Plant tomatoes, the say, they’re easy, they say! So I planted some tomato seeds and would you believe that forty-one of those cute little seeds turned into cute little plants way before the ground was unfrozen? ALL RIGHT! I’M GOING TO BE ROLLING IN TOMATO SAUCE AND SALSA!! Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Or rather don’t count your tomatoes before they’re fruiting. My tomatoes grew lush and beautiful, healthiest plants I have EVER seen, in fact they grew into a weird subtropical looking forest of greenery. They shot up towards the sky, some reaching over five feet in height, and billowed outward until all the pretty rows I made for ease of picking were completely choked out with leaves and branches. It all looked so good! But then nothing happened. At the end of the season I ended up with maybe five tomatoes from all those plants!! I still have no idea what went wrong but next year I’ll be planting in a different part of the yard with bunny poop enriched soil.
But this summer hasn’t all been gardening failures and misery. In fact it’s been rich with self discovery. For the most part I haven’t done much traveling, as I usually like to in the warmer weather, mostly because it was so muggy and unbelievably hot my body was just like, “NO.” I felt like it was a bit wasted but it hasn’t been really. I have been taking a lot of time just to myself to work on everything in my life that needs improving. I have learned so much about myself and what I need and want out of life since losing the farm. Believe it or not, even though I am financially at my worst, I am the happiest I have ever been with life. I have learned to take it easy, especially when judging myself. I have come such a long way that even the anxiety that has plagued me since birth has ran back into the hills with its tail between its legs. I have gotten back in touch with my off-beat spirituality, I have decided to be brave and be completely 100% myself for the first time in my life, no matter what everyone has to say, and at the end of the day and it has fostered the deepest inner peace I think a mere human can accomplish. In the past the only place I found peace was when I was outside watching my chickens roam on the farm. Now my peace comes from deep within my soul. I am calm, confident, relaxed, and in this state of mind I have accomplished far more and continue to do so. I will find myself on my own homestead someday and when that day comes it’ll be a just reward for hard work so thank you for anyone who is still reading about my journey.
In the meantime I have just settled in enough to start enjoying a few pets. So I have started a very little bunny breeding project. I am trying to make a miniature Angora breed – I think they could be amazing for urban fiber and pet enthusiasts. This is just a silly little side project, nothing on the scale of the things I have done before but I am perfectly happy with that as I devote the rest of my time to my writing, my art, and creating good karma to send into the universe.
Well! It’s been a fun day! I decided I wanted I make a play pen for my Angoras. I didn’t want anything too permanent but I did want something that’d keep them in one pretty large space. So when I discovered there was this stuff called Rabbit Fencing, used to keep wild rabbits out of gardens, I figured maybe it could keep a few rabbits in instead of out! So I paid $31 for fifty feet worth of the stuff and butted it against the wall of the house to almost double the size of the pen. I used U-shaped lawn staples ($16 for 50) to pin down the bottom of the fence and four T-posts I already had lying around for stability. It was a quick set up, that’s for sure! And I think the bunnies like it! I’m contemplating getting a couple meat bunnies to breed, allow them to run around in this pen during the day and eat on fresh pasture. It could be a good deal for all…
I should probably note this is NOT a 24/7 enclosure. It couldn’t even hold my Belgian Hare for more then a minute tops but my angoras are profoundly stupid and so long as they don’t start digging it should keep them in OK. I can’t leave them at night thought because there is absolutely nothing to protect them from predators and I apparently have a fox and a skunk lurking in addition to raccoons! So this is really is a supervised play area for the day. Still, I’m super happy with it!
Well, my life is calming down a lot and spring is coming up so it’s time to start refocusing my attention on this homesteading blog. Now, I know, I am no longer on a homestead, but I am working towards it again and in the meantime people are still asking me all sorts of chicken questions and I think it’d be a waste not to spread my knowledge! Today I am going to talk about my experience with dual purpose sex links and why this is an important thing to learn for the future of self sustainability.
Here my Silver Gray Dorking rooster Bernie relaxes with some SIlver Dorking Hens – notice their petite size compared to him!
Back when I was on the farm I created my own dual purpose sex links that were bred to suit my needs as well as my customers. My criteria were simple. I wanted a generation of birds that I could sex at hatch and separate. The pullets needed to be great layers and the roosters needed to be large and worth raising for slaughter. Initially all I could find on sex links were based on breeding very light weight laying breeds together to produce sleek low-feed laying pullets and roosters that could be euthanized at hatch so you wouldn’t have to waste any resources or money on raising them. Although I understand this dynamic and why it works in the industrial hatchery business I felt it was not honoring an older tradition of self sustainability. It was far too wasteful.
