Ethics vs Morals

People question the ethics of eating meat all the time, and it invariably leads to some raucous debate. That often leads to some raucous name-calling, but we’ll be avoiding that here… 🙂

First of all, there’s a difference between ethics and morals, and so by extension, between ethical and moral behavior. I believe that most of the arguments are really about morals, which is why so many of those discussions end badly. Let me explain.

Ethics are rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human action or a specific group or culture. Morals, on the other hand, are principles or habits with respect to right or wrong conduct. Morality is, by definition, a personal compass for right and wrong.

To take that one step further, ethics have an external source, that being our social system. By extension, that means that ethics are dependent on others for their definition.

Morals have an internal source, that being us as individuals. That means they are not dependent on others, but are an intensely personal thing.

Now, think about the way intensively farmed animals are treated in this country, and in pretty much every other country you can think of. If ethics are defined externally and come from our social system, then intensive farming is actually ethical. We condone it as a society every time we order that pulpy, shitty pork from Coles or Woollies. We give our implicit permission for it every time we buy battery-farmed eggs, or those ridiculous 7 week old fatty chickens that are peddled as a healthy option. By society’s very actions, be they driven by ignorance or apathy, we are making intensive farming ethically acceptable.

However, I found intensive farming morally reprehensible. I really can’t express just how angry it gets me, and I’ll save that rant for another post. For now, suffice it to say that while intensive farming may be accepted by society, and so be ethically acceptable to a lot of people, it should be questioned morally.

I firmly believe that ethics and morals should be constantly challenged, as they’re worth nothing unless they can stand up to scrutiny. May aim is to show people an alternative way to source their meat. By connecting people to where their meat comes from, I hope to challenge their moral stand-point on intensive farming. If you can influence enough individuals, then you can start influencing the society of which they are part. If you can do that, you can swing the ethical compass. If you can do that, you can affect true and lasting change.

 

 

Processing Chooks.

Starting off the meat chook posts with how to process them probably makes no sense, as you need to grow the fat buggers first. However, we’ve had a shot at processing them twice now, the latest time in early July, 2014 (last weekend). Our technique has already changed a heap between those two times, and I think we’ve got it worked out. I want to capture all of that now while it’s still fresh.

Growing them is also an evolving process, though we’ve had 3 large lots professionally processed over the past couple of years. We’re breeding our own now, and have some cross-breeding programs we’re about to start. I’ll blog about that stuff separately though.

Processing your own animals, be they poultry or something bigger, is a super-emotive subject. Even for people who grown their own meat, actually killing the animals themselves is often a step too far. However, I’m a huge proponent of this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I know definitively that the animal has been treated correctly. Secondly, I can keep all of the viscera, blood, and feathers and recycle them in my compost. In fact, after we’ve eaten the bird we also dry the bones and grind them for meal for the veggie patch. For the birds we breed, they are born, live, and die here, with not a single atom ever leaving the property.

Having said this, I’m not sure I’ll be killing my own pigs, cattle, sheep, or goats anytime soon. That takes a level of skill I don’t have yet, though I’d love to find a home butcher who would come and teach us. Until I have somebody to show me exactly how to do it properly, there would just be too much risk of maltreating the animal.

Doing your own chooks is super easy though. We purge ours first, putting them in a large aviary for 24 hours with free access to water but no food.

The first four boys we processed.

The first four boys we processed.

The second two roosters we processed. They were a little older, and certainly handsome boys!

The second two roosters we processed. They were a little older, and certainly handsome boys!

This ensures that their stomachs are empty and reduces the chance of faecal contamination. It also makes sure their crops are empty, the organ they have at the bottom of their neck where they store food. You can really see the crop after chooks have a big meal, as it looks almost like a smaller, wobbly, third breast. They can really fill those things up!

It’s important to reduce the stress on the animal as much as possible. A day or half-day without food isn’t going to hurt them, though you need to make sure they have as much water as they’d need. The real stress point here is handling them. You need to reduce the amount of time you have a hold of them, and make the kill as quick and efficient as possible. This part is still something we’re evolving, but I think we have it right.

