Late June Tour of the Farm

We’ve been busy, but most of the garden work is done – just weeding here and there and adding mulch. Here are some pictures from today:

itty bitty egg
We found this tiny egg the other day (here next to the normal sized egg). It didn’t have a yolk at all.
columbine 2
Here is a columbine flower – I found this plant growing in the ditch near my house! I dug it up and brought it home. It seems to be happy next to some bleeding hearts and hostas.
chickens
Our chickens enjoying the day.
peonies
The peonies are blooming. We have them fenced to keep chickens out and that is working as a nice trellis for them.
tomato patch
Here is the tomato/squash area. These are doing well.
herb garden
My back herb garden.
strawberries
Here is the strawberry bed. These are giving us a few berries this year. Last year the chickens almost killed them off so I moved the plants and fenced them in.
rogue sunflower
Here is a rogue sunflower.
sunflower
Another rogue sunflower – this one is in the middle of my main garden, and about 2 feet tall.
peas
My peas – almost 2 feet tall now.
sunflowers
More sunflowers – these were planted though. Between the potatoes and onions.
potato flowers
My potatoes are getting flowers now.
ducks
Here are the ducks enjoying the sunshine.
cucumber
A cucumber plant.
chard and kale
A sea of kale and chard. There are a few spinach next to them but they are bolting already so we’ve been eating the spinach.
carrots
A carrot sprout.
lettuce
Lettuce! (and my toes.) We are growing 3 kinds of lettuce. There is a darker kind here on the right – they are a little hard to see here.
bunnies
Baby bunnies with their mama. They are getting ready to go to their new home soon – they are going to be pets for my aunt’s dad. (There are still 3).

The garden is growing well. I am impatiently waiting for my veggies to be big enough to harvest.

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Mid-summer on our farm

Here are some pictures of the goings-on around our tiny farm:

zucchini
My zucchini and yellow squash are going nuts. These plants are huge!
zucchini with cat
Here you can see them with Wizard in front, so you get a little more idea of scale. There are 5 plants in that mess, plus some sunflowers sticking up in back.
ducks
Somehow our duck door got left open – they were starting to spill out.
ducks 2
More duck spillage.
chickens
Here is a picture of the chickens. I love the variety of colors we have.
dogs
My husband got this cool picture of our dogs. Atat’s tail is curled around Downey. Nova thinks the camera is some type of food.

Farming is hard sometimes

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.

dorko
General Dorko, the Dorking rooster.

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.

bantam roo 1
Here’s one of my bantam roosters.
bantam roo 2
Here’s the other rooster
bantam hen
Here is the little hen

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.

The ducks are home!

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:

duck house
Here is the house – there is a door that goes on, it’s not pictured here. But we close it at night to keep the ducks from being eaten by raccoons and other creatures. The extra fence posts in the foreground are the beginnings of our new dog pen.
duck house 2
My son inside the duck house.
duck pen
Here is the duck house, and on the right you can see the pool. The ducks LOVE their pool.
ducks in pool 2
Here they are, swimming and playing. We need to get a hard pool, with some kind of ramp.
ducks in pool 3
The ducks push the sides in so they can get in and out, which spills the water. We’ve put in steps and a ramp on the outside, but they don’t understand those very well.
ducks in pool
Here is a view of the duck’s pool, facing the chicken coop.
nosy neighbors
Here are the nosy neighbors. They were not sure what to make of the ducks when they first moved into the neighborhood, but they are getting along ok now.

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.

Super busy day!

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:

new eggs
See how dark brown the Maran eggs are? The larger carton is not full.  You can see the small whitish eggs are VERY small – those are the bantam eggs. She labeled the eggs- I guess the marans have two varieties. Some with feathered legs, and some without.
new eggs 2
This top carton has the olive egger and easter egger eggs.  Easter eggers (usually Auracauna chickens) can lay blue or green eggs. If you cross them with a maran, the next generation will lay dark olive eggs. You can see some of these eggs are more green than blue.

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:

fluffy ducks
Look how massive they are – we’ve had them 3 weeks now. They are the size of full grown chickens, I swear. They are getting most of their feathers and starting to sometimes quack.
fluffy ducks 4
Ducks getting blow dried, and preening while they dry off. I keep telling them, while blow drying, that this is how we get fluffy eggs. 
fluff ducks 2
Another duck picture.

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:

trees
Larger trees in milk jugs.
more plants
Poppies (on the right) and a peony on the left – I got the peony for free. I will leave them in pots till I know it’s safe to put them outside. I got a bunch of bareroot strawberry plants too – just behind the pots in this picture. I think I will put them out this weekend and cover them with mulch to keep them safe. If the snow melts off my strawberry patch, that is.
gnarled filbert
Here is my “Henry Lauder’s Walking Stick” – also called a Gnarled Filbert. I’m very excited to have one of these. They are really cool trees, with gnarled branches.

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.

Thoughts on Rabbit Harvesting

bunnies
Our rabbit kits

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.

 

Late November on the Farm

woods with snow
Snowy woods.

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.

nova
Our Nova
three dogs
The three dogs on the back porch. Nova likes to eat snow.
nova 2
Another picture of Nova

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.

winter coop
The chickens don’t seem to mind the snow at all.
snow chickens
Snow chickens. The dirt spot here is where we took away their old roost that was out there. We had to steal the sawhorses that held it up, for the rabbit hutch, which you will see below.
chickens in snow 2
Yesterday they found the dirt spot, and they were taking dirt baths in it. The ground is not frozen yet, luckily.