So I looked into birds used for both meat and egg laying, first settling on Cornish and Dorkings, which were breeds known for their meat but also were pretty decent layers. Cornish are used in the American meat industry to create “Cornish Crosses” also known as CornRocks or just broilers, the same sort of chicken you can buy in the grocery store. However Cornish Crosses take three or four generations to get that ungodly large breast and quick growing. First generation crosses are still very decent if you’re used to heritage birds for the table. Dorkings are known for their large amount of breast meat. They were probably the first breed to have this and I was pleased with the amount they created but they were painfully slow growing. Some of the roosters didn’t reach full size until two years of age! To add a fast growth rate I decided instead of using a Cornish for my rooster I would use my very large heritage Rhode Island Red. He was nothing like the hatchery RIR’s you see in everyone’s backyard flock. He was HUGE, a brilliant Mahogany color, and as docile and friendly as you could possibly want a rooster – unlike the Cornish who had a reputation for having pugnacious roosters. I gave him a number of my largest Silver Gray Dorking hens and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.
Dual Purpose Sex links (Heritage RIR Rooster over Silver Gray Dorking Hen) Roosters hatched out white, hens hatched out Mahogany.
The chicks hatched out with gorgeous Mahogany colored pullets and white roosters who’d grow to have black on their heads and wings later on. The pullets were robust and large, favored here in New England for their size because people believe larger birds fair the winters better. They had hybrid vigor which means they laid an abundance of large tan eggs. The roosters were even more impressive. They grew much faster than the purebred Dorkings and made very decent carcasses by the time they were four to six months old. This is still far longer a growing time than the broilers you can buy but the meat was unbeatable. I had far more breast meat than heritage birds usually have and since they were given ample room to run around they had large powerful legs that made for the best dark meat I have ever eaten – almost gamey in flavor. This is something I will continue the next time I find myself living on a farm! But for Dorking enthusiasts that like that really slow growth rate you can also cross a Red Dorking Rooster to Silver Gray hens to produce sex links. You might also be able to create sex links with red Dorking roosters and white Dorking hens depending on if their white plumage is due to the “dominant white” gene or something else. You’d have to test each line and see.
The benefits of sex links are enormous for a small homestead. It allows us little guys to compete with the large hatcheries because we can sex the chicks as soon as they pop out. This allows us to charge more for the pullets while being absolutely assured we won’t be selling anyone an accidental rooster. It also allows us to sell them a lot sooner before we waste any money on feed. Most breeds take a lot longer to sex, sometimes even months, and there are many customers out there who simply cannot have roosters, even accidental ones. This also allows us to either dispense of roosters at hatch or raise them for meat which means we’re not wasting any of our own resources if we don’t want to. It sounds harsh but the sex links you often buy off hatcheries are usually layers and the vast majority of those roosters are put down immediately for exactly this reason – the lucky ones are sometimes used as living “packing peanuts” to keep small orders of chicks warm while they’re being shipped through the mail.
Here is an older sex linked rooster (same as pictured above)
Here is an older sex linked pullet (same as pictured above)
Now I have told you my story and preferred cross I will let you know a couple others that may work as well. Here in the US we favor Cornish crossed with Plymouth Rocks to make large meat birds. You can do this in a way to make them sex-linking but it may take more ground work than you may wish. While theoretically a Dark Cornish Rooster over White Plymouth Rock hens can produce sex-links it doesn’t always because it depends on the line of White Rocks if they are indeed dominant white or some other combination of genes that just don’t work. The only way you’d know for sure would be to try it with the birds you have and raise a few chicks to adulthood to see.
Another common dual purpose cross would be a Gold Laced Wyandotte rooster over Silver Laced Wyandotte hens. This will produce gold pullets and silver hens. This is a great way to use extra birds that may not have made the cut to be bred for color or show. This generation will never be able to be used for the latter but most people buying chicks just want eggs and sometimes something pretty that lays eggs so it doesn’t really matter for that.
Cream Legbars make decent autosexing layers of green or blue eggs. I rather enjoyed mine when I had them.
If this is something you’d like to try or you’d like to learn more about it there’s a wonderful far more in depth article on Backyard Chickens complete with charts, how to figure out the correct cross, and why it works. And if you like the idea of having sex links that are easier on your feed bill and more focused on just their laying abilities there are a ton of resources out there for just that but most of those boil down to Red Sex Links and Black Sex Links. Red sex links are most often a Rhode Island Red rooster over a Rhode Island White hen. Black Sex Links are most commonly created by crossing a Rhode Island Red rooster with a Barred Rock hen. All of that can be found on the article I have linked above. And finally if you’d like a chicken that can be sexed at hatch for more than one generation try looking into autosexing breeds like Cream Legbars, Bielfelders, Rhodebars, etc. Good luck and happy chicken keeping!
So I no longer live on a farm, that doesn’t mean I can’t still sell my goods at farmer’s markets and craft fairs, which I fully intend to do so long as I can afford a table. I started this year sharing a table with my mother at the market in town. It was ungodly hot, 86 degrees, and to add to my troubles it was also insanely windy which resulted in the tent nearly blowing away. My mother had to leave me to hold it up as she went home and got anchors for the thing. Did I mention she didn’t leave me with the change box or a chair to sit on? Yeah. That didn’t really end well… but hey! I made it!
