Bird Brained Plans: Raising Our Own Meat and Egg birds

When we moved last year, we came to our new home with no chickens. The summer before we moved, I accidently ran our four wheeler into the coop and the wire detached from the wood. Despite rigging up a fix for it, the hens got out and it wasn’t long before they disappeared (I’m still not convinced our neighbor didn’t catch them and keep them).

So for the last year and a half, we’ve been without birds. At first we were ok with that because moving into this house, settling in and then trying to finish some home projects just ate up all our time. But over the past couple of months, we’ve been talking about getting hens again. We’re missing our fresh eggs.

The big deal with this is that we’re also considering getting some meat birds to process ourselves. That part makes me nervous. I’ve never killed a chicken before (or anything else) even though I spent four years working for a poultry research company. But part of me knows that if I am going to eat chicken, I ought to be able to handle the processing part. Hunter has said he will kill them if I can help with the rest of the process which I can do. Once its dead, it really doesn’t bother me all that much honestly. It’s the killing that bothers me.

But we’re going to do it because we still believe that growing our own meat is better for us. We know what the birds will eat, how they lived and how they were cleaned, handled and processed. And its one less thing we buy conventionally. It won’t be any cheaper but we’ll have grown it ourselves.

Processing our own meat isn’t new to us. Over the years, Hunter slowly took the steps to process all of his own deer. The only deer we’ve paid to process in a few years has been in order to get cube steak but this year, we purchased a cuber at the end of the year for next season. Next year, that should pay for itself. I’ll talk more about processing our own deer later.

We will probably order from McMurray Hatchery this time since we want a larger quantity. McMurray offers a package called the “Meat-N- Egg Combo” for around $60 that we are leaning toward. The package comes with 10 hens and 15 meat birds. It seems like a good way to get back into chickens. As much as I want the ability to choose specific breeds, for this first batch, just getting some layers to start and some meat birds to try will be ok. The meat birds will be either Cornish X Rocks or Cornish Roasters and the layers would be an assortment from the Rainbow or Brown laying hens which means we might end up with white eggs as well. It doesn’t really matter to me right now. The meat birds would be ready to harvest in 7-10 weeks.


Original images from Flickr: Rhode Island Reds by nessamarie, Buff Orpington by srte and Araucan by Will Merydyth, Red Rangers and Cornish X images via McMurray Hatchery website.

In a perfect world, I would get a mix of Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Red or Black Stars for layers. I’ve also heard really good things about Red Ranger meat birds but they aren’t offered as part of this package since they are new to McMurray. Maybe later though.

The plan right now is to start with the 25 birds (McMurray requires a 25 bird minimum for orders placed until April) that we’ll try to order and receive in February/March, depending on when we can get our coop done. Then, once we do our first batch of meat birds and process them, we could place a smaller order for more birds when we’re ready (order minimum is 15 after April) for more layers or meat birds.

We’ve also decided to try a different watering system using “chicken nipples” (God knows what kind of its I’ll get from that) instead of the traditional hanging waterers because 1. they’re a pain, 2. they freeze in the winter and 3, they get nasty quickly. We still have a hanging waterer to use as a back up or supplement however.

Even the kids are ready to get birds again. We all miss the fantastic tasting eggs! The boys even said we could use the giant box my cousin’s husband brought us (that we were going to turn into a barn of sorts for them) for the nesting boxes. Isn’t that precious? Most importantly, they are a part of our raising our own meat and understanding the food cycle. They’re learning that they can do this too and when they’re older, they’ll hopefully find themselves in a sustainable lifestyle that they find as satisfying as we are.

And needless to say, I’m pretty darn excited about getting chick babies again!



Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) Review

BackyardFarmingCoverI was recently given an opportunity to review Angela England’s new book, Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less).  Angela is the founder of Untrained Housewife as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Blissfully Domestic. She is also a guest contributor at MomPrepares. I met Angela at Blissdom last year and despite her being incredibly sick, she was very nice.

I sat down the other night after the kids were in bed intending on reading a chapter and then going on to sleep. Instead I was up for nearly 2 hours reading through various parts of the book!  I love Angela’s style of writing. It’s friendly, informative and easy to follow. And even though I grew up in a small, farming town and our farm, there is always something new to learn.

Hunter and I are in talks on delving further into the world of raising our own meat.  It’s a natural progression from processing our own deer meat each year (more on that to come in another post). I’ll admit, I’m a little uneasy about some of it because the killing part? Well, that’s hard for me.  In Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less), Angela talked about these same feelings and then how she was able to get past it.  She described the set up they use for processing their own meat birds. She also broke down the cost of feed compared to buying meat in the store which I found encouraging. Hunter and I have discussed supplements to lower feed costs ourselves so seeing some actual numbers was nice.

