Friday, June 29, 2012

2-3 week Turkey Update

The turkey-heads at 2 1/2 weeks. They don't hold still very often!

They always come over to see me when I get near the coop. 
Poor little Igor the Narragansett with the neck problem. His foot has since gotten better :) 2 1/2 Weeks
Bourbon Red Poult at 3 weeks

The turkeys are now 3 weeks old! I have been so busy that I missed the two week update. They have grown! At a week and a half old I moved them out of the indoor cage and into the outdoor tractor/brooder. They just didn't have enough room to move around as much as they needed to in the one and half foot by 3 foot ferret cage they were in. They peeped a lot and wanted a lot of attention, which I attributed to them being bored. The new set-up has a brooder box which measures approximately four feet wide by two and a half feet deep and has a slanted roof which is two and a half feet high at the tallest point and two feet high at the shortest. I moved the brooder lamp out with them but had to change the bulb from the 200 watt bulb I was using inside to a 60 watt bulb because it was so much warmer outside. The brooder has a hinged door which doubles as a ramp so that they can access the outer run. The run is completely closed in with chicken wire and measures 4 feet wide by 6 feet long and is approximately 2 feet tall. They have plenty of room to run and flap their wings now! I close them up in the brooder at night and open the hatch and allow them to move outdoors into the run but they still always have access to the brooder, where the food and water are located. At around 2 weeks old they started really playing with each other. They seem to try to tie each other up with their necks. They stand up super tall and chest bump, reminding me of adolescent guys when they get in each others faces. Some of the poults have started hanging their wings down to the ground, puffing their feathers up, and marching in little tiny circles around other poults which hunch down on the ground. They look like little tiny adult turkeys when they do it and I have even heard the faint sound of them drumming. I am assuming that the puffed up turkeys are the males and the ones that assume the more passive role, hunched down on the ground, are the females. I am looking forward to finding out if my assumption is correct. They have feathered out more extensively. They now have not only their wing feathers fully in, but also have tail feathers and are feathering out on their backs. Their tummy, chest, and neck are still covered only with baby fluff. The turkey-heads know my "call" of "turkey, turkey turkey" and come running to where ever I am closest when they hear it (funnily enough, so does the mocking bird who resides in my yard. He has started calling the turkeys too!). It makes it much easier to put them away for the night. I open the brooder, call them, they run in, and I shut the hatch. Much easier than the old way of picking each one up, putting it inside, and watching helplessly as it runs back out while I am picking up the next one. They also look forward to their daily treat of watermelon, which they get during the hottest part of the day to cool them down. The brooder is located under a large oak tree, in an area of my yard that is shady all day long, but it still gets warm in the southern Mississippi heat. I put pine chips in the brooder to absorb any waste that the messy babies leave. In the run I cut feed bags into long sheets and covered the ground and then placed hay on top of it to keep them from digging down to the soil. I am still worried about them getting blackhead from the chickens, or any other disease as their immune systems are not fully developed until they are around 8 weeks of age. I had to place wood and tin roofing over the run to keep the chickens from pooing down into the run since they insist on perching on top of it. They were living in there just a few months ago. The chickens have taken to standing outside the run and watching the poults. The roosters, especially, seem fascinated by them, and stand very still, right up against the wire so the poults can pull at their feathers. Surprisingly, they don't seem to be the least bit aggressive towards the turkeys. One of the turkey heads has something wrong with it's little neck and one of it's legs. It keeps its neck pulled all the way down to its chest and while it can extend it down to the ground to pick stuff up, it doesn't seem to be able to stand up straight.One if it's feet (where our ankles should be, a bird's ankle is actually what we would think of as a knee and it bends backwards) is swollen larger than the other. It just hobbles around, but is still eating and drinking properly. I've been keeping an eye on it but have decided to name it Igor and hope that it continues to function normally. The neck issue appears to be a permanent issue and although I think I would have noticed before last week, it looks like a problem that it may have hatched with. Only time shall tell how well it will do as it grows. As of now, they are all doing wonderfully and I am still really enjoying their bubbly little personalities.

