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Archive for the ‘Urban Livestock’ Category

I had a grand post planned related to stockpiling and pantry stocking to make eating local and fresh easy and affordable, right up until my husband came into the house and shared with me and our daughter that one of our girlies had died in the night.  Of course my mind immediately went to weasel break-in, poison, disease, infection and for a split second I was certain he was going to tell me that we were on the verge of losing all 6 and our steady flow of eggs and I caught a glimpse of what farmers must go through when they fear that their entire livelihood could be at jeopardy.   On the contrary, however, he shared with us that he believes she was either smothered by her coop mates who all tried to huddle in a single box last night or suffered a heart attack or stroke.   Due to the extreme winds yesterday, she could have been literally scared to death.    Regardless of the cause, the other girlies appear to be fine thankfully.   Nonetheless, as someone new to livestock raising I had a twinge of sadness when I realized that one of ladies I had raised since she was a wee chick in my basement had been lost.  I also looked in my 4 year old daughter’s eyes as she processed the news that the chicken was not going to the doctor to get better and that she really was gone forever.   As we have always looked at these chickens as a food source both for eggs and for meat, our focus has always been to give them the best possible life and then a good clean death, so I decided that this despite the sadness of the moment, was an opportunity to help my child understand what was happening and what would eventually happen to all of the girlies one day.  Yes, I cannot tell a lie, this quickly became a bit of a Mufasa Circle of Life moment, but an important one nonetheless.   I have always felt strongly that whatever choice someone makes about the food they eat is there own.  Ours is to try and eat local humanely raised and slaughtered meat and locally grown produce.  We are far from perfect, but it’s what we strive for.    I hope that Amelia will grow up to make her own decisions about the food she eats, but while she is under our care, I want her to understand the food we eat and why now, and there is no better opportunity than the present to be honest about what his happening and what it means.  So, she stood there asking me why that girlie had to die.  She threw her arms around me and said that she loved that girlie and would miss feeding her grass and talking to her after school.   I felt the loss through the her preschooler eyes and it gave me pause to feel a new sense of grief myself.   So I told her it was ok to be sad and to miss that girlie, but that it was a part of life.  I told her to remember how much she loved giving that girlie grass and lettuce and how she should feel so good about giving her a good life.  I told her, that the important thing is not that girlie’s death but the life she had.   I told her we will always have animals we love and care for and that we will almost always have a point where we will need to say goodbye.   Sometimes, it will be like this, sad and unexpected and sometimes it will be part of the plan to say goodbye so that we might provide food for ourselves and others.   She was not very sure about the last part, but as she grows we can feel good that we were honest and gave her as much information as possible to make decisions for herself.   So tonight, as we put her to bed, she shared that she was still sad about the loss of a girlie, but that she was going to continue to love and care for the other 5 girlies.   She was still not clear on whether or not she wanted to eat chickens (keep in mind she hasn’t completely made the connection that her favorite dinner of chicken fries is the same as the girlies, but I am not going to push that light bulb right now), but she understood what it meant to give her animals a good life.  At the end of the day that’s all we can hope for as parents and a family wanting to raise our own animals for food.   So we keep calm, carry on and learn from our experiences with this group of girlies as we think about our plans for expansion in the future and teach our daughter the lessons and values we have surrounding our food sources.

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A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...

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As I prepare my last batch of hot pepper jam for this season and plot out the holiday baking madness for the upcoming season I am also preparing to put our garden down for an extended rest.   That’s right, for Garden Season 2012 we will not be planting anything in our garden plot.   Does that mean this Farmgirl has given up only 3 years and 6 chickens in?  On the contrary,  this Farmgirl has been inspired by a great book that I picked up at my local Tractor Supply  The Backyard Homestead:

This book is a must have desk reference for anyone who wants to start a backyard homestead or begin to dabble in producing  their own food from scratch.    Upon purchasing this book I had some AHA moments about  being a bonified urban homesteader.    I have not mastered anything mind you (as clearly illustrated by this year’s less than bumper crop of carrots and beets),  but I do feel that I have a good handle on growing vegetables in a garden.    So 2012 our goal is to make our yard a well-rounded food bearing garden retreat.   We would like to add apple trees and perhaps some pear trees.  We would like to clear out the random and useless rock garden next to our pool and create a blueberry patch.   We would like to plot out a location for  raised strawberry and raspberry beds.   Perhaps a deck and real live fireplace and/or bread oven.   Perhaps a door yard full of berries and nuts.  Boxed herbs and of course a handful of containers loaded with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.  Oh and maybe, just maybe we might actually get that compost system set up that we have been threatening to put into operation for 3 years now.

