Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh, Chickenfeathers!

It is easiest to catch free-range chickens when they are asleep. Late Monday night, Cadence donned her headlamp and went out to gather up her victims, 20 roosters she intended to harvest the next morning. She nabbed them from their roostes and gently closed them into the rabbit hutch and they barely even stirred.

The next morning she went to work. Cadence is very organized and meticulous. She slaughtered and butchered 4 chickens. She worked steadily but it took 3 hours. Despite using a chicken plucker. And we have 200 roosters to harvest this summer. So now she is reconsidering the idea of having the chickens commercially processed. The other 16 chickens on death row were let free--their time will come.
It is surprising to me how blase' the chickens seem to be about the fate of their compatriots. They would walk over to the harvesting area and didn't seem to have any fear or realization that this could happen to them. They casually picked through the feathers on the ground, sometimes eating one.

The next day I was set up to paint outside the barn, staring at a blank canvas and wondering where to start, when a red rock rooster ran over to me carrying a white feather aloft like a prize. I love when the animals pose for me!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Veggie Garden Developments

Although we thought we had lost all of Sara's fancy melons, one hardy Moon and Stars watermelon survive being repeatedly dug up by chickens and replanted by us. It finally has flowers, so maybe we will get a melon or two...
The beautiful tomatillos are hanging on the plants like little Chinese lanterns. Cadence was pretty exuberant about planting tomatillo plants - we will have a ton of tomatillos.
The Ichiban Eggplants are looking look lovely, but this morning we discovered that some chickens had been taste-testing our first eggplant fruit. Apparently they didn't like it enough to eat all the evidence.
One artichoke plant is already boasting three fruits! But the other has none yet.

If all our baby pumpkins grow to full size we will have a bumper crop of jack-o-lanterns.
Cadence's Three Sisters (Corn with beans climbing up and squash growing throughout) suffered the worst damage of all from the dang chickens. But now that we have the critters effectively fenced out, they have recovered enough so that the Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans are properly climbing the Oaxacan Green Cornstalks and have begun blooming. Winter squash are rambling between the cornstalks - hope they feel inspired to blossom soon.
Figuring out how to stake 98 tomato plants effectively and affordably has been a challenge. My friend Dana sent me a great link showing how to prune tomatoes and weave tomato supports. (I didn't know that pruning indeterminate tomatoes will double the yield!)We had the fence posts already, so all I needed was a few rolls of twine. I splurged and got pretty red polyester cord, which I figure I can re-use for years. My tomatoes are about belly-tall and this system is working well so far.
The tomatoes are pretty wellcontained in navigable rows, not sprawling all over.
Most of my tomatoes are loaded with fruit, still green. In a few weeks we might have to begin a steady diet of my favorite summer meal, BLTS, featuring tomatoes from our garden. This variety is Tigerella, I believe, and will be red and yellow striped.

Shark Cage Strategy

S'cat is not easily intimidated, but the geese are much larger than he is and have been known to chase him around the yard a bit. Today while the geese were splashing in the kiddie pool, S'cat crawled into the center of a roll of chicken wire that was lying atop the pallet of bricks next to the pool and was able to get up close yet remain safe. The geese were flummoxed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

P-P-Perfect & P-P-Productive Weekend

Peachy Pie. Actually, it is a nectarine & wild black raspberry tart, one of several traffic-stoppingly beautiful pastries Sara made for the Farmers Market on Saturday.
Painted Ponies--Not to be outdone, Cadence made dozens of pretty equine cookies with black raspberry glaze and filling to sell at the market.
Platform Plan. Rog and Cadence designed and got the supplies for building the loft in Cadence's granary cabin.
Pig Therapy. Sara spent a much of this afternoon communing with her beloved pigs. She cleverly constructed two wooden frames that hold plastic planter boxes for feeding and watering the pigs so they don't dump it over. They're still trying, but haven't succeeded yet.
Pasture Protection Rog installed electric wire at Dexter cow nose level all around the inside of our main pasture this morning, excluding the orchard. If this doesn't keep Lariat in the pasture and the calves out of the poor nibbled fruit trees, I don't know what will.
Paint, Paint, Paint. I am still working on paintings for my exhibit to be installed in just nine days! These new paintings have an irrepressible farm theme -our animals have been modelling for me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In a Fog

The past few mornings have been quite foggy, which I always find to be a bit romantic.
The garden is heavy with dew and fog lies in layers in the distant fields.
Our herd of cattle, edges glowing in the early morning sun, gets moving. This morning, Lariat gave Reuben a little bath.
While I wander around taking photos, the maniac gold cat races along with me, zooming up trees and startling chickens for fun. I think we have finally settled on the name "S'cat."
The sun has been quickly burning off the fog and the days have turned sunny (we need rain!) Half an hour after taking the foggy driveway shot, the sunflower by the patio is already glowing in the sun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July Morning in the Veggie Garden

Tomato plants sparkle with dew.
Birdhouse gourds climb the fence.
The artichokes are choking up!
Eggplant blossoms blooming purple.
Yellow zucchinis are growing, soon to be coming out of our ears.
Squash blossoms can now be found at Squash Blossom Farm.

