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Posts Tagged ‘freezing’

Well, we thought we had done okay with the critters in that month-long stretch of -30C temperatures, but now that it’s warmed up and we’re having a chance to really examine everyone in the sunshine, we’re finding some frostbite on the chickens, particularly on the combs, and, on some of the roosters, the wattles.

 

Rooster with frostbite on his comb

Rooster with frostbite on his comb

 

We think it has to do with humidity. Last winter, and even earlier this winter, the chickens weathered colder temperatures without issue; we’ve seen -40 with no frostbite at all. However, those were all short cold snaps – a few days, at most. This time, there were only three days in a month-long stretch where it was warm enough to open up the barn and coops and let the critters roam around outside.

 

Normal comb

Normal comb

 

With so many creatures breathing in such a confined space, the humidity does build up right along with the body heat. Especially in the barn, where we have a coop of chickens next to two stalls full of goats, it can get almost muggy after a few days with the doors all closed up tight. Interestingly, it was the roosters in the barn coop that seem to have suffered the worst frostbite, even though that barn would have been warmer than the small coop.

 

Frostbite turns the skin black, and, after a while, the dead skin sloughs off, leaving a smooth surface (unlike the usual ridges and texture of a rooster comb). We don’t normally do much of anything about the frostbite after it’s happened (we prefer prevention), but we do monitor the affected chickens, as sometimes there is a little blood when the dead skin is coming off. The blood itself is usually minimal, but if it starts attracting the attention of the other chickens, it can become a problem, as they will peck at it and cause much bigger issues. We’ve had to quarantine a badly affected rooster in our first year. He didn’t even have bad frostbite…but he did bleed a teeny bit, and the hens went after him like sharks.

 

You can see some lighter-colored pinkish spots on the comb, where the dead skin has started to come off.

You can see some lighter-colored pinkish spots on the comb, where the dead skin has started to come off.

 

It looks like a couple of roosters are going to lose parts of their combs, and a few have black spots on their wattles. Nobody is bleeding, which is good. We are going to have to revise our tactics for long cold spells, though, and find a way to air out the coops to keep that humidity down.

 

Poor rooster!

Poor rooster!

 

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Well, the cold snap in the US seems to be over, now, and our own month-long run of -30 C temperatures seems to have broken, as well.  I noticed a recent spike in traffic to a few of my posts from the last couple of winters, but didn’t really draw the connection until just now…folks have been searching for information on how to manage livestock in extreme cold, but my poor visitors have mostly gotten anecdotes about me feeling sorry for myself and about frozen-solid chickens.  I thought that even a belated post might be useful to somebody someday, so here are some observations about coping with extreme cold.

 

winter pic

I’m not going to say much about dressing for the cold, since that’s been done to death on the internet.  Dress in layers, and take layers off as you become warm.  Make the outer layer windproof if you can.  Windchill is much more dangerous than just cold, especially if you are only outside for short periods – an hour or two – Hubby routinely goes out to shovel for a couple of hours at a time in -30, as long as there’s no windchill.  Of course, he’s acclimatized to this weather, and appropriately dressed, more or less.  He’s never gotten frostbite, even though he doesn’t make much effort to cover his face; the moustachesicles get pretty impressive sometimes:

 

moustachesicles

The  chickens seem to cope pretty well with the cold, overall.  Our breeds are suited to colder temperatures, but we don’t heat the coop, even when it’s -40.  Our main tactic has been to insulate; our primary coop is an old shed, and we stack old bales of hay and straw around the structure to cut the wind and keep it warm.  We try to get the stacks as high as the heads of the chickens on the top rung of the roost, as someone has used the shed for a target for shotgun practice, so it’s anything but airtight, and we don’t want anyone to get frostbite when they’re sleeping.  You don’t actually want the coop to be totally airtight; you need some airflow to keep it from getting too humid, which will cause problems with frostbite.  The birds also get a deep layer of bedding, and as much feed as they want.  They eat half again as much at -40 C as they do at zero degrees or above, and they need all of that energy to keep warm.   We have had some issues with frostbite in the past; Gallus, our original rooster, had a pretty spectacular comb until he encountered his first major winter freeze.  We’ve since learned to keep the coop shut on really cold days, which keeps the birds inside, and also helps keep the temperature up.  While I’m sure it hurt to lose that comb, it doesn’t seem to have slowed Gallus down too much.

