Monday, 22 December 2014

Betty becomes Beef

This post is not for the faint hearted, and it does contain photos and information upon slaughtering and butchery of livestock- so if you are sensitive to this I do not advise you continue reading. However I will not apologise for posting it, as we do raise and eat our own produce; livestock and garden, so this is the reality of the lifestyle.

With our previous cow the opportunity came about for some knowledgeable assistance, so we took it. This time it became a matter that she had to go, to make the most of our investment. As harsh as that is. We had intended to do this months ago, but with one thing and another it just didn't happen. 
Betty had been a good cow; and I know many think were mad for naming our livestock and building a relationship with them. But I think its inevitable... Though it never gets any easier.

To minimise the stress, Betty was moved into the paddock near the yard last week (a mission in itself). And we kept taking her protein meal (molasses bi-product)  to encourage her to walk in there with us present.
Then on the day a well place shot did the job.
She was then moved to the shed (and eventually cold room using a jib and a clean lined ute tray.

Keeping the kill and processing onsite as this minimises stress to the animal prior to the act itself. Not only do we not only want to stress our animals, as I would have mentioned, despite our plans for them, we still care. But in a production sense, stress in any animal causes the release of adrenaline which affects the quality and taste of the meat. A happy animal provides quality meat, even at the very end.  

As with my previous blog on this subject I have used a diagram from a book we have regularly referenced (Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game, John J. Mettler Jr.) to demonstrate the most effective point.

Following the kill the animal needs to be bled by cutting the throat and pumping the front leg (this will speed up this process). This is to be done immediately, as blood within the carcass may encourage bacteria growth, contaminating the meat, making the kill itself pointless.

It is at this point the voice box was removed and the oesophagus was tied off using twine. This avoids any contamination during gutting, especially as our cow had not been deprived of food.

So once down the cow was positioned on her back 

Once bled the front hooves/legs were removed. The removal point is just below the joint, as there is a lot of connective tissue in the joints themselves.

From this point the skin was split up the centre of the beast and udders removed.

Remove a strip of skin from the inner side of the front legs (approx. 1-2 inches/ 25-50mm) from brisket to elbow joint. Then work from head/front legs to back


Extra care is required near the hips and spine side of the ribs, if intending to keep the hide.

Once the chest is exposed it is possible to ‘split the brisket’ ready for ‘eviscerating’ (gutting)

Skinning begins here, as the skin is separated, we began to winch the carcass. This was achieved by inserting a gambrel rail/ spreader bar, at this point you realise how important the connective tissue below the knee/elbow joints are. This lift can be done progressively, as required to assist with the removal of the hide.

 Remove the tail and cut around the anus, pull out and tie off with twine (creating a bung).

 Once the carcass is upright and skin removed the next stage is to gut.


Using the technique pictured is essential when gutting, ensuring the blade is pointing outwards avoid nicking anything you shouldn’t.

 So starting from the area where the udders were removed make a small incision and work the knife (handle to beast, blade outward), down the middle to the brisket. You will need to support the organs, to ensure there is no contact with the blade. Once there gravity will complete the next stage, especially if the animal was not fasted like ours. Pull gut to floor, remove any remaining organs. Separate any you wish to save, and bag rest that is to be disposed of.

It was at this point we removed the head, although am sure this could have been dealt with earlier.

The carcass was split into half and quarters for hanging. The diagram uses a hand saw, we used a NEW chainsaw. This chain saw was oiled with vegetable oil and this is to be its sole purpose.

Once split down the middle the halves were split again, creating ‘quarters’. To do this we used a knife to separate from the ‘11th rib’ (counting from the front) and used a handsaw to cut the spine. (I had a call from the boys to confirm this during processing... never hurts to check)

These were then transferred to a coldroom for hanging. It is vital that the quarters do not touch, as again this can harvest bacterial growth and spoil the meat. Hanging takes place for a week onwards. Ready yo be divided into cuts and mince.

Keeping the freezer stocked.

When you grow your own livestock for the freezer there are often gluts and lulls. You do try to avoid it, but its not always possible. And as we come toward the end of our pork supplies from our last pig and following the disappointment of losing not only our first ever piglet (bred here), but not actually keeping one to grow ourselves (due to committing to sales). We decided to purchase a couple of 'porkers' for the freezer- Meet 'Fennel' (the bigger boy) and 'Mustard'.

Fennel is a Berkshire cross; crossed with a Tamworth, so faster growing (hopefully). It will be interesting to compare a Berkshire cross to our usual pork. As we often sell to those planning on using them this way and have had a Berkshire x Saddleback in the past, with good results.. Though its not something we will be pursuing. 

