Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chickens: Out with the Old

After cracking my eggs into a hot pan beside some leftover steak, I did something I haven’t done in some time: I tossed the shells in the trash instead of putting them aside to feed back to the chickens. We raised this latest batch of leghorns from day-old chicks to full-grown, egg laying machines for the past 3 years. There were times when they didn’t lay eggs at all, and there were times when we had so many eggs that we gave them away or sold them for next to nothing.

Sometimes they had to take turns laying.

The girls have been getting tired over the last few months, however. We continued to feed them well, but production was way down. Mr. Farmer kept looking at the coop and thinking about ways to improve the setup for the next run. So, when we found an ad on Craigslist looking for older chickens, we decided to retire them to a farm where they will run free.

We aren’t very sentimental about chickens. Still, these girls have served us extremely well over the years, and leghorns aren’t very meaty anyway, so retirement just seemed like a better fit than slaughter. So stay tuned (do people these days even know what that means anymore?) for updates on the new brood, the new brooder, and the new chicken coop… all scheduled for Spring 2013!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Maple Syrup: Upsizing the Cooker

Two years ago we harvested our first ever maple sap. I posted about tapping, collecting, and cooking down the sap into sweet syrup. This year we purchased 8 more taps (not that we used them all) and enlisted our previous Pig Partner to tap trees on his land. His trees are twice the size of ours, and the sap was flowing strong, so THIS upgrade became necessary:

Woah. That's One BIG Pot!

In 2011, our large roaster oven was sufficient to process the sap from our few, relatively young trees. It had some issues, however. Some of the sugar caramelized and even burnt on the sides of the cooker. When we added more sap, it washed that char off the sides, resulting in a very dark finished product:

Delicious, but a Bit Darker than Ideal
This new system, which consists of a very large aluminum stainless steel stock pot on a propane burner from a turkey fryer, isn’t without its issues, of course. As you can imagine, it takes a very long time to heat up a pot of that size, even with the large propane burner. A heavy metal frame had to be fabricated to hold the immense weight of the pot and liquid. Also, since there is no room for it in the house, we must complete the operation in Mr. Farmer’s Man-Cave, which is not the cleanest place in the world. Outside contamination is a constant concern, so all other shop projects had to be suspended for the sugaring. The setup makes temperature tricky to maintain as well (see the sheet metal reflector on the wall behind the pot?). The direct heat from the flame also requires constant attention to prevent burning. This means that Mr. Farmer has gotten very little sleep the past 2 weeks while he stirs the pot every half hour or so. It makes for a tense household, to say the least.

Of course we are very excited about the finished product that we should have soon. The last of the 2011 syrup went with a visiting friend home to England, and we can barely wait to have more!