The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gravity Flow Water Filter

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

Hope everybody is having a wonderful day. Here in southeastern Oklahoma the weather is in the middle 80's - middle 60's. If you use your imagination, you can forget that just a few days ago it was 98 degrees with a corresponding humidity. Okay, so much for the weather.

Today we're going to talk about water filtration. Like guns, radios and cars, there is no perfect water filter, but I'd like to share with you the type of system that we have used for about 20 years. We use a gravity flow filtration device. There are a few different models to choose from, some are plastic, some are stainless steel, and you can also make your own out of a couple of five gallon buckets. Probably the most popular brand is Berkey. They make numerous models and sizes, and they appear to make a quality product. But, Fern and I years ago, went with the Katdyn line of gravity flow filters. At the time, I really can't tell you why we chose plastic over metal. I know the plastic has worked well for us, and when we lived in Alaska, it worked particularly well when moving from one location to another. You can pack all the parts together inside of itself. I love our United States Postal System, and I really do, but sometimes things can get banged around in the mail. So, we just stayed with the Katadyn Gravidyn, which is plastic.

Okay, the pieces. You have an upper chamber and a lower chamber. The lower chamber has one part, the spigot. The upper chamber is where you pour the water initially, it flows through the filters into the lower chamber, thus completing the gravity flow cycle.
Some of these type filters have holes pre-drilled for two, three or four candle type filters. We use one filter and we fill our top container once every two or three days. It's about 2 gallons. That would take care of most families of four to six people, if you filled it more often.
But, if you want, you can add two of the candle type filters, or three, but you would need to have a very large family to justify this. The more candles, the more water it will filter, and if you're the
immediate gratification type, then you can have your filtered water much faster.
Like I said, we use one filter, and we fill it every two to three days. It takes eight to ten hours for the water to filter from the top to the bottom, so you could theoretically fill it up two to three times a day. But, in doing so, you have to make sure you drain the filtered water out of the bottom. Otherwise you will have an unscheduled mopping. So, if we get enough water for two people filling it every two days with one filter, then if you filled it twice a day, everyday, you would have enough water for about eight people with one filter. Not to mention if you filled it three times a day. So, if you use two or three filters, you can have a lot of filtered water for a lot of people if you work it.

The cleaner the water you put in to be filtered, the longer your filters will last. I guess you could go out and scoop up muddy water and pour into your nice, pretty, clean top reservoir, but in a short period of time, you're
going to ruin your filter and clog it up. If you're in this type of environment, there are ways to pre-filter water. There are lots of ways to do this. You can put water in a barrel and let it sit, and the heavy particulates will settle. Then you can either scoop or siphon it off of the top and have much cleaner water. If you choose, you can filter it through a t-shirt or a pair of pantyhose. You say, "Why would you do this? Isn't this a gravity flow water filter?" Yes, it is, but it's intended purpose is to filter microscopic type bacteria, so you need to have the water that you're going to filter down to a very clean level. Okay, so don't be pouring muddy water into your filter just to prove it will do it. Because if this is what you're using to prevent intestinal parasites or diarrhea, then you might want to give thought to putting in pre-filtered water.

The manuals indicate replacing these filters every six months, and there are instructions for how to wash them if they get a little bit dirty. We take ours apart every month or two and give it a good scrubbing. All of the plastic parts you can wash with regular liquid soap and water. The filters themselves can only be washed in warm water, no soap. A word of caution. You should always follow the manufacturers advice, when to replace the filter. We do use ours significantly past the six month date. I can't address the other manufacturers replacement recommendations, because I have never used their products. 

There are some companies that just sell a filter. You take a five gallon bucket; put it on top of another five gallon bucket with a lid in between the two; drill matching holes into the bottom of the top bucket and into the lid of the bottom one; install your filters between the bottom of the top reservoir and the top of the bottom reservoir; drill a hole near the bottom of the bottom reservoir; install a spigot; and you're good to go. 

