From Pasture to Table in 24 Hours

It doesn’t get fresher than that.

We plan to do all our own butchering of our animals on the farm.  It is a much more peaceful and stress-free process for the animals than being loaded up and taken somewhere else.  We respect and care for our animals, wanting the best for them in life and also during the butchering process.  We want to be in control of what happens to them and how they are treated.

Ryan made two “kill cones” out of 5 gallon buckets.   We placed two of our Jumbo Cornish Cross chickens upside down in these with their heads poking through the bottom.  Being upside down and held by the cones puts the chickens in a relaxed trance-like state.  Two cuts were made on either side of the neck, severing the jugular veins and releasing the blood.  The bucket under the cones collect the blood, which gets added to our compost pile to feed the garden.  Nothing gets wasted on our farm.WP_20160515_16_35_51_Pro.jpg

From the cones, the chickens went into a pot of hot water for scalding to loosen the feathers for plucking. WP_20160515_16_36_36_Pro

Ryan and Elijah plucked the chickens by hand.WP_20160515_17_55_17_Pro

Ryan eviscerated the chickens.  The kids were fascinated to see and touch real organs.  WP_20160515_19_15_49_ProMuch different than pictures in a book!  It was a great anatomy lesson.  We won’t need to purchase dissection kits for biology class when we have real-life lessons happening outside on the farm.  As a homeschooling mom, I love natural learning that takes place outside of our school time.  When the kids are engaged and using multiple senses, I know that information is being retained.

After cooling in an ice water bath, we wrapped the chickens up in freezer paper.

The next evening, we roasted a chicken for dinner. WP_20160516_17_16_13_Pro.jpg

It was an amazing experience to place a roasted chicken on the table that we raised and butchered on our farm.  It felt completely satisfying.  WP_20160516_17_37_12_Pro
Not to mention, it tasted great!

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We found it to be juicy, tender and a bit more flavorful than store-bought chicken.  It will be interesting to compare the flavor of our Jumbo Cornish Cross chickens with the Red Broilers in a few more weeks.

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The whole process was a learning experience and I think we’ll be better prepared and more skilled for the next chicken harvest.  We plan to process the rest of our Jumbo Cornish Cross chickens this Saturday.  To speed up the process, Ryan purchased a new tool he’s pretty excited about.  It’s a YardBird Chicken Plucker. yardbird The tub spins the chickens around while rubber fingers pull the feathers out.  It completely plucks two chickens at one time in about 15 seconds.  He can’t wait to put it to the test!

Becca

Chicken Weigh-In

The Jumbo Cornish Cross are getting pretty hefty.  Ryan suspected they were market size or getting very close to it.

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Jumbo Cornish Cross (JCC) at 6 weeks

 

We don’t have a poultry scale, so we did the next best thing and put our bathroom scale down on the barn floor.  Ryan weighed himself to get a baseline, then grabbed a JCC and weighed himself holding the chicken.  The JCC was 6 pounds!  They are 6 weeks…pretty incredible.  Looks like we’ll be tasting some chicken sooner than we thought.

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To compare, we also weighed a Red Broiler and a heritage chicken.

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Red Broiler (RB) at 6 weeks

 

The RB weighed in at 4 pounds, the heritage bird was 2 pounds.

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Dominique, one of our heritage breeds, at 6 weeks

 

 

Last week we had one day where the temperatures soared into the 90’s. We made sure all our birds had water available to them at all times.  The broilers in the pen had shade courtesy of the tarp.  Whenever we looked in on them, they were mostly sitting in the shade, while a few were drinking or eating.  All looked well.

Ryan went to check on them in the evening and to move the pen to a new location and noticed a couple birds looked motionless. Sure enough, they were dead, which is particularly disappointing considering we’ve fed them to market weight!  We lost two JCC on the first hot, summery day of the year while they sat in shade.  They must not have been drinking enough water to keep themselves cool and hydrated.  There was a third JCC looking a bit lifeless, so Ryan sprinkled water on it and dipped its beak into the waterer until it drank some.  The next morning that one was behaving normally.

The other breeds showed no sign of distress during the heat wave.

