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Follow up on feed and fermentation

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Well, for some reason today my mental wheels were just sliding all over the road, and I was having trouble putting a coherent thought together on paper.  That happens to everyone some days I guess.  So instead of trying to force out what would undoubtedly be a disjointed narrative, I figured I would just do some quick follow up from some experiments we started in the last few weeks.

The first, the chicken feed experiment is working out great.  The girls are loving their food.  In fact we got a little behind with making it, and ran out of it for a few days.  The girls were loud and strident in letting us know that was not OK.  Our feeding routine of one show box a day supplemented with other stuff for the nutrients is doing quite well.  The best part of all is that the girls are starting to put on some weight.  They had been so skinny up until recently, it was actually kind of worrying.  Now they are finally growing up, and filling in.  This should make the remaining cold a lot easier to handle for them.  Jenn and I went to Costco yesterday and got 50lbs of dry ingredients for them for about $30.  Which will of course be much more than 50lbs once cooked.  So far, a great way for hens to go.

The second, is my lacto fermentation experiment.  The good news is that it is fermenting.  I waited about 4 days to taste the mixture, and it was considerably tangier than just cabbage, water and salt should account for, so it is working.  The bad news is that I don’t really like the taste yet.  It’s not something I would just dive right into willingly, but I could eat it as medicine if I had to.  It’s a first experiment, so I consider it a victory that I was able to get it to ferment at all.  Taste can be fine tuned later.

I do know for sure that I didn’t use enough salt.  Having more salt in the mixture might solve the flavor issue by itself, but the cabbage still isn’t releasing its juice as fast as they say it should.  The other issue is that I used canning jars to store it in, but I just used paper towels to cover, not lids.  This means my liquid keeps evaporating and I have to refill it.  Not the end of the world, but its probably not doing wonders for the fermentation process.

So one experiment is a clear victory, and one is working, but not as well as I hoped.  Pretty good record.  Hopefully I will be back at 100% tomorrow, and I will try to lay out something more informational.

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Chicken Week 2: Getting your peeps in a brooder

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So SOMEONE has convinced you that getting your own chickens will be awesome, and you have decided to take the plunge.  Good for you.  You will most likely enjoy every moment of owning your bumbling adorable birds.  But where do you get them from, and what do you do once they show up?  If you are like me, you will be nervous about caring correctly for your cute little fluff balls.

First, some general advice about new life, no matter what kind it is.  Relax.  All animals have an inherent will to survive.  All you have to do is not screw it up, and provide for them.  They will do fine, and you will do fine.  So just breathe.

In terms of where to get them, there are hundreds of different options online, as well as any local options in your area.  I am a strong believer in supporting local business, so if you know a neighbour or a local shop in your area that has a breed you want, go for it.

When we got our chicks, we used Efowl.com.  We had pleasant, quick service from them, and I would order from them again.  We ordered 15 chicks, and ended up with an extra.  Two died while very young, and we were refunded for our purchase price.  We also ordered all females, and ended up with two roosters.  We also received a credit for them.  Service was prompt and responsive, so I would have no problem recommending them if you don’t have a preference.

If you don’t know, when you order chickens online, they are shipped in the mail in a box.  So you want to have a brooder setup ahead of time, as they will need to be warmed up.  Also, holding a box full of little peeping fluff balls is one of the cutest things you will ever get to do.

A brooder is basically a box that holds you chickens, and allows them to be protected, and warmed with a heat lamp.  There are as many ways to make one as their are people with imaginations, but ours worked out really well for us, so I will share it.  For another look at brooders, check out this video.  He is very good at presenting his brooder.

Here is a look at our brooder.

Completed Brooder

This is an old dog cage that we had from my weiner pug, which was basically three feet long, and about 18 inches across.  This was actually the perfect size, as it allowed the peeps to self regulate their temperature.  When they got cold, they ran under the light, too hot, they ran to the shady end of the pool.  Some people recommend using the pine chips as bedding for your peeps.  We chose not to do this, as the dust can be hard on their little lungs.  Instead, we used some puppy pee pads, and changed them twice a day.  We chose it to protect their lungs, but I think the pee pads actually ended up being a heck of a lot easier to clean up too.  Just roll em up, and pitch em.

Why you need pee pads

Notice the poop. This is why pads are awesome.

As you can see, we just clipped the heat lamp onto the side.  We were able to get the heat lamp, thermometer, and bulb all from Amazon.com, and it was a lot cheaper than buying it locally.  Your exact options will vary, but as long as it keeps the peeps warm, you are good to go.  As you can see, we also put cardboard inside the cage walls.  This serves to both keep the peeps contained, and it also anchors the sides of the pee pads.  If the pads were anchored, the peeps would just rip them up, and poop under them.

