Monday, October 29, 2012

Watched It With My Hot Chocolate

New Tutorial Coming Soon!

I have another tutorial in the works, but this new one will be about how to make your own homemade apple cider vinegar! I have 3 gallons of my own ACV in the works, and have been delighted at how easy this is to make. I use ACV in a million different ways, especially with the animals, and can easily go through 1-2 gallons each week! 

2 week old batch of apple cider vinegar!

The Hulsey Eggs

Dead Turkeys, Hatching Eggs, and Cycling Cows

The day is only half over and already I am tuckered out, and desire to simply curl up with a warm blanket and a River Cottage episode. Maybe I'll do that later... Hmm, and perhaps even with a cup of homemade hot chocolate? Okay, the deal is sealed. Once I'm done with this here post, you'll find me in the living room oblivious to the rest of the world with the laptop sitting in front of me and a cuppa' beside me. I'm easy to please. :)

I got up earlier than usual this morning to milk the cow and goats before the day's adventure began. Normally I milk the cow first, and then do the goats last, but whenever I milk early, I have to reverse the order and do goats first. Mattie (cow) refuses to get up before the sun has risen, and unfortunately that doesn't happen until 7:30 these days! You can push, prod, plead, threaten, beg, and curse all you want with that cow; if the sun isn't up, then she ain't movin'. On the days when I have no choice but to milk her in the dark (not that it's dark in the barn, seeing as I have lights galore!), I have to wake her up 30 minutes prior to her turn (this gives her time to ponder getting up), wait for her to slowly get up, stretch herself like a cat, go potty (this one is imperative; the rubber floors in my milk parlor don't drain very well), drink 10 gallons of water, go potty a second time (seriously Mattie??? Can't you do it all in one round??), give a few grunts of either happiness or displeasure (depends on the time), and THEN she's ready. What do you mean she's got me wrapped around her finger hoof? 

Milking chores were done hurriedly today (as much as one can hurry with a cow like mine!), since I had to be in Willamina at 8:45am, and I was hauling four turkeys with me. Today was the day: The turkeys were going on their last voyage and their destination was the slaughter house. [enter Beethoven's 5th symphony]

As many times as I've raised poultry for meat, I'm always anxious on slaughtering day, wondering if my birds would weigh enough. I told my customers this year that I was hoping for 15 lb. turkeys, but part of me was nervous... What if they don't weigh enough? What if they weigh *too* much? What if something's wrong with one of them? I don't have any extras! 

It's hard to entertain worrisome thoughts though when you're busy trying to catch your victims. Still in their 10'x12' chicken tractor, I wondered just what I would do if they scurried to the farthest corner of the heavy, covered pen. I really didn't want to be crawling on my hands and knees inside a 2' tall structure that was covered from a day's worth of turkey manure. I may be a farm girl, but even I have my limits. Thankfully, since the turkeys had been on a 24 hour fast (necessary for all animals about to be slaughtered), they were more than happy to come right up to me. And they still kept approaching after I whisked them away one by one. Can't decide if that's lack of brains there, or a case of well-socialized birds... Although the term "bird brain" had to come from somewhere I suppose... Hmm, well that's something to ponder with the hot chocolate later. 

When the turkeys were all loaded up into the back of our little pickup truck, I was an utter wreck. My birds were muddy from the heavy rains we've had, and they shared their war paint quite generously with me. Oh well; I was just going to a processing facility, not church. I was delighted however, to find that turkeys travel amazingly well. Accustomed to the cackling of chickens, and dramatic wails of the goats, the turkeys surprised me by simply plunking their chubby selves down and staying stock still for the 15 minute drive. 

After the turkeys were dropped off, we came back home since it would be an hour before my birds were done. When we finally went back, I was dismayed to see that all of my birds were neatly wrapped except one. Since I used to work at this facility, I knew that an unwrapped bird meant something was wrong and the business manager needed to discuss the problem with the owner. I could see large purple blotches all over the breast of the hunk of meat, but other than that it looked normal. The business manager came up and motioned me to come over to the problem bird. It turns out that it wasn't anything hugely terrible. One bird had a broken wing and some bruising on the skin. The meat was in perfect condition, but on the outside my bird didn't look so great. The wing was thoroughly checked for any signs of gangrene or other infections from the break, but there was nothing, save a few blood clots. Personally, I can't help but wonder if this break didn't occur today. One of the workers pulled my turkeys roughly out of the truck and put them in a waiting pen, and it just so happens that he grabbed the birds right where the break was on the condemned turkey.. The broken bone looked too fresh to be something that happened while it was on my property anyway. Oh well; what's done is done. All the turkeys dressed out great, weight wise. They're all within a few ounces range of 15 lbs. some slightly over that, and some slightly under. I'm taking the last two to be butchered on the 13th; these two needed to gain a bit more weight (they're hens, and thus smaller) so they stayed behind. 

