Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chicken Harvest

My grandparents taught me how to raise and butcher chickens and we continue this practice for family ritual as well as for healthy eating practices.  We like knowing what we are eating and we like being responsible for our food choices. 

One of the more popular posts on this blog was a guest post  about me butchering chickens the way my granny taught me.   Check it out here.  In this post I will show you the new and improved way of butchering chickens.  This year we rented "Jr.", the chicken trailer from a local farm, Shakefork Farms.  In this trailer are all the needed supplies to butcher chickens, efficiently and cleanly.  With these supplies, and a short tutorial, Five of us butchered 40 birds in 3 hours.  This is a vast improvement over our previous times. 

First improvement:  Chicken cones.

 You place the birds in the cones and slice them on both sides of the neck.  No need for my old practice of cutting off the head.  (Although, it was kind of hard watching the life slowly bleed away.)   You let the birds bleed out for about 5 minutes. 

Second Improvement: Temperature Controlled Scalder

You dip the birds up and down for 1 minute in 145 degrees and it is helpful to put a few squirts of liquid detergent in the water so the water penetrates the feathers better. 

BEST Improvement:  Plucker

Place 2 or 3 birds into the moving plucker and watch those feathers disappear.  It took about 20 seconds.  By hand I was doing well if I got it done in less that 10 minutes!

Fourth Improvement: Not really an improvement.  You still have to gut the birds by hand.

But we did have a nice stainless steel table to do it on and you pushed the entrails into the hole in the middle of the table.  We had a garbage can underneath and all of the guts and stuff went out into the woods and fed a whole host of critters.  There were 3 of us gutting as this took the most time.  The other 2 caught the birds, bled them, dunked them and plucked them and were always ahead of us at the evisceration table.

Fifth Improvement:  Chilling Tank
This is a big water trough filled with ice and water.  I'm not sure why I never thought of this before.  This was a real quick way to chill the birds. 
Final Step:  Bag the birds
We took the birds from the chiller and placed them on the counter to dry a bit before bagging them.  Our son and wife took extra time to vaccum seal their half of the birds and I now wish I had as there birds really look good in the freezer.  I just double bagged our birds.
Final, Final Step:  Clean Up
All of the equipment has to be hosed off and then rinsed with a bleach solution, this did take about an hour extra, but we did have fun. 
We barbecued a split bird the other day and it was sure good!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting Ready for the Cattle Auction

Mark heading off with a load of calves for auction

We sold some of our weanling calves last week.  It is always a big deal to bring in all the cattle and sort them and then haul the 7 to 9 month calves away from their mamas.  It is traumatic for me.  Apparently a bit traumatic for them too as many cows and calves  moo.  There is always that one calf or cow, that hard as we try, we just can't seem to catch.... at first.  We are  pretty tenacious about these things and usually eventually get them in and the mooing subsides. 

We aren't cowboys or really even cattlemen, although we have cattle and take good care of them, so I guess it makes us such by default.  We don't push our cows anywhere on horses or with dogs.  We've got them trained to come to our truck's horn honk and my voice hollering, "Come on cows".  I say it kind of like a cow moo, with an emphasis on, ON.  I sit in the back of the truck on a load of the sweetest smelling alfalfa hay we can find in the local feed stores and I hand out little bites to the cows that begin streaming out of the woods.  We are sort of like the ice-cream truck on the ranch, minus the ice-cream and the really creepy music. 

We have two herds, cliques really, of cows.  They don't like to mingle.  They really get ugly when they are forced to mingle, so we don't mix them much.  We first bring in the cows from the back and top of the ranch to our middle barn and corrals.  Then the next day we bring in the front and main house herd to our arena by our house. We probably could bring them all in one day, but that might be pushing the work load.   When we first started managing the herd about 10 years ago, it would take us a week of hard work and we would have to set up portable catch pens and haul a lot of the cattle in.  They were stubborn and we couldn't coax or push them with horses to the corrals.  Now it is easy peazy all it takes is a holler and a honk. 

Once they are in the corrals we have to keep them fed and watered, of course.  Each pen goes through multiple 600 lb. bales of hay and we have to haul water to our arena.  The middle barn corrals have a water trough that is spring fed, but we have to keep an eye on it as it has a tendency to stop running. 

