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!

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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!

Eggstrodinary Sunshine

I’ve been seeing so many posts being so very excited for spring, and a rather common talking point is how much the sunshine gives you vitamin D and how healthy that is for you. And it makes me wonder how many people understand how vitamin D even works in the body.

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Sunshine does not, in fact, provide you any vitamin D whatsoever. It’s an interesting fact that sunshine actually converts the cholesterol in your skin into Vitamin D.

According to health.howstuffworks.com;
“When UVB rays hit your skin, a chemical reaction happens: Your body begins the process of converting a prohormone in the skin into vitamin D. In this process, a form of cholesterol called 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC), naturally found in your skin, absorbs the UVB radiation and gets converted into cholecalciferol. Cholecalciferol is the previtamin form of D3. Next, the previtamin travels through your bloodstream to your liver, where the body begins to metabolize it, turning it into hydroxyvitamin D, which is also known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D. The kidneys then convert the 25(OH)D into dihydroxyvitamin D, also called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)2D — this is the hormone form of vitamin D your body can use”

Which basically means that UVB rays (or, unfiltered sunlight) reacts with cholesterol in our bodies to make a substance that enters our blood, which our organs then process into vitamin D!

Additionally of interest, Vitamin D is really important in doing certain things in the body like absorbing calcium, fighting infections and generally keeping your blood flowing and your muscles healthier. Perhaps, though, the most exciting thing about vitamin D is it’s potential to prevent cancer when found in high levels. It tends to line up surprisingly well with what we’ve seen in increased cancer rates in a modern world (we spend much less time in the sunshine than we used to as a species), and while correlation is not causation (and many factors including genetic contribute to cancer), many cancer research institutes are taking it very seriously.

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Interestingly, we can see exactly how this effects our bodies in chickens and eggs that we eat. There’s a reputable and highly-cited study done by Mother Earth News that used an independent lab and tested dozens of egg samples from pastured poultry. Their findings made complete sense with what we know about how bodies process sunlight. Chickens exposed to more sunlight produced eggs with significantly lower cholesterol and 3 to 6 times as much vitamin D as CAFO style eggs.

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So it only makes sense that chickens raised in sunshine produce better eggs. It’s the same reason we try to get sunshine ourselves. And the same applies to other animals as well, like pigs or cows. Animals raised outdoors in full sun have higher levels of vitamin D in their bodies and lower levels of cholesterol, which they pass on to their byproducts (milk, cheese, eggs, even their offspring) and their meats (ham, bacon, steaks).
So if you ever wonder why your great-grandpappy lived to be 95, worked like a horse until the day he died, all the while eating eggs and bacon for breakfast every day and never getting cancer… You may only need to look up at the sky. The answer could have been right above you the whole time!

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The new guard

There have been lots of changes to the cast and crew of this blog over the last year. This update in particular is about the changes to my chicken flock The hens I had when I started this journey are getting older, laying less, and becoming less present now that I have a rooster.

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Will Wheaton, the Ameraucana rooster, standing guard while my last lone Australorp and two of four badly molting golden buffs have a snack.

 

For my birthday last year I received a set of Wheaten Ameraucana hatching eggs. Unfortunately they were poorly packaged, of the 8 received, only four developed and three hatched. Later in the year two of them got taken by a raccoon, including the only hen of the trio. That left me with only a rooster to my name of the handsome blue egg layers I’d hoped to receive… And I was certainly not getting any blue eggs. Luckily, I wanted to keep a rooster to start a line of easter eggers. I spent part of the fall selling hatching eggs cheaply to test fertility and drumming up some good press for my shipping methods. One person was so happy they went and raved about how good of a job I did shipping by making a thread about it on a certain chicken forum with lots of pictures. Another person had 12/14 eggs shipped develop. All around it went well. So far my boy has not brought any complaints upon him…. But I intend to be putting a no-crow collar back on him come spring time when windows will be open. It’s been nearly a year now since he hatched, and a good solid 6 months since he started crowing… But we also got new neighbors last month.

We now have some new birds on the roost, and have a total of 14 birds on the property. Unfortunately, six of those will likely be rotating out sooner than later (mostly my older egg hens). To replace them we have some fancier birds.

