburb, the primary purpose was to share our adventures and misadventures as we learned to be suburban homesteaders.

Never in a million years did we imagine how popular this blog would become.  I just never dreamed there would be so many people interested in our efforts.  Thank you for being such faithful readers and for being such an amazing source of encouragement.

As we have grown, we’ve discovered that our readership falls into three primary categories:  A. People who just want to follow the fun of hearing about our lives and our farming activities; B. Visitors who find us while searching for specific information on homesteading, Aquaponics, raised bed gardening, grass fed meat, pastured poultry, etc. and C. customers and potential customers who want to know about product availability.

In order to make the archives more understandable, we’re going to make the categories more tightly organized and attempt to make our article tags more specific.  We’re also going to change the way we communicate with the readers in category C.

Since your interests are local and specific, and not very interesting at all to our readers in, say, North Dakota, we are going to create a Farm Newsletter with the working title of ‘Eden’s Table’.

If you are interested being on the Newsletter Mailing List, simply send us an email (you can use the CONTACT US form on our website. Use the word ‘subscribe’ in the body of the message and include your mailing address.  No need to send a phone number; we have no intent in calling you. You already get enough phone calls; you don’t need one from me.

We think you’re really going to enjoy our new look, but I’m not offering any spoilers at this time.  And, if you’re looking for more information on creating your own edible suburb you’re going to really love some of the upcoming content in this blog.

If you’re a regular reader, please share with us some of your favorite posts.  Were they informational? Were they amusing?  Were they controversial?  Join the conversation, we enjoy hearing from you.

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Sometimes, raising animals naturally is hard, really hard. This is one of those times.

A couple weeks ago, our Black Spanish turkey hen hatched out a dozen or fourteen beautiful little big eyed poults.  We have marveled at how she has taken to mothering and how Thomas, the dad, has so easily adapted to his role as guardian of the flock.

Our little turkey family have roamed over the farm, foraging through the pastures as ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ teach their little ones the ways of the world.

All that came to a sudden end yesterday in the torrential rains that found their way to North Georgia.

Turkeys are not the brightest of animals.  They are easily confused and can become distraught very quickly.  For reasons I will never know, our new mother led her babies into, rather than away from danger.  It did not end well.

Last night during chores, B noticed both adult turkeys eating with the chickens.  That was the first bad sign.  Once my chores were done, I went looking for the birds.  I soon spotted Thomas and his Mrs. wandering frantically, searching for their brood.

I found them. All dead; drowned in a puddle not 8 feet from shelter.  My heart sank.  It was quite emotional picking up all those little carcasses and disposing of them.  Sure, we’ve had birds die before, but this one seemed so senseless.  Frankly, we could have avoided it by intervening and taking the babies away as soon as they were born and putting them in a brooder box like the baby chicks we buy from the hatchery. But we wanted to raise them naturally.  Unfortunately, nature can be harsh.

Life goes on.  We have baby goats everywhere, along with four young pigs who are growing wilder as they grow larger.  The little porkers scamper about the field, enjoying every minute of life.  They have no fear of the rain or the floods. On the contrary, the water provides them an opportunity to do more damage, by softening up the ground and making rooting not only easier, but more inviting.

We have a donkey foal and a calf in the oven, due later in the year. Last fall’s batch of hens is starting to lay.  Life is good. Life is also fragile. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

 

 

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve only been farming for 2 years.  Even if you count the two years of gardening alone as farming, the total is still only 4. That’s not a long time at all, but I’ve learned a great deal in that time.  Here are some highlights:

  1.  If your wife is the better mechanic, just go with it.

I am not, and have never been, handy.  My wife, on the other hand, is.  I believe in the Yellow Pages. Brittan believes in doing as much as she can by herself.  That’s true of carpentry and engine mechanics.  She likes stuff like that. I don’t get it.  I have rudimentary skills, in that I can do some rough carpentry, plumbing and electric when forced to.  I have done roofing, drywall, laid blocks, taken apart starter motors and a few other things as well over the decades, but I loathe it and am poor at it. One should only depend on my handiwork in dire emergencies.

Brittan, on the other hand, is good at these things and enjoys doing them enough to want to improve and broaden her skill set. Silly girl. But she has saved us a ton of money on things like chicken coops, feed troughs, raised beds and even minor truck repair.  Her latest wild idea is to replace the brakes (lines, discs and calipers) on the truck, by herself.  Her logic is sound. Doing it by herself will save us hundreds of dollars. And since the truck is a 97, what have we got to lose?

