I have a soapbox! What? Another one? Ok, so I do have a plethora of soapboxes, but this is one that just makes me want to SLAP people!

Why is it that so many people think they have to "pull" a lamb, calf, or kid? That doing so is somehow NORMAL?

The fact is, doing so if the animal is not in distress is DAMAGING to your animal mamas, and virtually ALWAYS weakens their ability to give birth without assistance in the future.

It can tear vaginal tissue, overstress muscles, tear ligaments, and damage cartilage in the pelvis. It can CAUSE uterine prolapse, or contribute to it in the future.

One birth with someone forcing the exit of the baby before the mother's body is fully ready for it, can cause permanent damage, from minor, to fatal.

What makes us think we have to do it all for them anyway? They are better at it than we are!

How about you let an OB go rummaging around in you (or your spouse), grab a part and drag out whatever they find by whatever appendage they can get hold of? No? Good idea for an animal, but NOT a good idea for you or someone you love? Doesn't that tell you something?

(No, animals are not people, and we do not confuse them with people. But in the case of birth, there is little difference in the process, and what is, and is NOT a wise habit in regards to it!)

Except in EXCEPTIONS with good breeding stock, pulling a baby is NEVER necessary!

If you routinely HAVE to do so, you either have BAD breeding stock (genetically flawed - frequently the case with show lines, unfortunately), or you have animals that have previously been damaged by ignorant handling.

I first encountered this flawed assumption many years ago on the website of a "goat expert". She discussed birthing on a whole page of her site (which too many people have taken as being credible, sadly). She talked about being on "labor watch" as though disaster was sure to ensue if she was not there to PERSONALLY prevent it! She said every time her goats went into labor she would grab her "birthing kit", and go out and render assistance. She described what a goat owner "needed to do" (in her opinion) when a goat gave birth, and showed pictures. Her instructions included grabbing the legs as soon as they gave her enough to get hold of, and forcibly pulling the baby out! I was beyond appalled!

I grew up with goats. I remember one bad night, ONE... in all those years, when one of our goats really did get in trouble giving birth. She had been laboring with a mal-presentation far too long. My sister, an avid reader of James Herriot, and a studier of animal husbandry, carefully explored to see what the problem was, and did her best to straighten things out. She managed to help the doe get the kid out. The doe died. Cause wasn't certain, but my sister was very careful. It still ended in disaster.

That was the ONLY time anyone had to give aid to any of the goats. Most of the time, we would come out in the morning and find a mama and kids acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, when there had just been a pregnant goat the night before.

We never EVER even HAD a "birthing kit" for goats!

We had hoof care, disbudding irons, syringes, medications, wormers, and all sorts of other things (many of which we do not now use), but never even CONSIDERED a "birthing kit". We raised and showed goats for many years. Lots of goats.

The most agregious example of unwarranted interference I have ever seen is in a video that regularly makes the rounds (sadly it makes them on Homesteading groups with comments of "oh how cute", by people who OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER!).

A little dimpled darling of all of three years old is featured in this video, pulling a lamb.

Now, there are MANY things wrong with this, only ONE of which is that it is TOTALLY inappropriate for a three year old to risk broken bones sticking their hand into the pelvis of a laboring ewe! Yeah! That! It is not a remote possibility! Contractions are that strong!

Apparently though, when a three year old acts in a dangerous and stupid manner, people will applaud it as "mature", and "brave", and "darling". If an adult did the same thing she did, they would label them as "cruel", "stupid", and "unsanitary".

First off, she trots in and lifts the tail, and sticks her hand inside a sheep that has just delivered a lamb, and is RESTING before the second lamb is ready to present. The ewe actually shows no signs of pushing contractions the entire time this child is mucking around. She is obviously NOT READY to birth the second lamb, and the fact that the child has to stick her arm in nearly to the shoulder to find a pair of feet is also evidence that the lamb is NOT ready!

Second, her little hands are going from inside the sheep, to the floor, to the tail, and back inside that sheep! Who in their right minds would encourage such a thing? This is the stuff uterine infections are made of! Yet her parents stand by filming the whole thing, proud of their little destroying angel!

Third, she drags the lamb out regardless of any preparedness or participation on the part of the ewe! Poor mama sheep! It is clear that the lamb was NOT stuck, did NOT have a complicated presentation, and was in NO WAY in need of being dragged into the barn by an incompetent child. The lamb also shows no signs of distress, further indicating that there was NO reason to have a child shove filthy hands inside the uterus of a sheep!

Fourth, if the sheep were having contractions, that little girl would have got hurt! At the very least, her arm would have been squeezed hard enough to cause her to cry. At the worst, it could damage nerves, or break bones!

Fifth... If the sheep were in TROUBLE (There is no indication she is, she's placidly laying there, and there are no indications of distress.), then it was NO PLACE FOR A CHILD to be mucking around! That needed an ADULT who knew what they were doing! Someone with the knowledge to carefully assist the sheep, without just dragging the lamb out! No three year old is capable of assessing a potentially complex presentation, determining the way to correct or compensate for it, and then carrying out a difficult balance between the ability and health of the sheep and the safe delivery of a lamb who may also be in distress. 

If the sheep is not in trouble, she should NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE. If the sheep WERE in trouble, she should NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE!

No, it is NOT cute.

Yes, it IS irresponsible and stupid.

Poor kid is going to grow up thinking this kind of thing is good animal care. Poor animals that come under her care - and that of her parents! Yes, I'm making that judgment! Her parents' filming of the debacle and broadcasting it across the internet has invited it!

I'd be teaching a kid by talking to them while I was working with trouble situations while they were little. Let them start assisting at about 9-10 years of age when they are old enough to have the intellectual capacity and physical strength to handle the difficulties.

Don't PULL a calf, or a kid, or a lamb, or a cria, or anything else unless the laboring mother is in distress, and the baby is at risk!

Don't do it! You will HARM the animal rather than help!

And by the way, don't dry off the babies either! As long as they are born where they won't freeze to death before the mama licks them off, LEAVE THEM ALONE! Her care of her babies in the first few minutes of life is important to her, and to the babies.

There. I think I've said it.

*steps down from soapbox*

For now.

Fall came, and the eggs we gathered each day gradually declined in number. When you raise your chickens naturally, this is a yearly occurrence. We deal with it.

Then the chickens molt, and look like they've been dragged through a knothole backwards for several weeks. Some molted lightly. Some seemed to lose all but a little fluff here and there. But eventually feathers began to return, and the hens once again started to look sleek and healthy. Molting chickens never look healthy, even when they are!

And gradually the daily egg count began to rise.

It always kind of surprises me that this happens right after the Winter Solstice. Like, within a day or two!

Conventional farming lore tells us that hens need 14 hours of light per day to lay well. That means hens in some locations would never lay well! And that it would take until May for them to start to do so in our location! We haven't even reached the Spring Equinox yet, so we are still at about 11 hours of daylight per day.

The majority of our hens do not care! About 3/4 of our hens are laying now, with a good number laying daily, and the rest about every other day. We are up to a high of 15 eggs a day, and not less than 9 eggs a day. The new high of 15 was reached yesterday. Every few days they hit a new high, and the low increases as well.

There is something about that, every spring, that never ceases to please me. We scold the hens when they slack, we praise them when they produce a lot. I mean, you just DO that. Even though I'm NOT really much of an animal person, and as a rule, I'm not sentimental about animals. But I find myself doing it anyway.

We go so fast from using every single egg that is produced, to wondering what to do with them all, that I am always caught off guard by that as well. This year, we are canning pickled eggs. But I have to find some more ways to preserve them also, because even though I LOVE pickled eggs, I really can only eat so many of them! 200 quarts of pickled eggs (one dozen per jar) is going to be a bit much!

The quail (outside this year) just popped out their first egg of the season yesterday also. We are still waiting on the pigeons, doves, and guinea fowl.

Our rabbits finally have babies again, after a long dry spell due to some contaminated feed which caused breeding problems.

The weather is its usual fickle self here in the Rockies, snowing one day, sunny and warm the next, but the animals tell us unmistakably that spring is coming.

And around the corners of the field we are spotting dandelions coming up, and a few other bits of green here and there. Almost, but not quite, enough to start foraging for the animals.

In the mean time, I'm off to work on figuring out more ways to make the bounty of eggs last all year.

I have a friend who is a total city girl, works in a high profile job and travels a lot internationally for her job. She grew up in another country, with a maid and a cook, and had one most of her adult life also, until she moved to Jersey. I have a lot of respect for her, this is in no way critical of her background or knowledge level, she's one smart cookie.

Lately she has taken an interest (sort of a macabre fascination, I think, no intention to actually DO any of it) with the difference in our life as compared to hers. She cannot imagine living in the middle of nowhere (in her words, "with nothing to do"), and yesterday I had to explain to her what home canning is, in a conversation regarding pickling our surplus eggs (she did not know what those are either). Had to post a picture of canning jars, she has never even seen canning jars, nor had any idea that people actually still use such a thing!

At the end of the conversation, she said what so many people say (again having NO idea that it is not acceptable to say this), "If Armageddon happens, I'm going to you!".

I've noticed that most people who say this have NO IDEA what it is they are actually saying, nor how rude it is to say, "I am not prepared, have no idea how to prepare, don't want to learn and won't bother, but if I ever need anything I can take comfort in the fact that YOU are prepared and come to you so you can use your hard earned goods and equipment to support me!". They never think that this is what they are actually saying! Homesteaders, avid canners, and preppers know this. They've thought it out.

