The last two days have been sunshiney high 50's harbingers of our spring to come. I took the advice of my friend Jenna Woginirich (ok, she doesn't know I exist. I am confident that we are homesteading Idaho girl friend soul mates of the future.) I asked. I stopped agonizing over that which I don't know, can't control and ultimately doesn't matter. I asked to get started. I asked for a jump. I asked to get in the spring dirt and out of the homesteading reference section of our home library. And I received!
The gift of three hand raised hens. An EMT from Idaho County offered them to my husband as a farm warming gift. She had a chunky flock, and we were looking for fat. Tuesday night my 4 year old son and I drove about half an hour towards Montana with cat crates and high hopes. Delise and Stan were friendly, kind and efficient. We met our three new unnamed lady friends and loaded them up for the drive home. My boy insisted they sit next to him, he talked to them at length about the life unfolding before them collectively.
Friendly, curious and impressively calm about the evening trek the newly christened Peggy (the peg leg pirate-short toe,) Rosie and Buttercup settled right in to our refurbished hand me down small coop. Wednesday morning they took to exploring the duck yard. To explain, the duck yard is approximately 40 x 25 just off the kitchen. The gift my sister in law bestowed on us pre-escrow close of 4 mallard ducklings has grown into a human reared flock of two boys and a girl. Maybe it was our intensive human mothering, maybe this farm just tends to lean towards safety....But our ducks have no desire to enjoy our 1 acre spring fed pond. They have only flown out of their yard on a few occasions, rapidly waddling around to wait for re entry at the gate.
I know the wet conditions of duckdom aren't ideal for chickens, but the set up is temporary. The duck yard is safe from predation and full of bugs and sprouting green things. And regardless, the orchard/future mega coop neighborhood is waaaaay too wet for tractoring a big coop there. Not to mention Dom is a couple of weekends away from finishing the coop, and we are a month away from the orchard fence going up. So duck yard it is for now.
The ladies seem perfectly happy to cluck and scratch and explore the new arena. The ducks are watching with haughty ownership from their winter stock tank pond. The girls have gifted us with a big beautiful egg daily since their first sun drenched day here.
Spending more time in the yard also brought me to the weeks' most exciting moment. Jerry, our female mallard, was missing from the melee. On closer investigation, I found her hissing on top of a well made nest of pine shavings in the duck house. At least 10 eggs under my little mama! Now I know nature is happening every moment, everywhere, all around us. And to an experienced country person I may seem simple, but my heart swelled. Little Jerry, less than a year old, raised by this dumb human. I had to teach her to swim. Here she is, listening to her biologic imperative shout in her ear, and following every instinct of motherhood. I brought her water and some food, proud and curious.
Spring has sprung, and with it the magic of every day nature. Today I am asking the Universe to remind me of these days anytime I neglect to see the magic around us. I am asking for this profound fullness in my chest anytime nature takes me by surprise and a million more spring days to feel this remarkable gratitude. Eggs, nature's magic!
Almost that time - when the goats begin to swell up like they swallowed watermelons, udders filling and nether-parts getting ready for birthing.
Generally our goats kid very well on their own. There have been just a handful of times in the past when we needed to give assistance, but being prepared is the number one key to success, (second only after choosing the time to put the buck in with the does 5 months prior), and many articles have been written about Preparing for Goat Kidding. Looking at our past experience, we have some pearls worth sharing as well as a few I can do without.
Timing of the buck Aim for kidding when the weather is nice. April? May? September? We kidded in February one year and an Arctic blast dropped temps to -9F. The does all birthed at once and we lost ¾ of the kids. Frozen corpses were stacked like firewood outside the barn. A few kids who initially survived later succumbed to frostbite. We tried our best with heat lamps, kidding pens, but it just was not enough. Prevention would have averted this disaster, and we never kidded that early again. The buck is kept in an area with two fences between himself and the does from June through November, so a single falling tree will not grant him access to his girls.
Knowing the birthing process Learn the different ways goat kids can present themselves. Be patient, educated and not afraid to step in if needed.
A nice place to birth We would prefer the goats to kid in the field, but many will kid in the barn. A fresh layer of hay on the floor, keeping it dry and aired, will go a long way in the prevention of kidding infections.