Another component of the book that I really liked was the diagrams showing possible garden layouts based on your lot size.  Since we moved, we’ve been clearing and cleaning up so the diagrams helped me better visualize what I want for our property. I also found the section on how to grow more intensively on smaller areas in order to maximize your garden harvest while not damaging your soil.

Besides the two topics I mentioned, the book also includes sections on choosing land if you’re in a place to buy property or building your farm on the land you currently have, tools and skills for backyard farmers, getting started gardening, bee keeping , growing fruits, nuts and berries, raising livestock like sheep, goats and rabbits and also harvesting and preserving your garden harvests.

Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) is an excellent addition to our growing library on raising our own food and living more sustainably.  I’m pretty picky on what books I recommend because well, books are expensive.  This book is a nice starting point for someone looking into growing some of their own food as well as seasoned gardeners looking for new ideas to maximize their homesteading by expanding into other areas like livestock. I am so grateful to Angela for sending me a copy of the book to review.

You can purchase Backyard Farming on an Acre from Amazon and Barnes and Noble (there are Kindle and Nook additions available as well).  And, folks are starting to find it in local bookstores! As a bonus there are a bunch of free downloadable resources at AND there are some awesome bonus downloads available with your purchase through December 20th so go buy your copy today!

I received a copy of this book as part of this review.  As always, my opinions are all my own.

Weekend Festival Time!

This past weekend was what I simply called, “Festival Weekend.” Our hometown festival was this weekend.  That means fair food, lots of “hey, how are y’all?” and of course, the parade.  We do a parade float every year and the kids love it.  And I love that they love it because I always did as a child.  I love sharing that with them. But let me just say, the cost of candy is RIDICULOUS.  But the food was good(smoked turkey leg for me a Reuben for Hunter, hot dogs for the kiddos although they ate half of mine), the kids played games and of course, we came home with pop guns.

The olders spent Saturday night with their cousin for his 7th birthday and had a blast. So, yesterday, Hunter, Rhett and I headed north to Brasstown, North Carolina all by ourselves for the J.C. Campbell Folk Festival.  The Folk School is an absolutely amazing organization that offers students opportunities to learn what I call “old trades” through their classes. Each year, the school opens their school and their land to the public, hosting an artisan craft festival with beautiful hand crafted products. There are demonstrators all through the festival that take the time to explain what they are doing and how things work.

Bowl carving

We watched this guy turn a wooden bowl. He stopped frequently to tell us why and how he did things so the bowl came out right and wouldn’t crack.

Handcrafted at folk festival

There were potters, turning clay.  I loved this cup/bowl that one of the students was selling. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I didn’t bring my “big girl” camera so I settled for my phone for pictures.  I wish I’d of taken more of them. We saw someone working on a loom, spinning yarn, knitting, carving a wooden bowl (by hand), beading, crocheting….you name it!  That’s what I love most about this festival, their willingness to show you their crafts and talk with you.

It would probably be wrong of me to not mention the food.  Hunter, Rhett and I thoroughly enjoyed BBQ sandwiches (Rhett and I), some kind of sausage and pepper sandwich (Hunter), an apple pie (oh my word), an apple betty and this gigantic bag of kettle corn.  But we did bring home some for the boys, I promise!

It was a fun weekend for all of us but we were all tired this morning!  I am off today so I’m getting the rabbit cage winterized and taking the dog to the vet.  Exciting times, no?  The air is cool and brisk and it finally feels like fall.

How about you?  How was your weekend?

The Story Behind the Epic Bad Day

My kitchen stove and flour bin after an epic bad day.

I had a pretty scary accident recently in my home.

I nearly burned our house down. And I’m not exaggerating. That’s my less-than-one-year-old stove in that picture up there, my flour bin and my counter tops covered with residue from the fire and fire extinguisher.

Let’s see if I can lay it all out in a way that makes sense.

I was teleworking that day. Early that morning, I’d thrown some bread dough together in my stand mixer and set it aside to rise. Honestly, I forgot about it until lunch. At lunch, I saw it spilling out of my mixer bowl and quickly pulled down my rather large plastic flour bin so I could get it into a loaf pan to rise another hour.

I hadn’t used the stove for any cooking that day. I had an empty pot from supper sitting on the back right eye that I’d boiled pasta in. I scooped out some flour and sprinkled it on the top of the dough and on my hands and then popped the top back on and set it on top of that empty pot. Then I got to work shaping the loaf and getting it on to rise again before baking it off.

