Morning Rituals

For most of my life, I was not a morning person. It was really, really hard for me to get my butt out of bed. But living on a farm means getting up each morning and getting right to it – there’s no time for easing slowly into the day! There are things that must to be done before breakfast is made, animals waiting to be fed, goats waiting to be milked, eggs needing to be collected. These days, I love mornings and the routines we start our days with. Take a peek at a morning on the farm!

Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

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Tomato Hornworms

Every summer, we wait for them.  Even when it looks like maybe they won’t come, we know it’s inevitable, only a matter of time.  Sure enough, summer after summer, they arrive with their voracious appetites and wreak havoc in the garden.

You know them, I’m sure.  Tomato hornworms.  Those nasty fat caterpillars that love tomato plants.  The ones the with the spike sticking up from the rear end.  The ones who look like they’ve come from another planet.

There’s only one thing to do once the tomato hornworms launch their attack on our plants: fight back.  A garden war.

Don’t worry, dear readers.  Although it LOOKS like our garden was totally decimated, in reality only three out of about 50 tomato plants suffered any extensive damage.  Go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief.

Cheep!

May just kind of sneaked in on us, dreary and grey, and with it comes a burst of new life.

Yesterday, our incubated eggs started hatching! I’m still surprised and awed. This was the first time I hatched out eggs, and I made the incubator myself. Basically, I had no idea what I was doing, and no idea if the eggs would hatch or not.

The amazing thing is, Mother Nature takes care of it all. Beyond turning the eggs three times a day and keeping a steady temp & humidity, I had absolutely nothing to do with this miracle of life. The eggs came out of the hen knowing what to do – wait quietly for a bit of warmth, then develop a chick. The chicks grew in the eggs knowing what to do – twist and turn, grow, and when it gets too crowded, break free! And then, the chicks emerged knowing what to do – rest a bit, dry off, eat, drink, and snuggle in with the other chicks.

Seeing this whole process brings such amazement. It is so entirely perfect, miraculous, complete. Nature’s design is flawless, everything just as it should be, and WOW is it incredible!!

I feel sad to think how much is lost, and how much we miss, with all of our meddling and tampering. We believe we are above Nature, that we can create something better with our technology, but the truth is that we have no clue. We destroy so much of this amazing world around us, getting ever farther from our source, our truth. We put walls between ourselves and the Earth, between ourselves and other people, between our selves and other creatures of this planet. How arrogant and bull-headed is humanity!

But these chicks, they give me hope. I see in front of me the perfection of Nature’s design, and I hope She can hang on as we humans bumble, stumble and fall. I hope She can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that in Her perfection She will heal.

Life is such a miracle!

Wonder & Awe

Our incubated chicken eggs are nearing the end of week two – only about eight more days to go until hatching time! As time passes, I’ve been eliminating the odd egg here and there, ones that were infertile or didn’t develop properly. Out of the 18 eggs that I started with, 15 remain – not bad, I suppose. Two of those are questionable and only time will tell.

Yesterday I was candling the eggs to check for life, when one of the pale-shelled eggs gave me the greatest joy. Because the shell was so pale, almost white, I could see so much more than the darker-shelled eggs have allowed. First I saw the silhouette of the chick’s head and tiny little beak, and then the chick started moving around inside that shell! Two tiny little feet came clear into view, then the head again, then the feet. The chick was doing some serious tumbling. I was so amazed that I nearly cried – I never have experienced anything quite like this, nor did I expect to! It was simply incredible to lay witness to this little life developing in the safety of the shell. What a blessing to be part of this great circle of life!

I didn’t get such a treat with subsequent eggs, but did see plenty of veins and silhouettes that signalled viable and developing babes.

I was so unsure when I started this project. I’ve never incubated eggs before, and though I read plenty beforehand, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I was afraid I’d kill all of the eggs, or that none of them would develop. But oh, what worry for nothing! I suppose it’s not rocket science – just add heat and humidity, and let Mama Nature take care of the rest. Those little eggs came out knowing what to do.

So now we wait. Eight days left, and counting. The suspense reminds me of the final days of pregnancy, just waiting on that new little life to emerge. I’m filled with wonder at it all. This gift of life is so amazing.

Little Miracles

Wow, Spring sure does bring so many wonderful things to the farm! A few days ago we discovered that our Lionhead rabbits, Rosemary and BooBoo, had created five beautiful little babies together.

Aren’t they amazing? We are so very much in love with them. The kids have been holding them multiple times per day, singing to them, telling them stories, stroking their incredibly soft fur. We will be sad to see these sweet little things go to new homes.

If those little bunnies weren’t cute enough, Tuesday was chick day! Our day-old chicks arrived at the feed store around noon. When I went to the feed store to pick them up, I walked in to find boxes upon boxes of day-old chicks stacked all around the store. The cheeping was so loud that I could hardly hear the woman at the desk as she spoke. It was absolutely incredible, all these tiny new bundles of life. I’m happy to report that our six little chicks are home and in their brooder (which they are sharing with the children’s duckling, who loves on those little chicks pretty fierce). We brought home two White Leghorns, two Barred Rocks, a Rhode Island Red and an ISA Brown. They are the sweetest little bundles of fuzz. Pictures to come soon!

