Monday, November 28, 2011

A Motley Crew

About a year ago, we "rescued" five Barred Rock chickens from becoming stewing hens at our friend Jeff's farm.  Since then, they've survived several mishaps and have generously given us eggs.  Though they've slowed down recently in egg production, we've decided to keep them around and have also added to their flock a Partridge Rock rooster.

The quintessential barnyard rooster...

...who poses for the camera by fluffing his feathers...

...and crowing.  Repeatedly.
Then we got three guinea fowl a couple months ago.  At first, we kept them separate from the rest of the chickens, but they refused to "stay put" and ended up mingling with the Barred Rocks and their man.  You can read about their antics here.

It was almost impossible to get a photo of the whole flock because every time I squatted down to take a picture, they came dashing toward me, hoping for goodies!  Anyway, the three guineas are right behind the Barred Rock in the front.
I mentioned in an earlier post that the guineas had taken to roosting on the chimney.  They actually moved to a nearby tree shortly after I wrote that, until one night a couple weeks ago.  I was awakened in the wee morning hours by some seriously loud guinea squawking, and thought I detected some whimpering.  Dashing out of bed (okay, I didn't dash, but it sounds more heroic), I went outside and found two of them under a bush.  The third, I was convinced, had become an owl's midnight snack.

We were saddened at the fate of the guinea, but then lo and behold - all three were waiting for us when we woke up later in the morning!  And you know what?  They have ditched the tree and have been safely roosting with the Barred Rocks ever since!

So there you have it - our motley crew of poultry.  We may soon be mixing them again with the 20 Rhode Island Reds so they can all spend the winter in the hoop house (updates coming soon - we're almost done).  Any fiascoes that will ensue remain to be seen.

Click the icon to check out Homestead Revival's Barn Hop!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Feed Your Kids Plymouth Rocks

Last week Byron asked Akea if she would like to go on a Civil War battlefield tour with him.  She responded with a sigh and said, "You know, Daddy, I'm really into Colonial history, not Civil War history, right now."  I know, I know.  Nerds 'r' us.

Apparently, he ended up telling one of his high school history classes about this incident, because one of his students, Marie, found a recipe for Plymouth Rock cookies in a magazine, cut out the page, and brought it in for him to give to Akea.  She'd remembered that Akea likes Colonial history, and wrote a note that she just had to get the recipe for Akea.  So I purposed to make this today with the kids...

Akea is mixing.  I have no idea what Charlie is doing.

It's always a sacrifice to let the kids lick the beaters.

I had some help making these rocks "Plymouth."

Pre-oven Plymouth Rocks.

Plymouth Rocks, baked and glazed.
Plymouth Rock Cookies
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract*
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp milk
black and green food coloring**

1.Heat oven to 375.  With a mixer, blend butter, sugar, and extracts for about a minute.  Add the flour, salt, and milk and mix together with a wooden spoon until dough forms.
2. Form dough into 8-10 Plymouth Rock shapes, about 1/2" thick.  Press a small rectangular lid (such as from a spice container) into the dough to create a frame, and with a toothpick to carve the date 1620.
3. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through until the cookies begin to brown.  Remove them and let them cool completely.
4. For a gray glaze, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tbsp milk, a drop of green food coloring, and a drop of black food coloring.  Adjust color and add milk if necessary to make the milk brushable.   Apply with a pastry brush and allow to harden for about an hour.

*I didn't have any almond extract, so I just doubled the vanilla.
**I didn't have black food coloring, so I used a drop of red with the green to make gray.

And that's not all!  We also made:

Brine for the turkey, a la Pioneer Woman.  Click here for the recipe.

Apple pie.  I know, I know.  I claim to be artsy, but there are two (okay, maybe more) things I can't do well: draw symmetrical stars and make fancy, fluted pie crusts.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hoop House II!

About a week or so ago, I wrote about the multi-purpose hoop house we're building to house our animals this winter and serve as a greenhouse/brooder in the spring.  Click here for Part I, and click here for the design we're following (remember, there is a link to an improved design at the bottom of that post).  Byron made progress this week, and this weekend I left the house to clean itself and went out to help him.  Here's how it looks so far:

We placed a beam the entire length of the greenhouse for added support, and because you never know when the southern skies will dump 24" of snow on you again.

