2021 into 2022 on the farm

Meat Birds

The large clearing we made in 2020 ended up being a chicken run in 2021, much to Bill’s annoyance. We had gotten a meat bird order with mixed breeds in March, and 35 birds hatched on our farm in June 2021 from “Sam” the Rhode Island Red rooster and “the girls,” who are Rhode Island red and Plymouth Barred Rock.

When those farm-born chicks hatched in June of 2021, I bought some Leghorns and Lavenders to raise at the same time. We ended up losing a lot of the new birds to predators in the fall of 2021. We saved some of the best meat birds from March 2021 for breeding with our hens, including a Plymouth Barred Rock, “Jay”, a Giant Buff Orpington, “Buster”, and a Speckled Sussex, “Spike.”

The 2021 Posse: our four Roosters!
The 2021 Posse: our four Roosters!

The roosters were getting noisy, and we moved the new 8’x4′ coop and all the 2021 birds deeper into the uncleared part of our forest just before the snow started to stick to the ground. Eggs went scarce for the deepest months of winter, because we don’t have a light in the coop, and we don’t heat it.

When spring returned , we got up to 19 eggs per day! We had twice as many layers and eggs as the year before. I started a new batch of eggs in the incubator, timed to hatch on Easter of 2022. It was a smaller hatch than 2021’s, but a much greater variety of chicks, coming from our 19 hens of two breeds and our 4 roosters, each of a different breed.

But then we had some more chicken losses near the end of June (2022) just as I was trying to fill up the main garden and rehabilitate the still-rough extra garden space, which had become completely overgrown with grass, weeds, and water sprouts around the 2021 tree stumps. All this, under the looming specter of food and fertilizer shortages.

… To be continued

Easter Chicks (2022)

Easter chicks in a pink bucket

What’s cuter than a pink bucket of chicks?

This is the second time we’ve hatched chicks in the incubator from our own eggs. We joined in on the “Easter Hatch-a-thon” held annually at backyard chickens.com, and started the incubation on March 26. These chicks started hatching even before the 21-day expected incubation, so some arrived in the days just before Easter, and some after.

The mother hens were Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Barred Rocks. There were four possible fathers: a Rhode Island Red, a Plymouth Barred Rock, a Speckled Sussex, and a giant Buff Orpington. In this picture, you can see several black birds with a white spot on their head. Those are the male Red Rooster X Rock hen crosses, which are “sex-linked,” meaning their sex is determinable when they hatch.

Easter chicks in a pink bucket

Farm Life: Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

This is the first time I’ve ever made chicken and dumplings. I was inspired by a podcast I’ve been watching a lot of lately, from Roots and Refuge Farm. Jess and her family live in Arkansas, and they just got a foot of snow with that big storm that hit the South. I used her recipe for the dumplings (just putting the herbs in the soup, though, not in the dumplings).

The broth was made last night in the Instant Pot from the bones and giblets of one of our chickens that I butchered three days ago, and included the feet and neck and head. Our dog Trixie, who is not doing well at all, got the chopped-up heart and gizzard for what might end up having been her last meal. She was refusing other food, and water, but gobbled those parts right up.

I used the Instant Pot to cook six diced carrots for 10 minutes of pressure in enough of the strained broth to cover them, then added the rest of the broth, garlic powder, dried basil; oregano and thyme from our farm; previously-frozen dill, pepper, salt, the rest of the chicken meat I roasted last night, and a small chopped onion. I made the dumpling batter while that was coming to a simmer, still in the Instant Pot. I dropped in globs of the dumpling batter, then added some onion greens that I’ve been growing in a south-facing window. At the last minute, I read about adding a flour and milk mixture to thicken up the broth, and did that. This is the best-tasting broth I’ve ever made, possibly even the best soup.

The dumpling recipe, adapted from Jess’s video:
2c flour
a few T of cold butter, cubed
1/2 tsp baking powder
some salt
pulse in food processor or cut butter in manually
add 1 cup milk, mix
(I did those two steps manually to not disturb the dog resting in the kitchen)
should be sticky and stretchy, not a mushy mess
take a glob at a time and drop into the simmering broth
(the dough was too sticky to flatten out as Jess recommended)

Here’s her video, jumping to where she describes how her chicken and dumplings recipe is a hybrid of the Arkansas style she grew up with, and the Indiana style her husband was used to.

Raising Rabbits

Alex with the young male rabbit

We have now embarked on a new farm adventure: raising meat rabbits.

We headed down to Unity, NH on Monday to meet a nice lady who keeps many kinds of animals on her farm: horses, sheep, beef, chickens, and rabbits.

“Pezzi” is the full-grown doe we bought there. She’s a Flemish Giant / California cross, so she’s pretty big. She was bred to a pure New Zealand White male unrelated to her or to the young male we got. I had thought that the lady I got her from would have taken care of that before I arrived, but she put her in the male’s cage when I got there and it happened three times in rapid succession, right in front of me.

Pezzi the breeding doe
Pezzi the breeding doe

The young male is such a cutie. He’s a New Zealand / Flemish cross, with a bit of Cali. The two rabbits are living in separate halves of a 4’x4′ shelter that I’m still putting the finishing touches on.

Young male rabbit
Our young male rabbit

We are making our own hay for the rabbits to supplement their pellet feed, using a regular push-mower and raking it up when it’s dried out. My son is in charge of that. For now, we’re storing it in kitchen-sized garbage bags in the greenhouse. This breeding pair can expect a nice long lifespan; it’s their children that will be providing the meat in the future. With a gestation period of about a month, and a weaning age of about six weeks, we should be able to re-breed her before Halloween (though not with our male, who will still be too young) and harvest the males from the first litter at “fryer” size around mid-January.

I recently was reminded that my great-grandfather raised rabbits. I was asking my mom about what her mother told her about living through the Great Depression, and that was one of the ways they kept food on the table. I hope that things don’t get that bad again, but the economy seems somewhat uncertain now. It was a bit scary when the meat-packing plants had to close down for COVID-19, and localizing food sources seems like the right thing to do–not just for us, but for anyone who can.

This is my first time raising rabbits, so I’m no expert. Here are some of the sources I found helpful, though:

I’ve also been watching a lot of homesteading / small farm videos lately. I’m a fan of Polyface farm’s methods. I’ve been enjoying hearing about and seeing the farms featured in Justin Rhodes’ YouTube channel. Here are a few videos I found helpful or inspiring for embarking on this rabbit-raising adventure:

More to come! Stay tuned, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram with the links below.

Raising Rocks and Reds

Lounging hens

We ordered 36 baby chicks from Ideal Poultry that arrived about July 16. Half were Plymouth Barred Rocks, and half were Rhode Island Reds. We got mostly females, with two males of each type so we could breed them next year.

We lost a few in the beginning, and sold almost half of the rest when they were four to six weeks old. They are thriving on the farm! Because we got them so late in the year, they won’t be old enough to lay eggs until mid-winter., which is usually a slow time for egg-laying. That means we won’t be getting a lot of eggs until Spring.

Plymouth Rock Rooster
Plymouth Rock Rooster
Plymouth Rock Pullet
Plymouth Rock Pullet