Archive for animals

Changes on the Farm

100_4845Over the course of the past week, you’ve seen posts of me selling off goats.  I’ve not made a public announcement about my plans, but have told a few friends in person.  Since I figured there’s probably one or two people curious about what is going on over here, this is my official public announcement.  My goal is to have no more livestock by the end of the year.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

This is a decision I’ve struggled with for about 3 years and very few people have known about that struggle.  Though I still feel strongly about people homesteading and raising their own food, for me it has become too much to maintain.  We started this journey 19-20 years ago with research.  Then at the end of 1998 we bought this property and in spring of 1999, we bought our first farm animals.  It has ebbed and flowed since then, but it’s been pretty intense for the past 5 years as we’ve increased the animals we’re raising, adding more gardens, and trying to grow the farm as a business all at the same time that Keith’s job has required more and more of his time and the older children have been growing up, moving out, going to college, and working full-time outside the home.  Though there are still four at home, mama is just tired of dealing with it all, and has been for quite a while.  I’ve kept it up for multiple reasons, but as this year ramped up in workload, I decided I need to call it quits with animals for a while.

I’m kind of in that “been there done that” stage. I love having the fresh goat milk and eggs.  American Guinea Hog meat is delicious, as are farm-raised chickens, and there’s a great satisfaction in knowing what’s on our plate was raised by us.  But the thought of going through another winter of beating ice out of bowls every day, trudging through snow, and not slipping on ice to get food and water to the animals, picking up frozen eggs, etc., is highly discouraging.  I’ve been doing it for most of the last 18 years, and I need a break.

Before the last of our children is grown we want to be able to do some longer vacations like we did with the older ones, but we don’t have anyone left near us to do chores for us while we’re gone.  A friend gave us a great used camper last year that we have been able to use only once.  Between having no one to watch the animals and the it being difficult for Keith to take vacation time, it’s next to impossible to leave.  Since the job is what’s paying our bills and the farm animals aren’t, it’s logical to me that they are what need to go.  Hopefully we can at least go away for a weekend here and there, and make one bigger trip a year.  We’ve not been able to go see Keith’s dad in FL in almost 4 years.  We also have other friends in other states we’d love to see, not to mention National Parks and other less well-known places.  One son is in MN and I’d love to go up and camp near where he lives and spend some time with him and see that area.  My grandpa’s family, when they moved to America in the 1800’s, settled initially in New Prague, which is not far from him.  I’d like to see that area, even though it’s vastly different now than it was 100 years ago.  I would have liked to have gone up to northern Michigan sometime this summer to camp near where another son of ours is working at a Christian summer camp and seen him for his day-and-a-half-off one weekend.  Basically, I’m wanting a little more freedom to come and go as we please.  We still have our dogs, but they can go to a kennel.  There are no kennels for pigs and goats.

Grandchildren are also a new consideration, in addition to the children I’m still raising and homeschooling.  I want more time with all of them, without the distractions and stresses of caring for farm animals.  Our chores only take me 1-2 hours a day, depending on the season, but that’s time I don’t have to just sit and relax and play with them a little more.

I am going to continue making and selling soap, lotion, lip balm, and sugar scrubs.  Though there is some time-consuming work involved with it, it’s much more sporadic.  I’ll continue to supply Franklin Corner in Dwight, Green Top Grocery in Bloomington, and my Etsy store.  I have 2 events coming up I’ll be selling at also, and I’ll get to the farmers market in Dwight when I can.  I’ve been canning and freezing extra milk for soap making and I think I’ll have enough for a year or so.  When that runs out there are other places I can get milk from until I decide to buy goats again.  I also would like to experiment with other types of soaps, but haven’t had the time to do so.  So for those of you who may be feeling a mild sense of panic over the possible loss of our soap or lotion, you can relax.

I still believe in feeding my family the best food I can, but I don’t necessarily have to try to do it all myself.  Over the past 18 years we have networked with and met several other families like ours, and know of other small farms raising animals for meat and eggs in the same way (or even better than) we have been.  I plan to keep a garden, though I may shrink it back down somewhat to make it more manageable.  There’s also a farm not far away that has a CSA I can subscribe to next year, if I wish.  If we really miss having our own eggs, we can get a few chickens again.  They are the easiest livestock to maintain and pretty easy to leave for a week or so, especially when they are allowed to free-range.

