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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Debeaking - Cons and Pros

by Uncle Dale

Debeaking chickens is controversial. This is the process where part of the upper and sometimes the lower beak of the chicken is removed with electrically heated blades and more recently with infrared lasers. Debeaking implies complete removal of the beak. “Beak trimming” or tipping is more descriptive as less than one third of the beak is removed.  It is usually done to day-old chicks while they are being vaccinated and sexed. The procedure is most common for Leghorns or Red Sex-link hens that are destined for layer houses. Broiler (meat) chickens are rarely beak trimmed.  
Normal beak

Beak trimmed

Why is it bad to beak trim chickens? There is evidence that the heated blades cause pain to the chickens. How painful is it? We don’t know. Our friends in various “animal welfare” groups liken it to the holocaust of WWII. Well that is nonsense. My poultry specialist coworkers at the university explain that there are nerves going into the beak so the pain is probably a little greater than clipping your fingernails. On the piercing pain scale, it is probably more painful than an ear piercing but much less painful than a tongue piercing. Perhaps the pain is similar to a nose piercing. On the tattoo pain scale it is probably more painful than that small star on the ankle but much less painful than the Harley Davidson across the back. Maybe the pain is similar to a medium size serpent going up the arm. The infrared lasers appear to cause even less pain.

I am more utilitarian about the issue of beak trimming. In my backyard, I want sharp beaks on my chickens so that they can forage easier. I want them able to pick at shelled insects, garden refuse, and table scraps. And my hens with sharp beaks take care of the mice in the chicken coop better than cats do.


So are there good reasons to beak trim backyard chickens? Last year, I had a demonstration flock of leghorns and red sex-links at the University research farm. They were playing nicely together for weeks until one day, when for no apparent reason, all of the red sex-links started pecking at the base of the tail on the top back of the all of the leghorns.  By the time I discovered it just a few hours after I had earlier observed them, the leghorns were a bloody mess. So I had to separate them. A couple of days ago, I found two leghorns who had been pecked to death by the other leghorns. Again, there was no apparent reason. There is plenty of room in the coop and paddock with good feed and water. Chickens just go crazy once in a while, particularly high strung layer breeds.  So I think there are merits to beak trimming backyard layers. It can be argued that it is a good animal welfare practice.

There are diverse viewpoints on beak trimming but I value those that are based on common sense, not sensationalism. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Question: Chickens Not Laying Eggs

Hi, I have two Rhode Island Reds.  Between them they usually lay only one egg a day sometimes none at all. I bought them last Easter, they were not little chicks, but about half grown.   Recently, neither has laid an egg in  about two weeks.  We live on the Texas upper Gulf Coast, so it's only been cold for a  few weeks this season. The larger of the two, seems to be pulling out her feathers.  Can you tell me why this is?  I don't believe either is broody because they don't sit on their nest except at night, or when they are laying.  Also can you tell me if you think, when they are laying, are that alternating days to lay, or is one not laying at all.  I can’t tell because they both sit together when they are roosting or laying.  Thank you for your help.
Do any of you brilliant chicken lovers out there have advice for Violetta?  

Leave your answer in the comments if you do. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Landfill Harmonic

The reason that we post and put time into our blog is because we want to share our passion of gardening and raising animals in order to help others become more self sufficient and improve their lives. We hope that what we share might play a small role in improving the quality of people's lives and making the world better.

This trailer to Landfill Harmonic is not about gardening but instead about a group in Paraguay that make classical instruments out of landfill garbage. They are taking what life gives them and making it better. I hope we can all be inspired by these people and try to make our lives and world better through whatever talents we have.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mood Management with Essential Oils

 Essential oils have been the catalyst for healing my family in many ways.

Many of you have asked for me to explain how Michael has been able to get off his anxiety prescription using essential oils. I have put together a webinar explaining how he did just that. I have also been able to get rid of my "brain fog", as I like to call it. Wherever you are on the mood spectrum, you can benefit from this free class!

Mood Management Webinar (free)
Thursday February 21st 7:30 pm MST

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Backyard Farming Problems

 by Uncle Dale

To manage my pastures better this year I am keeping the horses in a sacrifice lot during the winter so they don’t ravage the pastures. I feed the horses grain in individual buckets and hay from a single manger.  It was going well with Rebel, a gelding and Zula, a mare, until we got a pony for the grandchildren for Christmas. Hershey not only bullied his way to the top of the pecking order, but agitated Zula so they are both picking on Rebel and not letting him get to the hay. The end result is that Hershey and Zula are getting fat and Rebel is losing weight. Our barn and sacrifice lot are not set up to separate them so I built another manger to let Rebel get to some hay. If this doesn’t work I will have to do some creative fencing and building to isolate Rebel and ration the feed better. This is what backyard farming is all about. Problems arise and you have to solve them. What perplexing problems are you faced with in your backyard farm and how will you solve them?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Watch What you Eat

