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Homestead

Homestead. A home, outbuildings, gardens, barn, hen house, gardens, orchard and other means of providing a person’s needs.

In 2016 our homestead consists of:

  • Five chickens, all bantams. We have two Buff Silkie roosters and two hens, and one White Silkie hen.
  • 19 Ducks. We raise Fawn & White runners and Khaki Campbells. They’re housed together so there are crosses.
  • One-half acre of garden
  • 40+ apple trees. All but three are wild. Three are excellent producers. Some are too young to produce and others are overgrown and being pruned back into production.
  • Three plum trees. We have American, Kaga and Toka.
  • Two pear trees. I don’t remember the variety.
  • Hazelnuts. Two domestic and one wild.
  • One American chestnut. We had two but the voles girdled one and killed it. I’ll replace it this year.
Winter Mornings on the Homestead

Winter Mornings on the Homestead

Winter Mornings

Winter mornings have taken on a new way, or more accurately, returned to old ways. I woke this morning, excited about the day ahead, and snuggled up to Steve. As of last night my freelance writing days are on long-term old…or maybe over. I’m still working on cutting back and refocusing, and I’m making a lot of progress. I’ve kept one publication, Walden Publishing, and let the rest go so that I have time to finish writing a book or two.

We lucked out with only four inches of fresh snow.  chirp  The call was familiar but I couldn’t place it and couldn’t find the bird. There are few deer on the game cameras now. It’s so cold at night the batteries are either slow or don’t work at all. They’re here according to the activity in the snow. The kale stems are nibbled down a little more each night. The deer stop short of eating the terminal bud. If they don’t come back to eat more before spring the plants might break dormancy and grow again. Fresh kale in the spring would be nice.  chirp 

Back in the house…

Back in the house, winter mornings are feeding the dogs and the sour dough, laundry to wash and hang by the wood stove, supper to plan… Speaking of supper, Steve is doing some of the cooking on a regular basis now. I love love love having a meal cooked for me, and he’s a great cook. He made chicken enchiladas and American chop suey (goulash) on Sunday. I’ll cook only twice this week and spend more uninterrupted time writing. We’ll have baked cranberry chicken tonight. Anyway, we’re talking about mornings. I brought in a bin of white pine, eastern hemlock, white cedar and balsam fir and went about making a wreath and three swags.

A blue jay napped in a hydrangea bush outside the sun porch, puffed up against the cold wind, barely flinching when the thin branch bounced. The feeders are full of suet, energy blocks, corn, sunflower and other assorted seeds.  chirp  I found the chirp when I brought fresh water to the ducks and chickens.  chirp  A robin huddled under an apple tree behind the hen house, pecking away at a frozen apple. It flew into another tree so I left quickly. Will it stay the winter? Time will tell. The photo is a maxed out zoom on my phone. I’ll take a different camera with me on a warmer day.

winter mornings, evergreen wreath, Christmas wreath

winter mornings, kale, deer
winter morning, terminal bud, kale, food plot

winter mornings

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Long Winter Nights and Short Days of Late Fall

Long Winter Nights and Short Days of Late Fall

Long Winter Nights and Short Days

The long winter nights of late fall are here. We’ve had snow for about a week, more before it rained. Crusty snow is covered in a layer of soft fluff now. Sunset is early, 3:48 pm today, and sunrise isn’t until 6:57 tomorrow, after some of our school kids get on the bus. It’s technically still fall but it’s winter. It looks, feels and smells like winter.I take Ava and Zoey out to run while I do morning chores. Zoey runs like a maniac but Ava is usually on my heels waiting for her birds. She wants to snuffle them, checking them over to make sure they’re alright. Running, hunting and play is reserved for after her morning chores are complete. We start chores before sunrise when the overnight temps have been colder than usual to make sure the birds have an early morning drink to help them stay warm.

