Changes for 2017

One year ago we purchased and moved to our little farm.  I remember feeling very unsure that day of what lie ahead for us, but we both clung to faith that this was where we were being led.  Looking back over the past months, I can attest that only good was in store for us, even amongst the hard work and bumps we’ve experienced along the way.  Our ideas of needs and wants have been challenged, humbled and sifted.  True priorities and simple blessings have emerged.  We changed and grew right along with this farm and we look forward to another exciting year.

Rabbits

Raising rabbits for meat was something we started when we were on a city lot in a neighborhood that restricted all livestock.  We were determined to begin taking control of our own food production so we began a small garden and brought home a pair of rabbits.  When we moved to the farm, we were suddenly able to raise traditional livestock so we no longer had a need for rabbits. wp_20160712_14_07_07_pro

Our bunnies were the cutest thing on the farm and we enjoyed them thoroughly, but when the time came to butcher them, nobody wanted to mess with it.  We had our schedule full with projects and chores involving other animals so we made the decision to sell the rabbits and no longer raise them on our farm.  We were thankful for the extra time this created for us to focus on other livestock.  I still highly recommend raising meat rabbits to someone wanting to gain control over their food on a city lot.

Honeybees

This year we plan to add honeybees to our farm.  This will be a whole new world for us, one we’ll navigate as we go.  We’d like to begin with two hives, which must be ordered this month, and set up sometime in spring.  We would like to raise our bees as naturally as possible.  While we do have some crops within our future bees’ expected flight range, we are also blessed to have an abundance of natural areas.  In the spring we see numerous wild crab apples blooming throughout the countryside and all summer long we enjoy the ever-changing color display of wildflowers scattered around the farm. This is in addition to our own garden and fruit trees.wp_20160504_14_41_51_pro

Our hope is this will give the bees plenty of natural, pesticide-free sources of nectar.  With the health of bee colonies declining and the rise of systemic pesticides (pesticides that are engineered to exist inside seeds and the resulting plant cells), we want to ensure our bees will be safe and the honey we ultimately feed to our family be free of harmful chemicals.

A New Calf

This past summer we brought our Dexter heifer, Pearl, to a farm to spend a couple of months with a proven, purebred Dexter bull.  Getting her loaded into the trailer was one of the most stressful things we have done on our farm so far.  We tried luring her in with hay with no luck. She was very skeptical of that trailer and wouldn’t be led astray by her belly.  We ended up having to muscle her big body in, despite her best resistance.  I thought somebody was going to get a hoof to the face or possibly trampled.  Thankfully, nobody was hurt and she was transported safely to the farm for her “summer vacation.”pearl

She’s back at home now – safe, sound, and assumedly “with calf.”  Come June, we should have a newborn calf on our farm.  If all goes well, it’s sure to be a highlight of our year.

Farmhouse Projects

We have a few farmhouse projects slated for this year, but I’m very excited about one in particular.  We plan to convert our useless, unwelcoming, uninsulated side porch into a well-insulated, functional winter storage pantry.  This will be in lieu of our previous idea of digging a root cellar.  It was so frustrating bringing in the harvest last year and working to preserve our produce only to realize we had nowhere to put it.  The side porch will be gutted and rebuilt with lots of insulation to ensure the temperature stays above freezing, with shelving to hold all my canning equipment and those priceless jars filled with garden goodness. wp_20170105_14_02_57_pro

Underneath the shelves, on the floor, will be built-in bins to contain produce like potatoes, pumpkins, squash and apples. wp_20170105_14_03_25_pro

The winter pantry will be such a great use of the currently dysfunctional and messy space. I plan to put in a frosted glass pantry door that I can open and close to help control the temperature of the pantry, if needed.  There won’t be any windows as the produce keeps best in the dark.  Because this room is located right off the kitchen, it will be much more convenient and accessible, not to mention more affordable, than a new root cellar.  As the shelves and bins empty over the winter, I will have temporary space to house the piles of summer produce as well, keeping my kitchen island clear and retaining its original intended function.

The Poultry Flock

We’ll be making some changes to our poultry flock this year.wp_20170105_14_07_41_pro

We’ll be thinning our flock a bit to reduce our hen population, keeping the most efficient layers.  We’ve also been discussing trading in our heritage breed ducks for the larger, meatier Pekin ducks.

