Ducks are Not Chickens

Today I processed our extra drakes. I figured it was  a little different, but not too much. I pulled up some how-to’s and got busy. Well, it wasn’t quite that simple. First, ducks are built a little different than chickens. Their feathers have a nice bit of water protection and even with a little soap in the water getting through all that protection wasn’t easy for loosening feathers. Second, I don’t have a meat breed of duck, I have a laying breed. They are little under all the fluff, but they do look good even though they may be better for soup than roasting. Last, getting all the feathers off is a major chore with ducks. It took hours to process 5 ducks, and the one rooster I did took 7 minutes total. So, a little warning… ducks are NOT chickens!

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Fruit & Bugs; Some Ideas

Apples

Apples

My family LOVES fruit. Yes, I capitalized that. Blueberries, grapes, peaches, apples, pineapple, kiwi… the list goes on and on. I think the only fruit my kids don’t like is tomatoes and that is because raw they burn the children’s mouths. For around 10 years now we have had fruit trees and bushes. Some years there was success (well, one year anyway) but it seems like bugs or fungus take over, or wind blows down all the fruit, or early warm temps followed by a hard freeze kill the buds. The story has been told over an over again, especially with the peaches. We plant an expensive tree, we fertilize, water, pick off bugs, allow chickens to keep the ground below clean. We see fruit, tons of it, and then right about time to ripen it all rots. It becomes very frustrating to realize that in order to get a harvest off these trees we HAVE to spray them with insecticide and fungicide or we generally get nothing.  So… we are going to try something new for 2014-15 planting.

One of the few things we ALWAYS see a harvest from, and a bountiful one at that, is blackberry, raspberry and elderberry. These are plants that are almost invasive… okay, they ARE invasive! They thrive without tending and with a little attention produce bountiful harvests. Another really good fruit is mulberry. They pop up from seed, grow quickly, and provide enough for you AND the birds! I have always gotten a harvest even if I do nothing, I have never seen them all rot or get filled with worms. They are delicious, and the bright, rich color of the fruit signifies the high antioxidant levels you need in summer to clean your body and protect you from UV damage. I planted a few black raspberries this spring and they have done so well I can root them to double or triple my numbers by next year. The blackberries produced enough for daily snacks and I only had two plants. The elderberries will do better next year, my chickens got to most of the berries since the plants were still small, but next year they will be towering and heavy with fruit (not bad for only 2 years after planting). I want to plant a bunch of mulberry trees as well. These plants all grow well naturally, and even blueberries do well here if you get the right variety. I have some wild ones in the swamp that I want to dig and plant out of the flood zone and propagate; the berries are smaller, but the plants grow so well and the berries are so sweet it is shocking when used to the somewhat bland ones commercially grown. My theory is that these plants are far more sustainable than the overly dependent fruit trees most of us have access to today. Not to mention most grow well at the edge of woodlands, which is the type of planting space I have available. I have decided that if I want fruit free of pesticides and herbicides I need to go with what nature has made strong rather than what man has made weak.

Here is my fruit plan for planting and provision;

  • fig
  • blueberry
  • grape
  • mulberry
  • elderberry
  • raspberry
  • blackberry

Stay tuned for news of how this pans out in 2015 and wish me luck ;-) I would love to hear stories from those that have done this and I would also love to see pictures of your bounty and how you use naturally growing fruit-bearing plants in your landscape.

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Farm Breakfast Casserole

I was up really, really early this morning and wanted to make a yummy breakfast for my kids and hubby, so I took a quick stock of what I had on hand and got started. It turned out rather well and so I decided to share it with you; all ingredients can be homegrown, but we bought our bacon this time around. This will also help me keep track of the recipe for later ;-)
(Pic coming soon!)

  • butter for greasing pan
  • grated farmhouse cheddar cheese
  • grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4-5 pieces bacon
  • potatoes 4-6 large potatoes washed and diced
  • 1-2 med. spicy green peppers, or regular if you don’t like spice, diced small
  • 6-12 eggs
  • fresh milk from your goat or cow
  • chicken bullion or dried stock
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

First, pre-heat oven to 350-degrees F. Then grease a 9×13″ casserole pan with the butter. Cover bottom lightly with cheddar cheese (farmhouse cheddar doesn’t melt super well, so I like it at the bottom of a dish) and then lay bacon in a single layer on the bottom. Cover with a single or double layer of potatoes, its all about how much you like, and top with green peppers.

