Christmas Citrus Garland | DIY

I’ve been keeping my daughter busy with small activities this winter since the cold weather has set in and we’re not spending much time outdoors.  I love that most of these activities take place around the kitchen table and they add excitement to the upcoming holiday for her.

Dried citrus can make a festive tree or window garland or even a potpourri satchel with a few spices added.

I read a couple different methods for drying citrus (oranges, tangerines, lemons):  placing slices on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and drying in the oven at 250 degrees for 3-4 hours, or placing slices in a food dehydrator for 8-10 hours.

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I decided the food dehydrator was the way to go!  I cut an orange into thin 1/4 inch slices and placed them on two stacked drying racks and flipped the switch on just before I went to bed.  Nine hours later I had perfectly dried orange slices.  I wanted zero moisture left so I made sure they didn’t bend at all.  If they are leathery, it means there’s still moisture remaining.

You want these to be Legally Blonde bend and snappable.  Except, don’t actually snap them; that wouldn’t be pretty.

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I stacked my slices in a mason jar for a couple hours to make sure no moisture appeared on the glass, just to be safe.  I want my garland to last for months so it’s important they are fully dried out to prevent mold from growing.  You don’t have to do this extra step unless you want to.
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Another option is holiday potpourri.  You can add the orange slices along with cinnamon and star anise to a small burlap bag, slap a tag on it and turn it into a Christmas gift.
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Maybe add some fresh rosemary for the scent and the greenery.
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If you have jute twine or fishing line, you can make holes in the center of the orange slices and make a string of garland.

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The citrus looks lovely on a string of twine wrapped around a Christmas tree or on fishing line hanging in a window.  The sunlight catches in the slices and reminds me of stained glass!

You can mix orange/blood orange, tangerine, and lemon slices for variety.

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Here’s my lovely window at the kitchen sink that obviously needs dusting on the inside and scrubbed down on the outside.  We spent so many evenings in the summer running through the sprinkler right outside this window and even though it’s December I’m not prepared to wash away that last piece of summer.
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Happening in the Holler (with price breakdown for our 2nd meat flock)

Our garden flourished this year.  The tomatoes managed to thrive even through the heat, our green beans were epic once again (I lost count of how many pounds went into the freezer), our first try at okra, tomatillos, and cow peas (purple hull and black eyed peas) was a major success; and as fall settles in, we still have an abundance of carrots and green peppers.

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We processed our second flock of meat birds as the garden was winding down.  This time we decided to try a hybrid chicken, the Jumbo Cornish X Rock.  These birds are specially mated to produce maximum meat in a shorter period of time than a heritage bird.  Because these birds are hybrids, they aren’t meant for breeding (the next generation will be inferior and due to their extreme growth rate, they are usually too large to breed at time of maturity anyway).

We’ve read horror stories of these hybrid birds: growing so quickly their legs break under their weight, they eat so much they literally kill themselves, they are sedentary and lay down when not eating/drinking causing a high rate of being trampled.
However, the numbers kept us curious.
A bird raised for 6-8 weeks producing an average of 4 pounds of meat?  It just sounds too good to be true!

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Preparing the brooder for the chicks arrival.
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Early morning post office visit to pick up our box of chicks!
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The yellow chicks are the cornish x.  We also purchased some Americauna and Rhode Island Red pullets for eggs next spring.

Here’s the breakdown of our meat flock costs the second time around:

  • 28 Jumbo Cornish X Rock males arrived from Murray McMurray Hatchery in August (we ordered 26 and they sent 2 extra chicks because it is common to lose a chick or two in transit) $80 (including shipping)

  • We purchased 12 bags (50 lbs each) of chick starter feed $170.00
    (The only other cost incurred was the pine shavings for the 3 weeks they were in the brooder and I didn’t include it because it was less than $10)

  • We lost 3 chicks during the first week in the brooder (a combination of the summer heat and being smothered while piling on top of each other)

  • 2 chickens broke their legs at 6 weeks and were unable to walk to food or water so we processed them earlier than planned.  (At 6 weeks they were both dressed out at 3 pounds each.)

  • 23 chickens were processed at 8 weeks and averaged 6.5 pounds per bird.

