Monday, May 31, 2010

More Poultry News

I have been seeding some of our garden beds for the past couple of months with pathetic results.  The seeds are coming up sparsely, and my peas look awful.  The chickens had made a hole in the base of their fenced area and were spending a lot of time in the veggie garden, and I think they may have been eating my seeds and sprouts.

In the meantime, we had been raising a ton of starts in the greenhouse, and had a goal of getting them in the ground on Memorial Day Weekend.  Mike did some final tilling and weeding, and we planted the greenhouse with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and melons, with carrot seeds sprinkled throughout the tomatoes.  Then we planted a lot of broccoli and cauliflower, because Anouk loves them and they freeze well, and we lined the garden with zucchini, sunflowers and nasturtiums.  Then, we went to a party in Olympia.

What were we thinking?  We came home to find all of the broccoli and cauliflower demolished, along with some of the other starts.  Urrrgh! This discovery was followed by long talks about the fact that we are pretty overwhelmed, and not keeping up with everything.  We should have secured the chicken yard and clipped wings before planting the garden.  There is so much that needs to be done and the two of us can't manage it all.  As always, we talked about packing it all in and moving to the suburbs.

But, we aren't giving up.  Things get much easier when Mike is home for the summer.  I'm trying to convince him that we can find ways to save money so that he doesn't have to work his after school program, which would give him an extra 3 hours at home every day.

Yesterday, he took Anouk to Seattle to help a friend set up his new chicken coop, and I decided to go to yet another party.  I came home late, and closed up the coop, hoping the chickens had put themselves away as they do each night.  At 3am, I heard the telltale gurgled screeching outside.  My dog Lily and I ran out to investigate, but we couldn't find the chicken.  I returned to the house, but heard it again.  Again, we searched , until we finally found a bedraggled chicken in a corner of the goat yard, very much alive.  I couldn't see her very well, but feathers were everywhere, so I knew she had been mauled.  I moved her to the coop and went to bed.  (Not to sleep.  I can never fall back to sleep after running around outside in the middle of the night.)

This morning, I can see that she is in bad shape.  She is moving around well, but is missing part of a wing, and a good deal of flesh from her back and underbelly.  She has puncture wounds all over.  My friend Paul would tell me to kill her and put her out of her misery, but my inclination is always to try to save animals.  They can be remarkably tenacious.  In a few minutes, I plan to put her into a separate area to protect her from the other chickens (and that damned turkey) and I hope she'll recover.

We will be completely enclosing the chickens this summer by creating a covered run.  So much for free-range.  The fact is, after 8 years, we have learned that free-ranging results in a lot of death and mangling by local wildlife.

In the meantime, we lost 3 turkey poults during the first week, until I added some antibiotics to their water.  I also put sand in their feed to help move food through their craws.  They stabilized quickly, and are healthy and growing fast.  They are now living in an enclosed coop we use as wood storage and as a transition area for our young birds.  Our two baby chickens are still living in the bathroom.  They now fly in and out of their box, so I have to clean the floor periodically.

Our brooding chicken is incubating 5 turkey eggs.  I plan to remove them as soon as they hatch because I don't trust the rooster, duck and Tom turkey with babies.

Life on the little farm is feeling a bit daunting at the moment.  We need to create better systems and re-prioritize.  The green house starts are already doubled in size, so if nothing else, we'll be eating tomatoes and cucumbers this year.  Now I'm off to rehabilitate a chicken.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Turkey News - babies!

Well, my female turkey has been laying, and she sometimes sits on an egg for short periods, but I always find them cold by the end of the day.  It turns out, turkey eggs are fine for eating, so I've used them for baking.  In the meantime, I've had one broody hen laying on a chicken egg for many weeks.  A couple of days ago, I found that egg left untended and stone cold.  The hen had moved to a different spot, so I slipped a warm turkey egg under her.  She has been tending it for a few days.  I opened the egg she had been sitting on to find a dead chicken fetus inside, nearly full term.  Who knows why she suddenly abandoned it? 

Last Thursday, our order of turkey chicks arrived.  There were 15, to be shared among 3 families.  They are hatched and shipped the same day, and I'm finally getting used to picking up a box of live creatures from my local post office.  However, it seems so strange, and I really hope that we will begin to raise our own turkeys so they don't start their lives bumping around in a box.  In previous years, I've opened the box to find at least one dead, and it seems brutal.  This year, all were alive and well, except that one had a malformed foot.  It seemed otherwise healthy, so I kept an eye on it.  Over the weekend, its legs became weaker, and on Sunday, it slowly died.  It was painful to watch and Anouk sobbed, wailing, "It's only a baby!  It's not fair!"  I have no idea what was wrong with it.  Possibly a nerve disorder?  Or maybe its gimpy foot made it too difficult to get sufficient food and water.  Whatever the reason, Anouk and I held a modest funeral, burying it in the kitchen garden and planting the grave with a columbine.

We bury a lot of animals.

Anouk's class incubated chicken eggs this spring, tracking fetal development with charts and photos.  They hatched last week, and she won a lottery allowing her to bring two home (with permission, of course.)  So on Friday, I put them in with the turkeys under a heat lamp in our bathroom.  As a rule, chickens and turkeys are not supposed to be kept together, but I can't figure out another arrangement with our limited space.  There is one disease that chickens can carry that is fatal to turkeys.  However, we've been taking that chance for years with no problems.

