Monday, June 9, 2014

The Fool On the Hill

The "tweaking" of the homestead continues here at Chicken Scratch.  I continue to work to find ways to get it to run more efficiently and effectively.  It has been quite a challenge.
  • First, the "babies" have been disbudded.  I HATE disbudding, I think it's a horrible practice.  However, I understand why we do it, as I've pulled quite a few goats' heads out of the fence in my time, and often they're not just stuck, they are woven in it, and the horns are the thing that prevents them from getting out.  Though there's nothing I can do about the goats with horns, I can try to prevent it from happening to future goats.  Hence, the disbudding.  The girl was ok with it...or as ok as one who is having their head burned can be, but the little guy took it very hard.
Little girl

Little boy
Not being the type who likes to inflict pain on animals, I felt horrible and sat with him for hours.  He would just groan and groan and then softly meh, like it was too much trouble to make a big meh.  He would lay down and look like he was dying.  Then I would pick him up and put him in my lap, and he'd stop mehing, but he'd sigh a lot and groan and make a little meh here and there, and generally look like he was dying.  And I thought, "Oh my god, I killed him.  I did something wrong this time".

But he was totally playing me.

And when his mommy came in (Lilly) and proceeded to beat up on one of the other girls, he shot out of my lap like a rocket to watch, ran around and jumped up and down and followed her, cheering her on, and then drank about a gallon of milk from her udder.  ...Then noticed me sitting in the house, so he started to groan and make little meh cries again, and he came and laid down next to me, again looking like he was dead or dying, and I felt horrible and picked him up and held him, and he laid there like it was his last days on earth.

Then the cat walked by, and he ditched me to sniff it and smack it---with his head.

Nicely played, my friend, nicely played. 

