Tag Archives: Chickens

SmartSteader

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So that big announcement? We launched our app this past Saturday at a homesteading conference in Virginia! It was an amazing experience and so far so good…we have over 400 people playing with our app! It’s a bit surreal and what’s even more surreal is that since I volunteered to tackle a lot of the business side of things (Neil obviously is the developing genius who is swamped with all the new features we want to add in), I get to re-learn accounting and economics stuff. And yes I do actually love that and am having fun! Our partners (the amazing people behind Reformation Acres ) are heading up social media and marketing (hallelujah) and it’s been so cool to watch it slowly spread. I’m working on refining our investor presentation and business plan so that hopefully in the next few weeks we can start talking with possible investors. When we get funding we can do everything bigger and faster. It’s pretty unique to be able to start a business like this and know that since we funded it ourselves we have no pressure or debt or anything, and we can make this work regardless of if we can get outside funding. It would just be really helpful. The website is www.smartsteader.com if you want to see the promotional video that we put together, featuring the only actors I had at my disposal…the kids and cows and chickens and one handsome farmer man. We are so excited!

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[This is Arty. The face of SmartSteader]

I also promised a farm update. Whew! What a season. Here’s a smattering of my favorite pictures then I’ll give you some numbers at the end. Enjoy!

Still can’t really get over the fact that stuff actually grows here…so naturally I completely over-planted. Again.

Before the numbers though some fun things:

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I grew peanuts and then made peanut butter! Someday when I have lots of time, I won’t eat any other kind, it’s that good. In the mean time, it’s nice to know that it’s possible and waiting for me.

We put in an orchard and our Asian pear tree just put out blossoms…in the middle of October! (pic is up above)

We have at least 1 female turkey and turkey eggs are tasty…just like chicken eggs only bigger.

I started making soap again with Mei’s milk and lard from our pigs. It’s awesome and I forgot how much I missed making soap.

Some garden/farm stats as of right this minute:

We produced:

  • 2,143 lbs of milk (252 gallons) this year
  • 1,608 eggs (134 dozen) this year
  • 440 lbs of pork loveliness
  • 292 lbs cucumbers
  • 282 lbs tomatoes (didn’t get to at least 50 more lbs…those went to chickens)
  • 70.75 lbs Summer Squash
  • 40.5 lbs misc. peppers

We have 11 blueberry bushes, 15 fruit trees, 2 elderberry bushes, 4 turkeys, 3 rabbits, 2 cows, 30-ish chickens, 2 cats, 2 gerbils, and 1 green anole.

Now I just need a partridge to put in my pear tree.

 

 

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meat birds

When one embarks on a new hobby, one very quickly becomes immersed in a brand new subculture. And what is culture if not a collection of disagreements on how things should be done? Well, in the “raising my own meat chickens” community there is the conundrum of efficiency vs. quality.

On the side of efficiency you have the Cornish Cross. If you buy chicken of any sort at the store you are buying a Cornish Cross, a veritable miracle of breeding for purpose. These things get to market weight in 8 weeks or sooner and they produce tons of white meat on much less feed in the shortest amount of time possible. Less feathers and large body cavities make for very easy processing. The trade off: If you let them grow too big, their legs break under them. They can have heart attacks. People contend they taste awful or at least not as good as other breeds. They are gross and don’t move around a lot, except to feed frenzy their food.

On the side of Quality you have the Red/Freedom/etc. Ranger. These are a heritage meat bird that can get up to market weight in 12 weeks, but still retain the ability to lay eggs and mate naturally (the Cornish cross can’t do either). They are smarter and don’t face the health problems if allowed to grow beyond a certain age. People say they taste better as a result of being more active and they are prettier running around the yard.

We figured we’d do our own comparison to see which we liked better and had decided to start with the darling of hippie homesteaders everywhere: the much more natural Red Ranger. However, the feed store told us their hatchery had a break out of avian flu and lost all those chicks for the year so if we wanted chicken to eat it was the Cornish Cross for us. In perusing forum threads and blogs, I ran across some advice about managing these frankenbirds. The guy’s point was that one had to be aware of the nature that has been bred into them and work with that. These things are eating machines, therefore giving them free choice feed (like you would do with any other chicken, meat or layer) is a recipe for the above ickiness.  Our birds got fed twice a day and we found that while kind of pathetic and without grace, beauty or charm…these critters weren’t too bad to raise. Also I’m new to home raised chicken, so naturally these guys taste better than store bought to me and until my palette becomes more refined, I have no complaints.

