New Years

This year marks the begining of the first year with all six of us in the old farm house. Hopefully by the end of this year the new farm house will be fully occupied by my sister-in-law’s family.

This year we moved in, got the chickens, learned how to treat chick illnesses, tapped multiple trees for syrup, learned about the seasonal flooding on the property, tried gardening round 1, moved my brother’s family into the farm house, built the chicken coop, built two chicken tractors, put a dent in the unpacking, got our first eggs, got some seeds from the garden for next year, learned how to slaughter chickens, and a lot more. It’s been a crazy busy year.

In a lot of ways next year’s goal can be simplified to ‘the same thing only better.’ Armed with the trial and errors of this year we are better prepared to ramp up our activities slightly. A better breed of chicken for our needs. A garden more focused on production for the most immediate needs (particularly chicken feed). And probably a whole lot of things that we didn’t plan on. After all three quarters of farm life is unexpected.

 

Advertisements

Eggs!

Almost as soon as we moved the chickens into their new coop we  started finding eggs. Of course none of the eggs were in our nesting boxes. That would be too normal for our chickens, they like to do their own thing.

So one insists of laying on the front porch. Another will only lay behind the coop door. And yesterday we found 20 hidden under a piece of sheeting that the roofing/siding guys left leaning against the shed. How long have been hidding them there? Who knows?

It is kinda like an Easter Egg hunt only the eggs are the same color as the dirt. So far all our eggs are brown. No jewel tones. But with Dominiques, you don’t really expect them. So far all of our eggs are brown.

Which is interesting because the Leghorns should be laying white. So either all of the eggs are from the Dominiques or our Leghorns are mutts that look like pure Leghorn. Time will tell.

Chicken Egg Colors

This was an interesting website I found while trying to figure out the ancestry of our eggs. If you are looking for the blue, green, or purple eggs it will help with breed selection.

Free Range

Our chickens have been growing rapidly and one of the effects of their larger size has been an increased ability to implement their desire to roam. It’s hard to fence in a bird that can do a flight assisted hop over a fridge. It’s like fencing in a cat that has more feathers.

So after weeks of clipping feathers (Useless!), getting taller fencing (Did I hear the chickens laugh?), and chasing them back into their yard (A great workout that resets after about 3 minutes.) We yielded to the inevitable and moved their fence.

Now it encircles the front porch. The chickens had taken to camping on the porch in the late afternoon when they start anticipating their evening meal. Resulting in massive amounts of poop on the porch. Fortunately they took the hint!  So we might actually be able to fence around areas we don’t want the chickens and let them free range.

Initially I was worried about free ranging. After all the Leghorns are skittish. How in the world would we catch them each night? Turns out it is more a matter of they catch me.

Every time I go outside! They all run over hopefully and cluck at me while I’m working. Good thing they are smarter than the dog and cats about staying out from under foot. They are also wary of my car so if I get in it they scatter back to their grazing. Otherwise they pretty much follow me. I have a lot of very feathery stalkers. 

Research Gems

Frequently, I find myself doing research online on topics that I have absolutely no experience with. For example cows. We aren’t going to be ready for one for a while. But getting an idea of what kind of cow might be useful will give us an idea of what kind of price range we are looking at. Not to mention the potential time spent on pickup.

Like many homesteaders we are looking at heritage breeds since they do better on forage. So finding a supplier of non-inbred cattle is an issue since the US switched to mass marketing Holstien milk in the 1970’s.

There are also all the things you want to consider.

Quantity of Milk: Is it enough for our needs and for a calf?

Fat Content in Milk: For butters and cheese.

Temperment of Cattle: Particularly Bulls: We would rather not deal with any gory details.

Size of Cattle: They aren’t exactly sping chickens.

Diet: Do we need to grain feed or can they forage or do they need both?

Locality of Supplier: How long would it take to pick one up?

Cost: Some of these breeds are on the endagered species list. Consequently they are quite expensive.

Inbreeding: Either from the late 70’s cull or intentional limitation, many have small supply and are as inbred as some dog species with the same damage to the animal’s health.

Cross Breeding: Expensive heirloom cow will probably be mixed with a local bull. What kinds of pros/cons is this likely to cause?

All in all, it has become quite the project. Thank God for the internet and blogger/homesteaders who have gone before and shared such useful information as this one Homestead On The Range.

Very useful genral overview of some of the most popular cattle in the US.

A Moment of Lunacy

As is frequently the case, brought to you by the animals.

Round One: Chicken Treat

We’ve started letting our chickens wander, now that they are bigger than the barn cat. They mostly keep near their bush and pen in the front of the house. A trend we encourage by throwing all their food scraps into that area. Yesterday we had pancakes for dinner and I decided to give the bowl to the chickens. Why not? It is milk, meals, eggs, and sugar. All things they love. And they did love the batter. But not the bowl.

IMG_0820.JPG

Here is their dilema. Not quire tall enough to reach into the center without perching on that shiny rim. Which promptly collapses under them with frightening effect causing the whole thought process to begin again. After about ten minutes one of our hens came to this brilliant solution.

img_0821

Stand on the rim so it doen’t flip over and you can eat the batter in the bowl. I don’t know if this is a general thing but our hens are way smarter than the roosters. As was proved by the rooster to the left that shoved the two hens out of the way to get the batter and could figure out how they had kept the bowl on its side, starting round two of the bowl tipping contest.

