It’s time for the chicks to get out, part II

Well, the chicks were safely moved out to their brooder in the “garage.”  They all made the journey well and did just fine overnight.  We had a bit of consternation trying to get the temp right.  Is it one brooder light or two?  Is it tarp on or off to stop any heat loss?  Do we have enough insulation or too much?  At any rate, they all did just fine.  We did notice that the change of scenery was not pleasing to them (apparently they have less short term memory than a goldfish) since we noticed that there was not a single peep out of them on Saturday.  However, they were all cheeping and moving around happily by Sunday.

But, another learning experience….I noticed when Blueberry and I were out on a walk with Kya, when we came back to put her towards the garage I noticed a funky smell.  I honestly have to say that my first thought was “hey, I didn’t know my neighbor toked up.  I never would have guessed that.”  But then I noticed that the “toke” smell was coming from my garage and since I know that my husband and I do not partake, it had to be either the cats (and seriously-where would they score pot anyway?) or something else…

Well, short story shorter, one of the brooder lights had fallen down and had started to smoke the hay.  Yikes!  Everyone was fine and we were SO blessed that I happened to be walking by and did not just assume that the smell was my neighbor was just smoking a joint on his porch.   However, we had even more learning from that:

1) While the barn cats were completely unable to get into the brooder, they were in fact able to mess with the cord coming out of the brooder, and that was just too much temptation.  Someone messed with it and knocked it around ultimately leading the brooder light coming off the teacup hook that Sheldon had it on, leading to….

2) The Brooder light needs to be securely fashioned so that a bump, lump or swipe of the power cord can’t knock it off.  A teacup hook was probably not the best choice, but sometimes the engineer of the house doesn’t account for outside influences like nosey cats.  And while everyone is getting used to their new surroundings, you should…

3) Check on them often.  Don’t select a spot that is so inconvenient for you to get to that you don’t go out to peek every few hours.  Thank God that I happened to be walking by.  While the smoke detector would have eventually caught the smoke, it would have gotten pretty thick in the brooder before it went off.

4) Alfalfa hay smells like pot.  Yep.  Not exactly a learning because I noticed it the first time I put it down in one of Kya’s spots, but when there is some heat applied, it really smells bad.  Like my college roommate’s boyfriend’s apartment bad.   Oh, and for the record, we don’t actually think my neighbor smokes pot.  I just always assume it’s someone else simply because I can’t stand the smell.   Peeeyeeeeuuu.

 

So, that’s it!  We’re making bread and cheezie weezies today out on Blueberry Acres Farm along with a huge batch of red sauce.  Also working on sources to bring in some additional fill dirt because we’re hitting some rock layers in our garden.  Hope you are having a great day-happy homesteading!

It’s time for the chicks to get out!

So, we recently received a batch of chicks from Murray McMurry hatchery.  It was a fairly small order as we are hoping to be able to propagate our own brood going forward.  But wait…what about those chickens that you already had you may ask?  Well, that first batch of chickens included one fabulous chicken named Lana who we think is a Plymouth Rock, a couple of Polish (aka Tophats) roosters (do NOT recommend), and a big bunch of Silkies.  We decided to cull the herd and gave the Silkies away.  Who knew these were such beloved pet birds, but we discovered quickly that they were.  No thanks to pets who walk around with poop on their legs.  After we got rid of the Silkies, we noticed that the three remaining roosters were merciless with Lana.  Every time she went out to the yard, it was like a bad 70’s porn all over again.  She stopped wanting to stay in her yard and would roam around by our house just to get a break from these 3 idiots.  As a result, our 3 roosters became 1 rooster a few Sundays ago.  Whew.  All of that to say this…we needed more chickens!

So, enter these cute little babies.  In preparation for our order, Sheldon had built a very nice brooder that they would live in for their first many weeks until they were able to go out into the enclosed on all sides (and top) yard before ultimately moving into one of our chicken coops.  Did we have a learning from that first chick experience?  Oh yeah we did-a bunch!

1) If you are ordering your chicks, perhaps be smarter than us and don’t order them to arrive in January.  Too freaking cold.  Chicks have to be kept at temperatures ranging between 70-95 their first few weeks and this is a hard temp to maintain in a brooder that is outside.  Which brings me to….

2) Determine in advance if your brooder can maintain a 95 degree temperature in all weather.  We found out quickly that ours could not despite solid construction and insulation.  Experienced chicken farmers I’m sure already know this, but us chicken noobs had no idea.  We needed our brooder to be located inside one of our outbuildings where it would be better insulated from the elements.  It’s now inside the building located closest to our house so we can easily access it to check on these demanding little boogers.  If this isn’t an option for you in advance, you’d better have a…

3) Plan B before your chicks arrive.  For us, we were able to quickly transition them to our basement bathroom.  It was far from ideal, but we were able to maintain temperature and conditions easily just giving up the second bathroom in our house.  Not perfect, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  And I don’t think they minded:

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Holy smokes these birds dirty up everything quickly…

There were some things that we did right…um, not much but we did have thermometers that we could keep in there to constantly (and remotely) monitor temperature.  We also made sure that we read up on keeping chicks safe, warm and happy.  It’s not just about opening up the box and randomly dropping in food.  You also need to make sure that you are using bedding that is appropriate to their age (start with newspaper and remove it within first week for leg development), using chick grit (NOT the same as chicken grit) and frequently (oh so frequently) changing out their water because they throw more stuff in that water than our 4-year-old.