So,  you ask what will these homesteaders do for fresh and local produce next year?   Well, we will start by getting a full share in our CSA, Maplewood  Organics.   My final calculation after this last pick up of what we received for this season was nearly $350 of organic potatoes, peppers, onions (which, I might add, organic onions were going for $2 a lb. today at the grocery store) brussel sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes, fresh-cut flours, swiss chard, kale, radishes, lettuce, green beans and more.  Given that, I am super excited to see what a full share will garner us.  Of course there is always our local farmers markets and farm stands where buying in bulk is encouraged.  Having  just filled my belly with Gluten Free Lasagna made with delicious homemade tomato sauce, we will make sure to do whatever it takes to get our hands on fresh tomatoes.  So. long story not so short, we will do what our ancestors have always done and give our garden plot a rest after what can only be described as a “challenging” season for growers across the nation.    We will fill it with winter rye,  and host a potato sack race over the top of it for leap year in July!!!  We will build the backyard homestead/haven of our dream and in 2013 recreate the veggie magic of old.   And by then, ideally, I will be picking my first apples from our own tree, making my own soap, jewelry and clothes (try to contain your envy) and munching on homemade yogurt and string cheese.   At the end of the day, homesteading is an attitude and a lifestyle.  Gardening is a huge part of that, but anyone can grow a vegetable, a true homesteader grows and decorates an entire buffet.

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It was the best of nights, it was the worst of nights. Due to an impromptu business trip I was left to care for the house, our child, the dog, the cat, and of course the chickens or “girlies” as we refer to them by myself.  Have I mentioned that I also have a full-time job? Yeah, it was a little overwhelming but on the whole we managed just fine save one little incident. My first evening of caring for the girlies I went to collect the eggs hours before dark set in. For those of you not in the know, chickens generally go to roost once dusk descends.  Ideally, you want to collect these eggs before evening as reaching into the coop while the chickens  are roosting can be, well, awkward to say the least! Nevertheless, I was reaching in to get the eggs well before dusk and discovered that I could not reach them through the hanging food container, so in my infinite wisdom I took the food container down from its hook and continued my quest for the eggs. I retrieved them, celebrated, and then attempted to rehang the food dish. This is where things took a turn toward the Hitchcockian. I struggled for what felt like an eternity to find the hook with little success when I looked up and was faced with this in quadruple:

Curious and Scary

It would seem that the ruckus I was making caused the girlies to come take a peek at the person not Nate breaking into their home.  Suddenly, the space got very small as these 4 girlies invited themselves into my personal bubble.   The closer they got the more panicked I became.  In a moment of sheer frustration in the elusive hook, I dropped the food causing a chain reaction of screaming, feathers and birdies flying.   Once I uncovered my head, I realized that I was not only covered head to toe in straw, but also that all 6 girls had returned to the scene of the crime to figure out what had occurred.   I found myself slamming the door shut to avoid having any escapes and breaking out in insane laughter as I pulled straw from my hair.  With the help of a friend some hours later,  I was able to hang the food and had a week without further incident.    I imagine any neighbors who got a glimpse of me got a good chuckle.  So the moral of the story, don’t make any sudden movements when 4 chickens are in your bubble and wear sweats in case you too find yourself covered in chicken dust and hay.   On a more serious note in regards to chicken care and egg collecting, I learned today that washing the eggs when they come in from the coop is not the no-brainer  I once thought.   As it turns out, the eggs are coated in something called bloom when they are layed.   This protects them from a lot of bacteria including salmonella from crossing the shell into the egg.  If you wash them off, especially with cold water you not only wash off the bloom, but you also create a vacuum in which bacteria gets sucked into the egg more readily.   While the little germaphobic gnome that lives in my soul will not let me put dirty eggs in the fridge, I am more careful to always use a steady stream of warm water and dry the eggs completely before placing in the fridge.  Of course as always, I would recommend you cook your eggs all the way through to ensure safety, but at the end of the day, chickens in healthy living conditions with less stress are less likely to transmit bacteria to their eggs, but cleaning them appropriately is still key.  Visit Backyard Chicken Forum for more info and happy, less hair-raising chicken raising.

