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This is a first attempt, there’s tons of room for improvement.  Take the concept and run with it- specialize it to meet your brooding preferences and needs.  This is my first version, and I’ve just gotten chicks to legitimize it works 🙂

"ecoglow"-style DIY brooderWhat you’ll need:
A (seal-able) container, a string of mini Christmas lights, and some sand
Some wide tape and a utility knife
A way to suspend the brooder- some baler twine, heavy string (P-cord),  and a simple frame/table or shelf of wood, sturdy pvc, metal, whatever you have available

This is like an “ecoglow” in that it provides radiant heat/ direct heat that the chicks snuggle up to.
I looked into purchasing one, but it’s out of my price range and I couldn’t justify the cost, especially since I don’t brood very many chicks.
There’s a concept from Confederate Money Farm that uses bulb Christmas lights in a pipe to brood chicks- their “PVC pipe pet warmer”.  The other concept I drew from is from Jessie: Improved. The idea is using Christmas tree lights in sand under seedlings as a warming/propagation mat.

I started with a (roughly) 9×13 plastic lidded container from the dollar store.  I cut a hole in the top for the christmas lights to exit and spread the remainder in the container, then filled the container with sand.  I used clear packing tape and taped the hole inside and out where the lights exit, then taped the lid to the container on all 4 sides.  (Duct tape or something similar will do equally well.)

DIY "ecoglow"-style brooder light entry detail
Use a bigger container or make 2 if you have more chicks to brood.  This one provides plenty of space for 15 and I’m sure would easily accommodate 25 (it’s larger than the “ecoglow 20” that says it’s good for 20 chicks).

Guidelines here:  More lights= hotter.   If yours is too hot, here’s some options:
1) Use a dimmer
2) use a smaller strand of lights
3) pull part of your strand of lights out of the container before filling with sand
4) use a strand with a good portion of lights burned out
5) use a bigger container and more sand

Bottom line: Adjust your lights and container size, or use a dimmer to get the temperature you need, whether you need it hotter or cooler.
The chicks will also move around to find a spot with a temperature they like.  If it’s a bit hot in the center, they’ll move closer to an edge, or just hand out along the side, or hop up on top- just as you sometimes see them do to a broody hen.  I found half a dozen of them contentedly sitting on the top last night.

chick on top of my DIY "ecoglow"-style brooder

My first attempt was too hot- interior temp of the sand was almost 160, directly underneath was 110- too hot for chicks!  (Good thing I didn’t have any live subjects in the trial phase!)  I think this may have caused some of my lights to burn out.  But, that solved my temperature problem.

Next step is to suspend your brooder at the right height.  I used part of a shelf system, but a simple PVC frame could be used, or wood or metal frame.

"ecoglow"-style DIY brooder 2

Mine is high tech: suspended at the correct height with 2 strands of baler twine, taped on the bottom to keep if from shifting.  Please assemble and adjust your brooder BEFORE you put your chicks in!  You want it secure and safe so you don’t squish a baby with that heavy container full of sand!
To make an easy-to-adjust knot/hitch:  tie a loop on one end of your twine (I used an overhand knot on a bite).

loop for knot-hitch system

Put your knots on the top of the frame, run the twine under the brooder, back around to the top, and through the loop.  Pull the loose end of the twine back the direction it came.

loose end through loop

Once you have it at the height you want, pinch it at the loop so it can’t slide.  Tie a “slip knot” with the loose end at your pinch- pull a loop of the loose end close to the loop through- just as if you were tying a simple knot, but only using a small portion near the loop.

starting the slip knot

Tighten and repeat with the other twine.

slip knot complete  simple knot:hitch system from baler twine

Secure with tape on the bottom of the brooder.
If you have chicks of different sizes and want an uneven surface as you can with the “ecoglow”, you can tie one end of the brooder a little higher than the other.

Some other possibilities for suspension:
You could suspend with chain or small rope, either going underneath the brooder or attached to the rim of your container if it’s sturdy enough.  You may also be able to construct legs- perhaps threaded rod with nuts fixed to the corners of a frame supporting the lip of your container- to allow for twist-up or twist-down fine adjustments as the chicks grow.

You could just prop it up on blocks or bricks, but that uses up your brooding space pretty quickly.