So, Sheldon just came back in the house to grab some coffee and eat some breakfast.  Chicks are getting huge and I need them to get the heck out of my bathroom so I can spend 10 hours cleaning it.  Blech.  But, in a few months, we will have a huge bounty of both eggs and bug eaters that will contribute greatly to the overall health and welfare of our family farm…and hopefully we will do the same for them!  Good luck and happy laying!

 

Teaching our children about the circle of life

No, I’m not talking about the song from The Lion King…I’m talking about where our food comes from! So many times I think we forget about the value of teaching our children that hamburger is not actually made in a factory or chicken doesn’t actually come in nugget shapes.  I think it’s so important to teach our children to respect the animal just as they should respect the farmer that grew, raised and processed that meat. This is a big part of why we moved to Blueberry Acres-to teach our Blueberry where our food comes from. By doing so, we hope that we will instill in her a life-long respect for food. Both Sheldon and I grew up in the 70’s where companies were going crazy trying to figure out ways to better engineer our food. Remember Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman?

courtesy IMDB

Well, that is not what I want food to be like for my child.  A food product that is engineered so past how God intended it.  Our taste buds delight in the fat, salt, sugar and who knows what else, but what are we really putting into our bodies?  Sometimes I wonder if my constant battles with food are a result of spending a couple of decades eating total crap in the name of supposedly healthy meals.  I also know that I’m not alone- weight related problems have reached epidemic proportions.  Self control (or lack thereof) has to always be the first stop in deciding what’s making your butt jiggle like gelatin, but beyond that, you have to ask….are cheesy poufs, diet soda and over processed “health food” making us fat asses?

courtesy of Great Plains Earth Institute…I would add in a section of People eat animals in between them eating the plants and them poo’ing all over everything..

Enter teaching our children about the circle of life as a better way to look at food.   This means some hard lessons for both children and parents.  See that cow-yes, we’re going to eat it.  You know that chicken?  Yep, he was dinner last night.  Not always easy conversations to have with an animal loving kid.  We’ve been building the crescendo for our circle of life lessons since we left the city over a year ago.  We knew we would buy a farm eventually, so we wanted to get Blueberry used to the idea that bacon isn’t just yummy, it’s also pig.  As a result, we’ve had some frank conversations with her about where her meat comes from.  And while we think we’re getting through, there are still times where she has that “oh f dash dash dash” moment where it all comes together and she really gets that we are not just saying it’s chicken for dinner tonight.  We’re saying it’s Lana the chicken for dinner tonight.  So, here are some things that we have done to introduce the circle of life to her-not just in food, but in all areas:

  • We’ve openly talked about death.  Unfortunately, we have had 2 grandparents and 1 parent die in the last 18 months.  While Blueberry only knew one of these people, the deaths hit people she loved very hard.  We took these opportunities to talk to her about how death is inevitable and a natural part of the life cycle.  We also took that opportunity to talk to her about our personal beliefs around Heaven and the afterlife.
  • We’ve talked openly about birth.  While we haven’t opened the baby making can of worms, we have talked to her about how she was born, delivered, etc as part of the circle of life.
  • But, we’ve also used animals and plants to talk about it.  We’ve discussed how dead plants and/or animals provide food for others be it roadkill providing food for scavenger animals or dead plants providing nutrition for live plants in the future.  As a result, she’s beginning to realize that everything has a place in the hierarchy of life.  Let’s face it-we don’t like our kids to see that dead dog on the side of the road.  But, when you can talk about how his body will provide nutrition for others who will live as a result, it takes a little bit of the sting out of it.  Driving home from the store yesterday, we saw a dead raccoon.  She asked if we could say a prayer for it and in her prayer, she included some thoughtful words about its body providing for others.  That realistic but still empathetic reaction sure as heck beats a kid crying over the loss of an animal that she cannot help.

This journey has not been an easy one, nor do I anticipate it to get any easier…especially after she falls in love with her first cow.  I would imagine that there will be many tears shed on that fateful day when the big eyed cow goes for processing.  And while I honestly believe I will be right there with her shedding a tear or two, I firmly believe that by letting her experience at least part of the birth/death circle, she will better love and respect all living creatures for the broad range of gifts that they give us.

