Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Butchering Chickens and Turkeys on the Farm

Monday was the big day!  The day we had our first big butchering extravaganza.  We butchered 95 broilers and 9 turkeys.  We were blessed to have lots of friends come to help us with this big project.  
NOTE: I did my best to keep this post approved for sensitive viewers


We had a family of ten people come on Sunday night, they were traveling through, and stayed to help us with our butchering.  They were experienced which was a great help.  The weather was about 30 and snowy when we started.  The driveway was slippery, but I am aware of only one wipe out.

The snow was pretty as it lined the trees.  The young guys went back and collected the broilers.

Paul was outside early getting the scalding pots heating and the plucker set up.

We had worked very hard to get the garage all cleaned up.  We knew the weather was predicted to be cold and snowy.  We set up all the things we could inside.  Unfortunately, the heater broke the week before our butchering frolic.  

Here is how we set it up.  The small table by the door was for removing any feathers the plucker missed.  The white table with the cutting boards on it was raised up so that the eviscerators could stand and work.  We had one person who just removed the legs and the oil glands.  We saved all the feet for broth.  I am planning to can it. The brown table on the lower right was for the older people who prefer to sit while working.

Paul did an amazing job with our sink set up.  He ran a water  hose to the beams over top and put on a splitter.  That made it so that we had two hoses that the QC  (Quality Control) people could use to clean the birds.  We used two old stainless steel sinks in a metal frame and had room to set in two roaster pans, one at each end to hold the birds to be checked and then the ones to be weighed when they were finished.  The sinks had pvc pipes underneath that were angled and connected  then the pipe ran out underneath the garage door to an area which could absorb the water.

We had brought up two picnic tables which were covered in plastic.  They were for the cleaning of the birds before they went into the scalder.  We used an enzyme cleaner and a hand brush.  The birds needed very little cleaning.

The boys brought up the broilers in our trailer which they pulled with the ATV.  The broiler pen was a couple hundred feet from the butchering area, so this was the easiest way.

Everybody stood around and watched as the first birds were done.  We were so blessed to have so many people willing to help.  We had a couple friends from church as well as a couple families that we have gotten to know through other butchering days we have helped with.  Our birds were treated well.

The boys built a little holding pen that the broilers were put in as they waited their turn.  Then they could be getting more while the rest were processed.

The young girls wandered around the farm and enjoyed the softly falling snow.

Dad stopped by to inspect our set up.

Karen ran the plucker.  The plucker pulls off the feathers very gently and in about 45 seconds you go from a fully feathered chicken to a bird that looks like this.  Such a labor saving device!  It eliminates the most tedious part of bird processing.

My DH, as a farmer, who would have thought it?!!!, He stuck around most of the morning and helped carry birds.
The evisceration table

We had a big container outside the garage to cool the birds as they waited for further processing.  We had frozen a lot of ice before our butchering day. 

Evisceration is the process of removing the birds insides.

The QC station was where all the birds are double checked to see that everything that should have been removed was actually gone (feathers and internal pieces and parts).  The birds are also given a good washing at this point.

'Grandpa', part of the overnight contingent, did the job of weighing.  He was meticulous in trying to get everything weighed out exactly right!  The birds were given a number that was attached by rubber band to their leg.  The number and weight was then recorded on the computer so that we could see how much yield we actually got and what our price per pound actually was.

The birds went from the weighing station into a large can lined with plastic filled with ice water so that they would chill.  We started at 8:30 in the morning and all the birds were cleaned and cooling by 3 PM.

We really appreciated the inside help as well.  Several people heated hot beverages and put out snacks, heated lunch and kept an eye on the younger children.

Our help left about 4 PM.  The temperature had dropped throughout the day and everyone was worried about icy roads.  We still had to cut up the birds that we wanted in pieces, and put all of them in bags.  It took us until after ten to get that done.  We all felt like human popsicles by that time.  It was down into the low teens.  It was a long day but worth it.  We are now really looking forward to having our own chicken wings for part of our Christmas Eve dinner appetizers.

For those interested:  We raised Freedom Ranger Broilers that were second generation raised on non-GMO feed.  We got them from the JM Hatchery (AKA as out of Pennsylvania.  We bought 100 poults and ended up with 95 birds.  They seemed really healthy and were excellent free range birds.  They were still able to fly a few feet off the ground, and would range for several hundred feet from their pen during the day. We only put food in their pen at night, the rest of the time they were on their own.  We butchered them at 11 weeks.  They yielded 4-6# carcasses at that point.  When we do them again, we will get an earlier start.  You really don't want to be butchering chickens in November in Ohio.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Family Night on the farm

This will be a rather unique blogpost.  I am writing at 1 A.M. and I don't have any pictures to illustrate my story, for which you will be grateful, and I smell like very wet chicken.  Poor me!