Notebook and pen You need to keep records of all kinds and a designated “Goat Book” is invaluable.
Weigh scale and 5 gallon bucket A hand-held fish or livestock scale and a 5 gallon bucket are what we use to weigh newborns. Zero out the scale to the weight of the bucket and you are in business. I do not fret about different “baby goat smells” being in the bucket as we go from one kid to the next but I do keep it clean. Make sure it has fresh batteries every year.
Ear tags, tagger and antibiotic lube We use scrapie tags provided for free (check your state’s ag department to get your farm listed and they will order you the tags and the applicator) to tag all our goats. Bucklings get tagged in the left ear, doelings in the right. Tag numbers are also logged in the Goat Book with the weight of the kids and dam information. A little bit of lube makes the tagging process easier, but baby goat ears are pretty darn thin.
Iodine for dipping/coating navels Used this more when the kids are born in the barn. If they were born in the field and the cord is already drying, we leave it alone.
Old towels To help dry off newborns, seems you can never have enough. We keep them in a bucket in the barn.
Umbilical cord clamps Never used them.
Weigh sling That is what the handy towel bucket is for.
Kid/lamb puller Have only used it to help a neighbor with a sow and a retained dead piglet. Have not used it on a goat but at least we have it.
Feeding tube and 60 mL syringe Have one and practice handling it BEFORE you need to use it. You can practice “tubing” a Coke bottle, figuring how to thread the tube and hold the tube at the opening, and then steadying it while you attach the syringe and pour warm water in to “feed” the bottle. Don’t laugh, it is the little skills like this one needs if you find yourself alone and the job needs to be done.
Colostrum replacer (not substitute) Powder mix for that crucial first feeding if you have a weak kid who cannot nurse and you are unable to milk a bit from the dam.
Heat lamps: Clever to have when you need them, but make sure they are goat-proof and not where a doe can chew on the cord or pop the bulb. Make sure they have bulb protectors.
Kidding pen, dog collar and leash Once we had a doe whose kid was stepped on by a cow. It happens; they were near the hay feeder. I had another doe with triplets and decided to graft the smallest triplet to the now kid-less nanny. I put the graft doe in a pen (4’x4’) with collar on and tied her to a corner so she could not move much. The new kid was brought in and I was able to press the doe against the side of the pen with my body while we got the kid to nurse. Did this a few times and in two days the kid was grafted happily onto the doe. We allowed the doe a bit more “leash” in the pen but did not let her leash-free during the process. This allowed the kid to find a “safe corner” out of the doe’s head-butt range.
Find out if your area is selenium deficient You can check this on the internet. If your area is deficient and you have never had kids born on your property before of have had weak kids or what you might consider a high death rate among newborns, suspect selenium deficiency/white muscle disease. A simple injection of BoSe to newborns can make a difference. We learned the hard way. Now, we have a custom made high-selenium mineral mix the herd uses and have not given selenium injections the past few years.
Wing Person There are loads of injectables, oral drenches and various medicines and the like but if this is your first time kidding or your first time with a specific dilemma, you need to have a backup. That person is your vet. Make a habit to have your vet’s number and check in with them from time to time. A good working relationship goes a long way. They are the trained ones and the goat learning curve can be steep. If you do not have access to a vet, then see if you can contact a neighbor with experience.
Preparation is the key to success and there are many, many products out there aimed at livestock producers. Find what works, be creative with what you have, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
SteelMeadow Farm raises heritage Valera Spanish,Spanish-cross goats and Irish Dexter cattle in Mansfield, MO.
Ed and Laurie Essex and Bruce and Carol McElmurray both live in different states (Washington & Colorado respectively) and both deal and contend with the weather at their mountain homesteads. They both have learned to work with the weather and adjust their lives around their respective weather. There is much to be learned from their experiences at their homesteads. This is part 4 of a series of 5 regarding their experience and advice on living remotely and dealing with the weather. They answer how often they experience bad weather and self reliance and the weather.
