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Farm Ramblings – June 2017

Boy have things been busy around here.

To say we’ve been busy has been a bit of an understatement, actually.

I have tried to sit at the computer and put together posts at a few different times during the spring.  Typically I am outdoors until dark, then when I come indoors I have household chores to address, seedlings to water in the basement, laundry to catch up on, etc.  Actually sitting down to type is a very rare occurrence.  The last time I sat down to type was quite a few weeks ago – the day the last of our meat birds left the chick nursery and took up residence outdoors!  Boy oh boy was that a lovely day – to begin reclaiming my school room (I homeschool our seven children and our school room holds our big brooder and several smaller ones – it turns into a chick nursery every spring).  I always enjoy moving the meat birds outside.  They can lay in the sun, take dirt baths, eat bugs and weeds, breathe the fresh air.  It’s a good time.  But this year we raised more than ever.  412 to be exact.

412 meat birds, 312 of which needed a new coop built and fencing put up for their run. The other hundred could use the coop I build last year.  I built 8 coops and put up the same number of enclosures in a few weeks time to accommodate all of the meat birds.  Then there is the (at least) three times daily task of changing water, giving more feed (only twice, as we put our birds on scheduled feedings to prevent leg and respiratory issues), and cleaning the coops out as needed.  During wet weather, I cleaned or added straw to their coops daily – we had quite a bit of wet weather that had me very concerned about respiratory illnesses.  Thankfully, we had none.
We began butchering the birds starting at 8 weeks.  It took us (experienced and brand new help) five different days over the course of a month, but we did it!  I love these gatherings – the task at hand isn’t pleasant, but the community effort and companionship is.   Butcher day is a great time of colorful conversation, inappropriate jokes and laughs.  I provide some sort of a simple meal and we get to work.  I always welcome new people to come out on these days to learn the skill of chicken butchering.  I love to teach.  I send some chicken home to those who have offered help.  Families bring their kids, the kids process chickens with us if they wish, or they hang out nearby and play until the rest of the kids can join them.  Chickens are treated humanely and with respect throughout the whole process.  One thing I truly appreciate about our homegrown meat is not just the effort and satisfaction of producing a meal from home – but the fact that I know, without a doubt, that these animals live a good life.  They are treated well and live their lives happily until the ever after.  The ever after is quick and painless.

We had several ages of birds, but they were all butchered between 8-10 weeks of age.  I personally don’t like those jumbo birds – I think they lack flavor and I am not a fan of the texture, so I butcher to our preference which is a dressed bird between 3.5-5lbs.  Once they were butchered, I pieced some of the birds out for the freezer and froze some whole.  I saved all of the carcasses from the birds I pieced out, and I am slowly going through the process of thawing, roasting, and making stock from them.  When you are going through a few hundred birds, this process takes a while – and a lot of space is taken up in the freezer from carcasses, too.  I need to work on making more stock and clear out room in the freezer for our turkeys – and deer!  Kind of crazy to think ahead to fall, but that’s what we do on a farm.  We are always (Trying) to think ahead.  Everything we do has an end goal, and in order to have a productive year we have to be a little proactive.

Aside from meat birds, we also worked as a family to prepare and plant the garden.  Unfortunately, most of my spring weather crops never made it in.  Our very wet spring meant tilling and garden prep had to wait until the dirt was a bit drier.  By that time, it was about too late.  Luckily, fall is coming and I plan to do a bigger fall garden to compensate. Imagine us trying to ready a 2 acre garden.  There are beds to till (ideally 3x before planting, however that was not possible this year due to how late into the season it was before we could get serious about work out there), new ground to break, seeds to plant, seedlings to tend, strawberry patches to thin, potatoes to hill, aisles to mow, suckers to prune, beds to water, bushes to trim, train plants to trellis, beds to fertilize, weeding to do, produce to harvest.  Our garden keeps us busy all summer and fall.  We plant a lot of food.  I like to use the spring, summer and fall to plant enough food for us to eat fresh all season long – but also grow enough to preserve through freezing, dehydrating and canning to get us through the winter.  There is nothing like opening a jar of tomatoes from the garden in the middle of winter.  Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Now that the meat chickens are behind us, for the most part (we will butcher our excess heritage roosters this fall), now it’s a different kind of meat bird season – turkey!  We have 50 turkey poults in the brooder currently.  These are the commercial breasted breed because I have no heritage breeds available for the dinner plate this fall.  Our young heritage tom seems a bit confused as to what his duty is, and our hen keeps hiding eggs.  So, commercial turkey breed it is this year.  Hopefully next year we can all be on the same page for egg incubating, but the heritage breeds also take a lot longer to mature.  At the same time, they forage a lot better and eat less, so there are tradeoffs. I prefer the heritage breeds, to tell you the truth, because I can hatch their eggs and keep a sustainable flock without having to start and end the cycle every year with the purchase of new poults.   We are selling turkeys this year, and even raising turkey for one of our favorite local stores’ employees for the upcoming holidays.

Turkeys require similar care as chickens.  There is plenty of observation, cleaning and changing the waterer, making sure they have food 24/7 (at this stage of the game, anyway), making sure the brooder is clean, dry, and warm enough.  As they get older, they will gain more brooder space, then coops outdoors.  I will  be putting their enclosures and coops in a different area than where we raised our meat birds.  I am excited to plant in the areas we raised the meat birds in next season.  I put all the enclosures and coops in my garden to fertilize a spot on my garden that needed a little help.  Hopefully this was the help it needed.

Oh, did I ever introduce Fester?  He was the latest kid born on the farm. Mom needed a little help getting him out, so I lubed up and went in to assist.  All in all, it was a positive experience.  We are happy to have a goat in milk, because when handled and cooled properly, goat milk tastes exactly like 2% milk from the store – which is what we are all used to.  We have tried the goat milk at the store that has been pasteurized and all, and none of us really cared for it.  I was shocked and the difference in taste between fresh, properly cooled raw goat milk vs. the pasturized goats milk at the store.  Huge, HUGE difference.

I will write more as time permits, and share photos of our recent happenings.  But for now, my eyes are beginning to shut and I am getting the impression that it’s time to rest my weary body.  Tomorrow is another day.  My next projects on the farm are to pound in fence posts to make a new goat pen, find a good spot for the future turkey pen(s) and work on moving coops to that location.  We have a goat due to kid soon, so I need to keep an eye on her.  My bean rows need weeding, I need to start thinking about starting seeds for my fall garden, I need to sew up blossom bags so I can save seed from my squash this year (they cross pollinate very easily, so you need to bag the blossoms and pollinate by hand), plan and prepare for various upcoming classes and workshops at the farm, prepare for some rabbits to deliver kits and probably a lot more I can’t think of right now.

Yawn.  Good night!

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