Tuesday, September 24, 2013

And It Goes Round and Round and Round

Ah, my friends, how I have missed writing for you.  It has been so insane here as of late, I have not had a chance.  Forgive me.  I appreciate all your comments on my bear "mishap".  I have put together one hive, and partly the green hive (ie: the hive of death), but they hate me and stung me and I'm all blown up like an elephant right now, so I can go no further.  They will be put back together, somehow.  In the meantime, and while all this has gone on, it has become fall.  The wheel of the year has turned again, and here she is.  I love fall.  I love the leaves turning, the nip in the air, the smell of the trees.  Maybe not so much getting up in the pitch black, but it's all a trade. 

Many different things have been happening around here lately.  For one, we finally finished processing the meatbirds on Saturday.  At 9 weeks old, the birds we processed were over 6 pounds, with a very few exceptions.  This made up for the processing we did the week before, where all the birds were just over 4 pounds a piece.  Terrible.  But that extra week we waited gave us some gorgeous, meaty birds who were just beautiful when done.  Our tally?  For 23 birds, we "harvested" 122 pounds of meat.  Not too shabby.
Fatty, fatty fat birds
However (and there's always a however, isn't there?), we had more leg problems with this batch than ever before.  I started this batch with 27 birds.  One was lost to a hawk.  Three were lost to leg issues.  They stopped walking and just wasted away, basically.  Very interesting, as I've never had that happen before.  As in, EVER.  I also noticed that when they were butchered, the birds' livers were not the strong blue-red color I am used to.  They were instead a rusty red color.  I have looked into this, and I have found that it means "nothing".  However, I think it must have a significance, and may somehow be related to the fact that a few of them stopped walking at 7 weeks and just died (or got so bad I had to assist).  I don't know.  But I am concerned that perhaps my "go to" hatchery should not be, or possibly my "go to" birds should be different.  Come spring, when I start again, I am going to do an experiment and have partly the Cornish Cross that I'm fond of (they make a delicious bird, no matter what you've heard), and partly another breed, possibly one of those Freedom Ranger breeds.  I will run them together to see how it goes.  Then we'll see what we see. 

In either case, I am going to be running the birds in a sled, and I'm going to be sure that I have 52 birds to eat, no matter what.  We've become a Sunday chicken family, so 52 weeks=52 chickens.  And fat, big chickens=two meals for the price of one, so that's the goal.  Now that I know it, I'm going for it.  Next year will be the year of experimental year, and getting the system down.  It's all so worth it though, because if on Sunday I can see this:

Wackadoodle children are also homegrown.
I've done my job right.  Yes, that there is a completely home grown/homemade meal-except for the butter, as my son likes to point out.  Meals like this are getting to be a more common occurrence here, and it is always a beautiful sight.   THAT means I'm doing my job.  And that feels really good.

Now, oddly enough, I spent the whole morning/early afternoon taking life, but in the afternoon I got to help bring life in.

I have seen the circle turn in this way many times, but not often this fast.  Yes, this is Saracat--AGAIN.  Saracat was scheduled to be spayed, and disappeared on us.  Disappeared for long enough that I cancelled the appointment.  Generally, if our outdoor cats are gone for over a week, they don't come back.  It's the sad truth of the life of the outdoor cat, unfortunately.  Of course, weeks later, Saracat DID come back, and not alone, either.  By that time, it was too late, and I had to wait for nature to take it's course.  It did, on Saturday.  Saracat brought two littles into the world, one grey and white male, and one black female.  I assisted with the births--Saracat is crappy at giving birth--pushing is not her "thing".  The grey and white came normally, but the black came out backwards.  A black female cat, born backwards, on the eve of the Autumn Solstice, on a day of (pretty much) destruction?  That one stays--and comes inside.  I'm not superstitious, but how many more signs do you need?  I know enough to know that's significant in some way.  I'm waiting for her to pick her name.  I'll let you know when she does.

