Bees Are Cool

I finally got a chance yesterday to go check on our bees. I needed to make sure that the queens got out of their cages and I needed to put some sugar water in their feeder (they need to be fed when starting out). Our lovely queens did get out of their cages but I’m still not good at finding them in the mass of 10,000 bees. Our little ladies have been very busy in the last six days. I took out a frame to place the queen cage in the hive last Saturday and I didn’t put the frame back. Well, I was surprised yesterday to see that my industrious girls had filled the space of the missing frame with honeycomb. I had to remove the extra comb so that I could put the missing frame back in. We got six fair size honeycombs out of the process. I feel bad to set them back by removing their hard work but it couldn’t just stay there. It was also neat to see the comb. It had nectar (to be turned into honey) and pollen in the comb cells. The kids thought it was pretty cool to see. Amber’s going to try to make something out of it, maybe some lip gloss.

 

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A Brand New Hive

We finally have bees!! Our bee packages showed up today. We ordered them through Cache Valley Bee Supply out of Logan but only had to run to Brigham City to get them. It was very exciting to get them into their new hives and a little daunting. Check out the videos and pictures:
Sorry about the shaky video, we had a very cute but inexperienced camera girl:


Sorry about the shaky video, we had a very cute but inexperienced camera girl:

 

 

 

Cheap, Cheap, Cheap

DSC_0011 No, my in-laws are not discussing my financial attitude. We had a surprise visit from the stork today. The postal office called today,  a Sunday, and told us that they had a bunch of baby chickens waiting for us and that we had to pick them up today by 3pm or they’d just leave them on the dock at the post office. We had ordered 80 chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery but were expecting them a week or so later. So we scrambled to go get them and get their stuff ready. Looking at the picture, you wouldn’t think that there were 80 birds in there and you’d be right. Turns out that they shorted us 11 birds. We’ll have to call tomorrow to figure out why. Half of the birds actually belong to our neighbors so only 32 of them are ours. 15 of them are meat birds, 15 of them are layers and 2 of them are ornamental birds. They’re cute little fuzzy butts.

Life Has Its Own Plans Sometimes

It’s funny how life is sometimes. You may have the best of intentions in trying to do good things and life just steps in to give you a learning moment. We’ve been trying really hard to live more sustainably and to be better prepared for the future. That’s a lot of the reason we moved to where we are and why we are doing the animal thing and the other efforts that we’re documenting on this site. The hard part is that it takes a little money to do these things. I’ve been doing some side work in the evenings to help pay down debt and pay for some things that we’d like to have for our farm. We are due for a fair size check at the end of the month. We recently paid off our credit card (again) and had decided that we were going to use the money on buying all of our bee equipment, we were pretty excited.

Well, shortly after we made that decision, our truck broke down, both sets of cars need at least two new tires and a broken thermostat upstairs is going to cost $200 to replace. All these lovely life events combine together to zap that extra money that we wanted to use for the bee equipment. We’re grateful that we had the money to cover all these issues, it would have ended up on the credit card if it weren’t for that check. I just wish that working hard could go towards what we planned not trying to fix stuff that shouldn’t be broken in the first place. Sometimes you wonder if life is just against us or that we’re being punished for something. But I know that God doesn’t work that way. He absolutely cares for us and is mindful of us but He’s not going to cause my truck to break and most of the time He’s not going to prevent it from breaking. We need to learn how to make our way in this life without Him having to carry us the whole way. We need to involve Him in our lives and our problems but realize that he expects us to do everything that we can. I also think that He’s very ok with us having bees, we just need to prioritize and make sure that we’re using what He gave us the best way we can.

The Spice of Life

One thing that I really enjoy about having our own egg laying chickens is the variety of eggs we get. We get really tiny eggs, we get massive double yolker duck eggs. The colors range from white to dark brown to green. It’s nice to see that the Lord does really create us all differently. The world may try to set unnatural standard on us, like eggs having to be white, that doesn’t make it right or healthy. Mostly it’s just boring to be all the same:

Getting Started With Your Own – Meat Chickens

We watched the Food Inc. documentary a couple of years ago and we were very impacted by what we saw. We almost stopped eating/buying all preprocessed foods but we decided that we should go with a more measured approach. One of the things that really stuck out in my mind was how poorly the meat chickens were treated. It’s no wonder they have to force feed all those chickens antibiotics, they’d be all dead from disease if they didn’t. We’ve wanted to raise our own meat since then. We’ve had chickens for quite some time but we were a little hesitant to try our hand at the meat chickens.