They remained active, drinking water and pecking about the shady spots around the farm.  Looks like we’ll need to add “mist broilers with squirt bottle” to one of the kids’ chore charts this summer. 😉  I’m sure the younger boys would jump at the chance to “help” the broilers.

Experiences like this is why many small flock owners don’t bother raising Cornish Cross.  We could just raise RB on our farm and repurpose the broiler pen for the rabbits in the orchard.

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RB in the broiler pen

If we want to try selling chicken at farmers’ markets however, the JCC is the best bet.  They can be offered at a lower price to consumers than the RB, due to less time and feed required per bird.  Based on other farmers’ experiences, most customers will prefer the lower-priced chicken.

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RB and JCC

 

 

We plan to order more of each broiler breed for June, keeping the two breeds housed separately.  We’ll write down how much feed it requires to raise each group to market weight so we can calculate the cost difference between the two, as well as know what our average cost is per bird.

It would be exciting to bring some chickens to market this summer.

Becca

Planting the Orchard

Last weekend, to celebrate Mother’s Day and our 12th anniversary (which happened to be on the same day this year!), Ryan planned a special outing as a gift for me.  We loaded up the family and drove to a tree nursery just down the road from the farm.  I wasn’t exactly sure how many trees we would be bringing home with us that day, but I about squealed with delight when Ryan announced we could get five fruit trees to plant in our orchard.

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The orchard with newly planted trees

 

We knew we wanted several apple varieties that ripened at differing times so we would be able to space our apple harvest out for as long as possible each year. We walked around the tree farm and read the information cards on each variety until we were satisfied with two.  We took home a SnowSweet, which is a new variety cultivated by the University of Minnesota that ripens in early September, and a Haralred, which ripens in October and stores well over winter.  We purchased young bare-root trees, so most of this season will be spent developing the roots.  We’ll see more growth next year.    WP_20160509_11_05_12_Pro

Next spring we’ll go back to pick up a Honeycrisp, which is an excellent mid-season tree, as well as an early variety of apple tree that ripens in August, such as Zestar.

In addition to apple trees, we decided to add plums and cherries to the orchard. We chose two different hardy plum varieties, Toka and Pembina, which produce sweet fruit excellent for fresh eating.

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Toka Plum Tree via thetreefarm.com

We also took home a Lapin cherry tree, which is a sweet cherry and a self-pollinizer so it does not need a partner.  This is one of the only sweet cherry trees suited to Minnesota’s climate.

 

In the future, we will purchase two pear trees to add to our cozy little orchard, giving us a total of 10 trees.

The variety of our current, very large, heavily-blossomed apple tree is, as of yet, a mystery. We deduced it must be an old classic by its apparent age, which is one reason we decided to purchase newer varieties for our orchard; we didn’t want to unknowingly buy the same tree we already have.  We hope to be able to identify the tree by its apples.  It looks as if it will be bowing under the weight of all its apples this year.WP_20160509_11_20_14_Pro

With our little trees safely loaded in our trailer, we drove the short trek home and got busy planning out the placement of each tree and digging holes.

The kids love to help when the shovels come out. WP_20160507_16_16_13_Pro I loved that everyone pitched in to get the orchard planted.  WP_20160507_16_24_00_ProThis orchard is in honor of our marriage and the resulting 6 beautiful babies; each one of them a blessing. WP_20160507_16_25_40_Pro It was very fitting that we all planted it together and I see these trees growing up right along with my kids.  Each will change dramatically over the next few years. WP_20160507_17_32_41_Pro As we worked together in our orchard, carefully covering the roots and watering them, I couldn’t help but think of the relation to both marriage and raising kids.  Young trees are so fragile in the beginning.  The roots are developing and must be nurtured and tended to daily.  They need attentive watering and good soil.  But once those roots get established, the tree begins to take off, growing quickly and not easily harmed by drought or storms.  A well-rooted, strong tree will bear lots of good fruit that will enrich the lives of many for years to come.

Becca

Raising Meat Rabbits

Last week, the rabbits delivered their second litters of kits and we are pleased to announce everything is going very well.

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Snowball’s kits at 4 days old

Stormy and Snowball are doing a great job taking care of the kits and we love to check in on the litters daily and marvel at how quickly they are growing.

 

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Stormy’s kits at 1 week old

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It’s exciting to have the rabbit department of the farm up and running.

