Inspiration

Farming and homesteading is inspiring to me. I get so much joy at looking at things running smoothly and properly. I draw a lot of motivation from looking at other people’s goals, aspirations, and the extremely cool things that they do.

Sometimes down the line I loose track of that joy. I loose track of it amidst things like trying to manage animal pedigrees and planting row crops and producing enough to justify that I am a “real” farmer and balancing budgets. It can be easy to loose some of my inspiration in among all of the red tape.

So here’s a little compilation of some nifty things I plan to do this year that are inspiring for me!

Vertical Gardening and Plant Towers

I really like the idea of growing up instead of out. While some vertical gardening (such as hydroponics in a warehouse) strikes me as wildly impractical, a lot of vertical growing can be done in a back yard and drastically increase your growing space. Hanging pots, PVC planters, trellises and the like all make for an increase in growing space without an increase in growing ground. And this year, I intend to do more of that. As the strawberry plants recover, I will thin them and put the new plants in hanging pots. I will also be trying to get some herbs running in a hanging planter made out of re purposed two liters that will hang near my awning at the back of my garage. This year I will be growing UP!

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PVC strawberry planter Photo credit: goodhomedesign

Natural Beekeeping and Honey

This is happening and it’s great! I have my bees on order and my hive is in the basement, just waiting to be assembled! We are going to be keeping bees in a Warre hive. This is a smaller beehive that’s designed with topbars and minimal inspection. Unlike the Langstroth, whose design is based around what bees will tolerate, the Warre hive is based around what bees make when left to their own devices. The size of the boxes are smaller, the empty boxes load onto the bottom of the hive, they build their own comb for the frames, there’s a lot more airflow as well. It mimics a hollow tree more effectively than a Langstroth but gives much lower yields. My hope is that the bees thrive in it!

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Warre bee hive Photo Credit – Thebeespace

Pollinator and Bee Gardening

Pollinators are extremely important to our environment, growing crops, and plant life everywhere. If I’m going to have bees, I better be more aware about providing for these ever important critters. So I will be building bigger, better bee gardens this year with lots of flowers! The goal is going to be to trim up the Magnolia and put some flowers around it out front, as well as re-do some of the landscaping around the house and plant as may bee-friendly and pollinator friendly plants as possible in the next couple of years. It will even include safe water sources for local bees, one of the things they lack (and need) the most. The hope is to provide a pesticide-free buffet for all the local critters who will desperately need it in the coming months and years.

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A bee garden! Photo Credit – helpabee

Purebred Wheaten Ameraucanas

This year, we are going to begin moving out of Easter Eggers and into a purebred flock. Our rooster is a purebred Wheaten Ameraucana and I now have a dozen hatching eggs of the same kind on order. Later in the year (possibly early next year) we will be ordering a dozen more and hatching some of our own. At that point, by next spring we will be running a flock of purebred blue egg laying chickens (possibly with a couple Australorps or Marans for eating-eggs and fun mixes). It will be exciting to finally have purebred birds!

 

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Wheaten Ameraucana Hen (and rooster) Photo Credit – Paradisepoultryandwaterfowl

 

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Quarteracrehome’s “Will” Wheaten Ameraucana rooster

Fully Pedigreed Rex Rabbits

Early this year we invested in a new buck to replace Cassanova, as we have kept two of his daughters (Lady and Sage) and would like to start filling out our pedigrees. So we now have a new buck that came to us through happenstance that is actually Bean’s grandson! We have nicknamed him Porter (as in a Porterhouse steak) and he will be our new herdsire for our rex rabbits, lending his lineage and traceable pedigree to our operation.

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SkinnyAcres Rabitry’s Porter, our new Rex buck

Companion Planting and Interplanting

This year our garden has been planned, planned again, and then planned some more. We are going to have both companion planting and interplanting on the homestead this year. Companion planting is when you plant two plants next to each other (or in alternating rows) that compliment eachother’s growth or deter pests from one another. Interplanting is related and means to grow two plants in the same space that don’t interfere with one-another’s growth. An example of this is growing beans and corn in the same space. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the corn stalk allows the beans to trellis up them. One example that will be in our garden this year is growing radishes pretty much anywhere a slow-growing plant is seeded. Since radishes grow so fast, they can be harvested before they start to compete with their too-close neighbors. We will be growing as many plants this way as possible this year. Gardening is still somewhat a struggle for us, but we’re always trying to get better at it!

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Crops interplanted Photo Credit thrivefarms

And lastly;

Growing Trees!

Quarteracrehome is going to be working with Western Reserve Eco Network (a local grassroots environmental group seeking to promote sustainability, which I happen to be a part of) to grow a whole bunch of trees in empty lots in the city. These will all be either native northeast Ohio trees to help restore native forestland or fruit/nut trees to help feed the low-income urban communities around Cleveland. Some of those trees fruit trees may come tagging along back to the quarter acre. Additionally, I have several branches from my father’s Queen Anne cherry tree attempting to root in my living room. Not to mention that two of the plants that have been on this property for ages are also fruit trees and I just had no idea. So I am excited to be “branch”ing out this year! Ahahah, tree puns.

And that’s about it. Things that are inspiring me to do new stuff this year, and things I’ll be trying out. Fingers crossed that it all works out!

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Flowering

Today I went out and got some lovely photos of the early spring blossoms. Warning, this post contains many high-res photos.

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Crocuses of some sort growing alongside our wild garlic

There’s not a whole lot blooming, but there’s some. We’re still a long while away from the violets, dandelions and asters that flood my lawn in late summer and fall.

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One of less than ten dandelions currently in bloom in our lawn

It’s really nice to see all the life starting to creep back into the world, though. And these early flowers can be a lifesaver for bees, especially wild ones.

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Daffodils are considered one of the best early flowers for pollinators.

