Monday, November 24, 2014

Ungrateful Human

Today I opened the front door to get another log to toss on the fire.  Staring at me was Outside Kitty, wanting inside.  Which isn't necessarily out of the ordinary.  But luckily I hesitated before opening the storm door because he had a huge freaking chipmunk in his maw.  When I didn't immediately open the door for him, he looked anxious and was kind'a pacing in place (like when a kid has to pee).  I tried to shoo him away from the door so I could go out but he was very insistent that he come inside with his prize (which was still very much alive, btw).  I finally squeezed my rotund self through the door while blocking his entrance inside and sat down on a bench on the porch.

Outside Kitty immediately came up to me, still doing the "pacing" thing.  So I finally grabbed the chipmunk from the tail and held it up, wondering what the hell I was going to do with a live rodent that would probably try to bite my face off if it had the chance.  Before I was able to contemplate any additional solutions to the rodent-in-hand, the chipmunk's tail hair gave way, he fell, bounced once and then zoomed across the deck with the not-so-light footed cat right after him.

Rhiannon came out to see what all the commotion was about and got to see Outside Kitty hunting his prey.  Which is actually pretty remarkable given the weight which he has put on since being neutered and gaining access to the indoors and the neverending bowl of Meow Mix.

After a few minutes, Outside Kitty (a.k.a. Manboob Kitty) cornered his quarry and made the catch. And presented it to me once more.

By the expression on his face I'm sure he was thinking, "You idiot.  I caught it another time for you, now don't lose it again".  Since it wasn't dead (or at least wasn't when I had it), I took it from him and flung it over the porch railing.  I know, it's just a rodent.  But I don't think we have a serious chipmunk problem at our place so I figured I'd set the little bugger free.

I probably should have been more appreciative to Outside Kitty.  He brought me a gift, which I "lost" two times, yet he still continued to fetch it for me.  He was obviously perplexed at my continuing confusion as to what to do with the gift.  I mean, I did think about taking it from him and then hiding it so he didn't see me wantonly discard his present.  Or should I have personally dealt the final death snap to the rodent's neck with my own teeth, placed it on a plate and sat down with Outside Kitty on the porch to eat the thing?

I don't know.  But the chipmunk has not returned.  Either it has wisely high-tailed it's behind to another part of the woods or it has managed to shove itself between the rocks on the side of the house where it slowly died from internal bleeding and we will soon "find" it by the offending smell.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fall 2104 Cornish Meat Bird Costs

I bought thirty Cornish Cross cockerels from Estes Hatchery up in Missouri.  Figured I'd give a local hatchery a try.  They arrived just days after I ordered them and they even threw in two extra chicks.

We butchered the birds ten weeks after we got them.  They ate six hundred and fifty pounds of feed.  Unfortunately I didn't have much milk to spare so they ate the commercial 16% crumbles almost exclusively.

We froze the birds whole.  Our family enjoys roast chicken best and if I really wanted a cut-up chicken I figured I could do it after it was defrosted and go from there.  There's wasted freezer space by freezing them whole, but we'll live with that.  A few years ago I canned some of the chicken to save on freezer space.  The canned breast chunks were fine, but the canned bone-in thighs and legs were pretty much icky.  Not icky tasting, but icky looking.  And you had to pick the meat off and it was pretty much like shredded mushy chicken.  So no more canning chicken unless it's just breast meat.

Even though we let the birds go for ten weeks (as opposed to the standard eight weeks), they weren't as large as I had hoped.  I'm still striving to get a six or seven pound dressed bird again.  We only got those weights when we had lots of pork scraps (from the local pork roast at the fire department) and since the pork roast doesn't happen anymore, we're going to have to find another source of free protein to supplement their feed with.  The commercial feed costs are just getting too high at twenty-four cents a pound.  Yeah, that doesn't sound like much until you figure that I went through six hundred and fifty pounds of it this time.

And some of the birds just didn't thrive.  There were two birds that were just tiny; one weighing in at a mere 2 lbs. 9 oz. and the other at 2 lbs. 10 oz., and they weren't even the hens.  The largest bird weighed in at 5 lbs. 5 oz.  Those were dressed (butchered and ready to go in the oven) weights.  I didn't take live weights.
Big difference.  But why?
I wish I knew.  They were both cockerels.
This post has been "in progress" for over a week now.  I thought I had everything in order, but it seems I have misplaced the worksheet that had the total weights of the birds.  All I remember though, and this is what counts, is that our cost came to $1.99 per pound for a whole chicken (minus the insides, neck & livers).

