Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Yes.  I'm into creative titles these days.

I can't believe my blogging has precipitously dropped off these past few months.  When I was homeschooling both kids, I would oftentimes take a few minutes in the morning to at least start a post.  Now that Akea is attending public school, it's a rush to get everyone out the door to drop her off, and she comes home with plenty of homework, most of with which she needs help.

And having Charlie at home, by himself, means he needs more attention from me.  It's just the way things are rolling these days.

From a homesteading perspective, things are slowing down, but I have been attacking some projects inside the house.  So right now, our life looks like this:

1. The steers go to the butcher tomorrow.  When we bought them, we knew they weren't pets, but because we raised them from their first week of life, we've grown a bit attached.

2. The younger hens are almost six months old and have been laying small, pullet eggs for about a month.  We're happy that the flocks merged without a hitch, and the goats are enjoying being pastured with them as well.  Our thought is that the goats provide a degree of predator protection for the chickens.

3. The garden has been done for a while.  The no-till idea didn't mix well with my fatigue and the drought this summer, so Byron will till it in the spring and we will try raised beds.  I have a bit of lettuce in pots.

4. We need to prep the hoop house for the chickens, which involves clearing it out, protecting the sides where they'd dug under last year, and making a small access door into the garden.  We want them to be able to go outside when they want, instead of being cooped up (literally) all winter.

1. I painted the kitchen and large common area at the back of the house, and have begun to work on re-upholstery again.  Soon to come is painting and/or refinishing a few pieces of furniture, then organizing.  Lots of organizing.

2. Byron plans to repair the floor and damaged joist in the downstairs bedroom, and lay hardwood flooring.  Part of the holdup has been figuring out exactly how to reconfigure the bathroom, but I think we have finally made our decision...we're keeping it simple and not tearing up and rebuilding walls.

3. My Nutrimill died!  I believe the motor burned up.  However, I have to give props to L'Equip, the company that makes the machine.  They told me to send it in, and they're fixing it free of charge.  Totally took my word for it that I'm the original owner, too, and told me not to even worry about sending in the receipt.  In all this, a big thanks to my friend, Katey, who has let me borrow her hand mill!

In all this, we are trying to figure out some ways to streamline the homesteading aspect of our lives.  Raised beds will hopefully be easier on me, and Byron would like to set up some semi-permanent electric wire paddocks for whenever we get more cows.  Any by the way, we are going to try to get a couple heifers (young, female cows) that we can breed, which will be much more sustainable than buying calves.

I will be back to update from time to time, but my guess is that it won't be as frequent as it has been in the past.  As our kids grow, they're beginning to show interests in different activities.  For Charlie, it's soccer and guitar.  Akea is interested in basketball and drama.  True, this seems contrary to the homesteading lifestyle to a degree, but we are trying to find that balance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

There's No Place Like Home (Processing)

Even if, at our best, we only processed six chickens per hour, it was so good to be home!

Over the past couple weekends - and a couple evenings during the week - we processed our last batch of broilers for the year.  With over 70 chickens that needed to make it into the freezer ASAP, we decided to purchase some low-cost equipment so we could process them in our own backyard.  In the past, we would have travelled about twenty miles to another farm with said chickens and two very bored children in tow.  Even though our equipment is more rudimentary and the going was slower, we had happy kids, happy chickens (well, up until...you know), and showers.  All that was missing was a pumpkin latte from Starbucks at the end of it all.

Here's our set-up, along with approximate purchase prices:

Stainless steel table, 2'x4', used for evisceration.  Approximately $125 on eBay.

Polar Ware 30-quart stainless steel pot from Amazon, $67.40.  Underneath is a Bayou Classic outdoor gas cooker, $51.80.

Drill attachment plucker, approximately $30 from eBay.

Large cooler, which we used as a chill tank.  I can't recall the price, but many people have coolers like these already.  And see the green bucket?  When we were only processing maybe five birds in an evening, we would just chill them in FREE food-grade buckets we snagged from Chick-fil-A.  Oh, the irony.

