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Archive for the ‘Livestock’ Category

This is the second in our repostings of Jen’s wonderful posts on monthly planning. Originally posted in 2011, here’s what to do in the traditional dead of winter.

February can be one of the last chances to get indoor projects completed before the spring thaw arrives. Gardeners are getting excited and it won’t be long before the first of this year’s farm babies are here! Spring is really just around the corner, so start wrapping things up inside and get ready to head back outdoors.

Indoors:

  • Check basement or crawl space for leakage during thaws.
  • Check bathroom caulking for re-sealing needs. While you’re in there, check your pipes for leaks.
  • Freshen your kitchen sinks by pouring a mixture of 3 cups hot water and 1/4 cup vinegar (or the juice of one lemon) down each drain.
  • Keep an eye out for cracks in your drywall caused by settling during thaws and freezes. There are expandable putties and spackles available for problem areas. While you’re at it, you may want to mark outdoor masonry to be repaired. Plan to complete this project after the last hard freeze and once your biggest worries of the house settling are past.
  • If you don’t have a cold frame or greenhouse, set up an area to start seeds for your garden. Few seeds need light to germinate (be sure to read the directions) so you may be able to get by without any lights other than a window for the first few weeks. (Check out chiotsrun seedstarting 101 guide).
  • Research and prepare for any animal purchases for the year.
  • Keep a tray of water and spray bottle near indoor plants to adjust humidity levels, especially if you have central air. Running the heater can dry them out quickly and cover leaves with dust.

Outdoors/Garden/Wildlife:

  • Keep fresh water available and free of ice for birds and wildlife.
  • It’s National Bird Feeding Month. Keep feeding those birdies! Seed, dried berries, and suet are great meals for our feathered pals.
  • If you live in a climate with mild winters, this month may be a good time to dig new beds. You may also want to repair or build new composting bins to be prepared for this year’s cleanup.
  • Southerners could get away with planting bare root trees on warm days.
  • Keep driveways and walks free of snow and ice. Have shovels, plows, and salt/brine accessible and stocked.
  • Watch gutters and roofs for ice dams.
  • XAN EDIT: if you’re in a short-season zone (5 and up) start long season seeds like onions and leeks indoors
  • If you didn’t get to it during fall, now would be a great time to oil and sharpen garden tools.

Animal Husbandry

  • Be prepared for early birthing. Have any equipment you’ll need ready and accessible.
  • Nights are still very cold in most parts of the country. Keep your critters warm with fresh hay, heat lamps, or blankets, but be sure to avoid fire hazards.
  • If you’ve been leaving a light on for your chickens you can begin weaning them off of it. The sun is setting noticeably later and your gals should begin laying more regularly soon.

You can also find Jennifer in archive at Unearthing This Life where she used to blog (or as she called it “blarg”) a bit about good food, home schooling, raising chickens, and being a suburban Yankee transplant in a rural southern town. She’s not writing right now, but her wonderful posts are well worth scrolling through.

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Since my husband and I decided we would switch our corgi, Pocket to a raw diet, we’ve done quite a bit of meat shopping. I’ve never been much of a meat eater, so the whole process is new to me, and much easier when i can find a local farmer who can give me advice and whom i can feel confident buying from. It’s especially nice when i get to see a flock of happy Boer goats watching me drive up the lane. We paid a visit to a local farm last week to pick up some meaty bones for Pocket, and some goat meat for us. Winn’s Livestock and Hatchery just north of Corvallis has affordable meat raised by a 4th generation farmer and his very friendly wife. April chatted back and forth with me via email to decide what was best for us to purchase, and we ended up with a freezer full of bones for Pock, a pound of ground goat meat for us plus a shoulder steak that i’ll cut up into stew meat in the next week or two.

