Monday, November 24, 2008

The "Chocolate Eggers" are laying.

My Cuckoo Marans, the "chocolate eggers" are laying now. Some Maran varieties are said to lay darker eggs than the Cuckoos, but I'm pretty happy with the shade that mine are producing. The color is just a perk, after all - it's the egg I'm after.

This is a photo of a Buff Orpington egg and a Cuckoo Maran egg.



My daughter was very disappointed that these weren't real chocolate eggs.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We're drowning in kittens over here.

Five of Aradia's, three of her daughter's that I have not only successfully saved, but, with the considerable help of Aradia and Ghandi, appear to be on their way to being successful barn cats. (Though Toulouse seems to be pouting a bit about it)

All of the kittens are playing constantly. There is very little cuter than playing babies, whether it's pouncing kittens, gamboling (yes, they really gambol) lambs, king-of-the-mountain kid goats, or discovering and imagining children. This part of the cycle of life is a joy to just sit and soak in.


It's amazing how easy it is for even the smallest kittens to stay away from a pursuing toddler. It's also amazing that sometimes they don't want to stay away.


Hannah, my bull-in-the-china-shop when it comes to cats, has really calmed down with these kittens. When she discovered Aradia's kittens, they were old enough and curious enough to come out and play. I told her if she sat quiet and still, they'd be more likely to trust her and like her. That four year old girl sat there as still as I've ever seen her for over fifteen minutes while the kittens climbed all over her. The poor kid was nearly in tears from legs that were tingly painful from having gone to sleep, but it paid off. Those little kittens will come up to her when they won't come to any of the rest of us.


One of the orphan kittens is a male, three of Aradia's are male. That leaves three females. I'm not ok with three intact females running around. The males are easy - less expensive to fix. The females are cost-prohibitive, especially in this area. Desiree (the orphans' mother) notwithstanding, we don't lose a lot of cats around here. We lose some kittens (Desiree was the only surviving kitten of her mother's last three litters - one litter was lost to owls, one ... well, Aradia didn't pick the best place to have her babies, and D was the only surviving baby in her litter), but we don't lose cats. These kittens are so far doing very well which means that soon I'll be facing the music when it comes to the reproduction issue. How many barn cats (and one house cat - shhh - don't tell my husband) does one farm need?



Here - I found a picture of the stupid place Aradia chose to give birth to her kittens.



Yes. It's an abandoned bird's nest. I climbed up there and tried to get a picture, but this is the best I could get. She wouldn't let me touch them - and I couldn't reach them well anyway. They all fell out of the nest as soon as they could wiggle enough to fall out. Poor things.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rendering Lard

When we had our hog harvested this summer, I had the slaughter facility save the fat for me. I also was able to convince my brother-in-law and cousin to let me have the fat from their hogs that were slaughtered at the same time. So I had fat from three hogs sitting in my freezer. I had to bite the bullet and try to get it rendered before I had my last roosters and my turkeys added to the freezer.

I'd tried rendering fat from our last steer into tallow. Not a success. Not at all. Ask my sister who was visiting me at the time. It was like I was cooking a carcass. I used the traditional, commonly suggested method of rendering the fat in water on the stove. I had so much beef fat that I tried three times with three slightly different methods. Fail, fail, STINKY fail. So I wasn't looking forward to this.

Then I found this post. Glory Hallelujah. It worked. And it worked like a charm. It didn't even *smell*! Not bad, not good, no smell at all. Three hogs took me two full days of constantly adding solid fat and pouring off liquid fat. You're not going to believe me, but I'm going to say it anyway... You *can* get sick of the sight of melting pork fat.

I got fifteen and a half jars of beautiful lard. My planned use for these is making goat milk soap next summer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Applesauce.

My sister brought over some organic apples she'd picked.

My neighbor lent me her Victorio Strainer.

My daughter offered her help.

My son tried to stand up by grabbing onto my sweats and pulling them down. That gets old halfway through the first time. My son got put on my back where he giggled and kicked and encouraged my daughter in her work.

Have you ever seen a Victorio Strainer? Have you ever *used* a Victorio Strainer? This is my new kitchen obsession. For applesauce, you quarter the apple, remove the stem, steam the apple, and put it through the strainer. That's it. What comes out one side is the applesauce. What comes out the end is the skin and seeds. It's brilliant. And a four year old can do it.


Look at that! Four quarts of applesauce. Ready to go.