So I said to her what I say to everyone who suggests such a thing:

"When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, you'd be welcome, but you have to be willing to help us continue to produce the things we need. So as long as you are willing to help plant the garden, and butcher the rabbits, and slop the hogs, you are more than welcome!"

This is usually where people decide that maybe there is an easier way to get a meal in the middle of societal meltdown! 

I honestly mean that though, I would not refuse any friend or family member, or hanger on, if they are willing to work to sustain themselves, and not just beg free meals. If they cannot do that, we have to require them to leave, because there is not enough of US to go around to do more than support ourselves in difficulty, we don't have enough resources or physical capacity to support others who are capable of supporting themselves.

Those words serve as a warning, and a promise. They can take it either way. But I've learned that most people, when they hear them, quickly make a mental note NOT to come to us!

We would always be willing to hand someone a meal, and send them on their way. Once. If they need more, they need to work for it, for their sake as well as ours.

Our family comes first. That is our first stewardship, whatever our family consists of at the time. We have never been unwilling to help another person in need, even when it meant giving from our own poverty. But we will not contribute to KEEPING someone else in need, especially when it harms us to do so. It does nobody any good if we ALL run out, simply due to bad management.

I am not a prepper, this is just day to day survival here for us. To take on other people means that the food we preserved from last year's harvest will not make it until next year's harvest, unless we have people who are willing to help us establish some winter crops to tide us over, or make products to sell so we can buy more supplies, or to forage for wild foods, hunt game, etc. It does not take SKILLS on the part of those who come. The skills are already here. It only takes willing hands. People who are not offended by being asked to get dirt under their fingernails, and manure on their shoes.

There are those who think they can take what they want by force. But there isn't a self-sufficient family out there who doesn't enjoy spending family time together target shooting. Most are willing to defend their family with deadly force if necessary.

My heart says, "Be generous.". And many times we are, even when it does not feel "wise" to be, because we trust in the blessings of the Lord, if we give as generously as we can.

But we also have a responsibility to wisely manage what we have been given, and God holds us accountable for that as well.

When I make apple juice from fresh apples, I peel and core the apples first, so I can use the pulp for leather (I add sugar and cinnamon and vanilla to it because if you remove the juice, you also remove the flavor - hubs likes this leather). I then dry the peels for winter food for the bunnies. Less waste this way.

So I figured I'd try juicing some pineapple and see whether I could do the whole juice here, pulp there thing with them.

Nope!

Pineapples do not work the same as apples!

I ended up with two catch cups full of yellow foamy slime. One was barely thicker than the other. They were both pretty much the same otherwise. There was literally no drinkable juice in either one.

So THAT didn't work. Apparently a masticating juicer would work better than a grinding centrifuge juicer for pineapple. Something that presses the juice out, rather than grinding it finely and then trying to spin it out.

I did end up with a lot of pineapple leather though!

One of the experiments that DIDN'T work.

We drove up the lane, and a herd of dogs (it was not a pack, it was a milling herd) surrounded the car, a few barks just to let us know who was really in charge.

A few more dogs barked as we opened the car doors to get out, and right in the middle of the dogs was a lamb, doing its best to compete like any regular dog. "Ba! Ba! Ba!". Nearly full grown, it was pretty obvious that the lamb thought it was a dog.

The owners said the lamb had been bottle fed, and then raised with the dogs. It ate dogfood, chased cars, and threatened strangers just like the dogs did.

Somewhere in there, I think there is a story. I haven't found it yet, but I think there is a children's book in it if a plot could be devised.

I'm sure the barking lamb is long since gone the way of farm livestock, but it was amusing at the time, and still makes us smile when we remember and recount the memory with family.

It is almost poetic, this thing that happens to meat when salt, sometimes nitrates, and bold or subtle blends of herbs, fruits or other seasonings are infused into them, and the moisture in the meat is drawn out. The meat is changed. Made more while it shrinks.

It is also symbolic. The words do not exist to describe my delight in being able to do this, to produce our most favorite meats ourselves. Not the soft and watery cured meats that litter the coolers in the stores, but firm, dense and aromatic meats that burst with flavor upon your tongue. The flavor is complex, mellow, and salty enough to satisfy while not overwhelming.

These foods do not cause my lips to swell, my lungs to congest, and my skin to itch the next day, because of the load of chlorine and chemicals in them that I cannot tolerate. THIS meat helps me instead, delivering probiotics and enzymes that help my digestive system heal. Oh, yeah, didn't you know? You can eat this raw if you want to, just like proscuitto, and when you do, it packs a wollop in healthy microbes and enzymes. Even if you cook it, it is easily digestible, the proteins already partially broken down into usable chains.

 



The small boneless hams hanging in our basement somehow represent all that we are trying to do. A skill forgotten by all but a few, learned again. Not only is the meat made more as we process it, WE are made more. Food condemned by modern medicine as "unhealthy", becomes healthy again, when done in the traditional manner, rather than by contemporary shortcuts.

I've not yet learned to smoke my own meat. This requires more equipment we do not yet have. It is on the list. We will get there eventually. For now, we use other methods to get a natural smoke flavor into the meat. It isn't perfect yet. But even our imperfections are such an improvement over the alternatives which are all we've had up to this point.

This thing though, the handling of raw meat, the curing, the hanging it at room temp without refrigeration. It seems so scary, and so complicated. But once you do it, it is elegantly simple.

The most lovely thing is that even a person with limited physical capacity can do this! For those who must ration their energy day to day, this is a thing you can do!

Gather the spices together. If that is all you do one day, that is fine! Put them in a place where you can easily get them all the next day. The salt, the Tenderquick, the sugar, the herbs that make it distinctive.

Mix them up the next day. There is no hurry, if the meat is in the fridge, it has a few days for you to do this one task at a time. Check it off your list. You got something done that will become something wonderful.

The next day, it comes together. Get the meat and a knife. Trim the bits of meat off that you don't want to cure. It does not need to be picky. I use pork loin most of the time (cheap, and easy to handle). Pretty much no trimming needed. Today, you get to do two things, but it is worth it.

Get some ziplock bags - gallon size will do for a piece of pork loin, or some boneless shoulder.

Get a plate.

Get your salt mixture.

Put the meat on the plate. Salt it. Salt the edges. Flip it and salt the bottom. Make sure you have a good layer of salt clinging to it all.

Put it in a baggie.

Put the baggie in the fridge. Check a BIG thing off your list, you are officially curing meat!

Drain the liquid off the meat each day. Flip the baggie so the meat is on the opposite side. Keep it in the fridge. Every other day, sprinkle a bit more salt on each side to replace what is washing off.

Salt cured meat goes so many days for each inch of thickness. Research it online. Eventually I'll post a recipe, but not today. Today is about making you want to do it!

These smaller pork loin pieces go for 5-7 days.

When it finishes that phase of curing (the way you determine this depends on what you are making), you either wash off the salt, or you brush off the excess leaving bits of herbs on the meat - again, it depends on the kind of meat you are curing.

Then you hang it. Or not. Or smoke it. Or not. Depends on what you are doing.

Most of the ones I do, I hang. I wrap it in a clean piece of old T-shirt material to protect it from bugs, and then put it into a crocheted net bag, and hang it from a beam in the basement where the mice cannot get at it. An old pillowcase works well also.

It is easy to do, even if you have little energy. You just break it up as much as you need to. A little here, a little there. And the daily process is so simple that it works into a day of carefully metered energy expenditures.

Do little pieces of meat. 2-3 lbs. Nothing heavy to lift. Easy to move it to the sink, drain it. Easy to sprinkle it again because it is small. Not too many days to cure because it is thin (less than 3 inches thick). Doesn't take long to hang because of the smaller size.

Bacon. Ham. Proscuitto. Corned Beef. Dried beef. Lamb ham. Venison ham. You can do all of those as a dry cure.

Simple, not too heavy, gentle work, that makes magic!

I've got hog jowls in the fridge and another pork loin, waiting for the salt that I mixed yesterday. But today I am crocheting more net bags to put the cured pieces from the fridge into. When I'm done with that, I'll start the next pieces. They will wait for me.

The next one will be cured with maple.

When you are poor, you work with ingredients on hand. When you have kids, you want something simple that they can help make.

Real poverty would not supply the ingredients for these. But temporary poverty, where you are living off your food storage, could. And we made them when we had little else.

Of course candy is fun, but you want it to have some nutritional punch also. We've got that covered - they do have an abominable amount of sugar, but it is, after all, candy. And chocolate. Which isn't very good without the sweetness.

Nothing is simpler than these to make. Not a true truffle, patiently made and whipped. No, this is much simpler. Anybody can do it.

 

Poverty Truffles

  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (your choice, we used peanut, it is cheap)
  • 1/4 cup butter (the real thing - but you can double it if you want)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (Green and Blacks makes these amazing. But Nestle's may have to do because it is cheap also)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (the real thing, because it is so much better - but use the artificial if that is all you have because it is cheap)
  • Dribbles of milk - seriously, just DRIBBLES or you will overdo it.

Put everything in a bowl except the vanilla and milk. Mix it until the butter and peanut butter are blended in evenly - this will be kinda like doing pie crust or biscuits only you want it finer.

Put in 1 tbsp milk, and the vanilla. Mix.

Add another tbsp milk, mix again.

It should be starting to either darken in color, or it should start barely clumping in pea sized clumps.

DRIBBLE a little more milk in. Mix it again.

