Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grafting Chicks*

*Putting chicks under a hen that is not their natural mother.

O.K. So this post will not be full of fabulous photos because virtually all of it takes place in the dark.

If I owned an infrared camera it would be really fun to take pictures of the process but instead you will need to imagine what I am telling you to do and then ask me questions if I didn't get the point across properly.

There have been several people searching our Reluctant Homesteaders blog and many people asking on other blogs about how to take chicks from somewhere else and put them under another hen. The point being you want the hen to "mother" the chicks, so you won't have to. So I thought I would do a little "how-to" on it.

There are lots of reasons why you would "graft chicks." Perhaps you have a hen who is not a good mother, or you bought some new pullet chicks to revive your egg laying flock, or like us you want to raise meaty chicks without all the hassle and health problems of caged Cornish Cross.

Grafting chicks is pretty straight forward and I have been doing this trick since I was a little kid and my dad before me. It's not very hard and it can save you a lot of hassle and money if you let a hen do the work of raising the chicks. Just think, no more stinky boxes of noisy chicks!
The chicken with 32 legs. She has both forward and reverse gears.
This is my process:

I have very good luck with getting hens to take chicks by waiting until the hens have been sitting for at least a week. It helps if you have a breed that is good at brooding. You can tell if you have a good brood hen if, by throwing her off the nest, you cannot convince her to stay off a nest for more than a few minutes.

I order chicks when I have hens getting broody (or buy them at the feed store if the season is right) The chicks can be up to 5 days old (even a couple days older if the hen is a proven mother, except for Cornish Cross which get HUGE in 5 days).

Heck you can even let your kids, or you, hug and squeeze them for a day, then put them under a hen when you are tired of them. I have put as many as 16 chicks under one hen if she is a proven mom, but I would stop at 10 for the first time if you are not sure.

You need to time the arrival of your chicks properly. It takes 21 days to hatch eggs. As soon as you know your hen is broody, order your chicks to arrive within that window.

While I am awaiting the arrival of my chicks at the post office (I LOVE picking chicks up at the post office- how fun and weird.) about a week in to her broodyness, I pull the eggs out from under the hen at night and replace them with a couple of golf balls.

DO NOT LEAVE EGGS UNDER HER WHEN YOU PUT THE CHICKS UNDER. THE EGGS WILL HATCH MUCH TOO LATE AND SHE WILL LOSE CHICKS. Sometimes you hit it just right, but most of the time it will just cause problems. She will either stay on the nest trying to hatch the eggs and the chicks starve or she will leave the nest with the grafted chicks just as the eggs were about to hatch and leave the freshly hatched chick shivering in the empty nest.

Whether I get the chicks in the mail or at the store, I keep them warm under a light for the first day. I feed them and water them well so they’re fat and sassy.

That night I sneak them under the hen around midnight, after it’s been dark for a while, and take the golf balls out or any old eggs. Keep flashlight use to a minimum. The darker the better. Put chicks, a couple at a time, up under her, palm down so the chicks will not get pecked. Wear long sleeves and be prepared to get pecked yourself. Then just let her take charge.

 If the chicks are older than 3 days (most will be) you can put food and water nearby so the chicks can come out and refresh themselves. Make absolutely sure that the outside entrance to the nest box is easily accessed by a tiny chick. Put stones or build a dirt ramp, just make sure they can get back into the box if they fall or hop out. Or else you will be heartbroken one morning when you find chicks cold and near death, huddled against the door they couldn't get back into. 

The hen may want to stay on the nest for a day or two, let her. You need to let her take her time with the chicks, don't force it. In the next couple days she will decide it's time to get out and about and all will be well.

I have not had a hen reject chicks yet if I do these things. If the hen is not proven to be a good mom it can be a little dicey if you don’t let her sit for at least 2 weeks before you put the chicks under her. That's long enough to make sure she feels grateful when she wakes up the next morning and her “eggs have hatched”. The hen can also be sitting up to 30 days (on golf balls) even though eggs hatch around 21 days, she can't count and will generally keep sitting for much longer, waiting for her golf balls to hatch. This comes in handy if you were slow to order your chicks!

Don’t bother trying to time grafted chicks with a batch of eggs hatching under the same hen. The timing rarely matches and it just ends badly most of the time. The saddest scenario is that the hen will feel all those new chicks under her and take them out into the world while her own eggs are just minutes from hatching. The chicks in the eggs will grow cold and die. That makes me tear up just thinking about it.