I put mine in a corner of my brooder to keep it a cozy little heat-holding space.  I also built up bedding at one side, so it’s mainly one side that is “open” but they can get out another side if they need to.  chicks under my DIY "ecoglow"-style brooder

Advantages: cheaper (especially if you have materials kicking around), DIY, provides a little bit of light so the chicks can see to eat and drink at night, less power input, less fire risk, and a final benefit this booder has that an “ecoglow” or a heat lamp doesn’t have- A built-in reserve of heat.  If your power goes off or your light(s) fail, the heat that has been absorbed and stored by the sand will stay warm for quite a while, extending the time your chicks will survive, especially since they’re already used to snuggling down together under it’s semi-enclosed space- kind of like an ‘igloo”‘ in the ‘cold brooder’ models (see more about cold brooding at The Natural Chicken).
Disadvantages:  It’s heavy, you cannot see your chicks (just as with the ecoglow), it still takes some materials and time to assemble and tweak, and it’s not very refined (yet- but that means a benefit of flexing the concept to meet your wants and needs).

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I’ve updated my dexter page with information on the animals currently available for purchase.  Right now we have the following available: Cranberry (4 year old) , Junie B. (coming yearling), Ivy (heavy bred coming 2 year old) and Zelda (coming yearling).  We’re in WNY between Jamestown and Fredonia.  See my Irish dexter cattle page for more information. Cranberry and Junie 1:15Zelda 1:15Ivy 1:15 Also starting a search of my own for Dominique chicks and (if I can convince John) Midget White Turkeys.  Do you know anyone in the WNY/NWPA area who has either one?  I’m changing up what chickens I’m trying to raise. If anyone is interested in working with the White Chanteclers I have, I’d be happy to pass them along.  They are starting to get some age on them (several are my original chicks from April 2011).  I’m not positive if some of them are full Chantecler (the younger ones).  I’ve got 4 original hens plus an offspring rooster and 3 offspring hens.  I’ve also got a Chantecler/bantam ameraucana cross hen. I’m moving on to a different breed in hopes of meeting our needs a little better- more geared to eggs, better camouflage for free ranging, better able to reproduce themselves.  I’ve had poor results in raising chicks, both in surviving eggs (broody or incubator) and in not loosing partly grown chicks to predatory birds.  Everything I didn’t intend to keep, on the other hand, has done better for me.  In some ways I hate to give up on them, but in other ways, I’m okay with moving on.

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IMG_6110

About our pigs

One (castrated) male and one female from the same litter of yorkshire/old spot pigs (mostly to be able to compare the bacon on a male vs. a female).  I noticed a small bit of that “pig” odor in the bacon, but nowhere near the amount I had on our first pig.  Male vs. female made no difference in smell to me- both had a faint smell- on the fat in the inner cavity only.  Because my husband and dad found it easier to gut the female vs. the male, I’ll probably stick to raising just females in the future.

Feeding and Care

Regarding raising pigs this year, I tried a little something different.  Feed consisted of scraps and a fresh spot of pasture in the am and hog feed in the pm.  We used 1300 lbs of feed on 2 pigs for about 6 months in the pig tractor.  The last 2 months relied more heavily on grain both am and pm since vegetation was limited and the pigs were much larger.

The drawback:  The pigs acted like they were starving (although they were not really) at all meals- very loud, and no way was I going to step in that pen unless the feed was in the pan!

The pig tractor still worked well, but is in need of some repairs before next year.  2 corners have pulled apart at the bottom of the framing (probably from the lift and shift method of moving, since the wheels are still not installed).  The wire is a little more bent, but still useable.  The tarp I have to replace every year, and usually needs a fix part way through the summer and reinforcement in the fall.  I’ve still had no one escape under the tractor, but one pig jumped out 3 times this year- always only as I was bringing feed.  I put barbed wire on 3 sides of the pen to keep them from jumping up, and that worked until there was  a hole in the tarp and it jumped through there once.

Regarding growth:  I taped a few times, with these figures:

6/16 (8 weeks old, 4 weeks here)

female 21″ Girth 23″ length = 25 lbs

male 22″ girth 23″ length = 27 lbs

9/24 (22 weeks?)

female:  34.5 girth x36 length= 107 lbs

male 37.5girth x36 length= 126 lbs

11/9

female:  45 girth x42.5 length=215 lbs

male:  40 girth x 40 length=160 lbs

The male was larger until the last 1 1/2 months or so, then the female grew significantly larger.

I didn’t tape just before butchering.  We also didn’t check hanging weight (we don’t have a proper scale for that).  Thanksgiving day was the start of our processing.

I DO have weights for what we ended up with in the fridge/freezer.  No skin, fairly well trimmed of fat, and the only bones included in this weight were ribs and some bone in chops- “hams” were de-boned, I didn’t use any organs, head, or feet, and no lard weight is counted.  The female pig yielded 125 lbs in the freezer, The male 100 lbs.

