Harvest Festival 2016

This has been an interesting year in the garden. In looking at the Harvest Festival 2015 post, I see a year that offered me what I would call the standard garden items. Not so this year. The problems began with a late frost that wiped out my grapes and pears. In fact, it nearly wiped out my apples as well, but I learned a curious lesson with the fruit this year because of the apples. All the outer apple trees had no fruit, but those in the center of the orchard did have some fruit. In other words, the trees on the outside protected those on the inside. I didn’t get a lot of fruit this year, but it isn’t a big deal because my larder is setup to provide multiple years’ worth of any particular item. The lesson I learned was not to prune too heavily when the weather is uncertain (as it was this year). In fact, the reason the apples survived as they did was because I didn’t have time to prune them much at all.

The garden also behaved quite oddly this year due to the weather. The Wisconsin winter was semi-mild this year without nearly as much snow as normal, so different bugs survived than normal. In addition, the weather was either hot or cold, without a lot of in between this summer. It has also been the fourth wettest summer on record. All these changes produced prodigious amounts of some insects that I don’t normally see and the vegetables didn’t produce as expected.

As an example of odd behavior, I normally have a hard time growing cauliflower. This year I grew huge cauliflower and one plant is attempting to grow a second head, which is something that never happens here. On the other hand, broccoli, a plant that always does well, didn’t even produce a head this year. All I got were some spikes that didn’t taste good (they were quite bitter). The rabbits didn’t even like them all that well. The cauliflower is usually plagued by all sorts of insects, but this year there was nary a bug to be seen. The point is that you need to grow a variety of vegetables because you can’t assume that old standbys will always produce as expected.

Two other examples of odd behavior are okra (which normally grows acceptably, but not great) and peppers (which often produce too well for their own good). This year I’m literally drowning in beautiful okra that gets pretty large without ever getting tough, but the peppers are literally rotting on the plant before they get large enough to pick. I’m not talking about a few peppers in just one location in the garden either—every pepper plant completely failed this year.

Location can be important and planting in multiple locations can help you get a crop even if other people are having problems (and I didn’t talk to a single gardener this year who didn’t have problems of one sort or another). One example in my case were potatoes. I planted six different varieties in six completely different locations in the garden. Five of those locations ended up not producing much of value. A combination of insects destroyed the plants and tubers. All I got for my efforts were rotting corpses where the potatoes should have been. The last area, with Pontiac Red potatoes, out produced any potato I’ve ever grown. The smallest potato I took out of this patch was a half pound and the largest was 1 ¼ pounds. I didn’t even find any of the usual smallish potatoes that I love to add to soup. The potatoes were incredibly crisp and flavorful. The odd thing is that this patch was in an area of the garden that doesn’t usually grow potatoes very well.

A few of my garden plantings didn’t seem to mind the weather or the bugs in the least. My peas did well, as did my carrots. I grew the carnival carrots again because the colors are so delightful and even canned, they come out multiple colors of orange, which dresses up the shelves. I also grew of mix of yellow wax and green beans this year. The two beans work well together canned. They have a nicer appearance than just yellow or just green beans in a can. However, because the two beans have slightly different tastes, you also get more flavorful meals out of the combination.

I still stand by the statement I made long ago when starting this blog, every year is both a good and a bad year. Because I planted a wide range of vegetables and ensured I didn’t plant all the vegetables in a single location in the garden, I ended up with more than enough vegetables to can or freeze. No, I didn’t get all of the vegetables that I had hoped to get, but I definitely won’t starve either. My larder is quite full at this point. Let me know your thoughts on ensuring a garden has a significant variety of items in it to ensure success at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Early Season Canning

I’ve already been canning this season. A lot of people hear this claim and wonder just what it is that I’m canning. The first food I started canning is soup. I get the ingredients from my freezers. Anything that’s starting to get a bit old is fair game. I also save the larger bones from various meats, especially when I have the meat processed by someone else. The meat and vegetables made into soup can quite well and last a lot longer than they would in the freezer. Nothing is quite so nice on a cold winter’s day than hot soup. I usually get two or three servings out of each quart that I can (sometimes four if I add enough additional items). Given the cold winters here in Wisconsin, I can go through a lot of soup.