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We have chickens.  We live in what by Vermont standards is considered an “urban” area.   We have less than 1 acre of land, yet we still have chickens.   It seems almost like an urban legend, but in reality 1 in 3 families raised livestock prior to WWII, regardless of their location.   In the grand scheme of history, WWII was not that long ago.   Everyone knows at least one person who was alive during that time.   Like so many practices of old, urban livestock went the way of the DoDo with industrialization and suburban sprawl.   Why raise a chicken when I could go to my neighborhood grocery store and get one all cleaned and ready to cook and serve?  Why spend a morning collecting eggs when I can pick a dozen up on my way home from work? These are valid questions that I ask myself daily, because, raising backyard chicken’s can be a challenge, but they are worth every minute.  In today’s post I would like to address some of the myths/questions surrounding raising the urban chicken:

1. You cannot have chickens in the middle of a city.  That may not be true.   Take a look at the Backyard Chicken Forum and see what the ordinances are in your state/city.  And yes, there is a Backyard Chicken Forum.  This is the 21st Century, even chickens have an online forum.

2. You need to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment.  Absolutely not true.  We spent a total of $450 dollars to build a coop, actually purchase the chickens and get heat lamps and feeders.  We brooded our chickens in the old dog crate in the basement.    My husband built the coop from scratch.   In truth, they were pretty easy to raise.

3. Do you really have to clean poop off the chick’s butts? Yes you do.  There really is no way to church that up, other than to tell you that gently washing chicks’ butts with your significant other is truly a bonding experience.  Please note, you should never pull the poop off.   You will definitely take feathers and may even get some intestine.  Pouring warm water over the dried on poop and gently massaging it does the trick.  If you don’t clean the poop the chicks could get really sick and a sick chick becomes a target of his/her brooder mates.  Now that I own chickens I truly understand the meaning of “hen pecked”.   Long story short: Clean the poop.

4. How do I know what breed of chicken to get? Well I would love to tell you that we did  A LOT of research before we pulled the trigger on owning chickens.  I would love to, but I cannot.  We woke up on a Saturday morning, drove to our local Tractor Supply and researched our chickens by using the little signs on the outside of their display.   The Black Australorp said it was a good layer, good for meat and didn’t mind living in a small space.  Free Range chickens might be a bit much for our neighboors.   Next thing we knew we had 6 girlies in our basement chirping the day away. The moral of the story:  figure out what you want them for, than if you must do some Googleing or visit your local extension, Co-Op or Hardware store.   Let experts help you pick the right chicken for your situation.

5. What on earth to chicken’s eat? Again, check out the Web for some great advice.  Our girlies eat grass, antibiotic free feed, grit, oyster shell and garden greens and bugs.  I think they will start to eat things like oatmeal and other leftovers once the cold weather sets in.  Don’t feed them eggs or chicken, it just seems wrong.   Definitely visit the Backyard Chicken Forum or pick up a Backyard Chicken Magazine.  Both locations have lot’s of amazing tips and tricks.   I will post more sites on here as I continue to do my own research on backyard livestocking.

 

6.  What do we do with them in the winter?  I don’t know.  I will get back to you in a couple of months with what we do.

 

So when all is said in done, if you are interested in having your own fresh eggs, a little feathered entertainment and just a fun overall summer project but live in a less than rural setting, don’t give up hope.  The legend of the Urban Chicken can become a reality in your backyard just like it has in ours.

 

 

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