goatsoup2

You can read more about my delicious ‘goat chilly’ at An Austin Homestead. You may be wondering about my choice of meat. Goat isn’t overly popular here in America. But guess what: it’s the most popular meat in the rest of the WORLD. There’s great reason for that: goats are small, able to graze on non-ideal pasture (read sticks and blackerberry brambles), have a relatively high dressing percentage to their body mass, and have some of the most nutritious meat of any livestock. This article has a lot to say about the boons of eating goat meat, as does this one. What you’ll find when studying about goat meat is that it has lower calories than beef (and even elk, venison and chicken!), less fat and cholesterol, and is guaranteed not to have any growth hormones added as the USDA has not approved their use. Goats are easier on the land than their big boned beefy counterparts, and can often thrive in areas that would otherwise require massive amounts of irrigation and pastureland to grow larger protein critters. Due to its leaner meat, goat DOES have to be cooked more slowly to avoid tough texture. Read more about the fat and calorie comparisons of goat meat to many other popular meats at www.elkusa.com.
raw

Another reason to raise goats: they’re really fun, personable and friendly. Along with my change, April came out with a 4 day old bottle baby Boer, and boy what a cutey she was! We plan on raising dairy and fiber goats, with an eye on edible breeds. Miniature Nubians have decent dressing rates, though Kinders are better. We’re only two people and a dog, so we’re less concerned with the larger amounts of meat from the bigger meat breeds. According to April some of her Boer goats can ready 300 pounds. That’s a lot of goat! Goats can be like family pets, and we can’t wait to have some around. We realize that butchering one of those cute little kids will be hard to do, but the nutritional benefits of eating homegrown and super lean meat far outweigh the sentimental drawbacks. For me at least (i’m still working on convincing the husband of that one.)

Goats!

So, with more iron, potassium and thiamine together with less sodium than other ‘traditional’ meats sold her in the USA, 50% less fat than beef, 45% less fat than lamb and 15% less fat than veal…. what reason do you have not to try goat meat for your next meal? None! Find a local farmer’s market or farm and get yourself some cabrito, chevre or goat meat. It does a body/planet good!
Read more about Miranda, Pocket and their adventures in goats and cooking at An Austin Homestead.

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Yes, i spin yarn. No, my wheel is not an antique and neither are the robust group of friends i’ve made here in Oregon who are part of the even more robust fiber community. My wheel i picked up used at a great price and my friends i picked up from fiber stores and a local farmer’s market, and all of them already priceless to me. Isn’t “Clementine” spiffy? She’s a Clemes & Clemes Modern Wheel. (Please forgive the repulsive state of my kitchen. It’s a tiny apartment and it’s never clean.)

I am often asked “why would you spin yarn when you could just buy it in the store?” or “why would you want to knit a hat when you could just buy one in the store?” I believe those people are missing the point. I do still buy cotton yarn and lust after other folks’ gorgeous handspun occasionally. I don’t think everyone in the world needs to make everything from scratch, but in case you too are wondering why i’m crazy enough to spend hours holding balls of fluff in my hands and treadling my foot up and down, this is why i do it:

Some of my very first handspun, totally uneven, but super soft!

Spinning is an ancient art that is so simple yet so complex. By carefully holding the fiber of animals or plants in one hand, rotating it using a spindle or spinning wheel, and gently tugging it forward and back, you can create yarn: something beautiful and strong that can be used to make functional and long lasting garments. What’s better than that? I am also a sailer, or was in my younger days, and spinning is a bit like sailing in that you’re grasping just a few simple elements and harnessing them to do what you want. Wind and water make you go, fluff and twist make beautiful yarn.

Ultimately, I will be raising many of the animals who will contribute the fiber that i spin. I’m thinking of raising Icelandic sheep for their fiber and their meat, pygora goats for their cashmere-like fiber and friendship, and a few fluffy rabbits from which the softest of fiber comes. To raise an animal, sheer it, wash and prepare its fiber, spin it into yarn and create a sweater to be worn for the rest of your life: now THAT’S the reason that i spin. Spinning is relaxing, rewarding, and reconnects me to a time before the hussle and bussle of this century – and i get to wear or clothe my loved ones with the fruits of my labors!

What do you think of my very first knit hat? I’m an absolute beginner knitter, and it’s kind of atrocious. At least the yarn i spun for it is warm, if a bit uneven! I think the hubs likes it, even if it is “The hat of many mistakes.”  Read more about my spinning and knitting attempts and see how much nicer they’re both starting to look at An Austin Homestead. -Miranda

Are you a spinner? I know there are more of us out there than some may think… Why do YOU spin?

