Explore the blog, Then Check out our website

Explore the blog, Then Check out our website
Chicken Scratch Poultry

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chickens, The Gateway Drug - Preparing For Sheep

One of the hazards of keeping poultry is that they're the gateway drug to keeping lots of other livestock.  Well for the past couple of years I've been dreaming of keeping sheep and this spring we jumped in with both feet (like we do with most things) and decided to make it happen.  What do we have to lose, it's just sheep how difficult can it be??
I began by reading everything I could get my hands on, books, magazines, internet...Some magazines put so much unneeded information out there that it scares a person half to death before they ever get the sheep.  They tell you everything that can go wrong, without every saying that in all likely hood you will never encounter this problem.  So at this moment, I'm scared to death and excited all at the same time.  Kind of like with bee keeping, it's invigorating!



We have 16 acres of land but have not used the pastures in a very long time.  We had horses several years ago.  So to say the least the pastures are not in very good shape.  This spring we began mowing them early, we haven't kept them mowed well in the past and it seems there mostly weeds and not a lot of grasses.  Good news though, from what I read sheep love weeds!  The more we mowed the better the pasture has become.  Once the weeds are beat down the gasses and white clover started to fill in and it's beginning to look pretty good now.




We have no room in the barns for sheep so Larry constructed this three sided shed, just to give them some wind break during the winter.  Not bad for a days work, he's pretty handy, I think I'll keep him around.
We know that we'll need better accommodations for lambing but that will happen at a later date.



The next task is fencing.  Larry borrowed the neighbors equipment and the digging began.  Thank God for good neighbors!
Did you know that when using an auger you need to dig a little and then lift the auger so that it will throw the dirt out of the hole, then repeat, or an auger will dig to China???  Yes ask me how I know.  Well it just so happens at one point when using the auger it took hold down in the dirt and would not lift, every time Larry started it back up it dug deeper.  In his panic he began digging the thing out by hand with a shovel.  When his dear wife (that's me) seen what was happening (and she never yelled, what have you done) she began searching the internet for the solution.  Yes, the farmers wife saved the day, I need to share that in another blog for those other poor souls who have their auger stuck in the depths of the earth at this very moment and are frantically searching for a solution.  It's a rather sick feeling when you bury a borrowed auger in the earth!




On the fencing, we are concentrating on the paddock area first.  Just a place to keep them for the first couple of weeks while they get use to their new surroundings.  This will also be the area that they'll stay in during the winter months so they aren't destroying the pasture.
Larry is building this area as strong as fort Knox.  Hot wire on the bottom and hot wire on the top.  We don't have a guard dog, so hoping the hot wire will keep out the predators .
We think we will be installing five strands of high tensile wire around the pasture area.  If you have any experience using this I would love to hear from you.







We have 70 bails of hay stacked and ready to go.  We know that we need to ease them on to pasture since they have been off of pasture for about two weeks before they arrive.  I don't know how much sheep eat but this should be enough to last us through the winter months.  We're learning as we go, just like with everything else we do.
We'll be picking the sheep up this week and we're excited to meet our new flock.
I'll share with you soon what breed we chose, how many and where they're coming from in the next blog.
Do you have sheep??  Share with us, give us some of your wisdom or just wish us luck.  We look forward to hearing from you!
Have A Blessed Day!!
Angie

Friday, June 16, 2017

Hive Maintenance - Keeping Up With Honey Flow


We have six hives now and I think this is our fourth year in bee keeping, not really sure if that is correct I've lost track of time.  Three of the hives are very strong and well established and the other three are swarms that we caught just last spring and aren't as established just yet.
It's important to do hive maintenance at least every couple of weeks and maybe even weekly on really strong hives.  If the honey flow is good they can fill a box pretty quick and if you aren't there to take it off and give them empty frames to fill they will slow down on production.  We pulled off nine frames last week and fourteen this week, so honey flow is at a high right now in our area.



During your hive check up it's a good idea to install beetle traps.  I have found them to be very effective at catching those pesky hive beetles! You just fill the trap with oil and the bees chase the beetles around and run them into the traps where they drown in oil.







Just hang the trap between the frames over to one side of the hive, not right in the center.






We purchased a honey extractor back in February it needed only a small amount of assembling.  It's only holds two frames but that's okay for beginners.
We spun out nine frames pretty quickly.  The great thing about an extractor is that you don't remove all of the comb from the frame. Without an extractor you scrap all of the comb and honey from the frame and then the bees are back at square one rebuilding the comb.  This will make it much easier for the bees.








