Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Short Term Emergency Tips for Power Outages

Hurricane Sandy Report:  I am very grateful that this storm passed through our area with as little damage as it did this week.  Here at the farm we were without power for 12 hours and half of those were at night so it was just a minor inconvenience rather than a major problem - no lugging buckets of water for the sump pump this time as we had rain but not enough to overwhelm the basement.

The outdoor damage was minimal - one tree lost in the donkey and sheep paddock to clean up and I should be able to manage it myself since the tree wasn't huge.  Repairs to the cedar rail fence should be simple and it looks like the electric fence is stretched but still functioning. 

This storm was a good test of the emergency preps.  I can never pass up a good deal on unscented candles but if we really want good lighting to read or work by kerosene lanterns are more efficient.  We use them in the winter just for fun so they are always on display in the living room.  Several of them are the cheap hardware store versions and one of those has a malfunctioning wick turner so I'll have to take it apart this week and see if I can fix it.  The one below is an upgrade from the ones I own but conveniently available from your local hardware store - and pretty too!  I've seen many of these at antique/junk shops and they can get expensive fast.  Be sure to check for cracks in the glass base when buying second hand.

It's always good to remind yourself that kerosene lamps are useful but with pets and children around to be extra cautious about placing them somewhere they can't get knocked over.  I put them in a glass bowl in the centre of the table when in use and put them away up high when not in use.  I would NOT recommend using coloured or scented kerosene - instant headache for me - buy non-scented or low odour lamp oil.

The best lantern one we have is a Dietz..  It wasn't expensive - under $20 - but it lights up a room!  Canadian Tire and Home Hardware sell the Worlds Famous brand that is similar but doesn't look as well constructed.
I also used the power failure as an opportunity to try a few new things when it came to heating up water.  I always have some cans of sterno on hand and I wanted to see how  efficient it was for boiling water.  I know it works well to keep food hot when it's already hot.  I have multiple other more efficient ways to boil water without electricity but I was looking for one that is easy to store and can be used in the house without concern for fumes.  I put the sterno into a large dry pot on the stove, covered the pot with a cookie rack and placed the kettle on top of that.  I will say - it works but it's very slow.  I moved the sterno closer to the bottom of the kettle and that did speed things up but it would still have taken 20 minutes to boil water for 4 large cups of tea.  On the plus side - it's easy to store and it's safer and simpler than some other methods.

Here are some things to do to prepare for a storm:

Put juice containers filled with water in the freezer and keep them there at all times.  This makes the freezer more efficient by keeping it full - remove bottles when you need room for food of course!  The jugs also serve to keep the freezer frozen when the power does go out, can be used to turn your refrigerator into a giant icebox if the power failure is prolonged and provide you with clean drinking water.  Covering the freezer with comforters or old blankets also helps to maintain the temperature.

Fill the kitchen sink with soapy water.  It's a simple way to wash your hands and you won't waste bottled water.

Have bottled water!  I have large 15L water jugs that I keep in the basement along with a few cases of water bottles and as many juice jugs as I can find filled with water and a few drops of bleach.

Have hand sanitizer available in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Consolidate your kitchen freezer with your large freezer if you have one - one less place to have to keep cold.  Don't open the fridge or freezer without a plan.  Put a sign on the fridge door that says - DO NOT OPEN - to remind yourself.

Mom will yell at you!!

Keep matches, flash lights, candles, batteries and lanterns in a specific spot so you don't have to go looking for them in the dark. Keep slippers beside your bed for the same reason.  Hang mini flash lights on the basement door and bathroom doorknobs.

Keep a good supply of simple to prepare foods.  Figure out the most efficient way to heat food and water.  Sterno?  Camp stove? BBQ? Fondue set? Kerosene stove!  Have a supply of fuel too.

If it's cold or the kids are a little nervous have a camp out in the living room.  Drag down sleeping bags and pillows and stay together.  A room that can be closed off from the rest of the house is a good idea because you can attempt to keep a smaller area warm.  If you have no way of heating the room you could pop up a small tent and sleep inside.  The tent will hold in your body heat and keep you warmer.

Wash the dishes and clean the house before the storm arrives - a clean house to begin with makes sense.

Bake some muffins or pull together some easy to eat snacks before the storm hits.  Start a soup or stew you can keep warm with the sterno or use your crock pot and wrap it in towels after the power goes out and put in in the cold oven to keep it warm.

