This is how I can tell it's spring:
My chickens are enjoying the warm weather, frolicking around the yard and into the woods, digging up flower beds and bushes, crowing right under my open bedroom window at first light, pooping on the front porch... But on the bright side, um, all of those eggs up there tasted pretty good.
I have 3 hens that are sitting on eggs right now. One of them is hiding in a stall in the barn, the other two are in nest boxes in the coop. One of the potential future moms is Penny, Sasquatch's daughter from last year, one of the trash can babies! I'd love to continue Sasquatch's line because he was the bestest rooster ever. I'll be able to tell if any of the babies are part-Squatch cause they'll have feathery feet *crosses fingers*
If all 3 of them hatch babies, then soon we'll have little chicks to give away to anyone looking to get into chickens or add more to their current flock! And we also have eggs for sale at $2.50/dozen (from happy, healthy, free-range hens!)
Snyder is a weirdo. Part of his weirdness is his phobias:
1. Hot Air Balloons
There's a little local company that does hot air balloon rides, and sometimes they go right over our pasture. Obviously, this is terrifying, especially when the brightly colored moving object in the sky goes WOOOOSH when they turn the burner on. So Snyder must run around in circles barking his butt off until it goes away, thereby saving all of our lives and ruining those poor people's peaceful and expensive hot air balloon ride.
Snyder has two issues with water - the first is that he's very dense, so he sinks like a dead body tied to cinder blocks in water. The other is that he HATES getting wet because he gets cold very easily like some sort of tiny female baby.
Lady and Jack are swimming in the pond, fetching sticks and generally having a great time. Snyder is running in a circle around the pond, frantically barking at them as if to say, "YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! GET OUT OF THERE! DEAR GOD PLEASE SOMEONE SAVE THEM!"
It's raining when we wake up in the morning. I open the door to let the dogs out, and Jack and Lady head out to pee and poop. Snyder stops dead in the doorway. Stares at the wet ground and the rain falling. Stares at me.
"Go on," I say.
"No, it's fine," he says.
"No really, you need to go out," I say.
"I can hold it. I have great bowel and bladder control," he says.
"Do you remember when you secretly ate a 50lb bag of chicken feed, then I unknowingly put you in your crate while I went to work for the next 8 hours?" I say.
"We do not speak of that time," he says, still refusing to leave the dry doorway.
Jack loves puppies, Lady hates puppies, but Snyder... Snyder is scared of puppies. He runs away from them, and if they persist (cause puppies are pretty persistent), then he growls at them and then hides behind me. It's amusing to watch Maserati go over to Sny while he's lying on the floor chewing on a bone. She'll prance on over to him, his eyes will get really wide, she'll climb on him, and his hackles will go up, she'll steal his bone, and he'll growl then run over and hide under my legs while Masi runs after him. Poor Snydog, defeated by tiny adorable creatures of adorableness.
4. The Moon
I learned about this one today. This morning, like every morning, I went for a walk with the dogs. I had Famous on a leash, Masi chasing at our heels, and Snyder, Lady, and Jack running ahead. All of a sudden, Snyder came to a stop, raised his hackles, and barked like crazy - it was exactly the image of a pit bull that would make a would-be robber turn around and run, crapping his pants and throwing money and jewels at us in the hopes we'd forgive him and contain our vicious dog. I was sure we were about to be attacked by a bear, or a coyote, or some sort of coyote-bear hybrid. But no. Upon closer inspection, Snyder was staring directly at the moon. I had to literally drag him by his collar back into the house to get him to stop. It wasn't even a full moon, just a normal moon-bit! And I'm pretty sure he's seen the moon before. He's 1.5 years old. The moon has been there every. Single. Day. *shakes head* Snyder is a weirdo.
