Friday, June 29, 2012

Real Happy Meals

A huge part of what we do here on the 'stead is growing our own meat. We're not large enough to raise a cow or have multiple pigs, but we are big enough to grow our own chicken, duck, goose, turkey, guinea hen and rabbit. We've been blessed in that we've always been able to fill our freezers with poultry meat for the whole year, within a season. And every year we experiment with different ways to keep our flock healthy and happy. A happy hen or roo makes for a happy meal. The flocks' regular diet consists of Payback Organic Pellet, Scratch and Peck whole seed and variously gleaned fruits, veggies and otherwise composted foods. Our flock free ranges on about .25 of an acre. Well, I should say their fenced area is about .25 of an acre. Unfortunatly for me, fortunatly for them, I'm horrible at building secure fencing. They roam freely throughout the garden and front orchard. Luckily, our neighbors are spectacular as about a dozen of our ladies like to congregate in their front yard on a daily basis.
In addition to their wild wanderings, we've tried to offer them variety and fun in their Habbitat. After Christmas every year, we collect unwanted christmas trees and leave them in the Habbitat for more natural nesting and resting areas. The grass grows taller around these dead trees and offer wonderful little hiding places for broody hens or cranky roos. They also provide excellent bug hunting grounds. In an attempt to create more diversity, we decided to try something new this year with pallets and left-over seeds, inspired by accident. Earlier this spring I read an amazing article about the taste of eggs in regard to the season. Eggs, of course, taste differently according to what the hen has eaten and is experiencing. In the spring the eggs are deeply yellow and rich, because the insects and wet roots she eats are abundant in the fresh spring weather. Early fall, the eggs are lighter in color and lighter in taste, because she's eaten more grasses and forage and is hiding out from the heat, thereby not eating as much. In an attempt to affect the flavor of the eggs, and encourage more natural behavior in the flock, I mounded a couple long rows of compost into which I planted last years' left over seed. Over the top I placed several pallets, laid side by side. The idea is that as the plants under the cover of the pallets begin to grow, the chickens, geinea hens, ducks and geese will feast on the leaves and veggies without digging up the roots and killing the plant. So far it's worked wonderfully, though I'll save my praise until the end of fall to see how well it worked throught the seasons. I planted squash, beans, sunflowers, wild grasses, lettuce and melons. Stay tuned to see how well it works!
When we first began raising our own meat a few years ago, everyone told us not to love, name or become attached to any of the animals destined for dinner. We tried to be stoic and removed and it honestly didn't work for us. I've discovered that despite what others have said, it's a more complete transition from backyard bird to dinner plate if we allow ourselves to love along the way. To understand the sacrifice it takes to kill a living being in order to live, we must first treat that living being with the respect and love it deserves. With that in mind, we totally love on all our birds, layers and meat alike. If anything, over the years I'd say we feel closer to the animils we claim as food then when we started. This year, all of our ducks and many of our chickens we hatched ourselves. Lovingly cleaning them of their broken shells at birth, caring for them throughout their lives, cherishing them by name and recognition of their personalities and in the end, delicately leading them through the process of their death. I think we'd all swear to the fact that these birds bring a whole different meaning to the term Happy Meal.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's May Yo'

What a month! Despite the fact that every Spring I promise myself that this season's gonna be different. I'm not going to go overboard and I'm going to go easy with the farm and garden. This year, I promise, I'm gonna enjoy myself. I vow to have more bbq's, sleep in more, go camping and hiking during the week, every week and read during the day. Lies! All lies! Despite my best intentions, every May, life becomes an open circus and this year was no different. Of course, looking back it looks like a we all had a blast. Maybe we did and maybe hindsight is the correct way to look at our experiences. It felt like running crazy! We started the month with Josh's 12th birthday. Josh is my oldest baby. Joshua made me a mom. Before Josh, I myself was a baby. Literally, I was 19. He helped me form my view of the world and my place it in. We celebrated our big day with an excursion to the beach to obtain some big, beautiful, fresh crab. And since my mother was driving, that meant that we had to stop at every possible water source and explore. I think we left that morning at 5am. We didn't reach Tillamook until 10am, if that tells you anything.  
Life is everywhere on the farm this month! Now I'm not super great at giving you or anyone an accurate count of the critters that at any point live here at Blue Moon. I'm so bad that I didn't realize one of our Rouen hens went off (most likely to our neighbor Bernhard's yard) and had a little clutch of 4 babes until she decided to parade them up to the front yard one beautiful day this past month. I swear she just wanted to show off her brood because she didn't really do anything except march up the side drive, with her little ones trailing behind her, and then turn around and run back. Of course, I was chasing after her trying to snap a photo.
Our poor neighbor Bernhard has so much to put up with as our neighbor. The other night I decided that he had been left out of our Prank Wars and that the situation could only be remedied by a great prank. See, we prank our other neighbors all the time. We've t.p.'d the inside and outside of their house, we've socked (which necessitated over 4,000 socks, saved and gleaned together over a 6 month period) the inside of every drawer, item in the refrigerator and cupboard. We've plastic wrapped their truck among other less time consuming tricks but felt that Bernhard deserved some fun too. Sooo, I tore apart our library and garage and outfitted his front yard with a living room set. It was pretty great.
One of the saddest days in May was the day that we had to take Maybelle, our beloved Alpine, to my girlfriends house out in the woods. She just ate so much and I decided that it was unfair of me to not have more forage for her. So at least for now, she'll be living with a great family out past Eagle Creek on the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood. Once we got her there we made an amazing discovery. Despite the fact that Maybelle has been my great companion for the past few years (she goes on walks with us around the neighborhood and is always following me like a dog here on the property), Maybelle is not genetically a female! Maybelle has a penis! How could I have missed this? What I thought was utters were in fact deflated (fixed) balls! Needless to say, I was shocked. She thought I was being ridiculous and chewed my fingers. Regardless of what her plumbing says, Maybelle identifies herself as a lady and so do I.

