Dedicated to the three feet of tree that had to be cut off so I could get it off the couch.
Dedicated to the three feet of tree that had to be cut off so I could get it off the couch.
It’s funny where destiny leads us. Some people are destined to help others. Some people are destined to be famous. And still others are apparently destined to raise and kill meat chickens. I happen to fall into this last category. My destiny was predicted by my oldest sister with the creation of a business card about 25 years ago…
We grew up on a farm where we ate a large portion of what we raised and grew. I don’t know that I appreciated it when I was a kid, but as an adult I am certainly grateful for the skills I learned in my youth. After watching how fast I could kill a chicken, my husband was also appreciative – and a little nervous.
One of our biggest goals for living in New Hampshire and starting a farm is self-sufficiency. Because we moved almost half-way through the year, we knew the first year would be a lot of trial runs, which meant starting small. A small garden with just a handful of different vegetables, hatching out a few more egg layers (ok, the laying flock didn’t stay quite as small as it should have), and raising a small number of meat chickens.
If you ever get the crazy urge to raise your own meat birds, the first thing you have to do is find a reputable hatchery. We bought Jumbo Cornish cross chicks from Cackle Hatchery. This chicken is a cross between a commercial Cornish chicken and a White Rock chicken. They’re produced as a commercial meat bird and grow so fast that their legs can actually give out because of their weight. They also tend to fall over and die from a heart attack if you let them grow past the recommended age (approximately 10 weeks).
About a week after you order, you’ll get an early morning call from the post office letting you know your chicks have arrived. You’ll walk in and you’ll be able to hear the pissed off peeping immediately.
But there is something truly charming about looking into the holes of the cardboard box and seeing this:
These guys were only a couple of days old but you can see that they were already getting wing feathers, something that doesn’t usually happen for about a week.
When you open the box don’t be surprised if one or two chicks didn’t make the journey. Cackle throws in a couple of extra just in case someone dies before arriving. We lost one but everyone else was quite healthy looking.
Aren’t they cute and fluffy? And yellow? And identical? If you’ve raised layers, you’ve probably noticed that even if you only have one breed of chicken, they have some individuality about them. A bit of color variety, feathers that lay just a bit different, and of course, lots of different personalities. That’s what makes them fun to watch. Meat chickens are not like layers. They eat, drink, and poop. And that’s it.
We moved the meat chicks into the coup at around two weeks. They were quickly outgrowing the brooders and they created so much poop so fast that the garage was starting to smell.
The layers were not impressed with their new roommates. At this stage in their lives, there isn’t a whole lot to say about them. They ate and kept getting bigger.
This is how they looked at about 25 days. Notice the legs on these suckers…
They were also already developing a much heavier breast.
This guy is a Sumatra Bantam Cochin cross (Tracy calls them Tillimatra’s because the Bantam Cochin hen’s name is Tilly). This chick is about a month older than the meat chicks but much smaller in body size.
The next few weeks consisted of eating and popping. We finally felt they were big enough that they could hang out in the main coop with the layers.
You can see them in the back of the herd of chickens. It was one of the snowy days so nobody was particularly eager to go out, but the meats more or less spent all of their time inside. Eating and popping (are you noticing a trend here?…).
There are a lot of good reasons to raise meat birds. You know what your birds are eating, you know how they’re being treated, and there’s something quite satisfying in knowing you were able to grow something to feed you and your family. But there’s also a lot of reasons that raising meat birds is a huge pain in the ass. They’re filthy, they eat a ton of food, you have to clean them out about 10 times more often than layers, and they’re dumb as rocks. I watched one of the roosters try to jam his head through the chicken wire to get at the pan of food on the other side of the wire. All he had to do was move about two feet through the door (like the layers were doing), but nope – instead he kept bashing his head into the wire. Over and over and over again.
We butchered our meat birds just after 10 weeks and I have to say, even though it was cold, windy, and rainy as we did it, and our toes were frozen by the end, our backs ached from bending over, and the boys swore they were going to have dreams for weeks of plucking feathers, it was a very happy day.
