We have two enormous elderberry bushes in front of our house. Last year we got a small harvest and made elderberry jam. This year the plants produced a prolific harvest and this weekend were ready to be picked. Our plan is to make elderberry syrup using this recipe and can it for use over the winter. We have about two gallons worth of berries so we expect to also be able to make some jelly and maybe even some sambuco.
In the front we always have a few garter snakes hanging out. I was very aware of this as I was cutting the stems to harvest the berries and watching where I stepped. Imagine my surprise as I looked up and saw a garter snake just over my head in a cluster of berries. Mike got the camera and took a ton of spectacular pictures that you can see below. There are still some berries left on the plant and I might have enough to do another small harvest this weekend.
This morning we let Elsa out around 5;30am as is our normal routine. She likes to do her perimeter check of the farm and chase away any and all foxes. She typically barks some, but not a ton. Mike had gotten up early as he had to work away from home today. He shook me awake to say that he thought the other calf had been born. He could hear Elsa barking relentlessly and saw her out behind the barn. I went from fully asleep to fully dressed and running out the door in under two minutes.
This was Buttermilk’s first calf. She is Sweet Momma’s daughter and was born here three years ago. I knew she was a few weeks behind her mother but as of tomorrow, Spot is three weeks old. I had been paying close attention to her as this was her first pregnancy and even though there was no reason to suspect anything bad would happen, you still want to be careful. I ran to the paddock and could see her beautiful black calf nursing next to her.
She must have been born last night as she was all clean and totally on her feet and had a huge poop while we were there. I was *really* hoping the calf would look like a panda (white face, white stripe) but I guess the genetics meant that an all black grandmother and an all black grandfather yields an all black baby. She is lovely and healthy and so we are happy.
This was quite an adventure, from getting the bull to getting these babies on the ground. I am very happy to be on the other side of it all. Spot will have so much fun playing with his sister/niece.
If you remember back to the fall, we brought in an angus-hereford cross bull to breed our cows. Last Tuesday our first calf was born! A little bull calf born to our Dexter Sweet Momma. I have been watching and waiting for weeks for this arrival. She was HUGE and I am amazed that her calf came so late. Her daughter, Buttermilk, a Dexter-Belted Galloway cross is still pregnant and I think she will likely calve in the next week. This will be her first calf, so I am extra attentive to the process.
As it happened, this calf, currently being called Spot, was born on our oldest child’s birthday. I have been checking on the cows multiple times a day and finally, I found the cow in labor. It is funny, because for weeks I have been thinking “is she/isn’t she?” but when she was actually in labor, there was no question. She made a very low mooing sound, somewhat like a moo/growl/sigh. She was way back in the woods by the back pond. I hung out with her for a while, taking pictures, but also had to help manage things in the house as we were having a sleepover for the birthday boy.
The calf is doing great. He is very friendly and curious. We are going to try to halter train him and plan to keep him for at least 2-3 years and allow him to breed back to his mother and half-sister for more meat cows. It seems like an odd thing to do, but this is much easier than bringing in a bull every two years.
This past summer we had a bumper crop of birdhouse gourds. For whatever reason, they seem to grow really well in our garden.
We waited until just before the first frost and then picked them. In all, we had over 60 gourds. We tied a string to the neck of each gourd and hung them in the garage all fall and winter. They dried out completely and were ready for crafting. The kids joined a local 4-H group this spring and we decided to donate them to the group to be made into birdhouses to raise money for a lego robotics project the kids are doing this fall.
We sanded each of the gourds to make them smooth. Steel wool seemed to work the best.
Then Mike drilled a 2-inch opening in each one. Jackson and I are prepping them: untying them and sorting them by size. Some were too small, and some had lovely rattling seeds and we made those into shakers.
We invited other 4-H members over after the gourds had been drilled and cleaned. The kids had a blast painting them.
We found places for them all to dry.
I loved the way they looked on the rocks in the sun.
After they dried, we drill a 1/4-inch set of holes in the top for a string to hang them up and in the bottom for drainage. We touched up any paint that got chipped, sprayed them with a coat of clear acrylic to make them water-proof and hung them to dry. I have to admit, I really didn’t want to take them down. I would love for my porch to look like this all the time.