Byron zip-tied fencing to the PVC on the cows' side in case they decide to get destructive.

Hopefully it will work!

This weekend we put up the structure for the front wall on the chickens' side.  The cows' side will remain open for access to a yard.

We grommetted (is that a word??) one end of the poly.

The super-strong 11 mil poly, which we ordered from here, is draped over the PVC.

We secured it with wooden lathe, screws, and muscle.  The instructions warn to pull this stuff tight and to install it on a warmer day since it will sag a bit in the cold.  Screws are nice because you can adjust wrinkles easily.  What isn't nice is a totally numb thumb after half an hour of pulling.

Cows' side.

Here's what the grommets were all about.  We zip-tied the poly a few inches back in hopes that the little varmints won't chew on it.

Chickens' side, facing the garden.  We are going to add a door and clear roofing panels to this wall to maximize sunlight.  Because more sunlight = more eggs.  At least in theory.
We hope to finish this by next week, or at least before the next cold front hits.  And if you don't hear back from me until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm linking up with a couple blog hops.  Click below to visit:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trial, Error, and an Egg

We know several families who are eager to buy land and try their hands at a bit of homesteading, whether it be beekeeping, gardening, raising animals, cultivating fruit, owning a milk cow, or any combination thereof.  Some are biding their time by watching the real estate market, and others are just about ready to take the plunge.  I often joke that they can learn from our mistakes, because no matter how many books you read or Youtube videos you watch, experience is the ultimate teacher.

One mistake we made late last winter was not ordering our chicks soon enough.  Much of this mishap had to do with our preoccupation with making the house more livable, so when we got around to ordering laying hens and meat birds, the first available delivery date was June 3.  At the time, we didn't think this was too big a deal...and maybe, in reality, it wasn't.

But we did run into a few bumps along the way.  When you farm, the weather is a huge factor in most of what you do.  Our Cornish Cross meat birds had a very hard time in the extreme heat of this past summer, and it was a sad day when we found three dead from heat.  As you may recall, we ran a fan out to the pen for the last couple weeks of their lives:

July heat + fan = happy Fat Boys
As for our Rhode Island Red laying hens/rooster, they fared better in the heat, but we have been waiting anxiously for them to start laying.  Typically, it takes 4-6 months for a hen to begin laying, and we think the cold spell we had at the end of October may have thrown them off. 

Here's how chickens pose for photos.
See the rooster?  He and the Partridge Rock rooster daily have a "Dueling Roosters" competition in which they crow back and forth.  Unfortunately, this guy's puny adolescent crow is no match for the loud and lusty lungs of the older rooster.
I digress. four months, I also switched them from the higher-protein broiler feed to layer feed, because I was assuming they'd start, well, laying.  A month and a half went by.  I griped to friends and family that they needed to start earning their keep.  Then yesterday, here's what we got...

See the one in the front on the right?  That's our first pullet (young hen) egg!
The funny thing is that this hen flew over the electric fence and laid the egg in the Barred Rocks' little chicken tractor.  Hopefully that confusion will abate, and hopefully the others will begin laying soon, too!

I'm linking up with the Barn Hop.  Click below to visit!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hoop House!

Last weekend, Byron began building a hoop house that will be the winter home for our chickens and, we're thinking, our cows.  We're following the excellent plans found on this site, but are tweaking things a bit to suit our needs.  If you end up building one and follow these plans, be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the article to the post about the improvements he made to his original design.

I should also mention that this is going to be a multi-purpose structure, which is how we'd like to build most of our outbuildings.  Beside housing animals, we're planning on using it as a brooder and greenhouse in the spring, since the covering will be a semi-transparent poly that will allow sunlight in.  In the summer, we may roll the poly back and plant directly into the ground (after cleaning out the most recent droppings, obviously).

This is supposed to be a one-day/weekend project, but like everything else around here, it's taking us longer thanks to a full-time job and useless daylight saving time.  But here's the progress so far:
The hoop house will be accessed through the garden, at one end.
The PVC is installed over rebar.
We used 20' long 3/4" outdoor (schedule 40) PVC for the structure, which is supported by rebar. We have about 30" of rebar in the ground and about 15" above. Obviously, the rebar will not last forever, but it's a cheaper fix than ordering a multi-thousand dollar catalog greenhouse.

