Humble Garden

ReSkilling for future food independence

Homestead lessons

Posted by Nika On August - 10 - 2009

Humble Garden 2008: Old English Game roosters

Two days ago we noticed a pile of feathers on the grass around our house. Then we saw some on the driveway. We knew then, upon inspecting the feathers, that one of our old english game hen roosters had met a bad end. I think it was the rooster on the left in the photo above.

We then found another pile of feathers closer to the chicken tractor where all of our layers were kept. In the photo below you can see two downy feathers.

Humble Garden 2009: sad end to rooster

The chicken tractor is not predator safe by any means so I decided as soon as I saw the feathers above to bring an end to the pastured chickens for now and have all the girls in with the roosters in the hen house.

Humble Garden 2009: empty chicken tractor

I made sure to patch all the holes in the hen house run and now they should be all set for a while.

Here are a few shots of the chicken run.

Humble Garden 2009: communal chickens

Humble Garden 2009: communal chickens

Humble Garden 2009: rooster

Humble Garden 2009: communal chickens

That rooster that we lost, he had been loose a few days and in that time he visited with one of our small chicken hens and now she has gone broody. She laid her eggs in this broody house we had made up in years past and has been sitting on them. So, even though we lost this rooster, his genetics were passed on. I dont know if these chicks will hatch or make it, but the hen is working hard on it.

Humble Garden 2009: protection for broody hen

I have the fence there for her protection. According to my daughter, the broody hen really only wants off for about 30 minutes a day to run out and “use the facilities”. My daughter opens the fence and takes the hen out for this time. Then she closes it back up. We learned the hard way that the other non-broody hens and roosters will smash the eggs under a broody hen and then if chicks hatch, they will kill and eat them. Broody hens and chicks need to be protected.

Humble Garden 2009: broody hen

I have learned that “old wives tales” and old sayings like “Dont count your chickens before they hatch” and “No use to crying over spilt milk” have a real profound meaning when you are caring for these animals. Not counting the chickens before they hatch is a guard against putting too much planning and intent into a delicate process (such as gestation) so that one can deal with the inevitable losses that WILL come.

The other day we were milking by hand in the morning because I didnt want to have to drag the milker out twice that day. We had just finished a load of milking and then, poooof, the goat lifted her leg and splashed her filthy hoof down into the pure white milk.

It made me white hot angry – all that work and all that lovely milk – but I was able to let it go quickly and cool off. The moment that hoof touched the milk, it was no longer useful. There is no halfways about it. No ambivalence. I just had to let it go. Thats what the saying “No use to crying over spilt milk” is all about, you have to let it go because it is 100% irretrievably lost.

Here are a few shots of the cucumbers that are WAY behind (like the whole garden) but which are coming along. I think they will have time to bear before the frosts!

These are pickling cucumbers

Humble Garden 2009: pickling cukes

Humble Garden 2009: pickling cukes

And these are lemon cucumbers (which I thought had died!)


Humble Garden 2009: Lemon cukes

13 Responses to “Homestead lessons”

  1. RevAllyson says:

    Lovely chickens! Our new hens are coming along, but they’re not nearly egg ready. I suspect we won’t see a single egg until spring, but that’s alright. They’ll live fat and happy in the hen house over the winter, snug and warm enough. The broilers are ugly as sin, but then again they always are. They are slaughtered on Friday and Saturday. The next round of broilers just arrived (a whole month late!), and are adorable at the moment, being just tiny peeps. We should have them grown and butchered before the serious frosts set in.

    Our own cucumbers and zucchini are only just starting to bear fruit now, too. The first tomato was picked today. I can’t remember a summer this wet! Everything is behind, except the weeds of course. Still, we had a bumper crop of green bush beans, and lots of shell peas, too. :)

  2. Nika says:

    RevAllyson: Yeah broilers are rather “ungainly”. We did a mess of them one year and also some last year. The killing and butchering (which I am the only one that seems to be qualified to do around here, no one else volunteers) is mortally exhausting to me for some reason. At the end of it, the thought of eating them isnt a nice one – something about having had so much to do with them.. all I want to eat at that point is some lukewarm porridge or maybe a sip of cold water! I must sound odd!

    I hope your slaughtering goes quickly and that your chickens are all tender!

    Alas, no tomatoes here, still trying to let them go, its so darn hard!

    I have been drying and canning and pickling green beans like crazy. Need to do much more tomorrow!

    No shell peas here tho!

  3. RevAllyson says:

    Hehe… I am known as “Dr. Death” around here. I’m the only one that does the actual killing. Other people do the butchering, the cleaning, the packaging (though I usually end up packaging after I’m done killing, as there’s a lag). We also have at least one team indoors who are working on making sure those of us in “the field” are getting water, food, and cool cloths as needed, and also to make all the chicken broth for the following year. We actually can all our own chicken broth, and boy, is it ever nice. We do a very low salt broth because of hypertension in the family, but it’s full of fresh herbs and spices from our gardens, and it has a great flavor.

