Sunday, February 21, 2010

Boom Pole Comes to the Farm

Barry was given a new-old toy for his tractor today, a pole boom. Apparently with this thing he will now solve all the problems of the world (or at least on the farm) and get so much more work done that he can't even speak he's so overwhelmed. I don't know, it looks like a big, metal pole, but it makes him happy and I got a new work table out of the deal.
Our kindly neighbor, Carl, gave us the boom pole, and kindly dropped by to supervise. Barry decided the first thing to do would be to shift a lot of huge rounds of sweet gum tree he had gotten from a friend who's tree had fallen on his house (all fine). These pieces of wood are really huge! Two or three people can sit on one at a time, or you could use a couple as a good sized table.

The chickens quite enjoyed the snacks Barry kept unearthing in his moving of these huge wood pieces. They were in and around the tractor the whole time he was doing the shifting. They are pretty savvy at keeping out of the way, but every so often I think one might be about to get run over, but no, she's gone another direction and is safe. Silly birds.

By the end of the day Barry had moved about 15 of these big rounds into his own little version of Stonehenge, or Woodhenge, as I call it. Perhaps the Druids will show up to have a parade some day soon. This is also the place we'll be planting two dogwood trees, a pink and a white, in memory of his parents, his mum having passed away last week. I think the dogwoods will look lovely surrounded by the friendly seats...or we could use them as tiny stages, or...we'll think of something.

Oh, and I got two big rounds, one by the barn and one by the house, for my own use as worktables. I love not having to bend over to use the little log I had before. So the boom pole gets an A+ with me, even if I wouldn't have known what it was before today.

See you on the farm!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Chucks Grow Up

As with all things, time passes, we grow older and wiser, and if you are young enough, you get bigger (or old enough, too). Same with our animals. Remember these guys? Aren't they adorable?

The Chucks (chickens and ducks) arrived six and a half weeks ago. We raised them in plastic bins in the bathroom. Then they went outside into the bigger brooder house.

Today both got to roam around outside in their new outside runs (they must be kept under wire for awhile longer or they are just hawk-bait).

My how they have grown! Most of the ducks are almost a foot tall and weigh a couple of pounds. The chickens are heavier than they look, and their feathers are finally coming in.

The ducks are more afraid of us humans than the chickens, probably because the chickens are two-legged piranhas and will eat us if we don't feed them NOW! whereas the ducks are more laid back about food, but love playing in the water.

The ducks are still on the adorable side, but the chickens have become more interesting as future food. We will be keeping some of the female ducks for egg laying, but since they all look alike we'll have to get up close and personal to figure out which is which.

The fun never ends on the farm!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Perfect Food

Eggs. This is a post about eggs. I am obsessed, just a little, with eggs. I love cooking them, eating them, hatching them, but mostly eating them. I also like to learn how people around the world use eggs, in cooking and other things. I didn't know, for example, that goose eggs are prized for craft projects and creating amazing art eggs.I also love to learn about how other cultures perceive their food industry. Here in the U.S. we have a huge "Egg Board" which tells us how to store/cook/use eggs, since we apparently have lost all knowledge of the things. However, in other countries (where cleanliness of food supply seems to be a non-issue), the eggs are graded by size and packaged and that is about it. In Barcelona's Boqueria Market, the eggs at one stall are out for all to see (though not to touch!)

In Great Britain, eggs are out on the shelves in half dozen boxes mostly (I guess they go to market more often then do we?), and each egg has a little stamp like "organic" or "natural" or "British", something like that.

What I notice is that we Americans are totally and completely OBSESSED with egg refrigeration and egg shell cleanliness. We think that if the egg has been out of the 'fridge for more than ten minutes, it will instantly 'go bad' and kill us. The rest of the world, however, has a bit of common sense, and most don't refrigerate their eggs. I don't refrigerate my eggs, but I do keep them in a cool spot. Granted, they use them faster than we do, and they usually buy them at a small market, not a Mega-lo-mart. The average American egg in the store is about two weeks old, did you know that? When you think about all the washing and grading and sorting and shipping they have to do with 10,000 eggs a day, you can see that they might not be fresh from the chicken that day. Your farm-fresh, unwashed eggs will keep just fine on your refrigerator shelf for at least 8 weeks, probably longer (I am not a USDA rep, nor do I play on on TV, just saying).

Also, I am surprised that many people wash their eggs before they use them. Why? Are they covered in chicken poop or encrusted with something nasty? I don't understand the need to wash something that I don't even let touch my food. I crack the egg, part the shell and let the inside fall into a bowl. I also crack each egg into a small bowl before adding it to my recipe. That is common sense I learned from my mother. Eggs are a natural product, so you might run into one that has gone bad or has a blood spot or something. You break each egg into the little bowl first so the one bad egg doesn't ruin the batch. Get it? "One bad egg..."?