Scare Tactic

We don't really have a place to fly kites on our farm -- too many trees, power lines and a windmill. So, I hesitated when I found two great colorful kites, a bird and a butterfly, for $2 at the Salvation Army thrift store. Then it occurred to me to hang the kites from a pole in the garden...then Shelly (a Sal's regular) suggested they would scare away birds and deer... and...SOLD!
I got two small-diameter PVC pipes and drilled a little hole on the end to thread the kite string through. The PVC pipes turned out to be a bit too flexible, but if they are woven through the chain link fence, and if there is a brisk wind it works and the kites fly. They don't seem to be very effective at scaring the chickens out of the garden, but I haven't seen any deer, so maybe they are doing some good.(Then again, I have never seen a deer in the garden before.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

1 down, 199 To Go

To those gentle souls who have been dreading the inevitable post about harvesting chickens, be warned, this is the one. Don't worry, I won't post any blood and guts photos, though.

The plan last Sunday was to butcher 5 chickens and learn how to do it quickly and humanely.
Saturday night when the chickens had gone to sleep and were easy to catch we went out with a flashlight and nabbed the five largest roosters - the White Giants, which Rog and I have been incorrectly calling the Foghorn Leghorns - and closed them in the rabbit hutch (Death Row) until morning.
The meat chickens are Cadence's project and she is taking full responsibility for the harvest. [The irony is that Cadence announced she was a vegetarian when she turned 12, and she strictly followed that decision until a couple years ago when she was 19 and traveling in South America. Now she eats meat and believes that if you eat meat, it is important to know that the animal lived a good life and it is appropriate to slaughter it yourself.] She penciled reminder notes to guide her through the steps.
The inverted chicken was placed head-first into the restraining cone. When a chicken is upside-down it gets very quiet and still. With a sharp knife, Cadence cut its throat and let it bleed into a bucket. Next, she dunked the dead chicken into hot water to release the feathers. Then, she held it over the rotating chicken plucker, which zipped the feathers off in a moment. At this point it looks pretty much like any chicken you buy in a grocery store to roast. She cut off the feet and carefully cleaned out the insides.
Here is the chicken a few hours later, after being grilled for our dinner. It was amazingly tasty. Sara and Cadence agreed that harvesting the chickens did not make them feel bad; it felt right. Despite how big it looked, this first chicken turned out to only weigh 2 lb. 15 oz. after being dressed. We decided to wait a couple weeks to harvest any more so they get a bit bigger. So, the 4 other chickens on Death Row were set free. Little do they know.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Fur and Feather Report

The farm critters are a never-ending source of entertainment. Lately, one of the free-range roosters has claimed the column at the bottom of the steps as his pedestal.
The pigs have created an awesome wallow by repeatedly dumping out their watering containers and rooting around in the resulting muck. On hot days they like to sink deep into it.
Afterwards they turn into bi-color pigs. They really love to be scratched and petted, but I have to admit I don't touch them as much as they would like because they are usually so muddy.
Cadence's second 100 broiler chickens are getting big and handsome. As soon as the first 100 chickens are harvested (next week!) they will get to leave the chicken tractors and be free range. A few have gotten out prematurely when we have moved the tractors, such as this barred rock who is outside the pen, but they seem to stick pretty close to the flock.
Lariat, the Dexter cow, has also managed to get out a few times. Either she is a master escape artist or we are pathetic fencers. Probably the latter, but we are gradually figuring out how to make cow-proof fences.
We have been using the movable electric fence with the solar charger and pasturing the cows in the front yard intermittently. They seem to like a change of venue. And new trees to nibble on.
Supposedly Dexter cows are very hardy and prefer to stay outside, even in the depths of winter. Our Dexters must be unusually wimpy. They choose to hang out in the loafing shed when it is barely even sprinkling. Lasso, the steer calf, loves to lie in the manger so I have nicknamed him "Little Lord Jesus."
The turkey chicks are now three weeks old. Somebody wrote that they must be getting ugly as they grow up. They are a bit gawky, but still rather cute, I think.

Every morning after they eat breakfast the dogs take off to explore the marshy ditch and the tall grass prairie. They return an hour or so later-- filthy, wet and exhausted, but with big grins on their faces. Here's Cocoa...
...and here's Nutmeg, happy and soggy after one of their morning forays.

Green and Growing

It's hard not to compare gardens and suffer from a bit of garden envy sometimes. Down the road a piece is a retired farmer whose immaculate small garden is so far ahead of ours--His squashes are covered with blooms and his tomato plants are chest-high. So, I was heartened today to find our first squash growing--a yellow zucchini, about two inches long.
Many of the tomato plants are starting to set fruit, too. Because of our greenhouse disaster we don't know what plants are what varieties, but I suspect this might be Early Girl.
We keep discovering the things previous owners have planted. Gorgeous yellow Asiatic lilies are growing on the north side of the house!
On Wednesday, Cadence and I drove the truck and trailer to Plainview and picked up 500 pounds of corn for feed and 15 bales of straw for mulch and pig bedding. Rog and I got the tomatoes and potatoes mulched that evening just before the rain.
The snowpeas are terrific and prolific. We have been eating them every night and have frozen a lot -and still many more are coming.
One of the good intentions I did not accomplish this spring was planting the sunflower seeds along the barn. Darn. However, some thoughtful bird planted a few from the feeder along the east side of the house --one will be blooming soon.
Linden trees make fantastic honey and I have been wanting to plant one for my bees. Last week I found one on sale. It's not the greatest time of year to plant trees, however, and as I debated about whether to purchase it or not a honey bee landed on my hand. I took that as a message to go for it. Since bringing the linden tree home it has burst into bloom. It also attacts butterflies and moths. I think this is a ctenucha moth (don't ask me how to pronounce it, though!)
The lettuces are recovering from their severe pruning by the ducks and geese -- a new crop is almost ready. This is the trout lettuce. Couldn't resist a couple of fragrant carefree shrub roses on clearance at the grocery store!