Our first time we used a home-made kill cone. The kill cones are designed to hold the bird, upside down, and allow you to easily cut their throats and bleed them. It sounds gross, but is very effective and surprisingly stress-free for the birds. They calm down when put in the cone, with no struggle or stress at all.

Our home-made kill cone. We put in a baffle and bucket to collect the blood.

Our home-made kill cone. We put in a baffle and bucket to collect the blood.

The chooks are completely calm in the kill cone. It's fascinating, but they don't struggle at all.

The chooks are completely calm in the kill cone. It’s fascinating, but they don’t struggle at all.

I took their heads off the first time, but most people seem to just cut their throats.

I took their heads off the first time, but most people seem to just cut their throats.

Our home-made version worked okay, but didn’t hold them tightly enough after the kill, meaning we had to hold them. The next time we decided to not use them at all, but rather decided to wring their necks and just hang and bleed them. I’m unhappy with that solution too, as it’s not as quick as I want. It worked, but there’s too much risk of things going awry if you have big strong roosters and maybe not enough strength in your hands. Next time we’ll use a Humane Chicken Killer . We’ve seen these used on the Australian version of River Cottage, along with some videos on the interweb. They are an absolutely risk-free way of ensuring the animals die instantly, after which they can be hung and bled.

The first time we did it I took the heads off, figuring there was no reason not to. The second time I cut their throats, as we had an automatic plucker to try, and I figured that leaving the heads on would reduce the chance of spreading blood through the plucker. I think in reality either works, and either allows you to bleed the animals.

Heads on or off, you hang the animals long enough to bleed them completely. It doesn’t take long – 5 or 10 minutes. You can bleed them onto straw or paper, and then put it in the compost. The first time, where we used the kill cone, we bled them in the cone into a bucket. The second time I hung them over paper to bleed. Both versions ended up with the blood in my compost.

These boys were already bled and were just hanging to make sure.

These boys were already bled and were just hanging to make sure.

These boys I bled onto paper so I could collect the blood.

These boys I bled onto paper so I could collect the blood.

The next part, to my mind, is the really only painful part. Plucking chooks is horrible. Some people don’t mind it, but I find that hand-plucking is perhaps the most tedious thing I’ve ever had to do.

Hand plucking sucks balls.

Hand plucking sucks balls.

After the first time, we decided to find an automated solution. Linhda found an automatic plucker at an auction in the city, and it’s an amazing machine. It looks like a washing machine full of rubber fingers. It has an attachment for a hose, but it doesn’t output a heap of water. Rather than that, we just used a hose and poured water in.

Before either technique you need to scald the bird.

Scalding is important, and really seems more art than science.

Scalding is important, and really seems more art than science.

You use water around 65 or 70 degrees Celsius, and soak the bird for maybe 30 seconds. This loosens the feathers, and makes the plucking easier, though there are people who prefer dry-plucking.

This is around the 20 second mark.

This is around the 20 second mark.

This is around the 40 second mark.

This is around the 40 second mark.

This is around the 1 minute mark.

This is around the 1 minute mark.

This is the feathers from 2 birds.  All nicely bundled and ready for the compost heap.

This is the feathers from 2 birds. All nicely bundled and ready for the compost heap.

This is the result. So, so, so awesome!

This is the result. So, so, so awesome!

Hand plucking took us maybe 20 minutes, most of which was using pliers to pull out pin feathers on the wings and tail. The plucking machine, god bless it’s mechanical little soul, will take maybe 6 chooks at a time, and gave us a completely clean carcass in under a minute. Best. Machine. EVER!

The next step is the gutting, which is a lot of people will find gross. Personally, I found it fascinating, and after doing it a couple of times you’ll probably get them done in under 5 minutes.

You need a fine sharp knife, as it’s mostly delicate work.

A fine sharp knife is *everything* in this process.

A fine sharp knife is *everything* in this process.

First of all, you take off the feet. That’s fairly easy, as the joint is easy to see and feel. You run your knife around the joint and basically pop the feet off. There’s no need to force the knife through bone or anything hard.

Taking the feet off is surprisingly easy. Some people eat the feet. I've tried them a couple of times, and they're not for me.