    And I know what you mean about not wanting chicken that night. We usually call a moratorium on chicken for about a week after slaughter time. Eventually it begins to look tasty again, but we’ll eat a lot of beef and pork that week *chuckle*

  4. Jean says:

    Love those lemon cukes. We grew some a few years ago and the kids thought they were really fun. Haven’t successfully grown cukes or squash since we moved, because the deer eat EVERYTHING here! We’ve worked out an arrangement with them though that the tomatoes, peppers and herbs that we grow close to the house are pretty safe, provided things don’t get too dry…

  5. Nika says:

    RevAllyson: You all have it down to a science! I am teaching my 12 yo. They are “her” chickens but she has a very no-nonsense attitude about killing some of them (the boys – thats what they are there for).

    I remember, in grad school, this nifty guillotine labs would use to kill rats quickly. I want to find one of those for this purpose. It would work perfectly. It would not require much strength which is really where I am at a disadvantage – my hands and arms are not very strong.

    I too can up stock made from our chickens – simply astounding in flavor! I ration them out through the year and each one is used lovingly!

  6. Nika says:

    Jean: yeah they are delicious. Just picked our 1st one! We will have it tonight at supper with lettuce from the garden too.

    We have deer (garden is actually built over one of their paths!) but we have not had ANY problems with them. Since our raised beds are 2 feet high, the bunnies can not get up there either. LOTS of bunnies around here too. We put wire “fabric” or mesh on the bottom of our beds so rodents cant get in there either!

    The only pests I have to worry about is insectoid and avian (when the chickens get loose, they go for the garden) and also caprine (when they get loose THEY go straight for the garden).

  7. RevAllyson says:

    You said:
    I remember, in grad school, this nifty guillotine labs would use to kill rats quickly. I want to find one of those for this purpose. It would work perfectly. It would not require much strength which is really where I am at a disadvantage – my hands and arms are not very strong.

    I actually have a very practical way of killing the chickens, that doesn’t generate a lot of mess, and does not require a lot of strength. We use a traffic cone. :)

    We tie or otherwise attach a traffic cone (preferrably one of the more solid ones, rather than the rubbery soft ones) to a wall or bar, and put a garbage can beneath it, with a heavy count garbage bag inside. If necessary, you can duct tape the bag – you do NOT want it to fall in, trust me. When the chickens come to me, the go upside down into the traffic cone. They almost always poke their heads out, and then they kind of get all passive and pass out. Grab the head, pull gently back (not to hurt, just to expose the neck fully). I have a special knife that has a pointy end, and one sharp side. You poke it right through the middle of the neck, and then push forward, away from your body. Cuts both carotid arteries, and the birds bleed out very, very quickly, and don’t suffer at all. The blood and mess goes right into the can and the bag. The chickens can’t hurt themselves or anyone else because they’re contained in the cone (it presses their wings against their body), and they can’t spray blood all over. When they are fully drained, the head comes off with kitchen sheers or garden sheers, whichever you prefer, and goes right into the garbage can.

    This is the least messy, least damaging (for me OR bird) method we’ve tried, and over the years we’ve tried a number of ways. The knife I have is just incredible, and I could not do such a good job without it.

  8. Nika says:

    Yes, I have always meant to get a killing cone but have not! You describe ts use well and you make it sound so easy!

  9. RevAllyson says:

    I got the hint on the cone from someone else. We looked at the stainless steel ones online, but at $45 for something I can pick up for free after dark most nights… well, we went with safety orange for ours. *grin* I swear by this method, though. I can usually keep ahead of a team of five people without any problem.

    This slaughter will be interesting, though… I sprained my ankle fairly badly on Tuesday afternoon, and I can’t walk well. So I’ll be doing the slaughtering sitting down lol

  10. We put an electric fence around the whole garden to keep out the elk and to keep the chickens that free range inside safe from raccoons, dogs, bobcat…too bad we didn’t consider the hawks. So for now they are in their yard. Lovely photos, Kim

  11. Nika says:

    I hope the slaughter went well!

    I have been meaning to set up the cone (have some metal flashing for it) but we have just not gotten around to setting it up!

    Hope your ankle is better too!

  12. Nika says:

    Inadvertent farmer: hawks are brutal! We usually have our eyes to the sky for them. We have several pairs who call our area home. We also have several families of ravens who have adopted our land.

    We are going to set up an electric fence in the mid term future to help with clearing more land with our non-milking goats. We just have to be able to afford the solar powered power source! (it will be no where near our house and power lines)

  13. RevAllyson says:

    The ankle is much better, thanks. :) And this was the best slaughter we’ve done to date, I have to say. In a little under 5 hours, we slaughtered 42 chickens, processed them, and put them in the freezer. Whew! It was a perfect day for it, just enough breeze to make it liveable, and just enough shade to keep us from crisping.

    We have 50 more broilers in the barn, about 2 weeks old now. We’ll grow them until October sometime, then slaughter them,a nd we should be set for the winter (we hope!). If the next slaughter goes as well as this one did, and as fast, we might do 100 chickens next spring, instead of only 50. We use them a lot for trade, for stuff we don’t have (like bear and moose, and cabbage and corn… and sometimes for tractor fixing and wood splitting lol), so having extra would be good. And it isn’t like they don’t get eaten! :)

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About Me

We are a family of 5, including Nika, Ed, Q (14), KD (7), and Baby Oh (4). We garden 1024 square feet of raised beds plus assorted permacultural plantings. We also have 13 LaMancha dairy goats, 40 chickens, and one guard llama.

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