Sunday, September 11, 2011

How summer squash saved the poultry

I really don't know quite how to classify this growing season other than horrible.  But horrible is kind of vague.  Usually I can pinpoint the downside of a particular growing season by saying things like "too cold" or "too wet".  This year it has fluctuated back and forth so much each month that it is kind of hard to keep track.  Of course the spring started out way too wet.  Planting across all of the Midwest was well behind normal.  Then once we got everything planted, the weather turned hot and dry.  We basically had no rain to speak of for about 5 or 6 weeks.  The plants that were on plastic lived, but their growth was stunted.  Seeds that were planted died in the ground.  Whole plots had to be plowed up and planted over.  Then it started to rain and it pretty much has not stopped.  Mike cannot get into the garden to cultivate the later growing crops.  Weeds are taking over.  Picking vegetables that are ready has become a major physical task as the mud and water is so deep that every step threatens to suck the boots off your feet.  Mike has resorted many times to picking in his bare feet.

Some of the later plantings like beans are looking really good, but if the rain does not stop soon, the plants will be drowned out.  This picture is the end of a row of turnip greens.  Some of the rows look good, but this end is being drowned out.  Always a challenge.

And that brings to me to how the summer squash has saved the day for the meat chickens and turkeys.  Managing pastured raised poultry is manageable in dry spells, but becomes a major effort in wet spells.  The meat birds arrive on the farm at one day old and are kept in a pen in the barn under a heat lamp until they have enough feathers that they don't need any supplemental heat and then they are moved to pasture.  I usually try to move them outside between 3 to 4 weeks old.  The exact day depends on the weather.  I prefer to move them outside when there is a forecast of at least a day or two of benign weather.  It's stressful enough moving them that I don't like to add in thunderstorms or cold wet rain into the mix.  But they really need to be moved by 4 weeks of age.  After that, the chicks seem to get restless in the barn and in my early days of raising chickens, I had a few instances of cannibalism and fighting.  If I move them outside before they turn 4 weeks old, all is well and I've never had a flock start picking at each other.

Well this year the rain started when the meat chicks turned 3 weeks old.  At 4 weeks old it was still raining.  Mike had brought up quite a bit of zucchini and yellow squash from the garden that had gotten too large.  He likes to pick the mature squash off the plant because then the plant will grow more flowers and thus more squash to sell.  I took full advantage of the bounty of large squash.  Every day I would break apart 3 or 4 jumbo summer squash and give them to the meat chicks and turkeys.  They happily devoured all the squash that was offered to them (in addition to their regular feed).  Finally at 5 weeks of age, the weather broke for a few days and I was able to move the chicks out to pasture.  The turkeys in the meantime get to stay in the barn until the meat chicks are butchered.  At 7 weeks of age, they are doing well and are still enjoying a daily treat of summer squash or zucchini.

Of course zucchini is quite enjoyable for the humans on the farm too.  On this evening's stroll into the garden, I came back to the house with a couple zucchini's which along with some homemade herb bread stuffing and our own roast chicken got turned into a nice dinner casserole.

Now if the rain would only stop.  What a miserable growing season it has turned out to be.  We can only hope fall will be more kind.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Give me spots on my apples

It's applesauce making time and every time I use apples from our wild growing apple trees I am reminded of Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi".

Hey farmer farmer, put away that DDT
Give me spots on my apples
But leave the birds and the bees

And believe me our wild growing apples have plenty of spots.  But as with most spots, they are only superficial and the flesh of the fruit is beautiful.  Actually, the spots are ok to eat too and like the cherry tomatoes and the blueberries, I cannot seem to go out and pick apples without a few ending up in my stomach.

It is actually quite amazing at the number of apple trees growing on this farm.  There was an actual small orchard in the yard dating back way before we bought this farm and some of those trees still exist, but most are getting older and hollowed out so every year or two we lose another one in a wind storm.  But there are plenty of others growing wild.  They grow in the pasture and on the creek bank along the edge of the yard.  They grow along the fenceline with our neighbors and in the woods that run alongside the fields.  Like all things growing wild in nature, some years the trees produce a lot and some years none at all.  This year is one of the best apple producing years I have ever seen.  We will use only a fraction of what is there.  The deer will certainly be having a feast this fall.