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The kits will stay with mama for 5 weeks. Afterwards, they go into a “grazer.”  This is a bottomless pen, very similar to the broiler pen Ryan built, but the tarp will be unnecessary for the rabbits.  (In fact we may just repurpose the broiler pen for the rabbits…more on that later.)  Grazing our cows and sheep through our orchard would be problematic since they would harm the flower blossoms as well as the fruit and trees.  Running our rabbits through the orchard instead solves this problem.  They will provide a valuable service of keeping the grass in the orchard mown while fertilizing the soil.

The kits reach fryer size (5-6 pounds) around 12 weeks of age.

Why rabbits?  Isn’t rabbit a little unconventional?  Rabbit is not commonly found in the American diet, however in recent years, a movement has been taking place among urban and rural dwellers alike who are concerned about the health, safety, morality and sustainability of the commercial meat industry and would like an easy, affordable, healthy alternative.  When we were told by city council at our previous home we were not allowed to have chickens, we went right out and bought rabbits.

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Huck, our red New Zealand buck

Raising meat rabbits offers a number of advantages.

 

Rabbits are:

  • Noiseless. Prepping for the apocalypse?  Who isn’t, right?  Rest easy knowing the rabbits won’t alert marauders (living or otherwise) to your secret location.  Less importantly, they won’t elicit noise complaints from your neighbors. 😉
  • Odorless (with minimal hutch management).
  • Low maintenance.  Twice a day they need a one-minute check of their food and water.
  • Pound for pound, hands-down the most cost-efficient meat around.  There are a multitude of controversial topics in the world; this is not one of them.  Four pounds of feed = 1 pound of rabbit meat.  20 pounds of feed is needed per fryer. A 50 pound bag of alfalfa pellets is about $15, rich alfalfa hay (what we feed in winter) runs $4-$5 a square bale or they can eat for free on untreated grass, leaves, twigs, spent garden plants, veggie scraps from the kitchen, weeds, clippings from shrubs or fruit tree pruning…(I can go on).
  • Easy to process.  Much easier, cleaner and quicker than chickens, so we have heard. Local meat shops will process them as well.
  • A great substitute for chicken.  It looks and tastes like chicken and can be substituted in recipes calling for chicken.
  • A free lawn service.  In a moveable pen they’ll eat dandelions, mow the grass, fertilize and aerate the soil and convert the lawn into human food, all without chemicals, fossil fuels, and the ongoing calls asking you to upgrade your service plan.
  • Not dependent on space.  A yard isn’t required to graze rabbits on.  They can be kept in hutches and fed alfalfa pellets, hay and veggie scraps.  This makes home-grown meat production open to almost anyone.
  • A compost factory.  With rabbits, a separate compost pile isn’t necessary.  We run most of our veggie scraps through the rabbits.  The manure falls to the ground under the hutch along with any discarded hay, which brings us to another benefit…
  • Gold for the garden.  Rabbit manure is among the best for garden plants.  “Bunny berries” can go directly onto the garden without being composted first.  It doesn’t even smell.  Fo’ reals.  Every few weeks, maybe once a month, we shovel the hay/manure mix out from under the hutches for our veggie garden.
  • Hardy, disease-free and able to live outdoors year-round in most climates.
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Snowball

So pretty much no time, money, skill, land or experience is required to raise rabbits. 🙂

Find your sense of adventure and break out of the chicken/beef/pork mold!  Experiment with rabbit in your recipes!

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Stormy

Rabbits are a great way for anyone to get started being more independent from the current, problematic agricultural system and large food corporations.  If raising rabbits isn’t for you, purchase some fryers from a local farmer to sample.  You may find eating healthy, pasture-raised rabbit an affordable option.

 

Becca   

 

An Addition to the Flock

To increase our flock of sheep, we purchased three ewe (female) lambs from the same farm from which our small flock originated. These new lambs are also 50% St. Croix, 25% Katahdin and 25% Dorper, a good hybrid of prolific, hardy, parasite-resistant hair sheep breeds.

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Meet Clover, Buttercup and Apple Bloom

 

Aren’t they adorable? They are also a tad skittish.  We enjoy interacting calmly with our animals so we hope once these little ewes adapt to their new life on our farm, they’ll settle in nicely and warm up to us.

