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:
Jen & Dave Paul, owners & operators of Old Post Farm