Last year our trees had almost zero apples on them so I had to buy apples from the local farmer's market to make my applesauce.  Not a bad thing at all, but I enjoy going out and picking the apples as part of the whole process.  I wrote the recipe and process of making applesauce in last year's blog "Monday Apples" so you'll have to follow the link to get that info.  Wild grown apples do take a bit more time to peel and slice since they are smaller, but the satisfaction factor is that much greater.  I'll make at least 2 if not 3 slow cooker loads of sauce this year.  That will leave plenty of apples for things like apple crisp and apple pie and apple cheesecake.  Fortunately though, fresh apples will keep awhile because I have several containers of blackberries and blueberries that I need to use first.  Summer's bounty is upon us.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chickens going and coming

I seem to be having a whole lot of trouble keeping up with the blog this summer.  I don't why my days seem much more full than last year.  Seems like most nights Mike and I are sitting down to dinner at 9 pm or later and the thought of starting a blog post at 10 pm when I have to get up at sunrise is not appealing at all.  Even today when the meat birds are all butchered and that chore is gone from the evening check list, here I sit at nearly 10 pm writing down my thoughts.  I have been finding it so helpful to be able to look back at last year though and see what the farm was doing when, so I do have to bite the bullet and "just do it" once in awhile.

This past weekend was EXTREMELY busy for me.  We had our first of two butchering "parties" scheduled for Sunday July 17th.  I figured I owed it to my guests to clean the house if only a little.  At least it needed to "look" presentable.  So Friday evening and Saturday afternoon/evening were devoted to housework.  Of course, I still had to take care of all the animals.  Saturday morning I moved 1/2 of the meat chickens (about 25 birds) from the pasture to the barn before I went to work.  I moved the second half right around sunset Saturday evening.  I have been in the middle of a project to build a bunch of wooden chicken crates since last year.  There is so much to do that the project has been pushed way down the list.  Normally I move the chickens from pasture to barn in an old wire dog cage, but the birds were older (read BIGGER) than normal due to scheduling conflicts on our originally scheduled butchering day.  They were actually 1 day shy of 10 weeks old.  Pretty dang old for a meat chicken.  This meant that I could only move about 6 birds at a time which would mean 8 trips back and forth between barn and pasture.  Not very efficient for sure.  So I came up with an idea to turn my little red wagon into a chicken mover and was able to move 12 chickens at a time.  Two trips Saturday morning and two trips Saturday evening was much better.  I do need to work on building the crates though.

So at sunset all 49 chickens were secure in the pen in the barn.  It's the same pen I use as a brooder pen to start the baby chicks before they get moved out to pasture.  I had left all the bedding in place from when they lived there 6 weeks earlier so the pen was ready and waiting for them Saturday night. 

By the time I got all the butchering equipment set up, finished cleaning the house and made a batch of blueberry muffins for the crew the next morning, well, I went to bed at 1am.  Then up at 6 am to finish getting ready for everyone scheduled to arrive Sunday morning at 8am.  Sure wish I could have talked everyone into 7 am since it was going to be so hot, but seems like people like to sleep in a bit on their only weekend day off.  We really didn't get started until 8:30am, but I have to give everyone a big round of applause as we were done butchering and everything cleaned up and beer flowing at 11 am.  The fridge plus an overflow cooler were packed full of chicken. 

I was able to recruit one of my camera shy friends who works in the kitchen doing final prep and packaging to take a picture of the fine looking rest of the crew.