I have neither the desire nor the attention span to do things like that myself.  And yet, for the longest time, my ego didn’t want Brittan to do them, either.  Eventually, I got over it.  Saving money and having a happy wife are much more important than admitting to my macho friends, “My wife does that stuff around here.”  Oh, did I mention that she’s pretty darned good at it?

  1.  Pot Belly Pigs are liars and deceivers.

I love pigs. I love the pork they produce.  What I never liked was seeing a field or pen destroyed by the rooting and burrowing that pigs are famous for.  I figured the answer was Pot Belly Pigs.  They are cute, tasty, smart and too small to do much damage.  Besides, anything that can be leash and house trained can’t be too destructive, right?

We got our pigs back in the summer. They were just little weanlings and too cute to describe.  We kept them in an old chicken tractor for a couple weeks to make sure they were acclimatized to us and our other livestock.  We fed them some garden scraps and lots of whey and excess goat’s milk.

When we turned them loose, they went right to grazing and browsing, eating weeds and grasses that even the goats had ignored. It was perfect. Between the chickens and the pigs, we have not thrown a single table scrap in the garbage can for months now.

This idyllic scene lasted all summer.  A handful of goats, some chickens and 5 little pigs sharing a pasture in perfect harmony.  Brittan even trained one of the pigs to let her squirt goat’s milk straight into his mouth from about 3 feet.  It was a great party trick.

Then winter came.  The grass died. The milking stopped. The rains fell. The pigs got bored. Now, their pasture is dotted with pot belly pot holes. They have turned that idyllic space into the Iraqi frontier.  The little monsters deceived me. They spent an entire summer like some sleeper cell, lulling me into a false sense of security, then out of nowhere, BAM, shock and awe.

Sure, they’re still cute.  They love to get their ears scratched and bury themselves in the straw in the barn to nap, then pop out of their camouflage to squeal with delight when they’ve scared the wee, wee, wee all the way home out of me.  But I am no longer deceived.  They are terrorists.  Adorable, heartwarming, loveable terrorists.  It will not be forgotten at bacon makin time.

  1. Farming for food involves a lot of death.

Whether it’s eliminating rodents from the garden, processing animals, finding the remains of predation or dispatching the sick and injured, I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of death and gore in the last couple years.

Death never gets easier. Nor should it, I guess.  I did not anticipate, though, just how emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting it would be.

Brittan and I are omnivores. With a couple of notable exceptions, our customers are omnivores.  Fortunately, even the vegetarians among the East of Eden family of producers and consumers are appreciative of what we do here.

We started farming to produce our own food naturally, sustainably and ethically.  We knew there was death involved.  Brittan and I hunt and fish. We are not new to animal death, but shooting a turkey at the edge of field from a safe distance is a whole lot different than the up close and personal methods employed in pasture based poultry. I assure you that when you’ve spent 13 or 26 weeks with chickens and turkeys respectively, or 9 to 18 months with a feeder cow, the emotions change.

Over that time, we watch them grow from tiny, helpless little things, to maturity. I the case of poultry they are usually just a day or two old when they arrive. Rabbits and other livestock are often born here. In many cases we were there to watch and even assist in the birth.  We have fed them, cuddled them and nurtured them every day. We have talked and sung to them, and they to us.  They have made us laugh and they have made us angry. They have brought us something that too many people never experience; joy.

Processing days are hard. Anyone who does this will tell you the same.  It is emotionally easier to pick up a plastic wrapped package at the supermarket. That’s just meat.  To look a creature in the eyes and take its life, is an act of intention and is not done lightly.

It’s just as easy to ignore the fact that the steak, pork or chicken picked up already neatly presented at the supermarket very likely lived its life without a moment’s pleasure.  In the case of poultry, the birds may have never seen daylight until they were loaded on a truck and taken to be processed. Most pigs have never had a chance to tear up a pasture or bury themselves in the straw. The cows that produced the hamburger lived the last months of their lives in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, without the feel of grass beneath their fee or the sheer ecstasy of lying down at the edge of a hay stack for a nap in the afternoon sun.  That is why we do what we do. Our animals have a good life. They live as God intended, eating the food God created them to enjoy.  Their end comes at my hand and I know their lives are taken with respect for all they have given me.  When we sit down and the dinner table to enjoy a meal of vegetables and meat that we have raised, processed, preserved and prepared ourselves, we are aware of the connection we have to the soil and the life. We are more aware than at any other times in our lives that life is not cheap, but it IS precious.

