Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Micro Guest House Continues

It's been Chilly Willy out here on the Homestead and working outside has been tough. In between sleet and snow we are getting the outside on the Art Shack put together slowly but surely. When it's unbearable or just plain slick and dangerous we move to inside projects.
Since we are using mostly reclaimed and salvaged materials we are saving a lot of $$$$, but it also takes a lot more time to pick through a pile of boards and find just the right one for each aspect of the project.
The Oasis trailer also needs a lot of attention. It was left unloved and uncovered in a Washington rainforest for 4 years before we got it and it has a lot of water damage to deal with before it can be really cozy and clean. 
Even though it is a lot of work we are very excited about the finished project. It's going to be our first truly habitable building on the Homestead since we got here three years ago.
We will keep you posted!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Planning for Future Pies and Cider

It's the time of year to start thinking about fruit trees. Scion exchanges are soon and it's good to get your research and lists together before you are faced with the 1000's of choices for fruit trees. 
Since our post on grafting is being featured in this months Home Orchard Society "Pom News", and their scion exchange is just around the corner,  I thought it would be nice this week to harken back to one of our early posts on the philosophy of planting fruit trees.

 Planning for Future Pies and Cider

When we moved into our first house we were neighbors with the very man who was responsible for just about every plant and tree in our yard. Even though he did not live there, he was compelled to plant beautiful things. For the sheer enjoyment of digging in the earth and watching things grow but also, I believe, because he knew then what we are learning now. That when you plant a tree you are planting something for the future, for the people and animals that will be here when you are gone.
It conveys a certain optimism and a spirit of generosity that I grew to admire and then emulate.

In our second home we were the grateful beneficiaries of three aged but healthy apple trees and four precious prune trees. They were planted by a man for his wife and three daughters in the 1940's, but also in the way of such things, for several more families including ours. What a gift! We have derived so much joy and sustenance from those trees. Along with a great deal of community building through apple cider parties and the sharing of bounty.

It's only right then that we start a legacy of apple and pear trees on our homestead.
We had a tough time deciding on the perfect trees: Melrose, Braeburn and Chehalis apples and two pear trees, Anjou and Red Anjou. These will not be the only ones we plant, but they are our beginning. They are all semi-dwarf which will make them easier to pick but eventually taller than a deer.
It turns out that the choosing was the easy part since we ended up having to dig the holes with a grubbing hoe. There were more rocks than dirt! But when all was said and done we felt the trees would do well. The rocks were very loose and there was dirt between them. Heck that's just good drainage, right? Well, like everything else at this point it's all an experiment.

Another experiment is the deer proofing Buck invented with wood scraps, field fence and bird netting. They seem to work so far and we will maintain them until the trees get tall enough to fend for themselves. Since there is so much land, the deer pressure is not too great. There are plenty of other things to nibble on.

If the deer know what is good for their future generations, they will let the trees grow and rain apples every fall for the next 75 years.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Red Meaty Chicks - An Examination and Comparison to Cornish Cross

When we did our first batch of Meaty Chicks last spring it was only an experiment. I wanted to determine a few things: Can Cornish Cross be healthily raised by hens? Will the resulting adult Meaty Birds be happily eaten? What is the cost effectiveness of said Birds? And how many does it take to supply our needs? The answers: YES, YES, $2.23 a pound and 30 to 35.

The 10 Cornish Cross we raised that first time were mostly cooked by August. We kept cooking chicken so everyone could taste how good they were. This meant we needed more chicken to get through the winter, so I embarked on a second experiment.

I was curious to see if the Red Broilers acted/tasted/grew any different from the Cornish Cross but mostly I wanted to see if their health and foraging skills were all that much better than the Cornish Cross had been. Contrary to popular belief we really had no health problems with the Cornish Cross and found them to be very good foragers with a mother hen to guide them.

Since I knew now that my Cuckoo Marrans hens would happily raise Meaty Chicks as their own and save me the incredible trouble of raising them myself and that the freezer had plenty of room, I felt it was only prudent to get a new set of Meaty Chicks going.

At the beginning of August I ordered 26 Red Broilers to "graft" them under a couple of broody hens on the 24th of August. I have been doing this technique of grafting chicks for most of my life and I wrote a post on how to do it Here if you are thinking of doing this. I HIGHLY recommend it.

