Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chicken Butchering

Several years ago when we decided to get chickens, we knew that a consequence of having them would be that we would eventually have to butcher them. While we could have decided to keep them as pets, we felt it was important to acknowledge that while they were providing us eggs during their best years, they would eventually be a food source in their own right. After all that is an important part of our desire to be self-sufficient - being able to provide ourselves with fresh meat from the animals we have raised.

For years we kept the hens, talking about the eventual demise of some of them, and tried to find tutorials and information that would help us figure out how to most humanely butcher them. When we picked up the 25 roosters this spring, we both agreed it was time to figure it out and get past whatever was blocking us from doing the job ourselves. I have to say, while tutorials are reasonably plentiful online, it would have been nice had we found a mentor to walk us through the process. At one point several months ago, I thought we had found someone, but the moment to get together never occurred.

While a mentor would have been nice, when we finally decided on a day to slaughter our first chicken it actually wasn't as emotionally difficult as either of us had thought it would be. We decided to do one bird, and see how it went. I had read stories of it taking almost two hours your first time, because you don't know what you are doing. It seemed simple enough, though. Kill bird, pluck, eviscerate, clean up, cool/freeze/eat. That is pretty much how it went, too. As usual we split the work without really talking about it before hand. While both Greg and I are fairly sensitive people, we were able to deal with the whole chicken in about 30-45 minutes. We served him up for lunch the next day, and he was pretty darn tasty. I believe that Claire has decided that she wants nothing to deal with store-bought birds again as their taste was so poor in comparison. She turns her nose up at the paltry offerings from the fast-food place when her grandparents have offered.

Since that first time we have processed the rest of our extra roosters (we are keeping one who prefers to live with the goats), and all but two of our male ducks. We have plans to butcher a couple of the turkeys for the holidays coming up, which will be interesting. They are so much bigger than what we have handled so far, and considerably stronger. We also saved the duck down and feathers for making our own down pillow. I am so excited to be able to do such a project that brings a more well-rounded feeling to this whole experience!! I'll let you all know how that goes once I get the ticking for the pillow. But for now, goodnight.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pessimism and Pride

A short post tonight. We have been watching some movies lately on Netflix, streaming them on the computer. The kids really like watching Dinosaurs (lots of National Geographic) and various Nature/Survival shows. We also watched King Corn and Food, Inc. Although we already knew a lot of what these movies talked about (CAFOs, Monsanto, the revolving door of the food industry/government), it just is such a reminder of what we find so important about food for our own family. It was frustrating to watch the shows on one level, because I feel so impotent to fight against the system as it is set up right now. Buying wholesome, organic, and REAL food for the family can be costly at times (especially for meat). Taking the time to plan healthy meals for ourselves and two growing kids takes thought and effort. Researching which animal feeds, plant seeds, etc. are going to be the best investment for our eventual self-sustaining future takes a lot of time and energy. It is exhausting work!

Then you watch movies like these and find it easy to feel sad and disheartened. Why try to fight the system when the system is regulating itself?

Yet I still hold out some sort of hope that it can all change for the better. I suppose I am an optimist at heart. I want to believe that people can actually change the system for the better by simple customer demand and desire. I want to see a day where instead of monster-sized corporate farms that spread filth, pollution, and disease like it was a desired commodity, we have a return to smaller family farms providing wholesome food to their local areas. I truly want to see that happen. But I fear that I never will. It is so easy to see how the reliance on technology to save us will probably be our downfall.

What do we do when the bounty the earth could provide us all (yes, even the current 7 BILLION of us right now)becomes so poisoned that we literally cannot sustain ourselves? It is easy to believe the science fiction writers of years past, as we see the fiction turn to fact in our daily lives. Yet I am struck with the puzzle of not only how to make this a viable change not only for my own family, but for other families as well? Do we have to start our own intentional Eco-Community to see the changes that I believe are important to our survival as a race? If he with the most money wins in this race for the feeding of American stomachs, then we must surely be the losers as we get by with a pittance of an income.