By the time I got home, it was 10am and I wasn't even finished with barn chores. The layers and meat birds had to be fed, Mattie had knocked over the water buckets again, the hay manger was empty, and I had to feed the remaining turkeys. Halfway through barn chores, I saw our mail lady drive up with a package. Surprise, surprise, it was for me! My Pumpkin Hulsey hatching eggs had arrived! :) The eggs all look great from the outside; I'll candle them in a few days to see what I can see. All total I got 11 Pumpkin Hulsey eggs, and then 1 surprise Swedish Flower egg. My incubator is being fired up as we speak (er, as I write this and then as you read it, I guess), and the eggs will be put in there tomorrow morning. And then we have the long, slow, boring wait of something like 27 days before the eggs hatch. [faints dramatically]

After the eggs were dealt with, I went BACK outside yet again to finish up barn chores! It was getting quite close to 11am now and the laying pullets hadn't been fed!! Slogging out in my filthy clothes, I momentarily grinned at my dirty state. You eventually hit the point where you're so dirty that you really don't care if you get any dirtier since it won't even show. You gotta' love that, right? Finally, all the poultry were fed, the ruminants had their hay and water, and everyone was tended to.

And then there was Peaches...

Oh goodness me.

My dear little heifer is experiencing her first heat cycle today. In other words, she wants a bull, and she wants one BAD. She's eleven months old now, which is a little early for a heifer to be cycling (or for a Guernsey cross anyway) but Peachy seems to be doing it despite what the books say. Her main victim is Mattie, as the determined heifer repeatedly tries to mount her. Mattie is not impressed and  turns to face the impudent youth. Peaches ignores the hint that her forwardness isn't wanted and simply trots to the south end of her elder again and tries once more to mount Mattie. Actually, Peaches is mounting just about anything she can, from the hay manger, to trying to get the goats and sheep. If you stand outside the barn, you'll hear a lot of bumping and banging against the metal walls. No, there's no construction work going on inside, it's just my antsy heifer. Oh Peach cow... Darling, I wasn't planning on having you bred until July of 2013! But aside from her rambunctious behavior today, Peaches has been as good as gold. She just recently went through a growth spurt (last week I think it was...) and she now stands just slightly taller than Mattie. Okay, so Mattie is a seriously short cow to begin with, but something tells me that Peaches is going to be a downright giraffe in stature. Mattie is my elephant, and Peaches will be the giraffe; Hm, methinks I have a nice little zoo starting here! LOL. 

So now I'm tuckered and craving bitter hot chocolate. My day has been full of dead turkeys, hatching eggs, cycling cows, elephants, and giraffes. Sheesh, no wonder I'm tired...

Off I go now to watch some River Cottage! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

This Is Beautiful

A reader left a comment on my previous post about butchering livestock and gave a link she recommended watching. So I took her advice this afternoon, and while it was pouring rain outside, I was toasty and dry inside, watching this beautiful video. To some folks, I'm sure this may seem like a gross film, or even repulsive. As I watched it though, I was in awe at how much this man loves what he is doing. You can see it in his hands as he skillfully works that he is following his passion in life in providing good, wholesome food for people. I thought it was also interesting to see that this guy is on my side of the country (up near Puget Sound in WA!)... Oh the wheels are turning in this head 'o mine. ;)

So if you have some spare time and want to learn how to cut up a half of a hog, by all means treat yourself and watch the video. 

On The Anatomy Of Thrift: Side Butchery from farmrun on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Fodder Tutorial! AKA: How To Sprout Grain for Livestock!

I've been promising this post for how long now?? Never mind, don't tell me...

