Tiny Turkey Update

Jerky turkey his roost in the chicken tractor.

Jerky turkey on its roost in the chicken tractor.

So, we released the tiny turkey about a week ago.  It turned out that it really didn’t want to be our turkey.  It ate and drank and grew and was healthy but it was not happy. It hated us, basically.

Still, we didn’t take it too personally. We just wanted to make sure that it was old enough to have a fighting chance in the wild. We decided to release it when a band of adult turkeys wandered through the property and we saw how desperate the little guy was to join them.

When we let it go, that jerky turkey (closest thing to a name it ever got) actually FLEW into the trees. It was amazing, considering how much it looked like a little baby chicken, to see it take flight and end up in a tree about 25 feet up in the air.  Can you imagine a little chicken doing that? Once it was out there it was almost impossible to see, being perfectly camouflaged.

Who knows if it made it or if it got snagged by a hawk or other predator, but it was about as wiley as you can get for a little brown puff.  I hope it’s out there being jerky with its fellow turkeys, I really do.

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Very Late Broiler Bird Report Card

Agh, I am sorry.  Life’s been chugging away and I’ve been slack about posting.  One really important thing that I’ve needed to write about is our Freedom Ranger project!

The quick and dirty version is that it was a great success and we’re definitely doing it again (probably this fall).  But there’s more to it than that.

9 weeks

Choice of Breed: So we went with Freedom Rangers, of course. We started with 26 and ended with 24, which I consider pretty good for a first start.  They were decent foragers and definitely packed on the pounds.  They grew super fast, and weren’t the most elegant birds, having a sort of hobbling gate that doesn’t inspire much confidence their long term hardiness, but then, we weren’t raising them to be lifelong friends, were we?  The Fella wants to try a heavy heritage breed next round.  I like the Rangers enough to stick with them, we’re thinking about having a mixed flock.

barrels and feed

Choice of Feed: We went with soy free organic feed from Modesto Milling.  We had to bulk order it to cut costs.  I bought 400 lbs of 20% protein ‘starter/broiler’ feed and 100 lbs of 17% ‘finisher/layer’ crumble.  By the time we went to butcher, the birds were 11 weeks old and dressed out around 3.9 to 6.2 lbs, which is huge! For next time, I’m going to do 50/50 or 60/40 starter/finisher. I think that will slow their growth (in a good way – make them less mutant-like), and save us a few pennies on feed.  One other issue with feed is that we under-ordered and ended up having to buy organic scratch from the local feed store which cost a fortune! I won’t make that mistake again: if we order too much I can just give the leftovers to my laying hens.

peeps at the door

Equipment: The tractor and brooder we built worked great.  The Fella, resident handyman, has lots of ideas for improvements.  The brooder is SO well-insulated, it needs better ventilation for when we start chicks in warmer months, so we’ll be adding some little screened windows.  The axles on the tractor need to be redesigned, as they are putting too much load on the frame of the cage and could eventually snap the wood.  He’s got ideas for that I’ll document later on.  The PVC pipe feeders were not as awesome as I’d hoped. Although way better than feeders on the ground, the birds would make a huge mess of their food anyway by sort of shoveling it out of the small opening as they ate, resulting in piles of wasted food on the ground.  To save significant $$ on feed next time, we’re redesigning the feeders, either as troughs (though I worry about the birds getting up and pooping on them) by adding more feeders to ease congestion and partially covering the opening so it’s harder for them to shovel feed onto the ground.  There will be lively debate on this subject between the Fella and I, stay tuned.

sal and chickens

Processing:  I got lots of crap for this, probably well deserved, but we decided to use a local processor rather than butcher the birds ourselves.  So how was that? Well, guiltily, I must admit it was awesome.  They charged $2.75 per bird, and it was a bit of an odyssey getting them down there because our little farm truck was just too small for all those cages. But after borrowing my uncle’s big macho man truck, the task went smooth as can be.  We rounded up the birds, put them in a few portable cages, drove them to the processor with whom we had an appointment. They took the birds and within two hours had packed our coolers full of ice and individually bagged, chilled, clean chickens.  We didn’t have to deal with getting together the equipment for doing it ourselves, and didn’t have to worry about disposing of all that gore and feathers. One surprise: they didn’t remove the heads or feet, which leads me to my next category…

broiler

Sales: My sister lined up a bunch of foodie buyers in San Francisco who were happy to pay extra for pasture-raised chicken fed an organic, soy-free diet.  We charged $7 per lb.  We wanted to get the birds to the customers as fresh as possible, which meant an early morning trek to the processor – about 1 hr each way – followed by an afternoon trek to the City – about 3 hrs each way – to meet with everyone at the local watering hole (that had so kindly allowed us to set up an underground meat market for the night).  Because we got the birds back with heads and feet still attached, which I figured was just a little too much reality for my city folk (or at the very least too awkward to carry home on a bike), we raced home from the processor and frantically completed the final steps of butchering, packed them back into clean ice, changed out of our poopy, bloody clothes, and piled into my little car for chicken roadtrip part deux.  It was a loooooong day! We also sold a few to family here at the Ranch, and by the end, had made back our cost in feed, and were able to keep nine birds for ourselves.

