Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Early Birds!

Wow, it's a good thing I got everything ready for the turkeys yesterday. I expected them to arrive in Steubenville tonight, but they were at the Adena post office this morning. They all made the trip alive, and none of them look sickly. The hatchery put in an extra one for free (which they've done every time I've ordered from them), so I have seventeen poults in the brooder.

I think I've found the solution to my protein source problem, or actually I remembered the solution. Journey to Forever has an article on how to create high-protein feed out of the air (scroll down). I just need to breed some maggots to feed to the turkeys as a supplement. High protein feed plus cutting down the fly population: a win-win situation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Preparing for Turkeys

Today I finished the last of the preparations for the turkeys, which should arrive tomorrow night. The brooder has fresh bedding, the waterers have been thoroughly cleaned, and the chick feeders are clean and filled with feed.

Speaking of feed, my plan was to take my custom broiler feed (which is about 18% protein) and just add fishmeal to bring it up to 26% for the turkey poults. The only kink in this plan is that the feed store doesn't carry fishmeal, and they looked at me like I was insane when I asked for it. They were supposed to get back to me about if it would be possible to order it, and how much it would cost, but they never did and I haven't had a chance to follow up on it. I've had absolutely no luck finding an internet source, either, unless I want to buy wholesale from the fisheries. Yeah, not so much. At 76% protein, fish meal would have been very useful with these fast growing turkeys.

Apparently, dried earthworms are also 76% protein by weight, so I'll remember that in the future. I don't think I have enough earthworms to spare right now to make enough to make a difference, but I can start harvesting, drying, and storing them for next year's turkeys. In the absence of both fish meal and worm meal, I had to go with roasted soybeans, which only have 37% protein. I had wanted to find something other than soy, since that was already the main protein source in my broiler feed. It will take 8 parts of roasted soybeans to 11 parts of the broiler feed to get 26% protein.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Conclusion of the Chicken Marathon

Well, it took two all-day sessions with Paul helping me, but we got all of the broilers processed. Just in time, for the turkey poults arrive next Wednesday. Now that I'm done with the broilers for the year, here is what I learned:

1. It's absolutely imperative to actually get the birds out on pasture, the earlier the better.

2. Bedding was a huge hidden cost that I forgot to take into account when I figured my costs. It takes two bales of shavings (costing $5-$7 each, depending on quality) to cover the floor of the brooder. Those two bales would have easily been enough for the two week minimum that the chicks need to spend in the brooder, however, as the chickens grew they produced more and more waste, and thus needed more and more bedding. Next year I will already have the broiler pen (since I absolutely have to get it built for the turkeys), so it won't be a problem. In the future, I will require myself to have additional field pens completed before the chicks are ordered.

3. They grow incredibly fast, and the next size of feeders and waterers need to be ready to be put into use at mininum notice. This year, I was always scrambling to keep up with the chicks' increasing appetites.

4. Now that I've personally slaughtered 45 chickens, I have a pretty good handle on how to do it. Next time I need to force myself to get them all slaughtered in a timely manner, so that I don't have to keep feeding them for months past the typical 8 weeks. I've also realized that since we have very little space to work, a scalder is useless without an automatic picker. It does no good to scald several chickens at once when there's only room for one person to pluck them. So we'll have to keep doing everything by hand until we can cough up the $600 to buy a basic scalder/picker set (or until we find used ones that we can afford). Until we have that, I don't think it will be possible to raise more than one pen of chickens (75-90) at a time.

5. Cornish cross chickens really can't stand high heat once they're more than about a month old. Most of our 30 losses were due to really hot days where they just keeled over. Getting them out on pasture should help with that.

Hopefully I'm now past the steep part of the learning curve, and next year will run more smoothly.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hay Calculations

I've spent much of the last few months learning how to make hay by hand, starting with a scythe. I've gotten good enough that I think I can harvest the bulk of the hay that my goats will need for the winter. It was hard finding an estimate of how much hay goats will eat, but the number I found was 5 lbs/goat/day. At 15 goats for 90 days, that works out to 6750 lbs of hay.

It was even more difficult to find a formula to estimate the weight of a given volume of loose hay. Finally, I found a Canadian site which said that there were 60 kg/m3. That works out to 3.75 lbs/ft3. Assuming that I did all of the calculations correctly, I need 1800 cubic feet of loose hay.

The weather has been dry this week, so I've been cutting hay every day. This will be the first time cutting the entire pasture by myself (last time the goats helped). I think it's quite likely that I'll have enough hay just from this cutting, but there should be another cutting before winter to give me some surplus.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Jewish Pickles

Up until yesterday, I had no idea that cucumbers could be preserved in a salt brine just like kimchee, but apparently that's the old Jewish way of making dill pickles. So I'll be trying out this recipe with our smaller cucumbers. I'm fascinated with all kinds of fermentation, so this is right up my alley. Plus, if it works, it's so much easier than vinegar pickling!

The large cucumbers are still slated to become dill spears in a vinegar brine.

Processed today:

Jewish Dill Pickles, using all of the small cucumbers (forgot to weigh them).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More harvest

Harvested today:

Radishes, 6 ounces. These are pretty tough and woody, so they won't be any good for eating raw. They might be okay grated into a soup or something similar.

Potatoes, 3 lbs. Most are pretty small, including a few the size of a large pea, so we'll see how they taste. They're Yukon Gold variety, which is a baking potato.

String beans, assorted, 1 lb. Green, wax, and burgandy beans. These will probably just be cooked up for a side dish one day.

Processed today:
Salsa verde, 3 cups, using 1-1/2 lbs of tomatillos from the house garden.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cucurbita Explosion

Harvested today:

Pickling cucumbers, just under five pounds. The amazing thing is that there were only a few cukezillas in the batch; most of them were a decent size. These are slated to be dill pickles, either whole or spears (depending on size).

Zucchini, two and a half pounds. The bad thing is that they are only two squashes. Zukezilla!

Acorn squash, one at one and a half pounds.

Unknown squash (turns out it's a scallop squash), one at three-eighths of a pound.

I had planned to slaughter a batch of chickens tomorrow, but now I think I'll be pickling instead. The cucumber situation is becoming serious.

Also, we have a ton of mustard greens that I was too busy washing and putting away to weigh. However, the freezer still has nearly all of last year's mustard greens still stored, so it's not like we need anymore. They are apparently good for trading, though, since Paul traded a gallon bag of mustard greens for a hat full of homegrown tomatoes. Our tomatoes are still small and green, so they were a nice treat.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gobble Gobble

After waffling for a few months, we decided to raise turkeys this year. The poults will be hatched on August 28, and they'll be 12 weeks old just before Thanksgiving. They should be 15-20 lbs dressed weight by then, or maybe a bit less. The minimum order from the hatchery is 15 (we bought 16 because that put us in a lower price bracket), so we'll need to find buyers for most of them. Even if there were nothing else in our freezer, we couldn't fit 16 turkeys in there.

So, if anyone wants a homegrown, pasture-raised turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, let us know.