Catching Up

I am going to try and be a brief as possible but we all know I can be long winded.  This week we have had a goat with bot fly, we had a chicken get eaten by a fox, 25 new chicks and 5 new ducklings came in the mail, we are addressing some garden issues, and lastly we are harvesting from the garden.  It has been a very busy week. 

Hiccup the goat had a scab on his back, I am a picker so naturally I picked at it to see what it was.  I am very glad that I did, because when I squeezed the scab a small worm came out along with some puss and blood.  I contacted the vet and set pictures.  The vet sent me to Tractor Supply for an Antibiotic.  I cleaned the wound really well.  Some air did get in under the skin, so it sounded like crackling when you pushed on the skin surrounding the wound, but that only lasted about a day.  It has been two days and I am happy to announce that Hiccup seems to be doing great.  Below is a very bad picture, but this is the worm and stuff I was able to get out of the goat’s back. I crushed the worm before I took the picture, I`m sorry. 

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The new chicks and ducklings are so cute and we are enjoying them like always.  With the egg shortage that is coming, I wanted to make sure that we had enough eggs to supply our family.  My husband and I also decided now that we are on the farm, we want to have a self sustaining breeding flock.  I did some research and I came across Delaware Chickens.  They are a heavy egg laying breed that has a good size for meat as well.  We ordered those, as well as, a random assortment of heavy brown egg layers.  We like them better than the Americanas.  The ducklings are for bug control.  I will keep you up to date on the breeding program. 

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Cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers.  We got the garden in the ground late so all we are getting at this point are cucumbers.  We weeds are so high someone asked me if we planted corn!  I am working every morning, pulling weeds, tying up tomato plants and laying down newspaper, cardboard boxes and feed bags for weed barrier.  I am determined to get these weeds under control.  Wish me luck. 

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This is the after picture of the plants tied up and weeded.

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This is the before picture of the tomato plants!

Lessons Learned

We have been at the  new farm for about a month.  We are learned many things and I am going to fill you in on my top three lessons learned.  1. Not all chickens are created equal.  2. Vultures are VERY protected and territorial.  3.  Dirt needs love too. 

I will start with the chickens.  We had this great idea, in order to keep track of how old our laying hens were and egg production we would order hens that lay a different color every year.  Last year was brown so this year we switched to blue.  If you follow my small blog you will know that we are very hands on with our chickens.  My son has taught a chicken to sit on his lap while he swings on the playground.  We have had chickens in our house, we have chickens follow us around the yard when we mow and we have never not been able to pick up a chicken.  This year we choose to raise chickens that laid blue eggs.  The breed we ordered is Americana. These birds are complete freaks.  Ever since they were chicks, when we go to feed them they throw themselves against the side of the cage.  With our first group of chickens we hand fed them for the first several weeks, way longer than I would like to admit.  When we put our hands in their cage, they came running.  They perched on your shoulder while you did chores and were always, and I mean always underfoot.  I have even had to kick one out of the kitchen when the door was left open.  They chickens produced eggs and were farm animals but they were also part of our family.  (I could go into a side bar about ore relationship with out food and then being able to eat them, but that is a hole different post.) The Americana birds that we have are not like that at all.  Even if we have scratch grain, fresh scraps from the garden or even chicken feed… they do not run towards us.  They do not even go in to roost at night.  Not the brightest chickens in the world.
A month after we got our Americanas in the mail we went to Tractor Supply and picked up some chicks that we were using for an educational presentation.  We had no idea what breed they were, they were just straight run whatever the store had.  Turned out that they are Rhode Island Reds and Black Astrop.  These chickens have a very different temperament than the Americanas.  They always go in to roost.  If I tap a feed bucket they come running and they are easy to put away or pick up.  I dislike the Americana breed so much I have already ordered chicks to replace them.  They have not even started laying and I am ready for them to be gone.  Which is a good mentality to have considering the fox is probably going to catch them since they refuse to go in at night.  Crazy chickens.

