Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Windy Whizbang Weekend

About our Whizbang chicken’ pickin’experience! Sandhill CSA finally got around to processing our first round of broilers for the season, and the week or two we waited to do the job was well worth it. We finally made good on our intention to implement a mechanical chicken plucker into our processing regimen. Of course, we were not going to spend the $1200 to $1400 to buy a store-bought one. We have forever been seeing ads for a do-it-yourself model called the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, whose plans were drawn and the model developed by Herrick Kimball, a long-time backyard chicken farmer. Indeed, the whizbang model plucks two chickens in less than 20 seconds, and makes the whole processing event go along more smoothly, with a significant reduction in arthritic manual feather picking.

We only lost one chicken in this round of 50, and we don’t know why it didn’t make it. The other birds, considering the additional time we fed them out, weighed in mostly between 5 ½ and 6 ½ pounds, and were all very nice looking chickens. We were very pleased. The extra costs of feeding 50 six pound birds, however, was significant. At any rate, we wanted to wait until the plucker was built.
The plucker, in fact, could not be built by Jenn and I - not reasonably. While it says anyone can put it together, there is a need for familiarity with a number of skills, such as pulley and v-belt applications, electric wiring, and extreme attention to detail. Fortunately, our neighbor Jack has all the skills necessary to build chicken pikers, and a lot of other mechanical interests. So, he being retired, was happy to tackle the project just to see if the crazy thing would work. Jack spent about four or five days putting it together, with a number of trips to the store being found necessary, and a little more waiting for special ordered parts. While Jenn and I might have gotten the thing together, it would have taken quite a while longer just to catch up with the mechanical learning curve. Jack has been a Godsend to our family and farm. And, the plucker works, with perhaps only a few modifications necessary.

We would have finished all of the birds in two days, only needing the extra day because Jenn had to work at the library. However, as Jack predicted Saturday morning, weather got in our way. With four chickens waiting to be processed, and five more left to cull and pluck, I noticed the darkest clouds I have seen in a while coming on pretty quickly, and I directed Micah and Rosa to shut in the layer hens while I attended to the broody hen and her chicks. Just as I had walked about halfway across the pasture, the wind picked up more, and Jenn came out to tell me the power was out. Then came the noise, and the top of the tree-line was swirling in circles, as were piles of leaves that had flown over from the woods. I started yelling very loudly to everyone outside, “go downstairs and take cover now!”

Everyone ran into the house, and I anchored down the tractor that contained the Ms. Broody and her chicks. This took some time, because the wind kept blowing the tarp off. At the same time, I heard that noise in the air to the south of us that suggested something more than a strong wind was developing. I was going to head downstairs, when I saw the chicken tractor that held the last five broilers, a test model I had made from PVC and tarp, was actually blowing away! I ran over, put it back in place, and then went to the garage to find more anchors. I actually ended up dragging old used tires out of the garage to hold the tractor down, and sat out there with the chix tractor for a few more seconds to make sure it would work. At some point, I decided there was nothing more that I could do, and ran into the house to go downstairs. However, I found one more thing needed to be done. There were four, plucked and nearly butchered, chickens sitting out in the heat of the chicken. I had to bag them up, and put them into the freezer outside in hopes that they would all stay fresh while the power was out.

Then I was ready to go downstairs, but a torrential rain began to fall, and I had to make another trip around the house to shut all of the windows. I did so, and then finally went downstairs to tell Jenn and the kids that everything was taken care of, and I would stay upstairs to monitor the sky. When I returned upstairs, everything was clear. It seemed like it had taken most of an hour to get through everything, but it had probably taken less than 10 minutes. Everyone came upstairs, candles were brought out, and we sat together in the living room eating melted ice cream and waited for the power to come back on. It didn’t until after bedtime, at 11:30, when seemingly every light in the house snapped on. Fortunately, it was only out for four hours, and all of the chicken in the fridge and freezer stayed fresh, and all of the broilers out in the pen kept their feet on the ground. At least for one more day.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Finally, a Farm Update

Wow, it has been a long time since I’ve updated the blog. We received an email from a Friend in Washington State, and she wondered if we were busy with the farm since we had not been blogging for a while. Well, we have been very busy with the farm, and there are a lot of updates.