roast

And Most Importantly, TASTE:  I am ashamed to admit that until we roasted our first Ranch-raised chicken, I’d never had chicken that hadn’t come from the grocery store.  I know, crazy.  But for as horrible and inhumane as mass produced poultry is, it is really hard to find local, humane chicken producers.  The cost margins are just so tight when you do it the right way, it turns an affordable staple into a luxury item, so nobody’s lining up to do it.  But now that I’ve had the real thing, there’s just no going back. I’m panicking that we only have 3 more birds in the freezer.  Ack! How did they get eaten up so fast?!  My absolute favorite way to cook them is on the grill after they’ve been marinating in this Armenian style sauce for at least 4 hours:

Armenian BBQ:

Cut up one whole chicken into parts

In a bowl, combine the following:

Juice of 3 lemons

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsely

1/8 cut chopped fresh oregano

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large shallot, minced

Salt and pepper as you like (don’t skimp on either, this is a marinade, and will be the only seasoning for the meat)

Coat the chicken liberally in the marinade and refrigerate for several hours – the longer the better!

 

Teeny Tiny Turkey

I was working from home, upstairs in my office, when I heard the piercing, frantic sound of a baby bird in trouble.  At first I thought the sound was just regular birdsong, as our forests are quite alive with all sorts of trills and tweets and screeches.  But no, allowing myself a second to really focus on the noise was enough to make it clear that somewhere nearby was a baby bird crying for its life.

What’s a girl to do? I couldn’t callously return to my research and ignore the piteous sound. Moreover, I had a every reason to presume that it was partially my fault that the bird was under attack, having introduced one said Junebug, savage huntress feline extraordinare to this avian paradise.  No, I needed to intervene.

Sure enough, the sound was coming from under the deck, and I immediately saw Junebug trotting away with a struggling chick in her jaws.  But it wasn’t a baby songbird, it was a day-old, speckled wild turkey poult.

Junebug dropped the bird right away to meow proudly to me.  The baby took the opportunity to run like crazy, but its choice of direction wasn’t ideal for a successful escape, and it was quickly trapped behind a cooler.  I collected it in no time.  It was miraculously unharmed, other than being utterly terrified.

I already had the components of a chick refuge on hand – a brooder, a heat lamp, chick feeders.  It wasn’t long before the baby was installed in our bathroom, where not but three days ago our Buff Orpington hen Flora had finished a convalescence while being treated for a bad case of chicken lice and anemia.  Seems like a normal thing now, having poultry in the bathroom.  As the fella said to me last week, you know you live on a farm when….

So we have a teeny tiny turkey now.  It’s still alive, and growing. Lettuce and crumbles are its favorites, and it loves a little snuggle up close to your chest where it can burrow in and pretend the cloth is feathers. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it will, and it won’t be Dinner.  Being stole from its mother and mauled by a cat is enough hardship for this little creature’s lifetime. Nope, this here is a Pet Turkey.

tiny turkey

The Life/Work Balance

waterfall

People talk about having a work/life balance.  A friend who recently graduated from a very progressive graduate program in non-profit management just posted something about it.  It’s a legitimate topic, as I know from personal experience: when your work/life balance is out of whack, bad things happen.  My job was literally killing me. Sure, I was having all kinds of success at work, but in the meantime, I was going to the doctor all the time, gaining weight, having nightmares, crying out of nowhere, drinking wine to get to sleep, drinking coffee to wake up, hemorrhaging money on god knows what.  You know what I’m talking about.  If you claim not to, well congrats.

Anyway, I quit all that.  I took that work/life balance warning to heart.  I quit the deadly job, moved to the country, started raising chickens and bees, growing my food, running in the woods, that sort of thing.

Now I have a new and interesting problem: I have a life/work balance issue.  As in, the arm-wrestling match between life and work is looking to come out decidedly in life’s favor.  Go life!