 

Before his first encounter with real cold

Before his first encounter with real cold

 

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

 

The frostbite itself makes the combs and wattles turn black in the frozen parts, and eventually peels off.   If you come across this, you will need to monitor that the other chickens aren’t pecking at it and keeping it from healing, as it sometimes bleeds as the damaged tissue sloughs off.

 

One challenge is collecting the eggs before they freeze so solid that they crack, which takes no time at all in -40.  The cracked eggs are okay to eat, as long as the shells are clean; we just thaw them on the kitchen counter overnight.  They need to be used immediately once they’ve thawed, though, as bacteria can get in through the crack.  Whatever we can’t eat ourselves, we feed to the cats and dogs, who really appreciate the extra protein.  Eggs that have frozen but not cracked are fine, and we just put them in the cold room to thaw.  As far as we’ve been able to tell, they keep just as well as unfrozen eggs, and behave the same when you cook with them, so we don’t even check anymore, beyond looking for the cracked ones, of course.

 

When it gets below about -25 C, we tend to leave the barn shut up, and the body heat from the animals adds at least ten degrees in there.  The barn cats are bright enough to stay inside, and we’ve built them a cozy insulated shelter out of hay bales.  So far, they’ve never had any issues with frostbite, even on their ears.  However, the barn cats are outdoor critters, and acclimatized to the cold through the fall and early winter, and they know enough to snuggle up together in the shelter.  Like the chickens, the cats are free-fed – we put out bowls of food, and they can have as much as they want.  They put on several pounds each of fat in the fall, which helps them stay warm, too.

 

If we had a sudden huge drop in temperatures like happened so recently in the US, though, I would consider bringing outdoor cats and dogs inside, or locking them in a garage or barn, as they may not be equipped to deal with the cold.   At the very least, they need some sort of insulated shelter, including insulation between them and the ground, that is windproof, dry, and small enough to warm up with just their body heat.  Stacked bales covered with a tarp would probably do, but remember to insulate the bottom, too, either using a layer of bales, or a thick bed of straw or blankets.

 

The goats and alpacas mostly cope fine, as well, but again, they grow a thick coat in the fall, and we give them extra grain as it gets colder outside – the colder it is, the more hay and supplements they get.   We take out warm water twice a day, and they drink their fill immediately.  The buckets freeze over in a couple of hours, or less when it’s really cold.  We’ve found that the goats drink more when the water is taken out warm, rather than cold, and it probably helps them maintain a good temperature.  Some people say that the buckets freeze slower if you use cold water, which may be true, but for the small difference it makes in freezing time, we go with the warm, especially because the goats drink so much more when we take the warm water out.   I have heard of people putting sweaters on their goats, which is probably a good idea in a sudden cold snap; we’ve never done it because we worry they would lose their winter coats.

 

If you are milking in winter, make sure the udder, and especially the teats, are completely dry when you are done.  We minimize trimming the udder as much as possible, and leave some fur, especially on the back, even when we do trim.  I just brush the furry parts of the udder thoroughly with a soft brush before milking to make sure there’s no crud falling into my milk bucket.  I take a towel out with me to dry everyone off after milking.   However, since I’m not fond of milking -30, we’ve taken to drying the girls off by late November.  While this doesn’t maximize our milk production, it does minimize everyone’s discomfort.   We freeze milk and make (and freeze) lots of cheese in the summer, to tide us over.

