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Apr 4 / Michael

Spring Visit from Heron and Geese

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).

Great Blue Heron on the Ground

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.

Great Blue Heron in Flight

 Then I stalked closer to grab some pictures of the Geese.

Geese by the Pond

Geese Taking Off

Geese in Flight 1

Geese in Flight 2

Geese in Flight 3

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.

Mar 23 / Michael

Tending the Flock

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.

Baby ram

Francis’s ram has horns and we’re keeping him for breeding stock — just a tail docking for him today.

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.

Tail docking/banding

Tail docking

Sheep wethering

Wethering our other baby ram

Vaccinating lambs

5ml Covexin-8, administered subcutaneously

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.

Sheep hoof trimming

Hoof trimming

Sheep hoof trimming

Clementine’s feet were pretty bad, we’ll definitely need to work more on them in a couple weeks

Sheep hoof trimming

Jamie has the hard job!

Baby rams

Our baby rams after their procedures

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).

Mar 18 / Jamie

Fire and Ice

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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.

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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!!

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Feb 16 / Jamie

Fleshing Rabbit Pelts

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.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Frozen pelts that have been thawing for a few days.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Brine with 1 cup kosher salt, 1 cup ammonium alum and 2 gallons water.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Pelts all stretched out.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Rinsing out the pelts.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Pelts in the brine.  This was put in the basement for a few days and stirred daily.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Rinsing the pelts after brining.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Squelching the water out.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Elsa was pretty curious.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Pulling of the outer fleshy layer of skin.

Tanning rabbit pelts

Fleshy bits.

Tanning rabbit pelts

A nice, white, fleshed skin.  The small holes were from the nipples.

Tanning rabbit pelts

A half-fleshed pelt.  The white area has been fleshed.  The flesh needs to be removed to tan it properly.

Tanning rabbit pelts

The last pelt and a bowl full of skin bits.

Feb 3 / Jamie

Making

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I feel like January and February are some of the most creative months for us.  The garden and livestock are all in hibernation mode (mostly, the exception being the new lambs).  The weather is cold and gray and sometimes white.  And so, we turn to making and creating and adding vibrant color to our lives.

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Miss C got a sewing machine from Santa last Christmas.  She has been working on perfecting her seams and if anyone needs a pincushion or coffee coaster, let me know.  She sells them for a hug each ;)  She and I have also been working on a project each day.  We made a few pillows for her room and then have been making monsters.  Each one was completely designed by C and then stitched by me.  It is harder than it might seem to turn her drawings into three dimensional stuffed toys.  Today we made the blue turtle monster and she was SO happy.  I might try to make another tomorrow and give it a different head-to-body ratio (bigger head, smaller body).  C has also been making drawings, frames, and pot holder looms.  And, about eleventy bazillion loom bracelets. She also took a felt bunting we made last year and turned it into a mobile for her room.  I love the way it looks, like bubbles in the ocean.

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Morgan also got in on the action.  He has been really into stories about zombies lately, so this is a zombie monster with three eyes and blood.  Fun times ;)

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Apparently making weird looking things is a ‘thing’ for us. Here is a set of zombie princesses vs. cavemen we made in the fall.

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I hope you find some time to make something or enjoy something lovely that was made with the amazing artistic eye of a child.

Jan 23 / Jamie

Winter Lambs

Lambs for Frances

This morning, for the first time ever, I got to see a lamb get born.  I actually got to catch one lamb (it was going to drop into the snow) and see another!  It was pretty exciting.  We knew that two of our ewes were very close, so we were ready.  Usually they lamb in the very early morning, but this time, it was around 8:30am.  I got to the barn to see Frances on the ground pushing.  I sent Jackson back to get Mike and the camera, quickly fed the other sheep and cows and got to her right as she stood up to drop the lamb.

Lambs for Frances

I caught it and then quickly held it to her nose and walked her into the barn.  I closed the gate and a few minutes later Mike and Jackson got there.  She cleaned her lamb and we assembled a hay stall for her.  This worked well for us last year.  The hay insulates the sheep and keeps the draft off the babies.  They will stay in there for a few days until they are stronger.  Then they will get free reign of the barn for a week until they can be out with the flock.