We lost 2 chicks right away because they did not have the best of luck in shipping. One was dead in the box and another died the next day. I blame this on the postal service and the ignorance of modern day people who know nothing about farm animals. It was a warm day when the chicks arrived at the post office and, thinking they were doing the chicks a favor, the postal workers put them next to the air conditioning!

 The hens I used were setting in the bushes where they had started to sit on eggs and because they were not locked up at night, more chicks disappeared the first week. The next weekend I moved them all to a varmint proof pen. If you do this, remember you need to keep them locked in the new location for at least 3 days before you let them out or they will not return to the new place the next night.

Ever the tricky and clever little devils, Raccoons will reach under hens at night and pull chicks out, without harming the hen. The hen sleeps through it- until the chicks run out. Which takes several nights of chick munching. It's like nature's own crunchy chick vending machine. (Pardon the Homestead humor)

I took these photos of the Red Broilers to be compared with my visual diary of the Cornish Cross progress:

August 27

September 20

September 20

September 22

October 5th

October 16

October 16

November. We were busy and forgot to take a picture of the chicks.

December 21. The meaty chicks are 17 weeks old. Knowing they would be "going in" the next day I told them to live it up! They had a lovely day running all over the farm.

December 21. A mix of our flock, all of the red ones are meaty chicks

December 21. For size comparison the Cuckoo Marans hens behind them are 5 months old.

Here's the numbers:

$56.92 initial cost of chicks (26 chicks at $1.77 each + 10.90 shipping from Ideal Poultry)

$101 for feed (This is a guess-timation. We had $202 total feed costs for the 17 weeks but we had 22 full grown Cuckoo Marans and Americana eating with the chicks)

Butchered at 17 weeks. 22 birds processed.

96 pounds total dressed weight, average dressed weight per chicken was 4.36 pounds. Among the individual birds there was a large range of sizes. A couple roosters were 6 pounds and 3 hens were barely 3 pounds.

$91 cost for butchering. Half of the chickens cost more to process because they were over 4 pounds. ($5.00 v.s. $3.50)

Total cost = $247.00

96 pounds divided by 22
  = 4.36 pound dressed average bird
$ 247.00 divided by 22
  = $11.23 per chicken,
$247.00 divided by 96 pounds
  = $2.57 per pound

Some of our observations are that the Red Meaty Chicks have slightly better flavor and are a little firmer in texture (not tough though) than the Cornish Cross. This is probably directly correlated to their age and not necessarily their breed. They were very good foragers, which is good for curtailing feed costs. This however made them hit my flower beds and potted plants much harder. I don't think I would recommend them for a small city lot. They would completely destroy a yard. They may however be ideal in a situation where chicks would not be raised by hens, since they seem to have a much stronger foraging drive and would not lay around at the food dish as Cornish Cross are purported to do in such a situation (although we never witnessed them doing this in our experiment).

One of the biggest cost factors was the drastically different sizes among them. Because of the wide range in growth/sizes between the individual chicks, it was difficult to determine when they should go in to the butchers, which in turn increased our processing costs by $1.50 for half of the birds.
I am thinking it might be nice though to have different sizes of birds in the freezer for different sized meals. I suppose this size discrepancy might also be good for those who process their flock a few at a time. One could simply take the larger birds first and give the smaller ones more time to grow.
Another possible factor, which I have no hard evidence to back up, is that since I dilly dallied and didn't get the chicks a month earlier, we may have spent more on feed because of the cold fall weather. They most likely burnt more calories staying warm and the first frost came early this year, killing all the lovely grasshoppers I was counting on as a protein source for them.
I would recommend getting these chicks 15 weeks before your first frost at the latest.
Red Meaty Chicks eating my baby asparagus, Argh!

