Backyard Meat Rabbit Workshop

We held our very first official Backyard Meat Rabbit Workshop in August!  After teaching a handful of friends on an individual level and presenting to a crowd at the Mother Earth News Fair, it only made sense to start hosting actual workshops.  I absolutely LOVE helping other people get started in raising rabbits for meat (or fiber).  Meat rabbits can be a gateway into homesteading and self-sufficiency, which TS and I are passionate about.

Our workshops mainly take place in the barn where we talk about the basics of rabbit care and demonstrate handling, grooming, nail-trimming, and sexing.  We attempted some breeding, but neither pair was “into” it – maybe it was the mid-day heat or maybe they didn’t appreciate an audience!  We then had several rabbits that were dispatched and processed.  The dispatch takes place at the barn and then we move on to the tent/tables.  Workshop attendees can watch or participate depending on their comfort level.  After the processing, we had a rabbit meat tasting and one of the attendees at this workshop brought dessert!  Our first workshop was fun for all and I can’t wait for the next one.  Email me at serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com for information on future workshops.

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Spring Updates

April and May pretty much flew by. It seems every time I start a new post I feel like we’ve been so busy that I don’t even know where to begin. I keep yearning for more time to sit in the hammock by the creek and watch the kids play or read a book, but there is always so much to do – animals to feed, gardens to weed, meals to cook, dishes to wash, and I spend a good bit of time just walking back and forth to the barn. If we ever build a new barn it’s going to be a lot closer to the house!

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Rocket Kitty doing what he does best

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A single wild turkey hen wandered through our yard. I hope she found her flock!

April started off with Shearing Day at Wellspring Farm, which is just on the other side of the mountain from us. I took spinning lessons from Elke last Summer and I’ve been spending some time there helping out with the young llama training almost weekly since January. I took some of my Angora rabbits for display for Shearing Day. It was a lot of fun getting to meet interesting people and see how sheep get sheared. It looks like a tough job!

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We took our first beach vacation as a family since our last trip to Ft. Walton over 2 years ago. My dad and stepmother have a lovely house on Fernandina Beach. The water was icy cold but we had a great time searching for shark teeth and checking out the town and local pool. It was a really fun time with family and a nice way to start off Spring!

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As soon as we got home from the beach there were 200+ strawberry starts to plant and meat chickens to butcher. We then had the first Farmers Market meeting and a visit from TS’s sister, brother-in-law, and the most adorable 2-year-old boy I know!

I took a trip to Auburn with SJ for a close friend’s baby shower. It was my first trip back to Auburn since we left. A lot of new buildings had been built, but overall it looked much the same as when we left. It FELT different to me though. I LOVED getting to see old friends, but Burnsville does feel more like home now. I am glad we are here and also glad I hadn’t visited Auburn earlier. I was very homesick for Auburn during our first few months here and it wasn’t until we had been here a full year that I started feeling at home. It’s been long enough now that I can enjoy a trip to Auburn without feeling sad about missing it.

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We had many baby bunnies born in April after a long winter with very few babies born. Chicks have been arriving every 6 weeks since March so there are always a lot to take care of and just as we are butchering one batch of meat chicks another batch arrives. I got some new Welsh Harlequin ducklings for Mothers Day! We will be raising them for eggs mainly, but the extra males will end up in the freezer or maybe for sale. I got a new incubator and we are now on our third hatch after already hatching one batch of chicks and a mixed batch of chicks, keets, and ducklings!

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The first weekend of May I was excited to take part in the Mother Earth News Fair! The MENF takes place in six cities across the US throughout the year, Asheville being one of them. Here’s the short description from the website:

“At the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, you’ll discover a dazzling array of workshops and lectures designed to get you further down the path to independence and self-reliance. Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!

Each MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR features:
• More than 150 workshops from the leading authorities on organic gardening, food preservation, homesteading and livestock, green building, and natural health.
• Great deals from more than 200 regional and national exhibitors that feature ustainable products and services.
• Off-Stage Demos – With topics ranging from hands-on seed saving to building mud houses to heritage breed livestock, there is a lot to see!
• Inspirational keynotes, great food, and kids programming.”