Processing

We processed both pigs at the same time this year.  This was our timeline:

Day 1:  Butchering (gutting and skinning)  took about half of the day- then the pigs were wrapped in a sheet and hung in the garage.

Day 2:  Both pigs were cut up (My husband uses his sawz-all to cut it into big chunks, the remaining cutting is done inside).  We packaged chops, loins, and ribs immediately and chunked everything up to be ground for sausage.  the “hams” and other suitable larger chunks for brined roasts were set aside.

Day 3:  All the sausage was ground.  We’ve got a small grinder my husband had for deer and we’ve got access to a larger grinder from family (that works 3x as fast).  It took a solid evening to double grind our 100 lbs of ground pork.  We packaged most of it (using mainly ground meat bags) in 1 1/2 lb. portions.  We also made up 45 lbs of breakfast sausage, about 15 lbs of Italian sausage, and have about 15 lbs left in the fridge to be finished into something or packaged.

Day 4:  I spent several hours in the morning brining roasts/hams and rubbing bacon with cure.  The brine is the same as previously used.  The bacon is based on last years recipes- some is just a simple brown sugar and salt mixture.  Some has the addition of maple flavoring.  I’m solely using the ziplock method- no dry rubs this year.

Day 5:  (after brining and bacon curing is done)- packaging and some slicing of brined roasts and bacon.

If we had pushed hard to do it all, it would have been done (except for packaging the bacon and brined roasts) in 2 solid days.

Packaging

For packaging this year, we wanted to try something more substantial than ziplocks for longer than 6 months of storage.  I purchased shrink bags (we used some in our first chicken processing venture this fall) in 6×11,7×14, and 11×16 sizes.  I had picked up a heat bar sealer (Dazey seal-a-meal) at a yard sale.  That worked fairly well to seal the tops of bags- if it was wiped clean inside.  There’s also a bit of a learning curve.  THe longer it’s on, the hotter it gets, so  you have to be quick on the seal or it melts a hole in the bag.  But if it’s too cool, it won’t seal. As long as there’s head room, a twist tie or zip tie will suffice on the shrink bags.   For bone edges, I cut up a white t-shirt to use for bone pads.

pork cuts shrink wrapped in the freezer

pork cuts shrink wrapped in the freezer

Ground pork and sausage in commercial ground meat bags.  The 1 lb packages can hold 1 1/2 lbs 😉

italian sausage, breakfast sausage, and ground pork

italian sausage, breakfast sausage, and ground pork

Bacon was shrink wrapped in 1-2lb chunks and we’ll slice it as we open it to use- so it keeps better.

Once packaged, a small slit is made in the bag, then it’s dipped in a pot of hot water (170-190 ish) for a couple seconds.  I used my jar lifter for canning, but you can also use a dip basket.  There is some bubbling/splattering as the air escapes the bag as it shrinks.  Then dry, put a piece of tape or a freezer safe label over the hole, and label it for the freezer.  Even if it gets a hole, it doesn’t open back up to allow air exposure to as much surface area of the meat.  It’s user friendly, requires little for extra materials, and is reasonably priced in comparison to freezer paper, vacuum packaging or even ziplocks (depending on where you buy and in what quantity).

We packaged some of our meat in ziplocks to be used sooner.  If the bags end up failing miserably in the long run, I’ll have to update, but here’s some comparison pictures after 2 1/2 m0nths.

pork ribs- shrink wrapped vs. ziplocks at 2 1/2 moths

pork ribs (above) and boneless pork chops (below)- shrink wrapped vs. ziplocks at 2 1/2 monthsIMG_7108

Costs

Our feed averaged about $23 for a 100 lb bag (including tax) this year, so $300 of feed.

Piglet prices were about $70 each for piglets (although we traded for these), so $140

$440 for 225 lbs in the freezer = $1.95/lb.

Plus packaging (although when I buy at the store I still have some packaging costs), scraps, electric, water, time for their care and processing, seasonings and spices for the sausage, bacon, and brined roasts, wear on the pig pen, wormer (didn’t use this year), etc.

Wegman’s (where we would probably buy otherwise) club pack price is currently priced at $2.98/lb for boneless pork chops, $1.49 for bone-in shoulder blade roast, $2.79 tender loin, $1.99 whole loin,  $3.49 for country style ribs, $4.49 for bone in chops, $3.99 for ground pork or jimmy dean sausage, $4.99 for bacon.  I usually stock my meats when I find them on sale, so I wouldn’t often pay most of these prices, but it’s a comparison none the less.