Chickens in a brooder

At first we had the thermometer laying on the bottom of the cage, because we were panicked that the temperature would fluctuate wildly and our chickens would die.  Then we learned the advice I mentioned above.  They want to live.  So we hung a towel on one side of the cage, and let them just run back and forth to regulate themselves.  Use the thermometer if you like, but we took ours out after two days, so it might be better just to relax.  It is recommended that the warm side be about 100 degrees for the peeps.  It’s best to monitor their behaviour.  If they are spending all their time under the lamp, they are too cold, if they are always on the shady side its too hot.  Their placement in the cage will tell you if you need to make adjustments.  Notice the picture below, the chicks are distributed throughout the cage.  That’s what you want.

Brooder Waterer

The first thing you have to do when you get your peeps in the brooder is teach them where to drink.  You have to pick them up, and actually hold their beaks in the water until they open them and take a drink.  Otherwise they will never learn.  Its important to do this fairly quickly, as peeps can go days without food, but not nearly as long without water.  If yours were mailed, it will have already been a few days since they got a drink.  You don’t want to wait too long.  We found a great water dish to use was our cat’s old waterer, seen in the picture above.  It keeps them in water for awhile, with no danger of them spilling it by turning over a bowl.

Chicken feeder in the brooder

Now a surprise to me, was that chickens start eating solid food from day one.  So we fed them the medicated layer feed what we actually got from WalMart, although you can buy it many places.  Given their tendency to poop on everything, but realizing that they eat a lot.  We needed a way to keep their food feeding out slowly, but low enough they could reach it.  Cue a cottage cheese container on a plate.  Poke a couple holes in the bottom, and viola.  Instant time delay peep feeder.

Chicken Shelf in the brooder

At first your peeps will be too small to do much of anything, but shortly they will learn to roost.  We ended up with a plastic box in the cage, pictured above, and several boards running through the cage rails, this gave them places to practice roosting and perching.  Chickens naturally like to sleep up off the ground, and it made them very happy as peeps to have this option.  Pictured above is miss Downy, one of our Orpingtons, roosting on her box.  She basically lived on that thing till we let them outside.  It was adorable.

Hopefully you now feel comfortable both ordering chickens, and building a brooder.  Chicks are incredibly easy.  Keep them warm, fed, watered and clean, and they will thrive in your care.  You can also amuse yourself for hours just watching them scamper around the cage.  One thing we did learn, is that if you hold them a lot as peeps, they will be friendly adult birds.  Given how they scamper after us all day, I think it worked.

This is a brief overview of what we did with our baby chickens.  We had 14 out of 16 survive into big lovable chickens.  For some more good information, a great book is A chicken in every yard by Hannah Lit.  Its an excellent book with lots of detailed information.

My final thought is simply this.  The enjoyment you get from owning chickens greatly outweighs the work involved.  Sure, at some point, you won’t feel like changing those damn pee pads before bed.  You will get mad the chickens pooped up their water again.  You won’t want to deal with it.  They are worth it.  So don’t stress, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

Day 53: Recovery and Recharging

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Well, I have to say, my timing is certainly terrible.  I managed to keep my posts going all through the run up to the goat homecoming, and then I let them drop right as the goats get here.  So I wasn’t able to share in all of the fun with you guys out there.  Now the situation has changed, and I have lots of pictures.

For some reason on Thursday morning something inside my soul let loose with an almost audible snap.  I don’t think I have ever had a panic attack before in my life, but I sure as hell did that morning.  I could barely function for close to an hour.  If you have ever had someone say the walls are closing in, and you have never had a panic attack, you have no idea what they are talking about.  That is the single most humbling, embarrassing, powerful burst of emotion you can feel in your life.  I have no idea if I was just pushing myself too hard or what, but I was not in a happy place.  So I decided to slack off and take it easy for a couple of days and allow myself a chance to recover.  I am hoping to be able to dive into my blog again, as I do enjoy writing it, but I never want to be in that emotional state again, so we will see.

Pepperoncini and Verbena:

These were our two cute little Nigerian Dwarf Goats and Jenn (Hi Jenn).  The all black one standing up was the girl, Verbena, and the white frosted one laying down is Pepperoncini.  Having never had goats before, I would describe goats as cats, but with enough brains to get into real trouble.  They know how to listen, they just choose not to.  These damn goats would actually climb up into your lap to sit there and get petted.  They were absolutely adorable.

Here is little Peppers engaged in his absolute favorite activity, getting curry combed by Jenn.