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Blue Ameraucana Hen

 

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Splash ameraucana hen

A set of blue/black/splash Ameraucanas has moved in (the black one not featured here). I was lucky to find these fine specimens of ameraucanas available for a good price. Ameraucanas are a beautiful purebred bird but often get crossbred into Easter Eggers and then sold as Ameraucanas falsely or under a mis-spelled name (ex; Americana, ameracana, etc). For clarification, Ameraucanas always have blue or slate legs, beards and muffs, have a restricted number of colors, one set body type and always lay blue eggs. Anything else is an easter egger, a beautiful cross breed, better suited for home-flocks, likely hardy and possibly laying blue or even green eggs, but not a purebred bird.

Bertha and Betsy, Cornish crosses, 22 weeks old

Bertha and Betsy, Cornish crosses, 22 weeks old

Two Cornish crosses have stayed on from our meat bird run this year… Bertha and Betsy run with the flock, dust bathe with the flock, roost with the flock (on extra-wide and low roosting spots), forage with the flock, and are even being bred by Mr. Wheaton (though he does have some trouble with their size sometimes). I had to throw food on the ground to get them to sit still long enough to photograph. Most of their time is spent being some of the most active birds in the whole flock.

There are three chicks hatched out here on the homestead that are growing to take over some egg laying duties. Two are out of the Australorp (and are black), and one is out of a golden buff (and is buff with black flecks and a black tail). They are nearing full grown and laying age these days, and we expect them to start laying very early in the spring. As it stands, they’re so active that we can hardly get a photograph!

Our most photogenic of birds!

Our most photogenic of birds!

And of course, we have our rooster himself! Being a black wheaten ameraucana, he comes from purebred blue egg layers and is a handsome and cautious bird. He is beautiful, but difficult to photograph as he keeps his distance… A trait I can’t help but approve of in a world where many roosters try to attack any humans who handle the hens. He’s really more of a lover, calling hens out to eat, to roost, to drink, and always being vigilant for predators.

I think that about sums up the current flock. Next cast of characters will be the rabbits! Until then…!

Colors on the Homestead

There are lots of fresh colors on the homestead! One of the things about homesteading is doing it yourself to save money, and one of the things we stopped doing ourself was raising mice for our snake, Ophidian. Well, while I was out at the petstore to buy his next round of frozen, pre killed mice I found myself looking at $10.50 to buy six baby mice. That is a steep price for a few baby rodents that weigh an ounce or two each. So I did a little poking about and found that if I got mice again I could raise 20-30 babies for about $10. So I picked up a new tank, two new mice, and a few frozen mice to tide me over and came home. To my delight, the store had some beautiful, spotted mice and so I added a little more color to the homestead animals as well. The pale orange mouse is the male and the dusky brown is the female. Mice have a gestation and breeding cycle similar to rabbits (28 days to gestate, 10 days ’til eyes open, 22 days or so until wean, then they birth again after about 30 days from the first birth), but produce far fewer litters in their lifetime. Five litters is a goodly number for mice. I will be feeding them mostly scratch grain and rabbit pellets… The nutrient levels are not dissimilar to mouse food!

Then, deep inside my christmas incubator, lies a batch of eggs shipped to me all the way from Washington state! These light blue eggs are Wheaten Ameraucanas. The lady who shipped them had good reviews but I was disappointed by how they arrived. For those who don’t know, the correct way to ship hatching eggs is by wrapping each egg individually in bubble wrap and packing them together tightly with the blunt end pointing up in such a way that they cannot shift or move. You then make sure to mark the box very clearly with “HATCHING EGGS, DO NOT X-RAY” and “FRAGILE” on all sides, as well as a “this side up” label.
These hatching eggs were all on their sides, and could shift around a little inside of their packaging. This has led to some of the eggs having detached aircells. They also had no “do not xray” or “this side up” on them anywhere and the fragile label was light purple marker on white, easy to miss. All around I am impressed that they are developing at all! Hopefully these eggs will result in a beautiful little set of blue egg layers for me! Fingers crossed for the maximum number of females possible!

A Brinsea Mini Advance that I received for Christmas! The Mini Eco was ordered but they sent us the better model, possibly by mistake? Either way I am grateful for the automatic egg turner!

Lucy’s litter of four is getting huge… They are such beautiful spotted kits, it gets me so excited! These are possibly the biggest kits I have ever had!

And they are just beginning to open their eyes as well!

Upon examining the pair of “solid” black kits, who are a little bit squinty as well…

I found more of the “gold tipped steel/tan” patterning that I often see out of Kibbles behind their fuzzy little heads. More colorful bunnies, then? I do love straight black, but this could be good, too! Will me broken kits be the same color?