As far as a comparison to the Cornish Cross on ease of care, the jury is still out on that one, but I am leaning in favor of the Cornish Cross next time, just because of the fact that the Cornish Cross did not eat all of my baby asparagus like these did.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gifts From Friends: Chanterelle Mushroom and Butternut Soup

I did not find a hat full of Chanterelle mushrooms this fall but a very good friend of ours had the good fortune to do much more than that. He found a grocery sack full and through an act of incredible generosity gave us half!
I also had a Butternut squash given to me by another good friend, sitting on the counter.
Hmmm, I thought, what would they taste like together?
I peeled the Butternut and cubed it. Then I cleaned the fir needles from the Chanterelles and roughly chopped  them.
I diced some carrots and celery and sauteed the whole thing in 4 tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.
For seasoning I did not want to do too much since Chanterelles are very delicate in flavor. I added only salt and pepper and a 1/2 teaspoon of Tarragon. I sauteed the ingredients until the squash was tender and the Chanterelles were juicy. Then I added 2 cups of chicken stock from the freezer and a cup of soy milk (half and half would be more traditional, but soy is what I had) to make it slightly creamy.
Although I completely made up this recipe on the spot, I think it was the best soup I have ever made. Owing entirely to the incredible ingredients of course. 
I had baked a loaf of bread the day before and the soup and bread made a perfect meal.
We were very thankful that night for the gift and gifting of good friends.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Loafing Shed Pt 2

Time for the second post in my building-a-horse-shed series.

After our Thanksgiving break, the concrete was set and ready for posts. We went 8' high on the short end, 10' on the high.
Hank identified the shortest post, and used a straight 2X4 to mark the other posts to the right height. He cut them to level with his skill saw.

If you are going to have to work in an active pasture, freezing weather can be a nice thing; keeps all the muck nice and firm.
With the posts all the same height, we screwed plywood gussets on top of the outside posts to hold the beams in place. The structure is 20' wide so we were able to use a single piece of wood for each beam.

Once the beams were all up we squared the building the best we could and attached braces to keep it all in place.
One of the big things I have learned from Hank is to do things on the ground that you would rather not do in the air. For instance, while the beams were on the ground he marked where each rafter would go.
In the shot above, he snugged all the rafters together on a work table, squared the ends, and cut the rafter-tails on all of them at once. He then marked each rafter on the bottom where it would sit on the beam, and the layout on the top where the skip sheeting would go. This made it so we knew just where each board went when we were standing on top of the ladders.

We toe-screwed the beams and posts together, then added strapping to keep them in place.
After the rafters went up, we used hurricane straps to keep them in place, and blocking to keep them upright.
We used a come-along to pull the structure into square. It was not off by much, only about 3/8 of an inch, but we got it just right.
1X4 skip sheeting came next, tying it all together nicely.
Continuing the theme of doing ground work, I marked the tin roofing where we wanted the screws to go, and punched holes with a nail set. This spared the effort of forcing the nail through the tin while standing on the roof.
We used used un-grooved T1-11 plywood for the sides/sheer panels. Phoebe is a fan of letting the light in, as we did in the Hay House. It gave the barn a really nice, open and airy feeling.
We continued that idea on the loafing shed, so we can see in, the horses can see out, and it is nice and bright inside.
The high side faces east, not a big weather consideration here, but she suggested closing it in a little anyway. A couple of 2X6s on the inside will keep the horses from pushing the plywood out. Stall mats and a 4' gate finished it off. 
The weather had been unseasonably dry that December, with the rain holding off until the shed was finished. Rio was a little spooky when he first came in, just before Christmas. In a few days, though, he was right at home. In addition to keeping him warm and dry, his hay stays dry, so we are wasting less of it.

Since he is a mustang from Eastern Oregon, it could be argued that standing outside in the milder Western Oregon winter is not big deal for him. So why go through the effort and expense to build him a grade A horse house? 

First, just because he can stand in the rain doesn't mean he should. As a city boy at heart, I have the idea that everyone should have a dry place when they want it. Second, mud control is one of Phoebe's big things. So for both of us, a wet horse standing in deep mud is not an acceptable approach to animal owning. Since we have committed to having horses, we need to do what we can to treat them right.

Finally, we are trying to build infrastructure that will allow us to follow our interests, and what the land teaches us, to discover what the Homestead is best suited for. 

This may well involve more animals. Could be more horses, a goat or two to help with the blackberries, or a couple calves to try raising beef; we are not sure. But we do know that before we get serious about animals we need good fences and safe, dry shelter. The loafing shed is the next step in the progression. We don't really know where we are going, but this is one more important step on the way.