Lambs for Frances

After she cleaned off the first lamb, I again picked it up and held it to her nose and walked her into the hay stall.  We closed it up and within a few minutes, the other lamb dropped.  She cleaned it and within twenty minutes, both lambs were on their feet trying to nurse.  She has one ram and one ewe!  It is our first ewe lamb from her which is exciting because she is the best ewe ever and I would like to have a lamb from her.  It is very cold this week which is unfortunate, but the lambs are really only at risk for hypothermia in the first hour after birth and only when wet.  These guys are dry and warm and so hopefully will be just fine.

Lambs for Frances

Not only did we get to see the birth, but Mike got to film the second one.  You can see it on the video below.  Just a word of caution, it is a lamb being born, so their are some gooey bits in the video.  You can also see more pictures on Flickr.

 

 

Jan 19 / Jamie

Hello, Goodbye.

Puppies

Happy 2014!  We hope you are having a wonderful new year.  The holidays were a bit of a blur for us as we were traveling.  Now we are back and settled.  We have had it in our minds for a while that 2014 would be the year we would get a new dog.  Our youngest child is almost four and not such a baby any more.  Our vizsla Zsaka is almost 11 and we wanted him to be young enough to help us train the new dog.  For those who have ever met him, he is the sweetest, calmest dog imaginable.  He is the best family dog.  However, he isn’t a *great* farm dog.  He doesn’t like to be outside without us and never barks or really marks his territory.  We have had many conversations with people over the past year about what breed might be right for us and a few kept coming up that would meet our dual needs (farm and family).  Great Pyrenees, Australian Shepard, Standard Poodle, etc.  We really wanted to adopt a dog and were given the name of Big Fluffy Dog Rescue.  We got what seemed like the perfect dog or us in late November.  He was active and smart and great with all of the people.  He was supposedly a Pyr-Dalamation cross.  Unfortunately, he hated Zsaka, the cats, and had a super high prey drive so having him around our free ranging poultry was a no-go.  He ended up going to a lovely home with a female dog and two caring humans and a few horses.  The last we heard he was doing great.  Having that experience made us really evaluate what we thought we needed.  We had wanted an active adult male.  In truth what we needed was entirely different.

Puppies

When we got back from our travels, we got word of a pair of Pyr-Aussie pups were headed up north from Tennessee.  We were asked if we would like to foster these girls to see if they might work for us.  We thought this would be a great idea.  Our needs on the farm are so specific that starting with a puppy and raising it ourselves might be the only way to ensure that the animal works well as a working dog.  Having a few puppies to compare meant that we could look at temperament.  When we picked up the two lovely fluff balls we were told we had a week to decide.  We couldn’t possibly imagine how we could decide in that short a time.  In truth, we knew in the first 30 minutes of having the pair.  Our Elsa (she came to us as Evie, the one picture below with the white band around her nose) was calm, submissive, sweet, dainty, and smart.  Her sister Emma (who was Echo) was brave, boisterous, alert, and VERY smart.  Smart is good, but too smart can be trouble ;)  We knew pretty immediately that Elsa would be our girl and as the week progressed we became certain.  The best possible news was learning that very close friends of ours (more like family) who had happened to be visiting the day we picked the pups up, fell in love with Emma and ended up adopting her.  The sisters got to have a play date last night and it was so amazing to see them romp and play.  We look forward to many years with both girls and many play times.  Elsa is already showing herding and patrolling instincts and is quick to learn commands.  We think she will be the perfect farm-family dog.

Elsa

Elsa and Zsaka

Elsa

The goodbye part of our story is very sad.  This week our cat Marty died unexpectedly.  He was somewhere between 8-10 years old.  For the past week he had been keeping to himself more, but we thought it was due to the puppies.  I found him downstairs one morning last week looking very rough and thin.  We brought him upstairs and gave him water and put him in a clean crate so we could keep an eye on him.  He was purring and alert and drinking but not eating.  In the morning he had passed.  We don’t know exactly what happened but many things point to feline leukemia.  He was vaccinated, but he also went outside a lot so he may have picked up something.  He was an amazing farm cat and he will be sincerely missed.  Ironically, we got him five years ago when our rescue greyhound Izzy died suddenly from cancer.  Izzy, Marty, and Elsa all have similar coloring; white coats with large spots.  We wonder if they all have some of the same spirit.

