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.

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Come along, pigs.

Getting the new fences up has taken longer than expected, largely because the guy I hired to drill the post holes had some mechanical problems. I’d do it by hand but in that sense of woods, it would take me hours to do just one with all the roots.

Speaking of roots, pigs root. I knew this. It’s not a surprise. However, I expected they’d be confined to the small pen for a much shorter time. However, they’ve torn it up pretty thoroughly and need to be moved. So I did what any pig farmer does when he needs a temporary pig pasture.

Behold the temporary electric fence! Since they’ve been trained to the polywire already, I don’t expect them to test this. But we will be monitoring them closely until the final pen is constructed.

It was surprisingly difficult to find these fiberglass step in posts locally. But installation was a breeze. I just had to go back and trim a few weeds that would ground it out.

Probably move the pigs this weekend, so I can be home to observe and make sure they don’t immediately make a fool out of me and walk right through it. Would have done it last weekend, but between 8 chickens, a jackfruit, dealing with a new litter of rabbits (and that’s a whole other post!), and bottling mead, making that fence is about all I had time for.

The jackfruit was, quite amusingly, heavier than my daughter. Also a bit overripe so quite an ordeal to process it! But dehydrated jackfruit is soooooo awesome!

Rebellious Poultry and other goings on

Some birds just like to watch the world burn. Or the humans hunt for eggs. For the last several days we’ve seen Diane come strolling back towards the yard, not even having known she was out of it. And always the same direction. I figured that meant she had started laying eggs off in the brush somewhere.

Today I retraced her path and found her nest. It was too far from the house and not well hidden enough to allow her to go broody there so I decided to move the eggs into the coop.

There were more than I expected! Seems she’s been at it for almost two weeks. Guess she didn’t approve of the nest box I’d made just for her. Too bad. That’s where they are now. Might have to show her the eggs a few more times for her to remember.

The goose has started laying, too. Very sporadically. One every couple days. Still trying to get her to use a nesting area I prepared. Really, almost anywhere would be better than where I found this one.

But I think she gets it. Just took her a few days.

One of our experienced chicken mamas has been AWOL for a few weeks. I expect she will be showing up with babies soon. Saw her briefly for a meal last week so I’m pretty sure that’s what she’s up to.

Spring is on the way and flowers are starting to bloom, which is always welcome! Sometimes it’s some little purple wild flower, sometimes it’s the daffodils you didn’t know the previous owner planted.

The rabbits have produced a new litter.

The pigs are coming along nicely. They figured out the automatic waterer so now their bowl can be used for things like cottage cheese.

And, just as importantly, if not as adorable, the garden has been started! With the last frost date not yet here, only peas and radishes have been planted so far. Carrots starting in the next few days. I really need to get peppers and tomatoes started indoors soon. This year, the chickens and turkeys are pretty much free ranging so the garden beds are on total lockdown. Welded wire fence surrounding, with bird netting over the top.

One thing is for sure. Springtime is busy time. And I love every second of it. Though I wish that baby would hurry up and get her teeth in. We would really like some more sleep!

Big things happening!

Barring crazy weather or last minute rescheduling, we have a neighbor coming this weekend for some tractor work! I know, I know. I’d initially planned on clearing using animals. But the wedding plans put a bit of a time crunch on me. Plus I got impatient. Making the fence through the brush and trees to contain goats to clear the brush…

Yeah, I ain’t got time for that mess.

So tractor. He’s going to clear to bare soil and drill the holes for the perimeter fence. Since the perimeter fence line goes through the woods a bit, I would not want to drill them by hand!

In preparation for this, I’ve been gathering together materials. We had some awesome sales here this weekend. So I got all of the wooden posts, and enough T posts and fencing to at least do the pig pasture plot. I’ll go ahead and set the wooden posts and just collect the remaining T posts and fencing as I have time and money. Should be entirely fenced before the wedding.

