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Eggs and Introverts

Two quick things today.

First, my black cooper maran hen started laying last week! I didn’t expect this to happen so soon – but when she started “squatting” whenever I reached out to touch her, I knew the egglaying was going to commence in about a week. Squatting is a sure sign.

She lays wonderful dark chocolate eggs…although not quite so dark as I was hoping for.  In the below pic, hers are the two small dark ones (the first eggs a hen lays are very small, and increase to a normal size later on). The lighter egg is a pale brown, laid by my cochin, I think?

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Isn’t it interesting how one is spotted and one plain? This is one of the many reasons I love having chickens. Grocery store eggs are so boring!

And for those of you that have been reading this blog for a long time, you remember that I used to sew costumes and attend yearly costuming conferences. I no longer have the time or inclination for that anymore, but I did just finish a new Edwardian 1912 costume. If you’re interested, you can go check out more pictures and information on my costuming blog.

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I made this dress for a Downton Abbey Celebration my library workplace was having, during which I did a presentation on post-Victorian undergarments, called “What Did They Wear Under There?” It was so much fun to do. I’m an introvert, and so many people have this mistaken idea that all introverts are all shy and socially awkward, and hate talking to people. Not true! Introverts are on a spectrum like everything else, and the only thing that all introverts have is a desire and need for alone time, to recharge. We get our energy from ourselves, and being around people drains that energy. But many of us still love being out…we just need time alone afterward. For myself, I adore public speaking – as long as it’s on a subject I love and am knowledgeable about. Costuming and historical fashion definitely fits those two requirements! I was told afterward by three different people that I should ‘take that show on the road’ it was so good, and one attendee (speaking of the entire evening) said that she’d never been in the library before, and didn’t know she could have so much fun there on a Thursday evening! It was also super fun for me…demonstrating how to walk in a hobble skirt, dispelling the various corseting myths, and even talking about how to use the toilet while wearing a full bustle skirt! I think I’ll be doing more of these…but first I have to do the two-part presentation I’m going in October on natural gardening and natural animal keeping.

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Mainly Ducks…But Also a Camel

Let’s talk about the camel, first, because I know you’re curious. I went to the local fair a couple of weeks ago. It’s a very small, not-really-good-for-much fair, but I always manage to see at least one thing worth the admittance fee. This year, it was the walk-through butterfly house and the camel.

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I’ve see camels before, of course, but I’ve never seen a flat-out napping camel.

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Aw. I just want to snuggle him!

My new Muscovy ducks are the real star of this particular blog, though. I started with seven day old ducks, and at about sixteen weeks, chose out the three I was going to keep. One drake, and two hens.

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Tiberius, the drake is a real sweetie. He’s a blue color, and his head is slowly turning white. I was going to keep the black male, but this fellow won me over in the final week with his sweet disposition. And good thing, too – because when I processed the other ducks, I discovered that the black male had some sort of infection inside him, and very well might have died and left me drake-less.

The two hens are much more shy. Tabitha is black, and will also have a white head eventually. Tilda is chocolate and white.

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It’s been really interesting watching their red caruncles on their faces starting to develop.

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And can I just say that these ducks are the best ducks EVER? They are awesome animals, and so perfect for a small backyard urban farm. They are extremely quiet – the males hiss, and females make a low and melodic trill. They aren’t obsessed with water, which makes them much cleaner and easier to pen. They are personable and fun to watch. I wish I had room for several more!

For their sleeping pen, I used an old wood and wire gate I had, and using it the front, built them a coop (I plan on growing a vine up the wire front). One side and the back is wood, the other two are mostly wire. Although I put hardware cloth partway up to keep raccoons from reaching in and grabbing them, most of the cage is larger wire. The ducks are large enough to keep rodents and other small predators away themselves. It’s not the prettiest coop in the world, but it’s in the far back corner of the chicken run where it isn’t very visible.

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The back half has a roofed perch for sleeping. These ducks, unlike most ducks, are perching birds.

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Here’s a shot at bedtime, when there were still seven ducks.

