Friday, August 30, 2013

Why do we raise broad-breasted bronze turkeys?

I've never been a fan of any type of livestock that does not fall into the heritage category, so it often comes as a surprise that we sometimes raise broad-breasted bronze turkeys. Why do we do it?

 There are a few reasons. It all started when we had turkey customers who wanted birds bigger than the 16 pound heritage turkeys that we normally have available for Thanksgiving. I chose the broad-breasted bronze rather than the white broad-breasted because no one has really worked on increasing the size of the broad breasted in the past 50 years or so -- not since they started trying to increase the size of the white turkey. I'd read on forums that people had white turkeys that weighed as much as 50 pounds! And what person wants a 50-pound turkey? No one! Corporations, however, like them because they're a cheap way to get ground meat and filets.

I was a little surprised and disappointed initially when we had some bronze turkeys get up to 38 and 43 pounds. Of course, no one bought the 43-pound turkey, so we separated the breast from the rest of the turkey -- it weighed 24 pounds! -- and we foolishly cooked it for Thanksgiving. Even after giving people left-overs to take home, we wound up eating turkey for the next week, and we finally gave the rest of it to the dogs.

At some point it occurred to me that these big boys do serve a purpose. I actually really like ground turkey meat. The dark meat is very similar to other dark meats, such as beef and pork, so it makes excellent chili and burgers. And the ground white meat also makes good burgers, but with some additions -- like mixing crumbled feta into the meat. So, now we raise a few simply for ground meat.

Oh, and there is one more thing I like about them. While we have to raise the heritage turkeys in moveable pens because they can fly over fences, the broad breasted can't fly, so they stay put, and we can let them free range in the pasture, which makes them a little easier to care for. Now that my children have grown up and moved out, I can't ask them to go get the turkeys that are wandering down the road. Broad-breasted turkeys also can't fly up into the trees, meaning that when it's time for us to catch them and take them to the processor, we will be able to catch them.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Re-establishing our heritage turkey flock

We had a flock of breeding heritage turkeys from the first spring we moved here until last summer when a predator wiped out every last one of them in only a few days. We never did figure out what was killing them. Heritage turkeys prefer to roost in trees or on top of fences at night rather than go into the chicken house, and at the time they were all killed, they were roosting on the top of a fence. Whatever snagged them either ate everything immediately or carried it off our property because we found no remains other than part of a wing nearby.

So, this year we had the opportunity to start from a blank slate. I originally placed an order with a hatchery at the end of January. Having raised all of the more common heritage breeds at one time or another through the years, I decided to let fate decide what turkeys we would have in the future, so I ordered a "hatchery's choice" of whatever heritage varieties were left over on our hatch date in the middle of March. Well, fate had different plans. The hatchery lost our order. So, in early March I was scrambling, trying to find a hatchery that had anything available soon.

White Holland turkeys

Heritage turkeys don't grow as big or as fast as broad breasted, so I needed to get them as soon as possible in order to have some decent sized turkeys by Thanksgiving, meaning 15-16 pounds for the gobblers and 10-12 pounds for the hens. There was one hatchery that had some turkeys available soon, and I didn't want to do a "hatchery's choice" with them because the last time I did, we wound up with only two heritage turkeys and the rest were broad breasted.

Royal Palm turkeys

I ultimately decided on 10 White Hollands and 12 Royal Palms. All of the white turkeys will be butchered for Thanksgiving because solid white poultry does not do well free range. They are a blinking beacon for predators. We will keep all of the Royal Palm hens and two gobblers for breeding.

We keep heritage turkeys in moveable pens, often called chicken tractors. (But it sounds weird to call it a chicken tractor when there are turkeys living in it!) We have tried multiple times to keep them in a pastured situation, and it has never ended well. One year we had almost two dozen turkeys just leave one day. Of course, they did this after they had already eaten a couple hundred dollars worth of organic feed! Twice, we had several fly up into a tree or fly off into the bushes when we were trying to catch them and take them to the processor. They all came back the next day, but it was too late for us to have them processed because we have to schedule months in advance.

