I Become a Chicken Farmer

My first week as a chicken farmer is successfully in the books! This is a brand-new little venture for me, and I’m excited to learn and see how it goes. I’ll be sharing lessons learned, tips, and tricks, so follow along and learn from my mistakes and successes!

I decided, with my man’s go-ahead, to order chicks back in January, not wanting to count on the availability of feedstore chicks this spring. The timing was very intentional: Get them in mid-April, they’d be pretty well-grown by our wedding, and we’d have eggs by the fall. Chicks were ordered in January, and within a week I had the bulk of my chick supplies purchased! Eagerly anticipating that order getting here this week, I got a little excited last week and went to Runnings for a few last-minute chick supplies (my chick order was set to ship the week at the beginning of this week). Yep, I came home with four chicks, two Prairie Bluebell chicks and two Sapphire Splash chicks. Oh my goodness. I’m not sure how many hours I spent watching those four chicks.

It was actually nice to get a few days’ headstart to finetune my brooder setup, and gave me a chance to think of a few other things that I wanted to have on-hand for when the big order arrived. So when Tuesday evening rolled around and I got an email saying my McMurray chick order was on its way, I was thrilled! I gave the post office a head’s up on Wednesday, and Thursday morning got a call that the chicks were in. Oh my goodness (favorite phrase when dealing with baby animals). The sounds coming from that little box on the drive back home were precious. And this is what I found when I got home:

I had ordered fifteen chicks: two Black Australorps, five Black Stars, five Red Stars, and three Buff Orpingtons. I was looking for breeds that were good layers, docile, could free range well, and were cold/heat hardy. Boy, they pack those little things in, and even threw in a tiny little silkie bantam as a freebie. I later told my man that I really expected to be productive Thursday morning, but sat on the floor for a full three hours, just watching the chicks. Oh, well.

One by one, I took them out, checked them for pasty butt, and made sure they found the waterer in the brooder box. Only a couple needed to be cleaned up, and one was the tiny little silkie bantam chick. He had a pretty pasted up rear end and seemed to have a minor vent prolapse, but is actually doing really well. He indisputably looks better now than he did when they arrived. I’ll write a little more about that later. As soon as they tasted the water and found the food, those little rascals came alive! They were constant motion for a couple of hours, some of them pretty scrappy, and gorging themselves on food, occasionally almost falling asleep in the water, at which point they had their fill and settled down. There hasn’t been any further picking or scrapping.

So far, I have nothing but good things to say about McMurray Hatchery and would definitely order from them again. The Runnings chicks have done well overall, except for one which died more or less without warning after about 3 days, and for no apparent reason. The other three are completely healthy and I’ve had no issues with them. Every couple of days, the older three get vitamins/electrolytes and prebiotics/probiotics in their water (the new chicks have that constantly, as well as sugar in their water), and I’ve ground their feed down a little bit as well, since they waste a lot of it picking past the big pieces. They’re absolutely hilarious to watch, and they’ve tamed down a lot and are pretty friendly, especially the older three.

The Runnings chicks initially needed regular attention to prevent pasty butt, which stopped being an issue after a few days, while the mailorder chicks have barely needed attention at all, other than the silkie. Considering pasty butt is made worse by stress, those feedstore chicks are definitely more stressed than mail ordered chicks. First, they get shipped in the mail, just like mail ordered chicks, and then they sit in bins at the feedstore until they are purchased, at which point they’re transported again. That’s a lot for a little critter to go through! I’m definitely impressed with how well the McMurray chicks have done and how healthy they seem overall.

So right now I have 19 chicks in my livingroom, peeping up a storm, and couldn’t be happier. My dad jokingly called it a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and he really is rather correct. Stay tuned for more chick adventures!

DIY Paper Pots for Seed Starting

There is snow falling outside again – wonderful!! – but inside I’ve got a brooder of little chicks and packets of seeds and dozens of sprouted herbs and veggies and perennials, all an optimistic acknowledgement that springtime is indeed here!

If you’re a gardener, you’ve probably browsed seed catalogs and displays at feed stores, stocked up on seeds, planned your garden, and probably even eagerly started seeds indoors a few weeks too early. Oh, well, there are worse things. Gardening is a wonderfully thrifty sort of pursuit, but some of those seed starting supplies can add up pretty quickly. Newspaper pots are a quick and free alternative to peat pots for seed starting, and here are a few tips for making sure they turn out well and hold up!

These sturdy, biodegradable little pots are formed from strips of newspaper, each approximately 1/3 of a newspaper cut lengthwise (fold the paper in thirds lengthwise and cut along those folds) and are rolled around a cylindrical item, such as a spice container or a pop can, depending on how big you want your paper pots. I played around with a couple of different sizes for these pots, what I liked the best was a pop can (well, V8 to be precise, since I don’t drink pop) for size.