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Spring is truly in full swing, and I thought it would never arrive. The weather is consistently above freezing, the wild turkeys are doing their hilarious mating rituals in the woods, the thunderstorms have begun to roll in, the orchard is flooded, the horses are antsy… all the signs are there.

Wednesday night we had some intense storms and wind here in Michigan. My friends, who are expecting two foals, were waiting at the ready, making checks regularly on their broodmares as often livestock choose the funkiest weather to give birth in. Unfortunately they didn’t wake to find any little hoof beats; little did I know what would be awaiting me the following morning!

When I woke Thursday morning it was to the frantic baa-ing of our ewe who is not pregnant. She’s a very smart girl and knew something was wrong with her best friend. By the time I got to the barn I could see little toes and a nose, and within a few minutes there was a teensy tiny little lamb at my feet! I know I’m always doing livestock posts, but bear with me.

Oh my gosh! This has been a huge learning experience for me. The little lamb was strong right from the start. I couldn’t believe she was a female – and a spotted badgerface (creamy body color/black legs, head and belly) as well! She’s nursing well ever since she figured out the whole udder location thing – she was convinced mom’s face could feed her!

Now she’s running around the field wreaking havoc on the lives of the older ewes. She’s a little spitfire and her name is Brighid. :) I can’t tell you how happy I am that she’s a ewe – we had decided if we had a ram we would raise him to either sell or for meat, and after our other sheep lost her only lamb as a stillborn a few weeks ago, the thought of raising our only surviving lamb for meat was kind of depressing.

Anyway. I couldn’t help but share her with you, despite the fact that I already posted about her on my separate blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice.

She definitely has her father’s personality and her mother’s stubborn streak. Within hours of birth, she was demanding to play with both her mother and the other ewe. She would run up to them, mini-headbutt them in the face, and run away. Of course by running I mean she would scramble. Her legs are SO long and she definitely doesn’t have the hang of them yet!

Do you have any new additions to your home this spring?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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The term “Real Food” definitely applies to the vegetable garden, but here at Tanglewood Farm I’m using this year to try to find ways to grow and preserve more than just our own veggies and fruits. I know this month is our month of gardening posts, however at the core of it, we’re really blogging about growing food. This spring we are growing food in the garden as well as in the farmyard. We’re growing vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, and yes… even meat.

When eating any food, I find that the more involved in its existence and its presence on my plate, the better I eat and the more satisfied I am. I love to feel the dirt slowly giving way as I pull a beet for my salad, almost like the void beneath is sucking it down like a vacuum, or the sharp recoiling spring of the cane as I pluck an  almost-ripe red raspberry. These experiences are so starkly different from being handed a slapped-together cookie-cutter meal at the local such-and-such chain restaurant. Ick.

I love to sit down to a meal and to be able to identify the work that went into everything: the hauling of compost, the dibble of seeds, the spreading of mulch, the work of the rain and the sun itself… all the way to the act of cooking and baking the food in the kitchen. It’s the most satisfying feeling I can think of. It goes right to my core and radiates from within: Satisfaction. Complacency. Happiness.

To prepare for the season of growing, we have our seeds and our bareroot plants (100% heirloom/open pollinated this year). We also ordered heritage white-laced-red Cornish chicks (WLR because they’re prettier, Cornish because they’re meatier), as well as a couple straight-run layer chicks (heritage Buckeyes and Welsummers). Should any of the layer chicks be cockerels, they’ll be sent to freezer camp once they reach full weight. We want to have a small laying flock that can provide us with eggs, as well as the unfortunate bit of meat here and there.

We’re also growing/raising sheep this year. Unfortunately sheep are not as easy to raise as chickens are, and earlier this week tragedy struck when our youngest ewe, Gertrude, went into early labor and delivered a premature lamb, stillborn. It was very sad, but also humbling and grounding. Gertrude is alive and well, and when it came down to it, it was easy for me to see that her health is all that really matters to me. Should our remaining pregnant ewe, Ingrid, give birth to any rams, depending on conformation, they will likely be raised to mature market weight and then also sent to freezer camp. If they’re ewe lambs, I’ll do a little jig for joy and they’ll either be kept for future breeding or sold as fiber ladies. (I’m noticing a very intense polarizing trend in the preferred gender among various species in the farmyard.)