How Often Do You Experience Bad Weather
Ed Essex: This is our fourth winter. To date we have had a 4.6 earthquake, a record breaking wind storm, at least three torrential rainstorms that did a lot of damage around the area including flooding further down the valley, a wildfire and a lot of wet snow last year which is difficult to plow and because we got so much. It really piled up alongside the road and caused a lot of road damage when it melted. Cold snow doesn’t do that and mostly just seems to disappear when it warms up.
The scary thing about weather comes from watching national and world news. Nasty record breaking weather is no longer unusual. If you are thinking about building you really need to consider the weather extremes.
We added earthquake reinforcement to our concrete walls. We installed drainage around our house which no one else does in this area. We beefed up our roof structure to handle extra weight for record snowfall amounts. We virtually fireproofed our home. We installed a more expensive metal roof system to help combat high winds. It all cost more but is certainly less expensive than damage repairs or replacement.
Bruce McElmurray: This is our 17th winter here. We experience a variety of weather at our elevation. Mostly we have to deal with lots of snow. We receive an average of 264” a winter and occasionally that comes 24-36” at a time. While it is labor intensive it is something accepted and dealt with when living in the high country. We have experienced one earthquake of moderate severity but no one recalls having one before or since in our community. It is a rare occurrence for our area. The most scary part was the noise it created which sounded like a sonic boom. Our mountain area is mostly rock and it was those rocks grating together that made the noise. We have experienced a micro burst and several gusty windstorms. Our only damage was a few trees that we put to good use by making lumber and firewood from them.
Our greatest concern is wildfire. We have installed a metal roof and have real native stone exterior along with a mist system that keeps our exposed wood wet and operates off a low pressure system. We have cut trees beyond the required distance from the house and trimmed tree limbs up to 20’ high. We cleared away undergrowth to eliminate a potential fuel source. We have had one near miss but residents who live in the mountains spend a lot of time preparing for wildfires. Our association has a fire truck and a water truck to assist fire fighters. We are prepared but nothing is ever certain when dealing with a wildfire. All these increase our chance of survival in case we are unable to evacuate for some reason.
Self Reliance and Weather
Ed Essex: Fire and snow are always going to be our nemesis in mountain weather. Prevention is going to be key.
You can’t stop a forest fire from starting but you can take steps to assure your survival and the survival of your dwelling. Some of the fire prevention steps I took are listed previously in this article.
You can’t affect how deep the snow is going to get but you can be prepared for it. Make sure you have more than one good snow shovel. I have two methods for plowing our road so we can get out. Next year I will add a snowmobile for a third option. I still have to make sure my machines are well maintained and there is plenty of fuel for them, in other words they need to be ready to go when the time comes. Make sure your vehicle has the proper chains. Try them on to make sure they fit. All of these things go toward prevention. Prevention is always less expensive than reaction.
Bruce McElmurray: Being self reliant is one of the most essential elements of living remotely in the mountains. If the weather controls your lifestyle - and it does - you need to be prepared for the numerous contingencies it will throw at you. Whether it be high wind, hail, lightning, power outage, heavy snow or whatever you have to be prepared to deal with it yourself in most instances. We have the equipment to deal with most weather instances but mother nature can also be unpredictable. When we are forecast to receive 2” of snow we could receive 2’ or more. Being self reliant also means being flexible when the unexpected happens. When a chain saw won’t start, or when the snow exceeds what is predicted you need to be capable of dealing with that situation. We have shoveled our way out when the temperatures were too low to start the tractor. It helps if you possess some mechanical, plumbing, electrical and carpentry skills.
Mountain winds sometimes blow trees over and they always fall in the most unlikely and inconvenient places. You need equipment that you can count on when the unexpected occurs. Some of the well maintained equipment we use has to be properly maintained so when it is needed it is in working order and available. Being self reliant is an important aspect of living where repairman or service companies may be located 40 miles away. Many times you have to be capable of making the repairs yourself until a proper repairer can be dispatched or reach to you.
The next and final part of this series of dealing with mountain weather will cover changes in property development to accommodate weather. How big is the challenge of mountain weather and what advice would Ed and Bruce give new homesteaders.
For more on the Essex’s and McElmurray’s and their homesteads go to: www.goodideasforlife.com or: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com
It doesn’t have to be spring to see the cycle of renewal happening here on the farm. At Bittersweet, days of frigid cold and nights of blowing gales accompany the onset of lambing season.
