With the holidays, and also because it is winter here- it has been pretty low key. We’ve been day dreaming about sunshine, all the fun spring projects ahead, where we’ll put the big garden, and how many sheep we’ll get. Here’s what’s happened lately:
Dealing with Death
We had our first adult chicken death in December. It is always hard when there is an unplanned death on the homestead.
I went to let the chickens out one morning and found my favorite sweet little Buff Orpington hen on the floor of the coop, sort of gasping for air. I activated the emergency response sequence, grabbed my supplies and the chicken “sick box” and brought her into the house. Sparing you any gory details… she ended up getting better for a day, then worse, then finally a couple days later we woke in the morning to find her passed.
That brings our chicken count down to 17: 14 hens and 3 roos. And I am happy to report that everyone else is healthy, getting used to the snow and cold toes, and still laying like champs! And just like the rest of us, they can’t wait for springtime!
It’s sad when any animal dies, but when the result is bacon and sausage- that death is a lot easier to take. We honor its life, and it is a joyous occasion to put quality meat into the freezer.
We bought a whole hog from one of our neighbors who raises high-quality animals. They dispatched it and delivered it to our house in the back of their pickup truck (you know- country style). We hoisted that sucker (all 270lbs of her!) in the garage and got to work. Lots of work…
It was the first time Karl and I have ever butchered a pig, or any large animal all by ourselves before. Leading up to the event, we watched youtube videos, read hog butchering books and formulated a plan: what tools we would use, our setup, and what cuts of meat we wanted. We were as prepared as possible, with everything except experience.
Karl got right to work skinning the hog. It was kind of a one-man job, so I stood by for moral support. That is, shouting: “You’re taking too much fat off! Be more careful please.” And three hours later, Miss Piggy was without a coat. Next up, gutting… which also took waaaay longer than it should have, because the pig parts looked different than they did on the videos, and we wanted to be extremely cautious. When it comes to animal intestines, it’s better safe than sorry. Like, a lot.
Finally we were done for the night and the hog would hang overnight in the cold garage to chill.
The next day we brought in reinforcements. My dad, who worked at a slaughterhouse in his youth and has been butchering his own deer for 40+ years came over to help cut up the hog. We assembled a butchering table in the entryway of the house and brought the hog inside, primal by primal, until it was all cut up and packaged.
It was a great experience and we are so glad that we did it. We learned a TON and are confident that the next hog we butcher will go a lot quicker and easier. You know, the only way to gain experience is to… well, experience it. And sometimes that means jumping in with both feet. Into a big pile of bacon.
Here Comes Mama Hen
As much as we liked raising baby chicks in the house last year, one reason we decided on Buff Orpingtons was because of their tendency towards broodiness and being good mothers. We got them with the hope that they would raise many generations of chickens for us. Well… I guess they really are good at that, because it is the middle of January and we have our first broody hen!
I noticed for a couple days she seemed a little “off,” and then all of a sudden her switch flipped to full blown broody. “Broody” means that she is ready to sit on eggs and hatch them. It’s like nothing I’d ever seen before. She changed into a totally different chicken. She wouldn’t leave the nest, and whenever I pulled back the nest box curtain she fluffed up and gave a really low cluck cluck cluck. And all serious, like she meant business. She’s a sweety though, so she never tried to peck me. When I pulled her off the nest, she walked around fluffed up and clucking, then desperately tried to get back to her nest.
I picked her up and held her, told her that she was going to make a wonderful mother, and that in the Spring she could have all the babies she wanted, but she couldn’t have them now, in the middle of the winter in Wisconsin… silly hen.
She couldn’t be reasoned with.
So, we made a “broody box” and attempted to “break” her. I liken it to solitary confinement in prison. Well, solitary confinement with frequent visitors and treats. We put her in a cardboard box with a metal bottom in hopes that she would be…not uncomfortable, but just not snuggly in a nice straw-filled nest. It took two days in the hole, but she snapped out of it and is now back to her normal self.
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