Categories
Equipment Farm & Garden

How To Choose & Start Heating With A Woodstove

Heating accounts for the top energy use in your home, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you use electric heat, compare your January utility bill to your April bill, and this becomes clear. In off-grid living, heating with renewable resources is an efficient and economic bet. 

Living in a small home in Kentucky, I heat solely with a woodstove, and I use about two cords of wood each winter, which costs about $300—or less, if I were to cut it myself. Compare this to when I lived in a slightly larger but more well-insulated home and had an electricity bill of $200 each month throughout winter. 

Also consider that Kentucky has a gray and sometimes interminably long winter season. But it’s nothing compared to what folks farther north experience. 

In 2020, I shopped for a new woodstove with efficiency in mind. I looked at dozens of models from big-box stores, specialty hearth retailers and manufacturers’ websites.

In this article, I’ll tell you about my experience. I’ll also offer advice from a few experts on purchasing the best woodstove for your hobby farm home-heating needs.

Heating by the Square Foot

When sorting through woodstove web pages and glossy brochures, look past the idyllic photos with perfectly clean floors and meticulously painted walls. Rather, pay attention to how well that stove is going to heat your actual setting.

Cal Wallis, who cofounded the Canada-based Wood Heat Organization in 1999, suggests some skepticism when reading manufacturers’ square-foot-heating claims. “What will heat 1,500 square feet in Kentucky would heat half or less square feet in Ontario—in U.S. terms, Wisconsin,” he says.

Likewise, the BTU output means little. It’s easy to create the conditions for maximum BTU output in a controlled factory setting. More difficult, however, is doing so in a home with varying wood sources and user ability.

Instead of judging a stove’s heating ability by the manufacturers’ square-foot claims or the BTU output, John Akerly, director of the Alliance for Green Heat, says the size of the firebox, which may range from 1 to 4 cubic feet, is a better indicator. He says a 2 12-cubic-foot firebox can reasonably heat at 1,000-square-foot space, give or take. And Wallis says no home woodstove will heat beyond 2,000 square feet of space.

woodstove heating wood
Pipas Imagery
Things to Consider

Considerations in addition to the firebox size include the following. 

  • Your home’s insulation. The more well-insulated it is, the more heat you’ll keep inside.
  • Placement of the woodstove in your home. Heat is better distributed throughout your home by a stove in the center of the space—as opposed to a stove along an outside wall.
  • Your area’s climate. Colder areas require more heat—pretty straightforward.
  • Your skill and comfort level in operating a woodstove. The better you are at building and maintaining a fire, the more efficiently your stove will run.
  • Whether your stove is your sole heat source or a supplemental heat source. Building fires in the evening because you enjoy them? You perhaps don’t need as large of a stove as if you’re heating your whole space.
  • The wood available to you. The wood you burn is a large variable. Green wood—wood that has a high moisture content—and softwoods won’t burn as efficiently and will burn cooler than seasoned wood and hardwoods.

“An experienced installer can assist with stove size selection to ensure you receive the most heat and comfort,” says Mark Shmorhun, a technology manager in the Bioenergy Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy.


Read more: Curious about firewood? Here’s what yo need to know to start heating with wood.


Needs vs. Wants

“[Environmental Protection Agency]-compliant stoves are available over a range of prices, low to high,” says Shmorhun, who’s been heating with wood for five years. “Beyond that, the cost of a stove will increase with specialty features, such as design, automated controls, addition of fans, material of construction (e.g., cast iron vs. steel) and finishes.” 

Many features are cosmetic. A gloss finish usually costs more than a cast-iron finish. You may be able to choose from a woodstove model with legs (standard price) or with a base that extends to the floor (add-on pricing).

A glass door may be a different price than a solid-steel door.

One feature many off-the-grid folks want is the ability to cook on the woodstove. Models with specialty cooktops and warming shelves may be pricier than those without.

Other features impact how you interact with the woodstove. For example, I chose to add an ash drawer to mine, thinking this would make ash removal easier. It hasn’t, in my experience, though I’m told some models’ ash drawers are better designed. 

The Wood Heat Organization doesn’t recommend woodstove fans. Akerly says a good quality fan can be a worthwhile accessory. I use a ceiling fan to move heat around my home.

In a larger home, I used box fans. They were, however, noisy and cumbersome to navigate around.

woodstove heating wood
Ariel Celeste Photography/Shutterstock
Other Accessories

Read reviews and talk with others about their experience with the accessories before you make your choice. There are also accessories that come independent of the woodstove that may be useful, such as the following. 

  • Humidifier, whether that’s a stove-top steamer or a separate unit. Wood heat zaps moisture from the air.
  • Ash rake and shovel
  • Heatproof hand broom and dustpan
  • Coal hod. This is the tightly lidded metal bucket for disposing of ashes.
  • Heatproof gloves. You’ll wear these after your first burn.
  • Woodshed. Even a hastily built plywood roof under which you can store wood will help to keep rain and snow from making your wood more wet.
  • Moisture meter. Akerly recommends spending $15 for this tool at a hardware store to gauge the moisture content of your wood. Ideally, this will be lower than 20 percent for an efficient burn.
  • Splitting ax or wood maul. The difference between wood-splitting instruments is worth an article in itself. Even if you purchase already-cut wood, as I do, you need a tool to split the wood to your preferred size and to create kindling.