  • We put approximately 160 lbs of chicken in our freezer and spent $250.00 on the chickens and their feed for 8 weeks.

  • Approximate cost of our homegrown chicken meat:  $1.56 per pound

To read about why we chose to raise our own chickens for meat, click here.
To read about how we process chickens (with photos), click here.

Pros of raising hybrid meat birds:

  • Only 3 weeks in brooder (compared to 6-7 for heritage birds)
  • 8 weeks total (compared to 16-20 weeks for heritage birds)
  • More meat in a shorter time period (2.5 lb difference from our first heritage breed flock)

 

Cons of raising hybrid meat birds:

  • The Cornish X birds growth rate is because of their appetite.  They want to eat 24/7 and most certainly will if you allow them to.  We had to feed the birds on 12 hour on / 12 hour off schedule and actually tracked how many pounds per week to feed them based on other homesteader’s experiences.
  • Despite a strict feeding schedule, two birds did break a leg because of their abnormal growth rate.   Their legs simply could not support their weight and they were unable to walk to food and water.  Both had to be butchered at 6 weeks.
  • They are very sedentary birds.  If they were not walking to food or water, they were lying down even though they had a large, open pen.  For this reason, we had to be even more vigilant than usual about cleaning the pen so that they weren’t lying in mud and manure for extended periods of time.

 

If I’m being honest, these birds were pitiful.  I am all for cost effective meat production but these are not your average chickens.
Non-hybrid chickens (at least the heritage birds we’ve raised) do not over eat so we don’t have to monitor them for over eating.  They are usually walking around and pecking when they are not dust bathing and they sleep off the ground on roosts.  These hybrid birds were too large to roost; they had no choice but to sleep on the ground.

While we are very pleased with the amount of meat we have in our freezer thanks to these birds, we are not happy with their quality of life.  We raised them humanely and to the very best of our ability knowing some the issues that are common in this breed but it was awful to see the abnormal growth rate and the pressure it placed on their bodies.  8 weeks is a short life span but I was honestly so relieved to see them go because I don’t think they had a great quality of life (through no fault of our own).

We plan on sticking to heritage breed meat flocks, like our first flock of Australorps, in the future.  Their growth rate is steady, they don’t have to be monitored for overeating, and injuries are rare.
We began October with processing the meat flock and canning a huge amount of chicken stock and we ended the month with a Foo Fighters concert for our wedding anniversary and our annual trip to Clyde’s Fresh Produce.
You may remember I posted about our visit last year here.
Clyde’s provides us with honey and the majority of our lettuce, corn, onions, and potatoes each year.  We appreciate what they do for our community and that they open their home to us each fall to celebrate the growing season.
Here’s a couple photos I snapped while we were there.

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Spring in Leseberg Holler

Spring has been good to us so I thought I’d share photo overload of the holler.

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I enjoy taking this photo every year to see the many changes!
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Nothing like fresh strawberries!  We made strawberry milkshakes and froze quite a bit for the year.
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I accidentally left the bike out (a habit from childhood you never lose, apparently!) and it didn’t take long for the blackberry and honeysuckle to find it!
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Speaking of blackberries, we’re patiently waiting for summer picking!
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I keep the lemon balm in a pot in the garden because it’s like a weed and will take over if I let it!  Haven loves to garnish her sweet tea with it (and feed it to our goats).
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Speaking of goats, they are still inseparable!
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The tomatoes are coming along nicely.  I’m dreaming of the day we pick our first ripe tomato this year!
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We decided to try our pepper plants in burlap this year.
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And we found a type of corn that is supposed to grow well in buckets so we’re giving that a try, too.  (I can’t believe how much it has grown since this picture was taken!)
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Haven can easily hide in the vine tomato plants now.
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Rhonda and me, just living the dream.
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The hens have been laying so well, we can’t sell or eat them all quick enough!  I like to scramble up extras once in a while and feed them back to the gals.  
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They love it (as well as the crushed eggshells added to their food).
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Speaking of extra eggs, I like to hard boil them in the oven!  I find it’s easier than boiling on the stove top.