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The ducks’ regular run is the very back part of the yard, against the back property fence. Every two or three days, I divert them over into another part of the chicken run, both to give them a change of scenery, and to allow the chickens into their pen to clean up. The chickens scratch and turn over the dirt and wood chips and duck poop, keeping the ground from becoming stinky. These particular ducks wouldn’t need this so much, since they don’t spill and splash water everywhere like normal ducks. Unlike normal ducks, these aren’t stinky or muddy at all!

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Also unlike normal ducks, these guys taste like beef. Seriously, they do. I had a hard time believing it myself, until I tried it. The breast meat, cooked like a steak, is indistinguishable from a steak! It looks like one, tastes like one, even has the texture of one!

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It’s a true red meat. And when you slow cook the breast like a roast, it’s indistinguishable from roast beef.

Because of this, it does not have the gorgeous duck fat that a pekin does, but I can always buy a pekin in the store. Muscovy is not so commonly available. The only source I could find in my area is mail order – two breasts for $65 plus shipping. It genuinely puzzles me that Muscovy duck is not more commonly raised. They are so easy – much easier than common duck, and although they are large (the drakes get up to about 15 lbs) they are easy to process. I found them just as simple as a chicken.

They are also sustainable for a backyard or small farm because the hens are great broodies and mothers, and will happily hatch and raise one or more clutches of ducklings per year if they are allowed. No noisy roosters, no incubators required! And “beef” in your backyard…how awesome is that?IMG_7699

 

The Sweetest Thing

The sweetest thing just happened on my urban farm. I have a pair of snowflake bobwhite quail, and although they have tried for three years to hatch out some babies, their eggs are apparently infertile. They sit and sit – the male sitting patiently right beside his hen – but nothing hatches.

Until now. I bought some coturnix quail eggs to put under her. I was afraid she’d reject them – either because I messed with her nest to replace the eggs, or because bobwhite eggs are pure white, and coturnix eggs are usually spotted.  Could she tell the difference?

Either the answer was no, or else she didn’t care. They sat on the eggs together, and out of the eight I gave her, three hatched. And they are so so so sweet! I went out to check on them periodically the day of the hatch, and I knew something was up when I approached their pen and male began to pace in front of his hen, holding out his wings to look big and fierce, and warning me away. He was a father!

I’m not sure there is anything so bitty and fluffy as baby quail. Since I had more eggs than would fit under the hen, I put the extras in my incubator, and managed to hatch out five more.  I’m really interested to see what the adult colors are going to be; the chicks range in color from pure golden yellow, to yellow/black/brown spotted, to dark brown.

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Since I was out there with my camera, I did a few photoshoots around the poultry run.

The Muscovy ducks:
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The boys are always bold and out in front. The females are more shy.

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I also discovered that, unlike the camera-shy larger chickens, the bantams are little divas. They are happy to pose.

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I also simply sat and watched everyone (as I do every day) with Ellie on my lap.

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(She wants to make sure you know she is currently molting, and not quite the gorgeous girl she normally is. Kindly disregard the fact that she only has two tailfeathers at the moment. These things are vastly embarrassing to a hen. Good feathers are important.)

The grapes are starting to fill out.

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And the tomatoes are already ripe.

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We’re had a fantastic summer here in the PNW. Warm, but not too warm. And quite a few rainy days. I adore summer rain!

Yesterday I defrosted and cleaned out the freezer, which means I was inspired to fill it again. First I sliced and bagged 14 quarts of raw mushrooms.

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This is the best method for keeping mushrooms. They are just like fresh, whenever you need them in your recipes.

Then mom and I harvested apples from our mystery apple tree. The apples are ugly, but they make the best pies in the world.

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And then I made three pies. One for now, two to freeze.

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I love making pies. And I can’t believe it took most of my life to try putting lattice crusts on them! It is so easy to do, and besides looking beautiful, they taste better, as the spaces allow more gooey goodness to bubble up unto the crust!

Building and Baking

Every time I think I’ve built the last animal-related housing project, I discover there’s another thing I need to make. This year I’ve built a duck coop, an angora rabbit pen, a meat rabbit grow-out pen, and a nest box for the pigeons. Is that it? I feel like I’m forgetting something! Anyway, let me show you some pictures of the latest things.