Grand total? $274.20, not including the items we already had on hand.  Not too shabby, when you consider the professional stuff can climb up to the likes of $8,000.

One thing we do want to change is the plucker.  The little drill attachment worked, but I had to pluck whatever it couldn't (wings).  Not an issue if you're processing about five birds, but when you run into a couple or few dozen, you really need something more efficient.  We may try finding something used or attempt to make our own next summer.

We also could have purchased an aluminum turkey pot with temperature control, but we're a little leery of aluminum and its leaching abilities.  So Byron kind of got into the groove of knowing when to turn the valve up to heat the water, and when to turn it back down.  We kept a thermometer on hand to ensure that the water would always be between 140 and 150 degrees.

And this all wouldn't have happened without the Cornish X chicken.  
However, we may try Freedom Rangers next time, as they are much more hardy. You can do everything by the book, but some of the Cornish X will develop leg problems and simply refuse to move. Leg problems are caused by anything from genetics, to a chicken getting scratched by his buddy, and suddenly deciding he just. doesn't. want. to. move. anymore.  

And that's when home processing equipment really comes in handy.  Just saying.

I'm linking up with the Homestead Barn Hop!

Monday, September 24, 2012

In Which I Make a Trendy Wreath

The primary reason for making a trendy wreath is this bizarre need I have to create things with my hands.  It's not pretty when I go for long spells without making anything.  Oh, sure, I make meals every day and bake all the time, but that just doesn't do it for me.  I need instant visual gratification.

So I made one of those deals with the yarn wrapped around and around and around a straw wreath.  The whole thing cost me about $4 since I had the fabric and buttons already.  I like to think of it as autumn with a touch of elegance (work with me here, okay?).

I found that it was a relatively easy project, but I did originally use a muted yellow for the "flowers" and found that to be too much color.  I also found that the glue gun was the best thing I ever bought and that along with Google Earth, winding yarn around a wreath gives me vertigo.

Made by me, inspired HERE by Homemade Ginger. 

Since this cost me all of $4 (hint: Joann Fabrics takes multiple, competitor coupons), I'm linking up with Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #46!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Maybe by then the dust will have settled a bit.

But in the meantime, here's a small peek into what we've been up to:

Making applesauce.  I think I had the heat too high in the pressure canner for this round, though I'm open to suggestions.

Freezing a bushel of corn, and now persimmons.

Inventing weapons.

Remember "business in the front, party in the back?"  Byron's beautiful landscaping, completed this summer.

Baby chick, growing up.

Our biggest change, and a tough decision...sending Akea to public school.  She's adjusting well.
This may not seem like much, but somehow, days are full with homeschooling Charlie, wrestling with finicky bell waterers, baking, cooking, more baking, preserving, homework, cleaning.

I'm linking up with Rural Thursdays and Farmgirl Fridays.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Table, Farmhouse Style

A couple weeks ago I donned one of those heavy-duty air filtration masks that made me look like a cool chick on a DIY show (minus the designer jeans that never seem to get dirty).  I wish I had a photo (maybe), but I do have a couple photos of the farmhouse table we had made, finally finished!

I used four coats of Waterlox, the final being a satin finish.  The center is the leftover heart pine flooring we couldn't use in the house; the frame is walnut from an old beam.

The legs are also walnut, reclaimed from an old table.
One project down...many more to go.

I'm linking up with Rural Thursdays and Farmgirl Friday!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reclaimed Projects

Since we put hardwood floors in the back of the house in April, our renovation has been somewhat on hold.  I won't bore you with the details as to why, but if you've ever worked on your own home renovation, you probably understand.  Because by the way, this isn't exactly Sarah's House.  Sarah gets to hire contractors and go shopping for cool fabrics.  We do most of the dirty work ourselves and scrounge for deals to fit a very tight budget, so it's east to get burnt out.

