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?

An Eggstavagansa

We are having egg issues!  We currently own 17 laying hens.  Let me repeat that… we own 17 egg laying hens and yesterday when we collected eggs, there was 1.  How do 17 chickens who are only a year or two old only produce one egg? 

Our numbers normally drop in the winter, but they have never dropped this bad, over the last week we have collected just over two dozen eggs.  That is 24 eggs in a week.  We should be getting at least a dozen a day!  I am perplexed.  Normally, we sell at least 5 dozen eggs a week. That is really helpful in covering the cost of the addition chickens, that we raise specifically for egg sales. It would be really great to get egg production back.

During the winter chickens do not produce as many eggs because their bodies are using those calories to stay warm.  We have been increasing their feed and supplementing feed with extra compost and pumpkins that we have collected.  They are enjoying the extra treats but they are still not producing.  They are running low on crushed shells so I will get more of that today.  I also have been occasionally giving them sunflower seeds as scratch grains, I will increase that as well as add some cracked corn to their diet. 

We will be also adding lights to our chicken coop.  I will put a light in the night coop where they sleep and in the covered area where they can get out of the rain.  We have had some really rainy, over cast day and I am wondering if they are not getting the light that they need. 

I hate to force them to lay, I know that their bodies need a break, but this is a little extreme.  The decrease in egg production as been going on for about 2 1/2 months.  We have still been able to get at least 5 dozen to be able to sell.  This week I had to tell my last regular egg customer that I did not have any eggs for them.  I do not want to lose them, if they think that they are not going to be able to get eggs from me they will go somewhere else. 

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Since we have been talking about chickens and eggs so much around here the last couple of weeks, we have been trying to figure out what the plan is for our flock in the New Year.   We know that over the course of the year we will be raising 48 chickens for meat.  We are going to do it in two batches, the first in yearly March and the second in July.  We have learned in the past that is not a good idea to raise chickens near hunting season, there is no one to help process them.  We are also going to be at least adding an addition 6 to our flock.  I would love to get 2 dozen eggs a day.  That would cover what I want to sell as well as I want to make our own mayo from now on. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year.

Sunday Success

I am very happy to announce that I have finally tattooed a rabbit. If you have been following my blog you will see that I have really struggled with tattoos.  I mean that it has become something that has haunted me.  I sell rabbits never knowing if the tattoo was actually going to work.  I am very grateful that everyone I have sold to has been very understanding of my deficiencies.  I have purchased multiple tattooing tools, still no luck.  Finally, I changed ink and eureka I have a tattoo.  I purchased Speed Ball India Ink Super Black from amazon.  Another rabbit breeder suggested it to me.  I am so thankful that it worked.  I know it seems like a simple task but is was really frustrating.

Now that we successfully tattooed this little buck we were able to separate him from his Momma and sisters.  We have several rabbits that are for sale and whenever I worry about running out of cages, buyers show up, so I am patiently waiting for that to happen again.

Today is the shortest day of the year, winter solstice, time to plant garlic.  I keep garlic cloves in my refrigerator, I know that they will last in the pantry as well, but in the refrigerator they last for a year or more.  These are cloves are from 2013 so I am really hoping they grow well, they had started to sprout in the frig.  I planted them in a deep bed of straw and rabbit manure.  I hope this will give them the protection they need from the hard freezes but still allow them to grow large bulbs.  wpid-img_20141221_154243.jpg

We are continuing to work like elves on our homemade Christmas gifts.  Our family is really simplifying our Christmas traditions and the one thing that we all agreed on, is that we do not need as many gifts.  My kids are truly amazing, but that is a book for a different day.  Anyway, we decided to have two gifts, one store bought and one homemade.  All of the gifts I am giving this year are sewn.  Below there are pictures of one of the puppets I am making for my son and the felt pretend pie I made for my daughter.  I hope they enjoy them.  I am unable to post what I am making for my husband because he occasionally reads my blog and I do not want to give it away.

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On a sad note we lost another chicken to a hawk. We are hoping that early in Spring when the ground thaws we will build a new chicken yard.  We need one that has wire on the top, we found bird netting is horrible to work with.  We would like to have a chicken yard and rabbit grow out pen together.  I have heard that the rabbits and the chickens enjoy each others company.  When the rabbits where in with the chickens in the past we did have larger litters, we will have to see if there is truly any connection between the two.

On a happy note, we are looking for some land to rent so that next year we can not only grow more of our food, but also food for our friends that really would like more of our veggies.  A couple of CSA families is my dream for the future.  I would like to eventually have a larger property and support my love of farming with a handful of CSA subscriptions.

That is all for now.    Merry Christmas to you all from Our Family to Yours.