Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winter farm pictures

With our first cold snap of the season, we are hunkering down here in the Interior of Alaska. Today is thirty below zero in town. Unfortunately I didn't realize that the thermometer I bought last winter only goes down to twenty below. It has been bottomed out for the last couple days, so I can only guess. We usually have a temperature inversion which results in warmer temperatures in the hills, but sometimes the inversion is slow to kick in, as has been the case this week. Fortunately the kids and I have not had to leave for town all week. We've been keeping the wood stove going non stop and cooking and baking lots of good food.

I took the camera along on my morning chore walk the other day. Starting in the picture above is Rose on the milk stand and her doeling Bramble in the door way. This is a view from the middle of the room, with our new wood stove on the left, entrance on the right, all my goat stuff in the back right, goat stands in the middle, and on the very far right you can see a corner of my grain table, where I mix and doll out grain. This is my milk
setup for this winter. Maybe by next year I'll be in the back of the room, where we have plans for a cement floor with a drain and sinks with plumbing.

Up until just a couple weeks ago I thought all the goats were looking really good. Rose and a couple of the other milkers are starting to look a little thin, as are my bucks. I'm feeding the does more alfalfa and the bucks are getting more grain. Maybe we'll be making some more changes in how we are feeding here soon in an attempt to get everyone looking better.

Blue, one of Zinnia's two doelings.

Avalon, our yearling, looking quite well going into winter- maybe overly plump - who will hopefully be kidding for the first time in April.

Heated duck/goose waterer.

Rosie, our friendly goose in front of her indoor shelter.

Hodgepodge of ducks, that we hatched this spring.

Some of our layers, in the front some new black sexlinks that just started laying, thankfully. The egg drought is over.

Ducks drinking warm water. This is through two fences. On my way up to the chickens I turned around and saw them all running to their water, and turned to get a shot. The heater that is in their water takes up 120 watts of electricity. I haul about three gallons of water up the hill daily for these ten ducks and two geese. Our twenty chickens, on the other hand, go through about three gallons every four days or so. This is one of my biggest complaints about the waterfowl this time of year, just too much water hauling up the hill.

Bucks up the hill.

Looking down at the poultry coop. This started out as a horse hovel. Then after dirt work the ceiling was pretty  high. After selling my horse, we decided to use the pre-existing structure and we turned it into a two story dwelling. The bottom shelter has a dirt floor, is smaller and is better insulated. We are thinking of keeping less waterfowl and instead, keeping chickens on both levels.

Every year, I get bitten with a new bug, the goat bug, chicken bug, turkey then ducks then the geese bug. Some bugs I manage to quell. For I while I was set on raising pigs and that has gone on the wayside. This year I have been looking at rabbits, Nubians, Angoras or Shetland Sheep for fiber and different breeds of chickens. I am just dreaming. I don't think I'm going to allow myself to get into any more species this year, but it is fun to dream. In reality, I'm thinking more bee hives and more chickens, less waterfowl. Keep it simple.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Meeting our meat, egg, dairy needs, and animal numbers

It is four p.m. It is fast becoming dark, and will be completely so within the hour.  All afternoon I have been enjoying looking out the windows and watching large snow flakes drift in slow motion to meet the existing snow mounded on every surface. The woods surrounding our home are the perfect picture of winter. The Birch and Spruce trees are much improved outlined in their white snowy garments.

Our winter's and summers are as different as night and day. For six months out of the year I forget the moon and stars completely. I have no clue if the moon is full or new in the summer. We are so busy during the warm light months that I scarcely spare a thought for the dark cold winter days. This time of year, the daylight we lose daily is almost discernible. Each day is shorter than the last. Our hours of true sunny light are few. Here on our north west facing hillside, the sun does not hit our property for the next few months. Most daylight hours are gray and dim. And yet, somehow it does not bother us (yet). The ambiance of the clear glass fronted wood stove and lit candles on the counters and table do much for our spirits. Each year that I live I am more aware and in tune with the natural rhythm of this world. Both the climate we live in and the lifestyle we have chosen contribute to this consciousness which I am thankful for.

In between making feta and shaping french baguettes, the kids and I fit in a home school lesson,  played princes and princesses; during which we had a ball where Noah danced with the available princesses and chose a bride,  I married Prince Noah to Princess Avery and then we all fended off an attack on the castle by pirates. If I paint a rosy picture, it is not a result of pretensions, but a reflection of my true contentment with this life. If there is one thing I will complain about, it is that there are not enough hours in the day. We are sleeping in later, going to bed earlier. I do not attempt to make this life seem easy. My kitchen and play time are fit in between outside chores, sometimes breeding, butchering or delivering animals. Dustin and I take turns, each spending at least a couple hours outside doing chores; he chops the wood and hauls the water, I milk, feed and water the animals. He builds and fixes our homes, animal shelters, fencing and feeders. He clears the snow from our 1/4 mile driveway and trail system on foot with a snow blower. We both dream of ways to improve our homestead.

