Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Day

Well, the weatherman was way off the mark for this storm. He had predicted 6 - 12 inches of snow, and we got 26 inches! Fortunately, we had planned to spend the day indoors, baking Christmas cookies. So, we went to the store yesterday to buy a few ingredients we didn't have on hand. After breakfast, we got started baking. Jorene made Coconut-Macadamia, Chocolate Chip-Almond, and Cake Mix cookies; while I made Ginger Snaps and biscotti.

These recipes, and more, can be found on our recipes page.

Jorene likes to put a variety of cookies in colorful boxes for our friends each year.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Growing Challenge

We have decided to participate in The Growing Challenge next year. The requirements are simple.

1. Grow one additional type of fruit or vegetable than you did last year, and grow it from seed.
If rule #1 is not enough of a challenge for you, you may make your own rules.
Post about gardening once each week.
Check in every week at 1 Green Generation.
When signing up, make sure to include your zone and where you’re located.

More specific guidelines are available when you sign up. Since we already grow our garden, mostly, from seed and save a lot of seed, we will add a new challenge. Next year we want to extend our growing season using hoop houses and, hopefully, a green house. This will move us closer to our goal of self-sufficiency and eating only what we have raised, grown, hunted or traded for locally. I encourage everybody to grow a garden and join in the challenge.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Farm Roundup

It's been a long time since I've written. My goal next year is to post once a week. If I get into a habit with it, I'm sure I can keep it up. But it is time now for a farm review of the animals we raised this year.

The turkeys were a new addition to our farm this year. I raised 3 Broad Breasted White Turkeys, 2 toms and 1 hen. They were an absolute joy to raise.

I started them in a brooder house with broiler chickens. They looked much like the broilers, except for a longer neck. But, at 3 weeks, I could pick out the toms. They were strutting around, wings stretched out and trying to look big. It was hilarious. I moved them to the field at 8 weeks, later than the chickens because they were growing slower. Once they were in the fields, though, they showed their value as pastured animals. They will eat about 60% of their diet from the pasture (grass and bugs), which cut their feed bill down quite a bit. I supplemented their diet with a locally milled poultry finisher feed. In fact, all of our feed is locally milled and doesn't contain animal by-products, antibiotics or growth hormones.

I kept the turkeys in a movable pen and poultry fencing. The pen was very heavy and hard to move without assistance, so it needs some modifications before next season. The fencing was step-in posts with 4' high poultry netting. This worked fine for the turkeys until 18 weeks, or so. At that point, they were all at least 25 lbs. and just pushed the fence over. What was great, was that they would follow me back to their pen whenever they got out. Next year I will use electrified poultry netting to keep them safe from wandering and from predators.

I butchered them in time for Thanksgiving, at 24 weeks. The toms dressed out at 37 and 40 lbs. and the hen at 25 lbs! And they were delicious. We were very pleased with them.

I will definitely raise turkeys again next year. I'd like to try butchering them at different times to get some smaller sizes. I'd also like to make ground turkey for turkey sausage. They are far superior to raising broiler chickens because of their higher consumption of pasture, less prone to predator attacks and friendliness. They are one of my favorites.

I also started raising rabbits this year. I purchased 2 does and 1 buck from Polyface Farms in May, as well as a mixed breed doe from a local farmer. We raised several litters, putting them out to pasture in field pens at 6 weeks. The rabbits are another favorite of mine. Their field pens are tremendously easy to build and move and they are a joy to watch in the fields. Guests at our lodge loved watching the rabbits and feeding them grass. At 12 weeks, they typically dress out at 4 lbs., which is a great meal for our family. Liam, our 1 year old, loves roasted rabbit and will eat all that we put on his plate. If you would like to try rabbit, here is our favorite recipe.

We had to cull one doe from our breeding stock. I bred her twice but she didn't produce a litter. I also lost a litter because I didn't put the nest box in for the doe early enough. She gave birth that night and left the babies outside the box. When I found them the next morning they were cold and lost. I know now to put the box in a week before the planned due date.

Other than those setbacks, we have been very pleased with raising rabbits on pasture. They are easy to raise, consume a lot of grass and garden scraps which cuts back on their feed bill, provide us with clean manure for the gardens, and are a good meal. By comparison, they are far superior to chickens for meat.

Once again, we raised hogs. This year, I had some friends who were interested in whole or half hogs, so we raised 5 hogs. I bought them from a local farmer at 225 lbs. and finished them to over 300 lbs. I kept them corralled in a pen next to our barn, but would like to one day pasture them in our woods and fields. We have about 8 acres of land behind our lodge filled with hickory, beech, and oak trees. I hope next year to finish the hogs there, using electric fence to keep them contained.

This year, I learned how to butcher a hog, thus cutting down on our costs. This wasn't as hard as I thought it might be. I believe I got a better product than when I took them to a butcher last year. I kept 2 hogs for us, from which I made 60 lbs. of sausage, 30 lbs. of bacon, dry-cured hams, wet-cured hams and lots of roasts, tenderloin, chops and ribs.

I raised broiler chickens again this year and put them in field pens similar to the design at Polyface Farms. I had a major predator problem with raccoons, though. The raccoons pulled chickens through the 1 inch mesh wire and dug under the bottom rungs to grab legs and wings. I finally moved the remaining chickens into a shed and started setting traps for the raccoons. This summer I killed over 2 dozen raccoons and I don't think that is all of them. We are surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods, so I'm sure they will be around all of the time. My only solution is to surround the field pens with electric fence.

The chickens, though, are my least favorite to raise. They're smelly, even in the field pens, their stupid, and prone to predator attacks (much more so than the other animals). By comparison, rabbits and turkeys are much more enjoyable. Roast rabbit is just the same as chicken and I can make stock from the turkeys. The only reason I would see to raising chickens next year would be for fried chicken. So we'll see if I raise them again.