But what about work?  Okay, caveat being that the life I’ve chosen IS a lot of work (maintaining an old house, a vegetable garden, raising meat and layer chickens, tending bees, preserving and cooking and making everything from scratch) it’s not breadwinning.  But aside from not just being profitable, all the worthy tasks I shoulder into here on the homestead tap into only part of the skills I have worked very hard to acquire in my life.

I AM a homesteader, without a doubt.  But I can’t just walk away from the other very important part of who I am.  I am a lawyer.

And I’m proud of it.  Yeah, that’s right.  See, I’m not the kind of lawyer that (deservedly) features in jokes where Satan, a lawyer, and a pile of poop walk into a bar… I’m not an ambulance chaser or a corporate shill or a politician.  No, I help people.  I mean, I really help people.  Simple, real, frightened people who walk into my office and don’t  know where to begin.  I help victims of domestic violence. I help refugees.  I help the poor who would otherwise get chewed up and spit out.  And I do it by providing big-city lawyering to small town folks at a fraction of what I should charge.

And there’s a lot of work to be done in that department, believe me.

But meanwhile I’ve got the garden to plant and the animals to take care of and the house to tend to and the bread to bake and the cheese to make and the projects to finish.  Oh, and don’t forget to save time to look at the stars and count wildflowers and live in the moment.

ranch spring 1

The gist of it is that I am feeling a bit underwater.  I just recently – out of a real desire as well as serious financial need – dove back into the work thing in a big way.  It’s been quite some time since I’d worked a full lawyer-week (i.e. 50-60 hours at a desk, on the phone, with clients, writing writing writing), but that’s what I’ve been doing.  And what timing! Last year I swore I would make sure to take a month off in April/May so that I could get a real handle on the madness of the winter/spring transition tasks. I should be planting the garden, cleaning out the animal pens, tidying the yard, weeding the flower beds, mowing and weedeating around the house, refinishing the deck, tending the bees, working with my horse…

Instead of doing all that, I’ve been sitting at a desk for hours on end, not even looking out the window.

I guess the lesson is that the tension between life and work, work and life never really ends.  Whether you’re trying to fit in time to travel (god, I wish!) or exercise or read a book, or, like me, trying to maintain a degree of professional success while running (and hopefully enjoying) a homestead, the juggling act seems inescapable.

Rather than get bogged down in the struggle (I must remind myself) it’s better to focus on the highlights. A successful first attempt at raising broiler chickens. An upcoming oral argument in the California Supreme Court.  6 to 8 eggs a day.  A thriving new colony of bees.  Public speaking engagements and community outreach.  An ever-stronger relationship with my fella.  A glorious sunny Saturday and some free time to dig in the garden.  If these are the reasons why I continue to wobble along the life/work tightrope, then I have to say it’s worth it.

broiler

Monsters!

Considering whether to eat the camera.

Considering whether to eat the camera.

The broiler chicken countdown says 6 more days, but I would ship these mutants off today if I could. They were weighing in at about 4.5-6 lbs last week, so I’m thinking we’re probably where we want to be now (6+ lbs) Unfortunately, despite having about 10 weeks to prepare for this moment, we are totally not ready to 1) truck 24 live chickens out and 2) store 24 processed birds once they’re finished. We don’t have a portable cage big enough to hold them all for the trip to the processor, so I think what we’ve decided to do is pull out the 12 biggest birds and take them down in various smaller cages.  We’ll give the smaller ones a week or so more to grow and then take them down. I’m going to have to use the credit card to purchase a chest freezer because our house freezer is already full of the locally raised beef we got last month!

We ran out of food two weeks ago and had to start buying organic scratch grains from the local feed store to supplement and it has been costing us a fortune! The birds are terrible food wasters, and a lot of money went down the toilet because of that. We will have to improve our feeders for the next batch so we don’t end up with piles of expensive crumble all over the ground every day. Very frustrating!  We are moving the tractor twice a day and they are going through about 4 gallons of water per day as well. Luckily the weather hasn’t been too hot, and they’re in a cool area because they could definitely be drinking more.  The tractor is by no means cramped, but they are getting pretty feisty with one another AND getting feisty with me as well.  I got quite a peck on the finger this morning while I was hanging the water font back up.  Yep, it’s definitely time for them to move on to the next part of their journey.

 

 

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Bees!

Available Immediately: One story hive body, partially furnished by previous tenants, could use some spring cleaning.  Permitted for up to two additional stories, as needed. All mod cons. Nice neighborhood, lavender bushes nearby. If interested, call.

Available Immediately: One story hive body, partially furnished by previous tenants, could use some spring cleaning. Permitted for up to two additional stories, as needed. All mod cons. Nice neighborhood, lavender bushes nearby. If interested, call.