Keep doing that until it comes together and forms a firm dough consistency. Don't let it go spreadable like frosting! While this recipe IS just really a buttercream frosting that has less milk in it, it needs to be much stiffer.

When you can pull off a piece and roll it into a ball, without it trying to crumble apart, and without it sticking to your hands, it is ready.

Roll it into 3/4 to 1" balls.

You can roll these in granulated sugar, powdered sugar, cocoa, powdered coconut, chopped nuts, or any other coating, or you can dip them in chocolate of any kind.

We refrigerate to firm them up, but you don't really need to, and if you are going to dip them in chocolate it is probably better that you don't.

Variations

  • Use almond butter instead of peanut butter, and almond extract instead of vanilla.
  • Eliminate the peanut butter, put more butter instead, and you can use orange juice instead of the milk, and add some grated orange peel.
  • You can add chopped dried fruits, or dip it in fruit flavored coating.

 

These are good even with the simplest of ingredients. If you upgrade to a finer cocoa powder, an excellent nut butter, and the best quality ingredients you can get, they can be pretty amazing. You can make them for gifts for some pretty picky people, and they'll never know they were given a little ball of extra stiff buttercream frosting!

Trying to build another skill today. Don'tcha just love it when the instructions give you all the steps, but leave out vital information about the particular ingredients needed?
 
Salt rising bread. Most people do not even know what it is anymore. A bread that took up residence with the settlers in the hills of eastern US, and followed the pioneers across the plains. A bread that required nothing more than heat, and the most basic ingredients, and which did not require that you keep a pot of sourdough from getting too warm or too cool.
 
Salt rising bread is named for the warm salt that it was set into in order to maintain a warm temperature to raise it. It raises much warmer than yeast breads.
 
It is an old bread. A slow bread. One that weaves itself into the rhythm of the day. It takes its time, and requires that you give it just what it wants to raise properly. Overall, NOT difficult to do, and not really finicky, though it now has a REPUTATION for being finicky because of how INGREDIENTS and EXPECTATIONS have changed.
 
The instructions I read sounded suspiciously like the person who was writing it had never done it, and wasn't quite sure why it worked sometimes and not other times. "If it doesn't work, throw it out and start over." No suggestions as to WHY it might not work.
 
 
A little additional research resolves the mystery. Industrial progress. An age old traditional recipe stops working, so someone adapts it, and the tradition goes on. Until it is swept away by the sands of progress, and everyone forgets why someone added another ingredient. And then it is revived. And people forgot why the original recipe no longer works. Well, most people forgot. But someone remembered. And recorded it. And I found the notes about it in two places. But dozens of recipes neglect this one vital fact.
 
You have to have grains to start the yeast, that have NOT been processed for extended shelf life. The germ still needs to be in the grain.
 
The recipe calls for cornmeal. All the traditional recipes do. A few add potatoes - the compensation when commercial cornmeal, and commercial flour, no longer had the germ to spark the microbial growth necessary to leaven the bread. But the potato recipes tend to be stinkier, so I wanted the original.
 
This thing, with a reputation of "finicky" because "sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't", really isn't finicky at all, you just have to have traditional ingredients, not the modern interpretation of those ingredients.
 
The contemporary recipe that I found also alters one vital element in the recipe - instructing you to cool the milk before adding it to the flour or meal - something that sounds perfectly reasonable to someone who does not understand the science of the bread, but which means the recipe ends up being far more unpredictable. No, they do not understand this bread.
 
 
This is a slow bread. People have no patience for it anymore. A three part recipe. Mix this. Keep it warm overnight (like yogurt). Add these ingredients. Keep it warm for several more hours. Mix some more ingredients in. Knead it. Shape it. Keep it warm until it has risen and is ready to bake. Bake it. Then keep it cool. So people do not understand it, in a world where bread comes from the store, and keeps indefinitely on the counter because of the preservatives. And if you do make bread, it takes 2 hours with fast rise yeast. Slow bread is unappreciated.
 
But I want to learn to make this, and help keep it from being lost. I want to gain something from it, because, like probiotic foods, this one can sometimes help with digestion.
 
The only cornmeal I have is commercially milled. Degermed. Lifeless. Useless for creating the essential starter. I have a mill, I can mill corn.
 
But I have no corn. I cannot GET corn out here except animal feed, and I don't trust it for human consumption. So I cannot do a cornmeal starter salt rising bread recipe without ordering corn online - and I don't want to wait 2 weeks. (Someone has since suggested that I mill some popcorn - I need so little for this, that it will be an acceptable solution so I can try the cornmeal starter next time.)
 
More searching to find even one example of a recipe that used only wheat flour, no corn flour.
 
 
I HAVE THIS!!! I have FRESH MILLED whole wheat flour, WITH THE GERM! And now I have the recipe. A little from this recipe, and a little from that recipe, because other than the basic procedure, the ingredients are flexible, like they are with all breads. Once we are past the yeast dependent parts of it, I'm on familiar ground. I have this. I will work it out. Somehow or other, I will find a way to get this bread made in my house!
 
It is currently incubating in my dehydrator, on a low temp, because that is the best environment that I have to maintain a temperature somewhere near 100 degrees, that does not have chicken dander in it!
 
Hopefully, in the dark of the bowl in the dehydrator, something good is awakening.
 
 
UPDATE: In the morning, a swollen mass of puffy stuff was in the bowl. I mixed up the starter with more ingredients to create a sponge, and let that raise - it was pretty moist so it raised quickly, and spilled out of the bowl in a gooey mass onto the bottom of the dehydrator. More cleanup later - I was only able to get at part of it. But the process is definitely working, it has a smell that is distinctly NOT like yeast bread, but more of a savory funk.
 
More flour, lots of butter, and some more salt were added, and the mass was kneadable. I had just barely enough flour milled to finish it without having to mill more. The dough was able to be handled without sticking to my hands. It is now in two greased breadpans, back in the dehydrator, and hopefully I will catch it before it raises into the top of the lid. The incubation chamber that I can create in my dehydrator is only about 5" in depth, so it has little room for error!
 
 
RESULT: A dense loaf of bread with a nice crumb, and a flavor that is the mild version of what we smelled when it was cooking. While cooking it smells somewhat cheesy, richly buttery, and a little sweet - yes, sometimes you CAN smell sweet!
 
A little flat. The flour I used was low in gluten, so it kind of went flat on top. Next time I will knead it more.
 
 
The Recipe
NOTE: The recipe below turned out a nice loaf. I have not tested it with degermed flour and just the wheat germ, and I have not tested it with fresh milled (germ in) flour and without the wheat germ either. Theoretically it should work either way, as long as you have wheat germ somewhere, but I'm not sure if the commercial wheat germ I used is "active" in the way it needs to be. Eventually I'll test and note it, but have not done so yet.
 
Whole Wheat Salt Rising Bread
 
 Starter

    1 cup milk
    1/2 cup fresh milled flour (Mine had germ intact. Have not tested without)
    1 tbsp wheat germ (I used Kretchmers)
    2 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 tsp salt

Sponge

    1 1/2 cups hot water
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon sugar
    2 1/2 cups Flour (type of flour not picky here)

Dough

    1/2 cup  soft butter
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 to 4 cups Flour (type of flour not picky here)
 

Instructions
   
To make the Starter: Scald the milk - Heat it until it's nearly but not quite boiling; small bubbles will form around the edge of the pan (or microwave container), and you might see a bit of steam.
   
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and wheat germ into a non-reactive bowl, mix them together, and whisk the milk into it. Do it kind of fast with a wire whisk and it really doesn't lump.
   
Cover the bowl, and place it somewhere warm, between 90°F and 100°F. A turned-off electric oven, with the light turned on for about 2 hours ahead of time, holds a temperature of 95°F to 97°F, perfect for this starter, or a gas oven with a pilot light will do so, but I used a dehydrator set to 105 degrees.
   
Let the starter incubate overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours. This should rise up and be kind of lumpy rounded on top when it is ready. It'll also smell a bit odd.
   
For the Sponge: Combine the salt, baking soda, sugar, and flour, stirring to blend, and add water and stir until smooth.
   
Stir Starter into Sponge.
   
Cover the bowl again, and put it back to incubate again. Let it rest until very bubbly and doubled in size, 2 to 4 hours. This one is pretty runny, so if your bowl isn't big enough it may overflow!
   
Transfer your bubbly sponge to a larger bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer.
   
Stir in the soft butter, salt, and flour. Knead until smooth, adding flour as needed, until the dough is somewhat stretchy - this dough may feel different than yeast bread dough.
   
Divide the dough into 2 parts, and shape each piece into a log, and place in a greased bread pan.
   
Put the pans back in your incubation environment to raise. Let the loaf rise until it's crowned about 1/2" to 3/4" over the rim of the pan, which takes 1-3 hours. The top will end up shaped differently, flatter than yeast breads.
 
   
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. Because of the lower temperature, you do want to pre-heat the oven, otherwise the top may darken too much on the bread.
   
Bake the bread for 35 to 45 minutes, until it's nicely browned. It will raise less during baking than yeast breads.
   
Remove the bread from the oven. Wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Brush top with butter if you want.

Store cooled bread at room temperature for 5 to 7 days; freeze for longer storage.

Makes 2 loaves.
 

Some days there is just a feeling of being on a course that matters. It is rarely the big things that make me more certain of what I'm doing, it is usually the little things that bring such a sense of satisfaction with our quest for self-sufficiency.