See my previous posts from last year to learn more about our pig tractor, specifics of what we did for sausage, bacon, and brined roasts/ham.

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I had my first scary experience as a canner the other day.

Background:  I’ve canned independently (aka-not with my mom) for 8 years and used tattler lids for 2- several hundred cans in most of those years, using mostly Tattler lids in the past 2 years.

I went to tighten the band on my jar of chili- just pulled out of the pressure canner (NOTE:  normal metal lids don’t get tightened in this process, Tattlers do- just a reference for anyone unfamiliar with them).

And it happened.  The lid and screw band burst off the top of the can- and scalding chili flew on my window, wall, counter, floor ceiling, stove, the 12 quarts of applesauce cooling on the counter, 15 feet down the wall at the dining nook, EVERYWHERE.  Some ended up on me- a bit at my elbow and some on my face.  About 1/4 of the jar was left in the jar.

canning jar explosion- what's left in the offending jar.

canning jar explosion- what’s left in the offending jar.

canning jar explosion- all over everything, including 15 feet down the wall to the dining nook

canning jar explosion- all over everything, including 15 feet down the wall to the dining nook

canning jar explosion- all over the window and walls

canning jar explosion- all over the window and walls

canning jar explosion- on the ceiling

canning jar explosion- on the ceiling

SCARY!

I immediately went to the bathroom (with my eyes closed to keep the chili out of them) and rinsed repeatedly with cold water.  I tried to process what had happened and thanked God most importantly that my little girls were not in the kitchen when it happened.  And then that it wasn’t any worse for me.   I used a cool wet cloth and some ice to keep my face comfortable for a while.  It had some “burning” sensation even after an hour- heat and/or chili spices related.  I had red spots, but somehow no blistering.

Here’s what was GOOD that I did:

#1 I had an oven mitt on one hand that protected me from some splatters, and

#2 I had a dry washcloth over the top to hold and tighten the lid.  That saved a lot of spewing scalding liquid from coming my way and potentially causing more damage.

Here’s what I think I may have done WRONG:

#1 I  didn’t let the jars cool once I took of the pressure canner lid.  While I haven’t had a problem before, I read (now) that it’s best to let the jars sit 5-10 minutes after removing the pressure canner lid before moving the cans.

#2 I MAY have left the band too tight when I put the can in the canner.  This is one of those subjective things- how tight is finger tight?  With Tattlers (again, different from metal lids), you tighten finger tight and back it off 1/4 inch.  Metals you just tighten to finger tight (still subjective).

This can (as others have in the past- pressure and HWB canning) had a bubbled up lid when I took it out of the canner.  So it may not have been able to vent as much as it needed and there may have been excessive pressure inside the can for that reason.  I’ll be careful in the future to observe this more carefully and err on the side of a bit looser.  And I’d suggest handling any can with a lid that bubbles up very carefully as well- maybe let it sit for longer before handling so it can vent more.

#3 the jar possibly may have been over-full.  Although I believe I left appropriate headspace, it did contain rehydrated beans that may have expanded more in canning). Or it may have had an air bubble in the can somewhere.  I don’t think so, but I don’t know for sure.

I’ll also use a larger towel (hand towel size) from now on instead of just washcloth size.  Less convenient, but more protection, I think.  I definitely did when I finally worked up the courage to take the rest of the cans from the canner so I wouldn’t “lose” them to not sealing.  But I did so with much trepidation and closed my eyes and turned my head as I tightened the remaining 6 cans!

Here’s a link I found helpful in analyzing what may have happened.  It’s on the Homesteading Today Forum.

I’m going to agree with the original poster at the forum- In my case as it was in hers, this was user error and had nothing to do with the Tattler lids as a dangerous product.  I like them, I feel they do what they should do and love that they’re reusable- you just need to be aware of the differences in how to use them, and follow general safe practices in canning regardless of the lid type.

Another poster commented that they’ve had a metal lid explode out of the canner as well.  I’ve had metal lids seep boiling liquids (peach juice, tomato juice, etc), but never explode them.

Lessons learned.  Hopefully it will never happen again, and hopefully it will never happen to you.  I know I’ll be relaying this info to any of my canning interested friends.

Leave the cans to cool 5-10 minutes after opening the pressure canner.  

Always use a hand towel over the top of the can in the tightening process (tightening for tattlers only).  I may be inclined to don a long sleeve shirt when removing cans- metal or tattler lids.

(Continue to) Keep the kids out of the kitchen when removing cans from the canner.

