Here are some pictures of the goings-on around our tiny farm:
We currently have a lot of roosters. We had 3 adults, and I’m not yet sure how many up-and-comers from this year’s hatches. I really wasn’t noticing the crowing, until last week my neighbor said something – he mentioned that the roosters were getting a bit annoying. His mentioning it made me notice it, of course. So I figured out who the worst offenders (at that time) were – it was mostly our older roosters Wonky Top and Splash, and one of our younger roosters from our first batch. I thought about it and realized that the only reason I had kept so many was for breeding purposes, which have now been accomplished. I have 14 chicks that were all from my chickens, so my older roos have spread their genes. We culled the three worst offenders, for now. We were planning on taking out some of the younger ones anyway, but I hadn’t planned on Wonky and Splash (since we named them), so that was a bit hard. We kept our best (and quietest) year-old rooster, General Dorko.
It has been quieter on the farm lately… or it was, until my silly little bantam roosters started crowing more. They are very small so their crows are little (it sounds like a regular rooster sucked some helium first). They are really tiny, so in terms of meat it would be a lot of work for not much payoff. I think I may sell them along with the hen. Her eggs are going to be small – the bantams were a bonus when I bought my hatching eggs anyway. They are cute, but not really what we’re trying to do here.
With all the harvesting we are having to do, I feel like I’m killing something every weekend. Actually, I literally have been lately. I need to figure out timing for future years. We did 5 rabbits a few weeks ago, then a duck (we skinned it instead of trying to mess with waxing / scalding – the meat was delicious). Then the three roosters last weekend. And I have a backlog of “animals we need to cull soon” – ducks, chickens, and rabbits. I have to do some rabbits later tonight.
Next year, we are not planning on hatching any chicks, so that will help. We won’t have ducks, since we are going to take them all out this year, and we don’t plan on having them ever again since they are ridiculously messy. The rabbits are relatively easy (no feathers to pluck) but it still sucks having to actually kill them. And they are eating a lot, or at least this batch is – I don’t know if it’s the summer heat or what. We were trying to decide whether to keep rabbits at all anymore, and I think that we will, at least one more year to see where we are at (if it’s actually saving us money or not). But I won’t breed them again this year, and I need a different schedule for next year – maybe a batch in spring, one in the fall, or something. Summer seems too hard on the does. We will be retiring Fire (our black Rex doe), because this last litter was only 3 bunnies – I don’t know if something is wrong with her or not, but we will be taking one of the younger bunnies we have and raising it up to be a breeder. I’ll probably sell her to someone as a pet.
I enjoy farming, I just need to figure out a better balance in terms of timing.
We finished the ducks’ pen and house. They love it! They are not so excited to go inside their house at night, but we’ve found some ways to corral them into it. Here are some pictures of them in their new digs:
Our ducks are HUGE. Larger than I expected them to get. My uncle saw them and called them our cow-ducks, since they are so large. They are a lot of fun to watch, now that they are in their permanent spot in the yard.
We had an extremely busy day (well, evening). First I worked all day at my job. Then I drove for an hour to meet with this lady to buy some hatching eggs! For our large hatch we are using some from our own chickens, but I saw an ad on craigslist for hatching eggs of Black Copper Marans and Olive/Easter Eggers. I went and met with her today and got a bunch of hatching eggs. She threw in some Bantam eggs. I’m not sure how that will go, since bantams are so small. Their eggs are very tiny. She said they should do fine mixed with regular sized chickens though. Here are the cool hatching eggs – you will see why I wanted them:
I got home after my egg-adventure, and the ducks, who are STILL in the house for tonight, needed a bath very badly. We are planning on getting them outside tomorrow – my hubby is off so he said he’d start getting their temporary outside housing set up, and I’ll help get them in there tomorrow when I get home. But with this bathtime, I finally got some pictures of the blow-drying ducks:
One other thing, actually kind of frustrating, that happened today – I ordered a bunch of trees and fruit plants this year (raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, etc) – I got a notice that they already shipped last week – We still have snow here, although it is supposed to warm up this week and stay warmer (fingers crossed). My plants came today. Which means I had to figure out what to do with them/get them set up. I’ve been saving milk jugs for most of the winter, so that I didn’t have to buy buckets or large pots. I plan on keeping most things in pots for a year or two, so we can keep them safe from deer and the lawn mower. Some things were dormant but most said to plant right away. Here are my new plants, all dressed up and nowhere really to go yet:
Oh, and also – an update on my test hatch. It turned out that of the last 4 eggs, 2 were duds (I candled last night finally, and they were completely empty). The other two had chicks that never came out. I opened them tonight and they were dead. I gave them till tonight to start pipping but there was nothing. So, of the actual fertile eggs, I ended up with about a 2/3 hatch success – 4 out of 6 eggs hatched. Those 4 chicks are doing very well. I cleaned and disinfected the incubator and set it to dry. I am not sure if I will start the “real” hatch tomorrow or Friday night. I will have to see how much work moving the ducks tomorrow night is.
