Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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1/2/2015

We all love honey and most of you have heard about the health benefits of pollen and propolis too but here are some facts that will help you to appreciate those products and their truly amazing makers even more.

Honeybee Flying

1. Honeybees have five eyes. The two quite visible eyes you see are called complex eyes but what is much harder to see are the three little eyes that they have on the top of their head between their antennae called the ocelli. These three small eyes are used mainly as light sensors to help the bees navigate. Because bees can’t navigate at all without the sun, (if caught out after the sun goes down, they will have to wait until morning to find their way home to the hive) these little eyes are essential to the bees.

2. A single worker bee will produce only 1/10 of a teaspoon of honey in her entire life. Just one packet of honey represents the life’s work of 20 bees.

3. Honeybees fly well over 50,000 miles to produce only one pound of honey. That’s more mileage than it takes to circle the earth two times at the equator.

4. Male bees, called drones — distinguishable by their large size and proportionally larger eyes — have no stingers.

5. Honeybees have to consume eight pounds of honey to produce just one pound of wax.

6. A queen bee can live up to five years and will typically lay about 2,000 eggs a day in the busy season.

7. A queen bee will have only one mating session in her lifetime that will take place in flight, outside of the hive where she will mate with several different drones. During this flight and during swarming are the only times in a queens life that she will fly.

Lindsay Williamson is a certified beekeeper who owns and operates a small apiary called Backyard Honey with her partner Vance Lin. They specialize in completely natural, unfiltered, raw honey and honey products. You can contact her at lindzwilliamson@gmail.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/2/2015

rabbit breeding

Since we began raising rabbits on our homestead, the phrase "breeding like rabbits" has taken on a whole new meaning to us. I, like so many other rabbit breeders, had one heck of a time trying to breed my first few tries. What on earth am I doing? I wondered. And eventually I became so frustrated that I wanted to give up. The sad fact is that domesticated rabbits don't "breed like rabbits". And if you're stressed out because your rabbits aren't breeding like you think they're "supposed" to, then this might be a breath of fresh air for you.

First of all, let's just get this out of the way — rabbits don't breed every single time you want them to. Yes, you heard that right. Just because you stick a doe (female rabbit) in a hutch with a buck (male rabbit), it does not mean that they will do their thing and then poof, you have kits (babies) in 31 days. Quite the contrary.

While in my honest opinion, I feel that rabbits are the easiest livestock to breed, it is not always an easy task to accomplish. The typical scenario is when a rabbit breeder tries to breed a doe, and either the doe doesn't lift (a term used when she willingly breeds), the buck isn't interested or can't figure it out, or the doe lifts but is never bred.

Here are a few things that might help you along this journey.

The Unwilling Partner

One day the doe isn't willing, the next day the buck runs around like he's forgotten what he's supposed to be doing. It is a never ending process, but there are various true reasons why either partner is unwilling. Your first objective is to make sure your rabbits are ready to mate. Many times we believe that rabbits are always "ready". Here are a few questions to ask yourself and investigate before breeding.

1. Are they old enough?

Depending on age and breed, a rabbit should not be bred any younger than 6 months of age. Small and medium breeds can be bred between 6-8 months. Larger breeds, such as Flemish Giants, should not be bred before 8-10 months of age. However, larger breeds should be bred before 1 year old (does), as they can accumulate too much fat around their ovaries which can cause infertility issues. Breeding them before a year old helps keep excess fat at bay. When your doe is ready to breed, her reproduction area will be bright pinkish-red. The same with a buck. Virgin does can sometimes be shy and unwilling. In this instances, you will need to allow her to spend 5 to 10 minutes in with the buck each day for a few days. After that, she should be comfortable enough with him and understand what is happening. You can also have a shy buck — this can be due to the fact that he's been snapped at before by a doe, or just isn't an aggressive breeder. Try pairing him with older, more willing does, and then work your way down to the younger, less willing does.

You can also have rabbits that are too old to breed. We typically retire our does at 3-4 years of age, and our bucks a little longer unless they begin to tire out quickly. If you are buying an adult rabbit, I would suggest not purchasing one over 18 months of age.

2. Are they stressed?

If your rabbits have been moved to a new hutch, have been stressed by the neighbors dog, or have a nutrition deficiency, these are all things that can cause them to be stressed. Make sure that your hutch locations are thought out extensively, and that you are offering your livestock the best possible option for them. While most rabbits are domesticated, you must keep in mind that they are still very much instinctual. They need an area of their hutch that allows them to feel safe rather than out in the open.

