On September 8th starting at 5:00, Chicken Corner Brewing will be serving up lovingly crafted beers at Soktoberfest before the Carolina RailHawks game! So put on your finest lederhosen, come out and say hey and enjoy a lot of tasty, local beers. There will be 15 amateur brewers along with Raleigh’s Lone Rider Brewing.
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written with an update, so thought since I have PLENTY of time on my hands this week that it would be a good chance to do just that. Where to begin?
CHICKENS – specifically Lord Harold
Chickens seem to be the most dynamic thing going on on the farm. We started out with a few chickens from last year. Everything is going well. Well, now it’s going well. You know our first chicken, Lord Harold-Prince of Fancy was our absolute super star. He was our first bird and the most handsome rooster a rooster can be. Talk about colors… strong, large and in charge. He kept our other rooster, Colonel Woodford in line.
One night, we came home and my “chicken senses” told me to check on everybody. It was pouring rain and had been for quite a while. I walked over to the chicken coop and the Colonel was sitting on the outside railing in the rain absolutely covered in blood. This waddles were torn to shreds. Blood all down his front, down his back… I mean he got his ass handed to him. So I’m thinking, “If he looks this bad, what does Harold look like?”. I take the Colonel inside and put him on his usual perch then I turn around to check out Harold – who was not in his usual spot.
Harold was not on his usual perch… OH NOOOO… I scream for Eric to come and bring every light we had. It didn’t take long. We found laying in about a 4″ deep depression full of water, on his back, gasping for air. Lord knows how long he had been there, but since chickens pretty much go to bed at sundown (about 7:30 at the time) he had been there at least 4 hours.
We picked him up to stand him up and he would fall over. This happened several times. We picked him, put him in a towel and got a good look at him. He was wet to the bone, bleeding everywhere – comb and waddle almost unrecognizable, both eyes swollen shut, the top of his bill broken off, blood everywhere and likely had a concussion. My first reaction was to put him down and put him out of his misery. Eric said it looked like two heavy weight fighters went at it and Harold lost. He said if he made it the night and when morning came we’d evaluate him then.
We put him in our chicken ICU and hardly slept a wink. Morning came and miraculously he was still alive. Barely. He was still wet, shivering, eyes swollen shut, still bleeding from some of the major cut and just an all around mess. We thought if he made it through the night, he still had a little fight left in him.
Since he so covered in mud we decided a bubble bath was in order. He was so out of it he didn’t put up a fight even when we used a hair dryer to blow him dry and warm him up. We have a big tub in our bathroom so we decided it triage him there. We wedged him between 2 towels, gave him food and water but he wouldn’t eat or drink. We put antibiotic ointment on his wounds. Tried to pry his eyes open after a few days – not knowing if he even had eyes left.
Every day we tried to get him to have a tiny bit of water. This went on for weeks. We were wondering if we had made the right decision keeping him alive this long. His wounds slowly healed, then to our complete amazement he began to stand. Not a lot, just testing the old legs. He continued to slowly improve. Eventually he took baby steps. He couldn’t walk very well, lost his balance every step and would flop over. But every day or two we could see a little improvement.
It took a while until one morning, about 3 months into rehab, we heard an amazing sound. For the first time in months he crowed! That’s how we knew he was on the mend. Time went on, he got better and we got tired of a rooster crowing at 6:00am every morning. We moved him outside for a month of ‘rehab’ and eventually decided an reintroduction to the flock was in order. Harold was as top notch as he was going to be. We walked him outside, set him down and within 15 seconds, the boys were at it again. That’s we realized one had to go. And it broke our heart, but it had to Harold.
I put an ad on a pasture poultry listserve and within a day or two I got a response. A couple wanted to get into chickens and being that the fellow had gone to University of South Carolina (home to the fighting Gamecocks) he got to thinking what better way to start. The couple was FABULOUS! We hit it off from the start!
They loved him, battle scars and all and got busy on a chicken house. We went out to check the building progression and this thing was nicer than my house! We decided that we would throw in a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Rock hen so Harold wouldn’t get lonely and they could get a few eggs a day.
We went out to visit and their new life is amazing! Their new house. The new birds get to come out and run for a few hours each evening and are happy as could be! To be honest, I got all choked up and teary eyed. They had such a beautiful life with two of the best people you could imagine. We’ve become great friends and get to visit whenever we want. It is truly a fairy ‘tail’ ending.
