Life on the farm has been good these last few days. The daytime highs got up to close to 50 for several days in a row, so Gina, the kids, and I worked on shingling the west side of my garage roof. We are probably 90% done with that now.
In the last four days, though, we have truly become farmers. After over three months of raising our first crop, we finally began to benefit from all of the inputs as we harvested 18 chickens. We had planned to harvest 18 roosters on Monday, but Sunday morning when I walked into the chicken coop, I saw a hen that had gotten tangled up in string and had fallen, breaking her leg. So, even though the plan was to work on the roof, we quickly dispatched the young lady and processed her. We ended up eating her for lunch on Monday. I have to say, I don’t think there is anything quite as tasty as your own crop.
On Monday, we corralled all of our roosters (I was able to locate 25) into the dog run area. We then released 7 of the roosters back outside, leaving us for 18 roosters for processing. We started the work and I quickly realized, with my freezing fingers, that there was no way I would get through 18 chickens in one morning, since I had to leave for work at 1:15. So, I ended up processing just 6 chickens and we sprayed the other 11 chickens with pink hairspray so we would be able to find them the next day.
On Tuesday, we rounded up all the roosters with pink hairspray, but I was only able to locate 11 of them. One rooster was able to dodge ‘the bullet.’ I only processed four on Tuesday, though, because of the frigid cold. We had a plan, though, to come back and finish the job on Wednesday during the afternoon, since I wouldn’t be going to work and the afternoon temperatures would be in the 40s. Plus the windchill on Tuesday was down in the lower 20s.
So on Wednesday morning, we again rounded up the remaining roosters — I still could only find 7 of them, and on Wednesday afternoon, we set to slaughtering. The process went much better on Wednesday than it had earlier in the week. I have started to get the hang of the evisceration, which is by far the most time-consuming part. Some notable lessons though are that I need about four killing cones, I really need to build my whizbang chicken scalder, there should be about 3-4 adults to really keep this moving, and the knives really must be sharper.
So my flock of roughly 72 (started with 78 in late September) is now down to about 54, but we now have 17 chickens in the freezer.
I realize now, though, that I would have to charge about $35-40 per chicken in order to make a living at this, so some efficiency is definitely in order.
However, not to be discouraged by the economics of the whole thing, I have been drooling over the new Murray McMurray catalog. Specifically, I would like to order 5 Araucana hens. Araucanas are the easter egg chickens that lay blue or green eggs, and Gina just loves the color of the eggs. I also would like to order 5 cochin bantams. Bantams are renowned as good setters, and I would like to be able to keep 2 or 3 hens that are good setters in order to raise my own replacement hens. The cochin bantams will be straight run, so I am hoping that out of the 5 chickens ordered, at least two will be ladies.
I also would like to order 25 Cornish X Rocks and 25 Heavy Breeds. These will be the basis for a test of different meat birds, or broilers. The Cornish Cross Rocks are the industry standard broilers that dress out at 3 to 4 pounds in 6 to 8 weeks. But I want to run a side-by-side comparison of these Cornishes with some older standard breed chicks. The Heavy Breeds mixture costs much less initially than the Cornish Crosses, but I want to see how they do converting feed, as well as any difficulties encountered in managing them, and finally, I want to compare their taste. If I start both flocks in mid-March, I should be slaughtering the Cornish Crosses in May and the Heavy Breeds in July. I will try to keep some detailed records of how much I feed to each flock, as well as any losses or health concerns along the way.
The final two items I wanted to purchase from Murray McMurray were ducks and turkeys. Initially, I wanted to get the Turkey Assortment, which would have gotten me 20 turkeys of many different varieties for $120. However, I have adjusted my order to 15 (the minimum order) Giant White turkeys. My hope would be to raise these turkeys through the summer and then sell perhaps 5 or 6 turkeys for Thanksgiving, keep 2 or 3 turkeys for ourselves, and keep the remaining turkeys as breeding stock for future generations. I haven’t yet been able to verify whether Giant White turkeys can breed true or not.
As far as the ducks go, I was looking at getting 10 Rouen ducks for many reasons. First, they are just downright good looking. Second, they are quite large and make for a good roasting duck. Finally, they are said to produce 35 to 125 eggs per year. My hope with the ducks would be that I would set them out near one of our ponds and let them continually reproduce throughout the year, occasionally heading down to the pond to catch some good duck for ourselves or our customers.
In other farming news, the kids were given some money at Christmas for starting their own farm animal enterprises. Meagan has decided on rabbits, so today we purchased a cage and other cage-related supplies for housing our first rabbits. We are thinking rabbits will be suspended from the ceiling in the western part of our barn. We got a lead on some Dutch rabbits, but they are apparently for pets and show, and we are more interested in meat rabbits. More to follow on Meagan’s rabbits.
Caleb had wanted to pursue pigs, but now he seems hooked on the idea of raising goats. Our neighbors (the best neighbors in this world) have Nubian goats who just kidded in the last week or so. Our thought was to buy one or two of her goat kids to raise. There have been a few conversations about this possibility. Of course, if we get goats, we will need to build a prison to keep them in. And we would want two does from our neighbors so we could pursue a buck from elsewhere. The next question would be whether to get another Nubian as a buck or to get a meat goat as the daddy goat. More to follow on Caleb’s goats.
We are also still waiting for movement on getting our very own family milk cow and the possibility of picking up a few beef cattle as well. But, you guessed it, more to follow on that as well.