So, ahem, *cough, cough*, yes I was a little tardy in getting the pictures taken, but I have them here today! So without further ado, here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to sprout grain for your livestock. Whether you have 3 backyard chickens, or a herd of dairy cattle, this idea offers some unique savings and other benefits. And best of all? It is WAY easier than you think. :) 

First off, what do you need to get started? Hang on to your hats folks, because I have a really technical list.

Two 5-gallon buckets
7-14 black plastic gardening trays (these measure 11"x21")
Wheat or barley (whole, and from your local feed store)

No one fainted at the sight of the expensive list, did they? Oh good. 

You certainly don't have to use the black plastic trays that I have listed, but they really are the *perfect* size for this. you can fit exactly one pound of soaked grain in them, which will yield roughly 8 lbs. of fodder (I've been getting some 9+ pounders lately!). Most Wilco's, Tractor Supplies, and gardening stores will have these trays and they may or may not have pre-drilled holes in them. If you find trays that already have holes, then consider yourself lucky and know that I am jealous. All my local Wilco has are the solid bottomed ones... If you too have solid bottom trays, then prepare yourself for an afternoon of drilling! I drilled holes roughly every 1/2 inch and only on the lower grooves of the tray. Long, tedious work... Or at least when you have a heavy battery powered drill!

You need between 7 and 14 of these trays; depending on how much you want to sprout. If you only want to be harvesting 8 lbs. of fodder a day, then you'll do fine with filling one tray each day, and thus only need 7 of these things. If you want 16 lbs. of fodder, or two trays worth each day, then you need 14 trays. Obviously, if you need more or less than these figures, then you simply adjust your needs and numbers accordingly. 

You may have noticed in the first picture that the bucket on its side had holes in the bottom of it. This is your draining bucket, so once you're done drilling holes in those black trays, get ready to drill more holes in a 5-gallon bucket!! 

Now it's time to get down to business. With sprouting, there are two basic rules to this thing: Keep it wet, keep it draining. You can sprout grain any way you can possibly imagine, just make sure that the grain stays wet and draining at all times! 

So you have your buckets, you have your trays, and you should have your grain now. Barley is the absolute BEST grain for sprouting (highest yield, highest nutrition, easiest to grow), while wheat is an extremely close second choice. I'm currently sprouting wheat because my feed store was out of barley... Oats are the hardest grain to sprout (bummer... such a cheap grain!), but not entirely impossible. It sprouts erratically, has a low yield (I think I got 3--4 lbs. per lb. of grain), and a lower level of nutrition compared to barley/wheat. You don't need any fancy grains, just tell the the feed store folks that you want whole grains for livestock consumption. 

Okey dokey, so assuming you would like to sprout one tray of fodder a day, grab yourself a quart sized mason jar and fill 'er up. This should be pretty darn close to a pound, and even if it's a bit under or over, that's okay. If you want to sprout 2 trays a day, then get 2 scoops of grain. You see where I'm going with this? Three trays equals three scoops, four trays equals four scoops... I think you probably get it.

Now, dump that there pound of grain into your 5-gallon bucket that DOES NOT have holes in it. It's just too hard to keep water in a bucket that has holes in it, so I really wouldn't recommend trying to soak your grain in your second bucket which is riddled with them. (I tease; I'm a teaser)

Cover the grain with a doubled amount of water and let it sit for 12 hours.

Once 12 hours have passed, THEN you get to pull out your holey bucket (notice the 'E' in there... No I did not say your "holy bucket"). I keep my draining bucket propped up on two bricks to aid in drainage.

Pour your bucket of water and soaked grain into the drainage bucket and let 'er rip.

When all the water has drained out, you will be left with plump-looking, squishy grain. 

You can do two different things now: You can either pour the grain into your plastic trays and begin sprouting. Or you can leave the grain in the draining bucket for 12 hours with a second bucket stacked inside. Put a couple pounds-worth of water into the second bucket to act as a weight. I think this step gives you a bit of a better germination rate, but I'm not positive on that. 

Either way, you'll eventually get to the step where you put the grain into the trays. If you have soaked more than 1 lb. of grain, then you just have to eyeball the amounts to divide into each tray. Rule of thumb though, is that you don't want the grain to be any deeper than 3/4" in each tray. Too shallow, and the grain will dry too quickly. Too deep, and it will rot. 