There is absolutely no way we could compete with grocery store prices.  There are times when you can get a ten pound bag of frozen chicken leg quarters for sixty-nine cents a pound.  The boneless, skinless chicken breasts at Walmart is consistently $1.99 a pound.  And I think you can occasionally get a "Smart Chicken" whole fryer for $1.69 a pound.

So, unlike the Pork (which we did save money on vs. grocery store prices), we did not save a single dime by growing out our own meat birds.  We lost money.

Now, I know that there's a non-monetary value to knowing where our chicken supper comes from.  I know that Rhiannon is learning exactly how food gets to her plate.  And that's worth something.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chicken Guilt

I ordered thirty cockerel Cornish Cross chickens from Estes Hatchery at the end of August.  They ere nice enough to send thirty-two of them.  Six of the thirty-two ended up being hens, but I suppose that isn't too bad of a mistake, especially since the two free-bies could have been counted as two of the females.  The females grow slower and generally don't get as large as the cockerels and that's why the females cost less.

The birds spent all but the last two weeks of their lives in the barn.  And I admit, I suffered from Chicken Guilt.  I didn't plan on keeping them indoors for so long and it's not something I feel particularly good about either.  It's not like I was running a huge CAFO, but I sure felt as if they were missing out on something.  When I went to clean out their bedding (twice a day, mind you), they seemed grateful for the clean, fluffy straw....even happy.  After they finished their zombie mob attack on the crumbles, they would waddle around and look for a place to settle down (near the feed dish) and some of them would even preen what feathers they were able to reach on their rotund little bodies.  A hand full of them even tried "flying" (to try and tackle me when I brought feed in, but still).

I'd become oblivious to the fact that these Creepy Meats are actually living, feeling creatures.  Yes, I know they are livestock and that they are destined for freezer camp after only a few months of life.  Yes they stink, poop everywhere and act like food crazed fat chickens on meth, but I had forgotten that they were alive.  So I got my butt in gear and put them outside in the garden area.
Happier chickens.  Well, that's what I'm telling myself.
I figured that it was the most secure place and since I had already ripped out the peppers and strawberries and the tomatoes were just about finished for the year that the birds would do just fine.  I was hoping that they would actually eat the tomatoes (and save me a little bit on the feed bill), but they had no idea what to do with them.  The tomatoes and their greenery were totally destroyed, however not by the chickens eating it, but by being trampled and smooshed into the ground.  I knew I should have picked all those green tomatoes and made sweet tomato/onion relish (slaps head).  Ugh.  And since I wasn't putting down and taking up bedding, they were fertilizing the garden.  And doing so extra heavily around the feed and water dishes.  There is now a chicken-crap-hard-pan layer in those areas.  I doubt even the undead could bust their way through the earth under that sheet of shit.

Anyways, the chickens were out in the garden for two weeks.  They sunned themselves, they pecked at stuff (and at each other), some "ran" around (usually when being picked on), some even took dust baths.  It wasn't all fun and games though.  There was one jerk of a rooster that constantly harassed the other birds.  I knew I should have wrung his neck earlier because within a week, "some" chicken had pecked two other chickens to death.  When I first saw the dead chicken, I immediately though "raccoon" or "opossum", but the only trauma evident on the carcass was the bloodied head and neck.  Nothing ripped or shredded, nothing eaten.  So we missed out on two chicken suppers because I didn't butcher him.

Well, technically I did butcher him along with the rest of his chicken compadres.  We had a weekend with cool temps so Paul and I got them in the freezer, and none too soon because were down to just three chickens in the freezer from last year.

So, was it worth it?  That's the million dollar question all homesteaders and farmers are constantly asking themselves.  I'll have the monetary answer in the next post.  In the mean time, I'm going to heat up a cup of homemade chicken broth for Rhiannon and I.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pricing out the Pig

It seems like the pork posts will never end.  And they wouldn't if I waited until all our sausage was mixed up and our hams were fully cured, but I need to get some finality in the pork butchering day. Here are the totals from our hog butchering weekend (two weekends ago):

Loin: 15 lbs.
Tenderloin: 2 lbs.
Roasts:  36 lbs.
Ham: 13 lbs.
Ribs: 11 lbs.
Ground: 51 lbs.
Liver: 7 lbs.
Lard: 6 lbs.
Jowl: 4 lbs.
Bacon: 32 lbs.

For a Grant Total of 170 pound of pork goodness!  I didn't even include the 20 or so pounds of meaty bones for soup stock or the countless treats and future suppers for the Giant Sloppy Dog.