What’s It Going to Cost?

Woodstoves typically run $500 to $2,000 for the stove itself. Additional costs include the stovepipe and chimney, hearth pad, tools and accessories. This is an investment. 

“If you spend too little, you get a little,” Wallis says. “If you spend a lot, you may not get a lot more, but probably.” 

As with all consumer goods, brand names carry a price tag. Yet for home-heating brands, longstanding brands have earned their price points on reputations of safety, durability and efficiency.

Woodstoves are 20-year investments, after all.

“If you’re putting one in a cabin that you’re only using a couple times a year, you can get a cheaper stove. But if you’re using it every day, you should invest in a good stove,” Akerly says. 

Maybe a top-of-the-line stove is out of reach but the brand you like has a value-priced stove. Good-quality woodstoves from top manufacturers can be had if you’re willing to sacrifice some of the bells and whistles.

The woodstove I purchased last year, for example, was not the least expensive model I considered. I would call it middle-of-the-road. I chose the value-priced model from a reputable home-heating brand.


Read more: Check out the vintage woodstove at the Modern Day Settler’s homestead!


Bringing a Woodstove Home

Also regarding the economics of a woodstove purchase, installation is not the place to skimp. I know someone who lost their home to a fire inside the walls and another who had a chimney fire. Don’t mess around with shoddy installation.

An improperly installed woodstove, stovepipe or chimney poses a fire danger at multiple points:

  • inside the home from the stove or the stovepipe
  • inside the walls of your home
  • in the chimney

Besides physical danger, your homeowners or renters insurance may not cover damage from a fire if the woodstove was improperly installed. An improperly installed stovepipe or chimney can also cause drafting issues. This makes it hard to start a fire and can allow smoke to enter your home.

“Self-installation is really problematic and a huge fire danger,” Akerly says. “Easily 50 precent of self installs are substandard and potentially dangerous.” A qualified installer will ensure the woodstove is the proper distance from the wall, the hearth pad is adequate, the stovepipe and chimney are the proper height and thickness, and more.

In the end, I ended up purchasing a whole new home-heating system, including new stovepipe and hearth pad. I purchased direct from a hearth dealer.

Buying direct from the dealer cost me more, but they delivered, installed the stove and pipe, and advised on my DIY hearth pad. I am confident in my ability to heat my home with wood safely, and I am glad for all I’ve learned about wood heat along the way.


More Information

Woodstove Resources

Learn more about burning wood and operating a woodstove for the best wood-heating experience. These resources are a good place to start.

Alliance for Green Heat

Information on tax credits and other incentives, plus woodstove purchasing resources.

Chimney Safety Institute of America

Homeowner resources for chimney venting and installation.

U.S. Department of Energy

The basics of wood and pellet heating. 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Wood-burning resources and safety information.

The Wood Heat Organization

Everything you ever wanted to know about wood heat safety, woodstoves and firewood. thickness, and more.


New To You

Used woodstoves are out there, and they’re sold for less than the cost of new woodstoves. However, they’re not necessarily a bargain.

A woodstove can last 20 years or more. New stoves must meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards, meaning they’ll burn wood more efficiently and may be easier to use. Saving money in the upfront purchase of a used woodstove can cost more money and effort in the wood you burn and in the general upkeep of the stove over time.

Another downside to a used woodstove is that your purchase will not qualify for the 2021 federal incentive program. That’s a 26 percent tax credit with the purchase of wood and pellet heaters with a 75 percent or higher EPA high heating value efficiency rating. Your state may also have an incentive program to encourage the use of efficient home-heating systems.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

 

Categories
Equipment

Pros & Cons Of Electric Farm Tools & Machines

Traditionally, farm and yard tools like mowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, chain saws and more have been powered by gasoline engines. But technology rarely stands still. And improvements in batteries have led to the development of capable electric tools suitable for many farming needs.

Whether corded or battery-powered, electric tools and machines offer many advantages compared to gasoline models. But there are also disadvantages to keep in mind—at least until electric models develop to the point where they can stand on equal footing with gasoline models from a pure power perspective.

Are you interested in investing in electric farm and yard tools? Let’s explore some of the primary pros and cons offered by ever-improving gasoline alternatives:

Pros

No emissions

Gasoline engines put out exhaust containing pollutants like carbon monoxide. But electric tools don’t release emissions while operating.

The air around you stays cleaner while working. And you don’t need to worry about breathing fumes.

Reduced noise

Electric tools tend to be quieter than their gasoline counterparts. An electric chainsaw, for example, doesn’t make any noise at all when it’s not actively cutting. Your ears (and your neighbors) will appreciate the diminished volume.


Read more: On the fence about an electric chainsaw? Here are 6 reasons to pick one up.


Less maintenance

A huge advantage of electric tools is the reduced maintenance requirements compared to gasoline models. An electric motor doesn’t need oil changes, spark plugs or various filters. As much simpler machines, they save time for busy farmers.

Easy starting

The pull-cord starters often found on small gasoline engines can be difficult and frustrating to use. Fortunately, electric tools don’t need them!

