Monday, August 31, 2009

The very first first day of school!

Today Kylee started pre-k. Time sure does fly. Seems she's not old enough to ride a bus and go to school. She was excited to start. She kept telling us every day for at least the past week that she was starting school and she knew her teacher's name. She has the same teacher Devin had, and we're thrilled because she's wonderful!

We took her to school this morning and of course I made her stop so I could get pictures!

Devin's first day was last week, but we'll just pretend it was today. He started 1st grade!

Her bookbag is as big as she is!

Look at this picture from two years ago. It was Devin's first day of pre-k. He's grown so much since then!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Sheep Have Arrived!

The sheep pen is 99.9% finished! All it needs is to have the tops of the posts cut off to make it look nice. And I need to hook up the electric wire running on the inside of the fence, but that won't take any time at all.

Here's the little shelter my dad and I built last weekend. It went up really quickly!

I hung a hay feeder inside so when it's rainy the sheep can eat under cover.

They also have the big hay feeder out in the open.

What's left to add?

The sheep! Meet Clarabell (left) and Calvin. They are both Katadins. Katadins are hair sheep, meaning they don't grow a normal fleece like a wool type sheep. They get a wooly coat for the winter, but actually shed it out on their own in the spring, unlike most breeds of sheep. This breed is great for meat production, and very low maintenance. They tend to be very parasite resistant, don't need shearing, don't need their tails docked, typically are foot-rot resistant, and they're excellent mothers. I believe Calvin is partially mixed with Dorper...maybe 25% Dorper if I remember correctly? Dorpers are another hair breed and tend to be slightly more stocky than Katahdins.



Calvin is wearing a marking harness. Marking harnesses are used during breeding season to keep track of when a ewe is bred. There is a wax "crayon" that clips into the harness right under his chest, so when he mounts Clarabell he'll leave a mark on her rump. He's got an orange crayon in now, and in 17 days (the length of the ewe's estrus cycle), I'll change the crayon to a blue one. The different colors make it easier to see if she's been re-bred (in case she didn't settle (conceive) the first time).

Clarabell is showing early signs of heat, and I suspect she'll be marked tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hay Now.

We have hay! Since the sheep are coming on Saturday (YAY!) I spent some time this week looking for hay. I priced some local people, and was shocked at what hay is going for right now. It's been a few years since I've had to buy hay, and it's gone up in price. I called the farm where I used to work to beg my boss to bale some hay for me. Lucky for me, they were baling a field and had extra to sell me at a very good price! We went last night to pick it up out of the field.

We had a great system going. I didn't get any pictures, because I don't think the guys would have liked me snapping pictures while they were working hard. David drove his truck and trailer slowly down the row of bales while his dad and I picked up bales and put them on the trailer. David's friend Jay went with us, and he stood on the trailer stacking hay. It didn't take us long at all to get it loaded.

Here's half of the trailer load.

We put half the bales in the small metal shed last night, and tonight we put the rest in the garage/shed. It smells so good in there now! This is some really nice's second (or third?) cut Max Q fescue.

See, regular fescue has a toxic endophyte (fungus) in it that can cause some problem in animals, especially pregnant ones. The seed companies have been working hard to come up with a solution to that problem. Fescue is a really great grass for grazing because it's drought tolerant and disease resistant. The companies developed an endophyte free fescue, but soon found out that the endophyte is what made fescue so great in the first place. They developed Max Q which is a variety with a novel or "friendly" endophyte. So, this grass is a great grazing forage and safe for animals!

Well, now you know more than you ever cared to about fescue.

The broilers are now truly free-ranging. The big chickens kept getting into their pen and eating the broiler feed, and the broilers had figured out how to escape their pen but not get back in. I just decided to open up that stupid, worthless, plastic green fence and let them all have the run of the yard. The broilers are living it up!

King of the mountain!