(credit http://www.motherearthnewsfair.com)

I exhibited both my heritage breed Creme d’Argent meat rabbits and an assortment of my French and French-mix Angoras. I also did a presentation on Raising Meat Rabbits in Your Backyard. I was extremely nervous and there were a LOT of people there, but everyone said I did well and I’m always excited to help other people get started with meat rabbits. Rabbits really are the perfect homestead meat animal – they are easy to raise and butcher, the meat is tasty and healthy, and they have a low environmental impact. Plus they make great fertilizer! The MENF was really fun! I got to talk to so many awesome people and was able to advertise my Meat Rabbit Workshops that I will begin hosting in August. Details here: Workshops
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Last month we had a visit from our post-college-Auburn friends! It was SO wonderful to see them! I can’t believe it had been more than 5 years since the whole group of us had been together. We used to spend just about every weekend together and now we are all in different states – AL, TX, and NC. Being with these friends again was like coming home after a long journey. I miss them so much already!

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The garden is doing well! TS has put so much work into it and it shows! We have strawberries fruiting now, tons of lettuce, and TOMATOES!!! TS started our tomato and pepper plants inside the house in January. He built a geodesic greenhouse where the starts lived for another month or so, and now many of them are in the garden already starting to produce fruit. We ate our first ripe orange icicle tomatoes yesterday and they were delicious! TS may never forgive me for taking the first bite after he had done all the work, oops! I’m so sorry, babe! There’s lots more going on with the veggies that I hope TS will write about soon. The Yancey County Farmer’s Market has been going for about a month now and the Erwin, TN market just started. HS is out of school for the Summer, I just canned my first batch of strawberry jam, and the blackberries are starting to ripen! Spring is already almost over!

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Early Tomatoes

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The main garden in the beginning of May

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Front lettuce garden

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Kale and “volunteer” Dill

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The main strawberry garden, chicken tractor, and geodesic greenhouse

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Strawberries waiting to be picked

Spinning Fun & Fluffy Friends

I can’t believe I haven’t already written this post since I have been spinning for months now!!!  Last Summer I took weekly spinning lessons from a very talented and experienced fiber artist who owns a fiber farm just over the mountain from our farm.  I learned how to turn fiber such as sheep’s wool into yarn using a spinning wheel.  Spinning wheels aren’t just those giant wheels on display in your grandmother’s living room.  They come in many shapes and sizes and if you haven’t ever seen a modern castle-style spinning wheel you’d be surprised I can fit a spinning wheel in my little house.  I actually didn’t know for sure when I started learning to spin that I would really get into it – it just seemed a logical thing to learn to do since I already had Angora rabbits that produce fiber and I already loved to crochet.  Once I started learning to spin I fell in love with the feel of the fiber, the rhythm of the wheel, and the way spinning can be so peaceful and exciting at the same time.  Plus it’s really fun to be able to make something out of nothing but fluff from my rabbits.  Every few months the Angora rabbits will start to shed out their coat which is when it is ready to be either plucked or sheared.  I prefer shearing.  The rabbits don’t seem to mind having their fur cut off.  In fact, if I don’t cut or pluck it when it’s ready to come off they will start pulling it off themselves.  For the first couple of months I was spinning I rented one of my spinning teacher’s wheels while I scoured Craigslist daily for local spinning wheels for sale.  I had just about talked myself into spending a small fortune on a brand new Lendrum spinning wheel when that exact wheel appeared on Craigslist for a steal of a price.  It was an older model and needed a few new parts, but they were relatively inexpensive and easy to order, so I still got a great deal!

