Friday, December 12, 2008

Chickens

Looking back through my blog, I see that I have hardly any photos at all of our chickens! So just because I think they deserve a little spotlight, this post is going to be nothing but photos of our wonderful flock that provides so much of our food (eggs).


Our Rooster there was crowned Best of Breed New Hampshire the year we first saw him at the Kansas State Fair. I contacted the man who had brought him up from Oklahoma to show at our Fair, and bought him to service our flock of Rhode Island Red hens. He is king of the hill around here - but a very good rooster. He really looks after and nurtures his hens, and most every egg is fertile.

This past spring, we let a broody hen set on several eggs that were produced by the cross with that rooster and our RIRs, and here are some of the beautiful young cockerels that came out of that match-up. (The pullets produced are nice too, but basically just look like any RIRs).








We actually have not yet decide while one of these three boys we want to keep, and which two should be sold or butchered. There are breeding points we like about each. We have decided to hold off until spring to make that decision for sure, to allow them to finish maturing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving


We had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal yesterday. It was a nice, but cool day, so we also got to enjoy some time outside.


The blessing of food included our roast duck (yes, our own ducks that we butchered), mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, cream gravy, dressing (or stuffing), green beans, macaroni & cheese (at my daughter's request), hot rolls, jellied cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and dump cake. We were stuffed :)

Hope all of you had a blessed holiday as well, with much to be thankful for.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mouse, Mice, Meese?

Our "south porch" is an glassed-in porch which used to be just a screened porch when I was growing up. Primarily it is a buffer between the cold outside, and the living room inside; and mainly we use it for storing tools, the chest freezer, dirty boots, odds and ends, and the livestock and pet feed.

Since we store livestock feed there, including grain for the chickens, the not-so-tight porch attracts a variety of varmints who want the feed. We used to keep a cat out there to help discourage that, but got tired of the havoc a cat can also cause on an enclosed porch.

With cooler weather, we had heard an increase in "critter" noises, so Steven decided to put four mousetraps on the porch, to help catch those stealers of our feed. Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! - very soon those four traps were full. He "rewarded" the barn cats outside with treats of dead mice. Repeat that scene many times in rapid progression. Steven's traps caught 35 mice by the end of that day! 44 by the end of the next day! And finally, about 54 mice all together before the run stopped. I guess we got them all for now - the traps have been silent for about four days. I was just amazed at the sheer numbers.

* * * * *

Walking back from the corral the other night, Steven suddenly said to me, "Is that chicken all right?"

I said, "what chicken?" (because he was blocking the view of it until we got closer).

Then I saw it and said, "Oh no. That's not normal."

There was a chicken, hanging upside down, from the top of the outhouse. (Remember from an earlier blog that our outhouse is lying on it's side on a trailer, as we work on rebuilding it. So the "top" is currently on its side).

It appeared the chicken had jumped or flown up, probably to get some insect or treat it spied, and somehow caught its toe on one of the nails protruding from the old rafter. That flipped it upside down, and there it hung, thinking it was caught, not fighting it at all. Just hanging there upside down by a toe. At first I thought maybe she was dead, but then she cocked her head to look at us. Steven went over and gently unhooked her foot. She then really came to life, squawking loudly and flailing her wings, as he dropped her to the ground, and she took off at a run, unharmed.

It was quite funny looking, and again I wish I had taken a photo, but I was more concerned with getting her loose at the moment. She couldn't have been there too long, and still had the balance to take off as fast as she did when put back upright.

* * * * *

We had an interesting Tuesday, when I was off work for Veterans Day. But I will have to post about that some other time, when I have photos to go with it. Look in the future for a post called "The Cage Contest" and I'll show you what kept us busy that day!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thankful for the Wind (i.e. Wild Ride)

So Steven and I took the old '69 GMC pickup we use as a farm truck over to the Carp's to pick up a load of straw. I only loaded 14 bales, as I didn't want to stack it too high in the heavy NW wind for the drive home.

Driving north down the county blacktop about 10 miles from home on the trip back, the steering wheel of the truck suddenly came totally off in my hands. (I know - you usually only see things like that in Indiana Jones movies)LOL. I had no ability to steer whatsoever. I had been going slowly, so I just gradually braked firmly, and the NW wind pushed the truck gently off the road, into the grassy ditch and partially up into a newly planted wheat field. I was blessed that this was an area of road that, even though there are no shoulders, the ditches are gentle, and it is Kansas flatland. There was no damage at all to the truck, and the hay load rode fine.

The whole experience was actually quite hilarious. I had noticed there was much more "play" in the steering wheel than before, but I wrote off part of it to "just being an old truck" and thought I'd check it out more when we got home. But we didn't make it home before the nut holding the steering wheel to the shaft vibrated itself clear off, and I was left holding the wheel with a moving truck.

Many vehicles went by, but none offered assistance - and I imagine we just looked like we were an old farmer's truck "supposed" to be in that field. Two sheriff deputies who just happened to be passing by did stop to see what the problem was. When I laughingly showed him our now-detached steering wheel, they thought that was also quite funny and unusual. (They were a couple young officers, early 20s, I'd say. Glad to give them some humor for their day). They confessed to not being mechanically inclined or of any assistance, so they went on their way.