Today, it started with carrots and orange peels. Candied orange peels, made from the oranges we juiced (next time I'll save the pulp also, and dry it, pulverize it, and then use it in a citrus meat rub). I was cutting them into slivers today, before drying them. Working indoors, as the project outside is postponed on account of snow (not frequent enough here to need to work out there in spite of it).

Kevin cut up a bag of carrots (we still can't have a garden, but got a good deal on them). He cut the root end off, a little higher than he might have done if we did not have rabbits. Sliced them up, tossed the tops into the bucket with the root ends. I spread the slices out on the dehydrator trays. Dried carrots are so useful for fast food.

Then turning the pork loin and shoulder that are dry curing in the fridge, making plans to cure another loin and some hog jowls. Feeling blessed for having the meat to cure - and not needing it so badly that we can't wait a month or two for it to cure before we eat it. There have been times when it would have been out of the question. Now, I can smell the rosemary, and juniper, and nutmeg that have infused into the loin, and look forward to the end result without feeling the pinch of desperate need.

Later we went to feed the rabbits, and this being winter, fresh food is less available for them. Seeing them dive into the carrot ends just gave me a sense of peace, and gratitude. Such a small thing - no guilt over tossing out the carrot ends that were too small to dry (they would fall through the holes in the trays), just the knowledge that the rabbits needed those parts, and we needed the rest.

Gathering the eggs from the hens in the coop, taking stock of the state of their feathers, seeing the little pink egg left by our Fayoumi hen who just started laying, observing the behaviors of the new doves that occupy two cages in another shelter.

Later, making pizza crust from home milled wheat, topping it with home canned sauce, sliced homemade meatballs, and home canned pineapple, and several other ingredients from our food storage or that we had in the fridge from the last shopping trip.

So many things in our life that are not as we want them. So many things still so very hard, achingly painful. But little moments reinforce our goals, that this is what we need to be doing. That somehow, some way that we can't see, it may just be ok after all.

We have an old coop in the back yard, that we have repaired as much as we can (it is not ours, this is actually just a rental). A VERY old, open air coop, built after the design popular in the late 1800s up through about the 1950s, which lingered on in a few areas simply because they were THERE.
 
The front of the coop has chicken wire up over the top half of the front wall. Open to the South. That is important. It catches the sun. The sun falls on the dirt floor and warms it. The floor radiates heat out through the night in the winter. The open front keeps it cooler in the summer than it would be fully enclosed. This coop is a genius design.
 
Our weather here is pretty cold in the winter. Not Wyoming cold. Not Alaska Cold. Maybe not even Maine or Michigan cold. But pretty darn. Like a slightly gentler version of the high plains in Wyoming. That coop works, even for that.
 
We have no supplemental light in the coop, no heat. The coop is what it is, and we and our chickens deal with the sagging walls and the holes in the roof that we can't patch. That coop that we were reluctant to bring chickens home to, has taught me some great lessons. This year is proving them once again.
 
Our chickens have laid at least some eggs every day through the winter so far, and the number of eggs seems to be rising now that the days are getting longer. We still have a couple of hens that look like they stumbled into a chicken plucker in the dark and had a hard time getting away, but the rest have come through their molt and look like real chickens again.
 
 
The Wyandottes and the Jersey Giants have laid an average of every other day for each hen. They are young, and did not molt this year. This is one of the factors in keeping eggs going through the winter. We choose NOT to use supplemental lighting that would possibly cause our hens not to molt. We don't want to push them so hard that they are denied a well earned rest to rebuild their feathers - their only protection from weather. So we have to manage our coop differently to assure eggs all winter. Young hens, who come into lay over the summer, generally do not molt, and will keep laying if they are a breed that is able to handle the cold well.
 
So if I want eggs all through the winter, I need to make sure I have at least half a dozen new hens each year. It appears that two of the feathering out chicks downstairs are pullets, two of them are definitely roos. More eggs in the incubator, so we should meet our need for replacements pretty quickly. We are only using the incubator until we have broodies. We need some hens that are not particularly good layers, because the good broodies are usually not good layers. Older hens, and a few particular breeds, are our broodies.
 
As the days begin to lengthen out, the hens start coming back. It seems that some will start laying just as soon as the day length increases are noticeable, as the egg production has slowly started to increase since New Year's day. Our motley collection of assorted breeds of chickens all seem to follow this rule, though some need more light than others - even within the same breed.
 
The hens that don't start laying within a month or so, and do not go broody this spring (they need to do one or the other to earn their keep) will make healthy chicken soup. We will cull about a half a dozen hens over the spring and summer, to keep our flock the same size, and cull based on productivity.
 
We COULD just replace them all. But I prefer to butcher some of the young pullets (or sell them) rather than cull the older ones that are still laying, so we encourage the broodies. Young hens in their first year just don't usually go broody. This keeps a more stable flock, and gives us the young roos for more tender meat, and some young pullets to butcher for meat also (more tender than the old birds).
 
We will keep the incubator going, producing chicks every month, to supply our need for either replacement hens, finished pullets to sell, or meat (the roos from the hatchings go to the pot as soon as they are big enough anyway). It also allows us sufficient birds to be selective, and only keep the best ones, so our backyard flock improves over time, rather than just being a collection of whatever we happen to be able to buy.
 
I'm pleased with that old coop, and given the opportunity to build one, will borrow from the design. We like that it has two rooms in it also, so we can sort chickens when we need to. We would add a feed room onto the end though, if we do build one like it eventually, when we get where we are going.
 
Most people out here are surprised that we still have eggs coming in, but we kind of expect it. And our hens did not fail us!
 

So many people hang around the homesteading forums, their heads filled with impossible dreams. They have an idea of an idealistic existence where they test their mettle in a gentle way, where nature and fate smile benevolently upon them and encourage and aid their every effort.

I must confess, I do not possess the self-restraint necessary to not poke fun at them, just a bit, in putting down in words the fantasy that seems to permeate the minds of the romanticists who get ahold of the idea of homesteading without ever really having any idea of what it is they got ahold of!

Something like this:

We will brave the storms (which will come every few years to challenge our resolve but which will NOT come twenty and forty times each winter), and Love our little animals, and our gardens will grow just because we want them to!

Other people may have bug problems but we won't because we will be NATURAL and we will be so smart that bugs would not dare come into our gardens uninvited!If they do, we will sprinkle diatomaceous earth everywhere and the bugs will just go away and never bother us again because we read that is what it will do!

We will let our chickens live out their natural lives and never butcher old layers and we will eat the meat that we raise (we forget that this means butchering old layers... and we forget that butchering is messy business).

Other people will flock to our homestead and pay us to tell them how we did such a marvelous job so we will never have to work a second job or struggle to sell some of our excess production - and we WILL always have excess production because our goats will always have triplets that survive, and milking them every morning and evening will be a joy and never inconvenient, our chickens will surprise us all the time with new chicks even though we take the eggs every day, and they will free range and feed themselves so we never run out of feed before the next paycheck comes in and OUR chickens will NEVER go onto the neighbor's property (and if they do the neighbors will just love them so much they won't really mind the poop on their cars and porch), and we will teach other people how to get their chickens to be like that!

We will learn how to bank our fire at night and it will not only last all night but it will keep the house nice and warm too so we don't have to get up shivering in the morning and the pipes will NEVER freeze! We won't ever run out of firewood because we will gather firewood a few times in the fall, and we will get an energy efficient stove for practically nothing and install it ourselves, and the firewood will last us all winter!

We will have a composting toilet that will never stink, and our county will have no problem with this because we are going to live where there are no regulations.

Our guard dog will love our kids, and never bite anyone unless we tell it to, and won't ever kill the chickens or distress the sheep, because we are going to get a GOOD dog that INSTINCTIVELY knows what we want it to do!It will never leave our property because it will KNOW where its boundaries are, and it won't ever hurt anyone else's livestock.

We will build our tiny house to live in and it will have room for everything we just have to bring with us, it will only cost $2000 to build because we will scrounge everything we need to build it (and it will be brand new stuff because old things are yucky), and we will have room in it for our food storage and self-sufficiency supplies (oh... do you need those things?), and big closets and a big bathroom and a bedroom that will hold a king size bed and place for all the kids on the same floor because stairs aren't safe for them, and room for the dog in the house downstairs too because we would not want him to hurt himself going up the stairs (OF COURSE he will be inside at night... and he will be outside to guard the animals... You just don't know how to do it if you think we can't do that!).

Our fruit trees will bear fruit in the first year because we can't wait three or four or FIVE YEARS!!! for the trees to bear! We will plant our garden and not get tired of weeding, and when the garden overflows us with food we will dry it and can it and freeze it and not get tired of doing that. We will work all summer and fall and then we will spend the winter doing what we want to do because there won't be any more work in the winter!

We will co-exist with the wild animals, who will befriend us and not eat our chickens because that would make us sad, and they won't want to make us sad. We will take pictures of the cute raccoon babies, and the cute coyotes, and the cute bobcats, Oh! and the cute possums and show all the people that hate them that they are wrong (because wild animals never eat chickens if you just love the animals enough).

We will live out in the wilderness all by ourselves, but not too far out because we still want to go shopping at the malls in town and we don't want to commute more than 15 minutes to work so we need to be right outside the limits of a big city or there won't be a good job, but we are going to build our tiny house on several acres (we don't want to mow more than that) as soon as we can find a bargain because we can't afford to pay more than $50,000 for our property and it has to have a well and septic and electricity (even though we will be off grid, of course), and no regulations or HOA to tell us we can't have the house we are going to build all by ourselves. We need to be where it does not snow, but where it is not desert either, but where there is lots of water but not a lot of rain because mud is messy.