At some point, I guess I bumped the plastic flour bin and it fell back against the back of the stove.It hit the button that controls the eye and turned it on without my knowing it. Since it was such a large bin, I didn’t see the red light come on the back part of the stove.

I covered the dough and walked to the back of the house to do a few other things while I was on my lunch break. I guess it was about 5 minutes or so when I started to smell something. My first thought was that I’d lit a candle and was smelling it. But I didn’t remember lighting a candle so I got up and went back to the front of the house.

When I hit the end of the hallway, I saw the flames. They were probably two feet high, nearly to the stove hood. After a few choice words, I ran closer and knew I couldn’t turn the stove off.  I reached under the sink and grabbed one of the two fire extinguishers we had. The one we had used before, didn’t work. Thank goodness we’d had the sense of mind to buy another one after the grill caught fire with Hunter at our house.

Fortunately, I was able to put the fire out quickly with the second extinguisher. It took a couple of sprays and made the hugest mess ever, but the fire was out.

Now here’s the speculation part. What really caused the fire? Here’s what I think.

The bin was plastic so as the pan heated up, the plastic became pliable and eventually melted. As it melted, the flour left in the bin fell out into the pan and began to slowly heat up and burn. Add to that, there was “flour dust” in the air as it slowly fell into the pan (wheat dust is flammable). Now, add to that the fact that plastic slowly oozed down the side of the pan and hit the eye and there were a number of reasons why there was a fire happening on my stove. 

I got lucky. I was able to quickly and efficiently put the fire out. Our house was ok. There was minimal damage and I am ok. Despite some mistakes (not paying attention, not enough smoke detectors), I did a few things right. I didn’t panic. I grabbed our fire extinguisher and immediately put it to use. Once it was out, I used pot holders to move the pan and debris to our sink and added water.

But I want you to know one important thing.

What didn’t happen when the fire broke out on my stove

The one smoke detector we have in our hallway, it didn’t go off. At all. Even after the front of our house filled with smoke so thick that I started coughing. You couldn’t see. And the smoke detector stayed off.

That’s scary.

The lesson that I learned is this: one smoke detector in our hallway is not enough. Our house is about 1800 square feet and is a single level ranch style. It’s pretty compact and simple in design with one hallway leading bathrooms and bedrooms. The hallway ends in our living room and the living room opens immediate to our kitchen/dining room. It’s a simple layout.

Our smoke detector didn’t go off because it was too far away from the fire. I never considered a fire in the kitchen while I wasn’t in there. But it happened and because it did, I will be installing a few more smoke detectors, particularly the kitchen and laundry room. Even though we have one centrally located near the bedrooms in our hallway, I am adding smoke detectors in each bedroom. We use electric baseboard heaters in the winter in the bedrooms so we need them in each room where those will be used. Is this overkill?  Maybe, but I don’t really care. My family’s safety is more important.

It is recommended that you have one in every bedroom and on each level of your home. I think you definitely want one in your kitchen and laundry room because those two rooms are “hot zones” for fire with the stove and dryer. We are also adding one to our living room because we heat with a wood stove. Right now, I plan to get a combination smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector for the living room.

And another thing about putting out a fire…

Do you have a fire extinguisher? When my friends heard my story, most of them said the same thing: “I don’t even have a fire extinguisher.” Thank God I did. The fire extinguisher saved my house.

Fire extinguishers are something that none of us want to spend money on but they might be the thing that saves your home. Once you use your extinguisher, you will need to purchase another one unless you find a company that will recharge them (as I learned with the first extinguisher I tried). We only have one extinguisher in our kitchen but I think we need to keep one in our “hot zones.” I also think we should put one in our master bedroom since it is on the opposite end of the house.

For me, what could have been a total tragedy ended up being one of the scariest experiences of my life. We got lucky though. The stove is okay, despite the fire. There is no smoke damage, only a few burn marks on the floor from when I moved the pan (the stainless steel metal pan melted on the bottom and was dripping when I moved the pan…I didn’t realize this until it was too late). I burned my foot on the bottom stepping on the metal when it hit the floor and I love a pair of flip-flops that were laying in front of the stove.

But my house is okay and I’m okay. That’s what I choose to focus on. Well, that and adding a few more safety measures to our home.

I hope you learned something from what I shared with you today. I also hope you’ll take my advice and add some more smoke detectors, check the batteries in the smoke detectors you have and spend the money on fire extinguishers. I can promise you that you won’t regret it in those moments when a fire happens at your home.

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