We brought them to our tent a a town tag-sale. They sold well. Jackson was an especially persuasive salesman. We still have a bunch more and I think I might have the kids paint up a set just for us to hang. I have more plants growing in the garden as well, so there will be more to do next year.
Last year we lost our ducks and geese to predators and a harsh winter. We decided we needed to replace them this year (sans the geese, which our older son has never really cared for — maybe we’ll get geese again some day). For now, it’s just ducks.
We got our baby ducks at Tractor Supply Company in late April. We were there to get feed with the kids and they talked us into getting them. The truth is that we did want to replace the ducks, so it was easy to win us over. We ended up getting 6 pekin, 4 rouen and 2 blue Swedish.
After bringing them home and having them in a fairly tiny indoor enclosure for a few days (ducks stink when confined), we moved them to an outside run.
We’d still bring them into the garage at night since it was still a bit chilly at night.
At the same time I started building the new duck house. It was a simple 2 x 4 building with an interesting choice for roofing. We had an old door we’d removed from our previous house when we’d moved. It had a dog door cut in it and our realtor had said it would be better to have a new door. So this old door has been sitting in our garage for almost 6 years, but we’re finally putting it to good use — a hinged roof for our duck house (all the easier for cleaning). The dog door opening would serve as a smaller door for feeding the ducks.
We put siding on and painted it to match our chicken coop.
The temporary run was a duck resort for a couple weeks.
The duck house itself was to sit out over the water on a new dock, which we built out of pressure treated lumber. It required getting wet.
The kids seemed to find it a good opportunity to get soaked.
Soon the dock was ready for the duck house.
We moved the duck house over to the pond on our trailer, slid it onto the dock and secured it.
We moved the ducks into their new home.
We’ll keep them in their run for a while longer until they learn how to get in and out of their new home. Ultimately, I’ll also put a ramp on the water side, so the ducks and come and go via without ever coming onto land. That should make things a bit harder for our predators to get these guys.
I came across this super simple rustic bench design from a magazine that my wife’s parents gave me. It’s called an “Aldo Leopold Bench”. Named after Aldo Leopold, a famous environmentalist.
From his Wikipedia article:
Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation. His ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement, with his ecocentric or holistic ethics regarding land. He emphasized biodiversity and ecology and was a founder of the science of wildlife management.
It looked like something I wanted to build and quite simple, too.
There are various designs for the bench. Mine used 2×8 lumber and called for two boards per bench: one 8-foot board and one 10-foot board.
The seat and back were made from the 8-foot board. I cut that board into a 49½-inch piece and a 46½-inch piece. That’s a single cut and maximizes the usable wood. The seat is 3 inches shorter than the back because it sits inside the legs (each 1½ thick).
The legs consist of two identical longer leg sections (which also form the sides of the bench) and two identical shorter leg sections. In my bench, the longer legs were 36 inches long and the shorter legs were 17¼ inches long. With my speed square I marked out 22½-degree cuts on each end. It was a cinch.
Everything is then laid out and screwed together. Once the cuts are made, it’s almost impossible to put it together wrong. Just make sure the legs mirror each other.
Love the way it looks.
Ended up making two of them. These are destined to live at the pond near where I’m going to put a new duck house I’m building (more on that later!). We liked them so much, I think I’ll make another one for the garden and a couple for the fire pit area as soon as I get a chance.
- One 2×8×8 cedar, redwood or treated lumber (seat and backrest)
- One 2×8×10 cedar, redwood or treated lumber (front and rear legs)
- 2½-inch galvanized deck screws
- Mark one end of the 2×8×10 at a 22½-degree angle with a speed square. Then cut with a circular saw. Make a mark 36 inches away and repeat the cut at the same angle. Cut the remaining front leg and two back legs from the same piece (two 36-inch pieces and two 17¼-inch pieces). Cut the seat and backrest from the 2×8×8 (one 49½-inch piece and one 46½-inch piece).
- Fasten the legs together. Stack the seat and backrest as guides and then align the legs against them. Fasten legs together with three 2½-inch screws.
- Attach the seat and backrest. Stand the two ends up and screw the seat in place. Lay the bench down and attach the backrest with screws.
