Archive for October, 2013

The Great Chicken Adventure

October 31, 2013

Last Saturday, Laura and I had a date at the butcher’s for the chickens. Because she was concerned about the possibility of nasty fog in the valley we left here at o’dark thirty. Our appointment was for 10 am, which with a little padding meant we needed to leave my place by 5:30. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I am not a morning person! I got to bed at about midnight, and set the alarm for 4:30, since Laura had mentioned that her’s was going off at 3:30 (she lives about an hour away).

I had just enough time to get dressed and brew a pot of coffee before I heard her coming. She was also bringing a Muscovy drake that had proved rather mean to his ladies, and two pea-hens, and they were in a crate in the back of the Suburban. Turns out, that was taking up way too much room, so we removed them from the crate, and loaded the chickens. Both the pea-hens were tied into feed bags, with just their heads sticking out (the butcher had requested that we make sure they couldn’t escape), and we tied the drakes feet.  Unfortunately, we found another dead chicken when we went in the pen (number 7). Loading the remaining birds went very quickly, and we hit the road right on schedule.

About half way over the mountains, there was a slight ruckus going on in the back, and when I turned to see what the deal was I found that one of the pea-hens had escaped her bag. Oops! We pulled over and tied her feet together better, and found that the drake had killed another one of the chickens. He got stuffed into the bag vacated by the pea-hen and tied up so that his head was no longer loose.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, especially when compared to our trip last year to get the turkeys processed. The anticipated heavy fog never materialized, and we actually arrived at our destination an hour ahead of schedule. Lucky for us, the person who was scheduled for that time slot hadn’t shown up on time, so  we were able to get started right away. The pea-hen tried to make a run for it, but she and the other two odd birds got taken in first, along with another chicken that had died since our earlier stop. They were able to bleed him out completely, so he wasn’t a loss, unlike the one that perished in the stampede to avoid all the folks reaching in to grab birds (the kid that grabbed him just tossed him on the ground and didn’t try to bleed him out).

We were totally done by 10:30. Well ahead of our anticipated time, we took a side trip to a local monastery, where Laura got a present for her dad, and we both picked some chestnuts. We also went in to the Craft Warehouse in Salem and treated ourselves to some goodies. All in all, it was a lovely day.

So the final count was 31 chickens that survived to the end (out of 40). After looking at their final weights (5 to 9 pounds at 8 1/2 weeks), I will process them at 7 weeks next time around. I hadn’t lost any until the last 10 days! We split the losses, so Laura got 11 and I got 20.

So what did I do with 20 chickens? The final tally is in:

  • 8 were bagged whole. 7 of them are in the freezer at Mom’s, and we celebrated a successful trip by roasting a small one Saturday night.
  • Also in the freezer are several bags of chicken parts (boneless, skinless breasts, skinless thighs, and wings)
  • 14 quarts of boneless chicken chunks were canned
  • 7 quarts and 8 pints of plain chicken broth were canned. There is another 3 quarts in the fridge for use this week, and I made a fantastic roasted garlic/chicken soup which I ate on Sunday, and took a quart each of the broth and soup to Mom.
  • 7 quarts and 12 pints of chicken soup. It’s pretty basic, but will be easy to spice up as the mood strikes me.
  • 5 half pints of schmaltz. I gave 1 to Mom, 1 is in my fridge, and the other 3 are in the freezer.
  • The last chicken was roasted here at home last night and shared with Kid the Elder & his wife. We only managed to eat half of it, but I’m looking forward to some great sandwiches this week.

It took me a few days to get everything processed, and my back was not happy with all the kitchen work. But I know that it will be worth it every time I go to the cupboard and pull another can of something tasty out to eat. I took a little time to clean out the linen closet in the spare bathroom, and was able to dedicate 2 full shelves to all the goodies I’ve canned this fall, and set up an inventory sheet so I can keep track of it all.