Taking the feet off is surprisingly easy. Some people eat the feet. I’ve tried them a couple of times, and they’re not for me.

You then take off the head, assuming you didn’t do that in the slaughter stage.

Carcass, feet, head.

Carcass, feet, head.

It’s also at this stage that you remove the neck. You basically find where it attaches near the shoulders and cut it off. It’s incredibly tough, and I’ve given up trying to cut or break it out. Rather I use sharp secateurs, and snip the little bugger out.

Chooks, like most birds, have an oil gland at the base of their tail, which is called their uropygial gland. That needs to come off. Some people take the tail off completely, but for roasting birds I’d suggest you leave it on. That’s mainly because I love that part (the Parson’s Nose) and so I think you should too. 🙂 Either way, finding the oil gland is easy. It’s right at the base of the tail, is a clear lump, and has a little opening.

You can see the oil gland at the base of the tail, with the opening closer to the tip.

You can see the oil gland at the base of the tail, with the opening closer to the tip.

Taking it off is easy. With a sharp knife you almost just scrape it out, and it’ll come off whole.

It comes out pretty easily.

It comes out pretty easily.

To gut the bird you cut a small slit laterally low in the belly, just above the vent. You can pull this open, or cut it a bit more, to accommodate your hand. You basically just reach in and pull out everything in there.

Start your cut laterally above the vent.

Start your cut laterally above the vent.

It might seem gross, but if you've bled the bird properly at least it won't be bloody... :)

It might seem gross, but if you’ve bled the bird properly at least it won’t be bloody… 🙂

There are a couple of potentially tricky bits here, but they’ve actually worked out well for me. I’ve read where people take out the oesophagus and crop back when you’re taking the neck out. However, that doesn’t work so well for me. Rather, I detach them from the neck, and leave them until I’m gutting the bird. As I pull the guts out, the feeding and breathing tubes come out at the same time quite easily. The crop is attached, but empty because we’ve purged the birds, which might be why it’s easy.

The other tricky part is supposed to be the lungs, but I’ve not found them hard. I’ve read how people just can’t get them out, and they have special scraping tools that use water to help. However, for me they’ve always just come out with my fingers.

Carcass and offal arranged in order.

Carcass and offal arranged in order.

With the plucking machine, you can go from live bird to dressed carcass in maybe 15 minutes. We plan on doing it in a bit of a production line, where we can use the Humane Chicken Killer and hang/bleed maybe 6 at a time, get them in the plucker as we kill/bleed the next 6, and then have a couple of us gutting them. With that working the way I want it to work, we should be able to get a couple of dozen done in a couple of hours.

It’s important to get the birds on ice or in a fridge shortly after processing them too.

Like I said above, one of the main reasons we do this is because we get to keep all of the animal on the property.

The viscera, blood, and feathers. None of the bird is wasted. Not a single atom.

The viscera, blood, and feathers. None of the bird is wasted. Not a single atom.

All of the waste from the processing is normally thrown out by the abattoir. While you can get the offal and neck back, they legally can’t give you anything like the guts or feathers, let alone the blood. Doing this yourself at home means that all of that is kept and used on the garden. Every single part of the animal is used, and you are 100% sure that it has been slaughtered humanely. To my mind, there is absolutely no better way to show the respect that your animals deserve.

 

Bertha Brings Shame To The Family Name…

The same night I went to check on Ziggy, Bertha had her babies. I went out at 8, and she’d had 4. The creep was set up, but the light wasn’t on. The 4 babies were scattered around the shed and freezing. I got the lamp on and gathered the babies up, but one was knackered. We got some milk into him and warmed him up, but he was dead the next day.

The first 7 we saw, 5, 6, and 7 of which we watched born.  Number 8 came after this photo. The second-from-the-left was the sickly one that didn't make it. You can tell even here that he wasn't real well.

The first 7 we saw, 5, 6, and 7 of which we watched born. Number 8 came after this photo. The second-from-the-left was the sickly one that didn’t make it. You can tell even here that he wasn’t real well.