My First Time Culling Chickens

Yes... I did the deed. I sent my first small batch (5) of chickens to "Freezer Camp". The roosters in question were becoming very aggressive and bullying the other chickens. One of them was aggressive toward me, as well. I always put the last of the chickens that are roaming around the coop into the coop at dusk so I can close them in where it is safe for the night. When I reached down to pick this one up he flew at my face, feet/claws first, flogged me, and left a 6 inch scratch down one cheek, Thankfully I backed up and turned when he started toward me because he nearly got me in the eye. I have never had one of my roosters attack me like that. I sat and watched the chickens, like I usually do, at dusk, and waited for them to go into the coop. Each time one of the bullies attacked another chicken I marked him with paint so I would know which  they were the following morning. Four of the five were white, which I thought was odd considering that there are a number of different breeds. Three of them were Red Star roosters, one was a white wyandotte, and the last one was affectionately called "hell Turken". I had always read that Turkens are really friendly, and the others in my flock are, but not this one. He bullied everyone, despite the fact that he was much smaller than them. The next morning my fiance, Brad, and I rounded up the roos that made the most wanted list and placed them in the recently vacated ferret cage, which became death row. The one that flogged me was first, because I was still pretty upset about him attacking me, and I thought it would be easier for me. I had only culled one other chicken. He had been brilliant and had eaten all but about 6 inches of a 7 foot long feed bag string that he had found laying next to the feed bag (who knew they would do that?!) and wasn't going to make it. It was mercy killing. I admit that, although I cussed and swore that I would enjoy dispatching that... darn... rooster the following night when he had flogged me, I cried and felt terrible when the time actually came. My main issue is that I am afraid that I won't do it right the first time and they will suffer. For this reason I decided that the best way to do it is to completely sever the head. They can't feel pain if the brain is not connected to the pain receptors in the body (I hope) and it is instant death. Brad held them upside down by the feet, which calms them a lot. I assume that it is because the blood rushes to their head and they get a bit whoosy. I prefer to think that they are whoosy, anyway, and would happily give them a drink to calm their nerves if I could. It would make me feel better. Brad insisted that I do the deed, which I understand. This was the intention when I ordered the chicks, and I have a lot left to send to "Freezer Camp", yet. If I don't get it over with now, I will never be able to do it. It was over pretty quickly. I held each one, petted it, and thanked it for giving its life to feed my family before it was dispatched, which may have made it harder to do, but I feel better about it in the end. After the head was severed, and muscle contractions ceased, they were hung upside down over a bucket to drain. Cleaning them was much easier, as they were no longer in pain and I could then stop looking at them as a live animal, but as food... or a cadaver. All of the dissection experience at school helped immensely, the pigeon from avian biology , in particular.The science part of my mind took over and it went from there. I plucked three of the white chickens, as they dress out better because of the feather color not leaving dark marks on the meat. I heated a large pot of water, dunked and swirled the chicken until I couldn't lift it by a wing feather without the feather coming out. This made it very easy to pluck the bird, as the feathers came out by the handful. I have considered going into more detail about cleaning the actual bird, including pictures, but I am still debating whether it would be appropriate to post. That may be a future post. After aging in the fridge for 48 hours, I was very pleased to be able to cook my family a dinner, made almost entirely from food that I grew myself. Chicken, green beans, onions, fresh basil and rosemary, and finally, potatoes and garlic (neither of which I grew.... next year!) all combined in a casserole dish and baked. It was amazing and such a satisfying experience. As much as I hate the culling part of the process, I love every other step, and the end result is worth it. Delicious chicken for my family, with more flavor than factory chicken, higher in Omega 3's, vitamin D, and many other vitamins and nutrients because it was free ranged, it lived a happy healthy life in the sun and grass, and died a quick and as pain free of a death as possible. Anyone can say I am cruel if they feel they need to, but I think that I have made not being a vegetarian as humane as it can possibly get, and for that, I feel wonderful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Building an Above Ground Vegetable Garden

My new garden (2011) I had forgotten how sad, dead, and desolate it looked just last year! I have worked a lot on cleaning the tree line up and getting the grass to grow in the yard, as well as on the garden itself. It is AMAZING what a year can do!

The small garden and the new faucet I installed near the garden. THEN (2011)
and NOW (2012)

