Monday, November 19, 2012


My neighbor was over visiting on Sunday morning and we thought Ms. Muffy looked huge, ready to explode out a gazillion babies at any moment. So I set some fresh straw in the sheep mansion in anticipation of the blessed event. That evening when I came to do chores, I discovered a beautiful, red and white baby ewe following Muffy around. Yeah, that's right. Only one. Muffy has a serious eating disorder...

On a side note, the lady we purchased SugarSheep from thought Muffy might be a Tunis sheep. It's a breed that has some reddish coloring. I don't really have any way of being sure, but I searched for more information about Tunis and she does resemble them.

Muffy and Ginger

Friday, November 16, 2012

Yummy Rooster and Thoughts on Eating Your Critters

I understand people who choose to become vegetarians or vegans. I am not, but I can't say I never will be. Raising up your own animals with the intent of having them end up on a plate to eat is not an easy choice by any means. Nor should it be, in my humble opinion. I won't argue one way or the other about it. The truth is, my family eats chicken. We have been buying it from the grocery store or eating it in take-out, etc.

Last Sunday, we processed six of our roosters. These birds came to us by mail as day old chicks from the hatchery back in April. Raising them up to eat was our original intent, unless of course, we got some really cool hens that laid eggs.

There is something commendable about raising up an animal, treating it with kindness, feeding it well, protecting it from harm, caring for it, knowing it and treating it with respect when the times comes to take it to the block. To many people this sounds horrible, unthinkable, too difficult to bear. They could not do this. But I ask, did you know anything about that chicken nugget you just ate? Did that bird get to run around outside in the sunshine? Eat grubs? Scratch and roll in the dirt? Did that bird have a name? Did someone care about it?

My personal feeling on the matter is that if I am going to raise and eat an animal, I want that animal's life to be full and free for as long as possible. I want that animal to be treated with a kind hand and respect. As I brought my roosters to my friend to axe them, I hugged each one and petted him kindly. They deserved it, after all.

I'm not posting pictures of the process, but I will say it's both gruesome and fascinating. We were lucky in that our two friends came to help us. One to wield the axe. The other to help me dip and pluck. My husband was the one to clean and portion. Should you be considering raising up your own chickens to eat, I highly recommend that the processing be something you have help with. It's labor intensive, especially if you are doing many birds.

I read up on the whole ordeal beforehand and here are some pointers.

-Have someone else do the killing if you loved the birds, and look away.
-When dipping in the boiling water prior to plucking, hold the bird under the water no more than 30 seconds. Ours took 20 seconds.
-While wearing thick rubber gloves (the kind I use for soapmaking worked perfectly) take hold of the body feathers and pull gently to test that you've dipped long enough. Feathers will rub right off. Easily. If they don't, dip again. Be careful not to keep in the water too long or you'll cook your bird.
-Have an ice chest and zipper bags on hand for storage.
-Be sure you know what to cut out, how to clean, and how to cut up your bird. Don't assume you know. Be aware that there is an oil gland above the tail and a gullet that may or may not have food in it in the neck, and these need to be removed.

Our birds were seven months old and full grown. That's probably a little longer than most people would wait to eat them. Understand that the older a bird is, the tougher the meat will be. We cooked our first batch of legs and thighs slowly to tenderize. I have heard that some people cook them in the crock pot or pressure cooker at this age.

Some differences I noticed were that the meat was incredibly flavorful. This tasted like chicken times fifty. It was really good. Not anything like the chicken I'd been eating all my life. The bones were very long, much unlike the tiny bones from a store bought bird. There was almost no fat. The skin was thicker and stronger in texture.

Would I do this again? Yes. Even though it was a great deal of work to raise up these birds, it was worth the effort. It's not for everyone, so don't feel bad if it's not your thing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

4H Fur and Feathers Show

Farmers G and C are in 4H and their project right now is poultry. We started off trying to use the chickens we already had, but soon realized that they're too big to be handled properly by little hands. The show was supposed to start at 9AM. We got up at 7ish this morning and dashed to the ranch to get the chores done. The boys changed into their shirts before we zipped out of there and journied to the University of Arizona Agricultural Center.

