The War on Bugs

My tolerance for creepy-crawlies in my home is wearing thin.

When we first moved in we vacuumed up the box elder bugs and ladybugs that had congregated mostly around the windows and naively thought, “There!  That takes care of that little problem!”

No.  No it did not.  It doesn’t matter how many I kill, they just keep coming.  If one would assume the number of live bugs in the middle of a Minnesota winter would be limited, one would be wrong.  I actually researched exterminators and entertained the idea of calling someone to come throw a tent over this place and fumigate it.  But alas, in good conscience, I can do no such thing.  I’m just not buying the claims that these chemicals are not going to have some negative effects on people.

Thankfully, these boxies (I have lovingly nicknamed them this) and ladybugs should be leaving soon all on their own.  They overwinter in buildings and then in the spring when things warm up they leave for the woods.  Hopefully.  Then we will have all summer long to seal up every crack, gap and crevice in this old house before fall returns and they all flock en masse back here seeking warmth for the winter.  So my best option is to continue to kill bugs the old-fashioned way while remaining optimistic that the end is nigh.

During all my time spent squashing bugs I began to wonder “What eats these things?”  There has got to be a way for me to delegate this task to someone else (because the kids won’t touch them).  So I did a little research and only a few creatures will eat things like boxies, and this is one of them:

Wild guinea hen on a green grass
Guinea Fowl

 

This bird eats beetles, wasps, ants, spiders, flies, ticks, rodents, and snakes among other things.  (This is epic enough to warrant the bold font.)  They are relentless hunters.  Bugs are their prey.  They are my new best friends.

Free-ranging guinea fowl get about 90% of their diet from insects.  (Compare that to chickens at around 15%.)  Guineas will eat little to no purchased feed in warm months when insects are abundant, making them more cost-effective to keep than other poultry.  They are extremely resistant to disease.  They don’t have much of an appetite for plants so they are pretty trustworthy in and around the garden, too.  They are becoming very popular on farms for their low-maintenance seek-and-destroy insect services.  It has been suggested that one pair of guineas will keep an acre tick-free.  Each hen will lay about 100 eggs a year and the meat is dark and rich, resembling pheasant in taste and appearance.  I am so excited about these birds I had to order my own little team of insect snipers.

I am getting five of the pearl gray variety.  pearl gray

I also ordered five lavender guineas.lavender

Plus five more guineas in royal purple. royal purple

The bad news?  They won’t be delivered until June. June.  It feels like ages away when I have all this untapped potential in my home and yard right now.

Compared to chickens, the guineas will seem a bit wild. They are pretty independent of humans and are not a good choice for someone seeking a cuddly pet.  They are noisy birds and will be the first to sound the alarm if predators show up on the farm.  They can even chase some types of predators away.  We’ll probably give them a little feed in the evenings to entice them into the coop for the night to keep them safe, otherwise they will roost in the trees.  If we keep them in the coop for most of the morning, we’ll find more of their eggs since they will otherwise lay in hidden, natural areas and the eggs would be lost.  Having them roost in a coop will make catching them easier when the time comes for a taste test.

So this fall when those pesky bugs come crawling back to freeload in my house all winter long, they will encounter my army of guineas, ready and waiting to strike. 🙂

Warmly,

Becca

The Steer and the To-Do List

 

Saturday morning we freed Bucky from his stall. He was able to explore the barnyard and formally meet Pearl.

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Bucky and Pearl seem pleased to have each other!  They stick pretty close together now and where you find one, you’ll find the other.  Everyone needs someone who gets them, right?  After about 15 minutes of just the two bovines in the barnyard, we released the sheep.  Bucky’s horse stall was right next to the sheep so he had all week to become desensitized to them.  That didn’t stop him from chasing them back and forth across the barnyard!  I think our poor sheep are wondering why in the world we keep adding cattle to their flock!

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Let me say here, I love my sweet Pearl.  She is quiet, gentle, friendly and adorable.  I have worked with that heifer every day since we got her.  I give her alfalfa pellets from my hand every morning so she associates my presence with a reward, then I brush her and reach down to feel her udder.  It took about a week for me to be able to do this without her reacting in any way.  She now tolerates this just fine and never backs away from me.  This is all pre-training for when she calves and I can milk her.  I want her as used to the milking process as possible before we’re actually learning to milk!

