Jane Musser talks about the family's big move to a farmhouse, the status of the homestead buildings, wild bees, and livestock and poultry.
Life has certainly not been dull on "ye olde homestead" since our last "Report" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 19. We've been awfully busy, but with the help of a little persistent prodding from my husband, Mick — I thought I'd take the time to give everyone the continuing story of our back to the land joys and sorrows.
The most notable happening since I last wrote was the homestead's move in February of '73, We decided that renting was no longer for us and bought a huge 150–year old farmhouse and dairy barn all situated on five acres that we can now at last call our own. The land is corner property, with frontage on two hardtop roads. Our privacy has been cut down somewhat, but — after living through half a winter on a dirt (but more often mud) road — I'm thankful for the ease with which we're now able to get around. It's less lonely here, too.
Our new land is slightly rolling which is fine with us, as the south–facing slope is used for our vegetable garden, berries, and herbs while the slope that looks north is ideal for future plantings of fruit and nut trees. We have a stream with trees and shrubs on both banks, and a small woodlot. Vegetation includes a huge willow, a few apple trees, forsythia, lilacs, bittersweet, and — in front of the house — five giant pines. We've made a good start at replenishing the land to support our vegetable crops, and have already put in the herb garden, strawberries, raspberry bushes, and a comfrey patch. An orchard and grape vines are yet to come. You see, we have high hopes for this relatively small piece of earth.
Our house was slightly dilapidated when we bought it and has required (and will, for a long time) a lot of work. We've made some improvements, however, such as rebuilding and cleaning our tumbledown chimneys in order to install two wood burning stoves: a big metal plated heater for the workshop and an old (circa 1900) Kalamazoo cook stove in the kitchen. We found that last one by placing an ad in the local "pennysaver". The stove has six burners, two warming ovens, and a water reservoir — and believe it or not, the old lady who answered our listing let that wonderful unit go for $20.00! Now it burns merrily in our kitchen and keeps the room snug and cozy. I still need a lot of practice regulating the oven, but cooking is much easier today than on that electric monster we had when we moved in!.
Most of the wooden shingles on our huge dairy barn had blown off (before we came) and — as a result — the roof was pitted with holes and the floor was rotted through. The building is much too large for our immediate purposes, but we decided to keep and repair it for present and future use. (We hope to rent storage space in the barn someday. In the meantime, we still have our own animals to house.) Obviously, the roof had to be replaced — but how do you reach a surface that looms 50 feet off the ground and has a loft under only half of it? We pondered the question for most of one summer while our livestock suffered badly every time there was a heavy rainfall.
We finally recruited some daredevil friends who live in Buffalo city — folks do love to come to the country for a weekend of hard labor and good food — and set to work. By tying ladders to the roof's supporting beams (which, luckily, were still in good shape) we were able to move around efficiently and replace all the remaining old shingles with galvanized steel sheeting, Half the roof was finished in that one weekend, Mick and some local friends have since completed another quarter, and the rest is waiting till this summer. And already the animals are dry as toast, even in the worst of storms.
Oh, what our poor birds and animals have been through since we moved! For instance: When we arrived, there was an insulated water and animal tight shed in front of the house which served as a temporary chicken coop. The problem? The structure was located right on a fairly busy road with woods on the other side and we were afraid to let our birds run. As a result, they led a pretty cramped existence for a few months.
To make matters worse, a new batch of chicks was arriving and we needed the shed for them. At first, we tried enclosing one corner of our barn for the laying flock and discovered that we had chosen the draftiest place in the whole building. We eventually decided to house all our livestock and poultry on one draft free side of the barn — which has a cement floor — and proceeded to build a complex permanent structure.
The completed chicken coop occupies a third of this space and is divided into two separate areas: one for our pair of Muscovy ducks and their young, and the other for brooding new batches of chicks. (If at some time our flock becomes larger and we have no young stock to brood, these two sections can again become one.) In another third of the barn we have our goats: one pen houses our two milch does, another contains a doe kid (she'll be raised for milk), and a smaller area is set aside for milking. The rest of the space is used for our rabbits: three does, a buck, and several young. The barn is dry and tight and electricity has been installed so I have light to milk by during the long winter months. All is well on "animal row".
Our first Hawthorne Homestead kids were born last March what an experience that was! Such adorable animals! We had read all about kidding (or so we thought) and figured we were prepared for any emergency. Luckily, Nellie did a beautiful job all by herself. (I'm sure we won't always be so fortunate.) Our first notice that she was about to give birth was an awful bleating coming from the goat stall and by the time we got out there Nellie had just about completely dried off her first kid (a doe). Within a few minutes she stopped cleaning the baby, made a strange noise and — while still standing — plop, out came the second (also a doe). No trouble whatsoever! Nellie then went to work sprucing that one up and within 30 minutes both babies were looking for milk. It took them a few hours to find the source — they looked awfully funny hunting around under their mother's chest and belly — but they finally discovered Nellie's teats. Our only job was dipping the umbilical cords in iodine and feeding Nellie a warm bran mash which she loved!
We let the kids nurse for the first three days — while there was colostrum in their mother's milk and then separated them from Nellie. The little ones were then fed a milk substitute which they accepted after another three days and herein lies our first (and last, to date) major mistake with goats.
One of the kids developed bloat so we hunted through some of our literature and found an old remedy (in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 18) which involved drenching the animal with a one–to–one water/kerosene solution. (We used a weaker two to one ratio because the kid was so small.) The mixture was administered with my kitchen baster — and it worked! We figured the bloat had occurred because we were pan feeding the kids and they probably had gotten too much air when they ate so we switched to bottle feeding.
