Grab a cup of tea. This is a long one.
It’s fall here in northern Nova Scotia and as I look out my living room window I can see orange leaves fluttering from the trees and it’s a pretty little scene. I love the fall! Shorts and t-shirts switching to jeans and sweaters, food changing from bright summer veggies to hearty fall fare, and filling our freezer and pantry with staples we need through the winter. Don’t get me wrong, there are some parts of summer that I love, but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not made for the heat and I’ve developed an infatuation with sweaters and scarves.
My last blog wasn’t working out so well and I was having a lot of technical issues so I’ve decided to try a new platform, hence the title of my post today, and I hope that WordPress.com will be the answer for me and I hope that I can bring you all on a little journey of my foray into farming.
Being a farmer wasn’t something I had ever aspired to. I grew up with my parents planting a garden every summer but livestock, no way. If someone had told me even 5 years ago that this would be my life I would have laughed at them.
At the time we lived in an 1100 square foot house on a tiny bit of rented land. Not ideal for our growing family but it worked and we could afford it and we were….content. Then about 4 years ago we needed a change and wanted something different for our family so we started looking for another house. And looking. And looking. And looking. Boy did we look at a lot of houses.
So we ended up finding a fixer upper in our price range with lots of potential and what seemed like a huge piece of land. 2 acres was the world to us after living on such a small little speck of land for the past 5 years. It was only made better by the acres and acres of unused field that surrounded us. We jumped in feet first and have never looked back.
Which brings me up to present day and our backyard livestock. Looking at that sentence and the word livestock makes me think cows, sheep, and other larger animals, but on our little “farm” we raise birds (along with our munchkins who are growing almost as fast as the backyard animals). Once we were established and got a grasp on some of the things around the house and property Hubby decided he wanted to raise chickens for meat. Research followed and we found out that we could raise a fair number of meat birds in a not to big space.
Before we go any farther let me warn you. CHICKENS ARE A GATEWAY BIRD. You might be just like I was at the time and say “oh, we’ll just do chickens and that’ll be it.” Chances are that won’t be it…it wasn’t for us.
The chickens were super easy to raise. We set up a brooder (chick nursery) in the corner of the kitchen and our kids got to watch day old babies grow at an enormous rate. After just a few days they would remark on how big they were getting and that their “big feathers” were coming out on their wings. They got to help feed and water the babies, clean out the shavings, and hold the little fluff balls. All the while knowing that in just a few weeks these birds would end up as dinner. Nope, they weren’t pets, but that didn’t take away from the experience of raising them humanely and the chance to teach our kids that animals should be shown respect.
After just a short time the chicks were ready for the big outdoors. We built a new chicken house for them, fenced in a nice big yard, and bought a new waterer and big feed container. They loved it! Lots of grass and bugs to munch on, treats from the garden and scraps from the kitchen. And boy did they grow. 10 weeks went by very quickly and soon the birds were ready to be harvested.
***THIS IS WHERE I TALK ABOUT THE NOT SO FUN PART OF FARMING***
Butchering day came and I didn’t know how I (or the kids) would handle it. The thought of taking a life, however big or small, had always bothered me. I once stopped talking to my dad for a while when I was a kid for dispatching a squirrel that was destroying part of our cabin. Yes, that squirrel is still brought up some 30 years later. But here I was on the cusp of dispatching my own hand raised birds. We decided, again after much research, that we would slaughter and butcher our own birds and thankfully Hubby was the one who did the slaughtering. I just wasn’t ready for that part. It was quick and as humane as possible and we let the kids decide if they wanted to be a part of that or not. Junior was right in there wanting to know about the process but Little Miss (like myself) didn’t want to watch the actual killing part of this journey.
It all was really quite easy and we quickly found a rhythm. No plucker meant A LOT of extra work this time around so we skinned and gutted and voila. ***Yes, we took precautions to make sure we chilled and didn’t contaminate and all that other stuff that goes along with butchering…remember the research part?!*** Our great grandparents were doing this kind of thing on a weekly basis and we can too but since most of us have gotten away from producing our own foods on a regular basis I do recommend researching and learning BEFORE you take on butchering your own animals. Maybe next time I’ll get Little Miss to take some pics and do my own blog post…I’m usually too messy to think about touching the camera by the time I think that we should have some pics.
Once we had all that done and had the birds vacuum packed and in the freezer we knew that we could do it again…and so we did. Another batch of baby birds arrived and we started the process all over again that summer, despite the “ewww”s and “oh how can you do that” comments we received from some people. And to those people, and all the other nay sayers out there, I say this. We know where our birds come from. We know how they were housed. We know what they ate. We know that they were treated well, right up to the end. We know that our family is being fed good wholesome food that I am proud to have had a hand in.
I’m proud of what we have accomplished and what we have been able to teach our kids through this process and I want to thank the people who have supported our decision to do this…it means a lot to us.
At this point we are only raising chickens for our own freezer. There are provincially certified abattoirs we could use (and another post will come about that issue later) if we wanted to sell the birds but since we just do it for ourselves we don’t mind doing the whole process ourselves.
Once our chickens were all done for the season and we had everything cleaned up and put away I realized that we missed those little cluckers. I told you, chickens are a gateway bird. I found myself online trolling buy and sell sites while the children were gone to school (maybe it was a bit of empty nest syndrome…pun intended) and in the wee hours of the morning when I should have been sleeping. Now I wanted laying hens which meant a year round commitment. Was I ready for that? Yup I was.