This is Peppers all tired out from his second favorite activity, eating twigs off of my wood pile.  Damn goats.  Also, watching goats lay down is absolutely adorable.  They just hunker down on their front knees and its really cute.

I would say my goat feeder worked out just fine.  They both enjoyed the crud out of their alfalfa.

Here is little Peppers with my dog Sasha.  Not exactly best friends yet, but at least they accepted each other.  I don’t have one of Beans with the dogs, and thats crucial to the story.

Note all through this post I have referred to goats in the past tense.  Unfortunately, we had to take little Pepperoncini and Verbena back to the farm where we got them.  They were absolutely adorable to have around, and I loved their cuteness and their antics.  Unfortunately, sometimes you have to do whats best for all of the animals, and not you.  Our dogs have to come first, and Verbena just could not accept them.  She was unable to bond with them, and was terrible afraid.  She actually head-butted Sasha on the shoulder one night, so of course my coward was now terrified as well.  We was constantly tense and on watch with them.  Since we refused to restrict our dogs, and having a terrified goat is cruel, we took them home.

Verbena was just way too bonded to her herd, Peppers would have loved to stay with us.  Taking them back home was very sad.  Beans ran off with the other goats and didn’t look back, she was happier there.  Peppers just stayed by the fence waiting for us to come in and play with him. He was happier with us.  So its sad, but it was best for everyone.

We are not giving up on the Nigerian Dwarf Goats though.  The farm has two little baby goats for us, also a boy and a girl.  We are going to pick them up soon, after I finish goat proofing the yard.  Since they are smaller, we think they will have an easier time with the dogs.  Also, since they are young, the haven’t been part of the big herd yet, so they shouldn’t miss them when they come here.  We are pretty sure they will think my dog Maggie is their new goat mommy, which will thrill Maggie to no end.  I will post pics as soon as I have some.

Having two full size Nigerian Dwarf Goats was helpful though.  I know what I have to do to proof the yard for them.  Ask my poor little Trovita Orange Tree how good I am at building goat fences.  Lets just say version 2.o will be better.  I will outline my improvements tomorrow.

Paleo Portion:

I made the mistake of falling off my paleo wagon for a few days, and boy am I paying for it.  I think the gluten was giving me a pain in my stomach, but its hard to separate the food from my stress level.  Jenn made tasty rosemary chicken and yellow rice last night.  It was really good.  We got more awesome food from the market yesterday too.  So hopefully I will stay on track, and feel better with a reduced stress load for a few days.

Day 49: Final Preps and New Directions

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Well, after tons of work, it seemed like they would never get here, but yesterday was the final day before little goaty homecoming.  I got the house built, sans a single pallet.  I got the feeder constructed, and a nice bale of alfalfa loaded up and ready to go.  After a crap ton of prep work, we got the yard cleaned up for them.  We are almost ready to go.

The only thing I still had to do was remove the last of the damn Oleander tree.  That stupid thing actually began to grow back once I hacked off a big chunk of it.  So despite having a pile of Oleander branches that is about 4 feet tall, I now have vigorous green growth coming up in new green shoots.  Not quite sure how to kill the damn thing and keep it down.  I think tomorrow I am going to have to bury it completely and wait for it to decompose.  In theory, once its covered with dirt, it will start to break down, just like a hugel bed.  It will break down even faster if I plant something on top of it.  So maybe a rose or blackberry bush that will grow quickly just to help add some shade in that corner of the yard.  The first part will be to cover it, and we can plan from there.

Look.  Sawzall.  Good for more than just cutting down my kitchen wall.

I got to sit for about two hours in a car dealership today, watching them try to fix what Tucson Dodge swore wasn’t actually a function of the vehicle.  Its amazing how some people can just straight up lie to you.  We have a GMC Envoy, which has a tail gate that is supposed to both swing open like a normal SUV, and lay flat like a truck.  Well, we took it to Tucson Dodge, who we purchased it from, and they broke it.  Not only did it no longer lay flat, they swore up and down that it wasn’t actually supposed to even do it.  So I don’t know what my range of readership is here, but if you ever have a chance to do business with Tucson Dodge, run away as fast as you can.

On the plus side, while waiting on my vehicle, I managed to roll the dice a little bit.  I can’t really go into specifics, for a variety of reasons, but it is beginning to feel like my life is once again slotting into the perfect groove.  Here is hoping that I am right, but we will see either way.

Paleo Portion:

Breakfast:

Coffee

4 eggs

Jenn was nice enough to get up and going even faster than me today, and had a tasty breakfast waiting for me.  Nice to keep on rolling and not be hungry all the time.