Spring honey is amazing stuff, it is the Creme De La Creme of honey!!  If you've never tried spring honey and would like to, I have it available in my Etsy Shop.  Or you can contact me through email at larry_angie@chickenscratchpoultry.com.





It's pretty wonderful on a warm homemade biscuit.

I look forward to hearing form you.
Have A Blessed Day!
Angie



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Searching For The Perfect Poultry - Pullets Available Now


Back in February we began hatching out chicks fast and furious so that we would have pullets ready to go early spring.  We're still working through a few orders, those folks with Ameraucans, Olive Eggers or Blue Laced Red Wyandottes on your orders, we haven't forgotten you :)  Seems we can never hatch those breeds fast enough.
So if your looking for a started young hen, one that is ready to go into the coop, we have a few of those ready now.  Take a minute to scan down through the photos below as I introduce each one them to you.
Light Sussex, pictured above in the photo.  They make the greatest addition to any flock, I can't say it enough, I love this breed.  They're curious, friendly and good on the egg production. Not to mention they're great eye candy for the yard.  I was told by a poultry judge up north that our line of Light Sussex is the closest to perfection that he has seen, he purchased four of my hens to improve on his own flock, I think that speaks volumes for my line of Sussex.



Black Orpingtons ready to go that are almost 3 months old, they're big girls!  If you like fat bottoms on your birds, you'll love these gals!   Orpingtons are a bit like lap dogs, they're in your face friendly, super sweet girls.  Don't pass this breed up simply because it's a boring color, there really is nothing boring about them, they're all personality!!







I have little Maline pullets ready to go, this is a new breed to the farm, we've had them one year now and what a nice addition they've made.  They're a large bird but the hens really aren't much bigger than the Black Orpington hens, It's the Maline roosters that are huge but very gentle.
Maline hens are super inquisitive when I come into their pen to gather the eggs.  They go right along with me, looking through the boxes, as if to say "whatcha looking for?"
They lay very nice large to Jumbo sized eggs, actually they lay the largest egg on the farm.  I must say I love these girls!!






Coronation Sussex, yes I actually have some pullets that I can share with you finally!  I love this sweet, fat, bumbly bird.  I find it humorous watching them run with wings spread out and head down as if they could ever get their rumps a foot off the ground.  These big girls need a low roost... You'll never find another bird quite like the Coronation Sussex, they're decked out in the purest of pearl white feathers but under those pearly feathers is down like a goose.  They're built for the cold and do some of their best egg production during the cooler months.
This bird was long ago produced for the King's table, one look at them now and you'll know why.





Splash Marans pullets, they will lay a nice dark Mahogany colored egg.  They have a much sweeter disposition than the Black Copper Marans.  They color out nicely with spots of blue as they mature.  Give your flock and your egg basket a Splash of color.







Ayam Cemani, I find their beauty difficult to describe...but beauties they are!   They are shy in a very sweet kind of way but with just a small amount of attention they will begin to trust you and steal your heart those coal black eyes.  The hens are petite and lay a nice large egg for their size that is almost white in color, closest thing to a white egg that we have on the farm.




Chocolate Opringtons, who can resist a bird shaped like a volley ball with a feather duster tail?  If you need a bird that doesn't take up a lot of room in the coop this is a breed to consider.  If you need a bird that's good with children, quiet bird for the neighborhood and all around easy bird to work with, the Chocolate Oprington should be at the top of your wish list.




Welsummers, pretty golden hens that lay beautiful dark brown spotted eggs.  Our Welsummer are pretty amazing in that they will lay an egg that is as dark as our French Black Copper Marans eggs.  I bet there aren't too many breeders out there that can claim that.  This is no hatchery bird.  We've had our line of Welsummers for over 10 years now and have never introduced a new breeding line into the flock.  They are perfect so why change it...