 

Ok, so it isn't very nice for me to poke fun at people who do not understand that it just doesn't work like this.

Feel free to send us your additions to this monologue, we'd love to add them in!

I progress like rick-rack on the bottom of a crooked skirt. One side IS higher than the other, and I'm heading that direction, but it is full of ups and downs.

Laura

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Nature is  a wise woman, who pays us back, tit for tat.

The Storyteller

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Couch Slipcovers as a metaphor for life: If you cover it up in something pretty, you forget that it sags in the middle.

Laura

__________

Wishing will not make it so. The Lord expects our thinking. He expects our action. He expects our labors. He expects our testimonies. He expects our devotion.

Thomas S Monson

--------------

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches on the soul
And sings the song without the words
And never stops at all

Emily Dickenson

--------------

"We're terrible... But boy we sure have fun at it!"

Pa

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The white kitchen is the refuge of designers and clients with no taste and no creativity, a sterile soulless hull, built for people who have no life within their home.

Laura

__________

Vice is a Monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Alexander Pope

 

__________

I don't think any of us are up to it, we just get out there and do it anyway.

Pa

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If your spinning looks like a dust bunny, you probably are not doing it right!

Laura

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The yearning for a place, or a home, where you have never been - perhaps a place where the sum of all your most heartfelt moments can come together.

In Welsh, it is Hiraeth. The German word Fernweh also may come close. In Brazilian Portuguese it is Saudade, Another German word, used by the British, is Sehnsucht. Whatever it is called, it is where my mind lives when sleep overtakes me, and I always wake unfinished.

--------------

Earth’s crammed with heaven,   
And every common bush afire with God;   
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,   
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

---------------

"Sometimes words aren't enough. Poetry just has to do."

Pa

---------------

The Great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made Mad
For all their Wars are Merry
And all their Songs are Sad.

G.K. Chesterson

---------------

The blank paper expects...
The blinking cursor accuses!

Laura

---------------

Our perfect Father does not expect us to be perfect children yet. He had only one such Child. Meanwhile, therefore, sometimes with smudges on our cheeks, dirt on our hands, and shoes untied, stammeringly but smilingly we present God with a dandelion—as if it were an orchid or a rose! If for now the dandelion is the best we have to offer, He receives it, knowing what we may later place on the altar. It is good to remember how young we are spiritually.

Neal A. Maxwell

---------------

A Series of Political Truths

 

You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work, because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation!

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians. - Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. - Winston Churchill (Of course, the first part of this is actually wrong, the inequality that goes hand in hand with Capitalism isn't an unequal sharing of blessings, but an unwillingness, or inability, to aggressively pursue material compensation for one's labors. But then, Winny was always a bit of an Englishman where Conservatism was concerned, and could not quite grasp the whole concept! [Understand I really DO have a lot of respect for the man!])

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. - P.J. O'Rourke

A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man; a debt he proposes to pay off with your money. - G. Gordon Liddy

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. - George Bernard Shaw

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. - Winston Churchill

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free! - P. J. O'Rourke

 

----------

Marriages are made of funny stuff sometimes.

Laura

-----------

The measure of endurance is not whether you put down an unbearable load, it is whether you pick it up again and trudge on.

Laura

________

Well, THAT didn't work!

Everyone

 

If green beans strung on a string and dried are called "Leather Britches", then does that mean when you string peppers on a string and dry them, that you get "Hot Pants"?

--------------

What do you get when Commander Raab disappears with a chicken?

No Harm, no fowl.

(This is what happens when we get bored when watching JAG.)

---------------

Phalangeal dyslexia: When your fingers move independent of your brain while typing.

---------------

"I was invited once to a vegan party. I kept looking around for something to eat." Kevin

---------------

What kind of fungus can be two animals at once?

Chicken of the Woods - C.O.W.

(This is a geeky mycology joke, mushroom hunters will get it.)

(For the even more geeky - Laetiporus spp, including L. sulphureus, L. cinncinatus, L. conifericola, L. gilbertsonii, L. huroniensis, and probably a few others.)

---------------

Seven hens equals 14 feet of chicken.

(Observed when preparing to butcher chickens, and save the feet for broth.)

---------------

How many animals can you fit in your boots?

10 piggies and 2 calves!

No matter where you live, no matter your circumstances, you can farm. You can grow something, produce a crop, and enjoy the benefits of doing so.

Whether small, or large, indoors, or out, a farm can be anything that produces a result from a living thing (other than people). So if you want to farm so bad you can't stand it, and you live in an apartment, a covenant community, an impossibly small home, or whatever, there is still something you can grow, and enjoy.

The following things can be done to produce either edible or salable crops.

  • Container Gardening - on a balcony, in the house, on the porch or steps, in a vertical planter by the door, etc.
  • Sprouts - grow a crop of sprouts or microgreens on your kitchen countertop, or on top of the fridge (a naturally warm place).
  • Micro-livestock - As large as rabbits, pigeons, quail, or bantam chickens in cages, hutches, or coops out back (or even contained indoors), or as small as insects indoors. Yeah, I know, I don't think I'd grow insects to eat, but they are a valuable cash crop if you sell larvae, eggs, cocoons, etc.

  • Mushrooms - a box or bin of mushrooms does not take up much room but provides a lot of satisfaction to harvest.
  • Mini Milk Goats - Ok, so I don't think I'd be comfortable with them in my apartment (they don't take well to diapers and goats pee a lot), but there are people who do it. They fit in small spaces outside though, and this is the real message here.
  • Edible Landscaping - grow edible crops where over-zealous regulations have encroached on personal liberty. Replace trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses with edible crops instead. Remember, there are many flowers that are edible also!
  • Houseplants - yeah, they count, if you can produce them for sale or enough to share. Medicinals are an option where edibles don't work well indoors, or any other type of plant that people enjoy. Some houseplants naturally produce more plants - aloe, pregnant plant, spider plant, and others that grow by root division, or which can be easily rooted. They can be tended for most of the year and allowed to produce more plants in the same container, and then divided and expanded into smaller pots in the spring in time for the Farmer's Markets, so you only have to accommodate extra pots for a short time.
  • Yeasts, molds, bacteria - There are types of yeasts and molds that will grow indoors. Some can be grown through lactofermentation processes, some through other culturing processes. It is a life-form. You are growing it. You are farming.

If you want to farm, then do it! No matter your circumstances, there is SOMETHING you can grow to put more food on your table, or to sell to the world and encourage them to do the same.

All it takes is a corner of a room, a countertop, or a space on a shelf or windowsill, perhaps a spot on the back porch, or a bit of yard or garden. 

Don't wait! Get growing!

I broke down a weapon today to clean it, the first time I've done that. I always disliked firearms. Husband loves them, is NRA certified as a trainer, and enjoys hunting and target shooting. Me, I hated the noise and the kickback, just did not have an interest in them, or in hunting.

All that changed fairly abruptly after living through a nightmare. Owning firearms would not have changed the nightmare - in fact we DID own them, and they were stolen in the process of the nightmare. But the fallout left us knowing that we have enemies, and will have, for the rest of our lives, who are only too happy to do us harm if they think they can get away with it - in other words, if they can persuade corrupt law enforcement to back their version of the events as they did previously, to rob us blind, engage in kidnapping or violent harm, or other unlawful acts.

So, to my surprise, I found that my heart had totally changed on the subject. It was no surprise to me that I could now handle the thought of carrying a weapon, or using it in self-defense, or in the defense of my family. That was no surprise. What DID surprise me is that I now find them interesting, and FUN. I know that had to come from God, for my feelings on the issue to so totally change.

So here I was, cleaning a gun for the first time. We were having a gun cleaning party, four of us at my sister's house. Hubs got a black powder rifle, which looked like it had been used a few times but never cleaned. Our other weapons (a couple on loan) were also in need of some care.

Everyone was too busy to show me how to clean the one that I was responsible for, so I Googled it. It was actually a pretty simple weapon to disassemble once you got the hang of the tricky bit at the beginning. The first set of instructions left out the need to dry fire, so I could not get it apart. Tried another set, which included that step! Ah! Now that makes a difference!

The instructions warn that if you are not careful, one piece may go flying when the assembly catch releases, due to the tension spring behind it. So I was careful. I got it disassembled, and the parts on either side of the spring came out with the spring.

Reassembled it, and was not sure it was assembled correctly because it felt different, and one piece was not visible where it had been before, so I disassembled it again. "Sproing!!!" There it went, in spite of my care that time. Looked and found two pieces, but could not find the third. I looked and looked. My sister looked and looked. Her husband and mine looked. Her husband swept the floor. Then she said, is it on the table? I had looked, I knew it was not there, but then it occurred to me to look in the gun. Two parts had sprang out, the third had remained in the gun. I felt a little silly, but at least it was not lost, and on the bright side, the floor was now dust free.

One other weapon was just laying there, that Kevin was going to clean, but the black powder rifle he was cleaning needed a complete job, and lots of parts to clean, oil, and keep track of. He completely broke it down, and cleaned in all the nooks and crannies. He wasn't going to get to a second weapon, so I Googled that one too. Physically hard to do, it had a very stiff action, and my hands lack strength in some directions. But I finally got it apart, cleaned it, and oiled it. I doubt that it would pass Mongo's Q-tip test, but at least it got enough to get the gunk out and keep it functioning well, and to keep the bluing from turning to rust.

It was an interesting adventure anyway, and they are now ready for a day of target practice.