*****Pictures of dead chickens: no blood, no guts, kid friendly*****

Here’s how it went down. We had 16 to process plus two roosters from last year. [Those two gentleman are still pecking about with our laying hens because after 4 hours of work in the hot and humid for both of us, we were done. Some day though, those boys are destined for the stock pot.] YouTube, the internet and books gave us the general idea, plus we did a few in Vegas. The killing cone was new and it worked well. Funny thing about chickens. When you hold them upside down they struggle and flap, but then they go limp and it’s like they just find their zen. This is convenient because then they slip right into the cone which confines them (theoretically) through the death throes. I say theoretically because one managed to flip itself out of the cone and around the shed for a solid minute sans head!

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Next the scald pot at 150 degrees with some dish soap in the water. This helps feathers loosen, cuts down smell and presents much less manure to be dealt with while plucking. And yes, I do most everything on the farm in my flipflops.

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And my sexy overalls. They do all the farm chores too.

Handmade plucker. It’s not fantastic but did get the areas I especially did not want to touch. It was fine for the amount we needed to do but any more birds and I’d want something more robust. They have motorized drums that can pluck multiple birds in a minute or two. A girl can dream, right?

What’s up? Chicken Butt. [Inner 12 year-old boy back in the box] The husband man and I settled into a fairly good system of killing (him), scalding and plucking (me), gutting (him), final cleaning and weighing (me). Pretty sure he got the short end of that stick.

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Not bad for a first try.

After hanging out in the fridge for a few days to chill and relax it was time to wrap them for the freezer. Nifty shrink wrap bags made this part so nice. Bag the bird, dunk in hot water, zip tie. Done.

It still boggles my mind when ever I grow or raise something that looks and tastes even better than store bought. These bird are so tasty and make spectacular stock (once I threw in the feet and necks). One and a half birds turned in to 7 quarts chicken pot pie filling, and another three got pressure canned (canned chicken makes amazing chicken salad).  I still think I prefer rabbit for the overall experience, but chicken will be in the rotation every year. At least one flock (15-20) of them…I mean from chicks to this it was only nine weeks, which is a very easy time commitment. We averaged about 5 lbs and $2.28 per lb. all said and done. We could bring the feed cost down if we were better about moving them to new grass and going with cheaper feed, not to mention a more efficient feeder with less waste potential. I bought the good stuff and it was still very reasonable. New meat source…Check! Next up in November, Turkeys! (We’ll definitely need a bigger cone.)

 

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summer

People tried to prepare me for the southern summer kicking my trash. They said, “No No! Humdity is different! It’s worse!” I call shenanigans. Yes, it’s humid. Yes, I’ve discovered that while some women glisten, I sweat big, ugly farmer drops of sweat straight down the tip of my nose. However, I’m still waiting for the inevitable trash kicking people said was coming my way. I’m pretty sure my garden growing out of control makes up for any extra sweat I’m exuding this summer.

I find myself more and more looking forward to December. Not as a respite from heat, but as a respite from busy-ness. Don’t get me wrong, I love what life is dishing out right now. 2+ hours of outside work a day, plus homeschool, and birthdays, a big church project and and and. It’s a pace that actually really suits me. But it also makes taking a month off of all of it, something I’m wistfully looking forward too. In December, the garden will be asleep for the winter. Canning should be done, pigs processed, Mei bred but not in milk yet, and chickens settled into a routine. It will be a time to rest. And for now, in the midst of the crazy it is a happy thing to look forward to.

