Monthly Archives: February 2018

What I Have Learned About Raising Chickens – The Toughest Lesson

I have been planning to write a series of posts about what I have learned from our experience with raising chickens over the last 5 years. A heartbreaking incident this week has prompted me to start with the toughest lesson of them all.

We use a natural approach to farming and with raising chickens that means allowing our flock to free range. When I say “free range” I mean that the chickens roam the farm, and at times the neighboring properties, and even cross the road (that’s a topic for a future post) scratching,  pecking and foraging for their food. We are aware of the inherent danger of predators when raising free range chickens, but we feel the benefits of healthier chickens, healthier eggs and stress free birds far outweigh the risks. Over the years we have lost a chicken now and then to a hawk, or found a chicken body with no head that left us wondering what kind of predator does that, and occasionally we have one or two come up missing, apparently carried off to become dinner for one of God’s creatures.

This week was different. It was bright and sunny Monday afternoon and my husband had been to the farm around 4:00 P.M. to check on the chickens, give them fresh water and take Scout and Trooper for their afternoon walk. He left the gate to the chicken yard open as some of the chickens were happily scratching and pecking in a pile of straw near the chicken yard.

He came home for dinner and then waited until 6:00 P.M. to return to close up the coop for the night. He called from the farm, “Something Bad has happened” he said, his voice quivering. “A fox got to the chickens, I’m going to be here awhile,” he explained.  Quite awhile later he returned to the house telling me that as he pulled in the driveway he witnessed the attacker (our neighbors claims it was a coyote) running off. There were dead chickens scattered around the area. He found 9 dead chickens. He only counted 17 chickens who had returned to the coop for the night so there were still 5 missing. He needed to put new batteries in his flashlight before returning to search for the missing birds. I offered to go along but he refused my help, as he wanted to protect me from the horrific  scene. Upon searching the area he discover two more dead and the other three were completely gone, apparently carried off by their assassin(s).

Last Spring we became aware that there were fox living in the area when we got a call from a neighbor telling us that a fox had tried to get some of our chickens as they were foraging in her yard. She witnessed the attack and scared off the predator by banging on the window. We ended up with one injured chicken who we nursed back to health. We took further measures to protect our flock. We began leaving them penned inside the chicken yard when we were not at the farm. Several times a day we, along with Scout and Trooper, would walk the farm, especially areas that do not have open sightlines, and make our presence know. My husband mowed the overgrown ditch that runs along side the chicken yard including about a 20 foot strip into the neighboring field to open up the sightlines. He also mowed a series of paths through the field so that we were able to walk/patrol that field as well. As we continued these practices through the summer and fall we heard stories of several neighbors who had lost large portions of their unprotected flocks to violent fox or coyote attacks.

With the snow and cold of winter the chickens have spent much of their time either in the coop or at least in the chicken yard. We were recently discussing how happy we were that our flock was thriving in spite of the bitter cold temperatures that we have had this winter and that egg production was increasing due to the longer hours of daylight. There were many days that my husband spent at the farm this winter  mostly cutting wood or riding the snowmobile and during these times he maintained our routine opening the gate so the chickens had access to the farm and making his (human) presence known. With no recent predator incidents he grew comfortable that he could leave the farm for short periods of time to retrieve things he needed at home or bring the boys (dogs) back to the house. Our lack of vigilance proved to be a fatal error.

I am not looking for your sympathy as I tell this story but hope that you might learn a lesson from our mistake. I think we have gained a better understanding of the predator’s MO. He is sly, sneaky, and cunning. He is an opportunist and will cause much damage (death) quickly. He may run from confrontation but will likely return to the scene of the crime when no one is around. With this in mind we realize that we will have to maintain constant vigilance in order to protect our flock.

We are also reminded that (as my husband likes to say), “Nobody ever told us that farming would be easy” and (my reply), “If it was easy everyone would be doing it.”

Now that I’ve got the tough stuff out of the way be sure to follow along as  I will soon be answering the age old question of “Which Came First?”

 

 

 

January Soaps – Making A Good Thing Better

I am going to tell you about the two soap recipes I made in January but first I was wondering if you would be willing to tell me about your personal soap usage. As a soap maker  there are things I try to achieve when making and marketing my soap but I am curious if the things I view as important are important to others as well. My goal as a soap maker is not to get rich or to sell millions of bars of soap. At that point they would no longer be hand crafted. I do think that my products are for a specialized market(natural, fragrance free, no artificial colors).  Your input could perhaps help me gage that market. I compiled a list of questions below. Feel free to answer as many as you like or skip them all and read about January’s soap making farther down on this page. Thank you in advance.