In the meantime, while either growing or raising our lamb(s), we are hoping to get a bit of milk from Ingrid. She’s not the world’s heaviest milking Icelandic, but she does have a well developed udder so I’ll be trying to take a little off the top once the lambs are established as healthy and strong. Icelandics make a wonderful triple purpose sheep, having lustrous and strong double coated wool, rich creamy milk, and excellent bone structure and meat quality. They’re one of a very few breeds that are triple purpose, so we’re glad to have them. The sheep milk, however, certainly won’t be enough for our milky adventures this year.

In addition to the sheep, I have purchased a share of a goat (named Gen) at a local goat dairy. I got to meet Gen today, as well as the rest of the goats out at Silver Moon, and it was a great experience for me. If you aren’t familiar with livestock “shares” they’re an interesting method of selling livestock. Basically it comes down to me getting to own Gen for a portion of the week. Whilst owning her, I have access to her for snuggles, kisses, photo ops and, yes, milk. I  met her primary owner, Renea, today and she was very pleasant and kindly showed me all around their farm, introducing me to their wonderful fiber rabbits, meat rabbits, quail, muscovies, chickens, and even their horses.

I can’t wait to make goat cheese and sheep cheese and yogurt… or omelettes, and egg salad, and mayonnaise… or smoked sausages, or lamb bacon, or …

You get the idea. This spring is about learning for us, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be involved in your food. It doesn’t mean going out and slaughtering animals yourself persay, (at least not unless you’re comfortable with it) but you could start by asking the waiter at a restaurant where your beef comes from, or if they’ve looked into local options to take the place of their imported meats…

You could ask around for a local farmers market for animal shares, be they dairy or meat, or just cuddles shares… Take control of what you’re eating, and learn to sit back and take a deep breath, a big bite, and enjoy.

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november collage

So many of us are working our way toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle. With that in mind we here at NDiN wanted to share some general guidelines of what to plan for on a monthly basis. Whether you’re a gardener, a beekeeper, a forager, or you keep animals, hopefully our monthly guides will help you plan ahead for the month. Depending on your exact climate you may find you need to adjust your schedule plus or minus two weeks or more.

  

Although many of the outdoor chores are completed for the year, it’s not time to slow down. Gardeners are beginning to dream up next year’s spring and summer crops and for most of us there’s always leaves to take care of. For some of us there’s even a bit of snow. As we get closer to the holiday season it’s easy to become consumed with gatherings and preparations, but it’s important to remember those seasonal aspects of every day life. Keeping ahead of the weather, taking care of outdoor animals, cooking with seasonal foods, and staying warm are key this month.

Indoors:

  • If you store foods like squash, potatoes, and carrots for winter use be sure that you rotate for freshness. Also be sure to occasionally check for any spoiling or critter damage.
  • If  you haven’t already done so, be sure to check the batteries in your fire detectors.
  • Check garage door for air leaks if  you have an insulated unit. Also check household windows for any drafts. Catching these now can save you lots of money over the winter.
  • If possible, set up a “craft/wrapping area” out of immediate view for holiday activities, possibly in a separate room. This should help keep clutter down in main areas of the house helping to keep it tidy and help reduce holiday stress.

 Outdoors:

  •  Trim any trees now that most of the energy has gone to the root systems of most plants. It’s also not too late to plant some trees so long as your ground is not frozen. Fruit canes can also be cut back depending on the variety.
  • When outdoor gardening chores finally slow down, clean, sharpen, oil, and put up all tools for the winter.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts.
  • Make sure all hoses and water barrels have been drained and put up until spring.

 Garden:

  • Clean up rotting plant materials to help keep your gardens healthy. Decomposition is great, rotting is not.
  • Till chopped leaves directly into garden beds where they’ll stay warmer and decompose faster over the winter.
  • Garlic and other bulbs like tulips can still be planted in zones with milder winters.

 Animal Husbandry:

  • Keep barns and other animal shelters clean to help prevent illness and discourage wild critters from nesting. Change hay often, keep tools cleaned up, and be sure to keep water free of ice.
  • If you keep an area warm for animals occasionally check for fire hazards. Examine wiring on extension cords, heat lamps, and portable heaters. Keep bedding away from heat units and keep a fire extinguisher inside larger buildings.
  • It may not be too late to have sheep and goats mated in your area.
  • Cold weather days are best for slaughter and processing. Keep an eye on weather and plan accordingly.
  • Put a light out for an extra two hours in the evening for your chickens. It will help keep their coop warm on colder evenings and promote more egg laying.