I’m also still needing to finish the permaculture design course I started this year.  I’m only about 2/3 of the way through it and haven’t done any lessons in almost 2 months.  Thankfully this course was extended over a longer period of time and I can still get caught up, create my final project, and earn a second PDC certificate by the end of the year.  I intend to use the information I’m learning to help ourselves with our future homesteading/farming, as well as helping friends better design their places.  Later I may make it part of our farm businesses by being a consultant for others.

By the end of next week, our goats will all be gone.  Turkeys and meat chickens will be moved into the freezer over the next month or so.  Pigs are going to the processor a few at a time, every couple of months, and I hope to sell some live piglets to other farms.  Once fall sets in we’ll take the last of the birds and pigs to be processed.  So, by the time we start getting freezing temps, we shouldn’t have to bust any ice out of any bowls.100_4822

Spring Cleanup

IMG_0184Time to clean up the barn from the winter!  The goats made a huge pile of hay and poop in their stall over the winter.  Usually we have to add bedding now and then, but this year they must not have been super impressed with the hay because they pulled out a lot on the floor.  It was 3′ deep in the stall they were all in!  The stall that was used only temporarily during kidding was about 1 1/2′ deep in the deep spots, less in the rest.  We couldn’t open the gates because they open INTO the pens.  Poor design on our part, due to our idea of what we thought we would do, which isn’t what we ended up doing – frequent clean-outs and letting the goats have full run of all stalls when they weather was at its worst.

The goat kids like to sleep in the hay feeder, and the hay in the pen was at the same level as the hay in the feeder (which still needs to get cleaned out, too).  I don’t have a “before” picture, but you can see how high it was, based on where the hay in the feeders is still at.IMG_0183

The theory is to do these clean-outs throughout the winter.  It doesn’t happen often, and this winter it didn’t happen at all.  Over the years we’ve relied more and more heavily on our teenage boys to do that job.  Keith used to do it more, but now it’s rare.  The last time he did it he reinjured his elbow.  Unfortunately, kids have this habit of growing up and getting real jobs and leaving their poor, middle-aged mom to figure it out for themselves.  Ryan works full-time and has his daughter to care for when he’s not working.  Brandon went to college in Minnesota and never come back, and Noah spent this winter in the Czech Republic.  He is back now, and he cleaned out part of a pen a few weeks ago, but he is working full-time and also has church youth group responsibilities and socializes now and then.  I still have 2 more boys, but they are 8 and 11 years old.  Their training in barn cleaning will begin soon.  This time around I had to resort to HIRING SOMEONE ELSE’S TEENAGE BOYS.  All this time other people hired MY boys.  Now I had to hire someone else’s.  *sigh*  Such is life.

So they came over yesterday and spent all day cleaning out the two stalls that needed it.  They did an awesome job!  The floor is back where it needs to be.  Unfortunately, our neglect has caused rust and holes in the steel barn walls that we’ll have to repair somehow or cover, but for now I’m just thrilled to be able to open the gates again so we can start milking the mamas for ourselves because the kids are old enough to be weaned.

IMG_0182The burning question was, “Where do you want all this to be piled up?”  Yeah.  Good question.  I’d been contemplating that for weeks.  The past couple of years it got piled in corners of the goat yards, but there are already three piles in various stages of composting in the north pen, and about 3/4 of the south pen has the piglets we moved in February to get them out of their pen that was a muddy disaster.  So, where to put it?? The north pen wasn’t half as deep as the south pen because it was empty most of the winter, so I told them to make a new pile in that yard.  They started on that, and that gave me a couple of hours to contemplate what to do with the other one…  Finally the moment came.  “Where?”  I decided on the adjacent garden, along two fence lines that have been a weedy mess for two years.  That will smother the weeds and also put the compost right where we want it later. The goats have access to it for now, to keep weeds from growing until we’re ready to plant there next month.  If you look closely at the picture, you can see them all grouped together in the corner to the right of the barn.  They got a little freaked out by the strangers in their barn yesterday, and are apparently afraid of the piles.  Normally every morning they are out in the garden looking for green things to eat.  They’ll adjust, I’m sure.

