Tag Archives: backyard chickens

Unmet Friends

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I’ve been searching out gardening info on the internet, and I’ve come across a couple of vlogs I’d like to share.  The first one is Justin Rhodes’s channel.  Justin Rhodes and his family (wife Rebekah – aka the Beautiful One – and 4 sweet kids – Jonah, Josiah, Lily and Gideon) are traveling around the country in a converted school bus they call Mabel, visiting homesteads, organic farms, and backyard gardens on the Greatest American Farm Tour.  They have a farm/homestead in North Carolina (that is currently being maintained by some friends), and the channel is a wealth of info on working with chickens to cut down on the amount of physical labor associated with gardening.  Justin contracted Lyme disease a few years ago, which severely curtailed what he was able to do on their farm.  They had run a CSA and/or a market garden, and a summer camp on their land previously, but with the Lyme disease knocking back his energy, they had to reimagine their future.  They scaled the farming back to “just” grow enough for themselves, got involved with the permaculture movement, produced a movie called Permaculture Chickens, and started a daily vlog.  Their climate is totally different than ours, but I LOVE watching their vlogs, both the older ones, where they document life on the farm, and the newer ones, where they are showing all the places they’re traveling to.

The other vlog I want to share, ART & BRI, is also not arctic.  This is another vlog with a family of six living on a farm/homestead in North Carolina.  These folks are friends of the Rhodes’s – in fact, before the Rhodes family left on their cross-country trip, they gave Arthur and Brianna all their poultry.  Arthur and Brianna also have goats and a dairy cow, which we are most likely never going to have.  Arthur is an RN, and Brianna is a stay-at-home homeschool mom.  He had been spending so much of his time working, the kids hardly ever saw him.  He and Brianna wanted to do something to change that situation, and wanted to do it together, so they started a vlog to earn a part-time income while focusing on projects to improve and expand their homestead.  They share a lot of great information on a variety of farming/gardening/homesteading topics.

Both of these vlogs are very well-edited and filled with inspiration for people who want to grow their own food.  The settings are beautiful and the joy and contentment of the vloggers is palpable.  After watching many of the videos from both these vlogs, I feel like I have friends in North Carolina, even though we’ve never met.  One caveat: if you are trying to build this kind of life yourself, BEWARE!  It is very easy to spend far too much of the day watching other people do it!

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Shortening the Food Chain, part 2: Meat from Our Backyard

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WARNING:  THIS POST MIGHT BE A BIT GROSS.

Of the 11 chickens we got from friends who moved away, two are still living, three died of old age, four are in the freezer and two were tasty.

 My husband and I butchered the six who have been or will soon be dinner, one at a time.  He broke their necks, killing them quickly, then cut off their heads.  We held them over a trashcan while their wings flapped and toes twitched, then hung them up by their feet over the trashcan and let them bleed out.  Next, we plucked them.  (Plucking chickens makes a sound like Velcro.)  I saved some of the feathers, which are very pretty.

Dealing with raw chicken from the supermarket has never been my favorite activity.  Cold, squishy, possibly laden with unhealthy bacteria…bleh.  Eviscerating a chicken that was alive a few minutes ago is absolutely, positively worse.  (And I was just assisting!)  We feed our chickens well, judging by the layer of fat Husband has to cut through to get to the body cavity.  Make me think about what a surgeon would see if I ever need an operation.  Ew.  The crunching of the neck as we cut it out is an unpleasant sound, but the weird sucking noise as he pulls the intestines out is really gross.  He can get everything out easily except the lungs – he can’t see them (they are a color he can’t discern), and they need to be kind of scraped out from between the ribs, so since my fingers are smaller, that’s my job. Oh joy.

After the birds are gutted, we wash them well, then refrigerate them to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days.  This allows the muscle tissue to relax, making for more tender meat.  (Though our birds are so old, they’re bound to be tough anyway.)

 This is a disgusting post, and I apologize if I’m offending anyone, or grossing anybody out.  Why are we doing this if it is so nasty?

Because we know what our birds ate, and it wasn’t ground up waste parts of cattle raised in CAFOs (“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”).  We know that we scooped up their poop 3 times per day, so they weren’t lying around in it.  We know that they were not confined to cages too small to turn around in, stacked so close together they had to have their beaks cut so they couldn’t peck each other through the wire, or be given antibiotics to keep from getting sick, or other drugs to keep them calm.  We know that the water we used to wash the carcasses was not contaminated with fecal matter from carelessly butchered chickens.  We know that our birds’ manure is safe to spread on our garden, and will nourish the food that feeds us, and the vegetable scraps that will feed the next generation of birds in our coop. 

