Pig tilling

The future pasture has been cleared of brush for a while now, but work remains before it can really be planted with the pasture blend. But today I was looking at how much the pigs have rooted up their new pen already and wondering if they’d undo the work we do for the wedding. I figured we might have to keep them out of the wedding area entirely as it grows and until the wedding was done.

But then I looked at the planted part of the yard and got to thinking about how fast that grass grows and realized that there’s enough time before the wedding that we can simply use the pigs to finish prepping for planting. As long as they’re out of the wedding area so we can plant it at least a month out, then they will have actually saved us work instead of made more.

So today I moved their pen. I basically just moved one post at a time so the fence stayed mostly intact. They didn’t even really try to get out. Good pigs.

They tore up the grass in their new area so quickly that I feel confident that I can move them every weekend until they’ve taken care of the whole area for us. Then it’s back to just past where they were originally. I’ll follow behind each move raking and planting.

Other than a couple blackberry canes and scotchbroom stems, they tilled the entire area. A bit of raking was all it needed.

Once it was raked out, I went ahead and spread the seed for the pasture blend. And in a couple of weeks, we will have more grass. The free ranging birds should help keep it from getting too out of control until the perimeter fence is up and the pigs and geese can have it.

Their next move will encompass the actual wedding ceremony area. I may leave them there a little longer to be sure it’s nicely tilled since that’s not just grass, it’s also corn being planted. They should be ready to move out of their just about the time the corn needs to be planted.

In the meantime, I also got a couple fruit trees in the ground. We’ve got some lofty food goals for next year so I’m glad to have that done. I will probably need to go hunting this fall and have a greenhouse up before winter in order to meet those goals, but the fruit trees will help. Bonus, any fruit we don’t get to is free pig food!

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A couple hours of someone else’s hard work

Pictures do not do this justice. A smartphone camera just doesn’t capture the depth and scale here.

Fellow homesteader Matthew was here yesterday for just a couple of hours. That is one heavy duty brush hog he has. This first picture is from roughly where the wedding will be, facing west towards the road. What you can’t see is the path he cut behind the tall cedars just out of the frame that will be our perimeter fence.

Turning around to face east, the path to the area we always envisioned as pasture but will also be great overflow parking for the wedding has been cleared and widened.

At the north end of that plot, looking south, you can see that we will be able to fit quite a few cars for that occasion, and a few grazers the rest of the time.

What is really cool about the way the cleared land is laid out is that it actually gives us access to more huckleberry bushes than before, despite having removed so many of them. We have more than quadrupled our useable space. And once it’s fenced in, the dog will enjoy the extra space to roam!

I caught a good sale a couple weeks ago and I’ve got all the wooden posts for the perimeter, and enough T posts and fencing to enclose a plot for the pigs that will include some open grassy area plus lots of shrubbery and trees for shade. We will also be planting a few fruit trees, which the pigs will enjoy in the fall.

I’ll have more pictures as this progresses and I get it planted and prepped, and the fence installed, but for now this was a very pleasant afternoon!

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!

Temporary pig pen pt1

We had decided that we weren’t getting anything other than ducks to add this year. But then we had a ham for dinner… we really love ham…

So there went that plan. Pigs! We will be picking up a couple of Kunekune piglets in a few weeks (hopefully!) and raising them up to butcher size.

Now, we will ultimately be keeping the pigs on pasture, and encouraging them to get as much of their diet from that as possible. We do not intend to buy any commercial hog feed at all. But wait! What’s that you say? Impossible to raise pigs without hog feed?

Depends on the breed. Some pigs do well on pasture, some don’t. Kunekune in particular can live entirely off grass, although in this region they need supplemental feeding for about half the year. Our grass just doesn’t have enough protein in it except for about six months. We will also be growing turnips and grains for them.

But wait! What’s that you say? Our pasture is still blackberries and scotchbroom? Well, it needed to be cleared and planted for the wedding anyway, so why not combine that project with another one while we are at it? I’ve talked to a local guy who can get it all cleared and post holes dug (not even trying to do it by hand out by the trees) for an exceptionally reasonable price.

Once that’s done, I figure it’ll take two days of hard work to get the area raked out nice and smooth, planted, and fenced. While Kunekunes are known to not test fences as much as other breeds, they are still pigs. So there will be a hot wire at nose level in addition to the top perimeter wire. Once planted, it should take about a month, maybe two, before the pigs can graze it.

While that’s growing, they’ll need a place to stay. The timing works out to them being in a smaller pen for a month, two months tops. Enter the hog panels.

For a small breed, just a couple months old, I figured it didn’t need to be huge. So I bent the hog panels to a roughly 8×9 rectangle with a two foot space for a gate. The panels are connected to the posts and to each other with T Post clips.

We placed this temporary pen in the back yard. It’s in a convenient location for feeding, watering, and socializing, and we can check it in a hurry from the deck if anything sounds amiss. Plus it helps that we already have grass there.