Boil  water and fill a large thermos so you don't have to heat the water all over again for another cup of tea! You can do that before the storm or after boiling water on your stove of choice - something you don't want to repeat too many times!

Keep your cell phones charged.  Get a charger for the car and don't forget you can charge them in a charged up laptop as well.  

Have at least one phone in the house that is a regular plug in - not a cordless - so you will still be able to use it if the power is off.

Play some games.  Pull out a puzzle.  Spend time with your loved ones and enjoy life without electricity for awhile while hoping and praying the power comes back on soon.  Be safe and PREPARED!

Any additions to my list?  Share your thoughts!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Animal Adventures and the Geat Switch-er-roo

A day old quail.

It's been a week of changes around the farm.  With fall is in full swing and winter coming quickly on it's heels we did some animal switch-er-roo's to make chores easier for us this winter.

The first thing we did was send our egg layers to the butcher.  I am still secretly a little sad - I miss their little personalities.  After cleaning out the coop and making some modifications by adding more nesting boxes and  opening up a door between it and the next-door-coop for more space we were ready to move the new egg layers in.  They've spent the summer in the Jesus Tomb on the far side of the barn so we've had to lock them in for a few days.  Hopefully when we do  let them out they will remember that THIS is home.  

Chickens are REALLY hard to count...they just don't stand still!  We really had no idea how many of our chicks had survived the summer because some of them would just walk under the fence and disappear - probably eaten by some predator.  Our final count yesterday was 58.  Oh dear.  We started with 100. If we include the rooster that didn't go to the butcher and a few ready-to-lay hens we bought a few weeks ago we now have just under 70 egg layers.  That's still about 5 dozen eggs a day on average.  We will need some more customers in November when the laying goes into full swing!!

Momma and two of her lambs.

We had a brainstorm this week as we were cleaning up in the barn.  We're going to clean out the Jesus Tomb and make it the new sheep and donkey pen. (seems appropriate anyway huh??) Their current pen is looking a little crowded with the growing babies and will certainly be too small when lambing time comes around this winter.  It's also leaking when it rains which makes for a messy pen and dirty sheep!!  With a few modifications and some simple carpentry the kids and I should manage to get their new home ready this week.  We know they like that pen because they spent lots of time this summer trying to crash through the gates to get in and eat the chicken feed. I guess they might be a little disappointed to only find hay in there!!!

We added to our flock last week by purchasing a new pregnant ewe.  Juliette is a pure bred Canadian.  She's all white and looks very similar to our other ewes except she lacks the burr decoration that all of them are sporting since we opened up the new paddock and didn't cut the burdock plants down before we let them in.  Ack.  Burrs and sheep's wool don't mix!  

Mr. Sheepie is on vacation!  He went to visit a friends farm for a few weeks so they can have cute little Mr. Sheepie babies this winter.  He was not to thrilled about leaving the girls here.  Thankfully he comes with two handy handles - his horns - and we were able to load him into the wooden box in the back of Farmer Henk's van without too much trouble.  Lydia went to the farm to visit him but he just ignored her - I guess he's sulking!!  

Just hatched quail.

The other switch we made was moving the quail to a new pen.  We have 8 in total and since the babies are now full grown we decided to move them into the same cage and reduce our cleaning chores.  I'm still not completely happy with their made-over-rabbit-cages but I'll have time over the winter to see if I can come up with a better idea.  Also in the pen is Madeline.  The kids have different names for her.  Poor Madeline-The-Chicken fell head-first into a chicken feeder and broke her leg earlier this summer.  I didn't have the heart to do-her-in so we put her on her own in the quail pen (but not in their cage)  I think she's a little lonely because she seems very happy to see us each morning..  She hops around on one leg and doesn't mind being snuggled.  Chickens can be very mean to each other - especially when one of them is injured.  She's on her own for her own protection but we are hoping to find a loner chicken to keep her company - one that won't peck!!

Some of our kitties.

One last addition arrives today.  We don't know her name yet but she's a friends cat.  They moved this summer to a home where they are not allowed to have pets so they brought kitty to the pound where she was promptly and thankfully adopted.  I guess she missed her old owners so she ran away and somehow found her way back to the old house 15 km away!!  One of the kids happened to be there picking up the last of the items to move and there was the cat!

