Sunday, December 29, 2013

Time Out

Please bear with me.  My mother has had a stroke and has cancer and I will be taking a hiatus from writing my blog.  I will be back in due time.  Thank you for your understanding.  

I'm very sorry to report that my mother passed away on January 1, 2014.  

My brother used this song to say goodbye.  I think its perfect.   

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winter December 2013


to Winter, December 2013.  

Winter weather hot water hauling.  Twice a day!

The gardens...

...have gone to sleep. 

Piggy boudoir 

They're warm and toasty!

Piggy dining room/lounging area.

A nice place dry place for meals. 

There are always weeds, but they're pretty with the snow on them.

The chickens and ducks declined to make an appearance today. 

Bees are wrapped up for the cold weather.  

The high tunnel gradually builds up snow mounds along it's sides. 

We'll fill the bird feeders in a few more weeks - when we're sure the bears have gone to bed!

Our schnauzer, Petey, helps me with morning chores.  This short haircut helps to keep snow iceballs from forming on his legs!

Boots, the most beautiful cat. 

Hobbes, another beauty.

Ginger refuses to have her picture taken!

All are warm and dry here at Fitzgerald's Family Farm and we dream of spring (yep, already)!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Natural Does Not Equal Organic (plus one more)

Going to the grocery store you see lots of items marked as natural.  You think, "its natural, so it must be better for you."  Sadly, that's not necessarily true.  

Source: www.

Be sure to check out the new homesteading book from 5 Acres & A Dream (one of the authors in my blog list!)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Deer Day 2013

In this part of Pennsylvania, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the first day of buck hunting season, is Deer Day.  The schools stay closed because, in the past, so many kids miss school that its not worth having it open.  

The mighty hunters ready to go out and brave the cold.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving 2013 From Fitzgerald's Family Farm

Happy Thanksgiving from the pigs, Tigger and Flower, also!

(You can guess which is which!)

Be sure to read yesterdays post about the Red Boubon turkeys that have joined our farm!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bourbon Red Turkeys Join Our Mini Farm

About a month ago I came across an ad on the Pennswoods website.  I won't tell you WHY I was browsing the livestock category.  It's just kind of an addiction for me.  (Actually, I'm on the lookout for a weed-eating goat that I can tether out - a friend talked about how much they enjoyed theirs and how it really helped cut down on their weed clearing chores.  But I don't want it until spring [unless and awesome deal comes along!])

In my browsing, I saw that a man down in Altoona, PA had bourbon red turkeys for sale.  These are a really interesting heritage breed of turkeys.  It just happened that I was going to be driving by that way and I couldn't resist.  I made the call.  Needless to say, after some terrible mishaps, I have five red bourbon turkeys.  The first two are almost definitely jennies and the other three are a bit young to tell quite yet.

When I called about the turkeys, I asked the elderly gentleman on the line if I could get a jake and hens.  He chuckled and told me, "I can't tell the difference between them, (his very young turkeys) but you're welcome to try."  I researched around and couldn't really find any information that let me know how to tell the difference.  One person wrote that you would be able to tell by their "attitude."  Jakes would have a more aggressive attitude  It was pretty tough to detect attitude in a bunch of skittering, running away, panicked baby turkeys!  So, if I find I have all jennies, or all jakes, I'm going to call the nice man who sold them and try to work out trades with some of his other buyers.  Cross your fingers!  

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has a wonderful page about Bourbon Red turkeys with links that you can find here.

But a few notes about bourbon reds:
  • Originally named "Bourbon Butternuts"
  • They're named for Bourbon County in Kentucky, but actually started in Pennsylvania from dark buff-colored Tuscarora  turkeys.
  • Dark red plumage with white flight and tail feathers. 
  • Recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1909.
  • Young toms are about 23 pounds, young hens are about 14 pounds.
  • Bourbons were an important commercial variety in the 1930s and 40s but not able to compete with the broad breasted varieties.  Their ability to breed naturally, hardiness, and superior flavor has increased interest in the birds. 