IMG_0177The pile is huge!  Lots of compost later :)  I just need to get chicken wire around the fence again to keep the chickens out.  I don’t want them spreading it out just yet.  They can do that in the fall.  In the meantime they were allowed in the dog pen where they are turning over all the dead leaves in corners and edges and eating bugs.  Yay for chickens helping with the yard work!IMG_0180IMG_0179

A Bright, Sunny Day!

Whenever we have a nice day, I think of these words from Winnie the Pooh.  Especially in the winter, when the sun is shining, and the wind isn’t blowing, because then the animals’ actions seem to reflect that statement.  IMG_8203

The goats come out of the barn and stand in a row along the south side where it must be warmer because the sun is hitting the white barn wall and reflecting it.  The same thing happens with the garage.  When the chickens are loose in winter, they’ll line up there to warm up when they’re not eating.  Or the cats will pile up there.  Though today, they decided laying on my son’s black jeep is a better option.

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Since putting a piglet pen between the driveway and the garden, I’ve noticed that whoever the current resident piglet is likes to lie behind the shelter on the south side.  Again, catching the reflection of the sun.  Being black in color, a detriment in summer, helps make the pigs warm on sunny winter days. IMG_8205

Spring!

Spring has FINALLY arrived in central IL!  We went from 20 to 40 in two days then up to 50s and even 60 in a week.  From ice and snow-covered everything, to mud puddles and flowing sap.  From the blessed rest of most farm chores to birthing and planting and boiling and planning and YIKES!  I wasn’t ready for the sudden change!  But hey, the Carhartt overalls are hanging on the hook waiting to be washed, and sometimes I can go outside without a coat – briefly.

So here are some pictures I’ve taken over the past month since my last post.  Kind of an update of what’s been going on around here.  They may be in random order.

IMG_5071You can’t have spring without new life – animal and plant.  About 6 weeks ago I started a small indoor salad garden.  It took long than I thought it would, but I’m harvesting a few things here and there.  This is my first salad.  I’ve also added the greens to smoothies now and then.  The basil is SO good, that it has me lusting after bruchetta.  Now that we have goat milk, I could actually make a batch of feta cheese, then I’d just have to buy tomatoes, because my tiny tomato plants aren’t going to produce soon enough.  If I wait about 2 more weeks, I’ll probably have enough fresh parsley available, too.

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You can’t have spring without chicks!  These are our meat birds.  The day they arrived, the weather was fine.  Then winter gave it’s last big hurrah for two days, bringing temps back to 0 or below.  We lost 14 chicks over the next 36 hours, so I brought them in the house for a day until the temp came back up.  I moved the “garden” to the top of the wood stove and dining room table to take advantage of the rack to hang heat lamps rather than grow lights.  We’re thankful that it was only for 24 hours.  Chicks sure stink the place up rather quickly.

IMG_5109Baby goats!  We had a baby boom here – 12 goat kids born in 15 days.  Well, actually 12 goats born in 3 days over a 15-day span.  Here’s the abridged version of the events:  It started on February 24 when I went out and found Petunia in labor.  I had to assist with the first two, then the third came right out.  Three bucks for her.  About 6 hours later when I went to check on them, I found 3 more bucklings – those were Nightshade’s.  I was very glad she did just fine without my help, after the drama of the morning.  Nightshade has turned out to be a great mom.  She’s nursing 3 kids (2 of her own, 1 of Petunia’s) and I’m bottle feeding the other 3 that no one will take care of.  We got a good routine going and then on the evening of March 8, Marigold had one doe.  All was fine, apparently, and they’ve done great without my help.  Then two days later, on the 10th, I went out mid-afternoon to feed the bottle babies and found 5 more kids on the ground.  Dandelion and Rosie both had their kids between 9:30, when I’d last been in the barn, and 2:30 when I came back.  Rosie had 2 does (that’s her with one of them in the picture) and Dandelion had 1 doe and 2 bucks.  Dandelion is also not nursing her kids, so I’m bottle feeding those three also.  At least they were all born close together so I won’t have to deal with bottles for months on end.

