Sunday, July 29, 2012

Broody success!

Yesterday I checked on the broody hen in her little hoop house as part of my normal morning chores.  I was surprised to see her off the nest, although I knew she did get up daily because I saw evidence:  The food I left for her was eaten and the water level was lower each day, and once a day there would be one ginormous, stinky glob of poo typical of a broody hen.  All saved up for one epic doo each day.

She caught my interested glance and made a beeline back to the nest just as I spotted movement there.  I was able to count seven chicks before she had them all safely tucked back under her protective body.

The camera batteries were spent, and then it rained all afternoon, but I was able to get some pictures later last evening during night chores.

Is that a black head I see?

Yup, there he goes, climbing up onto Momma's back!

She tucks everyone in when I open the door.

She can make herself wider to accommodate chick shuffling.  And future rapid growth.

C'mon, show us your baby chicklets!

I count five chicks.....

Now four as she starts to tuck them back in for the night....

One more to go!  Plenty of room, son, get to bed!

A bit dark, but you can still make out the chicklets and the sweet noises.....

The eggs came from a local farm and are from a variety of hens mated to a Maran rooster.  These are some fresh genetics to add to my laying flock.  Marans are a heavy laying breed, meaning they a bred for their egg laying ability but also have enough size to them that it is worth the effort to raise the excess roosters for the freezer.  The hens have a tendency towards broodiness, a trait missing from most modern chicken breeds because when a hen goes broody, indicating her instinct to raise a brood of chicks, she stops laying eggs.

I value this trait.  With a few hard working broody hens in my flock, I can raise all our replacement laying hens and all our meat chickens.....along with a few ducks, turkeys, and geese if I can get my hands on fertile eggs when a hen goes broody.  
My dream is to build a little town of portable broody houses for the six or eight weeks or so that a hen stays with her babies.  Raising chicks is a lot of work and I'd rather pay some hens to do it for me....they do a MUCH better job, anyways.  My hen-raised chickens have always been better foragers and hardier birds in general, even if the hen was raised under a heat lamp herself.  If she retains the trait to go broody, it seems that she also retains the instinct for survival, and teaches her babies how to find the best food.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer garden stew

This delicious stew was made with the base ingredients for any great meal:  a cast iron pot, saved bacon grease, a hunk of meat, onions and garlic.

I thawed some pork hocks and browned them (high flame) well in bacon grease in the cast iron Dutch oven.  Cast iron is the only way to go for this type of meal.  With the black pot, you don't worry so much about over browning and you MUST use plenty of grease....two things that add much flavor to the dish.

Once the meat was browned on all sides, I added a couple of diced yellow onions to brown (medium flame), stirring occasionally while I peeled and minced some garlic.  I love garlic....I used 8 medium/small cloves.  I added the garlic when the onions were almost translucent and allowed it to sweat for a minute or two.  Then I added a quart of broth.

I wanted a rich stew.  I could've just added boiling water and the hocks would make plenty of broth, but my plan was to fill this pot with lots of veggies, which would take up a lot of the flavor.  I wanted a very meaty flavor, so I splurged and also added broth.

Then I went to the garden to see what I could find.

 Turnips and green beans will be great in a stew.

As will collard greens, which hold up well with long cooking and re-heating.

Since  collards take a long time to cook, I added those first, cut with scissors into manageable squares.

Meanwhile, I peeled and diced the turnips and washed and broke the beans into thirds.  I added the turnips next.

I ran back out to get a few new potatoes, and cut them into large chunks.

The pot is getting full!  With the cover back on, I let the potatoes and turnips cook for about ten minutes.

A simple salad of fresh cukes is a nice way to start this meal.  These are wonderful dressed with a drizzle of raw apple cider vinegar and organic extra virgin olive oil.  Add a few shakes of a good sea salt and black pepper.

Don't forget to add salt and pepper to the stew as well!

The lid was lifted on last time to add the green beans and simmer another ten minutes or so.  Then I shut off the heat and let the flavors blend for a little while.

We got two generous meals out of this stew.  Stews like this are actually better the next day, so this is a great dish to make ahead for a busy day.  The entire pot can go into the fridge and then onto the stove when you get much better than take-out!

It smelled so divine that we dove into it and I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished instead, I will offer an alternate photo:

Duck soup!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A garden full of goat salad

Little Miss Innocent

She climbed the garden fence and feasted, first stomping turnips.

Pruned tomato plants for me, how helpful!

Showed her princess disdain for the lowly celery by leaving her signature all around them.

Apparently she loves collards as much as we do.

She can have the beet greens as far as I'm concerned, but I need the beets for kvass.

GAAAH!  She stompled my onions!  She even ate some!

Corn is a favorite.  It is big grass.

The wormwood I planted for the goats remained untouched.

Swiss chard held no interest for her.

Basil is too spicy for princesses.

Dill is for cretins.

Yay!  She didn't like green beans!

And she didn't stomple the new green beans!  Contender from Comstock & Ferre.

The carrots are not impressive, so she moved on after signing with her hoofprint.

Cukes held no appeal.

They make my mouth water, however!

