Today we butchered our first turkey's. They were bigger than life, and were the highlight of my trips to feed every evening. So it was with heavy hearts that we went down to do the deed that no one looks forward to. For this adventure there was no killing cone big enough, no single arm strong enough- so armed with a pillow case and a knife we together blazed a trail into the unknown with just enough knowledge to be dangerous.
The pillow case was cut on one corner to provide a swaddle for the Turks so that we could handle them without harm to us or them. Then I held the legs and gently sat/ pinned the Turks down while Dain executed the cut to the carotid. What normally is a quick end (with a chicken) turned into a much longer wait with the sheer size of these birds; and when the end did finally come it was with a swift and sudden burst of violence that at one moment threatened to launch me from my perch. I gently spoke farewell and wished them well while silently hoping for it all to hurry up and stop. This killing of the livestock you try so hard to raise is often the hardest of things to do, making one wonder if there is ever anything easy about farming.
These birds were five months old, and reached a dressed weight of 25 pounds. 75 lbs of meat for the three lives taken. All in all the experience of these birds 100% better than the 60 meat birds we raised and butchered this year.
Our losses totaled about 2 total meat chickens, both from predators. This being a feat considering the usual loss of meat and laying birds every year, mostly to predators. The turkeys were allowed to free range with the laying chickens every day and we lost not ONE to predators. The meat chickens were in roaming tractors and we lost two. So while it was insane butchering these birds, as well as finding something big enough to scald them in- I'm leaning towards doing it all over again...
SO I turn 40 this year, my gray hair is taking over, the creases in my forehead have grown steadily deeper and my little girl has grown up. She turns 18 this year and graduates, and leaves home for her first foray into the great wide open. This transition though always requires photos to mark the moment in memory.
So a very talented and accommodating friend took her out to do senior pictures last week and one in particular caught my attention. I'm sure you immediately are aware of the most obvious reason, the yellow line is very telling….
The more i looked at this picture, though, the more it said to me- in the way of life lessons and being aware of the moment we are in now. So often we look for a map when we are smack dab in the road of life unaware of just how inappropriate our stopping point is. Looking at this picture it occurred to me just how dangerous it is to stop midstream to consult the map. You really do need to disengage, and pull over to the side of the road to evaluate where you are. How often do we disengage from what we're doing to just think about where we're going? I'm usually in the middle of multitasking when I'm attempting to decide the direction I'm going in life. How can we expect to make good decisions whilst dodging traffic in our head?
The irony is that she is holding a map of NY state, exactly where she isn't. Our roadmaps to life are mostly made up of past experience. Those aren't always accurate maps of where we are now-but we use them anyway; for lack of a better map. When we multitask our way through life we are less capable of discerning the appropriateness of the map we currently hold. We are more likely to repeat mistakes, over and over….
Funny how a scary senior picture can illuminate our senior moments….
The day is here, the meat chicks are coming this morning- I hope. They have spent the last two days in the U.S. mail system and today has to be the day they come without fear of losing them to hunger and dehydration. Three days is the max the chicks can live off the yolk sack they hatch out with.
So as is usual there is a cold snap for the next 3 days, never fails. The brooder has been warming all night with both lights on and I'm hoping that will be enough to keep the 30 i have warm. I've got this down to a science though. i have a 300 gallon galvanized horse waterer to keep them in for the first 3 or 4 weeks, which i line with fresh leaf litter or finished compost to get their little guts going with friendly microbes. Chickens get a lot of nutrients from dirt if it is biologically active, add dirt with worms and the chicks get extra protein as well. I've found that i don't lose any chicks and don't have any mud butt if i do this and feed them non-medicated feed that is crushed grain, organic, non-GMO. It truly makes a difference, when i got the batch of turkeys, red ranger, and americanas i was fighting mud butt for a week- those guys get in and are put on medicated feed and clean shavings right away.
Life lessons from chickens… Let the kids eat dirt!
Yesterday was a strange day filled with quiet observation, wonder, and smiles. In preparation of the meat chicks coming tomorrow i had to move the turkeys and chicks in the brooder to the half of the barn with the outside run. This also happens to be the half of the barn that contains the nesting boxes for the grown egg layers I've currently got. To say they were put out having their favorite egg laying spot given to a bunch of turkeys would be putting it mildly. They complained and Squawked all afternoon trying to find ways in that i may have overlooked. There are two roosters hanging with 6 hens- and before you say anything i know its one too many- But my husband made friends with the roo named Johnny, and the hens made friends with the roo named Randy, so Johnny has been busy trying to woo the hens away from Randy for some time. The result to my dismay has been competitive barnyard chicken rape. I was ready to take out both roosters just to give the girls a break. (meaning make chicken stew) Then this crazy thing happened that i just happened to see. In the midst of the squawking for the old nesting spots, Johnny stepped into the replacement nesting box that i had put into their pen and started purring while pretending to lay an egg. It was the craziest thing i'd ever seen, and he stayed in the nest purring till one of the hens started watching him and crawled up into the nest with him and gently pecked around his head. He then seemed to wait till she was almost impatient with him before getting up and allowing her on the nest. Then he stood right next to the nest continuing to purr while she happily arranged her new nest. I walked away shaking my head and did find an egg there a little while later. It's funny the amount of time i end up spending just watching things. I always try to get the list done in a timely and efficient way but the observation is half the fun of farming and i would miss things like chicken wooing and chick pig piles...