Steven and I worked on trying to get the wheel re-attached to the column for over 1/2 an hour before Steven finally got it figured out and back on. However, I had taken the tool box out of the truck to use for something else, so we had no way of fully tightening the nut again. I called a nearby friend, and he brought a wrench to help us get it tight. Then I just started the truck back up, drove down the length of the ditch for a ways to a field inlet, and then got back up on the road and drove home easily. That steering wheel is tighter now that it has been since I bought the truck! Guess I should have checked it earlier.

Sure wish I had thought to take a photo of our dilemma with my camera phone while we were in the ditch (I keep forgetting my phone has a camera on it).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Odds and Ends

We've enjoyed the Indian summer weather recently to use getting many chores caught up.

This weekend, we finally sold the billy goat, Jeffy. We had pushed to sell him before we were going to leave for vacation (so Grandma wouldn't have to deal with him while we were gone, in case he got out), but didn't get him sold. We had given up on that and about decided to keep him (but just keep him away from his daughters) when suddenly we got two calls at about the same time for him! He went to another local family who has a few more does than we do. I think he will serve them well.

Steven is thinking of perhaps looking for a Spanish buck, or a Spanish/Boer cross buck, next time we need a male. Currently our Jeffy had already bred our two adult does, so we don't need a billy for awhile.

We've worked (mostly Steven) on hand-removing all the thistles from the orchard area. This involves cutting down the plants, shoving them into a trash container, and then taking them to the burn barrel and burning them. We may not totally eliminate thistles for next year, but we will make a dent. And if we are diligent and do this several years, hopefully we will organically eradicate them in this way. That, and with the help of the goats...

Many other projects still to do as we ready for winter; digging the Outhouse hole, winterizing the windows and equipment; getting straw hauled in for the barns, etc. It's a never-ending list!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Loss of a Good Friend

The only thing I hate about dogs being considered man's best friend is that dogs don't live as long as we humans do.

Dogs have always had a special place in my heart. I'm much more a "dog" person than a cat person, etc. I've had a fondness for dogs since my early childhood. But I also learned early on to not let my heart get too attached; as it is heartbreaking when they go.

We've had scads of dogs on the farm -- up to 13 at a time at the height of it, and never lower than two resident dogs. Some have meant next to nothing to me, but a few hold special places in my memory and my heart. Benny, the old red long-haired retriever who was my best friend growing up; Princess, the german shepherd mama who birthed 11 pups right after showing up bedraggled at our door one day; Sheba, the rescued dog from the shelter, and others. And now written to the pages of my fond dog memories is Rodman, my beloved Great Pyrenees, who died of old age yesterday.

I had been in love with the Great Pyrenees breed ever since a neighbor's Pyr, Cujo, came to visit our farm one morning as my kids were loading onto the school bus. The kids and I adored him right off. The neighbors moved, but I always wanted a Pyr after that. So my eyes lit up in 1997 when I saw an ad in a local homeschooling newsletter saying a family needed to find a new home for their one year old Pyr. I called them up and shortly afterward, Rodman (named by them, not me) arrived on the farm.

I had much to learn about Pyrs. I got on internet mail lists and forums and group discussions. I learned all I could. Rodman, a true livestock guardian dog, loved to patrol -- he just didn't understand where the boundaries of his territory were. So it pained me when he disappeared one day -- and then I felt immeasurable joy when eight days later he came walking back into the front yard. That must have been quite a patrol!

After that we got a fence, so he would know the boundaries, but he still fiercely, yet gently, defended them. He knew friend and foe. The cats were allowed to snuggle up next to his heavy coat in winter; the chickens didn't even make him raise an eyebrow. But if a skunk or a rat got into the yard, he was a fierce bear, and made short work of them.

His low growl could be intimidating to strangers, but he really never harmed anyone, and loved people, and slobbering on them. I would hear his low rumbly bark throughout the night as he warned off the coyotes and anything else his ears picked up.

He hated thunderstorms -- a fear that got more intense as he aged. Whenever a storm was coming, he would be at the front door, pounding on the screen. We would allow him in, where he promptly took over the living room sofa -- all 150+ pounds of him, which stretched out its full length. But there he would happily snore until the storm passed; often making the entire interior of the house smell like wet dog.

I knew that at nearly age 12, Rodman was pushing the edge of the Pyrenees average life span of 10-12 years; although I never thought he would go before our German Shephard, Mickey, who is so very old, frail and can barely walk. On Sunday morning, Rodman refused to eat. Monday he was dead. I'm glad it was after I had arrived back from two weeks away, but I wish I had spent a bit more time with him on Sunday, my only day with him before his death. But he knew I loved him, and that he will always be a special memory. I remind myself he was just a dog; and I know better than to get attached to dogs. But I fail.

Monday, October 27, 2008

First Freeze

Last night was the first freeze of this fall. We scrambled to get the garden ready -- since we had just returned from two weeks away at the Feast (wonderful time!) It is supposed to get even colder tonight, before warming up again for a few days.

Mostly we had a multitude of green bell peppers to pick - of all sizes. Although our peppers were very slow to produce this year, they really took off in the last few weeks, and we've had more than we could imagine from six plants! The photo on this post is the pickings from one day just before we left for Feast. Since returning home, we had multiple times that many!

The turnips are looking wonderful (and the freeze shouldn't hurt them). We also cut our fall crop of leaf lettuce. We still have fall radishes and beets in the ground. We will just allow the green tomatoes on the vine to freeze, and call it a year on them. We still have several other things to do in order to properly "winterize" the garden -- mulch around the asparagus; harvest the horseradish, spread manure and the bedding from the chicken house, etc. There is much work to be done in the garden before the first snow falls.

