Sunday, July 28, 2013

Petey's Most Awesome, Pretty Good Day

The freezers are full. In order to relieve some of the ‘congestion’ I grabbed the few chicken carcasses left from when I parted out meaties and tossed them in the stock pot, along with some onion, peppercorns, carrots, a couple ribs of celery, fresh from the garden thyme and parsley, a little rosemary and some garlic. I added a couple of necks and of course, the feet, which had been cleaned. Chicken feet make the best kind of stock because they are mostly cartilage and supply all the glucosamine and chondroitin you could want. I let it simmer all day and the smell is heavenly. Once it is done and everything has been pretty much leached into the broth, I let it cool down some, then strain it into another large stockpot. That goes to the walk in to chill, while I pick through the solids that remain, putting bones in one bag, the veggies in a bucket to throw on the compost and the meat into a bowl. I gleaned enough meat off of the 3 carcasses to make  Chinese Chicken Salad, with more than half a bowl left over. This is one of my favorite summer salads so I was tickled to have it readily accessible. The only things I don't always have on hand are fresh celery, bean sprouts and the chinese noodles, but I grabbed some last trip to town. The dry noodles will keep a pretty long time so I’ll be picking up extra next trip and I have ordered mung beans to make our own sprouts, as they don’t last long and often, I can’t find them in the stores I go to. Green onions are always available in my back yard, winter and summer. I always have dry celery on hand, but not fresh, so that is something that is always on the grocery list and I always make something that requires it when we get it home. Then whatever is left over, goes in the dehydrator for soups and stews later on.

Uncharacteristically, I awoke before dawn one morning and not from being in any pain. In fact, I felt like a million bucks, so I quietly snuck outside in the dark under what was left of the moon and headed to the back pasture. I’d heard Cletus barking so I figured something was out of place back there, although he was quiet again so whatever it had been, had already been handled. I snuk up to the alley fence and peeked over to see all the sheep had been huddled together out in the open at the top of the pasture. Both Maremmas were trotting toward them so apparently it had been an encounter of the sheeple-threatening kind. The pups suddenly became aware of me and seconds later I was met in the corral by 200+ lb of highly enthusiastic, wagging polar bodies. After establishing that our infatuation for each other had not dimmed, we watched the sun rise together. It was a wonderful beginning to the day.

EmmaLouMoo has been out back with the bull and about a dozen cows for the past several weeks. SushiMoo has been isolated as she is too young to breed, and we were using the opportunity of her being lonely to get her to bond with us and become a bit more social. She was able to come and go from the corrals and out to the horse pasture as she pleased. Unfortunately, she found a way thru the fences and was loose out with the rest. I was able to capture Wimpy and saddle him (something I had not been able to do in months) and rode down to bring all the cows up from the bottom of the pasture and separate Em and Sushi out into the corral. They tried to pull a sneaky by racing back around the octopus tree and trying to double back on me while we were caught up in the wet, mucky ground, but Wimpy was a good boy and we managed to head them off and accomplish our objective. It made me a very happy camper.

A couple of days later Sushi came in heat which was a relief because #1 she for sure didn’t get bred over night and #2 it means she can go back out there for a couple of weeks until she is due to come in again, at which time I will bring her up and separate her again until her heat is over and turn her loose again. It makes her a much happier little cow.

The Red Rangers are STILL not ready to butcher. We definitely won’t be buying anymore of them as they don’t hold a candle to the cornishX as far as being economical and quick to finish. I know a lot of folks like them because they are hardier, but as we’ve not had problems with the CX, we’ll happily stick with them. 

When I had gone to visit Wimpy and Mister, Thomas followed me into the big corral and waited at the gate. When I returned, he wouldn’t let me pass. The next thing I knew, he began attacking me. He was running at me and jumping up, flapping his wings and kicking at me with his feet. I was using a foot to kick him back each time but he continued. I finally hollered for Bruno, who rescued me by body blocking Thomas and keeping him from getting too close to me. The heavy socialization and bonding I did with the Maremmas, once again paid off. It looks like Thomas might grace our Thanksgiving table, after all. He’s happily residing beneath the raspberry bushes with the Rangers for now.

It’s been unusually hot this summer and the garden has suffered for it. The flowers and hidden veggies have been making a valiant effort to survive and compete with the weeds.

I love sneaking stuff like cabbage and squash into the flower gardens

Hopefully, next year I will be more successful in my battle with weeds and dirt. For now, I'll just settle for what we have and plan on starting more perennials next spring to fill in the spots that need it.

Going out with Randyman to feed the other night, Cletus roared and took off out of the corral toward the orchard. He was upset because THIS guy and his co hort were parked in the trees. Apparently, Cletapotamus has not forgotten that they killed a bunch of his meaties and he was unable to stop them.

As for the rest, he's been fairly vigilant so I've got no worries.