We’d picked her as being a week, or maybe 2, from dropping. We had the creep set up just-in-case, but the way her teats were developed made it look like there was time. We’re getting better at picking the litter times, and can obviously predict it accurately when we see the pigs mate. We just got it wrong this time. 😦

We saw her give birth to the last 4, making a total of 8. However, we found a dead one under her the next day. It looks like she’d been laying on him the entire time. That’s 9 born, at least 8 born alive, and 7 survivors. For a young gilt and an accidental pregnancy, I’m going to call that a win.

The babies are tiny, because she’s quite small to be giving birth. She seems to be doing a great job though, and has recovered quickly. I’m worried that she won’t have enough milk, but we’ll have to see. Seriously, the babies are super-tiny.

The creep, for the first time, is working perfectly, and I think it’s the heat lamp positioning. We put it down low in the middle of the creep. The babies are under it and Bertha is laying on the other side with her teats towards them. It’s working perfectly.

They instinctively good mums.

They are instinctively good mums.

Active piglets! They're all of a couple of hours old.

Active piglets! They’re all of a couple of hours old.

Hungry piglets are hungry.

Hungry piglets are hungry.

This shows the creep barrier working perfectly. Warm piglets on one side, giant mum on the other.

This shows the creep barrier working perfectly. Warm piglets on one side, giant mum on the other.

Counting back, this means she was pregnant in mid-February, which means she was 4 or 5 weeks pregnant when her brothers and sisters went to The Other Farm. This also means that some of her sisters were probably pregnant. There’s a big lesson in this…

Pig husbandry is the fun part of all of this, but it’s really the hard part. At times it seems more art than science, and much of it are things you need to learn the hard way. Still, if learning the hard way is having a littler of cute piglets to play with, then I can’t really complain. 🙂

Meat, Chicken, and Egg Self Sufficiency? Check!

March was cool enough to actually get stuff done, and we ended up achieving a major milestone…

First of all, we expanded our orchard area. Most of the fruit trees we put in are doing okay, but they’re a little too shaded. We cut down our back-paddock area, and expanded our orchard area by maybe a third-of-an-acre. This extra area is a rectangle running almost north-south and is in full sun.

We had to take down the old fence that was running north-south from the front boundary down to the pig yards, and then reinstate it running east-west.

Took down the old fence...

Took down the old fence…

... and put it up somewhere else.

… and put it up somewhere else.

At the same time, we started another chook yard at the northern end of this orchard area. We want a place we can raise our meat chooks, give them unfettered access to forage, but also contain them a bit so they don’t get so tough. Our solution was to design a run with 2 yards coming off of it. We’ll be able to alternate which yard they have access to, and rotary hoe and sow forage for them in the other.

This area is also further from the house, and therefore further from the dogs, and so there’s a larger risk of fox predation. We designed the fence using 6-foot high chook wire, 6 inches of which will fold out at the bottom. The height and tunnelling deterrent of the wire should go a long way to keeping foxes out. We also have fox-proofing plans for their shed, but that happens next month…

Getting the new meat chook yard started!

Getting the new meat chook yard started!

The new piglets were growing fast! We haven’t interacted with this bunch as much as the first couple, so they’re not as tame. That’ll change with time, but right now the best time to give a scratch is when they’re feeding.

Again, my manky foot is there for scale.

Again, my manky foot is there for scale.

They’re intensely curious though, and still come up to investigate.

 

Piglet close-up.

Piglet close-up.

The little one in front has 2 blue eyes, which we've not seen before. I call her "Blue". Inventive of me, yes?

The little one in front has 2 blue eyes, which we’ve not seen before. I call her “Blue”. Inventive of me, yes?

The one thing that fascinates me with this dynamic is that they love Bruce. They’re hesitant around us, but don’t bat an eyelid at bonding with 45kg of teeth and muslces.

Every pig we've ever had just loves Bruce.

Every pig we’ve ever had just loves Bruce.

Piglet-Bruce kisses!

Piglet-Bruce kisses!

The little runt, Struggle, who I mentioned in last week’s blog as being super ballsy, managed to hurt himself. I’m not sure how he did it, but he put a three-cornered tear in his side. It was the kind of tear you’d get if you snagged your shirt on a nail. He tore right down to the muscle.

 

Poor Struggle.