Once I can the soup, the freezers are less full, so it’s time to defrost them. It’s essential to defrost, clean, and reorganize your freezers every year. Doing so lets you create an inventory of what you have in stock so that you have a better idea of what you need to grow. In addition, you don’t want to keep items so long that they become unpalatable and visually unappealing. Freezer burned food is completely safe to eat, but you may not want to eat it. Some of the ways in which you can prevent freezer burn is to vacuum pack your food and to ensure you rotate it out before it sits in the freezer too long. In some cases, when food is mildly freezer burned, I’ll make it up into pet food (my animals don’t seem to mind as long as the food is prepared to their liking). However, it’s better to use the food up before anything actually does happen to it.

So far I’ve made 14 quarts of chicken soup and another 14 quarts of venison stew. Canning soup means using a pressure canner. Make sure you follow the instructions in a resource such as the Ball Blue Book and the book that comes with your pressure canner. Read Considering the Dangers of Outdated Canning Information for details on keeping yourself safe when using the Ball Blue Book.

It’s also time to can early garden items. For example, when canned properly, rhubarb makes a highly nutritious fruit dish that I eat directly from the jar. You can also make it into pie filling. So far, I’ve made up 7 quarts of plain rhubarb and 7 quarts of spiced rhubarb, both of which will be quite tasty this upcoming winter. Fortunately, you can use hot water bath canning techniques with rhubarb and other high acid foods.

In some cases, you need to mix and match items. The frozen green and wax beans in my freezer weren’t getting any younger, so I used them to make up four bean salad. Actually, it’s supposed to be three bean salad, but some of my recipes called for Lima beans, while others called for kidney beans. I decided to use both, hence four bean soup. I used up all the remaining beans and garnered 16 pints of four bean salad on my larger shelf. Doing so also used up the cans of kidney and Lima beans in my cabinets.

Finally, pickled asparagus can be quite a treat in the middle of winter. So far, I’ve only made up 8 pints of pickled asparagus, but I’ll make up more. I’ll also be freezing some asparagus for fresh use later in the year. In short, canning season has started—time to get going! Let me know about your current canning project at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Enjoying the Apple Blossoms

Depending on when the trees bloom, the results can be modest, abysmal, frosted, or luxurious. This year, the apple trees have really outdone themselves. The blooms are absolutely amazing because the weather was perfect for the trees this year. Just looking at the trees from a distance, you can see that they’re decked out in spring color that’s certain to please.

The apple trees are truly luxuriant with blossoms this year.
Apple Trees Decked Out with Flowers

It’s a warm spring day with just a slight breeze, so getting into the orchard is quite an experience. The flowers are quite pungent and walking around is delightful. Unlike many other years, there hasn’t been any hint of frost or strong winds to damage the flowers, so the clusters are nearly perfect.

The white blossoms are incredible and the odor is quite strong.
The Blossom Clusters are Beautiful

The bees and other pollinators were quite busy on this particular day. A count showed that there were at least fifteen different kinds of insects busy at their job of pollinating the flowers. They didn’t pay any attention to me, of course, and I paid little attention to them. I was simply taken by the absolute beauty of the flowers and wanted to share them with you. Let me know about your favorite sights, sounds, and smells of spring at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Hurt Chicken Update

A number of people wrote to ask about my hurt hen after reading Dealing with Hurt Chickens. You’ll be happy to know that my hen is fully healed at this point and the infection is completely gone (without leaving any signs). Over the years I’ve found that hens are quite resilient as long as you get to the source of a problem quickly and provide at least a modicum of care. Getting the hen out of the coop when her mates can’t help her is the prime concern. Otherwise, the other hens will proceed to peck her to death.