My mother wanted to set up a sale table for her soaps which were made last year and were losing their smell and had lost their labels. I asked if I could share the table and put out some of my hand made magnets and some stroopwafels (which are these amazing Dutch cookies that are completely addictive.) I was shocked how many people knew what stroopwafels were – all were world travelers and I felt I was selling them happy memories. It was a really wonderful feeling. Sure there were only seven vendors and about the same amount of customers but I don’t think this was a bad start to the season… not for Rindge anyway. I am going to check out the markets in Peterborough and New Ipswich next and if they are to my liking I will do my rounds weekly whenever I can to see if I can get those elusive repeat customers.
In the meanwhile I have started my garden. Believe it or not I have had to keep all my plants in the house until now because even though yesterday was 86 degrees while I was at the farmer’s market the nights have still been getting cold enough to freeze things! My gardener friend in town laments, “It’s going to be a short growing season.” But that’s OK. I have cucumbers, several types of squash, pumpkins, watermelons, several types of tomatoes, several colors of bell peppers, Brussel sprouts, parsnips, carrots, and beans. I haven’t even started in on the herbs or flowers yet but that’s still in the planning stages! And so is my little future home. I am still looking into shipping containers and it’s still looking like the cheapest and best option right now. I even went out yesterday and marked out a 40 foot by 8 foot space, which is the measurement of a shipping container, and proceeded to see if I had room to do everything I wanted. I have different needs than most people who move into tiny houses. I need a large kitchen for canning and old school food prep, I insist on a bathtub for sanity reasons, and yes, I demand a washer and dryer because I am not driving to a laundromat whenever I need to do the wash. But with that being said I don’t care if my bedroom is literally just a space for my bed and the entertaining area can be very minimal for now. I’ll be too busy working on the place to have many people over for dinner! Besides, when the weather is nice we should all be outside anyway! I look very much forward to all this and can’t wait until I see the day where it comes together. I am still aiming for that 30 acre teaching farm but I realize this might be reaching to far and have made a whole series of plan b’s. The fact I was able to make so many back up options has given me great comfort and faith that I will not languish in my mother’s probably radio-active house for long. I will have a homestead — or I’ll die trying!
It’s a sad day but Rindle Ridge Farm is no longer a thing. I moved off the farm a whole month before I was scheduled to because things were getting hostile and I didn’t feel safe there anymore. I did what I had to do. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life but I packed the rest of my things, loaded the car, and fed and watered everyone one last time with enough food and water for twenty four hours before giving my notice that I was gone. I offered to drive back and feed and water everyone again if I had to, at least a few more times, but I was told to stop dealing with the animals and that I was lucky I wasn’t being prosecuted for abandoning them. From here I was publically blasted on FaceBook as being the horrible wench that “suddenly abandoned” the animals. I didn’t bother to reply to this with the above information because I felt saving my reputation wasn’t as important as getting those animals the care they needed, even if it was from people who clearly didn’t have all the information on the situation. The goats were whisked away by someone thinking this was an emergency after being told they didn’t have any water (which was literally in front of the gate in front of the pasture. How these people checking in on them didn’t trip over it I will never know.)
I regret not being able to get the chickens in a better situation. There’s nothing good coming for them… but with that being said I have no regrets. I did what I had to do, I did it as respectfully, morally, and lawfully, as I could have. Now I am looking to the future! And this time when I get back on my feet and running a farm it’ll be for real, for myself, without the overwhelming pressure of someone who wants me to make it profitable two days before yesterday.
Money isn’t everything. It’s just a string of pretty numbers that can give you what you need, sometimes what you want if you have more. I am so happy to be away from that sort of goal keeping. You know what my monetary goal is from here on out? Getting enough money to get settled somewhere on a teaching farm and having enough to pay for my meager bills to live a simple rustic life. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake, not something that desperately needs to be achieved.
So I am living back at my mother’s in a far from desirable situation. I love my mother and get along very well but her house? I think it was imported from Chernobyl. At least that’s the only reason I can figure so many weird health problems happen here with every pet I chose to keep and myself. I struggle to keep my head above the water but I am remaining positive. I feel like I need to be here right now no matter how bad a situation it is because something better is coming.
I have yet to set up a work station for my art but I have started taking little road trips to keep my mind sharp and to get out of the house. I am starting to record my journeys in a new blog Catching Marbles.
And of course I continue to figure out my campaign to raise money for my future homestead. I also am continuing to look into all the options. Are shipping containers really cheaper? Can I manage to bury one so I don’t have to insulate it? Or is buying a tin “arched home” cheaper? Or maybe just going all out pre-fab tiny house is cheaper since everything is included? My mind whirls but I am getting a better grasp of what I need. I need a place with a large kitchen as cooking will be a big part of my life and I really would appreciate a full bath tub and a spot for a stackable washer and dryer. However other things in the house, like a bedroom can be compromised. I don’t feel I need a bedroom, just a place to put a bed and maybe a lamp if I decide to read in bed. Everything else is excess. I will also need a working space for my art which will likely take over the room traditionally used as a living room. Should I have need for entertaining space there is always the great outdoors or the possibility of adding on later. Of course all this depends on how many square feet I end up with and what I can do with it.
Thank you all for continuing to come with me on this journey. Feel free to stay tuned as I continue to make art and go to Farmer’s Markets, travel, and get on with my life. I am sorry there won’t be any more fun chicken photos for now but I have great hopes for the future.