Monday, December 27, 2010

White Christmas in Bluefield

It doesn't snow much in eastern North Carolina, and when it does it's quite the event. Prior to last year, we hadn't seen snow in over 8 seasons. We got a good snow the day after Christmas though: 6 inches in one day. The pigs didn't think much of it, and the chickens refused to leave the coop (even after the sun came out). 

Scott, the dogs and I enjoyed the snow thoroughly. I do not, however, look forward to dealing with all the downed trees, especially the ones on the electric fence.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas with the McGhee's

Scott's family loves to cook, especially with fire. His parents built a replica of a historic kitchen in 2000, and the hearth always gets a workout over the holidays. This year we roasted a goose in an antique reflector oven and browned a homemade sweet potato pie with an iron salamander forged by Scott.

Scott's mom and Bonnie (his oldest) made the sweet potato pie, and Scott forged the iron salamander as a gift for his mom Peggy. The head of the salamander is placed in the fire until glowing hot, then set over the pie for a few minutes to brown the meringue. Scott repeated the process 4 or 5 times to brown the pie to perfection.

As always, the fire was a family attraction and fun was had by all.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener

Guinea hogs are firm believers that "the grass is always greener over there". If you put down two piles of food, they will constantly go back and forth between the two worried that they are missing out on something special. Maybe hogs believe this because if you leave them in a pasture too long they will root up all the grass and "the grass over there" really will be greener!

This weekend we finally fenced in a third pasture and transferred our 9 teenage hogs to this new paradise. They couldn't be happier - acorns, pecans, fresh grass - ahhhh pig heaven.

The plan is to eventually have multiple pastures that we can rotate the stock through. We have seeded their old pasture in winter rye. Hopefully it will come up quickly and they will find it tasty. We'll let you know how it goes.

Expensive, but tasty education

Scott and I decided to add bees to the farm this year. We added our first hive in April and a second in May, but now we only have one - because I made a huge error. Throughout the spring, we checked the hive every few weeks to get acquainted with our bees and learn our beekeeping tasks. Once summer arrived, however, we stopped going in the hive because it takes about 3 days for bees to adjust after a hive inspection, and we didn't want to stress them out too much. The heat this summer was stress enough for anyone, and daily exterior inspections indicated that the bees were doing well.

Fall is the time to resume hive inspections, but I failed to keep an eye on my calendar, and before we knew it November had arrived. That was simply too late. A week ago, the bees were busily buzzing about the hive. Now they are gone, and we have no definitive answers as to why.

Did the queen die? Was she superseded? Were the bees starving or did they sense that starvation was imminent given the amount of honey they had accumulated? These are questions we can't answer. What we do know is that the bees had stored away about 4 frames of honey (which wouldn't have been enough to feed them through winter) and quite a bit of pollen (that had begun to mildew) in the upper hive body, and that there were a fair amount of developing bees abandoned in the lower hive body. We saw no evidence of disease or infestation, just a fair amount of honey and a disturbing lack of presence. 

We cut out the combs, melted the wax, and then separated the wax from the honey by straining the liquid through a cheesecloth. It's a messy business, but was well worth it (thank you Peggy!). We got 3 quarts of delicious honey and about three quarters of a pound of wax. If you count the cost of the bees and beekeeping equipment, (and don't factor in the wax) each quart of honey is worth about $60. Now that's an expensive education! Luckily the equipment can still be used, and we aren't done with this beekeeping business yet.

The bees we got in May are still alive and with us. We are feeding them sugar water now to help increase their winter stores and hopefully they'll stick around for the long haul. We plan to buy more bees in the spring, and this time I promise to pay better attention to the calendar (well, with a little help from Scott). For now, I'll just enjoy my honey and hope for better times ahead.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scarlet's Second Seven

Scarlet had her second litter yesterday - 5 boys and 2 girls. Seven is apparently her lucky number.

She once again looked like she was going to pop for 2 weeks before she went into labor, then had her babies without any fuss at all. I fed Scarlet and the 9 teenage guinea hogs that she shares space with at 7am yesterday morning and didn't notice her litter in the barn until around 1pm. My guess is that she had them in the night and I just missed the big event.