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:

bunny row
Rabbit row. On the left are the rabbits in the hutch we built, and on the right is the one that came with the bunnies. We’re getting it set up for the baby bunnies when they get bigger. The garbage bags in the picture are straw and hay – I have them outside, but covered for easy access.
old new hutch
Here is the hutch that came with the rabbits. It had a roof which we removed in order to get it in the back of the truck. We are just planning on using one side for the winter, so we have closed that side in with wood.
hutch inside
The inside of the new (old) hutch. It has a wire bottom, but I will cover it with straw to try to keep the babies’ feet more comfortable. I need to look it up, but I believe it will be a couple more weeks before they go in there. Hopefully we’ll get the snow out of there before then. We brushed what we could out, but it may melt a little too.

And here are the little baby bunnies:

baby bun
They are starting to munch on food – this one is eating hay.
bunnies
Here they are – they are all brown. But some are darker brown, and one has a little lighter fur. I’m assuming they change color as they get older, but I could be wrong. I’m still new at this. The mom is black and the dad is gray, so I don’t know how the brown comes in.
baby bunny pile
They like to pile up on top of each other, outside of the nest box. I think there are 8 of them. I’ve tried to count without taking them all out, and they jump around too much so I have not gotten a good count. I will be able to get an accurate count soon when I need to move them.

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.

white bunny
My husband built nest boxes for the other two rabbits, and they are lined with straw, so they can stay out of the wind when it gets very cold. They like to sit on top of them sometimes, as you can see Wind do here.

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.

 

 

Pre-snow November

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.

what is that
I was out on our porch, and saw what I thought was a white rose on our already-done, pink rosebush…
clematis
On closer inspection, I realized it’s a white clematis. We have purple clematis growing here, but not nearly this tall – this is up about 8 to 9 feet in the rosebush. And it’s bloomed in November.
artichokes still alive
I haven’t pulled the plants out of the garden yet, and noticed my artichoke plants still looked alive after hard frosts and one day with a dusting of snow. (I have not seen them since we got our current snow).
brussels
My Brussels sprouts. Update on these – since this picture, we dropped into the 20s. These plants were dead as of yesterday, and the sprouts never got bigger than about dime sized. The plants were completely frozen. I gave them to the chickens, they seemed to like them even though they were frozen.
no leaves
Our yard – all the trees have lost their leaves.
no leaves chicken coop
The chicken coop with the leafless forest behind it.
chickens
The chickens enjoying the sunshine on one of our last nice warmish days.
chickens 2
The chickens in the sun
chickens 3
Another pic of the chickens.

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.

Farm updates Early August

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):

Here was my garden just before I left for vacation.
Here was my garden just before I left for vacation.

I came back less than 7 days later and my garden had exploded:

My jungle of a garden.
My jungle of a garden.
There is a pathway here, somewhere.  The calendula has fallen over into it, because the squash plants are pushing it over, I believe.
There is a pathway here, somewhere. The calendula has fallen over into it, because the squash plants are pushing it over, I believe.
My tomato plants were separated by the aisle, and they have decided to join hands. I had to re-separate them (it didn't work very well - I'll have to tie them up more).
My tomato plants were separated by the aisle, and they have decided to join hands. I had to re-separate them (it didn’t work very well – I’ll have to tie them up more).
I have tomatoes! They are getting pretty big, I didn't even see any fruit starting before I left.
I have tomatoes! They are getting pretty big, I didn’t even see any fruit starting before I left.
My tinier tomatillo plants are getting large now, and one has flowers. That gives me hope that I will have fruit this year. The largest plant has had flowers for awhile, and just keeps growing.
My tinier tomatillo plants are getting large now, and one has flowers. That gives me hope that I will have fruit this year. The largest plant has had flowers for awhile, and just keeps growing.
My Black Eyed Susan Thunbergia through the corn/sunflower jungle. I have some regular Black Eyed Susans and calendula planted between the corn, and those are getting very tall also.
My Black Eyed Susan Thunbergia through the corn/sunflower jungle. I have some regular Black Eyed Susans and calendula planted between the corn, and those are getting very tall also.
One of my tall sunflowers. Just taller than me right now, and starting to form a flower.
One of my tall sunflowers. Just taller than me right now, and starting to form a flower.
I have peas! These need a couple more days and then I will pick them, there are several on the plant so I'm excited for a decent pea crop this year. I only got a few pods last year - the plants really faltered.
I have peas! These need a couple more days and then I will pick them, there are several on the plants so I’m excited for a decent pea crop this year. I only got a few pods last year – the plants really faltered.
My cucumbers are getting flowers, and growing well. I hoped for more, but not all my plants took - I ended up with three plants. I love making pickles.
My cucumbers are getting flowers, and growing well. I hoped for more, but not all my plants took – I ended up with three plants. I love making pickles.
My beans are going crazy, climbing to the top of my tree-poles.  I wonder how tall they would get if they had all the room they wanted.  I have tiny beans forming all over my plants.
My beans are going crazy, climbing to the top of my tree-poles. I wonder how tall they would get if they had all the room they wanted. I have tiny beans forming all over my plants.

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:

Here is Wonky Top.  My husband named him, because of his goofy comb.
Here is Wonky Top. My husband named him, because of his goofy comb.

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.

My chickens having fun sitting on their outdoor shelter.
My chickens having fun sitting on (and in) their outdoor shelter.

That Darn Grass

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:

Here is the bed with tarps, cardboard, and even metal trying to cover / kill the grass.
Here is the bed with tarps, cardboard, and even metal trying to cover / kill the grass.

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:

Here's my garden bed as of today.
My garden bed as of today.
Darn grass!  Here's a small strip I'll have to dig up.
Darn grass! Here’s one small strip I’ll have to dig up.

Once I get it all tilled, I will be fencing it in, and then planting!  I think this little guy is excited too:

Chipmunk on our flower barrel, waiting for sunflower seeds to fall from our feeder so he can steal them.
Chipmunk on our flower barrel.