Once the grain is in the trays, your job is to water it thoroughly 2-3x's each day. I'm finding that with this cool, damp weather that we've been having lately, I can easily get away with watering only twice a day. If temps are still in the 70's and up for you, then you need to water 3x's a day. if the grain dries up, then you have yourself a botched batch on your hands.

When I first started sprouting, I kept my trays in the barn. Sprouts don't need direct sunlight, and mine did really well in there. I had an old crib side (so many uses for those things!) that I stacked on top of some old 3.5 gallon buckets, and this became my sprouting area. The crib side allowed free drainage for the sprouts whenever I watered them, but still kept them up off the ground. However, I had to stop doing that a couple weeks ago since the sparrows started mutilating my little crop!!! I kept the grain loosely covered with empty feed bags, but that still wouldn't stop those pesky birds. Grrr.

So plan B. Our raised garden beds are pretty much empty this time around, so I am simply laying some clear plastic over the tops, and keeping my sprout trays inside there. It works nicely since the soil still allows good drainage, and I think I'm getting better yields since the roots are able to wiggle their toes into soil for a short spell. 

Your sprouts won't look very impressive for the first 3 days. If you look closely you'll see tiny white threads emerging, but it's not until the 3rd or 4th day that you realize that something is happening here... You're growing fodder!

Day 3--4

Day 3--4

 Once you reach that halfway point where your tray looks like a sea of octopus tentacles, the sprouts take off and grow like -- well -- weeds.

Day 5

Day 5

Day 6

 By day 7 or 8, you will have a magnificent tray of sprouts before you, and it will look something like this:

During warm/hot weather, you may have sprouts that are ready by 6 days and can be up to 5-6 inches tall, but I find that in cold weather it takes about 8 days before it's ready and will only be 3-4 inches tall. There's no exact rule as to how long you need to wait before feeding, so just go with a gut instinct on this (or how quickly you need fodder!).

Here's a side shot to show you what it looks like. You can see the sprouted grain in the middle, while the roots are all a tangled web beneath it. Yes, you feed the entire thing; roots and all!

Another look at the root mat...

When feeding sprouts to poultry, I like to shred it up like in the picture below. I find that the birds have an easier time eating the whole plant, whereas if it's in clumps then they may only peck the empty grain shells and leave the greens. 

If the sprouts are going to hoofstock, then I cut the rectangle up into chunks with a knife. 

Final step: Feeding time! Peaches adores her fodder!

So there you have it. It's pretty basic and simple once you get the hang of it. Keep it wet, keep it draining, and you'll be fine. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Basic Broiler Challenge: Week #5 and Off Grain!

Ta da! Week #5 for the Basic Broiler Challenge! These birds are HUGE and continue to keep me pleased with their performance.

Today was "THE" day. My group of 26 Freedom Rangers are officially off grain. I've been supplementing their usual ration all week with sprouts and cheese, and today was finally the day where they got no grain. I fed them 4 lbs. of raw milk cow cheese (just a fast vinegar cheese) early in the day, and then gave them 3 lbs. of sprouts this afternoon while doing mid-day barn chores. Tonight they'll get the 4 lbs. of whey that resulted from the afore mentioned cheese. They all seem really content with the new diet thus far; no chirping, wandering around looking for food, or other signs that might make me think they're hungry. Half of them are perched on the brooder box edge (yes, they're still in the brooder!); content to simply roost there and watch the world go by instead of hopping out and making me commence to a chase. When they want down from their view point, they shuffle their chubby selves around and plop back into the brooder. Trained birds... How 'bout that? 

This week's  weights are as follows:

Group 1 (my group that is on the sprouts/raw milk diet):
Average individual weight: 2 lbs. 7 oz!
Average combined weight: 70.2 lbs.!!

Group 2 (my friends' birds who are on 20% broiler ration)
Average individual weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
Average combined weight: 39.2 (there are 28 birds in this group)

Looking at the weights I have from last week and this week, both groups have doubled their weights, and group #2 is growing steadily, if somewhat slower. They're about a week behind in weights from my group, so I'm guessing they're what a normal batch would look like and will be old enough to butcher by 9-11 weeks. Mine are just mammoth sized freaks. LOL. If mine keep on gaining at the rate they have been, then they should hopefully be ready to be butchered by 8 weeks. But we'll see. After all, this is only their first day on a straight dairy/sprout diet.