I even took a few shots of the tree out front of my house. The same one you saw weighed down under snow in my last post. The lovely pink blossoms are just about on their way out. After much digging I have finally identified this mystery tree outside my house as am ornamental plum tree, either a cherry plum or purple leaf plum. Both have edible fruits in the late summer to early fall ideal for making jams. I had NO idea that this was the case, and perhaps I shall have the opportunity to taste them this year. I have my pectin and jelly jars all ready!

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Beautiful pink flowers, already shedding their petals

Also on the list of “things I didn’t know” are these gorgeous pink flowers that produced for me one whole apple last year. I was shocked. When I saw it, I thought it was some sort of bug’s nest hanging on a branch. I have NEVER seen this plant do anything before, but I knew it was in the rose family and given that it never produced a fruit, I assumed it was a rose bush, not a fruit tree. But apparently it’s an APPLE shrub!

apple2Who knew!? Maybe we will get more apples from it some day. I would like to try to graft some branches onto it from other very-early blooming apple trees and see if I can get a real apple crop! I shall be trimming it down aggressively this year, along with the plum tree. They both need a serious pruning.

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Even our Magnolia is in bloom, though it’s flowers aren’t quite so useful. They don’t even feed bees, and the tree is a mess. It’s my least favorite plant on my property.

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It can be hard to photograph in the wind.

Pretty much all of these plants were put in by the people who owned this house before the people who owned this house before us. Apparently they were a couple of old retired ladies who loved to garden. I find myself in need of upping my game. The plants they chose are generally lovely, but I want to grow flowers too! Specifically bee flowers. You may recall some of my previous posts about gardening, especially for bees, wherein I attempted to grow some bee-friendly flowering plants to ultimately end in epic failure as they were dug up by my chickens escaping the confines of their chicken pen.

Well this year, I thought I’d try again. I invested $20 in a mixed shade perennial package from Costco, same as last time. It came with five hostas, five astibles and five crimson star columbines. These are all big bee attractant plants that bloom from early to late summer. And so far, things are going OK.

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My initial investment on day 2

The plants came in plastic bags which I immediately opened, tried to sort them into generally upright positions, and then watered heavily. Recently I repotted them. Since then, the columbines have done squat nothing, they may indeed be dead completely on three of them.

But the astibles and hostas are doing MUCH better!

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The hostas in their new pot this morning

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Two of the astibles, separated and growing nicely.

In addition to these I also purchased a pair of lilac bushes that were similarly sad and pathetic upon arrival. Lilacs are good for butterflies, and sub-par for bees, but they are my favorite flowers, and all pollinators need food, including butterflies.

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Sad lilacs, the day after arrival

They have since perked up significantly and nearly doubled in size.

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Lilacs in their new kitchen-side window home!

And lastly, I also did some homesteading things while I was outside today. I started by pruning and separating some blackberry canes that were starting to overgrow.

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New leaf growth on a blackberry cane

Then I weeded the strawberry bed. The weeds were then tossed right back into the bed, root side up, to produce mulch for the strawberries. It may not look like much but the nine plants we put in last year have multiplied into a couple dozen. Depending on how well they do, some of them might be dug up, washed, and repotted for some vertical gardening I would like to do.

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And with the advent of freshly disturbed mulch, dirt and plant, the chickens attempted to lend a beak to the process.

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Chickens, invading the strawberry bed. The string to designate the area off limits to the dogs means nothing to the chickens.

So they were given a handful of wheat berries that we use to grow fodder on occasion, away from the strawberries, which kept them distracted until nightfall.

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Chickens love snacks

Making today a warm, beautiful, and otherwise rewarding day. I just still wish that the REST of my lawn wasn’t quite a swamp, so I could get right down to gardening. This weather would have been perfect for it!

Seedlings and Frosty Mornings

April 14th is our last average frost date for the year and May 1st our last extreme frost date. The weather has been wacky this year and has lead to several problems. I know that many people who farm tree-based commodities are running on panic mode right now. Our weather has been alternating between extremely warm spells (60’s and 70’s day and night) for two weeks and sudden, aggressive frosts, typically accompanied by several inches of snow. Sap season for maple syrup this year started and ended a month early, and we waved goodbye to most of the US peach crop as they bloomed with the heat and died in the frosts. Bees have been having trouble too. A lot of people are noticing the bees getting very active because of the heat, drawing out comb and eating winter stores to do so, and then when a frost hits they can’t reach their food (or don’t have enough left) and die. It’s a rough sort of spring.

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This was the view outside my bay windows last Thursday. The trees had so much snow on them, they were being pulled to the ground. Normally these flowers are well above the windows. Now it’s in the 70’s.

For me, the effects of the weather have also been substantial. My back lawn is essentially a swamp of sorts. The vast majority of northeast Ohio used to be swampland and wetlands before it was colonized by the English, and the effects of that heavy watershed still holds fast to this area. The alternating weather patterns have also been accompanied by alternating precipitation patterns, and when the water hits the ground in this area, it doesn’t leave until it evaporates into the air. There’s nowhere for it to go. This area is where the water is SUPPOSED to drain off to. As a suburb, we’re trying to get it to drain off even further. It’s not easy.

So preparing the expansion for my garden bed has, all around, been going poorly. Not only is there several inches of mud, but on top of that is inches of standing water. I was trenching (double digging) a new area of my lawn for the garden bed expansion, but I’m afraid that all I did was create a small lagoon in my back yard. I really need to rebuild those irrigation ditches this year to help drain water away.

The massive amount of water, sitting on top of the clay slab that I refer to as my lawn, is a large part of the reason why we garden the way we do. We have to amend the soil if we want to grow our staple diet needs. Clay soil floods, roots have trouble penetrating, and nothing seems to grow well in it at all. The water simply pools and sits on top, and we rely on evaporation not waterflow or absorption to lower our water table. So we build raised beds. Do note, the finished raised bed area from last year (lagoon to the fence) has no standing water. It’s still wet, but not flooded. It works.