Scarlet and her shoats are now confined to a smaller area of the hog pen so that the babies can have access to mama anytime and to keep the teenagers from annoying the new family. We'll expand Scarlet's area a bit in about 2 weeks, but for now Scarlet seems content to lounge and is happy to see that we've increased her feed ration since she won't be able to forage freely.

Girls $250 per
Boys $150 per

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chicken Surprise!

When we acquired Jock-a-doodle do (our lead rooster in residence), we acquired two gamecock hens as well. We had an issue with our Wyandottes refusing to go broody (which results in baby chickens that we want) and were told that gamecock hens were great mothers who could fix our problem. The plan was to wait for a game hen to go broody, replace her eggs with Wyandotte eggs while she was sleeping and presto...we'd have chicks in about 22 days.

Well about 3 weeks ago our light colored gamecock hen went missing. We assumed that she'd been taken by some animal and let it go. She'd generally kept to herself and didn't lay eggs in the coop anyway, so we didn't see it as a great loss. To our surprise, a few days ago the hen showed up again and wasn't alone. She had gone broody! She had hidden herself and her eggs just under a wood pile near the chicken coop and had stayed out of sight until the eggs hatched.

Yesterday I watched her march around the yard with nine gamecock/Dominique chicks in tow. She is raising them with minimal human assistance (we throw her food when we see her) and is teaching the chicks to forage for food around the yard. So far they are doing great. They all sleep outside the coop at night though, so we are hoping for the best.

As for our Partridge Rocks (the chickens we got to replace the Wyandottes), they are growing up fast and seem to be doing well. They are extremely friendly which is nice, but we didn't exactly get what we bargained for. We got a straight run of 25 and figured on at least half being hens. Instead we got 6 hens and a mess a roosters. Hopefully these hens will be good layers because our Wyandottes have given up laying altogether after only a year and a half. Scott sadly bought a dozen eggs at the grocery store last week. The first store bought eggs in over a year.

So, we've got 6 potential Partridge Rock laying hens, 9 mystery chicks, several expired Wyandotte hens and way too many roosters. If anyone wants a old chicken or a Partridge Rock rooster, speak now! They're disappearing fast.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sausage Creole

When you live on a farm that raises free range pork, you gotta get creative about what you do with all of it. Scott's mama gave him the following recipe and it works great with our home grown and blended Guinea Hog sausage.

1 lb sausage
1 medium onion
1 can green beans
1 can lima beans
1 can corn
1 large can tomatoes (28 oz)
1 shot of vinegar (to taste)
3/4 of a teaspoon of Tony Chacere's seasoning (or spice mix of your choice)

Now the idea is to use all your own stuff. Tomatoes you've canned yourself, onions, beans and corn right from the garden or (at the very least) preserved right at home. Tonight that wasn't possible. The sausage and corn was our own, but everything else came from the store. We've had a brutally hot and dry summer here in southeastern NC and had to abandon our garden in June. The baby pigs have enjoyed rummaging through the remains however, so maybe we'll get something back from the garden after all:)

Back to the recipe... fry the sausage in a pan, chop the onion and saute it in olive oil (our GH sausage isn't greasy enough to saute in!), mix all the ingredients in a sauce pan, then simmer for about an hour. You can serve it as a stew or over rice like we do. Our secret weapon...Guinea Hog sausage of course, but also fish sauce on the rice. Substitute fish sauce for salt anywhere you want a rich, deep flavor and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Just don't sniff the bottle before using. Asian fish sauce reeks, but tastes wonderful if you use it sparingly.

Belly up! Cold weather is coming. I know it is, I know it is (I keep telling myself that anyway) and this is a great cool weather meal. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bees and Power Tools

Note to self: Do not use power tools on the bee hive without wearing proper attire.

So, I needed to remove one of the handles from the hive body and had seen the old timer I bought the hive from use a power drill to do just that without wearing anything... so, I decided I could do the same. The bees disagreed. Within approximately 2 seconds I'd been stung in the eyelid and the knee. Oh well, live and learn.The eye stayed swollen for about 4 days and I'm happy to say I had a normal reaction, not an allergic one.