By Uncle Dale

Edward G. Robinson was one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, debuting in his 1st film in 1916 and ending his career with his 101st and last film in 1973. I saw his last film when I was a junior in high school. Robinson plays an aged scholar named Solomon Roth who helps his friend, Detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) investigate the murder of President of the Soylent Corporation which makes Soylent Green, a wafer that feeds the masses in 2023 apocalyptic New York City. In Robinson’s final scene of his final movie, Sol Roth lies in a bed at a clinic where he watches a mesmerizing film of beautiful forests, oceans, and wild animals which are all now extinct after which he is voluntarily euthanized.  Thorn arrives too late to stop Roth’s death but follows his body to the disposal center where he learns that “Soylent Green is people!” During the filming of Soylent Green, Robinson confided with Heston that he had cancer, and indeed, he died 12 days after filming the euthanasia scene, a fitting end for wonderful actor. 
As a young farmer in Idaho, I was deeply affected by the movie. Realizing that I might live to see 2023, I swore that I would never eat E.G. Robinson or anyone else. Well, Soylent Green will not happen in my lifetime (not that I had much impact) but it could happen in the 2073 world of my grandchildren if we are not careful with our resources and lose our concern about what we eat. So I applaud Michael’s series on the Food Apocalypse which calls attention to the crazy things that are passing for food.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day!

Our heart shaped Valentine cinnamon rolls rising. 

I know, I'm a terrible mother! White flour and refined sugars! Oh, the shame!
Actually, I don't feel any guilt about it! Gotta live a little, right? 

I hope you feel love an appreciated today, go make someone else feel loved and appreciated too!

What are you doing to celebrate Valentines Day?!?!?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Seed Starting 101

This is a re-post of one of our most popular articles. We still get a lot of questions from people about starting seeds and thought some of our new followers might like to read it .

Seed starting really isn't that difficult. It can seem overwhelming if you haven't done it before. I know it took me a few years of gardening before I dared start my own seeds. It wasn't until my husband Michael said to me,

"If the pioneers that crossed these plains could put a seed in the ground and grow food without peat pots, a bag of seed starting soil, and a mini greenhouse container....we can do it WITH those things."

He was right, and my family is living proof of that. If WE can start plants, trust me YOU can do it too. You will see in the pictures that my kids did most of the work (aged 4, 6, 9).

Here is how!

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

A. Seeds. We prefer heirloom seeds. We like the variety that is available in heirloom seeds, as well as the fact that we can harvest seeds from our produce to use the following year. Packets of seeds you buy from a big box store will be hybrids and the seeds can not be harvested. In the long run, this saves money as you don't have to purchase seeds each year. We purchase a few packets each year to add more variety to our garden.

B. Containers. Something to hold the soil and seeds. Here are a few options.

Pellets: These start as a small hard disk, when added with water they pop right up and you can place a seed in them. These are nice because they are easy to use and small so they don't take up a lot of space.
You can place them right into the soil when you are ready, you do not need to peel off the netting around them. The disadvantage is that they are quite small and I always have to plant them in something else (like a plastic cup) before planting them outside.

Peat pots: These are nice because they are a little larger. I still end up having to plant them into something else before planting outside. I like these better than the disks because I can write the name of the plant on them making it easier for me to keep track of what is planted in it. You can also place these right into soil and do not need to worry about damaging roots by pulling them out of the container. The disadvantage of these is that there is an extra step involved, they do not come with soil, so you have to fill them.  
Flats: This is a container that held flowers that I bought from a nursery the year before. I was careful to pull my flowers out without damaging the container. Make sure that you thoroughly clean a container that you are re-using. There could be a disease lingering on the container that would kill your starts. Fill with a seed starting mix, and I marked mine with popsicle sticks.

Be creative. We save our yogurt containers and bring home plastic cups from parties for seed starting. It makes gardening more economical that way. For even more creative and frugal seed starting containers, check out this article. If you are recycling something like a cup, be sure to poke some holes in the bottom for drainage. About 5-6 with a thumb tack should do the trick.

C. Soil. If you bought the little dehydrated disks, you can skip this step, just hydrate your disks.

If you didn't buy the disks, don't go out and buy a 50lb. bag of potting soil. Look for a seed starter mix. It will be very light and fluffy. You can now find this at major big box stores as well as garden nurseries.

Step 2. Fill Your Containers
I have found that it is easier if moisten your seed starter mix first because it has a tendency to shrink down the first time it gets wet. Get your mix wet, then put in whichever containers you choose. I like to write the name of the plant that will be going in the container before we put the mix in.

Step 3: Plant your seeds
The packet of seeds will tell you how deep to put your seeds in the soil. For those of us that have harvested seeds from the previous year and no longer have a seed packet, a good guideline is to bury them down about 3 times the width of the seed.

Step 4: Water
We have a few different ways to water. For the disks and peat pots that we put in the plastic greenhouse containers, we bottom water. Bottom watering is when you fill the bottom of the tray with water, and the soil sucks up the water from the bottom. For containers that we can't bottom water (yogurt and plastic cups), we use a spray bottle like Mason (aka. Bubba) is demonstrating below.