Picture the ease of flipping a light switch. That’s the beauty of electricity, available at the push of a button.

Cons

Less power

Electric tools continually show improvement, that’s true. But as a general rule, they still lack the strength and power of gasoline models. These models may struggle under challenging circumstances (such as mowing an overgrown field or cutting a huge hardwood log into sections).

When using electric power, you may have to allot more time (and battery charges) to complete power-intensive projects.

Greater cost

While there are certainly exceptions, it’s generally accepted that quality electric tools will be more expensive than comparable gasoline counterparts. However, you may be able to offset this added upfront cost through reduced maintenance expenses in the long run.

May require extra batteries

When a gasoline engine runs out of fuel, you fill up the tank and it’s ready to go again. When a battery runs dry, it needs to be recharged. And that takes time.

To avoid running out of power in the middle of a project, you’ll need to keep multiple batteries on hand. You’ll also need to pay attention to keep them charged.


Read more: Here’s everything you need to know to get started with a log splitter.


Potentially reduced portability

Some electric tools are corded and draw their power from an electrical outlet. And that limits their portability.

Depending on the specific tool and project, this might not be an issue. But it’s hard to take a log splitter out to your woodlot if it’s a corded model designed for use near an electrical outlet.

The next time you’re ready to invest in new farm tools, consider whether electric options might suit your needs. If the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, why not give it a go?

Categories
Animals Large Animals

Breed Profile: Get To Know Harlequin Sheep

Kathleen Sterling, owner of Black Sheep Farm East in Virginia, developed Harlequin Sheep about 40 years ago. A variety of breeds were used to develop the Harlequin, including:

  • Karakul
  • Tunis
  • Corriedale
  • Lincoln
  • Border Leicester
  • Romney
  • Montadale
  • Southdown 

Breeders continue to improve on the size and look in accordance with Sterling’s vision. Farms across the United States and Canada produce healthy, hardy lambs yearly toward the achievement of 500 American Purebred Harlequin sheep.

Once the registry reaches that number, the breed will close to outcrossing with registered Babydoll Southdown Sheep. And it’ll continue improving the breed through the current seven generations. 


Read more: Check out these important tips for protecting your sheep from predators.


Tremendous Opportunity

As of 2020, there were only 16 American Purebred sheep in the registry. This represents a tremendous growth opportunity for breeders to get in early as Harlequins take a prominent role in the miniature sheep world.

Considered a miniature sheep, with shoulder heights at or less than 23 inches, Harley weights range from 80 to 120 pounds for ewes. Rams weigh in at 90 to 150 at maturity.

Their compact size, lower weights and lack of horns (naturally polled) make them easy to handle.


Read more: Want to spin wool from your sheep? Here’s an overview of what to do.


A Fine Fiber Sheep

Known for its fine, medium-staple length wool, Harlequin fiber is similar to Babydoll Southdown fiber. Babydoll/Harlequin crosses, in fact, represent the first outcrossing to increase bloodlines. These animals often sport a rich, dark, brown fleece at birth, sometimes with a white spot on the head or chest.

When processing a tricolor fleece, you’ll get a beautiful gray roving. The fleece of most mature Harlequins can be separated into off white, brown, gray and tan to produce roving in those colors individually.

Despite relative rarity, Harlequins are affordable. Considering Harlequins to obtain or maintain an agricultural exemption on your land (or purchasing for your kids or grandkids as a 4-H or FFA project)? You’ll find they are truly worthy, due to their versatility.

To learn more, visit the Harlequin Sheep Society website. 

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

Categories
Animals Large Animals

Evaluating Sheep Body Condition Before Breeding Season

With October comes the time of year that I need to think about breeding my ewes for next spring. This will only be my second year of breeding and then lambing. So everything is still pretty new for me.

Something I have read about is ensuring your ewes and your ram are in good condition. So, how do you even tell whether your sheep are in tip-top breeding condition?

I found a good explanation on the Penn State Extension web page called “Breeding Season Preparation for Sheep Flocks.” There are some excellent pictures that you can use to evaluate your own flock.

Rating Sheep Body Condition

So here’s my takeaway: You need to evaluate each animal on a score from 1 (a too-thin, emaciated sheep) to 5 (a really fat, overweight sheep). An ideal sheep body condition score is a 3. 

Run your hands across the back half of the sheep’s back, near the loin and hip area. The spine and ribs should not be prominent or easily felt. If your ewes look like that, their body condition probably is a 1.

So, it’s time to get some extra grain and high-quality hay in them. Ideally, you would start that a few months before breeding.

A body score of 3 is what you are looking for. It means that you don’t necessarily see the spine and hips but can feel them if you press down just slightly on them. Those sheep are well-filled out and have good muscle tone in their back legs.

The sheep who score a 5 are probably pretty easy to pick out. They are fat—and, no, it’s not the extra wool they have grown over the summer! You have to search pretty hard to find the spine and hip bones and can feel pads of fat on their loins and even over their dock. 


Read more: Do you know your flock’s FAMACHA score? Here’s what it is and what it means for your sheep.


