I have decided that the updates on the farm are a combination of events that would be perfect for a soap opera or Shakespearean tragedy. I have shared my ups and downs with the quail and recently it has been more down than ups. Over the past couple of weeks I have lost over 25 quail to what I am guessing is a very lucky raccoon. This raccoon is lucky for many reasons but one is that it has not been caught. This raccoon has figured how to grab the quail through the fencing and eat them with little pressure. Once I discovered this I put up a second layer of fencing. This still did not deter it. I mentioned in an earlier post that I saw the raccoon one morning and yelled at Dustin to shoot it but he was just waking up and to my horrified eyes, I watch out the window the raccoon jogging across the lawn with Dustin lagging behind (almost smirking to itself).
To give my quail a fighting chance, I have reinforced the cage and think I finally have a new set up. Just when I thought I was good, the goats found a way to open the door and free more of the quail. During the evenings we can hear the roosters calling all across the field and lawn. Finally, the last event was one of the quail decided to hide under some logs in the cage and to my discovery found the smashed body. I am now down to 3 quail and 2 are boys. So, I have removed all the logs, added a thick plastic barrier 2 feet from the bottom of the cage and reinforced the door. Time to go shopping again.
I received news from the neighbors a week back that they had lost 5 of their hens due to a predator and asked to borrow our live trap. We had not had any luck or action and thought nothing of it. This morning the neighbors let me know that they had finally caught the raccoon. We were relieved!! It was a lazy Saturday so we took our time getting up. Once we got up, as a family we headed to the neighbors to see how they set up their trap. They were heading to an event so they were going to come back and deal with the raccoon or they said we could take care of it. We left it for them. As we headed home, I started to notice a large pile of feathers in our field. I quickly walked over to our barn and saw several piles of feathers. I began to count and realized that I had lost 4 hens and 1 rooster. I was feeling very defeated. Then Sadie informed us that 2 additional chickens were injured. I had a toe nail ripped off of one of my orphingtons and one of my leghorns had open wounds on her side and belly. We are waiting to see how both of them do to see if I will lose anymore.
After spending the day taking care of the after-math, my neighbor came over during the supper hour and informed us that the raccoon had gotten away. I am now even more defeated, ugh. I don’t know if I should give the raccoon kudos for outsmarting two male hunters or if I should raise my hands in defeat.
Well, to make myself feel better I am purchasing more chickens, quails, a baby monitor and at least one alpaca to resolve this issue. I have heard alpacas, donkeys, or geese are great guard animals. I am working on the alpaca route to see how it goes. We have also set up another live trap to see if we get any action.
I have to admit this is the not so glamorous part of farming and I will keep taking this a day at a time. On a positive note, our poor bantam Pancake has been hiding all over the barn because the adolescent rooster was approx. 16 weeks and starting to pay attention to her. He is a maran and towers over her. It has been a question mark if I was going to keep the rooster for fear that Pancake was going to get injured and now I don’t have to make the decision. I am hopeful he died protecting the hens this morning and ended up getting himself in trouble. We had decided to call him Mr. Darcy just last week.
As the school year came to an end, there has been quite a bit of action around the farm. First, I will announce that I finally have my logo finished and am so excited to see the finished result.
The other big activity around the farm is lately the continued problem of predators eating my birds. I came home one day and Fancy, my ameraucana was gone. There were left over feathers but her body was completely missing. Soon after that we started seeing a fox coming across the neighborhood. Dustin went out and purchased a live trap but so far everyone in the neighborhood has seen it but no one has been able to stop it. The neighbor down the street has lost all his chickens due to this fox.
The other issue is I not only lost Fancy but lost several quail have been taken. They were able to rip open the runs and have quite a buffet. I have learned a few things:
- predators do not just attack during the night. These attacks have been throughout the day.
- The predator almost knows when I leave for work and knows the house schedule.
- They will continue to return while there is still food.
- They can pull off the chicken wire.