Holy smokes! That was a close one.

Over a month ago I contacted my bee guru and asked if I could buy another spring nuc from him this year (lost my last colony to varroa, but I want to try again). He emailed me back and said he put me on ‘the list’ and that I’d hear from him when the nucs were ready.

I did not hear from him. Hmmmm. I checked his website about a week ago and it said that due to heavy colony losses last year and super high demand, all the April nucs had sold out. I thought to myself, “Does that mean no bees even for the people ‘on the list’?”  And then I did nothing about it.  Well, I procrastinated.  I say this with the utmost reverence, Randy is a great teacher but very frenetic and can come across as, shall we say, brusque.  He doesn’t cotton to time-wasting questions and pleasantries. It makes it a little nerve-wracking to communicate with him. So I put it off.

Well, today for some reason I thought, “Gee if I want bees I’d better follow up with Randy or find em elsewheres, pronto!”  I sent out another email and got a prompt reply that I’d inadvertently been left off the email list of people who’d reserved nucs, and that I am free to come pick one up this weekend!

Now I know what I’m doing on Saturday. Hooray!

Improving?

Well, today is the third day of treatment with monistat, and I do believe they are getting better. Not the incredible turnaround I’d hoped for, but the two worst butts are definitely looking cleaner and drier today, and feathers are continuing to regrow (they grow fast!).  The two ameraucanas are fully integrated into the group (the banty Iowas still keep to themselves) and are out foraging and seem pleased as punch.  I’m going to treat them for 6 days and then stop. Fingers crossed we beat this thing!

This is not one of the sickies, but she was the only hen willing to pose for a photo. Now there's a happy chicken butt!

This is not one of the sickies, but she was the only hen willing to pose for a photo in front of my beautiful azalea bush. Now there’s a happy chicken butt!

 

When to Admit Defeat

I know, it’s been a while.  There’s actually plenty going on around the Domestead to report: the potato box we built last month now has lots of cute potato plants in it.  My other seedlings are coming along, and the garlic and onions and kale I planted in the winter garden are huge. Spring is in full explosion here in Nevada County, and the world is green and flowering and full of bugs. The goats are losing their winter coats and beginning to look svelte again.  I’m even getting ready to begin an exciting new project with my sister involving a cottage food business selling fancy cocktail mixers made from seasonal organic produce. Oh, and the Freedom Rangers are 8 weeks old and weighing between 3 and 4 lbs a bird.

But all that good stuff just cannot cure my blues, because all I can think about are those three new layer hens with the pasty butt problem. You see, they are not getting better. Not really at all.

Here’s the regimen I have been employing: Regular (not daily but nearly so) epsom salts baths; topical treatments of iodine and Gentian Violet; unfiltered apple cider vinegar in their water; a daily mash of organic oatmeal mixed with raw coconut butter and heavy-duty probiotics.  They get to spend their days foraging in what can only be described as a chicken wonderland, full of fresh spring greens and grasshoppers and worms, and their nights in a freshly cleaned coop stocked with scratch grains and layer crumble and fluffy fresh straw.

They’re living at a spa, basically. And they are not getting better.

They’re happy as clams, mind you. They’re laying, they’re eating voraciously, and even getting along pretty well with the other chickens, who don’t seem too interested in bullying given that they all have plenty of food and space and diversions. Feathers are starting to grow back on sad little tail knobs and the smell is far less offensive. But they aren’t getting better. Pasty butts and constant watery discharge are unabated.

I am switching to the big guns now. The natural remedies are not working, so it’s time to get some drugs. I’ll be picking up some Monistat cream AND suppositories today, and starting tomorrow they will get all of the above plus some cream up their hoo-has and a dose of suppository down their gullets. Yes, that’s right. You actually feed them 1/3 of a suppository daily. Goes without saying we won’t be collecting eggs for a while, which is a shame given that the forage is especially fine at the moment and the yolks have been coming in bright orange and big as saucers. But no, I’ll be chucking eggs for the next few weeks until the drugs are out of their systems. And, because it’s very hard to tell which egg belongs to which hen (somehow even the sickies are laying clean, fresh looking eggs out of those nasty bottoms), I won’t be able to keep any eggs.  Just in case you’re keeping score, that’s going from 4 beautiful eggs from 4 healthy hens each day a month ago to NO eggs after acquiring 4 new chickens.