After everyone left, it was time for lunch and a well needed nap.  Then in the afternoon I had to strip down the chicken pen where the meat birds spent Saturday night in order to get ready for batch number 2 of meat birds that were arriving on Monday.  Normally I have the hatchery ship my day old chicks to me via the US Postal Service, but this batch I order some turkeys in addition to meat chicks.  They used to ship them together, but several years ago changed their policy to ship chicks and turkey poults separate.  I would need to order 15 turkeys for them to ship and I only ordered 8 so I had to go pick them up.  I spent part of Monday morning wrapping and freezing some of the butchered birds and organizing the rest. (The largest birds were nearly 9 pounds dressed weight.  Holy chicken!)  Mid-morning I drove an hour south to pick up sprout packing containers for Mike and then headed 2 hours west to pick up the turkeys and chicks.  I got home at 4:30 pm and then had to put bedding in the brooder pen, hook up the heat lamp and get the food and water ready.  Then regular evening chores and it was another night of finishing up at 9 or 10 pm.  At the end of the day though, all the chicks and turkey poults were snuggled in the brooder pen.  I will raise them together until the chicks get moved out to pasture at 3-4 weeks of age and then they will be raised separate after that.

So Sunday saw 49 chickens leave the farm and on Monday, 52 day old chicks and 8 turkey poults arrived at the farm.  Chickens going and chickens coming. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

How does your garden grow July 2011 style?

Shhhhhhhhh, don't tell anyone, but the garden doesn't look like this anymore.  It looks much better!  I took several pictures on July 18th and haven't had time to put them in a blog.  I'm pretty sure that I can back date a blog posting so that no one will know it is really July 31st.  Shhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Mike has been thoroughly disgusted with how the garden has been progressing so I had to take a walk back and see how everything looked myself and folks, it's not that bad.  OK, the sweet corn situation is not that good, but everything else is coming along.  There have been two problems.  One is that everything got planted really late.  We had this problem last year too and I had to pull up the pictures from July 2010 blog to show Mike that the garden looks pretty similar this year compared to last year and last year turned out good.  Second is that since planting time we have had very little rain.  Very little means that in the last 2 or 3 weeks we have had only 0.1 inch of rain twice.  Throw on top of that temps in the 90's and the plants are starting to feel the stress.  Our dry conditions may surprise our neighbors in the counties to the west and south of us because recently they had storms come through that dumped 4-5 inches of rain in just an hour or two.  But we sat here watching the weather radar and hoped for SOME of that and got basically nothing.

The tour of the July 18, 2011 garden goes something like this:

Cucumbers as long as my hand








An overall view of the vegetable garden where the plants planted on plastic are

Gabby in the sweet corn (like I said, not so good, but later planted corn is doing better)

Gabby hanging out in the soybeans

This blog is dedicated to next year when Mike once again is worried about how everything looks in July, but then turns out OK in August and September.  Grow, garden, grow.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Visitor

Sometime the middle of last week, I was outside doing chickens chores when I heard a faint sound coming from the field across the road.  "bob whhhite"  "bob whhhite"  I've never heard a bob white quail singing except on a recording, but the sound was instantaneously recognizable.  I had to call Mike outside to listen with me because I could not imagine what I was hearing was true.  We don't have quail that live around here in northern Ohio.  At least I've never heard any or even talked to anyone who has heard any.  The explanation is easy though.  There are quite a few bird dog owners around and they will often raise quail and pheasants and use them to train their dogs.  Pen raised birds do not survive long in the wild, but occasionally one that is let loose will travel and stake out a territory.  Well, at least until they end up dinner for a hawk or coyote or a fox.  That is the fate of the wild quail too, but the wild born ones seem a little more adept at avoiding being a meal.

Friday evening our visitor Mr. Bob White came closer.  He was still in the field across the road, but was so close I thought maybe I could use my binoculars to see him in the mowed grass where he was sitting.  I couldn't.  Saturday morning I awoke to his song drifting through my open bedroom window.  He serenaded me all morning while I was doing my chicken chores outside.  In the afternoon I walked outside to get something from the garage and heard him again.  He was just as close, but this time was on our property.  It took me a minute, but I finally spotted him singing from atop a fence post alongside the pasture.

A little later, Mike and I found him in the driveway taking a dust bath.  He scurried away when I went out to start evening chores, but a half hour later he was singing his song while sitting underneath one of the tractors.

