Tuesday, 26 March 2013

New arrivals, more losses

Where to start with this weekend, yet another weekend of highs and lows, losses and gains; and not all of them planned or at our own hand. Others were, and we have a stocked freezer as a result.
 I do feel as if all I post recently is lost livestock and purchases of replacements. I understand that a turn over is required in some circumstances to introduce new bloodlines, however I do not feel we will be needing to do that for quite some time!
2 new turkeys and Indian game roosters
Firstly we lost the young poult, that had had its leg caught in the incubator tray. To be entirely honest I am not sure that was all that was wrong with it; it was unsteady on its feet and although we had seen it eat and drink, I am not sure it was getting enough, and was weak.
Saturday we also lost Ronnie; our prize Indian Game rooster. We had quarantined him for a few days, following his run in with the car- we don't think he was run over, but he definitely gave himself a fright being underneath it. Though I do think he had become increasingly unsteady on his feet, prior to this. But it may have finished him off.
So we returned to the breeder of our last batch of Indian Games to purchase another dark rooster, only to come away with 2! We also picked up 2 young turkeys- one male, one female. So we have various stages, to grow out for Christmas; though I hope the female has at least one season laying prior to that.
On the piggy front, Friday we travelled back to the free range piggery to purchase a young gilt, in the hope of breeding pure Berkshires. So we made the 250km (approx 156 miles) round trip to see Christina at Berkshire Gold and picked out our girl- Sage.

Sage ready to meet her new mob

Sage settling into her new surroundings

Berkshire Gold supply the local area with high quality free range meat. Though we have noticed how timid she is (in comparision to our other). As a free ranger piggery, they have a huge amount of space on about 110 hectre (I wish!). But it does mean that they are not as used to human contact as our guys... So this is something I will be working on! 

Sage remained in the transport cage overnight, as it was late when we returned and she was dry and comfy. So the introduction to the herd (or mob) came on Saturday morning... but there was one thing we had to do first.
Introducing a new member to our herd was bound to cause excitement and probably a bit of tension. So there was one thing that required our attention first.
Berky our 1st piglet born and raised
The purchase of Sage (that's the new gilts name), did seal Streaky's fate (our original gilt, purhcased- unsuccessfully as a breeder). So before introducing the new girl, we needed to deal with Streaky.

Smokey- our Berkshire bore

This was not a task, either of us was looking forward to, or a decision we took lightly. We had already persevered for months, with no success. And as we rear our pigs for pork, that was the decision that needed to be made. But I have blogged this event separately, in the previous post. So for those who do not wish to read, or see some of the images (as they may be upsetting).

In the middle of this however Sage decided that the cows paddock looked far more inviting, so made a break through the fence (as we had knocked the electric fence off  to allow us to use the ramps- to pu ther in, and forgotten to pu tit back on). So had to herd her back through, without letting the others out... not the best timing.

So we sectioned part of the pen off with electric fencing, to allow for the pasture (and probably various veg that will propergate from thier dropping) to regrow. Then we will rotate and separate another bit.


Streaky became Pork

*This post is not for the faint hearted- not that it is graphic, but some may find it upsetting.
But as our first pig, raised soley here; from paddock to plate. This made this a difficult decision to make, and a sorrowful event. But here is a breif account of the process.

Saturday morning was D-day for Streaky. Following months of perseverance in the hope she would produce piglets, the decision was made. We had enjoyed having her, and she had had a good life. But all animals on a small holding have their purpose. And since she wasn't producing and meeting one, it was to be the other.
So the kill itself was short and swift- direct shot to the head, and she had no idea it was coming; she was content and happy to the end. Although she was dead, it is still necessary to 'bleed' the animal. To avoid the blood congealing and spoiling the meat.

Our next, and by far one of the most difficult tasks was moving her. Once we got her to the bath. We managed to hoist her, on the 3rd attempt- as twice she bent the winch!

Preparing water

We borrowed a 100kg scales, that she topped out before we even had her off the floor.
The next job, once the animal is bled, is to scold the skin/hair. We did this by heating 2 kegs of water, over gas flames and filling the bath tub. The rule of thumb for a successful scald is 2 buckets of boiling water, to every bucket of cold water. The actual desired temperature is 62-64 degrees celsius. Too hot and the skin actually sticks to the meat, too cold and it will be in/ or limitedly affective.