Poor Struggle.

I grabbed him out and cleaned him up. I debated on putting a couple of stitches in there, but didn’t want to distress him anymore than necessary. It was borderline though, and probably needed some stitching. Either way, it healed incredibly well. One day it was a gaping wound, a few days later it was packed with dirt, a few days after that it was scabbed over. It wasn’t much more than a week later it was a small scab. Seriously, pigs are fairly freaking tough!

The biggest news was that our first babies went to “The Other Farm”!

 

The older babies being let out in the back paddock to free range.

The older babies being let out in the back paddock to free range.

They get 2 steps out of the gate and start to eat.  Maximum eating efficiency!

They get 2 steps out of the gate and start to eat. Maximum eating efficiency!

Now that's some healthy pigs...

Now that’s some healthy pigs…

We got back about a half-tonne of meat, which takes up surprisingly little space.

 

This is what half-a-tonne of pork looks like. A little anticlimactic really...

This is what half-a-tonne of pork looks like. A little anticlimactic really…

We had a bunch of friends who wanted to buy pork off us, so we spent a Saturday driving all over dropping meat off. We sold it super-cheap, as our aim was to cover our feed costs for the year rather than make a killing. We ended up doing just that, and can say that those babies paid for all of the feed for all of the stock for the entire year. That means that we’re effectively self-sufficient for our meat, chicken, and eggs! That’s been our aim since coming here, and it’s satisfying to both find a way to do that on our relatively small amount of land and also to be able to share the meat with people we care about.

 

They call that the "pluck".

They call that the “pluck”.

Best. Pork Chops. Ever!!!!!

Best. Pork Chops. Ever!!!!!

As is now traditional on the days we get pigs back, Linhda did home-made wonton. I can’t even begin to describe how good that soup is.

 

Wonton Stock.

Wonton Stock.

Home-grown, home-made mince.

Home-grown, home-made mince.

Wonton!

Wonton!

We also had a go at making our own dog food. Dogs tend to have horribly carbon footprints because of their processed food. Making it yourself isn’t as easy as you think, as just straight meat and bones won’t cut it. We read up and invented our own recipe that included the offal and trimmings, veggies, and boiled eggs. We don’t feed it to them solely, as I think it’d be a bit rich. However, we cut their morning feed with it, and they love it!

 

The fixings for some nice, fart-inducing dog food.

The fixings for some nice, fart-inducing dog food.

The end product looks like something from a horror movie.

The end product looks like something from a horror movie.

Lastly, towards the end of the month we weaned the babies and put Boris and Honey in The Patch. Just like last year, we found that our bed rotation all happened at the same time. That’s good and bad. It’s good because it’s easy to let the pigs in and rotary hoe the entire thing. It’s bad because for a few months everything is growing and nothing is being harvested. We may need to experiment a bit and see if we can influence the timing.

Boris and Honey being let into The Patch.

Boris and Honey being let into The Patch.

I did pull the pumpkins up early. We harvested them young, which isn’t really what you want. However, the plants were covering most of 3 beds, and would have sat there for weeks yet. Next year we might actually try and grow them outside of The Patch, and maybe in the orchard area. We just need an area where we can afford to let them do their thing without it getting in the way of the rest of the veggies.

Lastly, I’ll finish with some random shots of farm stuff…

 

Gemma doing her best to steer Effy. :)

Gemma doing her best to steer Effy. 🙂

Hops!

Hops!

This is my photo bombing my own spider picture.

This is my photo bombing my own spider picture.

Sunset in God's own country.

Sunset in God’s own country.