Soap questions

Do you use bar soap or some other form of body wash?

On average how long does it take you to use up a bar of soap?

How do you apply soap to your skin (rub bar of soap directly on you body or apply to a wash cloth then use the wash cloth to wash your body)?

Do you use bar soap for hand washing?

Do different members of your household use different soaps for bathing?

Do you read the ingredients on the soap package?

Which factor(s) are most important in determining what soap product you purchase? Price? Advertising? Packaging? Ingredients? Other?

What qualities do you like in a soap?

Please feel free to include additional comments.

January Soaps – Making A Good Thing Better

I made two soap recipes in January. I have made both of these soaps in the past but after the holiday rush my stock had dwindled. After discovering the wonderful creaminess that yogurt added to my latest creation I decided to add yogurt to these two recipes as well.

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The first was aloe soap. I have been making aloe soap for a couple years now. My aloe soap recipe uses olive oil and coconut oil combined with lye and water. After this combination comes to a trace (when the fats and liquids are blended and begin to thicken) I add aloe juice/gel that I have scraped out of several aloe leaves and blended in a small blender. While I can’t say whether or not the aloe retains any of the healing properties that it is known for, I can say that it adds a slipperiness to the lather and my soap testers (maybe I should call them my critics) have determined that it makes a great shaving soap.

This was already a great soap, but sometimes I can’t help but experiment, so I decided to see if I could make a great thing even better. To add yogurt to the recipe, I used the same procedure as I did in the previous recipe. Yogurt would count as a liquid in the recipe, but since I didn’t want to add lye directly to the yogurt and scorch it I would only use yogurt for part (1/3) of the liquid. I mixed my lye with only 2/3 of the water the recipe called for. I measured out the yogurt in the amount of 1/3 of the water and blended it with my aloe leaves and set it aside. Once the lye/water and oils had been mixed and come to a light trace I then added the yogurt and aloe mixture. I continued to mix this until the soap had come to a thick trace (the consistency of cake batter) before pouring it in the molds.

The yogurt soap seems to take longer to set up, so two days later I took it out of the mold and cut it into bars. It is now curing in my soap room and will be ready for testing in two weeks… if I can wait that long 🙂

The other soap that I made in January also seemed like it would benefit from having yogurt added. This is another soap I have been making for quite awhile. It has coconut oil and olive oil as the base oils and has oatmeal, honey and cinnamon added. I call it Breakfast Bar.

I used the same process – reducing the amount of water that was mixed with the lye by 1/3. Then measuring that amount of yogurt to add once the soap had come to a trace. I found it interesting that after adding the yogurt, honey, oatmeal, and cinnamon the soap seemed to take a long time to come back to a trace. When it did finally trace, I poured it into the mold, wrapped it in a towel, and left it overnight. Again I discovered that this soap, with yogurt added, was taking longer to set up, so I left it another day. The following day the soap was still soft and looked as though it had a thin later of oil on the surface. It didn’t look right so I went online searching for answers and thankfully I found this explanation. Adding sugar to soap causes the soap to heat up more than normal during the soaponification process, and apparently too much sugar can cause some of the oil to separate. It went on to say that in four or five days the oil usually is reabsorbed into the soap. This explanation made perfect sense. The sugar in the yogurt combined with the honey caused this reaction. Fortunately at the four day mark the oil had indeed absorbed back into the soap, and though it was still soft I was able to take it out of the mold and cut it into bars. I am so thankful for experienced soap makers who freely share their knowledge online. 🙂

This batch of soap is also curing in my soap room for about the next three weeks.

Once we (my critics and I) test these soaps I’ll let you know what we think.

Thanks for reading and an extra huge THANK YOU if you decided to answer any of the above questions.

 

 

 

 

 

Dehydrating Garlic Again

I first wrote about this topic in January of 2016 but I tried some new methods this year and thought I would give you an update.

