Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Honeybees at the Making Shift Homestead

I am now married to a beekeeper.

That's right- Mr. Chanclas is the proud owner of a couple thousand honeybees! I'm thrilled to have this newest addition to our homestead. This project belongs to Mr. Chanclas so I am just a casual observer to the process. I haven't read any beekeeping books or obsessed over beekeeping websites and YouTube videos. I've just quietly and happily watched as Mr. Chanclas built his own top bar beehive out of scrap lumber and then installed his first colony.

Mr. Chanclas working on his top bar hive. Little Sister made her own project nearby.

Cutting strips of wood to create the top bars.

The main trough portion of the hive

The top bar hive with top bars in place

Air holes with screen covering in the bottom of the hive
Then, a little over a week ago, he came home from BeeWeaver with his first colony of bees. He shook them out of the travel box into his top bar hive, gave them a jar of sugar water to get them started, and then walked away. In ten days they have made a substantial amount of comb on at least 6 of the 31 bars! I'm already dreaming of the honey. I don't cook or bake with regular sugar anymore so I use a fair amount of honey and maple syrup.

A piece of "starter comb" added to show the bees where to get started
The box of bees purchased from BeeWeaver

It was a LOT of bees!
Putting the new bees into their new hive

Showing the kids the little box containing the queen bee. Several other bees are clinging to the wire because they can smell her inside. They have to eat through a candy plug in the box to release her. This happens of the course of a couple of days, giving the colony a chance to get used to her smell (pheromones, actually).

We have modest goals for this first hive. Mainly, that they don't decide to leave. And hopefully, that we get a little bit of honey for eating and a little bit of beeswax for candle making. I will report back with updates!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Great Chicken Slaughter of 2014

We slaughtered our 16 meat birds over the weekend. It took three adults working most of Saturday to get it done. That is an embarrassingly long time, but that's how long it took. My cousins tell me that I could get them done much faster if I skinned them instead of plucking them. (I am definitely going to skin them next time.) Plucking is time-consuming and it's a hassle. You have to heat a huge pot of water to about 150 degrees and dunk the birds up and down in the water several times. The heat loosens their feathers so that you are able to pluck them.

We borrowed this awesome propane burner from a neighbor.

My dear friend Erin about to dunk and pluck.
The plucking station. Little Sister was a good helper.

We had raised these birds, called red broilers, from day-old chicks. They had a really nice chicken life with just one bad moment at the very end. I feel really good about how they lived. After about three weeks in the brooder they moved outside to the chicken tractor. I moved the chicken tractor onto fresh grass every day so that they could eat grass and insects. They were healthy, beautiful birds. I ordered straight run (unsexed) chicks and eight turned out to be roosters and eight were hens. Two of the roosters had started crowing hilarious, pubescent rooster crows by the end. One of them sounded an awful lot like a demented clown, which scared the crap out of me one morning at 6am when I took the dog out to pee. I was standing in the front yard in the dark, wearing my pj's, when this crazy HA HA HAAAAAAAAAAAAA comes from the side yard. The other little cockerel was only managing two syllables, a wheezy HE HEEE.

Erin singing the pinfeathers off with her blowtorch.
For the last month the meat birds were eating more than one 50-pound sack of chicken feed per week. I raised them on unmedicated, conventional chicken starter. It cost me $15-16 per 50-lb bag. I kept track of how much it cost me to raise all of the birds to slaughter and the total came to $210, which is a little over $13 per bird. Organic chicken feed costs about $40 per bag in my area, which would have brought my total costs to $558, or $35 per bird. I simply could not afford to raise them on organic feed. Thirty-five dollars is an outrageous price for any bird, even an organically fed one. I would love to raise all my birds on organic feed but the price difference is just too great right now.

A plucked bird cools in a bucket of fresh water before being gutted.

Half of the birds were for my friend Erin who helped with the processing. Seven of my eight birds are tucked away in the chest freezer for later use. One of them went into a pot of chicken noodle soup that my children slurped up in five minutes flat. I used the necks and feet to make rich, delicious chicken stock, which I froze for later use. The hearts were cooked with onions for Mr. Chanclas. And the livers, ohhhh, the livers. I used the livers to make a wonderful pate. I had no idea how easy it was to make pate and I daresay it may be my favorite chicken dish!