Sunday, August 29, 2010

A new Roo in charge

Two weeks ago I put my big blue roo up on CL to see if I could find him another home. I was going to replace him with one of my young blue/buff roosters that was coming along. I found a home for him a couple blocks away, so he is happily bossing around a new group of hens. He was such a handsome boy, I knew I could find him a home where he wouldn't end up on a plate.

After looking over my blue/buff chicks again, I wasn't sure about the cochin part of my project. Cochins are beautiful, but the feathered feet aren't great here in the NW, because they are muddy most of the time, then they are jumping on the hens with these big muddy mops, and the hens get filthy, and it's kind of a mess. So I decided I would wait and raise one more year of blue mix chicks, but this time with a blue orpington. I managed to find one in Sandy, Oregon, and a friend happened to be going over there for something else, so she picked him up for me.

 What a lovely boy!

He has striking black eyes, and lovely scalloping on his feathers.

So Thursday, when I gathered up all my extra boys and took them to auction, I let him out with the hens. They seemed instantly at ease, and relaxed. All the extra roosters were annoying them. The whole flock just seems at peace now. And the new roo is cock-a-doodle-dooing up a storm. Happy chickens.

The girls are just finishing up molting, and looking pretty good. Poor Beautiful had a completely bare back, and now it's covered in pinfeathers - that's new feathers coming in. She's my oldest hen. 

My blue/buff girls were camera-shy this morning

Navi is fascinated by the McNuggets in the brooder box. 

I took six chicks to auction that I felt confident were boys. I kept the best looking blue/buff boy (he's front and center in this picture), and all the girls - I hope! These kids are about ready to move out to the chicken tractor and get some grass under their feet - I'd just like them to feather up a little bit more, especially with the cool days we've been having. 
Getting rid of the extra chicks made a big difference in feeding them - I went from refilling their feeder twice a day to only needing to fill it every other day! I think those roos must eat twice as much as the hens!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Garden update - pickling things

This year's garden is all about learning. I've been enjoying a few fruits of my labors, despite the weird weather this summer.

We've had lots of Yellow beans, too many spaghetti squash, and a few new red potatoes.

More yellow beans, eatin' cucumbers, and a few precious tomatoes

And a bushel of pickling cucumbers!

The pickling cukes have been coming along all month, but even when small they were starting to turn white. I thought that meant they needed to stay on the vine, but they just got bigger and bigger. Today I went out and picked them all, and many were HUGE. None ever got that nice dark green color I wanted to see. So I went ahead and picked out the greenest, smallest of the bunch, and set them up to ferment. I really wanted to brine some pickles this year, I planted them with that in mind.

I have a food-safe bucket, and cleaned the pickles, removed the blossom ends, and weighted them down in the brine with a plate. Now I just need to clear the scum off the top every day or so until they stop bubbling, and I should have pickles. I'm a skeptic - maybe people have been doing this for 10,000 years, but I still need to see it for myself!

I think the rest of the oversize cukes will go on the compost heap. They are too big and seedy, and they'll just get soft if I try to pickle them. It's my own fault for not knowing when to pick them, or maybe it was just the weather this year.

Maybe I can still get some smaller cukes at the farmers market. I did that earlier this summer, picked up some from Hermiston, Oregon, and made quick kosher dills, and I just opened them this week and they taste delicious!

 And don't they look pretty?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

A day at the livestock auction

I had accumulated quite a few extra roosters who had worn out their welcome,a nd I decided to try a different way to get rid of them. I packed them up and my friend Martha joined me for a day at Woody's Auction in Woodland, WA - a genuine livestock/farm auction. No pictures for this post, pictures aren't allowed at the auction.

Some poultry people I've talked to had mentioned the auction to me, and I figured it was worth a try. It is just outside of Woodland on Cedar Creek Road, and looks like it has been there forever. The buildings look like they could fall down on your head. We arrived and parked in the field/parking lot and wandered up to check the place out to start with. Outside appeared to be like a flea market, or a garage sale, just junk of all sorts laid out on the ground. Then we came to plants and trees, and they were actively auctioning some of that stuff off to folks sitting on plastic chairs under a vinyl carport. We continued towards the buildings where we could hear crowing.

