Well, I finally figured out the solution to my chickens being on strike with the egg laying. I can’t remember if I told you about this, but my chickens have not been laying for about 5 months now. They do usually take a bit of a break during the cold winter weather, but I will generally still get an egg or two every other day. They have not given me anything in many months, and I know they aren’t young any more, so thought that may have something to do with it. But, its so frustrating to be feeding them organic (read: expensive) feed and having nothing to show for it, not to mention having to purchase eggs either from neighbor farms or the grocery store. I am a fan and watcher of other homesteaders on youtube, and one of them was having the same problem. He was purchasing feed in bulk from an Amish farmer, and he had first year birds. His chickens stopped laying last fall, so when he mentioned it to the Amish farmer, he said, okay, let’s try increasing the protein in their feed mix. Bingo! Within two weeks of feeding the increased protein, they were back to laying every day! Hmmm, I thought…perhaps that’s the problem with my girls. So, when I went to Tractor Supply to pick up their usual feed, I looked for one that had more than the standards 16% crude protein. I found a Nutrena feed, though not organic, is an 18% crude protein. Within a week, I was back in eggs! Yay! I was getting very discouraged, so I was so happy when my husband brought the first egg in 5 months into the house from the coop. It was almost as exciting as seeing that very first egg coming from the chick you’ve raised since day old. Now, we are getting multiple eggs. I only have 6 hens left now, most of them are 3 years old, so they are slowing down anyway, but I am getting about 2 eggs every other day on average. This is pretty good this time of the year from some middle aged ladies. As the days get longer and brighter, they tend to increase their production, but we are still not usually in full eggs this time of year. Overall, I’m very happy that we are getting eggs from them again and looking forward to when they are ramped all the way up and I can stop purchasing them in other places.
Sap season is upon us! Last weekend, my husband and I set the taps in our maples. We went from only 4 taps last year, to 10 taps this year in 4 separate trees. The first day we had the taps in, at the end of the day we had already collected about 2 1/2 gallons of sap!
I had a lot of fun sugaring for the first time last year, and with dipping our toes in the maple water, as it were, so we decided to increase the number of taps this year. Fun! If you have maple trees, I honestly encourage you to learn to tap and boil down the sap. Nothing in the store tastes anything nearly as delicious as the sap you make yourself. I am one of those people who is deeply connected to nature, and when something this amazing comes from such little work, its one of those miracles of nature to me. I don’t really need this syrup having scored a bunch at Ocean Job Lots for free (100% pure maple syrup!), but there is no way I am passing this opportunity up. I think I am going to try to can some to save for later. I also take great pleasure in the smell of the maple sap boiling down. I like to call it maple smoke, though it’s actually steam. I thoroughly enjoyed my maple smoke facial while it was boiling down, its a wonderful aroma! Just one more thing that makes this whole experience worthwhile.
Since we have a snowstorm approaching tonight complicating the process, I decided to take the day to boil the sap we have collected down to create a batch of syrup. We had collected about 7 or so gallons of sap, so enough to do a couple of pots on the burners for a while. I started about 10:30 am and finished up the last of it at 4:00pm. That’s almost 6 hours of running outside to check the burner and progress, stirring and measuring the temperature. When I woke up this morning, it was 7 degrees out there, so I was concerned it would be too cold to make it work, but I managed to get all 7 gallons boiled down, and it created…one pint of finished syrup.
Now, I do realize that doesn’t seem like much, but this is seriously amazing stuff. It has character and its full-bodied, and has a wonderful undertone of vanilla to it. It is cloudy and dark and not perfect, but I really do believe that the flavor is in the imperfection because store bought is clear and all, but it lacks the complexity of flavor that my home grown syrup does.
We had some fun nature observations while we were drilling. It was a beautiful, warmish day and we found beetles walking around on the maples. Where there was a hole from last year, which has not yet sealed itself back in, there was a beetle taking refuge in the hole. You can just see his head markings if you look closely in the hole.
Its always fun to take the time to observe nature when you are out and about or working on projects on the homestead. Isn’t it amazing that this little beetle took up a home in this little hole from where we drew sap last year? God is in the details, truly. Nature is so symbiotic and opportunistic. Wow!
While I was boiling sap, the farm dog was hanging out with me. The picture on the right makes me smile. He spent a lot of time sitting in the back trees just watching out the back of our property. We have cows that live behind our property at a farm that our neighbor owns. Brady is fascinated by them. I really think he thinks they are deer or something, but he will just sit and watch them for a long time, with rapt attention. He’s a goofball a lot of the time, but I do wonder what goes through his mind when he sees something so large. These are angus meat cows, so they are quite formidable. He’s such a smart dog, and I think he definitely is trying to work out just what they are.
Well, I am waiting anxiously for the arrival of spring…very ready for that! I am sure we are all looking forward to it. I hope you’re finding things on the homestead to keep you busy and not having cabin fever! Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.