(Broccoli and lettuce that should be planted outdoors, but it’s been too wet to
work the soil)

Good soil management plays into this a lot. We rely on fresh/arborists woodchips to play a big part in our gardening. The woodchips serve several purposes. First, they help with water management. They will absorb water when it’s wet, release the water when it’s dry, and also create pathways through the soil for water to travel, unlike the clay which simply stops it. Next, they slowly gather and hold in nitrogen, an essential nutrient for growing plants. At first, fresh wood chips are so busy absorbing nitrogen that they will leech it out of the soil, but in later years they shed the nitrogen in a form that is usable by plants in large quantities. To help mitigate the nitrogen loss, we use the wood chips in our chicken yard first, allowing it to mingle with the nigh-nitrogen content of chicken poop and start to break down. The wood chips also add biomass to the soil, not only through their own organic matter, making the soil looser and more fibrous, but also by feeding tons of microbes, insects, fungi and other things that live in the soil and help plants grow. Using the woodchips in the chicken yard also gives us an extra benefit; our chickens do not smell because their poop is neutralized by the carbon in the wood chips. It’s an extremely natural, effective, and usually inexpensive way of managing an integrated agriculture system.

But this year, the service I used to use to get wood chips delivered ($20 delivery plus $1 a yard) changed hands and is no longer offering that service. so I’ve been struggling with other groups instead. I have tried websites like Chipdrop (which was awful), I have been calling local arborist companies, etc. I have heard a lot of promises that I will get wood chips, but no deliveries yet. It’s been VERY difficult and frustrating.

As a result, it’s frankly too wet to work in my lawn to build the rest of the garden bed. Every step means sinking 2″ into the mud, every push on a wheelbarrow sees it creating ruts 6″ deep, and every shovel full of dirt comes with a flood of water. There have been no woodchips to mitigate the problem and make it manageable. So right now, I’m stuck.

I managed to plant nearly all the seedlings I was planning on for the year, and they’re ready to start hardening off. But I have nowhere to put them yet as I have compost to spread and dirt to dig before they can move into soil.

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My seed starting station in my basement, with tons of green plants, some of which can handle the light frosts outside until may, but not the flooding.

So I wait. And wait. And wait. And maybe someday my wood chips will show up. When they do, there will be a massive party at my house, both figuratively and literally as I invite lots of people over to help move some dozen of yards of wood chips and eat one of the meat chickens and some squash that I raised out last year.

But for now, there’s not much I can do. The wet and unstable weather has me unable to traverse my own lawn, and only time will tell if I get my plants in the ground in a reasonable time frame or not.

Meanwhile… Have some pictures of my chickens, being wonderful and enjoying not being penned in (since we have nothing growing).

Humanely Euthanizing a Chicken

I was floored yesterday to see an article featured on one of the largest chicken keeping websites in the world that endorsed suffocating a chicken as a humane way to euthanize a sick or injured bird. I can still hardly wrap my mind around it. I reported it explaining the problem but it still remains public on the front page.

As a heads up, never euthanize a chicken by suffocation. If you think suffocating a chicken is humane but throwing a bag of kittens in the river to drown is not, then your perspective on what is humane is skewed by how you value different animals. The physical sensation each animal experiences is identical, and it’s wrong in both cases. It could even wind up with you facing felony level animal cruelty charges.

I am just floored that someone though that was OK.

So here’s some REAL information on how to safely euthanize a chicken. This is an article geared mostly towards people with pet chickens, which is something I don’t do very often… But most farmers know that they will just kill and either eat or compost a bird that isn’t in good shape. We do this regularly and some people think of us as monsters for it, which confuses me. We work very hard to make sure that our animals do not suffer and have clean, fast ends to their lives. It’s very respectful even if it isn’t as soothing to the owner as just shutting your chicken in an airtight box and going out to dinner, then coming back to find your bird is dead. And it’s much more humane than leaving them to suffer and die “naturally”. We care about our birds, and unnecessary stress or pain is the last thing we want to see happen to them

So a few quick notes on euthanasia. Euthanasia is a word coming from the Greek words for “good death”. The goal is always to reduce suffering and end the life quickly and without undue stress to the animal. What’s good for reducing their physical stress might be quite stressful indeed for the owner. If you don’t feel like you can preform the actions listed here, find someone else who will or don’t keep animals. It’s not fair to the animal to suffer because you can’t deal with ending their suffering. It’s quite selfish, in fact, to let them suffer because it’s too gross, violent or sad for you to think about. I suggest reaching out to other chicken keepers or local farmers to find someone to do the deed, even if you can’t. You’re not required to kill your animals in order to keep them, but it’s our responsibility as their keepers to find them a humane ending even if we can’t provide it.

Euthenizing a chicken may become a requirement for you if you have birds, even just as pets. Chickens are prone to many fatal but slow illnesses (mareks, newcastle, avian flu), physical conditions (egg bound, prolapse, etc.) and predator attacks that might only injure a chicken beyond healing. It’s rare that a chicken manages to live so long that it dies of old age, which means most chicken owners will face a moment when a chicken they own will not recover, even with much care and medications.

So now to get into the nitty gritty on it. Here are several safe and humane ways to euthanize a chicken.

Go to A Vet

This is the obvious one, right? If you have a vet in the area, call them and ask them if they will put your chicken down. Many emergency vets will do this too, which means if you live near one they may have a 24/7 service available. But not all vets or clinics will do this, as dealing with a chicken is much more specialized than mammals and the drugs will react differently. An exotic animal vet may be your best option.

