Week in Review; Nov. 8/15

The weather was great this week at The Welcome Homestead, temperatures generally nice and warm which enabled some outside work to get done. Winter predictions have run the gamut from a short, warm winter with little snow to a long, cold, snowy winter due to El Nino. We try to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

One project that has been a long time in coming is the compost screener. This was completed on Tuesday and now allows for the screening of compost to ensure a consistent product and remove any bones and unfinished material. The beautiful black compost that is the end result is amazing and fluffy and is easy to spread out on the gardens. A couple of screws and small pieces of metal were also removed in the screening process so there is a bit of a safety aspect to it too. Oh, we’re also keeping an eye out for a paddle for the bread maker that a certain Grumpy Truck Driver left in a loaf of bread that ended up in the compost so we can use the bread maker again.

Another project that got underway was the pop can solar collector. It was finished and installed on Friday. Saturday was partly cloudy so a test wasn’t able to be completed but Sunday was mostly sunny so a test was done for part of the day but the results were inconclusive. It was constructed quickly and poorly so some more work needs to be done to seal it better. This will likely be covered in it’s own post at a later date.

A couple more worm bins were harvested and new bins started with the worms that resulted. Due to a couple of years of neglect by the above mentioned Grumpy Truck Driver the worms are mostly small and unhealthy but when introduced to a properly maintained bin with fresh food and bedding they should grow into large, mostly pink healthy worms.  Worm compost is a very healthy addition to any soil and can also be made into a tea to spray on the plants to add beneficial bacteria and nutrients.

Fred and Lucille Bunnyrabbit still haven’t had a litter yet but we’re keeping our fingers crossed. There is a black doe out there, Lucille’s sister who had the chewed up litters that we might give another chance to, since discovering the rats here this summer may have absolved her of the blame for the chewed up kits.

Dawn has gone broody again for the third time this year. After taking eggs out from under her for the last two weeks and having to put up with a cranky hen it was decided to give her some eggs and see what happens. She is now sitting on about eight eggs and appears to be a lot happier. It’s very late in the season for the hens to be hatching chicks out in the coop but if the temperatures continue to be mild it may help. It will be interesting to see if her behavior toward the chicks would be any different in the colder weather and if she pays more attention to keeping them warm. It’s quite possible that we could have chicks in the house over the winter however we’re curious to find out about hatching chicks in the winter and hoping it will work out.

Three turkeys are still left out there but we’re almost finished our last bag of feed so they will be gone soon. Freezer space was made this week so they will fit in there if necessary. We are currently at 268 pounds of turkey processed from the nine birds done so far with three to go.

There are two young roosters that will be invited for dinner soon along with a hen that has a leg injury. It looked like it was getting better and, from a quick examination, didn’t appear to be broken but she can’t seem to put any weight on it at the moment so it’s best if she gets the dinner invitation too. One very small egg was collected on Saturday so the hens that were hatched in the Spring appear to be starting to lay which is a good thing as a lot of them are molting now and hens usually stop laying when they molt.

We wish everyone a safe and productive week.

Peace

Week in Review: Nov 1/15

The autumn winds are blowing now and most of the leaves are gone, the naked trees pointing their bony fingers to the sky as if they’re flipping off the coming winter. The chipmunks are busy scurrying around gathering their winter stores and sternly scolding anyone or anything that gets in their way. The hedge along the back of the property is temporary home to a flock of birds gathering for the trip south and feasting greedily on the chicken feed whenever I turn my back. The sun seems tired, it’s daily travels lower in the sky as if it doesn’t have the energy to climb higher than that. The evenings are longer and the shadows reach and stretch across the countryside, ushering in the night with long ghostly arms. The weather is supposed to be good this coming week, possibly record warmth according to the weather guy on TV but we all know winter is just around the corner.

The Welcome Homestead is doing our best to prepare for winter. The gas cans were filled this week so the snow blower will have enough to drink until spring. The winter straw has been brought in and tucked away in the straw bunker so the rabbits will have snug warm bedding to get them through the winter blast.

Firewood is piled neatly and ready for the winter bonfires. The garden hoses will have to have the water drained out of them, be coiled up and stored away for the winter. The grass was cut for the final time and the lawn mower and the snow blower traded spots in the shed for the season, the mower having worked hard all summer and quite deserving of a rest.

The Welcome Homestead joined Twitter this past week and is working hard to catch up to the 21st century’s technology. It’s a big learning curve because the Grumpy Truck Driver is not a technological whiz and each new phase is a big learning step but we’re getting through it with some help from our friends and family.

Thirty pounds of turkey breast was processed on Wednesday, 23 pounds was ground and 7 pounds was cubed, all were vacuum packed in one pound lots and frozen. This is in addition to the turkey legs, wings and necks that were vacuumed packed and frozen. All of it was all from the two tom turkeys that were processed on Sunday. There are three birds left, one tom and two hens, who will all likely be boarding the bus to Freezer Camp this week. We are on our last bag of turkey feed and the weather will be getting pretty freezy soon so it’s perfect timing to wrap it all up. We have enjoyed the turkeys this year and are looking forward to doing it all again next year. The infrastructure is already in place and there is a year of knowledge behind us now so hopefully it will make next year easier and even more enjoyable.