Lunch:

I spent this in the dealership

Dinner:

2 Country Style pork ribs

Squash and Ricotta

Homemade Custard

We made the pork ribs in the toaster oven, and they turned out really nice.  They were even more tender than the last time we made these.  We mixed the squash and ricotta together in the pan, and the ricotta almost melted into a white sauce.  It was actually really good with a little Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Weight: 233.  Looks like I might be headed for a new low.  We shall see.

Day 48: Goat Feeders and Garages

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Yesterday was every bit as exhausting and at some points frustrating as I had been afraid it would be.  I did get some forward progress on my To-Do lists, but not as much as I had hoped.  Even with a major setback, I would still say my project turned out really well.  We also got a chance to check out an awesome local business for the first time.  Its one that we have been saying we need to go see for years, and we finally did it.

So yesterday morning, eventually, we headed out to run our errands.  I dropped off two more boxes of books at goodwill, trimming my remainder pile down even further.  We picked up some puppy pads for the bottom of the chick cage, as well as some new chick food.  We also got a goat water dish for our Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  Its made from recycled tired, which means it should be able to stand up to goat abuse.

Then on the way home, we stopped off at Old Town Feed and Supply.  Its a cute little feed store just off of the road on my commute every day.  They have little bunnies and chickens every spring, and we have been saying we should go for literally the entire time we have lived here in Tucson.  Yesterday, we finally did.  This place was awesome.  Anything you needed for horses, chickens, wild birds or pet dogs, they had there.  On top of that, I now get to kick myself for not stopping sooner, since their prices were amazing.  They had some little baby turkeys in a bin up front, man they are adorable.  We got some chewies for the dogs, a quail block, and a nice bail of alfalfa for the goats.

It would be at this point that the day turned south a little.  Our Envoy has a tailgate that likes to not work ever since the thumb-fingered baboons at Tucson Dodge decided that it didn’t really need to do a function it was supposed to do.  So they took it apart, “repaired it”, charged us lots of money, and it hasn’t worked right since.  So next time you need a car, trust a homeless guy with an AK before you trust these idiots.  So on the way home, with a bale of alfalfa in the back, our tailgate decides it doesn’t want to close.  So we ride the last few miles home with a swinging gate.  We finally patched it closed, and now I get to spend a large part of my day in the waiting area at a car dealership.  I look forward to that joy.  Here is a shot of the ghetto work, just for kicks.

Once I got home though, I was able to build an awesome goat feeder for our Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  Now there is nothing to stop us from bringing them home on Wednesday, assuming we get the tailgate fixed.

This little guy is about 5 feet high, and holds a standard bale of alfalfa hay nicely.  I made it entirely from reclaimed wood from our old garden.  It holds the food up off the ground so it stays dry, also it healthy for the little goats to reach up for their food.  It helps keep them from getting gas, and also from wasting their hay all over the ground.  I can’t wait to see them get into feeder related shenanigans.

Paleo portion:
I really didn’t eat much yesterday, so I won’t waste time on it. I have noticed on days that I do lots of work, I just don’t feel like eating. I did have half of a killer watermelon though. It was tasty.

Day 39: Hawks, Markets and Peeps.

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Market on the Move:

Today was the day for market on the move.  Once again, the level of the produce was amazing.  We got 16 cucumbers, 16 squash, 17 green chili’s, 42 tomatoes, 2 cartons of grape tomatoes, and 2 honeydew.  All for a whopping $10.  I continue to love that place, and I look forward to going as often as possible.  Last week it was located more on our side of town.  This week, it was in the heart of central Tucson.  Lets just say, the crowd was different.  Last week it was hippies and college kids, this week was white trash and Mexicans.  Doesn’t really bother me, except Mexicans don’t know how to form a line.  At all.  They like to leave yard wide gaps between people.  So we discovered that it was worth $100 to us to cut in line.  Which is to say, we noticed that the members line was empty.  We had been planning on joining anyway, this just gave us an excuse.  So now we pay half price each week for our groceries.  If we go to 20 markets it pays for itself.  We also get to use the shorter line.  Which to me, is worth the money all by itself.

The Hawk:

While I was getting dressed this morning, I heard a yell.  Jenn called me out to the kitchen, where I was able to take this picture.

To put that in perspective, that is a really big bird occupying our little bird bath.  Since my camera sucks, I went to the internet for a second option.

As you can see from the caption, thats a Sharp Shinned Hawk.  The one in our yard had a fuzzy butt.  So I can either assume he was still a juvenile, or he was molting.   Either way, he hung out in the bird bath, pooped in it a few times, and left.  We got to watch him for about 10 minutes.