I’ve been spinning whatever fiber I can get my hands on (and afford!) for months, mainly wool and llama fiber I buy from the fiber farm, as well as several types of wool from online retailers and the downtown Asheville fiber arts store.  By November I was ready to start spinning my Angora fiber.  It’s quite a bit more difficult to spin than wool because it is so fine and only a few inches long.  It’s so incredibly soft and fine that it will just float away on the slightest breeze!  Once I started spinning the Angora fiber I started going through it faster than my bunnies could grow it!  What to do???  If you know me at all, you know exactly what happened next –  I got more bunnies!!!  I now have half the cage space in my “Bunny Barn” dedicated to my fluffy friends.  I am really enjoying having the extra few bunnies in addition to enjoying the spinning.  I really like grooming them and knowing they can be pets as well as farm animals.  Most of my meat breed rabbits I don’t get too attached to.  Even if they are breeding adults, they will most likely be a meal within a few years (with the exception of our beloved Timmy!!!).

Another neat thing about my learning to spin is that I have gotten to spend a lot of time at the fiber farm learning how to work with llamas!!!  My spinning teacher (and now friend) happened to ask one day when I was there for a fiber-dyeing-lesson if I’d like to help train the young llamas – OF COURSE!!!!!  I have always loved llamas and alpacas, and always hoped that at some point we will have some of them on our farm.  After spending a few hours every week or two going for walks with young llamas for the past few months, I have to say I am totally sold on llamas!  Alpacas are beautiful, but llamas (at least the ones I am getting to know) are quite a bit more personable.  There is something so peaceful about them.  It feels like they know me just by looking at me with those big eyes.  I don’t know how they do it, but llamas have this way of embodying both simple-farm-animal and zen-master at the same time.  Llamas (as well as alpacas) are not a species that does much touching or mutual grooming, so they do not seek to be petted like a dog would.  They are a bit more like a semi-feral cat – curious, but wanting to get to know a person a bit before approaching.  Some of them will give you a llama-kiss that will steal your heart if you let them…which I did.  I think I’m even more hooked on llamas than on spinning.  One of my dreams for our farm is to one day have some tiny guest cabins up on our ridge and have some pack llamas be part of the guests’ agritourism experience.  Maybe pack llamas could carry guests’ luggage to the cabins?  Or maybe we could find a way to do llama hikes nearby?  Or maybe I just have some fiber llamas for myself…There are lots of possibilities for the future!  For now, I’m just going to keep learning and just keep spinning!

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Sheared Angora Fiber

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Combed and ready to spin

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My wheel and some bins of fiber

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Spun Angora yarn

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Freshly washed yarn

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A few of my finished yarns

 

Winter Chickens

We have now been here on the farm for a year and a half.  It has been a challenge at every turn for us as new farmers.  It seems even when I think we’re starting to get good at something, a new problem will present itself.  We are now on our 5th batch of meat chickens and this batch has been a struggle since the beginning.  As it turns out, there is a season for everything and Winter is NOT the season for raising chickens.  We will not be doing this again for a multitude of reasons and here’s why:

  1. RATS.  Rats were a problem for us last winter when we lost several litters of newborn bunnies to either the rats themselves or to neglect from spooked mother rabbits as a result of the rats.  Our barn cats seem to have solved that problem for us since we have not had any more problems at the barn.  Unfortunately as the weather turned cold and wild food became scarce, the local rat population discovered the chick brooder.  We raised over 100 chicks in the brooder during Spring and Summer without a problem, but our chicks delivered in early October were killed by rats when they were a week old.  ALL 52 of them…in ONE night.  The rats didn’t even eat a single one.  They must’ve grabbed them one by one as they tried to take them back to the den and failed to get them out.  It was a heartbreaking sight for me the next morning, that’s for sure.  The dead chicks went into the freezer immediately and were used to supplement the barn cats’ diet over the next couple months.  We couldn’t just give up on raising another batch since we had already committed over 30 chickens to our Winter CSA as well as been approved to sell chicken at the Fall farmer’s market.  So we ordered more chicks.  However, the rat massacre set us back 3 weeks and $147.00 ($142 for the chicks and $5 for the food they ate during the week we had them).  We also had to invest another $12 in a roll of wire to cover the top of the brooder so the rats couldn’t get back in.
  2. MUD.  We went through a drought this Fall and when it finally ended, the rain just kept coming.  It was during this rainy time that the chicks got big enough to leave the brooder and go into the chicken tractor.  During the Spring and Summer, being in the chicken tractor is a great life for a meat chicken.  They get to eat fresh grass, bugs, and breathe in the fresh mountain air.  In winter, there is not much fresh grass to be had, especially since much of what was there at the end of the Summer was dug up to put in our new Septic lines or died during the drought.  So when we put the chicks out the field was mostly mud.  We knew it wasn’t ideal, but they were starting to get too crowded in the brooder so we didn’t have much of a choice.  Half the tractor is covered, so the birds had shelter and TS stacked some bales of straw at the end to provide additional insulation from wind.  They did okay for the first week but by the following week there was nothing but mud in the tractor.  These Cornish-cross meat chickens are not very smart at all and would pile into their water bowl to drink and get themselves soaking wet and muddy.  We lost a few chicks one cold night and I attributed it to them being cold and wet.  I put down some straw as bedding to get the chicks off the mud, so they could hopefully dry off.
  3. TRAVEL.  We usually don’t travel, but we decided to make a trip to Atlanta to visit my family just a few days after Christmas.  We have a wonderful friend who came by to take care of things while we were gone.  The last morning she called to tell me a few more of the meat chicks were dead.  When we got home late that afternoon I immediately cleaned out the tractor.  The straw I had put down had already been covered in mud/poop in the 3 days we’d been gone, so we ended up losing another 7 chicks during that time.  I don’t at all blame our friend – she did a great job of taking care of things.  But had I been there I could have added more bedding or moved the tractor sooner.  We put 20 of the remaining chicks back in the brooder.  The brooder has a center partition so there are 10 chicks on each side and it seems like they have plenty of room.  We left the other 19 chicks in the tractor with fresh straw bedding and still lost another one that night.  The next morning we moved the tractor out of the field and into our front yard where we still have some green grass.  We have moved it every few days, given them a tray full of wood shavings so they can get completely off the ground if needed, and covered the whole tractor with a tarp. It has been a week since then and so far we have not lost another (knock-on-wood).
  4. COLD.  The cold is mostly just an inconvenience.  It seems that as long as we keep the chicks dry, the cold doesn’t bother them.  But it does bother us people that take care of them since we have to make sure they have water even in freezing temperatures.  Most mornings I have to break ice out of the water bowl before filling it with warm water from the house.  Some days we have to do that a few times during the day as well.  Multiply that by 3 because this batch of meat chicks is now divided into 3 groups housed separately.  It’s a lot of extra work.  I am also not looking forward to butchering these guys in the cold.
  5. COST.  This batch has cost us so much more money than it should have.  We had the losses from the rats, the losses from the cold/wet, and the expense of extra bedding and extra heat for the brooder.  If we butcher the remaining 39 in a week (I hope they will be ready then!) we will have spent $205.50 on food, $35 on bedding, $142 on the chicks themselves, $147 for our rat-killed chicks that must be accounted for, and $30 for heat.  That’s $559.50 for 39 chickens or $14.34 each:  $4 per lb for a 3.5 lb chicken.  In comparison, our previous batch only cost us about $7 each:  $2 per pound.  We should break even on the ones we sell and are paying twice what we usually would for the ones we eat ourselves, NOT accounting for all the work we put into them.

So there you go.  If you are thinking of raising chicks in the winter, just don’t.  Or at least plan for them to be housed in a rat-proof indoor facility.  Or just don’t.  We will definitely not be doing this again even if it means we raise bigger batches of chicks non-stop through the Spring and Summer!

–Lori

 

Living in the Present

So as I look through the last posts, I see that it truly has been a while since the last post by me, TS. I have noticed that I tend to store up the creative thoughts in my head like a hoarder when I really need to put them to keyboard. Oh well, things have been super busy and by the end of the day I just want some peace and quiet in my head. On that note… I have the utmost respect for all the stay-at-home parents in this world!! This is not a job for the faint at heart by ANY means. Some days it feels like we are running a circus instead of a farm.