 

Our biggest issues with the goats has been with kidding during cold snaps.  Our first year, we were kidding in March, and at least four kids came when the temperatures were below -20.  All of those kids got frozen ears, and two lost part or all of their ears.

 

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

 

We’ve since started breeding for kidding in late April or later; this year’s kids will come in mid-May.   I know of breeders with unheated barns who treat kids like day-old chicks; they confine them using straw bales, and hang a heat lamp overtop.  Other breeders keep their kids indoors in playpens for the first couple of weeks.  Either tactic works fairly well if you are bottle feeding, but not if you’re dam-raising your kids.   We’ve learned to keep the pregnant does confined for the last few weeks of their pregnancy, and we do our best to keep the maternity stall well-insulated and draft-free.  The kids are most vulnerable to freezing just after birth when they are wet, so it’s important to make sure they are dried off quickly, which has involved us ‘helping out’ with towels when momma wasn’t working fast enough.   When they are cold, kids tend to stand all hunched up with their back arched, and look really miserable.   If we see that going on for any length of time in cold weather, we bring the kids into the house periodically for ‘warm-up’ sessions, and take them back out to their dams every couple of hours to eat.

 

We’ve had kids collapse from cold before; if you’re quick, they can recover without issue, but you need to get them warm, fast.  We’ve used 2L plastic juice bottles filled with hot water from the tap, wrapped in towels and tucked around the kid.  Remember, too, that kids need extra food when it’s cold, and make sure your does are producing enough, and/or you add a bit extra to the bottles if they’re living in an unheated barn.

 

Cold is not bad if you are prepared for it, but I can imagine it would be awfully miserable if you didn’t have, and couldn’t get, appropriate clothing and supplies.  I know some of my American friends really struggled.  Hopefully everyone has come through okay, and is at least starting to warm up now!

 

Bundled Up

 

 

 

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We picked two big mixing bowls of strawberries, today.   The berries were huge huge and sweet and still warm from the sun.

 

acreage strawberries

 

I chopped seven cups for the freezer.  Martha Stewart would freeze them nicely on cookie sheets, then package them up once they were frozen, so they didn’t stick together.  I am not Martha Stewart.  I pre-measure the packages to the sizes my recipes call for, throw them in vacuum-sealer baggies, and go to town.  We just break them up and throw them in the blender for smoothies, anyways, or thaw them for baking and such.

 

acreage strawberries

 

This is way beyond the hundred mile diet.  This is a zero mile diet.  Those berries came from literally just out my front door!

 

 

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

 

 

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

 

We planted about 100 plants in four little patches, in 2011.  We got fifty of an everbearing variety, and fifty of a June bearing variety.  For whatever reason, all of the plants are going nuts right now.  Last week, we put seven cups in the freezer, plus I took strawberries to work for lunches.  This week was much the same; seven cups for the freezer, plus plenty to eat!

 

eating strawberries

The taste is incomparable.

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There are lots of things I like to eat that don’t grow around here.  Mandarin oranges, for instance, and sweet cherries.  Coffee, chocolate, mangoes, cinnamon.  If I am going to eat these, I don’t really have much choice but to buy them at the store.  Back in Alberta, I could at least buy BC fruit (cherries, peaches, plums) from grower-run stands, but I have yet to see such a stand here where we live.   So, the grocery store is my supplier.  As much as I would like to keep my eating local, I also want to be able to enjoy food I can’t grow; I feel that growing our own or buying local for things that grow here, but continuing to indulge in ‘far away’ treats is not entirely unreasonable.  However, I still try to follow the seasons with my non-local food purchases, so I can get it as close to home as possible – peaches from B.C., for instance (in season shortly), versus peaches from Mexico (which is what you’d get in January).

