Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Participant's View of a Family Cow Workshop

These photos were taken by Chuck Duncan at the June 7 OSLSS Keeping A Family Cow Workshop. This workshop will also be held on July 12th, August 2nd, and September 6th. The September 6th Workshop will be followed by special workshops on building a Stanchion and a Milking Stool. For more information about the workshops, visit the Motherhouse web site and to pre-register for a workshop, contact Debra at Motherhouse by email or at (860)672-0229.

Local Farm, Cornwall, CT

Erika, Faye and Debra

Leading the Calves

Connecticut Pastureland

Me and the Jerseys

The Workshop

A Close Encounter

Meeting The Herd

Chuck and the Girls

Erika and the Girls

A Bath Before Milking

Erika Milking Lovely

Chuck Gives Milking A Try

Everyone Got Their Chance To Learn

Jersey Girls

Doing One of the Things We Do Best

Margaret and Debra

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Eggs-Perience Chickens

Led by Motherhouse founder, Debra Tyler, and her daughter, Margaret, the Old Style Life Skills Eggs-Perience Chickens workshop last Saturday was a hands-on inquiry into everything involved with raising chickens. Participants learned about hatching eggs, the varieties of chickens, and different types of portable housing i.e. chicken tractors. Lunchtime conversation centered around how many chickens to start out with and how to secure chicken coops from predators such as coons, weasels, fox, and hawks. Then, everyone prepared a live broiler to bring home for cooking. Along with practical details and tips, Debra and Margaret imparted wisdom and a can do attitude: Chickens are easy to look after, requiring minimal space and effort. In return, they fertilize your garden and they provide eggs and meat, and I can add, as a chicken keeper myself, great company and entertainment!

Pictured above are Debra and Margaret; Debra is holding the box that contained the 40 one day old chicks she ordered. She described getting a call from her Post Office, very early in the morning, saying her chicks had arrived. One very good hatchery to order online from is Murray McMurray Hatchery. Usually, you have to order a minimum of 25 chicks.

Here, a few of the egg laying chickens at Local Farm enjoy the table scraps from the workshop lunch. You can buy feed for growing chicks, meat birds or layers at your local feed store in 50 lb. bags. Depending on your particular area, you may be able to buy organic feed.

During the workshop, Debra told us about hens “going broody”— that is, wanting to sit on or incubate eggs and raise chicks. At the workshop, we took turns discreetly checking on the two hens sitting on eggs. A few days after the workshop, Debra sent this picture around with the comment: Look who hopped into the chicken yard today!

Because a broody hen does not lay eggs, meaning she is less productive, this natural instinct has not been welcome in the age of factory farming and has been selected against in modern breeds of chickens. The result is that in most modern breeds, the broody instinct is entirely lacking or may only appear rarely. Hens of some breeds, Buff Orpingtons, for example, are more likely to go broody than most, but even in these breeds, it is more the exception than the rule.

In this picture you will notice two types of chickens, both the same age, 7 - 8 weeks old. The gold colored ones are Buff Orphingtons; and the much bigger white ones are chickens bred to be used for meat. The difference in size was startling! Debra said that the meat birds have consumed much more of the organic feed she has given them because they are bred to gain weight, and gain it quickly. We also noticed that some of the white chickens had trouble walking because of their weight and their feet. The white chickens are the Broilers we prepared to be a tasty roast.

To catch a chicken, take it by it's feet and hang it upside down. This calms the chicken and it can be killed with a knife as shown in the above picture.

After the chicken had bled out and was done thrashing around, it was put in a pot of boiling water for between 10 and 15 seconds. This should not cook the bird, but scald it just so that it's feathers will come out easily.

Plucking: Most of the body feathers can then be pulled out by the handful. Pinfeathers have to be pulled out individually.

Margaret showed us how to prepare the chicken using as little cutting as possible.

Every part of the chicken can be used. The feet can be used to make soup stock, the added gelatin from the feet makes the stock especially good! To prepare chicken feet for soup stock, scald in boiling water just long enough (5 to 15 seconds) so you can peel off the outer skin and toenails. Peel and toss into the soup pot with left over skin, juice, and bones from the roasted bird.

As final steps, the chickens were washed and wrapped up, ready to take home and roast in the oven. Debra recommended keeping the chickens refrigerated for 24 hours before roasting. Everyone left the workshop with the broiler they prepared and a lot of ideas and know-how about raising a small flock of chickens at home.

For more about raising chickens, go to Backyard Poultry. You can subscribe to the bi-monthly magazine or read a few articles from each issue online at their web site. Also, Motherhouse Market has a few books on hand about raising chickens.