We have used this type of water filter for around 20 years now. We used it all over Alaska where the treated water is sometimes of a questionable nature. Now, we use it to filter our rural water, which is also of a questionable nature. There is some question as to whether or not it will filter fluoride. There is also some question whether it will filter chlorine.
But you don't need to filter chlorine. Either before or after you filter your water, let it sit in an open pitcher on your counter top, and the vast majority of the chlorine will dissipate into the air. I don't understand why we continue, or ever started, to put fluoride into our drinking water. If you need fluoride treatment for your teeth, the brush your teeth twice a year with a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is horrible for older people. You need to do your own research on fluoride. Good luck on finding a commercially made toothpaste that doesn't have fluoride. It's in your toothpaste and it's in most, but not all, municipal water systems. I can find no good use for fluoride. It is terrible for babies to consume, and it does horrible things to the elderly folks bodies. So much for that.

If you would like to remove microscopic particles from your drinking water, then I can recommend the Katadyn Gravidyn gravity flow filter. Hope this helps.

We'll talk more later. Frank

P.S. My father was the acting chemist for Dallas County Park Cities Water Control and Improvement District, No. 2 for about 20 years. He is my source of data for flouride. He was adamantly opposed to the introduction of fluoride to the water systems. Shortly thereafter, he left the water treatment business and opened a restaurant. Just thought you might want to know.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Nutrition of Tomatoes & Peppers

I never really think of tomatoes as being a nutrient dense food. But I thought it would be interesting to include it in our nutrition series, since so many of us love to eat them fresh from the garden. We read years ago that peppers contain many nutrients and trace minerals that you don't find in most other foods.

1 cup of raw cherry tomatoes include the following nutrients. We don't grow cherry tomatoes, but this is the one listing for raw tomatoes.

  • calories 28.6
  • carbohydrates 5.8g
  • protein 1.3g
  • vitamins A, C, K
  • folate
  • choline
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • sodium
  • phytosterols
  • omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids

1 cup of raw, sweet, green peppers include the following nutrients.
The nutritional content of jalapeno peppers is very similar to sweet peppers.
  • calories 29.8
  • carbohydrates 6.9g
  • protein 1.3g
  • vitamins A, C, K
  • folate
  • choline
  • calcium
  • phophorus
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • phytosterols
  • omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids

The list of nutrients here surprised me. I knew that tomatoes were not high in calories or carbohydrates, but I didn't realize how many other benefits they included. It also surprised me to find out that tomatoes and peppers both provide very similar nutrients. So now when you make up that batch of pizza sauce or salsa, you will know how good it is for you.

When thinking of a survival garden and the nutrition it provides, tomatoes and peppers will not be rich in carbohydrates or calories for energy, but they both provide needed vitamins and minerals in larger amounts than some other vegetables. Something to think about. The size of garden you are able to tend successfully will determine what you are able to grow. That, along with the availability of seeds. Do you have some? Do you have enough? Make sure you have what you need, just in case you can't get anymore.

This morning I was reading Rural Revolution and noticed that Patrice Lewis has had success with a short season corn. If this is of interest to you, please check it out. We talked about it, and even though we live in the south, we may be able to grow two crops. I think we will try it next year.

Until next time - Fern

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reconditioning Sourdough Starter

The last time I made sourdough bread it was awful. No, really, it was. We each had part of one roll, then fed the rest of it to the chickens. I haven't made anything sourdough since then, and it's been months. I thought about writing an article called 'Yucky Bread', but first I wanted to figure out what had gone wrong. One thing that was different was the recipe. It called for mixing up the bread dough, then allowing it to proof overnight, instead of only mixing up the sponge and allowing it to 'sour' overnight. I thought maybe this new technique had somehow made the bread way too sour, which was what was wrong with it. 

So, off to my cookbooks I went. It took a while and much reading, then I finally found this information. When you don't use your sourdough starter for a length of time, and have it stored in the refrigerator like I did, it becomes more and more acidic. This will make your dough, when you finally use it, much stronger. Well, when I made this last batch of bread, my starter had been in the frig for quite a while. I was anxious to try my latest sourdough cookbook, until I made that batch of yucky bread. It has full instructions on how to make sure your culture is fully active and not too acidic on page 30. Now, that I have figured out how to de-acidify my starter, I still look forward to trying out some of these recipes.