 Wildlife:

  • Most animals are starting their winter cycles, including hibernation and building up of nests. You can assist your neighborhood critters with a few little tricks. Continue to feed birds; make your own suet cakes for freezing weather to help fuel up birds; offer some peanuts and corn to squirrels; leave a few piles of leaves or stones or a piece of corrugated metal for frogs and lizards to burrow in; set out water for all animals and keep it free of ice.

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September collage
So many of us are working our way toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle. With that in mind we wanted to share some general guidelines of what to plan for on a monthly basis. Whether you’re a gardener, a beekeeper, a forager, or you keep animals, hopefully our monthly guides will help you plan ahead for the month. Depending on your exact climate you may find you need to adjust your schedule plus or minus two weeks or more.

 

September is the time of year that we begin to feel the crisp air of Autumn moving in. Evenings are chilly even though afternoons can be very warm. Autumn fruits are beginning to ripen and the thought of spiced cider seem to warm spirits. September is the time for clear skies, bonfires, and wrapping up Summer’s last duties. It’s a big month for tidying up the garden, so hold back those nesting instincts for another month and enjoy the clear, bright skies and cool air.

Indoors

  • Be sure your root cellar is ready to accept produce. If you’re using boxes with sand or sawdust make sure they’re clean, sanitized, dry, and critter-proof.
  • Be sure your deep freezer is cleaned out. Remove past date items and make room for Fall’s harvests.
  • Complete any chores that require you to keep your windows open. Painting, cleaning carpeting, cleaning ovens and so forth should be finished before it gets cold during the daytime.
  • Wash items that require long, outdoor drying times or those that can only be taken care of outside. Litter boxes, garbage pails, sanitary pails, area rugs, pillows, and so forth should be washed while the remaining warm air can help with drying.
  • Air out winter clothing, blanketing, and other items you may have kept in storage over the warm seasons.
  • Be sure your fireplaces are in working order before you need them. Check that wood stacks are staying dry and are easy to get to.
  • Check fire and carbon monoxide alarms before lighting up your furnace or fireplace for the first time.

Outdoors

  • Be sure your cold frames and greenhouses are airtight and ready to go for the cooler nights. Daytime temperatures can become very hot in these locations, so be sure to open and close windows as needed. Consider investing in a self-opening elbow for your windows. They can save many trips back and forth throughout this fickle weather.
  • Leaves will begin to fall soon. Make sure your compost bins or piles are ready to accept fresh materials.
  • Give one last inspection to your windows and doors in case you didn’t get to them last month. Be sure that they’re air tight and sealed before cold weather really sets in.
  • Change air filters on furnace.

Garden

  • Herbs can be cut and dried for saving. Remember to bring some in to create a window garden for a fresh Winter source of Summer’s flavors.
  • Seed saving and dead-heading can begin once again. Remember to allow some of your perennial seeds to self-sow by leaving only a few “dead heads” or by sprinkling some seed. Save some seed for finches (they adore Echinacea) and other seed lovers. Too many dead heads can lead to disease.
  • Don’t prune rose hips yet if you plan on saving them for jellies or medicinal purposes.
  • Bring in your more sensitive plants as the nights get cooler. Stevia, ginger, and other tropicals don’t like colder weather. Many other herbs can stay outside until the first frosts.
  • It’s a good time to take cuttings of woody plants and shrubs.
  • If you’re planning on dividing or planting bulbs for next year now is the time to do it! Also divide shrubby herbs like lemon balm, oregano, mints, sage, fennel, tansy, and marjoram.
  • Harvest frost-sensitive plants and Winter keepers before your first frosts. Put green tomatoes in paper bags to ripen slowly and use later. Potatoes, onions, and other keepers should be kept in a cool dark place.
  • Cut back dying foliage. Burn diseased foliage as soon as possible. Healthy plants can be put into compost as long as they are seed-free. As fun as it is to have a surprise potato plant sprout from the compost bin, you don’t want those plants (or weeds) to use up all that energy you’ve been saving for your garden!
  • Green manures for cool seasons can be sown.
  • Strawberry runners should be rooted and transplanted by the end of the month.
  • Shrubs and trees, fruiting or not, can be planted now that the cool weather is setting in. Fall is an excellent time for transplants since most trees are storing or spending energy in and on their root systems.
  • Speaking of fruiting trees and plants, remove mulch and prune those that need it.