The meat rabbit grow-out pen. I was using the second chicken coop for this, but now that I’m raising meat birds, this coop isn’t available for rabbits anymore. In the front yard veggie garden, there’s this one awkward corner. It’s awkward because it’s always overgrown with bindweed. Rabbits love to eat bindweed! So I built this.

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It’s about 6X2 foot, and I need to roof it, but roofing it isn’t a huge priority, since it will only be in use during the summer months, when I’m breeding rabbits.

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As the bindweed attempts to grow up through it, the rabbits will eat it. Mwahahaha! I love it when I can solve two problems with one building project!

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Also, the rabbits will be conveniently to hand, when I’m weeding in the veggie garden. They seem to like it.

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Next problem was the pigeons. Whenever you get a new animal, there is always a learning curve, while you figure out what they really like/don’t like. My plan was to have them all nest in the attached building. Problem is, my first male on the scene, Emerson, decided that ALL the building belonged to him and his mate. He would not allow any other pigeons to nest in it. My second male, Mordecai (Emerson’s son), was growing increasingly desperate to find a nesting area. There was constant tussling in the coop, and no one was happy. So I built an attached one-pair nesting box on the opposite side of the coop. (It still needs a roof.)

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Mordecai was SO HAPPY. He immediately went inside and started calling Esther to come and see.

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It’s nice because I can open the back from the outside of the coop in order to clean, or check on things. They immediately built a nest, and peace was restored. (You can see the original pair, Emerson and Peabody, canoodling at the entrance to their nesting area.)

This nest box is working out so well that I think I’m going to build several more on the back side of the coop, then close off the attached mini-shed and have it be for hay/food storage. It’s more difficult to clean, and it would be so much more convenient to have all the pigeons nesting in single-pair boxes like this.

And now for the cool story of the month. My mother and I belong to a neighborhood social media group called ‘Nextdoor’. People in your city can post warnings, requests for advice/recommendations, etc. About a week ago, my mom commented that someone had found a mysterious ‘strange bird’. This woman was sure it wasn’t a chicken, but otherwise had no clue. It had marched right up to her neighbor’s back door, and appeared to need help, but since she wasn’t sure if it was an escaped domestic bird, or a wild bird, or even if it was an adult or a baby, she wasn’t sure what to do. People were commenting thinking it was anything from a dove to a baby hawk! I went and looked at the pictures, then laughed at my mom. “That isn’t a strange bird! That’s a coturnix quail – we used to have those in the backyard!” I contacted the concerned lady, and she asked if I’d be willing take it, since I mentioned I was currently in the process of hatching more of these quail. I said sure, and that is how I ended up with Scruffles – who I renamed Amelia, after Amelia Earhart. It seemed appropriate, given how adventurous she was. She had obviously been through some hard times, she’s blind in one eye, and was missing a lot of feathers.

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The feathers are mostly grown back now, and she’s laid about seven eggs for me.

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What’s really weird, though, is that two days after she came to me, the lady who found her called back. Another quail had turned up at a neighbor’s yard. The cat had gotten this one, but they’d rescued it, and didn’t see any injuries. This one was a male, but unfortunately, it died the next day. They couldn’t find anyone in the area who had quail, or had ever heard of quail. I don’t know whether these two escaped, or whether their owner had gotten tired of keeping them, and had released them into the wild. Please don’t do this, people. Domestic animals cannot survive in the wild, and even though there are wild varieties of quail, coturnix are so thoroughly domesticated that they have no wild instincts at all. At least little Amelia/Scruffles found a safe home. She’s a bit lonely, but my quail eggs are due to hatch in about three days, so she’ll have friends soon.

And one last thing. I discovered this fantastic baking blog: https://www.womanscribbles.net/

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I’ve tried three of her recipes so far, and they are extremely well-written and clear to follow. All three breads turned out perfectly – just like the pictures! – and were very tasty. One of them, Spanish Bread, is going to be a regular in my household.

Oh – and one more last thing! Remember the Freedom Ranger meat birds I was testing out this summer?

