Well, I’ll be flocked

We have two new members of the Bramblewood Acres farm family.

Bailey and Henry

Bailey and Henry

Baaa! I’ve wanted sheep for years, but never was able to find any I liked at a time when I had the space and resources to bring them home. These two are half-brothers: Katahdin/Jacob sheep. Henry (the white one) is 11 weeks old and Bailey is 9 weeks old. We started out with just Henry and discovered very quickly he was an unhappy lamb all alone. He cried all night and all day and didn’t want to eat or drink properly. So, back to the sheep farm we went to pick up a buddy for Henry and Henry is a much happier camper. I know sheep are herd animals and have a very, very strong flocking instinct, but I didn’t even think about our little lamb needing a buddy to be happy. Live and learn. I had sheep in high school as a 4-H project and remember really enjoying having them. I hope I enjoy it again!

I did my research before picking up my lambs. In fact, I’ve been off and on researching sheep breeds for awhile, narrowing down the breeds to match my needs. I figured out pretty quickly that I do NOT want wool sheep. I don’t want to deal with shearing and I don’t want to deal with the illnesses/infections/issues that arise with a wool sheep.

I want a good, sturdy, healthy meat sheep without wool that will grow well and do well on pasture with little to no feed concentrates. I don’t want to have to dock tails or be overly worried about fly strike (nasty maggot infestation where the little buggers burrow into the wool, the flesh and can kill the sheep if not caught in time), mites, lice or other pests that come alone with thick woolly coats. Hair sheep aren’t immune to fly strike or other infestations, but they are less likely to get it because they don’t have wool.

So, hair sheep fit the bill. But what breed? I like the way the Jacob sheep look and love their horns, but they are a smaller breed. I really like the Barbados Blackbelly, but, at $200 or more an animal, they are a bit out of my price range right now.

That left the Katahdin sheep, which seems to fit my needs perfectly. They are a larger sized sheep, with the rams growing as large as 160# and ewes up to 130#.  Production rate for ewes is around 200%, meaning most ewes throw twins. They are not as colorful as I would like. I kind of like a lot of color in my critters, keeps the farm fun.

But why am I even considering this stuff when I bought lambs for eating? Well, because if this goes well and I enjoy sheep as much as I remember enjoying it, I’d like to start my own small flock for both personal use and for sale. I might even try a few sheep shows if we get serious about it and buy blooded, papered stock. We’ll see what happens.

For now, Henry is destined for our freezer. We’re not sure on Bailey yet. He’s a better built sheep. He’s stockier and broader through the body than Henry is, straighter legged and just closer to the breed ideal than Henry is. His temperament will be the deciding factor on whether he gets to hang around as our first ram or also head to freezer camp. I won’t have a mean, nasty ram around.

What I’d really, really like to try my hand at breeding are these:

Hubba hubba!

Hubba hubba!

Huge, handsome and very colorful, the Painted Desert Sheep!

Or these:


Oh, so handsome and regal.

The regal Mouflon sheep.

Unfortunately, both the Painted Desert sheep and the Mouflon require more land than I have and an incredible investment in fencing to keep them from roaming. Maybe, one day, when I move out west.






New babies

When I took the eggs off the turner I could hear many of them peeping very loudly as I positioned them on the floor of the incubator. Within 12 hours, the first chick had pipped and hatched.


The very first chick hatched at Bramblewood Acres. This one has feathery legs, his momma was a Brahma!

Once they started pipping, hatching came quickly and we spent most of the next two days hovering over the incubator, delighting in each new hatch, encouraging them to hurry up and break free!

Come on, little guy, you can do it!

Come on, little guy, you can do it!

Kayleigh told me her life has been changed by watching the chicks hatch. I believe it. It’s pretty incredible. Their feet are HUGE.

Almost there!

Almost there!

I had to help three hatch. They were taking so long to get out they got “shrink wrapped” into the shell and couldn’t push out. The humidity in the incubator wasn’t quite high enough so the fluids/membranes were drying pretty quickly. If they didn’t get out fast enough, those fluids and membranes glued them into the shell. A pair of tweezers and patience helped unglue them and they could finish hatching on their own.

Being born is exhausting!

Being born is exhausting!

We gave the  newborns about an hour to dry out in the incubator before moving them into the brooder. I think next time I’ll move them faster. Those wobbly babies wreaked havoc on their unborn siblings, knocking eggs all over the place.

First bites

First bites

It’s easier to eat while standing in the food dish, ya know. They figured out food pretty quickly. These babies are about 4 hours old.

So tired!

So tired!

Who knew eating was so exhausting! Wake up, eat, fall asleep in the food, repeat.

Getting to know each other.

Getting to know each other.