IMG_5041This is the “before” picture, taken the morning of what was to be our first day in the 40s.  The next few are 2 days later.  Mud and water.  It’s like living in a swamp. But it’s warm! IMG_5114IMG_5115

 

What’s next…  Some random things.  Keith’s birthday.  No, he’s not 427!  That’s a funny thing we’ve been doing the past couple of years.  We’re missing a few of the number candles, so we put them together like a math problem.  The 4 for 4, then the 2+7=9 – so it actually means 49 :) IMG_5085

Andrew did most of the spring decorating for me last weekend.  It’s a much quicker process than decorating for Christmas.  Only one box of stuff, instead of 10 or so.IMG_5042

IMG_5052There’s our beautiful granddaughter!  Not the best picture, but I only took a few that day.  We just love her to death and the kids argue all day over who gets to hold her now.  Our son and daughter-in-law came over with her for the first time since she was born in November.  Heather got lots of pictures of Kilana observing the little goats and chicks and other animals for the first time.  We look forward to her growing up and playing out here with the animals.  If she’s anything like her parents, she’ll love them all.

IMG_5040Little Lucky dog – always finding a warm spot.  This was on one rare morning that we didn’t have someplace to go, so we relaxed a little on the couch looking at what Tasha has posted from her internship in Japan.

IMG_5129I started taking a permaculture design course in February, to get certified in permaculture design.  It was easy at first to fit in, now with all the spring things going on, it’s gotten more challenging, but it’s terribly interesting and exciting!  I’m learning so much about how we can improve this place and put our retirement property to good use.  Plus I will be able to teach others to do the same, or  hire myself out as a consultant/designer as an additional source of income.  I also foresee doing some charity work with those skills to help other people become more self-sufficient growing their own food.

IMG_5112IMG_5127IMG_5128With the sudden change in temperature came maple sirup time!  We don’t have sugar maples, but you can tap any kind of maple tree – you just need more sap to get sirup, and it will taste different.  We have one old maple that we can put three spiles into.  The wind wasn’t coming from a good direction to use our regular fire pit, so I found the least windy place in the yard and built this little temporary stove.  Keith was quite impressed with it, which made my day!  We both agreed we’d like it taller and not so close to the house, and to have a brick bottom, but time was limited and I just did what needed to be done for this one situation.  And everything was SO wet, the house was in NO danger!  Maybe this will be the year we finally build that brick stove/oven in the backyard we’ve been dreaming of since we tore out the old chimney in 2003.

 

While I was boiling sirup, the kids were doing their thing.  Some trampoline play, or just reading in the sun on the trampoline, swinging, going for walks, helping with goats and chicks, or – for the girl that prefers to be inside when it’s muddy – sewing.  Bethany has been very creative lately making her own skirts, and this time an apron – with no pattern!

IMG_5110IMG_5111IMG_5117Overall, it’s been a good week.  We all got some sun and fresh air, the stress of waiting for goats to kid is over, the chicks are doing well.  We just have piglets to wait for and need to fix their pen.  And we still have three piglets to take to the processor.  There are pens to clean out, hooves to trim, male goats need to be moved back to their regular home, garden clean up, then soon planting of spring crops will start, and on and on.  It never really ends.  The calendar is filling up fast and I don’t know how many blog posts I’ll get in.  I’m thinking of having the girls start to maintain the blog for me most of the time.  I take lots of pictures with blog post ideas that never get done.  Some get put on facebook, at least.  So, don’t worry if I’m silent for a while.  It just means I’m busy!

Enjoy your spring!  Get out and enjoy nature!  Check on us on facebook now and then and we’ll give you snippets here and there of the happenings on our little farm :)

Our Day

Here are a few pictures I’ve taken today.  Just a snippet of life around here.

This was the surprise that met me in the barn today.  Nightshade's first kid, Morning Glory

This was the surprise that met me in the barn today. Nightshade’s first kid, Morning Glory

I'm making 3 more lip balm flavors and needed more small, round baskets, which is why I went to the thrift store in the first place.

I’m making 3 more lip balm flavors and needed more small, round baskets, so I went to the thrift store. $1 for all three!

Others posted today on facebook about their asparagus.  So I went to check mine out - it's growing!

Others posted today on facebook about their asparagus. So I went to check mine out – it’s growing!

Not as many blooms as last year, but I'll take them anyway!