Chickens aren’t particularly known for their long term memory. After almost a month, the other members of the coop had quite forgotten about the hurt hen, so I couldn’t just put her back into the coop and expect everything to work right away. The process involves putting the hen, cage and all, into the coop for a few days. Unfortunately, the addition of a relatively large cage made the coop seem amazingly small as I tried to get to the eggs. The hens took great delight in sitting on my shoulders and head while I tried to get past the cage. They also mumbled strange, dark chicken thoughts about how I’d be so much better off if I simply removed the stranger from their midst. I’m used to this little inconvenience because it happens every time I introduce new chicks to the coop.

What I hadn’t quite expected is the hen’s reaction to their new coop mate. Normally, the hens spend a good deal of time running around the cage, sitting on top of it, and attempting to peck the chicks. In other words, they’re active in their desire to be rid of the strangers at any cost. Not so this time! The hens took up a line around the cage and stared. Some sat, some stood, but all mumbled, and then mumbled some more. I’m not sure why a single adult hen should be different from five or six juveniles, but there is some point of chicken etiquette of which I’m most definitely not aware. After a while though, the hens simply started ignoring the cage and went about their business.

Because of the absurd initial reaction, I decided to leave the hen in her cage for an extra day, so the inconvenience of trying to get to the eggs lasted longer than I would have liked, which is where the trip comes into play. Imagine trying to get around in a coop that one wouldn’t normally consider spacious with a bunch of hens and a relatively large cage in your way. One day I went in and, as usual, put the eggs into my jacket pocket as I collected them. My sweatshirt jacket makes a fine place to put eggs most of the time, but not this time. Yes, I fell and did the Lucy act (see Lucy Does the Tango). Well, my jacket really did need to be washed anyway and a shower is always nice after working in the coop.

At this point, my hurt hen is no longer hurt. She’s running around with the other chickens, who have somehow suddenly remembered where she was at in the pecking order. Normally, when I introduce juvenile chicks, there is a lot of fighting until the new pecking order is established, but that didn’t happen in this case except for a little while on the first day. Otherwise, the coop has been quite happy. Let me know your thoughts on reintroducing chickens after they heal to the coop at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Is Your Car Green, Really?

It seems like I receive yet another brochure about the huge advances various government entities, enterprises, vendors, or energy companies making in protecting the planet every month. Everyone seems to think that their technology is going to be the next green thing, when the facts simply don’t bear them out. The previous post I wrote on this topic, More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t, discussed the issue that some informed people are discovering that all that green technology out there is really just designed to sell more products—not help the earth in any significant way. The problem is one of complexity, which is the case with the green car.

Driving an electric car might seem like the right way to reduce emissions. However, recent studies show that your electric car might actually be worse for the environment. I say might here because it all depends on how the electricity is generated. In some cases, your electric car actually is better than gas at the first level. That is, the manner in which the electricity is generated produces fewer pollutants than driving a car with a gas engine would be. For example, sunlight and wind are both plentiful in Nevada, so driving an electric car could make sense there. However, as I’ve noted in previous posts, solar and wind power both rely heavily on special materials, the mining of which actually produces a serious amount of pollution. The studies available right now also assume that the manufacturing processes for the supposedly green cars are actually no worse than the older technology they replace. Consequently, even though it might appear that your electric car is a win, it may not be right now.

A problem with all the entities making the promises and telling you just how good they are at fulfilling them is that they lie. Sometimes they even get caught. For example, the EPA finally caught VW in the act of lying about its emission test results. The only problem is that those cars are still out there producing millions of tons of lung killing smog. In fact, it’s hard to tell whether any of those green technologies actually do anything at all, except make you pay a lot more when buying the vehicle, and to run and maintain it later. Add to this the fact that some people are now saying that the solar industry is dying (and would already be dead were it not for government subsidies) and you have to wonder just how long these green cars will even maintain the appearance of being green.

Some people are saying that we should simply get rid of cars, which is obviously not going to happen. If people really wanted to use mass transit, it would have happened already. In addition, there isn’t any evidence that mass transit actually reduces pollution either. The vehicles are often poorly maintained and spew a horrid amount of pollution out of their exhaust (as evidenced by the stench when you drive behind a bus). In addition, mass transit only works when you live in or around a major city, which won’t work for those of us who live in the country.

