Monday, June 19, 2017

Chicken update

   Happy Belated Father's Day!  Since getting back from my trip Wednesday, my only tasks (other than mom and wife) are getting my ground cover plants in the ground, watering plants, de-chaos-ing the house, and taking care of chickens.  Our little orphan Annie is doing well, and getting some real free-range time while we're outside playing and doing chores.  She is much more social with us; she sticks pretty close, and our dog Sam is doing wonderful.  Not much for herding, though.  That puts another thing on the to-do: How to train my herding dog how to herd.  For now, I have a pirate chicken!

   We lost one chick while we were gone - got picked (or rather, pecked) on too much by the other bigger chicks.  My neighbors were watching them for the week, to the delight of their grandkids, and separated the little one, but it still didn't make it.  So now I have 3 baby chicks and Annie.  These poor animals.  Between losing chickens and nursing half-dead house plants, its a wonder my kids survive! ☺  The little chicks got some outside time near Annie, so (hopefully) it won't be so strange when they show up in "her" coop one morning.

   And of course the garden is in full swing.  So far no green beans or lettuce came up (old seed), and the celery I transplanted was a little too small, and didn't make it, either.  Rabbits ate some of my pepper plants, but everything else looks good.  And mulberries are in full season - time to get picking and make some jam!  Lots on my plate still, but I am determined to enjoy the season.

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Ultimate Failure in Chicken Keeping

   I was all ready to show pics of my injured chicken's splinted leg, which I'm pretty sure was broken, and status update on how I was able to put her back the other birds without any pecking issues, and how it was healing (that's her laying down, but she hopped around quite a bit)....

   ...and then we failed.  I failed, Hubby failed, and Handsome Boy failed (of course, being a boy, to a lesser degree of responsibility).  I had a late meeting, Hubby fell asleep, and Handsome Boy was watching a long movie. 

   And no one put up the chickens.

   And then there was one.

   They got eaten by a raccoon, we're pretty sure.  There were some feathers, a few blood spots, and wing.  And a big fat raccoon was spotted in the next door field the following night.

  So there is one left, our little orphan Annie.

   I can't just have one chicken - they're social, right? - so there will be another round of brooding for us, whether it's store chickens or from a friend.  Our local farm store has one (last?) order of chicks in today.  And we will be redoing the fencing.  To be somewhat fair, the green plastic-coated wire fence was only meant to keep the chickens in, we knew it wasn't any good against predators, except our dog and kids.  I think we'll be investing in an electric poultry net setup, but haven't quite decided.  I think it's the best fit for what we want to do.  Not that we don't still have to put the birds in the coop at night, but if we're late, or forget again, at least it's something.  Plus it should/will be able to move around a lot easier, as well as be more than big enough to go around the areas I want to chicken(s) to clear.  More thought on that, obviously.

  And as I feel sad for my dead chickens, sad for my lonely last chicken, and plan for better security for the next round of chickens...I made chicken soup.  And it was good.  Ironic?  Or life goes on (for some)?  I feel bad for the egg chickens I lost, because I was supposed to care for them and keep them safe, but I didn't.  They had a long productive life ahead of them still.  And Annie is all alone.  My meat chickens were never alone, and ran the course of their short life as they were meant to, and now they fill my freezer.  I don't feel bad about that at all.  I am thankful for all of those chickens as I mourn the waste of the others.  It is the way of homesteading, is it not?

   I will have another break before my next post - let's just say it involves family and the beach. Until then!

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Where have I been??

   It's been 3 weeks since I've posted, but you gotta make hay when the sun shines, right?  Or, in my case recently, you gotta pick up an awesome deal on kitchen cabinets at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in the next county, 'cause you are so ready to put real cabinets in your kitchen and not have open shelves anymore.  So my dining room is full of kitchen cabinets while I figure this whole kitchen redo.  Let's just say it involves a new floor and 2 new windows to frame out and install, so it's a bit of a project.  I did get the uppers in, and am super pleased with that progress.

   It's also planting season, and I started seeds WAY too late.  I did get in beans, peas, rutabaga, cantaloupes, watermelons, squashes, and corn in the garden.  I am going to buy some tomatoes, potatoes, and maybe a few others to get growing while I wait for my seedlings.  I am working with old seeds just to stop hanging on to them - yes, I am one of those who keeps seed packs for multiple years.  But I am clearing out my stock this year and whatever grows, grows, and whatever doesn't, doesn't.  They weren't growing to grow in my seed packet bin, that's for sure, and if they don't germinate, and least they're out of the house, I gave them a chance, and I will have only fresh seed next year.  Suprisingly, I had some from MyPatriotSupply (I'm not an affliate) dated 2011, and they sprouted fine!