Starting at one end of your newspaper strip, roll it around the can, not too tight, so you can then slide it off one end of the can until about 2 or 3 inches are left on the can. The part still on the can will be the sides of the pot, and the rest will form the bottom, by folding it over the bottom of the can. Play around with a folding method until you find one that works for you, but smaller, overlapping folds work better than bigger folds. I find it works best to start right over the end left from rolling the pot, to capture that edge and better hold the pot together, and as I get closer to the end, I tuck the new folds underneath the already folded part. Take some time to get your folding method down, since solid folding equals a solid paper pot. That’s also why I find a pop can works best. A spice jar works okay, but with a pop can, the rim and the indent in the bottom of the can allow you to get a really good series of folds in the paper, making a solid base for the paper pot. Once everything is folded and tucked in, gently slide the pot off the can and it is ready to be used!

These little pots are quick to make and can be a fun time filler. Obviously, once you’ve planted in them and watered them, they do get soggy, so handle them gingerly if you have to move the pots, but when you’re ready to plant your seedlings out in your garden, just plant the whole thing and the paper will disintegrate on its own! I’m growing my starts in disposable baking sheets with plastic covers, which provide a great humid environment until the seeds have sprouted, and then when they are well enough established the cover comes off. So far, I’ve had about a 100% germination rate with what I’ve planted.

Springtime is a wonderful reminder of God’s provision, His sovereignty, and His Creation design in which mankind was created to partner with God in the care and keeping of His earth. It is God who brings or withholds the weather we need, and it is He who ultimately provides, and because of His orderly Creation, in which like produces like, and kind multiplies according to kind, I can plant seeds and grow an expected harvest. Pursuits such as planting and growing and animal husbandry allow us to participate in this world as stewards, as God designed us to be, faithfully using our means and abilities to nurture and foster growth and life in this world, to care for God’s creatures, and to provide for ourselves and our families. So enjoy these springtime pursuits, friends, and thank God for His care and provision!

Recipes | Ricotta Cheese

I was leafing through a book I picked up at a shop in Custer, titled The Essential Guide to Self-Sufficient Living, by Abigail Gehring. It is a beautifully curated little book, full of excellent, simple recipes and project ideas. Due to a positive Covid test yesterday, I’m now in quarantine with some time on my hands, so it was the perfect opportunity to try this easy recipe for ricotta cheese! Ricotta cheese is pretty pricey at the store, so I rarely buy it, but it is my favorite filling for crepes. Homemade crepes and ricotta cheese will be the perfect Christmas morning breakfast!

Ingredients:

1 gallon of milk
1/3 cup plus 1 tsp. white vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:

In a large saucepan or stockpot, combine the milk and salt and heat it slowly to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I used a candy thermometer to watch the temperature. When it reaches 180 degrees, remove it from heat and add the vinegar, stiring for about a minute. Curd will begin to form and the whey will start to separate out. Cover the pot and let it sit for about 2 hours. After two hours, ladle or pour the milk mixture into a cheesecloth-lined collander. Allow it to drain for about another 2 hours. After that, it is ready to use!

Tips and Notes:

This was a very fun recipe to throw together, especially with some time on my hands, and yielded about a quart of ricotta cheese. The resulting fresh ricotta cheese has a very nice mild flavor. However, I should have drained it for less time. I think I let it sit a bit longer than 2 hours, and the curds are much firmer than I was expecting. Next time, I may let it sit for as little as 10 minutes, just to get the bulk of the liquid off, but to keep the cheese softer.

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Hiking | The Meeker Ranch

Once again we spent a Sunday afternoon haunting beautiful ruins in beautiful country. The Meeker Ranch is an historic site now owned by the Forest Service, east and north of Custer, SD. It dates back to the 1880s, and was built by Frank Cunningham Meeker, who, according to the Black Hills and Badlands website, was a member of the Pony Express, which ran for a couple of years along the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage line. Frank Meeker named his idyllic 278-acre spread “Willow Creek.” The ranch passed through several ownerships over the years, finally coming into Forest Service possession in 2004. They undertook restoration and preservation of the ranch when acclaimed watercolor artist Jon Crane helped lobby against the slated demolition of the structures. This breathtaking historic site has been the target of some vandalism in the past, but overall is beautifully preserved.IMG_6640e Inside the main ranch house, there are still shreds of curtains, canisters of coffee (these people were obviously coffee-drinkers!), hangers in the closet, old newspapers and magazines, and wallpaper on the walls.  Glass sparkles in shards on the floor, whole jars littered among the wreckage. It must have been a lovely, fashionable home in its prime, and now just wisps of the memories cling here and there around the walls.IMG_6655eIMG_6844eIMG_6696eIMG_6733eIMG_6685eIMG_6693eIMG_6721eIMG_6740eIMG_6759eAround the homestead, perched on the hillside in among massive boulders and rock outcroppings, other structures cling tenaciously. The barn fittingly presides over the other structures, towering above them in wonderful condition, while the others have fallen into some level of decay. Buildings out here, scattered through the Hills, are so old and rugged that they seem to have sprung from the ground, rather than to have been built upon it. They belong where they are.
IMG_6794eIMG_6781eIMG_6855eFrogs were singing in the little marsh below the house, singing and trilling so loudly it was almost uncomfortable – What a beautiful summery sound! The scent of pine resin was heavy in places, another sign of summer-to-come. Every time I get a breath of resin in the warm sunlight, a wave of nostalgia breaks over my soul, wrapped up in the beautiful memories I’ve treasured since childhood, of this place I now get to call home. Wildflowers were blooming along the short trail, little goldenpeas and pussy toes and even a few long spur violets. Springtime is truly here! IMG_6873eTo get there, head north out of Custer on Sylvan Lake Road. Take a right on Willow Creek Road. After a couple of miles, the road will become considerably rougher and narrower, so don’t take a vehicle with low clearance. After about a half a mile on this stretch, there is a Forest Service gate and some parking space. The Forest Service access road continues beyond the gate, and is about a half mile hike to the ranch.