Some things to consider; Not everyone can find a vet that will do ANYTHING with chickens which often means medical care of any sort (palliative and euthanasia included) is hard to find sometimes. Not everyone has an emergency vet which may mean waiting until a “real” vet is open, which could be a long time. Some injuries will not even survive a 20 minute car ride to the vet, and moving a badly injured bird could be quite painful for them. Lastly, the drugs that the vet uses in the chicken render it severely toxic to any wildlife or domestic animals that may try to consume it. The drugs may also enter groundwater systems if buried. Composting remains may reduce the amount of drugs that leech into the soil.

Cervical Dislocation

This is, by FAR, the most humane method to put a chicken down that can be done at home. The process is cervical (or neck) dislocation (or severing the connection between two bones at a joint). In common terms, this would be breaking it’s neck. This can be accomplished through a lot of methods.

Method 1; Broomsticking

Broomsticking is how many homesteaders process animals for slaughter. It’s fast, simple, calm, and efficient.
This is really easy to do. The bird is simply layed on the ground with it’s neck outstretched and a long, smooth stick (like a broomstick) is placed across it’s neck. Them in one motion, the stick is stepped on on both sides and the chicken is lifted in the air, snapping the neck at the point where the stick is.
Some people choose to restrain the bird before doing this by wrapping the chicken in fabric to hold it’s wings down.

Method 2; Snapping the neck

You can accomplish a similar result but holding the chicken firmly, like a football, in one arm and grasping the chicken’s head in your other (dominant) hand. Then simply pull away hard while twisting the head.

Method 3; Cutting off the head

This is common if you’re planning on eating the bird, but it is still fast and humane if you are not. Typically the bird is restrained in a “killing cone” or a burlap sack with a hole cut out for the head to go through. The chicken is placed upside-down in one of these restraints, with it’s head hanging down, which makes the bird dizzy and woozy. A large pair of shears, scissors, or a very sharp knife is used to cut off the chickens entire head, including severing the spine just below the head.

A quick note on cervical dislocation of ANY sort. Severing the spinal cord results in a LOT of movement from the body of the bird afterwards, and occasionally even the most well preformed cervical dislocation can remove the entire head. It’s strongly suggested that you restrain the birds for this reason. Rest assured that the bird is completely and fully dead within seconds, but may continue to move aggressively for several minutes afterwards. This is a normal function of the body as it releases the energy stored within the muscles, but it can be quite a shock for someone unused to it and can lead to people thinking that the animal is still alive. The bird is dead the moment the spinal cord is severed. This might be hard to watch but it is quite humane and instantaneous.

Bleeding Out

I like this method less than removing the entire head, as it’s slower, but it does result in less sudden, violent, motion on the part of the bird. Nearly identical to removing the head, one simply suspends the bird restrained, upside down, and the slits across the front throat. The bird is usually quite out of it from being upside down and not much of a reaction is witnessed. The bird drains of blood in a minute or two and is dead.

Shoot It

Now, this is illegal where I live, but it’s a seriously viable option. I don’t know much about the “proper” way to shoot a chicken, but through the head or chest would strike me as the most appropriate. A shotgun would produce a scatter shot that would put it out of it’s misery quite quickly. If guns are illegal where you live and you want to employ this, I suggest talking to local farmers and hunters in the near-by countryside.

CO2 Chamber

This method is tricky. The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests using a CO2 chamber is humane only for animals only under 2lbs. While some chickens fall into this category, especially bantams or young birds, MANY do not. A larger chicken may go peacefully, but it may not pass out before the CO2 poisoning starts to cause it to suffer. A larger chicken may injure itself or knock over it’s container during the process. Use this with care.
Producing CO2 is a simple science experiment, by mixing baking soda and white vinegar. About 1.5 tbs of baking soda to 1 cup of vinegar will produce a bit over a gallon of CO2. To fill a chamber large enough for a chicken, you will want to use multiple cups of vinegar and tablespoons of baking soda. Both of these are inexpensive, so shouldn’t be a serious burden, and you can always use a lot more than you need. If you’re having trouble imagining how much gas you are creating, think of a milk jug for every cup of vinegar you use.
Place the chicken in a container large enough to hold it comfortably. A dark room may reduce the activity of the chicken. The container must also be able to be sealed to nearly air tight. Then simply add the vinegar and baking soda and seal the container. The chicken will pass out and then die within 30 minutes. Larger chickens may need more time. Use this method with caution, and remember that CO2 can also poison you, so take care.

For Chicks Only!

Two common methods for euthanizing baby rodents may also work well for chicks, but please do NOT attempt these on birds older than about one week. That would be cruel and inhumane, not to mention ineffective.

Method one; Freezing

A small animal that can’t retain it’s own body heat well will die very quickly (within a few minutes) in a very cold environment. A metal cookie sheet in the freezer is a good way to simulate this safely and encourage the transfer of cold into their bodies. This takes multiple minutes, and so isn’t ideal, but is more humane than allowing a chick to suffer long term.

Method two; Whacking it

Placing a chick in the bottom corner of a plastic bag and then hitting that bag VERY firmly (with NO hesitation!) on a table, wall, or other hard surface will kill the chick instantly in several different ways. This comes across as very violent, but it’s very humane for the chick, resulting in an instant death with no suffering. Following through is important, since a hit that is not hard enough will not kill the chick. Many people do this to euthanize mice or rats before feeding them to reptiles by swinging them by their tails.

 

So that’s it. That’s my list of humane ways to euthanize a chicken.The name of the game in humane euthanasia at home tends to be speed, since we do not have large numbers of chicken-appropriate opiates to fill them with before giving them a lethal injection the way a vet does. A few seconds of suffering is a humane end for a bird that may otherwise die slowly over minutes, hours or even days.