Yesterday I pulled the stockpot out of the walk in, skimmed the fat off the top and canned  2 gallons of chicken broth as well as 7 qts of mixed veggies-carrots, potatoes, corn, peas and butter beans. The plan is to be able to grab a jar of veggies and a jar of chicken I have canned, dump them in a pie crust with some gravy and have a quick chicken pot pie. I tested the theory last night and it was a GOOD plan!! I think I will can more veggies and perhaps a couple different mixes with mushrooms and such as this would be good for sheperds pie, beef pot pies and some other stuff too. It's been a pretty good week for me and I'm looking forward to August!
 Hope you are too.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Meatiness-Harvesting our Cornish X

We are wealthy beyond description. In spite of my poor health, a bad economy and extreme isolation, we have God’s presence wherever we go. It’s a comforting and reassuring feeling.

Living as simply as we can, in a small rock house provided by our employer, I have found untold riches in the things we do. First of all, the boss and his fanily have been more than generous and allow us the privilege to live as we like, painting or doing whatever, on the little house and yard, as well as keeping my dogs, milk cow and other critters in the pastures around us. They have even made donations from time to time.

 What was originally dirt and thistle is slowly becoming a back yard full of flowers and a vegetable patch. One day it will be my sanctuary where I can sit in the shade and let my eyes lazily follow the flight of the many butterflies who grace the landscape. Even now, I revel in the glimpses of flowers in rioting color, purple coneflowers, white and yellow daisies, pink zinnias, red hollyhocks, blue flax and others. It’s pleasing both to the eye and to the soul. I love to look out and see the climbing roses, 7 and 8 foot tall sunflowers and hollyhocks against the backdrop of the old rock wall, with 4 O’clocks and lavender resting at their feet. The emerald green of the backyard lawn keeps things cool and keeps the dust down while providing a beautiful background for the old water troughs full of marigolds, foxglove, petunias and trailing sweet potato vines. The vegetable patch has had a rough year this year, between the odd weather, the heavy winds and my back injury which allowed the weeds to get a foothold and provide fierce competition with my corn, potatoes, broccoli and other plants, but they will do the best they can. The strawberries were struggling this year as well, as my water system for them is less than adequate and they are too crowded and full of weeds. I’ll have to dig them all up and replant them later this year. Nevertheless, they were sweet and delicious. The raspberries however, have been practically giddy. I have picked a couple gallons of them and they just keep coming. It looks like we will get our first blackberries this year too. I can’t wait.

This was meatie week. We had to process all of our CornishX chickens as they are nigh onto 9 weeks old and that is about the age their hearts begin to fail them. We usually like to process at 8 weeks, but I wasn’t able to do it because of some bad flares last week. We’ve got a system going. We get up early and do about a dozen before it gets hot, then Randyman can go to work and I can clean up and rest. We withhold dinner from them the night before we process, so their crops will be empty, as its kinda nasty otherwise.They have all day to forage so it’s not hard on them at all. They just go in the shed with their water for the night. We grab two at a time and quietly carry them to the traffic cones which hang upside down from a piece of fence by our BBQ. We slide the chickens in, and they get quiet and woozy from being upside down. They are then dispatched by cutting the main artery on the neck. Having been in several accidents myself as well as having graced a few surgery tables, I know that the initial cut may be uncomfortable, but unconsciousness comes rapidly. Their death is quick, sure and pretty trauma free. It’s not a bad way for them to go. I’m happy knowing my chickens lived a happy and carefree life with only a brief flash of discomfort in their passing as opposed to commercial chickens who live a miserable life from beginning to end. Ours are appreciated and I even say a little prayer over each one before we dispatch them. Some people might find that silly, but not me. If He knows every sparrow that falls, I think He cares about chickens too. 

The process is pretty clean cut. Dispatch, let them bleed out, then dunk them in the turkey fryer which is full of water at about 150 degrees. When the wing tip feathers come out easily, they are ready to throw into the drum plucker. We turn that on, use a hose to spray the feathers off the sides as they are removed, and after about 45 seconds they are clean as a whistle.

The set up.

Next, onto the table where I do the eviscerating as Randyman’s hands are too big and clumsy. I only told him they are too big though. Once the insides are all cleaned out, the heads, hearts and livers are thrown in a bucket for the dogs as we don’t care for them ourselves, the cat and her kittens clean up the gizzards and some of the other entrails. The clean bird is put in a cooler full of ice water to quickly chill. We do only about a dozen a day as Randyman still has to go to work. We got up early in the morning so we’d be done before then and before it was hot. Once they are chilled, they come in the house. I rinse them again with cold water, set them two at a time on a ‘beer butt chicken stand’ to drain, while I heat more clean water to 180.

I bag the birds in a shrink wrap bag, tie the ends off, make a little hole in the breast then dunk it in the hot water. Lots of bubbles come up, the bag shrinks and tightens and after just a few seconds, I pull it up out of the water and shazaam!! A beautiful, professional looking bird. I weigh them then use a label with the weight and date to cover the little hole over the breast and they go in the fridge for 48 hours. After that, they go in the freezer. Our biggest bird this year was 6.7 pounds and the smallest was 5.15. Not bad.

I always part out a few birds instead of freezing them whole. This makes it a lot easier to make meals with as we don’t always roast them. Wings are separated, thighs and legs go in a bag for frying and breasts are individually wrapped and frozen. There are still a few of the Red Rangers or Freedom Rangers to process, but they are not yet ready. They will be parted out for frying and a couple of them will be canned. There will also be a few culls from the laying hens that will be canned as well. These are great for using in casseroles, quesadillas, BBQ sandwiches and other things where shredded chicken is good.