Another thing I picked up has been on my list for quite some time! We’ve talked about getting a generator since we first moved out here. We got lucky not losing power these last two winters. Not gambling on that luck. Besides, portable power for the wedding will be great! Lights, music, etc. I’d looked online to determine what size generator we need. I figured we could run the fridge, freezer, an additional freezer when we get one, and lights with a minimum of 3000 Watts. At first I was looking at a 3200 watt generator on sale at a local hardware store. Best price I’d seen for that size generator and well reviewed online.

So imagine my surprise when I see at our local farm store a generator rated at 3650 watts, with a bigger fuel tank, on sale for a full $40 less than the one I’d been looking at! Again, quite positively reviewed online, though not as many reviews as I’d like.

Once we’ve had time to get the shipping brackets off and get it gassed up, I’ll do a review post. For now, I’m pretty excited.

I managed to get a few other important things handled in the past week or two, but I’m really excited about getting that fence done. Once we have the perimeter done and gates up, we can let that dog run herself exhausted every day! She’s getting more time outside and is being pretty good with the birds first thing in the morning. As the sun rises earlier she will get more and more time. I’m hoping within a couple of months she can be with them full time.

Looking forward to showing you the transformation that’s about to happen here!

Updated before even posting!

Seems February saw I had plans and said “hold my beer!” Probably not getting the tractor work done tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get the piglets settled into their temporary home in the meantime! We are picking them up Monday, which gives me plenty of time to get that pen locked down!

Why not?

We decided to do something homesteady despite having no real need for it. We had a bunch of cream and a brand new power mixer. So we made butter! It is worth noting that 30% cream is not usually used to make butter, but apparently works.

For anyone not familiar with the process, it’s actually quite simple, if time consuming. Take cream, and whip it. It will become whipped cream. Continue to whip it and it will become butter and buttermilk.

That’s it! We did it largely to test the new hand mixer, but it was also a fun evening project. The butter was delicious, and I don’t even like butter.

Worth noting that butter made this way has no preservatives and has a very short shelf life. Just a few days and it will start going rancid. But you can always freeze any you won’t eat fast enough!

Stocking up

Semi graphic photos.

One of the biggest goals for our homestead is to stop buying meat. Between the rabbits and chickens, we are getting closer! Last year, two of our hens raised clutches outside. Last weekend, I processed six birds for a total of 25 pounds. It wouldn’t have been possible to get through so many so quickly if not for the plucker I borrowed from a fellow homesteading friend!

What was most interesting this time is that we had never before butchered hens. I figured we would probably find eggs, but it was still very surprising!

One egg was completely formed, minus the shell. Had we waited a day, it probably would have been in the coop!

While this wasn’t the first time using the plucker, it was a somewhat new experience. I dislike the slaughter, but she hates it. And she doesn’t mind the butchering, but it’s uncomfortable for me because my hands are too big for the smaller birds. But she doesn’t like removing the lower legs and wing tips because of the force involved. And I don’t mind that. So we set up almost an assembly line. I took a bird from the freezer and removed the offending limbs, she gutted, and then I bagged.

This was also our first time using shrink bags. The overall look is much better than the gallon ziplocs!

The end result was a freezer with much more meat than had been there before. And since we want to serve chicken at the wedding, this is the way to do it!

Wedding Prep!

Huckleberry Hills is back for 2018 and a whirlwind of activity! As soon as the weather cooperates.

We are getting married this year!

We’ve decided to have the wedding here on the homestead. We have the space for it, beautiful scenery, and we might be able to train a turkey to be a ring bearer. Maybe. Possibly not.

But there is a lot to do. The area we plan to hold the ceremony is currently covered in 4-6 foot tall blackberries, scotchbroom, and other such unpleasantness. We have chickens and rabbits to raise for the reception, a vegetable garden to plant, some renovations to the house, and all the while we still have a baby to raise and a full time job to go to.

