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 ;)
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!
Our meat chickens (and this year, our turkeys too) live on pasture in moveable, bottomless pens/coops called chicken tractors. The idea is to move them to fresh grass whenever they've either eaten most of what's underneath them (or covered it in poop!) :) So tractors are supposed to be light/easily moveable, durable because they're outside, predator-proof so nothing gets in there for easy chicken dinners, and easy to work with (feed, water, and catch chickens in). Last year, Dave built 2 tractors that failed pretty miserably at most of those traits!
Our first tractor was made out of an aluminum frame (nice and light) that he welded together and covered in chicken wire (pretty good against predators). Then for shade/rain protection, he put a roof and 3 wooden sides on half the tractor, thereby making it waaaaay too heavy for me to move by myself. Dave couldn't even drag it around by himself because it caught on the ground too. It was also awkward to work with - being on about 3 feet high inside, I had to practically crawl around in there to fill their food and water. It cost about $25 to build because we already had all of the supplies on hand other than the red paint and hinges. It survived the winter well, so we're keeping it as a back-up for now!
To make that tractor better, I'd put hardware cloth around it inside of chicken wire - no predator can rip through hardware cloth (but it's expensive)! And instead of heavy wood, I'd use light plastic panels - then I'd be able to move it around :)
After realizing how heavy the first tractor was, Tractor v2.0 was made out of PVC pipe as a frame (super light), poultry netting to cover it (easily ripped apart by predators), and a tarp for shade/rain protection. The whole thing was really light and easy for me to move around myself. It was still at the awkward 3' height. And it turned out to be *really* flimsy! We had a huge rainstorm, and the tarp gathered about a billion pounds of rain on it, and the whole thing collapsed. Blerg. Because of all the PVC pipe and fittings, plus a big new tarp, this tractor probably cost over $200. *nauseous*
To make that tractor better, I'd do hardware cloth and make the roof at an angle - I think that'd work really well! But it's still not exactly the most cost-effective design.
This year, we're building 2 new tractors - hoop houses! The frame is light 1x4s and 2x4s, and 2 cattle panels made of woven wire are bend to make the hoop. Then it's covered in poultry netting. Each one has cost under $100.
So far, I'm in love! Relatively cheap, attractive, durable, and I can walk right in without bending over! We're going to put a tarp over the top for shade/rain protection, and we'll attach a pull rope to the front so I can pull it around. *love* Only thing that would improve it would (once again) be hardware cloth insead of poultry netting.
Jen & Dave Paul, owners & operators of Old Post Farm