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These guys were the perfect birds. They were completely docile and calm, quiet, and sweet-tempered…right up until a couple weeks before butchering. Then they suddenly turned into little peckers. Literally. We harvested them and they weighed out at about 3 1/2 to 4lbs each. Perfect. A couple of days ago, Mom roasted one of them, and we both agreed it was the best chicken we’d ever eaten! Tender, so full of flavor, and the skin was so crisp and wonderful. Freedom Rangers are it. Next year I’m getting a bunch more!

Ducks, Quail, and Rabbits

The Muscovy ducks are fitting perfectly into the farm. They are eating the bindweed (yay!!!!) and my plan of rotating the ducks and chickens through the chicken food forest run is working perfectly. The ducks have an open-air coop at the far end, where they also have a very small container to splash around in. It’s important for ducks to be able to bathe in water, because it keeps their feathers properly waterproof. Like all ducks everywhere, these Muscovies love water. Unlike every other duck everywhere, these Muscovies are not obsessed with water.  They like it, they enjoy a good splash now and then, but most of their life is spent doing things apart from the water. You can really tell that they aren’t truly, scientifically, ducks. They are something else, closer to a goose.

Whatever. They are awesome. They do poop like ducks, prodigious amounts of poop that normally they would stamp down into the ground with their flat feet until it formed a solid poop carpet. Poop carpets stink. This is where the chickens come to the rescue. Chickens love to scratch and dig, and they particularly love to scratch and dig in areas where they have been forbidden to go.  So the chickens are forbidden to go into the back duck yard…until I decide to send the ducks on parade.

The ducks are marched out first thing in the morning, all the way to the far opposite part of the chicken yard (I have grapes planted there, hence the “vineyard”). They spend the day eating the bindweed and relaxing under the honeyberry bush. The chickens, meanwhile, are delighted to discover the forbidden duck yard is now open to them. They scratch all the duck poop up and turn it over into the dirt and chips before it can mat down into a poop carpet. It’s been working perfectly! And this is with seven almost full-grown ducks. The ducks will be downsized into only three in August. I’ll miss the full duck parade in the mornings, but three ducks are a better fit for a small garden like mine. Also, I can’t wait to taste Muscovy. They say it tastes like a fine beef steak!

There’s been some changes among the rabbits, as well. I decided to sell one of my angoras, because my two does had started to fight, and I really don’t have time or space for two. So I listed Cinnamon, and found her a lovely new home as a birthday gift for a girl who has always wanted a rabbit, and has been checking out a ton of library books on rabbit-keeping in the hopes she’ll get one. The family is on vacation until August 4th, so I’m keeping her for them a little longer, but she’s officially no longer my rabbit.

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I also made the more difficult decision to cull one of my Rex does, the grey one, Thistle. She’s part of my meat rabbit colony, and she wasn’t doing well. Her last litter had only two kits, both stillborn, and her litter before that had only one kit. I can’t keep a doe that can’t have healthy litters. So she went to freezer camp, and I decided to replace her with one of Blackberry’s last litter. Meet Foxglove:

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Her mother, Blackberry is wonderful. Large, healthy litters, and more sweeter-tempered than Thistle. I’m hoping Foxglove will prove equally wonderful, and I really like her name. She looks like a foxglove to me!

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My Snowflake Bobwhite quail pair has gone broody, and they are always the sweetest pair. The male sits alongside her in the nest to keep her company, and whenever she leaves the nest to stretch her legs, he takes over sitting on them, first carefully inspecting the eggs, and rolling them over so gently with his beak. I would let them raise their own offspring, but they appear to be infertile. I’ve let them sit on eggs for three years now, and nothing ever hatches. So this year, I’ve ordered some hatching eggs off ebay for them.

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I don’t need any more bobwhites, so I’m giving them coturnix quail eggs instead. This seller has really pretty and unusual colors – both in eggs and in adult feathering. The eggs are arriving later this week, so fingers crossed my assortment is as pretty as these. And also fingers crossed that Bellatrix the Bobwhite will accept them as her own.

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Fat Rants, Dustbaths, and Pie Cherries

I’ve been promising my chickens a proper dustbath forever. This week, I finally built one.

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It’s large enough for about 4-5 hens to bathe together, and is covered for rain protection. I filled it with sand, and some wood ash. They already love it, and it was so easy and simple to build that I might make another one in a different part of their run.