While we were away camping for nearly two weeks, we took with us some of our crop of potatoes, onions and bell peppers, and that made for several excellent skillet meals over the campfire. It is wonderful to have the produce of your own land to enjoy and share!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ducks vs. Chickens

An interesting, friendly competition has arisen at the farm, between our chickens and our ducks.

Of course, the birds themselves are oblivious to the race -- so perhaps I should say it is a competition between Steven and his grandmother :)

Although the farm animals and workings all belong to Steven, his grandmother (my mother, who is 70) thinks of the chickens as her birds, since she's had a long history of raising chickens. (She raised and showed champion 4-H birds in her youth, showing them in local and state shows, and traveled around giving educational talks on chicken judging). Our chickens do seem to think they belong to her, and follow her everywhere she goes when she is outside -- sometime that is quite a comical thing to watch.

She loves her multiple-times-a-day outing to the chicken house to check for new eggs. Grandma will always come back in announcing how many she finds, and dutifully writes down a new slash mark on the calendar to keep track of laying rates.

Then the ducks started laying. Now, the ducks know they belong to Steven. Their laying habits are much more random -- and can make for some interesting mornings. Since they seem to lay mostly during the night/early morning hours when they are bedded down for the night, that means we sometimes find eggs in the most unusual places. We don't lock the ducks up at night - they bed down in the grass near the south side of the house. Some mornings, as I go out first thing (and it might be still dark), I have to watch my footing, as I might step on a duck egg! We have found them in the center of the driveway, near the garage, in the walking path, and other random places.

Anyway, back to the competition. Most days we were getting 5 or 6 eggs from our chickens, and one or two from the ducks. But suddenly the ducks increased their laying, and it was a tie game for awhile! A few times the ducks offered more eggs a day than our chickens! So now it is an interesting competition between Steven and his grandmother -- who won this day? Did the chickens lay more, or the ducks? I usually hear about it each evening. There are some days Steven thinks the ducks probably would have won, if he could only find where they hid their eggs! :)

Our this-season pullets in the chicken house should stay bearing soon, and that will make the chicken numbers increase again, I'm sure, as we have many more chickens than we do ducks.

But in the meantime, the competition has been great fun!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Silver Dollar City

Well, I know that I have reserved this particular blog for just happenings at the farm, but I can't resist a post about our wonderful weekend trip to Missouri.

We traveled with friends from here who also own a place on Table Rock Lake. Believe it or not, at age 47, I still had never yet been to Silver Dollar City or the Branson area, even though it is only about five hours from here.

We spent one entire day at Silver Dollar City, from about 9 to 10 AM through the night show which began at 7 PM. It was awesome. Their harvest festival was going on; and although there were crowds of people, there weren't so many as to make it difficult to navigate. I'm glad I was with people who had been there many times, however, or I would have become lost in the layout of the place.Amanda, Steven, and Me

I especially enjoyed all the craftsmen. Woodcarvers, glass blowers, basketmakers, coopers, blacksmiths, etc. Many times we would see an item and think "I could make that!" What great ideas they give, using old time skills that are nearly lost in America. The music shows (we saw two while there) were both fantastic - excellent singers and performers. We enjoyed our own music with the sing-along in the little church chapel, as well!

Steven and Amanda were with me. My other son, David, could not get off work to join us for the weekend. There was a lot of walking and we were very tired, but the weather was gorgeous and everything went very well. We even found time over the weekend to get out on Table Rock Lake in our friends' boat for awhile, and just relax on the mirror-calm water.

All in all, a very beautiful and relaxing weekend with family and good friends.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Camping and Fall Chores

It has been a gorgeous week weather-wise here, and I just wish I had more time outdoors to enjoy it!

Steven and I set up the old Coleman cabin tent in the back yard. We are airing it out, repairing it, and preparing it for our camping trip to Missouri in October. He repaired a few minor holes in the vinyl, and I attempted to stitch shut a few small rips in the window netting. We still need to scrub it down good with a mild detergent and rinse it off (it must have been put away wet last time); then it should be ready to go. We probably haven't used this particular big tent of ours in nearly 10 years. It's an "oldie but goodie."

Some fall garden crops were started by Steven a couple weeks ago - turnips, beets, some fall salad greens. Just a couple days before we got that 5 inches of rain. The turnips are up well - but the beets are very slow to germinate. Whether we get much all depends on how soon the first frost rolls around. The weather has been strange this year, so it's anyone's guess.

But it is definitely feeling like fall, and I feel like the year has just flown by. It is again time to start getting the house ready for the oncoming cold of winter. Trees are dropping their leaves and turning color; the nights are cool. So much to do and so little time to get it done.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And Even More Pears


Yes, we are still picking them up daily. I need to get busy canning. This is Steven holding one evening's crop.

Got the idea this weekend to maybe take some of the pear sauce we made in the slow cooker, and make a "cobbler" or "crisp" dessert dish with it. Plan to try that this week.

This is also Kansas State Fair week. We attended the opening day (Friday the 5th) and really enjoyed it, as well as had beautiful weather for our visit. We also love touring the livestock barns, and the poultry/rabbit building. Bought goodies in the 4-H building, where they sell the baked goods that were judged. Looked at livestock fencing and wood burning stoves. There is just so much to see!

