Wyebrook Dispatch

Category Archives: Chickens

A New Game

A New Game

 

While I miss having Steve around and am looking forward to the day when his back is better, I have enjoyed working with Ryan these past few days. He is a good boss and a generally fun person.

Today was chicken slaughter day. One of today’s tasks was catching some of the moulting layers to be slaughtered as stewing hens. Catching broiler chickens is annoying, but not unmanageable as they live inside the broiler houses. Catching layers is a whole different story.

Our layers are truly free range. They have a coop and most come back to roost there every evening, but they have the full run of the farm. They run between pastures and under gates. They hang out in the woods by the compost pile and even down at the market from time to time. Which makes catching them…complicated.

I went up to get eggs around 11:00 and Ryan came along to catch our stewing hens. He actually did pretty well, better than I could have managed. But after he caught a few the chickens started to catch on and began dispersing away from the house. That’s when I came up with a mildly brilliant plan.

Chickens love eggs. Weird, I know, but they do. If you crack an egg in a flock of hens they go crazy trying to get at it. As I gathered eggs, I gave Ryan any cracked ones I came across. He’d identify a moulting hen and toss the egg towards it. As soon as the chicken attacked the egg, Ryan attacked the hen! Success! I’m sorry I don’t have a video of this. I was too busy looking for cracked eggs for him to throw.

While it was fun and incredibly entertaining, I think next time we need stewing hens, we’ll just grab them late Wednesday night while they are roosting.

MOULTING

MOULTING

In the past week our daily egg harvest has dropped from 16-18 dozen down to about 13 dozen. Why? Our older birds have started moulting.

Moulting for chickens is the equivalent of shedding for dogs or a snake losing its skin. Their feathers receive a good deal of wear and tear and need to be periodically replaced. Chickens typically moult once a year, though some bird species moult 2-3 times every year. For chickens, the process occurs in the fall as the strong, new feathers will keep them warm during the winter and will become thinner throughout the hot summer months.

Growing new feathers takes a lot of energy so chickens stop laying eggs shortly before they begin moulting and don’t resume laying until after the process is complete. It can take anywhere from 4-16 weeks for a chicken to complete a moult. Chickens can’t shed all their feathers at once (this would leave them too exposed to the elements) so it often happens in a wave, starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body to the tail. As old feathers fall out, they are replaced by new feathers, called pinfeathers.

Chickens look pretty rough while they are moulting. They are losing a lot of feathers very quickly. Our coop looks like a fox had a field day. That’s how many feathers there are. Then there are the poor, unsightly chickens. I may not like chickens much, but they really are beautiful animals. Not so much when they moult.

Moulting may not be fun to watch, but it is part of a chicken’s natural life cycle. If you are new to raising chickens and notice a member of your flock losing feathers, don’t panic! It is completely normal and once they grow back your chicken will be as good as new.

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See how scruffy she looks?

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This girl is almost done her moult. Her new feathers are almost completely regrown.

Chicken Slaughter

Post by intern Farm Girl Becca;

Chicken Slaughter

Turns out I am highly allergic to chickens. Not in the break-out-in-hives where’s-the-epi-pen sense, but in the I-can’t-stop-sneezing, blood-shot-eyes, uncontrollable-runny–nose sense. As if I needed another reason to dislike them. But there it is.

Today was our first chicken slaughter of the season. We don’t slaughter them ourselves. A couple of guys in the area run a mobile chicken slaughtering operation. They come with a fully-equipped trailer and spend the morning killing and cleaning birds. They only thing they don’t do is catch the chickens. That is up to us.

Steve warned me last week that I’d want to wear long sleeves today so when I was home I stole a few of my dad’s old shirts that were on their way to Goodwill. It’s not just anyone who can pull off catching chickens in Joseph A. Banks, you know.

Normally we’d catch 75 birds but because people have been eagerly awaiting fresh chicken and because we’ll be serving it tomorrow night for our inaugural Friday Night Dinner, we upped the count to 100. That’s a lot of chicken.