Along with the chickens, turkeys, and blueberries that I have been busy with, I also have a veggie garden (among my other gardens). I started out with a typical garden. The soil was tilled and seeds were planted directly into the ground. Unfortunately, nothing grew very well like that. The soil got compacted quickly because people were walking on it while tending to the plants. The soil, itself, was poor, and consisted mainly of red clay. The topsoil had been bulldozed off along with the trees that were standing there shortly before we moved onto the property. Hence, it was sitting in large piles along with the remnants of the trees. It is really difficult to amend a whole large garden's worth of soil! When the garden was watered, the water just puddled up in some placed, creating large bogs, and ran down the hill in others, creating huge ruts. Something had to give... One of the large piles of trees and soil that had been bulldozed where still in good condition, and were stacked neatly on top of each other. I measured 6 foot sections of the logs(except for two- 11ft and two-8 ft logs for the tomato garden), Brad cut them (as, while he lets me do most things, he won't let me use the chainsaw... pout), and we hauled them up the hill. My son, Keegan, and I measured 4 foot walk ways and laid the 6 foot logs into squares. Once the logs were placed into 8 perfect squares with pretty little walk ways running between each, and one 11ft by 8ft rectangle, I began putting the topsoil to use. I filled the beds by hand (this took a couple weeks of steady work as the topsoil mound was at the bottom of the hill and I had to transport it using a wheel barrow and a shovel) and made sure not to pat the soil down. The beds were then, officially, "No Walk Zones". The soil never has to be tilled or turned over if it is never compacted to begin with. Several inches of cow manure mixed with hay were placed in each bed and allowed to age and compost was added. Even with all of this work, last year's garden was not wonderful. This year it is amazing, though! At the end of growing season I put hay and chicken manure onto the garden, as I clean out the coop, and allow it to age and decompose over the winter. In the spring, when I plant my seeds, I add compost and then cover the garden beds with clean hay, leaving only the small area where I plant each seed slightly exposed. The hay is thick and keeps weeds from growing, as well as keeping moisture in. This spring I added an irrigation system. It still needs a bit of work, but has cut down the time I spend watering the garden drastically. I cut two 50ft drip hoses into fourths. Trenches were dug between each bed and pvc was laid. Reducers were placed on each end and attached to a drip hose with a metal clamp and pvc cement. The drip hoses were run around each bed and the pvc was buried. The two rows (each row has 4 beds) were connected via a hose splitter, and a main hose is connected to the faucet. All I have to do now is turn the water on and all 8 veggie bed water themselves while I water the tomatoes, strawberry patch, blueberry bushes, flower beds, and herb pots by hand with separate hoses.

Veggie Garden

The tomato bed in the foreground and the smaller beds behind it along with a few random sunflowers that sprouted in the middle of the yard. I must have dropped seeds and didn't have the heart to cut them down.  :) Several of the beds are equipped with plastic netting to protect the plants from the free ranging chickens that like to eat what is planted there. 

My little garden <3
Cucumbers and corn with watermelon growing out into the yard

Cantaloupe, corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, and watermelon.
All thriving in a 6 foot bed. 
I love growing my own vegetables. The taste of veggies straight out of the garden and the pride of knowing that I grew it from a tiny little seed is something that I find really fulfilling. I plant my garden beds differently than most people do, however. It is partially due to the fact that I have several above ground garden beds, rather than a single in ground set-up. I prefer the above ground beds for several reason. It is much easier to water and fertilize efficiently, to begin with. It is easier to concentrate my effort on distinct areas, instead of a large area, part of which is just going to be for path ways in between rows. I also love not having to turn the soil.... ever! Yep, no tilling required. The beds have 4 foot paths in between so the beds are never walked on and compacted. Most plants that  are grown for food don't require sunlight to ever penetrate the soil. Weeds, on the other hand, thrive in freshly exposed and turned soil. No tilling means less weeds. It also means no soil erosion, because all of the soil is kept in by sides. Because I only have a specific area to plant in, I plant my garden differently. I don't plant only one type of plant per bed. I let them compliment each other. The plants that grow in long vines but have small fruits, such as cantaloupe, cucumber, and zucchini are planted with plants that grow up, such as corn, sunflowers, or spare tomatoes. The ground covering plants keep the soil cool and prevent much loss of moisture while the taller plants can still get sun. Beans and peas can travel up corn and sunflower stalks rather than having to put in poles or trellises. The plants that grow long vines and have large fruits, such as watermelons and pumpkins, are planted on the other edge of the garden at the very side of the beds so that they can extend into the yard and not take up valuable bed space.The taller plants, such as sunflowers are planted along the outer edge, as well, so they they don't block sun from smaller plants. The only beds that I have planted with a single species are the bell and hot peppers,which are neither tall or vining and so need the room for themselves, and the tomatoes which bush out enough to block light from everything else. In the other beds, I have around four different plant types, all in a six foot square. And guess what? It is working beautifully! In the cucumber bed I have corn planted every foot, and watermelon vining from in between them out into the grass. In the eggplant bed, I have pie pumpkins vining out into the yard, and it too, is lined on one side by sunflowers. The cantaloupe bed, has not only sunflowers and watermelon lining one side, but  is also supporting several corn stalks and four tomato plants that I thinned out of the tomato bed. I have read about the three sisters sway of gardening, which the Native Americans used, and altered it a bit. The three sisters method calls for corn stalks, peas or beans planted at the base to vine up, and a type of squash planted close by to shade the ground. It worked for them, without chemical fertilizer and irrigation systems. I am proud to attest to the fact that it still works. I have never had such a beautiful garden!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pruning Blueberry Bushes