Ok so it's really the chicken turkey shuffle this time around- who cares, I've finally added to the slowly growing variety of things on the farm. Six turkeys are hanging out with six americanas for the new laying hens, and five red rangers that I'm experimenting with as a new meat breed. The red rangers started off with a hitch, losing one chick early on to what i think was some kind of deformity. Not a good sign, but what can i expect from mass produced chicks? So anyhow the plan is for a carefully executed rotation of bird stock from brooders to barn to pasture to provide the safest environment for the birds while giving them pasture access. This is harder than i wanted it to be and maybe harder that it really has to be. The reality is that the bodies of cornish cross are the opposite of sustainable. Their genetics are geared for one thing and one thing only- the production of meat. So as a result they don't ever fully feather out and basically stop moving around a whole lot after 6 weeks. For me this means i feel the need to keep them under the warming lamps longer and by the time i feel like i can put them on pasture there is precious little time for them to enjoy it before they are too big to want to move or be moved around on said pasture. This is why I've gotten the five red rangers, just to see if i can get a fastish growing meat bird that can still move around at 8 weeks and taste great at the extended growing time of 12 weeks.
Another bonus with putting them on pasture is that they are pooping machines and can fertilize the entire space given in a day. For soil building this is the most awesome thing. I am ashamed to say that i do like the the raw efficiency that these birds exhibit in the act of meat making and am glad to butcher them when the time comes. So much so that i am staggering two largish (Ha! for me anyway) meat orders by one month so i will get 30 cornish cross mid april and 30 mid May, with butcher dates in mid june and mid july. My hope is that the harvest in the garden doesn't really kick in till after mid july- which may be asking a lot….
For me community used to mean the people in the town or county in which i live, but now the definition has changed from that of a place (noun), to include its action as a verb. I am working at community instead of occupying space in one. I am reaching out into the space that I occupy and am actively creating community. The difference has been illuminating to say the least. When I hear of someone in my community that needs help- i immediately think of ways I can help and act on those ideas. If I am the one in need i put that need out to the community. It seems simple right? It has taken me a while though to understand that true sustainability and resiliency comes from the support of those with similar goals that create a diverse guild of people. (If you aren't familiar with the permaculture use of the word guild: a group of plants, trees, insects, animals that when brought together, work as a self supporting unit. Just reword it to include a diverse group of people working together to support one another in community.)
Those of us trying to be self sufficient think that means "without anyone else's help". That, my friends, is close to impossible and takes so much work that we often end up feeling overwhelmed, tired and alone. The word permaculture has changed the way i see the world and what living in that world looks like. Its a philosophy of living that goes beyond gardening, it points to the observation of natural systems and how those systems can be mimicked to change the way we do things for the betterment of all. Nothing in nature stands alone, and if we all understand that and live it- How much better off would we all be?
Faith has become the word of the year for me. For most this brings up religious faith, a faith in God, the bible or something that resembles the meaning those things represent. I have investigated various faiths, delved into some so deeply that I considered converting. In fact every faith i immersed myself in had some facet that I felt right and true more so than the Christianity I was brought up in. I also found that as I emerged from every period of immersion I had gained a greater understanding of Christianity, a deeper more profound meaning in the words I had heard (or misunderstood) as a youth. Faith is one of those things. Faith and how it leads to grace. I found as well a deeper understanding of God, and why many religions avoid using a name for "God". The vastness of this world, it's chaos and it's intricate order, lead me to believe we have oversimplified God and as a result have lost the ability to know grace by way of true and complete faith. When the chaos descends on our lives we pray for it to stop or manifest in some other way- As we have been taught. Maybe we become more fastidious in our following of the word or resolve to be better people with the motivation that things will get better. I have found this way of thinking brings us away from the inner peace that comes with a gentle acceptance of the momentary chaos, that peace that comes with faith. I feel that we must have goals and excercise our own free will, but in the same breath I would say that the trials we face are a result of the course corrections made to accommodate the domino like interconnectednes that being a part of this world entails. So I have redefined the importance of faith in my life, and as a result I have found the grace of a life less full of worry and woe. This from someone who claims no one particular "faith" over another, and whose church could be found anywhere, with anyone.