I was kind of sad thinking about how he was singing his song to a world where there were no other quails to hear him.  But I also know that his life will not be wasted.  In nature, not much if anything goes to waste.  I'm glad that little quail came by and blessed our farm with his song even if for a very short while.


I looked back in my blog from last year and except for some late started broccoli plants (which we don't have this year), the transplanting was finished on July 1st.  Well, we are not quite finished this year, but we are down to one wagon full of flats.  It won't take long to finish, but it also won't get done until after the holiday weekend.

The meat birds are almost 8 weeks old now.  Normally we would be butchering them next weekend, but half of our butchering crew is out of town or busy so it will be two weeks before we butcher.  The cockerels especially should be huge roaster sized chickens by then.

And last but not least, one of my favorite wildflowers, Ox Eyed Daisies, are in full bloom around the edges of the yard and fields.  I know they are non-native, but I love these flowers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's time for planting, not blogging

Farmers have 2 times of year when they are the most busy: planting and harvest.  Although quite delayed by the wet spring (the tv news reported last week that we are running about 11" above normal for rainfall), we are finally in the midst of planting.  The good news is that we have made a LOT of progress in the last 9 days.  What it also means is that blogging has been pushed aside a bit.  My weekdays go something like this.  Slide out of bed sometime between 5:30-6am, do my morning chores (feeding chickens, cats and dogs), eat breakfast, get ready for work, go to work at the clinic, work overtime because the clinic is incredibly busy right now, come home, sit down for 20 minutes to catch my breath, do evening animal chores, tack on some kind of farm chore or mowing the lawn or walking the dogs (which is a BIG priority in my book), waddle into the house between 8:30-9pm, make dinner, relax a bit and then slide into bed around 10pm.  Last weekend was filled with an all day volunteer activity and then a family cookout the next day.  Nowhere in there was there a spot for blogging.  Or house keeping for that matter.  I'm thinking of hiring an armed guard to stand at my door and keep people from coming inside and seeing the total clutter that exists right now in the house.  OK, it hasn't quite reached that level, but you get the picture and it ain't pretty.

On to the progress in the farm.  As usual, my vantage point standing next to the pasture fence at the edge of the garden, shows no progress.  Once again, I remind that this will be the last area to be worked on this year.

However, by walking straight forward, you come to where all the transplanting of the greenhouse started plants has taken place the past 9 days.

A week ago this past Monday, I got to ride the transplanter with Melissa while Mike drove the tractor.  We planted all the tomatoes, all the watermelons and most of the eggplant.  Here are Melissa and Mike filling the water tank on the transplanter as we get ready to plant the VERY tall tomato plants.

And here I am after a day of transplanting.  It's not very physically demanding work, but it is VERY dirty work.

The tomatoes on the left and the watermelons to the right are coming along nicely a little over 1 week after being planted.

And there the cucumbers are starting to grow well too.

And because all the flats of greenhouse started plants that are not yet planted are up off the ground and sitting on our hay wagons, the hens are now off house arrest and are allowed to freely roam the yard once again.  They are very happy girls.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Progress? Yes, if you know where to look

Progress is slow but steady.  We've had a few rains that have slowed us down and today was market day.  The fields are finally prepped for transplanting.  24,000 feet of plastic has been laid.  Now we just have to wait for the availability of the transplanter and a few dry days.

5 days ago this was the view of the progress of the garden.  Doesn't look like anything much has been done, eh?

This is actually the last part of the field that will be planted.  So I took a little stroll straight ahead and found Mike on the tractor.

Busy working the new tiller and getting the field ready for the plastic laying machine.

I haven't taken a stroll back to the fields since the plastic has been laid.  That will be on tomorrow's agenda.

I did also saunter past the plastic where some cucumbers had been planted and lookie here.  A baby cucumber plant.  I love cucumbers.