In other news, I am proud to announce the broody coop works beautifully.  Those girls sure can brood!  In fact, a couple of weeks ago, Louise brooded this:

The happy family
Feisty little thing that it is.  Louise continues to be a blue-ribbon mama, even staying outside in downpours with the little one under her wing because the little bit couldn't get up the ramp to go into the coop.  Louise would be soaked, but that baby would be dry as a bone.  Good girl.

And if you remember that I told you a while back that the backyard rabbits did not work into the flow of the homestead, well, I've remedied it.  I gave away Bunnicula and Robert A Cavataugh to a nice girl who had two females who looked almost exactly like these boys.  That was a good thing.  She was thrilled, and they will be well cared for.  Petunia I sold for a pittance to a man who raises rabbits for meat.  She will not be eaten, but bred for babies (who will be eaten).  Petunia is a beautiful girl, and I'm glad to see her come to some use.  We would not eat the rabbits, so she served no purpose here.  I know she will have a good life.  Busy, maybe, but good. 

The man who came to pick her up was very impressed and very complimentary about the homestead.  We had a lovely conversation, and he kept saying "Wow, you guys are doing it!"  Yes, I guess we are.  I never get to see this place through someone else's eyes, so it's nice to, every once in a while.  Or, I should say, when I get to see this place through someone else's eyes, it's usually to hear "Why would you do that?  It's so much WORK!!"  Yeah, let's just agree to disagree.  But when you get to meet someone who gets it--really gets it--it's a treat.  And it helped me to be a little more proud of what I do here and feel good that maybe, in some small way, I can make a difference.  In fact, it helped me see this place a little differently myself, and maybe that's a good thing.

To wrap it up, I'm going to talk about my favorite animals--the goats!  Shocking, right?  Well, I have not had a lot of time to spend with my babies lately, because of work, but I keep on milking, and Lilly keeps on producing, and so I've graduated to hard cheeses.  Voila!

Farmhouse cheddar--possibly.  We'll see.  Anyway, I have jury-rigged a press with some PVC and a whole crapload of bricks, but it's extremely stupid and falls down, which is also stupid.  I'm buying myself a cheese press, folks, watch me.  My intention was to have the goats provide all our milk (check) cheese (almost check-working on it) and butter (not check), so I need the equipment.  It's quite an investment, but I think it's a sound one.

Anyway, concerning the goats....I have been thinking about how to get them to be able to eat more from the land without too much in the way of additional inputs, like hay or grain.  Grain is always going to be a thing, I fear, because if you want milk you need to feed for milk.  Fair enough.  Hay is also a necessity, but it doesn't go as far as it should.  So I have devised a solution of sorts--leaves.  Like this:
The Minerva Family hard at it

The Lilly Family looking for Frosted Mini Wheats---just in case I have any
Dry leaves have many uses on a homestead; as compost, mulch, or to build beds.  However, they can also be used to feed your goats.  Goats LOVE dry leaves, a fact I discovered last year.  So I asked my husband to blow a big pile next to the girls' fence, so they can stick their heads out and eat.  But of course they can't share, so the pile, no matter how big, is not big enough.  Plus, the boys don't get a pile, as they are located in a yard behind the girls' yard.  So I did this in both yards:
Classy, elegant, timeless. That, friends, is a couple of recycled feed bags with a half circle cut out of them, hung from a fence and stuffed with leaves.  Goat sticks head in half circle, goat eats leaves.  That's the idea.  The truth?  One goat sticks head into half circle and eats leaves, another goat sticks head in TOP of bag while standing on the fence (or the other goat) and eats leaves.  Then goats fight over said bag, while mondo PILE of leaves on the other side of the gate sits forgotten.  That's what really happens--don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

I can't take credit for the bag idea--I saw it at the fair, made out of old pillowcases, which the owners had stuffed with hay for their goats and sheep.  But I don't have pillowcases, and in any case did not want them outside to get icky, so I used feedbags.  The goats LOVE it.  If you have goats, trees, and old feedbags, I would recommend this.  Try it.  Your goats will love you for it.  And you'll go through far less hay, promise.

I loves dry leaves!!  If only Minerva the Mean would let me have some...
And that, as they say, is that.  I leave you with this picture of a rose called Koko Loko.  Stupid name, pretty flower.  I hope you all have a great night!