For a trial run, it was pretty successful. We have a list of things we’ll do different next year when we get a larger batch of meat birds. A different coop arrangement, an automatic plucker, and butchering during a warmer time of the year. But two things were confirmed. The layers are heartless little bastards – they hung around us the entire time to see what we were doing and steal feathers, and farm raised chickens are delicious.
During a recent conversation with my sister, she mentioned that I really needed a DIY project to write about. I agreed with her, and it just so happened that I had the perfect project waiting patiently in a garbage bag in the garage. That’s right, folks – It’s time to bring out the babies!
Like many girls, my sisters and I played with dolls while we were growing up. As we got older, things became a little more dangerous for our dolls. Hair got dyed funny colors, then it got chopped off. And eventually, a few even started on fire (mom beat our asses for that one). During the baby doll project, I found that I still enjoy dolls. At least, taking their heads off.
Some items you’ll need: a few baby dolls, fishing line, an upholstery needle, buttons (I recommend the two-hole variety of medium size), a pliers, a needle-nosed pliers, leather gloves, some type of lighting.
The dolls I used were out in the weather for some time so they already had a nice icky dead look to them. This was especially true for the dolls with hair. So start with the baby doll and take the head off. It sounds easy, but depending on the age and condition, this can take some effort. I will also caution those who find babies out on the side of the road like we did – beware of the peeing babies! You will end up with all sorts of foul fluid on you if you brace the baby against your leg and squeeze too hard while pulling the head off!
Once you’ve removed the head, you can either install the fishing line for hanging the head or remove the eyes. I swapped these steps with different heads and found it really didn’t make a difference. We’ll start with stringing the head…
I found that a heavy duty upholstery needle worked well to string the fishing line through the top of the head. I used the needle to go from the outside first, threaded the needle, and then went from the inside using the the needle nosed pliers. I then went through the top of the head another time so that I’d have a loop with the line and both ends of the line inside the head. (As you can see from the picture, I did wear a leather glove for this part of the process, which made pushing the needle through much easier.) I tied my ends on a two-hole button to keep the knot from slipping through the head.
All of the baby dolls we collected have eyes. The scary blinky eyes that get stuck all of the time and look extra creepy. While I appreciate the creepiness, I wanted to have light coming out of the eyes, which meant removing them. In the picture showing the button up inside the head, you can also see two bulging pinkish things just inside the head. They look like hamster cheeks that got packed a little too tightly. Those are actually the eyes. The best way I found to remove them was to take the pliers and just pull gently at the rubber/plastic that’s coating them. Again, our dolls are quite weathered so the material was a little brittle and sort of baked onto the eye. Once I got enough peeled away I pressed on the eye from the outside until it popped out into the head or at least came out enough that I could pry it out the rest of the way. I did press too hard on one of the eyes and it ended up ‘popping’, which was a little disturbing, even though it was a doll. As an added bonus, not only do you get a nice soulless look to the doll, but you get a bunch of eyeballs to use later!
Once the eyes are out of the way, and you have the head on a string, you can start playing with your lighting options. I’m happiest with the little flickering candles. They give the head a good, eerie flickering glow, they’re easy to install, and I think I paid about $2 for six of them. Another option is a string of battery operated lights. I bought several strings at the the dollar store and one longer string for about $5. The longer variety has 11 feet of wiring and a bigger battery box so you do need a larger head if you use that version of lights.
I got lucky with the first head – the flickering candle was a perfect fit. The second head was too small for the candle, and the third head was too big for the candle.
I liked the strings of lights because they put a lot of light into the head, and you have color options. What I didn’t love was the glow spots that were created inside of the head. But, they ultimately did the job. The strings do take a bit of arranging so that all of the light isn’t stuck in the top of the head, away from the eyes and mouth. The smaller set has the on and off switch at the bottom end of the box, making it easily accessible when the head is hanging up. The bigger set of lights has the switch on the side of the box, but still pretty easy once you get used to it.
The top head has the flickering candle in it, the second has the smaller string of lights, and the third has the 11 feet of lights. I do like how the second head looks like it’s combusting from inside…
I hung our baby heads in the front of the house from a very craggy looking tree that was practically screaming for baby heads. They make quite a statement, even during the day.