Okay that was long winded but I feel better, I just had to get it all out.  Second lesson oh these darn vultures.  In our area vultures are everywhere.  Yes I know they have a very important job to do.  I understand that, but what I don’t understand is why these birds are protected under the migratory bird act.  They don’t even migrate.  In fact, they choose the same nesting spot for their whole life.  Even though they are in great numbers and even though they do not migrate, these birds are still protected.  I have learned that not only are these wonderful birds protected but so are their nesting areas.  When we moved into the house, a vulture was nesting in the small barn on the property.  When we first went to see the property, there was two eggs in the nest.  We have had the magical pleasure of watching these eggs hatch, and grow into the most hideous creatures that only a mother could love.  While these chicks have been growing we have been slowly moving in our farm.  First we moved in the chickens, then the ducks and lastly the goats.  We have tried to be respectful of these fabulous creatures and have not moved anything into the barn.  The adult vultures have started to become more and more aggressive.  They first just sat on the top of the barn as a warning. Then they sat in front of the chicken coop all puffed up and growling at the chickens.  That progressed to them charging the coop and the goat fence.  Now they have climaxed into attacking the dogs, myself and my children.  We are glad that our son has the personality that he does… he just screams at them.  We have called local, State and National services and they have all said that Vultures are completely protected and there is nothing we can do about it.  We can not disturb the chicks and we can not injure the birds.  If we did, it would be 6 months in prison and a $15,000 fine per bird.  Needless to say, the darn birds are still in our barn.  We are hoping the chicks grow quickly and leave the nest.  Once the chicks are gone, we can reclaim our barn. 
Lastly, we have learned that our soil needs love.  At our previous property we knew our property was made up of fill dirt.  We did not try to plant a garden in the ground.  Our soil was all compost.  We occasionally had a rock, but for most part we grew our garden in compost.  We have had the garden plot at the new house tilled.  We have tilled each individual row, but this dirt has no nutrition in it.  No has given it the love that it needs.  There are a lot of rocks and hard red clay.  We have added compost around each individual plant, but we do not have enough to love the whole garden.  The grass in the isles of the garden is taller than the tomato plants.  We are realising that it is going to take years to build the soil up.  We are going to compost as much as we can and invest in the land.  It is sad that it has gone so long with no one giving it the attention that it deserves. 
The future will bring many more lessons, but these are just three of the lessons learned so far.  We hope that our lessons can help you in the future. 

Dreams do come true

I finally feel like I can make our amazing announcement!!  We have moved!  We really loved our little “about” an acre plot, but we were pushing the limits of what could be done in that much space.  We were able to raise a lot of our own food, but we are really interested in raising all of our food, and raising food for other families as well.  So finally with a lot of God’s Grace and a lot of hard work we now own 5 acres.   We are very blessed in that we did not have to move far, we are still close enough to Baltimore that I can go to the Orioles games whenever I want.  The benefit is that we now have enough land to pretty much do whatever we want… the pig is already on order!

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Moving a homestead, even a small one like ours, is not easy.  We have amazing friends that have helped us and are continuing to help us, because we are far from done.  So far we have moved most of the contents of our house, the ducks and the chickens.  In preparation for the move I planted my garden in pots.  So we have moved 760 veggie plants, 12 blueberry bushes and 6 raspberry plants.  The aquaponics system still has to be moved, as well as the rabbits.

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Over all I think that the move is going very well.  We are all very tired and our days are very long.  The kids no longer ask to stay up late, they beg to go to bed early.  The animals seem to be adjusting well to their new environment and are being patient with us while we get the perfect pens built.  Right now our main focus is just trying to get everything here, once we do that, we will focus more on stacking firewood and building bigger chicken yards.

The garden is going in slowly but it is going in. A friend came over with a tractor and tilled a 100 x 75 foot garden.  By the deer fence should be up and all the plants should be planted.   I have never planted in the ground before, I know crazy, but I have only ever gardened in raised beds.  My raised beds were full of black gold, very little rocks and tons of worms.  The dirt here looks a lot like the dirt on a baseball field and we will have enough rocks to lay down some paths. Most people when they move they focus on the furniture, well we march the to beat of a different drum and we are moving all that garden soil.  We are digging out all my raised beds and dumping the soil in the new garden.  I am also moving my compost pile.  Good soil makes all the difference in the world and we worked really hard to create the soil, so we are taking it with us, it has more value to us than a flat screen T.V.    Also in moving the 760 pots, I found out that I did not label the plants very well.  I planted beefsteak, san marsanos, and cherry tomatoes… however in the end I think I will just end up with tomatoes.  I have no idea which ones are which.  I am hoping that I am a good enough gardener to be able to tell the watermelon from the cucumbers but even that might get interesting.  This year is just a test year, I would rather grow cucumelons than grow nothings at all.