We will probably go back to the Fair tonight. Had planned it for later in the week, but it is supposed to starting raining late today, and continue with rain for several days.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pear! And More Pears!

One day's pickings.

So here's the background story: My grandfather had a 100+ tree orchard north of the house. Most of it was planted around 1961 (the year I was born). Over the years, he kept a hand-printed chart of the orchard - which varieties he had planted where, and how they did, whether fruitful or not.

Grandpa lived until 1986. In the early 90s, a huge storm came through that killed most of the orchard, and I had the area mostly bulldozed to clear it out and start over. I left two trees in the orchard - one Bartlett pear that anchored the northeast corner; and one young small pear tree that was growing up in the northwest corner (the original whole north line was pear). On grandpa's orchard map, that corner had been a "Seckel" pear, which he had cut down himself and marked as "barren" on the map. But apparently it was resilient and grew back from the root. It shaped into a beautiful looking tree, with heavy blooms in spring, and beautiful reddish leaves in fall. But it has never had much in the way of actual fruit. We left it because it is a very pretty tree.

Well, this weird weather year of our ultra-late spring, very cool June, and much more cool days and rain than any normal Kansas summer, appears to have finally been the perfect year for production of Seckel Pears. And man! Has it ever made up for all those unfruitful years! I have never seen a tree so loaded with fruit.

According to all we have found Seckel Pears are the "candy" variety of the pear world. Very very sweet, yet very small -- just snacking size; about one-third the size of a regular full pear.

We have picked up pears (we wait for the windfall) every day this week, and then hand sort them into the best ones for eating now; the greener ones to ripen a few days; and the blemished ones, which we give to the chickens. We have pears everywhere at the house!

I would like to maybe attempt pearsauce or pearbutter, but it takes quite a bit of time, and these very sweet pears don't keep many days, so I'm hoping we don't lose too much to spoilage. There are still thousands up on the tree itself, so this should make for an extremely busy week!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Duck Nest!


Well, we have found that ducks usually don't lay all that many eggs in a month, and they tend to chose different spots to lay on any given day.

But recently when one of our Cayuga females kept disappearing for several hours a day, we were pretty sure she'd found a hide-away place to lay. We searched for several days, but could not figure out where she was dropping eggs.

One evening Steven just happened to find it -- it was very well hidden, although not 10 feet from the house! Nestled up against a tree truck and behind our current bushes, she had actually taken time to build a complete "nest"! In it were 11 eggs already!


We left it a couple days to see if she would actually "set" enough to incubate them, but she abandoned the nest, so we eventually gathered the eggs (but now we know where to look for new ones!

As you can see the duck eggs are gradually getting a little lighter in the shell color than the first ones I posted. They are more of a dirty gray color now.

And just because I like photos, I'll end with a shot of one of Steven's green bell peppers from the garden!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Busy Weekend

My legs got plenty of exercise this past week, as we spent most of a day viewing events at Yoder Heritage Day.

Yoder is a predominantly Amish and Mennonite community near us. We always enjoy watching their demonstrations of horse-drawn farm equipment, their buggy races, and especially eating their cooking! We started with the pancake feed in the morning; purchased homemade pie from their bake sale to take home; enjoyed the lengthy parade down main street; visited most all of the booths; cheered at the horse fun show and the mutton bustin' competition for the kids; and rooted for our favorites at the buggy races. (Although they didn't really race their buggys - those are too top-heavy. Most of them raced buckboard wagons or smaller carts. One even took the curve too fast and overturned, but luckily was not hurt)

I didn't take any photos there to share with you, out of respect for the beliefs of the Amish people, who prefer to not have their photos taken. But we came home happy, sun-burned, muscle sore and exhausted. :)

Sunday afternoon was a free day at the Sedgwick County Zoo, and Steven had been anxious to go, because he wanted a look at their rare sheep breeds in the "Children's Farm" portion of the zoo. We also got the name of a contact person for when they have extra livestock to sell off; which was our main objective for the trip. But while there, we toured the entire zoo, and it was really quite nice weather for such an outing -- it rained in the morning, but that kept things cool and we had an umbrella. Once the area started filling up with more people than we like, we called it a day and headed home.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Outhouse Tipping

Yes, I know this topic is worthless without pictures :) Hopefully I will take a couple of photos this week to add to this post.

Usually, tipping an outhouse is considered to be a teenage prank. However, we "tipped" ours last night quite on purpose -- and what a chore it was!

As I've mentioned before, one of the "to-do" projects on our list is doing some major work on our bathroom, as the floor is rotting out and causing problems with the toilet. (Such is the upkeep of a very ancient house). We need to rip out part of the floor and re-do it. In the meantime, we will "need a place to go", as we only have one bathroom in our large house.

Our outhouse has been there as long as I can remember, and was even used daily up until the mid 1950s when the grandparents finally got indoor plumbing. It was used periodically after that, as we often lose power or water, etc; and it makes a great backup. But for the last 25 years or more, it sat mostly empty - storage for stuff, etc. The floor rotted out of it and it somewhat sank into the sandy loam. Grandpa had long since filled in the "potty hole" back when he was alive.

So we are trying to get the outhouse ready for our use during reconstruction. The roof is basically gone, but the walls are still intact. In order to begin work on this, we needed to move the privy from its sunken location and do repairs to the bottom boards.

