Friday, December 13, 2013

Bad Hare Day

Even though we have been trying to improve our rabbitry setup (and it has definitely been coming along), we were not - until very recently - able to purchase hanging feeders and set up our rain-barrel watering system. What this meant is that the rabbits would consistently sit in the food dishes to eat, and for some whacked-out reason they would sit in their water dishes as well. And what happens when animals' butts come into contact with anything you wouldn't want poop or pee on? They poop and pee on it! Or in it, in this instance.

We were very good about washing out their food and water dishes daily, but if a rabbit wants to take a drink at 3am and they pooped in it at 2am... well, we aren't awake to take care of that.

SO! Suddenly a bunch of the rabbits got the sniffles and sneezes. One of the runts of our Rex/New Zealand mix had a big white booger on his nose. Crap!!!

We have been giving them echinacea in their food, and it actually seems to be helping a lot, thank the lard (yes I meant to say lard).

That big giant child containment unit that I wrote about in my previous post got an overhaul thanks to Ryan and his uncle, Brian. Even still, it was not the proper setup for a venture that we hope to get certified by the USDA and MOFGA.

Now, I have actually been trying to write and complete this post for about a week now, but have been finding it a challenge as we've been gearing up for Christmas, plus we've had appointments and general "things-to-do" that has eaten up a lot of our time. We came into more money via our GoFundMe campaign and were able to go buy some proper welded wire material to make our own cages!! Oh, and also thanks to our wonderful donators our water warmer for the rain barrel is here!

This is the welded wire we bought: it is .5" x 1" squares, and is 3' x 87' long.

J-hooks and j-hook pliers for bringing the cage pieces together.

Ryan snipping the cage material...

Me cutting the cage material... (aren't these photos riveting???)

Just an idea of how the j-hooks work to bring pieces of the cage material together.

So this is the first cage that we made... it's really too big (3'W x 6'L x 2'H), but whatever. Our rabbits will have an extra roomy space for now! ;)

Ryan suspended the cage from the rafters in our second garage so that they would be up off the floor. This will not only keep the pee and poop out of the cages, but will also make it easy for us to reach in and take the rabbits out when needed (although it might still be a bit of a challenge since we made this particular cage unnecessarily deep).

Happy wabbits! (They love the heat lamp)

Bunny pile!!

This is our new buck. He's a purebred New Zealand, so once we breed him with our big NZ mama (she is seriously huge now... she's gotta weigh at least 15 pounds) we'll have a little of purebred NZs! :)

Our next step is to build some ramps that connect to the underside of the cages, and a trough with soil in it. The pee and poop will slide right down the ramp and into the soil trough, where it can be used immediately as compost! 


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Recipe: Rendered Lard From Beef Suet

Ever since I started researching traditional food diets, and following related blogs like Nourished Kitchen, Cheeseslave, and Food Renegade, I've learned a lot about some of the misleading information circulated by the USDA - as well as your local chain-grocers - regarding what's healthy and what isn't. One of those tidbits of misleading information is that a low-fat diet is healthier than a diet rich in healthy fats. Healthy fats, you say? For anyone who is interested to know the truth about fats, I urge you to read this article by the co-founders of the Weston A. Price Foundation.  Don't be intimidated by how long the article appears to be... you can just read the first 1/4 - 1/2 of the page for a good deal of important information on the subject. And by the time you're done reading that you may be so intrigued that you simply want to read the rest of the article!

And yes, I could have tried to give you a short version of why quality fats are good for you... but it's 9:30 at night, I'm pretty tired, and I'm too lazy. So..... you should read the article, mkay? :D

Anyhow... One of my favorite healthy fats to use in cooking is lard. I especially love to use this in my super wonderful pie crusts that I occasionally make for pot pies (have I mentioned how epic they are?). Now, I can actually remember a time when I was a lot younger when they sold lard in plastic tubs (just like butter) in the grocery stores. I don't remember brand names or anything, just a yellow plastic tub with the word LARD on the front. I cannot even imagine where that lard must have come from, or what quality it must have been, but I am so glad we never consumed it.

The lard I render, however, is creamy and rich and adds wonderful flavor to whatever you use it for - try making french fries with it... you'll never fry them in "vegetable" oil again! (Did you know that vegetable oil actually does not consist of any vegetables at all? It's oil from SEEDS!! And what's worse... it's most likely from GMO seeds!!)