As strange as it sounds, pruning and thinning plants is stressful for me. It is something that I dread doing. I hate being wasteful and feel like that I am throwing away something that is still perfectly useful. I know, however, that it is of greater benefit to prune and thin plants than to leave them all crowded together. The blueberry bushes are pretty much done producing berries this year. I have been putting off pruning them for about a week, but I finally got it done today. When I moved onto our property, the blueberry patch was very overgrown and dying. One of the first things that I worked one, before we were even completely moved in, was cleaning them up. There were very few berries on the bushes and a ton of dead limbs and brush surrounding them. The following two years I was amazed by the amount of berries we got off of the plants! We could easily pick 30 lbs of berries each time and we picked at least twice a week. This year was different. I didn't prune the bushes since the first year because they were doing so well. Why mess with a good thing, right? Wrong. This year we didn't even get half of that amount, despite the typical fertilizing of the plants (twice, once when they start budding and once around a month later when the blueberries are really starting to grow) and normal watering. Blueberry bushes grow shoots. The shoots start to produce berries at about a year old and produce the best at around 3 years of age. Once the shoots reach around 7 years old they don't produce well any more. The branches tend to crowd each other and keep proper light from reaching throughout the bush. I have read contradicting information as to when the best time to prune. Some say to do it in the spring once you can see where the buds are centralized. I went with the method of pruning them as soon as they finish producing. I made this decision because the new berries are produced on last year's growth. Once they stop producing berries they start filling out and growing next year's shoots. Any branches that will hang down and touch the ground when heavy with fruit should be pruned. Branches that are too high to reach and don't look like they will bend down soon (old growth hangs down on the sides and many times the new shoots grow straight up initially and then hang down to replace the older ones that have been removed, kind of like sharks teeth) should be cut to increase the light penetration. Any branches that are crossing over each other and not giving each other room to grow should be thinned. Not too many shoots should be cut at the same time, however. Pruning old growth, a couple of large shoots and a few smaller branches each year, will keep a succession of shoots growing and producing. As much as I hate to prune them, I am excited about the potential of having much higher fruit yield next year! This year I have a couple of gallons of berries in the freezer and I canned 12 half pint jars of jam. I am already compiling a list of options to use next year's blueberries! 

Friday, June 15, 2012

1 Week Turkey Update

Being a student, I believe, has influenced how I look at almost everything in life. When I decide that I want to start a project I make it a point to do research on it before hand. When I decided that I wanted heritage turkeys I started the search for everything turkey related. When I began raising chickens I did the same thing. Luckily there is a ton of information on keeping chickens. Turkeys, not so much. Not heritage breeds, anyway. All of the information I found was related to factory farming and the broad breasted breeds. I went to book store after book store, searched online, and asked people I know that farm. Nothing! I did find a couple of forums that have been a godsend. People that raise turkeys and are interested enough to want to join a forum are the best people to ask for advice and to learn from. The forums that I found to be most helpful are and . The first is a forum that you can go to look through questions that people have had in the past, and the answers to them, and ask your own. The second is an email group where people ask and answer questions to either the whole group or to individuals as well as simply to share stories. They both have been unbelievably valuable to me. What I still have not been able to find, however, is a place that I can see week by week pictures and information on development and personality. Perhaps I am just an overachiever and feel the need for much more information than most people. Even just pictures of the size of the turkeys would be helpful, in my opinion, because it is difficult to gauge how much room they need as they grow. And they grow rapidly.... at least that's what I have heard, since I can find no pictures! I have found a source that has been invaluable to me with chickens, and the lady posts daily pictures of a chick that she hatched in an incubator. It is really helpful as well as being highly entertaining. I don't have the time or the creativity to do that (although I would like to share her page addresses, as soon as I ask her permission, so others can benefit from her wonderful information). I am, however, going to start taking weekly pictures and sharing general information about my poults.

 The turkey-heads are a week old. They are VERY curious! Some might say nosy, I prefer curious. The want to see everything you get near them and try to figure out what it is, including my camera. The first worry I had was whether I was going to be able to get them to eat and drink. I have read many things about turkeys, one being that they are too stupid to figure out how to eat and drink on their own, and have a tendency to just forget, and die as a result. Taking the advice or many turkey keepers, I put a chicken chick in with them to show them how it was done. It only took about 30 seconds of them "chewing" on the chick for me to decide that wouldn't work. I put a supplement in their water to help boost their energy and keep them hydrated (from the hatchery but I believe you can get it at any feed store as well). After watching my hen, Idgie, with her babies I figured the best way to do it was to show them like she does her babies (I am "mom", after all, right?). I didn't put my head in there and peck at it... I opted to use my fingers instead. I dipped my fingers in the water and then into the food so that it stuck and then held my fingers up for them to peck at. It worked! For water I dipped my  fingers in the water and held them up so that they could peck the drips off of my fingertips. I did this every so often throughout the day and eventually I saw them starting to eat on their own. For the first few days I put paper towels down in the bottom of the cage and sprinkled the food on it, along with keeping a feeder in there. The bedding is likely to confuse them and with only food on the ground at their feet they are much ore likely to find it.They are eating and drinking with no help or reminders now and are doing great!
The make a peeping sound, which I believe translates  to "MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM!". It kind of sounds like a wet sponge on glass. They do this a LOT! They always face whichever direction they think I am... I can see them from my bed while I am trying to sleep. When I go over there to hold them and talk to them they stop for a while. I believe that they get bored and lonely. They have a stuffed animal in there with them to cuddle up to and it helps. I also have started putting toys, like giant cat balls, in there to amuse them. The jury is still out on whether they are stupid are very smart. I've never seen a chicken need toys to play with. They have a stick to perch on, but they are still working on landing on it. They tend to over shoot and hit the frog. When I put my hand in the cage they step up onto it to get some personal snuggle time. Much to the dismay of "my other half", I have taken to carrying them around in my shirt (well... bra if I don't have a tank top on) which keeps them warm and gives them cuddle time AND I have my hands free. They seem to enjoy it and I want to make sure that they have