Pierce behind rear tendons to hoist

Once the was to temperature we lowered her into the bath and used a (clean) spade and a borrowed hair scraper tool to agitate the water and begin to scrape the skin.  Our Streaky was that big, there was little room for the water, and getting good coverage on the hocks etc was almost impossible. This just meant that the lower cuts off the limbs had to be skinned, and we did not use the trotters on this occasion.

And lower her in the bath

Getting the temperature right

Removing hair & layer of skin 

To be honest, she was probably too large for a home kill. We estimated her live weight at around 120-130 kg as we successfully have over 60kg of pork cuts and joints from her. (General rule ½ live weight to meat out come). In commercial circumstances a pig of this size would be scalded in an enclosed tank- working much like a washing machine.

Add caption

Then she had to be gutted and hung over night; just to get the core temperature down. Gutting provided an insight into why there had been no success with producing piglets, as she had a few pink cists. So guess it was never meant to be. We were relieved however, that despite her age and size, there was still relatively little fat on her- in pig terms.  

Too large for Bandsaw

Berkshires are known for their 'marbling' and this was evident in the meat cuts. To be honest none of us had ever seen such colourful meat from a pig. Just goes to show how the breed and free ranging make a difference! Guess the truth will be in the tasting.

Marbling is amazing!

As were the various shades of pink flesh... truely free range


Thursday, 21 March 2013

More Poult Pics

As promised here are some more pics of the new poults!
The third one, lying on its side had me worried to start with. As this is the one that got its knee stuck in the grid tray of the incubator. Not that you can tell from these pics (due to the light exposure caused by their lamp) but the one with the sore knee is the darker colouring (there's one light one), but with less markings on its head.
It is obviously still causing it some discomfort, as it lies sprawled on its side, legs out straight. And has a little limp when it's wandering around... I guess the main thing is, it's wandering around.
Injured Poult, resting
We did take out the usual excess begging to make it easier for this little one to get about. And was relieved to see it get up from this position all on its own.- The last thing I wanted was for it too roll on its side and not be able to get up, especially if it were under the lamp and too hot or something.
So will maintain progress reports on all these little ones.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Turkey poults progress to brooder box

Well I moved the turkeys into the brooder box this morning. Having cleaned the chicks and Lucy out, sterilised all the waterers and feeders- and shuffling them around. The 3 turkey poults have a lovely warm and cosy (temporary) home.
I was a little concerned about one of them. As when I got home from work (and eagerly) checked on them. One was rather vocal, and it immediately became apparent why. It's knee was wedged in the base tray of the incubator! I managed to release it (within minimal protest from the bird) but I was concerned as to how injured it may have been, or how long it had been like it.

This little one was not as active as the other two, though when I picked it up, it had full motion of the leg and grip of the toes, just seemed reluctant to hold its body wait. But then I would be too, as no doubt even if it was 'uninjured' in a permanent sense, it would still be bruised or sore. But this morning I was relieved to see the bird stand upright; holding its own body weight.
So for now I will just keep a close eye on it, and handle it regularly- sort like physio for turkeys.
(will post updated photos shortly)

I've ordered worm!

Yes that's right, the new addition to our farm are worms... not your general earth worm, but actual composting worms.
Now a little background information- when we bought this place it had an innovative waste system; as we do not have your general domestic system and 'town supply' for either our water or waste.  Now whilst this does reduce the rates costs (Council tax- to those in UK), it does mean you have to have an alternative source or system in place.
The system installed was actually really good; it is a bio-tank. That breaks down our household waste/sewerage and then supplies our garden lawn and orchard with the 'grey water'.
This system is very affective as long as it is operating properly. A few factors can affect this. So all our household products; washing powder, dishwashing liquid/ dishwasher tablets, cleaning products... basically anything that goes down the sink has to be biodegradable.
This is because the 'biological' process that breaks down our waste are worms!  That and any liquid is pumped into the garden- so chemicals would kill both the worms and our plants/lawn.
The biggest problem we have had with this system (not including the minor set back of cutting the irrigation pipes leading from the tank, which then flooded it in the wet season last year). Has been sourcing worms for it... in theory they should just multiply, but if anything were to upset them and they don't like water- so the flooded system meant they drown. We (or our plumber) needs to source more worms.  
So in the vain of self- suffieincy I decided to breed my own. That and to avoid being charged for the plumber to source them! When apparently they are very easy to keep yourself... I guess time will tell on that one.
But our own supply for our bio-tank is not my only motivation for building a worm farm, as I am hoping a better understanding of these vital creatures will assist in our maintaining their numbers and survival within the tank itself.
 So I have done my research and have ordered a combination of 'Red', 'Blue' and 'Tiger' worms , about 2kg (approx 8000) worms from www.wormsrus.com.au
There are a number of suppliers out there, willing to assist with setting up our home worm farm, just Google composting worms.
The worm farm itself will be constructed from a few recycled Styrofoam boxes, I purchased for a $1 each from a local veg store- I will blog about its construction again.  Once the worm farm is up and running I am hoping it will also produce a very potent, natural fertiliser (liquid/ compost tea and vermicompost) for the gardens, veg patch (which apparently helps with drought tolerance- very important here!)and a food source for the birds! Hopefully win, win, win!
I am not actually too concerned with the advertised benefit or reducing/recycling our waste. As the animals generally get first dibbs on our food scraps anyway. So having another species to divvy our scraps up between, may actually seem more of an inconvenience.  Though they can also consume paper, cardboard, tea bags, coffee grounds, vacuum cleaner dust, animal manure, used animal bedding, garden clipping- things that at the moment I can only place in the over flowing compost bin. So the fact that they can consume their own weight per week should help with this.
So now I am waiting for my worms to be delivered, as they are sent direct to your door. So be like a present when they arrive.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Turkey poults have hatched (sort of)

 Well I have learned a new term. Baby turkey are called poults! And we had 3 hatch, with assistance this morning!
Unfortunately we were a little late for the fourth. I know many people do not believe in helping their hatchlings, but I hate seeing perfectly healthy and formed young fail at the final hurdle. After all we are interfering already, by incubating. And given our problems during incubation, with the weather affecting the temperature, as well as knocking out the power. We had already lost enough, these guys had made it this far.
All the turkey eggs were 28 days yesterday, and all were tapping away. So we had high hopes, but were becoming tentatively concerned. By the time we returned home from work, one had chipped through, with the smallest crack and whole, another had stopped tapping. So we took the decision to help them out. After all, have you ever tried to crack a turkey egg. Most people wouldn't have, as they are considered too expense to eat; due to their worth as young. But let me tell you, their shells are quite difficult to break, so I can only imagine how exhausted these little guys must be.

Now do not get me wrong, assisting a hatchling is a final attempt. As it in itself has risks. The birds are surrounded by a membrane, connected to their umbilical cord- much like any other young. And breaking this on accident, can cause the bird to bleed out. So absolute care is required. Generally I attempt to pick the shell away, pierce the outer membrane with the shell and peel back, just enough for it to breath.
So whilst it was far too late for the fourth, three made it the rest of the way out this morning and clumsily, clambering around the incubator... they appeared to be doing well. (Fingers crossed)   

Update, at last!

