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“A Post About Today: February 6th, 2021”

I’m going to make my first attempt at adding some fun photos to the blog post.  Does that make it a… plog?!  :B  
Edit/update: since it seems to have worked and looks nice, I’ll work on adding photos to more of my previous posts. 

We recently got about 12″ of snow, and there’s still plenty more on the forecast.  At last, the snow has come! We’ve hardly had 3 feet of cumulative snow up to this point, which is very unusual.  

To celebrate, it was time to clean 12″ of fresh powder and 12″ of crusty old melted snow off of some roofs.   

One of the rigorous winter chores is cleaning off vehicle and building roofs.  It’s hard to say how much snow would collapse any given structure or vehicle.  It’s also hard to say how much it might snow over night!  So best not to leave anything to chance.  It’s best to just clean the roofs off when the snow gets 15″ to 20″ deep.  

The dogs break excellent trails through the knee-deep powder.  Windy drift areas along the unpacked trails are sometimes waist deep.  Neoma the Dog took the trail-packing lead with with the help of her abundant puppy energy, albeit her trails zig-zagged from tree to tree in ever-hopeful pursuit of squirrels…

Spring is fast approaching, but it’s not here yet.  As I mentioned in my post about the 2020 Harvest, we still have a few loose ends in the realm of the barnyard.  Today concluded the rooster round-up from the 2020-season.  7 more roosters to butcher and we’ll be done… almost…!  There’s still a few cockerels from late-fall/early-witner hatches that are too young to butcher yet.  But these are the last of the un-needed crowers.

We raise a few different bird breeds.  One is the Marans, a breed that, to my knowledge, originated in France.  I’ve been raising a few different ‘lineages’ of marans for about 8 years.  The breed was developed, I assume intentionally as they are a meat bird, to produce 70-80% male offspring. The boys are much larger than the girls in this breed, so more boys means more chicken meat each year.  This is one reason you don’t commonly find marans available from big-box hatcheries.  Hatcheries always have too many boys to begin with, and trying to reproduce and sell a breed that produces mostly male chicks doesn’t make for good business.  As a hatchery, what would you do with thousands of extra boys?!  They’re already giving their boys away and still have too many!  
Most of my butcher boys each year are pure marans or half-marans crosses.   These last 7 roosters on the whack-list are lavender Ameraucanas crossed with black copper marans.  A handsome group, but alas, “more roosters” is not what the world needs, as is evident by the surplus of “free rooster” ads that have been circulating in our area for months to no avail.  And “more roosters” is certainly not what my barnyard needs- the poor hens are now finally getting a break from the harassment that’s been going on far too long!  I usually keep 3 breeding roosters and a few replacements roos in case something like predation happens in the flock.  That’s enough roosters!

I also raise ayam cemani crosses.  The I have been raising ayam cemani for about 6 years.  I’ve never heard it advertised about the breed, but I’ve bred 2 lineages of cemani and each one has produces the opposite of marans; 70-80% females.  If not more! 

As I have a particular interest in breeding fibro birds with funny colored meat, I love throwing fibromelanosis genes into my meat birds.  Why eat a pink chicken, when you can eat blue, black, purple, and green chickens?!  As it so happens, most of my fibro-crosses end up being girls, alas.  So I don’t get many blue eating birds unless they’re half-marans roosters.  
In 2020 we hatched out about 120 chicks.  Roughly 20 were cockerels, and all but 2 of those were marans-crosses.  This is the usual story each year.  Most of my laying hens are now 50% or more cemani as a result!  I don’t mind, they’re absolutely beautiful birds, they lay wonderfully, and they’ve been excellent broodies.  Which is odd, considering cemani are not known for going broody.

Hope that’s an interesting tidbit!   I intended to talk about the snow, but hey, chickens work, too!

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“Counting the 2020 Harvest”

There’s something very magical about producing your own food.  I’m not the best at keeping records, but I do try.  So here’s a peek at what we managed to produce in the 2020 season.  Granted, the ‘season’ is not yet over.  We’re still contending with foodstuffs grown last year.  Our food and farming season will not begin anew until the spring!