enough one-on-one time to ensure that, when they are 30lb giants, they don't chase me around the yard and try to attack me. In my opinion, him thinking that I am weird (like he doesn't have a thousand other reasons to know that already) is worth the benefit the turkey-heads seem to get from it. Other than growing a bit, the main difference a week has made in their physical appearance is that their wings have feathered out and their energy level is through the roof! They still have nap time quite often though, which scares me every time I see them. All those little bodies laying everywhere with their necks bent at odd angles... I just know that I did something wrong and they all just fell over dead! As I rush over to the cage, nearly tearing up from the horrific scene before me, they pop up, bright eyed and wondering what great treat I must have to have come running over in such a hurry. Speaking of treats, they LOVE blueberries! I only give them one or two a piece every day. Without grit they are unable to properly digest anything other than turkey crumbles. The turkey crumbles must be high in protein, think around 28%. I use turkey starter/grower but game bird feed can be used if turkey feed is not available. Chicken starter/grower is not suitable. So far I am LOVING being a turkey-mom. The only thing that I am really worried about at this point is getting too attached to them. Maybe it would be a good thing to let them turn into 30lb giants that chase me around the yard...? Only time will tell... until then I'm going to continue enjoying my nosy little turkey heads. :)

Twitchy Momma Hen

 This year has been full of new experiences for me. One of which, is hatching chicks. I have gotten all of my chickens up til now from breeders, the feed store, or mailed from a hatchery, as chicks ranging from a couple of months to a couple of days old. I can't take the credit, really, for hatching chicks. Miss Idgie did all of the work. She is the only chicken that I have left from the original 6 that I got last year, all of the others having been lost to predators. Two batches of chicks after that were thinned as well, by the same means, and I only have her, Jack (the head rooster), and Lola (the hen that turned out to be a rooster). Two hen disappeared last month, only days before I left to go on a school trip to Ireland, and Idgie went broody the same day. In order to keep her from being "paid too much attention" by the two competing roosters while I was gone, I put 14 eggs under her (adding to the one she was already incubating). Happily she hatched out 11 babies about two weeks ago. I blocked off most of the upper level of the coop for her and her babies, to keep them safe from the roosters because I didn't know how they would react. Idgie has been a wonderful mommy! I go out to feed the chickens, let the "babies" (the 13 week old chicks that are in a separate coop), and check on Miss Idgie, first thing every morning. The past few days I have been noticing her acting a bit strangely. She has been twitching and making odd neck and head movements. I didn't know what to make of this. The last couple of mornings she has jumped out of the coop when I opened the door to feed and water them. She only walked around for a few minutes and then, owing to her babies chirping loudly and panicking because mom had disappeared, she jumped back in so I could close them up again. This morning she really didn't seem to want to go back in. I feel terrible for keeping her locked up and have gone through every possibility that could be making her act weird. Could she have a vitamin deficiency? Perhaps she is going insane... she does have about a dozen toddlers, right? (Haven't we all had those moments? LOL) Could she not be getting enough to eat because the babies swarm her head every time she pecks at something? Maybe she is getting too hot? None of them checked out. Finally today I just couldn't bring myself to force her to go back into the coop, and instead, took her babies out of the coop and directed them toward where mom was pecking around on the ground. I watched her closely to make sure that the other chickens didn't attack her or the babies. Jack, to my surprise, ran directly over to her, circled her a few times, and then walked along beside them, protecting them from anything that might get too close. Idgie, thrilled to be out of the coop, clucked and pecked happily with her babies swarming around her. The first order of business? A dust bath! I had been told and had read that it is best to put seven dust on hens when they start sitting on eggs to keep mites off of them. I couldn't imagine feeling comfortable with putting chemicals on my chicken that I didn't even feel comfortable putting on my plants (it can kill honey bees which are having a difficult enough time recently and I don't like using any kind of pesticide). Dust baths naturally deter mites, but when incubating eggs and being closed up in the coop that isn't possible. It finally struck me! Miss Idgie has mites! No wonder she has been twitching and acting funny. Bless her heart, she has probably been itching terribly! I'm still worried about predators hurting the chicks but I am going to remain vigilant and hope that this is the lesser of two evils. Jack and Idgie are on guard (the proud parents) and I am so very proud of them! Another lesson learned on Sunflower Hill. :)

I bet that was the best dust bath she had ever had!