We raise our rabbits for meat. We have three adults, and I got them this past fall so that we can have meat for our family. One small step towards our greater goal of being food independent. Although I would have preferred to wait until spring to breed our rabbits, one of the does was pregnant when I got them in late October. That left us with 7 kits ready for harvest at the beginning of January.
The second week of January, I harvested four of the kits. They were 9 weeks old at that point. I had been looking into what the most humane way of killing them would be – my parents raised rabbits when I was a kid, and my mom told me that they had always used a .22 pistol – it’s fast, easy on the rabbit since they feel nothing – it’s over in an instant. That’s what we ended up doing. A shot in the back of the head, and it’s over. It was a lot easier than I thought. It’s never easy to take an animal’s life, but I feel we did it in the most humane way. I also thanked them each for their sacrifice to us before taking them.
The first four took me a couple of hours from start to finish – from culling to having meat ready. I’m not going to go into detail here, but they are pretty easy to process – especially compared to chickens. It is still quite a bit of work, and it was cold out that day, so I decided to wait to take the other three at a later date. For the first four, we got about 6.5 lbs of meat – I weighed one beforehand, and it was about 4 lbs live weight. I got 1.5 to 1.75 lbs of meat from each kit.
A couple weeks later I culled the other three. I again got about 6 lbs of meat – they had grown a little more – one produced about 2 lbs of meat and the other two were just shy of 2 lbs each. I’d heard that you want to harvest them from 8-10 weeks old, because beyond that you are losing out on efficiency in terms of a meat harvested to food spent ratio. Also older rabbits tend to have a tougher meat texture. The first four we did at 9 weeks, the other three were 11 weeks.
One thing that made this whole thing easier was that we had not handled the babies a lot – they weren’t very friendly. They saw us as food and water providers. We try to pet the adults, our breeding stock, when we go out to feed them. But our plans are not to cull them – someday when they aren’t good breeding stock we may have to rethink that. I think in the summer the babies would get more handling, since it will be nice out and I’m sure my son will want to play with some. It may get a little harder then. But it’s kind of the same with our chickens. I’ve culled roosters that I really liked – I had reasons that they needed to be culled though – some were aggressive, or aggressive to hens. It’s all part of farming, and processing your own food. My son was interested in watching the harvest a bit, but did not participate at all. I always try to impart this lesson to him – “This is where our food comes from. If you buy a chicken or other meat at the store, it had a life once, and someone else killed it. At least we know our animals had the best life we could give them when they were alive.”
We are going to wait to breed the adults again until spring. We aren’t planning on having any rabbit kits during the winter anymore. Winter makes it harder to take care of everyone – water freezing, and me being worried they are cold – I don’t feel it’s fair to the does to make them have litters in the winter. I’ve planned out a breeding schedule for summer, so we should be able to get about 3 litters from each of the two does throughout the warmer months. I have an uncle that keeps saying we should get more. I think that the adults we have are plenty for now.
We’ve been very busy this month. In my last post, I said I would get some pictures of snow… well, then it melted. But on Thanksgiving, which was a couple days ago, we got about 4-5 inches. So we have snow again.
Here is Nova. We got her about a month ago, from our coworker. Nova was her son’s dog, when he was in the Air force in Georgia. Now he moved back to town and is going to college, and couldn’t keep her, and my coworker felt bad that Nova was home alone during the day. So we took her in. She gets along great with our other dogs and she is a sweetheart.
The chickens aren’t minding the snow so much. I have heat lamps in the two rooms of their coop, so they can go in and warm up their feet if they get cold. Our batch last year (which we still have the hens from) didn’t like to go out in the snow. I’m not sure why they don’t mind this year, but they don’t.
Last weekend we went up to my cousin’s to get the original hutch that I got with the rabbits. We have set it up near our other rabbit hutch, so it’s now Rabbit Row:
And here are the little baby bunnies:
The rabbits have been doing ok with the cold so far. We’re going to add a tarp to the front of the hutches to block wind from the inside. That’s one reason I positioned the hutches into “Rabbit Row.” – I figure it will help block wind somewhat. I’m already planning on a new setup once spring comes – more of a rabbit shed, I think. I’d like to add a run of some sort so they can hang out in the grass also.
We’ve also decided on names for the adults. They are Earth, Wind, and Fire. (my husband came up with it) – The gray buck is Earth (since he’s on the left), the white doe is Wind, and the black doe is Fire.
The farm is pretty much ready for winter. It’s a nice time to just cozy up inside – we don’t have a lot of projects we can do outside in winter, except reinforcing animal housing and doing normal feeding chores each morning and night. I like that it’s kind of a relaxation time. Of course I’m already planning in my head what we’ll do when spring comes.
I’m a little late with this post. This November has been a little strange, with warmer temps than normal… that is, until a few days ago. I took some pictures last week, before we got snow, when we were in the 50s temperature wise. The snow started a couple days ago. We only have about an inch on the ground right now. We’ve had some flurries here and there, and now our temperatures are in the 20s. Brrr… Here are some pictures of our pre-snow November.
I’ll get some new pics soon to show you what our snow looks like. I’ll also update on the baby bunnies – they have grown a lot in 2 weeks.