The only time I wash my eggs is if they do have dirt or poop on them (chickens and ducks will get muddy) and only right before I use them. Eggs have a natural coating on them from the hen, called 'the bloom' that protects and seals them from outside dirt and keeps them fresh for weeks. Washing the eggs can actually force dirt particles into the egg and cause bad bacteria to form, so if you wash, do so gently. The Big Egg Industry washes all their lovely white and brown eggs because they know Consumers don't like dirty things (then they coat them with food-grade mineral oil to replace the natural "bloom" from the chicken). They taught us that "Dirt is Bad!", but really dirt isn't 'bad', but the stuff that gets into the dirt can be bad for us. Eating a bit of dirt once in awhile is good for the immune system. It's eating poop and dead growing bacteria that is bad for us. You won't find any of that in our eggs because our chickens and ducks run around and forage, which builds their immune systems, and they aren't under stress when they lay eggs, so the eggs are pristine on the inside and out, until someone poops near it or steps on it or it rolls into the mud. But the amazing thing is that the perfect egg with its natural bloom protecting it is still totally pristine inside! That is so the future chick has a better chance of surviving. Battery/caged/confined hens are under great stress, so sometimes their egg laying channel gets clogged with poop, which can get pulled up into the egg stream and get inside the egg before it is laid. Yuck!

We use clean, recycled egg cartons when we sell our eggs. Last month I got two cartons that had "Disney Eggs" on them. I was stunned! When did Disney start into the egg business? Where are their farms? Are the eggs pastel colors like Americaunas lay?

After a closer inspection, it seems that Disney is shilling for Eggland's Best Eggs. I guess more moms will buy eggs if they have your Disney "Pals" stamped onto the egg. I have no idea what these sell for, but I'm sure they are expensive, and not much different than all the other eggs. Sheesh.

Probably more later on eggs...

More snow pictures

We had our 'blizzard' on Friday, and it was totally gone by Monday. That is the kind of snowfall I can live with, even if it did create a lot of havoc around this southern city. Here are a few more photos from around the farm, just because.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Today was one for the history books, folks. Atlanta got hit with another round of snow, over an inch at this point and more still coming down. The weird thing about it was that at 1:15 we were on our way to the bank and no snow. Within an hour I had to sweep off the steps three times! It would be one thing if we were used to it, but the south just can't deal with snow like this (I say this as a born and raised Iowan). Our animals aren't used to it, either, and the white layer just confuses them and makes it hard to locate home base. Tonight we had to locate several lost chickens and a lost turkey and get them in the right bed for the night. The geese and ducks seemed okay, but they seem a tad bit smarter than the chickens.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The First Turkey Poults Emerge

One month ago one of the turkey hens wandered off into the woods for an hour by herself. The other two hens just hooted and hooted until she finally came running back to join them. Curious, Barry followed her and found a 'nest' she had made (which means a bare spot on the ground under some brush) and in it was our first turkey egg.

I put the egg in the brooder after marking the date on it with a grease pencil. We have been adding one egg almost every day. We have to hunt for it, watching the one laying hen to see what direction she comes back from and having a search in the underbrush. Today, Barry found four eggs, so it looks like all three hens are laying now, and we have to keep up with them!

The other great thing for today is our first blue slate turkey poult hatched out. This one was laid on January 15th, so it might be that the earlier eggs aren't going to hatch, but the one laid first does have a crack in it, so the little one is trying to pip out. The incubator is in our bathroom (warmest room) and this morning Barry said, "Wow, the birds sure are chirping outside", but I was suspicious of said birds, so checked the incubator and sure enough: baby turkey! The photos of him aren't the best, but I didn't want to keep him out of the warmth too long.

This also means that if we hatch even half the eggs we have now we'll have plenty of turkeys for this year. Then we have to count the eggs the three hens will lay from now until about May. I think we'll be overrun with turkeys! Time to find others who want to raise them, I think.

See you on the farm (if we can find you amongst all the poultry)!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Geese Have Landed

Sunday was an interesting day for us on the farm. It was a rare morning off for me, so after a leisurely breakfast and several cups of coffee, Barry and I set out for Ellenwood to meet Ray and Ann Hill and their geese. They have African Grey geese and a few White Embdens which they raise to keep as pets. We bought five geese from them (we had originally planned to get a pair), 2 Africans and 3 Embdens. We were totally charmed by the birds and since we have been wanting geese for a while it seemed a great opportunity. The price of goslings from a hatchery with shipping included quite expensive, plus you have to have a minimum order size, and go to the post office to get them, and then you have to raise them up. We paid a little bit extra to Ray and Ann for year-old birds and one of the Embden females is already laying eggs. That’s what I call ‘buying local’!

Since this puts us a year ahead of our plan, we are going to put all the eggs from our geese into the incubator to see if we can increase our flock. We’ll keep these first five geese as our starting flock, and may have extra by the end of the year.

The first goose egg was laid only the second night they arrived at the farm. About 1:00 am I heard a lot of honking out in the barn, so I took my trusty flashlight out to see what was happening. Everyone was fine, but when I went into the goose pen I noticed a big white thing on the ground next to their water bowl. I picked it up, and it was an egg of immense size! It was so big it fit in my hand and covered it from palm to fingertip. I’d say it is more than triple the size of a chicken egg. Geese don’t lay as often as chickens, but I hope we can get 10-12 goslings to hatch.

We tallied up where we stand poultry-wise on the farm: 117 chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese, including the new wee babies just hatched from the laying hens. That’s a lotta birds! At least 50 of the broiler hens and ducks will be going away in a month or so, but then I’ll be getting more laying hens next summer to keep up the egg production. Our eggs are amazingly delicious and in high demand by the discerning palates. ;0)

That’s about it for now. I’ll try to post more pictures of the geese, especially as they follow Barry around the field on his chores. See you on the farm!