I followed the directions on how to 'sweeten' up the starter, and it worked great. Fast forward to the present. Even though I reconditioned the starter back then, I never used it to make bread. Since then we have had back
surgeries, accidents and other interruptions in our lives, and throughout that, I barely even fed my starter. When I finally grabbed it, and decided to at least feed it, the dark liquid that is usually on top of the floury dough was dried up. I figured the starter was dead. It still had that sourdough kind of smell, although it was a VERY strong smell, it didn't smell rotten, which is what I expected. I didn't think it would hurt to try reconditioning it once again. That is what I am doing now.

Believe it or not, even after several months of neglect, the starter is back to perking along. Reconditioning starter is very easy. Set it out at room temperature, and each day feed the starter about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filtered water. It should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Remember to only use wooden, glass, ceramic or plastic with sourdough. It doesn't like metal at all. Leave the starter out at room temperature covered with a towel and let it percolate and bubble. Since my container for storing the starter in the frig doesn't hold much, I fed the starter for several days to build up volume before I started discarding some of it.

After feeding for several days, keep about 1 1/2 cups of the starter, put it in a new bowl, and discard the rest. Feed the starter you kept, letting it bubble up well between feedings. I will go by several times a day and stir it up, almost in a whipping motion, to add a good amount of air to the mix. You may need to feed it again for several days to build up the volume before you discard any more. Repeat this process until the starter returns to it's original state and smells like normal sourdough starter instead of the real strong, almost stinky, smell of an acidic starter. How many times and over how many days you repeat this process will be determined by the condition of your starter and your own personal preferences.

A warning. While you are reconditioning your starter, be prepared for your kitchen to smell a little off for a while. It took Frank a few days to figure out it wasn't the trash or something rotten in the kitchen that needed to be discarded, it was the starter. If you are going to have company, you may want to warn them ahead of time what is happening in your kitchen, especially if you are going to feed them. It is not a rancid smell, it is just rather strong and most people would think it stinks.

A side note. While I have my starter out in this working state on the counter, I have learned to keep it away from my kefir. We always have a quart of kefir in the works and that spot on the counter is the ideal place to keep the sourdough as well. But, the last time I reconditioned the sourdough next to the kefir, the kefir almost stopped working. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it until I remembered reading an admonition somewhere that the yeasts from the two cultured items don't play well together. Now I keep them across the room from each other, which works out much better.

My first sourdough bread, 2013

I have been reconditioning this starter for a week now and still have several days to go before I will be satisfied with the results. When I walk by it, I still smell some of that 'stinky' strong smell, which tells me it is not at the state that I would like for it to be. After it's in good shape again, I hope to make another batch of bread, and this time, I hope it's edible. Frank appreciates a fresh batch of bread much more than the chickens. I'll let you know how it goes.

Until next time - Fern

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

No Shampoo Six Months Later...and Never Again

Well, it has now been six months since I quit using any hair care products, and I never plan to use any again. After this length of time and the wonderful results I have had, I can truly say I never intend to use any shampoo or conditioner again. Why would I? I now have less itching or psoriasis symptoms, and I have eliminated a source of daily chemical exposure for my body. Needless to say, I am very happy with the results.

To follow this experiment I have been conducting, here are the previous articles which outline the steps I have taken.

No More Shampoo - March, 31, 2014

No Shampoo, One Month Later - April 24, 2014

No Shampoo, Three Months Later - June 13, 2014

Here is a pictorial view of the past six months without shampoo.

Before I started, March 20th

One month later, April 22nd

Three months later, June 12th

Now, six month later, September 24th

I still have a little itching from my psoriasis, but continue to be medication free after six months of time. That in itself is worth the effort to do something a little different. Along the way I have told a few people that I have quit using shampoo and they have been surprised. No one has been able to tell the difference. There have been a few times that I thought the hair next to my scalp didn't look as clean as I would like for it to. Then I only applied the vinegar solution to the ends of the hair for a few days and it took care of that. There are many times now that I only wash my hair every other day instead of everyday, like I did when I still used shampoo.