 

Then there is the stuff that we could grow, but haven’t got a harvest of yet – blueberries, for instance, and apples, and plums.  Sour cherries, also, and pears and hazelnuts.  We have planted all of these, but the trees and bushes are not yet bearing, and mostly won’t be for some time yet.  Some of these things, we have gotten lucky and found a local source for – apples and raspberries, in particular.  However, we have never found someone selling local blueberries, nor pears, nor sour cherries, which is a shame, as we would really like to buy these things from a local seller, since we are going to buy them anyways.  Especially with pregnancy last year, and now with a baby who will be starting on solids in the next 6 months, I am not going to be a purist about eating only what we can grow or acquire locally.  Being healthy and well-nourished trumps heroic efforts at local eating, or even making political statements, for me.   However, I do find it sad that there is so little opportunity to buy local varieties of things that actually grow very well here.  Once we get a transfer down to the farm, and have the space and irrigation water to do so, we plan to BE the local supplier of several things, but I digress…

 

All of this is a long lead-in to the fact that I have seventy pounds of random fruit sitting in my kitchen that needs dealing with, not counting the 20+ pounds I have already put up for the winter.  Now is the season for sweet cherries, as well as blueberries from the West Coast (local blueberries are much later – more like the end of August, I believe).  I have no idea what the season for mangoes actually is, but they are on sale by the case right now, and were on sale by the case this time last year, so I assume that means they are in season somewhere right at the moment.   So I bought 50 pounds of them, as well as 20 pounds of sweet cherries and 20 pounds of West Coast blueberries.  Ninety pounds of fruit…sounds a little excessive, doesn’t it?  But we managed to chew through a lot more than that last year, and now we are three, so I am erring on the side of having too much, rather than too little.

 

So what do you DO with fifty pounds of mangoes?  Well, last year, we dehydrated a ton of it, as well as freezing some.   We found that, while we enjoy the dehydrated mango, we don’t eat that much of it, but we do love mango smoothies, and had to ration the frozen mangoes, so this year, it will all go into the freezer.  You could also can it, but Hubby and I agreed that it would probably be too slimy for our tastes (mango is a little slimy at the best of times), and we couldn’t think of how we might ever use canned mango, so frozen it is.

 

The cherries will also mostly be going into the freezer.  If  I had been able to find sour cherries (also called pie cherries), I would have canned up a bunch for pie fillings and maybe jam.  However, sweet cherries don’t make nearly as flavorful a jam, and are too sweet for making pie filling (in my own opinion), so they will also mostly be frozen.  I am making an exception to try a recipe for cherry preserves that I think might be nice with yogurt, so 2 or 3 pounds will end up in the pantry, but the rest will be frozen for making smoothies and eating over yogurt and ice cream later, or possibly flavoring some applesauce that I plan to can in the fall, time and energy permitting.

 

Most years I would make blueberry jam, and even canned blueberries in light syrup (for pies and muffins), but I went overboard making both of these things last year, so this year’s berries are also being frozen.  We absolutely burned through the frozen blueberries last year, so I am putting much more away.

 

We have picked most of the peas that we are likely to get from this year’s garden, and frozen those, too.  While the harvest was rather disappointing, it was entirely our own fault…we had to excavate the peas from under a mat of thistles and nettles and other weeds before we could even harvest them – the garden got away on us, again.

 

The raspberries should be coming soon, as well.  We won’t be able to harvest enough to meet our own needs for the entire year, but we’ll still get some, and there is a fellow from a nearby town who sells them for a reasonable price, so we’ll be buying some for…you guessed it…freezing.  I would normally make jam and raspberry preserves, but we do still have plenty of those put away.  I did not realize how much jam we were giving away in a typical year in Alberta, so we seem to have a glut.