I'm a relative newbie at canning - haven't done too much of it. I thought I had all the bubbles out, but obviously I didn't. Next time...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You know that rake move in the Charlie Chaplin movies? The one where he steps on the rake and the handle smacks him right in the nose... HARD? I do it better.

Though I think those around me would prefer the silent version more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My first Zero Mile Meal

...and it was an accident!

I marinated one of our pork roasts in a steak sauce that I'd bottled from our plums. We had mashed turnips from the garden, fresh beets, and green onions and grilled onions to put on the meat or mix in with the turnips. If you add in the milk that my husband drank, it became a Two Mile Meal, since we get our cow milk from a wonderful farmer down the road. I didn't realize until we began eating that we had a meal in front of us that was as local as it comes.

The only beets I've ever had have been canned beets that my mom bought from the store. Mushy, tasteless lumps that I had to eat to be excused from the table. Fresh beets are so very different. My husband's always liked beets and I couldn't understood why until now.

I've never eaten turnips before - ever. I really, really liked them. I may even prefer mashed turnips to mashed potatoes. The flavor is more robust. Do you have any good turnip recipes you can pass on to me? I'm planting more turnips next year.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In the kitchen...

Chicken stock is brewing.



I use Trapper Creek's method for chicken stock. I've tried it other ways, but the stock tastes much better made this way. This way also makes a *lot* that I can use throughout the week for soups and rice. Now that we're getting eggs, one of the girls' favorite soups, egg-drop soups is a Zero Mile Meal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two things.

In a rare - and short - break from our fall winds, I gathered some food from our homestead. I found two things:

A beautiful display of fall colors...



and the second installment of "food that looks like naughty body parts".


Sorry it's so blurry. I'm not so good at close-up photography. But even with it being blurry, you can tell two things. He has spindly legs, and he's not an American carrot. (I don't think he's circumcised.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Goat candy.

While chatting with the owner of the local pumpkin patch, I learned that he gives away all of his surplus pumpkins "as soon as the season is over" - November 1. He said that by the time he gets up that morning at 8 am, all of his pumpkins are gone - picked up by locals who want inexpensive supplemental feed for their animals through the winter.

So at 5 am on November first, I nursed my infant and then left my family sleeping while I drove - sleeping - to the pumpkin patch. There was no-one else there, so I backed up to the pile of pumpkins that I wanted and started loading the truck. As I got in my truck and drove away, three trucks with horse trailers pulled in and backed up to the piles. Had I gone to get pumpkins at 6:30, I wouldn't have gotten any.


I know, I know. You expected more, didn't you? That's a lot more than it looks like, I just couldn't balance them well any higher.

When we got home, my girls helped me unload the truck.


I separated them into two piles - good, solid pumpkins that will last and bruised, soft, punctured pumpkins. Any with cracks went straight over the fence to the goats. They loved them. Then my husband's sheep discovered them. Should the animals belonging to the one who got to sleep in profit from my early morning work? ... Somebody had to watch the kids, I guess. And the sheep do love them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Caught him!

Toulouse is the only one of the orphaned kittens still nursing his grandma. And I finally caught it on camera.



I really need to find him a pet home. His sisters are turning into avid little hunters. He's nursing his grandma.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bourbon, sweet bourbon.

So I went with the Bourbon Red turkeys. I ordered them from Porter's Rare Heritage Turkeys. The service was wonderful, the price was very good - I was able to get them (with shipping) for a bit cheaper than I could get them from McMurray Hatchery. I've heard good things about McMurray, but if all other things are about equal (price, service, distance shipped), I'll pick a small business over a large business. I wasn't disappointed.

Because I had an infant this spring, I pushed all of my poultry purchases back about a month in the spring so that I wouldn't have to be hauling the baby out in the cold to take care of them. Since I wanted to avoid mixing chickens and turkeys (blackhead is not a problem in our area, but as a rank beginner, I didn't want to chance it), the turkeys didn't come in until June.

I was very pleased with their health. Only one had a health issue (that you'll see in a later picture) that she had to be put down for. One died because the temperature spiked one day and I should have unplugged both lights instead of just one. I pulled that one up as high as I could, but it was still too warm for them. I've heard how frail they are and I was scared that no light would make them too cold.

Then that night, it was still warm when I went to bed, so I lowered the light down closer but left the other light off. One froze to death that night. I was pretty downhearted.

But after that, things evened out and I lost no more turkeys to poor health.

