The Very Bad Farmgirl (and does anyone want goats?)

I research everything that I do, I just don’t always fully prepare.  While reading about what happens to meat chickens when you let them live past their designated eight weeks, I learned that they can just drop dead, have heart attacks, and their own legs can break under their immense weight.  “Oh, that sounds terrible,” I said.

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I think Bob broke his leg.  Maybe it’s his toes.  Either way, his giant body is hobbling slow and painfully.  He looks like an old pirate with a peg leg.  He waits for me in the coop so that I will carry him to the water.

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This is a very docile, sweet breed, so it is hard not to get attached.  I know I am not being very humane right now.  I could splint his leg (I once made a neck brace for a very injured chicken and I have healed broken legs in my work as an herbalist in the past.) but I am unsure as to what is actually broken.  Vets aren’t really trained in chicken care and I don’t have hundreds of dollars to see one anyway.  I could load them all up and take them to be slaughtered, which would honestly be the sensitive and sensible thing to do.  But I just can’t.  Nor can I wield an ax and do it myself.

This makes me a very poor farmgirl.  Or maybe a very bad rancher.  Either way, I lack that certain spirit of nonchalance and steel that would make Bob’s pain be swiftly dealt with.

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Does anyone want goats?

I was asked yesterday via text if I knew anyone who wanted the goats.  I am in the city, so I know I can’t.  I actually am not sure if I do know anyone that is at a place to take four (maybe more) goats.  “Why?” I responded.  Because they are going to grow hemp and they don’t want the goats eating it.  Profit.  Farm finance.  The trend.  Goats are out.

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“We will just process them if we can’t sell them.”

Besides the fact that I doubt five year old goat tastes very good, this really zinged me because I hand raised those goats.  Bottle fed them every two hours.  Ran a veritable goat nursery while they had their house built.  Those were my goats.

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This makes me a very bad farmgirl.  A fact that makes my living in the city seem reasonable even though we want to get back on a farm.  We are not good at trimming hooves, or dealing with death, or causing the death.  We are also not good at being 100% vegan, which then makes us hypocritical and yet, I somehow do not have that filter to be a proper farmgirl.  Maybe because I was raised in the city.  Maybe because I was never around the in’s and out’s of a farm growing up.

But I will need to make a decision regarding Bob.

The Life of Cornish Cross Chickens (on our farm)

I think my husband thought I was crazy as we stood outside in our pajamas, me with a walking stick, at 2:00 am.  This morning, I even googled the sound a raccoon makes just to make sure I wasn’t actually hearing a cat fight.  But I have lived in the country, I know what raccoons sound like and they were definitely outside my window.  But they were long gone by the time we adrenaline rushed it outside, thanks to Gandalf.

The raccoons surely heard about the amazing buffet we were putting on.  I don’t bother closing the chicken door at night because Gandalf is outside.  But, he is not in the chicken yard so the raccoons could have braved up and had quite a feast.  The Cornish girls and their Basset hound-sized boyfriend can’t get up on to the shelves so they are just sitting there in a clump waiting to be chicken a’ la gross.

Last week I went out to the coop and found Dixie.  She was the smallest of the Cornish cross chickens we rescued.  She had somehow died on her back.  Bob (the rooster) sat sweetly next to her.  She had no trauma, she was just dead.  Her vent was clogged, so she probably died of toxicity.  There was no rigor mortis yet, but I still was barely able to pull her from under the shelf because of how heavy she was.  Her legs wouldn’t touch, so I couldn’t use them to help me move her into a bag.  The glamour of a farm wife, I tell you.

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Cornish Cross chickens were developed to be broilers.  At five to eight weeks old, they are processed and become the adorable Cornish hens one might find in the grocery store.  I seem to have imagined that Cornish hens were some type of miniature breed.  Well, now the chickens are five months old.  They are grossly huge.  Their legs are splayed so when they run, they wobble.  They can’t reach their backsides to preen, so we may lose others in the vent-clogged battle.  They don’t seem to have any natural chicken behaviors, like scratching, dust bathing, or running.  I have moved their water thirty feet from the coop to encourage walking.  They are a sad lot.  It is terrible that we humans have done this to a really cool species.

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Bob is a handsome fellow.  His chest is body builder ginormous and shaped like a heart.  He tries to chase the ladies but he can’t catch them.  My hen (honest to God) was crowing one morning trying to teach the young lad but alas, he only croaks and seems to be too tired to crow.

