Home Processing

Home Processing

This Saturday, we set about the hard task of processing, aka butchering, all our extra roosters.

This was our first time and it was certainly a learning experience.

We had hoped to get it finished quickly, but 26 roosters took us about 8 hours. (If TSC hadn’t given us roosters instead of the pullets I bought, we would have been done after the first 6.)

Our only knowledge going in was a few vague memories from family and the internet. Thankfully there are numerous blog posts and YouTube videos to walk you through the process if you are new to this.

Most people pluck the feathers to leave the skin on, which is what you get when you buy whole chickens at the store. Without a plucking machine this is a very laborious task. My mother-in-law said her mom always just skinned them, since it was faster. So that was the method we went with. It sounded much easier than it really was. It requires muscles that I don’t really have, and those muscles let me know it the next day!

Since we had never done this before, and we weren’t sure if we could physically/emotional handle this, we started with two roosters that had to go for their own good. One of them had a beak deformity that made it harder and harder for him to eat and the other was crippled and was not eating either. They were so small and skinny that it helped to know they were out of misery.

After those we found our strengths and weaknesses. Vince took over the actual dispatching of the birds and removing heads, wings, and feet. I took over the skinning and gutting. As the day wore on his mom came to help me skin, and things went a lot faster.

Vince’s sister was tasked with the hardest task of all, watching Isaac and Vivienne.

After all the crying, screaming, and general craziness, I would completely understand if she never wanted to watch them again!

Twenty-six was a bold number to start with, but we wanted to get it over with. The only way I’m doing that many at once again is if there is a plucking machine involved.

One of the biggest issues was one I didn’t foresee. The overly long day took its toll on the tiny people and they let us know by having foul moods Sunday (Happy Father’s Day) and Monday. We are all still trying to recover!

Because of the nature of the day I don’t have any photos to share, so I leave you with a photo of our spoiled rooster Perceval. He is a jerk , but he was the first chick we ever hatched… and he’s beautiful!

(He has his own house, since he doesn’t play well with others)

Today is Hatch Day… again…

Today is Hatch Day… again…

While the awe of watching a tiny little chick break into the world all on its own, the reality of having more chicks to care for is slightly overwhelming.

We have never had this many chickens at so many different stages of life, and lets just say it is maddening. We have layers, breeders, older chicks on grass, and younger chicks in brooders. It means different types of feed and multiple different groups to feed, so feeding them takes so much longer. We can’t wait till all the chicks are grown and together eating the same feed!

Not to mention that I didn’t like the brooders we built as much as I had hoped (great design for a few chicks, not for a few dozen). Then we found out we hated the coop we built for the older chicks, it is just too hard to move, which was the point of the coop.

But we learned, and are adjusting the rest of the coops to be more moveable.

Our goal this year was to increase our flock of layers from 17 to about 100.  We planned to to hatch well over a hundred, since we knew some would be roosters and we would probably loose some along the way.

We have quite a few roosters, so now we are trying to decide their fate. I know what most of their fates will be, we just need to decide if we will be the ones sending them to that fate. While I have no issues sending animals to butcher, I haven’t been able to worked up the courage to do it myself.

Yesterday I was setting up the brooder for these new hatchlings and wondering why we chose to do this. I mean really, what were we thinking?!

Then we woke up to chicks cheeping away and I saw the look on Isaac’s face and I remembered that we are doing this for them.

And so we welcome more chicks into this madness and count them among our many blessings.

Vivienne’s Birth Story

Vivienne’s Birth Story

Three weeks ago we welcomed our sweet little girl, Vivienne Grace, to the farm.

I begin by saying she was born at home…on purpose.

She was born surrounded by her dad, her brother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, the same midwives who caught her brother, and the same doula who assisted me during her brother’s birth.

People always say every pregnancy is different, and Vivienne’s last weeks of pregnancy and delivery could not be more different from Isaac’s.

With Isaac I had no “practice” contractions and when we went into labor, we went into strong labor than lasted 52 hours. Thankfully he was born after only a few pushes. He was also a home-birth with no pain-relief, so obviously it wasn’t bad enough to stop me from doing it again.