Lambs. Is there anything that tugs at our hearts more than their soft, wooly faces or the sight of twin lambs nursing from a good and patient mom? Having a bad day? Grab a lamb and go sit on a hay bale in the sheep pen for 30 minutes. When a ewe shares her tiny one—a soft nose snuggling into your neck, small whimpers, tiny lamb kisses—all of your troubles melt away. (As for that mom, maybe she has bad days, too: little ones demanding too much milk, wandering out of sight, getting pecked by curious chickens. Lambs take energy. When night falls, rest comes soft and sweet to that mom, as well as to the shepherdess.)
With Jack Fergus in the pasture last season, the girls’ due dates came earlier this year. I was OK with that until we hit December. Unrelenting cold. Wind howling up over the cove and slicing across the pastures. Gates blowing shut just when you’re driving the flock in for the night. Snow drifts up and over the fencing, leaving pastures vulnerable. Frozen water. Buckets, buckets, and more buckets to keep hydration levels up. Hay. Did I say hay? I lost count at 200 bales. “Isn’t it a little early for this much snow and cold?” I kept asking. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending on who answered. But even the old timers were commenting that they hadn’t seen a December like that for a while.
Frankly, I expected lambs by Christmas. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But two weeks later, at morning feeding time, Colleen gave birth to twins, two coal-black boys, 9 and 10 pounds. Last year, in March, all the girls delivered overnight. It began just before St. Patrick’s Day, ending Easter Sunday with Maeve delivering the last set of twins under the pine tree by the sheep pen. Warm days and sunshine melted winter snows, and after the first weeks, lambs were sprawled across the earth, soaking up the spring warmth.
This year was a different story, the lambs doing their best to find a warm corner in the sheep pen, tuck in behind a hay bale or a mom, and snuggle down. Sitting with them in the mornings was a comfortable and comforting place to sip my morning coffee. But come nightfall and even some days when temperatures reached only single digits, dropping to minuses at night, there was no relief. Sixteen days into January, on a 4 a.m. check, I found one of the twins lying stiff and flat on the ground, crying out. Pneumonia.
I wish I could say that he is bouncing around in the pasture with his twin brother as I write this. I can’t. What I can say is that, in his last days with my tending him around the clock to try and save his life, he brought me much joy. His big brown eyes were so trusting, allowing me to snatch him from his mom and keep him warm and dry, while his mom patiently waited for his return. As much as I would have liked him to be with his own kind through it all, he was too weak to stay with the flock.
It’s such a privilege to be a part of these animals’ lives. I get far more from them than they could ever receive from me. They teach me kindness and patience and unconditional love and trust, hope and belief in something much bigger than me. I walk into the dairy barn every morning and am greeted so warmly by my herd, each nuzzling a head into my chest, zipping and unzipping my jacket, pulling on my hat, pushing faces into my hand, just so I can tickle behind an ear or rub a head. What other lesson do I need?
As I look out the windows to the pasture, I can see my lost lamb’s twin brother bouncing around. He goes from chicken to duck to turkey to other lamb moms, lies under the tree for a bit, nibbles some hay, then runs back to his own mom for nourishment. Twins are never really separated, so I see his brother bouncing with him the way they did, chasing one another around the pine tree. Soon there will be more little lambs. They will learn to bounce, and he’ll have playmates to run with.
Winter brings cold into our lives and makes things seem bleak at times. I’m happy I have little lambs to take away some of that bleakness, even if briefly. Life and death, a cycle of beginnings and endings on the farm: It is the order of things, even if it hurts our hearts when it seems to come out of order. As tenders of flocks and herds, we can only strive to keep them as safe and warm as possible. We can’t work magic and probably wouldn’t, even if we knew how. Mother Nature knows what the lambs need. No rocket science or wonder drugs will fool her. I always know my flocks and herds are in her good hands.
Update: All together, seven lambs joined the Bittersweet flock, six rams and one ewe. With the exception of the one little lost lamb, all are thriving and waiting the arrival of spring, when the cycle will renew.
This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.
Dyan Redick describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Her farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross ﬂock, goat milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Bittersweet Heritage Farm is an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food source, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.