Who knows!?

You may have also noticed that my pictures are much clearer and brighter now. I have finally deciphered my digital camera, put a memory card in it and begun using it. It’s a much higher quality than my camera on my phone and even has a flash. It makes me once again long for things to be green outside so that I can show the beautiful colors on the homestead! Can’t winter just hurry up and be OVER already!?

Eleven new Animals

We have a new banner this week. Yep. It’s nowhere near a finished product but it’s a start. The rabbit is a little too white and open compared to the rest of it, and I may fiddle with making it that aged-photo brown instead of a strict black and white… But I think it’s better than my boggle board for now. If people hate it I’ll change it back.

We have two new chickens on the homestead. I recently slapped up an ad for people to buy chicken eggs from me CSA-style. They pay for three months of eggs in advance and pick them up on a pre-arranged day. But the response I got was a bit more than I was expecting and I found myself with dix dozen eggs worth of customers each month and only two hens properly producing still. (Copper hen is STILL brooding. I hope she decides to lay soon!) So we went out and bought two new hens. The four still laying should supply up with just over 6 dozen eggs a month, enough to easily get by on cereal instead of eggs until our broody girl finally breaks.

The new girls are Golden Buffs and they lay HUMUNGO eggs. The Australorp eggs were a wee bit on the small size, falling most commonly in the “medium” egg category by grocery standards. These new girls lay EXTRA JUMBO LARGE eggs. The lady we bought them from said they wouldn’t fit in the egg cartons. I thought she was just bragging or at least exhibiting a bit of hyperbole but they really WON’T fit in the egg cartons. The downside is that they are not as pretty, smart or sweet as the Australorps and may not lay well over the winter, although to lady we got them from said they did that too. I still like the old guard better, but I like the new girls as well. Their names are “Tender” and “Nugget”, and they are easy to tell apart from one-another. The chicken in the new banner was originally a sketch I did of one of them that I just couldn’t clean up properly for the life of me. I gave up and fiddled around until I got what’s up there now.

Six kits went home this week. We had two leftover from Purina’s last breeding; “red”, one that was never picked up and was re-sold and “purple”, the doe we are keeping for future breeding. The rest of the rabbits from that litter were processed giving me a whopping %80 dressage ratio! We were getting carcass weights of 3.2lbs out of a 4lb rabbit, not including edible organs.
Red went home along with two Rex cross does, one NZW doe out of Evo and two bucks, a Rex cross and a NZW. They have traveled all the way to PA for their new home where they’ll become a nice lady’s new healthy home-raised meat suppliers. The Rex crosses are amazing little kits weighing a whole POUND more than their NZW half-siblings at only four days older. They’re packing on the weight and I hope it translates into carcass value as well as the NZW rabbits do.

Six bucks and “Purple” the doe still remain. The bucks, however may serve a purpose other than simply meat yet… I was recently contacted by a community college near Toledo asking me to do a demonstration for them on processing rabbits for their urban livestock class. This could be a field trip to my house, or done streaming through something like Skype. If it’s done online, I may do a “livestream” of it or post a recording so people on the blog can see as well. This would be very exciting if it went through and could be the most official thing I can put on my resume in regards to farming to date. And those bucks may go towards teaching a group of people, probably very close to my own age, how to grow their own food.

On Sunday, Purina gave us a new litter, our biggest yet at nine kits! Go, Purina, go! I hope there are lots of ladies in this one! This is wonderful to see so many kits! I also re-bred Kibbles today. It’s a little early (only by about a week) but the schedule was thrown off by breeding both she and Evo at the same time. Also, because she is a young, new mom still, it is important for her to get as experienced as she can be as soon as she can.

Some of my plants, like my peas and beets are growing strong and hardy! Others like my arugula, less so. I think I need to re-think where I have what planted in future years, especially now that I know my lawn a little better. I think that the arugula may be getting too much sun even for it’s “full sun” taste. The spinach simply bolted and died, and the tomatoes need more sun than where they are allows. Next year the garden will be in reverse, the arugula in a bit of shade and the tomatoes in the sunniest spot I can get! It’s hard to know where to plant before the trees come in full leaf.

End of next month I’ll be adding 15 meat chickens to my pile of critters here on the homestead. We’ll see how THAT goes! Wish me luck!