It can be frustrating watching the to do list grow rather than shrink, but we have eight months, and the weather will start improving soon. I just have to be patient and use this time to do what I can.

But, the wedding invitations are finished, just need to address and mail them. The menu is done, just need to plant the garden and wait for the animals to breed.

Turning a raw bit of forest into a wedding venue is quite a lot of work. But most of it is stuff I needed to do for growing the farm anyway. So even though things are a bit slow right now, expect a flurry of activity in the coming months!

We would be family even if we weren’t related.

Happy holidays from Huckleberry Hills! The lady McFarmFace and I have shared a few christmases now, but this one is special. Because our little monkey butt gets to be here too.

Throughout the years I’ve heard lots of stories of family holiday horror. And I’ve come to realize that I live in a weird little hallmark card. I am extremely fortunate that my family gets along decently well, but so do our friends.

But folks, this is a choice. You will be surrounded by only those you choose to surround yourself with. If someone in your life is constantly negative, you have no obligation to keep them around. Whether it’s a neighbor, a cousin, an in-law, or even immediate family. You don’t owe anyone your own sanity!

So if you’ve got an uncle who gets drunk and picks fights, don’t invite him. If you’ve got a friend who is passive aggressive or constantly puts people down, that’s not a friend.

People like me homestead for a better quality of life. That starts at home.

Rant over! Soapbox put away.

As usual, my lovely fiancée absolutely killed it on dinner. This was our combination holiday and engagement party. We served roasted goose (raised here), mashed potatoes, figgy pudding, Turkish delights, cranberry brioche, and various appetizers. And wine. Lots of wine! Even more wine because my wonderful family brought more! We watched muppet Christmas carol and generally had a wonderful time.

One of these days, I’m going to remember to take a picture of one of our birds after cooking but before eating. I only got to the desserts!

My whole life, I have heard that many people don’t like goose because it’s greasy. Same with duck. In fact, for a long time I was one of those people. I would like to state, unequivocally for the record, that these people haven’t had a properly cooked goose or duck. This was a big goose, and half the guests were a little wary of goose. And we ran out of goose before anything else.

This post got away from me a little. It’s a bit rambling. But that’s ok. It’s the holidays.

Happy holidays from Huckleberry Hills!!

First goose!

Ok, I just spent several hours processing a goose. I’m sure the next time will be easier, but I am beat!

Even using the wax, this was quite the ordeal! Largely because of pot size. We have one pot large enough for scalding birds. It’s not large enough for a goose. And since waterfowl have all that down, you also need a pot for melting wax.

Long story short, I’m upgrading our kitchen before I butcher another goose! But eventually I’ll write more about the process. But for now, I have a vehicle speed sensor to replace and a wood stove to get up those stairs somehow! And then bed.

Thank goodness for homesteading friends!

People usually say what they’re thankful for last Thursday but I march to the beat of a different drum. Or orchestra, as my mother would tell you.

Of course I’m thankful for my family, especially our newest member, and our friends. But today I find myself exceptionally thankful for a fellow homesteading friend, and my neighbors.

My friend let me borrow his plucker, since he won’t be using it for a while and I have a lot of chickens I’d rather be in the freezer than the yard. Today I got through five chickens and the total time to capture, kill, and pluck all five was under an hour. And I’m not gonna lie, a third of that was spent chasing them.

Meanwhile, the Lady McFarmface had a dentists appointment and couldn’t take the baby. Oh no! Luckily, our neighbors were quite happy to watch her so I could get some work done. They have baked goods in their future.

I still have another six or so birds on my list, but now that I’ve used this plucker for an afternoon, I feel like that’s a day of work rather than a weekend or two. I may never pluck a bird by hand again! Oh. Except that goose. Oh well.

All together, that was 18 lbs 4 oz of chicken. I’m incredibly grateful for the use of the plucker. It made it far less of an ordeal. I really need to work on getting my own built.