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Saturday, September 21, 2013


We live in the woods.  In case you had forgotten, I am reminding you, which is necessary to preface this story.

Woods=coyotes, raccoons, snakes, big bugs, frogs, weasels, mink (we also have water), squirrels, and blah blah blah.  Lots of predators, lots of chances for something to do something I would really they rather not.

Last night, we heard someone's hounddog going bonkers.  This happens from time to time, and usually means coyotes.  Coyotes like to take my ducks and chickens and whatnot, but at night, everyone is locked in, so I wasn't worried about it.  However, a bonkers dog can also mean bears.  Big, black ones.  We've got 'em, and the first time I saw one, I didn't actually see it.  Rather, I saw my geese, who are LOUD, shut up and run like their butts were on fire.  When I saw what they were running from....it was a bear.  Since then, they've been up and down the backyard and in the woods, and they look at me, I look at them, and they steal someone else's garbage.

Well, last night, that bonkers dog meant bears.  Who came to Chicken Scratch for the first time ever to have a snack.  Want to know what he/she ate?  This:

That, my friends, is what it looks like when a big, hulking black bear kinda dude/dudette decides that what you've got is DEEEEELICOUS and hunkers down for a nice meal.

It ain't pretty.  So far, I am only able to clean up the smaller yellow hive, as the girls within are less aggressive than the green hive.  The green hive wants me dead, no matter if I am trying to help or not.  So I will wait until sundown, hope they are a little sleepy, smoke the hell out of them, and put them back together.  Today, after I am done butchering broilers, I will need to research how to keep my bear friend out of my beehives.  Then I will have to enact that thing.

And there you go.  A first for me.  Never let it be said that this life isn't always interesting or a learning experience, because it certainly is.  It never gets dull, and that's what I love.  'Till next time!

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Friday, September 20, 2013

In Which She Goes Off-Topic

So....I've been working.  Not that this is new, because I am always working.  But as of right now, I am working as a substitute clerical worker for the local school district.  Yes, this would be my OTHER job.  Though no one outside of my immediate family considers what I do here to be work, I actually consider THIS (homesteading) my primary job and the other secondary.  I love my primary job.  If you were ever to ask me what I do for a living, this is it.  It's who I am and what I'm all about.  My secondary job, well, I like it quite a bit.  I like the people I work with, I like the routine and the paperwork (yes, I like doing paperwork--it appeals to my orderly, rigid side) and I like interacting with others.  I like that it's in a school, because I like the kids.  So it's good.

I have been working my secondary job as much as I can lately because I have found that, as of late, it has gotten much harder to get by.  For years, since the year after my daughter was born and the company I worked for went under, we've been a one income family.  After my children got older, and we moved here to Chicken Scratch, I would sub here and there, usually to save for a birthday or Christmas or something, but otherwise, I worked as hard as I could at home to A) raise my children and B) produce food to save us money.  With my husband's income, and my money saving, we did alright.  Even with the addition of animals, which, as you know, are expensive to keep and expensive to obtain.  But lately....not so much.  The same money that we were just fine on last year we're no longer fine with this year.  Anyone else notice this?  I'm thinking that you have, because it seems to be all around me as well.  I do not read mainstream news--basically because it's a bunch of crap--but I can see from what I've read elsewhere, that whatever we're all being told is horseshit, and the truth is that the country and it's people are in a lot of trouble.

This is not the forum to discuss that, though.  I bring it up because of this:  a couple of weeks ago, my husband was discussing a job with someone. This person works in the city, and my husband currently telecommutes from home.  For a lark, we tried to figure out how much money my husband would have to make to make commuting to the city "worth it".  Not in time--we weren't talking about being reimbursed for his travel time--just for him to bring home enough money to actually afford the stupid train ticket.  Simple, right?  Well, it got interesting.  We picked a number for a yearly salary.  Slightly higher than what he makes now, but still, it sounded like a lot.  I found a number of paycheck calculators online and plugged in the appropriate numbers here and there and got the result.  He would have LOST about $400 a month in commuting costs (just to pay for the train ticket, in other words), and though the salary would be higher, he'd bring home less. 