Photos by DYAN REDICK
We’re already having duck drama, and they haven’t even arrived yet.
This past weekend, Dan and I attended the New England Meat Conference in Concord, N.H. One of the classes we took was on raising alternative types of poultry, namely geese, ducks, pheasants (which I’m told technically aren’t considered poultry), and quail. This class was important, as Dan and I placed our order for chicks and ducklings last month and we’re expecting them to arrive the end of April. I was in charge of placing the order (Actually, I kind of assumed this duty because I like shopping) and in addition to our agreed upon chicks, I threw in some Pekin ducks for meat and some Indian Runners because I’d like to see what it’s like to raise ducks for eggs.
Indian Runners have had a special place in my heart since I saw them at the Bolton Fair, an annual country fair held in Lancaster, MA. This was early in my farm infatuation days and when I was walking through the poultry tent trying to get my agricultural fix, I saw this adorable upright duck standing very politely in a cage waiting for the 4-H show to begin. I stopped dead in my tracks, immediately felt a warm feeling fill my chest (it was love) and read on the placard that he was an Indian Runner. Since I was too shy to take his picture, I jumped on Youtube once I got home and spent way too much time watching videos of them running around eating bugs. I was surprised at the sudden affinity I felt for this bird and kept thinking about how nice it would be to have my life and career set up in a way that I could have some ducks of my own. It occurred to me then that I could if I had a farm.
During the Alternative Poultry class, one of the first things the presenter mentioned was not to keep ducks near your house. “They quack all the time.” I could sense the sideways glance from Dan. He continued, “They quack all night. If they hear a dog bark, if a cloud drifts across the moon…” Background info: My dog’s goal in life is to bark at people and small animals. We can also see the moon in New Hampshire. The sideways glance turned into a 90* full body rotation and narrow eyed stare. The sensitive response would not have been laughing, but that’s what happened. All I could imagine is the dog barking at the moon induced quacking spree, then the ducks quacking more because of the barking and the continuing cycle, all happening in the dead of night. Since I will be at Polyface all summer, I will not have to deal with the impending quackapalooza, even though they were solely my idea to add to the order. Sorry Dan. The next order of business will be to find a remote corner of the property we can stick them so Dan can actually sleep where we won’t bother the neighbors either.
The next thing that came up is that ducks are, apparently, really annoying to process. The presenter mentioned that removing the feathers is a huge pain once they’ve reached the pin feather stage and that their skin is delicate and prone to tearing. He indicated we’d have a hard time finding a processor and where we’re not set up to process on site, this caused some anxiety. Since then, I’ve found some licensed places in our state who will process the ducks, but the pricing is double that of the chickens, so we’ll have to build that into our pricing when the time comes.
The First Year
At the conference, many farmers told us the first year is the hardest. As I’m sure all you seasoned veterans know, you have to set up systems, find reputable vendors, analyze which feed is best for your needs, wade through regulations, take care of your animals, make sure neighbors aren’t appalled by what you’re doing, build infrastructure, try to stay under budget, all while building a social media presence and finding markets for your products. Luckily for us, the process has been, for the most part, exciting and fun. It is a privilege to say we’re going to be farmers and we’re happy to pay our dues. I am also looking forward to the Polyface Summer Internship, not only to get away from the quacking (just kidding), but because I have a lot to learn.
As a followup to my post last month about ten tips for getting started with chickens, I thought I'd share what our chicken-keeping friends said they wished they'd known about chickens when they brought their first birds home.
Several readers told me that their biggest lesson was how easy chickens were, how fun they were, or even how much their family could learn to love their birds. The take-home message? Don't delay your own chicken adventure!
Others had more trouble with their poultry flock. Jane often had to coop her birds up in the chicken tractor since they kept invading her garden and Joe found out the hard way that it's a bad idea to mix chickens of various ages. Finally, Mason learned that roosters aren't the only noisy ones in the flock, and that even the hens can bother neighbors. (Some breeds are much quieter than others, so be sure to take this into account when planning your flock if you live in the city.)