For these jumbo size eggs from our Rhode Island Reds (Roxy and Rita), I preheat my oven to 325.  I wash and dry the eggs then place them in a muffin tin and pop them in the oven for 30 minutes and then place them in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes to stop the cooking process.
I like to eat one or two for breakfast sometimes, or add them to salads and other dishes so I cook several at a time.  I leave the shells on and they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a week.

If you give it a try, be sure to adjust your time based on your egg size so you don’t over or undercook.

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{Easter DIY} Succulents in eggshells

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Eggshells are multi-purpose around our house.  We use them in our garden, compost, and even crush them up and put them back into the chicken’s food for the nutrients they provide.

Around Easter, I plant hens & chicks (a type of succulent) in some of them as a table centerpiece.

My grandmother gave a pot of hens & chicks to my dad for his birthday many years ago and they thrived and multiplied at the beginning of each spring, spreading out and over the pot they were planted in. We started them in new pots and shared them with family and friends.

A few years ago we planted several in an old birdbath outside our kitchen window that would no longer hold water due to a crack.

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The great thing about most succulents is that they are low maintenance and virtually impossible to kill.  These hens & chicks can be pulled up and transplanted almost anywhere, put outdoors in shade or full sun, or indoors with bare minimum window light and they still thrive.  Our outdoor succulents are watered only when it rains and our indoor hens & chicks are watered maybe once a month.  I love low maintenance plants!

I started by filling my eggshells with dirt from a rotted tree stump on our property.  Potting soil or compost will work just fine too!  I pulled up the “baby” hens & chicks sprouting off the larger ones in the bird bath and cleaned off the clumps of dirt to expose the roots and placed them in individual eggshells.  For the larger eggshells, I planted 2-3.

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I watered them generously and then brought them indoors for my table centerpiece.

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I added a sprig of rosemary and some feathers for fun.  Nothing fancy, just things from the yard.

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If you want to take some extra time, you can always dye your eggshells to give it more of an Easter vibe.  If you don’t have succulents on hand already, visit your local greenhouse (or home improvement store) and see what they offer.  If you’re around Columbia County Georgia, I cannot say enough amazing things about Sanderlin Greenhouses.  The have a beautiful selection of plants and my favorite part is the vintage Radio Flyer wagons that act as your shopping cart!

 

Chicken Processing

*Note:  The end of this post contains photos of butchering a chicken.  Please do not read past the disclaimer if you’re opposed or sensitive to the images.*

We’ve been preparing for this since our meat flock arrived at the beginning of October.

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27 chicks arrived safely and over the course of 20 weeks, we lost 2 roosters to a hawk in December and around that time we realized that, surprise!, the hatchery sent us a hen in the mix.  We were left with 24 roosters to process.

Our adorable fluff balls grew rapidly and by the time they were moved from their brooder to the great outdoors at 7 weeks old, they were feathered pecking machines.

While the plan had been to raise them free range, a hawk quickly changed that after making a meal of two roosters.  A fence went up around their coop to keep them safe from predators (and a plan is forming for a chicken tractor next year).

At the end of our first year of chicken processing, we have spent a grand total of $455.95.

$157.29 was spent on construction and supplies for the brooder and the coop, meaning it’s a one-time expense.  This total included hinges, lumber, metal roofing, pine shavings, brooder lamps and bulbs, chick feeders and waterers for brooder, food pans and gallon waterers for the coop.

The remaining $298.66 was the cost of the chicks and shipping, along with 16 bags of chicken feed.

We  chose the heritage breed chicken Black Australorp, which are usually processed for meat between 16 and 20 weeks.  We decided to process 5 chickens per week beginning at 16 weeks so that we could see if there’s a significant weight gain in that time period.  This will tell us whether to process early or later in the future, which could potentially save us money in feed cost if there isn’t a large weight gain between 16-20 weeks.

Based on our chicken and feed costs of $298.66 and our birds weighing an average of 4 pounds each, our price per pound for 2017 is $2.99.