This week was a busy one. We took turns cleaning out bedding from the doe barn. Now our outdoors smells worse than usual, as we couldn't get all the stinky deep pack bedding as far from the house as usual. Dustin was asking what we can do about the smell, I said soon it will be cold enough, it will freeze and no longer smell - till spring :) We bred three goats this week, Rose, Zinnia and Avalon. Everyone has been in heat. The does have been rambunctious to say the least. My brother came up and killed and butchered two male goat wethers for us. I helped cut up the meat last night, and I took lots of pictures - post coming soon. We are eating fresh goat back-strap tonight, tenderloin and goat chops in the coming days.

I've been wanting to give a run down of all our animals that we raised this year, what we've got in the freezer and who we've got left. So, I'll try to be concise. For any new readers, we are entering our fifth year raising dairy goats and poultry. Our primary goal is to meet our own meat, milk, cheese and egg needs. This is our first year selling goat shares and supplying shareholders with milk, and so the goats are paying for a significant portion of their own food bill now; which is huge!
  • Goats
  1. Three full grown bucks. We are planning on narrowing it down to two within the next year to cut down on feed costs. 
  2. Five milking does, each giving between three and six pounds of milk each morning. I plan on breeding three of the five, and continuing to milk two until next fall without re-breeding so that we will have a continuous supply of milk.
  3. One yearling, hopefully bred now. 
  4. Four eight month old doelings, two to three of which I am planning on breeding in December or January.
  5. This year we sold one registered buckling for $375, sold one 3 mos wether for $75. Traded one 5 mos wether for rabbit meat. This week we butchered two 8 mos. wethers for a total of $65 pounds of bone in meat. We butchered one three year old female who never bred, for about forty pounds of bone in meat. We also sold one first freshener and her unregistered doeling for $500. 
  6. In summary we now have thirteen goats after selling five and butchering three.
  7. As far as changes go, dropping down to two bucks and not re-breeding every doe should help cut down on feed costs and overcrowding during the summer months. This was our first year butchering our own goats and while it is not easy, having our own red meat is fabulous - so we will continue to keep 4-6 wethers until fall each year.
  • Poultry
  1. We bought twenty-five Cornish Cross in early June (I think). As usual we butchered them late. So they range between five and nine pounds each. We put twenty-two into the freezer. Which should get us through until next year. We love the meat. I do not love feeding and butchering them. We don't have enough room for them, so I blame myself for their sub standard of living.  If I can find a local grower interested in raising and butchering meat birds for us, I would be easily persuaded to give up on doing this ourselves at this point in our lives. But don't get me wrong, I am not ever going back to store bought chicken - not that we ever bought it much anyway.
  2. We have about twenty laying hens. We have quite the odd assortment ranging from pullets to three year olds, Welsummers, Red and Black Sexlinked hens, one Cornish, four show quality Ameraucanas and some crosses that we hatched ourselves this year.  The past few weeks we've had the most serious egg drought since we begin raising layers. The new layers hadn't started yet and the older ladies are taking a break. We are back on track as the oldest newbies have begun to lay, thankfully. I have found that the number of eggs we get from the chickens pays for their whole grain feed, maybe even their electricity. If we were to have more of something, D and I agree that maybe it should be chickens, as there is quite the demand for local eggs which go for $5 - $6  a dozen. We did hatch our own chicks this year, we bought six black sexlinks because we like them so and they are a hybrid. I sold seven chicks at five dollars a piece -every bit helps.
  3. Ten Ducks. We hatched eight ducklings this year from our own stock. We have two Peking females from last year. We have a colorful assortment of Saxony Peking  and Peking Runner crosses. As much as I love having the ducks around, I really don't like the amount of water we haul in the winter, nor the poopy duck eggs. I have a hard time keeping their bedding clean enough and getting the girls to lay where I want them to. We do enjoy duck meat, although there is so little there compared to chickens.
  4. Two geese. We bought three Toulouse geese this year. We ate one male shortly after he bit me. The meat was wonderful, as was the fat of course. I saved the down as well. Our plan is to let our remaining couple lay and hatch out some eggs this spring. If the geese begin to overrun the homestead, we will have lots of goose meat next year. Although, I really enjoy having the female goose follow us around. She makes for entertaining company so hopefully we can at least keep a couple females for eggs and company, if the males become to aggressive. 
  5. We raised two turkeys which both reside in the freezer now. I do love having a couple turkeys around for their interesting behaviors and sounds they make. We bought four turkey poults and lost two. We decided just to raise the two in with the Cornish and that worked just fine. We butchered the two broad breasted white turkey hens last week. They weighed in at twenty-two and twenty-five pounds - which I have to insist was not intentional. Just one of those things which is easy to procrastinate. Towards the end they were perching on the stairs inside the chicken coop all night, and a frozen tower of turkey poop was forming. They couldn't get inside where the heated waterer was, so I had to pour water outside for them daily which would quickly freeze. So, as much as I like the idea of heritage turkeys living in our trees year round, the reality for now is that the broad breasted birds really put the weight on and fill up the freezer with tasty meat. Most likely we will get four turkey poults again next spring. Although, I do sometimes think that I would buy a couple from someone local. I could easily take a summer off meat bird butchering.
  • Honey Bees, this was our first year doing bees. We put a lot of money into a bee class, suit and veil, new hive with new frames and in return we got three quarters of a gallon of honey. I am embarrassed but not disheartened. I am already looking forward to next year's bees. D is talking of building me more hives now that he has a model. Noah is already asking for a bee suit for his April Bday. I love beekeeping. So, while this year we are using the honey sparingly, I look forward to much more bountiful honey years. I should say that the instructor I took the bee class from keeps dozens of hives and his average was 55 pounds of honey per hive, (eleven pounds of honey in a gallon). So there is certainly room for improvement.
Going into winter we are feeding thirteen goats, twenty layers, ten ducks and two geese. The bucks have their own shelter and pen about a hundred yards up hill from the house. The chickens have their own indoor and roofed outdoor coop. The ducks and geese have an indoor shelter with and outdoor pen that is below the chickens. The doe barn is below the house. We have animals to check on, feed and water at least once daily, in four different locations on our property. My dream land has one big barn close to our house with everyone divided into their own spaces - except the bucks; they will still be up or down the hill depending on how the wind tends to blow.
     In the last three months we have put twenty-two Cornish Cross chickens, two huge Broad Breasted White turkeys and fifty pounds of goat meat into the freezer to join what was left of the thirty-five Copper River Reds from this summer. We were also give a good amount of moose. We shall not lack in meat this year. Meat is one of the easier things to obtain locally. There are not as strict of laws surrounding meat as there are dairy. I never thought we would eat this quantity of meat. In an effort to eat more seasonally, locally and moreover, to eat what we can produce ourselves, meat has become a solid contributor to our diet. I do enjoy the diversity in poultry, and yet raising several different types and ages of birds complicates the summer chores. At one point I thought we would start raising pigs. Now, if there were one other meat animal I'd add, it would probably be rabbits. I have been thinking of how to simplify my summer chores and life in general, so we may be raising less poultry for a while and trying to find it locally instead.