Sprout tutorial coming soon!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Birds of Fire

It was 10:40pm as I found myself surfing on Ebay. I was dog tired, but staying up late with a computer in front of me was my attempt at being "social" with the rest of the family. I very rarely visit Ebay; it drives me crazy when I see something I'd like to have and then I get outbid. I think if I ever went to a live auction, I would probably end up getting in a fist fight with whoever outbid me... 

Scrolling through the list of hatching chicken eggs that were up for bid, I found multiple auctions that interested me. Rare Isbars and Legbars were at decent prices, Partridge Silkies were going fast, Lavender Orpingtons were as beautiful (and pricey!) as ever... 

And then on page #6 I saw it:

8+ Pumpkin Hulsey hatching eggs were up for bid. There were 13 hours left, and the current price was only $6.50.

I gasped audibly, which made the family turn at look at me for a moment before realizing that I was merely exclaiming over a bird. They went back to their card games, books, and quilling projects, while I was seemingly hung in suspension. 

Those of you who have been here awhile may remember a post I wrote last month about the coveted Pumpkin Hulsey chicken. I've wanted this breed for somewhere around 2 years and even ducked into the world of cockfighting to find a pair. They are birds of fire; the color of flame, charcoal, and smoldering brown. I've always wanted a hawk or falcon of my own, but since I can't at this time, a Pumpkin Hulsey is probably about as close to having a raptor as one can get. They are fierce looking birds; more hawk-like than chicken. Alas, their price, which went as high as $1,000 for a pair, always prevented me from getting any breeding stock of my own.

Frozen in place, with a laptop sitting in front of me last night, I saw the opportunity to finally have my own Pumpkin Hulseys.

I immediately placed a bid, and then went to bed. I'm just not a social person it seems... Or not at night anyway when I'm tired and know that the cow needs to be milked early the next morning. 

This morning I checked the bid again, but found that I was now competing with someone else for the eggs and the price was higher! Noooooo! There were only two hours left before the auction was over, so after finishing barn chores I plunked myself down at the computer and watched that bid like a hawk. 

When the bid was down the the last minute I placed my bid. To my horror, I found that my competitor had placed a maximum bid of an unknown amount, so as the clock ticked and my time whittled away, I was desperately raising my price a little higher and higher, praying that the other person hadn't bid too much.

The clock had exactly 2 seconds left when I finally placed the magic number and got my bid higher. My total was $10.51 for 8+ Pumpkin Hulsey eggs. There were other bids going on for some other Hulseys, but those bids had already soared sky high and were way out of my price range (the usual 3-digit amount. Sigh.). I couldn't believe that this bid had gone unnoticed, and that I had gotten this highly sought-after breed for the price of two Little Caesar's pizzas. Who says magic and luck don't exist? The breeder/seller seems honest and has an excellent track record for her sales; the bloodlines behind these Hulseys is stunning as well. I'm happy.

So how about that?? After all these months of searching and waiting, I'm finally getting my birds of fire. My fingers are crossed that I get a decent hatch rate with the eggs, but even if I only end up with a pair I'll be okay with that. Ten bucks for chickens is a good price and you can't beat that with a stick my friends.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Woolly Invader

My goats hate me right now. I introduced a woolly invader into their premises and they're sure that it's a goat-eating monster, or something heralding the apocalypse.

I keep telling them to chill out. The newcomer is only half their size for Pete's sake.

Yep, I got myself a sheep. I realize that I kinda' sprung that surprise on you guys yesterday with my one teaser picture, but in my defense, her arrival was all very last minute and impulsive. ;)

A dear lady (who is also THE person who taught me to spin) knew I was hankering for some sheep. She has a lovely flock of her own and the fleeces she gets off those ovines are to die for. It turns out that she had one wee, chocolate colored ewe lamb that she didn't really want to send to the auction with the rest of this year's lamb crop, so she offered the lamb to me. 

Thursday morning's phone call was pretty brief with her; she called, asked if I wanted a sheep, and I said "Sure! Why not!?" I mean, what's ONE more animal around the place? LOL.