This time “practice” contractions started weeks before Vivienne’s guess-date. I was optimistic that this was a good thing and her labor would be shorter and smoother. About a week before her guess-date steady/strong contractions started, they were consistent enough to start timing and strong enough to lead us to question if they would turn into true labor. As the day wore on it became clear they weren’t going anywhere.

Fun fact, contractions can be triggered by changes in barometric pressure, so the terrible storms we were having caused all that.

Unfortunately, once the storms started the contractions, they continued to come and go for the next week. It was a fun week.

Easter came and we went to my mom’s for lunch and Easter Bunny. We get home to a couple missing chicks so we hunted them down, put the animals up, got the toddler ready for bed and we crashed. Being extremely pregnant takes its toll.

Monday was our guess-date and I was exhausted. After resting/ doing laundry most of the day, Isaac and I went outside to play while Vince worked. It was supposed to start storming the next day and we needed as much outdoor time as possible. Not to long into playing contractions started again and I cursed the stupid weather. We kept playing.

I walked down to check on a chicken and on the way back had to stop for a contraction. I cursed the super steep hill and trudged back up.

I tried to stand up and had to stop for another contraction. This time I texted the midwife to ask her if it was real this time. She told me probably and to go get some rest.

Well it was real and I tried unsuccessfully to get rest that night. My doula showed up about 9:30 Tuesday morning and we talked chickens, she is a fellow chicken owner, and laughed about the 46 chicks in the entrance hall.

The Midwife showed up about 10/10:30 to check and see how things were going. Things were going well enough that she stayed.

Baby girl was like her brother and turned a bit wonky, so we did exercises to turn her, then tied up my belly so she was forced to stay in a good position.

One by one the apprentices showed up and by mid-afternoon things were progressing but we were still waiting.

Around this time we decided I did want to try the birth pool so we set it up on the landing and my mom made a last minute trip to the store to get hoses to fill the pool. The pool was wonderful, and the view from the landing made me wish my bathtub was on the landing.

The rain had held off and the weather was beautiful and we had the doors open. We got to listen to the very proud crowing of the rooster right below.

In order to get things moving a bit more my doula decided we were going to take a walk. We went outside, I made Vince rescue the giant turtle stuck in the fence, Isaac showed off his goats, Vince put away the animals for the night, and we laughed about the stereotypes we were representing at the moment.

My kind doula then made me do lunges up the stairs, they worked. I finally told her I had to go back upstairs now or I’d never make it back up.

After That I never left the birth-tub. The storm finally arrived and we got to enjoy a bit of it until the wind started blowing rain into the house.

It was getting late and Isaac was getting tired and upset, and labor was getting much more intense than his ever had been.

Isaac was confused by all the people still being there, and didn’t understand why his nightly routine was so messed up. He knew something big was happening but he didn’t understand what. In the end Vince just held him so he could be close to both of us.

My water finally broke and things get a little bit more manageable, just as I began to push. I remember this part with Isaac and I thought it couldn’t get worse… little girl showed me how wrong I had been. She took quite a few more pushes than Isaac, and she decided to get her shoulder a bit stuck. The odd thing is that for as painful as it was the recovery after her was much easier than with Isaac. And even she hasn’t scared me away from any future home-births.

Vivienne finally joined us at 10:54pm Tuesday night, after only 28 hours of labor.

As with Isaac I bled more than was normal, this time enough to make me a bit light headed when I sat up, but after the midwives got it to stop and I ate a bit I felt much better.

Isaac stayed up way past his bed time, but was able to see his sister born, and even “helped” Vince cut her cord.

Her labor and delivery may be different, but she had her similarities. She was exactly the same length as Isaac (21 inches) and 2 ounces smaller (8 lbs 4oz) than him.

We are all absolutely in love with her, especially Isaac.

Incubating Eggs, part 4: The Hatch!

Incubating Eggs, part 4: The Hatch!

Hatch Day is officially over!

Everyone who is going to hatch is hatched.

We have 18 more baby chicks!

*Of the eggs we had left at day 18, only one didn’t hatch. It never broke the shell, so I candled it and there was no movement at all. It pipped into the air sack, but never made it to the shell.*

I noticed the first little pips in the shells Wednesday afternoon and by 11:45pm that night we had our first little chick.