Marty

Marty

We will post updates and pictures of Elsa as she grows.  Happy winter to everyone!

Dec 12 / Michael

Winter Starts on the Farm

We had our first snow accumulation this week (with more called for over the weekend).  Winter, though not officially here ’til next week, is definitely getting a jump on things.  During winter, activities on the farm slow down.  We’re done with harvest and dealing with spring animals and plantings is months away.  We still have to keep all our animals fed and watered over winter, something that gets more difficult as liquid water turns to ice.  Once the snow starts, however, we get one big benefit — we can use our sleds to pull heavy loads (like food/water) around the farm to our animals.  Plus, the kids love it.

Snowy on the farm

Snowy on the farm

Snowy on the farm

Snowy on the farm

Snowy on the farm

Enjoy your winter, wherever you are!

Nov 3 / Jamie

Preserving the Harvest

Last Garden Harvest

The 2013 garden season has been over for a few weeks.  We went strong well into October.  I have never put so much time and effort into the garden and it really paid off.  Usually by this point in the year, I am completely done with vegetables.  This year, I felt like when the garden was finished, I was nicely satiated and am very much looking forward to the next growing season.  In the meantime, we have shelves and shelves of delicious preserved foods to eat all winter and spring.

Elderberry Jam

I thought I would share what came out of our garden this year.  The way I see it, there are two main goals that we have currently and two more for the future.  The first goal is to consume as much fresh produce as possible all year long.  We certainly managed to do that.  The spring found us relishing the early radishes and lettuces.  All summer long we feasted on corn, tomatoes, greens, beans, and fruits.  We  bought fruits and veggies very rarely, and it was things like onions, avocados, and bananas.  We are still eating winter squash and kale and will do so for the next few months.  The second goal is to preserve enough from the garden to supply a large amount of our needs through the winter and spring.  We did that as well.  The only things we needed to buy were apples to make sauce and peppers for making jelly and salsa. Everything else we preserved from the list below was grown here.  The last two goals, which are ones for the future, are to also grow enough to preserve our own seeds and then to think about growing enough to have some to sell.  In all honesty, selling is not something I have any plans to do, and the only thing I can think of to do that with will be fruit from the orchard as it continues to mature.  Our main goal is simply to provide for ourselves.

Apples for making apple butter

So, in addition to gorging on fresh vegetables and fruit all summer long, here is what we were able to preserve.  These numbers are all rough as sometimes we ate a jar or two that didn’t seal properly, so add about +2 to each item.

The preserved harvest

  • 50 quarts tomato sauce
  • 63 pints green beans
  • 12 quarts peach sauce
  • 14 quarts pickles
  • 8 pints dilly beans
  • 100 pints salsa (tomatoes from us, onions, garlic, and peppers store bought)
  • 15 pints pepper jelly (store bought peppers)
  • 6 pints catsup
  • 12 quarts apple butter
  • 36 quarts apple sauce (from a local orchard)
  • 4 pints peach butter
  • 2 pints elderberry jam
  • 7 pints peach jam
  • 12 pints plum jam
  • 10 pints strawberry jam
  • 4 pints wildberry jam
  • 10 pints pesto
  • 50 quarts shredded zucchini, frozen
  • 4 quarts corn, frozen
  • 4 quarts green beans, frozen
  • 4 quarts roasted pumpkin, frozen
  • 2 gallons peaches, frozen
  • 2 gallons plums, frozen

We still had some pickles and jams left over from last year as well, so we will try to eat through those quickly and then enjoy this year’s preserves.  We also canned 14 quarts of beef stock so far and will be canning more.  It makes me feel very good to know that the basement is filled with such delicious foods and that all of the time and effort I put into the garden is going to pay off nicely.