Ironically, one of the quail I lost was a hen that I have retrieved from the back field. When we were culling the flock, Eli lost a couple of the quail. This probably happened over a month ago. Since that time, we could hear the quail all around the property but couldn’t catch them until one day one was in the front field. I chased after it and it flew over the pond not realizing how big the pond was. The poor quail fell into the pond and was trying to bob to the shore. I ran across to the other side of the quail and retrieve it before it drown. That was one tired quail.
I have learned that quail can only fly short amounts of time.
So, this morning we decided to try and see if the fox returned and as I was watching the backyard a racoon comes up to the barn. Very easily looks through the quail run crawls over the fence. I started yelling at Dustin- who was asleep, to go get it. Let’s just say Dustin is not quite as good of a shot right out of bed. So now the question is who is eating all my animals. I told Dustin if he doesn’t get the fox or raccoon, I am investing in a alpaca.
The pigs are getting big and am excited they can reach the water tank. I put it on cinder blocks this year because once they are full size they have to kneel to get water. This bunch of pigs is also some of the nicest pigs we have yet to have. They come when they are called and love to chew on my boot straps.
The last update is on my back field. Since the pond is in-between the barn and the back field, it is very difficult to get equipment back there. I was in talks with the neighbor to build a gate through their yard but it has been dry enough that we made a try and succeeded. This is the first time I have been able to mow down the field since we moved to the farm. The tractor did great and pigs and kids found a great resting spot under the trees in the middle of the field. I am thinking once the field gets high again I will make the kids a maze before mowing it all down again.
It is amazing how precious time is in the spring. Weeks have gone by and it only feels like a couple of days.
The little chicks are getting larger and more independent each day. They are getting along with the rest of the flock and have figured out how to roost at night.
Besides the chicks, the quail have settled in nicely. I started with 36 eggs in the middle of winter. Approximately 17 hatched. Once they reached 5 weeks we discovered only 4 were female. We culled the rest. I am now moving on to the next batch with 48 eggs in the incubator. I am hoping for a higher hatch rate since it is not in the middle of winter.
Our new addition to the farm includes 4 additional piglets. We are trying hampshire doruc breed to compare with the berkshire breed. I have to admit they are pretty cute.
While we were getting the pigs settled, rhe goats enjoyed a nice sunny weekend.
Lately it has been Fast and Furious learning about the courtinex quail. It is one thing to read about the process of raising quail and a book or on a Blog it’s a whole nother thing experiencing it firsthand. I have had the opportunity to put 36 eggs in incubator in the middle of the winter I had a 50% hatch rate. The quail have been living in the barn with all the other animals and their own space. We also build them over on. They really enjoy the outside.
Recently, the quail have been getting pretty large and we have enjoyed the new calls of the roosters. The quail are 7 weeks old and we have started getting eggs. This weekend we learned how to sex the quail and came to the discovery wr have 9 roosters and 4 hens. I have noticed some of the roosters have been getting pretty agressive with each other. Guess we are going to learn how to clean and cook quail.
The quail are now 1 week old and I have taken them home from school. It was pretty special to see how many kids and staff wanted to talk about the new baby chicks over the week. We ended up with having 16 hatch out of 36. I have 8 Texas A & M and the rest are Coturnix Quail. The kids set up a “natural” environment with sticks and hiding places. I think the chicks loved it because they all stretched out and took a nap. We joke that we needed to keep checking on them to make sure they were alive.
The new BIG Toy
The other big news around the farm is the new addition of a John Deere tractor. This was a christmas present that took a few months to come in. I headed to the dealer so I could get some driving lessons. I kept reminding him that I haven’t driven stick since I was 16. I will have to admit I had a lot of fun.
I want to give a big shout out to Minnesota Equipment in Rogers because it was really nice to have someone right next to me to walk me through all the bells and whistles. I am very excited to take it out to the field and see what it can do.