We had 3 chicks when we woke up Thursday, and I frantically checked on them and hovered all day watching the rest hatch.

When we went to bed Thursday, we had 12 little fluffs nestled in their brooder and 7 eggs left in the incubator. I told Vince I would be utterly amazed if any of those 7 hatched. One had broken a dime size hole in the shell by lunch time, but hadn’t done any more in hours.

Well, we woke up to 4 more chicks in the incubator!

So there were only three eggs left: the non-pipped one, the dime hole one, and another that was hatching.

We had to go to town for a playdate, and I told Vince if the one with the hole was still alive when we got back, I might break down and “help” it a bit.

Sure enough it was still alive and the other one still hadn’t finished hatching.

The membrane around the hole was dried and hard, so I broke off a few small pieces of shell to see if it could do the rest. Sure enough it started to work at hatching once those pieces were loose. I had told myself I wouldn’t help them at all, I figured it was natures way of culling the weak, but this little chick was still fighting. It did the hard work itself and while weak seems to be okay. I am still a bit hesitant to make any future plans for that chick, but now it at least has a chance.

As soon as that chick was free and cheeping around the incubator, the other chick still hatching perked up and hatched. It was like it was waiting for a friend to encourage it.

I would have been happy if any of the chicks hatched, so I am overjoyed we have so many little fluffy chicks pecking around.

Now for the next batch! Since we will not be using the Minorca eggs and we sold the Rhode Island Red/Barred Rock hens, we had to by eggs to fill the incubator. Hopefully they will do as well as these and we can get a better hatch rate.

Below are our numbers from this first hatch:

Ameraucana: 11 placed in incubator, 10 fertile, 9 hatched = 82% hatch rate

Minorca: 19 placed in incubator, 1 fertile, 1 hatched = 5% hatch rate

RIR/Barred Rock: 11 placed in incubator, 10 fertile, 2 lost to cracks, so 8 viable, 8 hatched = 73% hatch rate

Thanks to the 18 Minorca eggs that weren’t fertile it looks like we have a terrible hatch rate:18/41 or about 44%.

Brooders and Chicks!

Brooders and Chicks!

It has been a long time since we have had baby chicks around.

The last time was the summer before last and they were raised by a mama hen, so we didn’t get to experience the joys of baby chicks in brooders.

The last time I actually took care of baby chicks was the Spring of 2014!

With eggs about to hatch, hopefully, I have had to refresh my memory on baby chick care and get the brooder all set up.

The first two times I had chicks went extremely well, as in I didn’t loose any chicks, but i still wanted to improve.

The first time, I had four chicks in a baby pool in my garage. While there was nothing technically wrong with the setup, it wasn’t the easiest as they got bigger. Since I had bought them in the fall, they spent a long time in the garage and it got annoying quickly.

The second time, I had four chicks in a big plastic bin in the kitchen and then on the screen porch. Thankfully I bought these in spring so they moved outside into the coop in a reasonable time frame.

The one thing I learned was I hated heat lamps. They left the brooder with hot spots and cold spots and I was always scared it would catch fire. Then one day when I was cleaning the plastic bin, I moved the lamp close enough it melted the plastic! I had heard of the Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder, so as soon as those chicks were in the coop, I threw that scary thing away.

The chicks can walk under and get warm and then walk out when they get to hot. Since they mimic a mother hen, this seemed like a better option to me.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered two similar heating plates from Premier1 to set up in the brooders, each could accommodate 30 chicks. Which means I could warm 60 chicks… anyone see this being an issue? Nope, me neither!

After I candled the eggs last Thursday, and i knew they were all still viable I got to work setting up the first brooder. It still get cold at night so I put a big cardboard box in the weird alcove under the stairs. This way we pass it multiple times a day and we can check on the chicks.

I went ahead and tested the heating plate to make sure it worked. It did! Everything was ready!

Except I needed shavings to go on the bottom, so after lunch on Sunday we stopped at Tractor Supply to get some. Remember the 60 chick capacity and how I already had a brooder ready to go?