To try to ensure the piglets get enough grass in such a small pen, as soon as I build the gate I’m going to drape bird netting over the entire thing and overseed it. Since we’ve got at least a month before we get the piglets, that should get some decent growth in there.

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!

Happy thanksgiving!

Happy thanksgiving from Huckleberry Hills! We finally get to eat the turkey that we’ve spent so much time and energy raising!

Unfortunately I had to work tonight so my family has had to relay a description to me. But that’s why we have a second turkey for this weekend! They’re telling me it’s delicious and juicy, lots of delicious fat for the gravy and the white meat is the best they’ve ever had. Can’t wait to try for myself!

Lessons learned though. We butchered the turkeys the weekend before thanksgiving. While this did mean they were as big as they were going to get, it made the entire process feel rushed. Won’t do that again. Also, we need a dedicated processing area designed from the ground up rather than slapped together as ideas occur. These birds are simply too strong for anything improvised!

But each year we keep building and keep growing so next year is going to be amazing! Happy thanksgiving!

Winter is coming…

No, I don’t watch GoT. I know myself well enough to know I’d binge watch the entire show and get nothing done. But winter IS coming, and fast!

We learned quite a few lessons from the last winter, and are applying those this time around. The animals were miserable with the incessant rain. I’ve already modified the rabbit pen to provide lots of cover, but the birds and dog still need some.

The canopy we put in the rabbit pen is pretty great for the price, so I’ll be getting two more. We also had our heating bill explode, so I’ll be getting a furnace tune up, pellets for the stove by the pallet instead of by the bag (wasn’t able to replace it with a wood stove this year), and replacing weather stripping around all the exterior doors.

I’m also considering installing some landscaping steps where the side yard slopes down to the back yard. With the birds out there, it could get really muddy.

The food and water situation is well in hand for the birds because even when it was 18 degrees Fahrenheit, it didn’t freeze inside the coop. The rabbits, I’ll need to work something out for the water.

But there’s some exciting stuff happening, too! We only had our two breeding turkeys last thanksgiving but this year we have one for the table! We will also have a goose for December.

The rabbit population got a little out of hand so my job for a couple weekends is getting them in the freezer. With the baby, it’s been tough finding time for all the farm stuff but I feel like we are already falling into a groove with that. Minus the week I was out with bronchitis, that is!

I’m very grateful for the assistance my nephew gave recently with the baby so I could get the coop door rodent proofed and a few rabbits processed.

Things are hectic, but I look at all we have accomplished in less than a year and a half living here and I know we are going to be more than just fine. We are going to be great!

The little things

This whole farm life thing has a lot of big things. Fences to build, irrigation considerations, gardens, crop planting density, creating new pasture on poor ground, and so on. But it's a lot of little things too.
The daily chores aren't huge but there are a lot of them. I know this. I knew this. But as we prepare for the arrival of our little girl, I'm slowly trying to take over or at least practice on the weekends. It adds up! And small mistakes can have huge consequences.
We had some chicken losses because I forgot to tell the house sitter to check a specific spot for some birds that stubbornly refuse to enter the coop each night and the dog wanted to play with them.
No ones fault but mine. But it reinforced that I need to spend more time acclimating the dog to the birds so she doesn't see them as playmates.
Primarily this means she goes on a very short leash and I try to keep her sitting as the birds come and investigate. The turkeys and geese are the only ones not afraid. And Christmas Goose is downright brazen!

I actually had to separate them because Vasi was only going to tolerate being bitten and body slammed for so long. She did nip half heartedly at him once and had to be told no but all in all she did really well. Eventually I had to bring her in because she got too excited.
While all this is going down, we've got a new litter of bunnies just opening their eyes!
I've got some ideas for reducing the feeding and watering chores, but so little time to build the stuff. I already know that next year I need to have some sort of irrigation system and better soil amendments.
The black oil sunflowers have started blooming but they're a bit short, probably a nitrogen issue. Still pretty though!
Anyway, just a short post to show I'm still here and get some pretty pictures out there. This heat is unbearable. We need rain!

Sold out for the season!

The last of the turklets have been reserved for sale! We have three that we will keep for ourselves. One for more eggs next year, one for our thanksgiving, and one to sell for thanksgiving. 

I honestly wasn’t sure for a while there how many we would end up being left with, and I’d planned on keeping more of them. But for our first season selling birds, this isn’t bad at all. The animals have essentially covered 3/4 of their costs for this month and that’s a pretty big deal. 

I don’t expect Diane to lay any more eggs. She seems rather determined to sit on an empty nest for now. Though we are trying to break her broodiness. 

We’ve got more Bielefelder eggs set under Chipmunk, and the bunnies will do what bunnies will do, but I think beyond that we are done adding animals for this year. Time to focus on clearing and fencing the pasture and getting fruit trees in the ground and vegetable garden patches cleared.