Animals

  • Put in your orders for Winter supplies of food, straw, and hay.
  • Give a good cleaning to coops and barns to try to avoid housing mice and other small, unwanted critters.
  • September and October are good months for building. If you’re planning on adding to the animal family next year, consider any outdoor units that may need to be added.
  • Repair coops, lean-tos, stables, and other shelters before cold weather sets in. Keep your animals happy and warm at night.
  • Start considering mating sheep and goats for Spring kids and lambs. They’re both on about a 150 gestation cycle so a late month conception would lead to a late February birth.
  • With birth also comes death. Start planning for cold weather slaughters. Animals are best harvested when the weather is below 40 degrees. The cooler the better, especially if you’re inexperienced or have a lot of work to do. Research your product and begin gathering needed items. Mise en place. Have stock pots, seasonings, casings, sharpening stones, recipes, packaging, and tools all ready prior to harvesting.

Wildlife

  • Continue to feed your hummingbirds and other songbirds. Migrations will begin this month and you may have a few unusual visitors to your feeders.
  • Like us humans, wild critters are beginning to stock away for the colder seasons. Allow seed heads to remain on natives and refrain from too much tidying up of acorns and other nuts, seeds, and berries. Skunks, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other small animals need to fatten up to keep warm through the Winter.

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This year we ordered 8 heritage breed hens for laying. We’ve had so much fun with the girls that we’re considering raising more poultry for meat this next year. While my Hubby raised lots of birds in his younger days, this is my first time around poultry. And there’s a lot I’ve learned about raising my first flock (all while listening to Hubby in the background saying, “I told you so!”).

Eleanor 

I was adamant that we allowed our hens to free-range. When they were younger we had much more room for them inside their portable run, but now that they’re almost fully grown the run is barely big enough for two girls. So, they pretty much have the freedom to run all over our property.

portable run

During the hot afternoons I can usually find the gals underneath our porch, cooling off. Once the heat starts to wear off, though, I’m in for some trouble. About 6:30 pm every day they enjoy a nice stroll, pecking, pecking, pecking their way up to my edibles garden. A few will even head up toward the roadside to find goodies in the brush. I can almost set my clock to it.

dusting

When they’re not under the porch, the girls are busy shredding up my garden beds, ridding me of weeds, insects, and mulch. Judging by this display I’d consider their work leans toward the Post-Modern.

IMG_0199

They also like to make work of my compost piles.

compost

I’ve learned to put plantings up high and out of reach. Chickens are like 2-year olds – they have their limbs in EVERYTHING!

trouble

And even putting things out of reach doesn’t guarantee that they will be safe.

mess

Of course the fresh eggs almost make up for the messes. But it’s a moment like this that reminds me to giggle.

peekaboo

What have I learned these first few months? Broilers and Roasters will definitely need a bigger portable run!!

Jennifer can be found at Unearthing this Life where she shares snippets of her rural life, recipes, and other blarg-worthy stuff.

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We’ve had a fairly cold winter so, unlike most years, I have not been able to simply look outside and see if the bees are flying to know they are ok. I prepared the bees this fall by treating them with various things to make sure they were healthy, I made sure they had plenty of honey and pollen to eat through the winter and then I crossed my fingers.

Still clustered, but dead

We recently had a warm day and I was able to check the 4 hives at my house. To my dismay, 2 were dead-outs. All of my hives at other locations are fine so I was surprised to find some at my house that were gone. We live atop a hill in Charleston, WV and we get serious wind. I have a windbreak around them but I considered that the extreme drafts might have gotten to them. That is the one characteristic that separates the hives at my house from the ones I have elsewhere. It has been said that one cannot freeze bees…if they stay dry and not too windy. If either problem exists, all bets are off so I figured I fell prey to the wind.