The proud papa standing guard while momma shows the babies how to take a dust bath. 
Taking the kiddos on a stroll to the other side of the driveway
                                 The end of my latest chicken tail... ummm... tale :) Couldn't resist!

Monday, June 11, 2012


I have never liked rain. It makes it impossible to do anything productive. The sky is gray and dreary. It just makes for a depressing day. I never liked rain... that is until I moved to the deep south and started my little homestead. Now rain is a godsend. The heat here only lets up after a good, hard rain. My chickens don't look like they are going to have heat stroke at any moment. I can actually go a day or maybe even two (!) without spending an hour, minimum, watering my gardens and my plants don't wither up and die. I plant fruits, veggies and flowers that are heat tolerant and need much less water than typical plants do. I even plant everything in above ground beds so that only an isolated area needs to be watered (and fertilized) and mulch heavily with hay, but it gets so hot here that it doesn't matter. It just slows the process. No water for a day and they are goners. I don't even mind that I have to go out and do chores in the mud and come back inside soaking wet. It is better than the heat. We have had rain for three days straight at this point and, though it does get a bit old after a while, it is marvelous. I never thought, before I had animals and gardens of my own, how important rain is. The very grass under your feet withers up and dies without it. So, who cares if the lawn looks like sandlot? Well, I don't, except that now I have animals that eat the grass and I really count on it being there. I don't water my lawn, preferring to only use it in what is precious, so with no rain it just disappears. Rain this time of year, at least this much, is rare for this area. I am so grateful. Rain seems to reset everything. It is almost like natures way of telling everything to take a break from the stress and toil of the hard, hot summer, and then start over, feeling more refreshed and renewed. I find myself taking the long way through the yard to cool my feet in the puddles (yes, like most southerners, I have taken to wearing flip-flops rather than muck boots to work outside). I have been finding more and more things to put tin roofs on so I can enjoy the soothing sound of the drops hitting them when they fall. I never liked rain, except, now I find that I love it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Heritage Turkey Poults

I got my newest batch of babies! I have been looking forward to getting my baby turkeys for months now. I ordered them in February but wanted to wait until I got out of school to add another project to my ever growing list. Heritage turkeys are not what you buy at the supermarket. Those super sized, mostly flavorless, birds are broad breasted whites. They are bred to get to massive sizes in short periods of time. In doing this, the factories sacrifice immune system strength and physical strength in return. Flavor also suffers, mainly because the birds are not full grown when slaughtered and they gain flavor as they grow. The turkeys grow so fast that if they are not slaughtered by a certain age their legs and heart will give out under their weight. I find it really sad and disturbing. Factory turkeys even have the ability to reproduce bred out of them. That's right... they can't even make their own little giant babies. The birds usually can't make it to adulthood to reach reproductive maturity, let alone do the deed if they could live that long, owing to their size. Factory birds are artificially inseminated. Sadly, all of these factors are also the case in factory grown meat chickens, which is another reason I choose to raise my own. Heritage turkeys retain their ability to mate and raise young, grow to large sizes, but not as massive, and grow much more slowly than the Broad Breasted breeds. Yes, this means that it takes longer to get them to slaughtering size, but from everything I have read, it is more than made up for in flavor. I think it is made up for simply by being healthier and more humane for the turkeys, and because they can reproduce and replenish the flock without having to buy more every year. Sadly, heritage turkeys (many breeds of them) were in the brink of extinction not too long ago because so many people stopped raising them when factory birds were introduced. The same happened to many breeds of chicken for the same reason. I am really pleased to say that most have been taken off the endangered list and even the threatened list. Some remain, however. Not as much literature or other information is obtainable about raising turkeys as is available about raising chickens. I am used to reading everything I can get my hands on about a new project. I feel that I am going in blind. I have found a couple of forums that I have gotten good advice on from people that have been doing this longer than I have, which doesn't take much. :) From what I have found on the subject, turkeys are a bit more finicky and prone to disease than chickens are. I am hopeful that I can pull it off. The bought 6 Bourbon Reds, 6 Blue Slates, and 3 Narragansett. They are the sweetest little things! Chicken chicks don't really seem to enjoy being "loved on". I like to hold them and they deal with it sometimes and then sometimes they struggle and raise hell to get put down. The turkey poults don't! They snuggle up under my neck and just fall asleep. I'm in love! I think I am going to love being a new turkey-mom. Now to build the hoop-coop for them! LOL... yes... I'm behind in my projects, yet again. As is the norm on Sunflower Hill. :)


