Tag Archive | ducks

Harvest and First Snow

Apologies for the radio silence; I’ve been battling a cold-turned-sinus/ear-infection and sleeping just about every minute I haven’t been at my day job. Of course, the farm keeps turning no matter what else might be happening. Last weekend, with the help of some friends, we held a big harvest day to process our poultry. We had 8 large Muscovy drakes, 3 female Muscovies, a couple of chickens, and a trio of turkeys traded from a friend and fellow homesteader. It was the biggest poultry harvest we’ve ever done. We were able to borrow an electric chicken plucker from our landlord’s plumber/electrician, and it was a great help. I’m sure we’ll be looking to build our own sometime down the line. He even sent along an electric scalder with a temperature control. It was much fancier than what we’re used to. I wish I’d been able to take some photos; the machinery setup was pretty impressive and I loved getting to introduce some new friends to the process of slaughtering and bringing birds from wing to table.

We did our first big farm-to-table supper as a celebration that evening. While we’ve certainly hosted plenty of dinners that featured some home raised components or even a home raised main course, this was by far the most complete meal we’ve done from things we’ve grown ourselves. The only exceptions were the apple cider, which came from a nearby orchard, and some Parmesan cheese. We used the cider to braise one of our pork shoulders in the crock pot for pulled pork, and served it with acorn squash, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli. We also cooked up the duck hearts we’d harvested that morning.

Last weekend we also got the call from the butcher saying that our smoked meats were ready, and they were picked up on Wednesday. The bacon is absolutely the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m eager to try the ham; I’ve been disenchanted with commercial ham for the last several years, so I’m excited to see if this will change my mind!

With impeccable timing as we finish our harvest season, the first snow arrived overnight last night. Of course it all melted away by this afternoon, but it was a treat to wake up to a beautiful light coating of snow this morning. A lovely transition towards winter!

Advertisements

Weekend Update

This has been a forward-thinking weekend. We got a lot done, mostly work that needed to be done to set us up for the next thing. Not terribly exciting in itself, but the things to come are definitely going to be very exciting indeed.

First things first, my father-in-law and I went to pick up the trailer we’re borrowing from a friend of his for taking the pigs to the butcher. We gave the whole thing a good power-wash and removed one wheel that we discovered needs the valve stem for the tire fixed. (We’ll go ahead and fix the stem, as a thank-you for the loan of the trailer).

Next major task was taking 3 ducks and my older black drake down to a friend of the family who had lost most of his Muscovies and wanted to replenish. I gave him one of this year’s white ducks, and two of my older black-and-white females. In exchange we added a chocolate drake, which is a new color for us. One of my favorite things about Muscovies is the wide variety of colors available, so I’m very excited to be branching out from black and white. My next goal will be blue!

We also did some significant work in the garden. We picked the last of the peppers and froze them for winter use. Then we ripped out all of the pepper plants, so those beds are done. Our Tante Alice cucumber vine is dying back, but we are leaving the last few cucumbers to harvest seed to save for next year. We gathered a bunch of seed this weekend, and will do more next week or the week after. Once we’ve got our seeds, we’ll pull that out too. We still need to rip out the tomatoes and eggplant, but then we’ll be done with the main garden.

Our fall plantings have been hit or miss. Part of that is the fact that, being caught flat-footed this year, I was using some old seed, which I knew would be a gamble for germination. The beets didn’t come up at all, and only a very few carrots. The spinach was pretty lackluster also, but we got several lettuces. The real standout of the bunch has been the kale. We’ve got a ton of it! Last night we had kale chips with dinner, and tonight a wilted kale with garlic topped with fresh kohlrabi. Speaking of kohlrabi, all of the brassicas we transplanted are doing fantastic. The collard greens have seen a lot of action as well as the kohlrabi, and the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are getting huge. The pumpkin patch is coming along as well. There are plenty of butternut squash and some acorn. The Jack Be Little mini pumpkins are abundant. I’m seeing several huge green pumpkins as well – I’m so excited for a home-grown Jack O’Lantern this year!

IMG_4474We’re getting ready to plant garlic in a couple of weeks, so we moved the chicken ark again into the bed we’ll be using for that, so it will be weed-free and ready to go. All the beds where the chicken ark has been are getting mulched heavily with rabbit and/or chicken manure, which will help to keep the weeds down until spring.