 

You may be beginning to notice a pattern, here.  It has been between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius for the majority of the last few weeks (save a few days when it has rained), and the idea of boiling anything on the stove for any length of time at all is not appealing.  Freezing is a relatively quick and easy way to preserve seasonal fruit, especially if you like smoothies like we do, or if you like yogurt and fruit (my usual breakfast at work).  It just happens that the fruit that is in season right now lends itself well to being frozen, though the peaches will be coming soon, and we generally like to can a bunch of those – however, when I was pregnant, I was less interested in eating the canned peaches and pears, so we still have a respectable stash of both, and I am debating whether or not to can any new ones this year at all.   In the end, it will depend on the weather and my overall energy level, I suppose.  It is amazing how much produce you need when you are planning for an entire year of eating, but I would rather be eating frozen blueberries that I bought for $2 per pound than paying $7 for per pound later for frozen berries, or $4 or 5 for a tiny clamshell package of berries in winter when we’re having a craving…

 

 

 

 

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Last spring, I had hubby make me up a bunch of nice round beds in the front yard, to plant herbs and flowers in.  Then I got enthusiastic, and ordered 100 strawberry plants – 50 June bearing and 50 everbearing.  I had planned to build raised beds for them, but did not get around to it in time, so they wound up taking over my herb gardens.  Then, Hubby kindly dug me another herb bed this year, but I saw some strawberry plants on sale this spring, and…you get the picture.  Someday I’ll have a herb garden, though, I swear!

 

The June bearing berries had a great crop, but unfortunately a lot of them rotted on the plants, as I was in the hospital and then slightly distracted with the newborn and C-section recovery, and we just had our hands full.  We did pick several large containers, though, and get them into the freezer for future smoothies.  The everbearing plants have also been doing well, with great, big, sweet berries.  I thought the everbearing plants would never really bear enough at one time to bother with making preserves or digging out the vacuum sealer, but I was wrong.  A couple of days ago, I picked enough berries to put 8 cups in the freezer, with plenty left over for us to eat fresh.  And, there were still a ton of nearly-ripe berries still on the plants that we’ll probably have to pick tomorrow or so.

 

We freeze the strawberries in 2-cup containers, as that’s the amount I use to make a batch of smoothies.  I will also freeze some (chopped smaller, mind you) in 2.5 cup containers, as I have a fruit coffee cake recipe that uses that amount.  It is much easier to freeze the berries in appropriately-sized packets in the first place.  Martha Stewart types will tell you to freeze them first on cookie sheets, then package them (they won’t stick together so badly that way), but I never have enough cookie sheets (or freezer space) to do that, so I just pre-measure them and quit worrying about it.

 

I am really impressed with the yield on these plants, despite neglect and lack of picking.  Next year, we should wind up with even more, as this year’s new plants will also come into production.  As usual, I may have over-estimated how many plants we really needed.  On the other hand, though, we really like strawberries, and somehow managed to demolish about 70 pounds of various types of home-frozen fruit over the winter, so maybe 125 plants won’t be overkill, after all…

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Well, another new month, another fact-finding trek down to the root cellar!

 

As of today, a few of the potatoes are starting to go a little soft, but the majority are still firm and basically perfect.  Potatoes are amazing.

 

The beets are mushy, and pretty much done.

 

The cabbages are still firm, but have developed some white mold on the outermost leaves.  They are still fine to eat, once you peel off the few outermost layers, however.

 

The onions are still fine, but there are not many left, and we will be running out soon, despite our efforts at conserving.

 

The pumpkins all went mushy in the last couple of weeks, though the spaghetti squash are still going strong.

 

We are starting to go through the canned fruit more now, as we’ve run out of frozen.  It got to the point that I am now buying any fruit that is on sale at the store, and chopping and freezing it, as I still want my smoothies, but I struggle with paying $7.50 for a little baggie of frozen peaches.  Unfortunately, this totally blows our local eating thing; the six pounds of strawberries I cut up and froze last week were from California. This is not going to stop me from doing that, however, or from buying other long-distance fruit (fresh or frozen), as I am not willing to run any risk of compromising baby’s health over a matter of principle.  We will plan better (or at least put more fruit in the freezer) this summer and fall, and chalk this up to a lesson learned.