Yet I don't feel like a loser at all. I feel strong and proud that we have chickens who provide (most) of our egg needs. We have goats that give us their milk. Pigs that will eventually provide us with all the pork that we could need. We have turkeys, ducks, and chickens who feed and nourish us. We can grow a bounty of edible plants. We really want to get a few cows for milk, cheese, and beef. We are on our path to self-sustainability, even if it is only the beginning of our journey. We have gained such wisdom about ourselves and our world through this process, and the journey is far from over. Even when these movies make me sad, angry, depressed, or revolted, I still carry my inner kernel of calm, peace, and pride knowing that we are doing our best at this time to provide good, nourishing, REAL food to our family.

Maybe not as short a post as I was expecting after all.....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parachute Cord Bracelet

This was our exciting project for the day: A woven parachute cord bracelet.
A few weeks ago, my husband asked me to look up the knot that makes a particular type of survival belt. It is an easy way of having a sturdy cord with you for times when you may need it. It is often made of parachute cord (also called para cord) which comes in a variety of types. The most commonly used for this application is Type 3 or 550 (it has a 550 lb breaking strength). If you are planning on using it for a life-saving application, be sure to test its strength first, or use something like Spectra cord (often used by climbers and backpackers, it has an 800lb breaking strength) which has greater abrasion resistance.

We decided to start with a bracelet, as a shorter and simpler project to get used to the process. In all, it probably took 20 - 30 minutes to make the first one for my husband. The second one took about 15 minutes or so to make. We used some parachute cord we had lying around from a previous project.

Rather than trying to create my own tutorial, I will point out some of the sources that I used to figure out how to make one.

This one on the lanyard knot, used to make the knot or button that is part of the closure, is excellent:

I am pretty happy with how they turned out, and am planning on making some more out of a variety of colors. Then I'm trying the belt, but using the slightly more complicated "Slatt's Rescue Belt Knot" as seen here:

and here:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inter-Dimensional Travel

I have an inter-dimensional portal in my bedroom. I am not sure when it appeared, exactly. I have never even seen it myself, but I know it exists. How? Well, I have an unusual way of measuring its existence. My cats. I know, it sounds rather far-fetched and silly, but bear with me.

We have five cats. Right now, since we are staying with the in-laws in their house, we essentially live out of our bedroom while using their kitchen. We do at least have a bathroom to ourselves, even though it is across the house from our bedroom. The cats occupy the bedroom for all but a few hours in the evening, when they come hang out with us in the living room while we watch movies, play on the computer, read to the kids, etc. The cats would be welcome to run the house (they are indoor-only cats), except for the resident canines that sometimes have acted rather aggressively towards our felines.

Since at any single point in the day I can find every one of our cats in fairly predictable snoozing locations in the bedroom, when I CAN'T find one of our cats, it poses a real dilemma. Today was one among several recent days. I looked in all the nooks and crannies, but no cat. He would normally be on the bed going from the hot sunny window to the cooler shadows all day long. However, no cat, all day long. He reappeared this evening, and acted (as most cats do) as though nothing had been amiss. Mr. MIA is pictured here. The only explanation that makes sense is an inter-dimensional portal. It must take a huge amount of energy, which would explain why cats tend to sleep 20+ hours a day.

I don't know what they do when they travel to other dimensions. Maybe they even travel through time? Possibly go back to their home planet to report on what the Apes are doing. Or work as assassins, I suppose. Whatever they do, they certainly aren't talking about it to us!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indulge Me A Little