One of the things that I enjoy most is adding "babies" to my flock. Out of the group of chickens that I first got last year, all buff orphingtons, I have one hen and two roosters left. Yes, two roosters... and only because I gave one away recently. I had 3 hens but a few weeks ago some animals decided that was two too many and "helped me" by trimming it down a bit. Jack is my head rooster, so named because he seems to have to drunken mannerisms of Captain Jack Sparrow, and is about as romantic with his hens, doing a sideways circle "dance" around them before grabbing them by the neck feathers and having his way with them. He keeps them safe though, and is very attentive, even to Lola. Lola is my other rooster, who was supposed to be a hen. As it turned out, he did "walk like a woman and talk like a man". He also has the unique ability to survive, despite having almost been eaten and having half of his feathers plucked out twice. Miss Idgie Threadgoode is my last remaining hen from my first flock. The same day the other two hen disappeared, she went broody for the first time, which delighted me. I hurriedly added a clutch of eggs that I was given by a friend to her single egg and am very happy to report that last week she hatched out her own egg, as well as 10 others from the added clutch. She has been such a good mommy and it is amazing to see her care for her babies and show them how to be chickens. I had only gotten day old chicks before, but am looking forward to hatching my own from now on (with the help of Miss Idgie or an incubator of course). In march, I got 64 day old chicks of several different breeds. They include Easter Eggers (which is a mixed breed that most hatcheries call Ameraucanas or Araucanas. Both are purebred and for the most part only very few breeders actually have them. What hatcheries have are almost always Easter Eggers, which are wonderful chickens and I love them), Speckled Sussex, Red Star, Buff Orphingtons, Brahmas, White Wyandottes, Golden Laced Wyandottes, White rocks, Barred Rocks, Turkens, New Hampshires reds, and Rhode Island Reds. Of these, approximately 50 are roosters. Only a few buff orphingtons and a few Easter eggers are hens. The rest will be for meat. They are about 13 weeks old now and look just like mini adult chickens. Some of the guys have made feeble attempts to crow, which sounds ridiculous, and is adorable. The babies are kept in a hoop coop chicken tractor, made from pvc to make it light enough to move around the field. They free range during the day and are put back and locked up at night. Jack and Lola keep an eye on them for me. Miss Idgie is still in lock up in her broody pen, which is an area blocked off in the main chicken coop. I want to keep her and the little babies safe until they can get around better. I never knew how much fun keeping chickens would be. They each have their own little personalities and I can honestly spend hours (mostly unintentional... but I get distracted easily) watching them. I'm looking forward to having fresh eggs again soon! Not only have I decided against buying eggs at the store, but I am spoiled and store bought eggs just don't taste as good, nor are they as healthy. You are what you eat, and that goes for chickens too. Most store bought eggs come from chickens that have been raised in small battery cages that have been fed nothing but commercial feed, containing animal byproducts and things chickens really shouldn't eat. They can't stretch their wings, let alone walk around or act like... well, like a chicken. They have no access to greens (yes chickens eat grass and stuff! Who knew?!) or bugs. Even "cage free" eggs are from chickens that are raised in huge warehouses where they never see the light of day and are wing to wing with other chickens and up to their knees in their own... well, I just don't want to eat store bought eggs. If you do you should look for "Pastured" or "Free Range" eggs. Preferably pastured, because many the term "free range" is being abused and many companies are finding a way around actually letting their chickens see the light of day anyway. If using the true sense of the phrase, they are let outside to forage for at least part of the day and eat a more varied diet. It is easy to tell the difference just by looking at the yolk color. My chicken eggs have a rich colored yolk, where a store bought eggs has a very pale yellow to almost whitish colored yolk. The difference comes from them eating a more varied diet including things that have a high beta carotene content. Yet again, some companies are putting marigold extract, among other things, in the feed to turn the yolks a deep shade of yellow to fool people. As easy as it is to care for chickens, even in small yards in the city, I think it should be something more people should consider. It really is enjoyable, and rewarding. They can even be living composters, eating fruit and veggie scraps and giving you the richest fertilizer anyone could ask for AND its natural rather than using chemicals. I can't say enough good things about keeping chickens! :)