3. Are they healthy?

This is one of the biggest things that you'll need to keep track of and investigate on a regular basis, whether you're breeding or not. A common issue is vitamin and nutrient deficiency. Are your rabbits eating enough and getting enough nutrition? Most people don't realize that a rabbits main source of food should be hay (such as Timothy hay or orchard grass) or pasture, rather than just offering feed pellets. On the other hand, you could also be feeding too much. A tuna fish size can full of food each day per rabbit, and free feed hay is all they need. If a rabbit is underweight or overweight, it will not be willing to breed, nor should it.

Another health issue is vent disease, which can affect both doe and buck. When inspecting your rabbits before breeding, make sure their reproductive area's are not swollen, blistered, and bright red. If they are, you will need to treat your rabbit before breeding, as just with an STD, it can be spread from rabbit to rabbit during breeding times.

Check for ear mites and clip nails if needed -- this ensures that they are feeling their best and can move around efficiently. If they are in the middle of a hard molt (shedding of fur) then they will be less willing to breed as well. Let them rest up for a few weeks, and then try again.

4. Is the weather bad?

Weather can play a large role in breeding. In the Winter months, it can be too cold. The rabbit uses all its resources to keep itself warm, never mind the thought of adding babies to the mix. However, given the proper tools, you can very efficiently breed rabbits in the Winter time. In fact, it's easier to breed in the winter than it is in the dead of Summer, while Spring is the easiest of all. The Summer heat can cause bucks to go temporarily sterile, and the stress from the Summer sun can cause neither party to be willing to breed. In the Summer months, you'll notice that the doe puts less work into tending to kits, and rarely has a lot of fur covering them in her nest. In the Winter months, it takes a lot of preparation and nest building on the doe's part. Never underestimate the time that she spends preparing for her litter.

Make sure that your hutches are winterized when it is cold (wrapping with plastic wrap or surrounding with straw) and in the shade during the summer months. This will help make the weather less probable to interfere with your breedings.

rabbit breeding 2

When All Else Fails

If your rabbits are healthy, happy, and active, then sometimes it seems like nothing will help get them to breed properly. In which case, you can try adding Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to their water (especially the does) for a week before trying to breed again. Organic ACV is great for any livestock. We offer it to our chickens in their water in the Winter, Spring and Fall -- one tablespoon per gallon. You can give it to your rabbits as well, as it helps their body become more alkaline -- it is also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. So if something else is going on inside of your rabbit that you cannot see, this should help take care of that issue.

Another thing you may consider is bringing the buck to the doe. In most breedings, we take our doe to our buck, otherwise our buck spends too much time sniffing the does cage rather than paying attention to the doe. If the doe becomes hostile, remove the buck immediately. There's no need for anyone to get hurt. Otherwise, if everyone plays nice and the buck doesn't try breeding within the first 30 minutes, you can try separating them -- doe into the bucks cage, buck into the does cage for the evening. Once the doe is comfortable with the bucks scent by morning, bring the buck back to her and she will most likely be more willing to breed.

Whatever you do, don't over do it. If you are not standing there watching for the notorious "fall off" the entire time, then you won't know if your doe is bred or not. If you continuously keep trying to breed her, she can become pregnant with two litters at once, as many rabbits have two uterus'. This would be extremely difficult for her to handle, and will most likely result in losing one or both litters. We always watch for a fall off. If there isn't one, then we re-breed. If there is a fall off, we wait 2 weeks and then palpate the doe. If we do not feel babies, we give it one more week and then palpate again. If there are still no babies, we re-breed.

No matter what the outcome, patience is necessary when first getting started with rabbits. Often times people become frustrated because they have an idea of how it's "supposed" to work, but that assumption just isn't true with domesticated rabbits. After you get the hang of it (which most likely won't be until your third or fourth litter), the successful breedings certainly do outweigh the unsuccessful ones. Whether breeding for pets, show, or meat/pelts - the reward is incredible, and it's nice to know that you're one step closer to being self sufficient.

