29 January 2015

Cleaning the chick brooder tubs

So here I am, literally shoveling (*excrement*) out in the shed.  Other than the minor annoyance of having grabbed the wrong shovel - the narrow tree hole digging shovel - I was wondering briefly just why.  I certainly cannot be the only person the have ever wondered, "Why am I shoveling (*excrement*)?" while dumping shovelfuls into the muck bucket.

Of course, the answer quickly followed my question.  It is the same reason I scoop out the cat's litterbox.  I very much enjoy having the little monsters around.  Let's face it, the brooder tubs are about as close to being housebroken as my chicks will get.

I do look forward to when the chicks are feathered enough to move out into tractors, and the tubs come out of the shed to air out as the shed also airs out ... that will last about 8 weeks though.  I already have an order for new chicks shipping out of Missouri on April 13th.

Juveniles and week old chicks

We played musical chick tractors this morning, moving Beardie and the pullets into the bigger tractor, the two barred/mottled cockerels into the old dog crate (our original tractor!), and the three remaining cockerels into the triangle tractor.  The two in the dog crate have a date with destiny (and likely dumplins) come Sunday or Monday.  I am going to try the milk-soaked scratch experiment with these two, since the previous two Cornish-Rocks were a bit too old to be able to tell much (plus my neighbor feeds her chickens differently than we do).
2 cockerels, awaiting their date with destiny

rearranged juvenile tractors, behind the electric fence

Finally, a few chick pics, since I have had these cute little monsters for a week now.
red broiler chicks at one week

Ideal hatchery gold-laced Wyandotte chicks

28 January 2015

More new chicks again

Yes, I bought some more new chicks yesterday ... well, in addition to placing my order with Cackle Hatchery out of Missouri for mid-April.  Yesterday I drove out to Alachua County to purchase three-week-old Wyandotte chicks from Eight Acres Farm.  I met Luanne, who is a nice and personable lady who is truly enthusiastic about her chickens.  She breeds for the blue-laced red variety, and since the blue gene is an incomplete dominant, that means she ends up with black-laced or splash(white)-laced along with the desired blue.  I bought her black-laced from a recent hatch, nine in total although two have single combs instead of rose combs.  More on that after pics.
9 black-laced red Wyandotte chicks

another shot of my new Wyandotte chicks
OK, about the single comb culls here ... Luanne told me that when folks were developing the blue-laced red variety, they outcrossed to single-comb Rhode Island Reds to get a darker red.  It occurred to me on the drive home: Why not use the rose-comb Rhode Island Reds?  Well, reading around last night I found my answer.  Apparently, for every rose comb RIR there are a good ten single comb RIRs, so it is a simple matter of availability.  The two single comb chicks will either be layers or dinner, depending on gender.

For the other seven ... I have some high hopes.  Pullets will eventually be crossed with Feyd, to give the chicks better body with his coloring, while the best cockerel of the group will end up with the best of the hatchery pullets.  It is a bit of a "shortcut" of sorts, bringing in some nice-bodied stock to get a more Wyandotte looking build.  Call it vanity if you will, but I want my Gold-Laced Wyandottes to be easily recognizable as Wyandottes.

24 January 2015

Sure fooled me

Apparently, I do indeed have four pullets and an Easter Egger cockerel in the triangle tractor ... just not who I thought!  Beardie is now growing a couple of sickle feathers and a comb.  Beardie is also not a Spangled Russian Orloff as I thought, since his legs and feet are now more of a greenish-slate color, and he is only muffed and not truly bearded.  My neighbor Maria had mentioned that if any in the triangle was a cockerel, it would be Beardie, but all the rest of the chicks were pullets.

