A little back story here- My great uncle was needing a little hobby. Nothing strenuous, but something to get him out and about. The idea came about to get him a few chickens to tend. We had more than enough to share so once his boys got a coop assembled for him we brought a handful of hens.
Each Sunday after church we would get an update on how they were doing. I tell ya’ what, he must have been talking sweet to those girls because he got an egg from each of them every day. They were decent layers at our house but never that consistent. I was glad they were working out well for him. He seemed pretty happy too.
After a year or two of chickens he moved on to turkeys. I don’t remember how many he started with exactly but after losing a couple along the way there were two hens left.
This summer at the age of 94, he passed away and the hens were needing a new home. That is how we came to inherit a couple turkeys. To be later named Lucy and Ethel.
They are about a year old roughly and gracing us with an egg or two day. Uncle Bill had mentioned before that he was hoping to have a few hatch (when he had a tom with them). Since they are part of the family in a different way than Gus and Humphrey, the steers that went to butcher, the ladies will live happily ever after with us. I don’t know if saying “in honor of” is quite the words I’m looking for, maybe “in respect of” or “in remembrance of”, I’m not sure that’s right either but for Great Uncle Bill I posted an “In search of” listing asking for a tom turkey.
This Post is Not Intended for Vegetarians. (or those who won’t eat named poultry)
Oh, my sweet Martha… actually she’s not very sweet, she doesn’t attack but she most certainly holds her ground, otherwise known as the top roost and pecks if you get too close. Since mid-summer Martha has marched back and forth on the roost in the coop, guarding the laying boxes, so I thought. She doesn’t move for anyone who tries to collect the day’s eggs and I’m not sure that she would move if one of the Ladies tried to get into a box. That has all changed.
I have been planning to keep George and Martha as a breeding pair. I received an incubator for Christmas and have plans to put it to good use hatching, turkeys, peafowl, chickens and who knows what else I will find. Unfortunately George has turned out to be a pansy and a jerk all at once. He either allows himself to be picked on by the chickens or is giving everyone in the coop a good run-around. As for Martha, she was caught in the act. Martha is not going to get the privilege of a mustard filled egg. She was caught with a mouthful of fresh egg and the shell still hanging from her beak. (More than once!)
Since the Ladies began laying last fall, egg production is dismal at best. We started with roughly 30 hens (I should probably do a head count again) and at the height of laying we were collecting a dozen a day. That quickly dropped off to average three to four eggs. I thought maybe the turkeys were intimidating the hens. George is loud and always causes a ruckus. Martha kept her place on the roost, so I figured maybe she was scaring them off. Now we know, Martha has been eating her fill of fresh eggs. For the cost of feed in the winter, when there is no fresh grazing for the birds, the input to output ratio is not even close! I haven’t had to buy eggs for home this winter, but I also haven’t had any to sell either.
Martha’s time had come. The hope of a breeding pair of turkeys has been set aside for now. I have had my two best knives in the coop ever since the last cleaning (Well, S#!*) and today had already been a busy one. But it was nap time for the kids and my husband was on his way to town for some new screws for my latest dream come true (I now own an antique wood fire cook stove!). I put everyone down for a nap (twice), grabbed the canning pot and headed to the coop.
It’s a good thing that some of the things that happen around here are done when no one is around or its dark out.
I made my way into the coop and of course George and Martha headed outside. So back out I went and high stepped my way through the drifts in the run, shoed them back in and locked the door behind them. Once we were all back in the coop the chase was on. George was to be first because he was the one that caught my attention. His large wing span and flying in small spaces is hard to miss.
From what I have learned the best way to catch a bird is by grabbing both legs and tucking their head under your arm. This keeps them much calmer and easier to handle; their legs can flail, toes aren’t going to scratch and their wings aren’t flapping about. Unfortunately, this was not the method I ended up using. Instead I took the sneak approach. I tried to sneak up on George who was completely aware that I was there and after him. Once I finally got him cornered, I realized I was not going to be able to grab his legs, so I grabbed him by the neck.