The freezers are full of the first batch of Cornish Cross chicken, and the second batch is enjoying life on the pasture. There are 30 birds in this group (there were 70 in the first one), and it's a world of difference - no odor, birds are much cleaner, only need to feed and water them 1-2 times a day instead of at least 3, and they just seem happier too. Imagine that - density matters in livestock production ;)
The Broad-Breasted White turkeys are ready for harvesting, but we're waiting to do them with the next batch of Cornish Cross (we'll do the dual-purpose boys from the Speckled Sussex & Easter Egger group too). The BBW are getting HUGE!
We were letting them free-range, but we lost one to a pair of hawks (how the hell they carried/dragged that thing away is beyond me, but Dave caught them in the act of eating the poor bird). I really love these turkeys though! They're so friendly, they'll follow me around, they're not scared of me (I can walk right up to them without startling them), and they make the most hilarious noises - I hadn't heard a real "gobble" before, but they really do "gobble!" *love* I'm seriously considering keeping a breeding trio of the Bourbon Red turkeys and then hatching my own babies next year. ... Don't tell Dave.
Speaking of the Bourbon Reds - they're fiesty! We had to move them to a different stall in the barn and put poultry netting from the top of the stall walls to the ceiling because they were flying out of the stall and flying out of the windows! We lost one of them to free-ranging too, but they're secure now. They miss their freedom though and all pile in to roost at the window:
The replacement layers of Speckled Sussex & Easter Eggers are getting big too! The boys are now practicing their crow (they're in the strangled giraffe/drowning howler monkey stage), and I definitely have 6 SS girls and 2 EE girls to add to my flock. I'm going to keep 1 boy of each breed too. Next year instead of buying Cornish Cross, I'm going to breed and hatch SS, EE, and Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte babies. We'll harvest the boys, keep and/or sell the pullets, and maybe sell hatching eggs or day old chicks too if I've got enough extras. At least that's the plan right now... we're also considering putting farming on hold for a year and using our dollars and time to go on a super awesome vacation instead... Anyhoo, here's a pretty EE teenager:
In other news, my layers are brats. I'm finding eggs all over the place - in the barn, in the pasture, in the woods next to the coop, under the porch, in Snyder's mouth (that creature finds the eggs in the woods, carries them to the door of the house, lays down, and licks them - they don't even break open! And they say pit bulls are vicious biters, ha!) I'm only actually getting about 6 eggs a day in the nest boxes of the coop - I have 13 hens. *not impressed* But I still like them - I even give them watermelon that I forgot I left in my car for 2 days in the heat:
That's Penny on the left - she's Sasquatch (Cochin) and Emmy's (Phoenix) baby from last year. And that's a pure Cochin, Buffy, on the right. So round and fluffy! The flock ate those watermelon bits down to the rind - like, sliver-thin rind. It's amazing how little you throw in the trash when you have creatures around.
Last Friday, our bacon got a taste of free-ranging. Their pen has a 4' high welded wire fence around it, but we never fixed up or turned on the electric wire strands that run inside that fence. However, the fence wasn't the problem - we either left the gate open, or they grew thumbs and opened it themselves. Either way, Dave came home to find the pigs wallowing in the creek bed a few yards away from their pen.
We don't particularly mind that the bacon is free-ranging, except that the road is only a few feet away, and we don't want squished bacon (or wandering into neighbors' flower beds bacon). So Dave spent about 6 hours chasing them, sneaking up on them, bribing them... even feeding them beer in the hopes of subduing them! But turns out bacon is smart and fast and elusive.
When I got home from work, we teamed up, and we finally caught them. Dave drove up to them on the four-wheeler, dove off like a crazy person, tackled the lady bacon, and wrestled her to the ground. I ran up and put a noose around her neck, and we dragged the bacon, kicking and (VERY LOUDLY) screaming all the way back through the gate to their pen. Boy bacon calmly followed behind, not a care in the world. Freaking bacon.
We also have accidentally free-ranging turkeys. The Broad-Breasted White turkeys have gotten really big, really quickly, and one day they escaped from their (flimsily wrapped in plastic fencing) hoop house. They looked so happy running around on the pasture, eating bugs, playing and being "real" turkeys that we just haven't had the heart to cage them up again.