I left Tractor Supply with 12 Rhode Island Red chicks. That place is dangerous this time of year!

But its good to know the brooder works!

Incubating Eggs, Part 3

Incubating Eggs, Part 3

We made it to day 18!

The day 10 candling confirmed that the all those Minorca, and two other eggs, did not develop. While I am disappointed, it might have been a good thing. While the Minorcas are supposed to do great in our climate, they are extremely flighty and annoying. So we decided we aren’t going to bother breeding them, at least for now.

I candled the eggs again on day 14 and all the remaining eggs had happy little chicks moving about.

It is amazing to see!

On the outside it looks like any ordinary egg, but on the inside there is a tiny chick, growing and moving.

Now for the most stressful part, at least for me, day 18.

I candled them to double check the air sack was about the right size. I am hoping with more experience this wont be so much of a guess. A few of the sacks looked a bit smaller than they should, which makes me nervous, but hopefully I just saw it wrong.

I also removed the automatic turner, and bumped up the humidity. Everything I read said bump the humidity up to 60%-70%.

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Those first few days I struggled to get the humidity lower, well as would be my luck, I am now having trouble keeping the humidity high enough. They say not to open the incubator these last few days, but make sure to keep the humidity up so you don’t end up with “shrink-wrapped” chicks. So I am sitting here trying to decide which is more important keeping the humidity up or not opening the incubator.

I am a huge control freak and this whole process is a huge test of my patience and a lesson in letting go.

Just a few more days, and we will all know how this went.

I stopped at Tractor Supply Sunday to pick up bedding for the brooder to make sure everything was ready for any chicks that do hatch… and I left with 12 Rhode Island Red chicks. This is what some might call a problem.

Incubating Eggs, part 2

Incubating Eggs, part 2

Today is day 7!

This is a big day because we get to see how the eggs are doing, and because I have patiently waited this long. Yay, me!

So far, so good.

Most of the eggs are showing veins and a tiny baby chick, and the air sack looks about the right size.

The eggs that aren’t developing are all from the Minorcas, and it makes me wonder if it is more of a fertility issue than an incubating issue. Out of 19 Minorca eggs only 1 showed any signs of development. All the eggs have been handled the same since collection, so something is off.

From the Ameraucanas, 10 out of 11 eggs are showing development. From the Rhode Island Red/ Barred Rock crosses all the eggs showed development, but two of them were somehow cracked, so we pulled them from the incubator.

I left all the non-developed eggs in the incubator for now and plan to recheck those in a couple days, just incase they are extremely late bloomers.

A few of the eggs were light enough you could see the baby chick squirming around, which was super exciting.

I am a bit frustrated about the two cracked eggs because I thought I made sure none of the eggs were cracked. But we did use them as a learning experience. Instead of just tossing the eggs, we opened them to see how they looked at this stage of development. It is truly amazing how quickly they develop.

***Below is a photo if you are curious, or if it’s too much, stop reading here.***

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Below you can see all the veins connecting embryo to the yoke (its food source) and the giant eye in the tiny embryo.

Incubating Eggs, part 1

Incubating Eggs, part 1

Back in September we bought our first two sets of breeding chickens, Ameraucanas and Minorcas. I have been “patiently” waiting to actually start hatching those eggs. Well, that time has finally come!

The only eggs we have ever hatched were hatched by a broody hen, so all I had to do was give her eggs and check back 21 days later. Amazingly we had a 100% hatch rate on those eggs. Sadly she was not the best mom and by 3 months we only had one chick left… Perceval the Jerk rooster.

So once we purchased our breeders I began researching the best way to hatch eggs in an incubator. There is lots of slightly conflicting information out there. The only consistent information I could find was: experience will teach you what works the best. This is not the information I wanted. But let’s be real, it is true.

I should mention that the temperature should ideally be between 99-100 degrees depending on if you use a forced air or still air incubator. The conflicting information has to do with the humidity levels. Some say keep it high, other low, other day try dry incubation. Checking the weight of the eggs and the size of the air sack seems to be the best judge of humidity level.