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However, I’m not crazy about the steer.  He’ll grab alfalfa from my hand but if I reach out to touch him, he starts tossing his head into the air.  I’m not sure he wants to get too friendly.  He is also pushing our sheep away from the hay feeder when he’s eating.  Ryan may need to build yet another hay feeder so if the steer is hogging one, the sheep can go to the other.  Adding another project to the to-do list is so discouraging when we have many other things we need to accomplish.  I’m hoping Bucky just needs more time to transition.  He seems a little quieter now that he’s in the barnyard with Pearl but I still hear him bellow every now and then.  As of yet I’m not too bummed that our steer is only a temporary fixture on the farm.

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The above-mentioned to-do list didn’t receive a satisfactory dent this weekend, either.  One of my goals was to halter train Pearl.  Fail!  Dexters don’t fit standard cattle halters so after researching a bit online we ordered two halters in different sizes.  We lured Pearl into a horse stall with very rich alfalfa hay (I’m pretty sure it’s the equivalent of ice cream for grazing animals 🙂 ) and tried them on her while she happily munched her treat.  Neither fit!  So now we need to buy another halter!  We got a recommendation from the family we bought Pearl from for a good-fitting Dexter halter so we’ll go with that.  They are very knowledgeable and have been extremely helpful to us!  My goal is to finally tackle the halter training within the next couple weeks.  This will make it easier to get them from one place to another and we can even stake them out in the yard to graze around the house this summer!  Who needs a lawn mower when you have Dexters?

Here’s hoping we get a bit more accomplished this upcoming weekend!  Ryan has been working hard on a farm project that the rabbits are pretty excited about!  I hope he can share what he’s been doing soon!

Warmly,

Becca

I Got a Steer for Valentine’s Day

On Valentine’s Day while most couples were heading out to dinner or exchanging gifts, we were loading up our trailer to pick up a Dexter beef steer. And I was happy about it!  I guess we celebrate love a little differently now that we’re on the farm. 🙂

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The kids named the steer Bucky.  Bucky is a purebred Dexter and will turn one year old in April. Dexters can be black like Bucky, red like Pearl, or dun which is a dusty brown color.  We’ll graze him with our “flerd” until close to the end of the year.  I think Pearl will be happy to have a fellow bovine in the flerd, although she has patiently worked her way into that flock of sheep!  They seem to have fully accepted her!  She’ll push her head against the ram’s head, reach out and lick a sheep’s ear and walk freely around in the flock without raising any concern among the sheep.  Animals are so adaptable!

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“I sooo blend with this flock!”

 

I hope Bucky transitions well to our farm. He gets to spend a week at the Horse Stall Inn before joining the flerd.  He is loud! I hope he’s just a little stressed out or lonely right now and once he settles down and gets comfortable he won’t be so vocal.  He’ll bellow and Pearl will stick her head through the barn door and answer him.

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“MOOOOOO!”

 

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“Keep it down, bro!  You’re scaring the sheep.”

 

He wouldn’t eat alfalfa from my hand this morning so I threw it over to him and left his stall. He began eating it when I left.  The second time I went in his stall he ended up stretching his neck out to sniff me.  Progress!  This evening Ryan got him to take some alfalfa from his hand.  They learn quickly to associate your presence with a treat!  Although we don’t need a strong relationship with him like we do with Pearl as our future family milk cow, we still want him to be friendly and approachable.

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The next task we need to accomplish with our Dexters is halter breaking. We hope to begin this week!  Should be a learning experience for all! 🙂

I hope you all enjoyed a happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

Warmly,

Becca

Farmhouse Kitchen Plans

I’m so excited to share my design plans for our farmhouse kitchen today!  Excuse the clutter and lack of organization in these photos.  I spent the first few weeks here just trying to find a spot for everything and I’m still not there yet. The “before” pictures are supposed to be messy, right? 🙂

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Two weeks after moving in.  Yep, we’re all a little excited about the front loading washer and dryer around here. 🙂

When we first moved in I didn’t want to unpack my kitchen boxes, put anything in the cabinets or touch a surface in the kitchen whatsoever.

We knew when we decided to purchase this farm that everything in the kitchen would be leaving.  So, when I feel a little overwhelmed by the current state of the kitchen, planning my new kitchen lifts my spirits and gives me the encouragement to just keep cooking in the midst of this chaos, one day at a time! 🙂

The first thing we decided on were white cabinets. I gotta have white cabinets!  Although farm + kids + white surfaces = major mess, I’m going on the record right now saying I will not complain about wiping smudges off my new white cabinets, even if it’s daily.  (OK, it sooo won’t be daily!)  I will do the happy dance when I can finally give these mismatched, peeling, randomly-thrown-into-my-farmhouse cabinets the boot from my kitchen.  They will be burned rescued by Ryan for use in his workshop.

