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Harvesting Meat Chickens

Cassie LewisToday was a big day in our homesteading journey; for the first time, we butchered meat chickens!

We prepped for it for the past week or so, and today we actually did it — and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

We bought the meat chickens through a catalog, and they were delivered eight weeks weeks ago. Then it was time. Our chicks were getting so heavy that it seemed they could hardly walk around!

Step 1: Bribe a crew to help us. We had nine chicks that were going to be butchered. We figured that, to be most efficient, we would need helpers We promised a barbecue — hamburgers, not chickens — and had four people offer to help!

Step 2: Research. I read blogs. I watched videos. I prepped in every way I could. When we bought the meat chickens, my husband essentially told me, "This is your project. I'll help, but you have to do the hard part." I would have to kill the chickens. In a way, I wanted to do the "hard part." Part of my enjoyment in self-sufficiency is the challenge, learning what I'm capable of. But I also didn't want to be surprised by the process.

Step 3: Gather the supplies and set the stage. I had two slipknots tied at about eye level on a 4x4 support; this was for the chickens feet. Then a bucket to catch the blood. I set up a table for the other half of the outside crew — the person skinning the carcass. We had decided against plucking because of time, patience, and learning new skills, but we would need one person with a relatively clean hand to skin the chickens. The inside crew would need freezer bags, bowls, towels, and sharp knives to piece and put up the meat.

Step 4: Do it. It went surprisingly well. Like I said, the separate crew really greased the wheels. I would cut the chicken's jugular and let it bleed out. Then I'd cut the head and feet off and pass it to the skinner. The skinner would clean and skin the chicken, and then pass it to the inside crew. The inside crew pieced it and put it in labeled freezer bags. We harvested 35 pounds of chicken in about 2 hours.

Step 5: Bask in the accomplishment. This step could take days.

We did it!

Uncooked Unseasoned Drumsticks
Photo by Adobe Stock/capacitorphoto

My Life Out of Balance

Cassie LewisThis week has been so up and down — but I'm maintaining my positive attitude!

Starting on Sunday, my 20-year-old bread maker walked itself right off the counter, exploding in a mess of plastic pieces. We managed to save the dough inside that had been kneading and bake some half-risen bread, but that was a bit depressing! My husband, who has a strong appreciation for homemade bread, said we'd replace it right away. But I've been thinking — for years I've said I can't make bread in a traditional way. This is the perfect time to stop using this excuse! There are hundreds of bread recipes ... I guess I've got a new goal. (Think positive)

Broken breadmaker

Then this week, our meat chicks arrived in good health! I'm very excited and trying hard to keep reminding myself, "These are meat chicks, do not get too attached." We've never had meat chicks. I have butchered one chicken, but never fifteen in one pass. I'm hoping I can manage this without too much stress over the next weeks. I'm looking forward to this learning experience and filling the freezer in a couple of months.

New meat chicks settling in

This week, we were also in the midst of some pretty strong storms in northwest Arkansas. Remember my rain barrels that were set up so nicely last week? The storm knocked my full rain barrel over, putting a huge hole in it and cracking the faucet. Sigh ... no rain storage for me at this point. I've got two more barrels, and I can get a new one set up pretty quickly, but this was another depressing lesson. Our yard is sloped; I've got to secure the barrels somehow. So, the bright spot? I won't make this mistake again.

Ruined rain barrel

There's a theme here. The rain barrel and the bread maker? They were missing a little balance. And the chicks? They are going to change the balances in my day-to-day efforts.

Trying to do things on my own is not always pretty or easy, but it's always satisfying and enlightening.

Besting the Summer Drought

Cassie LewisWe are working on getting our garden up and running. And we are getting so close! We've got three raised beds built and some strawberry gutters installed on the fence. More on those next time. But I've been planning on getting a rain barrel installed on the shed near the garden to help with watering times. So last weekend my handy husband and I started by installing a gutter on the shed.

Our shed is an old and metal with exposed rafters, no gutters. We had some leftover 2 x 4's from the fence, so we started by attaching a few of those to the roof's trusses so we would have something stable to attach the gutter.

Preparing for guttering

We had two pieces of vinyl guttering, a connector, a downspout, and the end pieces. We started by deciding where I wanted the downspout. That is going to feed the lead rain barrel, which will then flow to the secondary barrels. Once that was decided, the guttering went together quickly. The vinyl cut easily with tin snips, and everything in the system snapped into each other. We angled the guttering toward the downspout, taking advantage of water's nature.

Our rain barrels are pretty straightforward. They've got a 3/4” spigot near the bottom, and opening in the top covered with a very fine mesh. Basic idea — water in, water out. We've also drilled holes in the sides near the top and will be connecting the lead barrel to all the secondary barrels using a simple PVC pipe connection. Each secondary barrel has the same 3/4” spigot near the base. The plan is to empty the last barrel first, working my way back to the lead barrel. There are so many DIY instructions for building a rain barrel on the internet, and there are even kits to help you convert a standard gutter and barrel into a rain barrel. Barrel wise, if you use a 'used' barrel, be sure it didn't contain chemicals. If you can't find one in your area, consider a large trash can!

Important note: if you install a rain barrel, for safety's sake be sure it is level and secure. Those barrels are heavy and could hurt someone if they are built on any sort of slope. Mine aren't quite finished — they need leveling out — but we are close!

gutterRainBarrel complete

I've read before of people treating the water for mosquitoes. We've had rain barrel before, and honestly the water didn't last long enough to breed mosquitoes, or perhaps the mesh helped. But I'll be on the lookout for them, and if I see them I will likely buy some “Mosquito Dunks” to kill the larvae. From what I understand, they are harmful to mosquitoes but won't harm beneficial insects. Have you ever used them?