I'm trying to decide when would be a good time to move the royal palm hens into the chicken house. They are much older than the ones that just walked off one day, so they're probably smart enough to stick around for the free food. Our breeding stock turkeys do live a free-range life, even though that can be a headache too sometimes. We have lost quite a few hens to predators when they were setting because they chose a location that was less than safe, even though sometimes they hide so well that we humans can't find them until it's too late.

If you're new to my blog, you may be surprised by my comment about my turkeys and chickens living together. No, we've never (knock on wood) had a case of blackhead. For more on that topic, you can check out my previous posts here and here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When good goats go bad

Meet Anna Pavlova, daughter of Giselle. (All of the goats are named on a theme, and Giselle's theme is ballet.) Anna is only seven months old, but she is already making a name for herself.

I'm not entirely sure what the name is, but you can tell the other goats are thinking something! Prima donna, perhaps?

Yes, that's a chicken feeder on her head. I'm not entirely sure it was an accident, as she didn't seem to mind it at all. I've always said that goats try to live up to their namesake, so you should choose their names very carefully! It never occurred to me that naming a goat after a famous ballerina could be a problem, but she does seem to enjoy the limelight. I was planning to write about the turkeys today, but I guess Anna thought the goats deserved a little more publicity, so you'll hear about the turkeys on Wednesday.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Raising Delaware chickens

Last fall someone in the Chicago chicken group said that she wanted to order Delaware chickens from Sandhill Preservation in Iowa, but she didn't want 25 chicks, so was there anyone who would be interested in splitting the order with her? I said sure! Delawares are supposed to be a good dual-purpose chicken, and I am always on the look-out for a breed that can provide a lot of eggs for a good breakfast, as well as a decent chicken dinner. And it would be really nice if the chickens would get broody and raise their own replacements.

This spring the 25 chicks were shipped to my farm, and about a week later, the woman from Chicago drove out and picked up her 10 chicks. As the chicks began to mature, it became obvious rather quickly that only four of them were pullets (young hens), meaning that we would have a lot of chicken dinners but not so many eggs. As soon as it was obvious which ones were boys and girls, we put the pullets out in the hen house with the other ladies, and we put the boys in a chicken tractor. They are pictured here at four months of age.

I'm a little concerned that the hens are so white. Pictures of Delawares show more barring in the tail and neck feathers. I'm not sure if this is a maturity thing (because we've never raised Delawares before) or if it's a matter of breeding, but I hope they don't stay so white because pure white poultry don't do very well free range. They're blinking beacons for predators. One of my daughters tried to raise white Plymouth Rock chickens eight or nine years ago, and they didn't last very long.

In addition to the four hens that we are keeping for eggs, we will also keep two of the cockerels so that we can separate them with the hens and hopefully raise some of our own Delaware chicks next year. The rest of the cockerels will soon become dinner.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Happy retirement, Sherri!

We bought our fifth doe in 2004, two years after moving to Antiquity Oaks, and that doe was a yearling named Sherri. She is now ten years old, and I've decided it's time for her to retire, even though I'd love to have a dozen more of her daughters. But that would just be greedy.

Sherri is one of our foundation does, and her daughters have never disappointed us. They have all earned their milk stars, and they have wonderfully friendly personalities. In fact, our highest producing milker of all time is Charlotte, Sherri's daughter.

Although most people expect a great doe to produce great kids, that was not really the case with Sherri. She was not a record-breaking milker, and she was terrible in the show ring. The only thing we ever heard about her from judges was, "I'd like to commend the doe at the end of the line for her length of body." So, we knew Sherri had a nice, long body, but that was all we ever learned from showing her. I was a little nervous about getting her classified, but my daughter convinced me that she wasn't a bad looking goat; she just wasn't the prettiest goat in the herd. And she was right. Sherri classified as "Very Good," but with the lowest VG score in our herd. And in terms of conformation, her daughters have all exceeded her.

Sherri was the first doe we ever took to a show, and being our first show, we didn't think about taking a milk stand. But Sherri was always an angel on the milk stand, and even without a milk stand, she just stood there in the show barn and let my daughter milk her while I held a pan of grain for her to eat. That pretty much made her our favorite milk goat, even though she took last place in the show.

