New ventures – poultry ideas

We are in the midst of a very exciting new venture here on the smallholding, in fact a couple of ventures! One step at a time, firstly is an idea borne out of different reasons which I won’t bother listing here.  The end result is we have decided to use one of the small barn buildings that Ste did such a great job on converting, as a nursery for our new poultry adventure!  Here’s a reminder of what he did back in August last year.
From this general purpose outbuilding

To this weather proof self contained building
So what does all this mean?  It means we will have a building dedicated to the safe housing of chicks & ducklings and also, drum roll, quail.  Exciting!!! We have decided to expand to breeding these new birds for the first time and we can’t wait.  
Ste has done a lot of research on this and is in the process of getting their new 5 star accommodation up and running as I type this blog post.
We’ve had chicken, geese and ducks for a few years now and at the back end of last year, when talking about what we’d like to achieve in the coming year, we decided that in 2020 we would expand a fair bit in a few areas, so this is the first.  Yes, that also means there’re more to come!
Inside this little building has taken on a transformation so far and it looks great already and it’s not even finished. It started off with a blank room and a sketch on the notepad.
Then ended up with a partition wall and a door, shown at the top of the pic here, which leads in to a smaller room that we use as the outside dog kennel.  Ste cut a hole in to the side of the building for the dogs to come and go, but restricting them inside from the nursery for obvious reasons.  Two uses of 1 building is maximising efficiency in my book!  

Full steam ahead then!  He is starting by making the quail pens which have to be a certain height and measurement for the quails’ own safety.  They have a tendency to jump and hurt (or worse, kill) themselves so you need a low roof to prevent this happening.  They will actually have more than the recommended walking space, as we like to offer as much as possible for a happy & healthy life.  
Quail also prefer to be in a safer, protected environment, given they are prey for everything that’s bigger than them, so research shows they don’t thrive as much in open outdoor space.  
The workshop is just next to the nursery, so Ste is making the individual pens in the workshop and then moving them to the final spot.  

Another one has been added since I took these photos, I can’t keep up with him 🙂 We’re planning on visiting a farm we have recently found, to buy quail this coming weekend.  The plan is to be up and running with them in March, even if not the end result.  More March goals to follow in another post, but for now I wanted to share with you where we are with this little project.  

What are we doing now?

I’m still figuring out what day of the week works best for blog updates.  I think Monday’s are a good starting place as we can wrap up what we’ve done over the weekend and previous week.  Let’s trial it and see.  At the moment I’m also finding our what structure I might have, so until then, it’s a bit of everything 🙂

What are we up to right now?

Well, it is well and truly back to work and school this week, so all routine’s are resumed (some in an improved fashion) and we can all go back to knowing what day of the week it is.  I remember many years ago when Steven and I were very happy to have no routine.  How things have changed!  In a good way that is.  The fact that living on a smallholding demands routine, and more so planning, is something that is all to obvious the longer you live on one.  I bet many other people and places can relate to that too, not just smallholdings.  Running a family, working full time, being a stay at home mum, caring for people, looking after animals – it’s all so much easier if you have a routine and a plan. 

Sunday night saw me updating my files with the design of the main veg plot, and using RHS’ 4 year veg crop rotation (legumes, brassicas, potatoes, onion/roots then back to start) to plan what can go in the beds this year.  Inevitably we have beds that it doesn’t make sense to grow “that many” of something, so these will become the beds where the crops that don’t need to follow rotation will go.  Squash, the prolific and much loved (a’hem hated) courgettes, cucumbers, French and runner beans, sweetcorn and salad).

Veg plot planning

We haven’t bought any seed potatoes, spring planting onions or garlic yet.  We will probably look to do it at the end of January.  Ideally this year, we will have early, salad, main crops & lates so that we have as much coverage through the year as possible.  To be fair, our main crop from last year are still going well, despite the mice’s best attempts.
Something that has become obvious over Christmas is that Jack too needs a plan.  We give our kids jobs to do around the smallholding.  Be it looking after animals (feed and water) or clearing the table to making your own packed lunch (as much as possible) and so on.  Annie, our bullmastiff, very much appreciates all we do for her and gives us lots of cuddles in return!