And if they aren’t better after that? I think it will be time to admit defeat. So you see, even with all the promise and life and abundance surrounding me at moment, I am feeling the gloom that comes from contemplating one’s defeat.  The possibility of having to wring the necks of three otherwise perky hens with incurable vent gleet has got me in a deep-winter funk even as I sit among the lilacs and butterflies.  And so, to you on this glorious spring day, I bid you a bah, humbug.

Guess What…? Chicken Butt :(

This week I adopted 4 young layers (two Aracaunas and two Iowa Blues) from a woman in town who is moving out of state.  She had A LOT of chickens.  The Fella and I had been talking about getting a few more layers, and figured we’d get some chicks once the Freedom Rangers were out of the brooder.  That kept getting postponed for one reason or another, so when I saw the post on our local ag listserve about lots of laying hens up for adoption, I decided to go for it!

I noticed something funky about the way they smelled right away, but they had been in a pretty crowded and muddy run, so I figured they were just poopier than my girls ever get.  The previous owner said she’d consolidated them into the space to make them easier to catch, and given that there were several other big runs that were empty, I’m inclined to believe her.  She also said that the naked butts on some of the girls was because they’d been in with a rooster and he’d been having his way with them.

Fine. I drove home with my 4 stinky new chickens in the back of my tiny car.  And then carted them in transport cage in a wheelbarrow up the hill to the henhouse.  It was evening and they were pretty freaked out, so I didn’t do much in the way of inspecting them.  I waited until it was totally dark before putting them in with my other girls.  In the morning all but the two new Aracaunas came right out for breakfast. When I opened the coop to check on those two, I was greeted with a smell so nauseating I truly almost threw up.  And that’s when I noticed their butts.

Gross gross gross gross beyond words GROSS!  White cheesy pasty nastiness dripping out of their vents (aka buttholes).  You don’t get a picture, and you can thank me for it.  I’m actually gagging as I write this.  Poor girls, they have vent gleet.

Vent gleet is basically a yeast infection. It can be caused by stress, filthy conditions, antibiotics, wormer, etc.  There are many remedies out there, from monistat (just like people use) to epsom salts and apple cider vinegar to betadine washes.  I’m going to use a multi-pronged approach: 1) add raw apple cider vinegar to their water supply (requires getting a new plastic waterer as mine are galvanized) which will help the sick girls and hopefully keep everyone else healthy; 2) give the sickies an epsom salt soak to clean up their bottoms and help clear up any secondary infections (can’t use antibiotics! for all I know that’s how they got it in the first place); 3) apply betadine and Gentian Violet to the area, which will hopefully suppress the yeast/fungus overgrowth; 4) feed them yogurt to help get their gut flora back into balance.  Oh, and definitely give the coop a good scrub down.  All the while trying as hard as I can not to puke from the putrid stench.

So.

Much.

Fun.

I don’t know what to say about the woman who I adopted them from.  She seemed a nice enough lady, but I mean really? How can you let animals get so sick and not do anything about it? And how can you give them away to other people without telling them about it? It’s super messed up. Luckily it’s not really contagious (although if I don’t treat them then secondary infections, some of which may be contagious, could spread to my healthy hens). But that’s not really the point, is it? If you have animals in your care, you should CARE for them. End of story.  I am just really disappointed, although maybe it’s a good thing I got these poor girls out of those awful conditions where they can get treatment and hopefully get better.  Anyone who’s had a bad yeast infection or case of athlete’s foot knows what I’m talking about. Ouchie!  Poor little chicken butts.

p.s. The hens are otherwise healthy, active, eating, and even laying eggs already, so I am optimistic that they’ll get better with treatment.

p.p.s Here are a few links re: vent gleet that I found very helpful:

http://www.tillysnest.com/2012/12/vent-gleet-prevention-and-treatment.html

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/vent-gleet-aka-nasty-chicken-butt

 

Five Weeks!

The Freedom Rangers are five weeks old! Who's Godzirra now, huh?

The Freedom Rangers are five weeks old! Who’s Godzirra now, huh?

Back to loving my Freedom Rangers. The foot issues cleared up almost immediately with a multivitamin supplement and a bit of food rationing.  They are super active, love foraging, and are growing like crazy but still look healthy and happy. We weighed four of them last Thursday and they were ranging between just under 2 lbs to almost 3.  They are bigger now and I’m guessing they’re now ranging between 2 to 3+ lbs at least.  So far no more casualties, we’re holding at 25 birds. Just 5 more weeks to go!

My sister is helping me line up buyers in San Francisco for our extras and the demand is definitely there. And people are already signing up for Thanksgiving turkeys! I can’t imagine trying to make a living doing this, but if we break even on the project I will be thrilled.