Please be responsible and use a humane method to euthanize your chickens. And remember that if you cannot bring yourself to do one of these things, someone else in your community may be willing to help you out. Best of luck!

PS; Here is a great PDF by the AMVA about the actual national standards for euthanasia!
https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf

 

We’re selling stuff!

Since we recently renewed our NPIP certificate, that means it’s time to start selling stuff. We’re currently taking orders for hatching eggs! Our hatching eggs are $12 for 10 eggs and we ship all across the USA! Shipping is $13 USPS priority flat rate. We take paypal as our main form of payment.

People who read this blog know that we keep a robust mixed flock that lays a variety of egg colors. Our rooster is a blue egg laying breed which means the offspring of my chickens are Easter Eggers! All the offspring will lay a variety of shades of blue eggs and will come in a large number of colors. Here are some photos of eggs and chicks from this flock, including some of previous years adults! The eggs will be blue, white and brown but will all hatch into shades of blue or tinted eggs layers.

 

 

We’re also taking orders for a batch of meat chickens this year.

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Our meat chickens are robust, pasture-raised birds with a great taste. Because we feed a wet feed, they do not suffer from the extreme growth rates and chronic dehydration that many commercially farmed chickens do. Our chickens are raised out to be slightly older than grocery store chickens giving the meat a slightly firmer texture and a stronger flavor. They also come out to be very large birds, becoming a 5-8lb whole bird. A single breast could easily feed three! The birds are $25 for one or $20 each for 2 or more.

We are happy to piece out a bird for you into traditional cuts, including boneless breasts or skinless anything. If you ask for us to not include anything (such as the rib cage bones for soup, giblets, etc.) you do so with the understanding that it will reduce your overall product weight.

So where is your food coming from this year? Are you ordering your hatching eggs from a large hatchery-style facility with chickens in cages? Please consider supporting small farmers instead by placing an order with us or one of the many other fantastic small farms out there!

If you’d like to contact us about purchasing hatching eggs or meat chickens, please see our Contact us page! Thanks!

A proper update

I’ve been stuck indoors for the past few days with a second degree sunburn plaguing my shoulders. It started as just a normal sunburn. We went to observe some potential lands for the ecovillage, and the cloudy day when it was supposed to rain turned out to be sunny. So my pale skin turned into red skin. Then, the day after that I helped my sister with some minor home repairs and property cleanup. That day I wore sunblock… To no avail. The next day I woke up with shoulders covered in blisters so hot and angry that I could not dress. The pain is still there as the skin started peeling off before the skin underneath was ready, and now it’s like my whole shoulders are covered in a thin scab from being rug burned. It hurts.

This really set me off as we had a village meeting that evening. It really highlighted my frustration with a certain point of sexism in our society, the free the nipple movement. It’s not that I’m immodest and wanna shake my titties in front of guys, it’s a matter of comfort. If it’s extremely hot out or I have something like a second degree burn across my shoulders I shouldn’t have to strap something across my boobs (and sub sequentially, my shoulders lest it fall down) just to make a bunch of guys feel better about their lack of self control. Heat is hot. Burns hurt. These are practical, physical realities for men and women. But women are required to toss some fabric on under these conditions anyhow, and that bugs me in a big way. And while the group I was part of probably wouldn’t have cared much if I went topless, I felt uncomfortable about it anyhow. I ended up just tying some fabric around my chest in a band so it didn’t touch my shoulders… But the whole thing felt dumb.
(Fun fact, men weren’t allowed to show their nips either until the 1930’s. Prior to that, men were required to wear swimsuits that covered their chest for modesty reasons. In fact, in the 1910’s men were required to wear swimsuits that didn’t cling too tightly and may have even been required to wear skirts over their boxers so they weren’t so indecent!)

Because of the burn, I was forbidden the outdoors until I could wear a shirt without flinching again, which was about 3 days. When I came out, I found my garden beds were starting to grow with a gusto…. And so were the weeds. The birds had gotten big seemingly overnight and so had the rabbits. Turns out that being absent from your farm for half a week has big impacts!

So I finally got to go weed my garden and take some photos (my camera is still broken so I borrowed a smart phone) this week. There are some exciting updates on the farmstead itself!

Remember the sad, sad tomatoes?

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Surprisingly, they all made it! Some of them are still a little on the smaller side, and some are still recovering. But there’s a huge patch of tomatoes getting bigger by the day growing in my back yard! I have started pinching suckers and blossoms from them. I’m looking to get a crop that I can harvest for canning instead of having them to eat fresh, so I’d like the plants to get extra big before they start fruiting. (I did leave a few blossoms on one plant so we could have a few to eat.)

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I have some onions that got planted very late, but are starting to grow energetically. The patch looks bare from about 10′ away, but if you get close you can see literally dozens of onion sprouts peeking through! I’ve had to remind my helpers that these are onions, not weeds.

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Somehow the corn made it. But with only two stalks, I’m not sure that they’ll actually pollinate and produce. They were pretty weedy. This whole bed has since been weeded.

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The beans and peas are on the northmost wall of my garden bed, but because my lawn isn’t on a true North South line, they are shaded for a few hours in the morning. They’re still growing robustly despite that and are very thick. They’re starting to shade out weeds growing near by.

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And speaking of shading out weeds…. The kale! The kale is growing so thickly and is producing some strong, healthy leaves! We’ve started to eat the occasional leaf on a sandwich. The weeds are struggling to grow under these crowns!

We have a few other plants not shown. The watermelons are starting to recover and spring back with lots of new growth and the strawberries are flowering again. The zucchini is flowering as well, which means delicious vegetables are right around the corner! We’ve had some very serious issues with blossom end rot in previous years… This year we planted the zucchini with a handful of crushed egg shells in the hole. Hopefully we won’t see those problems again this year. And the more wild plants like the shiso leaf, the mint, the lemon balm, the plantago and the dandelions are doing well… But they are struggling against the other, less beneficial weeds in the lawn like the cats foot. I hate that stuff.