GOAT MILK & LARD SOAP
The last final update is on the use of the lard from the pigs. We have tried lard goat milk soap to see how we like it. I had saved the cleanest lard for hoping to do soapmaking. I was blessed to have my neighbor be a veteran with the process so we made a batch together. We poured them into molds last week and am letting them cure for the next few weeks. It was easier than I thought so we will see if we like how it feels when we use it.
We had record high temps of 60 yesterday which got everyone out of the barn to get some sun rays. Some of the exciting news is we are having quail chicks hatch in the incubator. I had some concerns since this was the first time raising quail and the week I received the eggs the breeder was saying due to the bitter cold he wasn’t getting a very high hatching rate.
Throughout the process we were able to candle them only a few days in and saw them growing. After the chick’s were 7 days old we couldn’t see anything that way. I had read online that you can put the in water and if they float they were growing so we did try it with a couple of eggs. That also worked.
We were at day 17 on Thursday night and we were starting to see signs of hatching. Some of the eggs were losing parts of the outer shell and one was starting to poke through.
I checked on it yesterday and several had hatched. Unfortunately there was a learning curve and I lost one chick who was able to fall in the side of the tray.
I am excited to see how many actually hatch and see how they grow.
It took approximately a little over a week to pick up the pork from the butcher. Any reservations we may of had through the process quickly disappeared when we inventoried the meat. In the end, our pig live weight was 265 lbs. and hanging weight totaled 185 lbs. The 185 resulted in the following:
- 18 lb cured ham
- 2 spare ribs
- 2 boston butts
- 26 packages of pork chops
- 10 lbs. smoked bacon
- 11 lbs. pork side
- 8 hocks
- 2 pork roasts
- 3 ham roasts
- 1 pork liver
- 1 pork heart
- 2 giant bags of lard- I have rendered 1 bag and it gave me 9 quarts of lard.
We call that the “money shot”. Over the past week we have been taste testing the pork. The big question was if we could notice a difference between store bought pork and this and regular feeder pigs and this. Based on our initial meals- hands down this pork is amazing. You can’t even compare to regular grocery store. In addition, we are even noticing differences between regular feeder pigs and our pork. I believe we will very quickly become food snobs. The kids already will complain about eggs that are more than 2 weeks old.
One of the interesting thing that has begun to happen with this hobby farm is you research and learn about one aspect of farming and it is like a rabbit hole and the journey keeps going farther and farther. Much farther than you ever originally planned for or expected. If you notice in the photo there are 2 giant bags of lard and we began to do a lot of research of uses of lard. Dustin and I spent a day rendering the lard and have been putting it to good use. We have heard that it is best in biscuits or pie crusts. We haven’t had a chance yet but the little bit we are using it is pretty amazing. The second detour I am taking is using lard for traditional soap and soap making. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I will try my first batch.
For the rendering process, I slow cooked the lard in a crockpot- actually 4 crock pots and then filtered the liquid and let it cool.
One other new project I am working on is hatching quail eggs. I purchased a few dozen and will be putting them in the incubator on Monday. We will see how we do. You look at the tiny eggs and wonder if how fragile they will be.
I will make one mention of the goats- I went out this morning to do my barn chores and you always hear about how mischievous goats are… well…. Vanilla Bean had found a way to shove her head in the cattle panel fencing to keep her out of the chicken pen. She normally does this but for some reason today she couldn’t get herself out of the fence. I gave her some time to do it independently and they I began to try shoving and pushing her head back with no luck. Eventually I had to get the lock cutters and cut a hole in the fence.
We are coming to the end of our first pig adventure and we learned a tremendous amount and at the end of the day we are gearing up to do it again. I am going to have Dustin do the honors of explaining the butchering day since I was on a business trip. I will say I think it is quite a story from the little evidence I say when I returned home. I was chaperoning a 6th grade trip to Eagle Bluff Environmental Center and was working with kids on the high ropes course- in January- and I received a call from the butcher. Didn’t take the call but texted Dustin letting him know. He responded that they were still working on getting the pigs in the trailer. Before the pigs headed to the butcher I had done a quick tour video and posted it on youtube if you are interested.