The best way to create a green car is not to drive it any more than necessary. I’ve taken to planning out my trips so that I drive the fewest possible miles. Because I’m self-employed, I don’t even start my car five days a week (getting everything done in just two days). Not only does my strategy save time, but I’ve reduced by gas bill by half in the last two years. Green often equates to not using a resource such as gas. Using the resource will inevitably produce some sort of pollution. Through careful planning, you can significantly reduce the number of miles you drive and you can drive more of them at once (a warm engine normally works more efficiently and produces fewer emissions). You also want to reduce gas waste by starting up slowly, stopping over a longer distance, and keeping your engine from idling. In fact, there are a wealth of tips you can find online for making your car more efficient (such as removing all that junk from the trunk).

You can make the world a cleaner place and still keep your car. All it really takes is planning and careful maintenance. Unfortunately, there is no magic that will just make the problems with pollution go away. Driving that electric car or paying more for a vehicle with dubious emissions extras isn’t going to do much. What it really takes is a bit of self control. Let me know your thoughts about green cars at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Dealing with Hurt Chickens

Chickens can get hurt in a number of ways. In some cases, the chicken will care for itself or its nest mates will help out. For example, it’s not uncommon for a chicken’s comb to get a little frostbite during colder than normal weather. The damaged part of the comb will eventually die off and the chickens nest mates will pick it off. The comb usually grows back all on its own (I’ve never seen it do otherwise, but have heard of situations where the chicken needs help). In some cases, you see blood on the other chickens, which is perfectly normal. They’ll clean themselves up. The best thing you can do is observe the chickens carefully, but maintain a hands off policy unless the chicken really does exhibit a need for help (you notice an odor, the flesh is off color, or the chicken behaves contrary to normal).

However, there are also situations where you need to be proactive in helping the chicken because it’s impossible for the chicken or its nest mates to do the job. For example, one of my hens recently laid an egg so large that it caused damage to the cioaca (essentially the chicken’s anus). The cioaca actually turns inside out during egg laying so that the egg doesn’t come in contact with the intestine or any fecal matter, but both eggs and fecal matter come out of the same hole. The damage caused bleeding, which brought the other hens, who pecked insistently. If the hens had been allowed to continue, the hurt hen would have eventually died.

I check all of my hens daily, but even so, by the time I understood what was going on, the hen had also developed an infection. In order to prevent problems in the coop and for the hen, you must have a hen-sized cage available. I recommend one about two square feet in size so that the hen can walk around a little, but not too much. Line the bottom of the cage with fresh hay every day to help keep things clean (hens are inherently dirty).

To combat the infection, it’s important to keep the hurt area clean. This means cleaning the area once or possibly twice daily using a product such as hydrogen peroxide. You can use the 3% hydrogen peroxide commonly available from your drug store, but I’ve found that a 12% solution is far more effective. You must use it with care because a little goes a long way. In addition, make absolutely certain you get food grade hydrogen peroxide or you risk killing the chicken. Gently wipe the area after cleaning with a clean cloth (a soft paper towel works well). Discard the cloth afterward—you really don’t want to reuse it. You’ll need to hold your chicken firmly, but gently during this process.

Cleaning is a good first step. To help the area heal faster, apply triple antibiotic cream. Don’t even think about trying to bandage the area. All you’ll end up doing is frustrating both you and the chicken. Leaving the area open will generally help it heal faster.

Check your chicken several times a day. Make sure you keep things as clean as is possible, but otherwise let the chicken rest. Depending on the kind of injury, your chicken may spend a lot of time standing—this act is perfectly normal. Hens won’t lay any eggs when they’re hurt due to stress. Chickens generally won’t talk to you either. In fact, you know that they’re starting to feel better when they do start talking to you again.

If you find that your chicken is pecking at the wound, it often means you need to look closer. In many cases, a chicken will peck when an abscess develops. When this happens, you must carefully pop the abscess so it can drain. Use alcohol to clean the area first and make sure you use alcohol to clean both your hands and any instruments you use. Focus on keeping things open and clean.

