Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ending the Year as It Began

That pile of wood finally got split.  Better late than never.

We tried to remember exactly what we were doing New Year's Eve last year.  We couldnt recall for sure, but one thing for certain, at least part of the day involved firewood.  Stacking, or splitting, or carrying armloads in for burning, handling wood is a constant on the homestead.  

Getting next year's wood is a ritual, an ever present reality in the ongoing activities of life on the farm.  It occupies our time and energy from summer through the following spring.  There are maybe only those few months of late spring and early summer when we are not daily handling wood.

This year's wood is a non negotiable  necessity. Since the wood has to cure for a season, next year's wood is the job of this year. Next year's wood is almost better than money in the bank... it is an assurance of warmth, of the ability to prepare food, a symbol of comfort and self sufficiency. If everything else fails, we can stay warm.   

So today, we worked on stacking next year's wood, and maybe even some for the year after.  We estimate our little woodshed here will hold about 7 cords.  
So I have no complaints of ending this year the same way it began.  There is a rightness, a pleasing satisfaction in seeing those stacks rise to the ceiling.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

First Snow

Well behind the average first snowfall date, today's snow brought a little of everything... sleet, freezing rain, snow, more sleet... so it is an icy nightmare.  Hard to plow and shovel . Its not a real pretty snow, the kind of fluffy snow that sticks to trees and branches.  This snow is more like a block of concrete.
But, we knew it  was coming, and this was a good chance to see how the new barn and changed foot traffic patterns will work in these winter conditions.
Old and new barn

Looking out past our little orchard to the distant hillsides

Stone wall coated in an icy crust. The small cottage in the background, now abandoned, used to be the caretakers cabin for this farm.

The chickens had to stay inside their pen.  They werent happy about this.

The geese didnt seem to mind too much, but did resort to various methods of keeping their feet warm...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When One of Us Is on the Disabled List.......

...some things just dont get done.  There simply isnt time for one person to do everything that usually takes two people, one of whom works full time at it. Just aint possible.  So, we prioritize.  
The important things MUST get done. No matter what. Animals get fed and watered. Their bedding is kept clean. Food and fuel for us human folk has to be taken care of, even if the food is a bowl of beans and nothing else. The rest of it, well, we just do what we can....and the remainder has to wait.

The back sides of sheds dont get painted. Scrap wood doesnt get sorted and put away.

Next year's firewood doesnt get split. Not ideal, but we have to deal with this winter first.

Leaves dont get raked. Oh well...

Herb gardens dont get mulched for winter.

And forget housekeeping!

It is frustrating, knowing so many tasks need doing, things that would sure be nice to have done.  But it is what it is, as Steve is fond of saying.  Hopefully by spring, I will be back to the point I can pull my own weight.....meanwhile, Steve keeps being superman, and doing way too much. Love that guy...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Eggs-Fact or Fiction?

Do you know these egg facts?

1.  You have to have to have a rooster for your hens to produce eggs.   Fact or fiction?
2.  That little white squiggly thing sometimes seen in the egg means that egg is fertile.  Fact or fiction?
3. Eggs should be refrigerated or they "go bad" Fact or fiction?
4. Brown eggs are better than white eggs. Fact or fiction?
5. Pastured hens produce eggs with less cholesterol than store bought eggs from big warehouses. Fact or fiction?

Washed eggs, drying on the counter. Once they are dry, I will pack them into cartons, label, and we will deliver to the little farm market down the road.  The hens mostly pay for their own feed this way. Organic feed is expensive, almost double the 'regular" stuff, but the whole reason we  raise our own hens is to have cleaner, more nutritious food for ourselves. So we feed the hens well, and they give us the best eggs in return.

Packed up and ready for market!

1. Fiction.  Hens will lay eggs whether there is a rooster or not. 
2. Fiction.  Its just part of the egg. Doesnt mean anything.
3. Fiction.... and Fact.... Eggs are laid with a natural coating called "bloom" which seals the egg and doesnt allow any bacteria to enter. Eggs left alone will keep on your countertop for a LONG time without going bad  However, our "wise" FDA requires eggs in this country to be washed.  Once they are washed, the bloom is removed, and bacteria can enter the egg. So, now they do need to be refrigerated.  They will keep about 5 weeks in your frig.
4. Fiction.  The color of the shell has nothing to do with the quality or freshness of the egg.  Different breeds of chicken lay different color eggs. 
5.Fact.  research has shown that eggs from hens that are raised in a natural environment outdoors will have about half the cholesterol, over 3 times the vitamin A amd vitamin E, three times the Omega 3, and 30%less saturated fat as eggs from warehoused hens.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Free Ranging

We moved the chickens out of the pasture and into the barn for the winter, and to make it easier for me post-knee surgery to care for them.  They dont have a big area, but they mostly only roost in there. We let them out in the morning to completely free range during the day.
Here, they are waiting impatiently for me to let them out.

