Look for an update for our spring schedule. We will be attending some Farmers Markets and we will list them on our schedule. We will have Ossabaw Island Pork, Pastured Chicken and Eggs. At least you know our meat comes from right here in Southwest Missouri.
My latest attempt at hatching chicken eggs gave me a boost in confidence. My first attempt left me a little frustrated. I had better hatching rates and improved vigor this time around.
With my first hatch, I ended up with 12 out of 25 eggs hatching. Those new chicks started failing after about 3 weeks. I believe the feed that we picked up was to blame. They just had no strength and stopped growing. We have since lost 4 out of the 12 that hatched.
The latest set of eggs we incubated have done exceptionally well. We set 15 eggs in groups of 5. We turned the eggs 3 times a day instead of 2, which I believe help tremendously with the hatch rate. We hatched out 12 of the 15 eggs. We lost one due to my error of leaving the water bowl in the incubator and it drowned. But that is a very good hatch rate and I am very pleased with the outcome.
We went back to the brand of feed that has worked well for us in the past. These chicks have shown no sign of illness or weakness and they look healthier than the first batch. They are growing fast and will soon outgrow my brooder box.
Now that I have these new chicks, I will most likely have too many roosters. In the past, farms dealt with this issue by caponizing the young roosters. Caponizing is a process that surgically removes the young rooster’s testicles to stop the affects of testosterone. What you end up with is a calm, hen-like male, that can gain weight without getting tough and stringy. Plus they make great brooders for young chicks.
Before the popularity of the bland tasting Cornish-cross chickens, Capons were the table fare of choice. Special tools are needed to caponize with success. And since the adoption of the Cornish-cross, the art of caponizing has almost been lost. But thanks to Ebay and You tube, I have an antique set of tools and I am armed with enough knowledge to give it a shot.
Before my next update, I will hopefully find the time to Caponize the young roosters and I will let you know what I think the the process.
Unless you have a broody hen or a capon* to tuck your knew little chicks under, you will need a brooder box to get them started. The new chicks will need to be at 95º which is hard to do unless they are confined to space with a heat lamp.
My Brooder box is just a wooden box that I rigged a lid over. The lid is attached with hinges to the wall and rests on the box when closed. I placed a latch and loop to it, to be able to hold the lid up to the wall when tending the baby chicks. The box is placed in free standing and can be removed for cleaning or if it is not going to be in use.
I made a rail in which to attach the heat lamp, it is also removable. Notice I have a clear heat lamp, they work just as good as the red style. The red style is used to prevent chicks from pecking at another if it gets a wound. The red colored light masks the wound, and makes it less visible.
It is important to keep the chicks supplied with fresh drinking water, and food at all times. Their small bodies need consistency at this young age. Paper or wood chips are the best substrates to use in your brooder box. I start out with paper and when they start to eat well out of the feeder, I switch to more wood chips.
*Capon– When chickens were kept on almost every farm for food and eggs, capons were an important component. Capons are surgically castrated roosters. A flock with too many roosters is not a healthy flock. Too many roosters over stress the hens, They can become mean and aggressive, and their meat grows tough and stringy with age. Surgically castrating the roosters made them docile and more hen-like. Plus the added bonus was in the meat quality, the reduction of hormones allowed the capon to continue to grow to a bigger size and retain a great quality of meat. Before the popularity of the genetically engineered Cornish crosses, the capon was the sought after bird for the table. Capons were once shipped all over the country and sold at a premium.
If you would like to read more about capons, let me know in the comment section.
I knew as soon as we got our first baby chicks from the hatchery that we were going to need an incubator. I do not do anything without research and a lot of thought. My verdict on an incubator was to build my own, and then expand if necessary.
For the controls, I chose a kit from Incubator Warehouse. The Incukit is designed to be attached to a container of your choice. I have frequently seen them used on a variety of coolers. The kit is a very neat set of stacked components, a digital thermostat, ceramic heaters, and a circulating fan. The unit also comes with hardware to attach to your cooler. You can find the info on the Incukits here: Incubator Warehouse- Incukits
I chose a thick walled cooler from walmart as our cabinet. I had to modify the lid to accept the Incukit, but it was under $10 and a great size to get started.
The layout of the inside of our incubator is just big enough to hold a tray for water to add humidity, and an egg tray that will hold 30 eggs. I use 4 tin cans (empty) to rest the egg tray on to set it at a 45 degree angle. to turn the eggs you just have to alternate sides resting in the up position on the cans. This allows for you to turn the 30 eggs at one time.
I label my eggs with the date and put a mark to give the egg an identifiable position. If you have eggs put in at different times, you can leave the egg tray in one spot and rotate each egg. This will allow you to stop turning some of the eggs , but not the entire tray.
Here I have a partial tray with 2 rows nestled onto the large tray , this will allow me to just turn the 2 rows independently if needed.
