Friday, December 13, 2013

Chicken Culling Day 12/7/13

  Death is never easy, but on a farm it is necessary. We must get rid of the animals eventually or we would never survive. People always tell you not to get close to your animals but when you are feeding them and taking care of them everyday this is impossible. However, when you own animals and take care of them, you know that they had a happy life which makes it a little easier to butcher them and eat them or sell them. About 19 weeks ago we were blessed to receive 12 baby chicks for free from some friends. They were given the eggs as a science experiment since they homeschool their children and since they live in an apartment they didn't have a place to keep them after they hatched. When they were about a week old we brought them home (to our apartment at the time) and kept them in the bathroom for about two weeks until we moved to little homestead. Here they were able to roam on the grass and eat bugs and fly around the yard and do what chickens love to do.

Beautiful and happy!

 Since these were free we had no way of knowing whether they would be hens or roosters. Once they got a little bigger, it was obvious we had four well five, unfortunately one died and we are unsure why,  beautiful roosters. Although beautiful, we couldn't keep all of them as too many roosters would be too stressful for our hens and the roosters. (Despite what many believe you do not need a rooster to get eggs). So we had to decide which ones to keep and which ones to use for meat. It was a hard process since they were all so beautiful and we liked them all. As time went on however, the process was made a little easier because one rooster was mean to both the girls and us, we want a protective rooster but one that knows we are still boss, so he had to go. In the end it was down to a beautiful white one with black stripes and a black one with metallic blue, rust orange, and red feathers on it's neck and tail. We decided to go with the black one and our cousins who live next door asked if they could take a rooster as well we also were raising their four chicks so they had grown up together, this solved the problem of what to do with the white one :). At 18 weeks the roosters needed to be culled or the meat will continue to get tougher as time goes on. So for Mr. Agape's birthday he decided he wanted to cull the roosters, morbid I know. Our cousins had some laying hens that just weren't laying much anymore and they wanted to join us. So on Saturday morning, with snow in the forecast, we headed out early in the morning to start the process. Although it never snowed, we had a wonderful day and despite death it was somewhat enjoyable. The workload was made easy as my aunt and wonderful cousins came out to help. I had purchased this  home processing kit for Mr. Agape for his birthday, the things we homesteaders want, which made the day go much easier. He also built a special stand to put the cone on and help hold the chickens in which cut down on the mess.
    So now for the process! To start you will want to set up a station outside that you don't mind getting messy. A grassy area or cement that can be hosed down works well. We had a table, a hose with running water, several buckets for waste, the cone on a stand and bucket to catch the blood, knives, our feather plucker, a cutting board and bags for the chickens to go in when done, as well as a pot of hot water. Now for the not so fun part. Before we started we prayed to thank the Lord for the harvest he had given us and to be sure we were bringing Him glory in all that we did that day. You will want to grab your chicken and put it head first in the cone, if you don't have a fancy cone, a construction cone with the tip cut down a little would work, make sure the head comes out the bottom and the feet are sticking up the top, the chicken should calm down once in the cone, now you will want to slice into the carotid artery along it's neck but don't cut the head off yet. It is much cleaner and the death is much faster when done this way. Your chicken might move around a lot afterwards, but do not worry it is dead, it is just a reflex, since so much blood was lost the chicken is unconscious and cannot feel anything. Let the chicken stay in the cone for a while to allow for the blood to drain out. Once it looks like it is all done, pull your chicken out by the legs and dip in your pot of water. You want the water to be about 147 degrees, remember we don't want to cook the chicken, just loosen the feathers a little, after dipping in water a few times you can either pluck by hand or use a special tool that attaches to your drill to help pluck, or if you have the money you can buy a special tub that spins them around and does a great job of plucking. After this you will have to gut the chicken, I recommend checking out a video on YouTube by Joel Salatin to help you with this process. Then cut off the legs, neck and wing tips. You can save the legs and neck for some hearty chicken stock. All the other waste can be fed to your pigs or composted. That's it! When processing laying hens, it is best to cook for at least 8 hours or more, otherwise you will have a stringy tough chicken.

