Sunday, October 23, 2011

Preparing for Fall

Now that the chicken harvest is over chores at the farm seem to take almost no time at all.  The cow is out to pasture and only needs to have his water checked.  He often comes into the barn to have his nose and head scratched when I'm there.  The hens only take a few minutes twice a day. The cats are fed while I'm waiting for the cow's bucket to fill with water.  The dogs take much more time and energy than anything else. 

We took straightened up around the farm and got things ready for cooler weather.  We put the chicken tractors away in the barn.  We cleaned up the feeders and waterers and stored those.  The chicken processing equipment was all put away.  The hammock and lawn toys were stored. 

After straightening everything we took a walk down to the garden.  It's been several weeks since I'd checked on things there.  My attention for gardening waned as the summer turned into fall.  I let my broccoli flower and my lettuce bolt.  I didn't expect that I'd find anything but rotten tomatoes.  Instead, I was pleased to find five good sized bell peppers, several pounds of almost ripe tomatoes and a bunch of jalapenos.  The chickens were pleased to receive a dozen or so tomatoes that weren't fit for us to use in the house.  We even enjoyed several end of season raspberries as we stood at the garden and talked.

The corn behind the house is drying out.  Our rainy weather lately hasn't helped the process.  Right now the ground is much too soggy to bring the combines in to harvest.  I don't know that I ever paid attention to the different colors that corn can be.  Ours has gone from bright green to a light khaki.  At each stage of the growing process it also has a unique sound.  Now it's almost a percussion instrument like the brushes on a snare drum.

The bees were also getting ready for winter.  The last time I checked them the top box was about 70% full of honey.  I need to do the final winterizing for them this week.  That will require a trip to the bee supply store.

It was good to have this weekend to do some straightening.  The sun was beautiful, the temperature was mild, and the work was light.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Counting Them Down

Beginning April 1, 2011
0 chickens + 18 chickens (day old chicks) = 18 chickens + 6 chickens (day old chicks) = 24 chickens - 20 chickens (thanks to the neighbors dog) = 4 chickens + 100 chickens (day old chicks) = 104 chickens + 6 chickens (rooster and 5 hens) = 110 chickens - 1 chicken (cause of death unknown) = 109 chickens - 2 chickens (trial run) = 107 chickens - 17 chickens (harvest) =  90 chickens - 32 chickens (harvest) = 58 chickens - 4 chickens (sold live) = 54 chickens - 1 chicken (pecked to death) = 53 chickens - 22 chickens (harvest) = 31 chickens - 19 chickens (harvest) = 12 chickens (2 roosters, 10 hens)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Chicken Harvest Continues

We have now successfully harvested half of our chickens.  It's taken our trial run plus two harvesting sessions.  We are getting more efficient but we are liking it less each time.  Killing chickens is messy business.  I suppose the killing isn't really the messy part.  The feathers and the insides are the messy parts.  We find ourselves wishing for chickens with zippers.

We are extremely thankful for the chicken plucker.  I'm not sure how we'd manage without it.  It cuts the processing time and effort down considerably.  However, each time we use it I feel bad for the chicken, even though it's dead and doesn't feel a thing.  There's just something about the sound of the rubber "fingers" slapping against the chicken and seeing the feathers fly that seems disrespectful to the bird.

I even learned to process the chicken myself.  I never cut up a chicken before.  Until the farm, I only bought frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Yesterday, I divided three of the birds into their parts.  Breasts, thighs, legs and wings neatly placed in a pan.   For someone that hates touching raw meat, this is huge.  Bravery is something I can add as a useful tool for farming.

After this experience of harvesting chickens, I think it's safe to say that we will not be full-time chicken farmers.

Bee Keeping: Getting Ready for Winter

Today was one of those beautiful fall days that makes you forget the cold weather coming.  The sun was shining and the air was clear.  In celebration I put on my bee jacket and went out to take a look at the hives.   Rainy, overcast weather of the past few weeks prevented working with the bees.  To my delight, the bees were doing fine without my supervision. 

I pulled the outer cover off the first hive without difficulty.  The inner cover required prying on two corners before the layer of propylis broke free with a popping sound.  The bees knew what they were doing when they worked so diligently to fill all those nooks and crannies.  I was amazed at the changes in my hive.  What had been an almost vacant top box was now a bustling center of industry.

As I checked each frame I was thrilled to feel the weight and see the evidence of honey production.  Eight of the ten frames were being filled with honey.  Some of the honey was already capped for future use.  Both sides were filled equally.  The bees were working from left to right when facing the front of the hive.  The two last frames on the right were just beginning to see activity.

Rather than trying to pry the top box off the bottom box, I chose to check the top box of my second hive.  Prior to this visit my first hive had been smaller and less active than the second.  With the new burst of energy that the first hive was showing I wanted to see what was happening in hive #2.  Upon opening hive #2 I found a situation very similar to the first hive.  Much of the top box was full of honey.  In fact, some of the frames were overflowing and the bees had begun to add honey comb to the bottom of the frames.  These bees also worked from left to right , facing the hive.  The frames on the far right were somewhat built out but not nearly as full as the center frames.

After lifting out twenty frames and checking both sides my arms were too tired to attempt lifting the entire top box to check the box beneath.  Both top boxes were free of any brood and I'd like to make sure that the box beneath showed that the queen was working as hard as her bees.  I estimated that the box with the frames full of honey weighed about 80 lbs.   Lifting that would require a fresh start on a new day. 

If the weather holds checking the bottom boxes will be my first priority.