Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where Does Your Meat Come From?

When we first started keeping chickens a few years ago, each hen had a name and we got to know each one individually.  This flock of about a dozen birds kept us amused as we unwound after work by sitting and spending time with them at the end of the day.  I decided that even when they stopped laying, they would be allowed to live out their natural lives as pets.  We were able to rehome a few roosters that we picked up, not wanting to think about the alternative.

Our jobs moved from Arizona to Texas and when we packed up the house, the chickens came along.  They traveled in dog crates in the back of the Impala and the Suburban.  They were part of the family and we weren't going to leave them behind. 

When the Fleece Fur and Feathers farm become an official business entity and our flock expanded, it was harder to keep track of who was who, especially when they all looked alike.  We could still recognize our Arizona girls and they had a special place in our hearts, surviving the long trip and a stray dog attack on arrival.  A couple of those hens are still with us.

We have about 50 birds now and we band them so we can distinguish birth dates to know how old they are and how much longer we can expect them to lay.  For the most part, they don't have names.  The troublemakers and the 2 roosters are exceptions.  We've hatched lots of babies and sold most of them to people wanting to add to or start their own flocks.  We've also sold to people who want to butcher and eat them, something we hadn't done yet. 

Though all of our hatches, we didn't have a rooster mature.   Sales had taken care of that.  Until last week.  One of our 14 week old birds, who we were fairly certain was male, attempted to mate with one of the younger birds.  He had to go.  Our 2 resident roosters are plenty for the flock and this boy was obviously going to be a problem. 

Chet had butchered a couple of older birds before, but we didn't eat them.  The older the bird, the tougher the meat.  I kept the meat and used it for training treats for the dogs.  

We're not vegetarians.  We try to eat local foods.  Our meat purchases in the last year have been locally raised and slaughtered animals from local ranchers; nothing from the grocery store.  Our vegetables come from our garden.   Just a short step from eating chicken from our own flock, and one we decided to take.

The guys did the killing and cleaning over the weekend and last night I roasted the bird.  It was, by far, the best chicken meat I've ever had.   Can't get much fresher and the meat was tender and moist.  It was smaller than a typical roaster bought in the store since it wasn't a "meat bird", but it was enough to feed the 3 of us.

This animal lived its entire life with grass under its feet, eating what chickens are meant to eat; no hormones, vaccines or antibiotics injected in its system.  It enjoyed fresh air and freedom, the company of other birds, being part of a family unit, flapping its wings and flying around once in a while.  You can't say that about any commercially produced chicken.  While it was a bit weird preparing the bird for cooking, it's something that I know I'll do again.  It's the way this country used to eat, the way my dad describes his Sunday meals when he was a boy. 

So, in honor of this bird, here's his photo.  Yes, he had a face, but so did all those who end up in the meat aisle at Krogers.  We still enjoy watching our birds each evening, but realize in order to have a sustainable homestead, everyone's got to make a contribution.  This guy definitely did.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gourmet Garlic

Chet planted 8 varieties of garlic last fall as an experiment to see what would grow here in our garden.  We had a beautiful garlic bed with rows neatly marked with the names of each variety.  Then the storm came that took the roof from our barn, which tore across our garlic beds and ultimately landed in our neighbor's yard.  In the process, garlic was broken, markers disappeared and it looked like our crop was a bust. 

Never one to give up without a fight, Chet salvaged what he could and we ended up with a nice little harvest of 5 different varieties of gourmet garlic! 

Persian Star Garlic
Persian Star is a hardnecked garlic and it's really tasty.  It's a sweet garlic when you roast it.  I baked a clove to have with pasta last week and it was awesome!  This is one of the varieties that we have the most of.

I put an ad on Craig's list hoping to find some local customers that enjoy cooking with garlic, but my first reply was from someone out of state that wants bulbs to plant.  I was happy to accomodate and the order is getting ready to go out the door!

Bagged and on its way to OK!
Besides the Persian Star, we have Sonoran, German White, Chesnok Red and Metechi varieties.  If you'd like to try some, email us at fleecefurandfeathers@gmail.com or call 817 337 4690.  We're selling it either by the clove ($1) or by the pound ($7).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Learning to Felt

My favorite thing to do with alpaca fleece is to spin it.  However, not all the fiber that comes off the animal is suitable for spinning, so I'm always looking for ways to use the "seconds".   Felting fibers is very popular right now and I've sold fleece to crafters for this purpose.  I've seen people make purses, hats and even slippers by felting.