Amy Fewell is a work-at-home mom, homesteader, blogger and writer. Her and her family live on a mini-homestead in Virginia where they raise Icelandic Chickens, standard Rex rabbits, ducks, and more! For more information about their homestead, visit them online at The Fewell Homestead.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/31/2014

I expect when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions I am not much different than most people. As I sit down and ponder them I’m conflicted because I’m aware that I won’t keep most or maybe any of them as I’m truly a creature of habit. Therefore if I didn’t keep them in past years I probably won’t keep them this year. My solution is to make a project list instead of a resolutions list. It may seem like semantics or psychological, but I manage to keep a project list when I know I won't keep a list of resolutions!

Our homestead has numerous difficult tasks that must be done for us to survive and be safe. At the top of my “project” list is getting in our firewood for next winter. When we cut, haul, split and stack 9 to 11 cords of firewood I head immediately for my project list and cross it off…project completed for another year. Then I move on to my next project. I have made so many resolutions over the years and failed to follow through with them that I have lost count. Not so with a project list because I need that list to insure all prospective tasks are accomplished in a timely fashion.

On my past resolution list I would have put down to lose weight and that would last until the first sweet temptation came along. My good intentions would totally dissolve and I would justify more sweets with a litany of excuses to myself. As most people who have chosen to live on a remote homestead are aware of the physical effort is endless. That substitutes for going to a gym to work out or jogging to stay fit. A resolution excuse for me would therefore be “since I’m saving money by not having a gym membership I’ll buy ice cream and snacks.” My project list would instead read "avoid sweets and snacks.” Staying fit is not even an issue if I continue to make headway on a project list; instead it is a given due to the strenuous daily activity. I look at that project list often as a constant reminder to keep my focus on progressing and not missing or overlooking needed jobs. For some reason I manage to keep the project list but not when it’s a resolution! Perhaps because I can cross specific tasks off the list because I review that project list frequently and the resolution list is rarely reviewed. To me my project list is a check off list and my resolution list is a “suggestion” list as I perceive it.

mt meadow .jpg 

Then there is the item on the project list to “clean the wood stove and chimney." This is a dreaded project due to the height of the chimney and it is the dirtiest of all the projects I do. Putting it on a resolution list would probably be reason for me to not do the job. As a resolution I could rationalize doing it next year. When it is on the project list I take it in order and like it or not it gets done. Having a project list for me is a serious proposition. The resolution list would probably have another item like “be a better person.” I’m not sure why I ever put that down anyway because I try to be a good person so where is the challenge and what is the end goal? By whose standard do I measure anyway? If I look around I can always find a less than nice person so as long as I consider myself better than that person is that really a success? That standard just may take me in the wrong direction. That used to be a subjective item on my resolution list and did not require any effort. Instead I’ll just clean the chimney because I can then cross that task off the project list.

Each new year is also a new beginning and I have read all the suggestions on how to make a proper resolution list by being specific and containing achievable goals. Also to review it often but I never seemed to be able to do that hence my resolutions wouldn't last but a couple of weeks. A good entry on my resolution list would be to have all the projects crossed off my project list by year end. But I already know that is needed so I don't bother with a resolution list anyway. While many choose to make a resolution list I therefore prefer a project list of specific achievable projects that are clearly needed and truly demanding and offer some challenges.

A resolution list is supposed to make you happy and a better and healthier person. My project list easily accomplishes that for me. There is nothing more healthy than running a ‘back to basics’ homestead where I am tired at the end of the day because I have made visible and tangible accomplishments. I am healthy because of the physical demands and happy because I am healthy and can meet the rigorous demands of remote living. It is a satisfaction that can be measured on a daily basis and enjoyed fully. Come to think about it I never remember being happy over a resolutions list; only disappointed. Having completed a projects list does have a sense of completion and satisfaction and only when there are incomplete projects is there any disappointment.

If I were to make a resolution list (which I do not plan to do) it would include learning to type faster with two fingers since I recently crushed my finger tip that is needed to type the e, w, c, d keys. Doing this and other blogs is a real challenge without the use of that finger. I used to work with a man that could type faster with two fingers than I could using all of mine. My resolution would be to achieve his level of success.