Concerned we'd be very late, we resigned ourselves to standing by and watching in case we missed registration. We made it there with time to spare, but the lines to register were long. This show featured Cavy (Guinea Pigs), Rabbits, Chickens, Pigeons, and Pygmy Goats. We had fun watching all the kids go by, toting or leading their critters. The pygmy goats were hilarious. They resemble our Nigerians except that their legs are so much shorter and stockier.

Everything was well organized. There was a long table of donated items to be raffled off. I gave two baskets of goat milk soap. (A lot of people tried for those!) Someone else donated a pedigreed dwarf bunny. There were even canned goods, clothes, animal accessories, chicken scratch and so much more.

Waiting for the Junior Novice Show
The snack bar provided hot dogs and hamburgers and the usual suspects like chips and drinks. It was very affordable and not overcrowded. The boys and I had hamburgers and chips while we waited.

Gabe and Fluffball
First to show were the more experienced children. Our group has 15 kids in it, so we knew participants in every category. It was great to see such a huge turnout. What I enjoy most about 4H is how the older children really encorage and teach the new ones. We have had a lot of help from them, from answering basic questions to cheerleading for them as they showed.

Needless to say, it was quite a wait. There was so much to see though. While we waited, the boys took turns getting quizzed by Abby (girl in their group who had obviously studied well for this show). The three of them let their chickens play together and took turns challenging each other on the parts of the wing, why you show certain areas of the chicken and what to look for in heatlthy birds.

Abby's father and I had coffee (with goat milk that I'd squeezed out that morning) and shared stories. He had worked on a dairy farm years prior and explained that they would milk the cows there three to four times a day! He had worked with Holsteins and Guernseys.

The kids did really well being patient. When they got restless, we walked around to check out the animals. One lady was selling meat breed rabbits and was very helpful and informative about how she raises them and what breeds would be good to show in case the boys wanted to go into rabbits. (Eeek!)

Abby in the forefront, Farmer G, Farmer C.
By the time it was Junior Novice participants' turn, most people had left and we had nearly the whole arena to ourselves. The children lined up with their birds and did their best posing the animals, showing all the parts and answering questions about their particular bird and general questions too.

As soon as the judge began walking down the line, my boys became very solemn faced. They focussed on the judge and tried their best. As predicted, our new buddy Abby took first place with the most points. Gabe was second and Christian was third. Many of the children in this group received blue ribbons for their efforts.

Duck Pen

It's supposed to be a duck only club, but it hasn't worked out that way. There are three roosters in there, only one of which isn't on the freezer list...and the peahen. She's the real boss in there. Anyways, the duck pen was made to be coyote and hawk proof, but the layout inside wasn't ergonomic. I cleaned it all out and moved things around to fix all that. The "pond" gets emptied twice daily into an unused area where we will again plant some seeds so that nitrogen rich water won't get wasted.

The doghouse has already been voted out by the peahen when she landed atop it and knocked it down. I'm leaving the upsid0e-down pots and ladder in place since the birds like to roost on them. Hopefully this deisgn will work much better than before.

Field Trip to the Farm

Crowding around Pepper for a milking lesson.
Last week, several students from Emily Gray Junior High came to the farm to visit. They got to play with and pet the goats, check out the chickens, ducks and geese, and I gave a brief lesson on milking goats. The girls were mostly squeamish about milking, but the boys couldn't wait to try.

This was an impromptu visit that my oldest son arranged. Most of the 7th graders were away on a larger field trip and the teachers seemed thankful to have an interesting place to bring this group that stayed behind.

Sugar Sheep

We had been contemplating adding a couple more wool sheep to the mix since we were pleased with the way Muffy's babies filled out so much faster than the Blackbelly sheep. We purchased this lovely little lady from a woman who raises purebred Shetland sheep. This sheep is three years old, pregnant, and a crossbreed though mostly Shetland. I've taken to calling her Sugar since she's so white. She's a little skittish, but dominates the young Blackbelly ewes where she's currently residing. She is due the beginning of March.