I finally gave up trying to find the “perfect” information and bought an incubator, set it up and watched the temperature and humidity for a few days. So far Ive learned we live in a super, super humid area (because my hair couldn’t have told me that) and I have to use the smallest water trough in the incubator. The instructions said to start with the biggest trough as that is the normal one people need, I assume those people also don’t have frizzy hair issues, lucky.

I chose the GQF 1588 Genesis Hova-Bator Incubator by GQF. It got good reviews on both Amazon and chicken websites. It also has a large window, so we can watch and see how things are going. I splurged and got and an automated egg turner. Half the time I don’t know what day it is, so there is no way I’d remember to turn eggs at least three times a day. I went with the Little Giant Farm & Ag Miller Manufacturing 6300 Automatic Egg Turner because people said it was sturdy and easier than others to clean. We will see how this hatching season goes before I make any judgements myself.

I am still a little paranoid, but Friday we put our first eggs in as a test run. They say 80-90% hatch rate is good, I would be happy with 50%, thats a lie, I’d be happy if any hatched!

Thursday will be day seven and I can candle the eggs to see if we have any developments, until then there is nothing I can do.

Given my controlling nature, this is a huge leap of faith for me. On a chicken forum, someone summed it up perfectly, “hatching is NOT a science – it’s part art and part nature, part miracle.” So for now I just get to sit back and wait.

Pigs, a Learning Experience.

Pigs, a Learning Experience.

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Normally when I start something new, I spend weeks to months researching about it before I jump in. I read numerous books, articles, blog posts, all the while taking meticulous notes. I still feel woefully unprepared, but it eases my mind a bit. I did this with gardening, canning, new babies, chickens, and goats… I did not do this with pigs.

With the pigs I read a few articles, while Vince “read” <a href="http://Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, 3rd Edition: Care, Facilities, Management, Breeds“>Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, by Kelly Klober. Turns out he didn’t finish it, and didn’t actually get to read nearly as much as I thought he had before I bought four pigs. This was my fault I really should have communicated with him better about the purchasing of the pigs. In case you were wondering the following was the extent of the pig purchasing conversation:

“I found five feeder pigs outside of Senatobia. One was a male so I told him just the four females, would this date or this one be better to pick them up?”

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Vince responded with a relatively calm look and picked the later date and we bought pigs.

I do have to say, I’m super proud of ourselves for how quickly we learned, I wish we could have learned a different way, but experience is the best teacher.

We had the pigs about five and a half months and in that time we tried: two different shelters, three different fencing methods, two feeding troughs before giving up altogether on troughs, and never found an easy watering solution.

Learn from us, don’t do what we did!

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We had a “plan” for whenever we got pigs, we were going to rotate them around the pasture using electric fencing, then life happened. When we went to pick up the pigs the fencing was up, but they had no shelter. Life had gotten in the way and the pick-up date snuck up on us. Well, we intended to pick them up early enough to fix the shelter once we got them home. Then the baby had napping issues and the pig wrangling took longer than planned, so by the time the shelter was ready and the pigs were in the pen it was dark and we were exhausted.

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Everything seemed to be going well and they happily lived in their pen for about 1-2 weeks and then we moved them to the next pen and fresh pasture. They remained there a whole TWO days before they escaped. They escaped later in the afternoon and we lured them back in with food and found out the fence was not charged and therefore not sending a shock. We worked long after dark to secure the fence using woven wire, then we went to bed. Both electric fencing and woven wire were recommended to hold pigs, but only if the fence actually shocks and the woven wire is EXTREMELY tight. When we woke up to the dogs barking frantically and pigs in the front yard we realized the woven wire was a no go. The rest of the day was spent purchasing hog panels, setting up a new pen, wrangling pigs, and lots of threats to kill the pigs right then. To add to the stress we had an ultrasound appointment that afternoon to find out gender and we barely made it.

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Turns out for us hog panel worked best for us. We first set up the panels with electric wire along the bottom, just in case, but they covered it in dirt pretty quickly, so we gave up on that. Using panels and T-posts we were able to create a strong enough enclosure that was also easy to remove once they moved to the next section. Once we figured that out it was much smoother sailing.