 

I don’t imagine we’ll have much left by next month, but I sure am curious how long those darn potatoes are going to keep on keeping on for…

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Continuing from January and February, our monthly food storage report:

 

The root cellar is starting to look a little more bare.

 

The carrots are now completely done; actually, they did not make it past the first bit of February before we weren’t really able to find non-bitter carrots.  I didn’t mind them being wrinkly, especially if we were using them in soups and stews, but I don’t tolerate bitter very well.  The goats are enjoying them as treats we dole out, however, so it is not a total waste.

 

The cabbages still look more or less fine.  As in last month, the outer leaves have dried out and discolored, but the heads themselves are still firm and tasty.

 

About half the remaining beets are fine – still firm and not sprouting too much.  The other half are starting to go soft, but are still completely edible.

 

The potatoes are fine.  I am still amazed by the potatoes.

 

The onions are going strong, but we are running out.  We are down to the little ones that are a pain in the butt, because you need 3 or 4 for a recipe.  Next year, we plan to plant 50% more – 600 sets, instead of 400.  It does not appear that they will rot before we can use them up, even the tiny ones, which is great.

 

The squash seem to have hit a wall this month.  About half of the remaining pumpkins, as well as a couple of the spaghetti squash, sprouted black gooey spots and mold in late February.  I am not certain if they just hit their ‘use by’ dates, or if it had something to do with us moving them into a different room of the house (they had to be moved, as we were painting the room they had been in).  The new room is just as cool as their former location, but may have had higher humidity.  Also, they wound up being more bunched together, rather than being spread out on the floor, simply due to the fact that we were putting a lot of stuff in that room in order to be able to paint the other room – air flow may have been an issue, as well.  At any rate, they were not a total waste, as the chickens really appreciate the squash, so we cut out the black and mushy bits to compost, and fed the rest to the poultry.

 

So as far as veggies go, we’ve already started having to buy carrots, and will be buying onions soon.  We’re fine for potatoes and cabbage, and the beets are so-so.  Suddenly, I am really noticing how well-suited the basic Ukrainian diet is for this region – perogies are flour dough, potatoes, onions, saurkraut, and cheese – things that store well here.  Same with borscht – beets and cabbage and sour cream.  Something to keep in mind when you’re planning your winter meals, anyhow.

 

As far as the other food storage goes, we’re starting to run out of some things.  I made too much jam and jelly this year, or did not give enough away, or something, but those shelves are still quite full.  We have not used any of the fruit syrup we made, though we’ve given some away, and it was very appreciated.  We still have lots of pears, peaches, and raspberries, but those are ones that always last fine through the winter and disappear in a flash come hot weather.  Salsa, however, we’re rationing, as we’d rather not have to buy it – it’s expensive, and not nearly as tasty from the store.  I should can several times as much this fall (if I can find the energy!).

 

The frozen stuff is much the same.  We have plenty of some things (corn, peas), too much of others (wax beans), and not nearly enough of a few things (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes).  I don’t think I miscalculated that badly on the fruit; I just seem to be having smoothies a lot more often than I used to.  I blame it on the pregnancy – I crave cold stuff frequently, but don’t want to load up on ice cream, so I make a nice, healthy smoothie, instead…almost daily…and have decimated my frozen fruit supply in the process.  Next year, we’ll put up extra, especially with the extra freezer downstairs, although it is fairly full with chicken, right at the moment.

 

Overall, we’re doing not bad.  I am not too happy about the squash crashing like it has, and we’re spreading them out better in an effort to get better air flow to the survivors.  I suspect that squash could store a whole lot longer, anyhow.  I’m still very happy with the potatoes, cabbage, and beets, and I have some ideas for how to stretch the carrots next year.  Onions – like I said, we’ll be planting a lot more come spring.  And we’ll adjust what we plant for the freezer (more peas, fewer beans) as well as making more of an effort to get fruit in the freezer, and spending maybe a little less effort on the jams and jellies.  We’ll get it all figured out eventually!

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