So I went higher, and put in a higher annual salary.  No better.  Higher again, and I broke even.  He'd bring home the same amount as he makes now, he'd pay for the train and all, but his yearly salary was getting pretty high (on paper).  Truly, I was getting a little freaked out.  So, for shits and giggles, I plugged in the salary my husband was making at his highest point, which was significant (he's not making that now--those days are gone, friends).  When I did, I found that he could afford the commute, and bring home extra, but it wasn't much extra.  And the salary number was very high.

And I thought "No way in hell can that be right, because we had a LOT of extra money back then".  But guess what?  It was right.  No matter what program I plugged that stupid number into, it still came back the same.  So I went back into my records (remember, I like paperwork) and looked to see if our expenses were SO much lower back then and that's why we had so much more money kicking around. 

They were higher.  We had more and higher expenses, but STILL had more money.

Want to know why?  Because at some point in time between 2007 and 2013 the tax laws changed (probably a trillion times).  And if my husband brought home the SAME salary today as he did in 2007, paid bi-weekly as it was then, he would be bringing home a whopping $1200 LESS a month.  I think I might have vomited a little when I figured that out.  So why is it getting harder to get by?  Well, for one, we seemed to be being taxed to death.  That, my friends, is scary.

Anyway, that is my off topic rant for today.  How does it relate?  Well, even if you never saved paperwork from 6 years ago (which you probably don't) and had never wanted to play "what if" with a paycheck calculator, I still think you'd notice that we're all losing ground, fast.  In terms of homesteading, I have noticed within the past year, and notably within the past few months, that:

1.  Egg sales have fallen flat.  I can give them away (everyone likes free), but even my staunchest customers are coming to get eggs fewer times than normal. 
2.  I couldn't sell Olive, who was priced so low.  I had chalked that up to stupid newbee suburbanite homesteaders who can't wait, and that could very well be, but it's also possible that there isn't money to wait. 
3.  Someone wanted to buy Stewart for a lot of money, when he wasn't offered for sale.  That's interesting, because he's a male with a lot of baby potential.  Baby potential = milk, obviously.  Meat as well, if you eat goat.  I know how valuable he is, it seems others do, too.   In the long run, owning Stewart will cost less than "renting a buck" for your does every year--especially if you have a number of does. 
4.  Meat bird sales were non-existant.  Yes, they are expensive.  No, I can't sell them for supermarket prices  (even those have gone up, though, have you looked?).  The only people to purchase meatbirds from us this year were family members.  Last year this was not the case.  This could be poor marketing on my part, but I don't know.  I do know that when people were told how much the birds were per pound, the conversation was over.  Sing whatever song you like about how well raised they are (and they are), but if the person can't afford it, there's nothing you can do.

Outside of here, I have noticed the following:

1.  The number of horses for sale on Craigslist has gone up.  I don't need or ever want a horse, but people around here keep them as lawn ornaments for whatever the hell reason.  That seems to be changing, slowly.
2.  The number of entire flock sheep sales has gone up, from "I've never seen one" to, "There were three posted just yesterday".  Why?  I think it may have the same reason as number three, here, which is....
3.  I was privy to a conversation the other day between two women who keep lawn ornament horses, and they said someone was getting rid of their alpacas.  One woman said to the other "Do you want them?" and the second said  "There's no money in alpacas anymore".  That's interesting.  Along with lawn ornament horses, Alpacas also do nothing.  Yes, they are a fiber animal, but they are an artisan fiber animal.  Not too many people walk around with alpaca fiber clothing on a regular basis.  The fiber is usually for spinners and weavers and knitters and so on, those with a bit of money, because it's expensive stuff.  When Alpacas, with their high end fiber, are no longer worth money, it means there's no money to spend on them.  End of story.

I could go on.  I won't.  I would tell you that in Tractor Supply yesteday, I saw a "Seed Survival Vault", which said on it "The seeds you need in the toughest of times".  I wish I had a picture, but I don't carry an idiotphone with me, so I don't have a camera.  I cannot find it online to show you.  However, weird?  Um.....yeah.  Weird.  I'm not sure what that means, if anything at all.