The wee hours of the morning always seem to be the best time to sit and write, contemplate the day and what you will do with it. What will I do with today? How many of the myriad things that exist on my list will i pull into the reality i build today? Winter is here with its icy fingers poking at me whenever i attempt an adventure out of doors. My books pull me inside and i am helpless to the eventuality that is me sitting on the couch most of the winter hibernating. Lists end up left on the counter, mornings like this spent dreaming of the first green things that will emerge from the garden this year. What will? I'm just not sure, i allowed so many things to go to seed this year, had so many experiments form themselves and take shape. i tucked whole plants away, dried some things and bagged them up, shook seed heads everywhere hoping to create a "weed" bed that was formed of edibles i could weed into a salad bowl, or form a carpet of useful mulch. Will the peach tree i planted in the microclimate i created do better than the one planted on the exposed hillside. Will my fig trees survive the winter? i placed wood mulch every where, will it provide the moisture to allow more things to grow better along the fence rows? Will the purple hyacinth bean seeds i planted there sprout? What about the sunflowers? i am excited to see what happens this year, and i am glad as well that january is around the corner and my body can rest and relax for a while. Bring on the hibernation snuggy...
I bought a pig. Not a whole pig mind you- just a half. It seemed like the smart thing to do, pasture raised and loved on by my friends at Taproot farm. They even went the extra hundred miles or so to bring the pig to a more pig friendly butcher who doesn't make its last days torture and doesn't use MSG in the seasoning of their sausage. So happy pig means happy, delish meat, right?
OHH you betcha!
In addition to the great sausage, bacon and ham, i got roasts and ribs and FAT-two 12-13lb bags of it. oh the joy i felt at seeing these bags of greasy fat was beyond describing. All the things I could cook with it and the soap i could make…. and before you know it all my available crock pots were toiling in the rendering of lard and the house reeked of fatty goodness. Once again i pulled out the computer to see what the google machine was saying about lard and found so many reasons why it was good for you, that i grabbed a bowl full o cracklin's and snuggled in for a pleasant evening of lard research.
After doing more reading than any person should do on pig fat i had to wonder why we had been so ready to trade in something as tried and true as lard, for a crisco replacement that turned out to be so bad for us. The reasons were many and went from the meat industry controlling high lard prices, necessitating the need for a cheap replacement- To the cotton industry attempting to make a cheaper alternative using cottonseed oil that was a byproduct of the cotton harvest. The end result was more crisco and less lard.
So many things ran through my mind as i read about the benefits of lard but these benefits were realized only if the animal was raised on pasture. Pigs dancing in the sun, rolling in muddy pits being fanned by cute farm boys and girls ran through my mind... It seems at every turn i am reminded of how we are what we eat (and what they ate and how happy them eats were before we ate them). So while crunching away on cracklin's i ended up smack dab in the middle of the most disturbing of uses- lard lotion. Yes as well as cooking and soap making you can make a wonderful lotion of this vitamin packed oil, rich in the very things you pay bunches for in the store. Ewww you say? So said I until i made some, and used it. All i can say now is next year i'll be going whole hog… Heh heh heh!
Fermentation. The word brings to mind beer and wine to most, but for me it is an easy way to deal with small and large amounts of veggies from the garden that would normally take tons of preparation. These pickles in the picture above took no more than a good cleaning of the Weck jars, which are the most perfect jars to ferment in, spices, cucumbers and salty water. I use a quart jar of water and a tablespoon and a half salt for the brine which usually is enough for two quarts of pickles. Close the jars and let them sit on the counter to ferment. This is where the weck jars come in handy as they are held closed with handy little clips that keeps everything out while allowing your bubbling ferment to burp. I usually keep them on a plate of some sort to catch any escaping brine. This way of pickling is the old way, tried and true. No vinegar and its so healthy for you-a truly alive food. These pickles can ferment for up to three weeks on your counter depending on the temperature. I usually wait a week and taste them, when they are to my liking i pop them in the fridge or they can go into the root cellar if you have one. Most anything can be fermented- salsa, green beans, relish, tomatoes and I'm even going to try zucchini and yellow squash. Try it, even though your high heat canning conditioning screams NOOOOOO! The probiotics in these are way cheaper than store bought.
Born in New Hampshire and raised in Maine, Eva's passion for living self sustainably began with Helen and Scott Nearing. Both were homesteaders who carved their lives from the land. Eva now lives in Eastern West Virginia, with her husband Dain and daughter Shayna, carving out her own life.