My turkeys will spend the winter in a chicken wire surrounded stall of the barn.  Its a touch warmer, and hopefully, safer for them.  I was told that they shouldn't be put in with chickens because there are diseases that chickens can pass on to turkeys.  Bourbon Reds are known to be great grazers, so in the spring, they'll be moved outside to their own turkey house and paddock.   

They're very interesting to watch.  There are a lot of natural wild turkeys in our area and the bourbon reds move and act exactly the same way (I'm not sure what I expected to be different!).  They seem to be much more flighty than the chickens.  I hoping that over time they'll calm down a bit.  

They are beautiful birds.  This Thanksgiving the Bourbon Reds are safe.  They're much too small to make much of a feast.  Next year, I hope to be able to sell these pasture-raised, heritage-breed, (and I'll hope to report) great tasting Thanksgiving turkeys!  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brrrr! Water Problems.

Its getting cold here.  I have to start hauling buckets of hot water to make sure the critters all stay hydrated.  I bring the big buckets into the house and fill them with the hottest water I can while I do other little chores.  A wagon works well for hauling the buckets while the snow is low, but I switch over to hauling it on a plastic sled when the snow starts to accumulate (and it will accumulate!).  

The chickens and ducks have their water, in the metal waterer that freezes easily, emptied at night and refilled in the morning.  When the temperatures drop to consistently below freezing, the water gets moved inside the coop where the temperature stays warmer. 

The turkeys get their plastic waterer filled morning and evening (I have to pour hot water over the waterer to thaw it out!)

The piggies get their water filled every morning and evening (after I break the ice out.)

Dogs and cats have their water inside - no problems!

Oh, the little things are so much more difficult in the winter!

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” 
― Carl Reiner

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chicken Butchering Time! Warning: Graphic Photos of Chickens Being Butchered

The chicks have grown large enough to butcher, the weather is cool - o.k. cold - and I've set aside the time.  Although it was sooo cold yesterday, I'm happy I got it finished, because its snowing like crazy today!  

This blog post is honest.  If you don't like pictures of chickens being butchered and detailed descriptions of the process then do not read on.  

The absolute best tutorial - the one I review every year before butchering my chickens - is Survival Skills With Russ on Youtube.

He makes it look soooo easy!  Maybe, someday, after I've butchered a whole bunch of chickens I'll be able to do it as fast as he does, but now I'm much more slow and methodical. 

The only criticism I have about this video is that he doesn't talk about the connective tissue.  The craw he talks about?  It's connected to everything with a thin, almost transparent layer of tissue and if you're fingers aren't strong enough to pull it away (mine are not) then you must very carefully cut it away.  You do not want to cut into that craw! 
There's connective tissue under the skin as you cut around the bung hole.  Including some tough little muscles back by the tail area.  Again, be very, very careful.  You don't want to cut into the intestines and get pooh everywhere.  And finally, everything inside the chicken is connected with that tissue also, but its possible to break it loose with your hand as you reach in and pull out the entrails.    

Russ just reaches in, grabs the lungs, and pulls them out.  The lungs are spongy little things that are firmly attached to the ribcage, so it takes some work to get your finger up under them and pull them out.  You're lucky if they come out in one piece!

I hang the chickens the way he does.  That way they don't flap around all over the yard.  To be kinder to the chicken, this initial cut is not a time to be tentative.  Cut firmly and deeply.  I cut their throats and step well back.  You'll find that the chickens flap their wings as their heart stops and the death flaps will spray blood all over the place - including all over you!   

Dip the killed chickens in the pot of hot water.  You can cut off the heads before this step or wait until after.  I tend to wait until after.  There seems to be less blood getting in the water.  To heat the water, I use a propane turkey fryer.  I surrounded it with chairs to keep the wind from blowing out the gas.  If your water is hot enough (I found that 160-degrees or even a bit more), you should be able to dip and swish the chickens for about six or seven seconds, pull them out a bit, and test to see if the feathers wipe of the legs.  If they wipe easily then its time to pluck.      

