We have finally wrapped things up for 2017! Our last batch of meat chickens are ALL in the freezer. The gardens have been done for some time. We are pretty much down to our baseline number of animals, which is somewhere around 50 laying breed chickens and 40 rabbits. 12 of those rabbits are grow-outs that are soon to be processed, but that’s a year round thing.
So what’s new for 2018?
MEAT: First things first – yes we are still going to be raising meat rabbits and chickens! We processed and sold (or ate) over 300 chickens in 2017! Honestly, it felt like so many more than that. We are so thankful to our friends who let us borrow their chicken plucker. Hand plucking is very time consuming. We can process twice the number of chickens in half the time when we have the plucker. There’s no way we could have done what we did this year without our friends’ generosity! Thank you Tim and Charity!!!!!
This Fall we raised our first batch of Pekin ducks for meat! Let me tell you, that is a CHORE. Ducklings are really messy. Give them a tiny bowl of water to drink and they’ll turn it into a 4 foot square area muckety-muck of poop and soggy shavings. 16 ducklings make more than twice the mess that 50 chicks do. After 4-6 weeks of me cleaning out the muckety-muck every other day, we move them into the tractors and they become less work for a little while. They get a bigger water bowl and still turn it into a muddy mess, but the bowls can be refilled and the tractors moved. Life with the ducks is almost pleasant for the next 2-3 weeks. THEN it is processing time. Really! Pekin ducks are large enough to process at the age of 7 weeks. Processing ducks is hard. It’s hard in every way. Killing ducks is somehow a little more emotionally difficult for us than the chickens (even though we hate doing that too). The plucking is also difficult. We haven’t had much luck with putting ducks in the plucker, so we hand pluck. Then we wax them to get the soft downy feathers off. The rest is easier, but all that plucking and waxing takes a lot of time and effort. I still want to raise more meat ducks – maybe 10 at a time every few months. (TS would prefer not to.) Despite the extra work involved, duck meat is delicious and we get more bang for our buck than with chicken. Duck meat sells at a higher price and duck fat is like liquid gold! For every duck we eat ourselves, I can render the fat and sell it at a price that pays for the cost of raising the duck. So we can eat duck ourselves for only the cost of our labor and time. Of those 16 ducks, we have already sold more than half of them, even without having a market this time of year. So duck meat is probably going to be on the menu (and for sale) this year, at least occasionally.
EGGS: Of course we have lots of chicken eggs during most of the year and now we have duck eggs too! Our Silver Welsh Harlequin and Ancona ducks have been laying consistently for the past couple months. Duck eggs are much like chicken eggs except larger and richer. The flavor is a little stronger and the yolks are creamier. It’s kind of hard to describe, but if you try one you’ll know what I’m talking about! TS loves them for omelets. I prefer chicken eggs for breakfast and duck eggs for baking. I don’t know if we will have them for sale at the market this year, but if you want to try our duck eggs email me at email@example.com and I’ll get you some!
CHICKS, KEETS, & DUCKLINGS: We will not be ordering many laying breed chicks from the hatchery this year. I will order a few to replace our older laying hens, but that’s it. There’s just not enough profit in reselling to be worth the effort involved when we have so much else going on. We will however have our own hatchlings for sale! Starting in March we should have Ancona and Silver Welsh Harlequin ducklings. April – July we plan to hatch Olive Eggers (F1 chicks from our Legbar rooster X Black Copper Marans hens) and Easter Eggers (Legbar rooster to F1 OE hens). Our Easter Eggers will probably lay light green eggs, but they could lay shades of olive, blue, or dark brown. We will also have English Orpingtons (lavender, splash, blue, black), Buff Chanteclers, and guinea keets!
ANGORAS: Our Angora sales have increased since my spinning demonstration at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair this past Fall. I’m planning to do another spinning demonstration at Mother Earth News Fair this Spring (as well as repeat my meat rabbit presentation) and I’m continuing to offer a variety of Angora fiber, bunnies, and handspun yarn for sale. My Angora fiber can be found here: Dandelion Rabbits
SOAPS and STUFF: I’m going to continue making soaps, salves, and a few other body products on a limited basis, but not adding anything new this year. I just have too much else to do!
GARDEN: Our 2017 garden did not do as well as we had hoped. We had a fantastic start with TS’s dedication to starting a large number of seedlings indoors and in our greenhouse. However, we just couldn’t find the time to keep up with the thinning and weeding as well as we should have. The cucumbers got some sort of fungus and died just as they were starting to produce well. We had so much rain that the lettuce and tomatoes slowly rotted from the ground up. I still made a ton of jam and we ate a lot of tomatoes, but I didn’t put away nearly as much as I did in 2016. Our plan for this year’s garden is to not stress about it! We are still going to plant, but only as much as we think we can realistically manage.
I guess that’s it for now, but who knows what the year will bring? I think we have learned a lot in the past 2 years here, but we still are still figuring things out – what CAN we do? What do we WANT to do? With each project we have to seriously consider if the WORK is worth the REWARD. We only have so much time and energy each day. One of the main reasons we chose this way of life was to have more choice about how we spend our time. Even when the chores pile up and an artic blast comes around, this is still an adventure that we love to be living!