Forsythia – Not as many blooms as last year, but I’ll take them anyway!

 

I found this basket at a thrift store.  It's PERFECT for my table at farmer's markets!

I found this basket too – for $3. It’s PERFECT for my table at farmer’s market!

Small Acres – Part 2

IMG_2552This is part 2 of a 5 part series.

In the second breakout session of Putting Small Acres to Work, Keith and I split up.  I went to a session on the IL Cottage Food Law (which I’ll write about in part 3), while Keith attended Adapting to Changing Consumer Trends at Farmers’ Markets and Adding Value to Your Products.  When we got back together for the third session, he told me that he thinks I would have rather been in the workshop he was in.  Actually, the two made good companions and complemented each other perfectly – as did all the sessions we attended!

Back to the subject at hand… The session was presented by Matt & Debbie Daniels of Bear Creek Farm & Ranch, in Palmer, IL.  They’ve been on their farm for 17 years.  It has 45 acres and they raise everything naturally.  They started out like we did – raising a few (50) chickens for themselves and friends.  Then raising a few more and selling some at the farmer’s market.  They grew so much that one year they raised 4,000 chickens!  They also grow fresh produce to sell at market and a couple of stores.  They went on to say that at first they sold chicken in two forms: whole intact, or whole cut-up.  As time went on customers started asking for specific parts only, such as breasts or leg quarters.  That was a small market at first, but now about 80% of their chicken sales are parts and pieces.  This left them with the problem of what to do with the extra pieces no one wanted – backs and necks.  The only way they could sell those parts was to reduce the price so much that they would be losing money.  Their solution:  value added products.  They thought they could add value to those pieces by making them into chicken stock, cooked chicken meat, chicken salad and dog food.  This is where their story overlaps with the session I was in regarding the cottage food law.  It isn’t legal to make and sell these type of products in a home kitchen.  They decided to get a food managers license and build an on-farm certified kitchen in their garage.  This is an expensive – and extensive – project that they emphatically stated needs to be started by working with the county health department from the beginning!  If there is no way you can afford to build your own certified kitchen, you can get the food manager license and then look at finding a kitchen to rent.  Check with churches, community centers, or county extension offices.

The value added idea was expanded into other areas.  In addition to the broth and other chicken products, they could make pickles, dried herbs and peppers, butter from their milk.  These things have a longer shelf life and could extend their sales.  A head of lettuce could be sold as is, but when that lettuce was washed, cut and had other veggies added to make it a salad, they were able to sell it for a much higher price.  There are drawbacks to that – the time it takes to cut and prepare these foods, extra handling, packaging and storage.  But with some research they found that storage time could be extended by briefly soaking the veggies in a a solution of 1/2 oz of hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon of water (which is something I’ve read in other places).  Obviously, refrigeration would also be a key component into keeping cut veggies fresh, and freezers are needed to keep frozen things frozen.

For marketing their products, they sold at farmers’ markets and stores.  When selling these types of foods at a market, you need to check with each individual market to see what is legal to sell there.  I know that at some markets you can sell frozen chicken, eggs, etc., because they have electricity at the area.  Farmers who have freezers and coolers load them in their vehicles, or some have larger trucks with freezers/coolers permanently installed, and they can plug into the power source at the market.  The one I attend does not have this option, so those items are not allowed to be sold there.  Canned foods, dried foods, baked goods and fresh produce are all that are allowed.  When marketing to a store, you need to be able to consistently supply a high quality product.  Bear Creek Farm has a buy-back agreement with stores – whatever is left after a specified period of time, they will buy it back from the store.  This seems to apply mostly to fresh food, like sprouts.  This agreement allows them to command a higher price for their product because they are assuming the risk of loss of sale, not the store.  They also do home deliveries.

Other ideas for value added products that can be produced are cut flowers that are made into bouquets, pumpkins or gourds that are painted or carved, making wheat grass juice, using apples to make applesauce, apple juice or apple pie filling.  They also mentioned that they are planning on adding a greenhouse and high tunnel, which will extend the growing season.  They sat in on those same sessions that day, along with us.  (Part 1 of this series is on high tunnels, Part 4 will address greenhouses.)  A note that Keith wrote down is “texting and facebook with products available”.  I’m assuming that means they use these ways to notify existing customers of what is currently available.  Interestingly enough, using social media to promote your farm will be Part 5 of this series :)

On a side note, we got to chat with Matt & Debbie for about a half hour when the whole event was over and we’ve decided that at some point this summer we would like to drive down there and visit their farm – by appointment, of course.  To learn more about their farm and where you can buy their products, go to their website:  www.bearcreekfarmandranch.com.