They hadn't wandered out of the pasture yet, until this morning. They followed the layer flock right up to the front lawn, which was quite the sight:
Turkeys wandering up the front path to our door, chickens hanging out in the driveway... does this happen at anyone else's house, or just mine?
Perrin was having a great time this morning watching Turkey TV:
I was actually worried he was going to jump through the screen to have turkey for breakfast, but thankfully, he just whined and stared and paced and panting and licked his chops ;)
Yesterday was Round 1 of Slaughter Day: 2012. With the help of 5 amazing friends (thanks guys!!), we processed all 70 of our Cornish Cross meat birds (and 12 of our friends' birds too). It was a hot, sunny, sweaty, long day, both physically and emotionally exhausting! But we now have a giant chest freezer full of shrink-wrapped chickens that will feed us all year (and that are available for sale at $3.50/lb... hint hint).
Here's our set-up for processing:
The birds are all in their hoop house below (with 1 turkey hanging out outside their pen there, taunting them with her freedom). We grab one and put it upside down in one of the cones hanging from the wooden frame on the left in the picture. We cut off their head and leave them hanging to bleed out, then we dunk them in the scalding pot and swish them around to loosen their feathers. The water in the pot should be between 140-150 degrees, so we have our pot on a propane turkey fryer to heat it up. The water gets gross fast, and it takes a while to heat up, which really slows the process down - next time we'd like to have 2 fryers going so we never have to sit and wait and watch a pot boil!
After they've been dunked and swished around, we put 2-3 at a time in the Whiz-Bang plucker that Dave built. The plucker spins the birds around, and the combination of water pressure (from the hose you're spraying in there) and the rubber fingers lining the barrel take about 95% of the feathers off in about 5-10 seconds (as opposed to hand-plucking, which would take like 10 minutes per bird). Then from the plucker they go up to the butchering table (nope, didn't take a picture of that), where they get cut up and gutted and cleaned. From there they get placed in a shrink-wrap bag and heat-sealed for the freezer.
I still have to trim the bags, weigh them, and put pretty labels on with our farm logo, but the VAST majority of the work is done! Woohoo!
Now, I have to say - I freaking HATE slaughter day. Hate hate hate. I hate killing creatures, I hate the blood and guts and feathers and smell. I hate it all! Except the part that results in super good, healthy, humane, delicious meat... but the rest of it - HATE! At the end of the day, I told Dave that I don't want to do meat birds again next year. We'll see if that sticks or if I have a change of heart after I eat some barbecued chicken. Mmmm... barbecued chicken...
Our bacon is growing up *really* fast! From this when we brought them home:
To THIS just 2 months later:
I try not to visit them too often, because they're very friendly. Very dog-like actually. They bark when I drive up on the ATV with their food and come running over to me. I can scratch their heads while they eat, and when I hold out my hand, they come over to snuff it:
Thankfully I don't have to go visit them too often - Dave's been doing most of the piggy work, and they're actually really low maintenance! Their waterer is all automatic, so nothing to fill or clean or carry there. They get grain in the morning that last them all day, and if we have extra food scraps at night, we bring them over. They (thank God) like where they live and haven't tried to escape, because we never did figure out the problem with the electric fence strands, so it hasn't been turned on. There's just a relatively flimsy welded wire fence holding them in place - if they wanted to, it would take them maybe 2 minutes to dig under or push it over!
They have a lot of land in there - I think we could easily do 4 pigs in the same space next year without them turning it all to dirt. Of course, they still have a lot of growing to do... maybe I should hold judgment on that for now. We'll definitely do pigs again though (so think about your orders now and get them in early!)
Remember these little guys?
Our first batch of Cornish Cross meat chickens is *almost* ready to be processed - we're going to do it slowly over the next couple of weekends (time is a luxury we don't have these days!)