The beginning of Sunflower Hill Homestead

Hi :) My name is Kristin. Introductions have never been my thing. It always sounds so clinical or like I am at some kind of meeting, standing in front of a bunch of people and having to introduce myself and give a short description of who I am or what I have done. The problem is that I am so many things, or so few, depending on which day you catch me. I turned 30 this year, which I have dreaded for a long time. Surprisingly, however, I find myself happier and more content than I have ever been in my life. I just earned my Bachelor of Science in Biology emphasizing Environmental Biology and am starting graduate school. That, too, sounds so technical. What it boils down to is I am in awe of the amazing planet that we live on. Also, that I am a broke college student, engaged to another broke college student, both of whom are raising son which (yes, you guessed it) makes us even more.... financially unendowed. I thought of myself as a "city girl" for most of my life. Three years ago I moved to the deep south, onto several acres of land. The more I learned about the Earth, and not only the effect people are having on it, but the effect that is having on our health and economy, the more fascinated and determined I have become to live a more sustainable and healthy way of life. I want to be a steward of the land. My son, who is 12, and some of my friends call me a "Hippie"... some may call me a tree hugger. I'm alright with that. What I feel that I am is a person who has become educated about how the ecosystem works, having taken special interest in ecology, and has seen the studies and data showing alarming trends in how the Earth is changing to deal with the changes that humans have made to it. I have read food labels and have seen the ratio of chemicals to natural food ingredients in what we eat. Seen the conditions that our food is raised and packaged in. I have taken notice of the high rates of cancer and diabetes (among many other common illnesses that didn't used to be common) and have looked at studies done to find the reasons behind it. The economy is not doing so hot, and I believe that the same ties are linked to that. I don't want to stand on a soap box and tell everyone else how to live their lives, but I do want to take control of how I live mine, not only for myself, but for my son. I believe that a key way to correct these issues and live a healthier, more Earth friendly life, is to be informed. That is the key to everything in life. Be informed. Know where your food comes from. Know how it is grown and raised and the effects that things have on the environment. When it comes right down to it: saving the Earth isn't all about hugging trees and trying to save furry little animals (although I'm not against that at all) it is about saving people. We can only subsist as long as the Earth is still working for us and doing what we need it to do. I think of the ecosystem as a house of cards. Changing one thing may not seem too important, except that depending where on the swaying tower it is, it could cause the whole thing to come crashing down. Buying local and growing one's own food not only cuts down on the number of hands that it crosses on its way to you, but it usually cuts down on the amount of unnatural and unhealthy things in it. I'm not a granola munching vegan (although again, I have nothing against that either.. I just enjoy eating a more varied diet and think it is important for my growing son to do the same) but I like to be able to pronounce the ingredients in my food and know that the meat I eat has not been produced in disgusting inhumane factory settings where the animals don't get to act like animals and the finished product has been through less than sanitary conditions. Also, locally grown food cuts down on the amount of gas that must be used to transport it, which again helps not only our environment but our dependency on foreign oil. Imagine how much we could lessen our dependence if everyone made a point to buy only half of their produce locally, not to mention that it would taste better and be much fresher. I never realized how many fruits and vegetables were supposed to taste until I started growing my own or buying at farmer's markets. I won't go back simply because I am spoiled now... I prefer my food to have taste rather than the focus being for it to look like a uniform picture of what people think it should look like. Did you know that not all tomatoes are red?! Some are yellow and some are even purple! Who knew?! I won't even go into the immense danger the world is putting itself into by monocropping. Ever heard of Ireland's potato famine? Just sayin'. Anyway, when I moved onto my land it was overgrown and very neglected. Through much work, my other half, my son, and I have cleared the entanglement of brush from enough of the property to make it workable. Thus, my new life began. Three years ago, this self proclaimed "city girl" planted her first garden. A sad sight, to say the least. I have learned much since then and am thankful to say that things have improved greatly. I have installed above ground garden beds, using reclaimed materials from clearing the land. I discovered blueberry bushes and dewberry patches already on the property, that I have been working to make produce well. I have learned to use power tools and a hammer (lol yes... it is something that takes practice apparently) and built my first chicken coop, which I filled with my first 5 chickens to provide us with fresh eggs (a great feat since I used to be terrified of chickens... mainly roosters).  Since then, my son and I have built 3 more and this year we added over 60 more chickens to provide us with meat. I just added turkeys to our flock as well. All of the projects that I undertake, I try to go about in the most natural, environmental and economically friendly way I can on a VERY small budget. I am learning as I go, having no experience with any of these things. What I have learned has come from the advice of others, which I have been so thankful to have gotten. I would like to share my experiences in hopes that I too can inspire people, or at the very least give pointers to people that are also struggling to learn how to go about living this more sufficient way of life. And so I am recording all of the stumbles and falls, breakthroughs and celebrations, along the way, on my little Sunflower Hill Homestead. So for better or for worse, this is my life... :)