Next, crack eggs into a med. bowl, add about 1 TBSP. chicken bullion or dried stock, 1-2 tsp. sea salt and some ground black pepper. Add about 1-2 cups milk or cream, your call, and whisk together. Pour over the potatoes and bacon, then sprinkle about 1 cup mozzarella cheese over the whole dish. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until bottom is crsipy and top has light browning on it.

Serve with a side of milk and a biscuit.

*All measurements are approximate, I sort of toss in what I have until it looks right :-)

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Blue Slate Turkeys; A New Adventure

The summer is half over, school is about to start back, and I am finally doing this post. Yeah, I’m slack :-)  Life has been a whirlwind, it seems like the days go by so quickly and so much happens in both your own life and friends lives, and something like a blog that is only around to help share information and help others gets put by the way-side. Amazingly enough (to me anyhow) it seems like you guys are still reading these little blurbs of small-time farm life and experiences, so here goes…

Blue Slate Turkeys, about 4 months old

Blue Slate Turkeys…. They are a heritage breed of turkey and very rare today, and I have noticed breeding so far is more focused on just producing them rather than selecting the finest and breeding them for vigor and size along with good temperament. They are considered a small to medium sized turkey breed; ours remind me of lightweight Jersey Giant chickens… which means you might be better off with the chickens. They are very pretty with their slate grey colored plumage, which can vary from lavender to darker grey, and even white and black pop up. The color is caused by a genetic mutation and there are two color genes that account for the color, one dominant and the other recessive, thus a bit of unpredictability.

Two friends and I went in together and each bought 8 poults this spring. We wanted a turkey that could reproduce on its own and forage and be a bit larger than chickens we have for laying. A couple of us have found that these are rather dumb birds that take some learning curves as they learn to stay safe from the elements. One friend had hers outside on the ground with her chickens from about 6 weeks on. She lost 2 birds, but after that the others have grown well. Hers are the largest and healthiest of the bunch between the three of us, and they forage well and stay close to home. The tom is very protective of the property and turns bright red and fluffs up for visitors. They are very social with the family and roost on their front porch.

Another friend has all 8 of hers still. They were kept caged and handled daily, put out on new grass patches every day and protected from the elements. They have been moved to an old chicken coop and slowly allowed some freedom. They are doing well enough, but not nearly as large as the first friends.We have narrowed down protein levels as being the issue. The cage-free turkeys at the first friends are eating tons of bugs and worms, where the others were not.

Mine are also small and under-developed. I put them out to free range as soon as they were feathered out but promptly lost 2 to the elements. They refused to go under any shelter when it rained and got too cold. I had a third one go down and found her wet and shivering, so I lured them all back into shelter and closed them up. They stayed alive and grew decent on the feed, but not like the first friends. They are not inclined to actually eat vegetation, but they can fly like you wouldn’t believe and love to roost on top of barns and houses. I recently made an outdoor run with roosts for my birds (covered with wire so they don’t fly off) and they are doing much better. They are growing faster and getting more color and there are lots of bugs since they are down at the edge of the swamp. They love the outdoor roosts and have learned to go inside to escape the rain. I am hoping that soon I can train them to come back to that space and give them free range time as I want to train them to be self-sufficient. However, I can’t afford to lose any more, so I need to at least get some fertilized eggs to do another hatch before I release them. Eventually I will select carefully for strong birds with good sense and personality and actually try to breed these birds and improve the genetics I have. I have no idea what range of genetics my friends and I have among our birds, but I am hoping for enough to not create an inbreeding situation.

To summarize our experience, the blue slate turkey is truly an efficient forager, though a bit flighty. They eat way less than even small chickens when confined but need a high-protein feed or maggots fed to them if you want them to grow well. They need outdoor space to reach sexual maturity and to be healthy and happy, and air space to spread their wings and play if confined. They are rather slow learners but can become fairly attached to people which can be an annoyance when they join you up at the house every night. The ones we got from the hatchery are not going to be as big as advertised, it will take some selective breeding to achieve that. All said, I think I would have preferred a heritage bronze turkey and may eventually order some of them depending on how breeding efforts go. I am not counting on these birds to actually hatch and raise any poults since they seem a little “dense”. If your goal is to help keep a lovely heritage bird around and are willing to breed selectively this may be a good choice, but don’t expect to get these and have Thanksgiving turkey for a huge family; a large breed of chicken would be a better choice.

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Another Reason To Get Started Homesteading!

The garden i full year ago.