It's definitely getting to be time for them to become food - they're barely walking around at all, just lugging themselves from food to water and back, and they look almost uncomfortable to be alive. Next year we're definitely doing Freedom Rangers instead - these crazy franken-birds are just too... gross. One of them broke their leg on Friday just by existing and being so fat, growing too much meat before its bones could catch up. We had BBQ chicken Saturday. It was delicious, but I want more natural meat birds next year! That being said, here's batch #2 of the Cornish Cross - they hatched last week:
They're cute when they're little...
The Broad Breasted White turkeys are the Cornish Cross equivalent in turkey breeds, but I like them MUCH better! They were cute as babies too:
But they're still cute as adults (for a turkey anyway, hehe)! And they act MUCH more naturally, actually eating the grass that's under their feet and going crazy when a bug crawls in for a tasty treat (I watched a juicy earthworm wiggle over the Cornish Cross' toes this morning, and they didn't even move from their grain stupor).
Those guys will be ready to be processed in about 5 weeks, and I can't wait! I LOOOOOOOVE turkey (almost as much as I love bacon). Our heritage breed Bourbon Red turkeys are timed to be ready for Thanksgiving, and they arrived from the hatchery last week:
They're ever so tiny and ever so cute! I lost 2 in the first night - turkeys are supposedly super fragile in comparison to chickens, so it wasn't unexpected (and the hatchery refunds any losses in the first 48hrs). Surprisingly all my Broad Breasted Whites are healthy and vigorous, didn't lose any. The rest of the Bourbon Reds seem to be doing well, all 13 of them!
Yesterday we also moved our replacement layers outside - the Easter Eggers and Speckled Sussex. Those are both dual-purpose breeds, meaning they're good for eggs or meat, so the girls will go to the coop and lay for me, while the boys will go to the freezer. Sadly I think they're almost all boys! I bought them "straight run" - un-sexed. But my 50-50 odds aren't looking too good. I might have 1 Easter Egger hen out of 10 birds. So much for more blue eggs!
(forgot to take a picture of them outside, so you get a cute baby pic instead)
In other news, I have a broody hen again this year:
That's Bufy's angry, fluffed-up, broody butt in the back of a nest box! She spent a whole week going from nest box to nest box, sitting on eggs in one on Monday, then moving over to another clutch laid by her flock-mates on Tuesday, then moving again to a new clutch on Wednesday. In other words, she has egg A.D.D. and is a horrible broody! She definitely lacks the commitment required to sit on the *SAME* clutch of eggs for a full month, so I've been just removing the eggs from underneath her every day. She's not giving up though, and as of yesterday, one of the blue-laced red wyandottes has decided to sit on eggs too. C'mon girls, as Dave says, we have ENOUGH CHICKENS!
We do not have enough Whittle photos though:
Julep and her puppies are all doing really well! The chubby little pups are starting to open their eyes and are wiggling their way all around the puppy pen. So cute!
(That's Cosmo - don't you just want to smoosh him?!)
The laying hens are all loving the beautiful weather we've been having - dust bathing, eating bugs and *gasp* mice, and giving me about a dozen eggs every day. The meat chickens are happy being outside, and I'm happy to have the barn back! The little replacement layers are growing up... I'm a little worried that all of the Easter Egger chicks are boys, but we'll see in a few more weeks. The baby turkeys are getting huge, and there's still one turkey poult with an identity crisis who keeps trying to join the chicks:
The bacon is doing fantastic! Yesterday they managed to tip over the barrel reservoir for their water and catch their waterer nipple so that it was stuck open - they created a wallow for themselves! They had a grand ole time in a giant mud puddle during the 90 degree heat :)
The gardens are also going well so far. We're getting a crap-ton of asparagus, and I finally made home-made pesto from our basil - dear god. I don't really like pesto, generally speaking, but I ate approximately all of the pasta with pesto and LURVED it! Mmmm. Most of the garden is planted, but we still have to put in pumpkins, various squash, watermelons, corn, a couple more varieties of beans, and some miscellaneous things (2nd round of salad greens, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage...). The tomatoes are absolutely beautiful:
That's a row of them about a week ago right after transplanting - they've perked up and gotten about a foot taller each. Cannot wait for fresh tomatoes and salsa and sauce!!