I have 4 hens right now with varying ages of chicks. 2 hatched their own and 2 have grafted chicks. They all free range in the same general area and I have had absolutely no problems with fighting or stealing. They have a large area to run in though. The hens avoid each other when the chicks are small and let them mingle as they get older. They are all doting mothers, regardless of their chick's origins.

I have used this method since I was a small child, so I have many success stories. I even once put ducklings under a hen. She loved them as her own but was extremely upset when her "chicks" did not just drink from the pan of water she took them to, but also jumped in and swam around! The hen was incredibly perplexed and kept running around the pan clucking and clucking for them to get out. They ignored her for a few minutes of fun splashing and then dutifully jumped out to follow her away from that dangerous pan of water. Later the hen got used to the swimming. She would just look the other way and pretend it wasn't happening, like a true mother.

I have just started using this method with Meaty chicks though. In the past I had been led to believe that Cornish Cross would not be physically capable of free ranging with a hen, but I found that that is not true. They are very good foragers when raised by a hen, but I do not give free choice food either, which slightly slows their fast growth and so avoids many of their health problems.
I timed this most recent batch of meaty chicks in such a way that they could eat all the dang grasshoppers we have at the end of summer. That’s good free protein!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pickup Truck VS Trailer

Sometimes I don't feel like driving my sensible Subaru any more.  It is a great car, but sometimes I think I would be happier driving a little pickup truck.  Having the simplicity of being able to chuck stuff in the back and just go.  

We have a little trailer Phoebe found several years ago, and we use it all the time.  It is great, because it is there when you need it, and not when you don't.  But sometimes the hooking and unhooking, the backing it in, or driving down the freeway feels bothersome.
That usually gets me thinking about buying a truck.  And every time I go down that road, I realize that it just doesn't make sense to change vehicles.

A few recent examples of the back and forth:

We had a whole load of horse poop to move.  Shovel it up from the pasture, and move it to the garden.  It was wet and heavy.  
The trailer sits about 15 inches from the ground.  With each shovelful, I was grateful I was not loading a truck.  The extra oomph it would take to get the manure up into the bed of a truck was more than I would have been able to muster.

We were shoveling the poop to clear a spot for the new stall mats we were putting down.  Phoebe is all about mud management in the pasture, and stall mats are a great tool.  Not cheap, but durable and long lasting.  At 4'X8'X3/4" they are not light either.
Our trailer is slightly smaller than 4X8, so the mats were jammed up against the sides, making them even harder to pull out.  And backing the trailer through the gate into the pasture was a pain.  Score one for the truck.

The next job was taking a load of bath and kitchen fixtures to the ReBuilding Center, a local non-profit recycler.  Once again, the low deck on the trailer saved the day.  It might not look like much, but that cast iron tub was a monster, and probably more than we could have lifted into a truck.  
Then think about the 6 loads of wood I loaded and unloaded last month, plus loading the log splitter.  And the load of metal recycling and the dump load I will take tomorrow. The trailer is the clear winner.  

Best yet, when I am done hauling, I unhook it, and am back to my little wagon.

So I have stopped sneaking peeks at Craigslist truck adds, and accepted my lot. I am a nice, sensible Subaru kinda guy.

And that horse manure?  It covered all of Phoebe's garden, both inside the fence and out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Further Musings on Roasting Coffee

I have roasted about eleven pounds of coffee now, usually a third to a half of a pound per batch, and I'm getting it fine tuned. I have accumulated a few more helpful accessories along the way.
One of them is this really good book from Powell's. I highly recommend it.

I've been keeping notes of each of my roasts in my special notebook. The notes are a bit messy because I tend to get wrapped up in the process. It gets kind of hectic getting the beans out of the oven and cooled. My old digital timer has helped me keep track of the general times for first crack and second crack of each variety. (Coffee beans make a pop like popcorn does when they reach a certain temperature, that's called a "crack"). I am hoping the records will give me a basis for later experimentation. 
I mostly go by smell and color though, since just about every type of bean I have roasted has been different, which makes going by time difficult. Luckily my homemade roaster has a glass door so I can see the beans really well and the heat gun is not very loud so I can hear what's going on with the beans.
My dad found me this awesome copper colander at an estate sale. It has really helped me with cooling the beans down faster. The owner of my new favorite shop, Mr. Green Beans in PDX, was kind enough to help me out with a few subtleties like slowing the roast for a couple of minutes just before the first crack to really supercharge the flavor. I told him I wanted to try to roast a whole pound but didn't want to use a pricey bean just incase my roaster couldn't handle it. He gave me a great deal on a pound of Brazil Peaberry. Later the roasting went fine. It was the cooling that I was not equipped for. The beans kept cooking while I desperately shook them from pan to pan. They were at the brink of undrinkable by the time they got cool. Live and learn.