Canned Fruits:
79 gallons of apple, pear, huckleberry, aronia berry, and elderberry syrups, juices, and sauces

Pickles:
13 gallons of pickled carrots, onions, beets, greens, and cucumbers

Pressure Canned Foods:
39 gallons of canned squash
12 gallons of canned pork


Home butchered/cured/ground/smoked meats:

120lbs+ sausage
150lbs+ of bacon
7 butchered roosters (and another 15 running around still that need to go!)

Fats & Oils:
20+ gallons of rendered lard
100+lbs of raw fat for future processing

Fruit and vegetables from the garden:
200lbs of potatoes
75lbs of tomatoes
3 apples (haha! it was our orchard’s first year trying to produce, all of our other apples were wild foraged)
10lbs of cauliflower
5 tiny hot peppers
50lbs+ leafy greens
50lbs+ squash (most of our canning squash we traded for from a friend)
10lbs carrots
20lbs sweet corn
5lbs sunchokes3lbs of yams
100lbs of beets + greens

Wild Foraged Fruit and vegetables:
close to 1 ton of apples
6-7 gallons of huckleberries
20lbs of elderberries
20lbs of aronia berries (technically not foraged, we harvested these from a friend as part of a trade)
400lbs of pears

 

It was a cold, tough summer in 2020.  We still had nights close to freezing in July.  In total we had roughly 60 days of ‘warm’ growing season.  The heat-loving plants struggled terribly, but the cold lovers did wonderfully.  The peas, beans, peppers, corn, and squash limped along and produced a few morsels of food.  The potatoes, kale, orach, cauliflower, beets, and carrots did decently.  The apples and pears had a good season on the South side of the mountain, but the North side fruit trees didn’t have a single fruit on them this year. This year we installed 6 different varieties of raspberry in many different places. We have 3 varieties of asparagus growing, but each year I split them to the brink in order to multiply them, so we haven’t had a chance to eat any yet.  

 

With enough colonies spread around the greenhouses, this year I started spreading asparagus to outdoor areas as well.  I have high hopes for it!  My sunchokes are the same story; instead of eating the harvest, I spread and proliferate them in many different areas.  These food systems need time to establish before we can enjoy a fat harvest from them!

Here’s to hoping 2021 will be a little warmer in the summer!  We still buy salt, onions, yams, and popcorn, but are otherwise nearly sustained on what we produced in the last year.  Woohoo!

 


So what are the final 2020 tallies?

143  gallons of food preserved
300+ pounds of meat
20 gallons of oil (potentially twice that if we render the rest of the fat)
520+ pounds of food grown
2,500~ pounds of wild fruit foraged

 

 

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“The Journey of the Emotions of Killing”

