Smaht Fahm

  (Medina, Ohio)
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Duck Attack

My heart is heavy this morning--a fox visited last night and took 5 of my remaining 8 ducks.  He took four newly egg laying females, which adds insult to injury.  It's our fault, however, because we forgot to go and put the ducks in their pen last night.  My husband used to do it when he arrived home from work, but since Daylight Savings Time last weekend (another reason to despise DST), it's light when he gets home. That means we need to remember to go back out later to do it, but with three busy boys to feed, bathe and get into bed, it's easy to forget.

This hurts more because the fox visited a few weeks back and took three females.  Why couldn't he have taken the males?  Argh!  Last time, the fox wounded one of my ducks but she managed to escape.  I brought her in, put her in the bathtub to contain her and the mess.  She had a bite mark on her back, so I cleaned it up.  There was still blood seeping from somewhere and when I did a thorough search, found the fox had bitten her on the breast, causing a deep, gaping wound.  A human would not likely survived a wound like that, but ducks and chickens are very sturdy. I debated trying to sew it shut but trusted that she'd let me know what she needed.  Animals, like our own human bodies, know what they need if we just stay still enough and pay attention to its signals.

For three days, I disinfected and dressed her wound.  On the fourth day, Miss Duck began to behave differently, letting me know she would take it from here. I removed the bandages and let her to it.  Within a week, the wound had crusted, within two weeks, she was healed.  I knew it was time when she laid me an egg (first one ever!) as if to say, "See?  I'm okay, I have enough energy to lay an egg!"  I released her on Tuesday.  Now she's in the fox's belly, hope he choked on her.

I've just ordered a new batch of ducklings for hatching in two weeks.  It will be baby season--ducklings, then chicks, then turkeys.  Cute to think of, but a bit dusty and stinky towards the end.  It's the cycle of farmstead life.

 
 

The House That Jack Built?

On a fahmstead, nothing is simple.  Oh sure, you might be thinking about the gentle quacking of ducks, cooing of the chickens, buzzing of the bees, but that all takes work to accomplish.  Some of the work is planned, like maintenance chores, but a lot of the work pops up and can rarely be predicted.  Often this work is intertwined with other tasks.  It's a little frustrating, but I love hard work and the feeling of accomplishment.

For example, the top of our driveway in front of the barn is a mess: there's a table, fire pit, propane tanks, bits of wood and gutter, etc. strewn in front of the doors from recent projects and the turkey harvest.  We don't love that it's there but there's only so much daylight and time. It's so bitter cold by the time I finish a project (shorter daylight hours), I tend to work to the last minute until I can no longer feel my extremities.  Yesterday was warm-ish (for New England) and sunny, so I decided to clean the area up. As typical, I couldn't do that until I did another task, and so on and so on. In order to put the propane tanks and table away, I needed to make space in the barn.  The barn is crowded because the boys toss their bikes in, there's extra straw bales with no home (waiting for the ducks to settle into their new pen before adding more straw), a cage for two culled birds and a giant brooder pen for the baby chicks.  The hose bib popped during a recent freeze which flooded the barn floor, so stuff got tossed around trying to clean up that mess.

There was too much clutter from empty water holders that are unused in the winter.  The animals have water heaters on their supplies during winter, so all of the waterers stack up in the barn until spring.  I decided to build some wooden shelves I'd bought for organizing.  I opened a unit up, only to discover there was no hardware.  I opened another unit up, stole the hardware, put the shelves together and realized I had to fight through the bikes, lawnmower, tiller, etc. to clear space for them.  When that was cleared, I put the waterers on the shelves and was amazed at how much clutter I'd just cleared!  I removed the cage and cleaned it.  I swept the floor and organized the straw bales again.  A customer came by for eggs and we chatted.  Then it was time to go pick up son #3 from preschool. There's still so much more to organize/clear in the barn, no room for the stuff outside yet.

End result, typical result...the cluttered area in front of the barn that I had originally wanted to clear is STILL not cleared.  I can't decide if it's ADD or just typical life on a fahmstead.

 
 

Don't Wash Those Eggs!

I see you in the grocery store (a place I go rarely, but living in New England, there's only so much you can grow and preserve), staring at the egg section, baffled about all the egg choices available.  What is free range versus pastured?  What about organic versus vegetarian fed?  What's all the fuss about?

 There are many articles out there addressing these things, but here's a good visual summary:  

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-sweet-beet/brown-vs-white-eggs-egg-facts_b_794565.html#s203358

Yes, you want to feed your family well, but if you buy fresh, local eggs from a farmer you know, then you have to worry about almost none of these things.  First, if it's a small fahmstead, you can see the chickens and know where they roam and what they eat.  Ask your farmer about their practices, anyone raising their chickens well will be proud to tell you all about them.  Pastured chickens have higher levels of Omega 3 in their diets and eggs because they're eating a variety of bugs, grasses, etc.  No need to add supplements to their feed because they're getting it naturally.  Egg color is not indicative of nutrition, they're all about the same.  For example, a dozen of our eggs can contain many different shades of brown, peach, speckled, green and blue because of the different breeds of chickens who lay them.

