Tag Archives: free range chickens

Jack and Jane, patrolling

13 Jan

The sun came out today and everyone on the farm was delighted! Jack and Jane made sure the chickens were safe from hungry hawks while Sophie and I filled water buckets and replenished hay. The air was crisp and the snow was beautiful!

Brined, smoked range chicken and a Charcuterie Challenge

9 Jan

This morning I decided that the 3 thawed range chickens we were planning on smoking today should sit in a brine overnight. Good planning on my part, eh? A search on the net lead me to this post, and a recipe for a quick brine, perfect for those of us that want something now or at least sometime today. Here is my version:

I mostly followed the recipe with ingredients I had on hand. I added Italian parsley and sage from the raised beds (that made it through last nights temps of around 9 degrees Fahrenheit) then added some of our farm raised dried red pepper in addition to about a cup of Red Guitar (!) Old Vine Tempranillo Garnacha left over from last night.

While on Michael Ruhlman’s site, a cute picture of some red pigs caught my eye. CharcutePalooza? Right on! What a coincidence! Though I did not see any telltale wattles on the pigs, I clicked to find out more.

Interestingly, I had just this past Friday, conversed with a local farmer friend about preserving meats and told him this was my year for learning about how to make Virginia style hams, prosciutto and all other good things porky: smoked preserved and otherwise cured.

I love how things come together in life and the universe gives you a kick start when you really need it. This is all part of my journey here in Tennessee towards learning the old way and in doing so, I plan to document artisan skills that are nearly lost. I believe it’s why I became a farmer in the first place and is a perfect opportunity to stay focused on the goal. Here are the “Ruhls” as posted on the Mrs. Wheelbarrows Kitchen site (see link to site above re: charcutepalooza).

“The Ruhls

* Let’s celebrate the age-old talents and skills of charcuterie with contemporary takes on techniques, flavors and presentation.
* Let’s agree to use humanely raised meat, sourced as close to home as possible.
* Let’s write about our experiences. Not just how the charcuterie is made, but how we use it, serve it, flavor it.
* Buy a copy of ‘Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing’ by Michael Ruhlman.
* Cook along as often as practical. There’s no obligation.
* Post about your experiences on the 15th of the month.
* Display the Badge, if you are so inclined;”

I am joining this challenge if only for the pork portion (since that’s what I have) in order to keep things simple. Duck Prosciutto, January’s challenge sounds wonderful, maybe next year? I’ve been hoping for a pond this year in order to raise more fowl. Yet another Mr. Pink Guitar honey do list item… The cool thing about this challenge though, is that anyone who has access to humanely raised meats can participate.

So I am off to purchase the book, please feel free to join me in this challenge, I would love your comments. Oh, and I will keep you posted on how the smoked chicken turned out.

UPDATE: Well, the smoked chicken sat in brine for a few hours and then went into the smoker:

Then we phoned up our West Coast expert smoker friend, Steve, for advice. Here is what we SHOULD have done, and will do so next time. Brine for at least 12 hours, then, and this is critical: RINSE THE BIRD prior to smoking. We only had our chickens in the brine for a few hours and did not rinse them, so, although we sacrificed full tender juiciness, we still got great flavor without too much salt.

The chicken was delicious, even with our errors in planning. I would love to tell you that we sat down to a fabulous meal of smoked chicken, a nice bit of couscous, some healthy winter greens and then complimented the smoky flavor of the chicken with a sweet ginger/plum chutney, but we got it to the kitchen and devoured it with a chopped salad. The bad, blurry picture below shows how horribly IMPATIENT we were to try the chicken. Sorry, the picture just doesn’t do it justice.

The next day, it was served in sandwiches with that beautiful ginger/plum chutney mentioned above – sent to us this summer by more good friends on the West Coast. We feel lucky to get to eat such wonderful food and it is even more satisfying to know that we raised those chickens here. We also really appreciate all of the good help and flavors sent from so far away!

I’ll take a Mimosa, hold the o.j.

1 Jan

Happy New Year! We started out our first day of 2011 processing chickens. This was not by choice but by necessity. An unpleasant task, but a practical one, because it means a freezer full of chickens, or so we hope – man, is it a lot of work!

First new year’s resolution: I will not order 125 baby chicks for any reason. For the life of me, I can’t remember the warped rationale that prompted this. Did I think I was going to be a chicken farmer some day and needed the practice? Did I want to torture the family? Did I buy stock in chicken feed and feel the urge to drive company profits? Whatever it was, it escapes me now as I am up to my elbows in…well, never mind.

Don’t worry, I still have some of my city sensibilities left so I won’t be posting any graphic pictures, but there is a lesson here – the very reason for this blog, to share success and failure and experiences in the journey towards sustainability.

Did you know that you can order day old baby chicks by mail? They show up at the post office after you lose your mind ordering them over the internet. This is how it looks:

First thing in the morning on the day your chicks arrive, the local post office will call you: “Hey Mrs. Crazy, your chicks are in!”. When you go to pick up your baby chicks, because of the nature of the small southern town you live in, you will find that the staff politely snickers and looks at you sideways. Why? Because it’s a small town and Yankee stupidity is FUNNY!

The real work starts when you get them home. Every chick is given a once over for health issues and as they are added to the brooder their beaks are dipped in water so they will know how to drink. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BROODER READY AND WARM AHEAD OF TIME!

The day before the chicks arrived, I was still trying to figure out my brooder arrangements and since the kiddie pool I had used before only held about 45 chicks, it dawned on me that I might be in a bit of a pickle.

