Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 farm highlights

I'm ready to end the year and start over fresh and new in 2012. The week before New Year's I mentally review the past year, all the highs and lows, and new experiences.  I try to remember the valuable lessons I learned along the way as well.

2011 ~  Year in Review

Applegarth Farm Blog ~ For the last year I've been taking pictures and writing about our life here at Applegarth Farm.  It's been good for me to have my goals staring me in the face and write about them, somehow writing and reading my goals regularly helps them to come true.  Over the last year I've had fun discovering and reading other blogs, mostly women who work on and write about their farms and gardens, and cooking and family.  There are some really incredible people that have taught me things I didn't know, and inspired me  to learn new things I'd never thought of before.  The blogs I enjoy have women writing about their lives and sharing from their hearts and I look forward to what they write about, and a little glimpse into their life.

Work ~ In early April I got a great new job working in a plant nursery on weekends.  I wasn't even looking for a job but agreed to try it. I have met more wonderful new people and enjoyed working and learning in a field I love.  You know the old saying do what you love and the money will follow, it really is the best advice.  Thankfully I also get to go back to work again this April.

Moving from the barn to the big house ~ This added it's own element of work that I haven't talked about a lot, but it was definitely a highlight of 2011.  We moved over a bare minimum of stuff to be comfortable in the beginning of May, so we could still work on the house.  I've slowly been bringing stuff over as we need it, but I have a lot to go through still in the barn  this coming year.  In the midst of all we're doing it has been hard to devote the time needed to work on it. This will be a big goal in 2012, to continue finishing the house we're living in, not ideal, but it works and I'm happier!

Goats ~ I began talking about goats here over the winter, and began looking at them in Spring.  Come early June when I still didn't have one, I went to the feed store and bought a bag of goat food by faith.  By the end of June we had 2 goats, Joon and Stormy, both Nigerians and a Nigerian doeling on reserve.  I wanted my own fresh goats milk, and realized it would be a year or more before I would be getting any.  We looked some more and found a Lamancha in milk along with a young Nubian, they were a package deal.   Then the baby Snowdrop was born and we had to wait several months for her to come home.  In the Fall I couldn't get Joon bred so brought home a buck.  Now we have 6 goats to start 2012 with.  We haven't had to buy any milk since bringing home our Lamancha "Zolena", she has provided enough for our family.  They were all big highlights and have added tons of fun and work to our lives.

Soap ~ I had been wanting to make soap for a long time and really had fun learning all about this last year.  I spent time studying and reading after my failed attempts.  I learned to render suet in tallow, and to make many different varieties.  We just used up the last of the soap I made, and now I'm ready to learn to make goats milk soap this coming year.

Goldens ~ This was a year to learn all about breeding Golden Retrievers.  We bred Summer in August to a gorgeous male named Ace, and she had 4 puppies on October 10th.  We still have Josie and Fatolini, (aka. Jesu) and plan to keep them both.  Yes 4 puppies and we keep half the litter :)  We found great homes for both little Ace and Sunny, and will get to see them as they grow up, especially Sunny because she went to family friends.

Garden ~ When I say my garden, it usually refers to my vegetable garden, which is where much time and labor are spent.  I had some good successes and not so good, and this really does need it's own post, so that will be coming next month.  Right now I'm going over seed catalogs that come in the mail this time of year, and beginning to plan for spring planting.

Rabbits ~ It has been a year of change in the rabbitry.  We still have 3 of the mini rex does, but in addition I got a breeding pair of Champagne d' Argents and American Chinchilla's.  They are both meat and fur rabbits, and I'll be selling their offspring as pedigreed breeding stock for backyard farmers.  This is an exciting new change for me, that of breeder.

Chickens ~ Our chickens multiplied this last year, we had 4 setting hens, 2 in the spring and 2 in the Fall, and we added about 12 new hens to the harem.  By this February we should have 24 laying hens and will finally have eggs to sell after 3 years of building up to this point.  We also raised our first batch ever of meat chickens and processed 30 of them, they are delicious and we have a  freezer full.

Bees ~ I started out the year with one incredibly strong hive, unfortunately it swarmed when I was at work one day in early June.  I thought some of it had come back, but in the end it never fully recovered, so I had bees all year, but not many.  It has been a sad year for me with my bees, I was so disappointed I didn't want to write about it.  This spring more bees will be arriving in the apiary, and we'll start over, these things can happen.  The lesson learned, check the bees regularly in Spring and early summer and add supers before they need them.  My plan this winter is to get all my frames rewired and new wax put in them.  This deserves it's own post in Jan/Feb. I'll talk about getting ready for bees and what I'm doing.

That's a quick review of the farm highlights for the year.  Goals and plans for the coming year are brewing  inside me and waiting to be written.  Some things I didn't get to last year that I plan to this year are cheese-making, more soap-making with goat's milk, candle-making and learning to propagate different trees and shrubs that I don't know how to do already.  We'll also have our first goat kids arriving in early May, and will be building our goat barn and working on more fencing. 