To render lard, you start with 1.5 - 2.5 pounds of quality grass-fed, organic beef suet or leaf lard from pigs. I buy mine at our local food cooperative and it's fairly inexpensive.

Cut the lard into 1/2 inch chunks and put them in a heavy-bottomed stock pot with 1/4 - 1/2 Cup of water. Simmer on Medium-Low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the lard from scorching and/or sticking to the bottom of the pot.

As the suet or lard renders, the liquid will become golden, and small bits of fried fat will start to rise to the top. These are called "cracklins," and you can actually save these after you are done rendering to use in salads, on top of casseroles, by themselves as a healthy snack, etc. Salt 'em up and mmmmmMM have you got sump'm gooood!

Cracklins. Looks like popcorn chicken, right?

Anyhow. Once most of the cracklins start to sink to the bottom of the pot, your lard is ready to be jarred. I use Ball mason jars to store the rendered lard in, but any glass container with a fitted lid should do fine. Strain the liquid from the pot through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel (if you are going to use a paper towel, I highly recommend something cheap and 1-ply... NOT Brawny... the lard won't pass through it and you'll end up with a huge mess... ask me how I know.)

Allow the lard to cool before putting the lid on the jar. The lard will be golden while it's hot, but will turn white and creamy when it cools! It's pretty neat.



Rendered lard will last for a fairly long time at room-temperature, but will last even longer when stored in the fridge. I usually only make one jar-full at a time so I don't bother putting it in the fridge, but I also tend to use it up within a month or so, so if you don't think you'll use it that fast, I'd keep it in the fridge.

Gobbledy Gook

WARNING: This post will contain graphic images, so do not read any further if you have any issues with anything related to animal meat preparation.

On November 26, 2013... at some time between 6pm - 7pm (I think)... two turkeys met their fate.

It was a cold, snowy night... dark as squid ink (but our outdoor lights were on so we were fine)... and we knew it was time. Because we waited until the last damned minute to take care of not one, but two Tom turkeys that we'd acquired from our neighbor up the road.

To be honest, I didn't want to process turkeys at 6 or 7 o'clock at night, but with only one more day until Thanksgiving, and too much to do to get ready for our feast, we had to suck it up and just do it. So we got our butcherin' clothes on, prepared what we needed for slaughter, processing, and packaging... and we got to it.

Now, because it was dark and cold outside, we decided it would be best to kill the turkeys outside, but to butcher them inside the barn. Had I known what this experience would be like, I would have adamantly insisted on doing everything outdoors.

To begin... did you know that turkeys smell awful??? And I don't mean after you kill them... They literally smell like a poopy zoo. I had smelled them briefly a few days ago when we first got them, and Ryan opened the door to the mini-garage where we were keeping them until we were ready to process them. I thought they stank then... but was I in for a surprise.

I had set up the tripod outside in front of the tree that we were going to hang the turkeys from, with the intent of documenting this whole process from start to finish. Well, sorry to disappoint everyone, but I ended up not being able to participate much. Aside from the fact that I didn't feel ready to process the turkeys that night in the first place, once we got the first turkey slaughtered I just couldn't get past the smell.... It started out at the tree... the turkey had just died... and it farted... and it kept farting as Ryan moved it around while un-fastening its legs from the ropes he'd set up.... and it staaaaaaank. It was that poopy zoo smell, with some other raunchy smell that I couldn't quite identify.

This is the first Tom that we processed. He was alive in this photo, and he was probably farting.

And this was after killing it and he surely was farting here, too.

Some of you may be scoffing at my childish description of the smell, and at the fact that I handled this process in a less-than-stoic manner. Well look.... this was my very first poultry processing experience. For whatever reason, the rabbit we slaughtered did not have this effect on me. In fact, I was rather pleased that I handled it so well and was able to jump right in. The turkeys, however, were simply not what I was expecting (not that I really had many expectations), and there were things about it that caught me off-guard (like the smell) and it just wasn't in the cards for me. That being said, I will gladly try it again, on a bright, sunny day when we can do everything outside in the fresh air. Live and learn.

So Ryan killed the first turkey and we took it into the barn to process. Ryan had set up a counter-top table with our knives and a trashcan to put the guts in. He cut the turkey's head off all the way, then took it outside to submerge it in a tote-full of very hot water. Doing this loosens the feathers so that you can quickly (sort of) and easily remove them.

