The Free Range Flock

DSCN6391 DSCN6397

These hens have been free ranging all winter.  As in they are loose in the barn so can come and go as they choose.  On Tuesday morning they collectively left the barn.  Done.  I don’t know how they decide this, but suddenly they are all done with staying in the barn.  Some went down to the field to visit the cows.  Some wandered up to the house to visit me.  They stay on my paths which are nicely dusted with hay.  We don’t plow the lawn so have to carry all the hay down to the barn, which clearly Hades and his ladies appreciate.

The Center Garden

This is a narrow glimpse of my newest project - making the large centre perennial garden into The Center Garden.  A real garden - of veggies!

This is a narrow glimpse of my newest project – making the large center perennial garden into The Center Garden. A real garden –  veggies!

And here is that same corner of The Center Garden with its new arbor.

And here is that same corner photo taken from the opposite side of The Center Garden with its new arbor.

One of the Ploska Twins,  a Barred Rock (sans name!) and Sweetie Hen - begging to get into The Center Garden so they can wreck it!

The Remaining Ploska Twin, The Mean Barred Rock! and Sweetie Hen – begging to get into The Center Garden so they can wreck it.  Note the row of emerging peonies, they frame The Center Garden.

Early Bee catches bit o’ Bird

This morning,

the weather a little low,

my temperature a little high,

Five a period m period crowing,

Cock-A-Doo-Dill-Doo,

me fretting about neighbors,

neighbors losing sleep, losing peace.

me losing peace.

Cool enough to kill a couple

doo-dill-doo-ers before the flies come.

One done.

Two done.

Three dead, de-feathered.

Slicing leg tendons, when the first fly comes in.

Housefly.

Shoo!  Let me finish!

A bee swoops in.

Dives down.

Grabs an armful of bloody flesh.

Staggers up to eye height.

Shoo! Let me finish!

The bee sways drunkenly.

Circling, off-balance.

Clutching his treasure tight to underbelly.

Bloody red against bright yellow and black.

Shoo! Let me finish!

The bee finds his balance

and is gone.

His bit of bird and he  – gone.

Mulch War

Carport to Barn View. Taken summer of 2010.

The chickens and I are at war!

I put down salt marsh hay or bark mulch in a few spots – just a FEW.

Do you think my chickens could respect that?

There has to be worms and bugs in other spots.

They canvas my property and my neighbor’s property everyday.

Can they leave my good stuff alone?

Oh no.

My nice perennial garden,

with its lovely circular brick walk,

becomes a mass o’ mulch.

Can’t even see the brick.

Full sun so has to be mulched.

The easy answer is to pen up the chickens.

But I like them roaming around.

I love them roaming around.

If they could just not leave bombs in the carport.

And not make my gardens into war zones….

Today I took the mulch off.

Drought-tolerant species dominant the garden anyway.

This constant juggle or should I say struggle to balance.

I want free chickens and nice gardens.

I want free chickens and clean doorsteps.

The chickens,

Princess and her eight chicks,

Lacy, Peck, Carrie, Moon,

Sweetie Hen, the Ploska Twins,

Zinc, Nickel, Copper,

Dove, and Hettie,

are picturesque,

their meat and eggs healthy,

and

they eat ticks.

An important job in this area.

I guess adding drought-tolerants and a

screen to the carport entry points get added to my to-do list.

The fine art of compromise.

Meat Meditations II

Remains of Roast Chicken, getting prepped for pasta, veggie, and chicken dinner.

Two years ago my husband was sick when it was time to put the poultry in the freezer.

Two years ago my order of chickens was increased by accident.

I picked up a dozen turkeys and thirty cornish rocks.

I had ordered ten turkeys and twelve cornish rocks.

Two years ago I had very good luck with my baby birds – none of them died prematurely.

The best time to butcher birds is when the weather is cool enough to keep the flies away yet warm enough to not freeze fingers.

I decided to kill eight birds a day until the job was done.

Fate smiled on me and sent a predator that offed six birds.

By day two I was sick and tired of killing birds.

Until two years ago I had never killed more than four or five birds a day and that was done with my husband’s help.

By day two I had perfected my methodology and could dress off a bird in twenty minutes.

By day four I had to work hard to keep the bile down.

Day five was a light day – I did the last few birds, without looking at them.

For the next three months I didn’t eat meat.

I cooked it for my family if someone begged for it.

I wanted to vomit every time I touched a piece of meat.

OVERKILL OVERKILL OVERKILL OVERKILL

I’d heard the term a million times but two year ago I understood the meaning.

Since that fall I’ve been jotting down my meat-eating thoughts.

Food for thought:

Raising and butchering your own meat has a natural rhythm involving season, life cycle, supply, and demand.

Fasting may be a religious experience but is the root founded in the basics of food gathering?

Eating meat that you have raised and processed becomes a vehicle for thoughtful eating.

I prefer to put no more than fifteen birds in the freezer – I can make one bird last for three meals for a family of five.

Top preference would be to butcher on demand with no freezer involved.  (Need a larger barn for safe and sanitary hosting of birds than current situation allows.)

Hunted animals for meat is a whole different situation than domesticated animals for meat.

A loved animal produces lovely meat that shares an indescribable but tangible energy with the caretaker and partaker.

And this list should be longer but today has been a long day.  I presented Homesteading as a career at the local middle school Student Development Day today.  Fun but tiring.  A different tiring than moving manure!

Staying Humble

Tonight was a perfect chore-night.

The animals were incredibly content, perhaps with the freshly falling snow?