Not that kind of Sports. Genetic sports. Genetic oddities that are thrown due to either one in a million genetic combinations, or genetic mutations that occur unexpectedly.

We were given some chickens. Four white, of whom two were obviously leghorns. One black leghorn. One Americauna, one Barred Rock. One unidentified breed with an obvious health problem, who was butchered within a few days, revealing a large tumor in her gizzard (the size of a softball). One Redleg hen (we had been given a redleg rooster previously, so recognized the cross breed). One big old Fayoumi rooster. And one white hen who was too heavy to be a Leghorn, but not heavy enough to be anything else easily identifiable.

Since it was fall, tail feathers were worn, colors were dull, and the hens were looking a little rough. I could not identify the breed of the white hen.

The molt came. That white hen stayed in the second room of the coop, around the corner, and I usually stayed in the first room, so I did not see her for several weeks. Kevin was in the other room twice a day for feed and watering, so if something had been wrong, he'd have noticed.

One day, after I'd noticed the other hens starting to feather out again, a hen ran into the first room that I did not recognize! She was light colored, but not QUITE white. She had a sort of pale silvery bronze color to her feathers - possibly a lace pattern, I can't quite tell because it is so light and she is not letting me get too near. There is no color like this that I can find that is named. It is QUITE gorgeous. I think maybe best described as a light champagne. She looks white if she is not in bright light, or right next to a white hen.

Her shape, and her comb and wattles are classic for Wyandotte. She is a bit smaller than my Buff Wyandottes. It appears she may be a sport of a Silver Laced Wyandotte.

Whatever the color may be, she is purely lovely.

(I have not taken a picture because the color will not show up on camera unless I can get really close, and she is too wild for that - we got her from people who kept the chickens in a large outdoor run, so she isn't used to people being anywhere near her, and stays as far from the door of the coop as she can.)

I will let her hang around and see if we can get eggs from her next spring, and maybe see if that color will pass on to her offspring.

I woke this morning and checked the homemade incubator, to find that the chick that had hatched out last night had been joined by three more, and another trying to pip. It was going to be a good day!

As I made my way upstairs, I heard the first chimes of doom from the cold brooder that sits next to the incubator - "Reee-reeeeeeee", "Reee-reeeeeeee". A thin and reedy noise coming from the one chick in the brooder that has a red comb - a red comb that showed up at three weeks, and now, just barely over four weeks, the little roo is trying to crow. Sigh... This is definitely a half-Fayoumi roo (they mature distressingly early, and once they discover that they are boys and the hens are girls they pursue them relentlessly, pluck them bald and wear them out). We shall hope he has more courtesy than the two we had to butcher. Our hens need their feathers!

That crow is going to drive us nuts, because our bedroom is just around the corner from the brooder. The door will not shut out the crow once he gets the hang of it. But it is still a cheerful and welcome noise this morning, because it means the chicks in the brooder are thriving, growing, and becoming something that will benefit us. Farming being such a fickle thing, and losses so frequent, signs of life and progress are always cause for celebration. Besides which the first efforts of a young rooster are often hilarious.

The final cap on the morning came as I got upstairs, grabbed a glass of juice, and sat down to check morning emails (the morning routine, since we have a business, the emails get attention first). There, across the room, was a mouse, caught on a sticky trap (the only kind that work with these mice - trust me, we tried everything else!). DEFINITELY going to be a good day, this mouse has mocked us and eluded us for more than a month and a half. GOTCHA, you little beast. Mice can stay outside. Inside my house, they will be exterminated. I still regret the sticky traps - I'd rather a quick kill. And with a sticky trap you cannot feed the mouse to the chickens.

Still not able to go to church, due to fragrance allergies (though they are gradually improving), so I am home today, reading, and doing a little crochet to finish some small Christmas gifts. I rarely crochet with yarn, the larger movements stress my wrists which are prone to swelling around the nerves (carpal tunnel), which only flares when I do something to aggravate it. So I do lace crochet, and make frivolous little doilies, snowflake Christmas ornaments, hairbands, bedspread thread blankies for babies, bonnets, booties, lace baby dresses and other small things that I can finish before my attention wanders. I like doing the small thread with a fine steel hook, but my eyes get blurry whenever I get fragrance bombed, so tiny work is more difficult now than it used to be. Size 20 thread I can do. 30 I cannot.

The bitty chicks will come upstairs to be put into the mini-brooder, which we will put near the heater vent. I'm waiting for the newest ones to dry out enough to come upstairs - chicks do NOT do well in a cold brooder when they are by themselves, so the oldest one has been down there for a day, waiting for someone else to join it so it can come upstairs and learn to be a real chicken. I did not expect to find four (almost five) this morning, so I am feeling very pleased about that.

I shall begin gathering eggs again to put in the brooder, as this batch finishes up. They should be done by mid-week, and I'll reload the incubator, over the course of the week (trying to select eggs from the hens that we most want to proliferate), and we'll do another run. Hatch rates have been very low, due to rooster performance issues (one got sick, the other doesn't have many hens on his side of the coop, and the sick one is only just now back close to 100%). Hopefully the hatch rates will improve, and then we can also sell hatching eggs. Having chicks hatch out each month is nice, because the workload is spread out, and even with just a handful each time, we get enough to provide meat, and cycle through the laying hens each year. We have about seven or ten hens to remove from the gene pool as new hens come into lay, we seem to do best with about 20 laying hens, and 2 roosters, and one of our roosters is definitely ready to go, the other will be when we have a promising young roo ready to take his place.

A rabbit is also due this week, so we may have bunnies soon. She is a good mama and produces good sized litters, so we can hope that she will carry on her pattern and bless us with lots of prospective jars of rabbit meat.

We put up our small greenhouse, but it is lacking two sets of support pieces, so it keeps collapsing in the wind. We don't have much wind here, but we've had more the last few days as a storm has gone through. Rocks on the edge of the skirting, and tethers on the corners we could tie down were not enough. I need to get the support pieces before we try to stabilize the thing again. It is a good thing we are doing this, because the big greenhouse will have the same issues, only multiplied, so working out how to get this little one up and stable is key to getting the big one to not be blown over or the covering stripped off, with animals inside.

The little greenhouse will hold bins of composting manure, so we can get them down enough to plant in come spring, and grow some mushrooms in, as well as growing fodder when we can get some shelves into it, and when nights are warm enough to not freeze it. The big one will be used as a barn for pigeons, doves, and some more rabbits. We will run a tarp over the top of the supports before we put the top cover on. That will provide shade so the thing does not heat up too much on sunny days - we have a LOT of sunny days. Eventually we will run chicken wire over the inside walls, and hardware cloth over that around the bottom to keep out predators, and cover it with something sturdier than the cheap stuff it comes with. The little greenhouse is 5X5, and the big one is 10X12.

Sundays are the one day we don't do anything other than essential farm work, so the day is open, I can amuse myself in anything that helps me recharge my batteries. They are in need of recharging, there is still much that is discouraging, sorrowful in our lives. But little things give us hope. So today can be a good day.

December 21. Winter Solstice. The first day of Winter, officially. But winter has already made itself felt, and while temperatures will lower a little more in the next month and a half before they burst back upward again, winter is well under way. The First Day of Winter is also the LAST day that the days get shorter.

As the 21st of December approaches, I find myself counting down the days. We go out to feed the animals a little earlier every afternoon, and I look forward to the long days of summer when we can have dinner and then feed the animals afterward. Easier to fit a lot into the day.

We do not have heat or light in the coop, so when the sun goes down, the chickens bed down. No point feeding them after dark, they won't get it until morning anyway. We still get eggs all year, even when half are molting and the temps are well below freezing, we get at least a few eggs each day from our determined chickens.

This year, we've hardly had a winter at all. Oh, a day here, a week there, of freezing temperatures. But today, on the 12 of December, we fed animals with very little extra clothing - I was wearing a short sleeved t-shirt, and did not feel chilled. The ground is not frozen. Usually it is at this time of year. Having not got any colder than this, I expect we will have a few more cold weeks to come, but it looks like the winter intends to treat us kindly and let us off with a mild season instead of a harsh one. I have new livestock coming in, so this will make their adjustment easier.

I rarely paid attention to the winter solstice before we started keeping chickens, but now it is one of the markers of the passing of winter. Longer days will be welcome as we creep through winter and into spring.

So while tradition may say that the shortest day of the year is the beginning of winter, to me it is the signal that winter must come to an end. A turning point. Maybe not as eagerly awaited as Christmas each year, but a day that will have a bigger impact on the tenor of my days through the rest of winter.

So I've been canning a bunch of stuff that the USDA does not recommend. It is a learning experience. Many of them, you learn WHY they do not recommend it. For some, there is a compensating tactic. For some, there is not. But I have learned that in the majority of cases, the reason they do not recommend it is NOT a safety issue. It is usually an issue of quality, aesthetics, or sometimes because getting it right is tricky.

I've done some interesting things, with excellent results. And some that needed adjusting.