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Disclaimer:  Included in this post are photos of chick embryos.  Some may consider them to be graphic- please take that into consideration before you continue.  That being said, I in no way mean to dis-respect these little creatures.  I have taken photos of the embryos and details because I find beauty in the way God creates even the smallest details of simple animals.  It’s amazing and fascinating to me and I’d like others to be able to see that too.  All these embryos were from eggs that “quit” in the incubator- I didn’t start them and crack them open (and kill them) just to get some photos.

If you want to see pictures of chick embryos from each day of development (1-21)  I found this site.

incubator progress- a journal of sorts for the details.  My incubator start-up post can be read over here.

Eggs placed in the incubator on 3/11 in the evening; started with 61 including some older than 10 days from in the fridge (un-turned, point end up) and eggs from my flock, my uncle, and the lady I borrowed the incubator from.  Eggs from my uncle and friend were collected within a few days of incubating and stored “properly”.  I also am trialing a damaged egg.  I took a bit of elmers glue to one egg that had been cracked (pecked?) near the end of my egg collecting days.  It just broke the shell, not the inner membrane.  I found the idea online with parakeet eggs or something like that.  The big detail is to make sure you only put it on the crack so that as little of the porous surface is blocked. (And it worked- the egg didn’t hatch, but it fully developed.  See details later in the post.  Certainly a greater risk of introducing bacteria, though.)

3/19  I opened the first egg earlier today- one from the woman I’m borrowing the incubator from- that had only a small embryo that had “quit”- I wrote about that in my first post on incubating here.  The picture:

I opened 2 more this evening- both that I have never seen anything in (vessels or otherwise) when candling.  The shells were lighter, so I wasn’t concerned about having missed something.   Still no smell, although they’re runny and disintegrating a bit.  Neither looked like they had ever had any progress.  One was out of the fridge, and one was from my uncle.  So now all my remaining eggs in the incubator fit in to egg cartons- I’m at 58 and counting down.

3/20 I took out another egg this morning- one that showed no development when candled.  I had seen a bubble that would follow as the egg was turned.  This might not have been a concern if I could have seen other development, as I found some forum discussions where that was happening with developing eggs.  This one never showed an air space at the end of the egg, and had a crack in it that was visible when candling but hard to see otherwise.  I tried to take a picture, but you can’t see the air bubble in the pic.  No development when I opened it.  This one was a fresh laid/collected egg from my flock.

Another “clear” egg out in the evening.  No development when candled, none when opened.  Another that was freshly laid- just a few days before I started the incubator.

3/21 Another “clear” egg out in the morning.  No development when candled, none when opened.  From the dozen I got from my uncle.

3/22- A cutthroat morning at the incubator.  I candled 24 and took out 12.  That being said, I went through the fridge eggs.  I also took out several that had started to develop, but stopped.  7 from the fridge, 5 I had collected “fresh” for incubating.  Of the collected ones, one had a crack in the end and was fairly porous, and one was from the first day I collected- neither of these had any progress.

  

2 of the fridge eggs had started to develop and stopped.  These you could see the beak starting to develop and wings that were looking more like wings (not just buds) as well as legs developing, and I believe organs (outside of the body- they go into the body nearer to the end of development, if I remember correctly).  I can’t tell you what day these quit, but my guess would be somewhere around day 5-6

  

1 collected egg had a teeny tiny embryo- basically only the basic shape- no details could be seen.  Day 1 or 2?  It’s not just a fuzzy picture- that was really about all there was to see-barely.

2 of the collected eggs had started and progressed further before stopping.  Day 7-9ish is my guess.  You can see lots more detail on these- the 3 individual toes, a beak that can open, wings, and even the spots on the skin where feathers would be growing in later in development.  Organs, too.  If you know what you’re looking for, you might be able to tell what’s what.  I assume the dark red blood spot may be the heart?

     

A brutal night as well- 12 more removed.  4 from my uncle, 4 from the friend, 4 of my own (1 fridge egg).  Small embryos- less than a week, I’d say- in 3- two from my uncle and one from my friend.  The two banty eggs (mine- one fresh, one from the fridge) had a string of almost clear jelly ball type things- maybe a very early embryo?  They (embryos) are starting to be a bit more disintegrated now when I open them and find an earlier quitter.  I found blood rings in several.  Most of the eggs I pulled out this evening were darker brown shells or green shells- much more difficult to see through.  That and the blood rings- that look like something early on, especially to a beginner, make it tricky.  I am seeing a more pronounced thicker line around the entire egg (or most of it) on the eggs I find just a blood ring in.