I was sitting here tonight trying to decide what to write about, and feeling frustrated with this stupid cold making me feel slow. I am feeling uninspired right now. My three year old son is asking me several times to read to him, and I am realizing I would rather read to him right now (he LOVES books) than stare at my keyboard trying to figure out which of several topics to talk about tonight. Maybe tomorrow I will be feeling better to discuss any number of topics. So, I leave you tonight with some recent photos instead. These are not my own, but my daughters work. She really has an interesting way of staging photos, and I love to see her interest in the arts. We ended up buying her a digital camera about 18 months ago that she could use without us worrying she would break it. It is an actual digital camera, not a dumbed-down childish camera, and I am sure many adults would question such a young child (now 5 1/2 years old) having an expensive piece of equipment they could possibly break. I feel that I would rather she be given the responsibility as she is able to handle it (and she does very well), as well as encouraging her creativity. So here you go:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Productivity Among Workers is Up

As the Princess of Procrastination, I have had a remarkably productive day. Surprisingly so considering my two kids are sick and I seem to be coming down with their cold. Blech.

It isn't even noon yet, and I have made an hours worth of phone calls that had been put off for at least a week. I have beans soaking for tomorrow lunch, duck and chicken necks simmering on the stove for broth to go in tomorrow beans, a few nasties removed from the fridge that couldn't be disposed of in a more efficient manner, and I am about to package up a few things to go in the post this week as soon as I feel well enough to drag my lazy ass out to the truck.

A good day for sure, so it probably won't last. But I will ride this wave for al long as it carries me. I may even try to get some more sketching done this afternoon, if I don't totally poop out. I think I will call it good to get today's blog post accomplished before midnight. What can I say, I am on a roll!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I am not sure exactly how we did it, but we created a monster. Not just your fly-by-night everyday creature, but a truly horrible monster whose mere proximity leaves a rank taste in the back of your throat which cannot easily be removed.

It all started so simply, as stories like this often do, with a desire for fresh Sourdough bread. Last winter, having left our own carefully tended batch in the fridge at home, we looked locally for another strain to raise as our own. We finally located some, and brought it back. Fed lovingly on a weekly basis with premium organic whole wheat flour (despite avoiding wheat, we have not yet tried growing Sourdough on other grains). We baked we buttered, we loved our bread.

Eventually spring came, and is often the case when the house warms up, the Sourdough was left in its cool room to think about itself. We have neglected our strains before, with no ill outcomes, as even if the top turns black you simply scrape it
off and feed it once more and the culture returns to its former tasty glory. There was something different about this strain though.

Through the summer we occasionally started to get a whiff of something...dead. It is an unmistakable odor that weaves into your taste buds like few others. Once you have smelled death and its sister decay, you never forget it. We suspected a mouse perished in my mother-in-laws sewing room. Coincidentally the same room the Sourdough lived in. A month passed, and the scent not only lingered, but grew. After several months we had silently hoped the poor dead little thing had dedicated, as the smell was a little less obvious.

Alas, such was not the case. As the weather started cooling again, thoughts and cravings returned to our beloved Sourdough, and with it the nagging guilt that it had been abandoned for too long. My beloved husband, keeper of the cultures, took it upon himself to perform his ritual resuscitation of the Sourdough. He was unprepared for what greeted him upon opening the lid.

Actually, we were all unprepared for the overwhelming blow to our noses. He almost ran through the house with containers of cultures gone horribly, horribly wrong to remove them from the living areas. It took over three days for the smell of decay to finally start to abate from the sewing room. For another week, the containers of our new chemical weapon sat and thought about itself outside near the trash can. Not a soul wanted to deal with its disposal.

Eventually, my dearest spouse nerve himself up to the task and cleaned the bowls out into the garbage. After bringing the bowls back inside, he rinsed then heavily bleached them. Finally, they took a spin in the dishwasher, for their final triumphant return to daily use.

Except, something was still wrong. As the dishwasher worked, I still had that lingering scent in the back of my throat. Upon opening the machine, all I smelled was death. We ran the machine again. Still smelled like death. The scent seems to have permeated the plastic of the bowls now, so they sit outside while we decide what to do about them. We both hate the idea of tossing the bowls, as they could be useful.

Catfish bait? Something to pack in your luggage to dissuade the TSA to poke about in your undies? The possibilities are endless.