I had been told to bring my poultry at about 10:30 and they would put them in a cage, and then hang around for the auction at noon. We walked through and looked at the chickens, ducks, geese, doves, phesants, and rabbits already awaiting auction - there were a LOT. More than I expected! When we asked about bringing mine up the guy showed us where to go, but said he was all out of cages. So my birds were left stuck in their carriers until auction time. I had my big black roo in a small cardboard box and I felt sorry for him because he couldn't even turn around, but it couldn't be helped. Our Lot # was 80! That tells you how many were ahead of us.

We walked around the sale barn and peered into the dark stalls at the goats, sheep and pigs. This was a small livestock auction, they do horses and cows on another day. There were some goats that looked awfully skinny, though there was a cute ewe with two little lambs at her side which was pretty tempting. The weaner pigs were cute little guys. After having a look around we went into the auction ring and had a seat on the bleachers and waited. We ran into some folks we knew, like the chicken lady from the feed store, and passed the time chatting.

Finally, it got to be time to start the auction. They started out with 20-some bags of red potatoes. Then came some bags of animal bedding, and a straw bale, then a seemingly endless supply of fresh eggs by the dozens. Finally they got to animals. I had my eye on a couple buff orpington hens, but they way they do it is that if the lot is for 4 hens, you bid on the price of one hen, then you buy all four in the lot - so it's a 'by the head' price. The hens went for $12 each, which is a fair price, about what I would expect to pay on CL, except there I'd have at least a chance to find out more about them - here all I could tell is what I knew by looking at them.

Some of the animals were sickly looking, plucked, skinny, but the majority looked just fine. Most of the  poultry was young roosters, people were bringing them in to get rid of them because they were harassing their hens and eating them out of house and home - same as me. Big roosters went for about $9 - small for around $5. Roosters at the beginning of the auction went for more than ones at the end. Most went to an Asian couple who were buying most of the roosters and ducks, I'm guessing they have a restaurant. Everyone there seemed to know them.

There were probably 100 people bidding. People were buying up animals, some asked him to break up lots so they could buy just a single rabbit as a pet and they did, and the auction runner handed the kids their rabbit to sit up in the bleachers and hold.

After a long time my lots came up. The auction runner pulled my big black cochin out of the box, and held him up flapping and sqwaking for everyone to see. They bid him up to $5 or so. Then he brought up my carrier with the three young roosters and the white cochin hen who has been laying weird eggs, and he pulled them out and held them up for all to see - I think they went for $3 each. Then the last carrier had 6 of the 4 week old chicks from my incubator batch. I picked out the ones that I felt confident were roosters. No point in feeding them for another month or two if I could get someone else to take them. And someone else did, for $2.50 a chick. So my animals brought about $32, and the auction house will keep a piece of that. They said they'd send a check if I didn't want to hang around and wait for it, and the long line of people waiting to pay told me I didn't want to wait for it.

We left shortly after my lots were through. It was already heading for 3pm, and Martha had a dog walk to go do. We went outside and located my carriers and got the runner to put the birds in one of their cages which was empty now, so i could take my carriers home. Martha said it would be interesting to come again sometime, but to drop off the birds early, so they could be in one of their cages, then come back later to see the auction, or stay late enough for the sheep/goats/pigs next time. It was an interesting experience. I'm not sure if I'd want to do it again.

Update: I got my check 2 days later! My birds sold for $38 and change, they kept $11 for their commission, so I got about $26 back. Not bad, that will pay for 2 bags of feed. I wish I'd known how this worked before I resorted to giving away all those big roosters earlier this summer.

Plus my hens are so much happer with all those extra roosters gone, I got two eggs this morning - yay!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Field of flowers

Our pasture is full of wildflowers, or as I like to call them, invasive weeds. It's all a matter of perspective. They're pretty, but if you don't keep them under control the county will show up and talk to you about it. So I mowed about a third of it the other day, then let the dogs out to play for a bit before I finish the job.




Navi walked all around the field with me, then waited for Barclay to catch up. He kept stopping to dig up field mouse holes.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Canning Peaches

Peaches are my very favorite fruit, and good peaches are available for such short time each year, I used to eat a lot of canned peaches from the store. Unfortunately they were a sad substitute for the fresh stuff. I liked a particular type from the store, but it was expensive, and one day I noticed on the label that the peaches were from Israel! Now, I have nothing against Israel, but I don't want my food to be that well traveled! So after finishing the Food Preservation classes this spring, I was really looking forward to canning my own local peaches.