The whole thing will be a work in progress.  We have many plans for the future and step by step and shovel by shovel we will get there.  My secret goal is to be selling CSA subscriptions in two years, we will see if it happens.  In the mean time, we will continue with the truck trips back and forth and the evenings in the garden.

Spring goings ons

I finally think that Spring might be coming to Baltimore.  We are going to have a night this week close to freezing, but Spring is really trying to push through.  We have been busy!  Unfortunately busy means that I do not have as much time to write, so I am going to try and bring everyone up to date on the farm. We have many new inhabitants of the farm, 60 some I think.  I hate to say that I have lost count!  We have our “meat birds”, that we raise out for our family’s year supply of chicken.  This year we are raising Rainbow Reds.  These are a pasture chicken that does not have as much breast meat as the Cornish Crosses but still produces a 5 pound roasting bird.  We also have a couple Cornish Crosses, because they were on sale at Tractor Supply.  That store is dangerous in the Spring!  Total we have 30 meat birds. They are scheduled to go to butcher the middle of May.

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Laying hens:  Our current laying flock is getting to be of the age that it is time for them to be soup.  We have 14 birds and we are lucky if we get 7 eggs.  We have had 3 become egg bound in the last month and a half.  I hate to see them suffer and I really hate to waste the meat.  So we prefer to butcher them before they start to have problems, this way nothing goes to waste.  We keep debating whether all 14 are headed to the soup pot, or if we are going to try and wean out the ones that are still laying.  That decision is still up in the air, I hate to go a couple months with no eggs.   We are raising out new laying hens.  They are 8 weeks old right now.  We chose to raise 15 Ameraucana Chickens this year.  These birds will lay blue or green colored eggs.  I am excited to get the colored eggs, but I have to say I am not impressed with the breed so far.  These birds are very skidish.  We have never had birds that we could not easily pick up. We handle these birds twice a day and they are still very skidish.  When you stick your hand in to change the water or to feed them they freak out, flying against the walls and screaming.  The meat birds that we are raising are so much calmer than these birds and those we don’t pick up often.  Hopefully they will calm down soon.  We also have 6 random laying chickens from Tractor Supply that we used for a Urban Farming presentation. I told you that store was dangerous. They are incredibly friendly and do not see why chickens need to be kept outside, when the living room is so warm and full of kids that feed them leftovers from lunch and dinner.  They were moved out to the brooding barn this week, much to their dismay. wpid-ncm_0033.jpg Ducks:  Yes I said ducks.  These were purchased just for my Urban Farming presentation, for the 100% cute factor. One is a yellow Pekin Duckling and the other is a Black Runner Duckling.  I had already found a farm that would take them after the presentation.  This farm even had a pond for them to go live in.  Well, I am a complete softly and have fallen head over heals in love with this crazy ducks.  They still live in the living room, because the kids can not bear the idea of them being outside.   They eat their breakfast of greens while taking their morning swim in the bathtub.  They are then dried off with towels by the kids while watching morning cartoons.  The ducks have imprinted on my 6-year-old daughter and it is cute beyond words.  They follow her everywhere.  She is diligently working on teaching them their ABC’s and 123’s.  She feels all ducks should be properly educated.  Needless to say, the ducks that were never meant to live at my farm, now have names and are not going anywhere, anytime soon, except to play house in the backyard with my daughter. wpid-ncm_0001.jpg wpid-ncm_0122.jpg That is all for new animals.  We still have the rabbits.  We have 3 does still available for sale, after we sell those does we will not breed again still August.  We will maintain our breeding stock of 3 bucks and 3 does.  These rabbits are absolutely amazing.  We took one of our youngest does out to the Urban Farming presentation.  There was 50 plus people that wanted to love on her and touch her.  She loved every minute of it.  She was passed around, flipped upside down and petted for two hours.  She never ran from the kids, she let everyone one of them love her.  The only rabbits I have ever owned is American Chinchilla Rabbits, so I just assumed that this is how ever rabbit acts.  I was amazed at how many people came up to me and told me stories about how grumpy their rabbits were.  If you are looking for a rabbit, American Chinchillas are the best way to go, they are fabulous rabbits. wpid-ncm_0014.jpg Fish:  Our tilapia are finally outside!   The weather has finally become warm enough for them.  Right now we have put them in the sump tank.  I have kept the smallest of the fish in the house, so that they can get the food they need to grow. Veggies:  We have started our seeds and we have some of our over winter veggies that are growing well.  I will do another post about veggies so that I don’t go over 1,000 words in one post…. yes I know I need to post more often, I will work on it. Big BIG things are happening on our Farm.  I can’t wait to share all the details about it in the next week our so.