 We don't worry about salmonella or bacteria much here because of our sanitary practices.  The chickens lay their eggs in nesting boxes that are cleaned out daily and fresh wood shavings are added.  Our girls are very picky about the level of shavings in their boxes--too little and they won't lay, too much and they kick it out, so I have to be vigilant about monitoring.  Then there's the rooster, who decides to make mischief occasionally and hops into the nesting box, kicks all the shavings out, clucks like a laying hen, then leaves.  Weird, but he's a good roo and protects his girls, so I'll allow him his eccentricities.  Lastly, you may occasionally notice a little residue on an egg--this could be a tiny piece of wood shaving, feather or dirt.  We don't wash our eggs because it's not good for them.  When a chicken lays an egg, it comes with a protective coating on it (you can't see it or feel it, but it's there) to seal the pores from bacteria.  If there were a baby chick inside, this would be crucial to protect the baby.  But since we don't allow our eggs to incubate, this isn't a problem.

 The problem with grocery store/large egg manufacturers is that they wash the eggs when they collect them.  This removes the protective coating and opens the pores up to be susceptible to bacteria.  Add that to unsanitary conditions (hundreds of thousands of chickens in a small space breeds disease) and you end up with large recalls of recent.  We don't worry about it because we're small, sanitary and honor the chickens natural ability to be chickens.  We don't interfere with the chickens, they have space outdoors to roam (outside all day, only come in to lay eggs during the day) and forage for food.  We don't have to treat for mites because they're not a problem--the chickens have space to dig holes in the woods and give themselves dust baths, a natural mite remedy.  And we don't wash the eggs so that the protective coating stays on them.

We collect the eggs each day, put them in egg cartons and straight into a dedicated egg fridge.  Eggs actually don't need refrigeration, but we refrigerate because we want to stop any potential incubation if it's a fertilized egg.  We do keep a rooster around but it's more for protection than fertilization, he's a great warning system when a hawk or other predator is nearby and gets his girls to safety.  You won't notice if the eggs is fertilized or not because it would take three days to develop. But since we put them straight into a fridge at 39 degrees, this is never an issue.

It's a lot of research to make informed food choices, but we encourage you to do it.  Know what you're putting into your body, know where your food comes from.  Sadly that this was common practice 60 years ago--back then, poor people birthed their babies at home, breastfed, raised large gardens and chickens to feed their families.  Wealthier, more educated people bought processed foods, birthed in hospitals, fed their babies formula, all as a status symbol.  Now it's reversed--it's the educated people like us (I have two Bachelor's degrees, my husband has a Master's degree) who are making holistic choices to birth, raise and feed our families.  We wish the same for you--educated consumers eating real food!

 
 

Chicken Mutiny

It's been a rough week, but we'll bounce back, we always do.  Last week I fractured my foot and have been hobbling around on crutches.  That same night, I developed a sore throat (see? that's what I get for going to the doctor, more germs!) and ended up sick and fevering for the past week.  It's very unlike me, I have a healthy diet and lifestyle, but whatever this virus is going around, it's vicious and hangs on.

My husband, who normally only helps with farm chores when I ask him to (he has a fancy day job), graciously stepped up to help so that I could rest and recover.  Chickens are very sensitive to changes in routine and our chickens took this as their opportunity to make mischief.  The brats actually hazed my husband!  He caught several chickens nibbling on eggs, a definite no-no, something they don't do when I'm around.  Then they slacked off in their laying.  I wouldn't have minded, except I know how approximately how many eggs I get daily.  They've acted very spoiled while I've been sick.

This morning my fever was finally down (I'm buying a big batch of elderberries and making elderberry syrup for us all to take daily during winter) and I hobbled out to the coop.  When I opened the coop door, the chickens ran out and came to a screeching halt when they saw me.  Seriously, they were acting guilty!  Normally they crowd around me cooing happily.  Everyone avoided me, suddenly found the woods and digging holes very interesting.  No wonder--when I went into the coop, they'd kicked the baby chicks out of their brooder box and laid a big pile of eggs there.  Mama's back in charge and everyone will behave from now on, got it, ladies?

Hobbled by Honey

I've been hobbled by honey!

Last week I was making the kids breakfast, peanut butter toast on fresh made bread.  I felt ahead of the game that morning, got up, showered, started lunches and farm chores before their wake up time.  I'd made a loaf of fresh bread earlier (have I mentioned how much I love my bread machine's programmable timer?), it was cooled and sliced.  The boys asked for toast with peanut butter and honey.  The toaster dinged, I spread the peanut butter and opened a fresh jar of our honey in my favorite thick glass jar.  I overdid the knife, ended up knocking the jar off the counter and down onto my bare foot.  My first thought was, "Owwww, that's painful!"  My second thought was, "Oh no! The honey is oozing onto the floor, save the honey!"  It was a rough year for the bees with the drought, so there wasn't as much honey to harvest, each drop is precious.

I scooped up honey jar, quit hollering so as not to scare the kids, reassured the kids I was okay, grabbed the arnica (to reduce swelling and bruising, an excellent homeopathic remedy), popped four tabs, and threw an ice pack on.  I waited for the pain to subside...it didn't.  Got the kids off to school, went straight to chiropractor, who x-rayed and confirmed I'd fractured the third metatarsal.  Argh!  Now I'm in a boot and crutches for the next few weeks, THIS should make farm chores fun! 

One customer joked that I spend my time educating people about the healthful benefits of honey, but I don't talk about the dangers of dropping the big jar on a foot, good point!

 
 
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