Whilst Mustard is a pure Berkshire barrow (castrated male)... not our choice, but as he was for the freezer we weren't bothered either way. We don't usually castrate for ourselves, though I appreciate they are generally easier to sell this way.  Maybe this way he may be able to live a little longer, along side our bore without too much trouble.

Fennel being older and hopefully a little faster growing should reach kill size sooner. But don't worry we do not plan for Mustard to be alone, as we have put a deposit on a sow (piglet, from another bloodline) to be collected early next year. This should help with our future pork supply.

In the mean time our freezer consists of beef. Betty our remaining original cow finally met her destiny... after many reprieves.
It was more than time, and we were running out of grazing and were exhausting our hay stocks. Not that we mind feeding the animals. And we had finally got around to dividing the paddock; allowing us to rotate the cattle. But without rain there just wasn't enough for 3 and it was Betty's time.

I did write up a piece on butchering your own beef when we processed Betty's sister Susie over 16 months ago.

To be honest the boys did this one without my help, as we currently have visitors and we're juggling the care of our 3 month old baby. But I will still aim to write up a piece in detail, as they did still take a few pictures for me.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

This little piggy... (not necessarily a happy ending)

Being new parents we're regularly reciting nursery rhymes. Only this one didn't quite go to as we'd hoped... as some little piggy's went to market, but ours didn't get to stay at home.

Well there’s the common saying about chickens- “Never count your chickens before they hatch” and I would go one step further to say you cant always count them then. However I definitely think there should be one for piglets and bacon or sausages... and unfortunately on this occasion; we have learned the hard way.

I suppose it maybe considered a law of averages; that the more livestock you breed and rear the more losses you will encounter. And we have experienced losses in the past, with our poultry (not just chickens, in fact chickens are generally hardier), but never with our pigs.

Christmas Ham- previous sow
A few weeks ago we welcomed 7 very healthy piglets to our farm. This is our second pure litter, from second time Mum Sage. Although 4th since starting out her, having had 2 litters thanks to our Berkshire- Saddleback cross “Christmas Ham”, who was named as such, as she was only meant to be a ‘porker’ until our breeding plans came to fruition (clearly she was more intelligent and fertile than we gave her credit for).

Anyway, having put out for expressions of interest in our impending litter; 6 were sold within a few days of their arrival. (In fact we could have sold a couple a few times over!) We were certain we had counted 3 girls and 3 boys, but we were unsure as to the sex of the 7th. So figured we usually have more males than females (not sure why and sows are easier to off load) therefore the extra male would be ours.

To our surprise the 7th piglet was in fact a sow! We had never managed to keep a sow (that we had bred) for ourselves. In fact we had never sold a litter that early.
Which brings us to the point about not counting your bacon... Two weeks in, we were devastated to find a piglet dead in the shed. Now I understand its a law of averages that the more you breed something, the more likely you are to encounter loss. But these had been fit and healthy little piggy's.

I guess we had expected any losses (if at all) to be during the first week or so. We had put our non-fatality success (to date) down to the breed being slower growing (and therefore the sows themselves being smaller) and the girls (passed and present) producing smaller litters; only ever having 5-8 at any one time. As the most common loss we hear of is the sow rolling onto the piglets- which is why commercial practices use sow stalls.

This little one was 2 weeks old and until then had been a happy and healthy piglet. Only when we went down for the afternoon feed we found her in the shed, away from the rest of the litter. She appeared to be asleep, head leaning on its front trotters, but not waking up. We can only put it down to the possibility that she took an instant blow to the head. [Given her injuries (to her jaw/teeth) and position]. Possibly in the wrong place at the wrong time when Mum got up? Hopefully it was at least a quick death, though none the less upsetting. Even Mum gave us a knowing look when we got into the pen/shed to retrieve the piglet. Whereas their usual instinct would be to ward you from their young.

So we will not be keeping one ourselves from this litter...  so never count your bacon/sausages, even once their born.

As for the rest of the litter, they growing well. Eating solids and drinking from thee waterer (as well as Mum) and running and playing like happy, healthy little piglets. Who will be leaving us for their new homes in a little over a week. And then Sage can return to her man.