Hands-On

I find it difficult to evaluate the body condition of my sheep without actually feeling them. They really have regrown a lot of the wool that we sheared off earlier in the year. If you have hair sheep, it may be easier to evaluate your ewes if they have not grown their hair after shedding.

You also need to consider prior issues that may have caused problems before putting your ram out with the ewes. For example, did any of your ewes reject their lambs or have issues with lambing or producing milk?

Those types of issues are considered problematic. It’s not recommended that you continue to breed these ewes, as you would probably expect more trouble next lambing season as well.


Read more: The best first-aid kit is one you never need. Here’s how to keep sheep healthy and your kit on the shelf.


Keep Records, Make Decisions

It’s a good idea to keep records of things like this (as well as records of your vaccination, worming and other medical issues). If you are like me, you’ll forget everything by the time the next breeding season comes around.

I actually keep notes on my iPhone so I have a handy record with me every place I go!

Given the above criteria, I’ve chosen 10 of my 14 ewes to breed for the season. The other four will most likely go to the sale barn. It’s just too expensive to feed a large farm animal that is not producing something! 

Over the summer, my flock was either on pasture or eating grass hay. Then, about six weeks ago, we switched to a higher-quality hay with alfalfa in it that should provide improved nutrition for the mothers-to-be.

I will most likely start the ewes on a little bit of grain as well before we put everyone together in mid-November.

Given that ewes have an estrous cycle of about 17 days, we hope to have lambs mid- to late-April. Of course, even the best plans don’t always work out. But if you go into the breeding season with at least some idea of what kind of shape your flock is in (and which ewes have the easiest lambing), you’re far more likely to come out ahead.

Categories
Food Poultry Recipes

Recipe: Enjoy This Orange Blossom Cocktail By The Coop!

Kate E. Richards is a chicken-keeper, gardener and a self-proclaimed “professional drinker.” She combined her favorite hobbies into a new book, Drinking with Chickens: Free-Range Cocktails for the Happiest Hour, filled with wonderful pictures of chickens and fun cocktails to toast a hard day’s work. 

drinking chickens drink recipe orange blossom
Courtesy of Running Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group Inc.

Now, don’t be confused. She doesn’t mean you should drink with your chickens. That is really just her metaphor for life. She also adds a disclaimer on her website, drinkingwithchickens.com:

“Do not let chickens on, near, or in your drinks or food. They are filthy animals, and they will get you sick. Use common sense and sanitize surfaces and hands after coming into contact with poultry, other animals, and frankly, a lot of people. 

“Furthermore, we definitely do not condone feeding chickens or any animal alcohol. It is bad for them. Drink it all yourself. Do it for the chickens. This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. Don’t take it so damned literally.”

So after a stressful day, make yourself a nice, refreshing cocktail, grab a lawn chair and sit outside sipping while watching your chickens do their thing. Kate says so! 


Read more: Make it a party with this recipe for fermented kimchi cucumbers!


Orange Blossom Slush 

Servings: 4 

Glass Suggestion: Chilled Coupe 

Have you ever stood beneath a blossoming citrus tree, breathed in that heady fragrance and wished you could bottle it up? We’re going to do that and mix it with some frozy (yes, I said frozy) white wine. Do you have to have actual orange blossoms to make this cocktail? Nope. Not in the slightest. Is it extra cool if you have them and use them to make a glorious simple syrup? Why, yes; yes, it is. But you will get by just fine without. 

Ingredients
  • 112 (750-milliliter) bottles dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc, frozen in standard ice cube trays (fills about 3 trays) 
  • 12 (750-milliliter) bottle dry wine (the leftover from your two bottles), chilled 
  • 4 ounces Orange Blossom Syrup (See recipe below)
  • 2 ounces elderflower liqueur, such as St. Germain
  • organic citrus blossoms or other edible blooms (for garnish)
Preparation

Freeze wine into cubes ahead of time, allowing at least 4 hours to fully freeze. 

Place wine ice cubes, chilled wine, Orange Blossom Syrup, and elderflower liqueur in blender and blend until smooth. 

Divvy up mixture among four chilled coupe glasses. Garnish with orange blossoms or other edible blooms.

Orange Blossom Syrup

Servings: makes 34 cup

Ingredients
  • 12 cup water 
  • 12 cup granulated sugar 
  • 13 cup organic orange (or other citrus) blossoms, petals only, or 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Preparation

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. 

Bring just to a boil, lower heat, add either orange blossom petals or orange blossom water, and simmer for 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat and set aside to cool. 

Strain away petals from mixture (if applicable), and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. 

Excerpted from Drinking with Chickens: Free-Range Cocktails for the Happiest Hour by Kate E. Richards. Copyright ©2020. Available from Running Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group Inc.

Categories
Animals Farm & Garden Poultry

Spoil Your Chickens & Yourself With CoopCrate

My family and I have kept chickens for a number of years. It wasn’t long after my wife and I started gardening with gusto about a decade ago that we decided to purchase a quartet of Golden Buff pullets from Meyer Hatchery. We added these fine ladies to our corner-lot suburban growing space and enjoyed both their eggs and the entertainment they provided.

About a year later, we were living on a farm in central Kentucky with Berkshire pigs, Dexter cattle and a whole mess of chickens—layers and meat birds. But that’s a story for another time.