While processing animals is stressful, having to put animals down is more so.  On multiple occasions, we’ve had birds or bunnies, which due to accidents or illness had to be put down.  For a while last summer, it was every day. We had a serious predator problem and we would come to the pastures to find killing fields. The carnage was awful.  Each time, I felt more helpless and angry than the time before.  Dozens of headless, partially eaten chickens and turkeys littered our pastures. Coyotes, hawks, owls and neighborhood cats and dogs were wreaking havoc.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there were ‘survivors’. Some animals escaped, but with mortal injuries.  For weeks on end, I had to dispatch one or more birds a day. I remember telling Brittan that I was totally exhausted from the task.  My soul hurt.

With the help of better fencing, donkeys and mules, my own .45 caliber pistol and the marksmanship of a good neighbor, predation has dropped to a manageable level, if such a thing exists, and I don’t know how I will cope if I ever have to go through a spell like that again.

To be continued…

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Blondie

One of my daily joys this last year has been driving up the driveway to the farm to be greeted by Blondie the chicken as she ran to meet us.  Blondie is a Dixie Rainbow laying hen.  She was our first genuine free range bird.  She was the first to fly out of her pasture and roam the farm freely.  She never missed a day of coming to meet us.

I knew something was wrong when she didn’t come running this afternoon when we arrived to feed and do chores.  She wasn’t in the barn, either.   The moment I stepped into her pasture and saw the pile of feathers I knew what had happened.

First, I know it sounds funny to say I recognized her feathers, but she was very distinct.  There was no doubt.  Sometime this morning or early afternoon the hawks came hunting.  It was Brittan who found the headless body lying in the pasture.  My day has been shot ever since.  I know she was just a chicken and I’ve killed hundreds of them with my own hands on processing days.  I’ve carried out dozens more that have been victimized by predation or just died from an accident.  I’m no stranger to poultry mortality.  But Blondie was special.  I committed the cardinal sin of getting attached.  This is a very sad day for me.

I could not save her, but I CAN avenge her.  Can and WILL.  But for the rest of this evening I will grieve.  Farewell, Blondie. I will miss you, little bird.

 

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Summer has faded, fall colors are past their peak and winter looms.  Its a relief to have the work load lightened, but it’s sad to see the garden bare and pastures losing their green.  We’ve decided to make a few changes in our emphasis for the coming year.

First, we are not planning on doing broiler chickens in 2012.  We actually lost money on them this year.  Between rising feed costs and predation, we lost quite a bit.  We are, however, going to increase our number of laying hens.  We intend to offer CSA shares this coming summer and will include an egg option in the package. We may make the occasional stewing hen available at the end of a season.  Older chickens make great chicken and dumplings as well as chicken noodle soup.  We’re not sure about that option yet.

We are going to increase the number of turkeys we raise.  We like them a lot. There is certainly a market.  What I find unfortunate is that they are only thought of as Holiday bird.  Sure, they’re larger than chickens and cost considerably more, but when you think of all the meals you can make from a single turkey, they are a real bargain.  I’ll do a ‘turkey versatility’ article sometime.

We’re selling the sheep.  We like them, but they just don’t fit our model.  We’ll miss them, for sure.

We won’t be doing beef.  Chuck and Diane go to the processor on the 30th of this month.  That will leave only Butter.  We will keep her for dairy and if she has a heifer calf, we’ll keep it for dairy.  Dexters don’t produce a lot of milk, but it will be good quality and they do well on less than lush pasture.

We are increasing the number of Alpine goats.  We love the quality of milk as do those who get it from us. We will sell the males as wethers for weed control or for BBQ.

We will hold steady on Nigerian Dwarf goats.  They don’t produce as much milk as the Alpines, but we are crazy about them.

Pig numbers are on the increase.  We brought home a young sow yesterday.  Her name is Patty.  She will be a wife for Link. The pigs have been an awesome addition to the farm. The eat the garden scraps and all the surplus milk and whey. Apart from certain ethnic communities, most people love pork, so the market for sausage, ham and bacon is there. Besides, pork is our favorite meat here.

Finally, we are adding the Tilapia and Giant Red Claw Crayfish.  The only thing holding us back is the cash to build the greenhouses.  Since we don’t do debt, we have to wait until we have the money saved up.