Other notes on our bees - they don't seem to be producing as much honey as we'd like to see but the fall honey flow hasn't yet begun and it's been a brutally hot summer this year. I think the bees have been working really hard just to stay hydrated.

We have some hive beetles and a few varola mites, but overall the bees appear healthy and have been very gentle save my one stupid manever with the power drill. Whenever we go in the hive we wear full attire and always use smoke to calm the bees down, but we often sit a few feet from the bees and watch them without any issue at all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jock-a-doodle-do, the Chickies, and the Art of Castration

So we haven't made the chicken tractor yet because we found a better solution for the wild hen issue. Meet Jock-a-doodle-do.

Jock is a young Dominique rooster that was residing at a friends farm. Jock had been dropped off by someone who didn't want a rooster, and he'd been accepted until he decided to attack one of the owners prize gamecocks. Luckily we stopped by the day after the fight and suddenly were offered a free rooster to handle our wayward hens.

We weren't sure if adding a new rooster to the flock would work, but Jock has done an amazing job of keeping the hens in line and so far has roosted them in the hen house every night for the past two weeks. I think we'll keep him:)

In addition to this success, our Partridge Rock chicks arrived about a week ago. We are raising them in the shop and so far they are doing quite well.

We still plan to build the chicken tractor, as this will be the new chicks first outdoor home. If we put them in the coop with the big chickens, they'd get picked on, and, if we let them run loose before full grown, the local hawks would pick them off. We'll post pictures of the chicken tractor once it is up and running.

Lastly, we castrated our baby pigs last weekend. I've always said, "Our hogs only have one bad day in their lives." I must now recant that statement and note that some males have two bad days. Scott did a show-cut on the boys which doesn't leave visible scarring, but we think in the future we'll go with a scrotum cut which should be easier on the boys.

It was a bad day for me too as I was very worried for my little boars (they seemed to be in quite a bit of pain afterwards), but by the next day they were up, running and begging for food just like normal so I hope they will forgive me soon. We waited a bit too late (7 weeks) to make the cuts and in the future we will castrate them earlier (at 2-4 weeks).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Night Prowling for Jailbirds

As expected, without roosters our hens stopped coming home to the coop at night and started roosting in the woods. I never really gave the name "rooster" much thought, but it's pretty clear that they have an important job to fill on a free range chicken farm - they tell the hens where to roost and without them it is fowl chaos. Crowing and spurring aside, a rooster's value on our farm has gone up expotentially.

In order to reclaim our hens, Scott and I made two evening forays into the woods to capture the missing birds. Scott read somewhere that once a hen has fallen asleep, it is easy to pluck them off their roost. Sure enough, this was correct. On the first night Scott walked right up to two hens, snatched them from the shrubs they were roosting in (at about waist level) and took them back to the coop.

We weren't able to locate two of the missing hens (4 of our 8 were easily chased back into the coop), so the next evening Scott watched carefully to see where the jailbirds planned to roost. One choose a rather high spot in a tree, and the other (who'd been badly injured by one of our roosters) actually choose a pile of sticks near the ground. We went after the injured bird first and captured her easily. After applying a bit of neosporin to the side of her face (where the rooster had pecked her unmercifully) we stuck her in the coop and went off after the chicken in the tree. She proved to be too sly for us. She was so high that I had to pull a limb down to get Scott close enough to touch her and that wasn't close enough. She eventually woke up, flew off and obsconded as we tried to figure out a way to get to her. No worries though, the next morning I found her snooping around the coop, opened the door just a bit and she went right in. I guess two nights in the woods alone were quite enough.

All eight surviving hens are now miserable, but alive in our coop. It is obvious that they very much want to free range and have retaliated by reducing egg production by more than half. We used to get an egg or so per chicken, per day. Yesterday Scott only found 3 eggs and that was two days worth.

So now we are thinking chicken tractor. We never understood why so many free range chicken farmers had these. Our hens free ranged, roosted at home and gave us plenty of eggs without a mobile chicken house, but now we understand. Without a rooster around, a chicken tractor is the only way to let hens free range without the worry that they'll be eaten by predators or go feral in the woods. We'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Roosters

We had two roosters. Now we have none.