Lately, however, we've reclaimed some of our projects.  And I don't use the word "reclaimed" lightly:

A reclaimed mantle we bought a couple years ago, and repaired and painted last week.  To be installed in Akea's room.

The new dining room table.  This was Byron's brainchild, after he struggled with what to do with the leftover heart pine flooring that had been original to the house. 
If you're new to the blog, we had to rip up the flooring in the hall, parlor, and dining room in order to repair some serious termite damage.  We were able to reuse the flooring in the hallway and parlor, but because of the termites, we didn't have enough for the dining room.  So we've been tripping over the extra flooring for two years, until Byron had this fabulous idea.  Why not use it for a 9' long dining room table?  So we contacted a carpenter we'd randomly met a couple years ago, and he used reclaimed walnut legs, an old walnut beam, and our flooring to make us the ultimate farmhouse dining table!  I just put the first coat of Waterlox finish on it yesterday, so more photos to come.

Reclaimed walnut legs.

On one side of the table, we'll place this church pew from the early 1800s.  Originally almost 10' long, the carpenter cut it down so it would fit the table.  The seat will be Waterloxed (hey, I made a new verb!) and we'll paint the sides and back.  Byron wants brown and I want an accent color.

Another view of the bench.

Remember my re-upholstery project??  Here's the chair I finished.  I never managed to get to the matching chair or the sofa.  But there's always next year...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Very Small "First"

We've experienced a lot of "firsts" in the past year.  Byron and I didn't grow up homesteading/farming.  Heck, I don't even think I had a garden until I was married!  We've raised chickens for meat and eggs, are raising two steers for meat, were given goats, planted fruit trees, created The Biggest Garden Ever (which since has become The Garden of Everlasting Weeds), and the list goes on.  And didn't I just see that July was declared the hottest July in the history of Julys?

Sometimes, you can have too many "firsts" at once, even if they do take place over the course of a year. 

But then in the midst of feeling overwhelmed, you get a first like this:

One of our Rhode Island Red Hens got broody.  So we thought we'd stick a few (three) eggs under her and see what happened. 
Byron is great at telling when an egg is fertilized.  Basically, he grabs some freshly-laid eggs, a flashlight, and disappears into Charlie's closet for a few minutes.  It's a talent I can't mimic or explain.  He was right on all three counts, and here's how we know:

Egg #1: I accidentally collected Egg #1 and stuck it in a carton, in the fridge.  I'd had a brain fart and thought we had put two eggs under Broody Hen, not three.  Thankfully, Byron caught my mistake, and of course he had to go crack it open to see what was inside.  Let's just say that's not the only chicken I accidentally killed that week, but more on that later.

Egg #2: This egg hatched today, but the chick was dead.

Egg #3: This egg hatched today, and the chick was alive.  Here's Baby Chick with Mama Hen:

We placed them in the brooder, away from the other hens.  Any ideas on how long we should leave them in there?  Byron found the chick outside of the nest box initially, so we were a little concerned about leaving them with the other hens.
So we'll see how well Baby Chick does.  Mama Hen seems to be getting the whole mom thing.  She's even abandoned three other eggs we put under her to take care of this little one.  Okay, so maybe that's not optimal parenting, but we're talking about a chicken here. (UPDATE: As of last night, she was sitting on the eggs again and had Baby Chick tucked under her wing.)

Before I sign off, a lot of people have asked me what it means to have a broody hen.  Here's what I know about it:

1. Something kicks in (hormones??) to drive a hen to sit on the nest box ALL THE TIME.  She'll only get up maybe once a day to eat and drink.  This means she's broody.  She wants to be a mom.
2. When a hen gets broody, she clucks a lot, especially when she's off the nest.  It's like some sort of chicken paranoia.
3.  You'll also notice that her feathers get ruffled, literally.  She looks like a mom, and moms have no time to groom in the morning.  Kind of like this:

Mama Hen bristles at me and my camera.
4.  Eggs take 21 days to hatch.  They really do need to be at a pretty consistent temperature, so if Broody Hen gets confused and goes and sits on some other eggs, you may want to move her or the eggs so that the eggs can incubate.  Watch your fingers; she'll bite!
5. Mark the eggs.  We made a small "x" with a Sharpie, but it might be better to put the date on the eggs so you can know when to expect your little hatchlings to, well, hatch.
6. From what I've read, the death rate of new chicks hatched this way is pretty high, so don't be disappointed or give up if it doesn't work the first time.