Catching them really wasn’t that bad. We had plenty of people (Ryan, Steve, Brian, butcher Brian, and me) and were able to use our numbers to our advantage. The chickens freaked out, of course, and we all came away with a scratch or two, despite our long sleeves, but it went quicker than I’d expected. Actually, Bob freaked out more than the chickens. We tried to put him outside just to keep him out of the way, but he had a bit of a panic attack and started chewing on the house in a somewhat pathetic attempt to get back inside. He was much happier once he was back with his friends.

About halfway through the allergies hit me. I’m sure it was all the feathers and dirt and such from all the chicken flapping about that was happening. My eyes started to itch and my nose started to run and sneezing fits overcame me. I thought it would get better once we finished and were out of the house, but no such luck. Things just got worse and worse.

I went down to watch the slaughter process and when Steve came to ask me something my eyes were so red and swollen that he thought I’d been crying over the dead chickens. Definitely not. By the end of the day my nose was hemorrhaging snot. I rinsed three times with my netti pot and it didn’t help at all. I’ll try again before I go to bed. Now all the congestion has turned into a sinus headache.

If anyone has any natural allergy remedies, let me know! Local, raw honey and apple cider vinegar are fine for most days, but I’m going to need something much, MUCH stronger for Thursdays.

But enough whining. On to chicken slaughter!

We catch groups of 10 chickens and put them in these giant orange crates. They stay here until the guys are ready for them.

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They can process six chickens at a time. Each chicken goes into one of the stainless cones you see on the right side of the photo. It’s head sticks out the bottom. They slit the bird’s throat. This kills them instantly, but allows the heart to continue pumping for a minute or so which is the best way to drain out all the blood. (This is the Kosher/Halal method of slaughter.) We do not stun or gas the birds because that prevents them from fully bleeding out.

20130509_0003Once they are fully drained, they are heated briefly to loosen the feathers. Then they go in a machine that is kind of like a washing machine, but without water. It has rubber fingers all around. As the birds bounce around, the feathers are removed. After that the innards are removed and the birds go on ice in a refrigerated truck to cool completely before we butcher and bag them.

If anyone is interested, here is a great video demoing the process from Mother Earth News and Joel Salatin.

I’ll leave you all with something a bit more pleasant than chicken slaughter.

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Our oldest calf of the year. She’s getting so big!

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Farmers Breakfast & Scrapple

The farmer’s breakfast this morning was a huge hit! We had about 40 people come for it and everyone seemed to have a good time. We only had a few egg casualties and chicken-dog was so scared of our large group that she spent the whole time hiding under the chicken house and didn’t jump on anyone.

I led the group out to the chicken house and told them about our rotational grazing system as we went. Once we got out to the house, the kids collected all the eggs. It went a bit faster than I’d expected so we took a detour up to see the broiler chickens before heading back down to the café where Mike had breakfast waiting for us. Scrambled eggs. Roasted potatoes. Maple sausage. Sourdough toast. Local apple cider, hot & iced coffee, and raw milk. So delicious! I was surprised to see that the scrapple was the biggest hit. Several people said it was the best they’d ever had.

Scrapple, for those who don’t know, is Pennsylvania Dutch pork dish. Basically, you boil the offal (heart, head, liver, etc.) with some cornmeal and seasoning until it thickens into a mush. You then shape that mush into a loaf, slice it and pan fry it. It is so famous in this area that it even has its own festival – the Apple Scrapple Festival – held in Bridgeville, DE every October. I think I just might have to go this year. Maybe I should take some Wyebrook scrapple and see how it measures up!

Sir Fluffkin had a somewhat stressful day. As stressful as a day can be for a pampered rooster. I took him fresh water this afternoon and he tried to bite me! I want him to be handled as much as possible so he is completely comfortable around humans, but I think today might have been overwhelming for him. Too many people too soon. I brought him out at the breakfast so all the kids could pet him and he was great with them. He was also very popular with our café and market guests and I think it was just all a bit much. By the time I went to play with him, he’d just had enough. Hopefully he calms down by tomorrow morning.

