April 27, 2015

Learning to homestead- chickens and turkeys

Nothing beats farm-fresh eggs.  They are wheat bread eggs to the store bought white bread eggs.  They are beautiful, healthy, and so REAL.  Every egg is different.  I love that.

My 13 year old daughter, Anna, loves chickens.  She had a hard time when her 4h lamb was sold for meat and was certain she didn't want to care for animals that we would kill for food.  She got chicks for the first time Spring 2014.

We are so lucky that my father is a skilled carpenter who built us a beautiful coop.  We get a lot of snow here in NY, so we built the coop attached to our barn and cut a door so we can access it from inside the barn.  Our coop is a big room with two windows and a little door that leads to a screened in porch area.  We close up the coop at night to protect the chickens from predators and we open all the doors and let them free range during the day.

I absolutely love looking out my window and seeing little chickens throughout our field.

We were lucky to make friends with another family who was also starting up a family farm.  My friend Bryn blogs here and she is an expert on the organic, heritage, and financial side of farming.  She does a lot of research, knows many local farmers, and basically talks me into most of our crazy adventures.  

Bryn's husband Tom is an adorable Englishman who shares Todd's business mind.  So, Bryn speaks business language, which means she speaks my Professor's language.  She says words like "heritage turkeys can sell in Ithaca for $100" and my husband is on board.  Food and money are his love language.  

She gets me hooked when Jakob gets excited about raising turkeys, I hold the cutest gangly turkey poults, we drive two hours through dreamy farm land to meet the kindest small business hatchery owners, and I see pictures of beautiful turkeys.  Pretty farm animals are my love language.

Bryn is braver than I am, she pastured our pigs and agreed to pasture our turkeys when they get bigger.  She has also built a barn, fenced in pastures, bought and bred two miniature cows, and helped her son run an egg selling business.  

I'm not sure we would ever have been brave enough to get our first animals without her encouragement and support.

We also have a friend who is a large animal vet who has made a few stops at our farm to offer tips.  

They both laugh at my desire for a pretty farm, but the pretty part is in my genetics.

We have LOVED our chickens.

Amber links are the backbone of our flock.  We have 6.  They are big, white, and they lay light brown eggs.  They are great egg layers and laid straight through the winter.  We have 10 chickens and get about 8 eggs a day.  Amberlinks lay HUGE beautiful eggs.  We have a hard time closing our egg cartons our eggs are so large.

Barred Rocks are black and white heritage chickens.  They are beautiful and kind, and good layers.  We had four and just got four more.

Ameraucans are "Easter Eggers".  They are brown and lay blue and green eggs.  I love to see the beautifully colored eggs in my pile of eggs.  But, these chickens are not great layers.  Their eggs are smaller and not nearly as hearty as the other eggs we collect, and they don't lay as many eggs.  I'm SO glad we have two of these chickens because they bring the most oohs and ahhs, but I'm glad we only have two.  Next year I'll probably get one or two more.

Welsummer chicks were a fun surprise in an "ornamental mix" that we bought from our local Ag store.  We have two.  They look like chipmunks and they are supposed to lay chocolate brown colored eggs!! So cool!

Silver-laced Wyandotte was a gift from the hatchery we bought our turkeys from.  This is a beautiful bird who is also a good layer, so we look forward to having her join the flock.  I think I'm going to love having pretty chickens.

We buy all pullets and don't have a rooster.  Bryn inherited a rooster and he is SO cute and cockle-doodle-do-y.  He protects her flock from predators.  He almost makes me want a rooster someday.

This year we are also raising 24 chickens for meat.

Freedom Rangers were our top choice for meat because they are a heritage breed that forages.  They are ready to process in a few months and I just felt good about them.

We plan on building a tractor for them to live in once they get wings.  A chicken tractor is like a covered wagon without a bottom.  You just move it through your fields daily so in addition to food and water, your chickens have access to pasture without fear of getting eaten by predators.

I'm still not sure what our tractor will look like.  I want it to be cute-- with a cool door.  There are so many designs online.  
I need to go in and link to these sources (which I can't do from my phone).

Here are my favorites...
We will probably pay someone close to $3 each to process our chickens for us when they are ready in late June.  But, we might try it ourselves.  We've watched a lot of YouTube clips for ideas.  We have a handful of pioneer women friends with experience who have offered to help, and Bryn is concocting a plan.  

I would like to do another batch of chickens in the Fall, but we'll see.  We will probably sell some to family and friends.  But, I hope to have a freezer full for my family.

These chickens are not cheap.  They cost $2 each to buy, $3 to process, and eat a lot of food.  We are planning $200 for a cute chicken tractor but hope to spend less.  We have bought bedding, heat lamps, feeders, and waterers.  

With all the work that goes into these chickens I know why local farmers sell real pasture raised chickens for $20-25 each.  You get what you pay for.  Honestly, I would rather my family eat these good chickens than loose money selling them to others.  

The first few years of setting up a homestead is expensive.  I wish I had paid more to always get metal instead of plastic (our plastic have broken).  I really think that every year it gets easier because you already have some supplies and confidence.

We also bought 15 heritage turkey poults.  I wrote the breeds in a previous post.  We really don't know how to do turkeys, but we're SO excited!!

My time is up.  I'll come back later and add some links for you.  I didn't check if I spelled the chicken names correctly.  Honestly, there are hundreds if not thousands of internet resources out there for you.  I'm NOT an expert!  We really don't even know what we're doing.

Hope this was helpful.
Happy Monday!!  I am spring cleaning today and SO excited!
Life is good!


Amy said...

I say definitely learn to process your chickens yourself! It is a real experience and creates so many memories for your kids. When we lived in Shawn's parents house we raised chickens just so I could give my kids that experience:)

Rebecca said...

Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Here's todays question: you wish you bought metal instead of plastic what? Water and feed dishes?

We have one more year of grad school. We realize we might not find our farm right away, but we're definitely looking at websites and researching. Animals, gardening, orchards, cost of living around the country...etc. It's exciting to think about and start planning.

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