So we knew a snake was probably getting to our eggs since we’d seen some egg shell pellets (droppings made up of crushed egg shell) around the last few weeks. One problem with free ranging chickens is that some of our hens are not content with the laying boxes we built for them so they find other comfy and “safe” places to lay. Sometimes these places are a little to close to nature. So Lisa decided to make the barn a little less snake friendly and lo and behold we had a resident. A large resident. A 6’+ resident. A black rat snake whose belly was still full of eggs. We’ve seen them around the property but nothing this size. She captured it and we relocated it to a bit wilder place around the corner but not before taking a few photos.
Addendum: “captured it”. I am a bad ass and bad asses don’t play around! I found him, reached down and pulled that _______ out with my bare hands! Yes, my bare hands! After capturing 2 opossum, a raccoon and pulling a 6’+ snake out with my bare hands, I am the self-proclaimed stuff of legends! Just needed to throw that in.
Like we did for the first time back on April 1 (not a funny fool’s prank for the roosters) we again processed some chickens yesterday, Independence Day.
– For the uninitiated “processing” means killing, dressing and causing them to go from live birds to food.
I’d always been a meat eater, and always plan to be, but had always felt a detachment from the original animal I was eating. A detachment that meat producers intentionally put it place I assume. I don’t think guilt is the right word, but there was always the sense that something died so I could eat it and did I deserve to eat it with total detachment from where it came from. While I’ve fished and done a little bird hunting, I started to feel that I should somehow honor that sacrifice by having a hand in it as well as knowing that the sacrifice was as humane as possible as well as the life leading up to it was good and as natural as is possible to do. We’ve tried to do that here. We’ve done our best to let our chickens be chickens.
Except for a select few life on a farm is often brief and does not end well for the male chicken. With no eggs produced, its tendency for very loud noises, randiness, and aggression with other roosters, most cockerels (males under one year of age, cocks after their first birthday) are not useful in the long term on the farm. As a result if they are not disposed of immediately, as in large scale egg-only facilities, they are eaten.
Large commercial chicken operations use Cornish Crosses or Cornish-Rocks which are specially bred (they can’t reproduce by themselves) for fast growth and the huge breast that we’ve been told we’re supposed to love boneless and skinless. They are the standard white chicken many think of when thinking of meat birds. Cornish Crosses fed a high protein diet can be ready to process in 5-7 weeks, usually the low end of that. Egg to 6-8 pound bird in 36 DAYS! At 36 days we were just taking ours off chick starter feed.
Needless to day, that’s not how we work things here on the WOF.
We wanted heritage breed chickens and did a lot of research into what breeds of chickens to use and decided on Dorkings and Brahmas. We selected these for both practical and impractical reasons. First off Brahmas are huge, 10-12 lbs huge. They are also hardy, docile, easy to raise and the hens are good egg producers. They originated in India, so the NC Summer is not going to be a problem for them. Dorkings are English chickens, but possibly of Roman stock, and were once prized for their meat and Winter egg laying ability. Also both breeds are lovely birds.
So we got 4 Dorking chicks (1 hen, 3 roosters) 4 light Brahmas (3 hens, 1 rooster) and due to some mix ups and deaths in a shared order 2 Silverlaced Wyandotte roosters. Originally everyone went into the chicken tractor but eventually the hens were all removed and added to the general, laying/breeding population. Our boys grew and grew, without the names or playtime the laying population receives, and after 134 days were ready to go to the processing tent. While this was probably a week or two late, still a far cry fromt he 36 days of a cornish cross. So we set up and sanitized the counter, sharpened the knives, put fire under the scalding tank and went about our business.
Back in April things didn’t get off to a smooth start with escapes and a general first-time jitters and lack of skill and process, but this time it went very well. We knew what our jobs were and we knew what to expect. I still get the feeling, right before it happens, that we are about to kill a living thing and eat it, but in a way I’m glad I still get it. And though its an up-close-and-personal operation, once we get started it becomes more mechanical. After an initial scare, the rooster does calm down and then it just happens. Once the deed is done it goes pretty easily. I do the scalding and plucking, Lisa does the dressing and then it goes in the ice to await vacuum sealing and freezing. Yesterday 4 went to the freezer 1 went straight to the smoker and 3 hours later we had some of the best bbq chicken I’ve ever had. 4 dressed out at btween 3-3.5lbs, one (a Wyandotte) was only about 2.5. Don’t know when the next batch will be raised, but its probably a regular happening on the farm now.