We also cleaned out the freezer in preparation for the upcoming pork harvest. We bought a new energy-efficient 20 cubic foot chest freezer, so we moved everything from the old freezer into the new. We took an inventory and threw out the few things that were freezer-burned beyond salvage. Thankfully there was not much; we started using a whiteboard last year to keep track of our freezer stores and it has made a huge difference in avoiding waste. Things don’t really sink to the bottom and get forgotten, since we can look at the list and say “Oh, those pork chops/chicken breasts/etc are getting old, we’d better dig them out and eat them!” before they are too far gone. Between the new freezer and the investment in a vacuum sealer, we should do even better this year. Avery has a plan to convert the old freezer into a drinks fridge, freeing up some inside fridge space.

In the spirit of the last post, did I mention that while all of this was going on, I made a batch of turkey stock? I hope this validates my verbosity last time around. On Saturday the bones and necks went in the oven to be roasted while we were busy processing the pepper harvest, getting everything sliced and frozen and vacuum-packed and such. Then we took them out and put them in the fridge overnight. On Sunday I threw them in the stock pot with all the veggies and such, and let them simmer all day until after dinner. Then we strained, cooled, measured, and put the stock into the freezer, all in plenty of time for our normal bedtime! Maybe an hour or two out of the whole weekend was active time on the stock. Simple!

Productivity

Productivity sounds like such an office buzz-word, but it’s definitely applicable. Our little farmstead has been quite productive! We are bringing in the harvest and reaping the benefits of the summer’s hard work. The garden is slowly emptying, and my mobile chicken ark goes from bed to bed, letting the girls sift through the soil for weed seeds and bad bugs (like squash borer pupae, which lay dormant in the soil for the winter). As the ark moves out, I spread a thick layer of mulch and rabbit manure on each bed. We have been so buried in fruit along with our other work (both on the farm and at our full-time jobs) that we’ve been simply chopping it for jam or juicing it for jelly, and freezing it. There will be time a little later to thaw it out and make the preserves, but for now, we just need to keep it from spoiling. The latest was a bumper crop of grapes from my father-in-law’s vines. Meanwhile, the kale is simply exploding, and the winter squash are soldiering on towards ripeness.

We harvested eight young roosters this past weekend. We didn’t raise as many as last year, since we ordered pullets instead of straight run, and had only one hatch of our own chicks. Right now I have my older Speckled Sussex rooster, a young Buff Orpington roo (traded to me after he turned out to be a “he” instead of the expected “she”), and a young cross-bred rooster who is nevertheless extremely pretty and seems to be quite good-tempered. I plan to keep the older rooster and the Buff Orpington, but I like to keep my options open, in case the Buff starts to become aggressive or otherwise become a poor choice.

I’ve also made arrangements to trade some of my ducks for a new chocolate drake and a favor to be named later. One of my favorite things about the Muscovies is the wide array of colors available, but I’ve only managed to acquire white and black. It’ll be nice to get a new color into the mix. Next spring I hope to be able to find some blue as well! I think my favorite part of this lifestyle is the prevalence of the barter system. A family friend was looking for some black-and-white females to purchase, but since he had a spare drake in a new color for me, I suggested a trade instead. While money may have its place, this serves everyone well, and it’s much more fun when it’s an option!

Insta-autumn

How on earth did it get to be September already? One week in, the calender and the weather both agree that it is definitely September. A good thunderstorm on Saturday ushered summer out and autumn in over the course of about an hour. This has definitely been an odd year for weather in these parts!

The frenzy of life continues on apace around here. We are slowly clearing out the garden beds that have stopped producing, and are cycling through the chicken ark to let the girls work up the soil and eat up whatever weed seeds and bugs they can find. The winter squash and pumpkins are developing well, although we’re fighting to hold off the powdery mildew until we can bring them to harvest. My early volunteer pumpkins and gourds, on the other hand, are all ready to be harvested! Check out the bounty I picked this morning!

Fall crops have gone in, including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and collard greens. We have some kale, lettuce, beets, and carrots that germinated, and I have a late planting still to put in. My seed garlic has been ordered and will arrive sometime this month, to be planted in early to mid October. I’m really getting my second wind for gardening now that the weather is nice and cool! Planning the vegetables for my Thanksgiving table is a good motivator, I think.