IMG_1093Speaking of chickens…look who’s laying eggs a month and a half earlier than expected! Huzzah the Fowl! Oh and I have a fun story for you about our delightfuly precious poultry. So we have been working their tractors slowly back to Mei’s yard where we decided they will take up residence. A new coop is being prepared (More on that later! It is a tale of trees and chain saws) and after going back and forth we think it will be better for them. After our success with Mei and electric fencing we researched and were told that a few lower strands of hot wire (electrified wire) would keep chickens in a yard. Awesome we said. Perfect we said. And the extra strands were installed and lit up. The day came and we moved the heavy tractors into the yard and cut off a panel of chicken wire to let them out. They were thrilled! And Mei was beside herself with curiosity and new creatures to investigate. Then the first brave bird approached the fence. We giggled a little because no matter how mature and compassionate you are, the thought a chicken being lightly zapped is kind of funny. Um NO! They didn’t even notice the wire on their bellies! Neil tested it to make sure it was still hot (it definitely was) and turns out our chickens are just immune. It’s darkish by this point so we hope they will just go inside their tractor coops and go to sleep and we’d deal with them in the morning. Nope. They followed us up the path. We gave up and went in the house to check on kids. Neil went back out and 20 min later I found myself in a hummid North Carolina forest, drowning in bugs, chasing chickens. Some of them fell asleep where they stood so we just had to track them down in the brush and put them back on the roosts. Oh. My. Gosh. Well we manged to get all but one (thank you cell phone flashlights!) and get them secure at least for the night (we also had to move the tractors back out of the yard because Mei kept messing with the makeshift cardboard panels. Dumb cow). So the current state of our chickens is that they are secured but in Mei’s yard. We will be letting them go free tomorrow night and we will see what happens. Theoretically they should stay close to their food, water, and nest boxes, but we shall see. In the mean time, Eggs!

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Our first 4th of July was a low key affair but it was perfect. I canned, we grilled, there were sparkles.

Expert corn shucker and grill master in training.

Pretty sure if they were casting “Expecto Petronum” this is exactly what they would both look like, respectively.

If you have to move across the country and are the type to miss your family, the best thing to do is just talk them into moving with you. It worked for us! Grandparents are moved in, my mom is settled in New York, and my dad will be here as soon as he retires (can. not. wait.) But before mom headed north she took the greatest family pictures…here are just a few:

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Have I mentioned how much I love living here? here’s a list of what to expect (hopefully soon) here on comfyposy: 10th birthday party, pig/chicken shelter from our own trees, harvest summary and fall garden plans, and 3rd birthday party, and possibly blueberries and fig trees!

 

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Rear Tine Tiller

You know those license plate frames or bumper stickers that say, “My other car is a…” (Nimbus 2000 for Harry Potter fans, fishing boat for anglers, etc)? I need one that says, “My other vehicle is a rear tine tiller.”

Usually I ruminate about blog posts for a while and in the whirlwind of my current life there has been no end of material to write about. A very clever post about projects starting (complete with pictures of all the projects) was almost done, just waiting for an early kid bedtime for me to type it up. That is until a guy from our church loaned us a tiller and we got to work on what will be my 1300 square foot garden and a berry patch almost that big.

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Doesn’t look like much, but I’m in love. It may sound weird, but I love vacuuming. It is far and away my favorite household chore, and tilling with this bad boy is even better. We had so much fun trying to not die and cut up the dirt at the same time (the husband guy did manage to figure out how to move forward with the wheels actually on the ground and that was much easier) and my little man is very put out that he isn’t big enough to work this thing.

We have made good progress and I can’t even tell you how excited I am that this is happening. All of it, the whole farm thing is real and it’s happening. The other day I was reflecting and I got choked up because it feels so good to be here doing all the things that we are doing.

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And Converse are totally legit foot wear for operating heavy duty blades inches from your feet. At least I didn’t wear flip flops like some sexy men I know…ahem.

Other things that were going to be in the project post that got hijacked by a tiller:

We got 30 chicks (down to 28 because two didn’t make it) and they are breeds we’ve never owned. Some of them will be absolutely beautiful. Whatever, chickens can totally be beautiful. Discussing the merits of various coop designs is how me and my hubby spend our evenings. We’re exciting like that.

So. Rural south. If you wanted to have a yard sale and you put your stuff in your front yard it would be an epic fail because very few people would drive by your place and buy said stuff. People here are smart and figured all that out. What they do is set up shop on some cleared land at the major cross roads between towns. Today me and the kids were on the way to the post office (By to the way, I’m a huge fan of small towns but especially small town post offices!) and a guy had two porch swings set out. The swing that was supposed to be on our porch when we moved in was not, so I have been looking for one. Online was quite a bit pricier than what this guy was asking plus impulse buying it today saved me shipping time! Supporting local craftsmen for the win! Just needed to paint it white…

My men have been busy. Neil is going to be building all sorts of stuff (shed, chicken coop, greenhouse) but he’s the most excited about his new work desk made out of iron pipe and a cut down door. Picture of the finished product to follow. And little man bought himself a corn snake. Originally it was named “Slinky” but then his dad told him that if you say “Keeslin” over and over again you end up saying “slinky” (try it!) and so he changed the snakes name to “Keeslin,” or how ever we are spelling it.