Grass leaning inside the poultry pen. Meadow vole hole in the snow.long winter nightsIt didn’t go unnoticed by Ava’s and Zoey’s noses. They followed the trail through the snow but didn’t find the vole.
long winter nights, duck tollerThey worked together to track a snowshoe hare. No luck there, either. They tracked the hare while I checked game cameras (does and fawns).
long winter nightsI stopped to take a picture of the pumpkins Steve put in the food plot for the deer and hare. Here comes Zoey! Didn’t I mention that she runs like a maniac?
And there goes Zoey!
By the time chores were done, cameras checked, bunnies and voles tracked, and Zoey run until she collapsed in the snow to pick snowballs off her feet, the sun was up and bright. long winter nights, sunrise, spruce trees, snow

I met a dear friend for lunch today. On the way into town I saw three bald eagles flying together, circling, diving at and ducking from each other, and a fourth eagle later on. Is this the beginning of a new pair? Dating? Courting? While the days are still getting shorter? Am I overthinking the whole thing? I’m grateful to live in a beautiful area where I can see four mature American bald eagles in 15 minutes.

Evening chores are done in mid-afternoon now. I warm leftover winter squash and rutabaga and fill a quart jug with warm molasses water for the chickens. The ducks aren’t thirsty this late in the day but the Silkies gather at my feet for their warm drink. I close the door to the pen and gather eggs while Ava snuffles her birds good night, and then lean against the wall to watch. Snuffle snuffle squawk! snuffle. Ducks crowd into the back corner to avoid the snuffle fest, do their version of a dog turning in circles, and eventually settle in.

We leave the hen house when Ava’s ready to tolerate Zoey’s antics. They race around, tugging on a mostly frozen toy, growling like the mean dogs they could never be, and wear each other out. We haven’t moved the firewood rack inside yet…still…so I lug three armloads in to thaw overnight by the fire. I’ll do it tomorrow. Or Thursday. Or next week. Soon.

By 4:30 pm we’re back in the house. I’m back in pajamas, writing at the dining room table, enjoying a glass of red in a warm house. Supper is herbed rice, a pint jar of green beans and fresh haddock – five minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking, two minutes clean up. Taproot magazine arrived today and thanks to long winter nights, I have plenty of reading time each evening.

 

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Snow Cover – last day of November

Snow Cover – last day of November

Snow Cover

Enough snow fell last night to bring out the plow and sand truck. We were going to get up at 3 am to drive to Molunkus Stream Camps, hunt our way to the blind at Big Field, and wait for deer. I’ve had a feeling of gloom and doom for five days and willed the alarm to remain silent. And it did, through no fault of mine. Steve woke at 6 am, unusually late for us. We got up at 3:30 Tuesday morning to hunt and were more tired than we realized. I looked out the window to beautiful snow cover, rolled over and snuggled in. Hunting this morning? No thanks.

I’m not ready for snow. Three cords of firewood still need to be moved into the high tunnel. It’s the three of the what ended up being six cords of firewood I wasn’t planning on, wasn’t prepared for, didn’t have time to deal with. But here it is and there it sits. It might still be there in the spring. The lawnmower is still sitting in front of the barn, uncovered. The bear bait barrels too heavy for me to move are still in front of the barn. We’ll get them taken care of Sunday with help from the tractor. Until then, I’m enjoying the snow cover while hoping it melts.

There are still quite a few apples for the deer. They’ve been coming every night for the apples that drop during the day. They’re also eating turnip and forage radish tops (bottom photo) in the food plot in the orchard. When muzzleloading season ends Saturday I’ll put pumpkins in the new food plot. Zoey wasn’t thrilled by the snow first thing this morning but it didn’t take long to get excited. Zomobile ran circles around Ava. Ava seems to almost not notice Zoey’s antics. Waking up to snow cover was a reminder that like it or not, winter is coming.

Healing

I’m working out a recipe for a healing salve. I took a horrid fall down a flight of stairs about two years ago. Breaking my tailbone and pelvis, tearing both rotor cuffs, and doing other damage left me aching most of the time (a major contributor to cutting back). I’m working on a salve that might help my joints. I’ll have the crockpot out today to get the steeping started. Any natural healing suggestions for aching joints and muscles?