After the turkey's "bath," Ryan brought it back inside where we cut off the wing tips - which do not really offer any meat and would just add extra work to de-feather - and started plucking. It was really weird resting one hand on the bird's still-warm body and ripping feathers out. I didn't necessarily mind it, but the damn bird still stank. Yes, I will admit, I had hoped that dunking the bird in the hot water may have helped get rid of some of the smell.

It didn't.


While it wasn't taking all that long, it was taking long enough that we didn't feel like doing it any longer (by this time it was nearing 8pm), so we decided to just skin the birds and make a turkey pot pie out of it instead of roasting a whole turkey for Thanksgiving (my pot pies are epic). 

Ryan started to gut the turkeys, and Sophia started getting overly-tired, and Maya - though sincerely interested in the whole process - just wanted to go inside and watch a movie. So I happily obliged them and took them inside to settle in for bed. Honestly, I felt really bad because I didn't help with the rest of the first turkey, or the second turkey, but Ryan said he understood and didn't seem to mind doing it himself. 

The next day he brought all of the meat in that he had stored in our barn fridge, and holy cow was there a TON!!! Those turkeys had some big breasts. The meat from that alone filled a huge metal mixing bowl we have. We've been eating off of it for three days now, and there's still a bunch left that we're going to freeze. Then there are still turkey legs in the freezer! I used a two legs for some turkey stock, and pulled all of the meat off the bones after it cooked for about 8 hours. It was just like pulled pork.... only turkey.

Gizzard halves, liver, breasts (with heart), legs.

This is another one of those learning experiences I knew we would have at some point along our Farming/Self-Sustaining/Dream-Manifesting journey. Even though I felt like I had failed at first, I realized that I did the best I could this time around, and next time will be better. :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Project

The other night we had insanely strong winds and frigid temperatures. All night, right into the morning, the wind literally howled, screamed, whooshed, and whirled, and when we woke up in the morning there was a sheet of ice stuck to our front door.

I kept thinking about the rabbits outside and praying that they were warm enough in their hay-stuffed cubbies, and even though I know they were, it was an urgent message that we need to build indoor hutches for them before Winter officially arrives.

So the other day we started prepping our indoor hutches. Wanna see what we're using? :D

Do you like our Child Containment Unit? No seriously.... that's what it was. We got this thing for free from a church that used it in the nursery... There were four mattresses that came with it.... For children.... And there are sliding "jail" doors on it.... That lock.... WTF????

Needless to say, we told them they could keep the mattresses as we wouldn't be caging any children in it. And if we did decide to cage some children we certainly wouldn't want them to be comfortable or anything... After all... it's a dungeon

Here we have a test specimen (just to see how well this unit truly worked).

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!!!

Okay, I'll stop I swear. Seriously though.... tsk tsk.

So anyway! Our plans for this setup is to put plywood up on the backside of the unit, take out the sliding/locking doors and install hinged doors for easy access. The inside of each hutch will be lined with chicken wire, as will the floor, and underneath the chicken wire at the floor will be a slide-out tray that catches the pee and poop so we can easily clean them.

Here I am, sawing off the dowels from the backside of the Child Containment Unit... I mean soon-to-be rabbit hutches... with Sophia strapped to my back. I am truly amazing. Thank you, thank you.

With some of the money we've been given through our GoFundMe link, we are going to buy a water warmer for our rain barrel, and some tubing so that we can set up a better watering system than what we currently have (which is... plastic pet bowls).

While this hutch unit will serve its purpose throughout the Winter, it would not pass inspection by the USDA. What we really need are metal/steel hutches that can be easily cleaned/sanitized. The above unit is made out of particle board or some other weird wood-particulate material. We would love to be able to reach our goal that we set through out GoFundMe campaign to build a certified kitchen/processing/packaging area. 

Things are coming together slowly, but surely (actually, a bit more quickly than we'd initially thought!), though at times things can definitely seem overwhelming with everything else we've gotta keep up with here at Wild Hare Farm! I love it though. I wouldn't want it any other way... except I could use a personal chef... that would just be the bees knees....

THESE GUYS are our next project....

 And because I got too busy to post this when I had originally intended to, the turkeys have actually already been processed. And so I will document that rigmarole in my next post!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chicken Coop Gets an Upgrade!

This past week our friend, Jake, came out to help us get some things done around the property. We have been feeling pretty overwhelmed  lately because we have a few big things to try and get done before the snow flies. Stack those things on top of trying to keep up with the inside of our house (oh hell.... it will never be as clean or as tidy as we'd like it to be), and it's just made us a little.... well, overwhelmed.