These two have been hanging out on the porch on the couch that is destined for a thrift store (we just need a way to get it there) and helping me stomp leaves for my future compost pile. Turns out, perfecting the art of rotting trash and mixing poop for my garden is another favorite pastime of mine. I’m classy, what can I say.

My oldest little girl has been busy loving on her popcorn trees. These trees in our front yard make me giddy, and they’ve only just started into spring.

I love it here.

 

 

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Big Plans!

We have moved on quite a lot from my last post. Baby balls of cheeping fluff are awesome like that.

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The Plan was to get 10 Leghorns and 5 Rhode Island Reds. However. I married a man whose life motto is “I can, there fore I should.” So because the feed store had a “buy 12 get 1 for 1 cent” thing going we got 13 leghorns. They didn’t have any Rhode Islands, so we went to the feed store by our house, and Neil came out of the store with 6 chicks. He managed to get away with it for about an hour. Tricksy husbandses!

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Here are two of the four babies I posted about last week. They are all big and in their coop/run outside now and doing great.

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Our poor wounded veterans. They are all doing better…healing and getting back to laying, but it’s still hard being down to 9 from 24. I’m only missing our one rooster because he was beautiful. The crowing NOT happening is quite nice.

So The Plan is as follows: raise/nurse back to health all of the above and by September have 37 laying hens (if none of our chicks are a surprise rooster). With the higher laying birds, that puts us at roughly 12 dozen a week.

The Plan for Goaties: Breed Frosty soon, then she will throw/drop/get borned (Naomi’s way of explaining it) kids in the fall. Then we will breed Wishes in the fall for spring babies. Glee! I love baby goaties!

The Plan for Rabbits: Get some in June-ish (if we can be good and wait that long). Start breeding them. See if I like how rabbit tastes…I’ve heard very good things. Turns out, going from cute and cuddly to dinner is way easier than with chickens. Unfortunately, I’m torn about how much blogging I’ll be doing about this Plan. PETA activists showing up at our farm and being annoying is not something I’m ok with. Sigh.

The Plan for the Garden: There is a plan…it is in my head, somewhere partially hidden in the pregnancy fog, but it’s there! Big project for the fall…

But, Happy Spring! and more fun stuff to follow this week and most of April will be catching up from all the fun. Yay!

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Obnoxious rooster…

It’s what’s for dinner. We did it. We had one of our roosters for dinner tonight. SO…

[CONTENT WARNING: don’t read if chicken guts make you queasy.]

We had six roosters; one very mean Barred Rock (Will), two Australorpes (Mike and the-one-smaller-than-Mike), and three Americanas (Loki, the orange-ish one, and Dinner). The one that became dinner was the smallest of the Americanas and was always getting picked on, plus he is too small to have his own harem (and we’d rather not pass along puny genes).

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In addition to hypnotizing chickens with a line on the ground, you can also hang them upside down and they chill out and relax. No squawking and no flapping. Even tied up over the trash can he was remarkably tranquil. Almost Zen-like.

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Then Farmer guy cut off his head and all that Zen-ness was replaced by flipping around blood-spraying creepy convulsions. I knew that “chicken with his head cut off” is based in fact. I just didn’t know how much fact they were talking! Head came off and he (it? the carcass?) started flapping and spinning around and thrashing so much he came untied and fell into the trash can where he thudded around for another 17 minutes! (ok maybe another 2 minutes, but when a headless dead chicken is causing the racket, time stretches). Then he was dunked into a scalding bath until his feathers came loose, then an ice bath to keep him from cooking.

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Plucking feathers. You don’t have too, you can just pull the skin off, but Neil wanted to do it right.

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The crop should not be this gargantuan. Because you are supposed to keep the bird in question away from food and water for at least 12 hours prior so that this thing is not full of partially digested hay, chicken food and general nastiness. Yeah well we learned that 10 minutes before we were set to go. I’ll just tell you that the contents of the crop smell bad. Really REALLY! bad.

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Little man realized that if you push on the pad on the foot, the claws curl in a little bit. His sister thought that was…interesting. He was a bit bummed when I told him that, No – he could not keep playing with it and Yes – I was going to use it for something ELSE. Chicken stock to be precise.