Here is my story.  Tonight my DH and I were arriving home at the farm after a very nice date night.  We had gone to hear George Barna speak on parenting and then went out to Aladdin's for dinner.  By the time we arrived home it was after 10.  My DH commented to me that one of the black chickens was lying by the end road.  I said that that didn't make any sense.  I wasn't questioning his veracity just the fact that a black chicken was by the road made no sense.  He went out to look while I stayed on the driveway to keep my shoes dry.  When he came back he reported that the chicken was still alive.  That was really strange.  My DH is a "city slicker" farmer and doesn't touch chickens.

I went and got some boots. a flashlight, and Michelle.  We went out to the road and Michelle picked up the rooster and looked at it closely.  No blood and it seemed intact.  But why was it by the road?!!  The roosters always head to the back to be near the hens and not towards the road.  The rooster chirped and snuggled as we headed back towards the coop.  Alas, the fence was broken down and there was a dead rooster caught in it.  Another rooster was missing altogether.  The fence to the broilers was also broken down.  Fortunately, there coop was buttoned up so tightly that the fox or coyote couldn't get it.  As we were examining the broiler pen, we noticed that all the broilers were sopping wet.  Chickens don't stay healthy when they can't get dry. The place where the pen had been moved to last night had become a swamp with all the rain!

What to do?!!! We called for reinforcements and went and cleared out one of the stalls (My DH and T-Bob used their big muscles to do that) that was filled with junk and covered the floor with hay.  We also cleared out the road trailer, got the ATV out and went back to the broiler pen.  Do you know how long it takes to chase down and move 100 broilers?!!! These are Freedom Ranger broilers and they can move fast.  Thomas was in his documentary mode, meaning he is putting together evidence for future political campaigns that indeed he was raised on a farm and is a real farmer.  He made Elizabeth, (Poor kid, she was in bed sleeping when all the excitement broke out and so she was recruited to come help. Second night in a row that she has been up past midnight), hold the flashlight and video tape him catching the broilers while standing barefoot in the broiler pen full of mud and bird poop.  He is not afraid of hard work or dirt- as long as the camera is on -  LOL.  He continued working though once the camera was off.  We loaded the wet birds into the trailer and hauled them to the barn.  There we reversed our human chain and unloaded them all.  The chickens seemed very happy to be in a warm dry place.  

T-Bob and I went back to check on the roosters and fix their fence.  When that was done we went to move the electric power to the fence so that if the robber comes back he will get a real surprise.  T-Bob made sure that the power was off, but when he moved it there was still a power reserve that jolted him as he walked.  These electric fences are very powerful and give you a real "kick-in-the-pants" and not just a strong tingle.  In fact, he almost fell over from the strength of it and the battery charger went flying.  He thought I had thrown a brick at him and hit him.  At least that's what it felt like.  I would never do such a thing!!!  My DH was once again called out to set the fence charger back up.  Both T-Bob and I wanted nothing to do with it after that.  I think the fact that the ground was soaking wet was a factor in the shock.  By  the time we got in the house it was almost one in the morning.  Michelle was finishing butchering the dead chicken that was caught in the fence.  Don't want to waste the meat on one of my primo roosters.

So what did your family do for 'Family Night'?

Did I mention that we love life on the farm?  It is definitely character building!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hay Baling on the Farm

We had a very busy and exhausting day yesterday!  Early in the morning we heard from the neighbor that he was wanting to bale our fields to see if he could get some in before the rain cam this morning. As I have mentioned previously, we have the BEST neighbors!!!

Earl the Pearl brought his tractor, baler and wagon over and started.  His wagon holds 100 bales.

We had worked very hard all morning to get this section of the barn cleaned out.  The Boss had stacked a lot of things there in preparation for moving his stuff into the barn.  It had to be totally cleaned out to get this wagon in there.

Eli and Elizabeth

A young family had come for adjustments and stayed to watch the excitement.  Our family was really excited to get hay in the barn.  Plus there was the extra suspense of racing the rain.

When the wagon dumped the bales they tumbled out the door!

Lee was very happy to check out the bales.

The team set to work as we had only about an hour to get the first batch of bales stacked before the next one was coming in.

Michelle and Elizabeth worked hard at stacking the bales in the upper part of the barn.  These were very heavy bales!  I was super impressed that Elizabeth could heft a bale around.  She is getting to be a real farm gal! Hard to believe she is only nine.  As soon as she finished eating dinner, she showered and headed to bed.  It was an exhausting day!