 

February 2014 Facebook Farm Statuses

  • I’ve always thought my kids were joking about my “farmer’s crack” when I’m outside working, until this week where I have a very interesting strip of sunburn…
  • So, up at 5:30am to investigate noisy pigs (the boar was asking the question, the sow was saying “no thankyou”). I noticed some rats scurrying around one of the chook yards. I grabbed my air rifle and managed to shoot one, while precariously holding a torch, as it was running along a cable. Then at 6:30am I hosted an international phone conference, which included attendees from the US and UK, plus my General Manager, having to mute my phone when I wasn’t talking because the rooster was going nuts. I’m pretty sure that’s how all farmers start their day.
  • 40mm of rain since yesterday afternoon, and we’re expecting potentially that much today. We could end up with 15% to 20% of our annual rainfall in 2 days! That’s freaking unsane! Unsane I tells ‘ya!
  • We had 11 piglets born this morning. There are graphic pics and videos to follow. You’ve been warned… 🙂
  • We borrowed a horse float from some bikie types yesterday. I can’t say for sure they’re bikies, but I’m pretty sure they know their way around a good revenge killing. Anyway, I was dropping off the horse float this morning in my awesomely manly farm truck, a truck for which the bikie type expressed his admiration yesterday, and as I pulled up a Belinda Carlisle song started on the CD player. Loud. There was little eye contact made after that… My response was to flick forward to a Cher song as I left and turn it all the way up. LIKE A BOSS!
  • Want to make 3 sisters fight? Bring a 3 day old piglet inside and hand it to one of them for a hug…

 

Our baby-daddy, Boris!

Our baby-daddy, Boris!

January 2014 Facebook Farm Statuses

  • We’re off this morning for our first fishing foray! Yay!!!! We’re not even packed yet and I’ve already put an inch-long gash in my palm while sharpening a fishing knife. I’m interpreting that as a good omen.
  • Got home after being away for a few days of record-breaking heat, expecting to find the garden and animals the worse for wear. However, everything has done pretty well. No wilty veggies. No dead poultry. No distressed pigs. Well done Linhda, David, and Peyton! You guys are officially Farmtastic!

  That doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels though. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t be bugging you all day every day when I’m gone.

  • It’s dropped nearly 20 degrees in the last 2 hours, and I just busted a rooster having sex with a duck. I’m not sure which of those made me smile the most.
Bacon makes everything better!

Bacon makes everything better!

Big self-sufficiency steps were made!

We had a huge allium year, as evidenced by our garlic harvest last month, which taught us a valuable lesson about harvesting garlic in dry conditions.  We continued this with our onion harvest in December.

Our vegetable growing ethos is a combination of eating seasonally and also growing staples that we can either store or preserve.  Alliums are a big part of that.  For one, they’re used in most things we cook.  For another, if stored correctly, they can last nearly a full year.

Last year we did well with our onions and garlic, but underestimated just how much we’d need. This year we went a little nuts, the theory being that we’d try and grow too much, which will give us a good idea in future exactly how much we’ll need.

You know you might have a lot of onions when you need a wheelbarrow to harvest them...

You know you might have a lot of onions when you need a wheelbarrow to harvest them…

These are mostly shallots.

These are mostly shallots.

Stacking them up for Linhda to plait.

Stacking them up for Linhda to plait.

Our onion harvesting and processing took a full week.  We spent a weekend harvesting and plaiting it, and then the evenings of the following week pickling it.  We don’t grow onions specifically for pickling, but rather just choose the smaller ones.

These plaits are the best way to keep them.

These plaits are the best way to keep them.

This is about half our garlic and less than half the onions hanging in our preserve area in the big shed.

This is about half our garlic and less than half the onions hanging in our preserve area in the big shed.

This is the rest of the garlic and most of the rest of the onions hanging in the main part of the big shed. We were running low on hanging room.

This is the rest of the garlic and most of the rest of the onions hanging in the main part of the big shed. We were running low on hanging room.

As a family, we love pickled onions.  In the past we’ve been able to put down a handful of jars, but this year I’m confident that we have a full year’s worth.  We also tried a slightly different method where we salted the onions over night at first, the aim being crunchier pickled onions.

This is about a third of the pickling onions, salted and ready for pickling tomorrow.

This is about a third of the pickling onions, salted and ready for pickling tomorrow.

I processed 2 or 3 batches of pickled onions, and like to experiment with flavours, especially chillies.  The rest of the family is less enthusiastic about this…

One of our pickled onion runs.

One of our pickled onion runs.

I love me some chilli pickled onions.

I love me some chilli pickled onions.

The purple shallots make them even prettier.

The purple shallots make them even prettier.