Post by Wyebrook Farm Intern Becca http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com

Jailbirds

My great-grandmother used to say that things happen in threes. Today was one of those days.
It all started when we went to feed the pigs in the breeding runs. They normally come meet us at the gates to the pens because they are friendly and know we have food. In the six weeks I’ve been here, none of them have ever tried to escape. Until today.

The big red sow came to greet me at the gate as usual, but  instead of backing up as I entered, she continued to push forward. At 300+ lbs., it wasn’t hard for her to shove me out of the way. I tried to push her back in but to no avail. Luckily, she trotted over to the boar’s gate and froze. This is known as standing heat and means she is ready to be bred. We couldn’t just let the boar out which meant we had to get her into the boar’s pen. Easier said than done. With both of us pushing, we managed to get her in and just left them to it.

Next we moved the layers. Normally we do this on Thursday but the layers are currently sharing a pasture with the calves and the calves section was in the way yesterday so we put off moving the layers until today. Things were fine until I opened up the fence to let Steve drive the tractor out. The chicken-dog bolted. Not good, but again we got lucky. She is strangely attached to me (I promise I ignore her!) and ran right to me. I was able to grab her and drag her back into the pen.

After lunch we had to move the heifers. These heifers have been nothing but trouble since they started calving. They aren’t very good mothers. They ignore their calves. They forget which calve is theirs. They seem to like their calves, but refuse to let them nurse. Or they are excessively overprotective to the point where they charge us if we get within 20 yards of their calves. And their moods change from hour to hour.

When we went to move them, the moms all seemed more interested in fresh grass than the whereabouts of their babies. After we got everyone moved over to the new pasture, we found 4 abandoned babies in the old one. (I now know that you should walk through the herd to make sure all of the calves are awake and standing BEFORE you try to move them.) Steve and I tried to chase them over to the new pasture, but calves aren’t like cows. They aren’t predictable and two of them bolted. They went under the polywire fencing and off towards the gate we’d left open. We hadn’t closed it because we thought the polywire would be enough. We were wrong.

The poor (dumb) things ran straight out the gate into a briar patch where they got themselves stuck. Steve dragged the first one out and we toted him back up to the pasture with the rest of the herd. As soon as we put him down he bolted again. And again he ran away from the herd. This time I managed to chase him back in with the group. Let me just say that running in work boots is very different from running in my Vibrams. We went back for the other guy and this time took him all the way into the center of the pasture before letting him go.

Both of the escapees were steers. Numbers 308 and 310 (the 8th and 10th calves born in 2013). It takes 18-24 months to get a steer to slaughter weight on grass. I don’t know where I will be in 18-24 months, but wherever I am, I will come back to enjoy a burger made of 308 and 310. I am sure it will be the best burger I’ll ever have.

Post by Becca;  http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com/

Solanum Carolinense

We were out moving cows and I smelled something mint-y. Mint is supposed to be a natural bug repellant and the flies were annoying to I thought I’d try picking some mint to stick in my pocket to keep them at bay. I looked around and found a plant that looked kind of like mint and reached down to pick a leaf.
Big mistake.

The plant I thought was mint was actually solanum carolinense, a.k.a horsenettle, tread softly or the apple of Sodom. It is poisonous and burns like crazy when you touch it. The fruit, which I’m told resembles a tomato (they aren’t in bloom yet), is deadly.

Thankfully, I had barely brushed it with my finger when it started burning. It kept on burning for a good hour or so longer. Not fun. I learned my lesson. Don’t touch strange plants! I think I’d rather get shocked by the cow fence than touch horsenettle. Here’s what it looks like:

Branch and flowers of Solanum carolinense

Branch and flowers of Solanum carolinense (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow is our first farmer’s breakfast. On the first Saturday of the month we’ll be taking people on a walking tour to gather eggs. Once they are collected, guests come back to the cafe for a delicious breakfast of our eggs, sausage, etc. Prayers said and fingers crossed that chicken-dog doesn’t terrorize any small children!