Spring is chick time! All of our chicks are now old enough to be outside and just like every other year, there's a few stand outs in the crowd. I've never been great at culling, not so great at it in fact that I don't do it. So I guess I'm not a real farmer. Which is great news for Capt' Jack Sparrow and her partner Sierra. Capt' is a fizzle and I'm not quite sure what Sierra is but both of these chicks were in our handicap brooder and nobody expected either to fully thrive. So we babied them, of course. They lived in the house at night much longer then they probably should have. They receive daily baths in the bathroom sink and hard boiled eggs and treats just about every day as well. Capt' Jack Sparrow has a neurological disorder and has occasional seizures when frightened. She also bobs her head endlessly and cannot clean her undercarriage. Another interesting thing about Capt'  is that she's got extra toes, useless, that grow on the tops of her feet. Sierra came from Naomi's and had a peculiar condition that I've been unable to completely diagnose. She had a tiny body with large wings that grew away from her body and a tiny little butt. Having raised hundreds of birds over the last 5 years, I've noticed a thing about those birds with wings that grow away from their bodies and tiny butts. They rarely thrive. Sierra wasn't selling at Naomi's, partially because she didn't look too healthy, so Stella worked at Naomi's shop painting the bathroom to earn her. Neil, Naomi's partner, advised Stella to pick another bird because he'd come to the same conclusion I had, those birds rarely live, but Stella wouldn't hear of it. She brought Sierra home to be be Capt' Jack Sparrow's partner. Despite Sierra's extra attention, I had to clean her bottom everyday because her vent was constantly clogged. Both these lady's are now thriving and live right in our unfenced front yard and perch every night with Pearl and Auntie Ma'am, our older handicap ladies, on our front porch. We see so many sad things with the animals here at the farm that it's absolutely uplifting to see such an obvious success story.
Although we didn't raise the quantity of chicks that we have in previous years, we did raise quite a few. In addition to the chicks from the hatchery, Naomi's Organic Farm Supply and other random pick-ups, we raised quite a few of our own ducks from our own backyard drake and hens. Nik built me this beautiful run for the ducks in our front yard. They've got wonderful natural cover from a couple of Japanese Maples and a little feeding pond that we regularly stock with goldfish. They're all mixed with some form of runner duck and they're hilarious to watch running around in a group. Everyone in the pond and then up and out and do a loop around the enclosure and then hide under the tree quacking and then start all over again. Hilarious! If you're sad, may I suggest runner ducks????

We're all so lucky to have the things in life that we have. Family, friends, animals, leisure time, freedom of religion and speech, freedom of choice. Sometimes I feel so spoiled, how can I be anything but happy? A few weeks ago after a day of fence building and gardening, I was bit by a hobo spider. Although it hurt, it wasn't that bad. I went into the doctor and was promptly put on antibiotics. That following week I began to feel sicker and more ill, with migraines and no energy. Then a horrible rash that looked like burns, covered my body, from nose to toes. I spent some time in the hospital and discovered that I'm allergic to the antibiotic that I received for the bite. My bone marrow was compromised and I had no white blood cells to speak of. All my other counts were down and for awhile there, I was really scared. At the risk of sounding cliche, I began to review my life and I realized just how great I've got it. I am so thankful to God. I am surrounded by amazing, beautiful friends, family, life. I'm so glad I've chosen to live my beliefs! I may look a little weird to folks that don't know me and like a complete dork to those that do but I'm so happy that we've chosen the path we've chosen. I really realized who, in our crazy busy life, really truly care and I'm so blessed to know them! Thank you all!
Happy Spring all!