Peeling the garlic is the longest part of the process and is probably the reason most people will choose to buy garlic powder rather than make their own. Peeling garlic is not a hard job, if fact with this handy silicone garlic peeler, that we highly recommend, it is so easy that a child can do it. However, peeling large amounts of garlic to dehydrate is still a big and seemingly never ending a chore.

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In a quest to find an easier or at least quicker way I did an internet search. I found a few methods that looked promising so I tried a couple. I first tried putting the garlic in a bowl and placing a second bowl on top and shaking it. The video made this look so easy that I figured I could have all my garlic peeled in no time. My attempts at this were futile. I ended up with one or two cloves partially peeled and the rest of the peels clung tight to the cloves.  😦 I really don’t think it was anything that I did wrong or that these videos are fake. I suspect it has everything to do with the variety of garlic that they were using verses the varieties of garlic that I was using. Yes, in case you are wondering there are many (I’ve heard as many as 600) different varieties of garlic.  While I can’t endorse this method of peeling garlic I would say it is probably worth a try before you move on to something else. It might just work for you.

The other method I decided to try was blanching the garlic. I didn’t want to cook the garlic so rather than put it in boiling water I decided to immerse it in hot (probably about 180 F) water for 1-2 minutes I then put the cloves in a bowl of cold water until I was ready to peel each one. This method produced better results in that once the skin was pierced or broken it easily slipped off the clove. I pierced the skin using a paring knife while cutting off the root end.  Even though it seemed easier I’m not sure that it was any quicker than peeling each clove with the handy little garlic peeler shown above. It is also worth mentioning that I would only recommend this method if you are peeling a large amount of garlic.

Another thought came to my mind as I was writing this and it may just be the answer you/we are looking for – purchase several of the silicone garlic peelers and get the whole family or even the neighbor kids involved. Many hands make light work. (See why my kids moved out. LOL)

There was one other thing I did differently this year. Last year I wrote that I used the slicing blade in my food processor to slice the garlic. For some reason my slicing blade is missing so I decided to use the shredding blade. This actually turned out really well. It was difficult to spread the garlic evenly on the dehydrator trays but even in small clumps the garlic dried in about 1/2 the time as it did last year.

Lastly I will leave you with a warning. Dehydrating garlic in a food dehydrator produces a strong and somewhat overpowering garlic odor. This is a job that is best done in outdoors, in an out building, or in a closed off room with an exhaust fan.

I hope you find these tips useful and if you have any tips to share please leave them in the comments section below.

 

 

Dump Cake Recipe and Changing It Up

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I wanted to make a fruity dessert yesterday so I decided on an old family favorite. I remember my mom making this when I was a teenager and then telling me the recipe when I was a young mom. It’s such an easy recipe I don’t know if Mom ever had it written down, but I know I never did.

This has got to be one of the simplest and most delicious desserts you will ever bake so here is the recipe.

Dump Cake

1 can cherry pie filling

1 can crushed pineapple

1 yellow or white cake mix

1 stick butter melted

Directions –  Spread the cherry pie filling in the bottom of a 13×9 inch (33×23 cm) pan. Pour the crushed pineapple evenly over the cherry pie filling. Sprinkle the cake mix evenly over the pie filling and pineapple. Pour the melted butter over the cake mix as evenly as possible. Bake at 350 degrees F (176.7 C) for 30-40 minutes until top starts to brown.

Since I didn’t have any canned pie filling or pineapple on hand, I decided to change the recipe. What I did have was some of our home grown fruits that I had frozen when they were in season. I started with about 4 cups (946.35 grams) of  frozen strawberries and 1 1/2 cups (354.88 grams) of frozen rhubarb. I put the strawberries and rhubarb in a sauce pan and added 1 cup (236.58 grams) of sugar and 1/3 cup (78.07 grams) of corn starch. I slowly heated this until it came to a boil and became thick like pie filling. I then poured this into my 13×9 inch (33×23 cm) pan, topped it with a yellow cake mix and melted butter, and baked it just like the recipe above. This dessert can be eaten either warm or chilled. It is delicious either way.

While this may not have been as simple as the original recipe the home grown fruit made it extra delicious.

Note to my friends and readers around the world – I have added metric conversions by using online conversion charts and can only trust their accuracy. I have also rounded the numbers up to the nearest 100th and I am not sure if this gives you a close enough measurement. This recipe does not really need to be exact, but if the measurement does not seem right to you might want to do you own conversion.

Thanks for reading.