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Jul 27 / Jamie

Baby Bull

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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.

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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.

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He was up on his feet within an hour and the kids all got to see him nurse before heading in for movies and popcorn.  It was an amazing birthday.  We also had chicks hatch that day.

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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.

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Jun 16 / Jamie

Painted Gourds

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This past summer we had a bumper crop of birdhouse gourds.  For whatever reason, they seem to grow really well in our garden.

Birdhouse gourds

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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.

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We sanded each of the gourds to make them smooth.  Steel wool seemed to work the best.

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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.

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We invited other 4-H members over after the gourds had been drilled and cleaned.  The kids had a blast painting them.

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We found places for them all to dry.

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I loved the way they looked on the rocks in the sun.

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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.

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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.

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May 22 / Michael

New Ducks

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.

Ducks and new duck house

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.

Ducks and new duck house

We put siding on and painted it to match our chicken coop.

Ducks and new duck house

The temporary run was a duck resort for a couple weeks.

Ducks and new duck house

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.

Ducks and new duck house

The kids seemed to find it a good opportunity to get soaked.

Ducks and new duck house

Ducks and new duck house

Soon the dock was ready for the duck house.

Ducks and new duck house

We moved the duck house over to the pond on our trailer, slid it onto the dock and secured it.

Ducks and new duck house

We moved the ducks into their new home.

Ducks and new duck house

Ducks and new duck house

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.

Ducks and new duck house

Ducks and new duck house

Ducks and new duck house

Ducks and new duck house

Ducks and new duck house

Apr 27 / Michael

Aldo Leopold Bench

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.

Measuring my cuts

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.

My helper

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).

Cut sides and legs

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.

Laid out for assembly

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.

Completed bench

Love the way it looks.

Completed bench

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.

Completed benches

Shopping List

  • 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

Steps

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Sources

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.