Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reclaiming the Garage

For the past month or so, our garage has been invaded by almost 100 birds.  Two brooders have occupied a spot that normally houses our vehicles.  One brooder was full of Cornish Cross meat birds.  Those were moved out to the new chicken tractor over a week ago as they had outgrown their brooder.  The 17 Rhode Island Red pullets don't eat nearly as much food and don't grow as fast, but by this weekend, they needed some more room.  Not to mention the fact that we wanted to  reclaim our garage.

Saturday was moving day.  I caught each pullet by hand.  Unlike the meat birds, these really run around and were hard to catch.

Eventually I captured all 17 of them and packed them like sardines into a homemade carrying case for critters.  I used this to carry all of them out to the pasture and to their new home - the chicken tractor.

The chicken tractor that I'm moving the Rhode Island Red pullets to is nothing fancy.  In fact, it is old and in need of replacing, but it will serve its purpose as temporary home for the pullets for the next 20 weeks.  When they lay their first eggs, we'll open up the gates and set them free.  Until then, they'll run around in here on grass.  I'll push them to fresh grass each day.

I placed them inside the chicken tractor and they didn't know what to do at first with all the "elbow room"  they now enjoyed.  They were nervous and disoriented and ran to the corner, huddling up.

Overnight we got a nice rain.  I went out and checked on the pullets first thing in the morning after milking.  I brought along some chicken feed to put in their trough and refilled the water containers. They were acclimated to their new environment by this time and were running around inside their new home.

This week I'll move the last remaining brooder out of the garage.  I would have moved it out this weekend, but we were watching a Cornish Cross meat bird that was looking sick.  We were going to move this bird into the former Rhode Island Red brooder as a sort of Urgent Care facility to attempt to save it.  However, it seems to have made a stunning recovery

I'll go ahead to move the last remaining brooder out of the garage, reclaiming it for our use.  The birds belong out on pasture anyway.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A 350 Year Old Live Oak Tree

This morning my work took me to Opelousas, Louisiana, a small town sitting on Highway 190 between Eunice and Krotz Springs and nestled right on the outskirts of the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.  Between jobs, we opted to visit the Palace Cafe for a cup of coffee.  Walking in was like stepping back in time to the 1960's.  A handwritten menu by the cash register announced the lunch specials on the steam table:
Fried Chicken
Chicken Stew
Field Peas
Broccoli & Rice Casserole
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Mustard Greens

We took our seats in a booth and spotted a waitress talking to another lady stirring food on the steam table and called her over.  With a stern look, she put her hands on her hips and said, "Can't you see I'm busy?" Then she burst into a big smile, walked over and said, "What can I get for you, sweetheart?"  Time slowed to a snail's pace as we visited and sipped on strong black coffee that you could stand a spoon up in.  The cup never got half empty before the waitress refilled it with steaming hot coffee.

As we exited the Palace Cafe and walked eastward about 20 feet, I spotted a huge live oak tree that created cool shade for a whole city block.  It was the Jim Bowie Oak with a historical marker.  The tree is 350 years old.  That means it began growing in the year 1667.  That kind of makes you scratch your head.  If that tree could talk... Jim Bowie likely sat under this tree and enjoyed coffee while he sharpened his famous Bowie knife and told tales of his adventures.  Sadly, he never returned from the Alamo.  Anyway, I copied the inscription of the historical marker below, if you can't read it.

Jim Bowie Oak

This giant live oak tree is over 350 years old and is named in honor of legendary adventurer and hero of the Battle of the Alamo, Colonel James "Jim" Bowie, who lived in Opelousas for part of his life.

The Jim Bowie Oak is a charter member of the Louisiana Live Oak Society. The Jim Bowie Courtyard, located behind the oak, is built on the site of what is believed to be a blacksmith shop belonging to Bowie.

I've watched both movies of The Alamo, the 1960's version starring John Wayne and the 2004 version starring Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton.  The bravery and valor of a band of heroic men (Texians and a band of volunteers from Tennessee) as they made a last stand against General Santa Anna's men always fascinates me. Those guys seem larger than life... Davy Crockett, William Travis, Jim Bowie...