Last but not least...French Black Copper Marans. We've also had our Marans line for over 10 years now.  We get an awesome mahogany colored egg from them.  They range form a 4 to a 7 on the Marans egg color chart and occasionally an 8.  If your looking  for a dark egg layer, look no further.
A man came to our farm this week to pickup his order of pullets, he told me that he order a couple of hatchery Marans last year and ordered one marans from our farm and raised them up together.  He said that our Marans line grew 1/3 larger than the hatchery bird.    Those kind of stories make my heart swell with pride.  All the hard work that we put into them is worth it when the customer notices a difference.
All these breeds that I just listed are available now in started young pullets.  We're also still hatching and shipping out day old chicks if your interested in those.  Your welcome to call and place an order over the phone 618-643-5602 or head over to the Website and drop me an email.  We look forward to hearing from you.
Birds of a Feather Flock Together!
Angie

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Setting Up A Hive From A Captured Swarm

Catching Swarms And Setting Up a New Hive



Each year right around the middle to end of April is the prime time that our hives will begin to swarm.  We've had our hives for right around three years but still feel very new to bee keeping, there is just so much to know and learn about the whole process.  We have tried to prevent the hives from swarming but so far we have not had any luck with that, so we have decided to embrace the fact that they swarm.  One thing that I have read is that swarming is a sign of a healthy hive, if that is the case we have some healthy hives!
The photo above is the first swarm this year and it was really big, the first swarms usually are the biggest so watch for those early swarms.  We happened to miss this one though, they hung for one day and we just didn't have the time to catch them the first day.  The second day while getting our box and frames gathered up we turned our backs for a few minutes and when we came back to get them they were gone.  It can happen just that fast.  The very next day Larry was walking across the yard and just as he looked up a swarm flew over his head, he followed it as far as he could but then lost sight of it.   Our hives always swarm the same day or within days of each other and it happens like clock work.  In order to keep them from swarming you must split the hive, we have not attempted this process yet .  I have six hives now and I ask myself how many more do I need?


Well apparently I needed one more.  I have a hard time passing up a mass of bees hanging on a bush. Just shake them off into a card board box or right into your hive box.  With this swarm after we dumped them into the hive box they stayed in the box for one day and then they decided to move out again, we had never had this happen before.  So we caught them again, put them back in the hive and tried something new.


We took a queen excluder and cut it to fit over the entrance of the hive.  This keeps the queen from leaving and prevents them from swarming.  This can only be left on the hive for a couple of days.  It did keep them from leaving again and they accepted their new home.  The next step to help the new swarm is to feed them like crazy!  It takes eight pounds of honey or sugar for bees to make a pound of wax, without wax and comb the new queen can't raise brood, so when they move into an empty hive with no honey and no comb they need lots of food to survive.  So Feed, feed and feed!
Just a warning about using the excluder this way.  Don't use it in the spring to keep hives from swarming or you can find yourself left with a virgin queen and a dying hive.  Also the drones can not leave or enter the hive, those drones that die in the hive, the worker bees can not remove them because of the excluder and the dead will pile up and block the entrance.  So this can only be used very temporary, I would say not more than 2 day.

Bee Blessed!
Angie

Friday, April 28, 2017

When Are My Chicks Coming - Spring On The Farm


Spring has sprung and the crazy hustle and bustle has begun.  It's been awhile since I've had a chance to sit down and write a blog, I want to give you a peek into why it takes so long to fill those chick and pullet orders.  Right now is the time when every customer that has placed a chick or pullet order, comes down with a bad case of spring fever and wants to know when they'll get there shipment of fluffy butts.   I get about 20 or more emails and phone calls each day asking that very question.  I can guess a time frame for shipment but it really means nothing when dealing with chickens because they really don't care about my plans.  There are just too many factors to figure when guessing a shipping time, here are just a few of those factors to consider...

Beginning in early February we stop selling hatching eggs and we start filling the incubators with every egg possible.  Egg production is not good at this time and fertility is poor but we begin anyway as we try to get an early jump on raising up the young pullets.  Good fertility doesn't happen until warmer, sunny weather, so hatch rate is small and the process begins slowly.
Our incubators are located in a Morton building without heat so temps fluctuate which also effects hatch rate.  We hope to fix that problem in the near future.


We place eggs in the incubator every Monday night, usually about 8 trays and we have a hatch every Monday night.  It takes 21 days for an egg to hatch.
The photo to the left is the farmer working on an incubator as quickly as possible before the eggs get cold.  It seems that this was the year that all of our egg turner motors decided to have a break down, if eggs aren't turned, eggs don't hatch.  You might read that eggs need to be turned 3 times a day...wrong!  Our turner turns the eggs every hour, more turns, better hatch.  Just one more thing that effects the hatch rate.  In the back of this huge incubator is a fan blade that is as tall as me and it needs to turn and blow air across the eggs at just the right speed.  If it's the wrong speed it effects the hatch.  That's Just one more variable to figure into many others.
So when a customers asks why aren't my chicks here yet, should I say the turner broke down, the fan was blowing to fast, it was to cold for fertility, or the hens decided not lay an egg last month...