Under the heat light, resting. Out of the 31 eggs we incubated, 24 hatched. Not a bad rate. I put another clutch in the incubator yesterday and one of the broody hens has six chicks with her. We are giving her the chance to raise them herself and see if she is cut out to be a good mom. The last hen who hatched out 2 chicks lost them both within 3 days. She just lost interest and abandoned them. Hopefully this momma will be a little more attentive!

Ups and downs

I managed to get 19 tomato plants and 10 bell pepper plants in to the ground in the middle of last week during the one sunny, warm day we had. I also got red and Irish cobbler potatoes planted (have I mentioned what a pain potatoes are to plant? They are. But, the flavor is well worth the effort.)

Then, the weather went to shit. I should have expected it, Mother Nature never seems to want to operate on my schedule and usually has her own ideas. We’ve had rain and temps in the 40s every day since then and more rain predicted for the rest of the week and through the weekend. At least the wet weather this week is supposed to be accompanied by warmer weather rather than these seemingly endless damp, dark, chilly days.

Still have the Yukon gold potatoes and the Beauregard and Georgia Jet sweet potatoes waiting to hit dirt. The onions, romaine and mixed leaf lettuce are looking great. The spinach and carrots, not so great. Right after I planted the spinach and carrot seeds, we got rain, rain, rain, then it got HOT and windy  which made our clay-ey soil dry to an impenetrable crust. Poor little seedlings couldn’t break through. I replanted the spinach and because I spotted a few carrot seedlings, I left them to do what they will. If they don’t pop up this week, something else will go there.

We have chicks! 26 little fluffy peepers are now calling my family room home and we put a second clutch in the incubator last night. Pictures soon.

The fox is back. Little red bastard. He killed at least one of my turkeys this morning, poor thing. In the 15 minutes between finishing my morning chores and leaving for work this morning, that damned fox caught, killed and shredded the turkey. The other turkey couldn’t immediately be found, so he may have gotten that one, too. The fox is now on my hit list and the flock will be confined to the hen house until he’s gone.

I blew the engine in my mower and a little research discovered that it would be cheaper to buy a whole new mower than replace the engine, even with a remanned engine. Ugh. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Why couldn’t this have happened when the grass wasn’t growing out of control? Welcome to the jungle….

Hatching Chicken Eggs: Part Two

Day eight of the new batch of eggs in the incubator and my daughter and I candled them.

Out of 41 eggs, three were not fertilized. Bad roosters! No cookies! Actually, that’s not a bad ratio at all, just not as good a fertilization rate as the last (failed) clutch. We had more questionable eggs this time, too. I don’t know why. Two had the dreaded blood line, one has a tiny crack that I didn’t notice when I put it in the incubator and four don’t look like they are growing. We tossed the unfertilized eggs and the two with blood lines, marked the questionable ones with Xs and all the others we could tell were growing with check marks.

Oddly, the two with blood lines were the two largest eggs in the whole batch. I think they come from the Brahma hens who typically lay super huge eggs. These are beyond Grade A jumbo. These were so big they may have been double, possibly even triple, yolkers. So, if that’s the case, they were bound to fail. I don’t think twin chicks happen.

We tried to take some pictures but they turned out awful. You can’t even tell what the pictures are supposed to show!

Some of the shells were so thick and dark it was hard to see any blood vessels growing in there, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt and hoping something is going on inside the shell.

We will candle them again in eight more days just to check on progress and get rid of any that aren’t growing. After that, we just wait. Hatch date is April 28.

Funny thing…our white Aruacana hen (the only white one of that breed I’ve ever had) started setting a clutch of eggs one day after we started the incubator.  She is setting 7, I think, all Aruacana eggs (the green and blue ones). She’s pretty nasty and adamant about not letting any one get their hands near her nest so getting a good count was rather painful. We’ll see how many she hatches out. We’ll probably snag the chicks from her shortly after hatching and keep them inside for a few weeks. The last hen that hatched eggs abandoned caring for them shortly after hatching and they all died.

Meat in the freezer

Yesterday was butchering day at Bramblewood Acres.

It’s never a pleasant task to kill an animal, but it puts humanely raised, clean meat into our freezer and we know exactly how those animals were raised and how they lived.

And we know how they died.

(No photos with this post out of consideration for those who are squeamish.)

We had 11 rabbits to send to freezer camp and butchered and prepared 7 of them. The last four got a reprieve until next weekend because we simply ran out of time. My husband and I have the whole process down to an art. He dispatches them (a .22 to the back of the head, quick and easy.) We tried other methods in the past and have found the .22 the quickest way possible for us and the rabbits never see it coming.

I skin them. My husband doesn’t have the patience to take off the skins with as little damage as possible to the hide and I like to save them as intact as practical. We have about 20 skins in the freezer waiting for tanning and curing. My daughter wants a rabbit skin blanket, so, we are saving them for that project and future skins will either be sold or saved for other projects. The hides are beautiful. Thick, lush fur in an amazing variety of colors. The winter hides are the best.