The good news is that we have an Easter Egger cockerel to perpetuate the fun blue eggs in the laying flock.  The downside is Beardie will certainly not be going broody.  The take-away lesson here is I certainly need to train my eye more!  I was so certain Beardie was a she.  Keeping chickens keeps you humble.
suddenly, Beardie looks masculine

Beardie and Penny, whom I originally thought a cockerel

22 January 2015

Wyandotte and red broiler chicks

They're here!  Bouncing balls of fluffy cuteness cheeping and peeping in the brooder tubs in my shed.  Twenty-five gold-laced Wyandottes and twenty-five red broilers, eating and drinking amiably with each other right now.  My neighbor Maria ordered the "surprise special" and has five with a poof of feathers on the top of their heads, so she will have some fun growing out a handful of crested chicks.  Here are my little chicks:
close-up of the GLW and red broiler chicks

all 50 of the new chicks
My friend Lynn who lives two towns up the highway ordered 12 red broilers and her husband wanted 75 assorted clean-legged bantams.  That was quite the noisy drive up to her place!  LOL  Those two being the way they are, they not only gave me a generous tip "for time and effort and front door delivery," but also sent me home with a mess of mustard greens, some kale, and a feather-legged bantam rooster that was given to them a while back.  In between chickening chores, a name for him popped into my mind: Elf.  Along with being red and iridescent green-black, he has a certain mischievous glint in his bay eyes ... especially when he looks at the red hens in with Feyd.
out of focus, but shows his colors

Elf, our new bantam rooster
Tonight, Elf will move in with the Eileens, while Corey and Mula come out for a small honeymoon suite.  This shuffling of birds has a couple purposes: Corey is most likely full sibling to the Eileens, and I prefer to go no closer than kissing cousins right now.  Mula and Ninny lay the same shade a tan eggs, and I'd like to tell them apart as I want a couple chicks from Ninny but not Mula.  Mula is also noticeably more light-bodied than Betty or Ninny, and often stays up on the roosts to avoid Feyd the feathered tank.

Final part of today's chicken chores: slaughtering those two Cornish-Rocks my neighbor traded me for the barred juveniles.  The nuggets were 12 weeks old yesterday, and I could tell they were failing on the inside.  One had fluid around its heart, and both has fluid around the surprisingly small gizzards.  Their livers were paler than my previous batch of nuggets, but whether that is a function of internal deterioration or the difference in feeding styles is uncertain.

What is certain is that these will probably be our last Cornish-Rock birds.  The very same genetics that give them astoundingly rapid growth is the same genetics that doom them to an early demise - they outgrow their hearts in particular it seems.  They pretty much need to be slaughtered before 12 weeks old.

I have the 25 red broilers to see how they grow up in comparison, health-wise.  CRs are supposed to be slaughtered at 5 and 8 weeks old, while with red broilers the earliest they are supposed to be ready is 12 weeks, and do not have the internal health problems associated with the CRs.  I will be putting that to the test, and am toying with the idea of keeping a trio or quartet to explore the genetics involved.  I did email the hatchery to ask, but got back a vacuous and vapid non-answer in response.  I will at least keep the best pullets to cross with the Wyandottes to see what results.  My goal is to get to the point where I can hatch my own meat birds, instead of ordering them.

21 January 2015

Getting ready for new chicks

I am so excited ... I received an email last evening saying the chicks had shipped, so they may be here tomorrow morning!  Cute, fluffy, peeping little cheepers again - I love it.  This morning I swept out the shed, then moved the brooder tubs back in and spread the pine shavings.
there really are 5 pullets in this shot
2 are going for a bug at the very bottom of the pic
brooder tubs ready to go again

the 5 remaining assorted cockerels
The 12-week-old chicks out in the tractors weren't feeling very cooperative with the picture idea.  First they were all lounging in the shady part of the tractors after stuffing their crops on lunch, then they would not hold still and I felt lucky to even get all five in each pic.

20 January 2015

Attempts at winter gardening

OK, first of all, the disclaimer.  I will never be considered as even the county's best gardener, much less the world's.  Despite my apparent "black thumb" I still keep trying, in the hope I may eventually get enough experience and eventually know-how to overcome an utter lack of talent.