But I also have to admit that we did waste more than I would have liked to.  I didn't save the hocks to smoke (but Charlie was a very happy, hock-chewing dog).  I didn't clean out the intestines to make our own sausage casings.  The head never made it to "head cheese".  And I didn't even tan the hide to make footballs.  Instead we decided to pay tribute to the Pork God by placing the odds & ends and other remnants on a wooden altar and set it ablaze so the smoke from the burnt offerings would rise into the heavens to appease the Pork God.  In other words, we tossed the guts & stuff into a huge burn pile and lit it.

So now we know the amount of meat, lets look at the amount of money:

Yummy the Pig: $240
Feed: $90
Pig-Sitting: $50
Total: $380

So even if I just divided the price of the pig into the total poundage of meat, we're at $2.24 per pound.  Not bad, not bad at all.  But since I'm occasionally a bit anal, I went to the local supermarket and got prices (some on sale, some not) on the various cuts of pork.  You know, just to figure out how much we would have paid had we bought all that meat at the store....and so I could remind myself that it is, in fact, worth all the work.  That "Grocery Store" number was $587.....a two hundred dollar savings!

I'm a happy bacon-eat'n, pork chop-grill'n, ham-snacking gal.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Making Bacon, Part 2

Well, this isn't the most informative post on how to make bacon.  But there are pictures, so that counts as eye candy at least, right?

The bacons cured in the refrigerator for nine days.  On day ten they were taken out of their zippy bags and soaked for several hours to remove excess cure and salt, then patted dry and left out on the porch (it was cccccccooold outside) until the next day.  Paul smoked them for several hours at a low temperature, around 150 degrees, not so much to "cook" them, but to impart a hickory taste to them.

We put them back out on the porch (it was still ccccooold outside, even during the day) to cool off and firm up for slicing.

I must say, we're pretty spoiled.  Having that meat slicer is awesome when it comes to home meat processing (thanks again, Dad).  But if we didn't have it, I'd probably just cut the bacons into 2 pound chunks (come on, what family eats just one pound of bacon?!) and freeze it like that.  Then when we wanted bacon, I'd just slice it as needed.

Then came the real test......the taste test!

It was good, but not exactly what I was expecting.  I used Morton's tender quick and added maple syrup, so I knew it was going to be a sweeter bacon, but I suppose I was hoping for a more "bacon'y" taste.  And there wasn't really that much fat in a lot of the slabs so there wasn't much in the way of drippings to save (you DO save your bacon drippings, right?!).  Not only wasn't there a lot of drippings, but the maple syrup flavoring was too powerful for what I would normally use the drippings for.

Don't get me wrong.  This bacon is delicious.  But it's not your typical Oscar Meyer package of bacon.  I think I'd call it a "custom flavor".  Which, technically, it is.  Maple flavored and hickory smoked, to be exact.

What I should have done (slaps self in the forehead) was made two or three different bacon rubs.  Then we would have been able to modify our recipe easier.  As it stands now, we have thirty two pounds (minus much taste testing and snacking last night) of this new Hickory Maple bacon and probably fifteen pounds of the "normal" smoked bacon left from the last hog.

Variety (albeit somewhat limited) is the (bacon cure) spice of life, right?

Friday, November 14, 2014

AAUGH!!


I put an ad in the local FB page for Herman, our stinky, horned, jerk buck Boer goat.  He's bred the mothers and their daughters and it's time to introduce some new DNA in the herd.

About a week and a half ago, I got a message from someone that wanted him and didn't even want to finagle with the price.  I told them that they could come pick him up on Sunday and I did a little jig.  Then, come Saturday morning, I noticed that Herman was limping.  Shit.  I mean, really, Herman?!  The day before you're set to get shipped out of here you mess up your leg?  The Universe hates me.

So I called the lady who wanted him and told her.  I didn't see any obvious trauma, scrapes, cuts or something that would give away why he was limping so I figured the big dufus just got it caught in the fence during his 24/7 running of the fence line to oogle the girls.  I told her that I wouldn't feel comfortable selling him until he was back to normal and we agreed that I'd call her back when he wasn't limping any more.  By Tuesday he was back to running the fence line without any signs of limping, gimping or being out of step so I called the lady and she said that they'd come by Friday (today) afternoon to pick him up.

Well, this morning I got a FB message.  That they won't be coming today.  Or tomorrow.  Or the next week.  They are just going to wait until spring to get their buck.  The Universe most definitely hates me.