PS: You may have just done the math and thought “4 in the freezer and 1 to the smoker, I thought there were 6.” Prior to getting the boys out of the tractor, for their long walk home, Lisa gave the Presidential pardon to the Brahma rooster. I guess the docile, friendly traits they’re known for really worked out for him in a big way. So please welcome “Lucky” to the farm as a new permanent resident (assuming Col Woodford is OK with it.)
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we had a horse trough full of baby chicks in the garage. The babes were moved out to pasture at a pretty young age, even I recognize that. They were only 6-7 weeks old, but with TWENTY FIVE space becomes a premium really quick. They absolutely love clover and really enjoyed being outside. Fast-forward to present. Everyone is about 12 weeks old and the chicken tractor was even getting tight. So… the ladies (or most of them) have been given free range status. That means we have 30 chickens (28 hens) free ranging. That is a LOT of chickens.
We spent all day Saturday building our first chicken tractor. And it turned out GREAT! I mean if it is still standing after 24 hours, that is success, right? I spent hours doing research and settled on a final design. (Yep, me. For those of you not familiar with me, this is a ridiculous concept to even comprehend. But so far, I think it is solid.). Eric let me take the reins and do it all. I made my overly simplified schematics, bought (some of the) supplies and recruited a building team (Eric). Everything went great… well there were some modifications to the designs. For example, I did not take into consideration the fact that we needed a door to have access to change their food and water. Had no idea how we were going to close the ends. You know, minor things. Here is the finished project. Not, ehhh?
The babies, now 6-7 weeks are outside and enjoying their new home. I have a feeling that it is slightly overwhelming, but so far so good. Like I said still, standing after 24 hours and no predators last night. Well, almost all the babies. Our Brahmas (the biggest breed we have) are quite a way from being completely feathered. And big… I have named the beast, “Methusala”.
The story of the babies is a sad, sad story, so I will spare you the details. But right now we have 25 chicks. This is a bit more than our original idea of 16, but what can you do. So with those 25, added to the 20 or so that we have at this moment (THIS moment) we have 44. (Ask me this afternoon and we should have 41.) Off to the fields for a leisurely day of gardening and processing. 🙂
The Acorn Garden is finally taking shape. For the past 2 years, we have belonged to a CSA because our boil is terrible here and I am not sure it can grow anything except curly dock. So… I fancy myself a bit a gardener with a ‘green thumb’ and with the push towards local, I decided this year I would plant my largest garden yet. My goal is to get 40-50% of our veggies from the garden. It would be great if we could do more. There is nothing that tastes better than a tomato fresh from the garden with a little basil and fresh mozzarella, drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar… Cannot wait! You should see my planting charts, rotations, spreadsheets and books that I have been using to execute my plan. I have high hopes we’ll get something, assuming I can keep the bunnies, deer and donkeys out!
Eric built me 6 raised beds (one double tall for taters, etc.). Our soil is horrible, I am fully aware of this fact and because of that I decided to bring in a load of conditioned, screened topsoil. I bought 11 cubic yards of soil and had it delivered just downhill from the boxes. I got busy right away – and started filling and filling and filling a box. After hours and hours of work, I barely filled the first box. Okay – change of plans. I have hired some fellows to come and fill the boxes for me. I know that I am really taking a cop-out here, bringing in soil and then hiring someone to fill the boxes, but I made those decisions and am quite comfortable with them. Thank you.
The one box that I filled is planted (according to the “Gardening by the Square Foot” method) and is looking great. Well, right now it looks like a 12′ x 4′ box with a 1′ grid rope pattern over it, but when I look at it I see potential. Today I planted:
- Swiss Chard – Five Color Silver Beet
- Collards – Georgia
- Kale – Blue-curled Scotch
- Cabbage – Nero de Toscana
- Mustard – Giant Red Japanese & Tender Green
- Spinach – Giant Noble, Double Choice Hybrid, Salad Fresh Hybrid & Bloomsdale
Baker Creek Seeds (where I have gotten 99% of my seeds for the past several years) is AMAZING. If you have not visited their website or ordered some heirlooms seeds, you just have to!