Now that is out of the way, here are my latest attempts:

  • Transplanted Bonnie Winterbor Kale starts from Lowe's, right next to the chicken coop.
  • Transplanted Bonnie Greek Oregano into the garden box by the parsley from spring 2013, that the swallowtail caterpillars tried to strip this past fall.
  • Scattered more rainbow carrot seeds from an unopened packet of Ferry-Morse rainbow mix ... as I emptied it, I noticed on the back it said "Sell by 12/13."  Oops.  I'll see if anything comes up.
Now for a few pics.
greek oregano and parsley from spring 2013

winterbor kale, with turnips and collard from 2014

my best mustard greens plants, Florida broadleaf

sugar peas, a few icicle radishes, and three carrots
(plus weeds and the newest compost bed/pea patch-to-be)
I do have some more mustard plants, but the three or four in the box pictured are downright impressive, and I am hoping to get seeds from them.  There are just about enough pea pods on the sugar peas for a nice skillet-full of stir fry.  The spinach transplants are still alive, but not doing anything impressive there.  I may resort to a bit of chemical fertilizer so we can have a few salads.

Oh, of course I have three or four yellow pear cherry tomato plants going great gangbusters ... this is all from that one plant I got the spring of 2013, and they just keep coming back.  It is almost up to weed status, which is hilarious as I cannot keep mint alive, but my least favorite variety of tomato constantly reseeds itself.

19 January 2015

Chicken n dumplins

I have had chickens on the brain in one form or another the past few weeks, so it is probably no surprise that the pint of stock that didn't seal plus what was left over from canning up eventually made its way into hubby's absolute favorite form of chicken: simmered with veggies and drop dumplins.  Oh, food pic alert: do not view on an empty stomach.
plate of dumplins on a cool evening

chicken and dumplins on the stove
recipe for dumpings
The last pic is for my little sis, who has been working on doing more cooking from scratch.  She also conspired with Mom to get me a GREAT birthday present: a 7th printing of the 1969 Betty Crocker's Cookbook, in binder form so I won't need to tape the spine.  This particular edition has the ultimate hot German potato salad recipe in it, and is worth hunting down just for that.  I've only been trying to borrow/steal my mom's for the past 24 years ... now her original (packing tape on the spine) edition is safe from me.

16 January 2015

Canned chicken and stock

As promised, pics of the pressure canned Cornish-Rock chicks - three pints of leg and wing meat, and seven pints of carcass meat and stock with a carrot and a couple cloves of garlic sliced up and simmered with the carcasses.
ten total pints of canned chicken and stock

leg and wing meat in the wide mouth pints
stock in regular pints
I had two lids not seal - one wide mouth and one regular.  I am not yet sure why, but that is a poor rate of sealing (80%).  We'll just use those two up quickly.  Right now they are in the refrigerator.

15 January 2015

Chicken swap and experiment

My neighbor wanted one of the barred cockerels - she likes the barred birds and wanted to get a certain one before I started slaughtering the assorted cockerels for food ("por comer").  Yesterday I had her come over and pick out which cockerel she liked best ... then we proceeded to catch Starry, the dark barred pullet who had been dusting up with all the other pullets a bit too regularly for my preference.  I almost used the phrase "for my tastes" but that would imply a solution Maria might find horrifying.

She still has about half of her Cornish-Rock nuggets, so she traded us two of the bigger cockerels for the barred pair.  Hubby helped carry over and back the chicks, and was a bit surprised to see the size of her nuggets.  Here are the two we got in trade, which are roughly the same size as the barred and mottled cockerels over in the bigger tractor:
2 new nuggets picking at a greens leaf

2 new Cornish-Rock nuggets
Hubby brought up the size difference, and I remarked that our neighbor feeds her chickens very differently than we feed ours.  She gives cracked corn and scratch grain from the start, while we feed chick crumble, then add in scratch grain (which has cracked corn in it) to supplement the crumble.  Plus our latest batch were tractored on the grass, and had the opportunity to catch bugs.  While reading on an old-long thread on BYC, I came upon this graphic which visually confirmed my point:
the difference in feed
cracked corn vs crumbles
My neighbor knows what I feed, but still doesn't veer off too much from her way (although last year she was not feeding scratch grains, only the cracked corn).