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This was my contribution. The rooster was really small. (He was small even for his breed, which are not considered meat birds). So small in fact that my husband’s hands (massive and awesome for playing the piano) were not going to fit into the body cavity. It really wasn’t so bad actually, the worst part was chicken gore under my way-too-long nails. But I did get to wear my apron, and that made me feel very farmer’s wife-ish and that was awesome.

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Herbed veggies and a brush down with herbed ghee, and we were set. So turns out a bird that has a dress weight of 1.7 pounds does not yield a lot of meat. And the meat your can cut off is almost too tough to eat. The veggies were awesome!

I do understand some things a bit better now. The vast majority of commercial chicken meat (whether as a whole roaster or breast strips or nuggets) come from a breed called a Cornish X (cross). These birds have been bred for one objective and they meet that objective well. They are, however, kind of unnatural mutants. For example, if you let a Cornish X live beyond the normal 7-8 week slaughter age you run the risk of finding your bird immobile because it’s legs have broken under its own weight or dead from a heart attack because it was too fat. When I read about that I was disgusted and I still have trouble buying commercial chicken. But I get it now. It makes sense in a meat bird to have it bulk up as fast as possible so you aren’t spending money on food unnecessarily. You need the most bang for your buck and since it is going to be eaten no matter what…what is the difference between 8 weeks and 8 months?

We are exploring some options with regards to heritage meat bird breeds…breeds that could actually be worth the effort of dressing, but still be able to live a normal life and propagate (You know. In the case of zombie apocalypse). In the mean time, now that we have an idea of how it is done, we have 2 more roosters that will not be waking me up with 2:30am crowing competitions for very much longer.

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farm gifts

We have decided that we will take it. Whatever our farm gives us, we’ll take it. Oh and it is a farm, it’s going to have an official name and everything once we register our “herd” with a dairy goat association. But I digress. First off the garden…it decided to give us a hard time. Turns out the gravel we are using for our grow medium is limestone based. Which means it is highly alkaline. Which means EPIC SUCK! Plants and fish like a pH of around 6-6.5 (slightly acidic). Our water is running around 8.4 and we thought “hey lets just add some acid.” Adding a gallon of vinegar per day, we could hold it at 8. Bottom line we need to figure out another solution and nothing is jumping out. But high pH aside, our plants are doing much better than I would have thought. And apparently the mint loves alkalinity. Go Figure.

 

Zucchini and yellow squash on the left cucumbers on the right. I should go take a slightly more current picture as now the yellow squash’s leaves are almost white because of a nutrient deficency because of the high pH. sigh.

 

Ok mint on the left. It came this close to dying when I transplanted it. I mean no leaves left at all. but now I’m having nightmares of it growing into the house and taking over my kitchen. At least it would smell nice, I guess. Anyways, on the right is a bell pepper that is also doing really well.

The chickens are giving us eggs. Well our pet easter egg-er, Rose (my favorite), died from heat stroke…[sniff, sniff] but before she succumbed to July, she gave us maybe a dozen beautiful green eggs. Daisy, our Leghorn, just started laying cute little white eggs at a rate of one a day. I like having a few egg machines around. Our babies mostly just make us laugh, but give it another two months and we will go from 3 eggs a day to about 14 per day. Funny thing is that any extra dozens we will have are already spoken for. It’s looking like our chickens will pay for themselves plus a few free dozen eggs for us each week.

 

Daisy and Tulip trying to cool off…and Will giving me attitude. This is right before he tried to scratch up my legs and peck my feet to death. I kicked him and he acted like he meant to fly backwards and land on his tail. Me and Will understand each other pretty well.

 

Babies and the reason we do this.

The goats are giving us milk. Lots of milk. So much in fact that I currently have in my fridge a batch of soft cheese, yogurt, my first hard cheese (I’ll let you know how it is in 4-12 weeks), and milk for cereal. And we are meeting with a breeder Monday to talk about getting an actual mini dairy goat which could double the amount of milk we get each day. You can say it…I don’t mind…we are crazy.

 

 

First hard cheese and baby goatie, then Mamas and their boys. Ginger and Dwalin are doing great and tiny baby goats are the cutest things ever invented. He frolics and falls over and his tail turns into a wagging blur when he nurses. Then we have Frosty and Pippin on the left. Pippin is almost as big as his mother but still tries to nurse. This usually ends up with Frosty’s back legs lifting off the ground and Pippin getting a swift kick as soon as her legs return to the ground.  I love my goats.

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