This morning at the pond I first spotted a pair of Canadian Geese. Then I noticed the Great Blue Heron, standing quite still and slender. We’ve seen Canadian Geese quite a bit, but have only seen a Heron at our pond once or twice before this (once was right after I put fish in the pond, and I never really saw the fish again, so I wonder if the Heron ate them).
I got as close as I could with my 300mm lens, snapped a few and then it took off. Simply amazing! Too bad I’m using a mirrorless with poor follow-focus. Nevertheless, a few turned out pretty good.
Then I stalked closer to grab some pictures of the Geese.
We used to have our own domesticated ducks and geese on the pond but we suffered predator loss and a hard winter. I imagine not having them around has encouraged the wildlife.
Winter has been pretty long this year. It’s been something like the coldest or second coldest average temps since recording began, including 6 degrees below average thus far in March. Luckily, our snow is almost all gone, and our animals are starting to get out and about more to munch on grasses they turned their noses up at last fall. It also means it’s easier to check on things and do our periodic animal care. For the adult sheep, that means hoof trimming and deworming. For the lambs, it means vaccinations, tail docking and wethering the baby ram we won’t be keeping for breeding stock.
First the lambs. We caught each of them in turn and gave them their procedures. For the girls, that was just the tail docking and vaccination. For the boys, it was tail docking, vaccination and, for the ram we’re not keeping intact, wethering. The vaccine we use is Covexin-8, which protects our lambs against some of the natural harms that may befall them in the early spring (it provides protection against eight types of clostridial bacteria). We actually had a lamb die of this very issue, so we’re pretty good about giving the vaccinations these days.
This winter has been hard on our sheeps’ hooves. They were overgrown in most cases and in several were definitely smelly. It’s a rotten smell, which is a precursor to infected hooves as organic matter gets stuck in the hoof and slowly rots. It’s best to keep their nails trimmed and we’ll want to followup on them in a couple weeks.
PS Looks like snow isn’t out of the picture, they’re calling for possible “BINGO!” accumulations for Tuesday night into Wednesday. Let’s hope the storm tracks further east (sorry Rhode Island and the Cape).
It is hard to have a conversation with anyone these days that doesn’t involve the weather. It has been a brutal winter. Frigidly cold and very snowy. Spring is just two days away and yet we still have snow on the ground in many places and the pond is still frozen. At this point in the year we would usually be prepping the garden and starting to plant. At this rate we will be lucky to get seeds in by the middle of April.
We have been feeling increasingly like being outside despite the cold. We are so thankful for our large fire pit. A few weeks ago, Mike and the kids had an evening campfire on the snow. Tonight, we had our first campfire dinner of the year. It was delicious. Good thing we can combat the frigid temps with warm fire!!
Sometimes we make lovely, colorful things out of fabric and wool. Other times our tasks are a bit more . . .gooey? We have had nine rabbit pelts sitting in the freezer for almost a year. This week, we brined them and then spent an hour yesterday fleshing them. We followed the instructions here. We did this same thing about four years ago and turned the pelts into a quilt and some hats Fleshing is a kind of gross but oddly satisfying task. You pull off one layer of skin to get to the layer that will eventually turn into leather. If you are the kind of person who likes peeling glue from your fingers, this might be a task you would like. The pelts don’t really smell but are just kind of wet and rubbery.
Now that the layer of flesh has been removed, they will go back in the brine bucket for another week before they get tanned. Then we will have to figure out what to make from them. Three were from adult rabbits that we needed to cull so their pelts are large and the leather should be really thick.
You can see the steps we followed below.
Frozen pelts that have been thawing for a few days.
Brine with 1 cup kosher salt, 1 cup ammonium alum and 2 gallons water.
Pelts all stretched out.
Rinsing out the pelts.
Pelts in the brine. This was put in the basement for a few days and stirred daily.
Rinsing the pelts after brining.
Squelching the water out.
Elsa was pretty curious.
Pulling of the outer fleshy layer of skin.
A nice, white, fleshed skin. The small holes were from the nipples.
A half-fleshed pelt. The white area has been fleshed. The flesh needs to be removed to tan it properly.
The last pelt and a bowl full of skin bits.