While many companies selling chickens use the term “organic”, it is almost impossible to know what they actually mean since it is used so loosely.  Even seeing the term “free-range” simply means they have access to a small door to the outside but doesn’t tell you if it’s a slab of concrete outdoors or an open pasture to roam (not likely).
I’m tired of the guess work.  
The chickens we raised were given a large outdoor space in the woods, free of human interference besides refilling their water source and giving out additional feed (and lucky them:  our leftovers!).  They were raised free of antibiotics, hormones, or steroids.  When processing their meat, we’re adding zero artificial ingredients or preservatives.

I see “organic chicken” sells in stores in a wide price range, the cheapest I’ve found being $4.99 per pound and upwards of $10 per pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
I’d say that by taking the guess work out of how the chicken I consume was raised by doing it ourselves, our price of $2.99 per pound is a bargain!

I understand many people don’t have the time, ability, or stomach to process chickens themselves.  I understand many people may not care about the conditions these chickens live in before becoming a meal.
This was a personal decision my family made to take control of our food which we believe also means taking responsibility for our health.  As meat eating animal lovers, it means treating all of our animals with respect and great care, right up until the very end.

I read something recently (and I wish I remembered who to attribute the quote to) that will stick with me:  “Every day something dies so that you can live.”

I hadn’t thought of the sharp truth of this before.  Each day, trees are cut down for paper and warmth, animals are butchered, vegetables are consumed, minerals are excavated… the list goes on.  We live in a time when we don’t think of these things because we have removed the majority of the overall population from the equation.  Only a couple of generations ago, people grew their own meat and vegetables instead of driving to a grocery store.  Your supper was hard work and had a face (possibly a name, too?)  behind it.  If a crop didn’t do well one year, you had to go without.  If predators took hold of your livestock, you went without whatever that animal provided, as well as their meat.

So while it is inconvenient in this day and age to consider how animals and vegetables are raised (I’m talking about pesticides, genetic modification, antibiotics, steroids, etc.) before it’s on our plate, it wasn’t so long ago we knew how to raise our own food in order to survive.

At the end of our 2017 processing, here are the final stats:

27 chickens: 1 surprise hen, 2 roosters lost to hawk

16 bags of chicken feed

800 lbs of chicken feed consumed by 27 chickens over 20 weeks

24 chickens processed for the freezer

Each chicken averaged 4 pounds

Based on the cost of the chickens themselves and their feed, our meat cost us $2.99 per pound, compared to the average grocery store cost of $7.99 per pound.

Since there wasn’t a significant increase in weight between 16 and 20 weeks, we will be processing future flocks at 16 weeks, which will cut our feed costs by around $80, if we continue to use the same feed.  This means we have the potential to cut our price per pound to $2.50

We’re researching making our own chicken feed in the future (cost effective by purchasing ingredients in bulk, which is perfect for a large meat flock) and also building a chicken tractor.  We have a few ideas for making feed and water distribution easier.

In addition to the meat in our freezer, we are using the chicken carcasses, necks, and feet in our own chicken stock canned for the pantry.  The gizzards are kept to eat (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!) and sell, the feathers become compost, the hearts and livers are fed back to the remaining chickens, and the intestines and heads are left in the woods for the nocturnal animals to take care of.

I have put together a basic step-by-step with pictures of how to process a chicken.  If you’re morally opposed or sensitive to images of butchering an animal, please don’t scroll further.  For those interested in the process, take a look and let me know if you have questions.  If you’re interested in more processing details, I’m happy to discuss!

We begin each butchering day by saying a prayer and thanking the birds for providing us with food.