And as you can see, they’re quite delightful at night!
So there you have it! Flashy, fashionable, and a real piece of art! Or at least, pretty kick-ass Halloween decorations…
This post is rated M for mature audiences due to sexual situations and violence…
We have a sort of tradition in my family. We like to send disgusting pictures, stories, and articles to each. This can be pictures of a surgical procedure one of us had, something one of our kids did, but it’s often inspired by something we’ve found in our gardens. The top picture was sent by my sister. In case you aren’t sure what’s going on in the picture, it’s slugs having sex. They’re attached to a string of slime, which is attached to the side of her house. (You’re welcome.) The bottom two pictures were sent by my cousin after a discussion on wasp nests. I found them horrifically fascinating, and I really considered stringing up one of the baby dolls in an apple tree to see if the wasps would go for it.
Today it was my turn to share. I actually have to give credit to my sister-in-law, because she’s the one who pointed these guys out. She was looking at our garden yesterday evening and asked me if I had seen the green worms on my potato plants. I had noticed the plants were looking chewed on, but didn’t examine them too close because I was planning on pulling them this weekend. When I went out with her to look, this is what we found:
Introducing the Tomato Hornworm, also known as “Eww, eww, eww, that’s disgusting!!” Ok, not really. The scientific name is Manduca quinquemaculata, but I’m pretty sure that translates to “eww, eww, eww, that’s disgusting!”
They’re easily recognizable because of the markings on their bodies, as well as the horn on their asses. They would be almost charming if the ass-end was the head. Like fat, green little unicorn ponies.
Although they’re called tomato hornworms, these suckers were on my potato plants, and they actually stick to plants in the nightshade family, including eggplants and pepper plants.
They’ll completely decimate your plants, as you can see in this picture:
One of the ways you can tell if you have them (other than your plants suddenly looking like complete shit) is little berry-looking worm poop. Think the berries in Captain Crunch Wild Berries:
If you see berry poop, look over your plants and you’ll probably find these guys:
They do the most damage in the caterpillar stage. This time of year, the big caterpillars will start dropping off of the plants to begin burrowing into the ground for the winter. Like this guy:
They stay in the ground over the winter and emerge as big moths in the spring. The moths are often referred to as “sphinx”, “hawk”, or “hummingbird” moths. The moths eventually lay eggs on leaves, and the whole nasty process begins again. So the question is, how do you get rid of the little bastards?
Till heavily in the spring. This kills about 90% of the caterpillars still in the ground. You can also plant things like dill, basil, and marigolds around your plants to keep the caterpillars away. Wasps are also your friend when it comes to hornworms. The braconid wasps actually lay eggs on the caterpillars, and the babies eat the caterpillars from the inside out. So if you find one of these guys and he looks like he has rice stuck all over him, leave it alone! The wasps are working.
If you do find them on your plants, they’re pretty easy to pull off (but don’t squeeze too hard!). Chickens supposedly eat them, but ours weren’t impressed. One of the girls pecked at one a couple of times and then left it alone. If your chickens are picky, or you don’t have chickens (why don’t you have chickens!?), you can put them in a bowl of soapy water. Like so:
They get pretty pissy when you first put them in but die fairly quickly. I ended up with a fairly healthy worm-crop – eleven. This doesn’t count the three we pulled last night. The most I had on one plant was four. I will warn you that if you accidentally dump your bowl of worm-water over, you may get this:
Javi Bad Dog was a big fan.
After I had already taken mine swimming, my cousin mentioned that lizards and tarantulas are HUGE fans of hornworms because there’s no exoskeleton. They’re also full of nutrients. We just happen to have a nice, big bearded-dragon in our house, so I madly looked over all of the potato plants. On the very last one, I came across this guy!
Yay! The lizard was over-joyed and had him gone in about 30 seconds. Check out https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100018478174998 to see the video.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, or if your tomatoes took a beating from the worms, get some payback! Eat those bitches! Fried Green Tomato Hornworms – the recipe can be found at: https://www.thedailymeal.com/recipes/fried-green-tomato-hornworms-recipe
(Many thanks to my sister and cousin Mandy for your thoughts and suggestions. Credit also to http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/tomato-hornworms-in-home-gardens/ for additional information.)