First, it took several days to clear the area around it to give us working room; and clean years of stuff out of the inside. I'll admit I was very skeptical of Steven's plan as to how to engineer this move, but as usual he proved he is smarter than me :)

I have a small flatbed trailer (was a golfcart trailer for someone years ago) that is about six foot by eight foot. We aired up the tires on it and pushed it into position in front of the outhouse. Propped the tongue of the trailer way up so the tail of the trailer was on the ground at the shed. Then Steven and I pushed and shoved, and shoved and pushed (which was tricky, because the outhouse wanted to twist to the west) and "tipped" the outhouse right onto the trailer. Then we hooked the trailer up to my old truck, to "hold" it into position for now. Steven will try to work on repairing some of the boards and replacing the rotted ones, as it lies on this trailer.

Then, hopefully, we can place it in a new location and finish working on the inside of the privy, building a new seat area and getting it ready to use.

I will try to post photos of this process as we go along.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics

Not a lot to add recently, but wanted to update the blog anyway.

Although there is much to do, we can't resist enjoying a bit of the 2008 Summer Olympics on television. We rarely watch any television at all, and especially not during the summer when there is so much work to do; however, the Summer games only come every 4 years (we aren't into the Winter Olympics quite as much); and only for a few days, so we feel it is worth the break to enjoy them while we can.

Steven especially likes watching the track & field events and the gymnastics, I think. Probably because he used to be quite a runner, and was very good in track events. Solo sports like that allow you to really push yourself to a personal best.

Watching the games has not been a waste of time; we are finding small things we can do inside while viewing the games. Steven has been spending each evening shelling out dried beans. He planted some varieties from Seed Savers and is hand shelling and sorting them now into groups of 1)seed for next year, 2)ones to cook for food during our winter. It has taken him hours to shell all the ones he harvested.

Since we don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV, our Olympic viewing is limited to about 3 hours prime time network each evening, on the days there are events of interest. It is great to watch these young people, in top physical condition, strive to perform their very best.
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Today is my daughter's 19th birthday, and my second son's 21st birthday was on Monday. However, they are both living away from home, and working lots of hours, so I haven't had a chance to spend any time with them this week to celebrate. I think this is the first year we haven't all been together for their birthdays. That makes me a little sad.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hot!!


Well, having grown up on this place without ever having air conditioning, people are always amazed that we survive Kansas summers. I have always felt that if my grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather could live here without needing air conditioning, then I certainly can too!

However, for the most part, this particular summer has been blessedly rainy and cool so far this year, until this week.

We finally got into "real" summer weather these past few days with temps over 100 and a heat index much higher than that. Our severe heat advisory is mostly in affect because it has been such a rainy summer, that the humidity is extremely high for this time of year. So while temps are in the 100 to 102 range, the heat index is near 110.

There isn't a lot you can do in this type of weather, except endure your way through it. It's too hot to get much work done, and it is frustrating to have to put off projects. We are too fair-skinned to risk being out for hours in the sun. Too hot to cook in the kitchen either; but there are lots of cool food options, at least.

However, we did spent part of our weekend helping a dear friend move -- and we were pretty exhausted and dripping wet with sweat by the end. Most of the rest of the days we just kept ensuring that all the animals had plenty of fresh, cool water, and we took it easy. The chickens don't like the heat, but find shade in the tree grove; the ducks seem to take it okay, just hang around the water; but amazingly the heat doesn't seem to faze our goats at all. They act like it is the same as any other day.

Actually, I prefer these blistering days of summer over the bitter cold of our winters. For Kansas summers, these types of days and usually limited in number, and not to hard to cope. But for the winter, the cold can seem to drag on for weeks, and the more hours of darkness, along with the cold, cold house, can sure make winter feel like forever.

Weatherman says the heat will let up in two days. Then in might bring some more blessed rain and maybe temps in the 80s! Praise the Lord!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Black Eggs

So what do you get when you own black (Cayuga) ducks? Black eggs!

We were surprise by our first two eggs from our young Cayugas this week. We haven't tried them yet to see if we can discern any taste difference between our chickens' eggs and the duck eggs.


All the ducks have grown leaps and bounds since we got them as chicks this spring. As you can see in this photo, the male Cayuga has the beautiful luminescent green on his neck. The three ducks (he and his two females) are inseparable.




The other six ducklings we have are nearly full grown already. It will be time to butcher the two males soon (Steven plans to only keep the females of this batch). I've never dressed out a duck before and am a little apprehensive of the whole thing, as I'm afraid it will be more difficult than doing a chicken; but we will see.
We haven't sold our billy goat (buck) yet, which we are hoping to do soon, because we want to keep his daughters and not have them breed back to their father.


The young goat girls are growing like weeds, and are quite cute while their small horns are growing. One of them is especially affectionate and fond of people, even though we are trying hard not to allow them to act like "pets". They are definiately livestock, but I'll be the first to admit goats have much more personality than the sheep I raised growing up. These goats often act just like dogs.


Daughters and Mama












I dislike trying to format within the parameters of this website; but I'm going to see if it will let me upload a video to share. This is Steven being "loved on" by his goat herd (they always seem to think poking you with their horns is a sign of affection) :)


video

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This and That

I guess yesterday the south meadow caught fire when it was getting cut for prairie hay.