By the time I’m done skinning (I’m getting faster!), he has prepared a second rabbit for skinning and gets to work cleaning the one I just skinned while I skin the next. Once he’s done with one, into the salted ice water it goes to wait for final preparation.

And so it goes until we are done.

In the past we have either frozen the entire rabbit after cutting it up into quarters or put them all into a pot and cooked down for canning.

I have a confession: I hate bones. I cannot stand bones in my meat (any variety!) and it sets my stomach on edge if my teeth touch a bone while eating. I have to pick all the meat off a bone before I can eat it. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, but, there it is.

This time, we de-boned and filleted the hind hoppers and back and froze them. It took quite a bit more time than just cutting them up and freezing, but I think it will be worth the effort come time to cook.

The remainder of the rabbit (front legs, ribs, the bones from the back and hind hoppers after filleting which still had a bit of meat left on them) went into the stew pot where I cooked it just enough to fall off the bones then picked the meat off in chunks and froze it.

Out of 7 rabbits, we ended up with enough meat for just over 8 meals. Those were some BIG rabbits and there was zero waste (except for the bones).

Tonight some of that rabbit will become rabbit burritos. Yum! It has a similar texture to chicken, but a very different flavor. It’s a milder, sweeter, more tender meat than chicken and anything you can do with chicken, you can do better with rabbit.

Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking

None of the eggs hatched. I gave them til Saturday and when I opened the incubator to remove them, the smell was incredible. I’m going to say they died in the shells. I think what may have happened is, since my hatch date was off by a couple of days and the temperature wasn’t high enough, I stopped turning them too soon.

If you stop turning the eggs, the embryos stick to the shell, and if they stick, they can’t move to peck their way out of the shell.

It’s very, very disheartening and disappointing. But, we will try again. I picked up a fan for the incubator yesterday and got a new thermometer with a hygrometer on it to keep close tabs on the humidity AND the temperature. Having a fan to keep the warm air circulating is supposed to increase the hatch rate, too.

It’s heartbreaking to lose any animal, and we’ve lost quite a few. I can’t even tell you how many chickens we’ve lost over the years to predators – hawks, fox, coyote and raccoons – and every loss is hard. Last year, my vegetable garden was a failure, for the most part, some plants never made it to fruiting due to the extreme drought and heat and we had to make a choice: Water the vegetable plants or water the animals. Our well had gone dry, twice, so the garden had to die because we had to go to a very strict water use regimen. There was nothing I could do but watch all my plants, all that work and sweat and time, dry up and die.

Very disheartening.

But, you keep pressing forward. If I gave up after a loss, I might as well pack it up and move to an apartment.

Trying to be self-sustaining is no walk in the park. It’s hard, sweaty, often back-breaking work, it’s time-consuming, and sometimes, heartbreaking and disappointing. But, you learn, you make changes or improvements and you keep moving forward, striving to do better the next time. This is a lifestyle I have chosen and I love it, I love the work and the satisfaction of a job done well.

With every disappointment, every heartbreak, there is always something that keeps me going and reminds me how lucky I am and how wonderful this life I’ve chosen is.

ImageBecause sometimes, there ARE new babies to welcome into the world. One of our does, Pumpkin, had a strong, healthy litter of eight.

And, there are always fresh eggs.ImageWhich means there is always the chance for more chicks.

The Fowl News

The egg pipped, didn’t hatch, and unfortunately, the chick died in the shell. I don’t know what went wrong, it was breathing and pecking away at the shell. The membranes looked a bit dry so I added a wad of tissue soaked with warm water to the incubator thinking perhaps the humidity was off.

When I checked progress around 11 p.m., it was no longer breathing, no longer pecking or moving. It was definitely dead. Very sad and very frustrating. We sure were hoping it would break out of that shell! We have a second pipped egg, it was pipped when I got home from work yesterday, but no more progress this morning and I can’t tell if it’s still pecking away in there or not.

I’m going to give this batch of eggs until Saturday to do something. And, I guess if this one was a failure (I know I messed something up, but I don’t know what), we’ll try again. Maybe pick up a fan for the incubator this time. I’ve heard that does make a difference in the hatch rate. And a hygrometer because of all things, the humidity level was probably the biggest variable. We kept the channels in the bottom of the incubator full, but had no way to really monitor the levels during the incubation process.

In other news, I think Ari and Max want me to open the pool for them.


We’re just taking a walk on the pool.

They discovered that if they head towards the center of the pool cover it dips enough to sink into the water. The geese LOVE that!

Of course, Christmas and Thanksgiving are hanging out with the geese…I think they believe the honkers are their mommies! All four of them like to follow Kayleigh around like she’s the Queen Bee. Too funny.