Pekin ducks are ready to butcher at about 8 weeks of age, meaning we won’t keep a year-round duck flock for eggs.  The main reason for this change is because how dirty the ducks make the pond water.  The chickens and turkeys use the pond for their drinking water so we’d like the pond to be clean.  With ducks, it’s very tiring to keep clean what they insist on dirtying.  What’s more, without the ducks, we could purchase a pond filter to clean the water for us, eliminating the task of bucketing it out on a weekly basis.  Pond filters don’t work with ducks because they will clog it up and cause it to break down.  Focusing on the Pekin ducks will allow us to still enjoy ducks on our farm for a couple months (before we send them off to freezer camp!) without having the year-long issue of filthy water and a labor-intensive pond.

We’ve learned a lot during our first year on the farm.  Through trial and error, we’re discovering what we enjoy, what works with our current set-up, how we can increase the functionality of our homestead and what’s simply a drain on our time.  I expect nothing less for year two.

Thank you for reading our updates and following along through our first year on the farm.  We enjoy recording our experiences and feel so blessed by those who’ve taken the time to tell us they are enjoying our story.  Whatever is happening on the farm is made that much more enjoyable for us by being able to share it with you.

Becca

Winter Water Solution

Winter is my least favorite season of the year.  We’ve already experienced periods of severe arctic temperatures (-27 degrees!) and time spent outside has been reduced only to what is necessary to complete basic animal chores.  I prefer to spend the bitter-cold months of January and February under a blanket with a mug of hot tea in my hands.  For the animals, though, having access to clean, fresh water in liquid form can be a real struggle in winter.wp_20170105_14_08_55_pro

Having the pond makes the water solution for our bird flock pretty simple during winter months, as long as the pond is kept from freezing. We purchased an electric de-icer to place in the pond to prevent the water from freezing.

wp_20170105_14_06_17_pro
To keep the ducks from dirtying the water over winter, Ryan placed a cattle panel over the pond to keep them out, while still allowing access to drink. 

We are no longer using the typical chicken waterers for our flock, which eliminates time spent filling them in sub-zero temperatures.wp_20170105_14_07_49_pro1

 

We also purchased a de-icer for the water tank in the sheep and cow pen.  Last year we had to break up the ice that formed on their water each day with a 2×4. Then, we’d pour very hot water into their tank to melt the remaining ice and keep their water in a liquid state for as long as possible. The de-icers have gone a long way in making animal chores easier this winter.  wp_20170105_14_08_36_pro

We are still experiencing one problem: we have to refill the animals’ water daily and we don’t have access to an outdoor water source in winter as the spigot and hose are frozen. Ryan is forced to bring two 5-gallon buckets into our house, fill them with water from our bathtub, then haul them out to fill the pond and water tank. He usually has to repeat this several times until everything is replenished. In case you are unsure, he can confirm this task is not enjoyable, while I can confirm it usually disrupts the kids’ bath time schedule.wp_20170103_18_55_20_pro1

The simple solution to this problem is to dig a well near the barn with a hand-pump that will allow us to fill buckets outside, saving the hassle of an icy trek to and fro with heavy buckets.

Digging a well will be an added expense for our tight budget, but we’d like to explore the possibility of completing the project this year. We’ll begin this spring with getting some estimates. I will love having a hand-pump well not only as a solution to the winter water problem, but year-round as a back-up water source. Currently, we are dependent upon electricity to power the well that supplies water to our home. We had the power go out last fall for several hours and we couldn’t flush a toilet or wash our hands. (We ended up traveling into town and eating our dinner at a restaurant, partly because I wasn’t able to finish cooking it in my electric oven, and partly so we could have access to a bathroom!) I will feel very relieved and comforted with the addition of a new well on our farm, knowing we will always have access to fresh, clean water, independent of the power supply.

Becca

Winter Fence Completed

Sunday afternoon we finished putting up our woven wire fence that will winter our grazing animals.wp_20161016_16_56_33_pro Putting up a fence is no small task and we’re happy to have the project behind us. Our project went rather quickly since we were able to utilize a vast majority of posts already in place. The hardest part was getting the woven wire fence taut.wp_20161016_16_54_36_pro  We rotationally graze our animals in tight paddocks with portable electric fencing (Electronet) through our small pasture. We can have about 20 paddocks in our 3 acre pasture. The “flerd” (flock+herd=flerd) has just finished up a full rotation and we think we can run them through the pasture once more this fall, which would allow us to graze them into November, even though the growing season has now ceased. We still have green grass in the pasture where our animals haven’t been in weeks. wp_20161019_16_24_37_proThis benefits our bottom line. The longer the flerd grazes on free, nutrient-rich grass, the less purchased hay they will consume.