Feather plucker

The cone stand.

Dipping the chicken in the warm water.

We didn't get any snow, but we got lots of feathers!

 Killing is not something you should enjoy, but it does not need to be miserable, especially when you know the animal had a good life. It is not something to be done everyday either. Doing it every once in a while instead of everyday makes you remember this is a life you are taking and we need to respect it.
Happy culling! 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Easy Christmas Gifts

  With Christmas almost here, I thought it would be fun to round up a few easy gifts as well as dessert ideas that are easy to make and are not too expensive.

Homemade truffles would be a yummy gift to make and can be wrapped up in a pretty bag or jar to give as a gift.

This peppermint hot cocoa mix sounds yummy and super easy to make! Put it in a pretty jar with ribbon and you have a great gift!

Fudge is yummy and usually pretty easy to make. Here are 50, yes 50 yummy recipes to try!

I've made a blog post about this but will include it here as well. A membership to the Seed of the Month club. I gave it to "Mr. Agape" and he loves it. The seed packet selection they send is great because it is not something I normally would buy.

If you know how to knit or crochet or have a knitting loom, this infinity scarf would make a great gift.

Here's a cute way to package your homemade treats!

Good idea for those guys in your life that never tell you what they want.

Yummy seasonings that are healthy too!
Here is a list of gifts in a jar:

Well that is just a small list of the hundreds of ideas you can find online. Just check out Pinterest and you can find lots of different ideas! Remember Christmas is about the birth of our Savior and the gift of Salvation! It does not have to be and should not be stressful or expensive. Hope you have a blessed Christmas Season!

Happy Gifting!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beyond Organic: It's all about SOIL

                  One huge part about being "Beyond Organic" is Soil! Soil means everything, you can have the best of the best, heirloom seed but if you don't have good, healthy, rich soil that seed doesn't mean squat. One of the big staples of industrial ag is yield, and that is a great thing to aim for but unfortunately most modern day agrarians follow the theory of German scientist, Justus Von Liebig who stated that nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium levels are the basis for determining healthy plant growth. Consequently most agrarians just see soil as a substance that can be manipulated, "you put NPK in and out comes yield!", That is unhealthy thinking, although Justus Von Liebig was a very intelligent man who has done wonders for the agrarian world, he failed to look deeper into the life giving community that lives in soil that is extremely necessary to produce great tasting, healthy, nourishing produce. I believe this concept of "higher yields" can be seen in many industrialized units of agriculture, I.E. animal production and marketing, But those are for another blog post! :)

                  The importance of soil is something that we can not afford to overlook any longer, soil is being lost in every increasing numbers, due to improper tillage, improper grazing and miss management altogether. Just recently me and my wife gained access to a new plot of land in which we have hopes of planting a nice size spring garden on next year. we studied the layout of the land and how the soil looked in different parts of the lot and we decided that on one side, where the soil was "ok" we would plant a mixture of alfalfa and red clover as a cover crop for the winter and on the other side we would try something we had never done before, we laid down about an inch of old straw and covered that with a layer of horse manure. We turned this manure/straw mixture every month or so and a few months went by and we now have about three inches of fresh new soil! With our management, We helped nature turn these two materials, manure and straw, into great looking, rich soil, filled with living creatures!

                                                                              3" of Fresh soil we helped nature create!
                  See, soil is not just a substance that we just need to grow a plant, it is the very essence of all living things! It is so fun to participate in the creation of soil! Most problems of soil depletion occurs due to one thing, Mis management, There are some very simple practices that any one can do to help grow this life giving habitat, soil!

1. Do not plow on steep hills where erosion would be caused
2. Study your land and give it what it needs
3. Start a compost pile, and add fresh compost to your soil bi-yearly
4. Practice No-Till planting, to secure helpful nutrients in your soil
5. Bring in beneficial bugs to help your soil
6. If grazing, practice "mob, rotational grazing" (Joel Salatin)

Remember to think about the health of the soil before the health of the plant! 

Healthy soil will produce a healthy plant, which will produce healthy produce, which will contribute to a healthy you!