Chicks are like children. They’re all sweet and innocent when they’re babies…
And we really like them when they’re sleeping…
But as they get older, they get funny looking, moody, and they start to smell bad…
When that happens, there’s only one thing you can do – move them in with someone else. Like these fine, unsuspecting folks!
Yesterday was moving day for the oldest chicks – about 26 chicks in all, made up of a mix of Barred Rock, Ameraucanas, Old English, Sumatra, and Sumatra Cochin crosses. Along with making the garage smell horrible (even the boys had started to comment on it), the chicks were starting to give us looks. Looks like, if I could, I would peck your eyes out.
So Tracy and Gus spent the bulk of the day making a temporary enclosure in the chicken barn for our broody teenage birds.
Tracy and I added the wire in the afternoon, and they were moved in soon after.
There’s a very nice video on our FaceBook page that shows the chicks getting to know each other (fighting) and their new home. They got it figured out fairly fast, and this morning everyone was sleeping together. Behind the waterer, of course, instead of under their light.
The older birds still aren’t sure of what to make of it, and so are mostly ignoring the chicks. We can’t wait until Simeon realizes he’s supposed to keep track of all of these, too. They still have a few weeks before they’ll be allowed into the run, and then another several weeks before we allow them to free range. By then, they should be out of the moody teenager stage and safely into the young adult ‘you’re stupid and I know everything’ stage. It’s at that point we’re expecting the older chickens to start asking for new accommodations.
This past week we’ve been witness to the fickleness and overall meanness of chickens. To be fair, it’s really just one hen that’s being nasty and fickle, the other hen is just fickle.
Here are our three broody girls. Tilly is the little poofy one with white splashes. She’s a Cochin Bantam. She’s nesting on the floor. The middle lady is Ursula and she’s a Black Sumatra. She pecks at you when you reach under her to see how things are going. The third is Nancy/Gladys and she’s an Old English hen. We have two OE hens who are identical, hence Nancy/Gladys.
Gladys/Nancy started sitting first but was pushed off her eggs by Ursula. I gave Nancy some different eggs and then Ursula stole those. Tilly pretty much stayed out of it and kept to herself on the floor. Gladys continued to nest-hop for a few more days and then finally settled on one and has remained consistent.
Ursula hatched out two chicks about a week and a half ago.
Aren’t they darling? But where is their fine mother? Down in Tilly’s nest. She decided she wanted more eggs so she left the chicks in the nesting box and took over Tilly’s spot. I tried some rearranging so that Tilly wouldn’t lose her eggs but Ursula would move wherever the eggs went, regardless of where the chicks were. (Not sure if this will work but we’ll try it – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100018478174998 )
We went from the ground nesting box to…
The two girls co-parenting on Tilly’s nest. That was fine with Tilly, and Ursula even started leaving the chicks with Tilly at night so she could go sit in the nesting box (on wooden eggs). Well, yesterday Tilly’s eggs started hatching.
She had two chicks hatch out, a little black Cochin and Sumatra cross, and the little yellow guy under her wing, who could be a Sumatra splash. The problem was that she kept leaving the nest to go with Ursula and Ursula’s chicks. One of other things that I found concerning was that Ursula attacked the yellow chick. I hoped it was a one time thing, scooted the chicks back with Tilly and left it. Then we found Tilly’s chicks outside the coop after dark last night, both outside of the netting of the run. One was tangled in the netting, and the other was tucked under the outer wall of the coop, a little dark puffball, and it was pure luck that we found it.
This morning, Tilly had a third chick and her fourth egg was pipping (starting to hatch out). She was again off the nest with Ursula and all four older chicks. The newest chick had just hatched and wasn’t even fluffed yet.
I ended up giving the new chick and still hatching egg to Gladys/Nancy, who all this time, has been gazing at the peeping chicks longingly. She wasn’t sure what was going on at first but was soon busy tucking it underneath and making it warm.
Meanwhile, the other ladies were back outside. It appeared to be a peaceful scene of co-mothering.
Until they got up to move again and Tilly’s two chicks came wandering out – the yellow chick with a bloody gash on the side of its head.