And I lost both turkeys. I suspect they died from Blackhead disease, which is carried by chickens but affects turkeys. Bummer! I talked to John (from Triple J) when I went to his farm last week and now mine are dead. I'll have to come up with some ideas on what to do next year. They recommend keeping turkeys and chickens totally separate (some say don't even keep them on the same premises), but I really would like for them to all forage together. We raised turkeys for several years when I was living at home. Maybe it's because my turkeys roosted with the chickens? Maybe they just need their own coop?

All I know is that I have to buy a Thanksgiving turkey this year and I'm bummed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

While the sun shines...

Picked up hay today. I'll blog more tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ruffled Feathers

I got 4 new chickens today. Beautiful chickens. Two barred rock hens and two Americana aka Easter Egger hens. Why are they called Easter Eggers? I'll show you at the bottom of this post.

Here is one of the Americanas.

Isn't this Barred Rock hen gorgeous? She's my favorite!

Not long after the girls arrived, there was drama. The chickens had to re-establish their pecking order. And boy did they peck! You should click on the pictures to really appreciate them.

Check out that neck action on the part of the Buff Orpington rooster (the gold one).

Love the Americana's neck!

The other Americana comes in to help out at this point. Or maybe she was trying to break them up. Who knows.

Tucker thinks they're crazy.

Eventually the rooster gave up and walked away. I noticed he had a little blood on his comb, but nothing major. One win for the girls!

This rooster is ugly. How ugly? He's so ugly even Rice Krispies won't talk to him. He reminds me of something. Like a llama.

He's lucky he's got cute cheeks. Bright blue patches of cheeks. Much brighter than they look in this picture. But look at that ugly mug. Whooo-ee. David says he looks like his face got run over. I think I'll call him The Dalai Llama. (no offense to the Dalai Llama)

This is why those hens are called Easter Eggers. Their eggs are the prettiest shades of green and blue.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lost......and Found.

This was a weekend for finding things. We spent the weekend working on the fence for the sheep, so yesterday morning I went out and was starting to piddle around the yard (is that right? sounds like I was peeing, but I promise I wasn't). I looked over and guess what I saw?


Mr. I'm-going-to-take-my-new-friends-and-run-away. He and his male buddy were back. I'm not sure where the female is. I hope she's sitting on a nest somewhere in the woods and nothing bad has happened to her.

I'm not sure why the boys came back. I haven't seen them in almost two weeks I guess.

And what did they do? They ate and left. Figures.

They were back again today. I guess they're going to use me for my food now.

We spent a lot of time yesterday clearing brush from the fence line. Turns out one whole side is lined with cherry trees. Cherry tree leaves are toxic to sheep once they're wilted. Fresh and totally dry leaves are fine, but wilted ones are bad. We took out as many trees as we could, but there are still some on one side. Luckily, it won't be a problem winter through late summer, as long as we don't get any major wind that blows leaves/limbs down. I'll just have to be careful to keep the leaves out of the pen once they start falling.

Know what else I found this weekend? Eggs. Lots.of.eggs.

First I found this nest in the metal shed. We haven't put the floor in the shed yet, so I guess some chickens thought it was a great place to make a nest. I found 6 eggs on Saturday, and another one today.

Then I found a few more eggs in the garage today. This make-shift nest is in the water trough that is currently holding electrical supplies for the garage.

Then I hit the motherload. We were putting up the fence behind the chicken coop, and I looked underneath the coop because I thought I saw an egg peeking out. I stooped down to look and what did I find? At least 25 eggs!

Here's where they were getting under the coop.

Here are the eggs I found! I'm not sure that I'll use them, because some of them are probably 2 weeks old and it's been very hot out.

My friend Lindsay is bringing some nest boxes that she's not using anymore, so hopefully next weekend we'll have the egg-hiding habit broken.

The sheep pen is almost done. I'll try to get some pictures tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Day at Triple J

The following post contains pictures of chickens being processed for meat. There's nothing too bad, but there are pictures that some might find offensive. Proceed with caution!

