Spring time chores on the homestead include chicken pen care, knowing how to preserve eggs, avoiding commercial chicken feed and health benefits from lambs quarters.
One thing that spring affords us farmers is a chance to get back into shape with out paying those high costs at the gym. I call it my farm girl aerobics.
There is the shoveling out the winter barns heavy with muck that has been frozen down all year. Forget those leg weights as walking through the mud with boots now weighing 20 pounds or more, does more then any strap on weight ever could. Pushing wheelbarrows, carting in rock, grain and bags of lime leave that body fat far behind. Leaving our fat-laden diets behind as well will do a lot to help thin our blood and get us back into shape sooner.
The old cowboys used to literally bleed out their horses in spring time so that they could handle the change from winter to summer better. Now days our horses don't have to work so hard, however we still do. One plant you may find wonderful is Lambs Quarters. It is high in minerals, vitamins and even vitamin B to help you stay awake and feeling better longer. Honey not sugar will also find you having more energy since you have been doing little hiding in that warm house most of the winter.
My favorite way to cook Lambs Quarters is to cut up one strip of bacon, just enough for flavor, and find some of those sweet walking onions you can now locate. Once they are cooked to your satisfaction, toss in the Lambs Quarters and cover, steam long enough they are dark green and wrap in a tortilla. For me a bit of Picidillo gives a great finishing taste.
Another thing you will find in the spring time is you have more eggs then you know what to do with. Its too soon to take a chance on hatching them, as weather is sometime tricky this time of year. However, you must do something with them and a person can only eat so much custard, scrambled eggs and so on.
If you dip your eggs in paraffin and store them in a cool place they will keep for over a year. Make sure you have sealed the whole egg, no pores should be left open to breath. Small end up is the best way to store.
Another fun thing is to use a strong brew of your favorite tea. Lightly crack the shell so it has hairline cracks all over. Then place your eggs, shell and all in a canning jar with a spoonful of salt and even a bit of lemon. Cover eggs with your strong tea and poof! You have canned eggs that will have a wonderful and unique flavor later on. This is the not-so-gross version of 1000 year old eggs.
Now that you have picked out your hens, you have their nest boxes clean and ready to go, and you have your setters or incubators ready. You need to clean your pens. Filth is not your friend and will ruin eggs and kill chicks and adults alike. Move your birds to fresh ground if you can. If not, section off parts of your pen and rotate.
Get leaves or what ever and burn on the ground where your birds have been all winter, or use fresh sweet lime and cover the ground. De louse your birds with dairy dip and use peprazine in the water, or use Ivomec as a total control system, but do worm and delouse now that the wild birds are flying in with lice and other critters that are not good for your birds.
After you have cleaned the ground if you can, replant some fodder plants. If you can't keep the pen vacant that long, at least let the lime set 3 days before placing your birds back in. This will sterilize the ground and remove any worm eggs etc. Do this to your entire pen. Clean the coops and barns the same way. Sweet lime is cheap and safe. I have fed it to cattle, goats, and sheep as a calcium additive with excellent results.
Something you may not know about your production chicken feed is that there are drugs in it. Years ago the speed freaks would shoot up chicken powder, as it was not mixed into the chicken feed like it is today, and so one had to keep drug addicts away from it. In short if you feed something to make your birds lay more, you are feeding them Crack, or Methamphetamine. It's very different to the type made in bath tubs today, but it still contains drugs.
To avoid this I save back my butchering fat and meats that I would normally through away or mix in a grind. This early protein is just what your birds need. Save all the fat you can from what you butcher in the fall. Save fat and even extra guts from butchered chickens. Freeze this and come spring, give them all they want.
I keep two freezers, one for me and one for my animals. It is well worth the added electric bill to run the extra freezer. Cracked corn and a few oats will fill in the gaps along with table scraps. If you can find some really flaky alfalfa that is also a good addition to their feed. This will keep your shells hard and your chickens healthy, and laying well. You will also notice the color of your yolks getting almost red. They will be dark orange compared to the lighter color they will be from chickens fed commercial feeds. This healthier yolk translates into healthier chicks.
Duck hens especially Muscovy hens will love you if you fish. They crave protein in early spring and if you can find frozen fish on sale through the year or have friends that fish if you don't. Freeze your extra for spring.
In my next article I will give a detailed post on how to Caponize. Its not as hard as you may think. As well as raising your baby chicks and how to avoid that new grass flavor in your milk.
By Gypsy, our resident homestead blogger from One Sky RanchGypsy's Wanderings Homestead Blog
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