So, it seems that our attempts to breed our adult turkeys hasn't worked this year.  We will cull the adult male turkey and try again in a year.  It is my theory that they need to relearn long lost instincts, so I feel we need to give our female more time.  In the meantime, I'll start trying to steal her eggs before they get cold and either incubate them or get a chicken to do it for me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Morel of the Story

Growing up in Northern Michigan forest, it was a family tradition to hunt for morels every year.  This was one of my grandpa's favorite activities, along with fishing and drinking.  My memories of mushroom hunting are strong and visceral, including the smells of dry forest and that distinctive aroma when the knife severs a fresh morel.  There was the slow walk through the woods, scanning every tree, checking directions, moss, any rotten log.  And when someone spotted one of the elusive fungi, we all swarmed that area, knowing that there would be more nearby.  Usually, we suddenly realized we had been looking at them all along, but couldn't see them, like an optical illusion.  Later, my parents would saute them in butter; another strong memory because those were some of the few "happy family" moments at our house, and I still remember the smell of warm butter-soaked morels.

Western Washington is not considered a place to find morels, so I was surprised 3 years ago to find a few growing in our backyard, right against the house.  They were huge and healthy, so I battered and fried them and served them to my family.  Anouk loved them until Mike came home and said they were disgusting.  She has refused to take a bite ever since.

Last year, they popped up in the gravel in our front yard, not far from the front door.  There were about 100, all healthy, modestly sized.  I gave most of them away.

This year, I was disappointed that I didn't see morels in the gravel again in April.  I searched for any signs of baby morels popping up, and finally gave up on it.  And one day, Mike noticed a couple between the rocks in our perennial garden.  We started looking around and realized there were close to 100 right in nearby garden beds.  Over the weeks, we kept finding more, with most of them growing right outside my kitchen door.  One day, I was so astonished by the numbers, I counted how many were growing in about a 4' x 3' bed, and there were 133!  I'm sure there have been hundreds by now, all over the garden.

I've been giving the morels away to people who will appreciate them - bags full.  Still, I find that they have been waning and getting sort of dry on top.  When the weather turned warm and sunny, I worried that they would all shrivel up, so I harvested pounds of them last Friday.  Following directions I found online, I strung them on thread with a needle and hung them to dry.
This has worked very well.  They are all shriveled into little crispy nuggets and are stored in a paper bag in my pantry.  Yesterday, while watering our raspberries, I discovered ANOTHER good sized patch of morels.  Big, juicy ones.  So I picked them , soaked them, and I'm trying a different method.  I'm laying them on the counter on a dry towel, and will turn them regularly.  I think this will work just as well, without the comedy of me stringing them, losing my grip so they all fall on the floor, washing them, re-stringing, etc.  Besides, now the first batch are all snugly dried on strings, like really ugly necklaces, and I'm not sure how to take them off to cook them.

Speaking of cooking morels, I found this recipe online, which I think I will try:
    1/2 pound of fresh morels 2 tablespoons unsalted butter salt & pepper to taste 4 cups of chicken stock (degreased if home made) 4 egg yolks 1 cup heavy cream
Clean morels and cut into small, spoon size pieces.Heat butter in 2 qt. saucepan, then add morels & salt & pepper. Cover & simmer for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the stock & bring just to the boil. Meanwhile mix the egg yolks & heavy cream together in a separate bowl. Slowly add this mixture to the stock & morels & heat it while stirring till hot but do not let it boil or the eggs will curdle. Taste & correct the seasoning with salt & pepper and a little lemon juice if you'd like. Serves 4 normal people or 1 or 2 morel maniacs!

I am baffled by the way our morels have migrated to entirely different parts of the yard, and hope they will return next spring.  I am careful to cut them, rather than pull out the stem.  When I soak them, I pour the water back into the garden beds, hoping any spores will reproduce.  Apparently, it takes 5 years for new morels to grow, so it's possible I'll see them return to the other areas in the future.  I welcome any advice from readers about propagating and cooking morels.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Catching Up

I haven't posted in quite some time because I am a bit behind on my latest commission and it is hard to justify time at the computer.  I often get distracted in the studio, and can easily find that I spent an hour trying to make insects out of cork and wire when I should have stayed focused on the project with a looming deadline.  Besides, with spring in full force, there is a ton of work needed on the homestead, and I'm way behind on all of it.

(These are the goats, helping me remove Morning Glory.)

As for that mean turkey, he continues to be a nuisance.  He especially dislikes adults, but seems to leave kids alone.  I really need to clean the coop, but I really can't do much in there as long as I'm fending off a belligerent turkey.  Worst of all, he has been terrorizing the other poultry.  I had to break up a fight between him and the duck, and I often intervene on behalf of innocent chickens.

Mike has reseeded our lawn with a low-maintenance flower/herb mix, so we need to steer clear of it for at least 3 weeks, watering it 4-5 times/day.  This is a huge challenge with three dogs and a (as of yesterday) seven-year-old.  I have to leash each dog separately when they go out, which is frequently.

We have decided to bring on a second cat to manage the rodent population on the farm, as it has become a real problem since our female cat disappeared last fall.  She was an outstanding mouser, preferring to hunt for her food over bagged kibble.  We miss her, and we are hoping a new kitten will accept Lazarus as a friend.  (Lazarus is our very sweet male cat, who begged Stella to be his friend for the past 6 years, only to be hissed at and snubbed.)

The bees are building comb and capping brood. We expect the arrival of new turkey chicks any day.  The garden is blooming and some veggie sprouts are coming up.  I just need to get to securing the dog yard, finishing the greenhouse, building a chicken run, tilling remaining raised beds, weeding about an acre of garden, trimming goat hooves, and stacking some huge piles of split firewood.  And, of course, finishing that commission by the end of the month.