This is a sample kitchen featuring the new white cabinets I have selected.

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Eurostyle Odessa

I have already ordered them and am (im)patiently waiting for their arrival!  Ryan keeps reminding me it doesn’t matter when they come because they can’t be installed until he jacks up and levels the kitchen floor.  I know!  But at least I can gaze at them, touch their shiny, clean new-ness and dream.  I’m hoping my new cabinets will hold up to the tornadic activity that occurs in my kitchen at least 3 times a day. 🙂

Keeping with the country farmhouse style, we chose wood flooring for our kitchen.

WP_20160211_19_30_55_Pro This is a wide plank, hand-scraped laminate wood floor in a natural finish.  We wanted something a little rustic-looking.  I think it will add warmth to this space and contrast nicely with the white cabinets.  It is sitting in my dining space just waiting to be installed!

I would like to swap out my 90’s ceiling fan with a DIY mason jar light fixture.

mason jar light

Ryan will be installing a sliding patio door along the back wall (where there is that partially-obscured window and dog kennel) which will lead out to a future deck and the backyard.  I’m excited about the extra light and view of the pasture this patio door will provide!

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This shows the back (west) wall and north (oven) wall.

There is a trap door in the kitchen which leads under the floor (a place so far out of my comfort zone that I would only venture therein at gunpoint and I’m in awe of my husband who will be working in said space to jack up the kitchen floor.  He’s amazing and incredibly hard-working!).  Cabinets cannot sit on top of the trap door for access reasons, so that is why the sliding door is going to the right on that back wall, rather than centered.  The trap door will be in front of the sliding door, therefore easily hidden by a rug and, with any luck, nearly forgotten.  I seriously thought about moving the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and up to the second floor near the bedrooms.  In the end I decided moving them was too much hassle.  Plus, it’ll be more convenient to utilize the clothes line in the backyard when the weather finally warms up.

laundry cabinet
Something like this would rock.

Down the road we may build some type of cabinet to hide them.  It’s not a priority at the moment.  However, if Ryan was ever in need of a gift idea for our anniversary, my birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas… President’s Day… a load of materials from Home Depot along with a weekend dedicated to its construction would melt my heart. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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North wall

Remember the north (oven) wall?  This is my plan:oven wall layoutNext to the door will be a pantry, then on either side of the oven will be matching bases with glass-door wall cabinets on top.  Ignore the lines that look as if they are dividing the backsplash area; my mistake.  This plan is showing a staggered look with the wall cabinets but I haven’t decided on that for sure.

Now to the west (back) wall.

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south (laundry) wall and west (back) wall

West (back) wallThe new patio door will take up the space from the window over to the right, then you can see a small base and wall cabinet, then the fridge.  In the left corner is a lazy susan with a 12 inch and 24 inch wall cabinet above it.  The 24” wall cabinet is a diagonal corner piece, although in my mock-up it looks flat.  I’m sure there is a simple way to convey this on a grid, but in the few minutes I had to do these drawings I couldn’t think of it.  The dotted line on the lazy susan is my attempt to show that it’s an L-shaped corner cabinet.

This is the plan for the south (laundry/sink) wall. south kitchen wall layoutStarting from the right, again I showed the lazy susan base cabinet and the corner diagonal wall cabinet.  I thought adding another glass-door wall cabinet on this side of the kitchen would help tie it together with the oven side.  I love the farmhouse style of the glass doors!

I purchased four base cabinets to put together to create a center island. This is the top-view of my layout showing how the island will fit into the kitchen.  I read there should be at least 36 inches of walkway around the island.  I allotted 39 inches except for the south wall which has 42 inches of space since the washer and dryer sit out a bit.   center island layout The dotted lines show the 12 inch overhang on two sides for island seating.  This will provide a great place to serve the kids breakfast and lunch, as well as work on school lessons.  The distance between the sink and oven walls is a bit long, so I hope the island functions to bridge the two sides and provide a “meet in the middle” kitchen workspace.