This winter fence will not only be utilized in winter, but it will contain our ram during summer when we’d like him separated from the ewes. This year we had no satisfactory way of separating our ram from the rest of our sheep, which gives us no control over when our ewes will lamb. The other problem this creates is that our ram is always with the sheep when we want to interact with our ewes and lambs, who are quite friendly. wp_20161019_16_22_50_proWe enjoy petting the ewes and holding the lambs. Up until last week, interacting with our sheep with the ram present was a non-issue.wp_20161019_16_22_54_pro

We are new farmers, but we have the sense to stay away from a ram when the ewes are in heat. We thought that had already come and gone. However, the past couple weeks, the ram has been a bit bossy around food. Ryan had told me the ram “nudged” him on the arm while he was bringing pumpkins to the sheep. I had also watched the ram head-butt the ewes if he was trying to eat a special treat they wanted. (I much prefer the chivalry of the roosters who serve delicacies to the hens rather than the rude ram who hogs the good stuff for himself.)

wp_20161019_16_27_16_pro
Mac the ram

The warning signs were there and I should have heeded them. I brought some butternut squash that had been bruised or nibbled on by garden critters to the sheep. I usually just throw it in and leave. But that day I decided to enter their paddock and hold one of the squash while the sheep ate. The ram was busy in a different corner eating a squash lying on the grass. Elijah also climbed into the paddock with me. We were having a great time scratching the lambs and ewes behind the ears while they happily nibbled the squash we were holding. We each had a crowd of lambs and ewes surrounding us and we were thoroughly enjoying watching the adorable sheep, their noses and lips turning orange from the squash. After a few minutes, I noticed the ram had left his half-eaten squash and was standing near us, watching. I didn’t trust him, but I also didn’t expect what was about to happen.

 

He came up and quickly nudged me on the arm, similar to what Ryan described with the pumpkin the other day. The nerve of this ram to “bite the hand that feeds” irritated me but then I watched him take a few steps backwards with his gaze fixed upon me. I knew what was coming, but I had no time to react. He ran towards me and rammed me right in the gut. I was on the ground before I even knew what happened. I got up quickly, fearing he would come at me again while I was still on the ground. He didn’t. He walked away and I instructed Elijah we were to leave immediately. I was surprised more than hurt, though my wrist was sore from instinctively catching myself when I hit the ground. It remained stiff through the following day.

wp_20161019_16_26_58_proI now trust the ram less than ever. I used to feel sorry for him when we talked about separating him from the sheep. Sheep are flock animals and are happiest with other sheep. I was concerned he would get lonely and depressed if we separated him.  I may or may not care a whole lot less about the ram’s emotional state since getting knocked over by the small, gutsy beast. 🙂 He needs to be separated when the new lambs are born, as well. I won’t take the chance of one of the kids getting hurt by him while visiting the lambs.

It’s good to have a trusty, permanent fence on the farm for a variety of situations.  Although the fence is complete, Ryan still needs to build a hay feeder for inside the fence.  We also have to begin stocking our hay shed for the winter.  These tasks are next in line on our project list for fall.  .

Becca

Winter Fence Part 2

We finally had time to make a dent in the winter fence this weekend. We bundled up and worked the whole day on Saturday, plus a Sunday afternoon in the cold, fall air. Working outside would have been rather enjoyable, with the leaves of various trees and bushes exhibiting their colorful display, had it not been for the numb sensation in our fingertips and toes and the sleet falling down around us Saturday morning. Nevertheless, we got two gates installed, one on the east side of the fence, facing the house, wp_20161009_15_17_42_proand the other behind the barn on the north side.wp_20161009_16_57_01_pro Of course whenever we do any projects around the barnyard, we get a few helpers.

wp_20161009_15_56_23_pro
A curious Speckled Sussex hen comes to investigate Ryan’s work.

 

wp_20161009_15_56_57_pro
Hmm, maybe it will make better sense from this angle?
wp_20161009_15_54_41_pro
As soon as we removed the gate from its previous position, Lucky, our Bourbon Red turkey, felt a sudden desire to perch on it.

If you haven’t lived with chickens (or turkeys) before, you may not realize how curious they really are.  Wherever we move around the homestead, the chickens tend to gravitate, making soft clucks and eyeing us inquisitively.

 

We also got the two longest sides of the fence complete.wp_20161009_15_18_23_pro

wp_20161009_15_20_52_proLookin’ good, right?

The woven wire fencing went up pretty easily, with two of us working together. Ryan would attach four metal clips on each T-post and wrap each clip around the woven wire, while I pulled the fence as tightly as I could. Like most things, once we got the hang of it, our progress quickened.  The corners of the fence are wood posts and Ryan pounded large metal staples in to secure the fencing on those posts.

We need one more weekend to finish up the winter fence.  We’re really happy with how it’s coming together.  It will be a relief to have it completed and ready to house our sheep and cow for the ever-nearing winter.