The left over carcasses and feet will be used for stock. The feet will be cleaned by scalding and removing the ‘socks’ and nails. The best stock in the world is made with feet because of all the good chondroitin and glucosamine in it. Once chilled, it becomes a beautiful golden gelatin. This gets canned and put in the pantry. Not much is wasted. Blood goes in the compost pile and feathers go to the dump. I haven’t yet found a use for wet chicken feathers and they take too long to break down in the compost. That is all that is wasted.

The 23 birds we have done so far have produced over 120 lb of meat for us. In addition to that, nothing tastes better than pastured poultry...except maybe pastured lamb...or raw milk and butter from grass fed cows...well...its good stuff, to say the least. If you ever get a chance, try it!

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Sunday, July 7, 2013


Record heat. Thomas the turkey squats in the shade panting, his wings held away from his body and his feathers poofed forward to allow airflow. SushiMoo hides in the shade of Emma’s tent with the laying hens and guineas and the sheep and EmmaLou are nowhere to be found. They have likely found a suitable spot somewhere in the big pasture, where there is still cool water running thru the ditches and tall wet grass that will help to cool them.

The ‘polar bears’ come in the house where it’s cool. They work hard all night and deserve a comfortable place to sleep and regroup before heading out again tonight. I have to just assume the sheep will be safe from predators in this oppressive heat. Nothing seems to want to move much.

We use the hose to water down all the shady spots around the chicken pen so they can be a little bit cooler. The garden has been getting soaked heavily at night to try and cope with the high temperatures, but still wilts. It has an unquenchable thirst so I use what strength I have to fill a wheelbarrow with straw from Sushi's tent and carefully spread it as a mulch to keep the soil cooler and the moisture in. It’s gonna be  rough week on everything. The snow on the Steens is almost gone and it’s barely July. It normally lasts all year. At least, along with the heat, come the blooms of summer. Sunflower, cosmos, petunia, marigold, hollyhock and zinnias. The roses are so heavy the canes bow nearly to the ground from the weight of them. A yellow trumpet vine scampers over the wall, it's blooms inviting the rare hummingbird to partake of its presence. Honeysuckle hugs the archway into the garden with gorgeous salmoney-red blooms beckoning to me. The weeds have been making a stand as well. They have been winning the battles this year, but I have yet to give up on the war.

It is nearly time to process the meatie chickens. They are getting heavy and won’t live much longer on their own. I worry about the heat affecting them, but so far they seem to be content under the raspberry bushes where it remains wet most of the day from the nighttime watering. They are still running around and happy though so I will give them a bit longer. The day will come when they aren’t so enthusiastic with life and then it will be time to process them.

We headed to town for my doctor visit and ran a couple errands. The last trip we dropped off "Upchuck" the steer at the butcher. While I am being treated, Randy drove to pick him up. It was 110 degrees! He purchased some dry ice and packed over 600 lb of frozen beef into the coolers. We got home at midnight and the Maremmas are so happy they can’t stand it. We were gone only 18 hours and they acted as if they were sure they’d never see us again. We do this every few months. It’s nice to be loved. I pack away the meat and hand off the dog bones to the boys, who run out back and happily gnaw away while babysitting the sheep.

A thunderstorm moves in late at night and there is a loud thump at the door. I sleepily get up to open it and Cletapotamus charges into the house. Thunder is not his thing. Neither are gunshots. Poor guy, there is a lot of both on this ranch. He settles in and we go back to sleep, regrouping for tomorrow. There is much to do. Boredom is not a word that is employed here. I have house cleaning, cooking, baking, soapmaking, sewing, gardening, and the animals to take care of. There is no time or space for boredom. 

Today I picked two quarts each of strawberries and raspberries. Pavlova for dessert. Steaks on the grill, corn on the cob heating up. It’s a meal fit for a king and Upchuck clearly is serving his purpose well. It’s comforting to know our animals live happy lives and when the end comes, it is as quick, painless and humane as possible, instead of suffering lingering illness and agony, or worse, attack by predators. Living in chronic pain myself, I can appreciate both their end and their purpose. People often question how we can eat meat we raised ourselves. If they could see how their own food lived and died they’d understand. They wouldn’t support commercially raised meat or methods anymore. It's almost enough to make you lose your appetite.

I take a round out of the cheesecave. It is a very sharp cheddar. A bit on the dry side but I think it will be excellent melted in a dish such as homemade mac and cheese or a sauce. The flavor is good. Finally, the hard cheeses are starting to turn out well...just in time for the cow to go dry. At least next summer I can produce what we need again, God willing that I should still be functional.

Good days are hit and miss. There is much I want to do. I have lots of special visitors coming this summer and hope to make everything ready and welcome, easier said than done these days. With no milking to do, it leaves more time, but not more resources. Nonetheless, I trust it will get done in time, even if just. I raise a cup and toast my newest list. Accomplishment is sweet on the tongue. Grace and good days are ahead, may we all cherish them.