I now have a strong appreciation for the amount of work done by our foremothers.  Plucking is hard work!  If your water temperature was right, you can use your thumb to get most of the feather and little quills out and they come easily.  But my arms and hands were very, very weary after a few chickens.  I started with the legs, then the crotch of the legs, the breast, the wings, thighs, and then back.  I didn't worry too much about tail or neck feathers as I would be cutting those off anyway.  

Butchering.  Have a good sharp knife.  Watch the Survival Skills With Russ video.  Be sure not to feed the chickens the night or morning before (only water) - it makes for chickens with much cleaner insides.
Good luck and I'd be very happy to hear any tips, hints, or questions anyone may have.  
I have a lot of fruit trees and my own little vegetable garden and chickens. And every time I eat, I bless my food; I say I'm grateful for for it and let it nourish every part of my body.
Gisele Bundchen


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How To Make Pumpkin Puree and a Pumpkin Bread Recipe

 Take a nice little pie pumpkin and hack into that practically impenetrable outer flesh.  Then grab a spoon and scrape at the hard innards trying to pull the seeds out.


Take a look at that gorgeously cured, solid pumpkin.  

Wash off the dirt.

Put it on parchment paper (easier cleanup) in a jelly roll pan.  And bake at 400-degrees.  Start checking it with a fork after about 30 minutes.  Its ready when the fork easily pierces the skin and the flesh feels really soft.   

Let the pumpkins completely cool.

Cut the pumpkin in half.

Oooh, like slicing through butter!

Scoop the seeds and strings out of the nice soft flesh.  

You can save the seeds for roasting.  Or, if you have soooo many (like me) you can feed them to your pigs and chickens.  I've read that the seeds act as a natural dewormer.  Bonus!  Extra feed and natural medicine!

Scoop the flesh from the pumpkin.  You may need to slide your spoon between the hardened skin and the flesh, but its so simply done.

Throw the flesh in the food processor and puree until smooth. 

Done!  I put four cup portions of the pureed pumpkin in freezer bags and freeze it for winter treats and use some to make delicious pumpkin bread.

A neighbor gave me this recipe about twenty years ago.  It makes a really smooth, rich pumpkin bread. Yum!

Pumpkin Bread

3 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 c. oil
2/3 c. water
2 c. pumpkin
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)
3-1/4 c. flour
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
scant 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. baking soda

Put sugar in bowl, add eggs and cream together.

Add oil, water, and pumpkin.

Add dry ingredients.  Mix well.

Put in greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350-degrees for about 60 minutes.  

Makes 2-3 loaves (size 5-1/2x8x2)

Enjoy warm with butter!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ducky Gets A Name

A few days ago I put out a call to help me name my "angel winged" duck.  

I got some GREAT name suggestions:

Gabriel (an archangel)

Michael (an archangel)

Clarence (from It's A Wonderful Life)

Foggie (short for foie gras)

Angel (the vampire?)


 Daryl Dixon (from a Walking Dead fan!)

They were all such great names that I called a family conference to help me pick his name. 


Clarence the Duck!

Surprise prize!  The winner will have their choice of three Muscovy ducklings when our ducks decide to nest in the spring.  If Clarence does his job!  Here's hoping!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Its Time To Get That Garlic In The Ground!

Homegrown garlic is like homegrown tomatoes.  The flavor is so much more intense and complex than what you get from those cellophane wrapped packages (which have often been shipped from overseas) found in the grocery store.  A bonus of growing hardneck varieties of garlic is spring's delicious garlic scapes.    

Garlic went into the ground the other day.  The rule of thumb, the garlic guru from Wooleylot Farm tell me, is to plant around Columbus Day.  

Every spring, when I harvest the previous fall's garlic, I choose the biggest, plumpest bulbs for planting the next year.  As the years pass, I find myself with a larger and more beautiful garlic crop!

This is actually last fall's picture.  Oops, I forgot to bring out my camera!