This weekend we decided to cut back the apple trees in what we call the orchard.  It’s not a huge orchard, a handful of old, established fruit trees which we have rather cautiously taken one or two branches off in the winter before.  However, last year they took over but bore no fruit, so we promised ourselves we would be ruthless when it came to cutting them back for 2020 fruit.  Below is one of the cooking apple trees that has been prolific in previous years.  Fingers crossed it comes back well this year. The photo is before and I don’t have an after shot, I daren’t show you! 😉

The mice I mentioned before, the ones who ate the potatoes in the shed.  Well, Steven built that shed and we knew there wasn’t a single crack or hole in it and we couldn’t figure out how they were getting in!  Well I think the mice are rats, as we found the hole when giving the shed a clean out this weekend.  You’d think it had been done by machine looking at it, but you can see the teeth mark on it.  Bloody things.  Rat trap going down and the hole will get covered.  They get everywhere!

Speaking of shed’s, this one we bought a while ago to house poultry.  I can’t remember what it was at the time, however now it’s for chickens.  It’s getting too small though, as we had a shift around this weekend after processing 10 cockerels.  That left us 4 hens from that hatch that could go in with the other hens.  More room was needed so Steven ingeniously cut some nest box size holes out of the wall of the shed and moved the nest box from inside to outside, giving them extra space.  They roam during the day and just us this space for laying eggs and perching at night.  A great idea!  We’re going to do the same on the other side too as there’s a fair few in there now and no doubt they will all want to lay glorious eggs at the same time come spring!
 
Adding the nest box
From the inside, we will see if they need bigger holes
Some hens couldn’t resist having a sneak preview
Happily perching on the night 🙂
Another job that got done was the cleaning out of the goose pond and IBC tank that feeds it.  Both in dire need.  Unfortunately, the pond water has since dropped, so there’s a hole in the liner.  We will have to get another one as the water will be used by the geese and ducks when we set up our new area.  This is on the jobs list but not an immediate issue as the geese have alternative options and we don’t have the ducks yet. 

A long pipe connected to the IBC tank, held on by yours truly, helps the water make its way to the pond
A fine specimen 😉
This post is turning in to “what has Ste done”  – I do more than just take photos honestly!  For Christmas, Ste got lots of tools that he’s now having a play about with to see what he can use them for, making lots of little things like this in the process!

 
So what have I been doing.  I managed to get a freezer inventory done of the big chest freezer and of course we had loads of things that I’d forgotten about and will shortly be making an appearance on the menu plan.  I’ve also draft menu planned a good few weeks ahead, easily once you get in to it as for example we had lasagne the other day and I won’t be adding it to the plan for another 4-6 weeks ish, as we will have other pasta dishes on “pasta day” in between, plus with it being SO calorific, it’s a once in a month or so treat.  We’re both cutting back, as is everyone no doubt, after Christmas, so this kind of rule setting helps with that too.
I’ve decided on a framework for the menu plans, which helped dramatically.  For example Monday’s is a curry night, Tuesday’s will be fish or stir fry (Sunday left overs?), Wednesday’s is pasta or rice based, Thursday’s casserole/stew, Friday is a bit of a free for all such as gammon, chops, steak (yeh right), burgers etc.  Saturday is always a fry up at lunch then family teas on knees, easy meal & Sunday for the most part it is roast at noon and soup/farmhouse bread for tea.
Thanks to my dear friend Lou (visit here), I’ve got myself a household notebook together and am getting myself in order with writing everything down.  The freezer inventory, menu plans, shopping lists, outgoings and expenses, to do lists, jobs lists, daily routine lists, veg plot planning and so on.  Just talking these things through helps.  So although there isn’t a lot to show outwardly, I’m busy busy.
This week, we have managed to save some extra pennies unexpectedly, only small amounts but every little helps, so they will be put to one side instead of being consumed in to the wider pot.  We have set ourselves a financial target of what we would like to save this year, starting from zero.  I won’t be sharing figures in that respect as it’s all relative.  %’s would be better I think.  So we are at, 0.01% 🙂 
I wanted to share with you the below picture which I stopped to take when I came in the other night, I’m so proud of the space we have created outside (Steven again!).  It looks cosy, is very practical and hopefully will add value to the smallholding if we ever move in to another chapter 😉