I opted to convert my greenhouse shelving into a brooder with aluminum sheeting (flashing) and carpenter cloth from the local hardware store. We added a side door and with 2 heat lamps, we were good to go. Until, that is, about 3 days into baby chick brooding when I realized that the exponential growth rate of a chick was not factored into my brooder size calculations. Luckily, we had a second greenhouse shelving unit.

At this point, I became painfully aware of what poultry farmers already know. Baby chicks eat a lot, they also poop…a lot, frankly, I think more comes out than goes in! It’s really gross! Two weeks in the brooder and I was ready to put them outside in the coop. People, please find a poultry farmer and thank them! This is a dirty, thankless job!

Oh! And here was another realization, the coop was too small. Maybe I thought I would have a lot of loss? We actually lost less than 10% in the 3 months we have had them. Thanks to the LGD’s, and the hardy nature of this breed of chicken, we were lucky, despite my ignorance.

No doubt, I was unable to conceptualize what 125 chickens meant on any level.

So here we are, 3 months later, with an insane number of chickens running around the yard, free to go where ever they please. Except, since it is winter there is not much to range. So of course, they have identified food with humans and whenever we walk into the yard, try to get in the car to run an errand, open the front door, make a noise, etc., we re-live the movie The Birds, except this is a ground assault!

Today, we put another 10 in the freezer. 29 down, who knows how many to go? Paul is the executioner, the kids are the pluckers, I gut the birds and Paul puts them in the freezer. We have a good system. It’s quality family time. How did we get here? Our learning curve has been steep over the past year.

Taking advantage of our new year’s resolution and reflecting on 2010 in order to make better choices on the farm I asked each family member why we do this. Sophie said “so that we have fewer antibiotics in our food”. Paul said “so that we know where our food comes from”. Jack said “because we are stupid”. I say “so that chickens get to be chickens” We do this for their health and subsequently ours, even if it seems stupid.

So what the hell does this all have to do with a Mimosa? I don’t know, it’s the new year, people! A time to celebrate new stuff on the horizon and put a tough year behind. You can have a Mimosa, even if you are processing chickens. I had one with fresh squeezed tangerine juice from fruits sent to us all the way from California, no less. Thanks Scott and Eileen and also Bob and Kathy for brightening our winter with citrus! Hold the o.j., I’m out of tangerine juice, I’ll take the next one neat. Cheers!


10 Oct

We were losing chickens. By August, we had lost all of our spring roosters and we assume they died protecting their (our laying) hens. When the roosters were gone we started losing hens, almost daily. The day Sophie lost her prized Bantam hen “Peppermint” evidenced by a puff of tiny buff and white feathers, we decided that we must act and fast.

We felt we had two choices, fence the chickens in, or find LGD’s (Livestock Guard Dog’s) to protect them. We love having our chickens range and initially suffered few losses. But our farm was becoming an all you can eat buffet for all the usual (and possibly some unusual) suspects.

We want our chickens to eat bugs, weeds and whatever else a chicken/raptor chooses to eat even if it means hanging out with piglets. We feel that especially in the summer time, it cuts down on feed costs and aids health and immunity (as long as they are not being eaten by a predator!).

We also like the idea that our chickens get to go for an afternoon stroll (or scratch, rather) in the woods, take a dust bath in the pony pasture or simply work out their chicken politics in an open forum. We decided we did not want to fence them in, nor did we have the means to tractor them, so free range it was – meaning the search for LGD’s was on. As you can see below, the piglets enjoy a little free ranging too.

I started researching LGD’s about six months ago, but with so many projects, I wondered how I would have time to train one… or two. Nevertheless, I had talked to farmers, seen LGD’s in action and felt confident that they would work for us, we just wondered how to find one preferably already trained (training can take up to two years) that would also be able to transition to our farm.

While we were out picking up our RWH gilt, I mentioned to the farmers at Ecotonefarm that we were looking for LGD’s (they have two wonderful Great Pyrenees dogs). And as luck would have it, they knew of a farmer who was looking to place two 18 month old Great Pyrenees dogs, a male and a spayed female who were siblings. After several e-mails, phone calls and a visit to our farm by this very conscientious farmer, we went to pick up Jane and Burley on October 3rd.

This is Jane (to the left), not only does she patrol all night long between the chicken coop and the pig pens, she walks the kids to their bus stop (the entrance to our driveway) in the morning. Jane is a sweetheart.

This is Burley (above right); he wanted to hang out with me in the garden today while I harvested sweet potatoes. I put him in the shade by the barn since he is too large and furry for the meager shadows of a fallen amaranth flower stalk and a bell pepper plant. I sure appreciated the company though! He is a big sweet boy.

Poor Jane, she had no idea that when she came here, she would have the dubious honor of piglet babysitter. She is a good piglet herder too, especially when they are naughty and try to eat the chicken food up by the barn.

Burley is more reserved and mellow than Jane, and he has a very deep bark. There have been no more chicken losses in the past 10 days since they arrived here.

Everyone sleeps better at night now that Jane and Burley are here on the job, including our Narragansett tom turkey, Brad. In fact, he feels so secure now, he even gobbles at the moon. G’night Brad!

We are very grateful to have found Jane and Burley through the farmers at Ecotonefarm and to benefit from the wonderful training they received from their former owner. Jane and Burley are truly amazing, incredible dogs and are already a very important part of our farm. Many thanks to C.J. and Fletcher!

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