This meadows borders us on the south; and used to be our property (up until 1994) so we will think of it as ours ;) but it is all native grass leading up to the big river.

The leasee was cutting the high prairie grass for hay and I guess his swather exhaust had become too hot (he had cut the alfalfa field across the road just before this). Even though the grass was quite green in color and didn't look "burnable", it caught on.

Steven ran down there on foot, and the guys were trying to put it out. The township fire department came as well, hauling water. Basically everyone (including Steven) just moved hay back and stomped fire until they got it all under control. (they were doing this in 100 degree heat). Could have been much worse if it had jumped the fence. As it was only a circle about 75 yards burned.

These two photos I took last night from the camera on my cell phone. We rode the bicycles down there after I got home. (the tree row in the FAR background - right side - is where our house is)

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Steven's new peach tree, planted just last fall, has two peaches on it. That's amazing for a first-year transplant. (Well, it only has one on it now, because Steven ate one of them yesterday).

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We roasted more squash and onions over the grill last night; along with a good piece of beef. It was a wonderful supper late after the day cooled off.

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Steven and I agree to make a list of major things we hope to accomplish yet this year before winter, prioritize them, then start throwing all of our daily efforts into getting them done. I hope that will help us stay more focused, help with time management, and give us a sense of accomplishment. We realize that other things could interrupt of course (like those escape artist goats); but at least we will never have to say "what shall we work on today?"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mid-Summer Blues

Even though this is the best season of the year (warm weather, home-grown goodies, etc.) I get the feeling we are both somewhat discouraged. Maybe it is just because we have so many projects lined up, and it seems to be taking them so long to get done. It's like having a huge too-big bite of chocolate cake in your mouth - it's yummy but suddenly you're afraid you'll choke because you can't chew it and enjoy it.

The frequent (and unusual) rains we've had this year had been great for plants - but that means for unwanted plants as well. We can't keep up with the weeds. While we are getting nice garden produce, the garden itself actually looks bad because we just can't keep up, even working on it daily. In addition, I'm way behind in mowing, so we don't have the 'picture-perfect' place we are striving for. I know our goal is to eventually have enough pasture animals to not have to worry about mowing at all (just use sheep, goats, etc.) but we are a long way at this point, from having enough animals to keep up with our acreage.

Plus we have major projects bearing down; like rebuilding the outhouse (so it can be used temporarily while we do structural changes on the bathroom inside the house) and fixing the lean-to shed next to the washhouse; putting up tons more fencing for the rotational grazing; painting the house; doing some dirtwork, etc. I think we see summer slipping quickly away, with not as much accomplished toward our goals of self-sufficiency as we had hoped. We really wanted to be off propane and be able to heat the house with wood heat only this year, and that process is not going to be in place in time.

I have to remind myself that God does know our struggles (Luke 12:22-28) and He will always provide our daily needs. I need to strengthen my faith and trust in Him that all will get done in His time, and I must have patience.

So to brighten this post a bit - I will end with a photo of yummy new potatoes.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Grillin' Time!

We finally had a gorgeous day (as Kansas summer days go) yesterday - high in the 80s, overcast, calm.

So I finally got the chicken that we butchered last Friday on the grill. In addition, Steven had used the perfect day to burn off a couple of large brush piles, and I oiled up several large potatoes, wrapped them in foil and buried them in the hot coals from his fires

And hour later we have a wonderful meal. Then took a walk for a good end to a perfect evening.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Winnowing the wheat

Taking the wheat that we gleaned a few days ago, Steven has been threshing it down and winnowing it to make it ready to grind into flour.

In these photos, he is near the final stage. Now he just needs to separate the rest of the chaff from the wheat, so he has the grains out in the open on a windy day. He lets them trickle through his hands and fall to the tarp, as the wind blows away the lighter chaff. He does this many, many times until the wheat is pretty much thoroughly cleaned of the non-kernel parts.


We haven't yet decided how we want to go about grinding it into flour. There is still much wheat we gleaned to get to this stage.

Last Friday (yep, Independence Day morning) we butchered the one Cornish-X chicken that Amanda had gained from her work and given to us. It was a little more laborious project than I had planned, and that was one FAT chicken, but it is done and in the fridge. I hoped to put it out on the grill last night, but the weather did not cooperate. Today, it is raining, so I don't know that it will get cooked this evening, either!

This is a photo Steven took of me when I was gutting the chicken carcass. He said with my hand inside it like that, it looked like I had a "chicken puppet"! :)

And I'll end with a photo of a beautiful sunrise the other day that greeted me in the morning. The alfalfa field across the road from our house had just been cut...

(this is not our field or our cutter. It is just right in front of us, so I wanted to capture the image)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ducks & Botulism

Well, a couple of our newer ducks were quite ill yesterday with what we believe was a type of botulism that affects ducks.

However, after separating them into a cage and giving them fresh food and water for a day, they seem to have recovered fine. With all the rain we've had these past two months, there is a lot of rotting vegetation and places that would harbor that bacteria. We cleaned out their "pool" thoroughly and cleaned all water dishes. Hopefully that will be the last of that problem for this year.

Seems like I always have a lot I want to post here, but find no time to get around to posting it.

There was quite a windstorm at the farm over the weekend, while I was gone to Missouri. It took out a very large tree limb from one of the front yard elms, and several smaller limbs. We spent most of yesterday evening with the chain saw cleaning that up. The goats thought it was a bonus, because every branch that still had leaves on it went into their pen, which they loved. Cut the biggest portion into firewood chunks.