My wish for readers is that the new year will bring you good health and much happiness by several successfully completed projects.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their homestead experiences go to their blog, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/30/2014

Even after you have been beekeeping for quite a few years, it is a good idea to set goals, or look for ways to improve your beekeeping. Here are my “Beekeeping Resolutions” for the New Year. These include some goals for myself that might be important to other beekeepers as well!

winter hives

1. Keep Good Records

When I first started beekeeping, I only had two hives, and I thought I could pretty much remember what was going on in each hive. Once I got up to four hives, I had to start writing things down. I also realized that it was getting harder to keep track of what happened over the years. Now that I have 16 hives, good record keeping has taken on a new importance. First of all, information about the queens is vital. By keeping good records, I know at a glance how old the queen is, where she came from, how prolific she has been, etc. This information can help me determine if and when she may need to be replaced, and where I want to obtain queens from in the future. Secondly, I record information about the health of the hive. I keep track of Varrora levels, other signs of disease or pests, what treatments are used, and how well they worked. I also keep track of the general temperament and robustness of the hive. How quickly they built up in the spring, the population size of the colony, and the gentleness or aggressiveness of the hives are all things I take note of. Again, this can give clues as to the health of the hive, and any issues that should be addressed. We also keep track of how much honey was produced by each hive. All of this information helps me remember what happened in each hive, and helps me make better decisions in the future.

There are many ways to keep records. A simple composition notebook works for some people, and there is an online program called “Hive Tracks” that may appeal to those looking to go more high tech. After some experimenting, I have found that what works best for me is to take a spiral notebook with me each time I visit the beeyard. Using shorthand that probably only I can understand, I quickly make note of any information I want to make sure I remember. Once I am back inside with a glass of ice tea or lemonade, I write out my notes in a 3 ring binder. I have dividers in it, one for each hive. I can add dividers as I add more hives, and add as many sheets of paper as I need. If I lose a hive, I staple the sheets together, and move it to a section for deceased hives. Again, the method itself isn’t as important as a commitment to keep those accurate records for future use!

2. “Bee” Prepared

Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the beeyard and realizing that you don’t have the equipment you need on hand. Some examples; realizing that a hive is ready for another super, only to discover that you do not have enough frames for the super, wanting to remove supers from several hives, and not having enough escape boards, or getting a call about a swarm, and not having extra hive components to house them in. One of my resolutions is to keep an accurate inventory of equipment, and to replace or restock it before I really need it!

3. Keep Learning

No matter how long you have been beekeeping, there is always more to learn. New research, new information, and new challenges are always appearing. My third resolution is to never stop learning. There are so many ways to keep your knowledge current. Attending Bee club meetings, seminars, and workshops are a great way to learn, and you also have a chance talk to other beekeepers. Keeping current with beekeeping magazines and literature can be done from the comfort of your home, as well as checking out online websites, blogs, and chatrooms or forums. Whatever appeals to you, try to stay up to date with what is going on in the world of beekeeping.

4. “Bee” Proactive

This is a hard one for me. If I have a hive that is not doing well, I tend to want to give it more time, give it another chance, or wait a little longer — long past when I should cut my losses. Combining a weak hive with a stronger one, replacing a queen who is not performing, and other tough calls will not get any easier with time, and the hive usually declines even more instead of improving. My fourth resolution is to be more proactive in taking action when it is needed.

5. Pay it Forward

Many beekeepers have given me advice and helped me out as I have learned about beekeeping. My final beekeeping resolution is to “Pay it Forward”. There are many ways that beekeepers can help each other and the public. Many clubs have mentoring programs where experienced beekeepers can help out a beekeeper who is just getting started. Maybe you just know someone who would like to learn more about beekeeping or needs help setting up a hive. Are there groups or schools in your area who would like to have a beekeeper come speak with them? Is your bee club in need of volunteers to help with projects? There are many ways to get involved, help others, and spread the word about bees and beekeeping.

Whatever your beekeeping goals and resolutions, we at Bees of the Woods Apiary hope that you and your bees have a happy, productive and healthy New Year!

Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith. You can visit them at Bees of the Woods Apiary & Mallard Pond Maple.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/30/2014

In January 2014, I wrote a post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS entitled Sheep Come to the Homestead-Warming Party. I was raving about the beautiful artistry in my dear friends’ complete historic home renovation, revealing an 1800's log cabin and stone kitchen. A model of preservation and repurposing. Award-winning craftsmanship, design and determination. They enjoyed a year in their new home, and then, on the afternoon of December 12, 2014, fire took their home in a matter of hours. The house was ravaged in a catastrophic fire and deemed a complete loss.

Fire

So, homesteaders, what happens when you put an overdose of sweat and tears into a huge DIY project, only to lose it all? Insurance reimbursements can rebuild a house. But who will rebuild their spirits? Who will rebuild that, after the deep loss of tireless effort and personalized project?