  

The better news now, is that I saw movement in a large percentage of the eggs that I candled and left in the incubator.  More than half way done now, and 31 eggs remain in the incubator.  Some more will probably go when I can decipher better what’s inside.  The ones with movement I’m going to try leaving alone from now on.  I figure if they’re alive now, they probably won’t explode before the end, even if they don’t make it any further in their development.

3/23-  3 more out this morning that showed development when candled, but seemed very small and had no movement.  One of my freshly collected eggs and 2 from my friend.  When opened, 2 had small embryos (less than a week) and one had another clumpy string of clear jelly balls.  Down to 28 in the incubator, and I’ve seen movement in all but 7- those have darker shells so it’s difficult to see anything.

  

last 3 eggs removed from the incubator tonight.  1 from my friend that had a small (less than a week) embryo, 1 from the fridge with only a blood ring, and 1 freshly collected with only a blood ring.

That leaves 25 in the incubator, and they should all stay.  only 1 banty egg still has me guessing, and I THINK I saw movement- so hard to tell and the bits of light flashing in your eyes make it hard to tell in the dark between movement and eye spots in a very dark/green eggshell.  The 2 with only blood rings kept me guessing, too, they had porous shells in places, and when the yolk moves, it can leave you guessing.  I finally took the 3 out because they seemed to have more light space than I thought they should, and no defined movement.  And I thought I was only seeing that thick blood ring, no vascular development.

Egg yolks are very disintegrated and runny when opening them now.  The white has a clump that jells up in the pointy end of the egg.  Still no bad odor, though.

Hoping for most of the 25 to be hatching into lively chicks on April 1st!

3/27- opened the incubator this evening to check the temperature when I turned the eggs.  My nose told me something wasn’t right.   So I sniff tested the eggs to find the offender.  I hesitantly cracked it open to find a chick embryo that had stopped developing I’d say around day 9?  Stinky, but not as horrible as I’d expected it might be.  It was an egg collected the day before I started the incubator.

3/28- I thought I should check each egg over once more before lockdown, and (SADLY) pulled 6 more eggs out.  They had a lot more light coming through when candled than they should have at this point, and no movement that I could see other than the sloshing of the cloudy stuff that moves when you move the egg.  Several had what looked like a blood ring that looked clumpy and stuck onto the shell.  5 fresh laid, 1 from the fridge.  All with embryos developed to roughly day 8-15ish?  One looked pretty fresh- I’m hoping I didn’t open it in error!  (Update:  I found the eggcartonlabels post (mentioned above) with all the embryo pictures, and was relieved when it looked like too few and too short of feathers to be developed to the date we’re at today.  Whew!

18 left…

3/29- I put the incubator on “lock down” this morning- filled up the water reservoirs to increase the humidity and removed my block of wood that “turned” my eggs from under the incubator, so all sit neatly in their cartons, point side down now.  I kept 3 egg flats and distributed the eggs evenly.  I have 6 left from my uncle, 1 from my friend, 2 from the fridge, and 9 I’d collected- 3 banty eggs, 1 egg that was cracked and I repaired, and 5 others- some are from my black chickens and some from my chanteclers- it’s difficult to tell for sure, as most of the eggs are the same light brown color.  All the eggs I knew for sure where chants were removed 😦  If black is dominant over white, I should be able to tell my chicks apart.  but if white is dominant, there’s no telling for sure, since my roos are chants (and the banty, which is quite possibly the daddy for some of these chicks).  If I try again, I’ll be separating my chantecler girls for 2 weeks, then adding the roos for a week, then I’ll collect eggs solely from them (and probably some bantys since they’re fun and easy to tell apart) to put in the incubator.

3/31 My dear daughter(s?) raided the incubator! 😦 😡

One egg was completely smashed open.  A little white chick inside that was so close to being done… 😦 It was one of my fridge eggs.  Back in the incubator with everything else, including one egg that lost some pieces of shell, but the membrane was still intact.  I can’t express how upset I was at my kids!

4/1- 1 egg piped, slightly enlarged the hole, then died.  4 others piped and zipped, 3 from my uncle, one of my own that I collected.  The 3rd from my uncle seemed to be stuck- like dried in stuck.  I opened the incubator since nothing else showed signs of hatching yet, got the 3 out that were out of shells and dry, and freed the 4th- shell was completely stuck on it.  I only took off the top and left it in the incubator to finish getting out of the egg itself.  I added a bunch of water, since things were obviously too dry.  The egg with pieces of shell missing had something breathing in it, but not hatching.  I ended up taking out the 4th hatched chick after it was mostly dry and misted the eggs.  The chick that had piped and stopped I removed the eggshell from- a little black chick, definitely gone.

