Monday, December 27, 2010

Smart Dog

This is a video that Donielle took of our puppy, Champ. His ball rolled under the bed and Donielle told him to go get it. Very funny.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Raising Chickens (and flies?)

Early in the fall Donielle and I ordered a flock of Freedom Ranger chickens to raise for the freezer. These chickens are able to forage for more of their own food than the traditional meat bird, the Cornish Cross. They grow more slowly and their feed/weight conversion isn't nearly as rapid but we decided to give them a try. Here are the newly arrived chickens in our stock tank. The stock tank stayed on the front porch where we could keep an eye on things yet keep the 'stinky' chickens out of the house. They got new food, fresh water, and a nice heating pad to sleep on. We actually split the order with some friends down the road so we ended up with about 15 birds of our own.

This next photo shows the collection tub of our BioPod. One of the blogs I follow regularly is called The larvae of black soldier flies are actually wonderful composters. What takes weeks or months in a traditional compost pile takes just days with BSF. The adults are attracted to decomposing food scraps in the pod and lay their eggs in the 'egg disc' in the lid of the pod. When the eggs hatch, the larvae drop into the food scraps and begin to eat. They consume the scraps and molt several times until they're ready to pupate. Their instinct is to go 'to ground' and they seek a way out of the pod to burrow into the earth. Immediately prior to pupating they 'poop' and molt one last time. The larvae are able to negotiate an incline of up to 45 deg which is something the pod is designed to exploit. The larvae climb the 'exit' ramps and drop into the collection bucket below. What you end up with is a totally clean, self-harvesting supply of grubs that are very high in fat and protein. Take it from me, the chickens (both chicks and adults) love them.

Look for more about Black Soldier Flies and BioPod in the future. Compost for the garden, grubs for the chickens. What's not to love?


Homestead Butchering

Should have posted this one earlier. Several months ago our 'main' tom turkey Albuquerque got tangled up in the electronet fencing during a duel with one of his sons. Actually both turkeys got tangled but we were able to free the younger bird in time. Albuquerque, sadly, didn't survive. We don't regard our turkeys as pets; rather we see them as breeding livestock. When we lost the tom I immediately dropped what I was doing to dress him out for the freezer. We got some nice turkey breasts, legs, and quite a lot of turkey stock. I learned how to butcher my own poultry from my good friend Harvey Ussery in Hume. You can check out Harvey's site at

The first photo shows the turkey mostly plucked of feathers. This was all done by hand as my homemade chicken plucker won't handle a bird as large as this. The larger (primary) wing feathers were plucked first and set aside to be made into quill pens. Seriously, I've wanted to try this for a long time and found that it's not difficult at all to do.

The second photo shows the plucked bird in my processing sink about to be eviscerated. The evisceration or 'gutting' process is actually pretty straightforward. You are removing the entrails and separating them into the edibles (liver, heart, etc) and inedibles (intestines, lungs, etc). My youngest boy Jake watched with great interest and was especially interested in what the heart and lungs looked like. It may sound gruesome at first but it's actually quite interesting. We, as carnivores, are too far removed from how our
food is produced.

The next photo shows what young, healthy turkey livers look like. Chicken livers, though smaller are the same, rich, dark color. The light, anemic-looking livers you find at the store tell a story about the lives those birds lived.

It isn't my intention to gross anyone out with these photos. The photos on Harvey's website are much more detailed, in fact one could learn how to butcher their own poultry just from studying the photos on his site. One phrase from his site sticks with me. It's a rhetorical questions he asks playing the part of the shocked observer seeing a chicken butchered for the first time. "How can you kill and eat a bird that you've known since it was first hatched?" Harvey's response is, to paraphrase, 'How can you eat a bird that's unknown to you?' Literally Food for Thought.


Deer Hunting

So I got up early last Thursday and walked out into the woods, in the dark, and climbed into my treestand. I sat absolutely still for about an hour until I could hear footsteps in the dark. I closed the bolt on my rifle and waited. In about a minute I could make out a small buck and a smaller doe in the small clearing beneath the stand. I watched both but could tell that both deer were very small and decided to give these deer a pass in the hope of getting something larger. I climbed down about 8:15 and walked to the top of a nearby hill. I sat down at the base of a small tree to see what might come along. I immediately noticed a very small squirrel coming down the log in front of me. The squirrel came closer and closer until I wondered if he'd come all the way down the log to where I was sitting. At the last moment he seemed to notice that something was wrong and froze. It was at that moment that I looked beyond the squirrel and noticed a herd of deer on a hillside about 100yds from where I was sitting. I found a large doe in my scope and steadied my rifle to take the shot. The rifle discharge caught me by surprise and I looked up to see a good-sized herd of deer bounding out of sight into the woods. I watched to see if one looked like it might be struggling to keep up with the others. After they were out of sight I walked over to the spot where the doe had stood and looked for signs that she might be wounded. Nope. It was a clean miss. No deer today.

I truly am thankful for the meat provided by any deer I kill. I don't have a preference for bucks over does since I'm not in it for trophies. I'll be out again next week hoping for something to put in the freezer.


Friday, December 24, 2010

New Direction

I've decided to take the blog in a new direction. I used to use the blog to document the going's on of Fern Hill Apiary, the name of our hobby beekeeping business. The business has taken on a life of its own and now has its own site. There we feature the products and prices for the bee-related things we produce. I'll continue to feature beekeeping photos, etc on the blog so you can see what's going on here but the 'new' blog is going to have a more general focus on our family, homestead, projects, etc. We hope you enjoy.