BJ Miller and Shannon Varley dedicated two years to renovating the condemned 1800's farmhouse, working overtime to pay for the project and pulling all-nighters to balance jobs, kids and the renovation. Every room had repurposed pieces, every corner had a story. There were barters and gifts and sale finds in the appliances and furniture, offering more stories to enrich the space. It held community spirit, as many homespun projects do, with friends and family contributing to work days and building parties.

The words of a friend, Sarah Frost: Shannon worked during the days gutting the house, repointing, and chinking the old log cabin portion of the house. Then BJ would come home from his timber frame construction job, spend time with the family, get the kids to bed, and start to work rebuilding. Meanwhile, Shannon would go off to work at her waitressing job.

BJ is such a fantastic craftsman and between the two of them they created a house that was worthy of the pages of This Old House Magazine. BJ and Shannon won the contest for Best Kitchen in This Old House Magazine’s contest for 2014 One-Room Wonder Best Remodels, published in October 2014. It is probably still on the magazine racks in book stores and groceries.

Yet, the house is gone. Fire departments from three states attended the fire, with 35 trucks and over 90 fireworkers. They worked furiously to save the house, but it was too fast. Friends gathered to surround Shannon and BJ and do all that could be done: hold them in their dark moment and watch the smoke simmer down to a smolder.

Shannon looked at the house, holes burning where the roof used to be, with thoughtful observation. She said, “Oddly, it looks a lot like it did when we started renovating it.” They started this story with a tired condemned building peeling its layers, two holes in the roof. Two steps forward, three steps back.

Shannon’s words in a post to friends and family: “It was just a house, yes, but many of you know it was so much more. It was our heart, our hands, the effort and time of so many people that love us and wanted to see our farm dream become a reality. After years of chasing it. This has become a cold, hard lesson in the art of letting go.”

So, who will rebuild their spirits, after the deep loss of tireless effort and personalized project?

This is where their insurance policy with Community comes in. They built community into their lives and their projects, as many homesteaders and DIYers do. Community support is a well-known ballast in Amish communities and this small Maryland community understands its power as well. Community is reimbursing them now, with support and donations and commitments of help along the way.

And so we gathered in humble awareness of how small and insignificant our projects are, as we watched fire take our friends’ home in a ravage few hours. BJ says, “Everything I have was in there.” And although he’s right, I gently offer: “Here it is,” as we looked around at his community, gathered to hold them in this difficult moment.

BJ and Shannon built something amazing. They built a beautiful homestead that has been burnt to the ground. But they built something even stronger and more resilient than that. They built a tie into community that will not be devastated. They give love and food and help and hugs when they see the need in their community. And their community is giving back. In a way, Homesteaders’ Insurance. Insurance will build them a house. But will it build them a homestead? It is my hope that community can participate in raising this homestead to restore even a fraction of the heart and soul that they built into their homesteading project. Shannon wrote: Life carries on. There are far greater griefs in the world. We wrap our arms around each other and give thanks.

I hope that I have a rejuvenating follow-up story to tell in a year, one that reignites the spirits of these lovely people.

This post is a follow-up to the post entitled Sheep Come to the Homestead-Warming Party, written in January 2014.

There is a GoFundMe account to support the needs of Shannon and BJ and their two children in the upcoming year.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News and House in the Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/29/2014

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The animals on my farm enjoy a good life: free range, fresh air, sunshine, plenty of food, and humane treatment. I care for them, and in return they care for me. The chickens provide eggs and meat. The goats provide brush control, meat, and fertilizer for the garden as well as a fair amount of entertainment. The bees provide honey, wax, and pollination. The cat keeps the mice out of the barn, and the dogs keep away predators. Sounds like the peaceable kingdom, right? Well not quite.

I like to quote Gene Logsdon regarding farm animals. In Gene Everlasting, he says, “We raise our farm animals with loving care, grow quite fond of them, put our lives at risk to save theirs if necessary, and then we kill and eat them.” So there’s that — the farmer who eats her animals. And then sometimes, there’s the animals that turn on one another.

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Recently, I spent one month incubating 10 eggs on the kitchen countertop, another month caring for the newly hatched chicks in the brooder, and a third month caring for them on their own partitioned-off side of the main chicken coop. When they were 2 months old, I started letting them out with the big girls to free range during the day. Even though I locked them up every night, they immediately started disappearing!