I had wondered from time to time what I would do with my hair in a collapse scenario. I doubt if I would wash it as often, and I had even thought I might have to cut it short. This is not an option I relish, since I have not cut my hair any shorter than it is now for over 40 years. The option of using baking soda and vinegar, is much more viable than depending on a stock of commercial hair care products, and one that can be incorporated into a survival scenario. That gives me one less thing to worry about. Now I just need to start making some bars of soap for the rest of our cleaning needs. It's one of the things on my list of skills to learn. If you get the chance to learn something new, take it, and then share with the rest of us.

Until next time - Fern

Monday, September 22, 2014

Radio Communications Review, Part 1 - A Re-Post

Hello, Frank here.

If you are a regular reader, then you know a week or so back we introduced a re-post of an article that was a year or so old. This effort was very well accepted and we genuinely thank you. 

As most of you are aware, when, not if, our society shuts down, or collapses, then it will be too late to start making general preparations. I believe communication is one of the areas grossly overlooked by those that are trying to prepare. Whether you want to transmit on a radio, listen to local events or world events, then there are certain types of equipment that you will need. Most of these items can be dual or triple purpose, and will not break the bank unless you choose to do so. 

The following article is a re-post about basic radio communications. You can find many other articles listed under Frank's Radio Communications. If this is of interest to you, then please read some of these articles. They are written in easy to understand language with the beginner in mind. Thank you for your considerations, and I hope you enjoy the following re-post. If you have a comment, please share it, because this is one way for all of us to learn. That little radio in your hand may some day save your life. Thank you again.

Originally published August 12, 2013

Hello, Frank here.

I'm going to try to summarize what we have talked about in the last ten posts. The reason being, my next radio post is going to start into ham or amateur radio. So, let's go back and talk about all of the stuff I have covered so far. We have talked about the rules and regulations, and I will give you my recommendations on certain radios. Okay, let's go.

CB radio is probably the most popular radio around and more people have them than any other type. There are basically two types of CB radios - non-single side band radios and single side band (SSB) radios.
Remember, CB radio is line-of-site communications, most of the time. CB radio operates at about 27 MHz. It will also bounce off of the ionosphere similar to HF ham radios. In some circles the CB radio is called an 11 meter radio. Any CB radio will skip off of the atmosphere if the conditions are right, but an SSB (single side band) will do a better job of it and give you greater distance. So if you want to talk to your cousin Leroy two blocks down the road, and there is not a hill in the way, any CB radio will do the job. If you want to play and listen to other folks much farther away, then SSB is the preferred method. I recommend the Galaxy line of CB radios with SSB. There are other manufacturers that make a quality radio, I just think the Galaxy is more dependable and is prettier. No one likes looking at an ugly radio.

We'll talk about antennas, power supplies and coax cable later in this post. Next, let's talk about GMRS/FRS radios. These radios are also very
popular. The vast, vast majority of them are handheld radios. People use them a great deal for hunting, keeping track of the kids and just play-type radios. These are also line-of-site communication. These will not bounce off of the ionosphere so you are not going to be hearing frequencies from around the world. These radios function at about 465 MHz. Because of the higher frequency they will work better from inside a building than your lower frequency radios. The big difference between these radios, in my opinion, are the batteries or power systems inside the radios. 

While we are writing this, there is a major electrical storm in our area. All of my antennas have been disconnected and our computers are unplugged. If I were a little bit smarter, I would also unplug my power supply.

In a previous post, we talked about the difference between GMRS and FRS, they are basically the same radio. These are excellent, high quality radios with a good clear signal for line-of-site communications. Do not believe the advertisements for 10, 20, 30 miles - this is a sales gimmick. Not all of us live on a flat planet, if we did, then the advertisements
would be correct. Remember, line-of-site. All GMRS radios will communicate with other GMRS radios regardless of the manufacturer. All the channels are the same frequencies. I recommend the Midland GXT1000VP4 or GXT1050VP4. They are the same radio - one is camo and one is black. The reason for this recommendation is that you can put four AA rechargeable batteries in the radio and the batteries will recharge while in the charging cradle. Some other Midland radios look identical, but they charge slightly different and will not recharge rechargeable batteries while in the charging cradle. I have used this radio for a number of years on our little farm.