The point is, we’re no spring chickens when it comes to keeping … er, chickens. We’ve moved off the farm in recent years, to another suburban plot we’ve filled with flowers, fruits and veggies. Also, we have six Australorps in a sizable backyard run.

Some things never change. But having chickens around is fun, filling and—even raising thousands of birds—educational.

But I don’t tend to spoil my birds. My wife and kids might disagree with this claim (the hens have a heckin’ swanky handbuilt coop, a swing, deluxe feeders, plenty of toys, etc.), but compared to some keepers, I’m pretty bare bones. I take care of my chickens so they continue to take care of breakfast.

But they don’t come into the house and watch TV with us or anything.

Treat Time!

To make up for their confined life in a well-maintained run (we have a lot of hawks, so free-ranging is a no-go), I do offer my hens the occasional handful of black soldier fly larvae. And when we work in the garden on the weekends, they know to expect armloads of greens and the occasional wriggly bug.

Our Australorps might consider me stingy with the chicken treats, though. So when I was contacted by the people at CoopCrate, offering a review box of their product, I was intrigued. With a few of our ladies undergoing a grueling hard molt, now could be the exact right time to spoil the flock with a few extra somethings.


Read more: Make a chicken treat dispenser with an old gumball machine!


My First CoopCrate

What is CoopCrate, exactly? Well, as a product, it’s a box filled with chicken stuff: treats for your hens, treats for chicken-keepers and products that make chicken-keeping easier and more fun.

Here’s what was in my review CoopCrate box. (Note: Per the company, all products are exclusive to CoopCrate.)

  • Black Soldier Fly Larvae from Stella’s Famous Flock Spoilers (As noted, I had some BSF larvae, but during molting season, extra protein is welcome.)
  • Heavenly Hens Almond Crumble Feed Mixer (Containing raw almonds for extra nutrients)
  • Chia Seed Super Food Supplement from Healthful Hen Organics (I added this when I refilled their pellet feed, and they seemed to love it. And we love the boost of omega-3 and other nutrients they’re getting.)
  • An egg scrubby, for cleaning eggs (I’m actually going to use this later today.)
  • A feather brush, with soft bristles for pampering birds (I … haven’t used this. My birds aren’t lap hens, and I’m especially not handling then during molting season, when growing feathers can be painful. But my kids like to pet the chickens, so I suspect they’ll enjoy the occasional brush.)
  • A sticker that says “Keep Calm & Love Chickens.”
  • “Chicken Feet” Gummies and Cinnamon Hen’s Eggs from Crazy Chicken Lady Candy Company. (Candy treats for the chicken-keeper. Warning: The “chicken feet” actually kind of look like hen toes, which is fun but kind of unsettling at first.)
  • A plush, stuffed chick (My youngest likes it.)
  • A “CoopTips” informational card with helpful chicken nutrition facts

Keep the Fun Going

As a box of chicken stuff, CoopCrate strikes a nice balance between chicken treats, human treats and handy sundries. For the chicken-keeper in your life (or a nice treat for yourself), it’s a nice one-time gift.

But if you’re inclined to keep the fun going, CoopCrate is offered on a subscription basis with an auto-renewing charge of $32.99. (You can cancel this at any time.)


Read more: Bust boredom with these fun ideas for chicken enrichment.


More Than Just Stuff

A CoopCrate purchase is a great way to show your chickens you care. But you can also care about chickens beyond your own coop when ordering.

That’s because CoopCrate sales support poultry rescue facilities, too. And each box includes a fun sticker with a picture of the chicken helped by that month’s purchases. My sponsored chicken was named Daisy, and her picture was included in the box.

CoopCrate chicken treats chickens
Rodney Wilson

So if, after purchasing your feed, bedding and essential coop supplies, you have some money left in the chicken-keeping budget, you may consider a CoopCrate purchase. Each box contains a range of extras to support your hens’ health.

And the extras are fun little gifts to remind you that you’re part of a special chicken-keeping community.

Categories
Animals Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Poultry Uncategorized Waterfowl

Discover African Geese & Cadillac Carrots At The Shiloh Farm

Noah Young didn’t grow up on a farm. But living in Nebraska, he came up around an agricultural environment.

“One in four people are farmers, so I was kinda surrounded by it,” says Young of his home state. After gaining a degree in agricultural business, Young duly went on to launch The Shiloh Farm, a self-sustaining family venture that mixes up bountiful heirloom crops with African geese.

We spoke to Young about how the Nebraska climate and terrain affect The Shiloh Farm’s crops. He shared his tips for keeping chatty geese quiet. And we got into the joys of cooking a chicken noodle soup literally produced from scratch.

Growing Food to Escape Empty Shelves

 

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Young studied agricultural business in college. But in the early wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to go ahead and start a family farm.

“During COVID, when all the shelves were empty, that was the moment for me where I thought, I need to start growing some food!” he recalls of the roots of The Shiloh Farm.

Grappling with the Nebraska Climate

 

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Young says that the climate and the terrain in Nebraska play a large role in determining how he farms.

