Feathers and Tethers

Today was the day we put our chickens in the freezer (we bring them over to our small barn work area and tether, or tie, one foot to the fence so they can’t fly away).  Don’t worry, I won’t show any photos of the process, but I thought I would say a few words about it.  A good friend and her husband from NC visited us on Friday.  She said she loves chicken but hasn’t been able to eat it since she saw the Food Inc. excerpt on the Oprah Winfrey show which featured how chickens are cared for and treated in commercial chicken operations.  I get that.  One of the things we love about having our farm is caring for our animals and knowing where our food comes from.   When we first got poultry last year, we had no clue how to kill a chicken.  Our suburban upbringing didn’t include those kind of lessons.  We actually bought a DVD (available for cheap if anyone wants a used chicken killing DVD!).  The first time we slaughtered a bird, we had our vet come over and show us the best way to humanely kill it.  Here’s a hint… it doesn’t involve either wringing it’s neck or chopping it’s head off and letting it run around the yard.  Our freezer’s full again.  We’re pretty proud of the job we’re doing here, and our friend from NC says she’ll come eat our chicken any time!

Before She Became the Queen of Our Farm

Jenna was a herding trial dog owned by training expert and author Vergil Holland and  his wife Annemarie.  She was one of their favorites.  Vergil told us Jenna loves to ride in the car (it’s true!) because they had logged over 100,000 miles together going to herding trials.  We have one photo of her during those days.   We knew she herded sheep and cattle.  Evidently giant hogs, too!   That’s her angry face.

Oops I Did It Again

I won my third True Blood contest!   This one was to develop a non-alcoholic drink using the Tru Blood beverage (a blood orange soda) and was sponsored by the company that makes Tru Blood.  They commented “Your Fairy Infusion drink was great!  Not only was it tasty, but it is easy to pour in a bar setting.”   Here’s the winning recipe.

Fairy Transfusion

Fairy blood is completely irresistible, and so is this cocktail!  You won’t be able to have just one of these tart yet sweet Tru Bloody concoctions .  You’ll be compelled to order another, and another, and another…

4 oz. cranberry juice
4 oz. Tru Blood
1 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate

Prepare a frozen martini glass by dripping red gel food coloring down the interior of the glass.
Shake ingredients over ice, pour into frozen glass.

Getting Started in Beekeeping

We’ve owned a starter hive for about 5 years but never had the time or the nerve to get bees to put in them.  A starter hive comes with a brood box (where the bees live), a bee veil and gloves,  and a few beekeeping tools.  It costs around $150.

I took a beekeeping class at Organic Grower’s School in Asheville, NC last March and it gave me the nerve (that’s all we were lacking) to get started.  As soon as I got home, I started calling bee suppliers and quickly learned we were (almost) too late to get bees for the year.  We decided to order two packages of bees and got one of the last slots for the last pick up day of 2009 at a bee supplier about 2.5 hours from here.  That date was the first weekend in May.

We drove down and hung around long enough to watch someone demo installing a package.  We’ve never been around bees and don’t know any beekeepers so our Beekeeping For Dummies book was our main source of information.   A package of bees comes in a wood and wire container about the size of a shoebox and holds approx. 12,500 bees and costs about $65.  Everything we read said it’s important for beginners to have two hives so they have something to compare against, so we purchased another hive set up.  We also bought two sets of honey chambers which are called ‘supers’, another bee veil and pair of gloves and, since they carry it, 3 cases (!) of soap base for my soap crafting.  As it turns out, that was a very expensive outing!

We brought the packages of bees home in the back seat of our Camry.  Having that many bees in the back seat is quite the experience.  Do you have any idea how carefully you drive with 25,000 very noisy bees in the car?!  We had to paint our new hive before we could install the bees, so we left them on our porch overnight while the paint dried.

Installing might as well be called dumping because that’s pretty much what you do to get the bees in the hive.  Surprisingly, the bees are very docile when you dump them from the package into the hive.  Once they establish their home in the hive, they are less docile.  The package comes with a queen in a tiny little screened house that has a piece of hard sugar called ‘candy’ keeping her and a few worker bees inside.  You use a rubber band to secure the queen’s little cottage to one of the frames inside the brood chamber and within 2-4 days the bees have eaten the candy and she’s let out to start laying.  These packages are built by combining bees from different source hives and the queens are from yet another source so the idea is to introduce her slowly over a few days so she’s not attacked and killed.  After you dump your bees in, fill their feeder with a mixture of sugar and water and put the lid on, you’re not supposed to peek for at least a week.  During the Spring and Fall, the two hives are fed a 5 lb. bag of sugar mixed with water every week.  In the Summer, they gather their own nectar courtesy of local flora to make honey.  They get to keep one super of honey over the winter for their nourishment.  Any honey above that first super is ours.  In the Winter, you just leave them with whatever food they have stored because opening the hive lets the cold in, and bees like it toasty warm.

