Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tanning a Nutria - Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 of this series, you can read it here. Sunday night I finished the Nutria tanning project I started at the end of November. At the end of Part 1 I set the racked nutria by the wood stove to dry. Over the course of a few nights there, it dried out. One weekend my friend Andrew and I decided to work on our hides together. He obtained an animal from the same source. His was much larger than mine as you'll see in the picture below.

I used the same metal scraper my brother and I used on the bison. It was pretty easy except the details of head. Half of the time was spent carefully scraping around the ears, eyes, nose and lips.

Andrew did an open skinning and used obsidian to scrape. He tanned it and laid it out in the sun and then never saw it again. I guess someone walking by took it.

Saturday I began the long process of tanning. I used a mixture of soap, oil and water. I rubbed it in till it started getting soft. Then I poured on more mixture and folded the trash bag over top and let it saturate for several hours. When I came back it was fully saturated and flexible.

I started a fire in the wood stove to warm the air. I popped in the new Wolverine movie and settled in for many hours of stretching and drying the hide. I wrung out as much moisture as I could. Then I pulled it back and forth over a rounded post stretching all parts of the hide. Wolverine ended. I put in Watchmen and continued. The skin changed from blue to white meaning it was getting drier. Two and half hours later when Watchmen was winding down, the hide was basically dry but still felt a little cool to the touch. I continued to work the hide as I watched The Ladies Man although it was basically done at that point. The next morning the belly was soft and flexible as can be. The back was just the slightest bit stiff. Overall I was very pleased. I think the lesson was to wring it out more and towel off the fur side before stretching.

The next day I buffed the hide with a pumice stone to soften it up and get rid of skin fragments. In the picture below the right side has been buffed.

Sunday night I got out my smoker. I used to have a pail to contain the fire and support the top pail. Without that I had to rig up this monstrosity of wood and stone to support the top pail and funnel the smoke up. The efficiency of this device was pretty pathetic. 75% of the smoke probably never reached the hide. It might be hard to tell in the picture but there was a skirt of denim sewn onto the hide and connected to the duct. Using the duct prevented the flame and heat from scorching the hide.

Here you can see that the smoke was definitely reaching the hide through the duct. I later clothes-pinned the arms and mouth shut to keep the smoke inside longer. To get smoke I built up a bed of coals and then added wet wood and live evergreen branches. I had to constantly monitor it to keep it from flaming up or burning out. After an hour and a half I took it down.

The picture below shows the finished product. The picture quality isn't that great so it's hard to tell the difference between this and the pre-buffed picture earlier. But the color is definitely darker.

I'm very happy with the finished hide. The hair stayed on and it's soft and flexible enough to make a puppet out of. There were some holes to sew up and I lost the eyelashes, but other than that it's pretty nice. The only thing left to do is make something with it. Most likely I'll sew the bottom together to make some type of bag. I'll post pictures if/when I do that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Chickens Are All Grows Up

I thought I would give an update on my chickens since a lot has changed in 3 months. I spent many hours patching up all the holes in the fence to keep the dog inside. Over the course of a month, it was a battle between us. He found rotted pieces of fence or low places he could jump over. He even broke out going under the house and knocking a downspout down in the process. I thought I finally had him until he decided to jump the porch fence despite the 5 foot dropl. In the end a plastic coated wire leash was the solution. Now he spends his days on the front porch where he wants to be.

I tell you this because in my failed quest to contain the dog in the backyard, I succeeded in keeping him out and the chickens in. I was finally able to let them free range. I simply open the door in the morning and close it at night. In the picture below, you can see how different the run is compared to the lawn. The run used to be as green. The lawn has since been scratched up in many places but is mostly still green. I really think the chickens are much happier now.

This picture taken a couple weeks ago shows how much bigger and healthier they are now. The reddish colored ones which I now believe to be the Sex-links breed look a lot better. Some of them had been missing a lot of feathers.

As I mentioned in my last chicken post the screen I put over my droppings pits didn't allow the droppings to fall through. I swapped it out for some plastic coated chicken wire. Despite the larger holes it is still pretty sturdy for the chickens to walk on and allows the poo to drop through. I can get away with cleaning it every two weeks though one week is better.

At some point in the late fall my chickens stopped laying eggs. I really didn't understand what the deal was. I actually had to buy a dozen eggs at the store. Then I read that egg laying is related to sunlight and that a light in the coop would help. I installed a 60 watt bulb on a timer to give the chickens solid light from 5am to 7pm. After a few days, they started laying again.

In December we had a week of temperatures in the teens. I felt pretty bad for the hens. I put towels over the openings under the roof and the door to prevent drafts and keep the body heat in. At night I put coals from my wood stove in between two metal pans and put them in the coop to add some heat. The water froze every day so I put out a pan every morning. I'm glad the birds were all bigger and fully feathered. They made it through the week with now problem.

Over the course of the last month the egg production has steadily increased. I started noticing some really small eggs mixed in with the normal eggs. I figured out that the small ones were the first eggs of one of the hens. As of this week I'm up to 6-7 eggs a day including the small ones. I expect over the course of the next month the tiny eggs will be replaced by normal sized ones. Below is a picture of the spectrum of egg sizes, shapes and colors they are laying right now. They range from "just bigger than a quarter" to "can't close the carton, jumbo sized".

While the one on the left is pretty darn small, the one on the right is dog gone big too!

The next big project that I'm working on is hooking up rain barrels to harvest rainfall from my roof. As part of that project I plan to hook up a new chicken water dish that will be fed from the rain barrels. If it works like I plan, watering the chickens will be one less task for me to worry about.