A few weeks ago, I picked where I would plant the garlic and dumped a whole bunch of grass clippings in a strip in my outside garden.  When I pulled the grass back, I had this beautiful, weed free, worm filled strip of soil in which to plant my garlic.  I put two stakes with a string to mark where I located the garlic.  After I plant, and mulch the garlic, I leave the stakes and string in place so I know where I planted.  I sure would hate to accidentally rototill up my patch in the spring!  

I just came across a temporarily free ebook on How To Plant Your First Garlic Garden. 

P.S. I'm waiting for a family meeting to decide the name of our angel-winged duck.  I have a number of submissions through Facebook and I can't decide!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Name The Duck With "Angel Wings"

A friend had an overabundance of ducks and, happily, he passed a male and three females on to us.  As they grew, we noticed that our male Muscovy duck had developed an unusual condition named "Angel Wing."

From Wikipedia: 

Angel wing also known as slipped wing, crooked wing, and drooped wing is a syndrome that affects aquatic birds, primarily geese and ducks, in which the last joint of the wing is twisted with the wing feathers pointing out laterally, instead of lying against the body. Males develop it more than females.

Most recent thinking on the cause of Angel Wing is that it is due to too much protein and too many sugars.  The only wild waterfowl populations known to be affected are those fed by man.

According to Wikipedia, this condition renders the duck almost totally flightless.  Luckily, if this this big boy proves to be a good breeder, he will live out his life with us.  

Since he'll probably be staying, we're going to need a name for him.  

Suggestions are welcome!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why I Wait Until Autumn To Butcher Chickens

When I ordered my Cornish Rock meat chickens in August, I hoped to get them within a few days.  However, the company I order from, Ideal Poultry, wasn't able to ship them until September 11th.  I was o.k. with that.  On September 12, the post office called to let me know that my 25 chicks had arrived.  

Its always fun to get a box of peeping yellow cuties.  Fortunately, I lost only one chick in the shipping process, and the 24 chicks quickly grow into gangly, quite homely, little birds.

My chick set up is pretty simple.  I have two plastic kiddy pools that just fit into the garden shed side of my chicken coop.  I've used these same pools for many years.  I just clean them out, nest them, and stick them in the rafters when I'm not using them (this year, when I pulled them out of the rafters, I had a big mouse nest, with its stored seeds and lots of mouse poop, fall right on my head - I told the family to have me checked for hantavirus if I got sick!).  I start with one pool when yellow puffball chicks are tiny and can't jump well.  I like to use straw or hay in the bottom because it seems to give the chicks a more secure footing and prevents splayed legs.  

As the chicks grow, I put a chicken wire fence tightly around the outside of the pool to keep them from hopping out.  The fencing is just stiff enough that it doesn't need support.  Cornish Rock chicks grow fast.  I quickly find myself putting two pools side by side with the chicken wire wrapped around both and an opening between them.  I put in a rock or block as a step so that they can jump from pool to pool.  The heat lamp goes over one pool and their feeding/watering area is in the other.     

The chicks, when large enough, go out into the general chicken population.  I've read about Cornish Rocks who eat so much that they can't walk.  I've never had a problem with this because my chicks run around outside and in the coop, climb up ramps, peck at grass, chase after bugs, and, boy oh boy, do they eat and grow!  

The drizzly weather has everything muddy and bedraggled looking!

In six to eight weeks, around the end of October/beginning of Nov the chickens are large enough to butcher and this is when my reason for ordering chicks late in the year comes into play.  Its cool outside and my number one reason for ordering and butchering chickens late in the year.


I've ordered chickens earlier in the summer and then tried to butcher them in late summer.  I found that there's something about the smell of freshly butchered chicken that draws every fly from miles around.  Having a flies land on the meat as I butcher it, is simply disgusting.  By waiting until later in the year, after a few nice cold, insect-killing frosts, we can butcher our chickens without these vermin.    

This probably partially explains why, in the old days, autumn was "hog butchering time."  Now its chicken butchering time for me!