The 4th (east) wall in my kitchen is the brick chimney wall.WP_20160120_10_15_37_Pro

I ordered 3 wall cabinets to be placed on or near the ground along this wall.  I can’t do regular base cabinets because they would stick too far out into this space which is more walkway than kitchen.  I plan to put countertop on these wall cabinets to provide desk space for the kids to work on computers.  I would like open shelving above the counter to hold books, school materials and art supplies in buckets or baskets.

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I took a few extra minutes to have fun doodling with this one. 🙂

We finally received all four of our new appliances. I love the glass cooktop stove!  Removing the old appliances and getting new ones has already made a difference in this kitchen!

That’s about all I have planned for now! I’m excited to turn these plans into reality!  It will be fun to update with some actual progress!  What do you think about my kitchen layout?

Warmly,

Becca

Grazing our cow and sheep together

On conventional farms today, you rarely see animals being kept together in the same fence and most large operations only have one species of animal altogether!  Someone either raises beef, or lamb, or chicken or pork.  Since large, crowded monocultures in agriculture have become standard in this country, many people wonder if you can even intermix species anymore!  Is it safe?  Will they get sick?  Will they get along?

We question conventional methods, read from successful agriculture pioneers, then experiment on our farm.  We’ve decided it’s healthier for the animals and pasture to graze them together, not to mention it’s just plain easier for us! 🙂

When we picked Pearl up we were advised to keep her in a secure stall for about a week to prevent her from trying to break out.  Animals can make a valiant effort in getting away when brought to a new location.  In fact, the family we got Pearl from told us how they lost a herd of Dexters went they broke through 5 strands of electric fencing upon unloading them at their farm!  Oh, I can’t imagine the blow to the farm or wallet!  We gratefully heeded their words of caution.  Pearl spent her first week on our farm in the barn in a secure horse stall.

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Mmmm…fresh air!

 

On Saturday it was time to let her out into our fenced barnyard area.  She was so happy to be out!  She was running, kicking and jumping!  The whole week in her stall she had typically been very still and calm, so we were surprised to see her act so frisky in the barnyard!  Although she is small for a cow, and just a calf at that, when there is a 400-500 pound beast coming your way, you MOVE!  We had wandered out into the barnyard with her to see how she’d like her newfound freedom and within minutes we were ducking back inside the barn for safety!  More experienced farm folk would probably have been anticipating her reaction! 😉

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Can we come out now?

She was in no way being aggressive or trying to scare us!  She was stretching her legs, getting some needed exercise, and celebrating her freedom!

 

After she had her fill of running and kicking we allowed our flock of sheep into the barnyard.  We weren’t sure what was going to happen and this time we knew enough to stay out of the way!  Pearl was not afraid of the sheep at all.  She was very curious and it looked as though she was glad for the company.  The sheep, on the other hand, were comfortable with the current status of their flock and felt no need to welcome a newcomer.

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Hey Sheep!  Wanna play?

They kept fleeing from Pearl and she’d respond by slowly trotting after them.  The sheep would back themselves into a corner and watch in fear as Pearl slowly inched her way towards them.

 

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Help!  A strange cow wants to be our friend!

 

She kept trying to approach them and as soon as the sheep considered her too close for comfort they’d make a mad dash to the other side of the barnyard again!  We decided to leave them be and allow them to work it out.  Like most things, time and patience were needed.  The sheep eventually became less fearful and Pearl was able to touch noses with a few of the sheep.  Towards the end of the day, Ryan built another hay feeder from a pallet and put it in the lean-to in our barnyard.

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This hay is good, eh?

And look at that!  The cow and sheep were able to put their differences aside and bond over a meal!  How civilized!

 

The temperature dropped Sunday night so we wanted to put the sheep back in the barn to make sure the lambs would be warm enough overnight, but we left Pearl outside.  She was not happy to see her flock go!  She kept going to the barn door and mooing for them.

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I miss my sheep peeps!

Don’t feel bad though!  Every morning I walk to the barn and release the sheep into the barnyard and they get a whole new day to socialize!