Today’s Work

Today’s work consists of tidying up an article for a new “project.” I’ve been asked to write for a publication based in Ireland. The article has been written for a week but I’m not happy with it. The editor is wonderful. She’ll read it and pass it back to me for a rewrite. She’ll make me a better writer as she helps me slide into her publication’s style. My first article will be published in December. I’ll give you the link when it’s live. Later on I’ll be hunter in the snow cover, looking for a track to follow, one that brings me to a buck. ha  That won’t happen but I’m going to try anyway! What are you doing today?

snow cover, firewood
snow cover, crab apples,
snow cover, wild yellow apples
snow-cover-ava-zoey
snow-cover-pond
snow-cover-fence-post
snow-cover-forage-radish-food-plot

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Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back and Refocusing

Cutting Back

November lull – I love it or dread it depending on the moment. There’s little going on now that hunting seasons are just about over. The chickens, a duck and the turkeys have been butchered and frozen. The garden is done and the pile of topsoil moved to the edge of the high tunnel. There’s some “oh-my-gawd it’s going to snow and I haven’t cleaned up the lawn” work to do. I want to top off the firewood in the wood shed, fill the wood rack in the house, and replenish the stacks on the back porch. There’s not a lot left to do after that other than move some more firewood for next winter into the high tunnel.

I’m eager to get back to baking bread, hanging clothes to dry on a rack by the fire rather than sucking up electricity with the dryer, and writing. Cutting back doesn’t mean spare time. Cutting back means a little more sanity when we get through this process.

Hunting Seasons

Most of my time this month spent hunting. I put in more hours for deer than I did in September when I harvested my black bear. I saw a buck under one of our apple trees on the next to last day of rifle season. A good look at his antlers (four points) and a better look at his rump as he walked away from me and into the woods without there being an ethical shot was all I got. He was on the game camera early in the morning of the last day but didn’t show up during legal hunting time. Steve saw a buck he couldn’t get a shot at, a few does, and had a great encounter with a young doe on the last day.

Black powder? Apparently so as Steve bought me a muzzle loader.

4

Sitting still day after day for weeks gives a girl a lot of time to think. I think it’s time to cut down on what I do here on the homestead, and I’m starting with food, a part of homesteading I’m most passionate about. Most of our vegetables can be grown in the high tunnel. There are a few things, like bush beans, that need to be grown outside for the sake of space. The weed problem must be conquered. I spent more time picking weeds than beans this year. Next year I’ll stick to the high tunnel and leave the rest to Shannah at Mustard Seed Farm. I have a mental list of veggies to buy from her and I’m sure there are some she’ll grow we don’t yet know we need.

Poultry

We raised seven turkeys this year. One wasn’t picked up so I roasted it for Thanksgiving. That leaves an extra 31 pound turkey in the freezer. We have two 31 pounders and another somewhere around 15 pounds. We don’t have extra chickens so I started looking around for someone to raise our meat chickens. I’ll be buying pastured chickens from my sister Melissa’s friend. We’ll also buy beef from her starting the first chance I have to pick it up. Our side of pork went to the butcher on November 25 and will be back in packages in two to three weeks. Wayne and Joe and Phoenix Rising Farm raised great pigs. I’ll cure the bacon and season the sausage for a pig and a half.

We’re keeping nine chickens and eight ducks for a total of 12 or 13 egg layers. We’ve been chicken-free for only six months of the last 18 years so it’s unlikely we’ll go without chickens or ducks. I’ll be looking for someone to tend to the birds when we want to be away overnight.

Break Out the Bon Bons!

So what happens with all this free time? Bon bons, coffee and soap operas, folks. That’s my future. hahaha I can’t even. Can’t even write that with a straight face. There are other things we’ll hire out, and I’ll talk about them next year as the times come. I’ll spend the time working full time so I can finish writing a book or two. I’m cutting back on a lot of things to make time to write something more than freelance articles and this blog. I have two half-written books to finish. They might never be read by anyone but me but the writing will be finished. House renovations are underway and I’m planning on some redecorating.

Life has been crazy. I spent too many hours hunting. Next year we’ll change up what we do to try something new. Being responsible for 100% of the housework and 95% of the cooking on top of working a full time job, and on top of homesteading work for food and heat nuts. Steve’s working full time plus and tackling some big renovation projects as well as the new food plot. There’s more but you get the idea.

“I can kill myself trying to do it all and make myself miserable with half-assed work and failure, or I can hire people to do things for me.” Robin Follette, 2016. Change is good even though decisions about cutting back are hard. If everything stayed the same life would be awfully boring.

I’ll be here more often, and with more than recipes.  There’s plenty to write about when you live a life in the wild and thanks to cutting back, I have time.