A few days later, though, we found one kid dead and blown up like a balloon. Naturally, we were upset. To make matters worse, the other baby had a slight swelling on its left side. We used the water/kerosene solution again (with good success) and visited a neighboring farmer to see what the trouble could have been. He knew immediately that the cause was over feeding (it's amazing what knowledge these old timers have stored up) so we cut the feedings down to six ounces every four hours and have had no problems since. When the kid was six weeks old we sold her to a nearby farmer — we didn't keep her because Nellie herself yields only two quarts a day at freshening and the kid probably wouldn't have done much better.
We had originally planned to raise two pigs this year — unfortunately, the whole venture started out as a catastrophe. We bought two six week old piglets from a neighboring farmer and brought them home in burlap bags (around here, the standard method for transporting the animals). By the time we got them to our place, one of the little porkers had died. We were awfully upset by this, but were assured that it wasn't too unusual since pigs often succumb to stress. So we butchered the dead piglet — which resulted in 20 pounds of the tenderest pork we've ever tasted — and, next day, Mick went out to feed the remaining squealer.
Well, it seems our pen wasn't high enough and the critter had escaped during the night. We spent days looking for the little rascal and sighted it several times in the neighborhood — but were never able to come close enough to catch him. Not to be daunted, Mick built the pen up to a height of four feet, and bought one more hog. We had no trouble with that one (thank goodness!) and he's now in the freezer in the form of pork, ham, bacon, and sausage.
Converting that live, 200 pound hog into a supply of meat is a story in itself. It all began on a cold (in the 30's) morning when a friend of Mick's came over to do the initial slaughtering. He first filled a huge kettle with 25 gallons of water and started a fire under it. Once the water was steaming, it was time to "do in" the pig.
The animal was shot in the head with a .22 and promptly stuck in the throat with a double bladed sticking knife. The pigpen has been built without a door — the hog was confined all summer and the pen had been moved from spot to spot to give him fresh pasture — and so part of the structure had to be torn down to get the critter out.
The pig was then dragged to a work area, where a 55 gallon barrel had been tilted on an angle against a makeshift table. The steaming hot water was poured into the barrel and our old time hog slaughterer determined when the water temperature was right for scalding the hair off the pig by adding fresh blood to the water. (The rate at which the blood went into solution indicated the liquid's readiness.)
Chancy as it may seem, the method worked just fine. When the water reached the correct temperature, the hind end of the hog was dipped in until its hair came off easily when scraped. Then, of course, the procedure was repeated with the front end. The remaining hairs were, then shaved with razor–sharp knives. By this time, the pig was white and cleaner than he had ever been while alive.
Dragging the carcass into the barn at that point for gutting would have gotten the animal dirty all over again, so instead, the skin on its hind hocks was split and the tendons separated from the bone. A gambrel rod (a slightly curved, notched stick) was then inserted between the tendons and the bone of both legs and the hog was hoisted and carried into the barn. There he was hung from a big beam with a block and tackle — his head was removed, and he was gutted. The carcass was then allowed to hang overnight to cool.
The next day was reserved for butchering. Mick and I decided to do that job ourselves — with a little help from the Morton Salt Company's book on butchering and curing. (This book, serialized in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NOS. 17–21 by the way, proved to be invaluable.) Mick began the process by splitting the carcass in half with a saw and carrying each piece into the house. (The meat weighed out to 145 pounds, not bad, considering we had bought only 400 pounds of feed for the pig all summer!)
I read instructions from the Morton book while Mick did the cutting and he did a darn good job, too. Everything was recognizable when he finished — hams, bacon, pork chops, tenderloin, fatback, and more. The first half took about four hours to cut, the second only two and next year we figure we'll be able to do the whole job in half the time. We wrapped the chops and some loin roasts for the freezer and sent the hams, bacon, and fatback out to be cured. The trimmings and leaf lard were put on our cook stove and rendered into pure white lard. Then we relaxed over four of the thickest, juiciest, tenderest pork chops we had ever eaten!
The entire endeavor was a good and enjoyable experience, especially the economics of it all. Everything considered including the original cost of the pig, as well as feed, slaughtering, and curing the meat cost us only 55 cents per pound!.
We'd had a hive of bees in the wall of one of our upstairs bedrooms since the day we moved in. They were never any trouble, but since we lost our domestic bees last winter and were unable to obtain any the following spring, Mick decided he's try to get the wild ones living in the wall into his hive, and collect the honey left behind. He was successful on both counts.
Clothed in his beekeeper's costume and armed with a smoker, Mick tore the plaster and some of the lath away from the wall, picked up armfuls of bees, and put them into paper sacks. He gathered about five bagfuls of the insects and took them to his own hive, which he had re–situated about three miles from the house. (If he had located the hive any closer to our place the bees might very well have gone right back to their old lodging.) The new hive seemed to be doing well for a while, but eventually the colony's population dwindled — an indication that Mick had failed to move the queen along with the rest of the bees. He did move some brood cells hoping that the little buzzers would make a new queen but, unfortunately, to no avail. We finally harvested 15 pounds of honey from our wall, though, by just heating the combs in water till the wax melted, and then filtering the solution. We enjoyed delicious honey for months afterward!.
We've been more than just busy at our new homestead — we've been happy too. We wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything. Oh, yes, one more thing: February of 1974 brought another addition to our life — a son. He'll almost certainly make our days more hectic but — at the same time — fuller in so many ways. If I can find a few spare hours in the next year or so, I'll write MOTHER again and fill you all in on more news from Hawthorne Homestead.