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Our killing cone is a traffic cone attached to a board and cut to accommodate a chicken’s body.  In the background is a double sink on a wheeled cart made of scrap wood.
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We have a burner on to keep our stock pot of water between 145 and 150 degrees.
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My husband made our chicken plucker by attaching rubber plucker fingers to a PVC cap on a drill.  A zip tie holds down the power so the drill is hands-free while plucking.
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18 weeks old.  The bird is carried upside down by the feet to the killing cone.
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The bird is placed in the kill cone; neck down, feet out.  An incision is made across the neck.  The bird is instantly unconscious and the organs will shut down as the bird bleeds out over 2-3 minutes. (Photo taken before the cut)
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Next, the bird is placed into the stock pot of water between 145 and no more than 150 degrees for 45-60 seconds.  This loosens the feather for plucking.
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The drill is plugged in and the rubber plucker fingers rotate to pull the feathers quickly from the skin.  The barrel is set up behind to catch the feathers.
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After the plucker, we place the bird in the sink to rinse it and remove stubborn feathers by hand.  The wing feathers are always the most stubborn.
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The feet are removed next.  By bending the leg you will find the joint the blade quickly separates.
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It’s beginning to look like what you see at your grocery store.
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Next we remove the head.  We make a thin incision then twist and pull.
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Once head is removed, we find the crop (also known as the craw) in the neck.
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We make a small incision in the skin above the crop.  The crop is attached to the esophagus and one breast, so you will feel the large sac at the base of the neck and above the breast plate.
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We pull the crop through the incision we made and pull it away from the skin and the breast.
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Next, we flip the bird around and slice off the gland located above the tail.  This is the oil gland, which oiled the birds feathers.
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Flipping the bird on its back, another small incision is made over the pelvis.
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We use our hands to stretch the incision and open the body cavity for organ removal.
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Inserting your hand is the easiest method for removing the organs in one scoop.
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One large scoop should remove all the compact organs at once, including pulling the crop we started with at the neck down through the cavity and out.  Take a look inside the cavity to make sure it is completely cleaned out.  Sometimes the lungs are stubborn and have to scraped out.
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This is just a quick photo I snapped of a few of the organs.  The gizzard is a muscle that is essentially the stomach, but it doesn’t contain bile/acids.  Chickens eat small stones/pebbles which filter to the gizzard that then contracts and grinds down the food before it passes through the intestines.  People cut open the gizzards, remove the stones and muscle lining,  and then fry them up and eat them.  Sounds tasty, right?
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The final step is to begin an incision between the pelvic bones and cut around the anus  to remove the final piece of intestines.  This removes it without opening up the contents of the intestines (which would ruin the meat).
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The body cavity has been completely cleaned.
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This bird is ready for the cooler!  We keep the meat “resting” on ice for 2 days before we quarter it up to cook immediately or freeze for later.

Happening in Leseberg Holler (with a Meat Flock Update)

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Fall has always been my favorite time of year here.  I think the picture above of my walk to the chicken coop explains why!

We’re busy flipping through seed catalogs and preparing to start some of our plants indoors from seeds we saved from the summer garden, raking leaves for the compost pile, and loving on our new baby goats!

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The only raking we do around here is for the compost pile or to keep the chickens busy scratching around during the winter.  I almost lost Haven while taking a wheel barrow full to compost; luckily I spotted her leg kicking up out of the pile.

Hazel and Eloise were born November 21 and they came to our home, along with their mama Choca, on November 23.

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Haven and Eloise.
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Haven and Hazel.
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They are an adorable handful!
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This is mama Choca, nursing her babies.  She’s clearly not amused at my photo taking but she was thrilled with the collards I fed her afterward.  She’ll hang around until Hazel and Eloise are finished nursing and then she’ll go back to her home!

 

Our meat flock is now 11 weeks old!  If you’d like to read about how we prepared for and why we started a meat flock, read my first post here.

We moved the flock from the brooder to their coop on November 19 when they were 7 weeks old.

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The chicken coop
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Free ranging

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Unfortunately, a hawk found our flock on December 11 and we lost our first rooster.  The following day, the hawk came back for lunch and we lost a second rooster.
The evening of December 12, Joe and I created a fence around the coop with a cover until we’re able to trap and relocate the hawk (it’s illegal to harm a hawk so we are trying to do the right thing while keeping our chickens safe).  Unfortunately free ranging is over for now until that’s taken care of.

The chickens are weighing in at 3 1/2 pounds at 11 weeks old; they have been gaining around a half pound each week.

So far we have spent $132 on feed (we’ve purchased 450 lbs in bulk) and they have gone through 300 pounds of that food in just 11 weeks!

Another $145 was spent on brooder and coop supplies (these are one time only costs so this will not be a part of next year’s flock expenses thankfully!)

I’m keeping track of every penny spent on the flock so that I can share the grand total with you in February when processing begins and calculate exactly how much each bird cost us compared with grocery store chicken prices.