We have 1 momma and 4 almost full grown kittens right now. All of them are farm-smart meaning they know how to survive outdoors.  I am worried about the new cat.  I give her points for her long journey home but I am worried she won't last.  If you only knew what I was thinking...

We've been having trouble with mice this fall - like never before.  I swear they're the smartest mice around.  They eat the bait right off the traps and scurry away none the worse for wear.  I am getting tired of cleaning up after them.  Thankfully I have almost all my food stuffs in mouse proof containers but I am surprised at the places the little-buggers get in to.  

Can you see how my mice problem and this new de-clawed cat come together. Me too. I wonder how the cat will feel about baths because that's the only way this is going to work.  I've never had a cat in my life - I've always been more of a dog person. Generally cats make me sneeze and having been attacked by Sunshine-the-black-psycho-cat has left me with a niggling distrust of purr-pots.  I'm not sure what to do but I have to decide by this afternoon when the cat arrives!!

So just for the record we have:
7 sheep
1 donkey
8 ducks
70 egg layer chickens
1 rooster
8 quail
1 Madeline-the-Amazing-chicken
6 cats
and 1 very happy and spoiled rotten dog named Levi. 

It's a wonderful life!!

Levi the wonder dog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Canning Update: 2012 Summer Bounty

Well - I am finally coming to the realization that summer is over and fall has arrived and isn't going away so I can report my summer 2012 tally.  I've canned more this year than ever before so I thought I would show you in pictures.

French fry cut potatoes and pickled green tomatoes.

Potato chunks.

More pickled tomatoes and tomato sauce.

Cherry freezer jam.

Regular beets and pickled beets.

Pickled green tomatoes, chilli sauce and tomato soup base.

Chilli sauce and relish from last year in my friend "give-away-jars" - not something I recommend!

One of my big shelves almost full.

Canned carrots.

Salsa and dill pickles.

Canning for summer 2012:
apple chunks
apple juice
apple sauce
sweet & sour BBQ sauce
raspberry jam
blueberry jam
cherry jam
diced tomatoes
tomato sauce
pickled green tomatoes
pickled beets
turkey broth
garbanzo beans
kidney beans

I kept the variety rather simple - down to basic things that we will eat mostly.  The mostly is for the pickled tomatoes - I am hoping some miracle is taking place inside the jars and that in a few weeks they are edible!   So far test tastes have confirmed my worst fears - even the dog won't eat them.  

The bacon was a science experiment.  I just had to try it.  It got rave reviews during a recent camping trip and although the strips didn't stay in separate pieces it still tasted really good - the problem was the same as always with bacon - there is never enough!  Bacon is not a regular item on our menu because it's not very healthy but everything in moderation - right!

The potatoes are a bit of an experiment as well.  We don't have a root cellar YET and until then our experience has taught us that potatoes are too warm in our basement.  So canning was a way to take advantage of the sales in the fall and not worry about them going bad.

I didn't make any cucumber pickles this year - next year I'll have to plant more cucumbers to make up for it!

Now my focus will be on dried beans, chicken and meals in a jar.  The pressure of the summer and fall glut is over and I can take things a little slower.

I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to can this much.  Besides the food I have been able to "put-up' I've learned how to organize myself in the kitchen and once I even had three canners going at one time.  Being organized was something I really wanted to figure out.  Just where to put everything to be efficient and how to keep jars hot while getting the canner ready was a challenge.  I think I have it mostly worked out now.

I needed a hotplate for my new All American canner because it was too heavy for my glass top stove.  The hotplate has been a disappointment - it takes forever to heat up the canner - so I've ordered a kerosene stove that I can use indoors. The canner is amazing and I'll be writing more about the differences between the Presto and the All American in a future post.

How's your food storage coming along?  Did you do any canning this year?  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Raising Chickens - things you need to know.

I could name this post: "The ups and downs of raising chickens" or perhaps "Just when you thought you had it figured out about chickens"- we've had a good/bad year as far as poultry goes and I thought someone could learn from the misfortune and the triumphs in regards to our little feathered friends.

We've raised chickens for several years now and really - it's a piece of cake - except when it isn't. This year we decided to expand our flock in two ways.  We needed to raise chicks to replace and expand our egg layer flock and we decided while we were at it to raise some meat birds for the kids to sell.  