We were super blessed to have some friends ( 5 young men) come over and help us on our project.  I don't know how we would have gotten it done without them.  We were racing the daylight and we had to finish up by headlight as it was.

Elizabeth and Michelle worked very hard and you can see that glow of hard work on their faces.  They really enjoy working together!

The baler had one major issue.  About every fourth bale,  the knotter wouldn't work and the bale wouldn't get tied up.  That made a lot of loose hay in the wagon and spread around the barn.  We had to work hard to gather it in a pile.

When the tractor came back we ran the loose hay back through the baler to form it into tied bales.  This almost doubled the time it took.  It cost us another potential load of hay bales from the field.

We don't have a hay elevator and so we had to figure out a quick easy solution.  Paul, our mechanical engineering student, came up with this.  He fixed a sled on a large wooden I-beam.  He attached a rope and it had a back stop.

Hay bales were place on the sled and...

Thomas or one of the other big guys pulled it easily up to the loft.

Thomas seemed to enjoy this job.

Michelle's height was useful as she could swing the bales up to the higher rows when we were stacking.

Sam the Man, held the bales down.  Actually, he worked along with everybody else.

Paul, worked hard with organizing and carrying bales.  He is an expert at figuring an easier way to do most jobs.

Here is the loft crew waiting for another bale.  We ended up with almost 200 bales in the barn.  We are left with over 600 bales worth in the field.  Unfortunately, the rain this morning has soaked it all.  We are hoping it has a chance to dry out before the next rain.  Then we can still round bale it.

Autumn on the farm is a busy time.  Here's hoping that winter slows down a bit more.  The old house is on the market. I can't wait until it sells and I get my DH husband home before ten o'clock at night!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Farm Update

September is quickly coming to a close.  Things will hopefully start slowing down. Most of the garden stuff is fading, although I planted zucchini and other summer squash at the end of July and it is coming on really well.  I hadn't had time to get to it earlier.  I also have a wonderful late crop of green beans to eat and harvest.  I may even have enough to freeze.  

One project that hasn't made the blog yet, is our broiler chicks.  We have about 100 freedom ranger broilers and they should be finished up in November.  It is amazing how much heavier they are than our other birds at the same age.  We moved them out on grass at 3 weeks.  

They are currently in a broiler pen that Joan and I made with Paul's supervision.  He is bound and determined to teach us how to make our own projects and how to use the tools.  The broilers are on grass but still need a heat lamp at night and a tarp.  Starting them later in the year has its challenges.
I like this picture of them as shadows.

Michelle and Elizabeth finished their quilt.  They have another one going already.  It really turned out nicely. It is neat to see them working together.  Now they need to get their projects cleaned up, together.  It is always seems more fun to do a project than it is to clean it up.

The turkeys supervising the unloading of the trailer.

Saturday our amazing neighbor came through again.  The guys took the chicken coop apart from the old house and moved it on a trailer to the farm.  This will give us a third coop for our laying hens.  We need them close to the barn for the winter.  

The broilers are now 4.5 weeks old and they are growing like crazy.  We got the door on the broiler and so now they can go out on the grass.  For now they are staying inside the electric fence.  In time, we hope to get them out in the field, so they can really free range.  They just have to finish feathering out for the cold nights.

The broilers can really pack the food away.

T-Bob is not a big fan of holding chickens.  He much prefers the pigs.

We see a lot of Car.  He is at the farm 3 or 4 days a week.  He really enjoys playing with the big kids.  He is learning to play soccer.

We got our fields mowed on Friday.  This is what they look like.

Here is more of a close-up.  The problem is that it is supposed to rain on Tuesday and it probably won't be dry enough to bale until Wednesday, without the rain.  We are learning the emotional ups and downs of farming. Sometimes you pray for rain and then others you pray that it holds off.

This is what the fields looked like before they were cut. This 'hay' will be very high in protein as there is lots of grain and such in it.  We are hoping to use it for the pigs when the winter comes and until they are big enough to 'harvest'.

The pigs are getting bigger all the time. They are also getting friendlier.  At first they weren't sure about getting near anyone.  Then, they decided that it was ok to have their snouts rubbed. Now, they love it when I come over and pet them for real.  They will stand there by the fence until I get tired.  They have the good life for a pig.

Car has been learning to be a big helper.

He pitches in to help T-Bob with his Saturday chores.  T-Bob has to clean out the cars.  Car helped with all the vacuuming.  He is a good kid!

Autumn is setting in and summer is gone.  The trees are starting to change colors and the gardens are needing to be gotten ready for next spring.  The kids were discouraged to see the leaves starting to drop.  Raking leaves is a big job here on the farm!  We are enjoying the nice warm days and the crisp cool nights of the fall.  Spend some time outside enjoying the weather wherever you are.