Fred and Lucille Rabbit still haven’t produced a litter going on a couple of months now. The rabbits have not been getting the attention they should have this year due to the due to the goings on with the turkeys and having a busy year with the chickens. There are a few things to mull over this winter and the rabbit housing is one of them. There may have to be additional housing built to accommodate the grow out time of the litters so the does can have a new litter in peace. All in all it was a busy summer and we’re fairly satisfied with the progress that has been made here and looking forward to more growth next summer.

Everyone have a safe and productive week.

Peace

Turkey Processing

As we move forward on our journey toward peace and self-sufficiency here at The Welcome Homestead we take on projects that we find out later we were not properly prepared for. Turkeys were something that fit this category nicely. To be more specific, the butchering of turkeys was what turned out to be the real challenge. It was not only the actual processing procedure but the size of the kitchen itself. Oh to have a large processing kitchen with lots of counter space, cutting, grinding and vacuum packaging ability on a large scale and refrigerators and freezers big enough to contain all Nature’s bounty. The turkeys this year greatly exceeded our weight estimations which is both good and bad. It’s good because we ended up with a lot more meat than anticipated but bad because it pointed out the lack of proper processing facilities.

The procedure starts off with “bagging” the birds with a feed bag by cutting a corner off the bag and slipping it over the body with the head sticking out of the bag, thus containing the wings from flapping wildly at the time of the kill. This worked out fine for the hens which were noticeably smaller than the toms but when it came time to process the first big guy the bag would not fit over the body. This left the unpleasant option of holding the large bird down by hand which turned out to be rather… unpleasant. With my neighbor’s help we were able to actually get the bags over the second two birds but it took the two of us and a bit of a struggle to do so. They are dispatched with a pellet pistol then hung upside down and the throat cut to bleed out then the head is removed prior to dipping in the hot water.

Water is heated up to about 150-160 degrees and the bird is dipped in this for a minute or so until the large feathers pull out easily. This is done primarily for ease of feather removal as it is a lot more difficult to dry pluck. A metal garbage can was purchased for this as the birds wouldn’t fit in the big pot that is used for the chickens. Again, this wasn’t too bad for the lighter hens but when it came to the toms it presented a real challenge. They butchered out to 41-44 pounds table weight so their live weight had to be upwards of 50-55 pounds. Lifting a bird that big into a garbage can full of hot water that was waist high was no picnic and I was sure glad to have my neighbor here to help with the second two. Lifting it out of the water was even more of a challenge because now it weighed a couple of pounds more with water in the feathers and was hot! The problem of lifting it up to hang for plucking was solved with the purchase of a small winch that is meant for the front of a boat trailer, just a small 1000lb hand crank winch that works great.

After plucking the bird is laid out on a table and the legs cut off at the knees. Then the crop is removed from the upper chest through the neck opening. The bird is then turned around, a cut is made around the tail and the anus, making sure to get the oil gland on top of the tail and the entrails are removed from the bottom end, hopefully without nicking the bowel or intestines. Everything usually comes out pretty clean with only the lungs needing to be scraped from the inside of the rib cage. The body cavity is rinsed out with cold water and the carcass is put into a container of cold water to cool down as quickly as possible.

Packaging was another unforeseen challenge. The vacuum packager that is used for the rabbits was entirely too small for the turkeys and it was difficult to find actual bags big enough for a whole bird. The hens had the wings, legs and neck removed and packaged separately and were actually packaged in the small vacuum packer. The body was put in it’s own bag. The big toms also had legs, wings and neck removed and the breast meat was either cut into steakettes or ground and frozen in individual bags. Turkey bags were ordered from Amazon which turned out to be too small so goose bags were ordered from the same company and proved big enough for the job. However, they were too big for the vacuum packer so a search was on and, thanks to YouTube, a solution was found using the household vacuum cleaner to suck the air out of the bags then they were twisted and sealed with a zip tie. This is a picture with one of the hens after it was vacuum packed.

Here is a picture of the first tom after processing.

The turkeys have been quite entertaining although not the brightest bulbs in the box. They usually hang about in a group and can be quite curious when they feel they’re not in danger. Once they got to be adults their peck could be quite painful if they got you on a sensitive area such as the back or the back of the leg. Their gobbling laughing sounds were hilarious and they would all break out in a chorus if a motorbike went by. Over all, they have been a great addition to the Homesteading journey and we look forward to getting more in the Spring.

Week in Review: Oct 25/15

As fall gets colder and Winter waits impatiently around the corner The Welcome Homestead is well into preparations for Winter’s arrival. The gardens were all cleared out this past week and all the plants were put into the compost bins. The final carrots and beets were pulled out of the ground, the sunflower stalks were dug out and piled on top of the compost bins for drying which will make it easier to cut into pieces for composting. This coming week the compost from the finished bins will be spread out on the gardens in preparation for the Spring planting.