Spring is coming, and I've got a system that will hopefully help keep the garden well-watered, even when we hit the inevitable drought weeks during the dog days of summer!

Building Fences

Cassie LewisThe first thing we knew we'd have to do before we could go too far down this homesteading path was put up a fence around the majority of the back yard. Two things made this abundantly clear. First: we have two, 50-pound dogs who were as anxious as we were to have the space. We wanted to let them off the leash and let them have space to run and play; they were going to need contained. The second way we knew a fence really couldn't wait? Two days after planting my celebratory fruit seedlings, the deer showed us that they were a force to be reckoned with. Looking at those bark-less, leaf-less twigs, I knew that we were going to need a convincing “Keep Out” sign.

There are a few decisions that need to be made before you start a fencing project.

First, what is the intent of your fence? Is it purely decorative or, like ours, does it need to be sturdy and practical? Chain link can be built sturdily, but it's not that attractive in my opinion.

Second issue is size. We wanted to fence as much of the yard as we could, but we had to consider price and we know that, down the road, we needed to build a big shop on the property. So we had to make a general decision about the location of the shop so that we didn't have to tear down the fence when we get to that project.

Third — I referred to it above — cost. Can you afford to hire help? We couldn't. Some materials are more expensive than others. Your budget may limit what kind of fence you can afford to build. We considered vinyl, but the expense!

Fourth, you need to consider the maintenance after it's built. We brought vinyl back into the discussion here — no painting or water treatment needed! But we also knew that if we did have a small portion of the fence that needs replaced, it's easier to replace a picket than an entire section.

We wanted a sturdy but attractive fence that would keep the dogs in and the deer out. Our budget was a limiting factor, we needed to be able to do it without professional help, and we couldn't afford high-end materials. We decided on a 6-foot-tall, cedar, picket, privacy fence.

We were relatively confident (after watching how-to videos online and reading DIY blogs) that we could do this with a small crew of family. So we bought the materials and had them delivered from the hardware store. I highly recommend using a delivery service in a situation like this ... We needed about six pallets, we don't have a flatbed trailer yet, and loading these materials into my husband's truck would've used muscles we were trying to save for the project!

Living in Northwest Arkansas, our ground is about two inches of dirt on top of rocks. Limestone, shale, quartz? I'm not sure — I need to “dig” into that more. But either way, there was no way we were going to be able to dig the more than 60, two-feet-deep holes needed to hold the 4x4 posts. So we knew we were going to need an auger. We went to a local equipment rental company and, after a crash course in running the auger, off we went! (Another piece of equipment that our homestead doesn't have ... yet!)

Remember the small crew of family that I referenced earlier? We bribed them with some homemade smoked barbecue and plenty of drinks and the promise that we'd given them credit when the finished fence was admired. It must've been a good trade; they all showed up bright and early the next morning to work!

Before the crew arrived, we staked the corners and, using construction twine, “drew” straight lines from one corner to the next. We would follow this line, setting posts. We found we really only had two people strong enough to manage the auger, so they became the digging crew; they dug the first hole, two-feet deep. Everyone else was on the filling crew. They would come next, filling each hole with a layer of gravel, the post, and the concrete around the post. Then we'd add enough water to fill the hole, patiently let it settle, all the while tweaking the post's alignment; confirming that it's perpendicular and square to the last post. This was repeated every eight feet more than 60 times.

This really was the majority of the hard work. The rest was not easy and was very repetitive, but we managed. We had to put up the brackets and the eight-foot cross beams — three between each post. We had to put up the pickets — about 16 per section — with six galvanized screws in each picket. We finally finished, except for a huge drive-through gate, which was enough of an engineering feat that we set it aside. We blocked the section for the gate with temporary kennel panels and set the dogs free. The whole project took seven full weekends, six people working in shifts, six pallets of materials, and an immeasurable amount of flexibility and deep breaths.

We got through it!

happy dogs

The Start of Our Journey - Finally

Cassie LewisIf the first step of solving a problem is to admit the problem, okay, I'll admit it. Try not to judge me ...

My name is Cassie, and I'm a wannabe homesteader.

Wow! It feels nice to really own it!

I'm getting closer and closer to that homesteading goal. My husband and I have been together for seven years, and for as long as I can remember we've talked about a modest house with space for animals and family, a garden ... basically something we can grow into ours. Our house, our land, our legacy. As I get older (but only a little older), I've realized that to produce something myself adds value to it. My niece calls the apple butter I put up each fall and share with family “Cassie Butter.” It means so much more to give her that than it would to go buy apple butter to spread on the biscuits!

We moved from a tiny apartment in Kansas City to a real house in Arkansas this year, and ta-daa! Just like that we got the acre of land we've been dreaming about. Well, just under .94 acres. It'll do.

And that's how we're launching our dream to homestead. Can we make do?

Can we make do with the land we could afford?
Can we make do with the time we aren't at 'real' work or spending time with our families?
Can we make do with the 'extra' money we find each month?
Can we make do with our city up-bringing and limited first-hand knowledge?

I think we can!

We have container-gardened before; come next spring, we'll expand that to raised beds. We've had a few pet backyard chickens before; the goal is to expand that experience to a whole flock. We have the great support of our families and friends — always willing to lend a hand.

Who knows what other adventures and challenges are down the road? But we'll make do!

My plan here is to share those adventures and challenges — both to remember what I've tried and failed and what worked! And probably ask for some (read: a lot) of help along the way to greater self-sufficiency. And away we go ... together!

Mr And Mrs

How did your homestead start? Has it taken the path you've thought it would?

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