Update on the family. The kids are doing well and by that I mean we are all still alive. Haven likes kindergarten well enough but hates that he is forced to take naps every day (this is handed down as a direct order from the state board of education.) He stopped napping when he was two! Thank goodness this is not pushed past Christmas break and hopefully the rest of the school year will be more appealing to him. He has made many friends at school and has also formed a strong bond with a girl in his class who is now his best friend. Kids are so cute! Skylar is doing well but would be much happier I think with more interaction with kids. She just turned four so kindergarten is a ways off but maybe pre-school next Fall. Sometimes when I see her with our friends’ kids her age, I see my mother in her. She is very fond of toy animals, taking pictures with our old camera, and roaring. Every day we are blessed with a new pet as she explores her connection to the animals of the world. Quite often she is a kitty that wants to protect her pretend kittens, or a velociraptor, but every blue moon she will grace us with a unicorn or some magical creature form storyland. They both are just like any other kids. Lots of energy and very headstrong. When together though they often are like oil and water. Wait, more like nitric acid and glycerol. It sometimes reminds me of a classic duel of the 1600s the way they fight. A parry here, a thrust there… then I have to take away the kitchen knives. Just kidding. One day they will each understand that the other was not placed here as the sole torment of them. One day they will be a team. And I hope to not be on the wrong side of that team.

Lori and I are well too. Stressed and layered thin, but well. We have been just about nonstop action since before we arrived here on the farm. That’s almost 6 seasons in farm-speak. There is a reason that Winter arrives when it does too. The previous 3 seasons can kill you. Take this time nature says… Reboot and reassess your goals. We just said to hell with it last Winter and pushed on through! This Winter, I hope to listen to and abide by Mother Nature. I need, we all need some time.

Animals update. We have over 150 animals at this exact moment. Nothing new, but just an expanded version of the farm. We are raising meat chickens for a Winter CSA, and to be prepared going into Spring market. Our flock of layers has grown to try and increase egg sales through the cold days. Our guineas are thriving and we have successfully raised several groups of keats. Our rabbits have had some ups and downs this year, but they are safe with the barn cats so can’t complain there. We sell about 5-6 rabbits on market Saturdays and look to grown that in the Spring, as well as chicken and egg sales. Cloud the behemoth is doing well and seems to be healthy this year with her skin. Last year she had massive itchy hotspots and we thought it was either chicken allergy or dry heat. Looks like chicken was the culprit. Kitten is still with us but spends all of her time in our bedroom. Not a farm cat by any stretch of the imagination but always very loving at bedtime.

We have had a lot of deer in the fields this year. 2 less than before the Fall started though as I have had success with my Strother compound bow. They have been feeding very well on our strawberry plants, local tomatoes, and cabbage so they are very healthy targets that help feed our family. We also had a stray horse show up one night looking to graze our yard, but thankfully Lori was not able to catch it or lead it into our barn… even though she tried for 30 minutes. No bear sightings on the property. No weasel signs since we lost the ducks. I did trap a possum but released over the other side of the mountain. Rats are a constant problem, but we are working to contain the ongoing issue.

So to be honest, I have this story building for a book I want to write. It is probably the reason I have not wanted to blog. My mind hasn’t been able to concentrate well while trying to put my thoughts down. I drift away sometimes building the back story and reasoning of the future world we may find ourselves living within, and the status of recent worldly events has also been weighing heavy on my heart and mind as I try to understand the implications of our future as a species. The confluence of those two rivers of thought have really helped me focus on refining my actual opinions of life, time, and impact. I think I always avoided forming real opinions before. Whether from fear of judgment or maybe just lack of introspection. I watched in real time as things happened around me, but never processed the reality. I watched the towers fall but failed to fully understand what that event meant for our future. I watched as greed took over conscious thought before the housing market collapsed, but never fully embraced what the long-term consequences were to the everyday people of this country. I watched myself lose the “self” aspect every day. I watched the world at every step. I watched from afar.

I act now. I try to act every day now to understand or make a difference where I can. Every action has a reaction as Newton stated, and that applies to belief as well. Where there is no action, there is no belief. Where there is no belief, there is no hope. No hope, no love. Time here at the farm has made me a believer in love. Not that silly idea of love that teenagers think of as lasting unscathed and influenced by the stars. No not that. I refer to the love that breaks down barriers between people of all perspectives. Love that humbles and love that shows the fragility of life. It’s all around us if we choose to accept it, but we must also accept the need for action on its behalf. I act in the name of love and for that, I have hope and belief to boot.