We also have a few new faces on the farm!

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Two leghorns and two australorps came to us from another farm recently. It’s been about a month and they have finished their quarantine period.  We waved goodbye to the old leghorn (who wasn’t laying), our newest chick and our chick from last year to make room for these new birds. They’re all pullets still, under 24 weeks, but the leghorns are already laying strong and their eggs are starting to normalize in size. Soon they will be in the pen with all the other birds.

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We also have seven little chicks from some eggs we stuck under our broody. We set a dozen eggs, but like every hatch, there were some problem chicks that didn’t make it. We may even loose one of the ones we have now. It appears to have some unabsorbed yolk, or a small hernia. We brought it indoors to try to recover. Only time will tell. But six chicks is a nice number to have. And our broody hen, a blue Ameraucana, could not be prouder!

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We had our NPIP certificate renewed last month. NPIP is the National Poultry Improvement Plan. If you read my post about vaccines, you’d know that flock health is a pretty important topic to me. NPIP is a simple test provided at a low cost to check for avian influenza and pullorum typhoid. These are both very serious conditions that threaten flocks nation wide. NPIP certification is easy… A tester comes out to test your flock. You get the pullorum result immediately with a simple blood prick test, and a throat swab goes to a lab to check for bird flu. The tester does all the work, you just hand him your chickens. In a flock of a dozen birds they may test 4 or 5 birds. Then you get a certificate.

If a test comes back positive your flock may get destroyed or permanently quarantined to keep these serious diseases from spreading.

Aside from having an official lab test and government agency reassuring buyers that you have a healthy flock (and are willing to risk the entire flock on that fact), NPIP certification is required to ship birds or hatching eggs to most states. The regulations vary a little, but if you don’t have NPIP it’s illegal to take your bird across state lines or to most poultry shows.

Our tests came back clean which means we’ll be able to offer hatching eggs for sale again! Hooray!

So, a lot of exciting and positive things are happening on the homestead this week, despite my arms screaming in pain whenever I lift them above chest level.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go strap some fabric that will assuredly catch on the dry, painful, cracking skin all across these burns to appease the masses while I travel to get some chick feed.

Ameraucanas are not Easter Eggers.

Hi folks. I sometimes find myself writing a small article in the comments section of someone else’s blog because of a common and frustrating misconception about livestock, homesteading, gardening, etc. And I really need to stop doing that and start just writing a post about it in my own blog and maybe providing a link. These things are important to anyone involved in this lifestyle and are worth knowing, so I should be sharing them as publicly as possible.

So here is one of those articles. And really, the title should explain it all. Ameraucanas and Easter Eggers are different breeds of animal in the exact same way that poodles and goldendoodles are. But many, MANY consumers and even breeders are in the dark as to what the reality of these birds are. Let’s start at the top with Ameraucanas and what an Ameraucana is;

(Please note, all of this references U.S. standards for the most part. Other countries have other standards.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ameraucana
The Ameraucana is a breed of chicken recognized by the American Poultry Association (the poultry equivalent of the AKC) developed in the USA in the 1970’s and was recognized as a breed in 1984. This means that there is a required breed standard to call your birds an Ameraucana. The most prominent of these traits are laying blue eggs, slate blue legs, a beard and muffs made of feathers, a full tail, a pea comb (small and tight to the head) and small or non existent wattles. The earlobes, comb and wattles are red.
There is also a specific list of recognized varieties. Just like a New Zealand Rabbit is not a New Zealand if it is pointed like a Californian, birds have recognized colors as well. This color list is; White, black, blue, blue wheaten, wheaten, brown-red, buff and silver. Any other color varieties are not recognized by the APA.
A single, final, and important factor of any “breed” of animal is that if you bring together two of them, the offspring must breed true 75% of the time. So if I breed a Wheaten Ameraucana to a Wheaten Ameraucana I should reasonably expect to get birds that meet the breed standard out of 75%+ of the hatched eggs. That is how we define breeds of animals from mutts. Breeds breed true and the offspring carries the same traits as the parents the majority of the time.

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This is a picture of our Wheaten Ameraucana rooster. You can clearly see the small, tight comb, the white and black feathers sticking out from his face in a “muff and beard” combo, the slate legs and no visible wattles.

 

If your chicken does not meet the breed standard, it is not considered an Ameraucana. If your chicken lays green or brown eggs, has a classic-looking single comb, has yellow or green legs, or does not have a beard or muffs or is missing it’s tail, it’s not an Ameraucana. If you breed it to a known pure-bred Ameraucana of the same variety and the chicks don’t come out looking like the parents, it’s not an Ameraucana. It’s something else!

Unfortunately, many companies tell flat-out lies about their birds. Companies and breeders labeling birds that are mixed breeds as Ameraucanas is very common. Even very large big-name hatcheries will sell mixed breeds that barely meet half the traits of an Ameraucana as pure-bred birds. Many even have the audacity to offer and advertise “mixed breeds” like olive eggers and easter eggers alongside them as if they were any different than the over-priced mutts they are selling as pure. Occasionally they’ll have the good-nature to miss-spell the name to free them of false advertising, perhaps calling their birds “Americanas” or “Ameracanas”, etc. Many companies don’t do this at all and just label mutts as purebred birds. These birds often lay green or brown eggs, have small single combs, no beards or muffs, are randomly mixed colors, and do not breed true.