I love this quote and its message of courage and conviction:

"I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. VICTORY OR DEATH."  excerpt from William B. Travis's letter To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World

 In THIS POST FROM NOVEMBER 2015 I tell of our history with the Alamo.  Tricia and I were engaged in San Antonio and that post, if you click on it, tells the sad story of an oak tree we grew from acorns I picked up on the day we were engaged 25 years ago from one of the Alamo oaks and how we are trying again 25 years later with another.

Below is a photo of that oak.  While it's not quite as impressive as the Jim Bowie oak, and is only 16 months old versus 350 years old, it is a touchstone.  

Surrounded by a world in which everything is disposable, temporary, and fleeting, it is nice to have an oak tree or a marriage that stands the test of time.  Remember the Alamo, indeed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Meat Birds - 5 Weeks Old

The Cornish Cross Meat birds have been out on grass for over a week now.  I see them nibbling a bit on the fresh grass as soon as I move them to a fresh spot each day, but overall, they sit down and come running as soon as I bring the bucket full of feed out.  They eat.  They poop.  They sit.  That is their life.

The new chicken tractor is working out perfectly.  We are expecting some rain Friday night, so I will fasten a tarp over the tractor Friday afternoon.  I still keep the heat lamps on them at night, but it has been warming up into the mid-80's each afternoon, so we turn off the heat lamps during daytime hours.

I added a second feed trough (gutter) so the growing birds all had room at the "table" and also added an extra gallon-sized waterer.  They are going through the feed and water.

I walked out with a 5 gallon bucket and picked up a bird of average size, making sure it was a rooster.  I placed him into the bucket and walked back in the garage where I have the kitchen scale set up.  I put a sheet of newspaper over the scale so they don't soil the scale and place the old boy on top.

The bird felt a little heavier than last week, but I could tell that it wasn't a tremendous weight gain. Here are the details:

Here are the results from Week 5 :
*Week 5 2017:  2 pounds 15 ounces
*Week 5 2016:  4 pounds 
*Week 5 2015:    2 pound 4 ounces

So to summarize, last week they weighed on average 2 pounds 4 ounces and this week 2 pound 15 ounces.That means they gained 11 ounces over the last week.  That is the same weight game as the previous week. They are still 1 pound 1 ounce shy of where they were at this age last year, and 11 ounces heavier than what the 2015 birds weighed at this age. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Outdoor Cookin' - Dutch Oven Jambalaya

Last weekend we made a homemade pizza in the dutch oven and Benjamin and I decided that we would try to cook outside as often as we could.  On Sunday afternoon Tricia went to Baton Rouge and left us at home.  We figured we would break out the Dutch Oven and get busy on a Shrimp, Sausage, and Chicken Jambalaya.  

The ingredients are:

  • A splash of oil in the bottom of the pot
  • 1 lb. Cormier's smoked sausage that we cut up
  • 1 medium onion chopped up
  • 1 cup bell pepper chopped up
  • 1 cup celery chopped
  • Emeril's Essence Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 cup rice
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 4 bay leaves
  • a sprinkle of thyme
  • 12 oz. medium shrimp
  • 1/2 cup cooked chicken

We got 36 charcoal briquettes burning (15 for the bottom and 21 for the top) and coated the bottom of the pot with oil.  When the pot was sizzling, we threw the sausage in the pot for 2 minutes.

We then added the onion, bell pepper and celery, along with the cajun seasoning and stirred.

After about 10 minutes the vegetables were starting to get translucent.  We stirred the dish up with a big wooden spoon.  

We then added all the other ingredients like rice, broth, garlic, bay leaves and thyme.  After it simmers, cook for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add in the shrimp and cooked chicken.

With the lid off of the pot, cook for an additional 10 minutes and then it is time to eat!