I hope to anyone reading this that you find some way to take action in the upcoming year in the name of love. Act on behalf of someone who can’t. Act out of sincerity. Act now, while you can make a difference however small. A happy 2017 to everyone. May peace prevail.

T.S.

Old Timey Learning: Making Soap

When we were first planning our big move, I had soap-making in my mental list of things I wanted to learn.  I’m not sure why exactly.  Soap and it’s cousins shampoo, body gel, and lotion had not been high on my list of priorities since the Bath & Body Works craze of 1995.  I didn’t know much about soap-making, other than what I learned from watching “Fight Club” about a hundred times throughout my 14 years spent with TS.  It’s one of his favorite movies and after I’d seen it a couple times I mostly quit paying attention to it when he’d turn it on.  It was only in the last couple years that I came to appreciate the anti-consumerism sentiment as well as some of the other themes behind the fighting.  Anyhow, sometime during the end of our first long winter here I started learning to make soap.  I’m still learning.

Soap is made when a chemical reaction occurs between a fat and sodium hydroxide (lye).  That chemical process is called saponification and if you have the proper proportion of lye and fat all the lye is used up in the saponification and none remains in the finished soap.  This is important because lye is caustic!  It will burn your skin, as will soap that isn’t fully saponified.  In the old timey days, whoever made soap (which was at least someone in every family) would take lye made from wood ashes and combine it with rendered lard leftover from cooking.  While I do render my own lard/tallow, I have yet to try to make soap with it.  I have been using a variety of vegetable oils and nut butters, mainly coconut oil, palm oil, castor oil, and shea butter.  I purchase my sodium hydroxide online because I have zero interest in trying to make it from wood ashes.  I need a more mathematically predictable process.  Yes, soap-making involves math.  Each type of fat, oil, nut butter, and the like have a different “saponification value” which is the amount of lye needed to convert it to soap.  So what you do when you create a soap recipe is decide the percentages of each ingredient you are going to use, multiply them by the sap value of each, and add it up to arrive at the amount of lye you need.  Even though I do somehow remember enough middle-school-math to do this, it is way quicker and easier to use an online lye calculator.  It’s also safer because a small error in math could mean lye-heavy caustic soap or superfatted soap that will go rancid.  A small percentage of extra fat can be good for your soap, so you can also adjust the superfat level using your lye calculator or middle-school-math.

Once you have your recipe ready and safety gear on, you mix your powdered sodium hydroxide with water.  Most recipes say to use distilled, but I’ve had great results with our tap water which comes from our mountain-spring-fed well.  The mixture will heat up due to a chemical reaction between the sodium hydroxide and water, which is at that point called lye.  While it’s cooling you weigh out your other ingredients, melt them down, and then let that cool a bit.  When both the lye and the oils are around 95 degrees, you mix them together using a constant whipping or a stand-mixer or stick blender until the mixture starts to thicken and then pour it into a mold.  It takes around 24 hours for it to get hard enough to turn out of the mold and cut and then the soap needs another 4+ weeks to dry to be fully cured and ready for use.  It sounds easy and it sort of is, except that any tiny thing can go wrong and ruin the soap.  Measurements can be off, the temperature can be wrong, the mixing may not end up complete, etc.  It takes time and practice.  My first batch came out of the mold a crumbly mushy lye-heavy mess.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but it was bad.  My second batch turned out okay.  The third batch was squishy.  It took a lot of trial and error and recipe-tweaking to produce consistently good soap.   I’ve made 1-4 batches of soap per week in the months since and I still have an occasional soap fail.  My most recent fail was gray and off-smelling and looked like concrete.  But most of the time I get nice results and I really enjoy the process.