Step 5: Keep them Damp and Warm
If you bought a greenhouse container it is easy, just put the lid on and stick in a warm area. If you didn't, that is okay, just use a piece of plastic wrap to cover your seeds, this will help keep the humidity in. At this point, you don't need to stick them in the sun, you will want to keep them damp and warm (about 70 degrees). So maybe place them by a heating vent or the top of your fridge, or you can purchase heating mats. I have never used the heating mats and haven't had any problems getting my seeds to sprout.

Step 6: Stick Them in a Sunny Spot
Once your seeds have sprouted, you will want to move them to a sunny spot. In the early spring, our kitchen looks like a nursery, we have plants everywhere, and I love it.

We put some on a bench in front of the sliding glass door.

Some in the window sill.

And some in a seed starting rack, modeled after Jennifer's. Click here to read that article.

Step 6: Harden Off
Once your plants are big and beautiful, you just stick them in the ground and water them, right? Wrong.

This part can seem scary, but don't let it intimidate you. When in doubt, take longer to harden off.

Your plants up to this point have had a cushy life. The temperature, humidity, and moisture, has been closely monitored. They have not experienced full sun, wind, or changing temperatures. Hardening off is the process of slowly getting them used to the environment they are going to move to. A typical hardening off at our home may go like this:

Day 1: Move plants outside in the shade for 2-4 hours on a nice day.
Day 2-5: Move plants outside for 2-4 hours in the shade and one hour in the sun making sure the weather isn't too cold or snowy.
Day 6-7: Move plants outside for 2-4 hours in the shade and 2-4 hours in the sun.
Day 8-10: Move plants outside for 2 hours in the shade and 6 hours in the sun.
Day 11-12 Move plants outside for 8 hours in the sun.
Day 13-14 Leave plants outside all day and all night in the area they will be planted. Be sure that the weather overnight won't be too cold or windy.

Hint: I like to set my alarm clock, so I don't forget to bring my plants back inside. I have fried my little plants before because I forgot to bring them in from the sun.

Step 7: Plant
Once your plants are properly hardened off, you can plant them in the ground just like you would if you bought them from the nursery. Congrats!

Enjoy the bounty that is sure to come!


There are some plants that you will not start indoors either because they won't transplant well, or because there is no need to. Some climates may be nice enough that you never have to start seeds indoors, that would be heaven! But, for Utah in order for us to get a full growing season, you have to start many plants indoors.

Some that you do not need to start indoors are, but not limited to: peas, beans, lettuces, beets, carrots, and onions.

Anyone have anything to add? Leave a comment!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Decisions on Cleaning green Waste

By Jennifer

I am hosting an inner debate. My city recently announced a voluntary curbside green waste recycling program. I am excited the city is going this direction, in a move that will surely reduce the amount of waste
in the landfill. 

The problem? I'm not sure I want to join.

See, at the same time I want to support environmental measures, I also want to do what's best for my household. That means a different kind of green speaks loudest: money.

The city program will cost $6.50 a month for a 90-gallon green waste container that is collected once a week. Accepted green waste is lawn cuttings, clippings from bushes and shrubs, leaves and produce.
Collected materials will be made into compost. (I've yet to learn if that compost will be made available to residents.)

In my city your first trash container (black 90-gallon bucket) costs $11.50 per month, with any additional containers costing $8 a month.The city is pitching the green waste program as a cost-saving measure for those who replace a second black can with a green waste can. Current cost for two trash containers: $19.50. Cost for one trash container and a green waste container: $18.

Most households on my street have two black cans. Our home does not --even though our family of seven could easily fill two cans if I tookthat route (or cleaned under my teenager's bed)! Instead we've made
efforts to minimize our trash by recycling paper, cardboard andplastic; and by donating our outgrown clothing and other household items we no longer use.

With green waste in particular, we have traded lawn space for other plantings, and mulch the grass clippings right back onto the lawn instead of throwing them away. We make compost. We have lots of trees
whose leaves, come fall, go into our garden plot; we don't bag the leaves for garbage collection.

At the end of summer we do have a lot of green waste in profusion when we cut back perennial flowers and remove large vegetable plants. These items exceed our compost space, so we opt to take them to the green
waste collection point at the landfill. Cost is $5 a truckload. We generally make two or three trips.

All told, the green waste program would cost me $96 a year. Did I mention that green waste isn't collected Dec. 1 through March 31, but that the green waste container may be used for a regular trash can
then (which I don't need)? So make that $96 for eight months of green cleaning.

I'm torn. I applaud the city for starting this program and I want it to succeed, even if it doesn't make sense financially for me. Should I consider the cost to me an investment in the greater good of the
community? If I opt out will I forever feel guilty for every seedy dandelion (my compost no-no!) that I throw in the black bin? How badly do I want that 90-gallon green badge of honor on my driveway?

I'd love to hear your thoughts as well as learn about the green waste programs in your communities.