After doing some research, I found that a lot of people report that their chickens will attack chicks colored different than most of the brood. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it – sometimes the white chicks get attacked, sometimes the black ones, sometimes the red ones. Both of Ursula’s chicks are dark and she seemed fine with Tilly’s black chick.
If the hen is protective enough, she’ll keep the other birds away from her chicks. Tilly doesn’t so I took Tilly’s two away from her and put them in a brooder. So far both look like they’re doing okay and Tilly is still busy with Ursula’s chicks. Next year we’ll create some hatching cages so the girls sitting can stay with their chicks, and not worry about one of the other hens getting nasty.
As for Ursula, she’s off the ‘good with children’ list…
Ode To Joy!
When we decided to move to New Hampshire we knew we would one day have a horse. Having both grown up with horses it was one of those things that was just going to happen. Of course, ‘one day’ ended up coming sooner than we thought it would, but much like a pile of old baby dolls, you just don’t pass up a good horse when you find it.
We went and met Ode and his wonderful owner Sherry at the end of July and after spending some time with them we knew that he was going to be an excellent fit for Bedlam Hollow. But first we needed a barn…
And fencing…which led to more poison ivy…
On August 6th, Ode finally arrived to bring that wonderful smell of horse to the farm. And to improve the view from the sun room…
Ode is a 13 year old Percheron gelding. He’s 18 hands (for those unfamiliar with measuring horses, that means really big) but he’s a very sweet boy and a big fan of grass.
Ode already has many fans in the area so if you’re in our neighborhood please feel free to drop by and visit. Just remember to bring the carrots.
Five months ago today I married an amazing, wonderful man. A man who knows me better than anyone I’ve ever met. A man who loves me, adores me, and truly wants me for who I am. How do I know this? Baby doll heads.
That’s right. He knows me so well that even when I completely missed a pile of perfectly icky and broken baby dolls, he had my back and pointed them out. And took pictures! On top of that, my wonderful and amazing sister-in-law made a call and asked if I could go and collect the baby doll heads. Well, I’m pretty sure she asked about the full babies but she knew what I was really after.
Thank you to my husband and our family – I’m truly grateful to have you all and to be in the wonderful state of New Hampshire. And just remember – Halloween is right around the corner and you can never have enough baby doll heads!
Tuesday was a big day for us. Actually, let me back up a bit. When we decided that we were going to move to New Hampshire and, among other things, try our hand at farming, Brother John started trolling Craigslist for us. One of the ads he sent our way was for a cabinet incubator (holds something like 300 chicken eggs), an electric scalder, and a brooder. I was actually only interested in the scalder (we’re talking turkey-sized, people!), but it was a package deal at a ridiculously low price. Brother John and his brother the Champion Snorer went and checked them out for us, declared it an excellent deal AND talked the guy into selling some beehives.
So now we had this incubator. Our options were to use it as a funky end-table or attempt some hatching. Since we need chickens we decided to go with the hatching option and put our first dozen in at the end of June.
Since the incubator had been sitting in a barn for awhile we weren’t sure of our hatching rate so we set two more batches. And then we were given a dozen Barred Rock eggs and a dozen Ameraucana eggs (thank you Lee & Cindy!).
So we set those, which brought us to 52 eggs. And then I may have set another dozen….
Anyway…Back to Tuesday. Tuesday was Batch #1’s hatch day. This egg happened to be in the front so the first one I noticed, but I think it was actually the third to hatch.
Below is actually the first chick to pop out. And it was a naughty chick. I intended to keep new chicks in the incubator for 12 to 24 hours. This chick insisted in hopping out of the tray to the back of the incubator and then screaming bloody murder. After the second rescue I pulled it out and put it in the bin.
We ended up with eight out of the first dozen. Which is higher than what we predicted our hatch rate to be.
The above is the egg from the first picture. We have video of the hatch on our Facebook page…
We think we have four Old English chicks, three Sumatra chicks, and one Sumatra/Bantam Cochin cross (that should be an interesting chicken). Tomorrow is the next hatch day so make sure to check back for news on The Peepers…The New Batch!!