OK so I have been a little absent recently. Seems to be a common apology, but I do mean it. I have loved writing this, so would hate for anyone (if I am vain enough to presume anyone is reading this) to lose interest. As I have loved sharing our experiences... no matter how minor, inexperienced or some times graphic, but this is the reality.
I shouldn't make excuses, however I have been away for work for a few days. So Matt was left looking after everything solo.  So I guess you would think I would have little to report, but you would be wrong.
We are yet again a few more birds down. Since we stated around Christmas we wanted to down size our flock, the numbers have been tumbling! Something we need to rectify.
Unfortunately we had to have our resident drake, Patta-duck put down on 7th; after he had been 'not himself' for a few days. It sounds strange to complain a duck was waddling, but he was not standing up right, but shuffling. He was eating and drinking, as I was making sure he did (and his appetite was still good) so we made a last ditch attempt to save our pet drake. Unfortunately he was not well at all. He had definitely lost weight, as well as being lethargic and not walking properly. The vet also said he was dehydrated and had limited strength in his lower limbs and even his tail. She believed it was a bacterial toxic poisoning; probably something he had ate, as ducks are natural foragers, and with the wet weather we have had he could easily had found something that had begun to rot. So Pat, being a very sick duck didn't come back home. I stayed with him, as I didn't want him to be alone. Might sound strange from someone who raises birds as livestock, however Pat was very much a pet, and could win anyone over with his personality.
Whilst I was away, our remaining hybrid hen; who had earned herself a reprieve, by laying whenever the freezer threat was spoken. Became dog food whilst I was away... and Ffion was very pleased with herself. An expression I witnessed again yesterday, after I went out for an early morning run. Only this time it was one of our your pullets, who we have been waiting to start laying. So for future reference they will be staying in bed, if I head out early and not helping herself to breakfast.
On the subject or our young pullets, we are still waiting for them to begin lay... Only the one (of the two remaining) Old English Game cross has laid, and had done so for a few weeks, prior to the last batch of rain.  Though they are a few weeks older than the others. Our Rhode Island Red crosses and Light Sussex and Sussex cross should have all begun by now, as they are over 6 months old. So I am hopeful it has just been the heat and rain that has postponed their starting. As we have had to buy eggs for the first time in years- free range, of course. I know patience is key, but I would be grateful if anyone had any suggestions.
In more happy poultry news, our Indian game and OEG x Indian game chicks are doing really well. And are in that awkward, not quite cute stage now, where they are developing their adult feathers... I think it safe to say the older 3 are all roosters! And Lucky-Lu (Lucy) is doing really well. She responds to us, and comes (generally) when called. As, as only surviving Light Sussex from the chicks hatched over Christmas, where the others surcome to the wet. She battled on and survived! So is still housed in the shed, claiming the one side of the brooder box as her own. Something that will have to change once the turkeys hatch I guess. But we take her out and place her in the run every day, and bring her in at night, or poor weather.  She actually looks for us in the evenings and happily sits on our hand or shoulder... although this has resulted in a few clothes changes! She even managed to aim for the Madog's head one evening too.
This evening I planted out a few herbs, zucchinis and cucumbers to fast track my garden. As, as you may have noticed we have been a little busy and I am so far behind with starting this year's garden! I also sown my first batch of seeds... so fingers crossed for a good start. I do not tend to have a great history with propagating from seeds. I think I get too enthusiastic and plant them out too early. Ironically one of my best propagation strategies has been separating off section of the pig pen. So if I collect seeds; from garden or claimed from veg from the grocers, I generally feed some to the pigs, particularly if I am planning on allowing part of the pen some recovery time. As they appear to have a higher success rate than I do!  -
So gardening tip, should you wish to start some veg for minimum cost. If you buy your vegetables from a grocer, local produce store or farmers market, they are less likely to be produce from hybrid plant- unlike most supermarket stuff. So if you collect the seeds, they should propagate. Also if you can buy them locally, they are more likely to be successful in your environment. So stuff like tomatoes (you just need one from a punnet), seeds from a capsicum/pepper, chillies, eggplant/aubergines, pumpkins, melons, avocado (though these can be tricky, and be aware the tree and avocado skins are poisonous to almost everything, animal wise). Pretty much anything that would have seeds that you generally discard. I am also told you can place the stems of herbs (such as basil) in water and they will develop roots- this is something I plan on trying shortly... so will document and share. Also celery ends (the root bit) can be placed in water and should begin to grow again- but this is useless in the tropics. Another one that I am planning this winter is potatoes and sweet potatoes that are 'over' in the eating sense. So have eyes on them. Plant that in a barrel and 1 kg should produce up to 7kg! So again, this is another one I will keep you up to date on.  