In a slightly tangential discussion of feeding meat birds in that long thread was a new-to-me gem about how some Europeans finish their meat birds: grains soaked in milk or even wine (the French in particular use wine).  I have two new meat birds that need a good finishing.  I have scratch grain.  I also have old, past-date buttermilk in the back fridge.  The new nuggets ate every last kernel of the soaked grain yesterday so I have another serving soaking already.  It should be interesting to see if this helps them fill out, and if it affects the flavor.

12 January 2015

Todas son girls

That is a direct quote from my neighbor this morning as she looked at the chicks in the triangle tractor: "Todas son girls."  All are girls.  So I have six pullets, not five and a cockerel.

The conversation started out with a bit of a joke. "Donde estan los blancos?" (Where are the whites?)  Me: "In the freezer now!"

In case anyone has a doubt, yes my neighbors are Mexican.  Their English is better than my Spanish, but I still try to remember what I learned in high school (maybe not so much what I learned on the factory assembly lines, though).  It gets amusing for both of us when one or the other flubs up a word.

She knows I have chicks on order, and was asking about Ideal's specials.  I told her the current specials are for a different ship date (the 14th) and I am waiting for mine to ship on the 21st, so Thursday or Friday I will know the specials.  I think I will place a call up to Lynn up the highway who asked to be let in on a chick order as well.

Maria also asked what I am ordering this time, so I pointed to Feyd, my beautiful Golden-Laced Wyandotte rooster, and told her "Twenty-five more como el!  Y 25 rojos por comer."  She calls the Cornish-Rock nuggets "los blancos grandes" and I translated red broilers as "rojos por comer".
SIX pullets, not five and a cockerel

all 6 cockerels, but
the red one is blending in with the leaves
This is as good a post as any to mention my chicken "dreams and schemes" that are moving into the realm of concrete plans.  My next chick order will likely be in March, and I will get 25 partridge Plymouth Rocks and 25 assorted Silkies, as I can't seem to make my mind up on which color variety of "incubators disguised as featherdusters" I want.  Plymouth Rocks grow fast, which is why they are crossed with Cornish so often for broilers, and they also get good-sized.  Ideal's website says Rocks get a bit bigger than Wyandottes, and Feyd is quite the tank!  The two barred cockerels are likely Rocks out in the tractor, but the barred feathers just don't tickle my fancy like the laced/spangled feathers on the partridge birds do.  Ideal even has partridge Wyandottes, but I adore my beautiful boy even if he did get hubby's shin a good one the other week.

So those are my chosen breeds: Golden-Laced Wyandottes, partridge Plymouth Rocks, and Silkies as incubators, with red broilers and assorted egg-laying hens.  I won't bother with keeping a red broiler cockerel (I believe those are a specific cross-breed like the nuggets?) since I will have a partridge Rock rooster anyway.

The electric netting fence is out for delivery today ... I kind of feel sorry for the UPS driver bringing it, as this is not one of my lightweight yarn boxes.  Hubby is now leaning toward building only tractors, with electric perimeter to protect against the land-based predators.  I'll reserve judgement until I see what he comes up with for a layer tractor, although the broodies will need stationary pens for setting a nest.

So that is where our chicken plans sit for right now.

11 January 2015

Preparing to can up the nuggets

Now that the cold front has dissipated, and we can both move without too much creaking and cricking, I am putting up the three skinless nuggets plus the giblets from all five and a previous nugget I had started to simmer for stock but has been chilling on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

Since we raise these chicks ourselves, and slaughter them ourselves, it just makes sense to try to get the maximum use and absolute least amount of waste possible.  I have tried to make the most of chickens for at least my adult life, on the notion that what is in the grocery used to be a live animal that died for me to eat.  When you raise them up from cute little day-old foof-balls to roasting pan size, it really hits home on a visceral level.

So, the usual method I use/have used for years is: cut off the breast meat, take off the legs and wings, simmer the remaining carcass with the neck and giblets for soup stock.  This time, I have taken the meat off the leg quarters and wings to raw-pack in wide mouth pint jars ... and each nugget filled a pint jar just about perfectly, with a smidge over an inch head space left.  The skinless chicken breasts are in freezer bags and already in the freezer, for use in tacos, enchiladas, stir-fry, or whatever else may strike our fancy in the future.