The only thing I never liked about Sherri was the fact that she gave birth with a little too much ease. It was because of her and her daughters that we created our kidding barn. She and her daughters (and grand-daughters) are all terribly stoic until the head is actually emerging, and if I'm in the house listening on a baby monitor, the baby is usually already born by the time I get to the barn. It's not a bad thing unless it's the middle of winter, which means the kids are at risk of hypothermia if they are not cleaned up fast enough. One of her daughters gave birth when it was 8 degrees below zero one year, and by the time I got outside, there was not one, but THREE kids sitting in a pool of amniotic fluid. I was screaming over the baby monitor for someone to come help me get them all dried off before they turned into frozen little kid-cicles. In that kind of weather, you don't just need towels, you need blow dryers and heat lamps. You can click here to read all about that blessed event. Here is a link to the story of a typical Sherri birth, in case you'd like to read more.

This year, we are keeping Sherri's daughter, Sophie Kinsella, pictured with her above. Sherri will get to enjoy her golden years with her daughters and grand-daughters here on the homestead. Although I'm sad that there won't be any more Sherri daughters, I am looking forward to more of the Sherri grand-daughters!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Moving day for goats ... again

A couple of weeks ago, we moved the goats to this weed-covered field. Yes, those six-foot-tall plants are weeds, not small trees.

We were a little worried that they would completely trample everything and wind up with little to eat within a day or two. But then again, we've never put them up against six-foot-tall weeds.

To our surprise, they stuck together and didn't venture very far into the weeds. They really have been gradually eating their way through the weed forest.

I suppose the reason this is working is because enormous weeds are not nearly as close together as blades of grass. When we've put them into areas with grass that was several feet high, they do trample that in no time.

Then again, maybe it was simply the height that intimidated them. I'm not sure they've ever been in grass that was so far above their heads.

We use rotational grazing both for pasture conservation and parasite control. If goats are not eating off the ground, they are not ingesting the worm larvae that has been deposited on the ground in goat poop. And if you move them before they eat all the vegetation down to the ground, they won't be continually reinfecting themselves. So, whenever they work their way through this little forest, we'll be moving them to another pasture.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Making soap

We've recently been making goat milk soap. Or I should say, Mike has been making soap -- a couple hundred bars to be somewhat more precise. We were almost completely out. I think we had four or five bars left. I have to say that we have the most wonderfully patient customers in the world. Even though the soap page on the website has said "sold out" for years, our regular customers email and ask when we'll have anything available. Sometimes we have something, but I haven't had time to update the site, so I tell them what fragrances we have, and they send the money via Paypal, and we ship the soap. And before I've had time to update the website, we are again truly sold out.

I don't even know the last time I looked at the soap page on the website before today, but I see it needs a complete update because I now use all organic oils in the soap, and the scented soaps use only essential oil for fragrance. And I use only sustainably-grown palm oil.

A few months ago, I asked Mike what was his favorite product that we produce on the farm, and he said, "Soap." So, we are going to work on actually getting ahead with our soapmaking. And then we'll update the website with pay buttons and everything. At least, that's the goal.

This also means that we will have plenty of choices available for this Saturday's Farm Crawl.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Another baby llama!

Mike really scared the daylights out of me on Monday! I heard him calling my name from outside, which usually means that someone is injured or dead, so I went running to the window, screaming, "What's wrong?" And then he said, "Sitara had her cria!"

Oh, happy day! I didn't slow down at all as I was pulling on my shoes, but I did take a second to run back to my desk and grab my camera.

We are pretty sure it's a girl, but it isn't as friendly as the little dude that was born a couple of weeks ago, so we haven't actually been able to catch her. However, unlike him, she keeps her tail up a lot, and we have gotten close enough that we feel fairly confident that it looks like a girl.

I was so excited when I snapped the picture of Sitara giving her baby a hug. Okay, maybe she was just sniffing her to make sure I hadn't switched crias on her, but it looks like she's giving her a hug!

I wanted to get a picture of the other cria next to her so you could see how much he's grown, but this was the best I managed. He does look like a big boy compared to her, and I know a couple of weeks ago, I thought he looked so small and scrawny.