Becca

Barnyard Fence Part 1

We have several projects we are scrambling to complete before winter hits. Now that the days have gotten noticeably shorter and chillier, we decided it was time to begin our fall project list.

The first thing we wanted to complete was the winter barnyard. Ryan demolished most of the old, pieced-together, wooden barnyard fence where our sheep and cows wintered last year.wp_20160220_09_04_28_pro

We have decided this space will house a future green house. Our winter barnyard will be constructed on the other side of our barn, with access to the barn doors in case we need to bring any animals inside during the winter.

wp_20160917_15_35_52_proThe first thing Ryan did was dig 8 foot posts into the ground for the gate, which we are reusing from the previous fence. He mixed some concrete and filled the deep holes with it, ensuring the posts will be stable and secure as they support the heavy gate.wp_20160917_16_30_13_pro

It was at this time I decided the kids should leave handprints in the wet concrete. We marked each handprint with its corresponding first initial.wp_20160917_16_34_53_pro I’ve learned not to rely on my memory and since several handprints are similar in size, I can almost guarantee I will forget which handprint belongs to which child had they not marked their first initial.  I also dated the cement so we will remember when the handprints were left. wp_20160917_16_48_29_proThe kids were excited to leave their handprints and will have fun comparing how their hands have grown through the years.

While we were waiting to pour the concrete, we noticed several small, dead trees inside the new barnyard area. They were tall enough that when they fall, they will be falling right on top of our new fence.  Redoing a project that has been recently completed is a big bummer.  To prevent this, Ryan cut down the trees and the wood was added to our growing wood pile. wp_20160917_15_58_48_pro

The fence will consist of woven wire fencing attached to T-posts, many of which are already in place as this area connected with the main pasture in the past.  The winter pen will be bordered by the hay shed, making throwing heavy bales of hay in the frigid air a little more convenient.

I’m very excited for the woven wire fence. We have had our animals in the electronet ever since the spring. The electronet is an amazing fence that makes rotational grazing easy and affordable. The electronet has kept our animals in and predators out. Electric fences aren’t very kid-friendly, though. We have to turn off the energizer and lift the kids over the fence whenever they want to see the sheep.wp_20160607_13_44_27_pro As a result, the kids haven’t spent much time with the sheep this summer. Having the animals inside the barnyard, with easy access gates, will allow them to go and visit the sheep much more often and with less help from Mom and Dad. This will be even more important when our ewes lamb, which we are expecting in February. Lambing is one of the most exciting events on our farm, and the kids visit and play with the new lambs several times each day.

Due to a number of factors, progress on the fence has been slow. I am hoping for nice weather this weekend so we can make headway on this project. The animals won’t need the winter barnyard for quite a while yet, since we still have plenty of grass out in the pasture. But whenever we can cross something off our list, especially a bigger project like this fence, we feel slightly less overwhelmed by what we still need to accomplish. 🙂

Becca

Farm Fresh Eggs, Finally!

Our chickens are 18 weeks old and the average chicken lays its first egg around 20 weeks.  We thought we had a bit more time until officially being on “egg watch.”  We planned to construct new nesting boxes for our chicken coop this weekend, thinking it would be in place by the time the first hen laid an egg.  After lunch today, Ryan went into the coop to finish up the nesting box project and discovered something unexpected.  For the past 4 months we’ve been waiting for this, spending money each week on feed for this, and completing multiple farm projects just for this.  WP_20160731_14_37_40_ProAn egg!  A small, brown, perfect egg, likely belonging to a Dominique, based on color and the fact that Dominiques are one of two breeds in our flock that is reputed to be early-maturing.

WP_20160731_18_44_12_Pro
Dominique hen

 

We decided to compare our farm-fresh, free-range egg to a store-bought egg. There is a big size difference, but that’s just because this egg was the hen’s first.  The eggs will get bigger as the hen matures.

WP_20160731_16_56_30_Pro
Conventional egg (left) vs. Farm-raised egg (right)

So besides the size difference, we noticed right away how bright orange the yolk is in our egg compared to the conventional egg’s yellow yolk.  We fried both up and enjoyed a taste test.

 

Our unanimous vote was for the farm-fresh egg. It tasted so much better and lacked the unpalatable aftertaste of the conventional egg.

But the excitement wasn’t meant to be over.  As Ryan finished up the basic construction of the new nesting boxes this evening, he went to get some hay to line each nesting box and found yet another pleasant surprise.  A hen has been laying eggs in the hay.