4/2- nothing happening.  Not sure if anything is still alive in the egg with shell missing- it’s been oozing some and I haven’t seen the movement lately.

4/3- 1 more chick from my uncle out this morning, with another from him piped and zipped (now out).  One of the chicks that hatched out from my uncle died.  No other action in the incubator, so I took out the two that hatched and cleared out the shells, etc.  Spritzed the eggs, added more water.  Took out the egg with pieces missing, as I was pretty sure it was dead (it was- another black chick).

4/6- I emptied the incubator this morning after giving the “float test” a try.  Mine all floated, but it seemed to be just the airspace above the water.  I candled and (hesitantly) opened them.  All were mostly developed, but hadn’t quite finished.  3 banty chicks, 1 white one of my own, one from my uncle, 1 black chick from my friend, and 2 black chicks of my own.  The egg that I had glued at the beginning was the white chick.  One of the black chicks of my own was a fridge egg.  I have too few results to be able to speculate much on the color gene dominance.

So:  I have 5 live chicks- 4 rhode island reds and 1 that’s half Chantecler of the 18 that made it to lockdown (17 that stayed in after the incubator was raided) and 6 that hatched.  My think my chantecler chick is likely half banty Americauna.  The wing feathers are coming in patterned.  We’ll see what it grows up to be.  Note:  The yuck on the chicks is a combo of crud from hatching and colostrum- I put in a dish shortly after they hatched and they flopped around in it. They gobbled it up, but it makes a sticky, nasty, clumpy mess before it’s gone.

    

What I’ve learned/reinforced:

1) a.  God makes amazing creatures and b.  He uses amazing processes to form them!

2)  Children are very interested in and amazed at #1

3)  I have to try again.  Note to self- stay AWAY from the bins of chicks a the feed store and tractor supply…

4)  Monitor humidity much more closely.  I don’t think a “dry hatch” is going to work for me.  That’s not what I was going for, but I really think I needed more humidity than I had.  I got a hygrometer to check humidity part way through, but never checked to make sure it was calibrated correctly.  I’ve found how to with the “salt method”, and need to do it before I try again.

5) Somehow I MUST keep my children away from the incubator for lockdown!  I assume that contributed a lot to my end losses.

6)  If I just separate my 2 banty chickens and my banty rooster, I will be able to solve this color thing…

7)  I’ll be a lot more confident in my candling the next round, and probably will leave them alone ’til something like day 10 next time.

8)  While fridge eggs can develop, the rates are lower, so I won’t use them unless I have to.  I did this time for experiemental reasons and because I had room.

9)  Glueing an egg can work if needed.

10)  I still have a LOT to learn!

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An eventful week for our critters!  Since the calf was born, I’ve been milking.

LOTS of milk!  Not as much as a “real” milk cow, of course, but plenty for us.  I’ve been getting about 3 quarts a milking over the last several days.  I’m milking twice a day until the calf can take it all, then I’ll drop back to once a day and pull the calf for 12 hours or so.  Norma has been a wonderful milker for me.  The only time I had trouble was when she left her calf in the hay pile instead of getting her to come out for milking time.  We won’t do that again- for Norma’s sake and for mine.  She’s a nicer/better milker than Ellie, AND her milk tastes a lot better to me- not cow-y.  I’m so glad!  I’m hoping that won’t change with the spring grass.

Lots of milk means new recipes to try.  I tried some beesting new cheese- it was okay, but hard to know how to eat it exactly.  I roughly followed the directions here.  Basically, you pour the colostrum in a pan and add a bit of sugar.  Bake ’til it starts to brown.   You can “test” your colostrum (aka beesting) by cooking a bit in a frypan to see if it sets up- kind of like scrambled eggs.  Recipes use it in place of eggs for pudding and the like since it firms up so much.

Next I made some fresh butter.  Mmmm… Mom let me borrow her old Daisy (I think it is one of those) churns.  They had built a board for it when we were kids so you could sit on the board and the churn would hold still while you cranked.  My girls got to try it this time, and had fun- for a few minutes.  Then we finished it.  Very yellow- a lot of the cream was early cream, so the colostrum content made it richer colored.

   

Some of the leftover buttermilk got used in buttermilk pancakes for dinner last night; recipe from Betty Crocker.