The perimeter is treated 2x12s.  We used deeper 2x's since we'll be housing animals and want to be able to add bedding throughout the season, as needed.

A surprise visitor came to check out the progress.  Our rooster spotted this eagle from several hundred yards away!

You may have noticed the cedar post in the middle of the structure a few photos ago.  Three posts will serve as columns for the 2x6 ridge board we're adding to support the hoops.  .

Installing post #???? on the property!
The posts at either end are about 2.5' from the ends, which will allow access but will mean that the ridge board will cantilever a bit. I'm pretty sure it will be fine; we don't anticipate major snow loads since the heat from the animals inside will (hopefully) cause any accumulation to melt and slide off quickly.

The end of the hoop house closest to the garden will be closed in with plastic panels and a door, and the other end will be open to allow the cows to come in and out as they please.  We'll build up a "wall" of hay bales and chicken wire to separate the chickens and cows, and we're going to reinforce the cows' end of the hoop house with wire so they don't destroy the poly.  Frankly, I'm a little nervous about the cows making their winter home in here, since they did this to their portable shelter:

Bad cows.
But then Byron reinforced it with leftover wire fencing from the garden:

Good cows.
Check back soon for more updates!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grape Syrup Rocks

Today must be a day to be late.  Or maybe that's every day.

I missed the Barn Hop yesterday due to one-year checkups for the kids, meeting another homeschool mom to buy some wonderful homemade soap, and a trip to the airport to pick up my in-laws.  And so I figured it was apropos to post something I had wanted to write about back in September.  Of course, I can blame our old computer for being late on that if I really want to (which I do).

In September, I had the opportunity to pick a bushel of fresh, Concord grapes!  They are heavenly right from the vine, and make wonderful jam and juice as well.  I think I even tried making muffins with them.  But have you ever heard of grape syrup?   Nor had I, until I ran across a recipe in Put 'Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

They look amazing, don't they??
The recipe is easier than making jam, and the syrup itself rivals maple syrup.  And remember how I said I can barely bring myself to pay for maple syrup anymore since we made our own?  Well, this may be our solution!

Just boil...
...simmer... (this is simmering, my style.  Stuff always seems to get away from me!)
...and blend!
So without further ado...

Grape Syrup
(adapted from Put 'Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton)
4 c grapes, stemmed
1 c sugar (I used 1/2 c)
1/2 c water

Combine grapes, sugar, and water in a large pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool, and run through a food mill (I used my high-tech blender).

This lasts in the fridge for about 3 weeks, or can be frozen for 6 months.  I found these PBA-free containers and froze about 14 cups' worth (I multiplied this recipe by 5 to get that amount):

I tried some for the first time yesterday morning and this rivals maple syrup for sure!
So apologies that this post is too late in the season for you to make your own.  But I've given you something to look forward to, right??  So bookmark it, write it down, or print it out for next'll be pleasantly surprised!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fencing for (as close as we can get to) Free

This fall, Byron has been using every spare moment to put up a fence around our property.  Obviously, we need a perimeter fence to keep any escape artist animals in, but there are also two houses going up next door to us.  Not that we're unfriendly neighbors, but since we often see strange cars driving up to view the construction (as well as trespassers metal detecting), we're going to feel a lot safer once that physical barrier is up.

As you know, fencing is pricey.  Our approach has been to make it as cost effective as possible, the downside of which is the time commitment.  A benefit, however, is that Byron has cut small cedars from the property to serve as posts, which is more sustainable than buying treated lumber from the store. 
Fencing along the driveway (other side not pictured).  All together, Byron has installed over 100 cedar posts!

Okay, so this part is not quite as sustainable, but time is a premium right now: where there is no view from the road, Byron decided to install green metal posts intermittently...about four between each of the cedar posts.  All the posts are about 11'-12' apart.

And installing a metal post is a lot easier than digging a 30" hole for every cedar post!
Byron still needs to install the corner braces like he did in the garden, and stretch the field fencing, which comes in monster rolls that require superhuman strength to move.  Unfortunatley, we don't have any superpowers that we know that part will be interesting.  More to come!