As regards veggies for 2012, we are planning to offer a few all season CSA shares, featuring potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, herbs, beets, turnips, greens, bell peppers and jalapenos.  There will be a little broccoli and cauliflower. A lucky few might even talk me out of some habanero and jolokia peppers.  But you’ll have to be really good talkers. 🙂

Lest I forget, we still have rabbits. We will continue to breed our meat rabbits, but have added American Chinchilla rabbits for the pet market and for those who want to start breeding rabbits. They are a rare breed and have awesome personalities.

I think that should get you up to date on our forward look.  Please stay in touch.  It’s not too early to let us know if you’re interested in a CSA share.  Also, drop us a line and tell us if you have interest in a CSA share that includes meat, dairy, eggs and fish.  We are looking at a package that we call “The Omnivore’s Delight”.

Have a great week.

 

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Being a bi-vocational farmer is hard.  Notice, I didn’t say ‘part time’.  Nothing about our operation is part time, except maybe, sleep.

My day begins and usually ends, lighted by headlamp.  I’m out in the garden, watering, weeding and harvesting long before my suburbanite neighbors are caffeinating themselves to prepare for the daily commute.  A part of my morning routine is watching the lights go on, as one by one, the locals rise to face another day.

By 7, I’m getting ready to join the multitudes fighting Atlanta rush hour traffic.  This is when my wife takes over, grabbing a milk bucket and motoring the 5 miles down to road to the farm to alternatively feed, milk and cuddle our collection of grazers, browser and rooters.   When she gets home there is plenty of canning, freezing, baking, grinding, stewing, snapping, grating, chopping and blending, to fill the rest of her day.

Once Corporate America sets me free and I race the crowds home, there is just time to do a quick change of uniform and head back to the farm.  Sometimes we grab a bite of supper first, other times it must wait.  Often, it just doesn’t happen at all.

Evenings consist of a repeat of the morning chores along with various tasks like, planting, composting, mowing, mucking out, grooming and pairing up animals for breeding.  Saturdays are just like weekdays except we replace the morning commute for a trip to the feed store and extra chores.  Saturdays also mean processing animals and harvesting vegetables.

Sundays, after milking, we get a reprieve, because we have Church from 8:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m., but since I teach a class at 8:30, we’re not exactly idle.

Yes, bi-vocational farming is hard, but it pays off in more than dollars.  Farming pays in a currency called, joy.

How can I describe the feeling of walking out in the quiet dark of an Autumn morning to wrestle the fog and dew in order to harvest a few squash, peppers and collard greens?  How can you explain the peace of looking over your garden, while scratching the ears of one or more of the herding dogs intent on remaining underfoot the entire morning?

Evenings are special times, too.  For some reason known only to Heaven and young ruminants, sunset turns juvenile goats and lambs into a kind of gymnast/rodeo clown hybrid. They run, they jump, they butt heads and generally get on the nerves of every adult animal in the pasture.  For the humans on the farm, however, they bring only smiles, and the occasional belly laugh.

As darkness begins to fall, chickens and turkeys start to look for fences, walls, limbs, window sills and feed troughs on which to settle in for a good night’s roost.  I really don’t have the right words to relay how the peaceful sounds of cooing and clucking can soothe away the stress of a day in the American Rat Race.  The sounds of roosting poultry provide a gentle serenade as we search the pastures for our hens’ latest egg hiding place.  Despite the presence of nest boxes in each pasture, every day is an Easter egg hunt in our world of free range chickens.

Back in the neighborhood, people are turning on lights and television sets for an evening of “Dancing with the has beens”, while we are being entertained by a small band of piglets squealing and gyrating around the milk stanchion, hoping to get a share of the fresh goat’s milk that’s being rhythmically squirted into the milk bucket by the Lady of the house.

Sometimes, she will aim a stream at a waiting porker who will open his mouth and grab the flying lactation out of the air.  He will wag his curly tail like a Labrador retriever and dance with delight.  There is absolutely nothing on cable or satellite television that can compare.

We started farming so that we could better control our own food chain.  We figured the best way to know exactly what goes into our food was to grow it, process it and cook it ourselves.  It worked.  We eat better.  We eat less.  We eat fresher.  Our food has something we didn’t realize it could have; flavor.

We got everything we expected from farming and more.  We got sweaty.  We got calluses. We got cuts, scrapes and bruises.  We got muscles.  We got tired.  We also got something we didn’t expect, something that money can never buy.  We got pleasure.  Pleasure to treasure, pure joy.  They just don’t sell that at the supermarket.

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