The pigs are getting big, and are scheduled for the butcher next month. We’ll be harvesting the first of our roosters this weekend, and we’ll plan a day not too long afterwards to harvest the ducks as well. I’m keeping two young females, and possibly one of the young drakes, but the rest of the 15 young Muscovies we hatched will be headed for the freezer. Two are headed for the Yuletide table. We actually started raising Muscovy ducks because they had become a holiday tradition, and being able to raise up our holiday meal gives me a special feeling of gratitude.

The weather is also bringing back my knitting mojo, which suffers greatly during the summer. I did better this year than most, since the heat and humidity held back a bit and the house – which I should mention, lacks air conditioning – actually stayed pretty pleasant, meaning I didn’t have to fear my yarn felting in my hands! Still, the hectic abundance of chores and other activities does cut into my knitting time. Fall serves as a reminder, even though there’s still tons of work to be done, that my knitting deserves more attention than it’s been getting. Right now I’m working on a baby blanket and a poor neglected sweater that’s been languishing for a while. But more on that later!

This is my life now

As many of you may have guessed, I did not grow up on a farm. Until I was about 10, I lived in the honest to goodness suburbs, then moved to a housing development in what was at the time still a very rural area. After we moved the thing I wanted most in the world was to ride a horse, so I took riding lessons until I started high school. It sounds silly, but I assumed at the time that that would be the end of it. I was heartbroken when I had to stop riding, but young and naive as I was, I thought it meant that I had to “grow up” and leave the frivolous fantasy of that kind of life behind me. The pastoral bliss of watching my own horses or even livestock grazing in the fields outside my window was beyond my imagining. I couldn’t fathom that it was possible to go from the outside of that life to the inside. I still don’t have endless acres dotted with my extensive flocks and herds. I do have a plan with a timeline, and a burning drive to achieve it, and a lot of support as I take one step at a time towards that farm. And in the meantime, I have 8 acres and a life that 14-year-old me would never in a million years believe is ours. Here’s a day in it.

It’s hard to tell what wakes me up first: the alarm going off, or the cat stepping on my face. I get dressed and pull on my boots to head out to the barn while my husband feeds the dogs and cats. I make sure the chickens and ducks have food and fresh water. I check on Mama Duck and her ducklings, and the chicks, who will be striking out away from their mamas pretty soon. Mama Duck has started taking her babies to experience the great outdoors, which they greatly enjoy!

IMG_20140528_112722_121Then I check on Bacon and Pork Chops, where I discover they have made great strides in their efforts to turn the center of their pen into a mud wallow. I don’t mind, since it will help to keep them cool as the days get hotter. They haven’t been out on grass before, and are having a ball rooting up all of the grass and clover. I make sure they have plenty of feed and give them a treat of whole corn and potatoes. They are still fairly nervous when I am working around the pen, so I bring them something nice to eat every time I come see them. I give them plenty of fresh water too. They are so darn smart. I have a hog nipple style waterer made from a 15-gallon plastic barrel, but they had always been used to drinking water from a trough. I asked the woman who sold them to me what I should do to train them on it. The internet recommends sticking a marshmallow or a smear of peanut butter on it, would that work? She just gave me a little bit of a funny look and said, “Pigs are curious. You don’t need to do anything, they’ll figure it out.” Lo and behold, she was absolutely right – within 15 minutes of getting them home, they had already discovered how to work the waterer!

With everybody fed and watered, I head back up to the house to grab a quick breakfast, then change into my riding boots and toss my tack box and helmet into the back of the Jeep. I drive about 10 minutes to the farm where I’ve been riding for about 3 years now, for a ride with my horse mentor. She had a new horse there for me to take out, a sweet chestnut OTTB (that’s off-track Thoroughbred, pretty common around here) gelding who is now learning to be a trail horse and jumper. We tacked up and went for a leisurely ride over the neighboring farms. There is no better therapy in the world than a horse, for my money. I love my dogs, and I love my cats too, for all their differences, but if you told me I could have only one animal companion, a horse is the one I’ve discovered I simply cannot live without. After we got back and got the horses rubbed down and turned out in the field, I headed home completely reinvigorated.