Last week I went to Kunze Farms in Vancouver and bought a 20# box of peaches. They were very nice there, and gave me samples to try so I could get just what I wanted. The local peaches weren't great because of the weird weather we've had this year, but they had some peaches from Yakima (the dry side of the state), and they were juicy and delicious! So even though I wanted 'local' peaches, I decided local to my state was better than nothing.

 The ladies said to give them a few days to ripen, and that when they were soft around the stem end, they'd be perfect. So all week I've been checking them and eating peaches that were getting overripe :) YUM! Finally I decided they were all ready to can.

So, first step in canning peaches is to peel the fuzzy little guys. I got a tip on how to do this from the How To Cook Like Your Grandmother blog - which is an awesome blog if you love good food! You cut an x on the bottom of them and drop them in boiling water for a minute.

Then you put them in cold water.

And the skin peels right off. The hardest part of this whole process was cutting the peach in half and prying the halves apart without crushing them. I'm afraid quite a few got mangled in the process. Then I remove the pit and throw them all in a big pot, which contains white grape juice and some 'Fruit Fresh' to help them keep their color. Pits go in the compost heap, skins and scraps go in a bowl for the chickens.

When I had enough I brought the pot to a boil and then filled my first six jars, sealed them, and put them in the water bath canner. While they boiled for 20 minutes, I skinned and cut up the rest of the peaches.

Then I was able to do the next six jars. I'm using pints here because quarts just seem too big for just the two of us. So the second batch goes in the canner.

Oh my gosh, there's still a bunch left. Enough for two freezer containers full...

And a peach cobbler...YUM!

What a great day! :)

And enough local peaches to last me until next peach season!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge - in the heat

We made a spontaneous afternoon trip to Ridgefield this afternoon. It was so hot though, there wasn't as much to see as last time. The birds were definitly either elsewhere, or laying low.

But there were critters around, playing in the algae in the ditches

 And lots of Heron photo opportunities

This is my favorite shot, it would have been perfect if the blades of grass hadn't got in the way on the left.

I'm also not too happy with the grainy-ness of my pictures, since almost all the pictures were taken at max zoom. Since they are grainy already, when you crop them it's even worse. But we got some nice shots, and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hot hot hot!

I almost lost my baby cabbage/broccoli/brussel sprout sprouts to the heat (it's been up to 100 the last few days). Today I got them planted in the dirt, watered everyone really well, and then hung a shade cloth along the row to try and keep the sun off them. I hope they make it!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My crazy garden!

In my mini greenhouse (two clear storage tubs one on top of the other) on the back porch, my future winter garden is sprouting and looking for room to stretch out.

 I cleared out the lettuce and spinach that had gone to seed and laid down some fresh compost to get the beds ready for the winter garden.

There's plenty more lettuce and spinach growing elsewhere in the garden :)

 Elsewhere in the garden the spaghetti squash plant is HUGE, and stretching out into everyone else's personal space. It covers about 10 sq ft, easily! I don't know what to do with all those squash. Better start looking up recipes...

The green zucchini and yellow squash plants are doing well, though not as insane as the spaghetti squash plant. They are producing well, but the slugs have been poaching my squash. Wort of all, the slugs just eat the tips off a squash and then move onto the next! If they would just eat one and finish it, and leave the rest for me, that would be fine, but just nibbling and moving on - that's just rude!
Ok, it's hard to see, but that green hedge is the mass of tomato plants. They're quite tall and unruly, but they still have not produced much.

They tasted good, I hope this means buckets of tomatoes are right around the corner!

 The bean plants are climbing high up their trellis, and are covered in little flowers.

The cukes are ignoring the trellis and stretching out over the bed, where I have carrots planted. At this rate I might not get cukes OR carrots! The carrots are over-wintering varieties, so they should still be there long after the cukes are done.

Future pickles!

I took my extra squash and a few onions, the only things I'm producing reliably, and gave them away to friends (after Navi inspected the basket). 

The garden has been great fun so far this year. I don't know if we have enough summer left to get some of the stuff that's coming along to picking size - beans, tomatoes, and cukes. Only time will tell! Either way, I'm looking forward to moving on with the winter garden and seeing how productive that will be as well.