Which should definitely cheer up Smokey (our boar). Pigs are very social animals and he has been mopy without his companion. Spending most of the day and every night beside the farrowing pen. Its only really the heat of the day that he retreats to the other shelter. But not always, even then. If she's inside with her litter you can sometimes find him laying in the shade behind her shed.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Our new arrival & farm arrivals

If you were to visit Maes-y-Delyn at the moment it would be fair to say spring is definitely in the air, given the new arrivals. Our own included.

I guess we should begin by apologising for our absence. As it's been a while since our last post.
An absence probably felt by our farm too. Well not exactly an absence from the farm, but you could say we have been a little distracted. As we recently welcomed our own little addition. So have been a little busy adjusting to our new roles as parents, whilst balancing our responsibilities here. We also had a few weeks with some rather proud grandparents staying.

For those who know us personally, we would appreciate it if  you do not refer to or daughter by name in any open /online interactions. As I am conscious that this blog is on the open web.

So 'Miss A' or 'the cub' and parents are doing very well.

So these exciting events followed by a few technical issues (those who follow us on Facebook would know I have been posting from my phone) and trying to fit in time actually sit down and write has meant a fair gap since our last post. And a lot has happened, we are not the only new parents here.

Since our last post we had welcomed a number of chick (particularly a few Indian Games).

A few goslings and potentially a few more on the way- as our other pair of geese are sitting and guarding a nest.


 And a litter of piglets (Berkshires)

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Chick health

Chick health… well poultry in general. Regardless of the species their needs, particularly in the early stages are very similar.

We quite often get questions about how to look after young birds. Whether it is from people buying birds from us, or just general ‘chicken rearing questions’ so I thought as I was setting up the brooder; I’d address a few.

So we had a few more Indian Game chicks hatch this week. And it doesn’t really matter if the birds are hatched in an incubator, by a broody or purchased as ‘day olds’ the general care requirements remain the same.
Warmth, shelter, food and water and obviously being clean and dry helps too.

Obviously if you are allowing ‘mum’ or a broody to raise the birds their needs are a little different. In all honesty we haven’t had the greatest amount of success in this, so we tend to catch the little ones and place them in the brooder anyway. Although in saying that, we haven’t let our girls sit very

often anyway.  We did have a hen that would often vanish and re-appear a few weeks later with a brood in tow. She was rather resourceful and a very attentive mother.

However as a general we incubate and raise the chicks in a brooder- shelter. Our brooder is a converted old wardrobe, with mesh where the door used to be. This allows us to use draws to divide the spaces and have multiple stages of birds at any one time. Handy when you rear a breed such as Indian Games that do not lay often and have a lower fertility rate- Therefore you incubate whatever you get, as you get it!
But for first time chick rearers a simple cardboard box will suffice- so long as the base is sealed and solid (plenty of tape!)
Now to keep the base of the box clean and dry you can use old newspapers, magazines etc. These can be changed out quite easily and may still be composted afterwards. But try not to use anything too glossy, as this can cause spayed legs; as the chicks are quite malleable at this stage if their legs slide apart, it may become a permanent problem. So for traction and to absorb fluids (spilled water, poop etc) we use a scatter of wood shavings too. Again these are easily cleaned out and are compost able once used.

For warmth we have installed bulbs. Under new regulations here all bulbs need to be ‘energy efficient’. Which is actually a little bit of a problem, since the biggest ‘waste’ for bulbs is heat; where in this instance this is the purpose. So be aware of what your light is capable of holding. As a lamp that would have held a 60 watt bulb will now only be able to use a maximum of 42 watts. Which will not generate a lot of heat.
Again lights can be as expensive, and/or permanent as you like. We have a larger capacity light that is permanently fixed to the side of the brooder. This space is for the youngest birds. As, as they get bigger and develop feathers hey will become more capable of regulating their ow body temperature. This light is also fixed the the side of the brooder that is able to be divided. This also allows us to manipulate the space the birds occupy, and it can grow with the birds. As a small number of day old birds do not need as much room as 2-3 week olds of more numbers.
And whilst in general we’re advocates for providing as much space as possible for the birds, as day olds they will not move too far from the light. And the more space they have the colder the space will be. It’s easier to heat up a smaller space; this maybe worth considering when sourcing your brooder. You do need enough room for them to move away from the light, if they are too hot. So if you are unsure check the temperature with a thermometer. We try and keep ours about 20°c but under 32°c (their incubator was only 37.5°c). 