I *was* worried about their wings. See the little guy below? About half of the poults had wings that stuck out like that. I researched it and some people said to wait, that the wings would come back in line, and others said to tape the wings down. I chose to wait because I wanted to see if they'd go down on their own. I don't want to be buying turkeys every year (or keeping some in a gene pool) that need monkeying around with - they need to have healthy, structurally sound wings.

The wings straightened out on their own, every poult.

From the very first day, these poults were so different from my chicks. They stand more upright, so their running as babies is really funny. I'll get a video next year. If you put a turkey poult and a chicken chick in front of me now, I could likely easily tell the difference. There's also that bump on the top of their nose.

This girl was my problem child. See that eye? Her right eye was fine, her left eye was always shut. She was healthy other than that, so I didn't put her down. I didn't knock the shipper for shipping me a bad poult since she'd been put in as an extra, to help with body heat in the box.

I should have put her down as a baby, I guess. The inevitable happened, but not until she was around seven weeks old. The eye finally died completely and I couldn't keep things clean enough. Amazing what we city folks will do to avoid having to kill an animal that we bought as food to begin with. I finally faced the music and put her out of her misery.

These turkey poults were also much more curious and friendly than the chicken poults and seemed more desirous of a parent figure. I loved having them come cheep cheeping up to me as babies. I threw greens in there every day and they demolished those much faster than the chickens did.

Monday we took our turkeys and remaining roosters in to be harvested. In our area, there is only one man who does it. I'm not happy with him for various reasons, so I am looking for another person to slaughter for me. I may do it myself next year when my baby is older, but was not up for it this year with two youngsters and a baby. I would have preferred to wait a few weeks to have them processed, but he is booked up, so I had to take them in this week.

This is one of the big boys on Monday morning. This studly specimen decided about three weeks ago that my hens needed a male presence, so he flew into their pen and refuses to leave. For the first week I threw him back out every day, but he'd come right back in. Then hens actually seemed to enjoy his presence and he wasn't picking on them, so I left him in there. You'd think he would want to free range with the rest of the turkeys, but he didn't.

Look at the face on these birds. Did you know that that entire head can turn bright blue? 'Tis true, I swear it. When they get into dominance fights or get scared, that head goes bright blue. It's a little bit blue in this picture because he's showing off.

I wasn't a big fan of turkeys (except for the eating part) before I got these. I like them much better than the chickens and miss them already. Next year I may keep a few hens and a tom. I miss their chattering to each other, their gobbles, and them running up to me in the morning trying to get my attention. I've always heard how dumb turkeys are, but I've found that that wasn't true with these birds. Maybe it was their breed, maybe their upbringing - nature or nurture? Maybe turkeys, of all breeds, just really aren't that dumb. (As a sidenote, my husband had always heard how dumb sheep were and believed it until he started owning them. Not many animals are truly dumb - just different types of intelligence, I think.)

When I got my birds back, I weighed the carcass. They ranged from 6 pounds (the hens) to 18 pounds (the biggest tom). Most were in the 10-12 pound range, not too bad for heritage breed birds that are only five months old.

I don't think that I'll be getting any meat chickens next year - if I do, they will likely be Cornish crosses for the feed conversion rate. But if I find a good source of grain, I'll likely get some of these Bourbon Reds from Porter's again. The price was right (less expensive than the big McMurray clearing house), the genetics appeared to be better, and their health was very good. We'll see how they taste.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Want to see what Halloween night looked like around here? Head over to my other blog. There be wolves, caped girls, and queens here!

Eggs.

We got our first egg a few weeks back.


I saw it in the coop and sent Hannah in to 'check for eggs'. She had checked every day for the last two weeks, so was as optimistic as only children can be but still quite stunned when there was actually an egg in there.


She wanted to fry it up immediately. Unfortunately, in her excitement she broke the egg on the way to the house, much to the kittens' delight.

The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth eggs fared no better, though they made it incrementally closer to the house. Finally we got an egg into the house, got the water to boil it (by this time, frying was no longer appealing for some reason), and the egg fell onto the floor. The eighth egg got boiled.

We now have four hens laying, though the rest should start up soon. I didn't expect any to start laying until the first week of November, so the first layer was a very early maturing hen.

Hannah now has a 'job', self-assigned, to gather eggs every afternoon. Now that all the roosters are 'harvested' (oh, how I'll miss their crowing - I enjoyed that), she's not nervous at all out there. They had yet to threaten her, but she was nervous.