Beef Brisket

My husband told me that I needed to post more about our everyday life.  So today is just an ordinary Tuesday and I just put dinner in the oven. Tonight because I need to go to the grocery store, I am just using what I have on hand.  Tonight it is beef brisket.  Yes, I have beef brisket on hand.  We order 1/2 side of beef a year, every March. Ok stepping on my SOAP BOX: To make good meals, you need to start with good food. We grow our own or buy local as much as possible.  The beef that we buy, we know the name of the farm, we know the name of the farmer, the vet that takes care of the cows, the name of the cow, heck I know the name of the cow’s mother! I know where my beef comes from, that is so important.  It is really important to our family because there was this incident when stores where spraying their ground beef with red dye to make it look fresher, my husband is allergic to red dye.  I know 100% for a fact that there is no red dye in my beef!  Plus, I get a better price per pound than the store, plus, plus, I am helping small local farmers.  It is a win, win, win all around.This is the farm we choose to support, Family A’Fair Farm like them on Facebook to follow what they are up to.  OK stepping off soap box.

This time of year,  I always seem to have the higher end cuts left at the end of our “beef year”.  I think that I am going to use them for Birthdays or Anniversaries, but I never do.  So here it is the end of February and I am almost out of ground beef and chicken.  So we are having beef brisket on a Tuesday! Let’s get cooking.

If I was organized and planned my life out perfectly, I would have taken this brisket out of the freezer yesterday. I know I am committing culinary sin by not marinating my meat, but I function in the real world and I honestly am proud of myself for thinking about dinner before 4:30.  Also, like I said, I need to go shopping and we are at the end of a “storage” season.  I am out of my canned tomato sauce, I am out of chicken, out of ground beef, running low on onions, BBQ sauce, stock… the list just goes on.  I am so ready for spring and the food abundance that it brings.  Anyway, I threw together this brisket with what I had in the fridge, so pardon my unclear measurements.

My last minute marinade, is the last of the BBQ sauce that I have in the fridge, plus some water to make sure I cleaned out every drop of sauce.  1/2 a cut up onion, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp mustard, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 3 cloves of garlic (various sizes, about 1/2 tbsp garlic), 4 tbsp blush wine, plus some for myself, and yes it is after noon somewhere.  I also added cracked pepper and some paprika, I have no idea how much, just till it looked right.  I stirred all this together and poured it over my half frozen, un-marinated brisket in a 8×11 baking dish and covered with tin foil.

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I threw the whole thing in the oven on 275.  The high temp today outside is suppose to be 10 degrees, so I was OK with running the stove for a couple of hours. If I did not want the stove on, I would have put this in the crock pot this morning.

I am going to serve this brisket with gluten free no yeast rolls that I making from scratch, hand cut french fries and whatever green vegetable I can find in the freezer. I think it will be green beans, again my stock is running low!

I tried to add a recipe card, but I am having software problems.  I will update final pictures of the meal and a recipe card later this evening.
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Baby Bunnies

Today began like any other day, I made breakfast and got my husband ready to go to work.  It was cold this morning and lightly snowing.  I asked him to bring in a load of wood and to check on our expecting momma rabbit, Aurora.  He returned from the yard with 4 ice cold baby bunnies. In the past I would have just said that they were dead and put them in the trash.  However, since the last time we had cold babies,  I have been told over and over again a baby is not dead until it is warm and dead.  So I did what any normal person would have done and stuffed the bunnies in my bra until I could get the heating pad warmed up.