When initially setting up your brooder you will need to provide your chicks with a source of water. For our first day olds we used a small plastic container lid. As the actual container would have been too tall for them to reach and we were concerned about them getting in it and being wet and/or drowning.
This is a fair concern, as we have lost chicks that we have left outside with their mums to larger water containers. Also you are keeping them warm as they are unable to regulate their own body temperatures. Being wet is one of the quickest ways to cool down.
large lipped design
this has much narrower rim
Now we have store bought waterers- plastic containers that maintain a water level from a water reserve. We have had issues with poults (baby turkeys) and those available with large lips; as they fall asleep in the dish and drown. So we prefer to use the narrow lipped designs, and only use the larger lipped version for older chicks- few weeks onwards.
When initially introducing your new chicks to their brooder it is important that you introduce each chick to the water- dip their beak in it before placing them down.
I have never heard of, or read that this is necessary with food.
Again food can be offered in containers or specially purchased feeders. Be aware that if they can get in the container/feeder they will. And their natural instinct is to scratch, so this will probably mean cleaning the box out more oftern and topping up their feed. They are fascinating to watch though, and will also instinctively chase and eat bugs etc.
For the feed itself, you can purchase ‘chick starter’ from most farm supply stores and many pet shops. Although in the past we have preferred to use a ‘meat bird’ starter. As it is mostly the same and still finely ground for young birds, but has a higher protein content. And is suitable for other species such as turkeys, ducks and geese. Both are also medicated to treat for conditions such as coccidiousis.  
Goslings playing with their water
At the moment we are feeding our chicks a combination of a fine grain mix (purchased directly fro the grower) with a molasses protein meal (again purchased directly). This we also use as a supplement for our cows and pigs. This does mean that we treat our chicks directly, for the medications.

New arrivals settling in
Now in general we don’t review products, or even advise on what to use But it was actually me cleaning out the chicks waterer for the new arrivals (as you don’t want to cross contaminate feeders etc between older chicks and day olds. Not that any of our birds have been ill, just you can never be too careful. And then medicating their clean water that lead me to write this post. As I’ve covered basic chick needs before. But when I get asked about raising birds or look at buying any I always ask if they have been treated for any of these things. Chicks can also be vaccinated against a few ailments/illnesses too. But this tends to be something that happens in large scale hatcheries and not your back yard breeder. After all most people will raise poultry with little to no health concerns… but it doesn’t hurt to know.

So we add a product called coccivet for coccidiousis and kilverm for worms. The kilverm is suitable for use for poultry and swine. As we keep both, this is the product we use, however there are plenty of other water soluble worming products available. Poultry of all ages require worming, so it can be helpful to do it on a routine date each month.
The coccidiousis however is only really a concern to young fowl. It is a condition that is passed through faeces and is generally associated with mass production. But I guess you can never be too careful. And since the feeds generally cover this, but we are not using medicated feed, we’re just covering all bases.

Another issue that I have seen a lot of discussion amongst chicken forums etc recently (must be he weather) is respiratory issues. This isn’t really an issue affecting chicks, but older poultry.
As we breed Indian Games we were advised to look into a product called ‘Breath-ezy’. Following us culling our first few birds, due to wheezing and mucky eyes/ beaks through fear it could be something more serious. Fortunately these new birds were still in ‘quarantine’- I would advise anyone introducing new birds from another location do this, before integrating the to their own flock. To minimise the risk of your existing birds being exposed.
We were told it can be a problem with the breed in colder weather and wasn’t likely to have been a major issue. But we had already dispatched of the birds to be sure. Fortunately since then we have not had to use it for that purpose.  But we have continued to purchase the product for general poultry hygiene. As it is a water-based cleaning product suitable for poultry housing as well as other animals; being water based means it can be used with our enviro- sewerage system.
So we use it for routine cleaning of our incubator, brooder boxes and waterers and feeders. Believe me once you have had chicks/birds for a while you will appreciate how mucky these can get!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Great weather for… geese?

Usually the saying would be 'great weather for ducks', given the (unseasonal, but welcome) rain we received over the weekend. But as you may or may not know we no longer have any resident ducks. Since the death of our remaining drake a few months ago our last duck was looking increasingly depressed. Possibly due to with being the only bird of her species in the flock (though she always had the ability to fly off if she wished). Or possibly the unwelcome attention from our unattached gander. So ‘Miss Duckles’ has been adopted out to join a flock of her own kind. And appears to be settling in well.

The other reason I say geese, is other than the wet conditions, this weekend (and end of the week) was a predominately goose based affair.  