This fifty pound turkey was flapping his wings so hard we could have both flew. I might be exaggerating… a little… 20 pounds or so. He was flapping and clawing and putting up a very respectable fight. In the midst of all the flying feathers, the chickens were going nuts and I look at the door, which I of course left open and there stands my trusty chicken eating dog. Even he was overwhelmed with all the commotion. He knows darn well he’s not allowed in the coop but this time I think he was more afraid of the birds than of me. George and I struggled our way out the door, flailing and clawing the whole way.
After some fancy turkey wrestling moves behind the coop the hard part was done. When we butcher chickens there are these really nice stainless steel cones that get screwed to the fence. The chicken goes in head first so the throat can be cut and the chicken will stay in one place. Without this handy little invention the bird either needs to be held down until all the muscle spasms are done or let loose and then you have to go find your headless chicken when it has finished running and flopping about. Neither situation is pretty but the cone is most certainly preferred and of course not the method used today. I held him down with my eyes closed. I don’t like to see it and there was a fair amount of blood in the air as well. The same methods were used for Martha. Her fight was a little easier to manage though. She was smaller but still feisty.
The cleaning process took longer than I had expected but by the time I was I had both birds cleaned, quartered and ready for the roaster and freezer. One bird will give us four meals with leftovers. The process isn’t a pretty one but we sure are thankful for the food.
**Update: Two days later we were getting a dozen eggs a day and counting!**
They have arrived! Last week actually, (sleepless nights with the little Miss has done a number on my early morning writing time) 100 little chicks came chirping in the mail. The special listed in the catalogue gave the option of 3 free ducks or 5 free exotic chicks. Of course, I picked the ducks, what I didn’t do was specify to send the order when the ducks were available. Instead I just said “Please ship when available.” We ended up with the chicks rather than duck. I must say I am rather disappointed. I refuse to call and complain or even mention to the hatchery that I wanted the ducks. You don’t complain about something that is a free bonus. That’s just stupid (and greedy). We will see how spring plays out, maybe we will pick up a few ducks any way. (Not that we need them.)
The night they arrived Mike had a space in the coop all ready for them and made sure I counted the birds as they went in. 111 little chicks were sent (another reason I won’t call to complain). Since their arrival we have lost 9 so far. A few were brought in to the house in an attempt to save them. It didn’t help this time. I am running out of little chick burial grounds though. We might have to do a shoe box mass grave here pretty soon. They are about a week old now, so hopefully we are almost in the clear for losing them. I’m not going to get my hopes up just yet.
The birds we received in the this order are all cockerels (males) of heavy heritage breeds. This means they will take twice as long to reach their full size butcher size. We won’t be butchering until late fall again this year. Just fine by me! I like to watch the chickens run around and the commercial meat birds (although tasty) just aren’t capable of such entertainment.
The second bird order will arrive at the end of April. This will contain a variety of laying hens that I am particularly excited about, a straight run of Cochins that will be for butcher and laying as well as a couple different breeds of turkeys. As long as we can keep the turkeys alive for the first little while they should make it this year beings the coop is done and we shouldn’t have to worry about the fox (dogs and raccoons too). I sure hope they make it anyways; not only are they expensive chicks but they are really fun to watch too!
We have yet to get guineas ordered for the year. I know we had planned to try again with those too this year but they might be another year off yet. I want to be able to let those “free range” all the time and unless they are full grown I know they don’t stand a chance. If Lucifer couldn’t make it last year no one will until they are adults. I will nurse along the turkeys this year and next year might be the guineas and peacocks.
I have a touch of OCD every now and then and record keeping is one of my issues I suppose. It’s important to keep certain records especially when dealing with livestock. Knowing breed, birthdays, registration numbers, breeding records, any veterinary work that was done and so on. I go the extra few miles and like to record the amount of eggs laid each day, the amount of milk collected each day, birds hatched or purchased from who and when, what feed was bought from who for what, what was planted in the garden, how many plants, started indoors or not, season notes, harvest yields, how many jars of beans I canned. The recording goes on and on. I admit not all of it is necessary but I still like to be able to look at years past and see what was done.
I find spring to be the start of the year on the farm rather than January. It is typically when all the new life begins; babies born, chicks hatched, plants sprouting. But for the sake of my need to record I tend to start new sheets in January. This year was the first year with new land and I was quite unorganized. I had record sheets here and there, online and in notebooks, tucked in seed catalogues and on the fridge. It was a mess; almost enough to give me a permanent twitch. I have since “cleaned up” the records. I scraped a few and added a bunch. The super exciting part is that I now have everything in one well labeled binder.