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The flock meets the new lambs for the first time

 

They are slowly transitioning into the flock. Some animals are very motherly toward youngsters and will readily adopt and nurse babies not biologically belonging to them.  Sheep are not one of these animals.  Although the resident lambs are curious and somewhat accepting, our new arrivals are getting no maternal place holder from among our ewes.  Everyone needs to learn the hierarchy of the flock and the adult ewes have no reservation making sure the youngsters know their place…which is usually a good space away from a ewe.  Wander into her personal bubble and her head will drive that point home.

We’re confident they’ll integrate seamlessly into the flock over time.WP_20160504_14_48_53_Pro For now, the three newbies can usually be found together or with the ram, who is happy with the addition of new ewes.  By this time next year, all our ewes will be busy raising new lambs and the flock dynamic will change once again.

Occasionally all the lambs will graze together. WP_20160504_14_10_32_Pro

But normally you can find each of our original lambs grazing or napping alongside mama.

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Fluffy with his mama, Olive

 

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Poppy chews her cud while Ivy naps

Sometimes a person has to take a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of life to stop and drink in the serenity of pastured sheep quietly grazing on a sunny, spring afternoon.WP_20160504_14_05_41_Pro

 

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WP_20160504_14_10_59_ProCall it preventive medicine.

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Warmly,

Becca

Free-Ranging Heritage Chickens and Turkeys

Chickens are the quintessential farm animal.

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Black Jersey Giant

It just doesn’t feel quite like a farm without a chicken or two running around.  Chickens were one of the species we were most excited about adding to our farm.  In fact, had our backyard fence in our previous home been a privacy fence rather than chain link, we would have smuggled a couple laying hens onto our property and I’m confident nobody would have been the wiser.  That’s how much we wanted chickens!

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A Buckeye (right), a pair of Black Jersey Giants (middle) and a Speckled Sussex (left)

Now that we finally have our beautiful heritage chickens, we are enjoying them immensely.

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A Welsummer pullet

I daresay I won’t ever be without chickens again.

 

As soon as we had a sunny day on tap, we excitedly released our heritage birds to free-range on our farm. We moved them outdoors shortly after we had the broilers settled in their pen.

The kids happily took part in introducing our flock to the farmstead.WP_20160430_14_08_41_Pro  One by one they each grabbed a chicken and carried it from the brooder at the back of the barn around to the front of the barnyard where we had the broiler pen sitting in our future garden plot.

The birds stuck pretty close together at first. They wanted to be with the broilers so they would only venture around the four sides of the broiler pen, afraid to get too far away from the rest of the flock.  WP_20160430_14_15_06_Pro

As the days have gone by, they are beginning to explore the immediate areas surrounding them.

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A Black Jersey Giant and a Speckled Sussex

 

They don’t wander very far and can always be found between their new coop (which houses the feeder and some tantalizingly loose dirt) and the broiler pen.

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A Welsummer enjoying a dust bath

 

We love walking outside and seeing them running around.WP_20160502_13_35_50_Pro

They stretch out in the sun or dig into the dirt for an entertaining dust bath.  WP_20160502_13_45_47_Pro

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Dust bathing

(I had to chuckle when I witnessed one pullet (a female chick) trying to dust bathe on an incline of a little mound of dirt and, losing her balance, ended up rolling down to the bottom.) 🙂

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The feather pattern of Welsummer hens is beautiful

 

During warm afternoons we will find a few clumped together in a shady spot beside the barn for naptime.  Ryan was amused when one curious pullet kept visiting him in his workshop while finishing the broiler pen roof.

The old fence makes an irresistible perch.

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A Bourbon Red turkey poult (top) and a Buckeye (bottom)

 

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Chillin’ on the fence

 

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The turkeys have soft fuzzy heads, appealing feather coloration and a distinctive call

 

They love to peck at grass, leaves and bugs.

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A Buckeye, known for being a great mouser

WP_20160502_13_28_26_Pro They seem perfectly comfy and content being in the spring air, warm sunshine and green grass on our little piece of country.

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The friendliest of all our chickens, the Dominique

We heart chickens.

 

Warmly,

Becca