One of the biggest problems many of our readers reported was chickens being eaten by owls, dogs, raccoons, and more. I recently shared my own thoughts on protecting chickens from predators on the homestead. My top suggestion is to make a secure coop you can close your chickens into at night, and I also recommend keeping a well-trained dog and rooster to protect the hens. Giving your chickens plenty of bushes and brush to hide amid will help too.
On a related note, many of our readers reported that they learned a lot about good chicken coops from watching their birds reject certain aspects of their current housing. If your chickens are roosting in trees at night, they definitely don't like the coop you made for them! One problem can be poor drainage, another is not planning ahead for manure management, while Charity wishes her coop had more sun, dirt floors, and fewer rodents.
Pests and diseases weren't mentioned much, but mites are sometimes a problem with chickens. Eva wrote in with her advice on mite prevention, which is sure to help if these critters come to call in your coop.
Finally, may of our readers wrote in to tell us that they wished they'd realized how simple chicken care would become after they invested in a POOP-free chicken waterer. This week, you can furnish your flock with an Avian Aqua Miser Original for only $25, so why wait?
Big Sawmill Jobs
All right, I’ll admit it. My sixty year old body just doesn’t do things as easily as it did twenty years ago. Problem is, my brain doesn’t always seem to get the message. I can look at a job and say to myself, “yes, I remembering lifting, shoving, riding, driving, or fixing something like that, so I’m sure I can do it again.” Usually by the end of the day, my brain catches up to what my body has been trying to tell it. This phenomenon is especially evident when I’m running the sawmill. The manual sawmill requires me to do all the lifting and log turning by hand, though I often enlist the aid of “Henry”, my 1953 8N Ford tractor. I have also installed a winch, which helps tremendously.
Meeting the Customer
While demonstrating the Norwood sawmill at the Mother Earth News Fair in Lawrence, KS last fall (great show, by the way), I noticed a fellow watching as I cut one board after another from a fair-sized oak log. After introducing himself as Doug, I learned that he had some fair-sized sycamore trees on his property that had fallen, and he wondered whether I would be willing to come over and take a look to see whether I could saw them up. What I didn’t realize at the time was that “fair-sized” meant up to six feet diameter and forty feet tall! Once again, my brain kicked in without consulting my body. “Sure, I can mill those.” Truth is, I’ve never been beaten by a log, but I’ve never worked on anything this size.
Milling Oversize Logs
A few weeks later, I towed the mill 167 miles to the Doug’s place and went to work. The mill’s 36-inch diameter log capacity is big, even, for many big production sawmills, but we had to set the biggest logs aside for a later date. There were plenty of “small” logs to keep us going for a weekend. Fortunately, he had a loader that was capable of lifting the one-ton logs onto the mill. With careful positioning, we were able to get the maximum-size logs on the mill, and cut slabs thirty inches wide! Just imagine… a table top built from a single board. Sycamore has the best grain pattern with beautiful flecks, when quartersawn, so we did as much of that as we could, most of it with one natural edge. By the end of the first day, we were both exhausted, and I was more than glad to accept Doug’s offer to have dinner and stay over at his place.
With as much lumber as I saw, it takes a pretty impressive log to get my attention, but the lumber that came off was so beautiful, I bartered my work for wood, instead of the usual payment. Over the weekend, we only milled four logs, but wound up with nearly 2,000 board feet of lumber. As I stacked the wood on the back of my old Chevy flatbed and hooked up the mill, I thought about the other possible fates for this beautiful wood. Most likely was that it would have been bulldozed into a pile and burned — or simply left to rot. It certainly was satisfying to know that I had played a part in salvaging the log. My next project is to figure out a way to cut the bigger logs. The potential is mind boggling! Round conference tables six feet diameter, with chairs, and desks all made from the same log. Even the smaller pieces have me thinking about dulcimers, guitars, and other string instruments.
But that will have to wait. The rule of thumb is that wood has to air dry about one year for each inch of thickness, so I have a while to make my plans for it, though I expect I’ll sell most of it. As soon as I finish a project with it, I’ll post more photos.
The best part was forging a friendship with the owner of the trees. It will take at least two more weekends to finish up the job, and I look forward to his hospitality as much as I do the challenge of milling the rest of those logs!
Meanwhile, stay safe & warm, and I’ll try to do the same.