   Let's see, what else? Meat chickens went to the processor (awesome lady) and we finished the construction portion of the old A-frame chicken coop, so the egg-layers are living outside.  One got her foot smashed yesterday when the door prop fell and the door landed on her foot.  She's separated from the others for now, and it's a waiting game to see how she does.  It's a bit swollen and she's not putting any weight on it, but she is hopping around and eating, so I take that as a good sign.  But I've never dealt with an injured chicken, so it's research time, aka call my friends the chicken whisperers!

   So with all that going on, this is only the third time I've sat down at the computer since my last post.  Last week I tried to get a kitchen program to lay out the cabinet design, which didn't work anyway; I ended up getting graph paper and cutting squares, and using it as math reinforcement and life skills with my son.  And yesterday he and I ordered some homeschool goodies for next year from the Build Your Own Bundle sale at Build Your Bundle (last day, by the way, and also not an affiliate).  I got some reading in (mostly audiobooks), got some visiting done, and with that, the month has just seemed to fly by.

   Now that I'm back on the keyboard, I will finish getting the meat coop pictures up, and some of the refurbed A-frame coop.  But first I have a seasonal question for all of you.

How do you deal with your children's school papers?

   Whether your kids are public, private, or homeschooled, they have created so many papers by the end of the school year.  What do you do with them all?

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Chicken count: 56 + 5

   Well, we lost another meat chicken.  She was the smallest.  For the last three days she was really slow, and when she would sit, the others would literally walk on her instead of around.  Poor girl.  She was eating and drinking, though, so we let her be, but in the morning she was gone.  I don't like losing animals, even when I know they're going to end up in my freezer.  She didn't have any obvious injuries, and no discharge or any other sign of illness.  Just sort of slowed down and died.  I suppose I should have cut her open to see what I could find, something like Justin Rhodes did with his fat chicken.  A chicken autopsy.  Okay, that just sounds funny, and it's sad to lose a chicken.  Moving on.

   So, my meat chicken count is down to 56.  On the other hand.... I got my egg layer chicks! Five blackie mixes.  I don't know what - I think Black Austrolorp?  The fertilized eggs went to a friend who incubated them (in her machine, not herself, of course, that would be really funny) and gave me 5 chicks.  They are so cute. 

   Yesterday I spent the rainy morning sewing up some blankets, and the somewhat sunny afternoon finishing my tree cutting adventure from the other day.  Now I have four limbs to make posts and some cross pieces to attempt a "rustic" arbor by the road to grow my clematis on, and a bunch of Y branches for a shelf project.  I don't do well with cold, so having something to do inside and outside is almost a necessity for me in the spring and fall.  Not that I don't have plenty to do already, but these are things that have been floating around in my head, and as long as I have to cut trees down, I better get my materials while the gettin's good!

   I've got two recipes to share from last week, and all the pictures of the meat broiler coop.  Speaking of which, I hope the sun comes out sometime today.  I have to fix the roof since the wind blew it off the hinges. It's currently tied down in the front, like normal, and permanently screwed in at the back.  And it is super windy right now.  That is going to bear trying to hold it and get the food in, let alone hold it up to fix it.  Fixing it might be a wait till Hubby gets home so I have 4 hands project.  I'll have 4 and 2 half hands if I get Handsome Boy involved.  Plus it's chilly and sprinkly/rainy outside - not my kind of weather.

   Guess it's a day for more sewing, staining, and organizing my hiking pack, at least until the wind dies down.  Glad I can still get something done!

Joyfully yours,

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My new fitness routine

   I am away from my CrossFit - have you noticed?  I think ... 5 weeks now?  Too long to be calling myself a CrossFitter, that's for sure.  I got busy (I know, lame excuse) with other projects, and honestly was not getting enough sleep to give up an hour to the gym.  Now that I'm home I get enough sleep but the gym is a half hour away. I want to build the gym back into my routine, I really did enjoy it, but in the meantime, I haven't given up on the journey to the healthy part of the happy and healthy homestead.  I'm on what Hubby jokingly calls FarmFit, which is just a fun way of saying "I keep busy working around the homestead."  Here's some proof:

FarmFit :)
   Sure, I have a trailer for my little riding mower, but it was a small trek from the cinder block pile to my garden, and using the wheelbarrow saves a little gas and builds a little muscle.  So I get to save money and get a workout while the job gets done, in about the same amount of time.  Bonus!  So, instead of going to the gym alone, I am working around the property, hiking, and playing with the kids to stay fit.  Speaking of which, now that I planted my new cedar trees, I need to patch my bike inner tube to go riding later this week, after I chainsaw some big logs into firewood.

   There's always something!

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dehydrating Fruit - What do you really need?