Free ranging has its pros and cons.  
Pro:they get to enjoy a natural diet and sceatching and pecking everywhere for their food.  It also reduces our feed costs.

Con: there can be a few territorial disputes.  
Plus, they are certainly more vulnerable to predators, lkke coyote or hawk.  And the occasional  vehicle if they wander out on the road.

Pro: They enjoy themselves though, and they look healthy.

Con: One of the downsides for us human folk is that when free ranging, the hens wont always go to the coop to lay eggs, but
will find little hidey holes to lay.... like this gal hiding under some logs near the wood pile. So its somewhat of an easter egg hunt every day to find them..  I am sure we dont find all of them.

Oftentimes, several hens will use a particularly good spot.  Here one little lady is hoping to get a turn for this nice cozy nest. When I first discovered this spot, there were 15 eggs in there.

And finally, free ranging means putting up with those darn geese who think they own the place.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Last Project before Winter

The last project of the year was building a greenhouse.  Our neighbor built it for us out of reclaimed storm windows and a few sliding glass doors.   It went way over budget because this neighbor is a stickler for things being built to last, and the design of it was not quite what I had intended.  But it will work, and its definitely built very well!   I may end up needing a larger one at some point, but at least come spring, i have a place to start seedlings and get things going.
We still have a number of  windows left over. I think we will probably build a few cold frames in addition to the greenhouse, and use those windows as the lids.
There are still a few things to finish up on the inside.  We will insulate that back north wall, and paint it black to absorb extra solar warmth.   And i will have a high shelf for seedlings on the back wall, as well as planting beds in the ground.  And since there is plenty of height to work with, I can see having some hanging baskets in there too.

This would make a nice winter chicken coop.  Sunny, warmer because of the solar, and plenty spacious for them.  Maybe next winter we will do that.  This year, what with my knee surgery and all, we will stick with our current set up...

Meanwhile, the girls, (and two boys) are relishing being totally free range during the day.  They roam everywhere, but a favorite spot is in the garden, digging through the compost and winter mulch.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Goats, Winter Quarters

So today, Steve moved the goats into the big barn, where they will spend the winter.  This makes it more convenient for us, because we can drop hay from the loft directly into their stall, instead of lugging it from here over to the goat shed, plus the new paddock  gives them lots more room.

They look tiny next to the big barn.

They are checking out the new digs, including a fun stone wall for jumping and climbing.

The chickens are already in the lower barn level for the winter, and the geese will be moving into barn too, so everyone is all together.  This also reduces the amount of snow shoveling we have to do....

The "white house" shown here is currently only used for storage.  We have decided to make modifications to it, and use it for animal housing. Either a goat shed, or the cow barn.  Thats a project for next spring.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Homestead, Year One

The old shed

The new barn

Wow, it has been almost exactly a year since we moved into the old house here.  It has sure been a whirlwind year, starting with the blizzard on the day of our arrival last year, and then the power outtage that lasted several days.
I got to thinking, trying to list what we have done so far.  I am sure there are small projects that I wont recall, and the ongoing tasks of gardening and soil building and planning, planting, maintaining, etc., cant really be summed up by a few lines on a list.. but here goes...its all from memory, so might get dates not exactly right.
Moved in. This is worthy of mention because it took several attempts, because the moving truck couldnt negotiate the ice after the blizzard.

Installed new wood stove
Bought firewood, but it was wet and fròzen (see blizzard comment above)
Cut down, bucked, hauled, and split two dead trees for burnable wood.
Bought a snowblower
Bought maple syrup evaporator (used, homemade, cheap)
Dismantled 13 raised garden beds and stacked and split them up for burning for said evaporator.
Purchased 6 layer pullets, the start of our flock.
Made a makeshift "greenhouse" out of the chicken run, where the pullets could live for the winter.
House before

House after

Endured.  Read lots of gardening books. Did lots of garden planning. Shoveled lots of snow.
Steve installed TV antennae.

Colors of fall

Endured even more.
Set  taps on 10 maple trees.
Showshoveled a path to get to taps, and tromped it down with snowshoes.
Began collecting sap.
Set up seed starting area inside, a strange seasonal juxtaposition with the sugaring operation.

The evaporator

Full swing into maple sùgaring: collecting, storing, boiling, canning.
Planted a couple hundred various garden seeds inside, with grow lights.
Received order of new chicks., 26 of them.

Flowers by front walkway

Finished sugaring.
Spread manure in garden, readied for planting.
Installed temporary garden fence
Chicks move outside.
Baby goslings arrive
Planted 5 apple trees

Garden gets going in earnest.
Second garden area tilled and raked.
Permanent garden fence installed.
Built new mobile chicken coop. Move the flock into that.
Set up electric netting fence for chickens.
Goslings move into old chicken coop.
Old shed gets demolished to make way for new barn.
Having to use crutches full time due to knee injury.
Small dog fence put up.
Bat exclusion doors put up to rid attic of bats. We hope.