    I love that if we wanted to we could really do without going to the supermarket weekly. We mostly go for the extras, the few processed food extras that make the days easier; nuts, cheddar cheese, tortillas, crackers and noodles (sometimes I make my own). We also rely heavily on sugars, oils and spices. We buy our beans and grains from Azure Standard, and I grind our own grain for bread. I am not a hard core locavore. Eating enjoyable food is more important to me than local. Of course, the more local and seasonal food we eat the better, but I'm not willing to go without lemons, apples and scallions during the winter months. My kids (and myself) prefer fresh vegetables, so their health and the fact that they eat more vegetables if we buy _______(fill in the blank) in January, is more important to me than trying to eat canned or frozen veggies out of our garden, if they are things we don't enjoy.

    We are meeting our meat, egg and dairy needs year round. If we were content with more frozen or canned vegetables, or had a root cellar, I could almost say the same thing about vegetables. We are eating from the garden almost exclusively for about seven months out of the year. From  late February to May are the months where the last of things are sprouting, going soft, beginning to grow or rot, and where we are once more purchasing everything again. However, if I were more resourceful, we would be better at eating all of our odds and ends that I put away and don't use. I've got frozen kale and broccoli in the freezer from 09, one, two and three year old gallon jars of sun dried tomatoes, and quarts of dried onions, carrots and beets from last year.

    This is where we are at. Working towards growing, harvesting and butchering more of our own food each year. Learning what works and what doesn't. Each year, each season brings new lessons and surprises. I view this year as successful. There will be more time this winter for math. I know that to an extent our money just goes to one store instead of another, instead of spending money on processed meat, we are spending money on grain from the feed store. Self Sufficiency is still a long ways off. We continue to look forward to the next step; real farm land, land for growing the food we need to feed the animals which in turn feed us; that is the next step.