Sale day we sort the mama cows from the calves, sometimes we will do one pen the day before.  I really don't like this part.  Besides the mooing cows and calves, we sort on foot and at our middle corrals, which are aging , it can be a bit dangerous.  This year Mark beefed up the rotting wood with extra boards and wire and he fixed the gates the best he could with cables.  He also added an extra pipe corral gate and a couple panels.  This helped a lot, but I still didn't help at the middle corrals. I'm a weenie.   Mark enlisted the help of our son  Eric and his wife Jo.  They are 10 times the help I am in sorting.  I did help sort at our arena corrals at the front of the ranch.  Mark designed them and they are simple and safe and new.  It is all pipe corrals, so it should stay good for a long, long, time. 

Once the calves are sorted from the cows we look at the  calves and decide which ones we will sell and which ones we will keep one more year for our freezer beef program and for replacement heifers.  We release those animals.  Then we begin loading the calves that are left and Mark hauls them to the auction yard about an hour and a half away.   Mark makes multiple trips. With the last load we stay in town, do a little shopping and go to the auction.  I always get worried that the calves won't get a good price, but they always seem to.   After the sale we collect our check, put it in the bank and go home. 

The next morning we sort out the cows  from the bulls and the big steers saved from last year that will soon be someone's beef and we haul the cows from the middle barn to our arena corrals. Here they mingle with the front cows and the dirt flies for a while.   It is a cow brawl.   Later that day, the pregnancy check guy ( I wonder what the proper term is?) arrives and we run the cows through the chute and he tells us if they are pregnant or not.   The cows that are open get a big O on their hip with some kind of colored chalk or marker and they get put into a different pen.   The old cows will go to the auction next week to be sold.    Around here, you need to get pregnant.  This is always hard for me too.  This year, our oldest cow at age 24 years came up open.  She is the queen bee of cows and has  been excellent at having a calf year after year after year.  I am really sad to see her go, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. Providentially, she had a heifer this year and we will keep her and the queen bee's family line will live on.

Loading cattle from the middle barn corrals

FYI:  Right before the cattle round up  we went on another big hike  and the details are on our hiking blog:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

News From The Ranch

My neck is in a kink and my mind circles around thinking of all the things that have been done and are yet to  be done.  It is always that way on the ranch.

It has been a beautiful spring. 

We have been blessed with a sprinkle or two and it has kept things green although there are some spots very short and already browning.  Signs of our California drought.

The calves and cows are getting fat on the green clover and grass.  Here is a picture of Perse, one of the cows I bottle fed as a calf.  Look at that belly.

The piglets are traveling all over the place with their mamas and papa, nibbling as they go.  They've discovered that they like mud.

And Fridays, when we bring home the 'slops' from our local store.

We castrated the males on Sunday and it was surprisingly quick and easy and virtually blood free. This was our first pig castration and I had to watch a few youtube videos before tackling the task. We band our cattle, but pigs can't be banded and they become too aggressive and their meat can have a bad taste if you don't castrate.  Mark held them and I did the surgery.  It took about 30 minutes for us to do 8.  Not any record, but pretty darn good for our first time.  They really only squealed when we caught them.  I had earplugs in my pocket but didn't need to use them because once they were caught and held firmly they settled right down. 


We recently had visits from both the older students and younger students from our local community school.
The donkeys are always a big hit.  They are such sweet creatures and seem to really enjoy greeting our guests.

 The older kids spent most of their time on the ranch at the falls.  They had no problem diving into its icy waters.

The kids and parents hiked from our house down to the falls, but we gave them a ride back up.  Here is the group I drove up.

A week later the younger students  visited the ranch for a tour.  The piglets were a hit and Shadow made a special friend.

The children  also got to brush a horse and go for a short ride. I was kind of busy, so I forgot to get photos, but there were lots of smiles. They also helped feed some cows.   My favorite thing they did though, was catch all of my young chickens and help me move them from the brooder pen into their outside pen.  Those kids caught all of the chickens quickly and what would have taken me hours took only about 15 minutes!  The 6 week old birds seemed real happy to be outside. 

We also took a hike through an area of forest that burned and was replanted.  Kids that had attended this school 11 years ago had actually planted a few of the trees in 2004, so we made sure to revisit that area.  I think these students enjoyed  climbing on these oak trees the most.

Thanks Salmon Creek Community School for you visit and for your parting gifts.  You guys are great and welcome anytime.