Art of Proprietation

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'll Spare you the grisly details

We did some chicken butchering recently. Since before thanksgiving, we have been talking about slaughtering a few chickens and guineas. The chickens had gotten to the age where they no longer laid eggs. They were some of our first and favorite birds, but we had new guineas we hatched over the spring and summer and we'll getting new chickens for 2008. We need the eggs. This fall we have resorted to buying eggs, which I really hate. Unfortunately, we need to make room for the new birds and that means we need to slaughter the unproductive birds, however much we liked them.

I had been putting off the deed for over a month. Last week we had a predator kill three birds. This is the first time we have lost birds to a wild predator (we did loose some to a domestic dog in 2006). Since we free range our birds and they sleep in a unlocked coop, I always felt blessed that we had no predator losses. Luckily, we lost three unproductive birds and non of our current layers. But it brought the need to slaughter front and center. As bad as it was to kill a chicken we liked, allowing it to potentially die by predation and missing out on the butchered meat was worse.

Slaughtering chickens is not my idea of fun. There are probably a lot of ways to kill a chicken. I have seen chicken killing devices and read about techniques. Not sure I know any I particularly like. I just try to be quick and as painless as possible. I try to keep the bird calm up to the last instant. A quick neck wringing and then slit the throat. A chicken beats it's wings as the last bit of life leaves the body. I don't allow it to run around. I don't do it in front of other animals. Stress at slaughter is supposed to be bad for meat quality.

If slaughter is bad, butchering is worse. I hate plucking chickens. It's not a pleasant business. I have tried scalding the body, but either I didn't get the water temp right or I am just no good at it. I generally end up tearing the skin at least a little. And getting all the feathers seams impossible. After plucking, I removed the digestive tract and organs. The dog gets some of it. The feathers go every which way.

We ate the birds this afternoon as a holiday meal. I wish I could say that all the work that went into them made them taste sweeter. They actually tasted fine. But they were a little on the tough side. Especially the legs. But even the breast was a little chewy. I think next time we'll stew them instead of roasting them.

Although eating the birds was not a glorious end, the chickens and guineas have been a successful experiment. They do a good job of cutting down on the bugs in the yard, particularly ticks. And the fresh eggs are fabulous. We'll just have to look up some recipes for older birds.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

So, you say you want to downsize and get back to basics...

I don't know about you, but I have heard a lot of talk about people wanting to get back to basics, slow down and smell the roses, downsize their lives, get away from the rat race so they have time to live their lives.. Not necessarily a new thing, but I have heard these statements in the media and from the mouths of friends and acquaintances alike. I wonder how it has worked out for them.

We have done a certain amount of getting back to basics around here. Gotten away from the rat race, as it were. Now we are in the chicken race, or the season race, or the keep the house from falling in race. There was a time when I spent my time dreaming about and pursuing the perfect wave. It meant a lot of driving, camping out, down time around a campfire. Now, we have gardens, chickens, goats, cats and a dog. Thoughts of waves are few and far between around here. And pursuit of them is a dream.

Slowing down and getting back to basics around here means eating from our gardens, raising chickens for eggs and meat, milking goats, burning wood in the kitchen cook stove. Some of these things we have been doing a long time, but some are new. But eventually they add up. And now that it is winter, some take more effort or are more urgent. A typical morning is like this, get up early to start the stove and get the coffee on. Take fresh water out to the goats and give them hay. Feed the chickens and check for eggs. Come back in to have a coffee and breakfast and stoke the stove. Back out to milk the goats, bring the milk in, process it and clean up. Out to split wood for the day and bring it in. In between, keep the stove stoked. That often takes me through till 10:30 or 11 AM. Depending on the weather, try to get some maintenance done or if it's inclement, do some work for clients (telecommuting). Every couple of hours, go back out and re-fork the goat hay and check the chickens. Keep the stove stoked.

In addition to the daily chores, we are always up against a change of season to prepare for. Coming into winter, it was get the house buttoned up and the animal shelters battened down. Coming into the fall it was get in the fall harvest and enough wood to carry us through. Over the summer it was get hay into the barn. In the spring it will be care for the new goat kids, with any luck. There were some singulars in there to. Watch for the goats to be in heat and get them bred. Construct new housing for the goats. Move the chicken coop to the new spot for the season.

We do have some systems that make things easier. For the winter we will use an automated feeder that feeds the chickens for us in the early morning. In the summer the chickens are free range and we don't have to worry about them so much. There is a heated base for the chicken water so it doesn't freeze that cuts down on needing to get out there early. There is water plumbed from the spring down to the garden so we don't have to lug it. The garden is mostly raised beds that are a lot easier to tend than beds on grade. But for the goats and the wood stove, it's fresh enough that we are still working to find those ease factors. Getting the necessities in can be a daily grind.

Being successful does become all about those ways to automate / ease the processes. I think I'll call them easements. If I had to go out every morning at the butt crack of dawn to bring water to the chickens, they'd be in chicken soup before long. Sometimes it's about learning the hard way, sometimes it's about learning from someone else. For the goats, I lucked into knowing someone who had them pretty well figured out. I was able to model their processes and get a big jump on the learning curve.

Well, I don't think I am going to get much further with this tonight. Your going to have to take my word for it that we do it as I don't think I am going to get around to telling you how we do it.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Keeps me off the street

I have had a phrase since I bought this house "Well, it keeps me off the street...". A person might think that it is because owning property gave me a sense of place, confidence of where my home is. Maybe it does, but I was being more literal. I don't have the time to wander anymore.

Keeping up a 1890's farmhouse never ends. There are the seasonal items; opening the storms in the spring, Mowing in the summer closing everything back up in the fall, snow removal in the winter. Then there is the re-occurring maintenance; exterior paint, clearing blocked drains, etc. Then it gets into repairs. Fixing a blown outlet. Replacing a bad motor in an appliance. Broken windows. Maybe a leak hear or there. Replace an aging heat plant or water heater. Then comes remodeling. Strip some wall paper and repaint. Maybe a new bathroom. New counters in the kitchen. And if your really ambitious, maybe there will be expansion projects. Add heat to a room that had none. I don't have time to run the streets like I used to.

Right now I am trying to solve a leak on the front porch. I have repainting major areas staring me in the face. I am trying to get the winterization projects finished (plastic on the back storm door, cover any windows without storms). I need to convert the radiant floor from an open domestic over to a closed system off the steam boiler. I have a long list of less important remodeling items. Repairing flaws on the wallpaper, dings on the molding. Kitchen cabinets for my wife. Putting up shelves. I can't say or hear that without thinking of the threes company episode.

And on the seventh day, I try to blog a little.

I have a home I have a place and some days it threatens to consume me.

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