One day as I was out in the yard, a few of the older hens hopped the fence and began scratching around in the yard near the dogs. The dogs, Dixie, a beagle/foxhound mix, and Bud, an Italian mastiff, ignored the hens as usual. When the dogs are not in the house sucked up against the wood stove, they are in the yard and are quite used to the chickens and guinea hens. Soon some of the half-grown chicks squeezed through the fence and fluttered after the hens, hoping to get some of whatever goodies the hens had found.

Then as I watched, Bud walked over, snatched up a chick, and started chomping, right under my nose. I was horrified! Dixie saw what was happening, looked at me just as guiltily as if she were the one chomping on my chick, and immediately slunk away to hide from what surely was coming. However, Bud just kept chomping away nonchalantly, as if I’d just given him a new chew toy.

I ran over too late to save the chick but in time to catch him with a mouthful of half-chewed bird and in time to rain down on him a fair amount of wrath and un-grandmotherly language as I removed what was left of the bird from his jaws. He looked surprised and then forlorn (and yes, a dog does have these expressions). Although this wasn’t his first offense, it had been years since he’d killed a chicken.

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I’d tried a bevy of things to break him back then. Tying a dead hen to his collar had not worked because I hadn’t caught him killing the hen. He loved having the foul thing flopping about his neck, even managing to get a bite of it now and then and rolling in the smell. The stench was unbearable for the rest of us and we were truly punished. But when I finally caught him red-pawed, feathers in his mouth, the shock of my displeasure and a couple of hard swats had cured him of killing my hens — until now.

So I assumed he’d learned his lesson this time too. Surely he’d learned that these little erratically moving nuggets were actually my hens too and off limits to him — problem solved. After all, he really is 100 pounds of well-muscled sweetness and just loves to please me.

Well I was dead wrong. One evening I returned from town well after dark and closed up the chicken coop before going in for the night. In the morning when I opened the coop door, all the adult hens paraded out to start their day, but no chicks? I looked in the coop--no sign of them. I went back and looked around the yard and found little chicken feathers scattered all around the house and in the flower beds. The “sweet” monster dog Bud had been at it again and I was livid!

But I could only look helplessly at Bud as he wagged his tail and looked back at me with those big soulful brown eyes. I couldn’t punish him now — he wouldn’t have a clue about why. What was I going to do with him? I thought of childhood stories like Where the Red Fern Grows and The Yearling, stories in which children’s pets had to be shot to save the farm families’ food supplies.

With a grocery store a few miles away, I was in no danger of starving and I couldn’t shoot him, but I didn’t want an animal around that was going to kill and maim my other animals. So I did what people do in these more modern times, I posted his picture on a local Facebook trading site as well as my own Facebook page and offered him up “free to a good home.”

Wow, did I get blowback from that! Later in the day, when I checked the Facebook trading site, I was shocked at all the criticism I was getting. Apparently chicken-killing and maiming aren’t good enough reasons to re-home (that’s what I’m supposed to call it I was informed, re-homing) a dog. And didn’t I know that offering him up for free like that would only attract people who wanted to use him to fight or as a “bait dog” for a fight? Well, no, it really never occurred to me that people who would do such a thing exist.

At first, I tried to ignore the uproar, but then I got a little snarky over the whole matter. I posted this cheeky comment, “Well gee, maybe it would be kinder to have him put to sleep?”

When I checked the Facebook site again the next day, it was full of dressing-down comments, advice on breaking dogs of killing hens (mostly tying dead birds around their necks), but no offers to take his chicken-killing butt into their homes.

I replied with a not-so-kindly comment about how all these Facebook commenters were out of touch with the realities of farm life and were probably the same folks who were getting salmonella from kissing their backyard chickens and then discarding them in animal shelters when things got real. Within 5 minutes, the site moderator took down my post and threatened to ban me from the site forever.

Appropriately chastised, I sat down to think about what to do about my Bud problem. I offered to trade him to my daughter for my 17-month-old granddaughter, who has just learned to hit and is driving her mother crazy. I told my daughter that we could both re-home our problem causers and know that they would be well loved. She considered it for a minute. But I am already softening and beginning to hope that no one will offer to take Bud.

I think I’ll remove his picture from my own Facebook page as well. Maybe he can sport a muzzle whenever he’s outside in the yard with any new batch of chicks, at least until they’re full grown? OK, Bud, one more pardon for you…or maybe only parole.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


12/24/2014

pig

Hi everyone! I am sorry for my 10 week hiatus. Things have been a bit crazy here on Sugar River Farm since I got back from my summer internship at Polyface Farm.