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Dried Hydrangea Fall Wreath | DIY

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When I was a kid, my dad stuck some brittle hydrangea stalk cuttings into the dirt here and 20 years later, we still have a thriving “snowball bush” (that’s what we call it here in the South).  The acidic pH levels in our soil keep our snowballs a beautiful blue color that fades to purple before drying.

(You can change the color of your hydrangea by adding or subtracting lime/aluminum to your soil; read all about that here.)

After a long and dry summer, the snowballs have begun to dry and I usually clip a few to put in a vase over the fall/winter months, but this year I decided to try a wreath.

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This is suuuuper simple, y’all.  Like, no-instructions-truly-necessary simple.

I purchased a grapevine wreath and floral wire at my local Dollar Tree and cut some dried/drying hydrangeas from the plant.

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I left a long stalk on the hydrangea so there was wiggle room for wrapping and securing it to the wreath.

I placed hydrangea around the wreath to create a full appearance and secured each piece with the floral wire.

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That’s it.  Seriously!
After you spend some time cleaning up the loose dried petals that fall off and give the wreath a nice “fluff” to make sure it’s full and secured, it’s ready to hang.

For two bucks and some change, I made this fall wreath!

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I found this cute shutter at an antique shop recently and I thought it’d be the perfect place to hang my wreath.  Now I have to figure out where to place this in the house.

Happy Fall, y’all!

Clyde’s Fresh Produce | Grovetown, GA

Clyde’s Fresh Produce opened up their farm in Grovetown to the community last Sunday.  It was a beautiful afternoon for grilling, chatting, and hay rides!  We always enjoy the chance to talk with this sweet family and wander their 15 acres, seeing where all the amazing food we purchase comes from!  The squash had been freshly harvested, green peppers, eggplants, and okra were still growing (and I have to admit with a hint of embarrassment I had no idea it grows on tall flowering stalks!), and they had a lovely fall/winter vegetable patch.
We left with our bellies full and our arms fuller:  butternut squash, jalapeños, a jar of honey, and another 10 lbs of potatoes for the winter.

We appreciate all that they do for our community and for welcoming us to their home and feeding us throughout the year!

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If you live in the Grovetown area, please check out Clyde’s Fresh Produce!  During the summer they have a tent out on Lewiston Road to stop and purchase produce and you can find them downtown at The Augusta Market on Saturdays through the summer and fall.

Venison Roast

October was a busy month around here!
Our chicks are now 4 weeks old and weighing in at a pound.  Our goat kid Darla has finished nursing so her mama NeNe will be returning to her home and soon a new kid and mama will be here so Darla will have a buddy!  Our silkies Johnny and June have matured and June laid her first (and so far only) egg in October.
We’re still picking tomatoes and had our first harvest of collard greens, the carrots are growing nicely — and Joe got his first deer!

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I’m glad he let me take this photo.  Everyone has to have a photo with their first deer in the South.

He did a great job skinning and cleaning this doe by himself.  I was just his cheerleader!
After a few days of rest in the cooler, the meat was ready to be prepared.  We had been told not to freeze the tenderloins so I cooked them roast style in the slow cooker that day before freezing the remainder of the deer after dinner.

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I’ve cooked deer burgers before but never tenderloins so I was concerned about the meat toughening but it was the perfect texture and was neither chewy or falling apart.

Venison Roast

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1.5 lbs venison (I used the tenderloin but any cut will work here!)
  • 4-6 red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Optional: vegetables or rice as side dish

Directions:

  1. Mix BBQ sauce, honey, flour, soy sauce and brown sugar in your slow cooker.
  2. Place venison in the sauce and give it a good stir to coat.
  3. Add your potatoes and lightly salt.
  4. Pour red wine vinegar over the potatoes.
  5. Cook on low for 6 hours.  Check tenderness as needed; it’s all in what you prefer!
  6. Serve the sauce over venison and potatoes with a side of rice or vegetables.

 

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After dinner we processed our deer after 3 days cooler rest.

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We’re lucky enough to have friends who let us borrow their commercial grinder.