In all fairness, I live in a not-particularly rich area.  Some people have money here, most do not.  Other areas may be experiencing different things.  But it seems to me, living in this area, that this economic mess, collapse, whatever you want to call it, is getting worse and instead of starting from the top down as it did in 2008, it's coming from the bottom up.  Either way it sucks.  But I am curious...are any of you seeing similar things?  Would you share?  I'm interested.  Either this post will get a million responses, or the crickets are going to chirp.  But if you've seen anything "odd" by you, or have noticed that things aren't all kosher, let me know.  Let us all know.  Maybe we all need a heads up.

Anyway, I'm totally off topic, so next time we'll talk meatbirds.  Until then, take care!

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Keep on Keepin' On

Hello my friends!

Long time, no talk!  The days have been keeping me so busy lately, and by the time the night comes, I am D-O-N-E.  Harvest time is great, but OH! so exhausting.

It's already September 10th, amazingly.  My kids went back to school last Friday, my daughter to sixth grade and the middle school, and my son to fourth grade.  It's been a transition, because my daughter's bus comes at 6:30 in the morning, meaning she has to get up at 5 or 5:30.  It's been rough on her, and on me.  She, like me, is NOT a morning person.  We would like to sleep all day, thank you very much.  That's not in the cards, however, so up and at 'em we go.  In order for me to get her to the bus on time, she's been helping me in the mornings.  I go out at 5:30 to feed and milk the goats, and she comes out at 6 to feed the other animals.  By the time 6:15 rolls around, we're done and ready to go to the bus. 

That's the theory, anyway.
Daughter would not stand still for a picture, so I put this one up instead.  :)  If she ever finds out, she's going to be thrilled.

I'll let you know if that ever works out exactly like that.  So far, we've come close, but not quite.

My son gets on the bus after 8, so it's head back and get him ready time soon after.  Busy?  Nah.  Why do you ask??
Sneakers on my son (far left) and his friends.  The dang things are BRIGHT.  The 80's are back, no?
Son and husband.  He would sort of stand still for pictures.
In the milking news, Lilly was milking out smaller and smaller amounts every day.  I'd put her on the stand and get a cup or so in the morning, and in the afternoon, a squirt or two.  It was getting ridiculous, and knowing my history with Min, I was worried Lilly was going the same way.  Ah, but Lilly is feeding Tallulah.  And Tallulah, is, in a word, gigantic.  And though Tallulah will eat feed and hay and whatnot, I had a feeling that little miss was sucking her mama dry--at least that was the hope.  So, as Tallulah is now 9 weeks old+, I decided the gravy train has left the station, and taped Lilly's teats to prevent her from suckling.  And the next morning, Lilly gave me damn near 1/2 a gallon.  Hello!

Yep, that little vampire was getting all the milk.  And it is obvious when you look at her, because though she's younger than Amelia and Olive, she's bigger than Amelia and Olive (who were bottle fed).  Yes, it makes a very big difference in how the animal grows when mama has fed/not fed her.  I've always thought so, and I have proof living in the pen outside.  Very interesting.  Tallulah, by the by, is not super thrilled with the non-access to mama's teats, but she's getting used to it.  She has peeled the tape off her favorite teat twice, forcing me to use stickier tape (making me feel bad for Lilly, because ouch!!), but for the most part, she goes in for the nurse, sees the tape, makes the "damn" face and walks away.  So, I am super thrilled to say that my Lilly, she who will not stand still on the milking stand, don't ask her, not even if she's FULL to bursting, and not even for Frosted Mini Wheats,  is a 3/4 a gallon a day milker and then some.  Go Lilly, go!!!

On the boys' side of things, Stewart is a stinky, stinky man who is very happy when Dulcinea comes into the pen with him, and when she does not, he's very happy to make due with Max, who is not happy about that at all.   Understandably so, I think.  Max has been coping with the unwanted attention by eating and eating until he's about as large around as he is long.  Poor boy.  Someone should tell him he can't drown his sorrows in food. 