  • Tamales turned out great. But they need more headspace than you'd think - like an inch and a half or more. Tall pint and a half jars work best for them. They also SWELL during canning, so you only put four skinny ones into each jar, and make sure there is plenty of room around them. They swell so much, that if you ignore my advice here, you will end up with tamale masa mixture in your canner, and mealy glop under the edge of the jar lid, which will cause the seal to fail either soon, or later, and if you overpack enough, you can burst the lid on the jar.
  • Pork and Beans have been tricky, because you get the sauce just right, then can it, and the sauce darkens in color and flavor. I'm still working on that, but have got something pretty close.
  • Korean Barbeque turned out excellent. Darkens a bit during canning, but it is really good!
  • Potato soup needs more headspace than you think. A quart jar needs clear down to the bottom of the shoulders on the jar in order to not blurp out all over into the canner.
  • Turkey gravy ends up tasting like it was made with toasted flour. Really weird.
  • Split Pea soup darkens some. Otherwise ok.
  • Butternut Soup, with bacon, and cream cheese instead of sour cream, was fabulous. I made it thinner than I'd normally want it, so that it would heat through well during canning. Love this stuff. It is so great!
  • Meatloaf is fabulous. Just leave a little more than an inch headspace. I do this in half pints, they heat through fine during canning because they are so small. Once you account for headspace, each jar holds a single serving. Convenient.
  • Meatloaf with potatoes on top, and water around the potatoes, is ok. Did this in pints, with 1/4 of the raw meatloaf from 1 lb of ground beef. The potatoes kind of congeal, and the water around them absorbs and solidifies with potato starch. But it is fast to open, heat, mash the potatoes with butter and milk, tip the meatloaf onto a plate, and have a fast meal. It could be better.
  • Pot roast is easy, and makes a nice meal. Chunk of beef in the bottom, carrots and potatoes on top. I did skin-on potatoes. Add broth, or salt and water to fill around it. I did a raw pack. Turned out good, if you can eat canned potatoes (some people do not like them). Easy meal.
  • Gumbo soup. Subbed crab for shrimp since shrimp does not can well (goes all mushy and crumbly). Used sausage and chicken, and put some brown rice into it. The rice is soft, but did not disintegrate entirely. Brown rice holds up better for canning than white rice. Parboiled rice might also.
  • Canned sausage, no casings, in wide mouth pints. Summer sausage - works, but need to get the recipe right. Liverwurst, turned out good, but the liver flavor does go stronger. Polska Wiejska turned out good, but garlic got stronger. So a few changes and I'll have this one down.
  • All kinds of green tomato and tomatillo salsa and relish. Some interesting outcomes, but very usable.
  • Experiments with lowering sugar and added pectin in jam and increasing boiling time. It works to a certain extent - you can push it so far and then the longer cooking time no longer compensates. But I've got some new and interesting recipes anyway that save on the cost of pectin.
  • Reusing canning lids and oddball jars. Lots of people do it. I have my own set of rules about what I will use for Pressure Canning, what I'll restrict to Waterbath canning, and what I'll restrict to use for short time waterbath foods (like jams, jellies, relishes, etc). This set of experiments has been outstandingly successful. I'm having more failures on NEW lids than on reused.

I've done a lot of pre-seasoned meats. Some were raw pack, some were cooked meat. Toss the meat with the seasoning, pack as usual, and can. I've used chili powder, curry, salsa, pineapple sweet and sour, Korean BBQ, sesame pineapple, and tomorrow I'm going to do bbq chicken (dilute the sauce so it does not darken too much).

I've seasoned pork, chicken, and rabbit, and I've canned venison, beef, and lots of beans with bacon, and ham and bean soup. Beans are tricky, you either pack raw and hope you get the amounts right, or you pack soaked but not fully cooked (the best option for tenderness) and hope you get the bean amounts right, or you pack fully cooked and know you got them right but you end up with mushy beans! Not bad for bean soup, but not good for Pork and Beans.

It's nice to have easy meals, and it is also nice to have old standbys like applesauce and butter, and cranberry sauce and jams, ready to go when we crave them.

My energy levels have been up and down, so having fast meals has been so nice. Days when I'm functioning, I can make sure everything I do produces some leftovers to can up for when I am not able to even stand up to cook dinner. It is a way of storing up my body energy from good days, to get me through the harder days.

Canning is also how we manage to preserve our home raised meats, with just a tiny freezer. We butcher, and it all goes in the freezer. I know people who can it up the same day, or the next day. But we have no place to hang meat, not enough fridge space to keep it overnight, and I only have enough energy to butcher, then I'm done for the day. I can't come in from that, and can it all up! So into the freezer it goes, and it comes out over the next few weeks, as I'm able, and goes into jars and into the storage room. Freezer is empty and ready for the next thing. We try to always keep room in it for something big, because kind people think of us sometimes, and a deer or sheep takes up a bit of room!

The thing I've learned about rebel canning, and ignoring the "recommendations" of USDA, is, to find out WHY. Once you've tried a few things, you'll be able to know ahead how things behave. But if you never try them, you won't know. As stated, it is almost NEVER a valid safety issue (many of the "safety" issues are declared unsafe based on a "maybe it could" rather than on any actual evidence that it DOES, or ever HAS). We find out WHY, and then we can decide whether the risk is worth it to us, or whether we want to take the time to experiment to come up with a way that works for us. When we know WHY, we can make rational choices about it, instead of just running scared because someone said we should not do that.

I've always been somewhat of a rebel, THINKING for myself. Here are some things I did differently, and WHY.

  • I never boiled lids. There really was no point. Rubber does not soften permanently from boiling, so there is no long term change achieved by boiling lids. Short term there is no need for it either, since the canning process softens the rubber (or plastic) seal as much as boiling would, since it involves boiling! This is a leftover recommendation from the days of open kettle canning, which was never needed for Water Bath or Pressure Canning. Now, with newer lids, failure rates go up if some brands of lids are boiled.
  • I never heated or sterilized jars. The jars are washed, they are clean. That is good enough. If you "sterilize" your jars, the minute they cool below 140 degrees, or you touch them, expose them to the air in the room, etc, they have been re-contaminated anyway, especially if there is still moisture on them. Sterilizing them is not only a fruitless effort, it is not necessary if you are starting with clean jars, because the canning process sterilizes EVERYTHING that is in the canner. Why do it twice? It does not increase safety AT ALL. No, it does not serve as a safety net "just in case", it does NOTHING to improve the safety. If germs are not killed during the Water Bath or Pressure Canning process, they will not have been killed when you sterilized the jars either! It is a waste of time and energy, so I do not do it!
  • I cold pack almost everything. I just don't have time to mess with heating up peaches and pears in syrup before I bottle them up. If I cold pack, I put cool water into the canner. If I hot pack (jam, and many other cooked foods), I use very warm or hot water in the canner.
  • I open kettle a few things, but not many. (Open Kettle Canning refers to heating the food to boiling, and ladling it into the jars and capping immediately, with no further processing.) Typically I will open kettle for short term storage, when I am planning to either use the food for something later (juice that I intend to make into jelly but don't have time, or something like that), or when I am saving up enough for a canner load to process later.
  • I use my Pressure Canner for a steam canner. I put 4 quarts of water in it (instead of the 3 that is used for pressure canning) because it will vent steam the entire time. I start to time it when the safety latch pops up. Time is the same as for water bath canning. This is faster, because the water comes up to temp faster because there is less of it. Steam canning has been tested, and the USDA FINALLY admitted grudgingly that it is as safe as water bath canning, after some 50 years or more of equivocating, saying there was not enough evidence to know "for sure", in spite of rigorous testing by every company that manufactured or branded a steam canner!
  • I have ALWAYS changed recipes. There are certain things you CAN change, and certain things you should NOT change. When you understand the rules, there is NO PROBLEM with "using untested recipes". When you can mixtures of low acid foods, you time it for the longest one. That's all. That is the rule. When you combine high acid foods, you time for the longest one. When you combine low and high acid foods, use a tested recipe as a start, and as long as you do not change the high acid/low acid balance, you won't have a problem. When pickling, as long as the vinegar to vegetable balance is the same, you can change the spices, and even the vegetable TYPES, all you want (remember, tomatoes are fruit, not vegetables, and always moderate to high acid, even low acid tomatoes are moderate acid fruits). Currently, if I make up a recipe, to pre-season meat, for example, I just time it for the meat, even if there is vinegar on it, or something else that MIGHT change the time lower, I just do it for the regular time for the meat.
  • I have ALWAYS reused mayonnaise jars, when they were glass. I have always reused jam and jelly jars with lug lids (the short lids with tabs on the bottoms). I now reuse lids, though I did a little previously, I now do so routinely. I have my set of rules about what I will use them for - Mayo jars and other non-mason jars that take a standard canning lid get treated like mason jars. I've had ONE break in the pressure canner. Jam jars get used for sauces, relish, or jam. Not generally for fruit, and not in the Pressure Canner. Reused lids just get tossed into the mix, get used wherever. Oddly, I've not had ANY lid failures from reused lids. I've ONLY had them on brand new Ball lids (and Kerr, they are the same), and not on any other brands!
  • I store my jars with or without the rings, depending on what is in them, and whether I get around to removing them before I send them to the basement. I wash the jars after processing ONLY if they are messy. Otherwise I do not bother. I do not believe in making work where it is not needed!

The key to being a rebel, remember, is understanding WHY. Then we can take risks where they are reasonable, or we can understand that there really IS no risk, someone was just being over-zealous in the processes because they are paranoid, and not because there is any logical reason for what they are doing. Some people LOVE the fussiness and meticulousness of a carefully complicated routine so much that they will make up reasons to make it MORE complicated than necessary - and other people, believing this person to be the "expert", will do whatever they are told to do by the "expert", and not question it, even if the little common sense center of their brain tells them that it is not necessary. We all want to be safe, so we are often afraid to defy the experts, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG. But science says that one sterilization is as effective as two, and that pressure canning for the ingredient with the longest processing time is logically safe. So we BREAK THE RULES, when the rules are WRONG.