I have a couple ideas for cooling contraptions, (I am making an evil scientist face as I think about it)  but for now I have started weighing my green beans on a digital kitchen scale before I put them in the roaster.
I've found ten ounces is the most I can get cool in the proper amount of time with my current cooling methods, cold pans.
I have started making tags that I can keep with each type of bean as I go along since I usually roast two or three types at a time and they are hard for me to tell apart once they get roasted.


I am also certain at this point that I will not be roasting indoors if I can help it. It's pretty smokey, there is a lot of chaff blowing around and I always end up spilling a few beans at some point.

Mr. Green Beans also gave me some cloth bags to put my beans in to let them breath for a day or two after I roast them.

Our favorite blend so far has been 50/50 Sumatran Mandheling and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.  All in all it's been really fun, has saved us a lot of money and we've never drank better coffee. For a Homestead hobby that's hard to beat!
Here is a little video of the process for those who would like to see how it goes. Too bad we don't have Smell-o-vision.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bonus Post: Cute x 15

If you need a little endorphin boost to get you through the early sunsets, here you go. One of our hens very cleverly hatched a clutch of Cuckoo babies while I was on vacation and Buck was on the road.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Round Two

As timid as I have been about attempting to raise our own bipedal food, I have let our success with the first batch of meaty chicks spur me on to fill our freezer with a more realistic amount of chicken for our needs.
We did ten chickens last time and we only have four of those left, and we have not even started the holiday season.
With this in mind I took note that we had two hens who were very intent on sitting, whether I had taken out all the eggs from underneath them or not, so we began round two.

Ever in the mood for an experiment, I had been thinking I would order chicks by the name of Red Ranger who are supposed to be from the same stock as the French "Label Rouge" chickens. But as I began pricing out the chicks and the exorbitant shipping charge I decided instead to go with some all American chicks from the Long Horn State.
I ordered 26 red meaty chicks from Ideal Hatchery thinking I would sell half, but decided to try both hens as mothers and have a few extra chickens in the freezer.

So far it has been a breeze. I have to say that the hens have been extraordinary mothers through all this.
One hen has now, very wisely, decided that since the chicks grew so fast and there are so many of them, she will sleep on the chicken house roost and they will sleep in the box they were "hatched" in. But she has not given up her motherly duties! She puts them to bed each night and then goes to roost. In the morning she hops down and takes them out to forage.

Keeping watch for hawks is her main concern right now (and mine) so she keeps her eye on the sky and if so much as a Crow flies over she lets out the low throaty rattle that says "Take cover quick and lay still" and the chicks bolt for the underbrush and lay silent until she gives them the clucky "All's clear".
These chicks are 7 weeks old.

I am not noticing a big difference between the white Cornish Cross we raised before and these red meatys. The others free ranged and foraged just as well, thanks to these good moms.
Where there might be a big difference is in the final few weeks of their lives. We will see. If they are indeed sturdier we may let them grow a little longer to let them get to a "holiday meal" size.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Good Fire

It is a very nice thing when the first day of burn season comes one day before the end of the dry weather. 
We had such a day this year.  It had rained a bit, then summer gave it one more go. After another week of fine weather, the burn pile was all dried up again.  It was sprinkling as the fire burned, but not so much as to dampen its enthusiasm.

I find a good cleansing burn to be very satisfying.  The debris gets removed and I get to make big fire.  Mmmm.

As I have said before, I have been so busy with work-work that I have not been able to do homestead-work.  Phoebe does an excellent job of keeping the place moving forward, so I was not missed in that sense.   What I missed was putting on my boots and work pants and getting some stuff done.  
Phoebe's projects are not all my projects, and vicey-versa.  I have a pasture fence to finish. I have wood to split for this winter, and more to cut for next year.  And I really enjoy doing it.  So I am happy to have a little time to get back into it.

And then, the phone rang.  Work called again.  I am so grateful when that happens, and embrace it heartily and humbly.  And I am a little disappointed that my time will be spent working elsewhere.