As Dulcinea is still playing coy with Stewart (though I think he may have been successful one day a week or so ago), I have been trying to find Stewart other employment by pimping him out.  No dice.  Do I understand that? No.  But interestingly, I got an email just this morning offering me $200 for him (to purchase).  Um....no.  The offer makes me wonder many things, but that would be a long story.  Instead, let me explain why the "no" response on my part.

Stewart--who smells, granted-- is in fact, a gorgeous specimen of Nubian buckhood.  He's gigantic, beautifully muscled, his face is well proportioned, his nose very roman-y, and his carriage is fantastic.  I would never show him, because I didn't buy him for that and don't care about it, but it's all very obvious that he is showable even to a novice like me.  Because of his gorgeous buckishness, he throws beautiful babies.  Stewart is a sweet boy, and though he's food aggressive, is very easily handled by anyone with two legs not carrying a feed scoop.  Stewart is a ready breeder, and the number of offspring that Stewart will produce in his lifetime will be worth more than $200.  And did I mention the yodeling?  World class!  He can out yodel anyone, anytime.  Thankfully, though, this trait does not pass down.  Tallulah makes an Alpine "maa".  Hallelujah!  I mean...oh well.  I wouldn't want anyone stealing his thunder!!!

Also, not having Stewart and only keeping Max means A) lonely Max and B) having to pay occasionally to get my girls bred, which would cost a lot in the long run.  I'd rather not have to pay at all, or worry that I may have missed a heat cycle and bred at the wrong time.  Biggest reason, though?  Because I want to keep the production of my goats here, on my own homestead.  And I'm really picky about who my girls are bred to.  Having Stewart and Max somewhat ensures me that I will have a milk supply.  Yes, I have two boys.  But, as was said in the book I am currently reading (and I think it's spot on); "Two is one, and one is none", when thinking about animal stockage.  Damn right.  I have learned that lesson the hard way, more than once.  So my stinky, stinky Stewart stays (say that three times fast), and sorry to whomever emailed about him. 

I smell bad!!

Max, by the way, round as he is (I give him grief about it, but it's all rumen), is getting to be quite a looker as well.  I'm a lucky, lucky gal, surrounded by these two handsome four-legged men!

In other news, the meat birds are ready to be processed, so this weekend we are going to process some for my family who needs smaller birds, and then stuff the others for another week and finish up next weekend for the birds for us.  My husband and I are hoping to get some very large ones for our table this year, which we don't do easily because we have the birds forage during the day.  I believe it keeps them much healthier, and they are very active, but though they retain a lot of the muscle they put on, they do tend to burn calories moving around as much as they do, so it takes a bit longer to get them really big.  I expect this batch this weekend to weigh in around 4.5-5 pounds, finished, but I'm hoping to get another half pound or so on the rest for the following weekend.  I like to have the chickens last for two meals, if I can.  The bigger they are, the easier that will be. 

Next year I will be putting the birds in chicken sleds, and moving them around that way.  I have plans in my head for how to do this, and if it is successful with the chickens, I will put a few turkeys in them (Midget Whites) and try that.  Wait and see is all I can say.  Actually, I'm eager to see if it's going to work as well!

The bees are limping along, and not doing particularly well, and not particularly badly.  I bought mite strips to treat them, becasue I think that might be some of the problem, but I have to tell you I was taken aback when I saw all the frikkin warnings on the things.  Don't touch them, don't breathe them in, don't touch you if you touch them, watch out for eye seerage if you look at them too long (ok, maybe not that one), that sort of thing.  A million warnings.  What kind of crap is that stuff?  I am hesitant to use them, but I was told by the bee guy at the bee store that treating them might be the only way to help them.  HUH?  I'm not sure how dumping toxic waste onto them is helpful.  So, I'm still considering.  Either way, they will need feeding this fall and winter, that much is very clear to me.  Sigh.  I am hoping that they will pull through the winter.  If not, I will be giving up bees.  Two expensive losses is one too many.

I have gone on long enough, I think.  I hope you all have a lovely day, and I will be back soon!  Take care!

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