Some parts of this journey are not been particularly pleasant.  We know what those unpleasant parts are, and they don’t scare us as much as what we don’t know for sure about the packaged meat at the supermarket.  That’s why.

Making a Better World: The Nature of a Garden

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Random Sheet of Metal on Property

            Our land was once part of a pristine wilderness.  We hope to recreate that environment, to erase all traces of human interference with nature.  Just kidding.  It’s true that the land was once “untouched,” but that was long, long ago.  Much of the “wilderness” around here is at best second growth boreal forest.  The early history of Fairbanks – building and heating the town, mining the hills, stoking the boilers of the steamboats – took a lot of wood, and rearranged mountains of earth.  Before that, Alaska Natives hunted and fished throughout the Tanana Valley.  This area has seen the impact of humanity for millennia, and there’s no way we could ever return a little over an acre of it to its “original” state.

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  We certainly weren’t thinking “pristine” as we hauled car parts, balled-up, rusty wire fencing, miles of electrical wire and pieces of bone (not human, thankfully)  out of our planting area. 

Part of Scrap Pile:  Fencing, wire, and an old rug

Junk Structure on Property

We are not trying to get to untouched.  But if we are not trying to restore our bit of subarctic suburbia to its primeval grandeur, how can I say we’re “making a better world”?  Might seem like hubris.

            First, I don’t buy the idea that nature is necessarily at its best without human impact.  I also don’t think “dominion over the Earth” means we should develop, pave, or make junkyards out of every blessed parcel of land we can.  In his book Second Nature¸ Michael Pollan suggests that pitting nature against culture (human activity) creates a false dichotomy.  We are, after all, a part of nature, not apart from it.  In a garden, the influence of the gardener is thoughtful, intentional and blatant.  We protect plants that might otherwise fail to thrive.  We plant stuff we want to grow in rows or beds.  We weed and water (and weed and water some more).  Pollan calls a garden “a middle ground between nature and culture, a place that is at once of nature and unapologetically set against it.”

            When I say we are making a better world (in a tiny way) by making this farmlet, I mean that by making our influence visible and useful, we are saving that land from the hidden forces that were slowly turning it in to a junkyard, and from the overt force of the developers who at best would have built a multi-family apartment there, and at worst would have turned it more rapidly into a junkyard.  I don’t believe that our cultivation of the land will create an eyesore.  We are removing trees, but not all.  We are planting new trees as well, and the new ones and the ones we don’t take down will have a better chance to thrive.  The dead wood that makes the property a fire hazard that is difficult to navigate will go – but its nutrients will be returned to the soil, in the form of mulch.  We’ll have to protect our plantings from moose and rabbits, but those creatures will also continue to use the land.  (It’s kinda hard to stop them!) 

Visiting Moose

We’ll be ripping out non-native invasive species, like dandelions and purple vetch.  And, of course, we’ll be feeding ourselves with the products of our labor, happily increasing the nutrient value of our food and the quality of life of our food animals while reducing our dependence on shipped in food and the related use of fossil fuels required to get that food here.  Whew – that’s a heck of a sentence!  But it sure sounds like a better world to me. 🙂

Some of our food animals - not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Some of our happy food animals – not little yellow fluffballs anymore!

Our Little Farm

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Last year the property across the street from ours went on sale.  It was an empty 1 1/3 acre lot that hadbeen used to store a few old cars, and for little else.  The property neighboring us on the other side had been beautifully wooded when we bought our house but has since become the neighborhood eyesore/overgrown junkyard.  We weren’t willing to look at that across the street as well, so to protect our view (among other reasons), we bought the property.  We are slowly turning it in to a mini-farm.

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This year we just planted a small portion of the property (which has become known to us as “The Property”) to buckwheat, field peas, and oats, as test crops, and to provide organic matter for improving the less than spectacular soil.  We got a late start, so we are not expecting much from our plots this growing season.  (You can see in the foreground that we also planted some carrots and beans, and there are some snow peas there, too.)

Some of the test crops will be used as bedding and/or feed for our new friends:

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A mixed flock of 11 old layers (not many actually laying) and 5 young Rhode Island Red bantams (not in the picture).

And I”m homeschooling 2 active smarty-pants while working part-time at our church. 🙂  It’s a crazy life!