We also are experimenting with some other onion-type products.  About 50 or so onions had gone to seed, which leaves a bit of a woody stem part in the middle.  We saved a stack of those and hung them in hessian to use as stock onions.  The rest we cut in half and have put in our dehydrator.  The idea is to see if we can make our own onion powder, or maybe onion flakes.  From there we might be able to make our own BBQ seasoning. Yum!

We had a go at fixing our beehive up too.  The advice we’ve received from the local-ish apiarist may be leading us astray though.  We’ve set things up exactly how he suggested, and this month the theory was that we swap the two supers around with a queen excluder between them – the bulk of the bees, with the queen, should be in the lower one at that stage.  They seem to be everywhere though, and I’m not at all sure it’s worked.

Getting started. And I know how paradoxical the super long gloves are with shorts...

Getting started. And I know how paradoxical the super long gloves are with shorts…

This is me at my most careful.

This is me at my most careful.

Even with the new super you can see the problem where they start to explode out of the frames.

Even with the new super you can see the problem where they start to explode out of the frames.

More smoke! WE NEED MORE SMOKE!

More smoke! WE NEED MORE SMOKE!

Swapping the supers. Very. Very. Carefully.

Swapping the supers. Very. Very. Carefully.

The finished product, looking decidedly wobbly.

The finished product, looking decidedly wobbly.

We may be at the stage where I try and get a professional out, as much as that pains me.  Once we get this right, I might also look at getting more hives, and placing them around the property.  My main interest is the bees and the massive amount of good they do.  We know enough people who like honey that we should be able to offload it. Hopefully.

Dad got himself a F100, which is just beautiful. She’s not easy to drive, but she sure is fun to drive.  We’ve named her “Mellow Yellow”, which of course Linhda has shortened to “Melly”.

Mellow Yellow!

Mellow Yellow!

Our neighbour also shot us a rabbit.  I’d mentioned to him that I was keen to try rabbit, and part of the reason I got my guns was to control that kind of pest.  I don’t want to waste them though, and so would try and eat them.  I got a call one afternoon to meet him by the back fence, and he had a fully dressed rabbit for me. It was so fresh that it was still warm, much to Linhda’s disgust.  🙂

I made up a stuffing using our sausage meat and roasted the rabbit. It turned out surprisingly well.  To me it tasted like strong turkey.

This is the before shot of my rabbit experiment.

This is the before shot of my rabbit experiment.

The end result was actually pretty good.

The end result was actually pretty good.

Of course, the piglets were growing, both in size and cuteness.

This is Brutus. He's a beast!

This is Brutus. He’s a beast!

Fat piglets are getting fat.

Fat piglets are getting fat.

I was in Canberra for 2 or 3 weeks of December.  In the middle somewhere Linhda sent me a message that Matthew Evans, of Gourmet Farmer fame was in Canberra promoting sustainable fishing. He was set up outside Parliament House, so I headed down to see him.  I really wanted to just meet him, say hey, and maybe chat about our common interest in growing our own food. I did meet him and chatted, but it was mostly about his fishing message.  That was cool though, and the fish was delicious!

Matthew Evans speaking to the media in Canberra.

Matthew Evans speaking to the media in Canberra.

Right at the end of the month I got a weather station from dad as an early birthday present. It’s awesome! One of the things that has struck me since moving here is how tied to the weather and seasons we are.  We’re always looking at forecasts, and plan much of our venture around the weather.  This station is just the next step in that obsession.

The first reading from my new weather station, before the outside sensors were installed.

The first reading from my new weather station, before the outside sensors were installed.

The outside sensors, collecting data on barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, temperature, and humidity.

The outside sensors, collecting data on barometric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, temperature, and humidity.

Our first reading!

Our first reading!

We also did a heap of maintenance to the veggie patches.  In fact, we’re still planting out, which is quite late in the year for us.  Normally I’d have all of my tomatoes in by now, and would be busy harvesting.  However, due to work commitments, and maybe poor planning, our tomato bed is only two-thirds planted out, and we only started harvesting right at the end of the month.  In fact, we still have seedlings in the hot house, ready to plant out in January.  Hopefully this just extends our harvest, rather than cuts it short.  Fingers crossed…

One other thing we noticed was the presence of snakes again.  Our first summer saw a few snakes around the place, but we saw none last summer.  I think that’s because last summer was record breakingly hot, and our slithery brethren had gone to ground. This year is much milder, and they’re out-and-about.