Designing a work life that allows for a farm life

Let’s face it. We’re some of the lucky ones. We live in a rural area but still get to maintain professional jobs. My paid work is all virtual so while there are days that I’m in front of my laptop for 18 hours, I’m still in front of my laptop in my house.  My husband’s job is not quite as flexible, but it’s still a wonderful job all the same. We never thought we would be in a position to be able to leave the “big city” due to the nature of our careers, but yet here we are. On lovely Blueberry Acres where I’m getting ready to facilitate a web-based training session while simultaneously watching our barn cats plot against our wandering chicken, Lana.   It’s a wonderful life.

But what if the path for your family to move from urban to country hasn’t been made clear.  Well, then maybe it’s time you clear your own path because let’s face it chickies, you can’t expect to be a revenue producing farmer on day one.  Heck-we’re going to be lucky to have it done by day 1,245.   For most people, that means still having a job.  And probably a good job because if we are really going to ride the reality train, let’s be honest-starting a farm ain’t cheap.

For me, I unknowingly began crafting a “farm friendly” career several years ago when I was laid off from my corporate job.  My husband and I took a step back and after much agony (mostly on my part) realized that I could do something different with my skills.  For me, I was truly blessed with some Consulting opportunities that came up quickly afterwards that led me down my eventual path where I work virtually but still maintain a wonderfully rewarding career that has NOTHING to do with farm life.  As a result, when the opportunity for us to move to this part of the country came up, I didn’t have to make the hard choice that it seems like some parents have to make: Do I give my kid a different life right now or do I stay and maintain my career and hope for a different life eventually.  For us, the answer was right now.

If you think you might be interested in learning more about exploring a flexible career that can get you to a more bucolic life be it on your own little Blueberry Acres or simply spending more time with your kids in the backyard, feel free to mosey on over to my work life blog, but I’m always happy to give some quick advice on making the move to readers here too.  After all, starting Blueberry Acres Farm for us is all about learning new and scary things.  If we can pay some of that forward helping other families figure out how to make that move professionally, we’re happy to do so.  Happy exploring!

Keeping it real, chicken style

For those friends who have been following our city to country exploits, this weekend’s activities reached a new level of “keepingitrealness” when we processed 2 chickens. By processed I mean we took them from mean little buggers in the backyard to fried chicken on our plates in one day without leaving our house.  Now I know that to some of you, this is gruesome, nasty business.  However, we made the move to Blueberry Acres Farm so that we could provide what we hope is a more authentic life for our little Blueberry.  We hope to be able to provide her with organic meat, produce and dairy-much of which we produce ourselves.  So, before you give me the “eww, gross”, just remember that if you are an omnivore like us, your meat comes from somewhere people and I guarantee, most of it ain’t pretty.  Anyway-back to the whacking…neither myself nor Sheldon had ever done this so we had to figure it out as we went along. Armed with several books and a healthy desire for self-sufficiency, we prepped our area and offed our first chicken. Actually, Sheldon did the offing-I was just the manual labor. Here’s a picture of me cowering behind the garage a safe distance away while he was taking care of business:

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I came over when the deed was done…

A couple of things that we learned from that first chicken:

1) If at first you don’t succeed, try try again becomes a necessity when chickens are involved.
2) Barn cats can materialize from thin air when chickens are involved.
3) It’s best not to wear one’s Sunday shoes when chickens are involved.

In the end we realized that the many hours it took us to process these birds could have been significantly cut down had we spent a few minutes prepping in advance with a few things:

1) Better kill method.  Sheldon found that the method he found in one of his books did not work as exactly as promised.  Since we have tried to treat these birds as humanely as possible, we needed to carry this through even through death-especially through death.  When we do this again, we’ll end their lives faster with less chance for pain.

2) Better pluck location.  After ensuring death, we strung the birds up to pluck feathers.  Alas, when we had one of us on each side, we found that the bird swung back and forth not only meaning more mess but also less efficiency.

3) Better knives.  I figured this out very quickly.  None of our large knives did the trick of effectively butchering it without destroying the meat.  Non-serrated knives work best and if you can handle it, get a cleaver.

Things that we did that seemed to help our process:

1) Worked as a team with little complaining.  Let’s face it-this can be pretty gruesome your first time out.  I had to take a couple of breaks and my husband was cool about it all.  Don’t judge if the other feels a bit queasy.

2) Had plenty of cutting boards and clear work space to butcher.  This made moving around as needed much easier than if I was tripping over clutter.

3) Had disinfectant ready to go.  Can’t. Stress. This. One. Enough.  When we do it again, we’ll do it outside b/c frankly, this process gets a little stinky if you are sensitive to smells, however having a food-friendly disinfectant like a vinegar/water solution mixed up and ready to squirt was a very good idea for us.

Our overall result was actually pretty good.  We got a fair amount of meat from the birds and while it was a little gamey (they were roosters), it was good meat.  Kevin made fried chicken and fried tomatoes and it was all quite tasty-100% Blueberry approved.

Well, that’s about it for now.  We will be processing again in a couple of months and hopefully by then, we will have perfected this process as much as two hobby farmers can.  Happy eating!