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Smallholders ideal table bird- Stage 2

The weekend saw the arrival of our second ‘set’ of hatchlings. From the eggs we candled when we got back from Perth. 9 we due this week, the rest are younger than that so still have time to go.
I have discussed candling before. This is a process we use to determine whether the eggs are fertile, and/or progressing. Sometimes fertile eggs will stop developing, so we siphon these out too.
Basically by using a bright torch and carefully placing it against the egg, in a darkened room you will be able to see the silhouette (or lack of).  
So as I was saying from this ‘sets’ eggs we had 2 that didn’t make it- 1 non-starter and 1 that was just too weak. To be honest I would rather have a non starter than a chick that doesn’t make it because its too weak, so hasn’t developed properly... but I guess that’s why the saying goes “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched”. And I think any bird breeder (not sure I think of myself as one, but guess that’s right) would agree with that statement.
So we have 7, fit and healthy chicks. These guys will be staying indoors until the rain has definitely gone.  I guess we learned a lesson this year, not to hatch any eggs over Christmas- New Year (or generally up til the wet season).
I am hoping to continue to photograph these guys regularly, and document them; in the hope that we can learn about their progress and potentially even sex them. And use that for future hatchlings too.
3 of these guys are pure Indian games, the others are a cross between Lavender, our Old English game/layer cross and Ronnie our Indian Game rooster. So potentially stage 2 in our long term experiment for the small holders ideal ‘table’ bird.
As a smallholder, we breed and rear chickens, both for egg production and meat consumption. It’s not for everyone, but this is the lifestyle we have chosen. Now many years of mass production has developed ‘hybrids’ designed for one or the other, but not both. Many of the traditional breeds are considered ‘dual purpose’ as they would have been more for the average family... though most would probably have had ‘mongrels’ or crosses too.
So the ultimate goal is to produce offspring, from which the roosters provide a good eating bird and the females fair egg production... minimising waste and flock numbers.
I am hopeful that these Old English Game x layer crossed Indian Game may produce an interesting ‘table bird’ line. Though so far none of our, well for want to of a better word- expectations (no that definitely the wrong word) have eventuated. Well any way, anything we suspected may result from this cross so far has been in correct. As I had, had an incling (I wouldn’t call it an expectation) that the Old English Game cross chicks may  differ in appearance from the other, as I suggested they would inherit the grey legs of the Old English Games, as the entire first cross did. And I have seen photographs of Indian Games crossed with Australorps- another grey legged chicken, inherit grey legs. As opposed to the dark yellow of the Indian Game. All the chicks have yellow legs!
Well here the background to our experiment, for those who don’t know.
Following my unintentional purchase of an Old English Game rooster last year. We did incubate 1 ‘set’ of eggs. The result of which was a poor fertility rate, but produced 9 crosses- mostly roosters, but a few hens.
All inherited varying levels of Dads colourful plumage... even the hens. 2 of the hens we still have- Lavender and Welly2, both are beautiful golden coloured birds; Lavender with a purple-y tail feathers and Welly2, was clearly the result of a cross with our Welsummer hen- if her markings are anything to go by.
Now whilst as a breed we found the Old English Games to be quite ‘wild’, in terms of their natural survival instincts. Dad, more so than our OEG cross hens, but even these practice these instincts...strange when compared to our experience with other domestic chicken breeds. They usually roost off the ground (usually in trees or on top of high fence posts/ wire) and are more than happy to forage for their own food. Also found the roosters to be quite aggressive, but then we only usually had contact with them whilst they were confined- so guess it could be that flight or flight instinct. But I could definitely see why they were used for cock fighting!
Anyway back on track, this cross produced a few roosters, all of which had fair meat quantity and quality for their size. Whereas the hens were smaller in size and smaller than our general laying flock, they have delivered a fair number of eggs, or at least so far.   Therefore we were hopeful that experimenting with this offspring and the Indian Game may produce a fair (or at least improved) laying, table bird... every small holders dream.
Well this is stage 2, guess we will keep documenting our progress.