Stay tuned – in a couple of days I’ll post about the IL Cottage Food Law.

 

 

 

Arctic Chill and Cabin Fever

100_5114We’re going to remember this winter for a long time.  The last time I remember temps being this low was when I was in jr. high, around 1980.  I remember 5′ drifts at our back door, missed school days, and my best friend’s mom picking us up early from the skating rink because wind chills were down to -35 degrees.  January 2014 has brought us the “Polar Vortex”, as the weather people have called it, plus several other slightly less severe bouts of below zero temps, along with -20 to -30 degree wind chills, for 2-3 days at a time.  And snow.  We actually get snow when “they” say we will, though for our little place, since the great Polar Vortex storm, we haven’t gotten as much as the maximum possible.  This basket laying on the bathroom floor has become a very common occurence – though at least this time the contents weren’t strewn all over the floor.100_5098

The last time it was this cold this often, I was a suburban girl, and didn’t have to go outside except to go to school.  Now we have a tiny farm.  Yet another time I’m SO glad it’s tiny!  It’s only about 100 yards, give or take, to the barn and garage.  I’m also thankful that I have 5 children at home to help with the chores, so we all just get a little numb-ish, rather than me being frozen solid.  I’m including a pic of our barn, as taken from the back door of the house.  Not much to see, because I decided last night to shut the last door remaining open because of the wind and snow.  At 9 pm I found out that the main door wasn’t closed completely.  That door faces west – the very direction the 40 mph wind was coming from.  While it was snowing.  There was snow all over the inside of the entry/milking/hay storage area, and down the hallway between stalls.  My original intent was to leave the south door open for better ventilation, but then I saw that the whole area inside of that door was filling with snow and it was blowing into the stall where the ducks are, and the goats were in the opposite side as far from the door as possible.  Thankfully I only needed to move a little hay to get the door to close, so I was able to make the barn a little more user-friendly.  Earlier in the day Keith had set up a little warming station for the goat kids to get under heat lamps, if they choose.  So far the only creatures I’ve seen take advantage of that warm space is a cat or two, but I’m not in there all day.  All that battening of the hatches allowed the barn to remain at about 10 degrees this morning when it was 0 outside.  Not bad – and not windy, so it was actually somewhat pleasant.

My mama goats have been locked up in their stall for several weeks now.  The wind just keeps coming from the north, where their door is, and with Lily having had her little kids just 2 weeks ago, I don’t want them to have a draft.  For the most part, keeping the south door and main/west door open, has allowed there to be enough air circulation that it doesn’t stink bad in there.  But, for the next two days, it’s going to have to stay closed up again.  I’m sure all the animals will be quite happy when they can stretch their legs a little more!100_5099

In the meantime, the inhabitants of the house are doing ok.  All except for Andrew.  Wow, does he need to get outside more!  He’s taken to doing laps around the first floor, which is made possible by the walk-through bathroom.  He is not content to just sit and read all day or color like the other kids usually are.  He needs action.  This morning no one would play with him, so he brought Candy Land downstairs to the bathroom where I’d just gotten out of the shower, and asked if I’d play with him.  Poor guy – how could I say, “no”?  So in between getting dressed, putting on makeup and drying my hair, we managed to get in a game.  (I won.)  A little while later when I went upstairs I noticed the attic stairs were covered in stuffed animals.  Apparently the boys’ new game is to bombard anyone coming up to their room with stuffed animals.  But at least they aren’t fighting.  At the moment.  But now that lunch is over, it’s time to get down to math, history and literature.100_5113

Fall Afternoon

Yesterday Keith let me know that today, in the afternoon after church and lunch,  that he wanted to get more wood cut and split.  The shed was about 3/4 full, which generally gets us through the winter, but he wants the shed full to make sure.  It turned out that today was a great day for such a task, as well as other outside chores, with a high temp around 50 degrees and not so much as a breeze.