We are so excited to have two, beautiful baby llamas to add to the farm.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A new lamb!

When our milk tester arrived last Thursday, she asked us about the new lamb, and we said, "Whaaaat!?"

As Mike and the milk tester began the goat milking, Kat (who was home visiting) and I went running out to the sheep pasture as the sun was already setting and the sky was getting darker and darker. From a distance I could see the tiny white ball of fluff moving around the pasture.

As we got closer, however, I realized the sheep were not really in a social mood and were spooking really easily. Not wanting the cute little darling to get trampled in a stampede, Kat and I finally gave up and decided to check on it in the morning. It was clearly doing just fine already.

So, Kat got these great pics on Friday morning.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Getting ready for next weekend's Farm Crawl!

Last August, we participated in our first Farm Crawl, which was an opportunity for people to visit our farm, as well as three others within a few miles of us. This year, we have a fifth farm joining us. If you want to know more about the other farms, you can visit the official Farm Crawl website. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, August 17.

And we are freaking out here on Antiquity Oaks. In case I haven't mentioned it enough lately, my children have had the nerve to grow up and move away, so now I understand how those people feel when their company downsizes and then you have to do your job, as well as the jobs of one or two other people!

So, Antiquity Oaks is not as spiffy as it has been in previous years -- and that's not saying much. I always have this Martha Stewart country estate in my mind, but it's never quite happened. And now we've taken a couple more steps farther away from that ideal. (Sorry, this is not supposed to be my annual panic post.)

Back to the Farm Crawl -- in addition to seeing all of the animals, visitors will also have the opportunity to buy our goat milk soap made with organic oils, Shetland wool roving, Shetland and llama yarn, raw Shetland fleeces, Old English Southdown wool batting, naturally colored sheepskins, books on raising livestock, gardening, homesteading, etc., including but not limited to the books I've written. We will also be doing the following demonstrations:

  • 10:30 a.m. Scything
  • 1:00 p.m. Goat milking
  • 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Spinning wool

In addition to cold, hard cash, we also accept credit cards. Admission to the Farm Crawl itself is free. We're looking forward to meeting you!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New chicken tractors

I am not a big fan of chicken tractors, but my husband loves them, and since he takes care of the poultry, I'm not going to argue the issue. Over the years, we have had four different designs ... PVC construction, all wood construction, wood frame and stainless steel sides and roof, and then this design. I personally thought this one would fly off like a big kite, but we've had this one for three years, and it's still here in one piece, and we have never (knock on wood) had it fly off or flip over in high winds. So, when we recently realized we needed a couple more chicken tractors, this was the one Mike wanted to repeat because it is light-weight and easy to move.

He wanted to build them in the barn so that they would be flat on concrete ... meaning they would be square. Building them outside on uneven ground might make for an uneven foundation, and that would be bad. Here are a couple of different views of construction, in case you might want to make one.

If you've ever searched for chicken tractors online, you've probably found similar models posted on other blogs and websites. One reason I'm kind of excited about this one is because I had an 'aha!' moment about this one recently. I'm hoping to turn one of them into a high tunnel this fall. We only use them for roosters and turkeys, which are destined to become meat by fall or earlier, and it occurred to me that we could replace the blue tarp with greenhouse plastic in the fall and ... voila! ... we'll have a high tunnel!

We've been using unheated low tunnels to grow food through the winter for three years now, and the only thing I don't like about them is crawling around in the snow to harvest lettuce and other greens. I've looked at commercial high tunnels, but they cost more than we can afford, so this seems like a great solution. With it being lightweight, the plan is to lift it up and sit it over one of our existing raised beds.

This post was shared at the Homestead Barn Hop!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Llama drama

We had the annual llama spa day a week ago Sunday, and as usual, the llamas were not impressed. I took pictures and was all set to tell you about how easy it was this year. There was absolutely no drama by anyone, including Sitara, who decided to stage a sit-down strike last year. She sat and sat and sat through her whole shearing and even as the shearers packed up their things and left. Finally that evening she decided to stand up again, and we could see the funny fringe of hair she still had under her chest, which was unreachable by the shearers since she was kushed (llama lingo for laying down).