A Day of Killing – Putting Food on the Homestead Table

A Day of Killing – Putting Food on the Homestead Table

A Day of Killing

Sunday was a day of killing. Like last weekend, we killed and butchered birds we raised to feed us. Last weekend it was the Cornish Cross chickens. Yesterday we processed the broad breasted white turkeys, two older roosters, and a drake Khaki Campbell x Fawn and White Indian Runner duck. We intentionally raise turkeys for meat. The older roosters are from the first Buff Bantam Silkies that started our flock. They were older, four and a half years old, with spurs that curled completely around and started the circle again, this time starting to embed themselves in flesh.  There’s a new rooster, hatched in the spring, that takes their place. Extra males serve no purpose other than meat.

That’s a lot of turkey!

Thanksgiving, the largest of the turkeys, will be the guest of honor on Thanksgiving. Kristin, Taylor and Dad each get a turkey, and that leaves three for us. One will be frozen whole, one in pieces, and one ground for sausage. I have five backs to make soup from, something that excites me. I can’t wait to share the how-t0 and why with you. As soon as we’re ready to eat turkey after yesterday’s events, soup will be the first meal I’ll make.

An Unpleasant Day

It was an unpleasant day. Thanksgiving, also known as You Jerk, was overly friendly. He was pushy and unusually curious even for a turkey. Without hands, birds have few resources for exploring items. Thanksgiving liked to check things out up close and with his beak, and sometimes he hurt me. I won’t miss having a spot of dirt on my butt being pecked hard by a turkey I didn’t know was behind me. At the same time, I’m not happy he’s dead. We provide our meat in specific ways out of respect for the animals and their lives. We respect them whether we like their personality or not.

Vague Details of the Process

We work together efficiently on a day of killing after 15 years and hundreds of turkeys. We disinfect coolers and fill them full of cold well water. Steve lugs 20 gallons of hot water to the high tunnel where we do the butchering and puts half of it in the lobster pot over the propane burner. When the water is 145° he kills the first bird, dips it and we pluck together. When the wing feathers that hurt my arthritic hands are out he goes for the next bird while I do the fine plucking of tiny feathers.
a day of killing, plucking a turkey
a day of killing, pin feathers, turkey, broad breasted whiteWhile I finish plucking the second bird he guts the first. While he guts the second I wash the first and put it in cold water to chill. I tend to the second bird while he gets and kills bird three. And the cycle starts again.

Half way through he takes a break to give his back a rest (tall man, low table) while I clean the table. I give my back a break while he goes for the next bird, kills it, lets it bleed out, and dips it. Then we start together again. It’s important to iron out the details and work peacefully on a day of killing.

Packaging

The majority of my part in this process happens today. I do all of the packaging. Whole turkeys are wrapped in plastic wrap first and frozen in heavy plastic bags. I haven’t found vacuum bags large enough for 12 to 25 pound birds. The pieces are vacuum sealed to avoid freezer burn and save space in the freezers. I packaged up the five extra necks, and all of the hearts, livers and gizzards for Dad. I’ve cut and sealed one end of the vacuum bags for the backs but wasn’t sure of how large or small I need the rest. I will work off and on during the day and evening on this job. Water doesn’t shut down the sealer when the pieces are frozen; I freeze them for a few hours first.

Five months of work ends in three hours of killing and butchering and a few hours of packaging. It’s a lot of work but it’s well worth the effort. Healthy turkeys raised on pasture, in and out of shelter as they want during the day and closed in for their safety at night. They live a good life.

November First on the Homestead

November First on the Homestead

November First on the Homestead

The kitchen is cool, almost cold in the morning now. November first dawned in the 20°s, feeling more like December. Sourdough bread spent the night in its first rise in the coldest corner of the kitchen. Poke poke poke. I dumped the flattening dough from the bowl into a bread pan and pushed it aside to rise for the day.