As always, thanks for sticking with me through this rather busy season!  I'm linking up with Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and Rural Thursdays!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Got Drought?

Every year, I begin a garden with visions of bushels of tomatoes, beans, corn, and squash making their way into my kitchen mid-summer.  Enough to can or freeze, and enough to share with friends.  Though this ideal never materializes exactly as I'd like, there's always excess of one crop where another crop fails. 

However, it's been almost three weeks (maybe more?) since we've had a long, soaking rain.  Our area has had some rain, but it seems to skip over our part of the county, sort of like the parting of the Red Sea...only not so much fun.  Weather follows patterns, and in the past we've avoided tornadic activity that would have otherwise sent us into the crawl space.  So that's the silver lining in this non-existent cloud. 

We love foraging for blackberries, but as hardy as they are, they've also been affected by the drought.

When you pair lack of rain with 100+ degree temps, leaky water barrels, and a 25+-year-old well (it's not one of those modern jobs that hit the fiery core of the earth), you begin to pick and choose what you save, and what you let go.

This pear tree is starting to drop its leaves.  Saving our fruit trees, most of which we planted in the spring of 2011, is a priority.

The strawberries look like they want to curl up and die.

The cucumbers produced, but everything was kind of white and bloated at one end.  I made pickles anyway.

Ah, corn.  Corn is my white whale.  And weeds.  Seriously, if there's going to be a drought, couldn't some of these weeds die??
So does this drought mean I give up gardening?  Of course not, but here are my thoughts on how I can be better prepared for another drought:

1. More diligence in storing water (i.e., check for leaks the first time it rains in the spring)
2. Create a less labor-intensive watering system.
3. Forge relationships with other gardeners so we can trade our excess.
4. Find reliable, local sources for food through farm stores and farmer's markets.  Buying by the bushel and setting aside some time to can or freeze produce will still save time and money this winter.

And in the meantime, I'll hope for a more forgiving summer next year.

How does your garden grow?

I'm coming out of summer hibernation and linking up with Rural Thursdays again!  Click here to visit the hosts, Two Bears Farm and A Rural Journal, as well as other fantastic blogs.

Rural Thursday Blog Hop

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Perspective, A Couple Weeks Later

I mentioned in my last post that life had become rather overwhelming.  For a couple weeks, I ran things alone here while Byron was chaperoning a student trip to Europe.  I went to Europe in graduate school and we both felt like this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him, and he spent much of his time taking photos and videos to share with us. 

Amid sickness (and we rarely get sick, so go figure), 100+ degree weather, the loss of three chickens, a violent storm that left many people without power for days, and a nasty computer virus, friends and family came to our rescue while Byron was away.  You know who you are, and we are so grateful to you.

During Byron's time away, I've been whittling away at my many responsibilities.  Homesteading has a romantic ring to it, but the reality of it can be a slap of mud to the face - literally and figuratively.  I'm happy we're raising much of our own food - don't get me wrong - but one homeschooling mom and a dad who works outside the home for much of the year can only handle so much.

Here's where I'd like to do some whittling:

1. Number of chicken flocks: Right now, we have four flocks.  We have our Cornish Cross we're raising for meat, and their time on earth is nearing an end.  However, we also have three old Barred Rocks and three guineas who wander around, almost thirty six-week-old Barred Rocks, and 18 one-year-old Rhode Island Reds (two died recently).  This makes for quite the little dance to do during morning chores and during the day to check on water.  We're hoping we can combine the young hens with the one-year-olds, and we may either eat or give away the old hens and guineas in the fall.