So a couple hours later I had myself a little sheep. She's a funny little thing; all chubby looking in her wool coat, and baaing at the goats (which scares the dickens out of them). Breed wise, she's a crossbred between a Cormo and a CVM; which means she should have a mighty fine fleece come shearing time... I still don't have a name for her, but I'm sure something will come up eventually; I'm pretty slow when it comes to naming things...

Aaaaaand I might as well tell you now that she's not going to be an "only sheep". I have another little crossbred coming in a couple of days, but this time it's a little, white wether. I'm sure the little lady might eventually get used to hanging out with the goats and cows, but right now it's rather sad watching her try to flock with them when they keep running away in terror. They run, she follows, they run again, and she follows again. It was kind of funny this morning though; it was raining outside, so the goats were all in the barn (when it rains, they don't step foot outside their shelter) and little Miss Sheep was so excited that they couldn't run away from her in the small area. So you can imagine 8 goats all huddled in one corner with their eyes rolling and looking like they're waiting to be eaten. Meanwhile there's a 24" tall sheep who just barely reaches their sides in height, and grunting in happiness that she's finally caught them. They do say that Nubian goats are the most dramatic...

But hopefully having another sheep buddy will make her feel more comfortable here, and it certainly doesn't hurt my feelings to have two of 'em. :)

Now I just need to get a shepherd's crook...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Conflicting Desires

I am a strange bird. Most of the time I can't even figure myself out.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved animals. I had countless stuffed animals, the only books I got from the library were non-fiction animal books, I dreamed of putting a horse in the backyard, I could tell the difference between a Norfolk Terrier and a Norwich Terrier from a distance, I did mounds of livestock projects in 4-H, I rescued all the animals I could find (oh wait, I still do), and at the age of 17 I decided I wanted to be a farmer so I could work around animals all day.

Nowadays I have an ever increasing desire to slaughter animals.

An exercise I routinely try to consciously do is really take notice of what I'm reading. When I pick up an agriculture magazine, I try to note what gets my attention first. Why do I read what I read first? After years of doing this, I find that I always go for livestock articles first, then horse power articles next, everything else comes after that and gardening articles are very rarely touched. I'm a terrible gardener. 

For the past 6 months I've noticed an interesting shift in my thinking. I didn't even realize it until just recently. When I read through my Ag magazines, newsletters and what-have-you, I'm finding that if there is an article of any sort that has to do with livestock processing (i.e. slaughtering), that's the first thing I read. If I see something online that has to do with a newly opened butcher shop, or a meat cutter new to the area, I always click and read it.  

It wasn't until the meeting on Saturday that I think it struck me just how much this strange work intrigues me. Someone brought up the fact that there aren't very many places to take our livestock to be processed here in the West Valley (I believe there are two places: one for poultry/small game, and one for everything else), and that person instantly had my full attention. Some folks talked about the area needing more butchers and all I could think of was, "Yes! I would LOVE to help with that!" For the rest of the day, whenever someone mentioned having more local processors, or anything related to that, my ears would always prick. 

This realization caught me by surprise. I am a huge animal lover (having 105 animals on my property right now can be something of a testament to that fact...), always have been, and always will be. Why this sudden desire to get back into the slaughtering business? Last year I worked at a poultry processing facility for a few months, and I have to admit that I really did enjoy the work. It was extremely physical, yes, and I came home every day freezing (it was almost winter), my hands/feet numb, and exhausted, but it was satisfying work. It was good knowing that these animals that came through were quickly and properly dispatched (i.e. "killed"), and in a very short amount of time we had what was now food. It was a great learning experience too, getting to compare all the birds that came through; I would ask customers how they fed and cared for their poultry and took note of how each feed and lifestyle affected the quality of the meat. It fascinated me to no end seeing the difference between corn/soy fed birds, pea/camelina fed birds, and totally free-ranged birds. It has helped me know how to raise my own animals for the best meat.

I am an animal lover, but I am also a meat lover. Two years ago I went on a meat fast for an entire month, and let me tell you, that was the hardest thing I have ever done, abstaining from meat for 30 days. I want meat, but I want it to be good meat. I want to know that the animal only had one bad day, that it was processed properly, that I have that best cuts possible out of the animal, that it was aged properly, and that it is everything good meat should be. I'm not paranoid about bacteria when I say I want to KNOW all this stuff, I say it because I'm a quality freak who wants the best, and wants everyone else to have the best. 