Heads down in the cells...telltale sign of starvation

I opened the hives and immediately knew that the wind was not to blame, but rather the cold…sort of. You see, my bees didn’t freeze, but rather starved to death. The cold makes bees cluster together. As it gets especially cold with no warm days interspersed, the bees cannot break their cluster. Without breaking cluster, they cannot move through the hive either. Since their honey stores are spread throughout the hive, they need to be able to move around periodically to eat.

Some honey nearby where they were clustered

Plenty of honey one more frame over...

So, I opened 2 hives and saw the tell-tale signs…bees still clustered together, many bees with their heads deep in honeycomb cells, and honey nearby, but not right where they died.

I hate for a colony to die, and when it is related to something I might have done wrong, it irritates me even more (fortunately, that doesn’t happen often anymore). But when it’s due to nature, I guess I feel a little bit of relief. It’s never fun, but it is a reality of beekeeping. So, I just hope for warmer days here and there so the bees can move to food and also for a quick Spring! Come on Spring!

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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I know this article is being posted after Thanksgiving and Christmas…but that is intentional. My reasoning is that I would like to put the idea of raising a turkey into your head now when you will have plenty of time to consider it, order some, and raise them for next year’s meals.

By no means am I a turkey expert. And what I tell you may fly in the face of conventional turkey raising wisdom but I would like to tell you how it has worked for us and then you can study the practice and choose your own way. Of course my family has raised poultry, and many other types of other livestock, for years but until this year we had never raised turkeys. There were a number of reasons but the two major ones were that turkey isn’t my family’s favorite meat and supposedly turkeys are very difficult to raise.

Yet as we moved more and more towards the goal of raising as much of our food as we could we realized that the first issue, turkey isn’t our favorite meat, might be because of the WAY turkey is commercially raised. I mean, any one that raises their own chickens, beef, lamb etc knows that the flavor of the meat is by far superior to its store bought equivalent. It is so obvious of a difference that there are some chicken recipes we will no longer make unless we have a flavor filled home raised bird to put into it. And of course even if you have never raised your own meat animals yet, everyone knows that home grown tomatoes taste better than store bought….so why not turkey meat?

And I have to admit that for a number of years I considered trying to raise one or two but it remained nothing more than a tickle in the back of my brain. This is because even when eating the “local” Thanksgiving (or Christmas) meal we would often eat something like prime rib or whole roasted chicken or even ham..

This year though I decided it had been a number of years since we had had turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas and maybe we needed to try one or two. I didn’t want to start out with an expensive batch from the hatchery (15 birds minimum to ship at about 8 dollars a piece on average depending on breed and shipping) since I had heard they were horribly difficult to raise. Even Gene Logsdon whose books I just love says don’t even bother trying to raise turkeys. Just don’t.

So all summer, after my mind had been made up, we would try and remember to watch craigslist to find people selling turkey poults. Eventually we moved past the point of having about 28 weeks from the birth of the birds to having one ready for Thanksgiving and eventually even Christmas. Most of the heritage breed birds need about 28 weeks. Some a bit less and of course you can go longer but that is the general time frame everyone gives for having about an 14 to 20 pounder. The biggest problem we ran into trying to buy locally was that the birds were sold almost from the moment the ad hit the list. “Sorry….their all gone” was the response to my many many emails.

Finally though, about 8 weeks before Thanksgiving, we found some. The gentleman was up on one of the local mountains and had some left ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 weeks. I wanted the twelve week birds, slightly more expensive at 15 a piece, because of the fact that one would be close enough to ready for us by Christmas but…..they sold before I got there. Bummer. So instead I took home 4 six week old birds at the whopping price of eight dollars a piece.

The weather was still very warm so we didn’t have to worry about brooding them in a special cage or lamps or any of that. Just making sure that until they fully feathered they didn’t get soaked in the pouring rain without a place to shelter. Basically these guys were past the baby baby stage—supposedly the hardest part— but they did still need a bit of extra care and some higher protein feed than our chickens. This is because of the fact that turkeys grow quite fast at this stage .