We had heard about this awesome breed called Cornish Cross that would be ready for the freezer at 7 weeks. We had seen a few people online mention that they can be hard to keep alive and I had a buddy that did them awhile ago and he didn’t seem to think it was a worthwhile project (part of his problem was that he kept them in his basement, eww). The problem with the Cornish Crosses is that they grow so quickly that their bodies seem to struggle to keep up with the growth. They often die of heart attacks or break their legs because they can’t support their own body weight. The forums at BackYardChickens talk about all sorts of ways to help keep them healthy. One thing that helps is having birds that have pretty proven record of doing well.

We found that the Cornish Crosses from Murray McMurray had awesome reviews about the healthiness of their chicks. In the spring of 2012 we finally decided to try our hand at the Cornish Crosses from McMurray. We ordered 25 birds from them to arrive in June. I don’t think I would start with more than 25. There’s a bunch to learn and it’s better to start with a lower amount. You should also think about when you want your little chicks to show up. These guys get pretty big, very fast. If they are their biggest in August, they’re going to be pretty miserable. I think the ideal slaughter times would be when it’s a little cooler like late spring (April/May) and early fall (September/October). The nice thing about this breed is that they don’t need to be under the heat lamps as long as their other feathered cousins because they grow so quickly.

There are three basic stages you have to worry about for Cornish Crosses: Chick, Adult, and Slaughter. The chick stage is from the time you pick up your chickens from the post office until they don’t need a heat lamp anymore (around 4 weeks). The adult stage is from the point that you remove the chickens from the lamp and from the brooder box until it’s time to put them in the fridge. The last stage is pretty short, just long enough to finish them off.

Here’s a list of the items that you’ll need by stage:

  • Chick
    • Chicken Brooder
      Just a box to hold the chicks. I just use what is available around the place. A cardboard box will do just fine. You may have to upgrade to a larger box as the babies get bigger. You’ll want to have something like pine shavings on the floor to absorb their droppings. You may have to change out their bedding after a little bit. Do not put the box on carpet because they will spill their water and it will leak through. They are also pretty smelly, noisy and generate a bunch of dust so keep them out of the house.
    • Heat Lamp
      Get the red colored lamps because it’s not as harsh on the babies. They need to have it around 95 degrees their first week. Here’s a good article about the temperature that they need. Keep in mind that these chicks grow faster than normal and will need less heat sooner. I find the best way to tell is to look at where the chicks are. If they’re huddled underneath the the lamp, they’re cold and you should lower the heat lamp. If they’re in the corners of the box, they’re too hot and you should raise the heat lamp.
    • Waterer
      Make sure to use one that is meant for chicks. They may be able to drown themselves in an open bowl. You can put marbles or little marble sized rocks in the water to keep them safe. You’ll need to clean it out once a day.
    • Feeder
      The feeder can be about anything but if they can stand it, they will scratch in it and poop in it.
    • Feed
      e just bought one bag of medicated chick starter.
  • Adult
    • Space
      For awhile we just put the juvenile chickens in an old mobile dog run that we had. It is about 8 feet by 4 feet. It didn’t work out too well because they got out too much. We ended up putting up some cattle panel and stringing up chicken wire around it. This allowed them plenty of room to roam, and kept our laying hens out of their protein heavy feed. We actually lost 2, lost as in dead, chicks due to the dog run not giving them enough room and shelter from the hot sun.
    • Feeder
      You’ll want to have enough feeders or big enough feeders that all the birds can reach the food at once. They will step all over each other and push each other to get to food. If your birds aren’t getting food, they’ll be too small when it’s time to harvest. Make sure you get a high protein chicken feed. These guys grow so quickly that they need the high protein to support the growth.
    • Waterer
      Same as feeding, make sure that they can get to their water and keep it as clean as possible.
    • Shelter
  • Slaughter
    • Sharp Knives
      I can’t underline enough the importance of having sharp knives. The first time I slaughtered chickens was just plain difficult because I didn’t have a sharp knife. You’ll need the knife to remove legs, wings and to begin cleaning the bird
    • Knife Sharpener
      Even if you start with a sharp knife, they go dull after a bit. This little beauty has been a great addition to our kitchen/farm. I bought mine from Lowes for pretty cheap.
    • Disinfectant Wipes
      Always a good idea to wipe down your surface before and after each bird. You’ll get blood, guts and poop on your surface and you don’t want that getting on your meat that you’ll feed to your family. I also wipe down the knife between each bird.
    • Friends
      Slaugthering 25 birds can be very daunting. Invite some friends over to help out. It’s especially fun to invite newbies over. You all get to joke about how gross it is and the leavity makes the whole “bloody” process easier. I took care of a couple of my birds by myself last year and it was a little lonely and not as near as fun.
    • Latex Gloves
      You don’t want to use normal gloves as you’re pulling gloves out because you need the sensitivity and who wants blood and guts all over your nice gloves. You could do it barehanded but I find I’m a little braver and tougher with a pair of gloves on.
    • Two 5 gallon buckets
      When we kill our chickens, we either slit their throats or remove their heads and let them drain their blood out into one of the 5 gallon buckets. It only takes a couple of minutes. You’d be surprised how little blood is in a chicken. The other bucket is for tossing unnecessary body parts (head, wings, legs, guts) into. I usually don’t toss this into my garbage because I don’t want this stuff stinking my garbage can up until the garbage man comes several days later. I’ll try to run it to a gas station’s garbage dumpster. Just don’t forget to run it over, I forgot one time recently and that was a foul mess that I had to clean up.
    • Traffic Cone
      I know, not what you expected. The traffic cone works really well for holding the chickens after you’ve removed the head or slit the throat. You just cut off a few inches off the tip of the cone and flip the cone upside down and slip the chicken through the larger hole. The chicken’s head should pop out the narrower side. You can then place the cone in the five gallon bucket, the base of the cone will sit on the top of the bucket. It will only take a minute or two for the chicken to drain out.
    • Hose
      You’ll need to hose off the chicken once it’s been cleaned to remove left over feathers, blood and etc.
    • Cooler with ice water and apple cider vinegar
      You’ll toss the chicken into cooler when you’re all done. The vinegar is a natural disinfectant and will kill whatever needs to be killed. The ice water will help preserve the meat. Once I’m done for the day, I’ll put the chicken carcass into freezer bags and put them in the fridge. We usually let them stay in there 1 to 2 days before processing them.