What do I do with all this soap?  Two things: we use it, gift it, and sell it.  We always have a bar by the bathroom sink and a few in the shower.  The kids love to pick out their own bar of soap from the drying rack.  I have gifted many soaps to family and friends who have visited in the past few months.  I also sell it at farmers’ markets.  I first sold it at the market here in Burnsville (along with my homemade bread) until the board determined that soap and bread (among other things we were selling) were already “covered by other vendors” and therefore no longer allowed.  I tried a market in the neighboring town of Spruce Pine, but the small clientele were mostly only interested in produce and the hours didn’t work well for my schedule.  Then I found out about a new farmers’ market starting up in Erwin, TN.  We are only a few miles from the NC/TN border and Erwin is not far past that.  So I joined the Erwin market and sales were good enough that I went every week up until the last couple weeks of October when it started getting cold and dark earlier and the market slowed down dramatically.  I’m excited to be going back when it starts up next Spring.  My experience with Erwin has been great!  The group of people who started and run the market are super nice and welcoming, as are the people of Erwin in general.  I sold a bunch of soap, lotion, lip balms, and salves and got some regular customers.

Now that the farmers’ market is done for the year I have a couple events lined up in Burnsville.  I’ll be vending at the Christmas Ornament Craft Festival on November 19th and the Christmas Extravaganza on the 26th, both at Burnsville Town Center.  I’m really looking forward to selling soaps here in town!  Hopefully sometime soon I will also have an online store set up so I can sell my soaps to non-locals.  I’ll share my online store as soon as I get it up and running.  If you want to buy some now, email me at serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com.  At some point I’ll have to write another post about making LIQUID soap.  It’s a much more complicated process and my first attempt boiled out of the pot so fast it covered the floor with a hot caustic soup before I could get it under control.  Thank goodness for rubber gloves – safety first!

Lori

Fry Pan Bargain

We have now raised and butchered 3 batches of meat chickens and have another batch in the brooder.  I did an in-depth cost analysis for the first batch which I posted here: MEAT CHICKENS  Unfortunately I did not keep quite as detailed records for the next 2 batches, but I’m going to use what I do have to compare them as best as I can.

Our 2nd batch was much like the first.  We ordered Rainbow Ranger chicks from Meyer Hatchery, which are basically the same thing as the Red Ranger chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery.  Since we saw a marked difference in carcass weight between the male and female Red Rangers, I bought just males this time.  I ordered 25 at $2.56 each plus $14.99 shipping.  I chose not to vaccinate them this time.  It seemed like a waste to vaccinate chicks that were going to live in a fairly controlled environment and be in the freezer in just a few months.  We did get 2 extra chicks with our order, so the total purchase was $78.99 for 27 chicks or $2.92 each.  That’s a $.68 less per chick than our first batch.

With our first batch we used a 250-watt heat lamp which used a lot of energy.  My estimated cost for energy for the heat lamp was $42 for 6 weeks, or $1.17 per chick for that batch.  I was excited to discover an alternative to the heat lamp – the Premier One Heat plate shown here:  https://www.premier1supplies.com/p/heating-plates-and-covers?cat_id=226  It was pricey, but uses about 1/3 of the power and is much safer!  Heat lamps have been known to catch fire and burn down homes and barns, so it was well worth the price for the peace of mind and energy savings.  We also did not have to have the heat on for the chicks full time since the weather was warmer.  The heat plate was on constantly for only the first 2 weeks.  After that we ran it only at night for another 3 weeks.  So it only cost about $7.00 to keep the chicks warm, which is a $35 savings for this batch.  We had our laying breed chicks and meat breed chicks all in the brooder together (total of 52!) and still used just one bag of shavings for bedding at $5.  Price per meat chick for heat and bedding was only $.23!

Starting cost:

Batch 1: $4.91/chick, Batch 2: $3.15/chick, savings of $1.76 per chick!

These chicks had the same crazy appetites as the first batch, and ate the same amount of food except that half of them had an extra week to grow just because we were crazy busy this Summer and didn’t get all the butchering done right on schedule.  I’m estimating the number of bags of food we went through based on the numbers from the first batch.  We did however use a combination of the natural feed from Tractor Supply at $17 per bag and non-GMO, non-Soy feed from our local co-op $18 per bag.  Two chickens died at about 8 weeks old, so our feed price per chick that made it to butcher is for total of 26 chicks.