I haven’t posted in over a week, because I went to California to meet my new niece. Before I left, this was my garden (taken on 7/23/15):
I came back less than 7 days later and my garden had exploded:
The chickens are doing well. We had planned on starting to cull some roosters when I got home. A couple on the shortlist have redeemed themselves for now. We culled two on Sunday – one was getting very aggressive and had pecked my son, and the other was picking on the rest of the big roosters. We will need to take out a couple more before winter, but the ones we still have are behaving better. One of our youngest roosters, Wonky Top:
Wonky’s comb has been straightening out. He has straightened out too – he was going to be one of the first we took out, because he didn’t get along with anyone – he was really skittish, and he fought with everyone. We had separated the roosters from the hens for awhile, and he would get picked on by the bigger guys, and then escape. Each time we caught him and put him back with the roosters, he would escape again, and then evade capture for most of the day. I finally put him in with the hens. He stayed there while I was on vacation. When I got back I thought my roosters were bored being over in their side (we had them in the grassless side because it was easier to get them in at night), so I put them with everyone again. Wonky then asserted himself, pretty much saying “you’re on MY side now!” and he wouldn’t take any flack from the big guys. Now he doesn’t seem so skittish, and he’s getting along with everyone better. So we have decided he can stay, for now. I suspect he’s a Cuckoo Maran – I really wanted some Marans (the hens can lay darker brown eggs ) so if possible we may keep him for breeding. We will see.
I was planning on keeping certain roosters based on looks, for breeding purposes, but we are starting to cull based mostly on their behavior, especially toward us. Our big Black Langshan rooster was one that we took out this weekend, since he flew up on my son and pecked him in the chest. That was the deciding factor for him. We were planning on keeping at least two – I read that if you have 3 or 4 they can get along better than having just two. We’ll just have to play it by ear with them.
The chickens are enjoying their outdoor shelter – we allow them in the coop anyway, but this shelter was already in the part of the run that I have them in right now, so we left it (it’s a little large so we’d have to disassemble it to remove it) – they have learned they can go on top of it. That puts their heads only about 6 inches from the top of the fence. They have not seemed to figure that part out yet though – I was worried they would jump out but nobody has so far.
I’m starting a new garden bed this year, and it is in an area where our lawn is typically very lush. I was going to do a lasagna-style (layered) garden, but I don’t have enough dirt for the top layer. The garden is going to be 10×30 feet in size. So in mid April I decided to try to cover the grass to kill it, which would make tilling it a lot easier, and prevent me from having to dig up all that grass.
I marked the corners of the bed, and then used what I had on hand – large cardboard pieces, plastic tarps, and even a big sheet of metal. I placed rocks and pieces of wood on top to hold everything down.
Here is what it looked like with all the supposedly-grass-killing coverings:
I uncovered it all today because I’d like to start getting it ready – I have plants waiting to go in. I could tell over the last month that there were areas I’d still have to pull grass out from. I found out today that the plastic tarps acted more as a greenhouse for the grass than as a grass killer. The cardboard was the best thing – those areas are almost bare – the soil will be a lot easier to till. The metal sheet worked well also. Sheets of plywood or particle board would work as well – I found this out by accident when we left some scraps out a few weeks ago in an area where we didn’t want the grass killed.
I’m not going to be doing any tilling for a couple days, so I took the cardboard pieces and placed them over the still-very-grassy areas, in an effort to at least keep the grass from getting any bigger in those spots. Here is my bed now:
Once I get it all tilled, I will be fencing it in, and then planting! I think this little guy is excited too:
I’m working on getting the garden beds ready for this year’s plantings. Tonight after work, I wanted to start working on my old garden bed from last year, which is at the back of our house. I’ve been eying it lately, realizing I’d have some work to do to get it ready. My parents used it for several years, and then we planted in it last year, so the soil is ok, but not wonderful. I dug it a little bigger last year – it’s now about 25×6′ in most of the garden – there is a spot that is still grassy that I will tackle in the next few days. The part closest to the house is very sandy, and as you get further away it’s very clay soil with lots of rocks. I added some amendments last year – newer soil, some leaves, grass clippings, but it will probably take a few years of amending it to get it really nice.
It was pretty dry here the last few weeks, so the soil was very compacted. We got some good rain the last couple of days so I thought tonight would be a good night to try to till it, because it would be softer – I do not have a rototiller that works, so I have to do it by hand. With my trusty helper (my son Daniel) by my side, we chopped up some of the top layer of soil. My plan was to pull the weeds that were setting up in there, move the top few inches of soil, and bury some compost into it. Our compost isn’t fully composted yet, but I have a good mix of old chicken bedding/poop and leaves sitting on the compost pile that I decided to use.
Working in sections, I would move the soil we’d broken up and dump in a wheel barrow full of compost material, and then bury it. I also tried to move the sand/clay portions of dirt around so it’s more mixed together. Here is the finished section we did tonight – there’s still quite a bit of work to do since we only had time for about a 6-8 foot section tonight, but it goes pretty fast once you get the dirt broken up. It’s a lot of shoveling. I think the bed will work nicely though. I have some Kale seedlings that I need to get planted soon.