I thought I'd teach myself to felt by doing something pretty easy to start with.  I have to admit that although I've seen dryer balls in the stores, I've never been tempted to buy a plastic or PVC ball made in China to bang around in my dryer.   Dryer balls are replacements for liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets.   The action of the ball in the dryer reduces drying time and naturally softens fabric and reduces cling.

I recently came across wool dryer balls which intrigued me.  If a plastic dryer ball can reduce drying time, imagine how much more moisture could be absorbed by a fiber ball.    An alpaca dryer ball with no dyes would also be hypoallergenic and so much safer than something made of PVC.

As every spinner has, I have a stash of leftovers - small balls of singles and leftover plied yarns that aren't enough to make a complete project, but too much to throw away -  along with some badly spun yarn made when I was just learning.  So, I gathered my baskets filled with the yarn remnants and started winding.  I had enough leftovers to wind 3 balls that measure about 9" around.  Then I put the ball in a tube sock and tied each end off with acrylic yarn that doesn't felt.

I ran each through the washer in hot water with a regular load of clothes.   Then into the dryer for at least 2 cycles of high heat. 

The yellow ball at the top left is pre-washing (you can still see the strands of yarn) and the other 2 are finished.   The yellow balls contain a mixture of alpaca and merino wool which was dyed.  This is some of the fiber I learned to spin on that I had stashed, but wasn't worth knitting with.  The brown ball is pure alpaca and this is what I'll continue to make my dryer balls with so there will be no chemicals or dyes in the process. 

Ideally, I'd like to make the balls directly from roving or even washed fiber.  That will be my next experiment. 

These dryer balls are great for drying diapers, too.  Smaller balls can also be cat toys and I'll trying to make those as well.  Stay tuned for 100% alpaca dryer balls and toys for the kitties coming soon!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yes, it's hot enough for me, thank you

It's hot in Texas.  Very hot.  Excruciatingly hot for the past few weeks.  The heat index is around 105.  A month ago we were complaining about the constant wind.  Now we hope for the wind to cool it down a bit.

Everything in the books say that alpacas can withstand the heat up to a heat index of 120.   All of our new animals were shorn the first weekend in June, just after the heat wave started.  A few days after shearing, Lightening, one of our new grey boys was spending a lot of time just laying flat out in the sun.  We have shady areas where most of the animals took cover, but Lightening insisted on sunbathing.  His respiration was rapid and shallow.  He was on his way to heatstroke.   I had to go out every couple of hours and get him up and moving and get him cooled down.  I truly thought we might lose him, but he survived.

An alpaca's cooling system is on the surface of their belly, armpits and groin area.  Chet put a sprinkler in the pasture so they can cool themselves as needed.

Nothing like playing in the sprinkler on a hot day.  Lightening is front and center!

On the other side of the fence, mamas and babies come to get cooled off with a belly squirt from the hose. 

Mama Stephanie and baby girl.

And once they get their bellies wet, they cush to keep the cooling effect as long as possible.

A little boy in the dirt, imagine that!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Buy Local Farm Eggs?

Someone asked me the other day about the benefits of eating farm fresh, free range eggs. My first thought was to tell them that it’s like eating green beans from the garden as compared to ones with Libby on the label. But then, maybe not everyone gets that either. 

So, here are the facts, according to 2 studies done by Mother Earth News in 2005 and 2007. Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain:
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Our laying hens eat what hens are supposed to eat - grass, seeds, bugs, along with their normal feed, which contains no antibiotics or medications. They have access to the outdoors every single day and have access to roam over an acre of land. (We take pains to keep them out of our garden!)

Eggs bought from a grocery store are from hens that live their short lives in a factory farm in a cage, never seeing the sky and never being able to stretch their legs or their wings. Even labels that say "free range" or "cage free" actually don't mean that the chickens have free access to the outdoors. The USDA has no requirements for chicken houses on what these terms are supposed to mean for laying birds. Often these are uncaged birds living inside a giant warehouse in overcrowded conditions. Because they are so crowded, they are often de-beaked to reduce injury to each other.

Even if you truly don't care about the humane aspect of chicken raising, the fact that free range birds are healthier animals is a big deal! Last fall, some giant factory farms produced eggs contaminated with salmonella. Rodents running rampant through chicken houses can do that. The FDA report from that investigation doesn't paint a pretty farm-like picture:

 "Dark liquid, which appeared to be manure, was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses..."