The biggest excitement of llama shearing day this year -- oops, I mean llama spa day -- was that we noticed some mammary development on Katy, and that can only mean one thing .... a baby llama is coming soon!

When I was in town on Wednesday, I got a text photo with a picture of a little brown baby llama! I happened to be sitting in the waiting room at the chiropractor at the moment and like any proud grandma, I had to show off the picture to everyone.

But the next day I went outside and took a few more photos, as well as a video of the new little darling. But of course, nothing ever happens without any drama around here, and when I first went out to the pasture the morning after he was born, I thought he was already dead because right next to his mama I saw what looked like a pile of brown fluff. I couldn't even make out heads or tails from across the pasture. I'm trying not to be paranoid, but after all the death we've dealt with lately, it is hard to stay positive. As I moved across the pasture and got closer, I suppose he heard me coming with his big ol' ears, and up popped his head. Yes, I was relieved!

I should add that I didn't know that he was a he at that moment, and it was quite a challenge to figure it out by looking from a distance. He is a fuzzy little thing. Since I've never been able to catch young llamas by myself -- they are not very friendly -- I asked Mike to help me. As soon as Mike picked up the little guy, I felt under the belly, and yup, it's a boy.

We actually have no preference for boys or girls when it comes to baby llamas because they're just going to grow up and become guardians for our goats and sheep. Actually it's probably better if it's a boy because we can get him gelded (that's llama lingo for castrated), and then we don't have to worry about any accidental breeding.  If we have a female, things could get a little tricky as the only intact male on the place would be her daddy.

After Mike put the little dude down, he just stood there, so I decided to pet him, and he still just stood there looking at me with such curiosity. He let me continue to pet him until his mama got several feet away, and then he took off after her. New daily chore: pet baby llama so that he stays this sweet!

And here is the short little video I took. Can you tell I'm excited? But he needs a name, and I've never been great at coming up with names, so I need help! Mama's name is Katydid, and daddy is Dolce & Gabbana. He is all brown with a blackish-brown head, and his future career path is that of a livestock guardian. Ideas? Suggestions?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Farewell to our faithful guardian

I was gone to a conference towards the end of last week, and as I was going from one venue to another, I glanced at my cell phone to see a text that simply said, "Hey, call home when you're free." That type of text usually means something bad, but what? When I called home, my son's first words were, "Sovalye died."

What? He wasn't even sick. It was a shock, and it was hard to have it all happening when I was away from home.

This is what my son posted on his Facebook page:

I don't like dogs, for the most part. I can stand them in small doses, but most of the time I just find them obnoxious, whether they're barking at you or begging for attention. Sovalye was an exception. He was friendly, but in a shy, non-pushy way that you rarely find in dogs. He was our farm's first livestock guardian to last more than a few months, and while he wasn't able to hold on to the title for as long as we would've liked (he's been mostly retired the last few years), he was still extremely effective at his job when he was all there mentally.

He passed away last night at the age of 9. We found him this morning, and it appears he sustained some sort of injury, which probably happened sometime yesterday when he got off our property, a frustrating hobby he's picked up over the last few years (it's not worth trying to catch him when this happens, because he would just run farther away from you - I've chased him a whole mile before), but we weren't able to figure out where they came from. I guess it doesn't matter too much at this point anyway.

Even with all of his issues, he was one of the kindest, most modest dogs I ever knew. He could be ferocious when he wanted and needed to be (he literally shook an invasive raccoon to death when he was only a year old), but deep down he had a very kind heart. Though I've seen dozens of lives come and go on this farm, I'm not sure I'm going to miss one as much as him.
 By the time I got home two days later on Saturday night, Sovalye had been buried, so I was not able to say a proper good bye to him. And it didn't really hit me that he was gone until I milked the goats. He normally waits for me in the barn, and when I walk out of the milking parlor, I give him the strip milk, which is the first few squirts of milk from each goat, and with 14 does, that adds up to a decent amount of milk. But as I reached the end of the milking Sunday morning, I knew Sovalye would not be there waiting for me when I walked out. And tears rolled down my cheeks.


Related Posts with Thumbnails