We ended up grinding about 16 lbs of meat into burger (using 3 lbs of beef fat we purchased from Tink’s earlier in the year in preparation for deer season) so we have almost 20 lbs of deer burger in the freezer.

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We ran the meat through twice to get our preferred consistency.  This took about 15 minutes start to finish.

 

20 lbs of ground venison, a few pounds venison stew meat, a couple steaks and two nice roasts is a great beginning to deer season around here!

Raising a Meat Flock

I always thought homesteading was for people with a huge acreage that milked their own cows and drove tractors.  Now I see that it’s anyone who is doing anything in and around their home to take control over or responsibility for a part of their lives and the mark they’re leaving.

Joe and I always start out kicking around an idea for a while, months usually.  Then we’ll begin to plan how we’d hypothetically make something happen; the cost, the benefits, the downfalls, what could go wrong, etc.

We’ve been raising hens for a couple of years for eggs.  We’ve named them and we consider them to be entertaining pets.  We take care of them and tend to spoil them and we enjoy the steady supply of fresh eggs they provide.

When we made the decision last year to begin eating food – real food raised/grown as close to home as possible – that included meat.  We began researching farms that process and distribute their meat close to home.  Thanks to Augusta Locally Grown we discovered we have a thriving food movement with an overwhelming amount of choices.

I’ve mentioned previously that we made our first bulk beef purchase from Tink’s Grass-Fed Beef at the beginning of the year when we purchased a quarter cow and we now also purchase our bacon from them as well.  Spirit Creek Farms has the most amazing pork chops I’ve ever tasted, I’ve pan fried those things and they do not dry out and toughen up!

After the massive recalls in the last year alone on both meat and vegetables, we were extremely thankful for the decision we made.  It felt good to take responsibility for our food, knowing exactly where it came from and that it isn’t riddled with hormones and antibiotics.  I was tired of being bombarded with all the big company packaging in the grocery store with mis-leading labels like “free-range”  or “naturally raised”.  Eating locally means we’re putting money in the pockets of neighbors and keeping it within our community while also supporting the vision of people with a passion for food and caring for animals.

Since we started keeping backyard chickens, our minds eventually wandered to the idea of raising chickens for meat.  We have the room to do so, the cost to raise them is relatively low, and we’d know without a shadow of doubt that they are healthy, free from any hormones and antibiotics, and truly free-range and humanely treated.

There will be some people who ask:  “If you’re going to slaughter an animal,  do you actually care about how they’re treated?”
I’m a meat eater but I’m also an animal lover.  I care for animals and I also respect them for what they provide to us.

Many people look at those who raise animals for meat as cruel or heartless.  So far I’ve found this to be the extreme opposite.  The people I’ve personally met who are raising cattle, hogs, and chickens take great pride in their animals.  They keep them healthy, raise them outdoors (That should be a given, but it’s something unheard of in big company factories that pack animals shoulder to shoulder to grow as fast as possible so they can get them in the freezer of a grocery store near you), and these animals are eating naturally (meaning, what they eat when people aren’t interfering).  These folks appreciate and respect the fact that their animals provide both food and income for them and so they treat the animals with great care.

Let’s also not forget the fact that in the not so distant past, there were no big factories processing and packaging your meat and no big chain grocery stores for you to buy the meat from.  If you wanted meat, you raised it yourself or purchased it from someone in your town.  If you didn’t raise it or buy it from your neighbor, you didn’t eat it.  Period.

It’s safe to say that our country is now far removed from our food sources.  When we buy food at the grocery store, they list a “Country of Origin”.  If it came from the USA, we don’t even know what state it came from.

It’s a personal choice whether or not you care about where your food comes from.  Until about two years ago I never questioned where mine comes from, I just knew I could pick up anything I needed at the grocery store.  Now that I think about buying food that traveled half way around the world, I ask myself why?  If we have people in our own town raising these animals and growing these vegetables, why am I buying it at a store that bought it from another country?  It doesn’t make sense to me personally.  I still go grocery shopping for things like sugar and rice and I don’t want this post to make anyone think I’m “one of those people” who look down on others that don’t bother to buy local food.  Like I said, it’s a personal choice.  (And I still buy Doritos, so really there is absolutely zero judgment!)