Sir Fluffkin was much happier in his new home last night. Too happy. He’d been very quiet since his arrival which made me wonder why his city neighbors had been so opposed to him. We found out this morning. Well, Ryan found out. We’d built Sir Fluffkin’s pen on the north side of the house, right under Ryan’s window. He began crowing this morning even before the sun was up! It’s not really a normal crow. It kind of sounds like he’s dying. But I looked it up on YouTube and apparently that’s what he’s supposed to sound like.

We also got 15 new piglets. I am completely in love with them. They are all 25-30 pounds and as cute as can be. I’ll post pictures soon.

Until then, if you’ve ever considered getting a pet chicken or rooster, but didn’t want to deal with the mess, you are in luck. They now make chicken diapers. Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? Better yet, who buys it??

POST by; Our lovely intern Becca, http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com/

Sir Rosencrantz Fluffkin – Silkie rooster

Allow me to introduce Sir Rosencrantz Fluffkin, our newly-acquired silkie rooster.

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Sir Fluffkin began life as a city bird, but his neighbors were less than enthusiastic about him. That’s how he ended up with us. His owners originally thought he was a she so they named him Rosie. That didn’t seem fitting for such a cool bird so I renamed him Sir Rosencrantz Fluffkin, both to honor their original name and to better capture his awesomeness.

After his arrival, Sir Fluff had a harrowing evening. We put him in with our laying flock and they did not take to each other. Maybe the other chickens thought he was a freak. Maybe he, a fancy breed city chicken, thought himself above your average chickens. Who knows. The only one who paid any attention to him was Chicken-Dog and that attention was most unwelcome.

Sometime during the night he managed an escape over the fence. It was probably for the best as yet another hen fell victim to Chicken-Dog last night (she got 2 yesterday). He was not a happy rooster when I found him this morning. He was cold, hungry and damp. Look at his spiky “do” courtesy of the dew.

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I put him back in with the flock, but things did not improve. The dog continued to harass him and the other chickens continued to exclude him, pushing him away from the food and hen house. It didn’t take much to see that the planned living arrangement wasn’t going to work. So we put up a small pen right by the house where Sir Fluffkin can live in peace. He is the unofficial farm pet/mascot and is much happier in this role than he was amongst his own kind.

To be honest, I’m not sure he realizes he’s a chicken. He definitely prefers people to other chickens. He’s about as tame and domesticated as they come. He enjoys being held and petted. The rest of our chickens run from us, even though they interact with humans every day.

That means we have a rooster who thinks he’s a person. A lamb that thinks she’s a chicken (and a boy). And a dog that should think she’s a chicken which kind of makes her a cannibal.

Just your average farm!

And, no, Sir Fluffkin hasn’t changed my overall opinion of chickens. There are exceptions to every rule, right?

So tiny! And most of it is fluff.
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Post by; Becca http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com/

Chicken 101

Chicken 101

We moved our third batch of broilers up to pasture today. The oldest group will be ready for slaughter next Thursday. I am more than ready for some fresh chicken.

Speaking of chickens, I figured it was about time for another farm education post. After this, you will hopefully speak fluent chicken!

Rooster: male domestic fowl

Hen: female domestic fowl

Pullet: female under a year old

Chick: young chicken

Bantam: small variety of chicken (think pinschers and mini pins)

Broiler: chicken raised for meat

Layer: chicken raise for eggs

Dual-purpose: a chicken breed used for eggs or meat

Comb: fleshy crown on top of the head

Wattles: flesh that dangles under the beak

We got a new rooster today. He was a city rooster who’s owner’s neighbors didn’t appreciate his crowing. I’m not a fan of chickens, but I do like him. According to my “Know Your Chickens” book, silkies are native to Asia (probably why I like him) and were originally sold as a rabbit-chicken hybrid. Only in Asia… Also, their meat is a grey-black color and the females do not lay any eggs during the summer months. This isn’t him, but it’s what he looks like.