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I am astounded at the difference between my laying hens and the meat chickens.  Perhaps it wasn’t kind to keep them alive after all, but they do enjoy the sunshine and they got a pass.  Living as one of my chickens isn’t too bad of a life.  They bark like dogs and are the size of turkeys.  They have very sweet temperaments.

I will probably stick to the petite laying hens from here forward.  It’s too sad to see these giants trying to be chickens.  But there is still nothing better than sitting out in a lawn chair on a warm evening with a drink watching the comedy show.  Chickens are nothing if not hilarious.

Farmgirl Inspiration

Hello March, it’s nice to see you.  January and February can be the very hardest time of the year for farmgirls.  We have our gardens, our farms, our animals, our preserving, our home making, our crafting in the fall in anticipation for the holidays, we have our cooking, and our entertaining, and our pleasant fatigue.  Then there is January and February…hello March, it’s nice to see you!  Thank the Lord you’re back!

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Even though it is still cold and there is ice on the car and tomorrow it is going to snow, it is March and all things can come anew now, in my mind and in nature.  I have plans!  Oh glorious plans, and guess what?  I figured out a way to make them manifest.  My son texted me yesterday and said he would come help with the fencing.  I found an affordable way to get the outbuildings I wanted.  Yes, my gardens are about to take on some marvelous expansion and changes.

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Field fencing is a farmgirl’s friend because it is easy to put up and can be taken down if needed.  I am expanding the chicken yard.  I am fencing off another part of the backyard for a greenhouse, raised beds, and space for a rooster.  Doug isn’t thrilled we have a rooster.  But I think one in seven wasn’t bad!  I also have ducklings on order to pick up in April.  They are honest-to-god worthless (few eggs, eat ten times more than the chickens, are noisy, splash water everywhere), but dang, they are so cute!  The greenhouse will double as night quarters for the trouble makers and Captain the Rooster.  None of them can jump or fly up on things, so plants will be safe and the added humidity from the ducks’ water antics will create a nice space.  (Did I mention my husband doesn’t like ducks either?  I just look at him like I don’t speak English.)

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A shed is going up to fit all the yard tools in, which will make room for some outdoor furniture and hanging plants around the back porch.  Listen, y’all, I will do before and after pictures when all this is said and done, but right now it looks like a hundred and fifty pound puppy dug holes to China, ate all the outdoor pillows, destroyed a huge dog bed, and threw some trash around.  (Actually, that is what happened.)

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In the front yard, a large archway will have pumpkins and other climbers growing up it.  Add in a few twinkly lights and I will have an enchanted garden for sure.  I have added a couple hundred feet of gardens.  The stalks of the roses are all turning green.

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There is a loom downstairs.  I have friends that can show me how to use it.  I have always wanted to learn how to weave.  I painted a box with a lid for my son’s long time girlfriend for Christmas.  It has a dear clasp and longs to be filled with secret treasures.  I painted a scene from a vacation they took on the lid.  I would like to do more of those.  Maybe set up my sewing machine.  Craft ideas come to mind.

Inspiration to farmgirls is like medicine.  Maybe even breath, if I am not being too dramatic here.  What are you inspired to achieve this spring?

The Unusual Rooster (or crowing hen)

I heard crowing at dawn.  I stretched and smiled, hearing that beautiful familiar sound.  My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed.  I searched with sleepy eyes through the window trying to catch sight of who was actually a rooster.  Then…nothing.  No crowing for days.  None of the hens looked like a rooster and I have had six out of seven of them for a year and a half.

Twice now I have pulled my car into the driveway and heard crowing coming from my own backyard.  I throw open the gate and stand there as the hens chirp and ask to be let out of their yard.  Suspicious.  No rooster.

Last week I ran in to see who was crowing and one of the Jersey Giants was pulled up tall just like a rooster.  Ah ha!  But she lays eggs.  Addie came over and we looked at all the chickens.  No spurs, no crazy feathers, no prettier than other chickens chicken.  And they all lay eggs.

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I decided to look into this phenomenon. Addie has a few hen crowers.  The internet is filled with tales of crowing hens.  It seem that without a rooster to rule the roost a hen will become the queen.  She will crow to scare predators or to announce her dissatisfaction, or to let me it’s time to wake up and give them feed.  So this really is the best of both worlds, I get my beloved, familiar farm sound (just not every ten minutes throughout the day) without any of the testosterone jerkiness and she lays eggs.  How lovely.