I’m not going to lie; it was a weird transition coming back to the real word, as it were. When I first got back, I wanted to sleep in the next few mornings, but I simply couldn’t. I was so used to being up early and doing things all day, so having the opportunity to not just didn’t feel right. I’ll admit to feeling like I had to come out swinging, selling lots of product and growing lots of food. It is probably comparable to graduating from a top-10 business school and you feel like you should be on the panel of Shark Tank within your first month out. It simply doesn’t work that way. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself after having worked under Polyface’s high production model to grow my own little enterprise very quickly, but I had to remind myself that Joel Salatin has been running his farm for decades and that is takes time to build a business that large. The conventional growing season in New Hampshire had also wound down, so there was not too much I could do until spring anyway, aside from planning.

Since leaving Polyface, I can sum up my goings on fairly succinctly. Farm-wise, we are currently raising heritage pigs for a CSA in Massachusetts over the winter, which should be interesting. I personally have never overwintered pigs, so we need to pay attention to the feed consumption, hours spent and utility bills incurred over the season to make sure we are priced properly. It was fun to set up our own paddock for the pigs, as I had been so used to doing that for someone else. These pigs are funny and friendly, so I’m reminding myself not to give them names. 

We are planning on getting a large group of laying hen pullets in the spring, more pigs and hopefully some turkeys and ducks. We are brainstorming creative (ie. cheap/free) ways to build coops for the birds. I’ve been in touch with our local NRCS office to see how we can work together, am selling crafts on Etsy, and am grateful for the wood stove that Dan’s uncle gave us. It was sitting in a shed unused and I can tell you, it has changed my life. The heat hardly comes on anymore, we are warmer than we were last year using the furnace and we’re going to save a lot of money that otherwise would have been spent on oil. I actually calculated the total hours spent by Dan, his brother and our neighbor of the year Bill, on gathering, splitting and stacking the wood, along with a generous subtraction for equipment attrition, and compared it to what we sent on oil last year. It worked out to conservatively a $40-$45/hour job. It turns out self reliance can be a pretty well paying job, if I do say so myself.

For income not on my own farm, I had initially gotten a part time job at an organic vegetable farm a few towns over, but a few weeks in I sprained my ankle pretty badly on my barn steps (not fun) and ended up taking an office job for the winter. I have never really been injured before, so it was a bit of a sobering realization that getting hurt could potentially affect your bottom line. That being the case, while most people probably do not think of Polyface interns working in offices, I am grateful for the job. It keeps me busy and bringing in funds during an otherwise quiet season and allows me to rest my ankle. As many of us know, mortgages wait for no one. Dan is still working for a landscape architect and we share animal responsibilities before and after work and on weekends. Oftentimes, my mind wanders when I’m at my computer screen to how the pigs are doing, but I have to remember that it takes time and discipline for dreams to take their full fruition.

On a lighter note, I am going to be teaching a seminar for NOFAMass at their Winter Conference in January on Polyface Pastured Poultry Methods. If any of you are interested, it’s a great day of classes and I’m looking forward to going.

And another big farm/life moment - We also finally broke into our pork stash the other night. A friend was coming up to see the farm and to celebrate, we figured why not treat ourselves to some of our very own pork chops. I can honestly say that I have never had someone curse after taking a bite of something I made and at first I was confused. Why was our friend swearing? Did I mess something up? I took a bite and the first thing that came to mind was, “[Expletive!] This is so good!!!!” All I did was put some salt, pepper, parsley, butter and a bit of honey mustard I had made a few days ago on the chops and put them under the broiler for about nine minutes. Not hard. But what emerged was this flavorful, delicious, juicy, phenomenal pork chop… like no pork I have ever had before.

At Polyface, they’ve just wrapped up their annual checkouts for their new crop of interns. It is funny to think back on where I was a year ago, having returned from my Polyface checkout and wondering if I would be picked. Now I’m writing to all my MOTHER EARTH NEWS friends while the barn cats who snuck inside again are trying to attack the keyboard and there are leftover pork chops from our own pigs in the fridge. A lot can happen in one year.

I'll be writing more about starting up our farm and the different enterprises we embark on, so don't worry. Even though my days interning are over, I'm not going anywhere. See you all soon!


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