“I have a lot of friends down in Texas where they grow 52 weeks of a year,” he explains. “But where I’m at, we don’t have that season. So I’m really focused on producing as much as I can during a short window, then storing that.”

Young adds that he learned to view the wintertime as an apt period to prepare for next year’s spring and summer seasons.


Read more: Ducks and geese make great permaculture livestock!


Chatty African Geese

 

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A post shared by Noah Young (@theshilohfarm)

African geese make up some of the standout residents at The Shiloh Farm. And Young says that the eye-catching waterfowl really like to talk.

“I film a lot of videos of the geese, and you can hear them in almost every single video!” he says with a laugh. “They’re loud, but they’re fun. They like making sure people know they’re around.”

When it comes to keeping African Geese quiet, Young recommends sneaking off out of sight behind the back side of a building. Then, strategically place a pile of grain for them to discover and busy themselves with.

Introducing the Cadillac of Carrots

 

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If you scroll through The Shiloh Farm’s Instagram account, you’ll come across some super vibrant looking carrots dubbed “the Cadillac of carrots.”

It turns out the striking root vegetables in question are an heirloom variety called Longue Rouge Sang. Young originally sourced them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Missouri.

“I’m always interested in growing different things,” says Young. “As far as the flavor, they’re incredible. And a lot of our customers say they’re the craziest carrots they’ve ever tasted.”


Read more: Check out these tips for growing flavorful carrots.


Savoring the Whole Meal Process

 

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Highlighting the nourishing nature of running a family farm, Young says he takes immense joy in sitting down to a supper he and his family prepared from top to bottom.

“There’s nothing like making chicken noodle soup and knowing we’ve got the noodles that we made with our own flours, the carrots and celery that we grew and the chicken that we raised ourselves,” says Young. “There really isn’t anything better.”

Follow The Shiloh Farm at Instagram.

Categories
Animals Homesteading Poultry

Ease Chicken Stress With These Hen-Calming Tips

From installing houses for bluebirds and even owls to leaving my fall leaves alone, I do a lot to attract area wildlife. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when a family of hawks set up a nest in a nearby tree.

The one thing I hadn’t counted on? Eventually, the hawks and their offspring began doing low flybys directly over my outdoor chicken run. When their shadows passed overhead—and when, invariably, they made their unmistakable calls—my alarmed hens would scatter.

At least at first, the hawks probably thought they had a pretty good shot at a chicken dinner. But I had completely covered the top of the chicken’s run with netting and also reinforced some areas with extra chickenwire. Still, my hens didn’t necessarily understand that they were actually safe.

Egg Effects

Fortunately, the area hawks eventually stopped buzzing my chicken run. But, if they hadn’t? The added stress could’ve taken a toll on my hens’ health and affected their egg-laying. Stress can negatively affect an egg-laying chicken.

“The process of releasing the yolk, the yolk passing down the oviduct and putting on the egg whites and the shell membranes and the shell—it’s all a very routine process,” says University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine Professor Gary Butcher. “But when there’s any kind of stress, hens can become irregular in their egg production and can decrease egg production. You may see some eggs where the shell is only partially formed.”

He adds, “If there’s a large enough population, you’ll find some that even—whenever they release the yolk into the body cavity—it’s not even picked up. They start to accumulate some egg yolks in the body cavity, if they are stressed out.”


Read more: What can you tell from an eggshell? A lot, in fact.


Sources of Stress

Not all sources of chicken stress are as obvious as hawks flying overhead. “If you put [your chickens] into a secure coop at night, they get to have nice, restful sleep at night,” Butcher says.

At least they should be able to rest easy. “Let’s say there are predators coming around all night long, and you don’t even know that they’re there,” he continues. “Maybe there are flickering lights in the henhouse. Or rats running around scaring the hens all night long. There could be dogs outside barking all the time. Or there are raccoons scratching and trying to get in.

“Those all can cause hens to be distressed. And, when hens are distressed, anything that interrupts their normal pattern can be a problem.”

Other sources of stress may include too much disturbance from people, the effects of disease, or even mite infestations.

“I’ve seen situations where … all night long, these mites jump on them,” Butcher notes. “They suck [the hens’] blood and crawl all over them. Then, the hens are really nervous and they don’t sleep comfortably.”

chicken
Susan Brackney

Extra Protection

Eliminating mites and other possible health issues is one obvious way to reduce chicken stress. Dissuading would-be predators, so that they simply mosey along, pays dividends too.

Just how can you make the henhouse and outdoor runs virtually predator-proof? First, I buried chickenwire about 12 inches below the soil line all the way around my outdoor chicken run.

“When you bury your wire, make sure that it curves away,” Butcher recommends. “You want to curve it because a lot of these predators will start to dig down. If the wire is [buried] straight down, they can get to the bottom and then go underneath it.

“But, if they go down and it starts to curve away when they hit that, they don’t think about digging backwards and going under. They keep on trying to dig straight down and then they realize that they can’t get in.”

As for the fencing you choose? Make sure its mesh size is small enough to thwart especially grabby critters. Before he had reinforced one of his own chicken runs, Butcher lost some of his hens to raccoons.

“Somehow, they would convince those chickens to get near the fence,” he recalls. “And then they would reach in and grab the chickens’ heads and try to pull them through. It was horrible.”