After coffee, chores, and then a breakfast of homemade bread toasted on cast iron, an Autumn spiced bear sausage patty and a duck egg, I spent a little time preparing the rest of supper. Butternut squash soup with Linguica sausage and the sourdough white wheat bread. Peeled, cut up, chicken stock, pan fried the sausage to release some fat and improve flavor, tossed together in the crock pot to simmer. And then off to lunch with a dear friend I’ve missed.

november first, homestead, butternut squash soup, linguicahomemade bread, november first, deer huntingDeer season (rifle) opened Saturday, a few days earlier than what used to be November first. Steve and I spent the morning and evening on a ridge looking for a buck we chased on closing day last year. He wasn’t registered so unless Mother Nature got him, or the hunter who fired a shot that echoed between two ridges and down into a valley found him, he’s out there. You couldn’t prove it by us. We found tracks big enough to be a buck but that’s all we saw.

ridge, deer hunting, november first, autumn colorsNovember first, birch trees, autumn, foliage, November, deer hunting

Butchering Day

Sunday was on of those days I dread and look forward to. I dread the killing and butchering of the meat chickens but I look forward to excellent meat from happy, well-raised chickens, and to having the job done. Chicken wise it was the worst year ever. More mortality than ten years normally put together. Started with 32 chickens, butchered 21, couldn’t use the meat from one because it had some sort of yuck of which I’ll spare you the details. The turkeys’ day comes this Sunday.

Loss

Steve put down an injured runner duck. She was seven or eight or nine years old and still in excellent health but mortally wounded. She was already shivering in the cold. Can’t have her freeze to death this winter. She survived a bobcat attack many years ago. She didn’t lay many eggs anymore and she absolutely didn’t want to be touch but she was still a valuable part of our homestead. She made us smile. Her two sisters spent November first looking for and quacking to her.

new moon, november firstCoyote Problems

I’m distracted early in the morning and again late in the afternoon each day but Sunday by coyotes. They’ve been in the backyard, around the hen house and meat chicken pen, and even on the porch. Finding their wet paw prints on the porch is annoying and uncomfortable. They shouldn’t be this comfortable being close to the house with us and two dogs here. I’ve been sitting in a popup ground blind, calling like a screaming jack rabbit (which makes me want to shoot the speaker after 30 seconds) and a howling coyote. So far no good. They show up a half hour before and after legal shooting time. We can’t night hunt them again until mid-December when the last deer hunting season closes.

I’m hoping the November first new moon brings change in deer movement and opportunities to rid the neighborhood of the coyotes. It’s time they went back into the woods and away from the few homes on our road.

November first already. Where did this year go?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

“What does it feel like to kill a chicken,” she asked. It’s been a deathly day, starting with two mice in a bucket in the garden shed. They couldn’t get out and made for a good opportunity to teach Zoey more about rodent killing. She’s a great huntress but not a good killer. A red squirrel made it into the house and onto the kill list today. Not sure I’ll get it today but the peanut butter bait is set (outside!) and the pellet gun is loaded and waiting.

What does it feel like to kill a chicken. I had to think about it. I don’t do it often, avoiding it when possible. Yes, I can, but if Steve is here when one is mortally injured, or it’s time to kill meat chickens, he does it. Today, he’s not here and the chicken couldn’t be allowed to suffer.

Chopping Block

The old chopping block is gone. I found two tall screws and a hammer and set up the block. When the screws were an inch and a half apart and the cover was off the hatchet, I went for the chicken. What does it feel like to kill a chicken…

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chopping block

He wheezed, its comb no longer the bright blood red it should have been because of oxygen deprivation. Each breath was a struggle. Breath in, sides heaving, wheeze out. Was that a drop of liquid in its beak? The bird had pneumonia. Still fit to eat, today had to be the day for its sake and ours.

I tucked him under my left arm and thanked him for feeding us. This bird didn’t “give its life to feed us.” It didn’t give us its life. I took its life. I killed it. So bird, thank you for feeding us. I am indeed sorry it didn’t live two more weeks like the others will. Well, all but one other. It’s wheezing a little and probably won’t get better.

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, pneumonia, cornish cross

Tucked under my arm and thanked, I kept the Cornish Cross rooster calm. Its feet gently but firmly grasped by my left hand so it couldn’t scratch me if it decided to try to escape, it felt secure. I bent to pick up the hatchet while hanging the rooster upside down by its legs. Flap flap flap…three times, and then it calmly hung upside down, trusting me because I’ve been feeding and watering and tending it since it was three days old. This chicken had no thoughts of “I’m going to die.”