The egg layers have been much less stress by FAR.  Our original flock is a colorful mix of breeds - brown, black, black and white, white with black necks - they look beautiful running around the yard in all their glorious feather-finery.  The problem has been that they don't all lay regularly   The oh-so-cool Amerucauna's did well for less than one season and have pretty much quit laying - I haven't seen a blue egg in weeks. The Barred Rocks seem especially susceptible to being eaten by predators. Some of the chickens we got from a neighbouring farm started a new game in the hen house - egg pecking - not good.  The Leghorns - scrawny-things-that-they-are - like to lay their eggs all over the barn but otherwise are the troopers of the gang .  The Red Sex Links are doing the best overall but production has slowed down drastically this summer and the quality of the egg shells has also been effected.

Everything was going so well.  We totally didn't see this coming.  I guess I knew we would have to replace them sooner or later but later sounded better.  My oft repeated phrase around the farm is: THIS CANNOT BE A RETIREMENT HOME FOR ANIMALS - If they don't produce something for us besides WORK and POOP we have to let them go.

We figured out this spring that the layer chickens were on their last legs and decided to purchase 100 chicks to replace them - the problem is the time gap in between.  It takes 18 - 20 weeks to go from chick to laying hen...that's FIVE months. We have limped along trying to get eggs to some of our regular customers - never so happy as when they went on holidays - because we were having a very difficult time filling orders at all!  We still have at least 6 weeks to go before the newbies are laying.  Thankfully our customers have been very patient when we haven't been able to deliver as promised.

You might ask why we have so many chickens to begin with.  Two of our kids are still at home and selling eggs and meat is a source of income for them - when it all works out - and a always a good education for me.

Of the 100 black sex link chicks we bought in the spring we figure we have at least 90 left.  That's pretty good.  We lost a few as chicks but they are very hardy and have fended very well for themselves free ranging all summer.  They seem smarter than the meatie birds for some reason - maybe because they are quicker and able to avoid trouble better. In a few more weeks we'll have eggs coming out of our ears and not enough customers.  I have my favorite egg recipes on standby!

The meatie birds have been a complete disaster this time around.  This was our third batch of White Rocks and each experience has left us thinking - WE WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN!  We've said that EVERY time we raised them.  Our first batch was last fall - they were the biggest fattest laziest birds you ever met.  We had a hard time getting them out of the coop and into the fresh air. The coop was a little on the small size so they didn't get too much exercise while cooped up - we thought this was a bad thing but it turns out maybe it wasn't.

This spring we fixed up the :"Jesus Tomb" and went through great effort to make them the nicest chicken coop ever!  They shared the house with the 100 egg layers but they still had tons of room.  So much in fact that no matter how much we fed them they just wouldn't gain weight.  They must have been the healthiest birds on the planet - lean mean NOT-growing machines.  White Rocks do not like hot weather and in mid summer they would just stop-drop-and-die. They ate us out of feed at record rates and failed to gain weight at all.  We decided to lock them in for a few weeks to speed the process up and have something to deliver to our ever patient customers. (who were promised chickens at the end of August but had to wait an extra month) Our most recent loss came in another form - theft.  Someone made off with 15 meatie birds while we were out one evening.  That was perhaps most disappointing and frightening of all.  We will be installing some security upgrades in the next few months.  Of the 100 we started out with we may have 45 to bring to the butcher by the end.  That is not typical at all but it is our sad results this time around.

Momma-mia!  I'm sure by now we've made every mistake possible but then I said that last year.

So - what have learned from this comedy of errors??

We really don't like White Rocks.  They have been bred to gain weight to go from chick to freezer in 8 weeks.  Growing them with our method - free ranged and larger pen - took longer but resulted in much healthier birds (well - the ones that survived!) but the fatality rate was still too high. We didn't have the most common leg problem with the free ranged White Rocks either which was a plus.  But we still need more durable birds!  This is something ELSE I say every year and we have yet to make a change!

Raising meat bird chicks in mid summer makes the best use of the heat when the birds need it and allows them to grow in the somewhat cooler part of the summer and early fall.    

I will be doing more research on a heritage meat breed that will do better for us under the same conditions.

Raising egg layers from chicks is time consuming and we need to  raise them every other spring so they are ready BEFORE they old ones stop laying regularly.