Okay. We have reviewed CB and GMRS. There is one other type of radio frequency and it is the MURS frequencies. MURS comes with five frequencies operating at about 151 MHz. It is also line-of-site communications and will work fine inside of most buildings. There is not a major manufacturer that produces a MURS handheld radio, but you can buy a commercial radio, which we will talk about in just a minute, to use on the MURS frequencies. OK, CB, GMRS and MURS are the basic frequencies for non-ham communications. All three have about the same power output. CB and MURS do not require a license, GMRS does. 

A slightly different type of radio is a commercial radio. These radios are not set for any particular frequency and they will not operate on the CB
frequencies. But they will operate on the GMRS, MURS and the VHF/UHF ham radio frequencies. You have to program these radios yourself. Most of them come with a programming cable and computer disc that you download. My recommendation is the Wouxun handheld commercial radio. Many dealers sell them. I would recommend Universal Radio. It is 100% legal to use these radios on the ham radio frequencies. It is not legal to use these radios on MURS or GMRS. We will discuss legalities and license requirements in just a minute.

Non-transmitting radios. This is a group of radios that you listen to only. We're going to talk about shortwave receivers, scanners, weather radios and there are a few others, but for the most part this covers them. Let's start with weather radios. Weather radios connect to a radio frequency
provided by the National Weather Service. Most parts of the country receive good, clear weather radio signals. Very few places don't. I would highly recommend a weather radio with S.A.M.E.  This feature will narrow down severe weather signals to the county level. If you live in an area that has the potential for tornadoes, I would highly recommend one of these for your home. My recommendation is a Midland WR300. It can be powered from a wall outlet, any 12 volt source and has a built in battery back up for when the power goes off, you can still receive signals. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is a little difficult to program. You can connect an external antenna and a flashing red beacon for those that are hearing impaired.

Scanners are another type of listen only radio. There are handheld, mobile and base scanners. The big question right now is whether it is digital or analog. Some communities are going to a digital signal similar to what
TV did nationwide a few years back. This is not a national movement. This is a local decision as to whether to go digital or stay analog. Many communities are not going digital. You will need to check with your local emergency management office. Some scanners are S.A.M.E. capable for weather alerts. New scanners will not receive telephone communications. Some will not receive the CB frequencies, but all will receive police, weather, fire, GMRS, MURS and the VHF/UHF ham frequencies. Some have external antenna capabilities. In some states it is illegal to have a scanner in your vehicle. This is your responsibility to find out the laws in your state.

I'm not going to talk much about marine band radios. Marine band is a two way radio. If you have a boat, or you live near the coast of the ocean or any large lake, or any navigable river then you can listen to marine band signals which includes the Coast Guard.
There are commercial frequencies on the marine bands. There are about 88 channels on each marine band radio. They operate at approximately 157 MHz. The commercial radio I mentioned earlier will also broadcast on these frequencies. Your scanner will also receive marine band frequencies. A little side note - your scanner will also receive railroad frequencies. If you choose to purchase a marine band radio and you choose to transmit on a marine band radio, then know which frequencies the government is using and do not use those frequencies.

Shortwave receivers receive the lower frequencies. 30 MHz down to about 1.8 MHz. These are receive radios only. Shortwave and ham band frequencies are intertwined everywhere between 30 and 1.8 MHz. Most shortwave broadcast signals are AM (amplitude modulation) radio, as is your CB radio, which falls in these frequencies. All ham radio frequencies are AM/SSB. So if you want to listen to the ham frequencies, you will need a radio that receives SSB. Most shortwave radios (SW) do not receive SSB. Some SW radios are capable of external antennas. If you are considering going into ham radio this would be the place to go ahead and buy an HF ham radio transceiver, which will transmit and receive on the SSB ham frequencies and also receive all of the AM shortwave transmissions. Shortwave radios can be as
inexpensive as $50 - $80 up to $10,000 and up. A beginner's HF ham radio that will transmit and receive starts at around $700 and goes up. You do not have to have a license to listen to any frequency on any radio. But to transmit on the ham frequencies, you will need a ham radio license. We are going to discuss ham radio in much greater detail starting with the next radio post.