2. Water: Right now, I haul water in buckets placed in a wagon to the various animals throughout the day.  We'd like to dig a pond and figure out a pump system, but since we move our animals, I'm not sure if this would be any more efficient than what we already do.  The benefit right now is that I have no need for Jillian Michaels workouts.

3. Goats: We recently were given four Nigerian Dwarf goats, and while they are very sweet, they DO escape and they ARE extra work.  Case in point: we were rather late for some church responsibilities today because when we woke up, we found them wandering around the front yard.  And to be honest, I don't see myself becoming a master cheese maker one day; I see myself pursuing photography or another art form.  Byron wants to make a permanent, fenced-off area for them.  And while I don't mind having a couple goats, I'm not sure we need four.

4. Meals: I make all our meals from scratch, and while that is something I would never give up since you can't beat the nutritional value, I have decided to rotate the same. seven. meals. every. week.  I'm sure this sounds terribly boring, but to be honest, I don't enjoy cooking very much (though I do like to bake) and my family is rather picky.  So with seasonal variations, I shall venture forth into the overly chartered waters of pasta night, burger night, roasted chicken night, and so forth.

How do you simplify your life while trying to homestead?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Scissor Truss Eggmobile, Part II...and a Short Break

You've probably noticed that my posts have been spread a little thin these days (or maybe that's just my modus operandi?), so I wanted to let you know that while I have several ideas for posts swimming in my head (garden update, plumbing DIY, home and upholstery updates...to name a few), I'm going to leave you with a few photos of our Scissor Truss Eggmobile and take a week or two off from blogging.  As you probably know, springtime is a busy time for homesteads, and when you throw in some extra activities we've taken on, life can start to unravel. 

And if you have young children, you'll know that interruptions like breaking off curtain rods or just needing time with Mom can make focusing on writing a little bit difficult.

So please forgive the hiatus, and know that I will be back just as soon as we complete a few projects and get back into a manageable routine!

As usual, feel free to post comments and/or questions!

We have yet to enclose the ends, put up roost bars, hang the nest boxes, and install the bolts so we can actually haul this thing.  We're planning on tackling this Thursday evening.  Think we can get it all done???

A sense of scale.
Well, maybe I'll sneak back on here with some photos of the completed project...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Let Them Eat Toast

I need catharsis right now.  Or maybe just some sympathy.

I made this recipe for spiced pumpkin muffins with a streusel topping.  I highly recommend it, as it's been a pleasant part of my venture into soaking flour (you can read more about my dilemma here).  And it usually works great, like this:

Yesterday's nice, plump muffin.
Today, they looked like this:

I found walnuts at the bottoms of the muffins.  I think they got streuseled.

A few of them made it to the cooling rack, but we may be eating toast for breakfast.
I did do a couple things differently.  I was out of butter last night, so I soaked the flour only in kefir, not in the kefir/butter/honey combo.  But I've done that before and haven't had problems.  I also melted the butter shortly before adding it into the batter, so maybe I should have let it cool.  Not sure, but I do wish we had pigs!

I will, of course, try this recipe again since it's worked so well before and I like to compete against myself.  And I'd welcome any troubleshooting ideas!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Scissor Truss Eggmobile, Part I

After much blood, sweat, and trigonometry, we are ALMOST done with our modified version of the Polyface scissor truss eggmobile (i.e., portable hen house).  Click here to see a video of Joel Salatin's version.  Ours is a bit smaller and also enclosed, since we don't have a kick-butt farm dog to ward off predators at night.  Here are some photos of the project, followed by some after-the-fact concerns, per usual.

The base with one of the trusses.  This baby will (hopefully) move on skids.

Four little trusses, all in a row.  It's roughly 12' long by 8' wide.