Since I have not had any “me time” lately, today was all about me, enjoying the weather, the sun, the peace and quiet. I was on a roll after planting my garden, so I went ahead and started my tomatoes (9 varieties) and peppers (6 varieties). I know that it seems incredibly early, but, I feel like taking a chance today
- Tomatoes – Riesentraub, Carbon, Brandywine, Reisetomate, Green Grape, Sungold Select II, Black Cherry, Yellow Pear, Gajo de Melon
- Peppers – Long, Thin Cayenne, Sweet Chocolate, Tabasco, Topepo Rosso, Corne de Chevre, Black Hungarian
Long way to go to April 15 when I can safely get the summer crops in, but in the meantime, after my soil gets in its final resting place, it is time for peas, beets, turnips, radishes and other goodies! Chao!
I guess it is a good thing I went out of town when the first baby chickens arrived. Seemed there was some problem with shipping and it just took too long to get to us. We got hit hard and Eric had to play ICU for several days with grim results. We had about 60% mortality. We called the company and they shipped us the replacement chicks ASAP. And then some.
We ordered 20 and they threw in some extra so I think we have 24-25 babies at the moment.
We ORDERED 5 Speckled Sussex, 5 Dorking, 5 Light Brahma, 5 Silver-laced Wyandottes, a Columbian and a golden-laced Wyandotte, a White-faced Black Spanish, a Silver-Spangled Hamburg. And then there are some random birds that we have no idea what they are going
to turn into. Either way (I know my math is off) we have somewhere around 25 baby chicks. whew!
Funny – we have a HUGE light Brahma. I mean easily twice the size of the rest of the birds – and he was from the SECOND order. Eric has named him Huey. I prefer Lenny (because he reminds me of the big fellow from ‘Of Mice and Men’). Either way, he (probably a he) is gonna stay in the gene pool. We could have some new super-breed beast of Brahma!!! We’ll be taking orders soon.
Our pastures are in need of remediation. I get that. In fact, I am not sure you can even call them pastures. Luckily the donkeys need a low protein, low quality diet (so boy are they are in luck). However, this time of year there is absolutely nothing left out there and we feed them hay twice a day. You should hear the way they bray and cry and carry on. You’d think that we never feed them (at least that is what Mary Louise would say – she is a sneaky little thing – but we’ll come back to her in a minute). The one good thing about them being mad about the hay situation is that they are really social this time of year. They think and expect everyone they see to feed them. So they come up and want love and attention. Now, in the summer when there is lots to eat they may or may not acknowledge you across the field.
They have been taking every opportunity to test the limits of the gate, behind which we keep the hay, so we have had to reinforce it a bit. And of course believing that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, they LOVE to break into my garden. Mary Louise is ALWAYS the culprit. Always. Estelle is always quick to follow. Rucio may or may not accompany them and then there is Stormy. She is the sweetest little thing in the world. She actually has a conscience and knows that going into places the donkeys are not supposed to go is bad. So she will stand on the outside of the gate. Watching them break the rules. Just standing there. Man, you gotta love that donkey!
Speaking of my garden… the Acorn Garden is on its way to a complete transformation. After learning from multiple sources that our soil is completely incapable of growing anything, I have decided that this is the year to invest in raised beds. A few weeks ago Eric lovingly made me 6 beds, and I put down landscape fabric, I have cardboard for the bottoms of the beds and walkways to suppress weeds, I have ordered all of my seeds, my onion sets, garlic cloves, shallots and cover crops. However, I am missing one key ingredient. Still need to get some soil. Good soil is expensive. (And it is “soil” not “dirt”. Working with enough researchers you learn very fast not to call it dirt. End of discussion.) So will plan on getting some soil very soon so that I can get my early crops in the ground. I still have a lot of planning to go but my goal is to get at least 50% of my produce from the garden this year. A lofty goal, I know, but something to shoot for. Of course all of this is dependent on keeping Mary Louise from romping through. At least I can count on Stormy to give M.L. the evil eye when I am not there. Ha ha ha…