I found this YouTube video to be very helpful with the slaughtering step. I forgot to make a video of our own slaughtering. I’ll make one the next time we slaughter in the spring.

I’ll have Amber put a post on how to process these guys and I’ll put the link here. By the time we were done with these guys, I was ready for them to be gone and I really wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it again. Now that is has been a few months, I’ve really enjoyed having the chicken meat in the freezer and look back at the whole process fondly and I am quite pleased that our little family was able to provide this meat for ourselves. It’s quite the feeling to look a meal and 80% of it came from our own little farm.

Feel free to post any questions or comments. If you’re close to my area, I’d be willing to show you a thing or two.

Linking up to HOMESTEAD BARN HOP

 

Getting Started With Your Own – Laying Chickens

So you want chickens, do you?! It can be very daunting to start a new animal hobby. We’ve started new animals a couple of times and each time I was super worried that I was going to kill my new pets due to my lack of knowledge. Hopefully this post will give you a great start and you’ll be able to learn from our mistakes.

First thing that you need to do is decide if  you are going to raise chickens for eggs, meat or both. If you want just meat chickens, you’ll have to look at a later post about that. Laying hens are pretty easy and if you want them for meat when they’re done laying (about three years), you can do that too. Just keep in mind that chickens that are three years old are not going to be the roasting type, they’re better in soups or put in a pressure cooker.

I have absolutely loved having chickens. They were our first rural animal. They are super easy to take care of and require the least amount of work of all our animals.

Items You Need:

  • Chicken Coop
  • Feed
  • Water
  • More Knowledge
  • Chickens

Chicken Coop/Run:

Chickens don’t need a big fancy coop and they don’t need to be super expensive. We spent $300 on our first coop that could hold 8 to 10 birds and I think we paid too much. Check your local craigslist or other online classifieds for good deals. Also check your local farm store, IFA and Cal-Ranch for us. You need to decide how many birds you want. The size of the coop will depend on the number of birds you want. The standard is 4 square feet of coop space per bird and 10 square feet of run space (check here). We fudged this a little and did not have any problems. Just realize that these ladies poop a lot and a lot. Many birds in a small space will lead to a big mess for you to clean often and they will get agitated with each other if they don’t have enough space.

A coop should have a nesting box or two. When we bought our first coop, we were excited to see that it had 6 nesting boxes and thought that would be sufficient for our 8 hens. We soon learned that all 8 birds only used two of the boxes and they chose the hardest ones for us to get at. We closed off four of the six boxes. In our current coop we have six boxes again with 13 hens and they all share just two boxes again. Silly girls. Sometimes we see two of our fluffy butts in the same box.

