I checked my compost pile this morning and I was disappointed that there was so little activity going on under the tarp. Much of the pile was cold, with small areas of 30 degree warmth. I am doing something wrong and I need to work it out.
I will post more about this later.
Kitty and I took the opportunity to check our food storage. This was partly because some of the stores were getting a little cluttered (meaning that we had less of an idea of our items) and also, due to winter coming, we felt it was a wise idea. We currently use three different locations in the house to store our food:
Our Kitchen Pantry
Our Hallway cupboard
Our studio shelves
Our pantry holds food which we use on a daily basis. This includes condiments, cereals and any packet of food which we have opened. It also acts as our “public” face… if this pantry held all our preps it would look very unusual to people. Having items in other places in the house means that people don’t know exactly what we have.
The hallway cupboard, which is close to the kitchen, holds food which we use often, such as soups, additional cereals, cooking supplies (flour and sugar, etc), preserved foods, bottled foods and snacks.
The studio holds the bulk items, such as UHT milk, cans of vegetables and other staples. This room also holds our prep items, such as gas cookers, lanterns and torches, batteries and food preserving equipment.
We split these up to make room for everything, as well as room for checking purchase dates of items (which we write on every item purchased for storage). We also split them up so that we don’t draw attention to our preparations. When guests visit they see our well stocked pantry and think we are well provisioned – using their own interpretation of this, which means that they believe that the little they see in our pantry is excessive. I recall a conversation I over-heard earlier this year. It was between a father and his young daughter. She asked if they could go get icecream and he answered that they needed to go shopping. When she begged him he pointed out that they had NOTHING in their pantry. I was so shocked to hear this… he made a point of saying verifying that they had an empty pantry.
I am pretty happy with our food preps at the moment. We previously estimated that we had around 10-12 weeks of food. Today we worked out that we currently have enough food to feed our 6 member family for around 4 to 5 months. This is more that Jack Spirko recommends in his Survival Podcast as a basic level or preparedness and was something I was aiming to exceeding. I would actually like to have enough food stored for at least 6 months… and we are slowly working towards this goal. We also have no MRE or other portable food stored. This is partly due to the expense of those items, as well as the fact that we are storing food that we use. Later I have plans to put together small ration-packs to be placed in our bug-out bags.
Our method for building up our food preps is the copy-canning method. I have used this for building up our preps for the last 6-7 years without knowing that it is called “Copy-canning”. I found a very good explanation of this on a youtube video.
This is not only a great way to build up your preps, it is also a method to save money. Rather than buying one extra as RichTheRidgeHunter explains on Youtube, we also stock up with an item we copy-can is on sale.
I currently own three dogs, a Great Dane and two Merimers. The Great Dane is around 11 or 12 years old which is very old for a large dog (they normally live till 10 years) yet she is still very active and despite her hair turning grey she acts like a puppy. The two Merimers are 8 and 6 months old and it is time for me to begin training. With Morleigh (my Great Dane) I took her to a professional dog training class and ensured that she understood the basic commands. Since that time I have read a book or two on the subject and I feel that I may be able to do the training for my new dogs.
I initiated proper training for George (my male Merimer puppy) yesterday. This training consisted of the initial command “Sit”. I had a pocket full of dog jerky treats and I used tiny parts of the food to reward him when he followed my command to sit. I also used this as a way to walk away from him and call him to me, to re-enforce the fact that he should be coming when called. I ran this training for around 5 minutes and I intend to repeat this every few days to make sure he has grasped this command. Once I am happy he can follow the “sit” command, I will begin work on the “stay” command. I can then tell him to sit and stay, then introduce the “come” command.
In addition to the above, I also need to work on George’s leash skills. George is very reluctant to be led on the leash. Once I have established that I am the one giving the commands I will work on training him with a leash.
This all is in aid of keeping George on the property and his job as our guard dog. He has developed a tendency to run off the property when he hears a car drive past, often chasing it. I am about to install a Pet-Safe underground fencing system to make sure he does not leave the property. He is a very good guard dog, I just need to make sure he doesn’t leave the property he is meant to be guarding.
I would like to also add that this is a skill I have added to my 13 skills in 2013 challenge. I am a long way from having this skill completed.
I have realised that I have accidentally neglected mentioning that the system I am using for compost creation I learned from Geoff Lawton. The video below is a trailer from Geoff’s Soils DVD. I have attempted to make compost previously and I have never been happy with the results. The system I used to use was to periodically through kitchen waste, lawn clippings, chicken manure and other organic matter into a large plastic composting bin. I would turn the contents every week and add water if it looked too dry. This would continue for around 2 months till I lost interest in it as it wasn’t really doing anything. 6 months later I would check the contents and find that some if it had broken down. I would remove the lower levels that had turned into compost and renew the pile with additional matter. This system took more than half a year to work, and it only processed half the pile at a time. I would end up with half a wheelbarrow of compost to divide between my plants. The effort was way too high for such a low output. While listening to the survival podcast I noticed that Jack kept talking about Geoff Lawton. One of my friends lent me Geoff’s DVDs and I began watching these. I would normally watch them in the evening and (no offense intended to Geoff Lawton) I would usually fall asleep within 15 minutes of the DVD. I lay the fault of this on the fact that I was tired from a long day and it was close to my bedtime. In addition, the DVDs are filled with long stretches of images of nature, relaxing new age music, broken by short moments of Geoff talking about his Permaculture system. It wasn’t till I reached the Soil DVD that I really took notice of the process. Geoff gets into the meat of the process by explaining compost and his method of its creation. Using Geoff’s system I have experienced a massive improvement to my compost creation. Where it used to take me the majority of a year to create a small amount, I am creating at least double that amount in 1 month using Geoff’s system, and that is when then the system fails. When the system works I should get ten times the amount! For additional information on this method of compost creation, as well as other aspect of Permaculture, check the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) of Australia’s website. If you would like to hear more of Geoff’s theories, check out this presentation he gave last year.
I checked the compost pile yesturday to do the last turning before the end of the 4 week period. The pile was cold to the touch. This is evidence that the compost stopped being processed sometime within the last few days. I went through the pile and discovered that although there is significant amounts of compost, many of the harder materials have not broken down. I divided it into two piles… one of brown materials and one of compost. I have decided that I will begin again and try to make a good amount of compost. I believe that the error was in the size of the pile, it was not large enough to do the work required.
I spent several hours yesterday and some today gathering material for the new compost pile and I will create a new one. I collected:
two large piles of rabbit manure
one bag of sheep manure
a small pile of goose manure
3 wheelbarrow loads of weeds to be the green component of the pile
1 pile of old compost form an old compost bin.
I went through the last pile and separated the finer compost from the sticks that had not broken down. I added the sticks as the brown component of the pile and also added the finer compost..l. just to be sure. I also added the left overs from my rabbits that were skinned the previous day. I had kept them for the creation of a new pile, not realising that the first pile had failed.
I put the pile together in the normal way (mentioned in an earlier post) and finished it off by watering the pile down with duck manure infused water (courtesy of my ducks). The pile is twice as large as my last pile so I expect it to reach the critical temperature and hold it for longer.
Someone asked me the question the other day, “do I feel bad about killing animals?”
The reason they asked was because I mentioned that this weekend I would be processing 7 rabbits that I had grown. They felt that as I had grown these rabbits from babies to adult should mean that I felt some connection to these animals. They were not wrong in their thinking. Although I had not named these animals because it would make it harder to butcher them, I still feel a connection to them. I was there the day they were born and I had cared for them. I had sat and patted them and played with them. When I process these animals I feel a little sad for their having to die for my family’s meal, yet I know that were it not for the fact that they would eventually become food, they would not have existed. I would not have allowed their parents to breed were it not for the intended purpose of producing rabbit meat. I also feel that these animals have a much better life than a wild or factory rabbit would experience. They are allowed to live in close proximity to their mother till they are weened. They live in a pen with their brothers and sisters. They live on grass and other fresh plants. In short, they have a great life until the day they are to be processed into meat. At this time I attempt to slaughter them as humanely as possible. I do not want the animal to suffer.
I remember the first time I killed an animal. It was a pig that I was going to eat and I felt terrible for doing it. I had actually When I ate the meat it tasted terrible to me, yet everyone else thought it was delicious. All I could smell was the pig, not the cooked pork. All I could taste was dirt, not the delicious meat. For a long time, every time I did the action of slaughtering and butchering the animal, the taste was always terrible to me. I believe that this was due to the gilt of killing an animal. I have now gotten over this and I can enjoy the meat I prepare for the table. I think it is important to not lose this connection to the animal and to always feel some regret when I kill for meat. By feeling this I ensure I retain my humanity and respect for the animal.
One of the benefits of producing my own meat is that I know the quality of the product and I know that nothing has been added to the end product.
I know that my family is eating good food. Another benefit is that my children are more likely to finish their meals.
My kids know where the meat comes from and sometimes they even watch me butcher the meat. I explain to my children that an animal died for their meal, so they need to be respectful of that and finish everything. Finally, my children are very interested in anatomy. By showing them the different parts of the animals they gain a better understanding of the functions of the body.
Today I completed the first of my 13 skills for 2013. I achieved my target of butchering 7 rabbits in 90 minutes using the techniques I picked up on the YouTube video I referenced in an earlier post. It was pretty exhausting, yet satisfying to reach my target. My youngest son wanted to come and say goodbye to the rabbits and I decided that it might be good for him. He told me he was a bit sad that the rabbits had to die and I explained to him that the rabbits have had a good life. I told him that the rabbits are for meat. He understood that and asked to say goodbye to each rabbit. So as I picked each rabbit from the pen and walked to the area for their slaughter, my son gave them all a hug and a kiss on the head. It was very touching and it shows me how sensitive nature of my son. I decided to shoot each rabbit with a hollow-point .22 to ensure they died instantly and did not suffer. This decision was made partly due to the fact that I had seven rabbits to work through and the rifle was an easier way to do it than breaking seven necks.
I processed the rabbits and ended up with just over 4 kilograms of rabbit meat. Not a bad collection. I also now have 10 rabbit skins in my freezer. They will wait there till I have the time and knowledge on tanning these skins.
Turned out to be a busy day. After the butchering I had to clean the tools, clean, weigh and package the rabbit meat, and finally sit down for a rest.
I am now coming close to the end of my compost project. I hope that it should be complete within a week. The quality of the soil is beyond my expectations and most of the material is being broken down. I have taken a photo of a block of wood that had found itself in the pile. It broke apart very easily in my hand, which shows that the fungus is working well.
As usual I pulled the compost pile apart layer by layer and set up a new pile next to the old one. I usually use a garden fork to move the contents and it is usually sufficient. This time I was able to use the fork for the larger particles, particularly the sticks which are still breaking down. The majority of the work was completed by using a shovel. This shows that the material has broken down so much it is the consistency of dirt.
I must admit I am a little concerned that the sticks may not break down in time, yet it won’t be the end of the world. If the branches are still too far from breaking down by the end of the four weeks I will just place them in the next compost pile I construct. I believe that I am on track to complete the skill of compost making for my 13 in 13 skill challenge.
Another skill I have my list to be completed and I expect it to be done this weekend. I have 7 rabbits left for the table before winter. On the weekend I convinced my children to collect acorns from a park in the city in exchange for an ice-cream each. They provided me with around 9 kilos of acorns, which I have been feeding to my rabbits. I have given my breeding stock some acorns, which they love. Apparently it is like chocolate for them. I have been feeding my 7 that are to be butchered this weekend exclusively on acorns. I am curious as to whether they make the meat taste as good as I have been led to believe.
Once I have processed the 7 rabbits in 90 minutes I will consider that my butchering skill has been completed.
Not much else to report on at the moment. I am planning on posting an essay on prepping that I have written soon, as well as going over some of my bigger plans for my property.
On Sunday I turned my compost pile again and I was even more impressed than my last turning. For the record, it was 6 days since the compost pile was created. The compost is looking even better than I previously reported. To start with, the pile appears to be about as large as it was when first created. This shows me that I have not lost any of the nutrients to the atmosphere. On checking the temperature of the inside of the pile I was surprised to note that I could not keep my hand within for more than a few seconds. I estimate the temperature to be around 60c.
As I have previously described, I peeled off the outer layer and it now becomes the bottom layer. As I started to reach the inner layers I uncovered compost with a rich, earthy aroma. I encountered the chicken carcass I included in the pile and, as you can see from the photo, it is a shell of its former self. The body looks like it is cooked on the inside and it is at least half the size it was six days previous. I believe that this is remarkable evidence of the compost creation in action. The temperature is so hot that it has cooked the chicken!
When I reached the bottom layer I was rewarded with the darkest, richest soil I have seen in many years. I expect that in around 2 weeks the entire compost pile should resemble this soil and I can already imagine the wonderful vegetables I will be able to grow next year.
In addition to my work on the compost pile (and hosting a local prepper family to afternoon tea), I slaughtered and butchered one of my rabbits. The rabbit I selected was a nice, young, albino rabbit that was around four months old. He wasn’t full size, yet as he was from the English Giant Breed, he was quite large. Usually when I butcher a rabbit I need to set aside about 45 minutes to complete this process which entails:
Removal of the head and paws.
Careful incisions to remove the rabbits nether regions.
Careful use of the knife to peal the skin from the rabbit.
Extremely careful cutting to enter the abdominal cavity and removal of the intestinal/stomach area.
Removal of the upper organs (lungs, etc).
Washing of the carcass and cutting into smaller pieces.
I have not been taught how to do this, I have taught myself. I used my knowledge of pig and duck butchering to learn this method.
On Sunday, on a whim, I looked up Rabbit skinning on Youtube and I came across the most amazing video.
This man demonstrates that you only need to remove the edible parts of the rabbit, which on retrospect makes total sense. I imitated his method and I am very excited to say that it now takes me 10 minutes to dress a slaughter rabbit. When I used this method on my albino, 4 month old male, I ended up with 700 g of meat. I had two other rabbits to prepare for the table on Monday. I used the same method when I returned home from work and it took me about 25 minutes. I would have been faster, but my younger son wanted me to give him the rabbit tails and paws to play with while I worked. He also wanted me to explain which parts of the rabbit were the heart and the liver. I am more than happy to show him as it is good for his education to know where our meat comes from and that most living animals share similar organs.
I am keeping the rabbits’ skins in a plastic bag in my meat freezer so that I can tan them and one day make moccasins from them.
As part of my goal of developing and improving on 13 skills in 2013 I have become a member of 13 in 13. This site helps me to track my path to reach this goal as well as provides me with the community to both inspire and teach me. While I have not completed any of my 13 skills, it is only March and I feel I am well on the way to reach my goals.
Get out of Debt
I realise that I have committed to more than 13 skills. This is because there is so much I want to learn I had to add additional skills. If any of my readers are interested in following my progress you can find me on the 13 in 13 site under my member name Seryph.
Now, to continue towards completing number 6 on my list, I will go into details on my composting process.
It has been four day since I created my compost pile and I felt it was time to turn it. I checked the temperature by sticking my arm in the pile. I estimate the temp was in the high 30 degrees C. The heat being generated by the compost demonstrates that it is working, as the microbes within generate heat as a by product of the break down of organic matter. This by product is one of the essential aspect of compost creation as it kills any pathogens contained in the manure and also destroys weeds.
The process of turning the pile of compost begins with pealing the outside layer off and placing it nearby so that it will become the bottom layer in the newly created compost pile. The bottom of the pile seems to turn to compost faster, so the layer that was on the outside (not generating heat) is now on the bottom (the hottest area). The bottom seems to generate more heat due to the increased amount of air that can get to the area.
While I am peeling each layer off I pay attention to the activity I can see. I notice that on second layer many of the previously green leaves had turned black due to the heat burning the them.
I continued to take each layer from the original pile and place it on the new pile. As I reached the centre of the pile I could smell the very distinct odor of quality compost. This was a very good sign, especially as it was only 4 days into the process. I completed the process and before I finished to took another photo to show the completed pile before I covered it with the tarp.
First, I have updated my blog with a new banner. I am not sure I really like it, it looked nice when I first started, yet now I am thinking ‘meh’. I might work on another.
Secondly, I have just realised that there is a smudge on my camera lens. I use a Nikon Coolpix 3300 that I bought from JB Hifi a few weeks ago. Actually, this is not the one I bough a few weeks ago, I had to take that back to them as it stopped working for no reason. JB Hifi were excellent about the camera when I took it back to them and they replaced it with a new one immediately. Anyway, I will clean the lens now so that future pictures are more clear.
I decided it was time for me to make some compost so I spent some time yesterday and today gathering some materials.
Using a machete I cut back some large naturally growing plants. I believe that these are large English Broom plants that are considered an invasive species. I cut back about three wheelbarrows full of this.
I cut around a wheelbarrow full of grass that has been growing in my vegetable garden.
I gathered a wheelbarrow of old straw from the chicken house. This straw included chicken manure.
I gathered about half a wheelbarrow of rabbit manure and half a barrow of sheep manure.
I also grabbed one of my chooks that I had to put down yesterday.
I also used a wheelbarrow of old compost from a previous run.
I spread a layer of old compost and covered this with a nice thick layer of grass clipping. None of these layers are to be compressed. This is to ensure that air can move through the compost pile. On top of this I spread the chicken manure and the old straw to provide bacteria to help break down the materials. You can see my dog George in this photo, he is eying the chicken body to the far left.
I placed the chicken on top of this layer to make sure it has extra heat to break down. You can see my dog George is now missing from the area. I had to send him away as he decided that the chicken was his to play with.
On top of the chicken layer I placed a thick layer of English Broom with some thistle weeds and other undesirables thrown in for good measure. This layer was then topped with a half a wheelbarrow full of sheep manure.
I laid the remaining load of English Broom, shaping the pile into a smooth conical shape. At this stage I would normally water the materials to help them to start breaking down, yet as the materials were still wet from a light shower this morning I forwent that stage.
Finally I simply placed a tarp on top (weighted down with old tires). This is both to help the compost retain the heat it requires, as well as prevent my dogs from digging up the chicken body.
In around 3-4 days time I will go to the pile and invert the materials, so that the material on the bottom will be on the outside, and the material on the outside will be on the bottom. I will photograph this and in around 27 days I should have excellent compost.
In the last week we have had some ducks and chicks hatching. We have four hutches in our chicken house with two which had ducks sitting on eggs, with the other two holding Hens setting on eggs. We have around 12 Muscovy ducks (with one drake) and 5 Hens (with one rooster). In an effort to produce some additional ducklings/chicks we refrained from collecting eggs for a couple of weeks, which led to one of our laying hutches having around 18 eggs with the other birds sitting on around a dozen eggs each. Before the birds sat on the eggs Kitty told me that she was concerned that the eggs would go bad from just sitting there, and should they be fertilised the babies would be dead. I told her that this is not the case. Chickens and ducks usually don’t sit on eggs to keep them warm until they have amassed enough to make it worth their time. The cells within do not become viable until they reach the right temperature, so they will keep until then (for a short time). Once the hen sits on the eggs for enough time the babies start to grow, and then all the eggs should hatch around the same time. I don’t know what number is a suitable number for the animal to decide whether to sit or not, and to be honest I thought that 18 eggs was too many.
The brooding started when one of our older hens started sitting on the eggs and was doing this every time we checked for the next day or so. All was well until a few days later when a Muscovy duck joined her, and the two animals were sitting on the same batch of eggs. I was worried about this as there may be too much warmth, however I trusted that they knew more than I about this, so I left them alone. A few days later I noticed that the eggs that had been laid in the other three hutches were now occupied with two ducks and a few days after that another chicken took position in a hutch. They sat on these for around 4 weeks… so long that I was doubtful that the eggs were fertalised and I believed that they wouldn’t hatch. I am happy to say that I was wrong about that. On Thursday, while working near the chicken house, I heard a faint “cheeping” sound. The geese that were foraging nearby also heard it, as they were looking around for the origin of the sound. I looked in the chicken house window and noticed a small duckling sitting next to the chicken. Later that day there were four more in the chicken’s hutch and one wondering around the chicken house. This was great news as I am very interested in arranging for the chickens and ducks to breed without my intervention. I have raised hatched birds before, last year I borrowed an incubator off a neighbour (he was interested in using it having recently bought it, yet he didn’t have the time nor the electricity to spare as he was off grid) and I laid 24 eggs to hatch. 21 of these eggs produced ducklings, which was a great bonus to the family and were great for the flock. Before this time we had 2 ducks and a drake that were the parents to this brood. These original animals were given to me by another neighbour, who had decided that ducks were not for him. After this we had around 10 male ducks and 11 female. We ate the young males when they were large enough and I bought another drake to ensure genetic diversity with by breeding with the new females (which was timely, as the older drake died while the new drake was in my quarantine area. I don’t know how he died and I suspect it was because he was old). We lost a female, one of the mothers, who died one night.
Since that time the ducks have been supplying us with eggs, keeping the grass low, and also polluting my dam when they go for a swim (another problem for me to solve). I had another brood of ducklings hatch the next year by some ducks that wandered off into the bush and laid eggs in secret locations. The only issue was that ducks are apparently very bad parents. The mother would wander about the property with their babies behind them and crows would swoop down and pick off the young one at a time. The ducklings that survived (mostly because I caught them and raised them myself in an enclosed area) were butchered once they reached a suitable size.
I am in the process of building a new house which I am calling “the duck house”. This is an enclosure, like the chicken house, yet will be for the ducks. It will have a nice place to swim and will allow us to keep the ducks from the dam. The main reason for the enclosure is to prevent loss of the young to the crows.
On Friday, when I returned from work I discovered that I lost all the ducklings. It was very disappointing after the elation of their hatching. We searched about for the ducklings and we couldn’t find them, which was actually very surprising. The previous year I had covered the chicken area with bird netting to prevent the crows from taking the young. I couldn’t work out how the ducklings could have disappeared until my dog noticed that there was a dead duckling under the chicken house. I then realised that the ducklings were getting out of the chicken pen by walking under the house, a space too low for a chicken or duck to use. The baby ducks were then out in the open and I suspect that crows picked them up. The one my dog found may have died when it couldn’t work out how to get back in to the yard.
Anyway, that was a big disappointment, yet I have learned that I need to fix this exit from the yard to protect future babies. I set to work and using some old garden fencing wire I blocked their avenue of escape.
On Saturday my children called me outside in the morning to show me some baby chicks walking around the chicken yard. I rushed out and noticed that some of the eggs which the ducks were sitting on had hatched. I believe that 6 chicks hatched from one duck, with 1 from the other. The ducks didn’t seem to care or notice the chicks that were following them around and the caused me to be a little concerned. I did not want to lose any more animals and I considered taking them from the area and placing them under a heat lamp. I decided not to do this, both to give them a chance to grow up with the group as well as the fact that looking after them is a real hassle! All seemed well until the next morning, when I discovered 6 dead chicks in the chicken yard. I investigated their bodies so that I could try to determine why they died. All were intact and had no injuries. I suspect that they died from exposure, as they were spread out over the whole yard. After the death of the chicks and ducklings I believe that the mother rejected them and they had no protection. Both groups appear to have died due to not being cared for sufficiently. I don’t have any proof of this of course, yet I have decided that I can not leave the care of the young with the mothers. Kitty and I decided that should any young hatch this year we would take them and care for them ourselves.
I left the old eggs in the hutches, intending to clean them out when I cleaned the chicken house at a later date. The day after I lost the chicks, when I returned home, Kitty showed me a surprise. She had found two new ducklings which had hatched and she had caught them and placed them in a cardboard box. Although two ducklings are very high maintenance for such a small outcome, I put them in a large cardboard box with wood shavings (I had saved these from some wood working I had done earlier in the year), a container or food and one of water as well as placing a red halogen heat lamp over the box. I bought this a few years ago from a pet store and it is meant to be for reptiles, yet it serves this purpose.
On the Saturday I was woken by the children who had seen some chicks walking around the chicken yard. There were four chicks following a hen around the yard, and later that day I noticed two more join them, taking their number to six. While the hen seemed to be providing excellent care to these babies I felt that it would be wiser to remove them from the pen and place them under a heat lamp with the ducklings (who were nearly a week old now). I waited till the end of the day to ensure that no more chicks hatched and then placed the chicks, and the ducklings, in a specially designed growing box. I placed this in the garage (as the smell of the ducklings in the house was starting to get a bit strong) and check on them every evening. This appears to be the solution to the problem as they are growing well and I have not lost a single baby. Every couple of days I drag the box out of the garage and allow them to experience real light for the day, as well as take them out I expect that once they grow their feathers and appear well I will let them out of the area and allow them to grow by themselves.
While this is not a massive amount of chicks and ducklings, I am very happy that I have any at all when I consider the morality rate they experienced earlier. This experience has caused me to reconsider my original plans for allowing the birds to raise their own young in favour of raising them myself. I believe and hope that I will reconsider this in the future and after some changes I will allow the mothers to look after the young. I will look into investing in my own incubator in the next few months so that I can have a steady stream of birds for the table.