But it wasn’t just chickens I was looking at ads for. I would check out ads for pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, turkeys, rabbits. I even found myself reading over ads for emu, but where in heavens was I going to keep an emu?!
That’s when we got the opportunity to get some muscovy ducks. What are muscovys you ask. This Wikipedia article will give you some info. We started out with about 22-24. Man it’s hard to count those ducks when they are flapping and moving around so much. I know, I know, bad farmer, not being able to keep track of the number of birds. We soldiered on though, counting (or trying) every day and we consistently came up with 22 for a few days so that’s what we went with. Hubby insists there were more than that and they flew away. We had some older ducks and some fledglings and a good mix of males and females and we were happy with our flock.
Over the winter they grew and enchanted us and I was quite happy with our decision, despite having to get up and head out on freezing cold days to feed, water, change bedding, chip ice off water buckets, corral rogue ducks that wanted to be outside the fence, chip ice off water buckets, clear paths through the snow, face storms, chip ice off water buckets, etc. Oh yes, there were many trips to the pen to chip out water buckets.
Our little flock did dwindle over the winter though. Since our goal was to have a perpetual meat source, we butchered some of them and were thankful to have another great source of meat for the family, and we also lost some to predators. We live in the country and wildlife like foxes, coyotes, and bears are a way of life but we did what we could to secure the duck pen and keep them as safe as possible.
With spring came a new delight for our family. Eggs! Our ladies slowly began laying eggs. The daylight hours were getting longer and for those of you that don’t know, birds need a certain amount of light to produce eggs. It’s quite normal for them to slow down or even stop production in the winter time. Birds in factories are given almost constant light so that they will lay every day without any break to let their bodies recover, which is why their egg laying abilities only last a couple of years.
Farm fresh eggs are amazing anyway, but the duck eggs were something else again. The shells were super hard, yolks thick and almost waxy, and even the whites were thicker than any chicken egg I’ve ever seen. And they are BIG. Most of what we get are as big or bigger than an extra large chicken egg so they go farther than eggs we were buying. With 5 ducks laying every day we were able to stop buying eggs altogether and were even able to share with friends. Again, I’m not interesting in selling what we produce at this point. It’s about sustainability for us, not profitability, and if we have enough to share, that’s what we’ll do.
Since our chickens were only for meat and we hadn’t intended to raise birds for eggs we didn’t build nesting boxes into the bird house so I improvised one out of an empty plastic tote that we had kicking around the house. Not the prettiest thing in the world but it did the trick. Before we knew it two of our ladies were sitting on a nice clutch of eggs in my improvised nesting box and we anxiously watched them and the calendar so we would be ready when the babies came. Part of the preparations were to build a new bird house for the ducks so we could have room for another round of meat chickens. Bigger and better than the first was the way we went with this one so everyducky would have lots of room to nest and perch. I don’t see any evidence of them perching despite the lovely perches I put in the house.
When the time came for the ducklings to come into the world we were super lucky to be able to watch a duckling hatch. The kids and I stood just outside the special baby pen we made and watched the little darling peck its way out of the shell. HOW INCREDIBLE. I still get choked up thinking about getting to share that with the kids. I felt really bad for Hubby who was at work and missed it. He kept faithful watch over the next two days though hoping to catch a glimpse of another one hatching. We ended up with 11 ducklings from that clutch and have doubled our flock.
It’s been about 6 weeks now since the first hatch and they are growing like crazy. By the end of November we expect them to be nearly full size and by December we will be deciding which ones will be dinner and which ones we will keep through the winter. Hubby is pretty excited that we ended up with a chocolate colored duck and Little Miss is partial to a mostly black one so I’m sure those ones will end up On the “don’t kill” list along with Smooshy Face. (I’ll write about him another time) We weren’t sure of the history/lineage of the ducks when we got them so we never knew what we would get when we let them breed but we are quite happy with the selection. The banner picture on the blog is of some of these ducklings.
We’ve got another momma sitting on a clutch of 8 eggs and I am ever more anxious every day waiting for the little critters to show themselves. Hubby designated this week as our hatch week and I hope his timeline is right on. I don’t know how much longer I can wait.
The other new development this year is that Hubby finally went hunting. We’ve been together now for……yup, 12 big years, and every year he says “I’m going hunting next year.” but he never went. This year, at the first mention of hunting, my response was “If you don’t go hunting this year you can NEVER bring it up again.” 12 years of saying it was enough! He already had the bow, arrows, camo clothes, new Mucks hunting boots, all the deer apples he could ever want right in our own yard, hunter safety course (and whatever other courses he needed). I was thoroughly surprised when he booked a week off work and bought his hunting license. And after not too long Hubby brought home a deer. I’m proud to say that we even butchered it ourselves too. The next one will be butchered at an approved abattoir so that we can donate some of it to the food bank. If you are a hunter, check out the information book you get from DNR to see if you can donate a part of your meat to food banks in your area.
Venison is something fairly new to me. Growing up in Labrador meant that caribou, trout, ptarmigan, and moose were the usual wild game that we ate but I’m liking the venison so far. And my kids LOVE IT! If Hubby had gone hunting years ago we wouldn’t have had to encourage the kids as often to eat their dinner.
So that’s where we are on our little farm for now. Later blog posts will have some pictures from around our property so you can all see where we started, how we’ve changed, and the babies and duckies that motivate us to do what we do. I’ll try to throw in a few recipes here and then too. Hopefully I can stay motivated to write at least once a week (maybe more, and with more organized thoughts) and get myself on a schedule that I haven’t been able to do up to this point.
Have a beautiful day and don’t forget to do something nice for someone.