Your chicken may not want to eat or drink at first. This is also perfectly normal. However, make sure the chicken has fresh water available. In addition, you can provide other sorts of high protein treats to encourage eating and drinking. For example, most chickens love milk, which contains protein and vitamins that will help the chicken heal faster. In addition, you can get the chicken meal worms, which are easier for it to digest and are considered a delicacy by chickens too.

The most important thing to remember is that you must wait until the chicken is completely healed before returning it to the coop. The other chickens will treat it as a new arrival and the usual hectic activity will occur while everyone decides on a new pecking order. Let me know your thoughts on helping hurt chickens at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods (Part 2)

I was a bit surprised by the number of e-mails I received about Naturally Probiotic Foods. It seems that a lot of people are having the same problems as me with our highly processed foods today. One of the main questions I was asked is whether I feel that pasteurization is a bad thing to do. That’s a loaded question. Most food questions come with trade-offs. Pasteurization helps the milk last longer and kills potentially harmful bacteria. When you get raw milk, you must consume it within 7 to 10 days, which is a much shorter time than pasteurized milk. In addition, people with compromised immune systems aren’t good candidates for raw milk because bacteria that would never cause a problem in a healthy person could cause problems with someone who doesn’t have a fully functional immune system. You must also know the farmer or store from which you get the milk. It’s way too easy for raw milk to contain substances that will make you sick. All this said, a lot of people the world over have drunk raw milk literally for centuries and we’re still here. There is a definite trade-off to consider though, so when getting raw milk, shop smart.

Many other items you buy are also pasteurized. For example, it’s entirely possible that the eggs you buy from the store are pasteurized to kill any bacteria on the surface of the egg. When you buy fresh eggs from a farmer or a store that provides such eggs, you do take a small chance of getting sick. The same can be said of any other unpasteurized product you buy. However, to be human is to risk getting sick and you can’t avoid all contact with bacteria. Society has become increasingly germophobic over the years and even that choice creates trade-offs. For example, it’s now thought that a lack of exposure to various germs and bacteria are actually causing problems with children in that they’re exhibiting symptoms like additional allergies. The point is that you must make a smart choice based on your own personal needs—I truly can’t tell anyone whether raw products, such as milk and eggs, are going to cause problems or will help with specific needs.

A number of people have asked what I think about homogenization. I know that when I was growing up, the milk I bought from the store would separate. It was possible to see cream at the top of the glass bottle at some point (often scooped off for coffee and so on). Today, milk doesn’t separate in most cases because of homogenization. Logic tells you that if the milk normally separates (breaks down) and now it doesn’t, that your body is probably going to have a harder time digesting it as well. A number of articles online bear out this fact. However, homogenized milk can cause other problems. For example, a number of sources claim that it can promote cancer. Because I’m not a researcher into this kind of information, I can’t verify these claims, but in reading the information, it does tend to make sense. Over-processing food has certain negative effects and you need to think about the pros and cons of buying it. I found other sites that state the contrary, that homogenization makes milk more digestible. My personal experience doesn’t bear this claim out. In drinking milk that is just pasteurized, I still experience fewer digestive problems than when the milk is also homogenized. However, I’m not you and you are the one who needs to make the required test.

A number of people also asked about alternatives, such as goat’s milk. I personally love goat’s milk as long as it’s cold and not over five days old. After that magic five day mark, the goat’s milk develops a “goaty” taste, some people call it a musky taste. Theoretically, goat’s milk (at least) is more digestible than cow’s milk. At least, that’s the case for me. I can drink goat’s milk without using Lactaid (or a similar product). Again, you need to know the source of your goat or sheep milk in order to be certain that it’s safe to drink. Unlike cow’s milk, goat’s milk actually freezes really well, so when I’m drinking goat’s milk, I keep only enough in the refrigerator for three days and freeze the rest.