Life on a farm can be fun. It can also be really unpleasant. When we first got our Wyandotte chickens, we culled down to two roosters and waited to see who would reign supreme. The smaller of the two (Spot) appeared to be the better provider and protector, but Dinner (we were supposed to eat him) was far prettier and had a better crow. Well, we got complacent and decided that having two roosters was fine. They fought a little, but eventually worked out a deal - Spot got 7 hens, Dinner got 4 - and they basically shared the same space without too much commotion....until this spring.

Once the weather got warmer, rooster testosterone levels went haywire. One evening Scott and I watched Spot and Dinner fight for about an hour. It was more of a dance than a fight though. Each rooster would fluff its neck feathers, charge, then jump over or under the other. No blood was drawn (even though they both have large, sharp spurs) and it was kinda pretty.

Well, as time went on the fights got more serious and blood was eventually shed - sometimes in copious quantities. We decided that one of them had to go, and Spot made the culling decision easy. Spot had always been aggressive toward us and the kids, but for the most part he'd been all charge and no spur. His bloody attacks on Dinner, however, made us rethink the possibilities, and (with an outdoor wedding coming up on the property) we decided Spot simply had to go. As Ruby said in Cold Mountain, "I hate a flogg'in rooster. Let's put him in a pot."

This, however, may have been a mistake.

At first things were sooo much better. No more peaking around the corner to see if Spot was waiting to charge. No more displays of fowl aggression on mankind. Everything seemed so peaceful...until we noticed that some of the hens looked rather abused.

Apparently a few days after realizing that he was now supreme chicken, Dinner decided that it was time for Spot's girls to be his girls. They however declined to submit... so he got nasty. Yesterday I noticed a hen that looked really beat up, but she wouldn't let me get close enough to check her out. Then, later in the afternoon, I went in the coop to check for eggs and was amazed at the mess - feathers were everywhere. I opened one laying box and half the eggs were smashed, then I checked another and...uh oh...there was a dead body inside! I called Scott in to perform a detailed investigation. His diagnosis - Dinner had spurred the hen in the back until he had splayed her open - a brutal murder. We found two other hens that were injured in a similar manner, though still alive.

Scott got the .22 and took care of Dinner. Seemed like the thing to do at the time, but in hindsight, this too may have been a bad idea.

A good rooster will call the hens in at night, find food for them and alert them to danger. Last night the girls were still out after dark and the two injured ones never came in the coop at all. We hope the girls will come out of it, but 24 hours later they still seem a bit lost. I think they became dependent on the guys and may be easy pickings for predators without a rooster around. A good rooster is obviously a valuable thing.

Scott called a friend who raises chickens and found out that rehabilitation might have been a possibility for Dinner. In the future he said to put the attacking rooster in a box (aka prison) for a few days, cut his spurs, let him out after a brief incarceration and see what happens. Apparently this occasionally fixes the aggression issue, but the success rate is low (hmm, that sounds about right), and we'll never know whether it would have worked on Dinner or not.

The good news is that we have new chickens on the way and we're a little smarter now. June 1 we should receive some Partridge Rocks. We hope they will be good layers and will go broody at some point as well. The Wyandottes have shown no interest in being mothers, and we'd like to have some bitties of our own someday. We'll also cull down to one rooster as soon as possible. Two was one too many.

Oh well, live and learn.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bo Diddley - Midnight Lover, Hog of Mystery

We've never seen our year old plus boar (Bo Diddley) attempt to mount either of our sows, and that was beginning to worry us, but Bo obviously likes the ladies. Our sow Magnolia had 4 babies Saturday morning - 3 girls and 1 boy - and Scarlet, Magnolia's sister, had 7 boys on April 9th (see previous post). Apparently Bo works his magic at night, then lounges during the day.

3 Girls - $250 per (1 is already spoken for)

8 Boys - $150 per (7 from Scarlet; 1 from Magnolia)

Magnolia's lot of 4 will be ready to go June 12th, and Scarlet's 7 boys can leave the farm as early as May 21st. All of Scarlet's boys look great, but one in particular is quite the specimen. If you're interested in any of our hogs, send an email to or call 910-540-4475.

"Tank" (the specimen) above on the right and Scarlet's 5 other boys below.