First, the pigs are now hogs, and they are eating a lot. I think we might change the feed over to a 12 percent protein, as they are close to weight and the lower protein feed casts less. All six hogs are weighing close to 200 pounds, I’d guess, and butchering day is set for July 29. This year’s pork is far surpassing the harvest from last season, as we purchased far better quality feeders.

Our layers are laying just fine, and our new Australorps are growing just great. Hopefully, they will begin laying at the end of August, so that we will have some eggs for sale over the winter. As for the first batch of fifty broilers, they should be ready for butchering in a week or two. We could butcher next weekend, but we could let them grow another week to add a few pounds. We might even have some extra for sale, unless we sell the rest of our five shares soon.

We added bull calves this spring, and had a few problems. We purchased some Jersey calves for $25 a piece, and brought them home, where they promptly came down with a bad case of the scours. We had to do some nursing, but both came through with the use of a home remedy that rehydrated them, and a little extra warmth from some heat lamps. The health of these bull calves became a real point of interest for a couple of neighbors, both of whom raise Jerseys and have had multiple problems with the calves because they tend to be weaker than other breeds. We found this out first hand, as one of them, right after being rid of the scours, came down with a joint disease. I held off giving penicillin in hopes of the calf improving, as it was eating very well, and getting itself up to stand with relative ease, even though it was having trouble with its front legs. However, when I went out the next morning, the calf could not get itself up at all, and could not eat. I administered some penicillin, but it was too late. The calf passed on after two hours. The other one, which the kids named Eros (I know, I know), is doing great, and will be eating grass in no time. We still hope to get another bull calf so that we can offer beef next season.

As expected, we were able to pick up our yearling ewes, which Rosa has been waiting patiently for for more than a year. We picked them up, had a pleasant visit, and brought the animals home without any problem. I had just finished putting up the electric fencing in the pouring rain the day before, and during the morning, and felt comfortable that it could hold most anything. When it came time to unload the sheep, I lifted the biggest one out and placed it in the shelter, just barely latching the fence. As I went to get the other one, the first burst out of the pen and into the pasture. This does not seem to bad, but of course, the story continues.

Being told by the breeder that the sheep should spend a few days penned before letting them out into pasture, I became intent on rounding the ewe up and back into the pen. Now, she did not know me from Adam, and was naturally very scared. I should have known from previous experience with animals that, you simply cannot control an animal that you do not have some sort of relationship established with, if at all, when they set their mind to something else. After about ten minutes of trying to keep away from Micah and I in the pasture, the ewe went right through the electric fence, and I followed, right through the electric fence. I chased the animal for about 15 minutes in the pouring rain, and then Jenn came home during the chase, and her and Rosa began to help, We tried for about an hour, in the continuing rain, but could not catch that ewe, who finally ran across an open field, and far away from us. Jenn and Rosa were crushed, and I was simply distraught. I had no idea what would become of the ewe, but it was now out of our hands. We put the other animal into the pen without incident.

The next morning, one neighbor stopped by and told us that someone spotted a ewe in their back yard, and figured it was probably ours. (I wonder why?) At least we knew it was in the area. Another neighbor stopped by to help Jenn and Rosa look for the animal, but I did not go, as I did not think we would be able to catch the animal even if we saw it. On First Day, Jenn and Rosa made flyers offering a reward for the lost sheep. When they left to post the flyers, Micah suggested out of the blue that they stop at a house around the corner of our section and ask the neighbor if they had seen our ewe. Jenn stopped, at least to let them know we were missing an animal. When she spoke to the neighbor, he indicated that he found a ewe eating grass right outside of his goat pasture, and when he invited the girl in, she walked right in and began socializing with the goats. Jenn brought the ewe home without incident, and we unloaded her from Jenn’s van into the pasture.

Of course, by this time, the other ewe had found her way out of the pen, and was lonely. I can’t believe how sociable sheep are. She was attracted the company that would be offered to her by the hogs, and the taller grass, and went right through my so called impenetrable fence. When we got the lost ewe into the pasture, she saw her partner, and then she jumped through the fence, and that is where the two of them have remained. And they spend as much time next to the hogs as they can. Naturally, we borrowed money for a more powerful fencer (I am not working yet) and cut all the overgrown grass, which should have been done weeks ago. Learn as you go, that’s our motto. All the animals are doing fine now, and so are we. We feel blessed by each of them, except for one of the roosters.