Although I LOVE seeing the multicoloured flock running around our yard we decided to go with the color coded system using the best breed we have found so far for us - Sex Links.  We'll switch off between red and black every two years and then we'll always know who-is-who.

Purchasing year old chickens from other farmers has been mostly a bust for us.  We ended up with someone else's problems on more than a few occasions.  If you are buying ready-to-lay hens the best quality and healthiest we ever had came straight from the farm store - you might be more fortunate that we were but especially when starting out that's what I recommend. 

Buy large size feeders and waterers right from the start.  Buy good quality and think BIG.  The bigger they are the less times they need to be filled resulting in less chores for you!

Keep the feed close to the coop if possible in tightly closed containers - garbage cans work great.

Make sure there are no holes in the coop - we lost 5 full sized chickens to weasels.  At night the chickens sleep on the ground (the layers roost when they are older) and predators have no trouble attacking because chickens can't see well from dusk till dawn so they don't know enough to run away.  

Don't use spray foam to fill holes anywhere the chickens will be - they will peck at it until it's gone - obviously that's not good for them!

Collecting eggs is a daily chore and we forget the egg basket on a regular basis so we just grab a clean pail and add a handful of shavings to cushion the eggs for the ride to the house.

When you bring kitchen scraps out to the the yard where you feed them have a certain call - chick chick chickie - works for me. (Think about the lady in the movie Babe - ha!)  The chickens will recognise the call and come running! This is good training if you're free ranging so you can get them to go back in the pen before their regular bed time. 

Make a compost pile near where the chickens spend most of their time - for us that's the barn yard.  We just throw in the scraps and the rest gets composted in place ready for the garden.  Some people allow their chickens access to the compost pile in or near the garden but I prefer to keep the process separated at this point since most of my garden is not fenced. I have enough holes in my tomatoes by other means!

Keep the pens as fresh as possible by allowing air circulation.  We removed a window in the coop and covered it with hardware cloth.  It seems counter intuitive because we think they would rather be warm but without good quality air they can succumb to respiratory problems. In the coldest part of the winter I cover it loosely with something that still lets light in, stops the snow and yet allows for air flow.  When you have more than a few chickens they will help to keep each other warm.  You can also drape canvas over the area where they roost to catch and hold some of the body heat.  This is only necessary in extreme cold situations - chickens are generally very hardy - they tend to do better in winter than summer.

After some trial and error we use the deep litter method in all the coops.  The shavings are allowed to collect and are kept dry by raking or stirring them regularly.  I admit this works well for about 9.5 months of the year.  In the winter we keep adding shavings and stirring as best we can but everything freezes pretty solid.  In that case we just add fresh shavings every few days and throw some chicken scratch on top to encourage the birds to do the job.  We used to clean the coops right out but there is some compelling research that says that leaving some of the dirty litter inoculates the clean litter with a vitamin for the chicken that actually keeps them healthier than clean litter alone!  It's also a great money saver - much less shavings required and less work too.

Keeping waterers from freezing in winter can be done several ways.  The first is to have more than one waterer and defrost one in the house and switch them out morning and night.  When you have more chickens it gets more complicated.  Last year we experimented with old tires packed with manure.  We set the waterer on top.  I wish I could say the composting action of the manure was enough but without direct sunlight to warm up the tire it didn't help very much.  It is a good idea for outdoor waterers for larger animals!  We finally bought heated dog bowls and use them for just the very coldest weeks.  It's messy and it's not perfect but it's the best we've found so far.

Cleanliness is next to godliness as the saying goes.  We keep a dish brush and dish soap at the water pump to scrub out the waterers.  Our "cleaning station" is a re-purposed cooler with the lid missing.  Adding apple cider vinegar to the water is good for the birds and helps to keep the algae growth down especially in the summer.

Chickens are a curious bunch so if we lock them in on inclement weather days it's a good idea to provide some entertainment - a cabbage will do!  For an extra does of fun hang it from a rope and let the pecking games begin!

I remember wanting to raise chickens and reading everything possible about them.  I nearly read myself out of the idea!  The more you read the more terrified you can become of something going wrong.  All things are possible but in reality raising chickens is one of the easiest farm animals you can choose.  I've probably come across nearly everyone of those problems over time and I am here to say - YOU an do it!  Despite all the problems we had this summer I still LOVE my chickens.  The eggs and meat you raise yourself are second to none - for taste AND the feeling!

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section!