Goat salad, indeed!  Barbecued goat, I say!  Good thing you are cute, Plumster!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sprouting grains for my herd and flocks

I'm often asked what I feed my critters.  I don't buy bagged feed mixes.  I don't have to worry about recalls.  I don't feed soy, which is in most mixes.  So just what DO I feed the goats and the poultry?

The goats get hay all winter and any appropriate fruit and veggie trim from our kitchen.  In season, when they look sadly at their empty hay racks and hay bags, I simply point to the pasture, hand on hip, and tell them to "Get out there and free-range because it is FREE!"

But chickens and ducks need grain and dairy goats in milk need something extra, too, so I supplement with a small amount of sprouted grains.  Sprouting increases the bio-availability of many of the nutrients in the grains, including the proteins.  It also neutralizes the phytates, sprouting inhibitors present in all grains and seeds which also interfere with nutrient absorption, especially minerals.  Phytates can also be very irritating to the digestive tract.  Soaking and sprouting neutralizes these natural yet harmful substances.

First soak, 24 hours.
I use whatever small grains I can get my hands on.  I've sprouted oats, barley, and wheat, along with sunflower seeds at times.  Corn takes too long, but will benefit from a good soaking if you are so inclined.  In these pictures, I am soaking oats and a little wheat.
I soak in plain water, but you can speed up the process by adding a glug of live-culture whey or raw apple cider vinegar.  This is not really necessary, however, as the seeds naturally have lacto-bacilli on them and the soaking will increase their numbers dramatically.  These friendly beasties are very useful in improving digestion, another plus with this process.  If you improve nutrient bio-availability AND improve digestion, you will be getting a much bigger bang for your feed buck.

Tiny holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.

After soaking for 24 hours, (I've soaked for as little as 12 hours if I've gotten behind), the grains must be drained and rinsed.  For this, I made a rinsing bucket (I have two, actually) by drilling small holes along the bottom of a standard pail, and a few extra holes on one side.  Don't drill all around the sides of the pail or you won't be able to control where the water goes when it is draining.

Dump and rinse with fresh water.

I have a sump hole in my cellar with a pump in it for when the rain is heavy and a small stream forms in my basement.  This is a handy place to drain my grains.  I simply dump the soaking grains into the draining bucket, then rinse by filling the draining pail with fresh water about an inch over the grains.

Left to drain thoroughly.

I will feed from this pail for 2-3 days, and start a new pail before it is empty....ideally, at least two days before I need more soaked/sprouted grains.   I will feed them at the various stages in the sprouting sprouts showing, tiny sprouts showing, and as in the picture below, with rootlets coming along...sometimes at the stage when I have to tear hunks of grain with tangled roots off to feed in big chunks.  This is not ideal, but it happens sometimes.

Setting up feed pans in preparation for milking the goats.

But I don't obsess about it anymore.  I just sniff the grain before measuring it out into the feed pans every morning and evening to be sure it is ok.  I look closely for mold.  Occasionally, especially with the oats it seems, there will be dormant mold spores on the grains that the water and soaking will encourage to grow.  If I catch this early, I can rinse it with water in which I've mixed a glug of white vinegar, which effectively kills the mold (only if caught early, before you see it but maybe it doesn't smell as fresh as it should).  Then I feed this as quickly as possible, being a bit more generous than usual, especially with the poultry.

Mostly, though, I marvel at the transformation over the days.  The grains will smell very fresh and....well, first.  Then as the good bacteria proliferate, they will start to smell like yogurt.  This smell will intensify over time and get very sweet.  Then it will gradually fade, and this is when the grain becomes vulnerable to mold.  I've only thrown grain out once, however, and learned a lesson about doing too much too far in advance.

This is about the third day.

The goats love their grain this way.  The chickens and ducks have a definite preference for it as well.  I started doing this when I had a senior horse who struggled to keep weight on.  She'd be very thin by the end of winter.  After reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morrell and studying Harvey Ussery's methods, I decided to start soaking the cup of grain this mare got once a day.  Over that winter, she not only maintained her weight, she actually gained some much needed pounds.  I attribute this not only to the sprouting of the grains, but to the probiotic rich meal (snack, little does get about 6-8 times the volume of grain that the horse was getting daily) she got every day that helped her digestion work more efficiently all around.

To feed my chickens, I scatter some of this grain for them in the morning, continuing to throw handfuls until they start to lose interest and wander away.  The amount varies day to day with this method, and I've cut my feed bill dramatically by doing this.  Leaving grain in free-choice feeders simply feeds the rodents and squirrels in the neighborhood.  Not my job nor my desire.  Let them eat acorns.

In the evening, I scatter whole corn in the same way, a handful at a time, until they slow down.

I don't need to worry about balancing their ration because they have a two acre fenced pasture to roam in and catch bugs and eat greens.  In the pasture season, I stop tossing soaked grains, reserving those for the goats only, and just scatter corn for the hens.  Typically, I'll give them about 2-3 pounds per day for about 50 birds.  Right now I have about 15 laying hens, a rooster, and 35 or so half grown pullets and cockerels.  That is a pretty easy feed bill, for sure.