For lunch I grabbed some chicken salad made of home-grown chicken, which even after several years of raising my own chickens still gives me a thrill. The clouds started to roll in, so I went to check on Bacon and Pork Chops and make sure they had dry bedding and their feed pan was under cover. As quickly as they picked up the waterer, they haven’t yet mastered the self-feeder, probably because there’s so much rooting to do that they haven’t gotten too curious about it so far. Once I was sure everyone was ready for the rain, I headed back inside to start some laundry, then settle down with a movie and cast on a baby blanket for a friend. There’s nothing like a rainy afternoon for knitting progress!

It’s now one blog post later, and I’m about to go have a dinner of venison and noodles, one of the last meals from our share of the deer my father-in-law got last fall. After supper I’ll collect eggs from the poultry and put together several cartons of eggs – both duck and chicken – to take to my coworkers. Tomorrow I work, but I should still have plenty of daylight when I get home to work in the garden and move my mobile chicken ark to a new empty garden bed. Then I’ll get out my seed catalogs and plan my pre-order of fall garlic, one of the only things I’ve grown successfully apart from herbs.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

Busy spring!

What a busy spring it’s been so far! It seems to be making up for lost time in light of its late arrival, and we are certainly not complaining. So much has happened in the last two weeks! My Muscovy hen is sitting on a dozen eggs, and two of the chickens are on nests of their own. I’ve sequestered them in one of the barn stalls, so they won’t be disturbed. We also ordered some new rare breeds from a hatchery, and those chicks arrived last Monday. They’re currently in my father-in-law’s basement until they feather out and it gets warm enough for them to move to the small coop at his house. Then when they are bigger, we will integrate them into our respective flocks.

I also found a great deal on some adult Muscovy duck hens, and picked up four new ladies. I’ve been wanting to add some color to my duck flock, and these fit the bill. Currently I have a white drake, one white hen, and one black-and-white magpie hen. Having some new colored hens, unrelated to the ducklings that will hatch next month, means I don’t have to keep any of my drake’s offspring in order to have more ducks in the barnyard. I like that a lot! These ladies are just about a year old, the same as my little magpie, and among them we’re getting five eggs almost every day! (Especially impressive since the sixth hen is sitting on a nest instead of laying!)

There hasn’t been any luck in the turkey department just yet. I’m not too worried, though. I can try to find some started birds later on in the summer, and try to finish them out for Thanksgiving. There is more news to come in the next few weeks though!

Spring on the Farm

Winter has abruptly left us and spring is finally free to arrive! For me the most tangible evidence is in the huge influx of eggs we’ve been getting from our poultry as the days lengthen. We have big plans for the farm this year. A lot of things were put on hold last year because the potential existed that we might need to move in mid-summer. That precluded things like a big garden, or a large hatch of ducks or turkeys, among other things.

This year, though, we know we’re not going anywhere, and that means that we have endless options! Right now I’m working on getting one of my two Muscovy duck hens to set. I’ll be putting some eggs under a couple of my chickens as well, if they’ll cooperate. I’m also scouring the local advertisements for some turkey poults and a couple of piglets to raise for pork. That last is very exciting, as it will be our first foray into raising meat other than poultry. With chickens, turkeys, and pork products of our own in the freezer, that means the only meat we’ll need to buy from another source is our beef. That thought is incredibly liberating.

Unfortunately since we got rid of our trio of breeding turkeys last year, thinking we might have to move, we’re starting from scratch in the turkey department. Last time we had Bourbon Reds, a heritage breed with lovely brown and white plumage. They got very large and were very delicious, although our Tom did develop quite an attitude. This year I’d love to get more Bourbon Reds, or perhaps some Narragansetts, which are very striking in a barred pattern.

Our original batch of juvenile Bourbon Red turkeys (and their Lavender cross sidekick)

Our original batch of juvenile Bourbon Red turkeys (and their Lavender cross sidekick)

There are plans for the garden as well, although it will be more modest than our first attempt when we moved into this house. I do want to take another shot at pumpkins, and I’ll be planting garlic in the fall.  Our previous crop of garlic was one of my rare successes when it comes to flora (as opposed to fauna). We’ll have some tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, lettuces and other greens, and of course the herb garden – another area of unexpected success, at least as long as they can remain outdoors in the summer. I have, however, managed to keep my bay tree alive all winter for two years now, and I’m pretty proud of myself for that! I’m looking forward to finding out what new and unexpected accomplishments this year has in store for me, and I hope if you’re reading this, you are too!