Also make sure that the coop has a roosting bar. Our first coop had a couple of different levels of bars and the ladies fought and fought  for the highest bar.  Our new coop has a single bar so that they wouldn’t fight as much. They still fight for the spot closest to the wall but it’s not as bad as before. Also keep in mind that the hens like to snuggle, especially in the winter. They don’t need a ton of roosting space. Beware of the area below nesting boxes. Chickens do most of their #2 while they are roosting. So keep the area clear and put something underneath to catch it so you can just remove it, scrape it and return it.

You also need to make sure the coop has ventilation but not drafts. Chicken don’t need heaters in the winter, at least in Utah, but they don’t do well if they have cold wind blowing directly on them. If you do put a heater in with them, they don’t climatize as well and if you lose power to the heater you could lose your babies.  Because chickens are such awesome poop machines, the ammonia can build up if you don’t have good ventilation. That ammonia is not good for the girls or you.

For our current coop we found a used firework stand in the classifieds and paid $150 to have it moved from SLC to our house. It’s not the prettiest but it’s big. We converted the right side to a chicken coop and the left side to a shed/milking area for our dairy goat.

Feed:

Feeding chickens is pretty stinking easy. We just buy layer pellets from the local farm store. You can make your own if you want. They don’t eat a lot either. For just a couple birds, a single bag would last at least a month. You can buy a plastic or metal feeder to put the feed in. We built the current one we’re using now out of wood scraps. Make sure that the feeder and waterer are not under where the chickens sleep, they will poop in their own food and water.

Example

Water:

Nothing too special about watering your chickens. Just get a waterer and try to keep the water as clean as possible.

More Knowledge:

If you have any kind of question about chickens, feel free to ask a question on this page or look at backyardchickens.com. I had to scour backyardchickens for months to feel comfortable enough to get our chickens. They have lots of useful information.

 

Chickens:

Now for the fun part, choosing your chickens. This is my favorite part. There are so many different types of chickens. Each one has their own unique traits. Try to pick chickens for your needs. There are people down the street from us that get 25 birds of the same breed every year. I like having the variety of different birds.

If you want to research the different breeds, I’d recommend going to the Chicken Breed choosing tool at backyardchickens. They have a lot of breeds listed. Watch out for the chicken math. Last year we were supposed to get five birds and ended up getting 15 new birds.

I’ve always picked up my birds from the local feed store in the spring but you can order them online from places like Murray Mcmurray or you can hatch out your own eggs using an incubator. The eggs should come from someone that has a hen that is “contact” with a rooster or order them from online. I’ve never done the incubator thing so I can’t give you any advice on that.

Once you have your babies, you’ll need to keep them contained in a brooder box. Chickies aren’t very good at keeping their own body heat so you’ll need a heat lamp to help them out. They also a need a special chicken feed called chick starter. It’s typically medicated. After six weeks of being in the brooder, they’re ready to get out to the coop. Depending on the breed, I’d expect them to start laying at 4 to 6 months old.  Every time that we move our babies out to the coop we are very tired of being chicken mamas.  However, every spring we are very excited to have new babies.

Please feel free to ask any questions or correct me if you have a different opinion.

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Guts and Glory…ish

So I thought I would share my outlook on the whole meat chicken thing.  I’m really happy that I have healthy chicken to feed my family.  And there is such a sense of satisfaction knowing that when we sit down at the table most of it was provided by our hard work and the Lord’s blessings.  I think that I have really grown as a person through all of our homesteading endeavors.  And I’ve tried to push myself to do things that are hard and it feels good to know that I’ve overcome things.  Like, the whole “chickens scare the living daylights out of me” fear.  Totally conquered it.. yay me!

When Cody asked me to help with the chicken butchering, I took a deep breath and tried not to barf.  I successfully skinned and gutted three chickens.  I even cut the feet off of one of them.  I was really proud of me.  Well, after we cleaned up the mess I kept thinking of chicken guts and ripping lungs out of their body cavities.  Eew!  Sorry, kinda gross.   Then every time I closed my eyes I would see murdered chickens!

So the other night I have this dream.  I am milking Leila the goat in our little milking shed and I look over and Cody is skinning Puck the goat!  My sweet baby boy buck was murdered and Cody looked at me like, “What’s your problem?” I remember screaming in my dream and woke up all sweaty and scared.  Plus I was really ticked at Cody and kinda wanted to kick him in his sleep.

Things that I have learned from the whole ordeal…

  • I shouldn’t push myself too hard.
  • I am a caregiver, not a killer.
  • I don’t mind chopping up the chicken once it looks like a rotisserie chicken, but I can’t kill one and gut it!

So, Cody has agreed that he will do the dirty work and I will put things in plastic bags and freeze them and cook them.  I think that’s a fair deal.