The chickens also got their own watermelon yesterday. Usually, they get the leftovers, but I splurged and bought them an entire watermelon all for themselves. It seems like you couldn’t find seeded watermelons in the stores anymore, which is a great pity, since seedless watermelons just aren’t nearly so good tasting. I will never understand why the public is willing to sacrifice flavor just for the small inconvenience of picking out a few seeds! I was thrilled to discover my local Haggen had seeded ones this year. And the chickens think watermelon seeds are the best part of the whole affair.

I went to my local butcher as well this week and picked up about 11 pounds of raw beef fat, called suet. Yes, this is the same suet in those bird feeders, but humans really need to reclaim suet from the birds! It’s a tremendously healthy fat, enhancing the flavor of whatever it’s added to. I’ve been cooking with tallow for years now, which is cooked (rendered) suet, but I’ve never used suet itself. I’m excited to give it a try! Also, since the medical establishment has falsely convinced the public that animals fats are the enemy (it’s actually vegetable and trans fats that are the evil) and that eating fats cause people to become fat (it’s actually fat-free and low-fat foods and sugar that cause human fat) the butcher just gives the suet and other fats away for free!

So I also got some pig backfat to render down into lard. I wanted the internal kidney fat, called leaf lard, because that is the best fat, but the butcher had already tossed it. Rendering fat is simple.

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You just cut into small pieces (I use scissors) and then put it in your crockpot with 1/4 cup water on high.

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After an hour or so, when it’s started to melt down into a liquid, turn it down to low and let it cook overnight. In the morning, strain the liquid fat through cheesecloth, and pour into glass jars. As it cools, it turns thick and white, and then you can scoop it out by the spoonful and use for cooking, pastry dough, etc. The finer quality leaf lard is entirely scentless. The kind I made does have a slight bacon/pork smell, but that is fantastic for cooking with, as the added flavor in most foods is a big bonus.

 

You really need to read this article. It’s humorous, and maybe – maybe – it will help you understand why animal fats are so necessary in our diet. It truly is one of the greatest food/health tragedies of the world that the American Medical Association went so far off the rails in promoting vegetable fats over animals ones. They are starting to recognize their mistake, but they have the public so brainwashed at this point that it’s going to take decades more for the general public to come around.  Grrrrr. Can you tell I’m seriously angry about this?

Okay, okay, let’s end this blog with something more cheerful! Sweet peas, squash, and the first tart pie cherries ever from my garden! Yes! Those little cherry trees I planted two years ago gave me enough cherries to make a pie this week. So good.

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The Babies Aren’t So Tiny Anymore

Wow. I can’t believe June went by so fast! This time of month is always crazy busy in the garden…and this garden was crazier than usual because I had so many new animals. Mom counted all the animals on the farm and asked me to guess how many we had. I think I guessed something like forty. The correct answer? SIXTY-TWO.

Sixty-two critters: chickens, ducks, quail, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs, plus one cat and one dog! Of course some of these are not going to be staying here forever. Some are being raised specially for meat (seven chickens have already gone into the freezer), and some are going elsewhere. Two of the black copper marans chicks, for example, have already gone to live with a friend of mine.  And I have a few young roosters that will have to leave pretty soon. Anyone want some mottled cochin roos? They are super cute! Or how about a silkie roo?

I LOVE these mottled cochins. They are so adorable, and they are turning into sweeties. They will jump into my lap for a cuddle.

The Muscovy ducks are also proving to be a win for the farm. They are getting HUGE. Especially the drakes. They were always skittish as babies, but now they are realizing that I am the one with the food, and they are taming down enough to let me pet them. I will be keeping three: two hens and a drake. Since I only have two girls, there’s no difficult decision there. As for the drake, I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping the black one. It’s funny, because that is specifically the one color I said I did not want. I wanted ones with lots of white on them, but either they are super hard to tell from ducklings what color they will be, or the breeder I got them from didn’t know how to tell. She gave me black ones, and chocolate ones, and solid blue ones…and one solitary chocolate and white. Oh well. I love them anyway! And they are already devoted bindweed eaters!

Mom and I roasted marshmellows and hotdogs in the garden Sunday.

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Dexter approved wholeheartedly. Especially once we pulled out the hotdogs.

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