Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thing One and Thing Two?

I remember when we started adding animals to the homestead. The kids could not wait to name them. They would fight over the names. Then when baby animals would come, the kids would want to name them all. We'd remind them that you don't name what you eat. They got around this little rule by naming the animals things like Dinner, Barbecue or Chops. I remember when Lydia wanted to name every female animal Sally. She had a stuffed animal named Sally, and at least one real chicken and goat by the same name.

Perhaps the thrill of having animals has subsided. Maybe the kids have run out of ideas. They no longer want to name the animals. This poor guy, who we bought last summer, has been stuck with the name Dude Man Piggy. I suggested the name as a joke, but the name stuck. 

Dude Man Piggy
We kept back two gilts from the last litters to replace our older (or non productive) sows. These gilts are now bred, and they still don't have names. I've been calling them Black Gilt and Red Gilt (she really is a very dark red and was a brighter red when she was younger.) These poor girls need names. The other sows are Charcoal and Sassafire. The kids aren't throwing out any suggestions. How about you? Do you have any ideas?

Red Gilt

Black Gilt

Monday, November 28, 2011

I was so excited for Thanksgiving this year. Tim was off Wednesday. I lucked into being off on Thursday after two years of working Thanksgiving day. It was the first time we were both off for two days in a row together (that didn't involve a Dr. or a hospital) in longer than I could remember.

We were keeping Thanksgiving small and simple. Well, as small as it gets around here; the six of us, my brother and his kids, and my mom. That makes eleven.

We did have a couple of very enjoyable days. Wednesday we got things done. We prepared for the next day's feast. We worked on some projects around the farm. Thursday we feasted and lazed around watching the parade, playing games, and relaxing. Thursday evening we took the kids to The Pottery Place to paint ornaments. The trouble started later that night.

We ate dinner rather late, after we got back from The Pottery Place. Around midnight Tim started waking up in pain. We assumed it was indigestion from all the rich food and the late dinner. We tried to sleep. We both had to work in the morning.

I left for work about 4:30 AM. Tim still wasn't feeling well, but he got up and went to work about 9. It was then that he realized his pain might be more than indigestion. I was home by ten, and Tim was on his way to the ER.

A few hours later I was on my way to the hospital, and Tim was getting prepped to have his appendix removed. Things went amazingly fast through the ER and OR.   Twenty four hours later we were on our way home. Tim had one less organ, and a slightly larger belly button.

His pain has been minimal, and he has been resting and relaxing for the most part. Jake and the kids were here until Sunday. We ended the weekend with a campfire, and Mamaw and Jake took the kids to a movie. (Glad Jake took some pictures this weekend. I never got out the camera.)

This year has been incredibly frustrating, but I am trying hard to look at the good. This holiday, we did have two days off together without any medical issues. For that, I am very thankful. Tim's appendix acted up in this calendar year, when our insurance deductible has already been paid. Despite everything, we did have a good and relaxing Thanksgiving.

Is it too much to ask to be done with doctors and hospitals for awhile? Or perhaps to just not have any new medical issues come up? Please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We Won!

She began her life here on the farm as a cute tiny piglet. Kellen picked her out to keep as breeding sow. He named her Ashes to go along with the theme of pig names we had going at the time. There was Charcoal and Flame also. All was fine and well until last spring when Ashes didn't farrow.

A full grown sow on a farm only has one purpose, to make piglets. She had been with the boar, but apparently had not been bred. We decided to give her another chance. In with the boar again, and she didn't even appear to be coming into heat. She didn't get bred, again. It was time for her to go.

Taking the feeder hogs or steers to be processed really never bothers me. We know from the time that they are born, that is what they are for. When it is time to get rid of our breeding stock, especially one that was born here, it makes me a little sad. We know the breeding stock. We've named them. We've talked to them.

As we tried to load Ashes the first time, I was feeling a little sad about it.  That feeling didn't last long.

She knew us, and Lord knows that big 'ole sow knew what a feed bucket was. I never had any trouble moving her from one pasture to the next as long as I had a feed bucket. The first time we tried to load her from our back pasture. There are no chutes or gates there, but we figured she'd follow us. And follow she did, until I got to the ramp to the trailer. From that point, she was having none of it.

In frustration, we put her back in the pasture. She followed me just fine then.

About a week later, that big girl put her back legs through the shed floor. I still don't know how much she weighed, but if she was under 600lbs I'd be shocked. I found her one morning with two legs dangling through the floor.

We tried to give her footing to pull herself out, but she couldn't do it. She had her knees wedged between the floor boards. It took a whole morning, a car jack, the tearing off of the shed walls, and all the muscle power Tim and I had to get her out of the hole.