I didn’t go back and organize this years garden records. Most of them would say “Sprouted. Drowned. No Harvest”. Last winter I put together a Vegetable Gardening 101 series. In it I made mention that records should be kept. It’s true. To keep your soil healthy it is good to know what was planted where in the last couple years so that crops, even small garden crops, can be rotated properly. It is also nice to know if you added compost to any garden plot, what type and when. The same goes for field management it’s just a larger plot. Next year I will be ready, I have my sheets printed and in the binder.
I have already received the first few seeds catalogues for the season and at this point I would usually have started making my lists of what I have and what I need to order so I can start drawing my garden plan for the year. This season we are not going to plant a full garden (or even half as of now). I didn’t take the time last year to properly prepare the garden plot. Between my impatience and the cold, wet weather, the garden was a huge waste last year. So this year we are going to do things right. Condition the soil with manure and work it a few times through out the summer. Just liven it back up. Which is exciting and disappointing all at the same time. I can’t wait for the following summer when I can get back to planting as usual. It’s just a whole growing season away and that’s a long time!
I did go back to last spring and record all the birds that were brought home, price, number, breed etc. Then the cows. Everybody has a sheet so I can keep track of what goes on with who. I put the egg records that I had on the fridge onto a nice sheet in the binder and am all caught up.
Below you can find a link to each of my record sheets and they are Free!
They are all pretty basic, easy to use and not calendar specific so you can start recording during any month with wasting pages! If there is a page that I don’t have but would be useful please let me know!
FREE RECORDS SHEET DOWNLOAD includes:
Animal Records- I use these for the 4 legged animals
Breeding Records – Again 4 legged animals
Poultry Record- Breed, amount, layer, butcher etc.
Egg Production- Number of eggs collected each day
Milk Production- Amount of Milk collected each day
Feed Purchase Records- From, For, Amount, Cost
Standing Egg Orders – Here I can keep track of people that have set up regular egg orders
Butcher Bird Orders- Keeps track of who purchased butcher poultry
Big Project To Do List – For projects like dig a well by the barn and such
Wish List – So I’ve got a list of things to save for besides the Big Projects
Next Year Don’t Forget To…
Field Records – Harvest Yield, Crop, Amendments and so on
Garden Records- What was planted, how much, harvest date
Seed Records- Seeds saved, Seeds to order, Amount
Canning Records- What was harvested, how much and how was it preserved
Season Notes – For things that seem to need to be recorded about the growing season
Notes- I have one of these after almost every category there is always some extra I need to record
For a long while, Wilma- the one winged chicken and Thomas Thanksgiving- the turkey, shared a room in the coop. They became the best of friends it seems. When I would go in to get them feed and water or clean the coop, Thomas would always stand in front of Wilma as if to protect her almost.
One Friday night about a month ago, things got wild on the farm. Ok, not really. I brought my husband out to the chicken coop to hold the flashlight so I could sort the birds I wanted to keep for laying hens and the one to be left for butcher. It was an exciting night for the chickens at least. They were clucking and feathers were flying as they ran from one side of the coop to the other. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have to be done in the dark but for the sake of Thomas and Wilma it did. They were residing in the room for the laying hens.
From what I have heard, if you are adding chickens to a flock it should be done in the dark. If they are added during the day the birds that were there first can kill the outsiders; in this case though, Thomas and Wilma would have been out numbered and I think they would have been the outsiders. If the birds are added in the dark, they all wake up in the morning and don’t notice anyone different. Hmm. I guess. That’s what we did and it worked.
I was curious to see what would become of the pair with addition of 30 birds, or so. In the beginning I had to look for Wilma, now she is pretty easy to pick out. Her and Thomas stay pretty close together yet. Even when they are out munching grass in the yard they are never too far away. He is very curious when you walk up to the run, he comes to the fence and checks you over pretty good before going on his way. If Wilma is near the fence when I walk up it is no time at all before Thomas is standing guard.
I’m glad to see those two are sticking close, even if they are a bit of an odd pair.