So why is this a problem? Well, for one, the breed is recently developed, and was only recognized during a time when Bowie and Prince were making waves and hits. The 80’s weren’t so very long ago. If you consider that a bird’s typical breeding lifespan may be 4-5 years, there have only been 7-9 generations of Ameraucanas out there. That’s not long enough to make a breed of animal secure in the genetic traits it carries. Compare it to breeds like the Plymouth Rock which was developed around 1850 (or 30-40+ generations ago) and you see a rather large lack of generations to secure genetics.
When a breeder (and more especially, a large company) decides to label a mixed breed as an Ameraucana, that bird is then bought by a consumer presuming they are getting an Ameraucana. When that bird then does not display a prominent desired trait of Ameraucanas (for instance, they do not have the muffs and beards, or they lay brown eggs) the consumer is then disappointed and says that the breed is poorly developed or has problems or thinks that those traits are random or not required for the breed. In the case of blaming the breed, the breed starts to get a bad reputation. If they are instead confused about the requirements for Ameraucanas, they may then try to breed those birds and pass them off as Ameraucanas themselves. The hatchery may sell chicks as purebred to someone more serious who knows that the birds look like Ameraucanas but doesn’t have the standard of perfection memorized. Suddenly a completely serious breeder has genes in their flock for large combs, yellow legs, brown eggs or no beards/muffs. The breeder may not know about it until years later, but by then they have sold their own eggs and chicks as purebred and another percentage of real, purebred animals has been ruined and a large number of consumers think Ameraucanas are a flaky, genetically unsound breed. And the cycle continues.

This is bad for business on so many different levels.
It’s bad for the breeders who try to sell real, purebred birds. They’re being under-cut in prices for their carefully managed purebred flock by ignorant or deliberately harmful business practices that encourage outright lies. Their stock of genetic diversity dwindles daily as more good, high-quality birds get wrapped up in detrimental scams. Their breed is getting a bad reputation right and left and new color varieties being accepted becomes a distant dream since none of their birds breed true.
It’s bad for consumers because you’re never quite sure what you’re getting. If you tried to buy a golden retriever and received a German shepherd, you’d be pissed. The same thing is happening to chicken consumers. They are buying a premium-priced bird and instead of getting a cold-hardy, blue egg layer with slate legs, muffs and beard they are getting something that may not be cold-hardy, lays green or even brown eggs that they are told is a worthless mutt when they talk to experienced breeders. People are spending $30-$50 each on mixed breed hens expecting to be able to show them at 4H and they can’t. Even the purebred birds become more and more questionable as these trends continue. Buying an Ameraucana is now a game of roulette. Who KNOWS what you are getting! And it’s also reducing consumer choice as new colors become harder to get accepted and many breeders refuse to sell to “back yard” producers who run mixed flocks because that could perpetuate the cycle.
Ameraucanas are quickly becoming an elitist breed of chicken full of controversy and vitriol. Breeders are salty, consumers are salty, and the only end is when people start becoming educated on the difference between what is and is not an Ameraucana and call out the companies and breeders that harmfully miss-label their birds.

Now there are some birds that closely resemble Ameraucanas. And these are the birds that are commonly being sold as Ameraucanas. And I will now go over them to illustrate the important differences.

Easter Eggers

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Two easter egger chicks, half-sisters, who both lay green eggs and have slate-legs and small combs. No beards and muffs means these are obviously not Ameraucanas. Their offspring may lay green or brown eggs. Both hatched from brown eggs.

Easter Eggers are what I raise. They are a mix of breeds. A mutt. They are not purebred. They are not a breed at all. They do not breed true. This is what is MOST commonly sold as an Ameraucana, and some pure Ameraucanas are sometimes sold as Easter Eggers, furthering the massive confusion.

Also adding to the Ameraucana controversy is the idea that EE’s are somehow bad birds, worse birds, or that the people that raise easter eggers are scammers. Well, none of that is true. Here’s some facts about Easter Eggers;

  • Easter eggers can be any chicken that lays blue/green eggs and occasionally exhibits peacombs, beards, muffs, tufts or rumpless genes (sometimes). They are often a cross between any chicken that lays a blue or green egg and any other chicken. This means they could be mixed with Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Cream Legbars, “super blue egg layers” (another mixed breed) or even other easter eggers. Not all of these birds are healthy, hardy, or even guaranteed to pass down their blue egg laying genes.
  • Some Easter Egger lines go back a long time, and most blue egg laying breeds (ameraucanas, araucanas, etc.) were derived from the landrace we now know as easter eggers. Not the other way around. But easter eggers are not a breed developed to exhibit specific traits.
  • Easter Eggers are a mixed breed, which means there’s a good chance for hybrid vigor. Some other examples of this trait can be seen in our most popular chickens in the USA. Golden buffs, golden comets, red and black sexlinks, cherry eggers, super blue egg layers, and cornish crosses (or broilers) are all varieties of birds that exhibit hybrid vigor. They are known for being fast to grow, early to mature, hardy, friendly, extraordinary layers of extra jumbo eggs. These are quality birds and Easter Eggers share some of those traits.
  • The type of bird that goes into an Easter Egger will help determine what the offspring are. A carefully curated flock can be guaranteed to produce certain traits in their offspring just like a purebred flock. For example, a mixed flock with a high quality purebred Ameraucana rooster is guaranteed to have blue or green egg laying chicks because the rooster has two copies of the blue egg gene and will always pass down at least one to his offspring. Smaller, pea combs, are also dominant which means a pure Ameraucana rooster will sire offspring with smaller combs and wattles that are more cold hardy.
  • Easter eggers bred by a chicken being crossed with non-pure Ameraucanas can have large, single combs, lay brown or white eggs, be tail-less, come in any colors, or have extra-long ear tufts and are lethal in offspring when bred to another bird with ear tufts.
  • Easter Eggers can hatch out of any color of egg and still lay blue or green eggs.
  • “Green” eggs are actually just blue eggs with a brown layer of pigment over them. Green egg layers are just blue egg layers mixed with brown egg layers.
  • Olive Eggers are a specific type of Easter Egger that is created by breeding Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers with very deep blue eggs to chickens that lay extremely dark brown eggs like Marans or Welsummers, often for multiple generations.