Ok, you still with me? Today I spent the day learning the efficient way to process chickens. David happens to know a fellow through work, John from Triple J Farm, that raises and sells pastured poultry (for meat) and free-range pastured eggs. David's been talking to John about chickens for the last several months (actually since before we bought the house). Since we wanted to raise our own meat birds, we figured John was a pretty great guy to know! John told David he'd be processing his chickens Monday and Tuesday, so I asked if I could help him out today so I could learn an efficient way to process the birds. It will only be around another month before ours are ready to process, and I haven't done much chicken processing in the past. When I raised broilers for 4-H, we learned after the first year that it was much easier to pay someone to do it for you.

I really wanted to be able to do my own birds for a few reasons. First, it saves a ton of money! You can pay around $3 per bird to have it done, but that's a LOT of money per bird. Second, I think if I raise the birds for meat, I should be able to do everything that's involved with raising them. So, John (the very nice and patient man he is) allowed me to come to his farm and help him out today.

I'll try to explain the process the best I can.

John had some chickens waiting when I arrived. These birds were around 9 weeks old I think. If I remember correctly, processing got delayed because it'd been so darned hot here lately. You really want to avoid stressing the birds out, especially in the heat, because they could die. Plus, it's just not nice.

The first step is to take the birds from the crate, one at a time, and place them in a cone. The cones keep the chickens fairly still and contained while you kill them.

To kill the birds, you use a sharp knife to cut the carotid artery in the neck. This allows the chickens to bleed out. The chicken's heart pumps the blood out pretty quickly. After the chicken has bled out, you use the knife to cut the head off.

The next step is scalding. John has a great tool to help make this quicker. It's a stainless steel rack-type device that allows you to scald 4 birds at once. The chickens get scalded for a minute in water that is 145* F. This opens the pores and helps the feathers come out for plucking.

After the birds come out of the hot water, they go into the chicken plucker. Man oh man, is this nice! It will pluck all 4 birds in a jiffy. The bottom of this plastic tub rotates, and the rubber fingers pick all of the feathers off the birds. The birds come out 99.5% feather free. Sometimes there are stray feathers on the wing tips or tail, but those are easily plucked out. The black hose around the top sprays water to help wash the feathers away. I didn't get a picture of it in action, because it tends to spray water and I didn't want to get too wet with the camera.

After the birds are plucked, they go into cold water to cool down. The water also helps keep flies off of them. Everything is done so the birds stay fresh and clean.

Here's John's processing tent. It's a really nice set up, and it makes the job pretty easy. He's got freezers to the left, a nice tub deep utility sink, and an awesome stainless steel counter.

On the other side, he's got an oven and an nice big commercial refridgerator. He also washes and packs his eggs in here.

After the chickens cool down for a while in the cold water, they're ready to get dressed. The feet are removed with a sharp knife, and the oil gland above the tail is cut out.

Then you remove the neck and the internal organs. John did a great job of showing me how to do everything. After a couple of birds I felt pretty comfortable with the whole process. And I managed to only rupture one gall bladder and have it spray on my shirt. Sweet!

After the birds are cleaned out, they go in another barrel of ice water to get cooled thoroughly.

I didn't get any pictures of bagging, but it was pretty neat. John uses shrink-wrap bags. You place the chicken in the bag, put a chicken neck with it, and then use a hog ring (a metal ring) to tie the bag. The bag with the chicken gets dipped into a pot of boiling water, and in just a few seconds the bag is sealed, airtight.

Then you're left with very nice chicken in a nice package! John was generous enough to let me take this chicken home! It was a nice big one...5 lbs!

And a little while later....

It tasted delicious!!

John, if you're reading this, thank you so much! I had fun (is that weird?) and I learned a lot!

And readers, if you're ever in the Annapolis area, stop by the farmers' market and see John!
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