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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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.

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.

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.

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!