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tis the Season

Tis the season to reflect on the magic of the holidays, it's the time to be with family and good friends, and to be a little extra indulgent... like spicing up the coffee with a dash of Bailey's Irish Cream.  With the nights longer, we like to sit by the fire more than ever (dogs and puppies included).  There is a richness in just slowing down, eating good food, and being close together by the warmth of a wood stove. 
Tis the season to celebrate with our traditions, each of us in our own way.  We put up a tree, give a few gifts to each other, and the children get stockings filled with goodies and small gifts on Christmas morning.  Our tree is cut from home or we go to a tree farm, this year we have a Blue Spruce tree, and the needles bring the smell of Christmas to our home.  I like colored lights on our tree, and decorations made from the kids at school over the years, we also have glass balls, candy canes, and wooden ornaments. 
Tis the season for good food, on Christmas morning our tradition is to have a breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls, fruit, juice and coffee.  Then we have an early dinner with honey cured ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, homemade rolls, fresh vegetables, and for dessert I'm making a pumpkin and pecan pie.
Tis the season to gather greens from around our property to bring inside and decorate with.  Just being outside gives me time to reflect on the true reason for the season... Celebrating the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ.  I've been thanking Him extra this year for His many blessings.  He has taught us about walking in faith, sometimes not knowing how our needs would be met, but somehow He always provided a way, and gave us the strength and health to work hard.  For this reason I reflect upon Him more than ever over the holiday season, and say thank you.   I hope Christmas is special for you and your family and that your wishes come true... Tis the season for miracles, only believe!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

the lucky one ~ meet Romeo

When all was said and done with our chicken harvest, Romeo the rooster got to stay.  His exquisite tapestry of feathers and sweet personality won my heart.  I justified that we needed two roosters because we have 24 hens, they say one rooster for every 12-16 hens.   Our closest neighbors we give eggs to, and we're giving them one of our home-grown chickens for a holiday dinner.  They  have endured our crowing roosters with good humor thankfully. 

Half of the hens are young, 4 of them have just started laying pullet eggs, and we are back to plenty of eggs after our fall shortage because of moulting hens and hens too young to lay.  Come the end of February we should have an abundance of eggs, and I'll finally have some extra eggs to sell to help pay for their feed.  Remember that self sufficiency with the animals is our ultimate goal.  I figured last year that I'd need around 25-30 laying hens to accomplish feeding our family and selling enough eggs for them to pay for their feed.

I feed the chickens layer crumbles, corn, dry cob, and allow them out to forage for greens and grubs.  If you don't let chickens out to forage a couple times a week, it's a good idea to give them some type of protein, ie. black sunflower seeds (they love these), or feed meat scraps once per week.  I usually feed extra corn in the winter because it helps to produce warmth in the chickens and better winter laying, plus we give them fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen and garden. 
Mornings around here are feeding time, and the ground is usually covered in thick frost this time of year.   The sun warms the chicken run first thing, and after they all get their fill of food and water, everyone will sit in the sun and groom themselves.  They all have different areas they congregate in at different times of the day.  Each group of chickens that were raised from babies together have their own group.  Romeo has his allotted 4 hens that are his, should he stray and try to mate one of Rodney's girls, oh boy all comes undone.  Rodney let's him have it, and tells him to leave his 12 girls alone.  He's learned now to stay clear of them.  I'm not sure who the youngest 8 hens will chose.  In the coop there is definitely a pecking order, and the new young one from the batch of meat chickens is the lowest girl on the totem pole, it will take her a while to be totally accepted by everyone.  I need to take a picture of her so you can see if anyone can guess what kind of chicken she is, I'm still not sure.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

8 weeks old

Sunny, Ace, Fatolini, and Josie
Early in the morning and still sleepy on their 8 week old birthday, the puppies are growing up fast, we have absolutely fallen in love with them all, and it will be hard to say goodbye, we are keeping Josie.  In the picture below the kitten Cinnamon was purring and rubbing against the puppies.

Josie running to me when I call her name.  I have her come and sit down for a good pet. 


Ace, Josie, and Sunny

Monday, December 5, 2011

Joon's Cowboy

This morning I went out to take a few pictures of Joon with her new man.  Over the weekend we brought home a Nigerian Dwarf Buck, his name is "Cowboy".  The owner is the same farm where I got Snowdrop from, and she agreed to let him come here for a month trial.  We're doing a trial mostly for my husband who hasn't wanted a buck on our farm, so we can see if he can endure the smell and their ways.  If Cowboy has good buck behavior he may just get to stay... cross my fingers.  I put Joon in with him yesterday and she didn't want to leave she was enjoying his attention and crooning in her ear.  That was after watching him wear himself out chasing her, and her running and head butting him.  I got to learn first-hand about courting goats. She should be in full heat today or tomorrow. 