With every hatch of these sweet little fluffy butts it takes 7 to 8 weeks to grow one up big enough to confidently sex and to make sure that is has just the right body weight to ship safely in the mail as a started young pullet.  If that little girl is not old enough she can not stay warm enough in shipment, if she does not have a good body weight she can not with stand shipment and arrives at your home weak and susceptible to illness.  We make every effort to insure that they are well prepared for shipment.  If you have an order of young pullets with us, please don't make us feel rushed to get your order out, we know what we are doing, we've been doing this for a very long time and we do a great job.  If I feel rushed it causes me to make needless mistakes on guessing of the sex or sending a pullet out that is just to young to ship.  Allow us to do our job to the best of our ability, I promise we haven't forgot about your order and these birds are worth the wait!




We just purchased 3 more brooders just like this one to give us even more space to growout chicks into young pullets.  We like to raise them on wire not in shavings.  Shavings + poop + water = Illness.

Another factor to figure when wondering why it takes so long to get those sweet little fluffy butts. We keep our flocks small, over crowded birds are unhappy birds.  You might think more hens is better, not always the case if you don't have sufficient space to support all of those hens.  Over crowded hens are unhappy hens, which means fewer eggs.  It is by far better to keep your flocks small, you can't make birds produce any faster by cramming more birds in.



Be patient with us as we continue to work through the orders, we're hatching just as fast as the hens will allow.   We like our hens happy and healthy and you'll thank us for it when you see your healthy fat beautiful chicks. 
Have a great day, I'll be calling you soon to say your chicks are on the way!
Thanks Angie

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rendering Lard


Lard, is it good, is it bad?  Well it just so happen it's not as bad for you as we've been told.  Pure lard has no trans fats and has half the amount of saturated fat of butter and is also high in Vitamin D. When I say pure lard I'm not talking about supermarket lard, I'm talking about home grown hog fat rendered into lard.  Lard that you purchase from a supermarket has chemicals and hydrogenated fats that are bad for you.  Another thing to think about with supermarket lard, pigs that are raised with antibiotics store antibiotics in their fat.  When you raise your own pigs you know what they eat.  I'm not saying you should live on Lard, everything in moderation.




Last year we raised up 2 hogs, when we had them processed I requested that they save the fat for me.  So it came in this large frozen hunk.  I weighed the hunk but can't for the life of me remember what it weighed.  I think it was around 10 to 12 pounds.





I thawed out the fat and chopped into about 1 inch squares.  Now that I've completed this process, I think next time I would run the fat through my grinder or cut into even smaller pieces but thinking the grinder is the way to go.
I think grinding the fat will cut down on the cook time.
Once cut into pieces I put it into my crock-pot with about 1/4 cup of water and turned the crock-pot on low.






Within a couple of hours you will start to see the fat turning into a liquid.  The trick to pearly white, unflavored lard is to cook it low and slow, yes it is time consuming but very much worth it!








I forgot to take a photo at this point in the process so I've borrowed this photo from mommypotamus blog, she has a very nice blog on rendering lard that I found very helpful.

Once your fat has cooked down to this stage you are ready to strain the fat but keep these nice little bits to make some cracklings, yum.





Pour the liquid through a cheese cloth right into your jars.  I put the jar lid on while the liquid was still very hot so that the lids would seal.  I keep mine in the pantry not in the refrigerator.  When I open a jar I do store it in the refrigerator.








This is what it looks like before it cools and hardens.
I know I told you to cook it low and slow, but to be honest, at the end of the day I was ready to pour that lard in the jar so I cranked up the crock-pot and finished it off.



Even though I rushed it in the end I still had pearly white lard.  It does have a tiny hint of pork flavor but it is amazing!!  I've not tried to make pie crust or pastries with it but it makes the best fried chicken, fried potatoes and stir fried vegetables are out of this world good!  
When finished I ended up with five half pint jars and two quart jars, I feel it was very much worth the effort.




To fry up the cracklings, just throw those brown bits of fat in a skillet, salt them and fry.  Be careful they will pop on you.  Marvelous!!
Have a great Day!
Angie