In winter, I find some sources of protein and fat for them to supplement the grains, but not daily.  I save all bones and scraps that are left from making broth and mash it well, and also get some salmon from a nearby restaurant along with prep scraps and leftovers from the salad bar.  The hens will also eat hay that the goats drop when the snow completely covers the pasture grasses.

Production egg layers would not likely do well on this type of diet, but my heritage breed birds do quite well and produce many fine eggs for our table....and roosters for our freezer.

A word of caution:  If you have a confined flock, you do need to balance their feed with more care than I've outlined here.  Variety is the still needn't be tied to manufactured feeds.  Be creative and see what you can get locally....there was a time when people kept a few chickens and fed them only what they could forage for themselves and a few table scraps to get them through the winter.  This produced hardy, thrifty birds, only the strong surviving to reproduce.  There is a lot to be said in praise of that philosophy. 

Meanwhile, consider offering your flock at least some of their grains sprouted, and see them thrive on a more natural diet.  Be aware, however, that they will need grit (small stones) if they've been fed only pellets or mash, and you'll want to take about three weeks to switch them over to a whole grain regimen.  Their gizzards are muscular organs that need to be strengthened gradually to handle the whole grains.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A year's worth of garlic

And a few bonus potatoes...

Freshly dug garlic and 'taters.

In the spirit of rotating crops, I planted my garlic last fall where my potatoes had been.  This was done in November, when it was getting cold but the ground wasn't frozen yet.  I planted a couple hundred cloves saved from some heritage garlic that had been given to me the year before.  I'd planted about 50 the previous year, and saved enough to increase my crop.

Apparently, I didn't get all the little potatoes up last year and they grew with the garlic.

Garlic bulbs.

The bulbs are on the small side when compared to the giant hybrid garlic that you commonly see in the grocery stores.  But these are packed with flavor not to be compared with the garlics grown for size and not taste, like most grocery store produce.

This is a lot of free food for surprisingly little effort.  All organic, too.

Garlic is harvested when the lower few leaves turn brown, while the tops are still green.  They need to dry under cover in an airy location.  I tied mine in small bundles along pieces of re-purposed baling twine and hung them in the garage.  Later I'll trim the roots and tops and store them in a cardboard box....or I may braid them and store them on display in my kitchen.

 Five strings hang from the garage ceiling, each with about 40 bulbs of garlic.

The bonus potatoes are "new" potatoes and harvested while the tops were still growing.  These won't keep well, so many were given away.  We don't eat potatoes that often, just as an occasional treat.  The hubster is still losing weight and I am still working to keep my blood sugar absolutely stable to allow healing in my adrenal glands.  Starchy foods work against both goals.  We still enjoy them, but rarely and only with LOTS of butter to reduce the impact on our goals.  Butter.  Yum.  Lots.

Since February, when we really started focusing on eating for blood sugar regulation (we'd been eating traditionally prepared foods for some time, so this was another major tweak in our lifestyle), we've both seen an enormous impact on our health.  Peter lost 50 lbs so far and his blood pressure is getting closer to ideal.  I feel better, sleep MUCH better, and have even more energy, and am no longer struggling to maintain my weight.  Not bad considering we have over a hundred years between the two of us!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Easy-peasy healthy sports drink

Forget purchased sports drinks.  They are full of lab-created ingredients and are just bad for you.  For heaven's sake, don't allow your growing children to drink them!  Here is a healthy alternative to keep the entire family hydrated in the summer's heat.

You need lots of limes.  Lemons work, too, but limes are usually cheaper.

You need something to get the juice out of the limes.  This is an old-fashioned solution that works great.

This is even better....this little gadget cost about ten bucks and is worth every penny.  I found it at a restaurant supply store in the bar section.  I can squeeze a lot of limes in very little time with this puppy.

Freeze ahead in ice cube trays.

Or to avoid plastic, put enough for a couple of days in a glass jar in the fridge.

Drink up!

I use the juice of half a lime, or one frozen cube, to make a quart of refreshing flavored water.  I use about a half dropperful of liquid stevia extract and a shake of sea salt.  For a rehydrating sports drink, you can use a small teaspoon of raw wildflower honey and a pinch of good sea salt, such as Redmond Real Salt or Celtic Salt.

This won't taste exactly like Gatorade because you won't be adding sucrose syrup, glucose fructose syrup, ester gum, monopotassium phosphate, yellow 5, red 40, or blue 1.  Or anything else that your great grandmother wouldn't recognize.

When limes are on sale for a buck for eight of them, this costs less than a dime for a quart.  Compare that to a buck a quart for the "other" sports drink, and you just saved yourself a nice bundle of change.  This now makes lime squeezing pay a pretty good hourly wage.  If it takes 20 minutes to squeeze 8 limes, each making two quarts of sports drink, you just made yourself a handy $48 per hour wage.  Add what you'd pay in taxes if you had to earn that and then spend it at the store, you can up that hourly wage to about $70 or so per hour.  Got time to squeeze some fruit?  Sure you do!

Besides, it is absolutely delicious!