The wind also played havoc with the neighbors alfalfa field, which is directly across the road from us out the front door. They had just cut and windrowed the field when the storm came up. It blew all their newly cut alfalfa south across the other road and into a wheat stubble field. Steven and I hope to glean some of that, since I know they won't bother with picking it up from there. We will probably go pick it up by hand tonight, because it is supposed to rain again tomorrow. The rest of the alfalfa, that was left in the original field, they windrowwed again several times to try to get it back together, then baled it yesterday and hauled it off.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gleaning

"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.... you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord your God."- Leviticus 19:9-10


We consider ourselves poor in this context, and all the area farmers were busily harvesting their wheat fields with their huge combines this week -- most times missing the edges and corners completely just because their huge machines can't turn or cut that closely to the edge. It is a waste, and will probably be burnt off when they burn stubble (another waste of straw) in order to hurriedly get the ground ready for their next crop.

So Steven and I gleaned the corners and the edges, as we could. We began Friday evening, and gleaned until near sunset. Then we did a different field on Sunday afternoon.

"When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle, on your neighbor's standing grain." - Deuteronomy 23:25


We actually found that was the easiest way to harvest anyway - just plucking the heads off. It was also easier to evaluate which were the better, fuller heads, and skip those that might show signs of mildew or emptiness.

Several months ago, when the bank where I work was clearing out some supplies and converting to some new processes, they unloaded thousands of muslin(?) fabric bags that used to be used for transporting coin. They are stamped with the bank name on the side, but other than that are very attractive bags - about 12" at the short end, by probably 28" or more in length -- like a long, skinny pillow case. We modified a couple of these bags to be gleaner bags (will still need to add a strap to make them easier to carry), and they worked out beautifully.

It will take a lot of wheat to make enough for even a few pounds of flour. Steven is going to do the threshing or winnowing to get the kernels from the heads we plucked, and then we will dry it thoroughly and begin thinking about how best to grind it to flour with what basic tools we have.

We realize we have no idea what variety/type of wheat we have gleaned, although it is most probably a hard red winter wheat that is common in Kansas, like Jagger or Jagalene. While it is still subject to the chemicals/fertilizers they put on it in the field; at least it won't also be treated with the chemicals they put on the kernels after harvest in the holding bins and when being processed into flour (processors put tons of insecticide and anti-mildewing perservatives, etc. on wheat kernels on its path from the local grain elevator to the bakery).

I'll update as we go through the process of trying to turn our gleaned wheat into flour for our home use.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Misc.

Such a busy time at the farm! Of course, I'll admit Steven does most all the work; while I had to do the commute to town for the cash work *wink*. But I would much rather be home farming.

Yesterday, Steven went out and hand-gleaned a bunch of rye and volunteer wheat. He bundled it and we will store it for feed for the goats for winter. I imagine he will do that off-and-on all summer, as gleaning opportunities are around.

I had originally suggested maybe he put it in the "attic" area of the garage -- which is currently just the open area above where I put the car in the old shed, which just got a new roof last year. Building on that, he said yesterday (and I agree) that it makes more sense to create a holding area like that in the barn itself. It has a fairly low roof, but it does have an "attic area" of sorts in the rafters. If we attach lengthwise boards, and maybe some chicken wire, that would be a good, dry, and handy place to let the hay sit until needed in winter. Then they would already be out in the pen, as well. So with a bit of planning, we will probably do that.

Worked on the ceiling in the living room of the house last night. Hot, dirty, nasty work. The old horsehair plaster-n-lathe work from this 1880s part of the house is crumbling. Big chunks of plaster had fallen off the lathe work and weighed down the acoustic ceiling that had been added below it. We had to take off much of the acoustic panels, clean out the broken plaster and stuff, and try to put the acoustic back up for now. This ended up being a much bigger job than we hoped it would be - and it is apparent that in all reality the entire ceiling is going to have to be torn down and re-done; but we got it patched for now. I was sneezing black dust out of my nose the rest of the evening, even though we wore bandannas over our faces to keep from breathing all the dust. I'm sure this plaster, most of it, at least, really began to break away and fall when we had that roofing crew putting on the new roof two years ago. Lots of pounding on the roof will vibrate that old stuff loose.

We also weeded in the garden for quite awhile. The frequent rains have made the garden wonderful, but has also been a boon for the weeds; and the mosquitoes! So I worked on the bean rows for quite awhile, which Steven did the squash and strawberries. We got our first fresh ripe strawberries of the season too! Delicious! They are loaded, so we are bound to get many more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More spring babies

I can see why everyone loves springtime on a farm! So many new things and new babies!

Our Rhode Island Red hen that has been faithfully setting for 21 days, hatched her brood last Friday, May 23rd. We noticed the first "pips" of the shell, and within 24 hours, 9 of the 12 eggs were hatched into new baby chicks. (of the three that didn't ever hatch, two appeared to be unfertile, when we finally removed them from the nest, and one was undeveloped). That is an excellent rate of return for 12 eggs. And we've nearly doubled the number of our flock with this year's hatching.

Of course, we won't know until later how many females we have, to keep. The males will become freezer meat at some point.

It was great to watch this process using the real 'natural' method of the mother hen, and not an incubator. And watch how she protects them and talks to them and teaches them. It is awesome.