Oct 16 / Michael

Hatching Chicks

Every year or so, we’ve been ordering chicks from hatcheries, such as Murray McMurray.  We usually get some layers and some meat birds, plus throw in the various duck, goose or turkey.  We tend to lose layers to natural predation (the blasted fox!), so need a regular replenishment even if we aren’t doing meat birds.  Since we’re going to be up to our eyeballs in meat this year (two cows, lots of lamb), we decided to skip meat chicks and turkeys this year.  But we only had 10 laying chickens and only one rooster, so we were still concerned we’d need more layers before long.  We had the idea to incubate our own eggs.  The price is right (our own layers can provide the fertilized eggs), we would just need an incubator (a one-time expense).

When considering which incubator to buy, I looked at everything from homemade designs (which I decided not to pursue) to the high-end home models such as those from Brinsea.  When incubating eggs, it’s important to keep the temperature and humidity at certain levels and rotate the eggs several times a day. Starting at the low end are still-air incubators, which simply have a manually-adjustable thermostat.  In the mid-range, incubator’s add fans to make the temperature more even throughout.  Automated egg turners are available on some models and the highest end models offer automated humidity control.  The Octagon 20 ADVANCE EX digital egg incubator looked so cool (pretty much automating everything), but at more than $400, I decided that was just too much money to justify.

Hatching Chicks

After considering the options for a while, I decided to go with the simplest still-air incubator and manage the egg-turning and humidity myself.  I picked up the Farm Innovators Model 2100 Still Air Incubator from Amazon for less than $50.  I also added a digital thermometer and humidity monitor to keep in the incubator to help me make sure I was maintaining the temperature and humidity correctly.

The basic rules for hatching chicken eggs are these (other species will have different temp/humidity/duration):

  • Maintain temperature at right around ~100° F (I’ve heard it recommended to go with 102° F for still-air incubators, which is what I went with)
  • Maintain humidity between 40-50% until hatching, then ~65%
  • Turn eggs three times a day, stop turning after day 18
  • Eggs should hatch starting on day 21, but may take several days longer to complete hatching

I charted all the values, which helped me remember to rotate the eggs three times each day.  I drew X’s and O’s on the eggs, so I could keep track of which ones were rotated each time.

Hatching Chicks

I started 30 total eggs on September 5, 2013.

On day 9, I candled the eggs and saw that many (if not all) of them were viable and growing (in the image below, the dark spot and veins indicate a viable embryo). I could more easily candle the white eggs, the brown eggs were mostly opaque to me.

Hatching Chicks

On day 21, we were hearing odd noises coming from the incubator (chirping and tapping). On day 22, the first eggs were cracking open and chicks were hatching.

Hatching Chicks

That same day, our first chick was completely out of his/her egg.

Hatching Chicks

They started hatching pretty quickly.

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

The egg hatching project was shared with my daughter, who was thrilled the whole way. She helped turn the eggs and take care of them since we started collecting the eggs from the coop to set.

Hatching Chicks

By day 23, more chicks were out and they were starting to dry off. We’ve never done this before so we were very nervous about what to do and when to move them to the brooder. I guess I shouldn’t have been too nervous about this, because commercially hatched chicks are shipped airmail and somehow survive. All I needed to do is move them 10 feet across the room to their brooder when they were dried off and able to move around on their own (they need to be able to move around on their own, so they can move towards or away from the heat source in the brooder as they feel necessary — without that, they may freeze or cook to death if they find themselves stuck in one spot).

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

And here are the chicks in their brooder a couple weeks after they hatched, looking happy and as normal as any chicks we’ve ever had.

Hatching Chicks

Finally, today we moved the chicks from the basement of the house (where they were starting to smell) to an enclosed area in the chicken coop.  They’ll have a heat lamp out there and lots more space, so I think they’ll like it.  The children helped with the move.

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

Hatching Chicks

This was a pretty good experience. We set 30 eggs. 18 live chicks were put in the brooder. 1 chick died half-way out of its egg.  1 chick died after emerging.  3 eggs looked like they might have died very late.  7 eggs looked to have no action, or died early on. I’d definitely do more chickens, but would also consider ducks and geese (especially if we can collect eggs in the spring). As far as automation, the only thing I think would be helpful would be the automatic turner, but that’s only a matter of convenience. The manual model was completely sufficient to task.

This was definitely a fun project, but practical besides.  Since we started the eggs, the fox got two more of our chickens, including our rooster.  If we’d waited any longer, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all.  Phew!