And in other news, Perrin and Tia are still looking for their forever families! We're REALLY hoping they can find homes before the puppies get much bigger - soooo much work, I really don't have time for the farming stuff plus that many fosters plus my full-time job. So please spread the word that 2 awesome pibbles need homes!
The meat chickens moved outside to their hoop house tractor on Saturday:
I put a tarp over the top too, so they're protected from the rain and shaded from the hot sun. They seem pretty happy out there though! I know I'm happier - the barn was starting to stink! Supposedly if you put enough carbon (pine shavings in our case) under them, their manure won't stink because of science or something ;) But I put a lot of dollars worth of pine shavings under them twice a day, rotated them twice a day, and it still stank to high heaven in there! They're seriously poop machines!
It certainly doesn't help that we ended up with 76 of them in this first batch - 31 (out of 75) survived the original shipment disaster, so we almost doubled the amount we were planning on keeping (the rest went to friends). Future batches are just 30 chicks each, and that will definitely help with the odor issue!
The future-layer chicks and the baby turkeys are still inside the barn:
The turkeys are getting huge! They'll be ready to go outside in another week or two. The layers are still so tiny and fluffy - I'm guessing it could be another month before they're ready to brave the weather. One of the turkeys is having an identity crisis - every time I go into the barn, I find him/her in the layer chick stall. They share a half-wall between their stalls, and this little guy seems to prefer being a chicken. Maybe he knows his fate is not as sweet as theirs...
In other news, we made a lot of progress on the garden on Saturday before I came down with the plague on Sunday! We laid down soaker hose and landscape fabric, put in the wire cages, and planted 2 varieties of peas and 2 varieties of cucumbers. We also transplanted the tomatoes - all 11 varieties. I know, it's too early to move tomatoes outside in Vermont, and we're taking a risk there, but I started them too early inside (thinking that our lack of winter would lead to a ridiculously early spring), so they were just too big. They needed to go in the ground. And our window box salad is doing marvelously. Oh oh oh!!! Asparagus!!! I harvested our first asparagus yesterday - 11 delicious stalks :) Hooray for spring!
Last Thursday morning I got a call from our post office at 7am - "Your chicks are here, please come and get them as soon as possible!" said in a very pleasant way, but I could hear the peeping in the backround and knew they really meant ASAP ;) I also knew they weren't chicks but poults, baby turkeys, my very first turkeys ever! Hooray!
I've read that turkeys are incredibly fragile - they get sick very easily, they die very easily, and they're much harder to raise than chickens. So this batch of turkeys is my "practice run" - these guys are Broad-Breasted White (BBW) turkeys, a hybrid, fast-growing breed. They'll be ready for slaughter in 4 months or so, and by that time, my "real" turkeys will be ready to take their place outside - I'll be raising Bourbon Red heritage turkeys in time for Thanksgiving. *drool*
This is the turkey's current home:
It's a small stall in the barn - they can't go outside until they're about 6 weeks old and it's MUCH warmer outside. I had planned to put them in a stall that's about 3 times this size, but the bacon was in there. I'm poult-sitting for a friend who ordered 5 Black Spanish turkeys along with my 10 BBW, so once she takes those guys away in a couple weeks, I'll move them into the bigger stall.
See how cute they are? :) They're much leggier/ganglier than chicks, but otherwise they look almost identical - adorable fluffballs They're very friendly - they like to climb all over me - and VERY energetic - they're not even a week old yet and they're flitting all around the stall! Adorable. ... ahem... I mean, delicious!
Jen & Dave Paul, owners & operators of Old Post Farm