Very little went to waste. The broth and soup were made from the bones, the meat still on the bones went into the soups, and the fat and skin went into the schmaltz. Little pieces that were too small to go into the jars of chunks went into my freezer in 2 bags, for stir-fry later on.

This is the schmaltz, just starting to render. Schmaltz

Roast chickenTasty roast chicken and potatoes. Pan juices were added to the stock pot after dinner.

So, was it worth it? Only someone who was never had homegrown meat would really ask that. It’s like the difference between a homegrown tomato and a store-bought one. The 2 birds that I’ve roasted so far have both been incredibly tender and juicy, more flavorful than anything I could buy at the store. Mom and I discussed the differences while we ate dinner. I think we finally settled on the idea that it just had more substance than a commercially raised bird. Grocery store chicken tends to be very bland and, well, the word flaccid comes to mind. I am looking forward to some fantastic meals! The cost per bird would have been better if all 40 had made it to the end, but I’ll say yes, it was definitely worth it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Ongoing Changes

October 24, 2013

Life is change. I know that, but that doesn’t mean that I always appreciate it. Over the years I’ve had too many changes imposed on me, with no say in the matter and while I can work with necessary change, change simply for the sake of change irks me. At my old job, they would often shift our desks around simply because they could, and I always objected.

Things around here are changing too. Some of it is good and necessary. Some of it is annoying. I will spare you pictures of the crap-tastic pallet and recycled wood fence I built by the pole barn. One of the neighbors (I’m assuming the idiot next door) had complained to the County, even though nothing had changed in over 12 years. I have a feeling that he thought that after Sweetie passed I would sell off and move, and when that didn’t happen he decided to stir the pot. I got a letter from the County about 18 months ago, with a “solid waste” complaint. When I called to ask about it, I was told that the dead cars in the yard had to be removed, and my pile of trash bags. I don’t have regular trash service; I just make a dump run as needed and it was about time for another. So, dump run accomplished and dead cars removed (3 sedans and 2 pickups), I went about my normal life. Until early this summer, when the Sheriff showed up with a summons. He informed me that I would have to pass inspection, which would have been good information to have from the get-go. Again, I asked for specifics on what needed to be done to make them happy. This time I was told that there was too much “stuff” on my front porch, and that would need to be cleaned off. What an adventure that was! After going almost 30 years without being stung by anything, I was stung by paper wasps 5 times. Each reaction was worse than the one before, so now I’m a little paranoid about being stung again. I called for my inspection.  The County guy ignored everything I had already done, and decided that my pole barn needed to be completely cleaned out, or a sight-obscuring fence needed to be built. Argh! How hard would it have been to tell me that in the beginning. It was now the heat of summer, and I was unwilling to risk any more wasp stings. Luckily, I was able to convince him that I needed an extension until we got enough cool weather to quiet the wasps down, and I was able to get enough of a fence built to appease him.

Once that was out of the way, I started looking at my front porch. A hole had developed in the decking at the top of the stairs, and I obtained enough decking to replace all of the floor. Unfortunately, it has developed into a much more complicated job. After looking at it carefully, I’m not sure how the porch is still standing. Turns out, there is no real structure under it, only piles of wood that are holding the deck up in places. The posts that hold up the front end of the roof over the porch aren’t even attached to the porch, just resting on it! So that means that I will need to tear the whole thing down and rebuild it from the ground up. Times like this are when I miss my dad; he would have been a big help in doing the job right. Oh well, at least he trained me well.

The freezer will be getting new residents in a couple of days. In early September one of the feed stores I deal with got in a bunch of chicks. I got 40 Cornish cross chicks to raise and share with Laura. I brooded them in half of the barn, then moved them all outside to a spare pen. Up until last week I’d done a great job, without a single loss. In a week, I have lost 5 of them. It is frustrating to put all the work and food into them and lose them so close to the end, but the remaining ones are looking mighty tasty. They take their trip to the butcher on Saturday, so hopefully they’ll all last that long. I know other producers can have losses up to 30%, so mine aren’t too bad in the grand scheme, but it’s hard losing them this late in the game.line up at the buffet