As of right now, we should be receiving the pork at the end of the week. We have plans to do another batch at the end of the summer. We contemplated if we wanted to do a batch sooner but the idea of smelly pigs in the summer is not encouraging.
December Tour Video:
Speaking of videos, I can’t remember if I posted this video of the goats out running on the ice while Sadie is ice skating.
Goat Ice Skating Video:
Now that all my chickens are at laying age and the pigs are gone, I am off to new adventures in this farm experience. A couple of topics coming up is now that you have butchered the pig- what comes next. A couple of new topics will include smoking pork, new recipes, rendering lard and soap making.
From Dustin’s pheasant hunting trip, he gave some meat out to some friends and co-workers. A big shoutout to Christie for sharing her amazing pheasant creation.
This is roasted pheasant with a rhubarb red bell pepper balsamic reduction glaze. Stuffed with wild rice, shiitake mushrooms, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, garlic, shallots and thyme. The title alone sounds amazing.
There will be two new topics I will be discussing here in the next couple of months. . . quail and mealworms. After Dustin went on the pheasant trip we began to do some research and landed on quail. They are smaller prolific egg layers and great for meat. The other addition is a meal worm farm that can keep my hens happy through the cold Minnesota winters. I will keep you posted. I was excited to get a new purchase. Dustin is a little worried how big this incubator is and how many more birds I can add. hehe.
The beginnings of our mealworm farm
Ameraucanas At Work
We had a short time of winter weather that didn’t want you to hibernate and we had a great suprise of having multiple blue eggs. After doing some investigation, we were excited that the 3 youngest ameraucanas are laying their first eggs. They are laying between the laying boxes, hay manager and dresser so it really is a egg hunt to figure out how many we got for the day. This also means they are officially hens and receive names.
One Last Pig Visitor
The pig’s butcher date has arrived and as I was feeding them their last bag of feed I ran into a little visitor near the water. It was already dark and I discovered we had possum in the pen. The pigs smelled it but didn’t do much, similarly the possum stayed out of their way.
Here is a picture of the trio at 6 months before we head to the butchers.
December has come to an end and as we prepare for butchering day for our 3 pigs, I have really enjoyed the pigs around the farm and the journey we have taken. Over the last couple of weeks we have learned how much the pigs enjoy free ranging. With snow on the ground you can follow their tracks. I was super surprised to see how smart they are by staying safe around the pond and to know when to cross the pond. Sadie went out to shovel the pond to ice skate and we were surprised to see the pigs had already been on the frozen pond.
The pigs had been rooting up the cattails and old trees. They also used the trees for a scratching post. As you can tell from the photos we had the goats as well.
We have also finally figured out a workable water system for Minnesota for the pigs. I have settled on a stock tank with 2 heaters- one for the main tank and one for the pig shoot. The other logistical issue was filling the tank in the middle of winter. Carrying buckets of warm water is not fun. We figured out that is is easier to shovel snow into the tank and let it melt.
So far so good. The last pieces is now that the mud is frozen the water trough is too low and the pigs have to kneel down to get a drink. Once the temps. Warm up I will be raising the tank on cinder blocks.
The flock is doing well and I am waiting to see how my last set of young chickens will do. I am still deciding on the two Rhode Island red roosters. They are now crowing and taking on rooster characteristics. The other day one of them were sitting on the edge of the dresser guarding for one of the hens as she was laying her egg. I am getting approx. 5-6 eggs a day.
Not exactly sure how the idea began to take shape but I am expanding the farm into raising quail. After doing some research they are smaller birds but consistently lay eggs year round. I also have the space to create a natural habitat for them. I admit I really struggle with seeing “farmers” raise animals in cages that is more about saving space and less about the care of the animals.