Andre and the other remaining two chicks were put out into the coop this week so there are no more chicks in the basement. They were a little young to be introduced to the flock but there are quite a few younger birds out there and they seem to be doing ok so they should eventually be able to find their place in the flock and be fine. One hen was found dead in the nest box, cause of death unknown, but it happens from time to time so she is now resting comfortably in the compost which is the final resting place for anything organic here.

Three turkeys were processed here this week and the butcher weight greatly passed our expectations. The final processed weight of the three were 44, 41 and 44 pounds respectively. The legs on these turkeysauruses weighed about 5 lbs 10 oz and each breast weighed about eight pounds. Most of the meat on these big birds will be ground or cut into small steaks and frozen. There easily should be enough meat to last the rest of the year until next year’s turkeys are processed. The turkey project was very successful and we look forward to doing it all over again next year.

Egg production has fallen as anticipated but a little lower than expected. It has fallen quickly in the last couple of weeks from a high of around 19 a day at the beginning of August to an average of 12 a day currently. There were only nine eggs gathered on Thursday. Shorter days and lower temperatures will affect a laying hen as Nature determines it’s not very wise to hatch and raise a chick in the harsh effects of Winter. The lights in the chicken coop are currently being left on until about 9pm to give the chickens the illusion of longer daylight but whether they are buying it doesn’t seem likely in light of the drop in egg production. There has been an influx of young chicks into the flock so that might have something to do with it. We pretty much doubled the flock here at The Homestead this summer with nearly 20 chicks hatched between the laying hens and the incubator. It was a bonus when the eggs from the refrigerator hatched although only seven out of 36 hatched, which is to be expected. A few of the new chicks are roosters so they will be invited for dinner at some point which will reduce the flock a little. Currently they are eating like food will go out of style tomorrow so a reduction in mouths to feed will be a good thing.

We wish peace and prosperity to all and hope everyone has a good week!

Peace

Week in Review Oct 18/15

It wasn’t an overly exciting week at The Welcome Homestead but with Summer winding down and Autumn taking over there is a lot of work to do to prepare for winter’s coming wrath. There have been many conflicting forecasts for this winter due to an extra powerful El Niño and the forecasters seem to be at a loss as to which way the weather will go. Forecasts range from a long, cold, snowy winter to a short, warm winter as predicted within the last couple of days. The Homestead would, of course, prefer the latter which would make the Grumpy Truck Driver’s chores a lot easier but we would be prudent to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

Today the air conditioners were removed from the windows and the storm windows installed. The yard was cleaned up and water barrels emptied so the valves won’t freeze. The outside water tap was closed from the inside and the outside valve left open so the tap outside would not have water in it. Garden hoses will have to be blown out to make sure they’re clear and the gas cans filled so there is fuel for the snow blower.

Pidgey was put into the coop on Thursday, along with the seven chicks who were hatched from the refrigerated eggs and the chick that was found with it’s head caught between a nest box and the side of the coop who, happily, made a full recovery and seems fine. They have been having a terribly hard time of it since then which seems to be standard procedure when introducing new birds to an established flock. After a few days they will sort it all out and, aside from some constant pecking reminders, will have found their place in the coop. It’s called a pecking order for a reason! The first night some of the younger chicks had to be retrieved from under the coop and put inside but the last two nights all were inside by dark so that relieves the Grumpy Truck Driver from crawling about in the chicken poo under the coop. This leaves Andre and two other chicks in the basement for another couple of weeks until they’re a bit bigger and then it’s their turn to run the gauntlet as their initiation into the flock. Here’s Pidgey looking kind of forlorn on the INSIDE of the fence:

RATS! Yup, still catching them. Rat number seven was caught this week in the feed shed. This is the first year since moving here 11 years ago that rats have been part of the equation and that’s not a good thing. From all accounts they are difficult to completely eradicate so some more intense effort may have to be made to take care of the problem. Maybe a doggie would be part of some future plan.

The rabbits are not behaving like… well, rabbits. Lucille started off with back to back litters of 11 last Spring, then another litter of 11 of which only five survived due to her apparent negligence in the first couple of days then a few weeks ago she had a litter of three of which two survived, the runt only lasting a couple of days. Last week she was due for another, pulled fur and built a nest but no babies. Fingers crossed and hoping something will happen in the next few weeks or other plans may have to be made. There is still a black doe available but hasn’t been bred due to her having chewed up babies but, with the addition of the rats the possibility is that it was the rats that chewed the babies and not her. She may yet get another chance.

We wish everyone a safe and happy week and hope everyone can get out to watch the Fall colours explode in their fiery glory as Nature prepares the land for the sleep of Winter. The days get shorter as the shadows lengthen, gripping the countryside with their long dark fingers and the trees lay a colourful leafy blanket on the ground in preparation for Winter’s snowy comforter. The land will rest from a busy summer bringing forth Nature’s bounty and wake again in the Spring, refreshed and ready to give life to the land once again.

Peace