Pepper Striking a Pose

One thing I don't like about the ranch is that it can tend to look untidy. I long for the day when everything has a place and it's in its place. Most everything out there is done for a purpose, like this pallet fence against the wire fence for a holding area in the main goat pen. When I first put it up, I knew it was ugly. It's pallets. Blech.

So, using what I had on hand, I painted the fence barn red. Still kinda ugly albeit slightly improved.

On a morning when I finished my chores earlier than usual, I dusted off this piece of scrap plywood, painted it, and made it look like a farmy sign. Not gorgeous, but way better than a line of pallets strung together to give the animals privacy and added protection.

Pepper seemed to know the sign was all about her milkly abilities...

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Visit to the Marana Stockyard Auction

Yesterday morning we took the kids to school, did the chores, and headed to the Marana Stockyard Livestock Auction. This event happens Thursdays and we wanted to check it to weigh our options on purchasing a replacement steer and possibly a second cow for milking and the making of future steers.

Marana is a sleepy little farming city located northwest of Tucson. We've had luck finding some of our stock in that town. (Gucci and Lucky came from Marana.) There are fields of cotton and corn, lots of wide open spaces, and the landscape is dotted with horses and tractors.

We had never been to a livestock auction and didn't know what to expect other than animals being sold to the highest bidder. We arrived a little early. The auction usually starts at 10:30am. We took seats on the right wing of the viewing area and eventually noticed that most people sat on the opposite wing. We could tell right away that most everyone there knew everyone else. They called each other by name, joked, laughed, and shared updates on the goings-on in their lives.

The first animal came in a little before 11:00am. After that it was a long slew of in and out, whips cracking in the air or whacking the metal walls, and "Hey!" to keep the cattle in motion. There were a lot of Black Angus going through and we noticed many had extra teats. Then came a couple of cows that looked the worse for wear: one who had poor eyesight and one who didn't breathe quite right, her cheeks puffing in and out as if she were blowing up a balloon. They sold for less than the others.

Next were the pairs and bred cows and this stock looked better than the previous batch. Here we paid close attention, trying understand everything as it moved very fast. The bred cows had stripes painted on them to indicate which trimester of their pregnancy they were in. One for the first, two for the second, and three for the third. They called them stripers as in, "Here's a nice three striper!"

The pairs were a cow and her calf. Sometimes they were sold together and sometimes they were sold seperately. The most troubling part for me to watch was when they would put the mother back in the run so the calf could be bidded on alone. One mother cow was particularly defensive of her little baby and circled him ferociously to keep the men from parting them.

A Hereford heifer being bidded on.
There were also pairs in which the cow had been bred again, so you could purchase them and essentially end up with three animals.

The bulls were the most impressive, big, proud, dangerous guys who showed no fear in the face of the men cracking whips and shouting.

Next came the calves, from youngest to oldest. The first sets were not weaned. Later sets were. There were different kinds, but mostly Angus, some Corriente for roping. Some were sold alone, but many were sold in pairs or sets.

We went to the office to get the rundown from one of ladies who works in cashiering. The Stockyard administers vaccinations and can perform many services such as castration (ouch), dehorning, ear tagging, and worming. We were told that the next time we came we could go out to the barn area and view the animals firsthand if we got their early enough and it wasn't too crazy-busy.

All in all, it was very interesting. Around noon, we headed for the Cattleman's Cafe, a restaurant located within the auction house building. And yes, we had burgers. They were delcious. We chatted with one of the owners who was also our server.

After our meal, we headed out for a drive in the barn area where the cattle are held before auction and afterwards for pick up. Everything looked well cared for and the critters had plenty of hay and water. It wasn't a particularly hot day, so there weren't much in the way of flies. Thank goodness! It made for a tiring day after the drive back. For once, I was not in the driver's seat and I took the opportunity to have me a nap. Zzz

More Goose Babies

Today's goose baby headcount is 5. Mom had left the nest and was teaching her brood to eat the crumbles and alfalfa we had out for them. Dad and the two aunties were on guard to protect the little ones from any danger.