We also learned that in wet winters like this one, we have a flooding issue. The pigs didn’t seem to mind, they made mud and had a blast. We, on the other hand, did not enjoy the mud, nor do we enjoy the mud in the other areas that are now flooding, but that is a whole separate issue. We also had to worry about how to get them to the butcher with all the mud and soft ground. We were terrified that the truck and trailer would get stuck.

As our butcher appointment got closer we started trying to plan for moving the pigs in all the mud. Sunday we took a leap of faith and drove the trailer down and opened a new pen around the trailer. The pigs were fascinated with the trailer and even slept there that night. This was one thing we had learned in the little research we had done. Let them get used to the trailer before you try to drive them onto it, and it worked. Monday when it was time to go, they easily got into the trailer and were loaded up in about ten minutes. Thankfully the land was dry enough that we drove out of there with no trouble. After months of troubles and worry, the final move was easy and calm for everyone involved.

img_4091It is supposed to rain for the next week, but once it dries out enough we will start dismantling the pens and let the land rest for a while. We made a rule of no new animals (except chickens) until the beginning of May. That gives us time to work on other projects before baby arrives, and gives us a month to adjust to life with a new baby. This also give me time to better research pigs before we get anymore.

2018 Plans

2018 Plans

With the start of the new year, I have been planning my goals and to do list. I’m trying to keep it simple since we will be adding a baby and that is a huge addition. However, there’s a lot we really need to do this year… and a lot I just want to do to make things prettier. Obviously necessity trumps aesthetics, but I can’t help but confused the two sometimes.

The master to do list is so long that it is slightly overwhelming. Every time I cross one thing, I find two more things that need to be added. And everything seems to be a huge priority! I keep reminding myself this farm as our lifetime project and one day it will all be done. For now I just have to focus on one project at time.

The good news is two of the biggest things on this year’s list or are done and it’s still January! That gives me great hope for this year.

One of the biggest things was in backyard fence. I know that doesn’t seem priority, and it wasn’t  until my belly started to get bigger. There is no more climbing over electric netting for this pregnant lady, and that made feeding animals extremely difficult. Now that the fence is up, I have a gate into the animal yard and can easily walk into their yard. Its nice to be able to be able to do something on ones own again, small victories! The other great thing is Isaac is contained. Which means that instead of spending half our time chasing him, he can play with the dogs and goats and we get things done quicker. The goats also really love coming into the ‘people’ yard, so there’s that.

Most of the priorities for 2018 are animal related. The reality is to make this farm profitable, we need more animals. We need to be able to efficiently house, feed, and water the animals to reduce waste and maximize profits, all while not sacrificing their health and happiness. And yes, for us happy animals are very important. This recent freeze showed us many flaws in our current system. Thankfully it isn’t as bad as it could be, but we still need to fix things.

The other big priority is the garden, Oh the garden! Did I ever mention the fiasco that was last year’s garden? I’m not sure I want to revisit it, but the short version is the garden failed for many reasons and now we are trying something else. I would like to point out I suggested doing this in the first place, but was told it was too much work… Let’s see how this year goes.

The change is that instead of plowing traditional rows, we will be using raised beds and a more intensive style of gardening. We did this at the old house on a smaller scale and it worked marvelously, so hopefully it works on the larger scale. Again I am going to take a moment to applaud myself. Every time something happened and Vince, looking befuddled, said “this didn’t happen at the old house,” I smiled and told him the benefits of the system we used at the old house. Now things could still fail, but we both have hope. Raised beds will at least help the soil quality, the not so great drainage, the moisture retention, and will mean I do not have to bend over as far. That last point is my favorite part!

Since the farm and the new baby will mean lots of work for the next year… who am I kidding, it means lots of work for years and years to come, my big project inside the house is our bedroom. It has taken a backseat to the rest of the house, but no longer, I will make it a nice relaxing retreat, and hopefully before baby arrives. The plan is bold, red velvet drapes and pink walls. I have a wonderful husband who lets me decorate however I want. There has also been extensive searching for bedside tables, headboards, and new bath vanity, but I’m so picky, I’m not sure I will find those things in the next 3 months. I really shouldn’t have waited till this late in the pregnancy, but oh well.

So there are some of the big plans for 2018, and sadly these aren’t half of them, so wish us luck and pray for our sanity!