Raw foods, those that haven’t been processed, can contain natural probiotics that make them easier to digest. Humans have been consuming these foods for centuries without problem and our bodies are naturally attuned to them. However, processing does have benefits and you truly can’t ignore these benefits. For me, I find that the raw foods work best because of the probiotics they contain. Your experience is likely to be different from mine. Keep those e-mails coming to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods

As I’m getting older, I’m finding it helps to have a little assistance in digesting food. Given that I’m into self-sufficiency and tend to look for natural ways of accomplishing what I need to do, I started looking into probiotics. Probiotics can help with things like lactose intolerance, bloating, gas, and other unfortunate (and uncomfortable) digestive ills. Of course, you can get probiotic pills, but in reading the labels, I found that these pills vary greatly in quality and that the best pills tend to cost quite a bit. I also like to save money when I can, so I looked for an alternative. However, before we look at probiotic foods, you need to know that certain foods host certain helpful bacteria and that a specific food may not help your specific problem. If you you truly need a blanket cure for your woes, then you need to get a high quality probiotic pill that contains as many different kinds of helpful bacteria as possible.

The naturally probiotic food that most people know about is yogurt. Unfortunately, not just any yogurt will do. There are actually three kinds (or levels) of yogurt: the kind that doesn’t have any live culture (which is most of them), the kind with live culture (always marked on the label), and the kind that has added digestive aids added (usually only available at health food stores). The kind that most people get, the one without the live culture, doesn’t have any probiotic benefit and won’t help your digestion. The best option to get for the money conscious is a yogurt that is marked as having live culture. I currently have yogurt, instead of milk, with my breakfast cereal, and find that it has gone a long way toward solving certain digestive ills.

It turns out that sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented cabbage dishes have probiotic features. However, what you may not know is that heat kills the helpful bacteria that help with digestion. The only way to get the probiotic effect of sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented cabbage dishes is to eat them fresh (which means making them yourself). That jar you buy in the store isn’t actually fermented in the first place (they use vinegar to simulate fermentation) and it also has been canned, so it doesn’t contain any probiotics.

Fermentation is one of the keys in finding a natural probiotic food in many cases. For example, Japanese miso soup (made with fermented soybean paste) is also naturally probiotic. However, you’re again looking at getting the soup fresh. It’s important to note that many of these foods also contain antioxidants and tend to be high in B vitamins.

Some probiotics don’t actually survive the digestion process in some people without a carrier. You may find that the expensive probiotic pill you buy doesn’t do much because your digestive tract destroys the beneficial bacteria before they actually get to your intestines. If your probiotic pill doesn’t use an enteric coating, you may as well not take it Cheese is a helpful carrier food for probiotics. However, like many other foods, cheese comes with a caveat—you must find a cheese that is made with raw, not pasteurized, milk. Fermented cheeses commonly made with raw milk include Gouda and aged cheddar. Always check the label though to determine whether the cheese is made with raw milk (either goat or cow milk works fine).

If you want to gain the benefits of helpful bacteria and yeasts, then you should look at a beverage such as kefir. Like all of the other foods described in this post, you need to get kefir made from raw, not pasteurized milk. The kefir can act as a carrier to ensure that the helpful bacteria and yeasts survive the digestive tract. Ingesting helpful yeasts can help with a variety of problems, including certain allergies (which is part of the reason that I also use locally obtained honey for some needs—it contains yeasts and pollen that serve to keep allergies low).

Not all cooking techniques destroy probiotics. One such exception is sourdough bread. I wasn’t able to find a lot out about this particular option, except that it must be made with naturally occurring yeasts. In other words, you need a bread that relies on fermentation to obtain the effect as far as I’ve been able to determine from my research, but I’d love to hear from someone who has more details.

Buttermilk and acidophilus milk both have probiotics in them. In this case, someone adds the probiotics to the milk. Theoretically, the milk acts as a carrier for the probiotic to help it get past the digestive tract. My research hasn’t verified what sort of buttermilk you need at this point, nor have I been able to determine whether there are differences in acidophilus milk brands, so this is one of those options that you need to try to determine whether it works for you.

Brine pickles, those made in a crock and left to ferment, contain probiotics. Like other fermented vegetable products, you need to eat this one fresh and not canned. If your pickle recipe calls for vinegar, the result won’t contain any probiotic benefit. Brine pickles, like sauerkraut, rely on salt and water to start the fermentation process.