A stunning piece of history.

 

Great-Grandma Sarah’s 24-Hour Dills

Due to late planting, we don’t really have much in the way of garden produce just yet – We’ve gotten a few zucchinis, a couple of cherry tomatoes, and a tiny handful of strawberries. And lots and lots of dill. The dill volunteered this year, so we left it as a pest deterrent. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have any usable cucumbers. So the girls and I drove in to Rapid to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up a few bags of pickling cucumbers and fresh garlic, and picked the dill fresh from our garden!

Twenty-four-hour dills are a generational favorite –  Guaranteed to be ready in 24 hours, although Great-Aunt Margene says they can be ready in 12 hours. Make them in the morning and serve them at dinner! This is my great-grandmother Sarah Adrian’s dill pickle recipe.IMG_9609Grandma Sarah’s 24-Hour Dills

About 20 small-medium sized cucumbers

1/2 c. vinegar

1/2 c. pickling salt

6 1/2 c. water

dill, garlic gloves, and hot pepper, crushed red pepper, onions, or any other ingredients to tasteIMG_9615Combine the vinegar, salt, and water – According to Great-Aunt Margene, the solution doesn’t need to be boiled. However, I remember boiling it in the past, so I deviated from the recipe and boiled the brine. Wash cucumbers. Slice in spears, but leave attached at ends. Slicing them allows them to be properly steeped in the brine after 12-24 hours.IMG_9617Pack cucumbers in pint or quart-sized jars, with garlic and dill (and whatever other ingredients you are using) layered with them.  Pour the brine over the cucumbers, and seal jars. Let sit for 24 hours, or to taste.IMG_9626I made one jar with the standard recipe, just garlic and dill, but the other two jars I dressed up a bit – One with crushed red pepper, the other with crushed red pepper and a few slices of hot banana pepper. It will be fun to see how those turn out. I made a little extra brine for a tiny jar for Grandma.

Enjoy!

Laura Elizabeth

 

 

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Recipes | Grandma’s Chokecherry Jelly

Canning is a skill that has nearly faded out of reckoning, but it is a useful and satisfying skill to have. And nothing beats homemade jams and jellies! Chokecherries have produced abundantly and early this year, and can be found growing all over the Black Hills. We picked and processed pounds and pounds of berries from our bountiful chokecherry harvest, and turned them into jelly, using Grandma’s recipe (slightly modified), which made it even more fun!IMG_8648_small

Grandma’s Chokecherry Jelly

1 pound of ripe fruit or 4-5 cups of berries (should yield 3 cups juice)

1/2 c. lemon juice

1 package powdered pectin

4 1/2 c. white sugarIMG_8644_small

Juice extraction: Put 1 pound of ripe fruit (4-5 cups of berries) in a large pot and cover with water. Simmer for 15 minutes, crushing the berries as they soften. Don’t crush the pits, since they are toxic. Strain fruit and water through a colander, jelly bag, or cheesecloth, saving the juice and setting the pulp aside. Put pulp in a pot and again add water to cover. Simmer again and strain again. Discard pulp. (For every 4-5 cups of berries, you should get at least 3 cups of juice. If necessary, use fruit pulp and water once more to get to the necessary 3 cups of juice. )IMG_8654_small

Jelly: Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to 3 cups chokecherry juice. Stir in 1 package of powdered pectin. Stir well. Let the juice mixture come to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once it boils, stir in the 4 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring constantly. Bring to a rolling boil. Be careful, particularly if you have an electric stove! The juice and sugar can boil over fast! For this part of the process, an extra pair of hands is helpful – One pair to add sugar and stir, and another pair with hot pads, ready to take the pot off the stove if it begins to boil up. Let boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching.IMG_8664_small

Skim the foam off the top. The skimmings are edible, though not can-able! Put jelly in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. IMG_8672_smallChokecherry jelly has become my favorite – I’ll be saving a jar back to enter in the county fair in a few weeks!

Laura Elizabeth