Here’s a synopsis of our afternoon.

Duck reunion

While we were eating lunch, we got a phone call from a church friend whose car was dead.  She needed Keith to tow it to the shop for her.  So, while he was gone with Noah – and Andrew (who insists on being present for anything remotely exciting) – I caught all of the second batch of ducklings that we hatched.  They are big enough and feathered out enough to go out with the big ducks outside.  When the oldest ducklings got put out with the adult ducks there was some minor conflict between the two “clans”.  But both the older ducklings out there and the ones I was moving today used to be in the brood pen together.  They must have remembered each other because when I let the younger ones out, they ran right to the older ones and they had a little reunion.  The 4 adults still keep to themselves.  Apparently they are too mature to be socializing with the children.

 

Next I had Bethany, Hannah, and Ben rake up the leaves along the driveway so we could feed them to the goats.  The goats really like dried leaves.  It’s a special treat for them.  Before giving them to the goats, Hannah had to jump in them and bury herself in them.  Then Ben put his kitten in the pile and said, “Mom!  You have to take a picture!”  Sorry for the light rays.  I didn’t notice them till tonight and I’d only taken one picture.

Leaf PileHannah in leaf pileKitten in leaf pile

While we were finishing with the leaves, Keith and the other 2 boys arrived back home and got started on the wood.  We have several large tree trunk sections that have been lying in the yard for over a year.  Keith cut up four of them with the chainsaw and stacked them to dry better.  They will be split and used next year.  Noah was working on splitting the smaller pieces, and I used the wheelbarrow to roll them to the shed and stack them.  Here are the results of our labor:

Logs waiting to be splitFirewood Shed

The youngest four children were exploring the creek while we were working.  Better than computer games or Wii all afternoon!  When they came back, Hannah gave me a “creek bouquet” that she picked.  She’s so sweet!  I put it in the vase that came with the flowers Brandon sent me for Mother’s Day.

Creek Bouquet

I don’t know how long I’ll keep the cattails inside.  My mom had cattails in her house for well over a decade before getting rid of them.  When she was told that they’d explode, we all thought the person was nuts.  After all, they’d been in the house for many years with no problem.  But several years later she decided to not push her luck any longer.  I’ve only been able to keep cattails in the house for a year before they started to look suspicious.  And they regrow every year, so there’s no sense in risking the fluffy mess.

Milkweed

Speaking of fluffy things, here are milkweed pods exploding – outside.  Since I’ve heard about monarch butterfly habitats disappearing, I’ve been letting milkweed grow wherever it wants in my yard – unless it’s in a really bad spot, which hasn’t been a big issue so far.  Here is some on the edge of our asparagus patch.  And then a bigger picture of the asparagus.  I love the soft, dainty, fern-like asparagus greens in the fall. Asparagus Patch

 

Next are just a couple of miscellaneous pics.  First are the apple and pecan trees that we ordered to plant on our property in Missouri where we plan to retire.  We’re hoping that by planting them in the fall, their root systems will get established when there’s actually rain and by the time we move there we’ll start getting fruit.  Pecans are a little slower than apple trees, but still, maybe by the time we’re 60, we’ll start harvesting pecans.  And if we’re fortunate enough to live a long, healthy life, we could be harvesting those pecans for 30 years or more!

Missouri Fruit Trees

Here is our trailer.  Keith bought this car trailer last year for any hauling we need to do.  He’d already put some fencing together to strap down to hold animals, but that is only really good for summer time.  Since we had to haul 5 pigs to the butcher 3 weeks ago and it was cold, he didn’t want them to freeze on the hour-long drive at 60 mph with just open fencing.  So he designed and built some pretty good sides to box it in nice and tight.  It can also be taken apart and off the trailer for those times when we need to use it as a flat bed.  He’s pretty smart that way.

Trailer

Thanks for listening to me ramble about our afternoon.  I don’t expect many more nice afternoons like this one before next spring comes, so I really enjoyed it – work and all.  I hope you all had a good weekend, too!