I will be collecting eggs over several days t o fill the incubator. I have 3 hens laying, so it will take a few days. Now we just play Mother Hen for 21 days and wait for them to start hatching.
Our baby chicks are doing awesome! 2 weeks old and growing like crazy. I can’t believe how many new feathers they have already.
We hatched a mix of eggs from our flock to replace some hens lost to critters. Our roosters are 2 Speckled Sussex and 1 Rhode Island Red, and our hens are Speckled Sussex, Rhode Island Red, and Barred Rock. So we have some Black Sex Link, Speckled Sussex, and Rhode Island red- Speckled Sussex Cross baby chicks. Our Rhode Island Red rooster is the less dominate rooster, and I am not giving him credit for many of the offspring.
I need to start handling the babies more, they are a little too flighty for me. I do not like to have birds scattering every time I enter the coop, it could cause injury and undue stress. On our farm I like things to be very calm, the calmer the better. In my opinion , stress lowers output.
As I was writing this last minute post, I realized I needed to take some better pictures of our brooder and share that as well. So, stay tuned!!
Well, I started making bacon last night. I separated out 5 lbs. of pork belly to cure. I have 2 packages that are about 2.5lbs. each in the fridge curing. I am already excited to taste the final product.
I did some reading and compiled the information that I found into one recipe and process for making my own bacon. I went with a brown sugar and salt cure mix with some additions.
The working part of the cure is the salt. Salt removes moisture and prevents spoiling. Sugar is added for flavor and to smooth out the roughness of the salt. Other spices and flavorings can be added to suit your individual taste. I added some of my favorite pork spices like garlic, pepper, cloves, and some liquid smoke.
It is important to measure out the correct amount of Curing Salt #1 for the weight of the pork. Curing salt ( Pink Salt) is used to retain the red meat color and to prevent botulism. There are recipes that do not include pink salt, but to obtain the true flavor for bacon it is needed.
I decided to add the curing salt to my mix last. I mixed all the ingredients in one bowl for the entire batch of pork. And of course, I tasted the mix to get a feel for what the flavors would be. (One of the reasons to add the Pink salt last, don’t taste test after the pink salt is added.) I then weighed the separate portions of meat that went into each seal-able bag and figured the amount of Cure #1 for each bag. I separated out the amount of mix I wanted in each bag and then mixed in the curing salt at that time. This way my flavor profile for the mix was consistent, and I knew that the correct amount of Cure #1 was added to each portion of meat.
I rubbed down the pork belies with the cure mix while they were sealed in the bag. the cure mix will draw out the moisture from the meat and infuse some of the flavor from the spices. A brine will form in the bag over the next few days. I will turn the bags over each day and rub the mixture into the meat. As the meat cures and the moisture is removed the meat will shrink slightly and start to firm up a bit.
Before the weekend, I will check the meat and see if it is uniformly firmed up, or if some areas feel like they need more salt. I can always add a little more salt (not pink salt) to draw out more moisture, or I can allow a bit more time for the process to complete.
Once the curing is complete my next step will be to rinse off the cure. I will then work on getting our bacon smoked. I can’t wait until next weekend when I fire up the smoker. I will let you know how t goes.
We had our last litter of the year. 6 healthy babies from one of our Hampshire gilts. I love the little red banded boar.
Now that our last litter of the year is on the ground we need to start thinking towards next year. We are going to try to schedule our litters this year. In doing so we hope to spread out the babies to coincide better with demand.
We have already had one hiccup to that thought. Our Hamp sow that we hoped to have a litter out of this week….. decided to come into heat a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t think she was getting big at all, not big enough to have a good litter anyway, but know I realize why. She skipped more than 3 heat cycles, I don’t know if the weather was in play or if it is our boar. She is due to come back into heat this weekend and I am going to watch and see if she comes in again.
If she does not present signs of being in heat, that will mean she is short bred. And that means she will have a litter right in the middle of our coldest time of year. So much for trying to make a schedule. One thing I have learned working with animals, is that mother nature has her own schedule and will slap you with it just for spite.
Even worse, what if she comes back into heat? That means our boar has a potential problem. Good Thing I like the little red Boar!! I guess we will find out this weekend.
Fall has always been the time to start thinking about putting up some pork. The days of hanging pork in the smokehouse for the winter have long been gone, and the art of processing a hog by the family has almost been lost. I have the hogs fattened up and wondering what I can do with them.
During my journey with the hogs, I have not been fully content with getting our hogs processed at a locker. It seems that no processor I use is without fault, and each one has their own way of processing and presenting a final product. My journey has lead me to experiment with processing our own hogs.
I saved back some pork bellies from a hog I butchered a month ago for a hog roast. This weekend I am going to practice making my own bacon for the first time. I have purchased some curing salt and have researched some recipes. This is also research into another ” Stream of Income” for the farm. I will keep you updated.