She was weak, and for awhile we were afraid she had broken a leg. It took a good week or so of tending her before she started to get up and around on her own.

Once she was getting around well we moved her to the pig barn where there are chutes and gates designed just for loading pigs. In the meantime, the freezers had gotten pretty full, and we weren't in a hurry to get her to the processor. Another month or so of feeding her, and it was time to try again.

Getting her down the chute was no problem. She went right up to the trailer gate, and would not go any farther. We pushed. We prodded. We smacked. She sat on Tim's feet. We ran out of time, and had to put her back in the pen.

We tried again about a week later. Pretty much the same story, only with quite a bit of anger and drama on the human side of things. And no, I still don't find it a funny story

After the anger and tempers cooled, a new plan was formulated. That pig was going on the trailer. There was no sadness any longer. I was ready to shoot her myself, and have the mother of all hog roasts.  Tim had a better plan.

We left her in the chute. Tim fortified the gates between the chute and the trailer. We put her food and her water in the trailer. She had no where else to go.

Now, I'd like to say that the next morning we found her in the trailer happily eating her grain. Nope. She hadn't touched it. Kellen showed her the grain, and she would follow him to the gate, but not go through. None of us ever saw her go onto the trailer.

After a couple of days of this, Tim walked out the door with a very determined look on his face. He took Kellen with him. I'm not exactly sure what happened over the hill there. I heard the electric fence was involved. All I know is about 20 minutes later, this is what I saw out my kitchen window.

And we all cheered!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Clean Up and Planting

On Veteran's Day, Kellen and Lydia joined their 4-H group to help clean up a flower bed in Huntington and plant new fall flowers. How appropriate that they happened to be working at a monument to Veterans.

The younger kids and I joined them briefly. They had cleaned up all the summer plants, pruned the roses, and pulled out the weeds. Then they planted Violas for a bit of cool weather color.

The kids worked hard, but I think they all had fun. Lydia told me the next morning she was sore. I told her she must not work hard enough around here. Thanks to the Williams' for providing the opportunity and the help, and thanks to our fearless leader, Annie for taking on this wily bunch to complete the project.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

No Turkey About It.

How does a food become so intertwined and connected with a holiday? We all have our family favorites that are must haves for holiday dinners, but everyone has turkey at Thanksgiving don't they? This year we will be among the small percentage that doesn't.

Since we began raising our own meat, Thanksgiving has posed a bit of dilemma. We raise a variety of pastured, healthy, and delicious meats, but there are no turkeys on the farm. Can you have Thanksgiving without turkey?

In the past, our answer has been no. We've purchased a turkey (after all they are so cheap this time of year,)  and served it along side venison, lamb, rabbit, beef, or pork depending on what we had available from the farm. This year, we are changing our tune, and saying, "Yes, you can, and we will, have Thanksgiving without turkey." There are a few reasons behind this change of heart.

The first reason happened accidentally. When Kellen and Lydia had their Ham, Bacon, and Egg project pigs processed, we wanted to order the loins in boneless roasts. Apparently, there was a breakdown in communication between us and the processor. Oh, we got boneless loin roasts alright, but the processor kept them whole. Do you know how large a whole feeder pig loin is? Each hog has two loins. Out of the four loins we received, the smallest is seven pounds. It only makes sense to use those large roasts for a feast like Thanksgiving.

Beyond the gigantic pork loins, we have several freezers full of delicious, healthy pastured beef, goat, and pork. We have ducks and chickens that are just about ready to be processed. Do we really need to buy any other meat? But there is the argument that turkey is so cheap right now why not stock up on something we don't have?

Well, this is where I must admit that I have become a bit of a meat snob. It has been a gradual change. One that I didn't even realize was happening, but there is a huge difference in taste between factory farm raised and small farm raised meat. I don't want the factory raised stuff, and I don't know of anyone local with turkeys ready for Thanksgiving.

So you realize that I haven just written this whole post to justify to myself that it is ok to not have turkey at Thanksgiving. That is how connected turkey is to Thanksgiving. Next year, maybe we need to raise turkeys. Or the hunters in the family need to go get me a local turkey!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Love, Encouragement and Good Timing

Yesterday morning was rough here on the farm. In fact, it was one of the worst mornings I can remember in quite some time. It is a long story which parts of do not need to be shared publicly, and parts may be shared at a later time when I might possibly find it a funny story.

Suffice to say that it was very frustrating, tempers flared, and words flew. Afterward, I pulled myself and the kids together to go to a local homeschool group meeting.