SIlkie Chicken

Silkie Chicken (Photo credit: Just chaos)

I am calling him Sir Fluffkins. I know you aren’t supposed to name farm animals, but since we don’t eat the roosters, I figured it would be OK. He’ll get his own post of pictures one day soon. He’s just that cool.

Post by Becca;  http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com/

Up and Running

What a day! While the café technically opened yesterday, today was our first full day and it went off without a hitch. The weather was perfect, the people friendly, and the food delicious. It was almost relaxing after all the crazy yesterday!

The tours got off to a bit of a slow start. There weren’t that many people around at 12:00 and we had the wagon parked behind the market so people just didn’t know about it. When 12:20 rolled around and Rob and I still had an empty wagon, we decided to change tactics. We pulled the wagon around in front of the market so people would see it and then got the girls in the market and café to drum it up for us.

The 2:00 tour had about 12 people and the 4:00 had 15 or 17. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and they had a lot of good questions for me. The chicken-dog was a big hit, as were the baby chicks (our last stop). We had a lot of people who were first time visitors which was great! Rob is an excellent tractor driver and having him made my life a lot easier for sure.

We have several new products for sale in the market: cheeses, pasta, yogurt, raw milk, granola, assorted whole grain flours – all local! Along with our meat, eggs, honey, and produce, I’ll never have to go to the grocery store again. It’s like I’m back in Brooklyn with everything I need just a block or two away. Now if only I could get Simon to come down and do my laundry once a week…

Also, the sow gave birth! We have a litter of piglets and they are precious. I’d been hoping she’d give birth today (the 27th) so the piglets would share my birthday, but they came last night. I guess that’s close enough. I will try to get some pictures soon. Mama is being a good mom thus far. She’s protective, but not overly aggressive, and she hasn’t accidentally smothered any of them yet, which pigs have a tendency to do.

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Post by;  Becca http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com

Mail Order Chicks

PSA: In celebration of Earth Day, you can watch Fresh free online here, but only until April 30th. Thanks to my sister for sending me the info.

Did you know that after hatching, chicks can survive for three days without food? This is because mom can’t leave the nest until all the eggs have hatched and that can take up to three days so the chicks are designed to continue digesting the yolk sac for 72 hours after hatching until mom can take them out for food.

Because of this, you can order chicks by mail! FedEx and UPS won’t ship them, but the good old USPS has been shipping chicks for 95 years. How cool is that? We get an order of 150 chicks every two weeks.

20130424_0002As soon as they arrive we put them into the brooders to make sure they stay nice and warm. We also make sure they have plenty of food because as soon as they are done digesting the yolk, they are hungry!

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I won’t lie, they are adorable at this stage. They are so soft and fluffy and their peeping is pretty cute. But then they grow up and turn from chicks into chickens. And we all know how I feel about chickens.

Anyways, today was a pretty quiet day. Ryan took me down to see the steers at Lundale. Now I know the way if I ever need to go there by myself. At least, in theory I know the way. Whether I remember it is another story. I’ll be in DE this Monday/Tuesday, but next week I think I will drive out there myself just to be sure. Thank goodness for GPS!

Another thing that happens on Wednesdays is that we get our animals back from the slaughter house. We take them in on Sunday afternoon and they have 12-24 hours to relax after the trip before they are killed. This is both humane (there is a nice barn where they spend the night) and practical as it lets all the stress hormones, which can affect the taste of the meat, leave their system before slaughter. On Wednesday Mike take the refrigerated truck up to pick them up and bring them back to the farm. We do all our butchering on-site so we get the whole animal back. It’s actually pretty cool.

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Three new calves were born! One female and two males. Steve was off for the afternoon so I got to help Ryan tag them all and castrate the two males. They are so sweet. The pigs are still my favorite, but the cows are growing on me. I can’t wait for our litter of piglets to be born. Should be any day now!

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Also, I watered the greenhouse today. Vegetables are beautiful. They really are. And they are delicious. People don’t give them enough credit. Go eat some veggies!

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Post By: Becca http://girlgonefarming.wordpress.com/