A quick review of the meal: The flavor was phenomenal! I mean the seasoning was perfect.  The aroma coming out of the pot had me salivating like one of Pavlov's dogs.  It was delicious, but it could have been better.  Here's two areas where I messed up.  First, after adding the broth I cooked it for 20 minutes.  What I should've done was wait for it to simmer AND THEN start the timer for 20 minutes. Secondly, there was a strong wind blowing Sunday afternoon.  This accelerated the briquettes burning and by the last 10 minutes of the cook time, the briquettes were cooling off.  I had to light up some more charcoal in the chimney starter and place under the pot.  By this time, however, the briquettes were far too hot and the jambalaya began to stick a little bit to the bottom of the pot.  I kept stirring constantly to keep it from sticking, but in the end, I had to remove the pot from the fire to keep it from burning the meal.  Pulling it off the fire prematurely made the jambalaya a tad bit 'too liquidy.'  That's okay, though.  We ate a bunch of it.

While cooking outside, Benjamin saw something up in the tree and went and got his rifle.  One shot and he had a big fat squirrel on the ground.

He cleaned the squirrel and put it in a ziploc bag in the freezer alongside some previously killed squirrels.  I think Benjamin wants to cook a dessert like bread pudding with rum sauce next time we pull the dutch oven out, but maybe the time after that we can cook a pot of squirrel stew!

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Day to Honor Russ

Saturday we met Russ at 11 a.m. at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette for a meeting of the Louisiana Society for Horticultural Research (LSHR).  They were honoring their scholarship winners and Russ happened to be one of the two deserving recipients.  We were invited to a luncheon and to see him get recognized. Russ is a senior at LSU and will be graduating on May 12th.

His mother and I are proud of the hard-work and diligence he's exhibited.  I never even thought about applying for scholarships once I was already in college, but Russ did.  Each semester he would seek out scholarship opportunities, applying for them - and winning them.  He's worked for LSU's Dairy department, milking 80 Holstein cows to provide milk for the residence hall cafeterias as well as for sale to Borden's.  For the past several years, he's worked with a professor at LSU tending to sweet potato trial plots in Louisiana and many neighboring states, seeking to develop a new variety of sweet potato to help the sweet potato industry.

Seated at the far right of the head table below, is the guest speaker for the luncheon, Mr. Robert E. "Buddy" Lee.

Mr. Lee is from Independence, Louisiana and is one of the most respected plant breeders in North America.  He developed Encore Azaleas, the world's best-selling multi-season azaleas.  They bloom in spring, summer, and fall. You can learn more about them by clicking HERE.  Mr. Lee gave a fantastic talk, showing pictures of early work in the nursery, compared to today.  His speech was both informative and funny and really kept your interest. As you may be aware, I like growing things that you can eat!  Flowers and ornamental plants are things I don't have a lot of experience with, but it was interesting to listen to Mr. Lee talk with great passion about what he does.

At one point, he stated that everyone always wants to see his "research facility."  He showed a picture of what appeared to be a 16' x 8' greenhouse with trays of seed pots with simple shop lights hanging over them.  He stated that he likes to keep things small since he can effectively manage and control everything.  You can't argue with his success.  It was an inspiring story from a pioneer in the industry..

Russ was called to the podium and gave a short speech thanking the group for believing in him and awarding him the scholarship.  He was very well received by the horticulture professionals in attendance as well as the LSU professors.  They all had great things to say about him.

So obviously, we're Russ' parents and are very proud of him (and biased), but we know he's going to do great things in his field.  He's not even sure what exactly he's going to do upon graduation.  He hopes to find a job as a plant breeder or researcher for one of the nurseries in Forest Hill, Louisiana or for a landscape company in the Lake Charles or Lafayette area.  If Russ can find something that he is happy doing and looks forward to getting up each morning and pouring his energies into, the rest will take care of itself.  With his work ethic and smarts, he'll set the world on fire.  I just know it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Go Dig in the Dirt

Back when I was a young boy, we would go over to my grandma's house and she would do something that I remember to this day.  She would hand us some silverware (not real silver, mind you, but still good eating utensils) and tell us to go dig in the dirt.  We would grab the spoons she gave us and we would go to a spot between her house and a few camellia bushes that grew beautiful pink and red blooms.  It was there that we would dig.