So needless to say, he's all right, but yes I did still worry.  The little boy is spoken for already, but will not leave until he is weaning age.  The little girl is not yet spoken for, but since she's a beauty with a mom who is an EXCELLENT milker, I'm not worried too much.  She will stay until weaning age as well, because those two are attached at the hip, and it would be unfair to separate them so early.
Peony "Bowl of Beauty"
  • In other news with the goats, my husband and I continue to plan how to expand the pen for the goats so they can graze.  Once again, they came into the spring in rough condition, but now that they are getting fresh forage and fresh hay, they are starting to look better.  I expect them to always have this problem, as winter is winter, but during the spring, summer, and even fall months, I want to be able to better use the land we live on, ie; allowing them more access to the woods, so they can glean what they need and not require so many inputs from us.  So, we create pens that will allow them to go and glean and pig out and be happy and generally take in the nutrients they need--just the way they are supposed to.  This also means that I am thinking about how to use the area to store food for them for the winter months, so I do not have to rely so much on hay.  How to do this is a tough question to answer.  Any suggestions are appreciated. 
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!
  • Animal-wise, the geese have moved on.  This was a decision long in the making, as I really do like the geese, but they are awfully noisy.  Back when we had 70-odd chickens who free-ranged constantly, the geese were integral to keeping the flock safe.  They watched the skies and warned the chickens when there was a threat.  Very important work, and they were good at it.  But the chicken flock is at about half that number or less, and then no longer free range as often or for as long, as the coyotes discovered them and last year many were disappearing.  Geese are no match for coyotes.  So the geese were unemployed, and quite bored.  They were loud, but for no good purpose anymore, so it was time for them to go.  I am happy to say the whole gaggle is now living on a 200 acre farm which is to be a petting zoo for autistic children.  I hope they will have good lives.  It was hard to let them go, but I think we made the right decision.
Happy broccoli
  • While the geese are gone, I am working on rebuilding the pond ecosystem.  The pond is small and shallow, and with that many geese, it was difficult to do anything with it.  Either their manure would kill things, or they would eat anything I planted.  But now I can gain a headway, and get some water-loving plants in there to help filter and clean the water, as well as hopefully re-sculpting the pond a bit to stop it from leaking.  The pond has been a thorn in my side since forever, and it's taken years to even get it this far, but I hope to get it sorted out.  It is a valuable resource to have, and one that I need to get working properly.
  • Happy tomato
  • Speaking of rainwater management, I have begun work on a rain barrel system to catch and store the water that runs off the roof and into the gutters.  This is water that can be used to water the plants, such as the annuals all around the property in pots.  It can, in a pinch, be used to water the crops, but such a process will be slow, unless we figure out a way to make it faster than filling a bucket at a time.  I also feel the water can be used to water the poultry and waterfowl, which can tolerate rainwater.  I am not sure about the goats just yet.
  • On the crop front, this year has been rough so far.  Though I am pleased to say that everything that needed to get into the ground got in the ground when it should have (despite the second full time job), the weather has been interesting, and some things are struggling.  Lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, peas, garlic, cucumbers and the strawberries all seem to be doing well, but other things are not.  The peppers and eggplant are both in their second planting, as the first one pretty much failed.  The beans and corn are limping along, and I have had an outbreak of cucumber beetles unlike anything I have ever seen, and the winter squash have suffered because of it.  I am concerned, but still hopeful.  Last year was a weird one for weather as well, but it still managed to work out.  I am hoping it will be the same again.
The dry beans are pretty much a no-show
  • On the meatbird front, the Cornish Cross were butchered a couple of weeks ago, and we got some huge chickens from it.  There were a couple over 8 pounds, and a few that were nearly 8 pounds.  In all, a good harvest weight-wise, but we lost too many birds this time.  I can't point out a reason for it, but it did not go well.  It has made me re-think where I purchase the birds from, as my "go-to" hatchery seems to have failed me.  In truth, I have started to re-think the Cornish Cross altogether, as the price of grain is going up and up and up, and those guys eat a lot.  Yes, we love the birds, but cost of the grain is going to make them infeasible.  Instead, I look at the Delaware crosses we have running around, and I wonder if I'm seeing the future.  They eat very little in concentrated grain.  Instead, they forage constantly and pull what they need from the land.  This will be extremely useful in the future, as the prices continue to rise.  So as a side project, we have started to select the best of the ones we have, and we will breed them to others that we have to see if we can get a really nice chicken out of it.  It will not be on par with the Cornish Cross size-wise, but getting a good tasting bird with a nice amount of meat on it is really all we need.  We just need to rearrange our thinking a little.
The wave of the future?
  • Dulcinea is a milk machine, and Lilly is up to bat come Saturday, so it's been a big cheese making time here.  Yesterday I made some cheddar, which is my go-to cheese when I have a lot of milk and a little time.  We eat a LOT of cheddar, so making it is high up on my list of things I like to make and turn out.  Yesterday, though, I decided to use the Anatto extract I had to color it orange.  When my kids were little, and we bought American Cheese (we no longer do), they would BEG for the orange cheese.  And, of course, most cheese in the supermarket is orange.  But when the cheese I was making was being made, I have to tell you that the orange color freaked me out a bit.  It is a really odd color for cheese.  It made me think about who in the hell thought cheese should be orange in the first place, and why.  It seems really strange to me, and the weirdest thing was how I accepted all along that cheese was orange--which of course, it isn't.  I know, odd thoughts.  But sufficed to say, I think coloring cheese orange is really weird, and I won't be repeating it.  And I guess, if I ever need to buy cheese from the supermarket again, I will really think twice about that color.  Point is, did you ever think of how many odd things we accept?  I bet you're thinking about it now!
  • And speaking of questioning things and accepting things, I would urge you to read the June/July issue of Mother Earth News.  This time around they wrote articles about the lack of nutrition in the foods we eat and the "Green Revolution".  It gave me a lot to think about.  I have known for a long time that the reason agriculture has tootled along for so long was because of fossil fuel inputs (fertilizer), and that the fossil fuels are getting harder to find.  This, of course, means that food will become harder to find, when there is no "quick and dirty" way to prop the system up.  Knowing this is why I have chosen to do what I do--I have children.  I want to provide for them.  What I never realized was how nutritionally deficient those mass-farmed foods really are, and how bad that really is for all of us.  It gave me yet another reason to redouble my efforts. 
I will also add, that if you are feeling low, Joel Salatin's article in this same issue will give you a boost.  I take a lot of flack from people about growing as many things as I do, and keeping as many animals as I keep.  Whether it's a family member wondering "why I would bother" with all the animals, or a coworker telling me "how much work" this all is, there is a lot of pressure to conform.  I've been called crazy, I've been laughed at.  Mostly people just shake their heads and walk away, discussion over. 

Discouraging as it can be sometimes, I have always just looked at what I do as "opting out" of a system of which I did not want to be a part.  I do not want to contribute to the destruction of our planet as much as others might do (I cannot deny that I use fossil fuels, though I try to minimize our usage).  I do not want to rely solely on others for food.  I do not want my husband or children doing those things either.  So I do things for myself, I teach my children to do things for themselves, and I ask my husband to lend a hand and do things as well.  And we do them as naturally and "low-tech" as possible.  Truly, I always saw myself as sort of a chicken--I opt out and therefore cannot be counted.  I am silent in my dissent.  Salatin suggests, however, that those who opt-out are truly a sort of rebel.  That saying no says a lot, and perhaps more than marching around and saying it out loud for all to hear.  Reading this was kind of profound for me.  Who knew I was a rebel?  Definitely not me.

Icky and Tor is seepin'  :)
So read the magazine, it's worth your time. Don't take too much time, though, it's growing season, and we've got work to do!
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  1. Your cheese looks great.
    I would love to make some hard cheeses, I have only made the Chevre.
    Some day....
    Sounds like you have been busy!
    (I don't like disbudding either)

  2. High fat cow milk cheddar is naturally yellow. Goat milk cheddar is naturally not.

    A lot of modern cheeses are dyed to pretend to be high fat and therefore be worth more.

  3. Loved reading your post! Our garden is having a tough start too this year. thank you for sharing your post on the HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you again tomorrow! - Nancy
    The HomeAcre Hop


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