Monday, May 30, 2011

The Turklets are Here!

The turklets are here! And by here I mean they arrived two weeks ago and I have simply been too busy to write about them. They arrived the same day that I drove into Cache Valley after driving all night from Des Moines. Unfortunately we lost one in transit, but since then it has been smooth sailing. Fourteen baby turkeys have graced our foyer for over 2 weeks now and all I can say is, they make so much noise. We have to close the door at night or else they would keep us awake all night long. But they are a lot of fun. At first I was a little worried because they barely ate anything the first week. I worried in vain. Now, I can barely scoop their food in fast enough. They have recently taken to endless escape attempts of a complexity and vigor we could never expect from the chickens. Several times a day I hear the loud flapping and high-pitched squeaks of a turkey attempting to fly through the mesh screen we keep over the brooder to prevent wide-spread turklet rebellion. On the first day that we realized that they were trying to escape, we aparently didnt put enough of a cover on the brooder because later that day when I did a count, we were down one turklet. As Zack and I frantically turned over boxes and looked under the benches in the foyer, I couldn't imagine where the turklet could have gone off to. Normally, when a chicken escapes, they stay directly outside the brooder and cheep their little head off until they are reunited with their chicken brethren. Not so for our adventurous turklet. I found him three rooms away sitting on Zack's leather desk chair as happy as a...turkey. Since then we have fortified our defenses and no further escape attempts have been sucessful. However, they have taken to playing "king of the castle" on their waterers. When one turklet decides he wants to claim his rightful place on top of the waterer, a turkley battle royale often ensues to the amusement of Zack, myself, and the general turkey community. However, their time in the brooder is drawing to a close. We are expecting more turkeys and our first round of ducklings to hatch out in a week or so....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chicks grow up and move away....across the yard.

With the turklets arriving in just a few days, it was time to move the chick(en)s outside. Not to mention they were packed in like sausages at 5 and a half weeks old. They needed some room to stretch out and play. And, frankly, they stunk. They seem to be adjusting to their new home well. Since they have thus far lived inside for their entire lives, they are mildly terrified to leave the coop. I literally had to pick up each and every one of them on the fifth day and relocate them in the yard. Some of them didn't understand how to get home and so I had to pick them right back up again at the end of the day and put them inside. Since then they have become foraging masters and are waiting for me at the gate each morning to rush outside and explore.

Our cockrels are starting to assert some dominance and a couple of them even have a few groupies that follow them around all day. Oddly enough none of the roosters are crowing yet and so, although they are hitting it off with the ladies, they still cheep like babies. We expect the crowing wars to begin any day now though. When they do, we will finally know who "Brym's Next Top Rooster" will be. We already have two out of the running for sure. Quasimodo and Franken-chicken have been doomed from the beginning. We are pretty sure Quasimodo got bumped around a little too much in his egg and so he ended up looking like...well...Quasimodo. He has a freakish hooked beak and a hunched back. He also isn't the brightest chick in the coop if you know what I mean. Franken-chicken...well we suspect fowl play in the gene pool. His general lack of feathers has led him to be the object of all of the other chickens aggression. Luckily he can run like the wind and avoids their endless taunting and mockery. Needless to say, we will not be letting these boys make it past round one of rooster selection. But they will make a delicious dinner!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Good Morning, A box of chickens is waiting for you..."

This was the message I received this morning on the phone from the post office at 6:37am. In my excitement to see our baby chicks and my concern that they would have to stay in the cold dark crevices that must be reserved for baby creatures arriving at the post office, I jumped out of bed and ran to pick up the new arrivals. All 45 of them made it through the transit and are peeping away in our modified mudroom hatchery. We have nine
varieties, which will be acknowledged in the coming days as we can identify them. I expect they will grow to be strong cocks and laying hens. For now, I will be watching over the chicks making sure they have sufficient warmth, water, and feed and ensuring that an all-important orifice stays sufficiently clean. Here are a few pictures to give you a sense of the adorableness we have acquired.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Duck Eggs for Sale!!!

 Quite spontaneously, we have become the caretakers of a small brood of ducks. One day, while discussing the limitations of our small backyard farm, Maria mentioned that it might not be feasible to include ducklings with the ordering of chickens and turkeys for this spring. I agreed and promptly received a link from Maria for, the local classified ads, showing four Khaki Campbell Ducks that were available in North Logan. So within a matter of a few hours, we decided not to have ducks this summer, I acquired a crate, cleaned the chicken coop and transported one drake and three female ducks back to our house.

Turns out, a disgruntled father was finished with the life lesson he wished to impart on his daughter and the ducks no longer served well along with his landscaping. That's right, the ducks, a lean-to for shelter, a small wading pool and a whole slew of rose bushes were enclosed by a small wire fence in the back of his house. This is, of course, located adjacent to the built-in trampoline and full sized basketball court behind his half-a-million dollar home over looking Cache Valley.