 “Un-caged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operation in contact with the egg laying birds at Layer 3 –Houses 9 and 16. The uncaged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area. “

 “The live flies were on and around egg belts, feed, shell eggs and walkways in different sections of each egg laying area. In addition, live and dead maggots too numerous to count were observed on the manure pit floor”.

Ew. This is where grocery store eggs come from. Is this what you really want to feed your family?

If all of that isn't enough to convince someone of the benefits of eating local, fresh eggs, then just crack one open. They really do look and taste better!

If you're local to Keller, contact us at fleecefurandfeathers@gmail.com for eggs or to tour the farm. The girls will be happy to visit with you!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No longer just a fiber farm

Up until this weekend, our alpaca herd has been entirely male and most of the boys have been gelded.  This is typically what makes up a true fiber farm.  No girls around to complicate life for the boys.  Some say that gelded males have the nicest fleece because all the animal's energy goes into making fiber instead of testosterone. 

We found someone selling some grey boys, and one of them was rose grey - a color I've been wanting to add to the herd.   These folks also had some females with young babies.  Chet's been talking about getting some girls to diversify our options and possibly do some breeding and selling animals.  Truthfully, I wasn't all that interested in adding to the alpaca population.  Maybe it's my background in dog rescue; maybe I'm really like Prissy in Gone with the Wind, "I don't know nothin bout birthin babies" or even taking care of young crias.  I've read horror stories on mail lists about difficult births, crias dying, having to bottle feed and the troubles that can cause.

The girls for sale were from excellent bloodlines, one and two generations removed from the original Peruvian and Chilean imports with big names.  The girls were brown, but the babies were white, which is another color I don't have enough of.  The package price for the 2 girls with crias and 2 grey boys was outstanding and we decided that if we were ever going to get some females that we couldn't pass up this chance. 

I've been in research mode for the last few days reading about cria care (the baby girl is 10 weeks old, the boy is just 8 weeks old), weaning, breeding and birthing.  Once we get new animals sheared, we'll doing some breeding really soon.   An alpaca's gestation period is a minimum of 335 days (about 11.5 months) and you don't want babies born in the heat and humidity of the summer or the worst cold of the winter.  (See what I've learned already!)

Having these new animals means that the boys have to be kept separate from the girls and crias, and the new boys have to be separated for a while from the resident boys.  Good thing Chet built out nicely divided pastures.  I think he was planning for this all along!

Bonacella and baby boy, standing; Stephanie and baby girl cushed

The grey boys are gorgeous!  They are actually half-brothers, having the same dam.  I can't wait to get my hands on these fleeces.

Rusty (rose grey) and Lightning (silver grey)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Disaster Strikes

I must have really angered the gods yesterday when I wrote that there was nothing new at the farm.  They targeted us with a vengeance last night.  There were thunderstorm watches and warnings all evening, but the worst of the storms had already passed and I think we weren't even under a warning condition.  It was very windy all night, but it's always windy here.  I've gotten to a point that if I don't hear the wind chimes, I figure the wind has blown them down.

About 9:30 we were sitting on the couch watching TV and the local CBS station was breaking in during commercials to give updates.  Nothing serious in our area at all.  It was mostly south of us and the storm was moving more to the east toward Dallas than north to Ft Worth.  We heard a bang, I saw something flash past our window that faces the backyard and the lights went out all at the same time.  My fear was that one of our light poles in the pasture had been blown over.

We walked outside and saw something laying across the front of our barn doors.  Upon closer inspection we found that it was a portion of the tin roof from the south side of the barn.  The roof piece took down the power line that feeds the barn, our house along with our neighbors, and my office.  The wind had torn off the entire southern half of our barn roof. 

The morning after

There were huge pieces of metal all over our yard, in Chet's garden as well as in our neighbor's yard directly to the north.

Power line taken down

We lost half our garlic crop as the roof made its way over the garden and into the next yard.

Huge pieces of our barn roof in our neighbor's yard across the fence.

We have large portions of fencing bent over between our pastures and between property line and our neighbors.

The good news is that none of the animals were hurt.  If a piece of roof had hit one of the alpacas, it would have been deadly.   Waylon was in an area all by himself and out of the the direct path of the flying roof.  The other boys were all out in the upper pasture away from the barn.  Luke, one of our Anatolians, must have been in the barn when the roof got torn away.  We found him curled up a ball, refusing to move from his corner in the stall.  He was quite terrified.  He's much better today.

We don't usually see sky from inside the barn.

 I called Allstate right away to start a claim and in the back of my mind pictured the commercials where the insurance person shows up immediately after a disaster and helps make everything right.  Must have been a State Farm commercial, because I won't see an Allstate adjuster for a week. 