Round Two: Doggy Dillema

Since the chickens are roving, a number of them have decided that they like the front porch. Nice and dry with all kinds of interesting things in the corners. We, however, object to a poopy porch. So I tied Skye to the porch rail above the steps for a while. Dog gets some exercise trying to play with the chickens and the chickens learn that the porch is dangerous, ideally.

Practically, I had to leash a little too long. The chickens weren’t really too bothered because they are faster than the dog. But Skye got herself into a jam trying to follow the chickens home.IMG_0819.JPG

Leave it to her to find a way through the fence, sorta. Dad was able to free her after a bit of effort. Took a while because she kept trying to go forward through the fence to the chickens. She is determined to lick their faces until they agree to be friends.

Coming Fall

Around here the daylight is certainly getting shorter. Maybe I just notice more since the animals run on the rise and set of the sun and I’m not used to doing that.

The chickens are particularly tied to the sun. When the sun goes down they go to sleep and do not respond well if you try to wake them up enough to move them to their coop and dinner. Dad calls them teenagers.

This might explain why so many of them have been breaking out during the day. They have to use all their energy in a shorter time so what better way than a prison break? A habit we are trying to curb by tethering our dog near their temporary pen when we have to catch one. Skye, the dog, loves it. She adores the chickens and so far has done nothing worse than lick one enthusiastically when I let her. Of course the chickens don’t recognize dog slobber as a mark of favor or friendship.

Since the light is starting to go the weather is getting colder and windier. Because of this we’ve been prioritizing the chicken shed and coop. So far we have gotten the posts concreted into place, have the floor framed out, and ready to screw in the subfloor. Hopefully we’ll get the roof on this week. Depends on the weather which has been quite rainy.

 

 

One Tomato

October of last year we were invited out too look at the farm that we would be moving to, apart from any surprises. Later that month my parents moved starting us off on this wild ride of reformation. Changing our lives and expectations to conform to a reality utterly different from the lives we lived in the city. A continuing process, of course, but one that has had as many rewards as costs, in my opinion.

Overall, it is like the lone tomato plant that grew in our garden this year. I planted some thirty seeds in the outer circle of the garden and none of them came up. This fall we decided to let the chickens clean up the weeds in the garden and moved their tractor through the dense brush a few feet at a time. The chickens loved the weeds and we were able to save on feed.

But one day I saw a plant that didn’t look like any of the usual weeds in the garden. I marked it with a bit of red yarn and we were careful to keep the chickens from hurting it. In our garden the plants that only have one or two in the garden are likely to be vegetables. However, this vegetable stumped me. I couldn’t figure out what it was because nothing that was supposed to be in that area of the garden looked like it. In fact I didn’t realize we had a tomato plant until the fruit began to grow and I am still at an utter loss to explain how it came to be there.

It is far too late in the season for ripe tomatoes, so my dad and I jerry rigged a mini green house to hopefully allow the fruit to fully mature to seed. If a tomato can grow in a wilderness where it wasn’t even supposed to be, it must be a hardy plant.

To me that is what life on the farm is like. Constant surprises. Much improvisation. Generally an outright defiance of what I had planned. Yet we have hope for fruition.

Potato Harvest

As always on the farm there are about 10 things happening at once. Most are the daily rituals like feeding the chickens or household maintenance. But we do have long anticipated events arise occasionally. Like harvesting the potatoes from our experimental potato barrel.

This is a round wire frame with layers of straw and dirt into which the seed potatoes were planted. Harvesting from it was fairly easy and only took about 30 minutes because we just unwrapped the wire and began sifting through one layer at a time.

Our neighbor says this has been a very bad year for potatoes. He managed to grow about half of what he planted. In our potato barrel we grew about a third again what was planted. Not a stellar yield but an improvement. We also harvested a little late so we lost a few to bugs.

All and all our first real planting success. The wire barrel went into storage for next year and I expect we will build a few more since it grew well and beats digging for potatoes all hollow.

Road Trip!

Around here they often seem to have shopping added to them. For example we made a trip to the old house for stuff and went to Costco and my favorite store Ikea.


Why is it my favorite store? Well for one thing you get free coffee if you’re an Ikea Family member. But maily it is because the stuff is cheap and sturdy (if you avoid the polyboard.)

So for cleaning and organizing the farm house it was the desired solution. However since it is about 500 miles round trip it is not something you can just do. You have to plan ahead and get the most out of the area.  

In one way I suppose this ‘shopping day’ effect is traditional for homesteaders. After all going to town in a wagon would probably take about as long as it took me to drive to the old house since 80 mph wasn’t exactly feasible for a horse. 

Got Milk…Jugs?

Yesterday proved unexpectedly busy as my brother’s promised job finally materialized. Around here it seems to be normal to call people the day you want them to start working. I often find myself wondering if any of the locals have heard of the odd concept of planning ahead.

Anyway that threw off our plans as my brother had to shift focus abruptly. So my big project was moving the milk jugs.


We’ve been saving them in hopes of getting a large supply if walnut syrup next year. To store them I’ve been hanging them under the front porch. However that was both unsightly and impractical because the rope had a tendency to stretch leaving the jugs dangling too close to the dirt.

Now I have them hung on a clothes line in the barn. Best of all, this tiered system uses the vertical space so I can keep collecting.