It is spring 2014, quickly approaching summer. Across the nation drought and illness and loss of honey bees have caused major losses in our food supply. This means higher prices for the food you buy, from meat to dairy and eggs, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Add into this the decreasing value of the dollar and you can see many people are going to be struggling, especially those in the mid-range economic class that are not eligible for social welfare programs. In the last year my average grocery bill went from $150 a week for a family of 4 without a garden (total flop in 2013 meant we had to buy all our fruits and vegetables at the store) to $200-250 a week in the month of May, and that does not include what I spend on the livestock feed. With a garden at least half that could be saved, and add in the dairy goats, pigs, chicken, ducks and turkey for milk, meat and eggs and you can save even more. Well, in the long run, if you don’t over-populate your homestead, you can at least turn the money into your stock instead of putting it into questionable products at the store.

The same space today, one year later.

Take a look at this news article;

http://news.yahoo.com/u-faces-higher-food-price-inflation-2014-led-141513395–business.html?soc_src=mediacontentsharebuttons

“Beef and veal prices for the whole of 2014 are now forecast to increase by 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent, a sharp advance from last month’s forecast for a 3 to 4 percent rise. Pork prices are set to rise by 3 percent to 4 percent, up from a 2 to 3 percent advance expected a month ago.

The USDA said overall U.S. food price inflation for 2014, including food bought at grocery stores and food bought at restaurants, would rise by 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2014.”

…and…

“Egg prices are also climbing – up 15 percent in April alone – and are expected to rise by 5 to 6 percent on the year, and higher milk prices are feeding through to other products in the dairy case, particularly cheese.”

This may not seem too bad, but they don’t even have projections yet for fruit and vegetable price increases! In the last year we have taken our property, with nothing edible and long established grass, and we have added fruit trees that are actually producing a handful of fruit this year, installed a huge garden cut from the grass that will provide all our fresh eating for this year. Next year it will provide enough to preserve for winter as well. It will  provide winter food in our mid-southern climate, something invaluable to our family. Last winter we kept costs low by eating only root crops and beans all winter, but we were all starved for greens. Now we can eat them for pennies all winter long with just a little planning. It has been work; a LOT of work! It is worth it though. As I see reports like the one linked above all I can do is be thankful we have the knowledge and health to take our food into our own hands. We are still dependent on others for some things, but as we get established we will be able to create a mini-ecosystem that mostly sustains itself on our property.

Garden and fowl, the perfect starting point.

I want to encourage each of you that read this to get started. Everyone should have a small garden, either in pots, raised beds, or in their lawn. Everyone should have a handful of hens for meat and eggs, a cheap, easy to keep animal that can sustain you when other things fail. The key is to start NOW, with SOMETHING, so you are not starting out when things are so bad you barely survive.

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Swarm Catching!

We had our first swarm from a hive started last year. I tried hard to prevent it, but thanks to neighbors we were able to catch it and start another hive, so mixed blessings. It means we may not have honey we can pull from the older hive this year, but with three hives next year has promise and if one doesn’t make it over winter we have enough to keep going. I think I am getting better at managing the hive and figuring out what needs to be done, but it is still very much a learning process. Here are some pictures our neighbor took of me while catching the swarm.

This is little ol’ me trying to get bees that decided the best place to swarm was 16-20 foot up a tree. My husband had a lot of grand ideas after I talked about climbing the tree. Twas his idea to get the truck and ladder, and when that still wasn’t enough he thought of hte pool net. Such a creative guy… and good ideas!
bee swarm 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here I am trying my darnedest to get the swarm to drop into my net. It took some tries (first time we didn’t catch the queen so they all trooped out of the box) but I finally figured out that if I turned the net over after I got bees inside it would effectively “shut” the opening. Would be better with a flap I could quickly close, but I didn’t have that :-)
bee swarm 4bee swarm 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a hive ready since I thought we might swarm, so I grabbed it and emptied the top box so I could dump bees in. After the first try where all the bees left I blocked the openings, dumped bees in, and went back for remaining ones. I finally got the queen so that when I would bring a net-full of bees they would troop into the hive, but I couldn’t get all of them, the distance from the swarm spot to the box was too great. However, I got all but a handful of them, so it is a good start.

bees swarm 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the queen was gone the bees in the tree got very agitated and decided anyone with dark hair or clothes was fair game for dive-bombing, so the audience had to move away. I wonder if those bees might go back to the mother hive, but I doubt it. I feel bad for them! I am thrilled with another hive though :-)

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