Ok. So much for radios. Power supplies. If you have a handheld radio, it will probably be powered by batteries. Some come with a built-in rechargeable battery. Some operate off of AA or AAA batteries that you
can replace with rechargeable batteries. If they will operate off of rechargeable batteries, I would recommend you go this route. All mobile radios, because of the nature of being mobile, will operate off of 12 VDC, which is actually 13.8 VDC. If you choose to use a mobile radio as a base radio, then you will need a separate power supply. Most receive radios use very, very little power. Just about any power supply will work. If you use a mobile CB as a base station then you will need a power supply that puts out 3 or 4 amps. If you're going to operate a ham radio or more equipment off of your power supply then I would recommend that you go ahead and pick up a 30 amp power supply. This will provide you with enough power to operate your radios, receivers, battery chargers, charge your cell phones and other similar items. 

Antennas. Some radios will need an external antenna. If you are
operating in a vehicle, the only radio we have discussed that will need an external antenna, is a CB radio. Most people use a magnet mount antenna. If you decide to go into ham radio, then your antennas will become more varied because different frequencies need different antennas. There is no one antenna fits-all frequencies. For your CB base station at home, you will also need an external antenna. Go to the post where we talked about CB base station antennas. Your handheld radios, like GMRS and MURS, will operate for the most part off of their attached antennas. If you choose to attach an external antenna to your scanner or weather radio, I would recommend a basic discone antenna. It is built to receive these VHF frequencies. If you choose to connect an external antenna to your shortwave receiver, then I would recommend a long wire type antenna for this purpose. In the previous post about shortwave receivers, there is information about antennas. There
may come a day when you need some coaxial cable. This is what  
connects your antenna to your radio. You will also need a plug on each end of this cable and in most cases, it will be a PL-259, or a BNC type connector. For overall general purpose use, I would recommend RG-8X cable. It is a good all purpose cable for low power, short distance runs of under 25 feet. It also works well for your receive only radios.

Licensing. There is no license required for any receive radio. If you choose to become a ham radio operator, you will need a license. More on that in the next radio post. CB and MURS do not require a license. GMRS does. As I stated in a previous post, I have never met a person with a GMRS license. Which brings us to legal regulations. If you operate any transmit radio that interferes with any other type of telecommunications signal, then you are required by law to either fix your problem or cease transmitting. This is seldom, seldom a problem with legal power transmitters. If you choose for example to increase your CB power from 4 watts to, let's say, 400 watts of power, and you cause the lady next door's TV signal to be distorted, then you are running illegal power. If your 400 watt CB radio does not bother anybody or anything, then your radio is still illegal, but for
the most part, no one will care. If you decide to buy a commercial radio, which you can, and you choose to operate it on a frequency, for example the one the local airport is using, then you will find out very quickly that being stupid does not pay. If you choose to use an unauthorized frequency that interferes with the local fire department, again you will find out that some people might not think this is cute. If you run 5000 watts of power, as an example, and you want to talk to your buddy down the road and you don't bother grandma's TV signal and you don't interfere with the local airport or fire department, then probably no one will care. If you choose to operate or modify your radio, and it is now considered illegal, this is your choice. Something I said earlier, if you are driving 36 in a 35 MPH zone, probably no one will notice or care. But....if you choose to drive 96 in a 35 MPH zone, then someone will notice and care. Again, this is your choice.

Speaking of 5000 watts. 5000 watts may be a tad bit of an exaggeration. But if you choose to pump up whatever radio you are using and you do not know what you are doing, you can fry your brain. No joke. No kidding. If you don't know what you are doing with radio frequency, then DON'T DO IT. Lot's of ham radio guys and non-ham radio guys run what is called, extra power. It's not a question of legal or illegal, it's a question of, if you don't know what you are doing, you can cause permanent damage to your cute little girl's brain. So, one more time, if you don't know what you are doing, DON'T DO IT. Safety comes first. Always.

Next time, we're going to get into ham radio. You will find the frequencies very similar to GMRS, FRS, CB and MURS because ham radio is not some miracle, mysterious thing. It's just a group of frequencies or bands or meters that we all share every day. I hope this has helped somebody, somewhere along the way to understand radio communications just a little bit better. Look through the previous radio posts. They are filled with links, dealers, manufacturers, and regulations. 

