Preparing for our next big adventure!

More critters will be arriving this spring at our farm (besides a batch of lambs.)  They will have a relatively short stay.  As famous Virginia farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms says…

 

They’ll only have one bad day…

 

We’re going to raise meat chickens this year.  We’ve been eager to try raising our own chickens for meat, but didn’t want to take on too many projects in our first couple of years.  

 

This year we’re ready.

 

This winter we’ve been busy building a chicken “tractor” based on the abovementioned Joel Salatin’s design.  It’s so nice to have the space on the main floor of the barn for large building projects.  You just have to be sure that what you build will fit through the doors when it’s finished!

 

Today the tractor was completed!

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Roy is happy.

 

For those not familiar with the concept of chicken tractors, it is just a moveable, bottomless cage that is dragged around with the chickens inside from place to place on the pasture.  The idea is that the animals can forage on grass, weeds and insects while they fertilize!  It’s a win-win situation!

 

While we’ve been waiting to begin this new project, we’ve been trying to decide what type of bird to raise.  Most commonly raised meat chickens are what you would probably find at your local supermarket – a hybridized Cornish Rock cross.  These chickens are almost scary in how fast they grow!  In just 8 short weeks they are ready for processing.  They taste great and are quite adequate for both the backyard poultry producer and the Purdue poultry factories.  

 

What’s the tradeoff?  Well, these birds grow so obscenely fast that they are prone to keeling over from various diseases.  You have to feed them very carefully.  They also aren’t the best foragers, as they’ve primarily been developed for confinement rearing.  We were covinced that there must be a viable alternative, and we were so pleased to learn that this alternative is not only available, but they are raised and sold locally by a poultry hatchery owned by a man who, amazingly enough, used to work at our farm about 25 years ago.  

 

Ok – let me clarify.  He didn’t actually work at Morning Star Meadows.  Gary Proctor, of GourmAvian Farms in Bolton, CT, worked here when our farm was owned and operated by Arbor Acres Poultry, a huge, now international company that dealt in poultry genetics (of Cornish Rock crosses, no less!)  Our backyard used to be home to thousands of chickens years ago!  It was completely serendipitous that we found Gary.  I wanted to buy our chicks here in CT — partly to keep business local, and more practically to save shipping costs and shipping stress on the chicks.  When we settled on a breed I started to look at local hatcheries and found Gary.  When Roy spoke to him and told him where we lived, we assumed he’d know about Arbor Acres, but never dreamed that he had actually worked here (as did his father!)

 

So – back to the broiler breed we chose.  We discovered a meat bird that takes a couple of extra weeks to grow before processing – a red broiler that originates from Italy, actually (that HAS to make it good, right?!)  It’s called the Kosmos K22 broiler.  Tradeoff — a couple more weeks of feed to pay for to achieve the same sized bird as the Cornish cross.  But this breed is a more natural forager, much better suited for pasturing, with less health issues.  And because it grows a bit more slowly, it is touted to have a better, more traditional old style taste and texture, like our grandparents would have eaten in the Old Country!

 

So we’re looking forward to the arrival of our 50 chicks in May (after the craziness of lambing is over!)  It will be fun for the kids to raise these birds from chicks, although Gary does actually sell 3 wk old birds as well as mature birds ready for processing.  

 

I’m also looking forward to filling the freezer with our own meat in July on that “one bad day”!

Fricassee, anyone?!

A little something for everyone here at Christmas!

At our farm everyone gets a little something for Christmas…even if it’s a tad late!  We love to throw our old trees to the sheep in January.  The rams love to scrape their horns on the branches, and the chickens just love pecking at them!  Without any pasture grasses growing, life can get a bit tedious with eating hay and just standing around most of the time, so this give them a bit of a diversion!

 

The frosty break of dawn

Winter is here.  We’ve had some single digit temperatures to start our days, and the Icelandics are feeling quite at home, minus the “ice” part, thankfully!

 

This was taken as dawn was breaking with a full moon setting over the barn as our day was beginning.  Sticking my head out the door for a couple of seconds to snap this photo, the sheep caught sight of me and began demanding breakfast.  I sure was glad that I ordered some arctic-grade Carharrt gear the week before!  The winds up here are something else!

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Got Milk?

Just HAD to share this adorable photo of a milking shorthorn and her calf this past fall at the Hurst Family Farm in Andover, CT.  One of their daughters took this picture, and I thought it was fantastic!

 

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The Hursts are an awesome family – good friends of ours and they’ve been such good examples of how to successfully run a farm AND a large family!

 

They were winners of Yankee Magazine’s 2011 best attractions — Best Farm Store category!

 

Their country store is open year round for syrup, honey, homemade jams, jellies, salsas and relishes, as well as quaint country gifts and old fashioned toys.  They make the best gift baskets.  They grow loads of organic produce in the summer and make delicious maple syrup.  They also run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program during the summer.

 

If you get a chance, visit their family built post and beam sugar house this winter for a real treat — hearth baked bread with maple butter lathered all over it!  Can’t be beat!  And in the fall they have wonderful hayrides.  

 

Our first hank of yarn!

What’s a hank?  And what’s a Niddy Noddy?  A skein??

 

Yes, we’re making yarn now, so there is lots of new terminology to learn!

 

The other day you saw our post showing a bobbin full of newly spun white yarn.  This yarn, because I’m such a newbie, is thick and single ply.  Single ply means that it is one strand of yarn.  To make double ply yarn I would have spun 2 strands of (much thinner) yarn seperately and then plied them together, spinning them and twisting them in the opposite direction to which they were originally spun individually.

 

We left this yarn on the bobbin overnight to set the twist.  The following day we looked into purchasing a Niddy Noddy.  I really have to some time look up the derivation of this term, but for now just believe me that a Niddy Noddy is a device used to skein yarn so that it can be more easily handled for storing, knitting or dyeing.  Depending on the size of the niddy noddy, you can know how many yards of yarn by how many loops around the noddy you make.

 

Looking around the internet we found Niddy Noddys (ies?) to range in price from $20 to $50, depending on the type of wood, stain and design.  And then we found the “Yankee Farmer” version of a Niddy Noddy, and $7.69 later, after a couple of angle grinder cuts, we had our very own PVC Niddy Noddy!  

 

We actually made it adjustable, with 2 shafts so that we could make it a 1 yard or 2 yard noddy.  Today I wrapped the white yarn onto the new Niddy Noddy (say that 3 times fast!).  Cool!

 

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Next step is to make the hank of yarn.  A hank of yarn is, which, from what I can see, another name for a skein.  The yarn is taken off of the niddy noddy, forming a big loop, and then that loop is twisted from both ends and then folded over, twisted, and then one end is put through the loop at the other end.  

 

Viola!

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