Processing home reared chickens for the freezer – be warned!

If you do not want to see the process of putting chickens from plot to plate then read no further.  This post shows how we slaughter our home reared chickens.
 
As always, I’d like to point out that our birds have had free range lives, been protected from the evil supermarket conditions and have thrived living in the countryside.  We know we’ve kept them happy and that we can say we’ve raised healthy and happy meat.
 
As I mentioned last week, we’re proud to be producing our own meat now and will no longer have to rely on shop bought meat.
 
Steven’s been researching new methods of plucking which he was very pleased to read involved having to make a fire.  What is it with men and fire?
 
The Ross Cobbs are all at our desired weight now, so over the next few weekends we will be processing 5 or so at a time.
Steven stole my comfrey tea making bin!  I must admit it is just the tool for the job though.  We needed a large tin suitable for a heavy load of water that could sit on a fire.
He built up the sides from the zillion stones we have lying around the smallholding and got a good fire going.
 
The idea is to get the water up to a temperature that makes the birds easier to pluck… I’ll explain.
He set his butchers apron, knives, gloves and steel out.  He also stole my stool to sit on 😉

Meanwhile the birds were not let out of their coops (he did this first thing) so they weren’t eating filling up their crops (we don’t normally worry about this as he’s careful and doesn’t pierce them on butchering, but this breed eat so quickly it was safer to withhold food and do it early).  The heaviest looking birds were gathered up and kept quiet in a box as the water was now at the desired temperature of 147F.

The birds go upside down straight into the “kill cone” which is just a large roadside cone, upside down and screwed to something solid.  The cone has the bottom cut off which allows the bird’s head to come out but not its body.
Using the sharpened knife, to ensure a quick dispatch, Steven removes the entire head in one go.  The reason we do this is we feel it is more humane and is our personal preference to ensure they go as quickly as possible.
The heads go into a bad and the birds drain in the cone for a few minutes into a bucket that’s below.  It doesn’t look nice, why would it, but it’s part of the process.  I’ve included a photo from before the first dispatch rather than after.
Once the birds is drained, a few minutes, it’s removed by it’s feet and plunged into the hot water for a few seconds, removed, shook and repeat maybe 3 times.  Wearing gloves (friction) test a few feathers for ease and if they come out quickly, proceed, if not then do it again.
As you can see, the kids know exactly where their meat is coming from.
If we have a few to do, they are all dispatched together and hung up until they’re ready
As soon as you dunk them in the hot water and the feathers are starting to free up, use the gloves to rub your hand over the skin and the feather literally peel off in your hand.  Ste was cursing that we had sat there for hours previously plucking the dry feathers by hand – you live and learn though right?
He got rained off outside and moved into the polytunnel – no letting the weather stop play around here.

Once plucked they were hung up whilst we did the rest.
The birds were gutted outside this time to keep the mess all in once place.  I kept getting photos and telling Ste to smile!  The organs that we keep were bagged and froze ready for pate or terrines that I make nearer Christmas.
They then had a rest inside for 24/48 hours, covered up in the fridge before being labelled and dated and put in the big freezer.  They all weighed in at slightly over or under 2kg.
Also we did ducks the same way.  The water method does work but takes longer when dunking as the feather obviously repel water.  The below photo isn’t the ducks we did this way, but I’m pleased as punch with them all the same.
We’ll be using this method moving forward.  Incidentally, we also used the big metal tin to boil up potatoes for the pigs by the 25kg sack full and it worked a treat plus again kept the mess outside.