The Chop

I laid the breast, neck and head of the bird across the log, wedging its head between the screws to keep it secure. What does it feel like to kill a chicken, I thought as I raised the hatchet, pulled gently back on the bird’s legs to stretch its neck out straight, lined up the hatchet to land a half-inch behind the screws, closed my eyes and dropped my arm in a fast, hard swoop. With the thump of the hatchet hitting the log a split second later I opened my eyes to see what I’ve done, to be sure I’ve killed the bird instantly.

No suffering. I held the bird until the flapping stopped, maybe six or seven flaps, and watched blood pour from its neck. No suffering. When it was still and the blood stopped pouring, I laid the bird out on the log.

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chopping block, blood

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chicken chopping block

Killing a chicken feels like something I can’t over think. If I think about the steps of what I’m about to do I will talk myself out of it. It feels necessary but still heavy on my heart. It feels like a burden on my mind. There’s a sense of control when the bird is firmly in my left hand. A swift downward swing, as though I am swatting hard at a fly, followed by an immediate thump when the blade severs the head and then hits the log. Motion in my left arm as I’m holding the flapping bird, but it’s not heavy. The five pound bird feels light because I’ve lifted and thrown three cords of firewood – twice – and have strong arm muscles.

Burdensome

Mindful. It feels mindful, intentional and deliberate. It’s a burden. And then it’s over and it feels like relief. The bird isn’t suffering in life and didn’t suffer in death.

We don’t normally eat chicken for a couple of weeks after slaughtering day but this is different. I already have a chicken out of the freezer and fully thawed for tonight’s supper, and I will eat it. These chickens that we raise have great lives on pasture, grass and garden. They eat bugs and weed seeds, grass and clover, and take dust baths. These birds see the sun, the full moon, and the rain. They feel the wind blowing. If we didn’t raise these birds to eat they wouldn’t have a life at all. It feels like I’ve given them a good life and a swift, painless death, and it feels good to feel my family humanely.

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Routine Change – Freezing Cold Nights

Routine Change – Freezing Cold Nights

 Routine Change

Routine change seems to happen quickly even though fall creeps in slowly, particularly this year. Last week we had daytime temperatures in the high 70’s and nighttime temps in the low 50’s. This morning the hose was frozen because the temp dipped into the high 20’s. At 10 am the water trickled through enough to get the thawing process started. Routine change: drain the hose during evening chores and make sure it’s stretched out where the morning sun will find it earliest.

Moving the Chicken Tractor

Every morning I let the Cornish Cross meat chickens out of the tractor to run for the day. I bring them a little corn to help them warm up quickly. Every evening I move the tractor onto clean grass or soil, move their five gallon waterer into the tractor, and wait for them to go in for the night. Routine change: As of today I’m moving the tractor in the morning and leaving the tarp over it so the sun can warm the ground during the day, giving them a warmer spot to sleep at night.

Building a Fire

checked firewood, routine change, dry firewoodMost mornings I’m up early, start the coffee, get the kindling and firewood, build a fire and get my shower while the coffee finishes. I dress by the fire that’s still catching, barely enough warmth to start the groan and pop of the heating metal. Routine change: Bring in the kindling and firewood after evening chores. Build the fire first thing in the morning, then start the coffee. Coffee takes a few minutes to make because we grind beans each time we make a pot. The spent grounds are stored to be scattered in the herb garden. Building the fire first won’t make a huge difference but it’s a few extra minutes for the heat to build.

I’m looking forward to days inside later this week, watching the rain fall while sitting by the fire, working without interruption, writing writing writing for something other than a paycheck. I’ll roast a chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions on an open fire by the pond on Wednesday and then use the leftover chicken for chicken salad with cranberries and walnuts, fajitas and a soup.

Coyote Problem

routine change, coyote, meat chickens, cornish cross, A coyote has been hanging out here for more than a week. One came through in April and July. A youngster very much attached to our back porch, backyard and orchard, visits nightly for the past week. It arrives a little earlier each night, just after Steve turned off the noisy saw and came in last night.

We can’t night hunt again until mid-December but if I catch it in the act of bothering the meat chickens, well, it’s days are over. The cold nights seem to have spurred its desire to hunt here. The deer haven’t been around since the coyote showed up. I will feel bad for ending its life. It’s not an animal I’ll eat and I won’t tan its hide. I really don’t know what I’ll do with it; it’s been quite a while since we’ve had to kill one. I hope it takes on a routine change before it’s too late.