Peeps:

We had another loss last night.  One of our Salmon Favorelles passed away.  Judging from the symptoms, Jenn thinks its “Brooder Pneumonia”.  Its not contagious, but it can strike at any of our little peeps if their systems get weak.  Hopefully we won’t have anymore losses. We do have some more pictures of the babies.  Although, they might be blind now.

According to eye witness reports from the camera babe, the best way to make 14 peeps jump in unison is to take their picture.  At least now you can see the difference in all 3 breeds.  The brown ones are of course the Welsummer chicks.  The ones that look full on yellow, like the upper left chick in the top picture, are the Salmon Favorelles.  Lastly, the almost orange-y ones are the Orpingtons.  They are growing little tail feathers, and starting to have more of a shape.  They are still adorable.

Paleo Portion:

Breakfast:

With the market on the move, there was no time to eat.  So I took a little leftover sirloin roast and ate it on the way to work

Lunch:

Nothing, but I was getting hungry.

Dinner:

Yellow squash

Zucchini

Onions

Tomatoes stuffed with Monterey Jack

Green Chilli’s stuffed with Monterey Jack

Sirloin Steak

OMG.  Dinner was amazing.  We grilled everything except the chilli’s and tomatoes.  Those we did up in the toaster oven.  The green chillies were the absolute best ones I have ever had.  I am not always a fan of them, but these were epic. They went so well with the steak, its not even funny.

Weight: 235.

Day 36: The Chickens Settle In

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Yesterday the chickens arrived, and already they are loving their new home.  In fact, as I am writing this, one of them is already being shuttled around the house by my wife.  They are incredibly hilarious to just watch.  If you think about all of the goofy things that puppies and kittens do by themselves, picture what 15 little rambunctious buggers can get into with their sisters.

Here is the box our fifteen little babies arrived in yesterday.  In fact, we even scored an extra.  We aren’t sure what kind of chicken it is, but we do have 16 and not fifteen.  I had to include this after the priceless reaction of a friend of mine, yes, they do ship chickens in the mail.  Here is the proof.

We ordered ours from efowl.com.  I would totally do business with them again.  Their pricing was good, and their service was pretty good as well.  They forgot to send us a confirmation email, but once we pestered them about it, we got the info we needed.  Their site is great for gathering information on different kinds of chicken breeds as well.  If you thought chickens were just boring white birds, go check it out.

Here are our little babies inside their house.  They are tinged red from the heat lamp, so I will have to pull some out for some better pictures tonight.  The dark brown ones are the Welsummer chicks.  The yellow ones are the Orpington and Favorelle chicks.  In this picture I can’t identify which is which, so I will take better pictures tonight.  They were actually small enough to fit between the bars of the dog cage, so we had to line it with cardboard to keep them in place.  The thermometer in there lets us keep the temperature steady at 100 degrees where it needs to be.  The temperature gets lowered by 5 degrees every week until they grow feathers.  The irony of course is that by the end, it will probably be 100 outside.  Lastly, some puppy pee pads to absorb the chicken mess on the ground.

Thats me holding my very first baby chicken.  They are so tiny and adorable.  We were making sure all of them got held at least for a little while so they get used to human contact.  Of course, as in any bunch of brats, there are now 3 or 4 that will peck the others for attention, so they can sleep in Jenn’s hands.  Little boogers.

Also, if you like listening to birds singing, consider some chickens.  As little babies, they sing like little sparrows.  Its actually really pretty to hear, and very calming.  Is like having your own little chorus in the house.

Lastly, the most hilarious part of the new arrivals is the reaction of my dogs.  Maggie, also known as the Mother, will go in every 2.8 minutes to check on them.  If there is a loud peep, she goes to see.  If they get quiet, she goes to see.  She just stands there and huffs at them, to make sure they are OK.  Sasha, is deeply disturbed they are in her cage.  She thinks they conquered the cage in some kind of battle, so she is afraid of them.  Lastly, Chalupa doesn’t want to admit he loves them.  He sits in their room all day, but goes to investigate the cage when he thinks so one is looking.  He is their little guardian.  Its quite cute.

Will show off their food and water system tomorrow.

Paleo Portion:

Breakfast:

3 eggs

sausage

Jenn made me an awesome lumber jack breakfast of some eggs and sausage with caramelized onions.  It kept me full all day, and was a much better way to go.

Lunch:

None

Dinner:

2 Chicken Legs

Cucumber, carrot and pepper salad w/ ranch

We ate some chicken legs in honor of receiving our chickens.  Simple baking with fresh garlic and rosemary.  Very good.

Weight: 236

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