Because of the controversy of miss-labeled chickens and scammers, easter eggers and their breeders have become wrapped up in a controversy claiming that nobody should raise them. I disagree with this strongly. Nobody hates on someone for raising sex links, which are a productive and hardy chicken variety. Golden buffs are one of the most popular types of chickens in the US for a reason. Super Blue Egg Layers are becoming a variety of their own. Modern chicken production could not exist without the Cornish Cross. None of these birds are purebred. There are many good reasons for owning or raising mixed breed birds including wanting to own a variety of unique birds, hybrid vigor, mixing in genes from exceptional egg layers to improve the poorer egg laying abilities of Ameruacanas in a flock, to get larger table-ready roosters, to offer a less expensive blue egg laying alternative to Ameraucanas, to produce green egg layers, etc. If someone is breeding specific birds together with a goal in mind, that’s a good thing as long as they are being honest about what they are raising.

Easter Eggers are not worse birds. If you have one, be proud! Chances are you have a very healthy, hardy, colorful bird with blue or green eggs. They may well lay you more, larger eggs than a purebred bird would and can be a lot more fun! Never feel bad for owning non-purebred birds. Just never try to present your mixed-breed bird or it’s offspring as Ameraucanas. It’s that simple.

Araucanas

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Araucana hen, from Wikimedia

Araucanas are a breed of chicken originating from Chile, and is the great grandmommy to all modern blue and green egg layers. What we now know as Easter Eggers used to be known as Araucanas (and in some countries still is) but have been developed into their own breed alongside Ameraucanas. The current standard in the USA calls for a chicken that is rumpless (missing their last vertebrae and lacking a tail), possesses ridiculous ear-tufts, and lays blue to turquoise eggs. In other countries, there are both tailless and tailed versions of the bird. They have no beards or muffs, but can have crests on their heads.

The feathers on the side of the face of these birds is a type of gene known as homozygous lethal. That means that animals that receive two copies of the gene are non-viable. They typically die in their shell before they can hatch. Which means all Aracaunas carry one copy of the gene. As a result, 25% of pure Aracauna offspring will not have facial tufts, 50% will look like their parents, and 25% will die in shell. It’s because of this gene that the Ameraucana bird began to be developed, to remove this homozygous lethal gene from the mix.

Aracaunas are not common, but are one of the few blue egg layers on the market.

Unrecognized Ameraucana Varieties

When we are dealing with rabbits, there’s a simple language we use. A rabbit that meets standard and breeds true for 3 generations is a purebred animal. If it’s not a variety that is recognized that does not make it not-purebred, as long as it still breeds true. For example*, a purebred blue New Zealand is still a purebred blue New Zealand, even though New Zealands only come in white, black, red and broken varieties. A blue New Zealand would just be considered an unrecognized variety of New Zealand and people would have to be up-front about saying “this animal is purebred to standards, but cannot be shown”. And mostly this is true in the world of poultry. You have purebred animals, unrecognized varieties, and mixed breeds.

(*Since this article was written, blue New Zealands have been accepted into the ARBA as an official color. Congrats to all the people whose hard work that went into that!)

But because of the extreme controversy surrounding Ameraucanas, many people in the community have begun to insist that unrecognized or “project” varieties of Ameraucana, or any bird that does not meet a recognized variety or breed standard, belong under the label “easter egger”, which to some is a damning label for worthless mutt chickens and to others is untrue because they do not exhibit the beneficial traits of a mixed breed animal.

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Splash is a color variety not recognized by the American Poultry Association, despite being the same genetic color as Black and Blue which are recognized varieties. To some, that makes this birds’ blue and black sisters with nearly identical genetics “purebred Ameraucanas”, but this bird is an “easter egger” or a mixed breed despite being a direct sibling to two “purebred” birds.

This is very silly, especially in the case of “blue black splash” Ameraucanas which are all the same color. If you view the color gene as a pair of light switches you have three positions; if both the light switches are “off”, it’s dark and you get a black bird. If one is on, it’s lit up a bit and you get a “blue” bird. If both light switches are on you get a nearly-white “splash” bird. Breeding a black Ameraucana to a splash will give you 100% blue Ameraucanas (one off switch from black, one on switch from splash). A blue Ameraucana to another blue Ameraucana results in 50% blue birds, 25% black and 25% splash. Many registered, show-quality breeding flocks sell “BBS” birds together, as a group. But some people still claim that “splash” Ameraucanas are easter eggers despite being quality purebred birds that can produce showable purebred birds.

Indeed, there are different qualities of animal in any breed. A black New Zealand may be pure bred, but have a few white hairs that would result in being disqualified on a show table. That doesn’t mean it is not a black New Zealand, it means it’s not a SHOW QUALITY black New Zealand. So it seems silly to me to toss any purebred bird that doesn’t meet breed standard in some way into the category of “easter egger”.

Look at all these words I’ve written! We have an incredible language with millions of words to communicate with and I don’t feel like it’s much trouble to ask someone to write or say “non-showable purebred Ameraucana”. Quite frankly, that’s what we should be doing. In my opinion, non-recognized Ameraucanas are just that. They are not easter eggers, not are not a cross breed. They are what they are. And while that’s just a bit of opinion, I think it’s a relevant one. I think it’s important that if you want people to stop labeling mutt birds as purebred, you also need to not label purebred birds as mutts. They have different traits and purposes that should be acknowledged.

And that’s about all I have to say on this subject. Take some time, do your research and do your due diligence as a consumer! Don’t miss-label your birds, and beware of companies and breeders that do! And remember that both purebred and mixed breed birds are worthwhile. Thanks!