Firstly our breeding pair; having been sat on and guarding their nest devotedly; and occasionally fiercely for the last few weeks (5 to be exact- goose egg incubation takes 35 days). So much so, that we had to set up a temporary pen within the chicken run (where she had set up her nest). To separate the defending gander from the other birds- as he would attack the hens, causing some nasty scuffles and a few minor injuries to the girls and their rooster- who would run to their aid.
Funnily enough, as soon as we did this the hens themselves started to lay again- we hadn't actually thought them being off the lay as unusual, given it is winter and the cooler weather often has that effect. But clearly the gander had something to do with this too. (We did open the pen when the others were let out of the run).

Anyway back to the geese; our breeding pair successfully hatched 4 cute and fluffy (and healthy) goslings from their clutch of 6 eggs.

Only this posed another problem/decision. When she originally began to nest we discussed whether we would allow her to sit or not. And in deciding she could, whether we or they would raise the young.
We often let the females keep their own reared young, as it seems so cruel to take them away (in the past we have left chicks, ducks, poults and goslings with their mums) but never with a happy ending. As the young become more active and adventurous they have either vanished (suspected food for something, even potentially our own dogs) or they have drown in the various water sources; especially pools (which are essential for the older birds- as they will survive with just access to water. But geese will actually only mate on water).
And given mother goose was looking especially thin and lack lustre we decided it was probably kinder all round to remove the goslings.

This was a task in itself- not surprisingly she was exceptionally protective of her young- as was Dad. But this in itself would have posed problems for the remaining flock had we not removed them, as we couldn't keep them penned up. But allowing them free reign with the youngsters would put the other animals at risk, given the adults strength and size.
It also didn't help, that their nest (and subsequent pen) was rather exposed, offering no shelter in the deteriorating weather conditions, as it was unseasonably wet. (So maybe not such great weather for geese, after all).
So the goslings are now, following a little distraction and capture- involving the other half fending the parents back, whilst I (being heavily pregnant) scooped the goslings into a bucket, to allow for a quick exit.  And yes I am grateful no-one had a camera; not because I harmed the youngsters, but because I imagine it was not entirely graceful on my part.  But the babies are now warm and dry in the brooder with their new friends, and doing well.

The other part of our weekend was also goose related, though the opposite end of the homestead scale. 
As a few weeks (if not a few months back) we acquired another pair of geese- although we only actually intended on adding another female for our single male; this one came with (what we believe to be) a sibling. We have had them separated at the front of the house until we decided what we would do with him. Initially we put him up for re-homing, with no success. So with his increased aggressive behaviour (and a little one on the way), not to mention the amount of poop on our patio and front door step- we decided they (or at least she) had to join the others in the 'rear flock' (away from the front doorstep). Although adding another male did not seem like a good idea. So he had to go. Therefore allowing for the female to have an unrelated mate.

So Saturday we culled and processed our first goose for the table.
*Note the following images include detailed images of processing a bird for consumption.

There were a few differences in processing a goose to our other poultry. Initially the plucking is notably more work; Even when scalded using detergent in the water. The initial ‘dunk’ required an aid (broom handle) as the bird would float. Then once we had removed the outer layer of feathers, we scalded the bird for a second time, allowing for the effective removal of the finer plumage underneath. The multi-layers feathers along with the stronger skin (as I would rather not say ‘tougher’) made plucking a more labour some task. However on the plus side the skin didn’t tear not matter how rough you were, so the bird’s final presentation was flawless.
Other than that the process was much the same.

Once you have finished plucking we begun by removing the legs. You may notice that we removed the head prior to plucking and the wings during. We decided to remove the wings, as we were to roast this bird whole and he lack of meat would have burned. So the dogs thoroughly enjoyed them.

Use the knuckles and separate using the blade
Next we removed the 'parsons nose' working down toward the anus- being careful not to cut this (at this stage).

Now pinch the skin just below the ribs/breast bone and lift, nick this with the blade to create an opening. This allows you to place the blade in (facing up) and work away from the guts. As you DO NOT want to nick the intestines etc. and risk contaminating you meat.

Vital that the blade faces away from the guts
Once you have your opening you remove the guts.

To do this use the breast bone to guide your hand in above the internal organs. Once behind them scoop down and toward the cavity. This should bring most of the internal organs out and allow you to remove the remaining anus (and connected intestines) safely away from the carcass. 
You may still have to clean out a few remaining attached items- such as lungs, wind pipe- remembering this may need to be pulled from the neck. But once you are satisfied that the cavity is clear, rinse thoroughly.  
So Sunday evening we rounded off our ‘goosey’ weekend by enjoying our first home killed free range goose.

As for the female, she has been settling in well with her new mate and Mother goose and Dad have been out and about too.