Side bracing.  The key to structural integrity is to triangulate everything.  Again and again.

Chicken wire on the floor of the hen house will allow droppings to fall through.  We built a ramp down the middle, which you can see in the next photo.

Rafters and bracing.

We actually got it under roof last night, but it was too dark to take photos, so I'll include those in a later post.  But now for my concerns:

1. Our version is narrower and taller than Polyface's, which makes me worry about how and if it will turn.  Although most of the weight is at the bottom, I wish I'd made it shorter.  I designed it at this angle so we could fit the nest boxes in...though in the end, we could have used something else for nest boxes.  It's about 7' from ramp to peak.
2. I've heard that predators can tear through chicken wire, so I'm a little apprehensive about using it on the floors and to enclose the ends.  I know, I know, I'm contradicting myself.  The good news is that we haven't had any predator problems yet.
3. This was not the cheapest thing in the world to build, and it's really too big for our one little flock.  We're hoping to marry our current layers with our new chicks when they get big enough, but what if it they turn into the poultry version of the Montagues and the Capulets?

The good news is that it will shed snow well, we can use it for hay storage in the winter when the chickens are in the hoop house, and that I'm linking up with the Homestead Barn Hop! 

Click here or the button below to read some fantastic posts!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

so much depends...

upon a red wagon
that used to carry children

and now carries
garden tools
branches for the goats
buckets of weeds
chicken feed
kelp for the cows

How do you haul?

Rural Thursdays.  Check it out here.  And I promise, this is my last rip-off poetry attempt.  Probably.

Rural Thursday Blog Hop

Friday, May 25, 2012

Homestead Where You're Planted

I think about ways to save money a lot.  It's one of the reasons we're doing what we're doing.  But truth be told, there are a lot of ways out there to save money, couponing being one of the most popular.  I tried a bit of that, but like many people, can rarely find coupons for items - especially food - that I actually buy.

So I thought I'd start a series about frugal living to encourage others in leading healthy, full lives without going broke.  I'm cheating a bit on this first installment, because I recently submitted a guest post to Money Saving Mom and am providing a link to it below.  "Homestead Where You're Planted" is the original title, and will suffice as the title to this post as I mull over a catchy title for the series.  Sorry - I'm spent right now.  Let's just say that running over a pothole and ruining two tires is not going to be a money-saving topic I address.

But at least we can (grudgingly) have the repairs made, thanks to other ways we find to save.

In the meantime, click here to read my Money Saving Mom post: "Save Money by Skipping the Grocery Stores"!

I'm linking up with Rural Thursdays!

Rural Thursday Blog Hop

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm a Mama Hen Again

But at least I didn't have to sit on any eggs.  Take a peek at our new peeps:

Barred Rock.  We have 31, and two are probably roosters.  We find that the hatchery always sends a couple extra.  These will be our new flock of laying hens.  Maybe I'm imagining things, but they seem sweeter than the Rhode Island Reds we got last year.

Cornish Cross.  We ordered 60 and got 62.  These are rather delicate birds, prone to foot problems, but they make wonderful broilers and are ready to butcher in about seven weeks.  I know, it's hard to imagine looking at this cute little guy!

And here's Mystery Chick.  So far, so good, unlike last year's little terror.  You can read here about Napoleon, our little Dominique Dictator.  Our neighbors got chicks several weeks ago and their two Dark Brahmas looked just like this.

Though the anticipated early morning ride to the post office to pick these little guys up is honestly a lot of fun, we'd eventually like to find a more sustainable model to follow.  For instance, why not let the hens hatch out some eggs?  We haven't spotted any broody girls yet, but we're watching.  As far as meat birds go, Cornish X do not reproduce well, but are the quintessential American meat bird.  We've been thinking of trying Freedom Rangers at some point, which are more of a heritage breed, but need to research the possibilities of letting them breed, too.  And we're not quite ready to do that...

Any other spring chickens out there?  Click here or below to check out the Homestead Barn Hop!