I mean, I was so ready to get rid of his stinky ass.  I even wrote a poem celebrating his departure to use as today's blog post.  But alas, it will stay in my Blogger "Draft" section now.  I'd take him to the "local" goat / sheep sale, but it looks like slaughter bucks are only getting $80 - $90 and at that price it's not worth the diesel fuel and time / bother to do it.  So I may just put out another ad asking $80 or $90 for him just to get him out of here.  It's just such a pain in the rear to take care of a separate animal in the winter.  More water to haul (and farther away), more ice to chip, more hay to pitch, more grain to feed.  And if it weren't for the fact that I have serious concerns about the stink-factor, I'd say we'd butcher him and put him in the freezer.  Has anyone ever butchered a buck before?  Will all that sink permeate into the meat or is it just icky when you have to skin him?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Making Bacon (and Ham, and Sausage)

For the past four or five years, we've had our hog made into the usual, familiar cuts.  Two of those cuts, the ham steaks and pork chops, have bones in them.  But since we didn't have use of an electric saw (i.e. fancy, much nicer, and much faster than a hack saw), going boneless seemed like the easiest way to get all that yummy pork in the freezer.

Although I did say that this was our first pig-solo-gig, we did have some help.  Aaron (who's done more than his fair share of hog butchering) came over to help us with the massive amounts of meat sitting on that cutting table.  Paul and I would have been able to go it alone, but I really wanted Aaron's bacon expertise when slicing apart the Holy Grail of the porker.  And it definitely helped speed things along.

The loins were cut out in two huge, long pieces. They were then cut into more manageable hunks, perfect for roasting or cutting into boneless pork chops.  The tenderloins were cut out whole and wrapped up separately.  The ribs were cut out, trimmed and rolled up and jammed into the freezer.  One of the back legs (ham) was made into roasts and the front legs were ground up along with any other miscellaneous hunks of meat and fat.

One of the other things the butcher would do for us was cure and smoke our hams.  Since we were the butchers this time around, we were going to have to do this step ourselves.  I deboned the second back leg and made it into two smaller hams.  And last, but not least, the belly (bacon) was cut and trimmed.  Oooo....bacon in the mak'n.
Isn't that. just. beautiful. 
But that "bacon" wasn't really bacon yet.  It was just two long flaps of fat and meat, fat and meat.  In order for that hunk of belly meat to become bacon, it needs to be cured.  Same with the hams.  I was a bit anxious about doing our own curing.  It seems like it should be complicated, but it's really darned simple. We bought Morton's Tender Quick for the bacons and Morton's Sugar Cure for the ham.

I sliced the thirty-two pounds of soon-to-be-bacons into eight pieces (perfect for 1-gallon zippy bags).   The Tender Quick curing salts are based upon weight so my chosen recipe called for two cups of Tender Quick, two cups of brown sugar (I just used white sugar and added some molasses) and two cups of maple syrup.  When I started to mix it all up in the tub, I was a little worried.  All that sticky maple syrup caused the cure and sugar to turn into a big, sticky, gloppy blob of a thing.  So it wasn't as simple as just rubbing dry ingredients into the bacon.  I kind'a just smooshed the glob of goo into the slabs of meat and it eventually started to "melt" from the warmth of my hands as I worked it in.  I didn't put any maple syrup on the Sugar Cure for the hams, so they were much easier to work with.

The zippy bags of soon-to-be-bacon are in a spare fridge and get turned every day.  They'll be in there for an entire week and then I'll stick them in the smoker.  The hams will take a little while longer.  They were rubbed down with the Sugar Cure.  A week later, they were rubbed down again.  And in another week, the final rub and another week's wait.  Then finally, after three weeks, the hams will be soaked for a half hour or so and I'll toss them into the smoker.  That's the plan anyhow.  I sureshit hope it turns out.  Can you imagine how pissed disappointed I'd be if they ended up rotting or tasting horrid or if the electricity goes out or if a bear breaks into the fridge and eats everything or if a SWAT team come crashing through our windows and confiscates our homegrown meat in some botched up meth lab bust or, or, or.....

I'll let you know in a few more days.  With pictures, of course.  Probably of me eating all that bacon.

Oh!  I've found a new beauty secret!  All that time I spent cutting that porker up made my hands soooooo very, very soft.  Granted, it was almost impossible to get that water-impervious layer of lard scrubbed off of my hands after butchering, but once it was off they were softer than a baby's butt.  Then, two days later, I treated my hands to a sugar / salt / maple syrup scrub.  The callouses on my hands had just about disappeared.  So not only did I now have soft and smooth hands, but they smelled like BACON!!

I'm now working on my new home-based business; LardLucious.  Hand creams, sugar scrubs, and lotions made from lard!  Bacon scented, of course.  I wonder if I should put a disclaimer on the containers saying that the products should not be used if you'll be in close proximity to hungry people / animals?  I'd hate to have to deal with a lawsuit involving the LardLucious wearer and the neighbor's German Shepherd.