Tough Chickies

 

IMG_2297My goodness, we used to obsess over our chickens.  We practically brought them in the house if it were cold.  They lived in a cushy 10×10 with windows and heat lamps and were carefully stowed away at night to hide them from all the chicken dinner seekers that come out with the stars.

These are my housemate’s chickens.  The rooster I have dubbed “Genghis Khan” for his reputation, which I have not yet countered.  He is kind to me through the fence as I throw over melons and this and that.  He lives in his bachelor pad alone.  Again, not the nicest fellow, so I hear.  No other chickens to keep him warm, generally not locked up, but he has four walls.

The ladies live in the smallest apartment I have ever seen.  They seem to enjoy it and must be quite warm with body heat.  How they all survived last year’s negative zero temps I will never know.  They do not get locked up.  They did lose three sisters this year but these girls, even on nights their door slams by wind without them in and the have to sleep outdoors, have escaped all manner of frostbite and skunk marauders.

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Perhaps I was too coddling with my hens.  If there is an animal we miss most, it’s chickens.  I suppose when we get our own we will again be ridiculously overprotective chicken parents but at least I will have the wisdom that they are a bit tougher than I give them credit for.

A Rooster In The Kitchen Part 2 (canning broth)

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Elizabeth: “Why did you soak him in milk?  Who told you to do that?”

Me: “I don’t know.  I heard that you soak game in milk.”

Elizabeth: “Roosters aren’t game!”

Me: “Oh.”

My homesteading friends are invaluable to me.  They are not only avid supporters of what I do, but great sources of knowledge and delightful to be around.  I am lucky to live in an area saturated with an eclectic blend of old hippies, old ranchers, young homesteaders, and back to the landers.  They may look at me and shake their heads when I do something like soak a rooster in milk, but they are also proud of what I do on this little farm.  I am just thirty plus years behind on my learning about how to cook meat.  My friend, Addie, also confirmed that soaking it in anything was a no-no.  Just leave it in the fridge for a few days.  Fresh kill makes it harder to cook correctly.  Elizabeth mentioned that what I should have done is what she and her grandmothers do, stuff him with garlic and herbs and maybe some stuffing and roast him slow all day.  I soaked and boiled the heck out of him and ruined him.  No wonder he was slimy!  After writing this, my homesteading friends came out of the woodwork that do indeed eat roosters.

But, he wasn’t a total loss.  I got six quarts of delicious, organic chicken broth out of the ordeal.  After stewing him for five hours with onion and garlic and handfuls of herbs, I had a delightful pot of broth.  I poured them into hot quart jars after straining it through cheesecloth, replaced the lid, and set the jars in the pressure canner.

Fill the pressure canner with three inches of water.  Place the jars in and secure the top of the pressure canner.  Use all the weights, 15 lbs. of pressure, no matter what your altitude.  Turn burner on high and when the top starts ticking (used to sound like an approaching bomb to me, now sounds like salsa music), start shaking your hips and time 25 minutes.  When that is done, let the steam completely dissipate and the valve come down, then carefully open the lid and savor your jars of chicken broth.

Note: It takes a bit of time to pressure can but in my laziness, I have attempted to freeze in freezer bags (the bag ripped when I pulled it from the others), froze it in canning jars (the jars can break), and left in the refrigerator sure that I would get to it soon.  Just can it.  Then you have it!

Note 2: And for heaven’s sake don’t soak the rooster in milk!

The Peculiar Goat Sound

“I think someone around us got a goat as well.”

“Why do you say that?” Doug asked.

“I keep hearing a goat’s cry.  I thought yesterday that maybe there was one in the fairgrounds, but I heard it again this morning.”

“It’s a rooster,” he matter-of-factly said.

“What do you think I am stupid?  I don’t know the difference between a goat and a rooster?  (eye roll)  A neighbor definitely got a goat.”

“It’s a rooster.  I’m looking at him right now.”

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Yesterday, I thought I heard a goat cry again so I ran outside to rescue the baby goats.  Twas Henry.

Then I thought a girl was screaming next door.  Henry again.

It really is embarrassing.  Henry looks so regal and fine as he herds his little ladies around (not the older girls; they will let him have it!) and tries to crow.  I imagine he is just a teenaged boy trying to find that manly voice within.  Remember when we couldn’t decide if Henry was Henry or Louisa?  I guess that answers our question.  He’s Henry.  Henry Higgins.  The screaming girl goat….er..rooster.

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