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chicken in the Freezer......Finally

We ran out of our chicken meat some time ago. You see, just like Frank tried to explain yesterday, things don't always go according to plan, even when you've been homesteading for 30 years......

We followed our regularly planned, annual production run of chicken meat this spring, i.e. hatched and purchased baby chicks, with birth coinciding for ease of housing and raising them all together. Everything went according to plan.....until Frank had a serious upper respiratory infection. The chicks stayed in the stock tank brooder much longer than we planned, but finally made it out to the chicken house. They made the transition to a lot more room just fine.......for a while. Then the cannibalism problem cropped up, and in greater proportion than we had ever had. At the first signs of it, we doctored and separated as needed, just like we always had....but it didn't work. We lost about six or eight birds in a couple of days. We had never seen anything like it. Finally, we killed all of the roosters, which appeared to be the major culprits. That's what happens to major deviant behavior, it has to be removed. Maybe our world leaders should take some notes. Anyway......

Because of the problems that batch of birds had, staying in the brooder too long, then cannibalism, we decided we would not keep any of them in the long run. We ended up with 15 hens that managed to behave themselves long enough to make it to laying age. That's where we are now. They are just starting to lay. But our long term plans to get rid of them are still in place. So, back when we made that decision, we ordered 25 brown egg layers which are now three months old. We found some folks that wanted some new layers for winter, so we sold them eight of the problem batch, keeping six for our own layers until the young ones are old enough. Then the final six will go as well, or that is the plan for now.

That finally brings us up to butchering time. We thought about selling the extra young hens, but they aren't bringing much and we didn't know anyone else that wanted them. So we decided to butcher them. We don't usually butcher hens, but this time things changed.....again. You see, things don't always work out the way you plan, and in a survival situation that can be very critical. If at all possible, redundancy can mean the difference between life and death. Other options for food, clothing, protection, water, heating, and shelter need to be thought about, if not prepared in advance. If you can. Just in case.

We received 10 white hens in our batch of 25, which is a large proportion. The thing is, we don't like white birds. They are pretty enough, but white is the first color human and predator eyes notice. White is not a natural color for birds in nature unless they change to white for the winter up north, like the Ptarmigan or Snowy Owls. We prefer all of our animals, chickens, cats and goats to be a more natural color to blend in with nature. The exception is our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, and we would actually prefer she be another color, but after all, she is a Pyrenees.

Before we decided to butcher hens, we talked about not having any chicken in the freezer, and we only have one lonely jar of our canned chicken left. We still wanted a supply of chicken. So we ordered 25 day old, mixed heavy roosters. Just for meat. Well, if there is a stunning rooster in the bunch we may keep him and replace our Barred Rock rooster, we'll see. These chicks arrived a couple of days ago. They are all named variations of Drumstick. The hatchery even sent a couple of Turkens in this batch, and they sure are ugly! 

When we looked at all the hens we had, there were just too many birds. So we sold 8, butchered 11, got down to 21, then got 25 in the mail, and ended up with more than we started with. Hmmm.....that is just how it goes sometimes. Things don't always go according to the best laid plans. Prepare for that.

Butchering the 10 hens reduced our flock to 20 hens, 14 of them young. Having 2 roosters, would then be too many, so we picked one to stay and one to eat. That made 10 young hens and one six month old rooster to butcher. The morning we chose to butcher, Pearl came up with an eye abrasion that necessitated a trip to the vet. We had already been doctoring it with triple antibiotic ointment, but it wasn't doing the trick, and that morning, it was much worse. Things don't always go according to plan. Once we got her home and situated, it was time for lunch and our morning butchering session had been moved to the afternoon. We had gathered the chickens up the night before and put them in a pen. They had a longer wait than usual, but it couldn't be helped. We do this to help their intestines empty out somewhat. It makes them easier to gut without leakage into the body cavity.

If you do not want to see some of our butchering process, please do not view the following pictures. The choice is yours.