Isn’t it hard to butcher an animal you raised yourself, especially if it had a name?
It was at first” is about the simplest response to that common question. The act of destroying life comes with its own unique and complex emotional journey. For those of us who empathize with the life and suffering of other beings, killing is not a straight-forward affair. I really do think it’s an important conversation to have for those who have an interest in farming or hunting to feed themselves. My own journey with these grounding experiences started not with farming, but with hunting wild game. As I do not support the USA’s factory-farming meat industry, I am left to source meat in other ways.
In my late teens and early twenties my hunting rules were “hit it right the first time” and “if you shoot it, you eat it“. It took a few years of eating squirrels before I really had any deep revelation about hunting. It took knowing people so derangedly bloodthirsty, so excited to kill anything (and waste all of it), that I felt repulsed by my own personal enjoyment of hunting.
During this time I also discovered (and reported) disturbing incidents of poaching; hundreds of animals shot and left to waste across dozens of incidents.
Seeing such extremes helped me to form clearly defined ethics around my own hunting. When you see the ugly side of something, you’re forced to introspect and ask yourself where you stand with it.
Why am I even hunting?” I had to recognize what defined the need for it, and to recognize what kind of respectful conduct must accompany that.
I effectively gave up hunting for many years and started raising small livestock, though hadn’t butchered any of them myself yet. I had run into a moral conflict. Which was more acceptable; going out into the wilderness to procure meat, where animals run wild and free but they know that you’re there to hunt them? Or raising an animal from birth, feeding it, naming it, allowing it to know and trust you, then one day taking its life?
My first attempt at butchering a chicken almost convinced me that hunting wild game was indeed more ethical. I had no idea how to properly dispatch a chicken, and someone had told me with great conviction that the ‘best’ way to quickly and painlessly dispatch a chicken was to “crush its trachea”. Let me be clear, that is a really bad idea and it doesn’t work.
Killing Fernando, as this rooster was dubbed, scarred me. It had to be done though. When a car arrived in the driveway, he would jump into the driver’s door when it opened and furiously attack the human inside. It was totally unacceptable. But I had no idea what I was doing when I tried to dispatch him. To make matters worse, after I finally got the job done and got the bird plucked and in the freezer, I labeled the bag of chicken meat “FERNANDO“. Again, very bad idea. The meat sat in the freezer for 3 months before I decided to feed it to the cats. I couldn’t even bare to look at it, let alone think about eating it.
Soon I found myself with far too many roosters running amuck. I sold and rehomed a few, but challenged myself to try butchering again. I wanted to raise all my own food, and I had to learn how to do this. I tried the classic method of head-chopping with a hatchet. I gave up on that after 3 birds. I didn’t have the “umph” needed to whack them properly. It was far too violent for me.  Contending with a half-headless bird that refuses to die is a traumatizing experience, and it made every swing of my hatchet weaker and weaker.
As I continued to breed chickens, turkeys, and ducks, I was confronted with the reality of the necessity of butchering on a farm; too many boys.  One day I found a young cockerel sulking listlessly on the ground.  I scooped him up and inspected him.  The older roosters (of which there were far too many) had attacked him and ripped the undersides of his wings open.  He had maggots crawling around under his skin.  It was utterly horrifying and I killed him right there out of pity.  That was my introduction to mandatory rooster butchering on a working, reproducing farm.
 When a small flock has the ability to produce over 100 roosters in a single year, there is no ‘animal rescue’ or ‘sanctuary’ that can possibly hope to house them all.  If they tried, the roosters would just kill each other off.  Some folks give them away (to people who want free meat), others drop them off at night at farms, hoping the roosters will have a place in the flock that lives there (and I think they assume I won’t just eat the newcomers, but I will, because they present a  biosecurity threat), and others drop off car loads of excess boys in the wilderness… I assume to feed hungry predators, or occasionally to give me a fun afternoon of netting ‘wild roosters’ that I myself can bring home and eat.
Why not raise your rooster and eat him, too?
I would say that the first 100 chickens I butchered were all very difficult. The first 100 rabbits were equally hard. I had to be in a very calm place and be willing to dissociate from the experience in order to partake in it. It was emotionally taxing. Some days I didn’t think I would be able to butcher another one for a good long time. But over time, each animal got just a little bit easier, a little bit less exhausting. I had settled on cervical dislocation as a rapid, bloodless method for ‘whacking’ critters, as I call it (because saying ‘kill’ every time leaves a bad taste in my mouth). It works on everything smaller than a large turkey (at which point the larger critters need a .22) and is the least violent, most reliably successful method I’ve tried.
But now and again my internal conflict still flared up; would it just be better to go shoot the wild versions than to go through all this?
Fast forward many years, and over 1,000 home butcher jobs. I now know where I stand with the debate. I protect my animals and give them good lives, feed them good food, and when the time comes, they repay that by taking care of my needs; furs/leathers, meat, oil, and income. If I were to release them all into the wild, every last critter would be dead within a month- if not a week. My care and protection is what keeps them alive. So that’s our exchange. On the other side of the coin, I still find it difficult to hunt wildlife. Even shooting predators out of necessity leaves me a blubbering ball of tears for the day. When you pull that trigger, you take the only things a wild animal has; command over its own body, and its life.  I only shoot wildlife if I need the food or I need to protect the animals in my care. This is the balance and nature of stewarding animals, especially in such a wild region.