And speaking of killing. <sigh> One of the meat chickens, a hen, is mostly likely developing pneumonia. We’re in wait-to-see mode. We have two choices. Treat her with antibiotics or slaughter soon. We’re two or three weeks away from processing all of the meat chickens. We don’t want antibiotics in our food when we have a strong alternative. She’s fryer size now, certainly large enough to provide three meals for the two of us. I’ll see how she is in the morning. I’m ready for the poultry routine to change, for them to move on to the freezer. It’s chilly during the day, cold at night, and sometimes so windy I have to tack down the tarp covering the entire tractor at night. It’s not good meat-raising weather now as it takes more food to keep themselves warm as well as grow.

Are you going through a routine change as autumn progresses?

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Winter Preparations – Working Toward a Comfortable Winter

Winter Preparations – Working Toward a Comfortable Winter

Winter Preparations

Winter preparations have started. It feels like we must be far behind because here it is early October and we haven’t touched a stick of firewood. Steve dropped a few big trees in the new food plot over the summer, and he dragged them to the field between the high tunnels, but there they sit. He cut and I split and stacked this winter’s firewood last year. I thought I’d do next year’s this year but the majority of it is going to wait until spring. Using the empty high tunnel to dry and store firewood has been one of the best things we’ve done here. It’s warm, the air flows well and the wood dries fast.

What’s on the winter prep list?

  • Move firewood
  • Split firewood for winter 17/18
  • Harvest a deer or two
  • Process the meat chickens and one duck in early November
  • Process the turkeys the weekend before Thanksgiving (or sooner if the jerks won’t say in their pen)
  • Cover the basement windows with insulation
  • Frame the new raised beds in the high tunnel
  • Move the topsoil I decided to hold off on (horrid weed problem) into the new raised beds
  • Muck the hen house
  • Cover the hen house windows with poly

There’s a bear in the freezer now, lots of preserves put up, veggies, mushrooms and fruits frozen, and herbs and hot peppers dehydrated.

Firewood

Out of everything on the list I like firewood the best. This is this winter’s wood. It was cut, split and stacked to dry in the high tunnel last year. It’s lightweight now and won’t take a lot of effort to move five cords into the wood shed, onto the back porch, and fill the rack in the living room. There’s something about the mindless repetition of firewood that appeals to me. Pick it up, put it on the splitter, pull the lever to split the wood, wait, grab the top piece with one hand and flip the bottom piece with the other hand, pull the lever, wait, let the split wood drop, drop the top piece onto the cold metal frame, pull the lever, throw those two pieces into the stack. Mindless but mindful at the same time. One wrong move can send me to the ER (once) or the doctor (once). Being careful and mindful while letting my mind wander is a good thing. I get a lot of damned good writing done in my head while I’m splitting firewood that unfortunately usually doesn’t make it to paper or laptop before it’s mostly forgotten.

winter preparations, firewood, high tunnel

Poultry

As much as I won’t enjoy slaughtering and butchering the chickens and turkeys, I’m ready for it. They’ve lived good lives on grass and soil, taking dust baths under the sun on 70° October days, eating grasshoppers and weed seeds. The turkeys have learned how to trample down the side of their electronet fence and are wandering all over the place. I sent a pic of seven wandering turkeys and a text to Steve that said “they better taste good” this afternoon. I used the tractor’s bucket and a chain to move the hog panels, and I’ll put them back up near the hen house. That will keep them contained…unless they realize they can fly over, and then I’ll clip their wings. I don’t remember turkeys ever being such a pain as these seven, not even when we had 25 or more at a time.

winter preparations, English Shepherd, broad breasted white turkeysThe meat chickens are manure machines that fertilize the lawn and part of the garden, their tractor having to be moved daily even if they’re in it only overnight. They’re going to continue to live good lives until early November for the chickens and the Sunday before Thanksgiving for the turkeys.

Propane was delivered this week. We have a small hot air, propane fired furnace in the basement for back up when we’re not at home to fill the wood stove, or like this fall when it’s really too warm for a fire but too cool to not have some sort of heat. We’re used to $600 a year for propane to heat our hot water and occasionally run that furnace. The bill today was $115 for two months. That can’t happen again in October. That’s craziness.