It should be interesting to see just how many pints of stock and carcass meat from four bodies, three sets of legs and wings, and six sets of giblets.

Pics later, when everything is in jars and ready to go into the pressure canner(s).

08 January 2015

it is COLD

Only 34 F this morning ... BRRR!  I find small comfort in the idea that this will not last long, as the wind blows through my hair outside.  The chicks don't seem too bothered by the weather, thankfully.

I slaughtered all five nuggets yesterday, figuring it would probably be warmer in the refrigerator than outside for them.  The pullet tried to do a Logan's Run, so it was more tiring than normal as we chased her around the yard.  That is the only real downside to having tractored meat birds of the Cornish-Rock variety: ours had the stamina to lead us on a merry chase.  I ended up skinning three of them - perhaps I was just too impatient to pluck them properly, although we did give it a try.  So, two are plucked (one moreso than the other right now) and three are skinned for dividing and canning.  The livers and gizzards look fantastic for all five, and on one the bile duct came off as I pulled the liver out.  We have enough chicken to last more than a month, which is about how long the assorted cockerels out there need to get large enough.

Ideal Poultry called me yesterday morning about my chick order.  The hatch rate on the Golden-Laced Wyandottes was not good enough to fill my order, so delivery has been pushed back two weeks.  Instead of picking up new chicks tomorrow morning for my birthday, I will be picking them up early on the 23rd ... for my brother's birthday.  I did change part of the order, from assorted heavy cockerels to straight run red broilers.

Hubby ordered what we need to set up the electric netting fence to protect the chick tractors, and tracking shows it due to arrive Monday.  We'll be driving up to the small city to get supplies to make more chick tractors soon - likely this weekend.  Hubby will also be taking pics and notes on how he builds the next couple, as at least one person on the Homesteading Today forum has expressed interest in the details.  We have decided to go back to the triangle design of the original tractor, with the funky roost too.

05 January 2015

From the front porch

For those of y'all up in the Frozen North ... I snapped this from the front porch, after listening to the chicks make happy noises through the open windows, dressed in capri length jeans and wearing a cotton button-up shirt as a light jacket.  Yes, that is still-green grass.  This morning is much cooler than the past couple mornings, as it's only in the lower 60s.
cockerels pecking and scratching
The chicks are pretty energetic this morning, after a weekend of humid 80F plus with overnight lows only in the lower 70s.

Like last year, we are forecast to get an actual cold front this week - and may even get frost.  This will be perfect for a mess of baking.  I have enough bread heels to do up more cinnamon cranberry bread pudding, plus there is a birthday cake to bake.  There is a nugget to roast (as soon as we pluck the last bit of feathers off it) and still five more to slaughter.

04 January 2015

All my chickens

Well, not actually all of my chickens ... the laying hens were uncooperative today.  But, it just sounds more like a take-off on the daytime soap opera, and that amused me this morning.  I had been thinking I have not posted pics of this crew in the past couple weeks.
7 assorted cockerels

Corey and one of the Eileens

my beautiful boy, Feyd

5 nuggets, 1 a pullet and 4 cockerels

assorted pullets Beardie, Goldie, Bright Eyes, Starry,
 and not-yet-named Easter Egger cockerel

01 January 2015

A new year

This morning I awoke to the sound of my two roosters crowing, just as they do every morning.  That was the main reason we did not stay up last night to "ring in" the new year like most.  I turned the new calendar on the wall to January, made up a pot of chocolate coffee, took the dog out, fed the cat, then fed all the chickens.  The chicks are outside my window scratching and pecking, while the roosters are strutting around the rampart while the hens scratch and dig.  It's only partly cloudy, so the sunshine peeks through to brighten a patch and the wind has slowed to a mild breeze.

A normal morning, yet hubby and I are both in rather cheerful moods even before the first pot of coffee is consumed.  After the wild roller coaster month of December, it feels as though the new month and new year are full of promise.  For the past couple years we have been discussing dreams and schemes of what to do when we are out of debt.  Now those dreams and schemes can move into the realm of concrete plans.

Happy 2015, everyone.  For us, the new year has the promise of a new adventure.