I can still remember the smell of the cool moist dirt that was in that shaded area.  It was almost black and was made up of years of decomposed leaves of live oak trees. Since there was tons of organic matter there, the soil was loose and easy to dig in and teeming with earthworms.  We would look for treasure in that soil and when we were done, we would go turn our spoons in to Grandma and go seek out another adventure.

Well 40-something years later and I still have a spoon that I like to dig with!  I don't think Tricia would appreciate me digging with one of the spoons we eat with, so I have an old spoon that I picked up somewhere.  I use it to dig holes for planting seedlings.  I also use a plastic fork for digging the seedlings out of the seed pots.

Armed with my spoon and fork, I pulled all of the tomato seedlings from the cold frame on the back porch and got them all planted in the ground.  It was nice to have that done.  Last week I had moved the peppers from the cold frame and transplanted them in the garden.  I did this at a time that coincided with about 3 cool nights.  This seemed to stress that peppers even though I had them hardening off on the back patio for a while.  They were looking a little rough and I may have even lost one of them.  Fortunately, the warmer temps lately revived the drooping peppers.

Once I had each hole dug with my spoon, I filled the hole with some organic soil, put a Tablespoon of organic vegetable fertilizer in the hole and then placed the seedling in the hole and covered it up.  I placed some compost around the little plant.  I'll keep my eye on all of our transplanted tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  

Since this is my spoon, I don't have to turn it in to anyone at the end of my digging adventure.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Moving Day For the Meat Birds

There are a few predominant factors that guide me in determining when to move the meat birds out of the garage and out on grass.  The first is the age of the birds. I usually try to move them out around the 3 to 4 week old point. The weather plays an important role.  I'm not going to move them out if rainstorms and cold weather are in the forecast.  Finally, the smell or better yet, stench of the birds.

There comes a distinct time at which it doesn't matter how often you clean out and replace the bedding in the brooder, the fowl fouls it up with the quickness.  It is a sickening smell that permeates the garage and when you open the back door, the odor wafts into the house.  Flies become ever present in the garage and they make their way into the house when the door is opened.

Sunday afternoon of this week, I raised the white flag of surrender and transported the birds out of the garage.  Fortunately, the Gorilla Cart wagon was a great help in performing this task and we had the birds moved in 4 trips.

The meat wagon
They were deposited in our newly built chicken tractor out on grass.  Fresh clover was growing, the sun was shining, and it was a good day to be a meat bird. Freedom from the confines of the indoor brooder, more elbow room and fresh grass to eat.  Once they were moved, I cleaned out the soiled bedding from the brooder and moved it to the compost pile in the garden.

It was a little chilly and the birds bunched up a bit to signal that they were cold.  To remedy this I put a tarp over the chicken tractor to act as a windbreak.  I also hung two heat lamps from the 1x4 that spanned the top of the tractor.  The birds were happy after that.  I added an additional waterer, bringing the water capacity within the tractor to 3 gallons.  Those birds sure drink a lot of water.  As far as food, they eat a lot of that, too.  I originally placed a pvc rain gutter in the tractor and two days later placed another one.  A pvc rain gutter is the cheapest and best feed trough you can imagine.  You get the biggest bang for your buck using a pvc rain gutter as a feed trough rather than a store-bought one.

Now each day, I pull the tractor one tractor length so the chickens are on fresh grass each day.  I learned a lesson the hard way that I need to slow down and get Benjamin to come assist when pulling the tractor.  I pulled it too fast Monday afternoon and the birds bunched up and one of the birds died.  A second was stressed and I revived it.  The first bird, however, was beyond saving, so I got my knife and butchered it.  It was exactly the size of a Cornish hen.  That bird now resides in our deep freeze.  In total we've only lost 4 birds.  That isn't bad at all, considering the fatality rates of previous years.

Well, that's enough for chickens.  Next week I plan on blogging about anything else but chickens.
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