We choose to use an ax when butchering our chickens. This routine has been tweaked over many years and many, many chickens. Initially, I would hold the head, and Frank the feet, as he chopped off the head. He was uncomfortable with how close my hand was to the landing of the ax, so we devised a simple noose to hold the head, which works very well and increases our safety. When we begin this task we always thank the animal for the food it is providing, and say a prayer of thanksgiving and a request for safety.

Since we had not butchered chickens in a while, we had forgotten a few details of the routine, like Frank's gloves. The very first chicken, once we had relieved it of it's head, curled up and started 'pecking' Frank on the wrist with it's neck. Yuck! It managed to 'get away' and not land in the trash can we use for them to bang around in until their muscles quit jerking. So, you know that old saying, "Running around like a chicken with your head cut off." That's what happened. But we caught it by stepping on it's feet. Interesting. Then it happened again with the last bird, the extra rooster. He managed to escape the trash can as well and bounced off the side of the garage and both vehicles leaving blood in his wake before we had him caught and safely ensconced again. This required a quick session with the water hose before cleaning the carcasses could commence. It just wouldn't do to have the blood drying everywhere the rooster chose to decorate. Things don't always go according to plan. 

As birds age, they get harder to skin. We don't pluck them, we skin them, which is much easier and faster. It is one thing we will change when the SHTF because the skin is another source of food. And unless we plan to can up a batch, we won't be butchering this many at once then. The six month old rooster was much harder to skin than the three month old hens. The connective tissue that attaches the skin to the muscle needs to be cut away in many places slowing down the process. If we had very many older birds to butcher, we would only do about five at a time. You can easily skin and dress out 10 young birds in the time it takes to do five older ones. This rooster will be baked slowly like a turkey, otherwise it would be very tough. The young hens make great fryers. 

I always use a knife with a guard to prevent slippage and injury.

We dressed out the birds on the tailgate of the truck, replacing the saw horses and plywood of the past, which works well. I did the rooster first, because I knew he would take much longer. I wanted to end up with the hens which were much quicker and easier. 

After they are all dressed, rinsed and soaking in a sink of cold water, we do the final washing and get ready to package them for the freezer. When we first started butchering our own chickens, we froze the carcass whole. This took up more space and allowed for freezer burn due to the airspace. We know many folks that use a vacuum sealer for all of their meat and vegetables. We have looked into them over the years, but in our effort to remain frugal, have never invested in one. The replacement bags have to be kept on hand and cost more than we care to pay.

Now we cut the birds up into these pieces, nest the parts together to allow for as little airspace as possible and double wrap them in plastic wrap. This box of wrap came here with us from Alaska six years ago. I don't remember how many years we used it there before we moved, but it seems to last forever and is very inexpensive. Then, we wrap them in newspaper we save, seal with masking tape and mark it with the date. The rooster gets a circled 'R' for roasting. The rest are left with just the date to indicate fryers.

We really enjoyed our meal of fresh, homegrown fried chicken. It has been a long time since we were able to sit down to this meal. If you have never had homegrown chicken, you will be surprised at the difference in the taste and texture, and once you get accustomed to eating homegrown, store bought just doesn't hold a candle to it.

The weight of a twelve week old homegrown bird is about half of a six week old store bought bird. That is because of all of the steroids, antibiotics and genetic engineering of production birds. We feel much better about eating our own meat that is fed a different ration from our recipe along with daily meals of comfrey, turnip greens, kale, other garden scraps and fresh goat milk or whey. They get to scratch around in the dirt and eat the passing bug. Once we make a few more modifications to some gates, they will also be able to range and increase their natural intake even more.
L to R: Two 3 month old hens vs. 6 month old rooster

We wanted to share our chicken story to help folks realize it is very possible to raise your own meat and eggs, but also to let you know that even after raising chickens for 30 years, things don't always go according to the best laid plans. And when they don't, there needs to be alternative plans that can accomplish the same goals in a different way. We all need to have the flexibility to change plans in midstream when the need arises. It won't do to run around like a chicken with your head cut off yelling the sky is falling. Not if you want to survive.

Until next time - Fern

P.S. Fiona, over at Confessions of a Crazed Cattlewoman has started updating her blog. She and her husband, Ralph, are sharing the process they are going through to locate and set up a new homestead. Please take a look and share in their adventures.