On a totally different subject, last week we had an example of how nature and farming sometimes collide.  Every year this seems to happen on at least one of the tractors.  Turns out a robin built a nest on a tractor that wasn't being used yet because of all the rain.  One day while the guys where working fixing something on the tractor, they accidentally crushed a robin's nest.  Felt kind of bad about that one, but it happens.  The tractor then sat for another week or two and then last week when Mike started using it again, he found another robin's nest. This nest didn't get crushed, but a moving tractor is not a good location for a bird nest.  Mike left me the nest in my little red wagon as a present.  Those eggs in that nest sure are pretty.  But that robin definitely needs to be more selective when it comes to choosing a housing location.

And last but not least, a few of the 16 week old Gold Buff pullets (young hens) started laying this week.  Good girls!  Here are 4 pullet eggs next to 4 eggs from the older hens.  The pullet eggs are much smaller, but in a month or two, the eggs will be near normal size.

The pullets are getting a little braver every day about venturing out of the barn and into the yard.  Last night when I went to shut the pen door for the night, I had to "rescue" one that was walking AWAY from the barn and it was getting quite dark out.  All the other pullets had gone back to their roost in the barn on their own.  Or so I thought.  Then this morning, I found another one that I had missed seeing last night and she was loose outside and trying to get in the coop where the older hens stay which is a totally separate building.  So I had to catch her (not all that easy) and carry her back "home".  I'll see if I have any wanderers tonight when I go to lock them up.

That is the weekly round up.  I looked back on last June's blog and we are totally even with when we were transplanting plants last year.  The difference is last year we had more sweet corn and beans and such planted by this time then we do now.  Fingers crossed for a good planting week coming up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

T-storms and turtles

About a week ago we had a pretty impressive squall line come out of Canada, across Lake Erie, and dump over an inch of rain on our farm.  The line was making its way across the lake as I was outside feeding and watering the baby chickens out on pasture.  I could feel the energy in the air even though I could not yet hear thunder or see the storm clouds.  I am always happy when the storms hold off until after I do my morning chores.  For some reason, wild turkey gobblers LOVE to gobble in stormy weather.  Across the road on the neighbor's place, I could hear a turkey gobbling almost non-stop.  He was gobbling when I stepped out the door to start my morning chores.  I could hear him while I was feeding the baby meat chicks in their outdoor pens.  And I could hear him as I was turning off the hose and finishing up chores about an hour later. 

Mike in the meantime was in a hurry.  He had prepped one section of the field for planting beans the evening before.  Not expecting the storms to be rolling through so soon after sunrise, he had anticipated a more leisurely morning before jumping on the tractor.  But the storm was moving and Mike got on the tractor as soon as it was light enough to see well.  Out to the fields he went to plant beans before the rain came.  The wind started whipping around and thunder was rumbling when I heard the tractor coming back up the lane toward the barns.  I grabbed the camera and took a few pictures of the approaching storm.  The cloud pattern was spectacularly beautiful. 

Fortunately we had no damage from the storm.  A few trees were blown down around the county, but nothing serious.  Quite the spectacular lightning show accompanied the storm as well.

As I left for work in the morning, the backside of the storm was still raining on us.  Just down the road from our driveway is a low spot in the road where a small streamlet goes under the road through a culvert.  In times of heavy rain, this low spot has been known to flood the road.  The road was not flooded this morning, but there ambling down the edge of the road was a very decent sized snapping turtle.  It was quite coincidental since just the day before I was reading an article online about how the area's female snapping turtles were on the move looking for places to lay their eggs.  Unfortunately, the storm made the lighting pretty poor and the only photo that turned out was one with a flash.  It was a cool sighting though.

Little did I know that would be the first of 3 snapper sightings in the next 4 days.  The following day, Mike was out in the garden digging up some onions when he came across this not-so-little lady hanging out right in the middle of the onion patch. 

Then 2 days later I was again on my way to work and came to a bridge over a larger creek about 1.5 miles from the farm.  There was another snapper walking across the bridge on the yellow line.  I guess the article about turtles being on the move was correct.  3 snappers in 4 days was pretty cool.