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Preparing the brooder for the chicks arrival.  The brooder was built from scrap wood and mesh wire.  The only new costs we incurred were for the door hinges.  Additionally we purchased pine shavings and two lights and a chain to allow for light adjustment.

After months of discussion, Joe and I decided we were ready to take on the responsibility of raising and ultimately slaughtering a meat flock.  This makes people uncomfortable.  I’ve had strange looks and the “…Oh.” response several times.

What I’m hoping to do here is document our journey from beginning to end so that people get an understanding of the process.  It’s more than just killing chickens for food.  I want meat eaters to understand that the frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts they thaw out for dinner or the fried chicken they buy from a restaurant all started out as a live animal; a precious fuzzy baby chick, in fact.
I don’t want to convert a vegetarian to “the dark side”, but I’d like them to respect my decision as I respect theirs and see the care and appreciation I give to these animals even if they don’t agree with what I’m raising them for.

The meat we eat starts out as a live animal.  I’m raising adorable peeping baby chicks that will turn in to full grown roosters by spring and they will be slaughtered and put in my deep freezer to feed me and my family, the same as the chicken purchased in a grocery store.  The difference is I have to care for and raise these animals, beginning to end.

Our goal is to raise 25 Black Australorp roosters with as little interference as possible besides offering protection from predators.  They will be free range with additional chicken food provided in feeders and of course a fresh supply of clean water.

Along the way I’m keeping track of every penny we spend on brooder supplies and chicken feed.  I’ll post a complete cost breakdown in the spring of exactly what it costs to raise a chicken and compare based on the average price paid per pound in the grocery store.

 

Here’s the beginning of our journey:

We purchased 25 Black Australorp chicks (all roosters) from Murray McMurray Hatchery.  You’re given a hatch date and can expect your chicks to arrive two days later at your local post office.  The post office will give you a call to let you know when they’ve arrived.

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Right before they hatch, chicks will absorb the last of the egg yolk (their food during incubation), which gives them enough nutrition for their two day journey through the mail.  The minimum order for chicks is 25 so that the body heat they create will keep them warm enough during travel.

Murray McMurrary provided two extra chicks for us (because unfortunately it’s not uncommon to lose a chick early on due to natural circumstances) but all our chicks arrived safe, sound, and fluffy!

When we arrived at the post office early Wednesday morning, we could hear the peeping from the back room.  “They’ve been singing to us!” the lady at the counter told us.  Haven and I were quite popular walking out with our box.  A couple employees came out “to meet the folks with the baby chicks” and people checking their PO boxes that morning stopped to tell us about their own chickens.

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Haven (with her trademark bedhead) was amazed by the “singing box”.
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She was so ready to peek in the box!
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Meeting the chicks.
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I couldn’t believe I was looking at 27 chicks in that tiny box.  

When the chicks arrive, you have to help them understand where their food and water is.  You do this by dipping their beak in both the water and food.  I did this for each chick and they immediately took to it because by the time I emptied the shipping box they were milling around eating and drinking all by themselves.

Because the babies are covered in fuzz and don’t have feathers to keep them warm yet, it’s important to keep a consistent warm temperature in their brooder.  The rule of thumb is this:

Brooder Temperature by Week

  • Week 1:   95°
  • Week 2:  90°
  • Week 3:  85°
  • Week 4:  80°
  • Week 5:  75°
  • Week 6:  70°

October in the South is chilly but not enough to bring the brooder indoors.  We keep one heat lamp (100 watt) on during the day and two (100 watt and 60 watt) at night.  This is keeping the brooder temperature at a steady 95 degrees at the moment.  The lights are positioned on one end of the brooder so that the chicks have space to fan out and find a comfortable heat level for themselves closer to or further from the lamps.

 

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They arrived on Wednesday and by Friday evening we saw they were already sprouting their little wing tip feathers!
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Black Australorp chick at 3 days old.

Right now my biggest concern is getting attached to these adorable babies and how I’m going to explain things to my 3 year old.  Like most parenting issues, it seems I honestly won’t know until I get there.

If you have any questions for me about the process so far or things you’d like me to discuss in the future, please leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to answer as best as I can!