Winter Preparations?

I’m more physically prepared for winter than I am mentally. I want it to stay just like the last three days – warm and dry, sunny and breezy, cold enough in the morning for a fire that burns hot and fast for an hour to take out the chill – for the next 364 days…or until I decide I want it to be colder. The new moon and clear sky of autumn are incredible. The gazillion stars at night are stunning. The constellations are easy to see on these gorgeous nights. Winter preparations are time and work well spent while I spend these gorgeous autumn days outdoors.

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Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29

There are a million things to do in this house – scrub the toilet, lug ripped out wallboard from the bedroom to trash bins outside, vacuum and wash floors, back screws out of 2 x 4’s – and little of it will get done. I’ll deal with the screws and wallboard, the rest will wait. It’s too nice outside to be indoors. I thought I’d bring you with me through homesteading today.

The Poultry Shuffle

The perfect music for The Poultry Shuffle was already playing when I went out this morning. A young white throated sparrow that hasn’t migrated yet tested his not-quite-perfect ability to sing. They’re one of the first birds that make my head snap in their direction in the spring and it’s nice to hear them before they leave in the fall.

The meat birds, 25 Cornish Rock Cross, need more room than their 4′ x 8′ tractor allows them. I took the smaller mesh electro-fence from the turkeys, ducks and Silkie chickens and shuffled it over to the meat birds’ area. I won’t have to move them once or twice a day now. The 160 foot long roll of fencing gives them plenty of room to eat grass, weed seeds and insects for a few days. They haven’t yet discovered the freshly tilled soil in the garden but when they do the soil will fly as they learn how easy it is to dust bathe there rather than on grass.

Silkies and Runner ducks slip through the large mess of the second fence so I have to keep an eye on them. Ava and Zoey spend most of the day outside to help deter predators. There are three raccoons hanging around but not until it starts to get dark.

(Update since I started writing: A Cooper’s hawk killed one of the meat birds while Ava was herding a wayward duck back to the pen. Bastard.)
Cornish cross, meat chicken, hawk attack

Autumn Decorating

Not one bit of autumn decorating has been done this fall. I cut the cornstalks, bundled them, and tied them to posts on the porch. Frost is weeks late this year, we haven’t had one yet. The hydrangea are a gorgeous mauve. I hope it doesn’t fade as they dry. Homesteading today is a mix of death and beauty, typical for this lifestyle.

hydrangea, homesteading today

warty gourds, homesteading today

I cut the Warty gourds, Wee Be Little pumpkins and Butternut winter squash, and cleaned up the vines. The last of the tomatoes minus a Juliet plant that’s still doing well added up to a half bushel, and those vines were cleaned up. They’re dying on the garden, waiting to be rototilled into the soil. The bushel of gourds were grown in a 30″ circle in the high tunnel. Easy peasy and worth doing again next year. The winter squash didn’t fare as well but I’ll give it another try in a tunnel next year with a few changes.

The still unidentified hot peppers and Bell peppers haven’t been pulled yet. Maybe Friday, or maybe I’ll put a low tunnel over them for a while. I want more peppers but I’m over gardening for the year. I’m ready to settle in to write, missing writing terribly, and want to be done with just about everything.

Where the Wild Things Are

The beavers are still around out back. The water is low but they’re checking the muddy dam and patting it down on a regular basis. I’m learning to love the land we own. It’s a long process that I’ll talk about later.
beaver lodge, homesteading today
beaver tracks, homesteading todayDon’t forget the young bull moose that’s pics I shared yesterday.

It feels like we’ll have frost overnight so I cut the lemon balm, sage, two varieties of basil, and oregano, and put them in the dehydrator. There’s mint still to cut but it’s frost hardy, fortunate since the dehydrator is full. Sage, thyme, basil and oregano are still growing in the high tunnel, at least until we take the poly off and cold gets to them.

To Do Lists

My list for the day was unrealistically long even if I hadn’t been dealing with the hawk. I’ll work on it again tomorrow. Such is the life. Homesteading today carries into tomorrow, into the next day, and continues on because the to list changes but never ends. I wouldn’t trade it for the lifestyle we left behind in 1989.