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Friday, September 30, 2011

Around the Farm

Wow was it only September 7th that I posted it was starting to look fall like around here?  Well the leaves are all gone from the trees, and today we had our first flurries of the year, nothing that stuck though.  It's definitely chilly out there!
My backyard September 7th

My backyard September 30th

We finally got some freezes and I have everything out of the garden and greenhouse.  One more garden season in the books.  One of these days I'll go over what went well and didn't.  It was a late starting season, chilly and wet.  Basically the usual cold season crops, greens, peas, and potatoes did really well.  Any of the marginal items such as tomatoes and pumpkins, not so much....
We've had a freeze, but not even enough to take the sunflowers.  They didn't bloom because I forgot to start them until too late.

The greenhouse could have probably gone a bit longer, if only it wasn't all dead from powdery mildew

The freezers are more than full stuffed with turkeys, chickens, caribou, and salmon and berries.  Not so much with vegetables, they garden just wasn't that great this year, but I'll take the meat!

The wood shed is getting fuller, we need at least a few more trips.  We've had some issues, rain that made the road not passable, a broken chainsaw, and broken 4 wheeler than slowed us down.  

We've been burning wood for the last week, and the house now is feeling cozy and warm again.  I hate hauling the wood, but I love the feeling of the house heated with it!

I really look forward to this time of year.  As much as I love summer, the pace is crazy and by the time September comes to an end, I'm exhausted ready to slow down! 

Ok, I don't really have a dog team, it's just a fun sign I found when we were out wood cutting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lowbush Cranberries and Cranberry Muffin Recipe

The fall leaves and a light freeze means that the lowbush cranberries are ready!

They are easier to pick than lowbush blueberries because they are more firm, they grow in larger clusters, and I can use a berry picker.  Some people use the berry picker for blueberries, but I find it smashes them too much.

Yum cranberries, my favorite.  Even these are still a bit light, they are best after a frost, but we have had a really late freeze this year,  Sunday was the first light frost at our place, the average is September 7th.

Lowbush Cranberry Muffins

3/4 cup lowbush cranberries
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup milk
1 egg well beaten
4 tbsp melted butter or coconut oil

Mix cranberries with powdered sugar and set aside while preparing the muffin mixture.  If using frozen, I leave them frozen.  If using cranberries from the store, may want to coarsely chop them prior to use, the lowbush berries are much smaller.  To remaining dry ingredients add, milk, egg and oil/butter.  Stir until dry ingredients are moistened (you may need more milk as this recipe was not originally whole wheat).  Gently fold in sugared cranberries.  Pour into lightly oiled muffin pans, filling each 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until done.

Recipe adapted from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Heritage Breed Chickens for Meat: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I have mentioned before this year’s experiment with raising heritage breed chickens for meat here in Alaska.  You can read here about our chickens and our plan.    Well that experiment has come to a close, and I thought it was about time I shared our results.

The Good –
1.     We successfully raised about 27 chickens; we kept 5 or 6 (I say or because we thought we chose 6, but now we only have 5, so either we lost one, or we really only took 5 in the first place).  So that left 21 or 22 that we butchered for meat.
2.     They act like real chickens.  I really enjoy watching them beg for greens at the fence, dig around looking for bugs and taking dirt baths.  My main reason for not raising the Cornish Cross again, is that they don’t look or act like real chickens.  This was definitely a success!
3.     They averaged 1.5-2.5 with maybe a few closer to 3 # each, which is what was expected for the size and age.  We butchered at 12-16 weeks, and maybe a few made it to 20 weeks (in the end we couldn’t tell who was from the first hatching and who was from the second.
4.     The meat tastes good.  It’s slightly tougher than the Cornish Cross, because they are butchered at an older age, but it has a good chicken flavor.  There are some differences in cooking with heritage breed chickens, which you can read about here.  I dislike plucking, and I like the convenience of cut up chicken, so I often only pluck a few whole ones and we skin and cut up the rest, wrapping individually in plastic wrap, and then putting like pieces in a labeled freezer bag.  I can then choose which pieces I want, based on what I’m planning to use them for.  As I was out of town or at work when these were butchered, my husband just skinned and cut up all of them.  We’ve had one meal of chicken so far, I cooked it on the grill, as they were skinless I was afraid it would dry out, so I wrapped the pieces in foil until almost cooked, topped with the sauce, then put them directly on the grill to brown prior to serving topped with more sauce.  It was very tender, juicy and good.