I thought for sure Joon must have had enough after a half hour, but no, she wouldn't come out, I tried several times, and in the end let them stay until this morning, they were both having so much fun.  I put her back in with her buddies for several hours and will try again this afternoon.  What we're looking for here is a standing heat, then she'll stand still for him to breed her.  When new to this whole thing it's a bit of a mystery at first and running back and forth with a doe to a bucks farm is frustrating.  Joon is also the kind of doe who wants to know who the buck is first, and she wants him to court her properly.  Our last attempt at breeding, she couldn't get away from the buck fast enough.  With Cowboy she's in love!

Cowboy is about 7 months old, and is from Poppy Patch Farm, he has Rosharon, Algedi, Twin Creeks, and Ponders End in his blood lines.   Joon also has good bloodlines, her official name is Sugarcreek Joon, and she has Sugarcreek, Spring Run, Enchanted Hill and Velvet Acres.  One good thing if I keep Cowboy is that I could breed him to Snowdrop in the Spring when she's old enough.

The bright winter sun shines right on the goats, chickens and rabbits in the morning and early afternoon , we situated their housing to take advantage of the morning sun in the winter when we all need it the most.  I enjoy feeding and milking in sunshine when it's out. 
Everyone was happy to welcome Cowboy to Applegarth Farm.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

harvesting the meat chickens

We processed our meat chickens this last week, the jumbo Cornish Cross meat birds are ready to harvest around 8-10 weeks old, and ours were about 9 weeks old.  If you don't harvest them soon enough their quality of life deteriorates rapidly.  All of our birds still looked healthy, but we knew they were at that point of being ready.  This was our first time ever doing anything like this, it was kind of a dreaded thing and we procrastinated until the end.  Somehow sweeping my floors and cleaning the house became more important than anything, I found myself for two days worried about it and knowing we had to do it.

Setting up our work station was step 1, Jarin set up a wonderful work area for us.  He equipped it with a cone, a hanging rack, a large kettle to scald in, work surfaces, a large bucket for rinsing and cooling, and lots of knives, chisels, bags and buckets.  We also wanted to have good music to listen to while we worked.

Being new to this whole thing we were probably slow compared to the old pros.  It took us about a half hour or a little more per bird from start to finish, so 8 birds took us roughly 4 1/2 hours.  The first day it rained sideways the entire time, it was cold and wet work, with the temperatures hovering around freezing.  It almost felt appropriate, as we mumbled words like barbaric, should we become vegetarian if this is what we will do for meat.   In the end we described it as humbling, and felt it was honorable work to feed our family.  However in the midst of it as we prayed over each bird and thanked it for it's life, we felt our own mortality, and also felt primal.  We talked about how this was normal for thousands of years, people knew where their food came from, and experienced life and death.

Once we got over the heartsick feeling of taking a life, and the actual processing of working the chickens started, I did better.  We turned up the music and worked steadily... scalding, plucking feathers, eviscerating (removing the innards), rinsing, drying and bagging.  The plucking took the longest and I didn't want any pin feathers so I tried to be meticulous.  We equally shared jobs, except the first part when they were put in the cone.  The time from them being in their pen to crossing the rainbow bridge into chicken heaven took only seconds.  We made sure the whole station was hidden from all the animals view, and that it was swift.

I think the best way to learn to eviscerate a chicken is to just get in there and do it, you'll figure it out trust me.  Just make it look like a store bought chicken and get all the innards out, I saved the necks and livers to add to home-made dog food.  One of the most important things in the whole process is cold running water, we were washing down everything continually.  We were dressed in total rain gear from the beginning because of the rain and cold, we soon realized this was appropriate attire even when it wasn't raining. 

 A home-made cone, fashioned from a metal funnel we had.  It probably should have been bigger, but it worked, a sharp chisel and mallet were used.  Why did we do it that way?  Well my husband being a wood-worker simply thought the cleanest, swiftest way was a sharp blade hit hard with a mallet.
In the end we have 30 chickens in the freezer, well 28, because 2 are in the refrigerator for a family meal on Monday night.  27 were the Cornish Cross, and 3 were young roosters hatched out in the early summer.  The young roosters were harder for me to do than all the meat birds, simply because I had watched and admired them and their beautiful plumage and they were part of the chicken family.  They were very different, more lean and muscular, tougher skin and yet they felt very good quality.  Not that the meat birds didn't look healthy, they were big and plump, and the breasts were large, they were more soft.  We are cooking a young rooster and meat chicken on Monday, and will taste test the difference.  I also wanted to cook a couple that had never been frozen first. 

It's a good feeling to have done it, and have it behind us, and know that we're going into winter with a freezer full of wonderful home-grown chicken meat.  We decided we could do this twice a year, even though it was hard, we like knowing where our food comes from, and that they had a nice quality of life while alive.  They got to lay in the sun, and eat bugs and grubs, dig in the dirt and eat grass and weeds.  They were given love and care in the end, and our family is richer because of them.   I still haven't weighed any of the birds, and am planning to, I'll include the average weight here when I do.  Also we planned to keep track of feed and costs, however between both my husband and I buying feed, me keeping receipts and him throwing his away, there's was no way to get an accurate cost.  Next Spring we plan to keep meticulous records so we can know the cost of raising them.