Everything looked clean and lovely.

My New England eyes were so happy to see white in winter.

Fed and watered everyone.

Spread out lots of shavings just to make the barn extra cozy.

Milked Annabelle, she was golden.

Black-eyed peas and ham were ready for dinner.

My daughter was making corn bread, timing it to be fresh out of the oven when I came up from the barn.

Feeling pretty smug.

Just glowing with the smooth efficiency of it all.

Then the last task.

Fresh hay for Annabelle.

A gorgeous green bale.

I cut the baling twine.

Grabbed five flakes –

and a huge, gloppy, wet, stinky, chicken poop!

Covered my entire palm, my ring, and oozed between my fingers!!!!!

Darn chickens!

Ahhhhhhhh!

Chore List

I am going away for a couple of days – the first days off since early August.  Annabelle calved on the 18th, I’ve milked her since then, minus four times when my husband practiced milking her.    He is involved in the farming, but generally sticks to manure moving, grain organization, and construction projects.  He also helps with butchering chickens and turkeys.  He also took the lead in castrating the Leif, the pig – egads!  That is a story for a different day!

My older children know all about the feeding of the animals so he has backup help if needed but school, homework, instruments, swim, and basketball conspire to keep them out of the barn for most of Monday thru Friday.

He asked for a thorough list of what needs to be done.  He has also been down at the barn throughout chore time this week so he has a full sense of what will happen.  I simplified a few things, for example I normally give Annabelle shredded beet pulp and chopped alfalfa – she doesn’t have to have them and they are a bit of a hassle  -otherwise here is what my daily chores look like.

Carrie and Sweetie Hen, eating under the horsetrailer.

Barn Chores

Morning Chores

In House:  Fill clean milk bucket ½ way with warm water.  Fill gray wash bucket – ½ soapy water, ½ clean water.

At Barn:

1)Rabbits:  Use warm water to fill their dishes.  Get one scoop of pellets to fill their dishes.

2)Chickens:  Use remaining warm water to fill black dish near barn door.  Stomp out ice as needed.  Spread two scoops laying pellets under horse trailer.

3)Cows:          Get both cows clipped in.  (If Huckleberry isn’t cooperative lock him outside. Use his grain as bribery.   Watch your chin – he is good at tossing his head at just the right moment to catch chins.)Clean up their area, making sure their beds are clean.  Use old hay to make nice beds for them, please. Put out fresh hay in their feeders – some in metal feeder, some in the stanchion feeder, some outside if not rainy.  One bale total.This is a good time to do turkeys.  Fill small white bucket ½ fill, scatter on ground outside if not rainy, in if rainy.  Use that bucket to take water from cows and fill the turkeys water – black dish outside.  Stomping out ice as needed.Give Annabelle one red bucket full of Coarse 16.  Give Huckleberry one white bucket full of Coarse 16.  (Dizzy can have a small handful of Coarse 16 at this point too.)Brush Annabelle – good bonding time – milking her is an emotional thing, bonding thing – can’t really rush through it.  Wash Annabelle’s bag thoroughly – even if not dirty, as it stimulates milk flow.  Milk Annabelle.  Because she isn’t used to you, her let-down may stop after a bit,  try washing her down again then resume milking.( I have found counting squirts to be helpful when beginning to milk – kind of like the breathing techniques for birthing.)

4)Dizzy:  When you are done milking, but cows are still hitched let Dizzy into their pen.  If it is rainy leave her in her pen with water and two flakes of hay.  Clean up as needed.

5)  Unclip cows.

6)  Take milk to house, strain, and put in fridge.

7)  Water cows.

8)  Every time I leave barn I double-check four things>

Cows unclipped, Hay for Cows, Water for Cows, Gates Shut.

Tom Turkey roosting and preening at the same time. He never stops showing off!

Evening Chores

In House:  Fill clean milk bucket 1/4 way with warm water.  Fill gray wash bucket – ½ soapy water, ½ clean water.

At Barn:

1)Rabbits:  Use warm water to fill their dishes.

2) Cows:         Get both cows clipped in.  Dizzy will come in – put her in her pen. Clean up their area, making sure their beds are clean.  Use old hay to make nice beds for them, please.  Put out fresh hay in their feeders – some in metal feeder, some in the stanchion feeder, some outside if not rainy.  Half of a bale total.  A flake for Dizzy.Water cows and Dizzy.Give Annabelle one red bucket full of Coarse 16.  Give Huckleberry one white bucket full of Coarse 16.  (Dizzy can have a small handful of Coarse 16 at this point too.)Brush Annabelle – good bonding time – milking her is an emotional thing, bonding thing – can’t really rush through it.  Wash Annabelle’s bag thoroughly – even if not dirty, as it stimulates milk flow.  Milk Annabelle.

3) Unclip cows.

4) Do final check>

Cows Unclipped, Hay for Cows, Water for Cows, Gates Shut.

5)  Collect eggs.

6) Take milk to house, strain, and put in fridge.

Notes:

If it is really cold, below 20 deg. watering will have to be done mid-day for all animals.  And/or heating lamps put on.

If you don’t get much milk add in a milking around 3 or 4, give her 1/2 bucket of grain and make sure she has hay.

If Dizzy is difficult you can leave her in her pen, just give her more hay.

If the milk gets a little dirty give it to Huckleberry, if it gets really dirty give it to chickens or turkeys.

If you notice any problems call me asap. Problems like:  cows or Dizzy not eating, not getting up, not pooping,  or udder feeling warm or looking red.