The Bad:
1.     We had about 42 chickens that we put in the outdoor pen.  Something got in, I think a fox, but maybe a dog, and we lost many, leaving us with only 27 in the end. 
2.     Because of predators, we have to keep our chickens confined, and they have eaten every speck of green in their pen (which is pretty large, about the size of a city backyard, but it’s sectioned off into areas for layers, turkeys and meat chickens).  I fed them as much greens as I could out of our yard, but this is really not a great system.  Their area is in a boreal forest, and has some bugs and has a nice mulchy ground for them to dig in, but they certainly don’t get any substantial amounts of food from it. 

The Ugly:
1.     Because they are confined, the bulk of their feed is purchased.  I also choose to feed only organic feed also, so this was really not ideal (really the cost was pretty ugly). 
2.     Yes, the real ugly part.  The cost.  Going in, I thought it wouldn’t matter how much it cost, it would be worth it, but in the end, I don’t think financially that it was.  I’m sorry I don’t have actual numbers, but I do know it cost twice as much to raise the heritage breed chickens, for half as much meat.  Someone who posted on my blog figured hers out to be about $9 per pound? That is really about what I paid.  Yikes!!! Wow, really expensive, much more than I thought it was going to be.

Even though it wasn’t financially feasible for us, I won’t recommend against it entirely.  This is the chicken that all Americans ate until the Franken Chicken and industrial farming There are people who also posted on my blog who have been able to raise them for much less.  I think it would be much more financially feasible if you were able to free range or confined range them in areas with plenty of greens and bugs, particularly successful seem to be the people who have livestock that they are rotationally grazing and move the chickens after to dig through the fresh manure.  Certainly using non-organic feed would have reduced costs too. 
Results:  I won’t say it was a failure, we learned a lot, and have 21 (or 22) yummy heritage breed chickens in our freezer, but given our current situation, and no clear way to make it cheaper for us, we won’t be raising them for meat next year.  I think we will hatch a limited amount for replacement of our layers, which will leave us a few roosters to butcher, and the older layers for stewing chickens.   Then again, it probably is cheaper to just buy new layers instead, and not hatch any at all (hmm…. Should we keep our rooster?)  I’m not sure we have decided how we will approach it next year. I also know we won’t be raising the Cornish Cross either. I think we will decrease our dependence on chicken and focus more on rabbit and maybe more turkey, which seem more promising financially. We raised Bronze Turkeys (not heritage, but they do act like turkeys and will eat greens and forage some), which were about $2.5 per pound.  We have a male and female Flemish Giant, and a female New Zealand, I really don’t know the cost of the meat yet.  We did have 1 litter, but didn’t keep any records on the cost.  The meat was good, even though I thought I didn’t’ like rabbit, but again takes a little learning how to cook it properly.  I will be posting more about rabbit meat in a future post, once we have some litters raised, and have a better idea of the cost.  Of course I’ll share that information in a post also.
Conclusion and recommendations:
Even though it wasn’t financially feasible for us, I won’t recommend others not give it a try. This is the chicken that all Americans ate until the Franken Chicken and industrial farming changed our view of chicken, clearly it was done, and done affordably too.  I think in the right situation, it can be affordable and feasible.  Will it compare to the Franken chicken on sale for 69 cents a pound,?  No, never. Will it compare to raising the Cornish Cross for meat?  Not in time, it will always take double the time or more.  Not in taste either, those extra weeks, really improve the flavor. Nor for feed cost if you are raising them on a feed based diet.  There are people who also posted on my blog who have been able to raise them for much less.  Some ideas to make it more affordable.  Hatch your own, at $3.99-$4.99 each (Alaska prices) that adds a lot from the start compared to the $1.49 Cornish Cross.  Butchering sooner rather than later reduces cost.  If you have an area where you can free range, or confined range them in areas with plenty of greens and bugs, this would also reduce feed costs.  Those who have livestock that they are rotationally grazing and move the chickens in to dig through the fresh manure are particularly successful at this.  Certainly using non-organic feed would have reduced costs too. 

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