I tried my hand at building an egg incubator and seem to have met with success. I bought two Easter Egger eggs off a neighbour and have them in the incubator now. I love the blue-green egg shells – so beautiful! I have my fingers crossed that the eggs are fertile and will develop well. In all, there are 18 eggs from various hens in the incubator. From what I’ve read, there’s usually about a 70% success rate for hatching. This is our first time hatching our own eggs and I am so excited to experience this!

Witnessing all of these little creatures discovering the world fresh and new, and seeing new life coming into this world, fills me with such a feeling of wonder and awe. And as these new lives blossom, other lives are lost – a coyote has made off with a rabbit and laying duck, visiting us two nights in a row. Mama Earth and Her creatures are so amazing! How blessed we are to be part of this web of life, to take this journey through the great Circle of Life. I am filled with gratitude.

So Many Eggs!

We sure did miss our farm fresh eggs all winter while the hens took their well-deserved break. We waited with anticipation for the girls to start laying again.

Last week I started finding the odd egg or two in the coop. The kids were so excited each time I brought an egg into the house, clapping their hands and then quickly settling into an argument over who would get to eat the egg.

Imagine our delight when I found 16 eggs in the coop one morning, and a beautiful duck egg nestled in the corner. My children managed to eat all 16 of those eggs in one day!

Now every day there is a multitude of eggs, far more than we can reasonably eat. I am filled with gratitude toward our fine feathered friends each time we enjoy a meal made with farm fresh eggs. What a blessing and a joy to have this bounty!

Keeping hens and ducks is one of my favourite aspects of country living. They provide so much – rich, beautiful manure for the gardens; insect control; companionship for the kids; and of course, those fine, glorious eggs.

Monday Creature Feature: Miss Cluck

Meet Miss Cluck, one of our Red Sussex hens.  Miss Cluck lays beautiful dark brown/pink eggs with even darker brown speckles flecked over the top.  She leans toward broodiness, loves to be held, and recently spent some time in the bathroom after becoming too chilled out in the yard.  Miss Cluck is an incredibly sweet girl.

You may have noticed in this photo that Miss Cluck is de-beaked.  We purchased Miss Cluck and two other Red Sussex hens from a nearby farm, a large farm with far too many birds crammed in far too small a space.  The farmer who sold them to us failed to mention that their beaks were clipped, and we didn’t get a close enough look at them to notice until we got them home and out of their boxes.  When I first saw their clipped beaks, I was horrified.  Eight months later, it is still difficult for me to look at. 

De-beaking is a horrible, cruel practice that is performed for the purpose of keeping a huge number of birds in a small space.  When birds are overcrowded, they tend to go a little crazy and start attacking each other.  Instead of giving them more space and more bearable living conditions, farmers cut their beaks off to stop them from injuring each other.  It is incredibly painful for the birds and makes it difficult for them to forage.  Our Red Sussex hens have to turn their heads at a strange angle in order to eat or drink, as otherwise their food just spills out of their mouths. 

Despite being improperly treated in her first year of life, Miss Cluck is a wonderful bird and we sure are glad to have her around our farm!  Her eggs are rich-tasting with beautiful, dark yolks and she’s got such a sweet disposition.

A Hen in the House

Last week we were fortunate enough to have a few days of really nice warm weather that melted all the snow. One day even got up to nearly 12 degrees Celsius! Our hens were really happy at being able to see the ground again, and eagerly went pecking around in the damp soil.

Then it got cold again, fast. Overnight the temperature dropped to -15 and we got hit with more snow. The hens seemed none the worse for wear, but one little lady in particular wasn’t doing so well. Miss Cluck was quiet, barely moving, not eating. Uh-oh. A few posts back I mentioned that we lost some hens to very cold temperatures, and I wasn’t prepared to lose another!

Into the house came Miss Cluck, to reside in the bathroom for a time. With a bowl of food and a bowl of water, some nice soft towels and lots of warmth blowing from the register, Miss Cluck recovered from the cold in the lap of luxury.

The children, of course, were delighted! A chicken in the house! They stroked Miss Cluck’s soft feathers, sang to her, told her stories, danced for her. Miss Cluck seemed to enjoy the kids’ antics and watched them with a sparkle in her eyes. It wasn’t long before she seemed to have made a complete recovery.

To be on the safe side, I kept Miss Cluck in overnight. In the morning she was back to her clucky, chipper self, so I thought it was high time she went back out with the rest of the hens. Gathering Miss Cluck under one arm, I went to the back door and gently tossed her out. She gave a few loud clucks and ran off to the barn to rejoin the rest of the flock and seems to be just fine out there.

I do wish it would warm up around here, for goodness sake! This extreme cold chills me to the bone.