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I folding the heating pad in half and put them inside like a taco.  I rubbed the outside of the heating pad trying to stimulate them. About 5 minutes passed and I noticed that one of the babies was starting to wiggle.  My heart skipped a beat.  I had no idea when these babies were born or how long they had been outside of the nesting box.  I never expected them to be alive!  It took about 20 minutes, but three out of the four babies came to after being rubbed and warmed up.

My husband brought a large tote with pine shavings, hay, the nesting box, food, water bowl and Aurora into the house.  We are getting a winter storm today and I wanted to be able to keep a close eye on these precious babies.  Aurora is one of my proven does.  She does great in the summer, she is the rabbit that lives in my garden.  She is slightly spoiled rotten, she lives in the two story hutch with a nesting area that does not require a nesting box.  During the summer, she never drags any babies out of the nesting area and she is a wonderful momma.  In the winter, we move her out of the garden and into the Bunny Barn.  She does not like this idea.  In the Bunny Barn she struggles with babies.  I think that the nesting boxes are just not the right size for these large breed rabbits.  She pulls fur and makes a great nest, but always ends up with babies outside the box. Last winter she did not have any successful winter litters.  We will keep her inside the house just long enough to make sure the babies are doing OK and then I will take her back outside, hopefully by then the storm will have passed.

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Bringing Aurora in the house was a shock to her so I helped her feed the babies the first time.  I am hoping that she will calm down and be able to feed them herself, but right now I know those babies are very hungry and can use some cuddle time with Mom.  I flipped Aurora on her back and she let the babies lay on her stomach and nurse.  It was very cute.   I am thankful for the three babies that we were able to save.  I think this litter will always have a special place in my heart.

Managing rabbits in the cold

Most of the United States is experiencing colder than normal temps.  For most people that just means dressing warmer and adding an extra blanket to the bed at night.  For farmers or homesteaders, it means getting creative to keep our animals comfortable.  I unfortunately live on a small plot of  land and I do not have a big barn to put everyone in.  My animals are outside in smaller houses and pens because that is all we have room for.

Bunny its cold outside!  We have a shed that we use for a Bunny Barn.  It is a small 12 x 12 shed that holds 8 rabbit cages.  In the past we have tried to heat the shed with an electric heater, but it cost a small fortune.  Over the summer we have spent some time and money insulating the shed.  My husband used rolls of insulation and linoleum, so the rabbits could not eat the fiberglass insulation.  We also moved the cages a little bit away from the wall to extra make sure that the insulation was not in the bunnies reach.  In the picture below you can see the back wall of the shed, just pretend it is nice and neat and there is not stuff piled on top of my food storage cabinet.

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We also put ridged insulation on the door to try and keep in as much heat as possible.

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Water is always the biggest challenge.  We remove all water bottles when the temperatures drop below freezing and put in water bowls. We have to transport our water from the house and we use empty milk jugs.  A great discovery we have this year is that if we place the gallons of water in the compost, they do not freeze.  I know there are some of you thinking this is just gross, don’t worry, the water stays clean and it allows us to give the rabbits non frozen water.  We are going to be building a larger scale compost water heater now that we know it works on a small scale.

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Normally, all of our rabbits fit in the shed and we do not need to use outside hutches.  We had a great Fall, so we needed to use outside pens as grow out pens for some of our bunnies.  I put 7 young does in a large hutch and we also have a buck, that we just got back from another farm we sold him to.  The decided to get out of rabbits. He is from great breeding stock and we would like to add him back into our herd. He was kept outside at the other farm so we hoped this would not be a shock for him.  My other bucks are spoiled rotten and would be very upset outside.   I have added a lot more hay and straw to the outside hutches.  We give them areas where they can completely get out of the wind and did I mention we had A LOT more hay.  The rabbits move the hay around and make a very nice warm nest with it.  I also covered the hutches with large tarp dumpster bags.  This is to help keep any snow out of the hutch and to cut down on the wind.

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We go out 2 -3 times per day and change out the water.   They seem to be doing Ok.  They are eating well and enjoying the extra hay.

These are the things that we are doing to protect our buns from the cold.  What do you do?