We had one super-hot day, and had a snake in our big shed.  That happens on those days, as they need to get out of the heat.  However, I also had one in The Patch.  That’s never happened before.  I’ve only seen snakes in the sheds, or chook runs, or under the carports before, basically taking shelter.  This month I was in The Patch on a high 20’s day, which is the perfect snake temperature, and had a big brown snake motor on past me.  I heard him first – there’s really nothing quite as distinctive as the sound of snake moving through dry vegetation.  I was taking a step when I heard it, but immediately stood still.  He saw me.  I saw him.  He kept moving, on through my tomato bed, and I let him go.  I’ve not see him since, and so am hoping he’s moved on.

We also had our latest goat processed in the middle of the month. This Howard was about 14 months old, and quite plump.  We’ve found the trick with the goats and sheep is to let them go on a bit, and to keep the feed up to them.  You can take that too far of course, but I think this time we got it exactly right.  The butcher commented on how plump he was (I’m not using the “f” word out of respect for Howard), and the meat is absolutely amazing.  We’ve had loin chops and ribs, and they are hands-down the best goat/sheep we’ve raised.

This shot shows Howard's... plumpness.

This shot shows Howard’s… plumpness.

I’ve saved our biggest news until last: We processed our own chooks!  That probably doesn’t sound as impressive as it is, but this is a huge step for us.  I was going to go into gory detail about the process here, but think I’ll save that for the stock -> chook area.  Future me will come back later and leave a link to that post.  I’ll still describe some of it here though.

I’ve wanted to breed and process our own meat birds for a while.  Buying the day-olds that we’ve used in the past works well, as does taking them to the local poultry processing place.  However, that’s not ideal to me for a few reasons.  For one, it’s not entirely self-sufficient, which bothers me.  For another, it involves a few trips in the car, which adds to the carbon footprint.  I think the most important thing to me, however, is the fact that we don’t get to use all of the bird.  I’m determined to make the absolute most out of every animal we raise, and processing our own birds means we use 100% of the body – the blood, feathers, and viscera go on the compost, the organs go to the dogs, we eat the meat, we make stock out of the bones, and we even dry the bones to make meal for the garden.  Literally, every atom of those birds stays on the property, and not a single part is thrown away. That is pretty much a metaphor for our entire meat raising philosophy.

The dressed result. A little leaner than we're used to.

The dressed result. A little leaner than we’re used to.

We did learn some awesome lessons both on how to process them and how to raise them.  I’ve mentioned before that chooks need 3 things in order to develop the nutritional value for us – time, exercise, forage. These chooks had all of that, but as we’ve found in the past with the Cobbs, too much exercise can be a bad thing.  The Australorps are a leaner breed to start with, and letting them range over 3 acres made them even leaner.  These weren’t small birds, each dressing out to something over 1.5kg, but they tended towards toughness.

We roasted one right away.

The roasted product. Delicious!

The roasted product. Delicious!

It was delicious, but a little tough.  Linhda boned out most of the others, and we’ve had them both in a chicken-and-leek pie and in a curry. The toughness wasn’t noticeable in those culinary contexts, and they were super tasty.

The lesson here is to contain the meat birds a bit, and probably to avoid growing them on at this time of year.  We are planning on expanding our orchard significantly come winter, and will put in a couple of large runs.  They’ll let the meat birds range and get the exercise and forage they need, while containing them and letting us keep the food up to them.  The result should be plumper birds without compromising on the nutrition or their well-being.

Much of this flock wasn’t pure Australorp, despite the breeder’s assurances of “show quality birds”.  One of the 4 boys we processed looked pure, but the others were crosses.  We also had 4 cross-breed pullets.  I want to avoid eating the girls where possible, as their real potential is in their egg-laying. With that in mind, we gave those 4 girls to a couple of people from the produce share we attend.  They’re now happily giving eggs to those families. 🙂