Raccoons also may be able to get underneath raised cages and grab your chickens’ feet.


Read more: These 15 tips will help you predator-proof your chickens.


Above & Beyond

In addition to my buried chickenwire, I’ve also spaced cement blocks around the perimeter of my run. And, I topped the run with a couple of layers of bird netting. To keep the netting in place, I wired it to the top and sides of my fencing at 3-inch intervals.

Finally, I spaced strips of white cloth along the top of the netting. (This has helped to keep area wild birds from accidentally getting caught in the hard-to-see netting from above.)

Categories
Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden

From The Herb Garden: Thyme Is Terrific! 

The small, delicate leaves of this pungent, peppery herb can enhance the flavor of many dishes. But thyme also offers a buffet of healing benefits for the herbal apothecary.   

The common thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is native to Southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. It is a member of the mint family and has been used since antiquity for a wide range of purposes.  

In ancient Egypt, the herb was used for embalming. In ancient Greece, it was burned as an incense in temples. That practice was modified by the Romans, who used the smoldering herb throughout their households as well as at public events, believing that the smoke purified and cleansed the air.  

You’ll find dozens of cultivars of common thyme, as well as more than 300 different species of Thymus, to choose from. All are considered edible, although some are considered more palatable than others.

Additionally, many of the types grown as ground covers have very small leaves. These are generally regarded to be too much effort to harvest in any useful quantities.  


Read more: Grow these culinary herbs for your chickens! (You can use some, too.)


Thyme in the Kitchen  

Thyme is widely used in a number of cuisines and is possibly the most widely used herb in kitchens around the world. It shows up commonly in Spanish, French, Italian and Turkish dishes.  

The herb can be used either fresh or dried and has an earthy, slightly lemony flavor. This lemon flavor is even more pronounced in lemon thyme cultivars that have become more widely available in recent years.   

The list of uses in the kitchen is almost endless. Use the leaves in beef, pork, poultry and seafood dishes, or drop on roasted vegetables, beans and lentils, rice dishes or even eggs.

Try adding the herb to soup stocks, marinades and sauces.  

Thyme is often included (along with savory, rosemary and oregano) in a culinary herb blend known as Herbs de Provence, which has become a signature flavor in foods from the Provence region of southeastern France. 


Read more: These DIY herbal bath and body products bring the garden to the tub.


Thyme in the Apothecary 

It’s quite likely that thyme was utilized for its medicinal qualities long before it was ever enjoyed in the kitchen. One of the most traditional uses was to quiet a dry cough. And like many other members of the mint family, it is used to relieve indigestion. 

A strong tea brewed from the dried leaves of thyme is beneficial for both of these ailments, as well as to ease a sore throat. Brew 1 tablespoon of thyme in 6-8 ounces of hot water and allow it to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.

Try blending the herb with mint or rosemary for additional benefits, and add a bit of honey to sweeten. 

Learn more about the medicinal befits of Thymus vulgaris in my book The Artisan Herbalist. 

Growing Thyme 

Thyme is a low-growing, hardy perennial that will thrive in your garden once established. The herb loves full sun but will still do well in partial shade. It is also quite drought tolerant.

You’ll find many interesting thyme cultivars to choose from, including some with variegated leaves. Some plants have a more erect growth habit, while others are low-growing, ground cover plants.

Adding a few different types of thyme to your garden will allow you to enjoy its many forms, colors and flavors. 

Growing thyme from seeds can be tedious, as the seeds germinate quite slowly. Consider purchasing a young plant from a nursery. Or ask a friend for a cutting of their thyme plant to get you started.

The herb propagates easily from cuttings or root division.  

Space your plants between 12 to 24 inches apart to give them room to spread. Thyme also does quite well in containers and is a great choice for gardeners with limited growing space.  

Pollinators love the flowers, so bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects will visit your garden all summer long. Whether you plan to enjoy it in your kitchen or your herbal apothecary, or if you’re just growing this herb as an attractive, pollinator-friendly companion plant, be sure to make time for thyme in your garden this year! 

 

Categories
Poultry Recipes

“Creepy” Chicken Offal Recipes, From Comb To Claws

Around Halloween time, it’s not unusual for those who celebrate the season to spookify their homes with cobwebs, jack-o’-lanterns, skeletons and all sorts of unearthly decor. No part of the house is exempt from the eerie embellishments, not even the kitchen. But would you expect to see ovary of hen and comb of rooster on the prep counter instead of eye of newt and wing of bat? The answer, for those who appreciate chicken offal, is a resounding yes!

Offal has long been regarded as the unwanted leftovers once an animal (such as a chicken) has been butchered for its meat. It is typically discarded or processed into other foods for human or animal consumption. But many cultures throughout the world consume these “variety meats” as part of their regular diet.

The stomach, intestines, brains, tongue and kidneys of animals such as cattle, sheep and pork are common ingredients in the cuisines of Italy, France and the United Kingdom, as well as throughout Asia. Chicken offal, such as livers, hearts, gizzards, and even feet, has been part of the American culinary scene for generations.

With the popular nose-to-tail trend of using an entire animal, however, more of the chicken is showing up on the dinner plate.