I’ve been working at the carder too. I’m slogging my way slowly through the commission alpaca fleeces, washing fleeces while the weather is being cooperative. As a break from all the natural color, I carded up some rainbow batts from some leftover Romney cross fleece.  I did each of the colors separately, adding in some sparkle.Individual colors

Then I split them up and thinned things down for another trip through the carder. Ready for final carding

I’m really happy with how these turned out. They are very cheerful in person. Three of them are being bartered for a Christmas present, but the other 6 will be sold if I can resist spinning them up myself. The pictures don’t do them justice.Finished batts Twisted close up

I’ve been knitting on socks. I had started these yellow ones quite some time ago, with the intention of doing some infinity cables on the legs. They had been on the needles too long, and I was having problems wrapping my addled brain around the cables, so I just finished them off plain so I could free up the needles. Then I jumped in to knitting a pair off fairly quickly, as barter for my massage therapist. Didn’t get them done in time for her last visit, but she’ll be back soon and I’ll have this pair done. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the yarn she left for me so I can get another pair started too. We haven’t worked out an exchange rate yet, but I need to get to work on Christmas knitting too.  finished plain Becky sock

I have also found my hand cards. Sweetie had packed a tote that was on the front porch. In his normal fashion, there was not much rhyme or reason to the things in the tote. I found beads, a steak knife, a flashlight, my cards and an assortment of fleece bits. Most of the fleece was toast, but I played with the cards and some of the fleece that I indigo dyed back in late April. I made up batches that were pure undyed, pure dyed and 3:1 ratios (both directions). I’m thinking a new hat and matching gloves or mittens might be in order, but I haven’t settled on a pattern yet. I’m toying with the idea of doing some color work, but will see what I finally settle on. I do like to colors, and the progression. hand carded variation

The biggest change I’m undergoing right now, I suppose, is self-imposed. Back in late April, I changed my mindset about food. I have had issues with my weight most of my adult life. My weight had held steady for the last 20+ years, within 5 pounds. Didn’t seem to matter what I ate or how I exercised. I’ve always had a fairly good diet. I don’t eat candy, I love fruits and vegetables, I’m just an easy keeper. When I paid attention to how many calories I was taking in, I was holding steady at about 1200 calories a day (most indications are that I should have been losing at least 10 pounds a month at that input).  Until the last few years I wasn’t seeing any real negative issues. My cholesterol levels were fine, and my blood pressure was ok, and so I didn’t worry about my weight too much. Then, a couple of years ago, my bp sky rocketed. In early April, it went as high as 170/100. That is not a number I’m comfortable with. While a simple diuretic was able to control it, I now have no insurance and wanted a chemical free way of keeping it down.  In April, I moved to a mostly raw food diet. I tried doing a juice fast for 3 days, but my body quickly informed me that I needed protein. So I listened to my body. I juice once or twice a day, I can eat whatever I want (just not all of it). Before I dried Myrtle off (for breeding), I was using raw milk and making raw milk cheese. I’ve cut way back on the amount of carbs (bread, pasta, etc), but if I want them I can have a reasonable serving. So far, I’ve lost about 25 pounds, and more importantly, my blood pressure is back to normal! Even if my weight hadn’t changed at all, it would be worth the effort (little as it is) just to have my blood pressure back where it should be. I don’t feel like I’m dieting, which is huge (as any of you that struggle with your weight will understand). I still eat out occasionally, I’m cooking well. I’m not sure how I managed to reset my mind & my relationship with food, but this is one change I am thankful for. I’m not losing pounds quickly, which is fine since I couldn’t afford to replace my entire wardrobe all at once. But my clothes are fitting a bit better, and I’m getting a few compliments when I’m out in public, which never hurts the ego. Still a long way to go to get back down to what most would consider a “normal” weight, but I’m good with that. I may never get back to “normal”. I am more concentrated on feeling better, on making my body last as long as possible. I would like to enter my 60’s healthier than I am now, with less pain. I’ve got this!