  Oh, the beloved dehydrator.  As much a part of my food preservation system as my pressure cooker, boiling water canner, and vacuum sealer.  I've been making homemade banana, strawberry, mango, apple and other fruit chips for years now, as well fruit leathers, dried veggies, dried herbs, and even some dehydrated dinners for the trail.  We eat them as the fruit chips as snacks and as part of homemade trail mix while camping, hiking, etc.  The kids are so used to real fruit chips, they won't even eat the store bought stuff - they think it's gross.  You know, the sugar-coated kind that comes in a clam-shell case.  A couple years ago, we were out running errands, it was one of those days I was not prepared with snacks in the car, and my son asked for some strawberry chips.  Okay, sure, why not?  As a special treat.  Well, why not is that they're covered in sugar and soaked in preservatives, but let's put that aside for a moment.☺ He ate one and almost spit it out.  "What's wrong with these?  They don't taste like your strawberry chips.  Here, you can have them.  I'll wait."  This from a hungry 2nd grader.  Oh, yeah, Victory for Mom moment.  When your little ones can tell between real food and processed, manufactured food.  I was so proud.
   So, for any who haven't delved into dehydrating, fruit is the absolute simplest thing to start with.  And you don't need anything fancy.  I started off with a hand-me-down dehydrator and trays like this one:

   It doesn't even have a dial, you just plug it in and it turns on.  The temperature is controlled by turning the top vent, and you rotate each tray from bottom to top (or vise versa) to get each tray dried at the same rate.  It worked great, and it was free, so I was all over that.

   Then Hubby upgraded me to this one from Sportsman's Guide (no, I don't make money off the link):

   He is so awesome. This has 10 trays, a 12 hour timer, and temperature control.  And he got me some liners for fruit leathers and mesh tray inserts for small stuff like banana chips, herbs, and anything else that would fall through the trays.  I am all set with this thing!  And I passed my other dehydrator down to my neighbor, who was enjoying my fruit snacks and asking about which one she should buy.  Buy??  No way, pass along the goodness of free useful stuff!

   Back to fruit chips.  What do you really need to make them?
  • A heating device.  A dehydrator (homemade or store-bought), an oven, a hot car, a tray in the sun (this doesn't work in Michigan, but in those 'dry heat' climates it does).
  • A cutting device.  A mandolin or other type of even-slicing device is handy and makes it go quicker, but if you have a knife and can make relatively even cuts, that will work fine.
  • A holy surface.  Some type of tray that allows air to circulate all around the fruit. Dehydrator trays, cookie cooling racks, even window screen.
  • Good fruit.  Overripe or under ripe fruit is no good.  If you put not-so-good fruit in, you get not-so-good dried fruit out.
   See? It doesn't take much.  To dry, all you do is cut the fruit, lay it on the trays, turn on the dehydrator/oven/sun and let it happen.  And it is so yummy, and cheap!  Have you looked at fruit roll-up or banana chip prices?  Eek!  Buying fruit in season and on sale and then preserving it (in any fashion) is an easy way to stretch your budget.  Getting fruit on the cheap is a post for another day, but as for dehydrating, I'll show the banana chips next.

Joyfully yours,

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell /Town hall sheep?

   This book is far from new, it was published in 1945, but it was new to me up until a month ago.  I'd heard the reference to it, but didn't realize for a long time it was referring to a book.  I thought it was a reference to a setting with lots of creatures, like, you know, maybe a farm, with lots of animals.

   So for those like me who somehow missed this classic in high school, it is a satire on the Russian Revolution. The story is about a farm where the animals are tired of being mistreated by the farmer, revolt, and take over running the farm.  The pigs, being the smartest, take charge.  They lay out the Seven Commandments, learn to read and teach (mostly unsuccessfully) the other animals how to read, direct the work, and otherwise rule the newly re-named Animal Farm.  All is fine until someone wants more than others and the Commandments get ... bent.  I won't spoil the details - I recommend read the book, or listen to the audio book read by Richard Brown.  I went through my library's online service (they use hoopla) and listened on my phone.

   There's all kinds of remarks and political opinions on this book I won't get into, but I did think of this story when I was listening to the news the other day.  At certain points in debates, one animal gets the sheep to drown everyone else out with a chant that, effectively, stops the debate altogether.  It reminded me of the town hall meetings where people with real questions wanting a real dialogue are getting drowned out by protesters yelling and chanting until they shut down the meeting.  I'm not a conspiracy theorist or anything, but who is teaching those sheep?
   Okay, to end on a happy note, the sun is now up and I'm going to check the fruit in the dehydrator, get another cup of coffee, and figure out how to tune my mower.

Joyfully yours,