Back home, update

Well we had a wonderful time in Perth. And have to admit, we would seriously consider a future move to WA... though not yet. I would definitely have to see what the winters were like. As it was very dry (at the moment, as they have a Mediterranean climate), so cooler, wet winters do not seem appealing; though would be necessary for growing and pastures. Guess any move would be complex, but in the right ‘thing’, I think we would be very tempted.
Back to Queensland, and our absence saw a few ups and downs. Our poor house/ animal sitter had his hands full. And we are very grateful for his help, though I think over all he enjoyed his “farm stay”.
Anyone eho owns 'property' will know, going away is a little more complex... anyone with a pet can appreciate the planning and worry that goes into taking holidays. So finding someone willing to take on a larger property with a variety of animals is rare- so we really are grateful.
The night before our house sitter came to stay- as he stayed from the Sunday, though we didn’t leave until Tuesday morning, so we could show him the ropes and the dogs could get used to him being there, and being the one who fed them. Any way Saturday night, we lost the first of our Christmas hatchlings; think the wet weather just got to it- found it lying in an undercover corner in the wet. Though we are always sad to lose a bird, it was one of the 2 Sussex hens, we had hoped to keep.  So we moved them to higher ground- although they still had an upstairs area to their hutch/run to be high and dry. We even put them all inside in the evening, only for them to wander straight back out and huddle in the rain!
Unfortunately our house sitter had to deal with finding them one, by one. We agreed with fewer numbers, in the larger side of brooder box; whilst not ideal, would be the best place for them... sadly we came home to one little sussex hen. So “Lucky” will hopefully have a long and happy life with us. We just have to wait for this rain to stop so she can be let outside! I have been handling her often (since we’ve been home) and taking her for a “walk”, morning and evening- where she happily sits on my arm or shoulder and has a good nose around, spreads her wings and even met Madog- much to his confusion.
 I still hope to desensitise them to birds (or at least Madog), but don’t think I will ever trust them, with them... as our recently purchased Mammoth Muscovys were testament to. Although we’re upset to lose them, neither of us can bring ourselves to be mad with the dogs. Especially as the birds made it into their run, so I guess its instinct... I guess if they were left to fend for themselves they wouldn’t starve; Ffion especially.
On a happier note; before we left, we had purchased a few new Indian Game additions. One of which had begun showing signs of an eye infection. Unfortunately this and respiratory infections seem to be common- though we had been told to treat them with ‘Breath-easi’ and had previously picked up an antibacterial eye ointment that appears effective.
But as we were leaving, we had separated her into a cage in the shed and asked our house/animal sitter to spray her morning and night (and feed/water her obviously). To be honest, we hadn’t expected her to survive. But to our surprise she had, and although the tissue in the eye lid is still swollen and her eye was watering, she appears healthy in herself. So I am currently bathing her eye morning and night with warm salt water, then applying ointment to the eye and misting her with regularly with the breath-easi. This appears to be helping, but I did catch her scratching the eye yesterday, so I may need to fashion a cone for her. As she seems strong and we want her eye to clear up ASAP, so we can have her free ranging with the others; as although I know she has “enough space”, we hate seeing any animal confined.
On the plus side we did have 3 new arrivals whilst we were away- 1 Indian game chick, 1 Indian game- Old English Game cross chick and an Old English Game cross Rhode Island Red chick. So we will see what comes, in terms of sex etc. As I missed the opportunity to sex them by their wings (again)- which apparently you can do from day old to 2-3 days. But I have a feeling the more distinctly marked bird (which is surprisingly the first to have hatched, the Rhodie Red, OEG cross) would be a male... purely as males tend to be more colourful, and as chicks would be more marked... guess we’ll see.
The pigs and cows were fine- guess their relatively self sufficient and resilient. I have to admit I can not wait for the rains to ease, so we can look at separating part of the pigs paddock off to let it grow! At the moment it is just a mud bath... Not that the pigs seem to mind.
As for Streaky, I am afraid our plan to separate her and Smokey was not successful. The 3 weeks came and went (pigs estrous cycle is an average of 3 weeks- 18-24 days) and we left her out- partially as she was getting frustrated and the pen’s ground was becoming very muddy, as she was tearing up such a small area. But also as the others needed access to the permanent shed for shelter from the rain. So on the Friday we left her out, only for her to come into season on the Sunday! So I really don’t know whether I will be able to get another chance. I hope so, else she will be for the freezer and we will have to source another gilt/sow.