So not only did Jake come baring gifts of various meats from his homestead that he processed recently (thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!), but he toted along all of his awesome tools to help us get our chicken coop secured, roofed, and just... better.


Better roof structure!

More perches!

I just like this picture. :)

And I forgot to take photos of the completed job until.... just now. So our chickens are all perched and sleeping, and there's a terrible glare on the front door of the coop, but oh well. You get the picture. And I'll take better photos tomorrow! 

Metal roof? Check!

Profile view? Check! :P

Now all we have to do is hook up a little heat lamp in case it gets cold out there in the winter, but we've decided not to use a light to increase egg-laying. We want to do things as naturally as possible, so..... yep! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Our First Rabbit Pt. 2

WARNING: This post, as with the previous post, will contain graphic content including photographs. If you cannot handle the sight of blood and guts, I highly recommend that you skip to the next post, which will not contain blood and guts. :)

So at this point the pelt was gone, and it was time to clean the rabbit and prepare him for the crock-pot. I won't go into extreme detail here because really, there isn't much to tell: we removed the guts. That's about it.

But I will include some photos of the process because as I watched Ryan remove the rabbit's organs, it truly fascinated me! It was so much less bloody and less messy than I had imagined it would be!

I did not realize just how big his intestines would be:

I mean.... WOW!!

I was also surprised that all of the innards pretty much came out in one "unit..." The sunlight hit them as Ryan removed them, and I had to take a photo because honestly.... they looked beautiful!

This is the rabbit with his boots still on... Reminds me a little bit of a poodle... 

And the rabbit's liver, which we lovingly gave to our old dog, Cholla. He swallowed it whole.

After removing everything, I helped Ryan quarter the rabbit and prepare the pelt for smoking, which we can't do right now because we don't actually have a smoker yet. We need to look up how to build one out of stones or something for now. So the pelt (and the head) are wrapped up and in our chest freezer until we are able to properly prepare it. And when that happens..... there will be a post about it! Yay!!

The results of today were very good. In addition to learning something new, and proving to myself that I am actually very capable of slaughtering (that word always sounds so violent though) and processing smallish game, we also ended up with a quite delicious rabbit roast! Hooray for success!!

Our First Rabbit Pt. 1

WARNING: This post will probably contain some graphic content, including photos, so if you get squeamish about blood and butchering, etc, it might be a good idea to skip this post.

So this morning it happened: Ryan and I woke up early before the girls got up; we dressed; we prepared a spot in our garage..... and we slaughtered our first rabbit.

It wasn't quite as cut-and-dry as it sounds, folks. It was definitely a learning experience (and a good one, too!).

To start, our plan was to go and get our buck, calmly bring him into the garage, set him on the ground, and then quickly lock a broom-handle across the back of his neck (which I would then stand on to keep him there) while Ryan swiftly pulled on the rabbits back legs to break his neck: no muss, no fuss.

Well.... it almost went like that. Ryan did get the buck calmly into the garage, and he did quickly get the broom-handle across the back of the buck's neck, and I did quickly stand on it..... but when Ryan pulled the buck's back legs to break his neck, the force knocked me off-balance and I stepped off of the broom-stick!!

"Oh no, what are you doing?! Get back on! Get back on!!" Ryan urged as I scrambled back on and tried to think heavy thoughts (literally.... I felt like I was too light to put enough weight on the thing) and I held onto Ryan's shoulder while he yanked the buck's legs again.

Writing this post up to this part took longer than it actually took for this whole event to take place. The buck actually did die the first time that Ryan pulled, but we were in such an upset about me falling off the broom-handle before we were sure of that fact that he needed to do it again just to be 100% sure.

During this part of the process, my heart was racing a bit. This was honestly the first thing I had ever helped to kill (other than bothersome, gross insects, and once a little vole that the cat had tortured and then left to die.... I couldn't let it suffer!!). Looking at the rabbit's legs twitching... and then his little tail twitching.... and noticing that his eye was directed right at me even though he wasn't actually "looking" at me.... well it was all a bit exhilarating as well as shocking.

I love and respect living creatures... I used to cry when my dad would trap mice on those little glue-trap things, because I knew the poor dears would either have to be killed or live our the rest of their lives with crippled appendages (because that glue... does NOT come off). And I honestly thought that maybe killing this rabbit would be really hard for me, because he was such a cool rabbit, and he was pretty and hefty and just.... well a big, warm, living, breathing thing.