During the announcements I really wasn't paying much attention. I was off in my own world in my head. I did notice a friend pull out a large wrapped box, and I wondered if I'd missed someone's birthday or other special event. As she was talking, she started to walk toward me with the box in her hand. That was when I started to listen, and realized that she was talking about me and my family.

She, along with several other crafty friends, wanted to do something special for us just to say they love us and are praying with us through all the hard times. These ladies are amazing, and their gift of love and encouragement couldn't have come on a better morning for me.

Look at their amazing handiwork. Each square is different and unique. There are apples, music notes, flowers, squirrels, and as they told us, lots of love and prayers knitted into this blanket.

Thanks so much Crystal, Jamie, Annie, Glenna, Jean, Patricia, and Maria. You're amazing!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Cornish Cross 101

 We first started raising chickens a little over five years ago. When we purchased chickens, we would simply buy a straight run of a dual purpose birds, like RI Red, or Buff Orpington, and when the cockerels started crowing into the freezer they went.

In the spring of 2010 we went in with some friends to raise our first 100 Cornish Cross chickens. I feel like I'm still learning how to raise these birds, but here are some of the things I've learned about this cross breed.

They are a cross breed between the Cornish and White Plymouth rock chickens. I was a bit confused when I read that because the only Cornish bird I know is the Cornish Game Hen you get in the grocery store. How could such a small bird be included in a cross that yielded quick growing, large meat birds? With a little research, I found out those game hens are 4 weeks old! 

Plymouth Rock
The Cornish is a large, but short stocky bird. The Rocks are large bird on a taller frame. The cross is a heavy large bird.

They are bred to grow quickly and produce a lot of meat. They are not meant to survive to reproduction, and can have a lot of health problems because of their size, especially if left to grow too large.

They are the bird that most large operations use for chicken production. They grow fast. The Cornish cross can produce a 4-5 pound finished product in as little as seven weeks. The dual purpose breeds we've used before can take up to six months to produce the same sized bird, and the meat distribution is different. The crosses have a lot of white meat, another reason they are used in commercial production.

Left- 6 month Golden Comet. Right- 11 week old Cornish Cross
Raising these birds begins like any other chickens. They are cute and fluffy. Their growth rate is noticeable after the first week.

One Day Old Cornish Rock Crosses

One Week Old Barred Rock and Cornish Rock Crosses. Note: they were about the same size at hatching.

The feed needs to be a high percent of protein. We prefer to use non-medicated feed, and started our first batch of these birds on Purina flock raiser. They grew well, but their droppings made wonder if the feed was properly digested. It reeked beyond normal chicken smell and was very loose. Later, a friend recommended a recipe online for broiler feed, and we worked with our feed store to have them custom mix the feed for us. The good news was it seemed to agree with the chickens better. The even better news was that it was about half the price.

These birds are not natural foragers. They are perfectly content to lay as close to the feeder as possible for the entire day. Our first batch of birds we had in with the hens. We figured that in the morning, the Crosses would learn to go out the door and down the ladder with the rest of the chickens. It never happened. I brought greens  to them. They really didn't seem to care.The pictures below are from the first batch of birds we raised.

2 weeks.

4 weeks.

5 weeks.

7 weeks.

Since then we've converted rabbit hutches and made a tractor to get the birds on grass more. It has helped, and they will go and forage and eat bugs and scratch like I expect a chicken to, but they never stray too far from the feeder.

Converted rabbit hutches

Chicken Tractor
Since we've changed feed and got the birds out on pasture, the growth has slowed some. I am ok with that because I think it is healthier for them, and we also see less of the health problems that are attributed to their sudden growth.

The good points about these birds are they grow quickly, and are meaty birds with a lot of white meat. Those bonuses come with some drawbacks. They are prone to broken legs, often at the hip. I have yet to have one recover from a broken leg. They also are likely to keel over of a heart attack, especially in the heat, or a sudden upswing of temperatures. In the cold they will smother each other.

If you raise these bird yourself, on pasture, their flavor will far surpass any chicken you buy at the grocery store. But, I think the slow growing dual purpose birds have a lot more flavor than the Cornish Crosses.

There are good and bad points to raising these birds. You can't beat them for quick growth and meaty bodies. If you are growing them for sale, the large breast and mild taste are what most people expect from a chicken.

I've begun to read a bit about another cross breed, the Colored Ranger, that is supposed to be a better cross for foraging. Their growth is a bit slower than the Cornish Cross. I am considering trying a batch of these in the spring. Anyone else tried this cross breed? What did you think?