WP_20160731_19_25_42_Pro
Welsummer eggs

It’s been like an Easter egg hunt around the farm today.  I recognized the eggs immediately from descriptions I’ve read. The Welsummer is the other early-maturing breed in our flock and they lay a dark, terracotta-colored, speckled egg.  These eggs belong to a Welsummer.

WP_20160731_18_47_44_Pro
Welsummer hen

We are all excited to see what the hens may leave for us in the nesting boxes tomorrow morning.

 

Ryan still needs to cut doors in the back of the nesting boxes so we have outdoor access to the eggs, and add roosts to the front of the boxes to make entering and exiting the nests easier for the hens. WP_20160731_19_38_48_Pro We have 20 nesting boxes from which our hens can choose, and we hope they make good use of them all.  We can’t wait until all our hens are laying and we can collect a basket of eggs each morning.

Becca

Building a Simple Duck Pond

Ducks are waterfowl and having access to water is important for their health and happiness. For the past few months, our flock of twelve ducks has been using a small kiddie pool to satisfy their unquenchable desire to swim, bathe and splash. WP_20160723_08_57_37_Pro

Nothing is wrong with using a kiddie pool for ducks, but we wanted to dig a pond for our ducks that would blend into our landscape and have a more organic appearance, as well as provide more surface area for them to spread out in.

WP_20160723_10_44_18_Pro
During pond construction: No water = sad ducks!

Ryan picked up a rectangular 7 x 10 foot, puncture-resistant pond liner at Home Depot. First, we measured out the area for our pond.  Because we need about a foot on each side as a “shelf” for our rocks to sit on and to allow for the pond’s depth, we figured our finished pond would be about 5×8 feet.  We marked an outline with the shovels and began digging.  WP_20160723_09_05_27_ProTo help the ducks enter and exit the pond, the shelf for the rocks sits down a few inches from ground level and we made the sides slope gently.WP_20160723_09_41_04_Pro We chose large, smooth, flatter rocks for the pond as duck feet are sensitive and prone to a disease called bumblefoot if they walk across small, sharp rocks on a regular basis.WP_20160723_10_17_35_ProEven though our liner is rectangular, we dug an oval shape. This leaves some extra liner on the corners, but we may eventually plant some duck-resistant plants around these corners, if such a thing exists.  I’m experimenting with deer-resistant plants around the yard to see if the ducks will keep their bills off them.  WP_20160723_10_36_39_Pro We were able to replace some pieces of sod around the rocks to help keep the dirt in place and hopefully encourage the vegetation to get reestablished.

WP_20160723_10_39_57_ProThe pond is now ready for water.

WP_20160723_10_43_35_Pro
Our Speckled Sussex rooster comes to investigate the status of the pond.

With the hose running, we have thoroughly piqued the ducks’ interest.  WP_20160723_10_49_08_ProThey simply cannot resist water!  These birds will seek cover from sun and come out to bask during the rain.  Their love of water cannot be overstated.  But ducks tend to be highly skeptical of anything out of the ordinary. Once, when we cleaned out their kiddie pool and filled it with sparkling, clean water, they eyed it suspiciously and refused to enter the pool for hours.  We expected no less with this new pond. WP_20160723_10_58_51_Pro

The ducks waddled to one side, stopped and looked.WP_20160723_11_00_55_Pro Then they waddled to another side and stopped to look.  The kids began guessing which duck would be the first to brave this foreign apparition…but then the ducks left.  WP_20160723_11_01_43_ProThe pond has been deemed too scary for the moment.  It wasn’t until some rain rolled through while we were inside for a lunch break that we discovered the ducks excitedly swimming and splashing in their new pond.WP_20160723_19_29_15_Pro

We chose to forego a pump and filter for our duck pond. Ducks drag so much dirt and muck into their water source that pumps and filters get clogged and broken down.  We decided to keep our pond small so emptying the water with buckets, which is what we did with our kiddie pool, and refilling with the hose is manageable.  Plus, we can distribute the water wherever we’d like, such as the trees and berry plants in our nearby orchard.  For a pond that doesn’t need to be cleaned out periodically, a diverse ecosystem including fish and plants is needed to keep the water clean, and we decided to not take on that project at this point.

WP_20160723_19_44_08_Pro
Ancona (white/black) ducks and Blue Swedish ducks enjoying their new pond
WP_20160723_19_37_53_Pro
A Cayuga drake takes a solo swim

Watching the ducks play in the pond is something we consider great entertainment.  They bob, dive, splash and swim until finally they decide they’ve had enough so out they waddle to dry ground, where they proceed to preen, flap and groom.  Just when they’ve gotten every last feather dry, clean and primped, that’s when they decide it’s high time for another splash in the pond. WP_20160723_19_29_26_Pro

Becca