Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Destination Procrastination"

Another cold snap we are having with wind-chills supposed to be approaching -40, although we had a few days during the week with more mild temperatures of 20 something above zero. This is just a reminder that winter isn't over yet and that we are still in it's icy grip.

As usual for our family, things don't always go as planned or anticipated. One thing or another will come up and take us off course from what we had intended or hope for.

If you recall we didn't get our last batch of chickens until late fall last year. We knew it was pushing it for being able to finish them on pasture before the snows came, but we weren't able to get the chicks when we wanted. Well the snow came early and we kept them out there as long as possible. As long as we weren't in a deep freeze I could still move the chicken tractors. The chickens would simply eat and trample the snow and be right down to grass again. That worked for a short while until the ground finally became frozen. Then the snow wouldn't go away and they'd be on a layer of ice instead of grass.

So a number of times instead of moving them I'd spread out hay for the chickens to be on and for them to pick through. Before long it became apparent that this was not going to work any longer. Plus it seemed they were going through much more food and weight gain dropped off significantly.

The solution was to move them to the big green house and finish them in there. The only draw back would be the mess that nearly 100 chickens would make. That many birds makes a whole lot of poop! And they get on and in to everything. So we made pens 4 feet wide by 16 feet long to put over the raised beds and used the chickens to clean up the beds. It didn't take long for that so finally we just left them in one place and gave them hay.

I think those chickens thought they died and went to heaven after being put in such a lush paradise. It was great in there for them. Especially during the day time when the temperatures would stay well above freezing. Night times would get cold but, being out of the wind and huddling together they did just fine.

On the down side it still took a long time to get them to a good weight. And butchering was going to be a trick with out the convenience of running water. Our closest water supply is from our log cabin about 150 feet away. Even on the mildest days a garden hose stretched that far would begin to freeze up. So the only solution was to carry water in 5 gallon buckets.

Our first butchering was in November if my memory serves me right. We did some older broilers that we had left over from a earlier batch and a couple from the most recent one from the fall, which proved to be too small after dressing them out. They were only in the two pound range. We like them between three and five pounds. So we waited before we butchered again for them to get a little bigger.

Then in December we did some more. We did 20 one day. Then 20 on another. That's about all we wanted to do at one time under the winter conditions of not having running water. It was quite a challenge to keep everything clean and sanitary without it. We kept two propane burners going continuously heating water. One for scalding and the other for cleaning.

But, as I stated earlier things often don't go as planned for us and with the up coming holidays, my dads heart surgery and a throng of other things going on we didn't do anymore until after the new year. As it worked out we did a little hear and a little there until finally yesterday we got the last of them finished.

Here's the break down of how many we did at a time. We did 20 twice, then 15, then 10. And finally, Thursday of this past week, we did 23 and yesterday which was Friday we did the last 6 for a grand total of 94. Remember we had done a couple way back in November but they were too small, plus a number of big ones from the previous batch. In all we had over 100 chickens in the green house.

The 29 chickens we processed this past week were obviously the biggest of this last batch. We had a couple weigh out at over 6 lbs. which isn't really all that big compared to what we've had in the past. When we first started raising meat chickens for ourselves over ten years ago we many times let them get twice that big. We all remember the chickens in our oven that looked just like turkeys!

But, that's how we operate. Years ago I used to have a T-shirt that said "Destination Procrastination". I don't remember now were I got it but, procrastinating has been kind of a trend for us all our married lives. Well I guess speaking for myself it has been kind of a life long trend. However, I will say this in our defense. As Kelli and I are now middle aged I would say that we don't procrastinate like we used to. Now there is just so much we want to do and have to do that we simply get behind on things. The squeakiest wheel is the one that gets greased. You know?

But, we have learned one valuable lesson. We won't do meat chickens that late in the year ever again! If we can't get them before a reasonable time then we just won't get them, plain and simple. I suppose if we heated the green green house and had a means for running water then it wouldn't be so bad. Actually the temperatures in the green house during the sunny days were quite nice. Even on the coldest days if the sun was out it would be over 40 in there. When it was cloudy the temperatures would get to just above freezing with the propane burners going and heating the water. After a little while it would get surreal looking with the fog that would build up coming down from the top to just hovering above our heads. The green house is 96 feet long so it gives it a real strange look with all that fog. I wish we would have gotten some pictures of it but, we didn't.

Last weekend Kelli went to Madison with Scarlet, one of the other CSA growers, to a class at the Wisconsin University for "Beginning Market Growers". They focused alot on how to do a CSA. I would have liked to go as well but, I really had too much to do back here. But, she came back with tons of information and enthusiasm for this years growing season. She's been relating all the things she heard and saw and we are really encouraged to begin this years endeavors. Actually we are quite encouraged as it turns out we are pretty much on the right track with everything we are doing.

I'll wait for another post where I can spend more time giving more of the details of the class. But, I think some of the tips they had for weed control will prove to be the most beneficial advice we will gain from her having attended the class. It seems for all the instructors who grow organically, weeds were some of the biggest obstacles to over come. We got overwhelmed with them last year. So I'm anxious to try out some of what they said, which again I'll talk about here and save for a later post.

Until Next Time


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