Today was a cheese making day.  I am trying “Lannie’s Easy Cheddar” from the “Keeping a Family Cow” board.  I’ve used it before, and it’s a foolproof recipe as far as getting a product that acts properly with no fuss.  It’s a good cheese to start out on.  It’s flexible as far as temperatures and times go, and it “cooks” in the sink (or in a bigger pot of hot water), so there’s no worry about scorching it.  The only problem is we haven’t been a big fan of the clabber to start it.  The flavor isn’t what we’d like that way.  This time I used powdered mesophilic starter and skipped the yogurt to see what our end flavor will be like.  We’ve made cheese curds before with a similar method and enjoyed those.  The cheese curd recipe is over here– I “cooked” these in the sink, too.  I’ve also found that rennet doesn’t work for me ’til more like 85*, but maybe my thermometers are off.  I say that so that if you’re not getting a curd to set, try raising the temperature a bit.  Mine is now in the press (my ever-so-sophisticated #10 can, apple pie filling, and books for weights) and will stay there ’til tomorrow.

  

With the whey I’m trying some mysost.  I’ve never had any, so we’ll see what it tastes like!  I based my attempt on the post here.  You cook down the whey, optionally add cream (I didn’t) and whip it up when the extra liquid is cooked out.  It’s supposed to take 4-12 hours.  I did about half of the whey left from my 2 gallon batch of cheese in the electric fry pan.  It was done in less than 3 hours.  It looks a lot like ricotta as it cooks down, but instead of straining, you just cook off all the extra liquid.  Since it was curd-y I put it through my mini food chopper to smooth it out.  It’s a different taste- good, but I’m not sure how to use it.  A sweet, tangy, creamy, rich, caramelized flavor.  Anyone have suggestions?  I tried it on a saltine, but the cracker was a competing flavor.

  

Added:  Here’s what it looked like when it was done cooking, before I processed it.

My kefir grains were put in the mail today from a gracious woman on the “keeping a family cow” board who was willing to share.  I’m looking forward to them!  I’ve got a collection going of different things I’d like to try.

Enough about milk.  We named the calf.  She is Nightingale.  The girls were sure she should be “gai-gai”, Her mama’s name is Norma, and her daddy is Gideon, so NightinGale it is, gai-gai or gail for short.  I weighed her on Monday and she was 47 lbs.  She’s getting to be a bit of a pest, too!  She gets out of the fence and I’m having a terrible time catching her now that she’s getting to be so quick!

And last, but not least, we have a new BOY on the farm.  It’s mostly girls around here except for the roos.  That changed yesterday with the addition of our new herd bull.  He’s a coming yearling out of Ace of Clove Brook and Chautauqua Poppy from Someday Maybe Farm.  I’m actually not sure of his birthdate or his name, but I’ll know once all his registration paperwork is done (or I talk with Shaun).  Cranberry was standing for him when he got here yesterday, but I won’t plan on a January calf yet- I think he’s still got some things to figure out.  (Of course, maybe I’ll be surprised!)

  

A chick incubation posting/update is on the way- sometime…

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I looked out my window this morning for my usual cow check (you know- to make sure they’re in the fence, not out of it, and for any extras)  and I saw extra little legs!  So I hurried to throw on some warmer clothes and ran outside to see!

Norma had a little heifer calf.  She was VERY new- I should’ve gotten up half an hour earlier!  She was up on very wobbly legs and still pretty damp- and shivering.  What a cold welcome to this new world!  At least the sun was coming up.  She did frisk just a bit on those baby legs.  Then she went to lay down in the hay, and I put a fleece vest on her and fluffed up a nest around her.  She napped for a while, and I gave Norma some water and beet pulp with molasses.

Now that things are settling down a bit (and she isn’t shivering anymore)  I took the time to get my camera.

Here she is!

She’s a dexter lowline cross.  Her half sister was born exactly 3 weeks ago- her momma, Eleanor (“Lannie”) went to live at the neighbor’s last fall.  I was hoping for a bull calf since this is supposed to be our beef in 2 years.  I’m also planning to get a dexter bull (for breeding and next year’s beef) in the next couple weeks, and would prefer to NOT have a young heifer around next spring, but we’ll deal with it when we get there.

And with her momma (Norma- who will turn 4 in June)

  

And here’s the proud new great aunt, Ellie Mae (Norma’s Aunt), who is now 13 years old

And the proud new aunt/second cousin, Cranberry (Norma’s half sister/ cousin, now 16 months old)

(If that’s confusing relations- Norma and Cranberry share a sire- Hollofield Ian.  Norma’s mother is full sister to Ellie Mae.  Ellie Mae is Cranberry’s momma.  Got it?)

I didn’t expect a calf this morning, as I figured Norma’s udder would look bigger.   Not that I want to deal with a pendulous udder- I’m quite happy with it, and it is full.  Here’s that back shot.  Hope she decides to be nice to me when I start milking…

Now to search for a name!

 

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