So, for about the next 8 weeks (approximately) I fed them, and my chickens who were with them, a 22 percent protein feed. There was no way to separately feed the two species and so I didn’t really worry about it. I did however offer the feed in the evening, just enough so that there was little or none left the next morning. This kept the chickens foraging instead of filling up on the high protein feed meant more for the turkeys. The turkeys were also quick to catch onto moving out to the pasture every morning with the chickens—eventually foraging farther than the chickens which was good. Our chickens were a bit..well.. chicken about moving all the way across the pasture. They felt safer I think with the bigger birds and started going farther their selves which was good.

We have since switched, at about the beginning of December I would say, to a 16 percent ration with cracked corn as a treat now that they are older. Over all the turkeys did great and the chickens didn’t turn into walking blobs. And one last thing we noticed when feeding the turkeys: even though we usually feed whole corn for a treat, and you would think the turkeys being slightly larger than the chickens would be able to eat it, they could not. At first they had trouble swallowing it so we changed to cracked corn instead of whole. Now they can…but not for many many weeks after we got them.

As far as housing the birds we moved them straight in with our chickens almost from the get go. I understand having them with chickens is a total no no since they can get a disease called blackhead, but our birds are happy and healthy to this day. We did this because we didn’t have another place to house them separately. It was with the chickens or with no turkeys at all. I also figured this would tell me if raising turkeys was going to be difficult or even possible for us since we will probably never have a separate area available just for turkeys. If they immediately fell ill and died…well then they were too hard. If they didn’t then lucky us. We could of course do them in rotational cages like we do pastured poultry ….yet we may never do that with them so we wanted to see if they could fit in with the other birds in an easy manner. I also don’t know if sanitary conditions or access to pasture helps to keep this dreaded blackhead from developing, but at this point all four of our birds are still fine. As mentioned they have the same access to pasture as the chickens and get along fine with the birds. One of our roosters does try and woo one of the hens (we lucked out and got two males and two females) but he doesn’t really do much more than chase her. She’s quite a bit faster than he is and bigger now too. As a matter of fact I saw her chasing him this morning and pecking him so maybe she’s had enough. Enough is enough sometimes.

And no, we haven’t yet eaten them since only one of the males looked even kind of sort of big enough by Christmas. We just decided to wait a bit longer. Maybe it may work out that we have an Easter turkey instead of lamb ;-) Though at the posting of this article one male is looking quite large enough so maybe soon…….

Overall we have thoroughly enjoyed raising turkeys. We did have to clip their wings since they worked from flying into the trees to flying up to the top of the chicken coop but other than that they are a dream to care for so far. They are actually quite smart, not at all like I was led to believe, and very friendly. They talk and chat to each other and us all the time, easily come to us, and often follow us around in the pasture or along the fence lines. I am sure we could have tamed them enough to pet and pick them up but we will be eating them and try not to attach too much to the animals we will eat. We swear we have even seen them “playing”. Not sure but it looked like it. One of the funniest things about the turkeys is any odd noise (even one made by us) will cause them to gobble. Gobble gobble gobble. I can loudly say Blah blah blah and they will gobble. So funny! Kids totally get a kick out of it. Sometimes we even get a feather show to go with all the gobbling. Of course they refused to do a tail show while I took pictures for this article —but really they do. Promise.

So..my take? Turkeys are not nearly as hard as I had heard. Yes, I still need to brood them straight from the day old stage, but the man I purchased mine from said it was as easy to him as brooding his chicks. And he lived on an acre right in a subdivision type neighborhood. And now that we know they are not stupid or too dumb to come in out of the rain we are looking forward to more turkeys in the future. They are actually attractive, interesting, interactive with humans, calmer than most chickens and more than smart enough to put themselves up when it’s cold, rainy, snows or gets dark. Overall? I like them. And I hope that my hens will help me out this next year and either hatch some poults for me or at least offer up a number of fertilized eggs for me to try and incubate. Even if that doesn’t happen though, we will be more than open to spending the money to buy them from a hatchery if we can not find more locally.

So if you’ve been wondering about whether turkeys would work out for you– try some. I think you may like them a lot. Their only downfall I can see so far is that they would never lay enough eggs for our breakfast burritos!

Monica, aka dancingfarmer, writes occasionally for NotDabbling and also for her blogs Dancingfarmer and CrazyHouse Quilts.

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