My mornings

I am lucky.  I have 2 mornings.  1 at home then another at work.  I prefer my mornings at home 😉 I thought I’d share with you some photos from my morning’s this week.
I go outside around 5:30 making a mental note of what the weather has turned out like (and usually cursing the forecast if they have it wrong).
This week we have had dry mornings, though one was that foggy it felt Autumnal.
Outside our back door
Beyond the trees you see in the first photo
Looking back up to the house from the little paddock
This is where the farmers cows normally are but on this foggy morning, you can’t see them.
Normally they are very interested in what I am doing.
Whilst taking note of the weather, I head straight over to the big barn to feed the horses, saying hi to the sheep on the way.
 
The sheep know that they don’t get fed first, they are in to the routine now, so they generally just look up at me but don’t get up.
The horses are always very pleased to have been fed. 
Ryan, our female goose (I know) sleeps in the barn and she follows me around on a morning until I feed and water her.  She prefers the sheep food to her own.  Typical!
Hello…feed me please
This water looks like mine
I also give the free range chickens (fully free range) their breakfast, heads down, bottoms up.
Notice the dominant cockerel and the less dominant one…
After the chickens, horses and Ryan, come the sheep.  By now they are at the gate waiting for their food.
After the sheep, the pigs are up.  They are usually awake and rootling around when I turn up with a bucket for them.  By gum they are boisterous now.  No manners and you better hope you don’t get knocked over when feeding as I’m not convinced you’d get back up again.  Needless to say the kids are banned from going in there!
The look cute though.
Foggy morning
Sunnier morning
Beautiful afternoon
Once the big animals are taken care of, I open up the chickens, ducks and geese in the rest of the areas.
By now the cows have followed me along the edge of the field and watch intently.  These are young cows and most probably as stupid as last years, so we’re going to strengthen this area as I don’t want them getting into the chicken and orchard areas.
There are lots of them.  The gate in the below photo is where the bridleway (opposite direction to the gate) is, which is at the front of our house. 

 This is the orchard where the hens are, where we don’t want any cow interruptions!

There is a bottoms up theme here.
 The ducks and ducklings are let out (this is before we moved them) and the make their way busily to the pond.

Over on the other side of the smallholding, I make sure the plastic pond is refilled for the geese who are often too impatient to wait.  The sound of running water entices them.  They can be mean, so are separate from the ducks.

The female joins the male.

She sees what he has in mind and makes a sharp exit!

 I make sure everything has food and water, which we usually top up the night before but sometimes we don’t manage to complete them all or ‘life happens’, but I never leave without making sure all is well.
The Vorwerk hens usually settle down anywhere to lay their eggs just as we’re leaving for school and work.  We’ve had some fun times trying to locate where they are laying!  It’s just as well there’s only 6 that free range so much.  The rest free range, but are restricted in their areas.

Once I’ve done this, I get myself, the kids and the dogs sorted, make packed lunches, load the car, forget where I’ve put my phone, dash round for 30 seconds looking and then leave on time, wondering most days how I managed to pull it off.
I wouldn’t change it for a thing though, and no, it’s not too much like hard work.  For now, we have to go out to work as we do to pay the bills and this is how we make the most of it. 

Smallholding is in our blood, I’m sure of it.

Off like a rocket.

We were given this beautiful amaryllis for Christmas off my Uncle and his family.  Well, I swear if you sit there for an hour, it’ll grow before your eyes.  Isn’t it pretty?  It’s been out of its box around a month.

The chickens are revolting.  They made a bid for freedom, knocking down our temporary accommodation, which we put back up, but they are getting wise to it. 
The ducks also made a bid for freedom and spent a good 15 minutes in the beck that runs along one side of our land, to the river.  They were ushered back in of course but accidents happen (in relation to the Avian Flu measures).
 
So between my plants and escaping animals, they’ve all shot off like rockets in their own way!