Rebel on!

We've been cold-brooding chicks now for a while, working out the best ways to help chicks stay warm on their own while we brood them in the house. After spending all we had that we COULD spend on chicks in the spring, we wanted to try to hatch some eggs. Having no obliging hens - they all refused to go broody including our bantams who seem to have had every useful trait bred out in the pursuit of pretty - we needed an incubator. Being persistently financially challenged, our only option was to build one.

A fish tank that I had acquired second hand, which had a crack in the bottom panel, served as containment. A 30 gallon model with thick glass, it would hold heat reasonably well. Kevin prepared it by laying down a layer of newspaper to protect the glass, and then putting about an inch and a half of fine gravel in the bottom (from a leftover bag labeled Tube Sand which wasn't QUITE sand!). A $7, 40 watt ceramic bulb heater, a $10 clamp lamp with an extension cord and a $5 thermometer were the only expenses, nickeled and dimed out of bits of income here and there.

We wrapped the tank in reflective bubble insulation that we had leftover from another project (the cold brooder huddle box, actually). We covered the top with two more pieces of insulation (with boards on top to hold them flat) and another piece of board since we had no more insulation. I put some triangular blocks in to use as risers, and we used the bottom half of 18 pack egg cartons to hold the eggs - the risers elevated one side. Flip them 180 degrees twice a day to rotate the eggs. We put in a bowl of water also to help with humidity.

Fired it up, to see how warm it would get. 90 degrees. We then wrapped the tank in a layer of cardboard on top of the insulation. That raised it another 7 degrees. Right on the edge of what we needed. I decided to try it anyway since we were unsure of the accuracy of the thermometer, but none of the eggs hatched.

We wrapped it in another layer of cardboard, which brought the temp up again, JUST to 100 degrees, and from that we had two chicks hatch, but neither one survived (they simply did not learn to eat - I've seen that in turkeys, but this was a first in chicks). I think that the hatch failures this time may have been because we had no place to store the eggs that was cool enough to prevent germination from starting, and the only place I could store them was getting quite warm about once a day. This can cause germination to start, then die.

During the warm months when we were experimenting with this, the temperature was adjusted by moving one of the cover pieces - the cover had three panels so we only had to open up one piece at a time and not cool the whole thing at once. So I'd just leave a little gap between two of them to lower the temp a bit.

The incubator was on the basement floor, so the temperature stayed pretty even throughout the day. The upstairs got pretty hot, but the basement stayed cooler, and once we got the temp in the incubator stabilized, I only had to adjust the covers to vent a bit if it got up over 101, or close them up if it got below 98. The adjustment was actually pretty fussy, a tiny difference could make a difference of 2-3 degrees in the incubator. I finally set it so that the open gap was V shaped. It was easier to just adjust one side of the vent. The vent gap varied between 1/4", and 1/2" on the wide side. It was that sensitive.

We decided to give it another try, feeling that somehow or other we just HAD to make this work, but fall had settled in, and temps were lower in the incubator as we went on, and I couldn't think of a way to raise the heat at the time. We had two more hatch, but they failed to thrive also, in part because of indications of low humidity.

Not wanting to give up, I put more eggs in, and threw a thick towel across the top. That worked for a day or two, but temps dropped a little again, and I put a heavier cover on it, but that was too hot! I ended up leaving the blanket on two panels of the top cover, and then regulating with a gap again. I also started misting the eggs once a day.

I did not save the eggs upstairs this time, instead I took them down as soon as I had a carton filled.

We now have chicks hatching out. Two have hatched successfully from the first carton we brought down (temperature adjustments were not very accurate during the first few days), and so far four from the second carton. I think our fertility in the eggs is probably low due to the two randy roos that we had to dispatch (they were too small to reach the hens, in spite of vigorous and continuous attempts, but had sequestered about two thirds of the hens and kept them from the older roo). The fertility on the third carton should be better since we acquired another roo who knows his job but does not wear out the hens.

Anyway, we seem to have finally got the formula right for successfully hatching eggs from a VERY low tech homemade incubator. No thermostat, no humidity meter, nothing more than a heat lamp, thermometer, and spray bottle.

It has been kind of discouraging up until this point, but the three chicks in the mini-brooder, and the three hatching downstairs give us great hope.

We set up a mini-brooder which is small so it contains the body heat of tiny chicks, and it has a short huddle box for tiny chicks, so they go right from the incubator to the mini-brooder (as soon as they dry out and are standing), then into the regular cold brooder at about a week of age. So far we have the mini-brooder sitting on top of the food dehydrator, to give it a warmer spot (not much warmer, maybe 80 degrees), because we do not want to lose this first batch, and the first few days are the tricky ones with cold brooding (when the mama usually has them mostly under her).

If you have a home incubator, you do have losses. Eggs that never germinate, eggs that never hatch. Chicks that hatch but fail to thrive. Chicks that thrive, and then die unexpectedly. These things happen, and we have to deal with it. Sometimes a chick won't ever walk. Those are the worst. They inevitably die, in spite of anything you can do. You just watch them linger for days before they finally stop cheeping and breathing. That is the part I hate. The little noisy fluffies in the brooder do help make up for it though, and make it worth doing again.

More experiments to come, when we are more confident of our incubator.

UPDATE: We ended up with six chicks, two of whom did not survive. The other four are now out in the coop with the grown-ups, dodging pecks from the dominant hens and the guineas, dashing in and out faster than the older hens can run. They are thriving, having gone out at about 9 weeks, fully feathered out and two of them obviously roos, one uncertain, the other definitely a hen. The two randy roos did manage to get at least one good hit in, because one of the chicks is definitely male, definitely half Fayoumi, started crowing at 4 weeks of age. If he can regulate his urges better than his papa, he may just get to replace one of the old roosters. Otherwise, he will make fantastic soup!

NOTE: Cold brooding refers to brooding WITHOUT a heat lamp. It may include brooding in the summer only when temps in the house or in a contained area outside are high, or use of a pre-existing heat source in the house such as a woodstove, radiator, or heater vent for the first few days, but where the temperature is typically NOT 95 degrees to start, but much lower.

We use a plastic bin, with a layer of newspaper covered in about 1" of sand, gravel, or dirt (depending on what we have). If we use sand or gravel, we toss some dirt in also, to expose them to the microbes from the dirt - helps give them natural probiotics and some pathogens that they build resistance to (this reduces risks of various soil-borne illnesses). They scratch in the dirt or gravel, and pick up grit naturally this way, and we just scatter feed on top of the brooder floor (this is how we feed our chickens outside also, scattering their feed, we use no feed dishes except for things that are very liquid). They scratch around, wiggling their little fluffy butts, looking like toddlers playing grown-up. Very cute. Sometimes I use chopped dried herbs to give them greens in tiny bits, and since they run under whatever is being dropped, they end up getting seasoned instead of getting fed! I break mealworms for the first few days only, then feed them whole, and tossing in a couple of pinches of those just gets them chasing each other for the tasty bits.

A huddle box is a box that has had one side cut out, and turned upside down. Usually a pretty small box, just tall enough for the baby chicks to run into - ours was 7X7X7 to start, and then we cut it to be only about 5" high. The box contains their body heat, and they use it instinctively. We line the inside with reflective bubble insulation, to provide a little additional radiant warmth. Gotta make it small, this size will hold a dozen chicks, or even 15 or so, they group together under it. If you make it very big, it fails to hold the heat, and it is nearly impossible to fit it into a plastic bin or brooder box without it taking up too much of their space - they'll be tripping over the waterer trying to get out of it if it is too big.

We use a mini-brooder with a short huddle box for chicks just out of the incubator. Once they are three to five days old (the age you'd usually get them if you ordered them), we move them to a larger brooder with a huddle box that is a bit taller (about 1" higher).

We use the huddle box continuously in the mini-brooder, and for the first 3-5 days in the standard brooder. After that, we use it only at night for another week, and then the huddle box is taken out completely. We also leave them near the heater vent only for the first week in the big brooder, and then move it about 6 ft away. We move the brooder each week, to successively cooler locations, ending at about 4-5 weeks on the enclosed back porch, then we move them out in the daytime, and in at night for a week, or two, depending on temps and feathering stage (we put them out in the coop when they are fully feathered - they go as a group, and have learned to huddle together for warmth).

This time, we have chicks hatching over a period of a week, so we are going by the age of the youngest chicks to make changes in brooder conditions.

We have learned that groups of more than 12-15 chicks do not do well cold-brooded - they may have issues with piling and the ones on the bottom will smother. We divide up larger groups into multiple brooders. We have also learned that when you put turkeys in with chicks, the chicks may crawl under the turkeys when the turkeys are standing and the turkeys will sort of settle down as they get sleepy, and can crush the chicks if you have very many turkeys in with the chicks. Sad, because chicks can teach turkeys to eat, and some turkeys won't learn to eat without something to show them. Putting bantams, or quail, in with turkeys would be a really bad idea, for this reason. It is also not a good idea to leave large depressions in the floor of the brooder if you are using sand or gravel. When you put it in, smooth it out clear to the edges so there is not a drop off in a corner, because the chicks may huddle in the depression, and others are more likely to crawl on top of them - smothering again.

Cold brooding has been a success here, though there have been some learning experiences, and some losses because of it. But I'd not go back to a lamp - no way. The chicks are just so much more vigorous and active, and they are hardier, and there is a lower risk of fire when you do not use a heater.

Coddiwomple Farm is located the United States.