 

Warmly,

Becca

 

Temporary Winter Fencing

I wanted to let the animals outside into the fenced barnyard area but there was a section of fence missing right outside the barn door.  The ground was frozen so I couldn’t put up traditional fence posts.  Metal tube corral panels were too expensive and the flexible cattle panels were too flimsy.  After going to Tractor Supply and looking at the cattle panels I came up with an idea.  I picked up some eight foot long cattle panels then headed over to Menards to pick up some lumber.  Here is my idea:

I made four self-standing posts using a 4×4 and a 2×4 cut into four equal pieces.  I nailed them to the bottom of the 4×4 to act as feet.  This way they stand up on their own without any support.
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I spaced them eight feet apart and attached the cattle panels to them using fence staples.WP_20160206_14_14_43_Pro

I wasn’t sure how sturdy it would be so I bought extra 2x4s to nail across the top for added support.WP_20160206_14_14_51_Pro

I think it turned out well and is a good solution until spring arrives and I can build a permanent fence.WP_20160206_14_15_13_Pro

Ryan

Interview with the Arrows

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Elijah~10, Hannah~8, Abigail~6, Caleb~5, Micah~2

The kids are having so much fun on the farm.  Every morning Hannah is pushing me out the door to go see the sheep.  They bring the rabbits their water bottles and refill their alfalfa and spend hours in the barn cuddling the lambs.  Now we are beginning to work with Pearl and they are learning to be calm and quiet when offering her alfalfa pellets from their hands.  Elijah insists on going out after dinner every night for one last visit with the sheep. The kids’ new favorite trick is to sit on the ground near the lambs with their heads tucked down.  The lambs will climb onto their backs and then jump off while kicking their legs in the air.  We get such joy from watching the kids with the animals.  We want a flock that is very tame and accustomed to our presence so all this interaction with the sheep is accomplishing our goal!  We’ve noticed the sheep are much more relaxed now than ever.  I thought it would be fun to record their own words about their experiences.  I asked them questions and wrote down whatever they said!  (Some of the younger kids couldn’t think of an answer to every question.)  This is farm life from their perspective:

 

Mom: It’s been 1 month since moving to the farm.  How do you like living here?WP_20160205_10_35_34_Pro

Elijah: I like the space to run around, the sledding hill and all the animals and sheep we have.  I love the view out my bedroom window and I think it’ll look especially nice in Fall.  I like living here.

Hannah: I like the space to run around and I like the animals.

Abigail: We have so much fun outside checking on sheep and playing in the snow.WP_20160205_10_35_42_Pro

Caleb: I like living here a lot because it’s our home.

Micah: I like trucks.

Mom: How has your life changed since moving to the farm?

Elijah: I’ve been going outside more, checking on animals and picking up lambs.  I think I’ll be outside more in summer, too.  I’ll be running around the woods building tree houses.  I’m excited to hunt with Dad.

Hannah: I feel more free to run around.

Abigail: We don’t have a big neighborhood and we have animals and a barn.

Caleb: Now we have animals and I go out to see them.

Micah: Get shoes on and go outside. WP_20160205_10_05_07_Pro

Mom: What is something new you’ve learned on the farm?

Elijah: That animals are really fun to have.  You need to be quiet and gentle around animals.  You need to be careful where you walk in the woods so you don’t get scratched.  You also can’t touch fencing in case it’s electric.

Hannah: You shouldn’t be afraid of bugs.WP_20160205_10_07_01_Pro

Mom: What is something you would like to do or learn on the farm?

Elijah: To hunt, to build tree houses, to milk and collect eggs.  Chop wood and use sticks and logs in the woods to make tree houses and small play houses for the little kids.

Hannah: To collect eggs and care for the animals by myself, to learn how to milk the sheep and cow.

Abigail: How to be a real farm girl.

Caleb: I’m excited to start school and learn how to read.

Mom: What is your favorite animal on the farm? WP_20160205_10_02_06_Pro

Elijah: The lambs.

Hannah: The sheep.

Abigail: Cotton (Lyla’s ewe lamb)

Caleb: Cotton

Micah: Bunnies.  They hop and jump.

Mom: What has been your favorite part of the farm so far?WP_20160205_09_59_10_Pro

Elijah: Going out to check on the animals and holding the sheep.

Hannah: Getting the animals.

Abigail: Getting the cow.

Caleb: Seeing the animals with my family. WP_20160205_10_01_33_Pro

Mom: Finish the sentence: “Everyday I’m excited to…”

Elijah: Check on the animals and see what the next day has in store for me.

Hannah: See the animals.

Abigail: Look at the sheep and hold them.

Caleb: Play Legos with Micah.WP_20160205_09_59_43_Pro

Mom: How do you help on the farm?

Elijah: I bring the rabbits their water and feed Jack (our whippet).

Hannah: I helped get the sheep back into their pen when they got out.

Abigail: I help with the animals.

I hope they continue to learn, explore, and make great memories together here.  We’ve only just begun.  It will be interesting to see what each new season brings!

Warmly,

Becca