Apple bounty

Apple peel feast

Stripped wallpaper, repaired walls, painted walls, ceiling, and trim in 3 rooms inside the house.
The BBB (big barn build) gets underway. We will live with heavy equipment for the next several months.
Planted raspberries, strawberries, blueberries.
Brought home the goat brothers.
Repaired , replaced rotted siding and sills on house.
Dug out massive thorn bush by front sidewalk, weeded, mulched, made pathway, planted flowers.
The radio tower finally taken down and hauled off

Future farm security team in training

The Alarm System, fully activated

Started painting entire exterior of house.
Dug up entire front flowerbed, mulched.
Dug up stumps in yard.
Cleared fenceline and stonewall
Removed weed trees and thorns.

Painted barn boards by the hundred!
Painted all the small animal sheds
Canned, froze, dehydrated, made jams, preserves from garden goodies
Installed new fence by stonewall
Repaired foundation on house
First eggs from new chickens

Mmmmmm... sweet corn stalks.

Paddock area raked and seeded
Spread dirt and seeded grass in backyard
Barn finished, mostly.
Start selling eggs to neighbors and farm store

The new Barn in Fall

Driveway paved
Gravel added for turn around
Big hill cleared
Small front hill stumped and cleared and tilled, bulbs and perrenials planted, bark chips spread.
Woodshed finished
Wood splitting begins
Lower woods area begins to get cleared.

Miss Dixie

Electric finally installed in barn
Bought a calf.
Greenhouse started
New walkway for main entrance.
Moved chickens into barn for winter.
Begin installing small paddock for calf
Build temporary stall dividers for second stall.

And that brings us to now.  I know theres more stuff, but seeing the list, no wonder we are tired!  And I dont mean to say we did all this by ourselves. The barn was built by our neighbor, and all the tractor work also.  And lots of other things.   But we have certainly had a hand in most of it. Almost all the gardening was me, almost all the firewood hauling, splitting , stacking was Steve.

So what will Year Two bring?  There is still lots of clearing to do, and more fruit tree planting.  But the biggest task will be fence building.  I think 2016 will be THE YEAR OF THE FENCE.   Stay tuned!

Garden area before

Garden area after

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Moving the Chickens Inside

So, in preparation for winter, but a bit ahead of schedule due to my upcoming surgery, we moved the mobile chicken coop (Meals on Wheels) into the tractor bay of the garage.  It was a tight squeeze, only about a half inch clearance.   This is mainly so helpers taking care of our critters while  I am unable, wont have to deal with slogging through mud or snow, or turning the electric fence on and off.   One inquisitive hen is already trying to plan how she can get past the barriers we put up to keep them contained in this one corner.

Originally, we planned to put them in the greenhouse for the winter. Nice solar warmth and free fertilizer for next year.  However, the greenhouse isnt finished. It is built out of reclaimed storm windows.  The solar collecting power of glass is pretty amazing. Even with the sides completely open, it is warmer in there behind the glass than the surrounding area.
Once this is finished, that back wall will be insulated and painted black , and I will use some thermal mass collectors as well...

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Evidently its true what they say. "Chickens are a gateway livestock. "  
You're sitting there one morning, drinking your coffee, enjoying some nice farm eggs  and toast for breakfast, and you get to thinking, "it sure would be nice to have a glass of fresh milk  and some butter for this toast. "

And next thing you know, you have brought home a cow. 
So here she is, little Dixie MOOn, mostly jersey, with a little holstein thrown in, possibly some Gurnsey.  She is a week old right now, and very very cute.   Sorry for the bad photos.
Long story, but we first picked her up earlier this week, and she came down with a respiratory infection and some scours .  (diarrhea for the non farmers out there) so we took her back to the farm, and they are getting her all fixed up, and we are picking her back up next weekend after I am out of the hospital from my knee surgery.

We will be bottle feeding her raw milk, so her diet stay as close as possible to what nature intended. Probably for at least two months.  Then, slowly adding hay and grains as she is weaned.

Now thats a bottle!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Goat Pen Improvements

 Why did it take so long to do this?  Seems like some tasks, even relatively simple ones, just get put off. I dont know why.
Anyway, after trimming the goat boy's hooves today (another task that was overdue) I decided that we really needed to do something to cover up the bare (muddy) dirt in their pen.  Mud isnt good for any critter, except maybe the pigs.  The goat boys had too much mud caked inside their hoof walls, which can cause hoof rot.  So after cleaning and trimming their hooves, we hauled up some wood chips and spread them out in the pen. Their shed is layered with deep straw and wood shavings, so its fine, but the outside pen needed some upgrading.
 While we were doing this, we decided to pile up a few big rocks for them to play on.  Goats instinctively like to climb, and it will also help keep their hooves worn down.
It was immediate goat games on the new rocks.  Whoever could command the high position was King of the Hill.
 First it was Waldo.
Then Henry. 

Looks like it might be an ongoing game. Of course, I missed Henry doing running leaps and mid air twists onto the new rocks...but that was pretty cute.