You can find a host of other food choices, such as tempeh, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes that contain probiotic qualities. Each of these options will likely include different helpful bacteria that may or may not make it past your digestive tract. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to know which foods will work best for you because everyone is different. Experimentation is the best way to determine which foods will work best. The big thing to remember is that these foods are less expensive than pills, generally provide some level of nutritional benefit, and can contain other healthful benefits in addition to their probiotic qualities. Let me know about your favorite probiotic foods at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Spring and Happy Chickens!

It’s getting toward spring and my chickens are definitely happy about it. I’ve discussed winter egg laying beforeproduction really does decrease. This is the point in the year where things start to turn around. My twelve birds really have become much happier and are now starting to lay six eggs on average per day. Some of those eggs still have calcium nodules, but I’m finding that even the number of calcium nodules is decreasing. The point is that they’re laying more eggs. Of course, this is the human view of happiness.

The chicken view of happiness is different. I can let the chickens out on most days now. When I enter the coop in the morning, I put down their food and then open the coop door. Now, you’d think the chickens would eat breakfast first and then run out of the coop. However, that isn’t what happens. They forget all about the food and fight each other to get out of that door designed for two birds at most as quickly as possible. It really is quite insane looking. They go out and stand around the water bucket discussing chicken events of the day (not that I quite know what to think of their discussions).

Of course, there is always an exception. Violet, the oldest chicken in the coop, just watches the fracas bemused, waits to be petted, and then calmly enjoys the quiet while she eats breakfast without the jostling of other birds to contend with. It’s hard to believe that chickens can become wiser with age, but somehow it happens. This old bird has gotten set in her ways over the years and many a fledgling has felt her beak where the feathers are fewest. Just watching my chickens each day reminds me of how individuals appear in every environment and that the need for individuality is universal. Let me know your thoughts on chickens with wisdom at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Enjoying a New Buck

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite careful with my breeder rabbits. They become pets, for one thing, so the older bunnies go to the retirement home when they’re past their prime. Of course, everyone gets a hug every day. However, I also realize that my rabbits are animals with particular needs and that I need to exercise care when they have specific requirements. One of those requirements is ensuring the breeding rabbits are actually healthy enough to do the job. So, it was with heavy heart that I bid adieu to my buck, Spartacus, this past winter. He’s just too old to get the job done anymore.

I obtain my new does from my stock. When the kits are old enough, I start monitoring the does for good potential. The doe of choice is alert, quite active, robust in protecting her territory against the other kits, and large. I’m always looking for the best possible breeding stock to ensure that future kits have the best possible chance of succeeding. I tend to prefer does that are a bit on the aggressive side so that I can be sure she’ll protect her kits, but I don’t want a doe who is overly aggressive. I learned that lesson the hard way with a doe that would actually charge me when I tried to provide food and water. She’d actually bite. Yet, she was pretty mellow once her kits were fully grown.

My new buck, Oreo, is a gift from a friend. He’s friendly, but slightly aggressive. His markings really do suggest an Oreo cookie—black and white. He’s a well built buck and loves his morning hug. The reason I don’t get bucks from my own stock is that I want to prevent inbreeding. Inbred rabbits exhibit horrid behaviors (including cannibalism) that are best left to the imagination. The point is that you need an outside source of DNA, so trading with other breeders and ensuring you get from a variety of sources is one hedge against the problem.

I normally try for a buck that’s slightly smaller than my does. The reason is that a really large buck can cause the doe to have babies that are too large and she might not be able to have them normally. Even if you manage to get to the doe in time, she often dies if she can’t get the babies out. Oreo is just the right size. He’s just slightly smaller than my does.

Breeding season will arrive soon. Normally I try to breed the rabbits the first time in late March or early April so that the chances of frost at the time the babies are born is minimal. Breeding early in spring also lets me breed the does more than once (normally I go for three breeding sessions during the year unless the summer is especially hot).

Getting just the right buck for your does can take time and effort, but it’s well worth it to have healthy kits. Let me know your thoughts on choosing a new buck at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.