This is the nesting box Steven built for her -- using part of an old bee hive box and a portion of a metal barrel. She seems to like it.

For now, we have put a wire crate over her nesting area in the hen house, so that the babies are protected and stay in there with her until they are older -- yet that allows our other hens to continue to come and go as they always have.

We also got two new little white chicks from my daughter, who works at a farm supply store, and had bought two chicks to study in the science lab at college. Since the college was shutting down for summer, those young chickens came home with us. One is a pullet we will keep as an egg layer. The other is a broiler breed -- too heavy to survive long. That will become food.

Steven was given six new ducklings from our friends the Friesen's. (I don't have a photo of them yet). Multicolored and a basic mutt background, but Steven is thrilled with them and hopes to raise them out in the goat pen. He learned with the Cayuga's that once they imprint a certain area as "home" - it is hard to get them to roost anywhere else (the Cayuga ducks still think they have to be in the garden -- but they eat all the spinach!)

We had a wonderful gathering of people out here on Memorial Day, enjoying the chance to see all the new baby animals, and play softball, and games, and have a cookout. It was loads of fun (until the rain started) :)

Steven planting miloWe've had a very wet past couple of weeks. Two and a half inches on Monday alone -- and 11.5 inches for May overall. Makes for lots of weeds and lots of mowing, but it is good for the garden.

Steven also planted his 'milo field' in the middle of our front yard -- a protected area -- to grow our own chicken feed for this coming winter.

Amanda was home to enjoy the baby goats, and David helped to feed the doe a bit. We also have tons of baby kittens - which I always forget to mention because I'm not much of a cat person.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer pains

Ah... my muscles hurt so much this time of year getting back into shape with farm work. I have done a lot of mowing, and weeding, and general clean-up this week, and I'm feeling it. Sometimes I'm glad I have an job "outside" of the farm, just so I can rest!

Plowed up a portion of the front yard this week with the tiller - Steven wants to put milo in that plot, to grow for organic feed for the chickens for this winter. The front yard is one place the chickens can't currently get to. Since Steven hasn't planted it yet, though, or put wire around it, the dogs are loving their new freshly-plowed dirt ;). I took me four repeats over it with the tiller to make it really workable!

Other than that, we are very busily and hurriedly trying to get the place cleaned up and presentable for the big gathering we are having next Monday (Memorial Day) of Steven's friends from church. That, on top of our regular chores, it making for all-work-no-play for awhile. I'm sure there will be some stuff left undone despite our efforts. We hope the roof for the shed will get finished up this week as well (if the contractor ever comes back).

Chance of storms tomorrow - which means we will do cleaning inside the house while the weather is bad outside. And I'm taking the last two days of this week "off" from my regular job, just so I can stay home and get things done.

Monday, May 12, 2008

New Baby Goats!



FINALLY, we have new baby goats!!! The younger doe (T21) had twin girls on Saturday morning, May 10th. Of course, she picked the busiest scheduled day of our month for us! But we found time to get them over to the barn and separated from the rest, so we could check them out and make sure they were nursing.

One kid is much stronger/bigger than the other, and momma favors it when nursing. So we've had to "help" the other one quite a bit. The doe has a very lop-sided udder, with one side pretty normal and the other side very engorged. The strong kid nurses out the 'good' side until there is no milk, and the little runt can't get a good latch on the engorged nipple because it is too big. So we've had to do some intervention.


Probably later today I will also look at getting a bottle, and milking the doe into the bottle, then feeding that kid with the bottle until it gets big enough to latch well, or the doe's udder becomes more uniform.
They are adorably cute! and very vocal. They are so soft and cuddly.

It is a blessing that this went pretty well, after the disaster with our first kidding earlier this spring.

The daddy Boer has a much darker head that the doe, and the kids definitely take after daddy. One has a solid colored head, and the runt has a little white on her forehead.

So we have increased our herd by two -- and we will keep these to be breeding does for us over the next few years.

I'm also very happy that last week I got a "new" farm truck. Since the engine got blown in my '71, I was able to locate a 1969 GMC truck that will work with our stock rack. Runs like a top. Drove it to town on Saturday to put gas in it (although I forgot I didn't have a tag for it yet!) It will be a good, basic, dependable farm truck.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amazing

Despite the fact I know my son is a genius ;) sometimes he still amazes me at what he can figure out how to do with no prior experience.

Like this nice surprise when I got home last night.



First, a "before" photo (above) - of the east end of our chain link fence in our front yard. I took this just last month. This stretch of fence to the right has been messed up for a year -- since a bad storm dropped huge limbs onto the fence, which wiped out the top bar almost all the way across. I have been planning to pay $$$ to have a fence company come out and put in new top bar and straightened out the kinks.

But when I got home yesterday, this is how it looked!

Steven had found a way to straighten all the bent top bars, used fence stretchers (and my truck) to straighten the skewed uprights, and now has it looking almost like it was never damaged! Kudos to Steven! That was nothing short of amazing - especially since he didn't spend a single dime -- just worked on fixing all the parts that I had given up as un-reusable!

On other notes:
My! How the ducks are growing! It is hard to believe we've only had them for a week and a half and they are now so tall they can see over the top of their box.
Ready to move them on to the next holding area, looks like!


The newly planted asparagus is already up, too! Of course, we won't harvest it this year since it is getting established. But this promises great eating for next spring!