The best advice I got at the organic beekeeping class is to join a local beekeeping meeting.  I’ve read that the one subject that has the most written about it in the history of the world is beekeeping.  Meeting fellow beekeepers (many in their 70’s & 80’s) is a wonderful way to learn and have local resources to answer your questions about this fascinating & rewarding adventure.  I’ll post again about our beekeeping adventures… more to come!

When You Keep Farm Animals…

You need to keep them healthy.   Since they graze where they poop, parasitic worms are always a concern.  We’ve found some of our animals are more susceptible to worms than others.   Since we don’t want to over-medicate them, we periodically check them for anemia, which is a symptom of parasites.  An easy way to do this is to check the conjunctiva around their eyes, which is bright pink to red in a healthy animal.  Our goats have gotten used to this, the sheep not so much.    We’ve tried a bunch of different dewormers, the most common types come in liquid form.  How do you get an animal to take a teaspoon of medicine you ask?  You squirt it down their throats with a special metal syringe that they can chomp on without breaking.   That’s an action shot of Savannah unhappily taking her medicine.  Our goats pretty much line up for their medicine.  The sheep require wrangling.

Autumn Cakes

Tis the season for pumpkin raisin spice cake, milk & dark chocolate cake, cherry filled almond cake…. yum!   The tiny pumpkin decorations are made from gum paste.  They’re edible but cloyingly sweet.  Those chocolate leaves were a pain.  That project consisted of painting many layers of melted chocolate on maple leaves from our front yard.  These are my 2008 & 2009 cake entries for our county fair.   Every one of them earned a ribbon and were delicious.  Well, except for the pumpkin ones.  No one in my house will eat pumpkin so I only bake half a cake.  The judging is for presentation only so I double the amounts of spices the recipe calls for.  They smell heavenly but are I’m sure inedible.  That pumpkin cake always turns heads when we drop it off at the fair, the scent arrives before the cake does!  We always have a ‘fair turn in day’ dessert party with friends where the other cake halves and fudge and cookies get shared.  It’s an annual event that everyone looks forward to.

How’d He Do That??

We’ve had Zeus up by the house for a few days to give him a little TLC after an injury.  He’s been staying in Jenna’s kennel.  We found him curled up inside her Canine Condo.  Did he back into there??  We thought we’d have to take the top off and lift all 100 lbs. of him out of there but he managed to wiggle himself out.   I wish I’d seen him go in!

A Handsome Visitor

We have a visitor to our farm, a texel ram named 802.  Well, theoretically he’s numbered 802.  That’s what you have to do when you have hundreds of sheep.  We have nine.  Ours have names.  We traded honey from our bees for his services for a few months.  He’s very tame and gentle which is great because he’s a very large boy.  Our ewes are very excited about his visit, and they compete for his attention.  It seems everyone in sheep-land is happy on our farm!

Chillin’

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After Jenna helps us with feeding our sheep in the evening, she plops into the Mule waiting for us to tidy up and drive her back to the house.   She’s not lazy, she just loves to go for a ride.   We have to park the Mule outside the pasture or the goats take the keys.  Seriously.

Do You Like Tru(e) Blood?

I like the show and I won a contest!  The makers of Tru Blood held a cocktail recipe contest and I got second place.   It’s basically my holiday Red Rooster recipe (a cranberry juice, frozen OJ and vodka slushy) with a bottle of Tru Blood added in.  I’ve never tried it, but since it’s blood orange soda it sounded like it would go pretty well in a Red Rooster.  I can try it now if I want because they sent me a four pack of O Negative, a cool bottle opener, the 2010 True Blood posters and a Barbie sized T-shirt… It was cute and all, had the Fangtasia logo and everything but was a teeny bopper’s small.  I emailed and asked if I could exchange it as there isn’t anyone in my family who could wear the one they sent.  A replacement is thankfully on it’s way!   I encourage you to try the recipe, minus the Tru Blood, cuz a Red Rooster totally rocks!

http://true-blood.net/2010/08/24/tru-blood-cocktail-contest-winners-announced/

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