$90.00 for 5 bags non-gmo feed (18.00)

$154.00 for 8 bags all natural feed (17.99 + tax)

Total feed cost: $244/26 = $9.38 per chick

$3.15 starting cost plus $9.38 to feed = $12.53 per chicken

Divide that by an average weight of 4.33lbs and our price per pound of meat comes out to $2.89 per pound!  That’s much better than the $3.45-4.05 per pound price for our first batch!!!  We saved money on the chicks, the heat, the feed, and came out with more meat because we raised all males and didn’t butcher any early.  It was a really successful batch.

For the 3rd batch, I wanted to try something different.  I believe I wrote at some point about how the Ranger chicks are so different that the laying-breed chicks.  All they do is eat desperately and they don’t seem to act like regular chickens.  I felt bad for them.  Part of the reason we are raising our own meat is to ensure that the animals have a decent life before they become our food.  So I decided we would try some heavy-breed chickens that were traditionally raised as dual-purpose (meat and eggs) chickens before commercial meat chicken operations came into existence.  We ordered what’s called the “Fry Pan Bargain” from Meyer Hatchery.  It’s an assortment of heavy-breed roosters at a bargain price.  They do not get as large as the Ranger chickens and they take longer to reach butchering size, but they consume a lot less food.  Here are our costs for that batch:

The chicks themselves truly were a bargain at only $.60 each!!!  Again I did not have them vaccinated.  We ordered 26 chicks and received 28, and our price per chick including shipping was only $1.12!!!  The heat cost and bedding cost were the same at $.23 each.  We didn’t lose any chicks after losing one the first week.  We used exclusively the Tractor Supply natural feed cause we missed the ordering deadline for the co-op.  We butchered these chickens at about 18-19 weeks old.  They did eat a lot less, they did act like real chickens, and they need longer to grow.  Our assortment consisted of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Australorpe, and a single Blue Ameraucana.

Total starting costs $1.35

12 total bags of Tractor Supply natural feed $231 comes out to $8.55 per chick

Total cost per chicken $9.90!

They did butcher out at lower weights than the Rangers, even with the extra few weeks of growth.  Our average weight per dressed-out chicken was only 2.5 pounds.  That brings our price per pound to $3.96 which is at the higher end of what we paid the first time.  However, these guys seemed like a lot more work because we had to feed them and water them and move their tractor daily for an extra 6 weeks.  They also had a lower percentage of breast meat which is what our family would prefer to eat the most of.  Plus butchering was just as much work, but for less meat.  Labor “costs” were higher for this batch.  And since they act like real chickens and grew up more they had started crowing and scrapping with each other a little in the last few weeks.  Overall the Fry Pan Bargain was not a bargain for us.  Perhaps if we raised them free-range and they were able to forage enough to cut down further on feed costs it would be worth it, but that’s not an option for us with our current set-up.  However, one advantage to this batch was that we actually ended up with a few laying hens!  We got 4 females by accident!  One Australorpe, 2 Barred Rocks, and the single Blue Ameraucana are all hens.  The Ranger females weren’t worth keeping because they ate so much food so they were really just a meat breed.  But getting a few female dual-purpose chicks is like getting a bonus!  We moved them to the barn to join the laying flock as soon as we started suspecting they were hens and they are now very close to laying age.  If I were to sell them now I could probably get $15-20 each for them.  Because we got those extra hens, I was able to sell more of our laying breed pullets than I initially had planned.  If I take that into account as part of the value of the Fry Pan Bargain, it would bring the price per pound down enough to make this batch totally worth it.  However, since I wouldn’t want to count on getting a “bonus” again, we will probably not order the Fry Pan Bargain again.  It was just too much more work and didn’t save us any money.  I can be okay with the not-quite-fully-chicken-acting Rangers.

We are now a couple of weeks into our 4th batch of meat chickens, this time the CornishX Franken-chickens!  I am very curious to see how our numbers turn out with these fast-growing-eating-machines.