However, they did contact an emergency restoration company who showed up about midnight last night and tore down remaining pieces of roof that were flapping in the wind.  They came again today and removed the debris from our neighbor's yard and are out there right now tarping the barn so that we don't get any rain damage until repairs can be started. 

So, it could have been much worse and I'm thankful that no animals were injured.  It was pretty terrifying though and for a while we went to our "safe room" (aka bedroom closet) while the wind was at its worst and we could hear pieces of the roof smacking against the barn.  We'll be in recovery mode for a while and we won't have power to the barn or my office until we can get an electrician to do repairs.  Kudos to the electric company, TXU/Oncor, for coming out and getting the power to our house back on in a timely manner.

The weather alert radio has just gone off again - tornado watch.  Texas in the springtime...it ain't all bluebonnets and sunshine.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


When I quit my corporate day job, I figured I'd have plenty of time to keep up with the farm, the dogs, housecleaning, cooking, dog training business, spinning and the blog.   Hasn't quite worked out as I thought and I feel like I'm not giving any one thing the attention it needs.  I've got to get better organized.  Not sure how I did ANY of these things while I worked full time. 

There's not been too much new going on at the FFF farm recently, other than the hens are laying eggs like crazy now.  We've got plenty of baby chicks available for sale, too.  Email us if you're interested in either. 

Shearing day has come and gone.  I wasn't entirely happy with the process, but it's done and our boys are pretty cool now without the excess fleece.  If you want details on who we used and why we will be looking for someone else next year, email me.

Chet scans the web for potential alpacas in need of re-homing and found a single boy south of Dallas last week.  We made arrangements to pick up him today.  I was worried about getting him loaded in the trailer since Chet is recovering from hand surgery.  He's still all bandaged up and is not supposed to be doing anything like lifting an alpaca.  The folks had the animal in a barn - thankfully we didn't have to chase him around a field.  We haltered him without any fuss and he walked willingly into the trailer where he was treated to some alfalfa (like sweets to a kid). 

His name is Waylon.  His buddy, Willie, died last year and he's been lonely since then.  Alpacas are herd animals and they do much better when they live with their own kind.  We'll keep him separated from the rest of our herd for a while until they get to know each other.  Waylon is on the left.

He's a beautiful dark fawn with a coppery hue to his fleece.  He rolled in the hay in the trailer on his way home so he arrived quite messy.  His main issues we can see right away are his feet and teeth.  His back nails were overgrown and curled over so he's not able to walk properly on his back legs.  He's also got some badly overgrown front teeth.

Alpacas generally need a pedicure at least twice a year.  For most animals, it's not a problem once you get them secured, but it does take 2 people to get it done.  Some alpacas never need their teeth trimmed, but those with a serious underbite will need trimmed down.  This usually gets done at shearing time.

We were able to take care of the back feet right away.  The teeth will have to wait until Chet's hand heals up some more and his stitches come out.

Welcome to the farm, Waylon! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2 Roos and a Bevy of Barred Rocks

We made it through the winter and only lost a couple of hens.  Three of our 6 chicks that we hatched late September made it.  We lost 1 of them to a predator, 1 to Luke our livestock guardian dog, and 1 just disappeared.  Of the 3 survivors, 2 are pullets and 1 cockerel.  They are about 5 months old now.

So, we've got 2 roosters now - Rocky, who is just over a year old and Junior, his son.  I watched this morning as Junior had his way with one of the hens.  While he was ..um...in progress, Rocky came over and knocked him off.   Junior's going to have to learn to be more discreet and get the girls when dad's not looking.  They are both handsome boys and Junior is really starting to look like a chip off the old block.


Our girls stopped laying this winter.  We had some really bitter cold weather and egg production halted.  Since we sell lots of eggs, Chet went and got some young Barred Rock pullets a couple of weeks ago.  Not sure what his original plan was, but he came home with 30 of them.  They'll start laying in the next couple of months and we'll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.

In the meantime, with the weather getting spring-like here, our older girls have started to lay again.  We should be back in the egg business very soon.  Unfortunately, feed prices rose over the winter, so we're having to raise prices.  We'll be selling them for $3/dozen.  Email us if you're interested.  We generally have a waiting list.

Last fall, I wrote about a litter of kittens that started hanging around here.  We fed them through the winter and neutered the ones we could catch and actually found a home for 2 of them. They look awfully happy to be in a home and off the streets!