A Monday in mid-September

Today I want to share with you some pictures I took this past Monday.  First we were surprised by some new piglets.  We have 5 older “piglets” in pens away from the sows.  One is a female that had two brothers.  We finally remembered to separate her from her brothers when they were about a year old.  Apparently, that was about a month too late, for she had 3 piglets on Monday morning.  I won’t sell these as breeders, since they are obviously inbred, but they’ll be just as tasty as any of the others :)

Our three little inbred piglets

Our three little inbred piglets

Newborn piglet

 

Then our next task was to take care of all the tomatoes that a friend gave us on Sunday that SHE got from a friend of hers.  So they got halved and quartered and put in the roaster oven to cook until soft.  Then they got strained to separate the seeds and skin from the pulp.  After that the sauce went back into the roaster oven for the afternoon to cook down.  When the sauce was thick enough, I added a spaghetti sauce seasoning mix, and then canned it.  I got 5 quarts and 1 pint of spaghetti sauce.  Here’s the tomatoes after they were cut up:

Tomatoes in roaster oven

Tomatoes in roaster oven

 

While the tomatoes were cooking in the roaster oven, we went out to our two pear trees to start picking.  This year has been a perfect year for fruit trees.  Everywhere we go we see trees loaded with apples, pears and earlier, peaches.  We learned many years ago that pears don’t ripen on the tree.  They have to be picked and then stored someplace cool and they ripen there.  So about once a week we need to sort through them all to look for ripe ones to eat and can.  We have two varieties.  One is like a Bartlett and does well canned as halves or pieces.  The other is more mealy and doesn’t stay together well, so they’ll be made into pear sauce.  These are all the pears we picked on Monday:

 

Pears!

Pears!

And more pears...

And more pears…

 

And MORE pears!!

And MORE pears!!

And lastly, here is a picture, although blurry, of a bumblebee harvesting some of the extra honey from the honey frames I left outside after our honey harvest on Thursday.  The honeybees finally found it later that day, but for the first 3 days, only a few bumblebees found it.  I need to put it back in the hive, but for now the bumblebees are enjoying a treat.

Bumblebee eating leftover honey

Bumblebee eating leftover honey

The VERY First Signs of Spring

Spring IS coming…  Right???

The goats venture outside

The goats venture outside

There is such a major contrast between last year’s spring and this year’s.  Last year by this time, temperatures in the 70’s or even 80’s were not uncommon.  The problem was that it would still dip back to normal – or below – in between.  The result was that almost no one around here got any fruit from trees because they all budded and started to set fruit with the warm temps – and then we had 3 or 4 frosts and freezes, which killed off the fruit.  So, no apples, pears, peaches or plums.  It was very sad.

This year?  Well.  Those of us who use FaceBook have probably seen at least on joking picture of Punxsatawny Phil with a sign saying, “I lied,” or laying on the ground with a pistol laying on him because he committed suicide because he was wrong.  More than 6 weeks has passed, and last night IL (and other states) got MORE snow.  Some places were supposed to get 6″ or more!  We happen to live in the northern section of this particular storm, and we probably got 1″ – maybe 2″.  But still.  At the beginning of March it was creeping into the 30’s and 40’s.  Last week the lows were in the teens!  Seriously?  When we finally got into the 30’s at night 2 weeks ago, I moved my buck back to his own pen.  And now we’re dealing with freezing water.  Again.  This has turned into a VERY long winter.

But, despite the very low temps at night, the daytime temps were warm enough that on a couple of days our goats actually all came outside to catch some rays!  It helps that this particular side of the barn faces south, and the white walls reflect the sun and makes it warmer.  But it was very nice to see them all outside and to see the new kids venturing out farther than they’ve ever been in their short lives.  And then there’s the peacocks.  Their tails are about as filled out as they’re going to be this year (two of them are still young).  And they are getting spring fever and trying to impress everyone with their tails to attract a mate.  So, here are some pictures taken one morning last week, during chore time.  Sorry for the lack of green plants, but they aren’t emerging just yet.

The young peacocks show off to an unimpressed audience.

The young peacocks show off to an unimpressed audience.

Young peacocks

Young peacocks

Caesar on the water trailer.  He's our oldest peacock.  We raised him from a chick.

Caesar on the water trailer. He’s our oldest peacock. We raised him from a chick.

Peafowl and chickens, and a guinea, waiting for breakfast.

Peafowl and chickens, and a guinea, waiting for breakfast.