I am an animal lover, and I'm a strange bird. I love the cows and then I want to slaughter them. I read books like Black Beauty and Hope Rising, and then flip open my favorite copies of Good Meat, and The River Cottage Meat Book. I have conflicting desires here and I can hardly figure myself out. 

So who knows where all these wacky thoughts will lead... Maybe I'll apprentice myself to an artisan meat cutter, or maybe I'll get a job at a small processing facility again, or maybe I'll just relax, take a step back, and simply keep on processing my own meats for personal use. I don't know where exactly this is all going, but these are just some thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for awhile now, and it has become a blog post. 

And now I'm hankering for some bacon...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Basic Broiler Challenge: Week #4 and Doubled Numbers!

Yeah, yeah, I know I forgot to do the 3rd week for the BBC (Basic Broiler Challenge). Baaad me; no biscuit for Caity. ;) Okay, whatever.

We are on week #4 with the Freedom Rangers! Not only do I have a lot to share this week, but I also have the announcement that my numbers have doubled! Some friends ordered some FR chicks at the same time as I did, but as they are preparing to move to WA, they needed someone to take over in raising their meat birds. And because I - uh - have nothing better to do with my life, I agreed to take their 28 birds. 

The contrast between these two groups of birds is flooring. They are the same age, from the exact same hatch, they came at the same time, they've been on the same feed, everything is pretty much the same between these two groups of chickens. Except ONE thing: Mine have been getting raw milk and raw milk byproducts (i.e. cheese, whey, yogurt, kefir, and clabbered milk). The result of this one seemingly insignificant change?

See for yourself:

This picture #1 has my Freedom Ranger on the right side (the one that you see the whole body of), and the left hand side has my friend's bird. Same age, same feed, same heat lamp even. 

Picture #2: Again, my bird is on the right, and my friend's bird is on the left. 

I've started jotting down weekly weights on both groups so I can track their growth rate and see how they're doing; so far it's pretty interesting to see the results... This week's record looks like this:

Group 1 (My group that's getting the raw milk): 
Average individual weight: 1.3 lbs.
Average combined weight: 33.8 lbs.

Group 2 (my friends' birds who are NOT getting raw milk):
Average individual weight: .80 lbs.
Average combined weight: 22.4 lbs.

Not bad, eh? So far Group #1 is ahead of the game by 11.4 lbs. and that's just from milk that I otherwise would have dumped down the drain. These weights could very well totally reverse though, in the next few weeks. I'm getting ready to switch my chickens over to the straight sprouted-grain-and-raw-milk diet, and meanwhile my friends' group will be staying on a 20% protein broiler ration. I'm absolutely dying to see how the weights continue to pan out between the two groups as they grow and face diet changes!!!

After four weeks with these birds, I'm still really pleased with them. I haven't lost a single one; not even the 26th bird which was a free extra. I lost 21 Cornish Cross broilers back in June, and they were being treated with kid gloves. Besides the Freedom Ranger's hardiness, I have to admit that I am *quite* smitten with their wild colors. If nothing else, these birds are just plain gorgeous; and when you have to spend 12 weeks caring for them, having a bird that is easy on the eyes can make all the difference. ;) LOL. 

Below are some pictures to show the color variety I have in my group.

This first bird is my FAVORITE and I'm so excited to see that it's looking like it just might be a pullet. Methinks I might have to keep her and see how she does as a laying hen; I read that Freedom Rangers are an excellent dual purpose breed, so it could be interesting to see what their laying abilities are... 

Bird #2 is also looking like a pullet and her mottled brown/black coloration is quite striking, if I do say so myself. :)

 Bird #3! I think this one might be a cockerel, but I'm not positive yet... This chicken has the color known as "lemon cuckoo", meaning gold barring. I loooooove it!

So far so good. Four weeks down, and 5-7 more weeks to go. I'm hoping to build a small hoop house soon which will house rabbits, but will also be the new digs for my Freedom Rangers. I think Oregon's autumn might be a bit too soggy for them after all, or even if it's not, my grass needs a good, long rest; so I may keep the Freedom Rangers off the pasture this year. One thing's for sure though, I need to do something soon! At four weeks old the chicks are constantly flying out of the brooder!