But an interesting thing happened: I calmed down really quickly, and reminded myself that we killed this big, warm, living, breathing thing because we are going to eat it. He is going to nourish us, and so are the rest of the rabbits that we have thriving and playing on our property.

So anyhow, the rabbit was quite large and we weighed him before we began butchering.... 8 pounds this guy was!!!

Ryan laid him out on the spot we prepared for butchering...

 ...and he began cutting the fur and trying to remove the pelt. This was kind of funny... and lengthy... The buck was totally fat. He had his winter coat already, and there was a thick layer of blubber underneath the fur that just would not (willingly) separate from the muscle.

So Ryan got the buck's "pajamas" (as "They" call it) halfway off, and then the fur just wouldn't come off anymore. At this point, Ryan asked if I was comfortable holding onto the already-skinned part of the rabbit (which was the front legs and front-half of the torso) and pulling while he pulled the fur from the other end to speed up this part of the process.  I set down the camera (I had to document our first Rabbit) and here came another first: I touched a freshly-killed, still-warm, furless carcass.... and it was weird. I will admit that I didn't just go all out and grab onto the thing like it was no big deal. I had to touch the body first a few times, poking it and then feeling it with the pads of my fingers and then hesitantly holding onto the front legs with my whole hands before realizing..... this was kind of neat.

I said I was good to go, and Ryan said "Make sure you hold on tight!" so I did.... and he pulled... and I pulled... and the fur started to come off.... and then the rabbit's front legs started to separate. I could feel it underneath my fingers and I said, "Uhhhh.... his legs are coming off...." To which Ryan asked, "What do you mean?" And I said, "I mean that his legs are separating from his body and coming off....." So he went to work with the knife some more, slowly and carefully slicing the fat and skin away from the muscle. Eventually, he got the pelt off, and it was time to remove the guts........

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Which came first: the Chicken or the Egg?

In our case, the chicken... or 12 chickens actually. And a rooster. The rooster actually came about a week after the chickens because he somehow squeezed himself out of the opening of the small-animal cage that the (awesome) couple we bought them all from had him in.

We've wanted chickens for a looooong time, but never had our own property for them. The last house we rented had chickens, and we enjoyed (very often) those fresh, creamy-orange yolks immensely. So we bought a house, and four months later we found a deal we couldn't refuse on chickens. And a rooster. And we had no coop for them...... yet.

What did we end up doing? Well, we had built a little greenhouse hoping to get some sort of veggies or herbs going before winter hit. And we did manage some small success with that, but really it needed improving upon. So we took that greenhouse and slapped some T1-11 siding up, built 4 nesting boxes, cut out a little chicken-sized door that we have to kick out and in because there isn't a handle on it yet, and Voila!! Instant (okay, not quite instant) chicken coop!

Putting up the T1-11


Almost done with the outside!

When we brought them home we put them all in the coop because we had read that it's a good idea to keep transplanted chickens in their coop for 3 - 4 days so they learned exactly where their food and water and roosts are, guaranteeing that they will return there every evening. That may work for most people, but they hadn't been in the coop longer than 15 minutes before they started fighting. There was one chicken who took over the dominant role of the rooster since he was - at that moment - still MIA.

Needless to say, we only kept them in the coop for the rest of that day and then overnight, and let them out early the next day, chancing them wandering off in hopes that they would calm down and play nice. And they were fine!

It was exciting to see them head out of the coop and take their first exploratory steps onto our property. I kept getting a little nervous that they would head off into someone else's property to forage, or wander out into the road, etc... but for the most part they stayed right on our property. That first day, we got two eggs! And we've only gotten one more since, so I believe they are between cycles right now. We are considering putting a red light in their coop to increase laying during this time period, but I still don't know how I feel about that (it isn't exactly "natural" you know?).

This is them:

Our handsome rooster...

She's my favorite. :)

So I honestly thought that having the rooster might have gotten annoying, as I cherish my sleepy time and would rather not get awakened at the butt-crack of dawn by his crowing ("If he starts waking me up too early we're gonna have a stew reeeeeeeal soon!"). I have to admit, however, that I rather like hearing him in the early morning. It just makes our farm feel all the more like a farm, even if it isn't quite as farmy as we'd like it to be yet.