Trying new dishes with outlandish (offbirdish?) ingredients is not for the faint of heart. And that makes this the perfect time of year to give this trio of chicken offal recipes a try. Contact your butcher well ahead of time for these special ingredients. Then prepare and serve them up at your Halloween festivities.

Who knows? Your friends and family might find them “offally” good and request them at any time of the year.


Read more: You can make and preserve your own chicken bone broth. Here’s how.


Rooster Testicle Stew

Region of Origin: Eastern Europe
Servings: 4

My paternal grandmother, Margaret Balzar, brought a lot of recipes with her when she immigrated to the U.S. I specifically remember her palacinka, sweet cheese crepes, Hungarian goulash and her  patience attempting to teach her daughter-in-law (my mom) to cook these Eastern European favorites.

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 pound rooster testicles (have your butcher clean them for you)
1/2 cup red wine or sherry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

In a large stew pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, then cook until translucent, stirring frequently (about six to eight minutes).

Blend in the paprika, stirring continuously to coat the onions evenly.

Add the testicles, then turn the heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until the testicles are browned (about seven to eight minutes). Add the wine, lower the heat to medium-low, and stir well to blend it into the seasonings.

Once the wine is incorporated, lower the flame to a simmer. Cover the pot and stew the ingredients for approximately 25 minutes or until the testicles are tender and the sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice.

Chicken Wattle and Cockscomb Ragout (Cibreo)

Region of Origin: Italy
Servings: 4 to 6

My maternal grandfather’s family, the Malaspinas, can trace their origin back to 12th century Italy. Cibreo may not have existed back then. But this chicken offal recipe is said to have been a favorite of Catherine de Medici in the 16th century.

Ingredients

1/2 pound chicken wattles and combs (have your butcher clean them for you), rinsed
3 cups chicken broth
1 pound chicken livers, rinsed
1 stick of salted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Bowtie pasta (farfalle), prepared according to the package
2 strips of bacon or slices of pancetta (optional), fried and drained on paper towels
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley (optional)

Preparation

Place the wattles and combs in a large pot. Add the 3 cups of chicken broth, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue cooking for 25 minutes.

Remove the pot from heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the wattles and combs from the stock. Allow them to drain on paper towels until dry. Discard the used broth (or save it for a treat for a pet).

Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the outer layer of skin from the wattles and combs. Chop these and the chicken livers into bite-sized pieces. Then pat with paper towels to remove any lingering moisture.

In a Dutch oven or large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Toss the pieces of wattles, combs and livers in the flour until well coated, then add to the butter. Fry the meats, stirring occasionally, until brown on all sides.

Add the shallots and stir, cooking for another two to three minutes or until the shallots take on some color. Sprinkle the mixture with 1 teaspoon of the flour, stirring well to incorporate. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced by half and well thickened.

Add the chicken stock, stirring well to blend. Continue cooking until the liquid reduces to the consistency of a thick sauce. It should coat and cling to the back of your cooking spoon. Remove from heat, then add the two egg yolks. Stir immediately to incorporate the yolks into the sauce.

Next, add the heavy cream, blending it into the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon over bowls of bow-tie pasta. If desired, top with crumbled bacon or pancetta and parsley.


Read more: Process your homegrown chickens!


Chicken Ovary Soup

Region of origin: New York
Servings: 4 to 6

Whenever I visited New York City, my former in-laws made it a point to take me to eateries such as Yonah Schimmel’s and other Jewish restaurants in Manhattan’s Lower East side so that I could sample the flavors of their culture. This soup was their answer to any ailment that I or my sons came down with.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken
4 quarts (16 cups) cold water
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 stalks celery, chopped (including leaves)
1 bunch fresh dill, chopped (not the stems!)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 pound chicken ovaries (eyerlekh)
Fresh parsley sprigs

Preparation

Place the chicken breast side down in a large stew pot or Dutch oven. Pour the water over the chicken until the water level is about 4 inches from the brim of the pot.

Add the chopped onion, sliced carrots, chopped celery and sliced dill. Bring to a boil, then lower to medium heat. Simmer for 90 minutes uncovered.

Skim the fat from the top of the cooking liquid.

Add the garlic cloves, then simmer for another 90 minutes uncovered. Using a large sieve, strain the broth from the rest of the ingredients. Place the broth in a large pot or Dutch oven.

Place the cooked chicken on a plastic cutting board, and remove the skin and bones. Chop the chicken meat into bite-sized (or larger!) pieces. Add the chicken meat and the vegetables back into the broth. Heat to a simmer.

Carefully remove the largest yolks from the ovary membranes and add them to the soup. With a sharp knife, slit the ovary membranes to release the other yolks. These will range in size from pea size to almost regular yolk sized. It’s okay if some membrane gets in the soup.

Allow the yolks to gently poach in the soup. Cook the yolks through to your desired consistency—soft or hard cooked. Serve topped with fresh parsley sprigs.

Are these chicken offal recipes not creepy enough? Consider trying celebrity chef Chris Consentino’s infamous recipe for candied cockscombs with cherries and vanilla rice pudding. Or venture outside of the henhouse to another type of poultry with this recipe for deep-fried duck tongues.