I found out quickly he was not accustomed to handling poultry. I brought the cage to one size of the lean-to and asked him to escort his ducks into the trap. Unfortunately they quickly sensed the danger and fled backwards through his legs. So now it is my responsibility to round up the flustered fowl and urge them to scatter into the cage. The first and second attempt ended with him exclaiming that he never thought a duck could fit between the hole he had left between his leg, the opening in the cage and the corner of the lean-to. Clearly, he was mistaken. I finally had to pick a few of them up by hand and toss them into the cage. This was where he recognized that I had done this before and asked if I was just going to eat them. I had to remind him that he spent 6 months and about $50 in feed getting them to lay and I wasn't going to let that opportunity pass.

Needless to say, the brood is still relatively apprehensive when I enter the run in the morning to water and feed them. However, they must be comfortable enough as they continue to provide us with 2-3 eggs per morning. That means that the laddies are laying almost everyday! As there is no way I could consume all those eggs myself, they are available for sale. Duck eggs, aside from being rare, are much larger than a chicken egg and have a substantially higher fat content, best suited for egg sandwiches an baking.

Check out the "Items for Sale" page for the details on how to get yourself some delicious duck eggs.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beast to Belly - A Culinary Adventure

As I pull up at Arbor Farms on a cold Thursday morning, it is obvious that there is something unusual going on. The congregation of students in the parking lot slowly make their way inside and chat in small groups. Anticipation is in the air. Today is they day that we are going to catch and kill our own free-range chickens.

We meet Arbor Farms resident butcher who has agreed to accompany us to the farm. After roll call and a shuffling of carpool assignments we all head back out to our cars and head towards Homer, MI to meet our host David Schmucker, the owner of a small Amish poultry farm.

Upon arrival we meet David Schmucker and Henry and Lydia Bontrager. The Bontragers own and operate the local processing facility where David and other local farmers process their poultry. Today we will catch David’s chickens and process them at the Bontrager’s. It is a small, two-roomed area attached to the back of their home. After brief introductions, we are led outside and down the street to “catch” our birds. We are told to corner them and grab them by their legs. I volunteer to go first. Lucky for me, I own a handful of backyard chickens and have no problem trapping and catching my chicken. Others were not so lucky. Once the chickens realized what was going on, chaos ensued. In a squawking, feather-flying extravaganza each participant went in to the pen to try and corner their bird of choice with varying rates of success and high-pitched screams. Once caught, it is generally best to hold your chicken upside-down by its feet. It keeps them calm and we still had to walk back down the street to the processing facility. However, some people chose to cradle their chicken ever so lovingly, this of course inevitably resulted in chicken poop all over winter coats... can't say I didn't warn them.

After a short trek back to the Bontrager’s, we were ready to get started with the processing. Six killing cones lined the wall of the back room where we were to perform the executions. As the first round of chickens were placed in their cones, the Bontrager’s strapping four-year-old son quickly sliced the necks of all of the chickens with shocking speed and ambivalence. But wait! We wanted to kill our own chickens! Reluctantly, he hands over the knife and watches us struggle with killing the birds we have been bonding with for the last 15 minutes. Some of them had already been named. After the first round is bled out, they went in the scalder to loosen the feathers and then into the electric plucker. The electric plucker whirred and knocked the chickens around until they were featherless and ready for gutting.

In the other room, several stainless sinks line the wall and a large stainless steel table sits in the center of the room. Lydia is friendly and welcomes the first round of folks into the room. Rolling up our sleeves and removing layers as the room heats up, we get to cleaning our birds. We remove the feet and heads, saving the necks and feet for soup. Then we remove the innards. Being very careful to avoid tearing any crucial parts (mainly gallbladder and intestines) we remove the organs with vary levels of finesse. As each new group enters the room, those who have already processed their chicken offer help with the new round of birds. I take to processing the birds extremely well. In fact by bird number 3 I prep and gut the chicken in less than 15 minutes! Thank goodness, because if I am not any good, I will be in trouble come July. Lydia invited me back to help any time I like and I think I may take her up on her offer. With surprising speed we prep and gut our birds. Twenty oven-ready birds sit in racks ready to be packaged and weighed. A bucket full of gizzards, livers and hearts await sorting and packaging. Pink-cheeked and blood-smeared we each choose a bird and bring it to David for weighing. We pay for our birds and begin heading for home in small groups. Arrangements are being made to get together and enjoy our birds for dinners throughout the week.

As we left, I wasn’t as horrified by the experience as I thought that I would be. “I can do this again,” I thought to myself. I better be able to do it again. I have already ordered 60 chickens and 15 turkeys for my small farm that I am starting after graduation. In fact, the experience wasn’t horrifying at all, and, frankly, I am proud that we all faced our food in a way most Americans never have.

Monday, February 07, 2011


Thanks for showing interest in the Brym's life experiment. We aim to provide as much sustenance to ourselves and our community, while also pursuing careers in academia and community organizing. This blog will provide a forum for us to document the experiences we have working a backyard farm and a chance for you to communicate with us about your needs and expectations for alternative agricultural solutions. You can reach us as: