A little ahead of schedule…

Welp, had to butcher one pig a little earlier than planned. He decided that being outside the pen was worth the electric shock. Which also means that shooting him was more like hunting than livestock. Three of four contained still and still being fattened up!

Many lessons learned. Lesson 1: pigs are heavy. Even small pigs like kunekune. Do not underestimate this. Lesson 2: use a pulley and something sturdier than 2×3 dimensional lumber to hoist. Lesson 3: if you don’t have the setup to dunk, just skin. I know many say they used a wet towel to scald and scrape successfully, but after about two hours I ended up skinning him anyway.

All in all, this pig was a lot of work, but very rewarding to see all that meat in the freezer! Of course, I’m not looking forward to doing it three more times, but I am looking forward to taking it easy this winter with farm stuff, and I know my wife is too!

On that note, let’s talk poultry. Chickens are fun. They’re entertaining. Eggs are good. Meat is also good. But pay attention to the economics of it. I lost track of that this year, and my wife was the one who pointed out that we are inputting much more in feed costs than we are getting in eggs. Of course, some of these birds are three years old, too. They slowed down a lot last winter but this year it’s barely fall and they have stopped altogether.

So, time for a cull. Of thirteen chickens, nine have been selected for processing. That might seem excessive, but they are not pets. Last winter we spent too much on feed for not enough eggs. Not doing that this year. Unfortunately most of the birds are the same age so this cull is bigger than it could have been. Will try to stagger ages better in the future.

Rabbit population also got out of hand, so nine of them went as well (well, one escaped but I’m gonna get him!) leaving only our two best does, our buck, and a litter too small to process. Lady McFarmFace has an excellent idea (that I should have listened to a few months ago…) that we should treat the rabbits more like the turkeys. Start selling babies and simply process those that don’t sell for our meat. So watch for a new section of this blog being launched soon!

Phew. Time to take a break, right?

Hello, turkeys.

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Farm life resuming!

Rabbit population got a little away from us during and post wedding, and I’m just now getting caught up on that. It’s shocking how big a difference a few months makes. I used to be able to go from the pellet gun to the freezer bag in just under 20 minutes, but it took nearly an hour to do one tonight!

Clearly I am out of practice. Clearly the bunny pen will offer me plentiful opportunity to get back in practice. We’ve got three ready to go weeks ago, three that will be ready in a couple weeks, and a litter of six or seven that are just little fluff balls right now.

Also, the frozen pelts are taking over a freezer so I’ve got to get working on that soon. But oh, a rabbit fur lined hood for my beautiful wife lies in the future! Think the snowball scene in beauty and the beast. Cartoon version.

Also, started thinning the turkey population too. Had two people wanting smaller turkeys. Good timing, too. Another week and they wouldn’t fit in the plucker. Hand plucking those beasts isn’t fun.

We plan on saving a few extra hens for more eggs next year. Turkeys are fun.

That’s about it for tonight. Little movie and wine time before bed.

Fall fell!

Summer came to a rather abrupt end! Temperatures dropped fast, the days are getting shorter, and those pigs are getting fat.

They also found a weakness in the fence and gave both of us a run for our money. It’s bad enough when I have to wake up early to go fetch them, but when it happens after I’m gone, Lady McFarmFace is on her own with the baby. And that’s why there’s a pig in the front yard.

Of course, the same applies when the coyotes start singing and the dog starts howling and the baby wakes up. I’m looking at switching to day shift as soon as I’m able to. Got some stuff in the works to make up for the pay cut, but I really want to be home at night because that seems to be when all this stuff happens.

Anywho. Pigs are getting fat. We plan to slaughter in early November, after pumpkin surplus becomes available. We will move them a couple more times until then, but we are getting very close to the day I learn to butcher a pig!

And we’ve got the wood stove operational! It is really lovely when the lights are out. Of course we now need a wood shed.

I found a great spot, nearly level, across the driveway from the door and cleared away the brush. Next is just a level foundation and putting it together out of pallets and plywood.

I’ve got quite the project list for this fall and winter, but nothing I can’t handle! For now though, it’s my beautiful wife’s birthday week and we are going to focus on that for a little bit!

I’ll be back, hopefully with wood shed build pics!!

A new life together

The wedding was beautiful. The schedule was wonky, the prep chaotic, and some of the planned activities didn’t end up happening, but all in all, I’d have to call it a success if no reason other than this: I married the most astounding and wonderful example of a human being that I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I’ve been to a dozen countries on four continents and about as many states here in the US, and I can say with confidence that she is one of a kind and I beyond lucky that she has chosen to share this life with me.

Of course, when the drinks are empty and the guests departed, life continues. There are still pigs to feed and dishes to clean. But the day to day activities of building up a homestead and raising a family all seem to have a fresh coat of polish on them.

Maybe it’s just that the wildfire smoke from California and Canada has cleared, but to me everything seems brighter and fresher now that I have married this wonderful woman. The turkeys’ feathers are brighter and more colorful too. The rabbits hops are cuter. Every day I wake up and there she is. My wife. Sometimes I just can’t stop smiling. And I don’t intend to try stopping.

So what’s next for Huckleberry Hills? Well, we have this lovely bar that my mother, brothers, and nephew helped me build. It’s situated on the edge of a very picturesque setting with lush greenery and a beautiful backdrop of forest. With a little tidying and another mowing before the cool sets in, we figure we can offer up the space for other weddings.

The pigs will be ready for butchering right after Halloween, and over the winter we will be upping our incubator game to really try to move some baby birds in the spring.

Our little monkey bear is learning to walk, so naturally whatever work we are doing has to periodically stop just to clap and tell her she did so good!

In short, life goes on. Just better than before.

Playing catch up

Seems lately there’s no time for anything, even blogging. And when there is time, it’s 90 damn degrees outside!

But, little by little, the last bit of wedding prep is underway.

The pigs have successfully cleared the vegetation and debris from the wedding parking lot, which of course will be pasture after that. They also got a new water dish, courtesy of my mother. Good luck flipping this one over, porkers!

My mother also rented a bobcat to help level and smooth out the pasture/parking lot. That was a lot of fun and way faster than doing it by hand!

The grass in the wedding area itself has gotten a wee bit out of control. But that’s ok because we have geese! Of course, there’s no fence down there yet, so I constructed a goose tractor so they can mow the grass but not get eaten. Yes, I know that chicken wire won’t actually stop a coyote. But it’ll slow it down long enough for the geese or the dog to let me know I need to get out there.

The meat birds are getting meaty. I hope to have the largest ones butchered this weekend, and the rest within the next two weeks as they catch up.

The rabbits, unfortunately have not been breeding very quickly in the heat. And when they do have a litter, it’s tough keeping them alive. I have some ideas for a structure to give them shade without compromising the breeze, but it will take a little time. We will still have rabbit at the wedding, just probably not quite as much as we had planned.

My regular job has been quite irregular lately. One week I barely have enough hours, the next I don’t get any sleep for all the overtime. It’s really been quite the motivator to get this place making money. So we have some plans for that, which I’ll detail in another post later.

Pig pen pasture prep project progress!

Alliteration is always awesome.

In the two weeks since I had intended to post that last update (oops) a lot has been done!

The procedure has always been move the pig pen, rake out the vacated area, and plant the pasture seed. But two weeks in a row, I didn’t have enough time to do more than move them! With a third move rapidly approaching along with a birthday party, I was facing the prospect of working three areas in one weekend and was beginning to feel like I’d never get caught up!

Thankfully, my wonderful friends and family assisted with the move and I had the last day of my weekend to work. I’m all caught up!

The pigs really moonscaped that far section in the above pic, and since that’s where the dance floor and wedding reception are going, it took quite a bit of work to get that smoothed out nicely. But in a couple of weeks it’s going to be nice and green!

When I first announced that we were holding the wedding at home, and where, many people expressed skepticism that it could be done in time with my work schedule. But as you can see, the grass is thick and lush where the ceremony will be. A bit tall, too.

The plan is to pen the geese up in there a few weeks before the wedding and let them mow it down while simultaneously feeding themselves.

Meanwhile, the pigs have begun clearing and cleaning an entirely new area of the property. For the wedding, this will be a parking lot. After that, dedicated pasture.

One thing I’m very proud of is how we’ve fed the pigs. A substantial portion of their diet is grass, blackberry bushes, and whatever else they root up. The rest is produce that would have otherwise been thrown away. That’s not to say feeding them has been free, or easy. In fact, I’d wager the frequent trips to where we get produce means this is actually much more work than simply buying feed. But the pigs eat a good, varied diet and it mainly costs us time and sweat.

This is how they were raised before we got them, too. These pigs have never tasted commercial hog feed, and have almost doubled in size since we brought them home. This breed will never get as big as a commercial breed, but from what I’m told, the flavor is incomparable. By rotating them frequently, we’ve probably reduced the amount we’ve had to feed them by over a third. I’m hopeful that we can beat that next year by growing more produce.

The corn wall for the wedding is also coming in nicely. It gets about an hour more shade/indirect light than I would prefer, but I’m still confident it’ll make a beautiful border.

And finally, the empty beehives we have our have been attracting a lot of attention lately. So far it’s mainly foragers stealing the honey that was in the old comb, but my fingers are crossed that we catch a swarm or two soon!

The lower pasture is going to be absolutely beautiful for the wedding. The progress in just a few weeks blows my mind. These two pictures are the same area. Different angles, but the same spot a few weeks apart. I’m looking forward to having more grazers after we have the upper pasture looking like this. Maybe goats. Maybe sheep. We will have to see what presents itself! But in the meantime, that’ll do pigs. That’ll do.

Making progress!

Edit: this was saved as a draft a few weeks ago and I simply forgot to post it. I’m sharing t today simply to provide contrast for the pictures in the post I’m about to write!

Another successful pig pen move down. Successful because we eventually got them back in the pen after they trotted down the road. Kunekune pigs are FAST. Would have been fine but they got spooked by a passing pickup truck.

You can see in this picture just how much land they’ve already tilled for us.

The most recent plot I moved them out of is where the wedding ceremony will take place. The darker line shows where the corn will be planted to border the ceremony itself.

Here you can see the first plot they tilled and vacated, with two weeks of growth for the pasture seed. Coming in nicely!

This picture shows the second plot, with one week of growth. At this rate, the entire area will be lush and green well before the wedding.

The peas are finally growing! These are both for snacking and for feeding the animals.

Just as exciting, the wheat and barley have also sprouted. I was worried a bit because the chickens have been in there scratching and dust bathing. But it seems the damage was minimal.

Finally, this is the area remaining for the pigs to clean up. The shape is a bit odd so that’ll be two more moves. After that, they move back past where they were the first time and clean up where the cars will be parked.

Everything has a purpose

When homesteading, it’s probably a bit easy to focus so much on function that form gets neglected. We have fruit trees and vegetables, edible berry bushes, and animals. These things are beautiful, at least to me.

But sometimes you just need some honeysuckle! And lilac! And jasmine! Beauty and pleasure can be ends unto themselves. But if you need a pragmatic reason for flowers, bees.

The outdoor wedding prep has so far been mainly about clearing and smoothing terrain. But a lot of progress has been made on that, and I’m confident it’ll be well and thoroughly finished before the wedding. So now it’s time to start beautifying.

The sunflower bed will provide a great photo backdrop, and the fragrant flowers will make the wedding area smell great. I’m also preparing to start building the podium, bar, and dance floor. Just need some more pallets.

One very cool project is that we have supplied power to the pasture. This will operate the electric fence and a security light and camera.

Speaking of the fence, the post holes have been dug and we acquired some of the gates needed to enclose the property. The dog is in her final stage of training. She now gets 3-5 hours unsupervised time with the birds each day. In a week or so, she should be out with them all the time. Just have to figure out how to keep her out of the chicken food and the turkeys out of her food! When the fence is finished, she will have a huge area to explore and roam.

Baby animal post!

Gratuitous cuteness enclosed!

Diane has successfully incubated 14 out of 15 eggs. So we have turklets! How many we keep will depend largely on how many people are interested in a thanksgiving turkey.

For now we’ve got them in the brooder, and of course Freyja is guarding them.

The wedding menu includes chicken. So naturally we needed more chickens. Enter the red rangers! We grabbed 14 of these little guys on the 20th and they are now outdoors full time. To train them to go into the coop we placed a dog kennel with their food and water against the automatic coop door. They could go into the coop or out into the kennel and we just opened the top coop door for the adult birds. About the time half of the rangers learned to follow the big birds up and out, they were released.

So far, I’ll say this about the breed. Excellent foragers and free rangers, bit of an attitude problem. No respect for boundaries like the door to the house, either. But they grow fast and that’s their job!

We’ve also got a small litter of bunnies just starting to explore outside the nest box. Hopefully a lot more bunnies on the way, since we don’t have enough just yet.

Pasture, wedding prep, etc!

This weekend was a busy one.

First, the pig pen was moved again, leaving a new spot to smooth out and plant for pasture. They have a lot more shade now, which is nice with the weather getting warmer. Much warmer. Very abruptly.

My brother, sister, and a friend came over to help me with this project. We raked out the just vacated pen, pulled any blackberry and scotchbroom stubs the pigs had left, and spread the seeds. We also smoothed our the terrain a bit, eliminating some humps and bumps. I had a pile of parrot composted straw from the bunny barn. Well, I say straw. It was about 3/4 straw and the rest was poo. Anyway, we very lightly scattered that over the seed as mulch and fertilizer.

We also planted the arbeqina olive and the Chicago fig trees that have been in pots for longer than I care to admit. The olive will border the driveway like the pear, apple, and nectarine trees.

The fig tree, since it remains dormant longer than the others, I was able to put closer to the tree line. It doesn’t need sun quite as early in the year as the others, and it’ll get plenty there as it starts to wake up.

The next day I managed to get the old veggie garden cleaned up and raked out to plant the barley. Also found space for a small patch of wheat. I’d have make it bigger but I had considerably less wheat than I thought. Keeping the chickens out of this will be a challenge.

All of this was made more difficult by the pigs. See, they’ve been contained by just those electric wires for almost a month now, I think. With very little trouble. Until this most recent move. The two smaller ones have figured out that if they are quick enough, they don’t get zapped. So now I’ve got woven wire temporarily around most of it with logs and rocks across the front. Rice is the worst, Fried is the second worst. Rice has gotten out at least nine times.

However, I think I might finally have it. Last time I brought them food, he tried climbing the logs to meet me in the driveway, but got zapped and shifted into reverse. Hopefully that’s the end of it.

Last but certainly not least, we picked up some red ranger chicks! While I am sure our chickens can brood enough to feed the wedding, I don’t want to take any chance of not having enough chickens. So we picked up 14!

And seriously, we have the best farm cat in the world. I want to clone her. When separated from the brooder by a door, she napped by the door. When allowed near it, she slept next to it. She’s guarding them! No aggression at all. Also, the baby is very excited to have cherps. Took Freyja a minute to decide the baby was allowed to be there.

It always sucks going back to work after such a productive weekend, but especially when the to do list is still so long. But I am pretty happy with what we got done.