Dear Diary…

Dear Diary…er…blog…thingy,

What a weekend.  I’m not even sure what happened on Saturday.  I took some allergy medicine on Friday that knocked me out.  Somehow in my antihistamine-induced stupor I hatched a plan for a new chicken house design.  Besides running over a garden hose with the mower (I blame the medicine), nothing else stands out until we went to a graduation party for Jane and David’s son on Saturday.

Our friend Jane makes the best BBQ pulled pork and didn’t disappoint.  We need to get that recipe.  Once again I showed the kids what cupcake eating contests are all about then we had to skip out early to get to church.

After church we made a few stops looking for a matress pad.  I prefer a firm matress but the wife needs a little more give.  We came home empty-handed after seeing the prices.  We made the regular Saturday stops to Farm and Home for a new chicken drinker, the library (permaculture book came in!), the gas station, pizza place (I know) and WalMart to get a new tarp for the new layer house.  I’m pretty jazzed to try the new chicken house design.  Stay tuned for updates.

Once home we tucked in the pigs, layers, goats, chicks, pullets, rabbits and children then stayed up late watching Downton Abbey.

The show is gripping but I’m amazed how many problems the writers could resolve if the characters had any firm basis for their morality.  Churches are just buildings in the show.  The only moral compass the characters seem to possess is a concern of what others might think…if they found out.  At the same time, nobody is really ashamed.  There’s no forgiveness.  There’s little in the way of love expressed between the main characters.  So many problems could be solved if one sister would just tell the other she’s sorry and they had a good cry together.  We stayed up even later to open up about where we, as a couple, are.  It seems that we had a few issues to resolve that I, unsurprisingly, was completely unaware of.  Mostly that we spend so much time working that she feels disconnected.  We are behind on dishes and laundry but, worse than that, we’re behind on emotional intimacy.  I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen the clock after midnight but we stayed up, said we were sorry and had a good cry together.

The alarm goes off at 5:00 every morning…even if we stayed up late the night before.  We had planned to butcher 60 chickens (one whole tractor) on Sunday.  We’re trying to break up the processing to avoid the marathon weekend we tried last time.  We loaded up the trailer with 7 transport boxes, looked at the birds in the 5 chicken tractors and picked the one that looked like it had the largest birds.  Since we had a spare box we went ahead and loaded up another 10 birds, selecting the largest from the remaining four tractors.  It is important to load the chickens early so their digestive tract is empty…the birds are cleaner during processing.  Then we moved the chicken tractors and fed and watered the chickens.

We got the transport boxes in position at home and continued with our morning chores: take hay to the goats, feed the pigs, take oyster shell and feed to the layers and let them out of their houses, make sure everybody has water.  Dad stopped by planning to unload one wagon of hay.  I took 3 of the kids with me to help.  The youngest two took a handkerchief and some apples for a picnic in the barn.  They sat on the straw bales with their hankee spread out eating their formal meal.  It was really cute.  My oldest could just (I mean JUST) throw an alfalfa bale.  Dad’s bales are mostly grass and are considerably lighter than my alfalfa bales so he could help much more.  Dad unloaded onto the hay elevator, my son and I carried and stacked the bales.  When the first wagon was finished (50 bales) we were just warmed up so we went ahead and unloaded all three wagons (150 bales).  My son was flagging near the end and, I have to admit, I was wearing down too.

It was now 9:30 and we hadn’t begun to process our birds.  We got things organized and began scrubbing and sanitizing all surfaces.  The wife went to town for ice while we finished up the cleaning.  While we were discussing who was going to do what job dad showed up to help.  Dad makes a huge positive impact on our day not only by working but by making little jokes to keep the kids involved.  We did the first 40 birds in about an hour, took a break for lunch then wrapped up the rest in about 45 minutes.  I timed my kill/scald/pluck process and found that it takes 1 minute of my time per bird doing two birds at a time in the roto-dunker.  I think I’ll kick the scalder temperature up a bit to speed that up by a few seconds.  Then there’s another long cleanup and composting process while we wait for the birds to chill out.  Then we worked about another hour bagging and labeling the birds before popping them in the freezer.

This is a volunteer army...

To round out my to-do list I needed to restock the empty chicken tractor in the pasture.  We have 300+ 17 day old chicks in the brooders.  Though no chicks have died, I need to make a blog post about the problems we have had with the outdoor brooders this spring.  My dad, my oldest son and I packed 120 chicks in four boxes on to the truck.  Then everybody went inside to put on swimwear and we headed off to the pond.  Dad and I delivered the broilers to the chicken tractor.  120 in an 8×10 is fine when they are small and is far better for them than being in the brooder if the weather cooperates.  There was a 40% chance of rain, not a cloud in the sky so we thought we were good to go.  Dad headed off in the truck while I walked over to the pond.  Clear, sunny, hot afternoon.  Not a cloud in the sky.  No sooner than I arrived at the pond (150 yards from the chickens) the skies opened up.  A storm suddenly appeared out of the SW.  I may have been knee-deep in the pond when it was time to go home.  Kids rode their bikes quickly, wife and I walked.

We got soaked.  Soaked.  The kids were huddled inside fearing the wind and storm when we got home.  The oldest son was working to close up the greenhouse, close the sandbox and otherwise batton down the hatches…then the hail hit.  Then the hail got larger.  I would guess we got 2″ of rain in 20 minutes…then it kept raining.  Sometimes from the East, sometimes from the west.  The roof blew off of a hare pen, the clothes on the clothesline pulled in the wind taking the swing set the line was tied to for a tumble.

Ma popped a chicken in the oven for dinner and we headed to town to talk with a young farmer on Skype.  We kept him on the phone far too long discussing what we had tried, what we enjoyed and what was most profitable.  It was nice to just sit for an hour and talk.

Mom and Dad came by for supper and we surprised the kids with ice cream with chocolate and carmel topping.  The kids helped so much throughout the day we thought they deserved a treat.  Our 11 year old son had done a man’s work that day.  He really stepped it up and was tired.  Everybody was tired.

Bedtime came just in the nick of time but I fell asleep thinking of how much we had accomplished…dreading how much still needs to be done.  Garden to put in, cows to fence out, need to find someone to sharpen my bandsaw blades, need to order a load of sawdust, need to fix the bobcat….I could fill the page.  I can only do what I can do.

Hopefully our customers appreciate the work we do.  I know they like our chicken but I wonder if they really understand what it takes to bring that chicken to market.

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