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!

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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.

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!

Reducing feed costs through forage based pasture Pt 3

Yeah, I'm still going on about this pasture stuff! It's kinda my thing this summer. I wish it had been my thing this spring. It's hot out now!
The first test patch out front is doing really well. It's taken a little bit of foot traffic and even a couple of chicken escapees. The second patch is doing pretty well too. But the third patch is what gets me excited.
In terms of area, its larger than the other two combined. It had a substantial amount of useless weed grass and moss that the birds had already decided they didn't like, and poor drainage from years of neglect as a yard. Remember, this place was a rental for years before we bought it!the above shot is from the deck.
So naturally the first step was to get the old grass out. I don't know if I mentioned this but I don't have a lot of power equipment. I do have a mattock.
I quickly found out that while compacted, the soil quality wasn't actually that bad. It still took the better part of two afternoons to dig it all up. Probably about six hours of digging and mattock-ing all together.
Then pretty much the same procedure as before. Rake it all out and spread the forage blend.
Add mulch (this time I mixed the mulch from the front yard with some organic potting soil I got for next to nothing).
Add pasture grass seed, and cover it all up again.
Now we wait. But hey, I just reduced the birds' foraging area by nearly 1/5th! Luckily, patch number one is in need of a trim! Patch 2 not far behind. In carefully managed sessions, I'll be letting the birds in the first two areas to mow it down a bit, just on the weekends. That will, hopefully, keep them satisfied and not decimate my hard work. And in a couple of months, I can move the fence in the back yard to start a new patch, letting the birds into the first two.
Just one week and it's already started growing. Time allowing, I'll be doing another patch in the front that will be just a couple of weeks behind patch 3. With a little luck and a lot of sweat, by this time next year the entire yard will be lush, green, and reducing my feed costs! And as a totally unrelated benefit, it'll be a really pretty place to have a wedding.

Reducing feed costs through forage based pasture part 2: dearth of information!

While formulating my plan for turning the yard into pasture, I stumbled across an interesting problem. No one seems to have done it before. 

Now, to clarify, I mean no one seems to have done exactly what I was planning. Plenty of people have created pastures, or even seeded a pasture with just forage crops. Or grew a forage blend for their chickens. But not the way I was wanting. People created whole new pastures with grass, or an entire field with turnips, or grew forage greens in trays for confined birds to pick clean. 

I could not find any source for information on a mixed grass and forage pasture specifically designed for poultry and waterfowl. It was even difficult to find info on when new pasture could be grazed!

Piecemeal, I’ve been able to find a few things and I want to share them here for anyone considering a similar project. 

First, it can be done! Best time for it is in the spring while there is still some rain in the forecast but it’s starting to warm up. Most forage crops do need to be planted deeper than grass so I would suggest two separate sowings for that purpose. Keep them moist until germination and don’t let it dry out until it’s well established. 

What constitutes well established? Well, it depends on the plant! Now this was one of the toughest bits to find so I definitely want to share! From the university of Georgia’s college of agricultural and environmental sciences, for most forage based crops, you should wait for a specific height before a first grazing, and then only allow it grazed down to a specific height before a recovery period. 

Here is a screenshot of a chart provided at their page. Another super useful tip that wasn’t easy to find is the “pluck test.” 

Yeah. That’s it. “Pluck test.” No further description provided. Basically everyone talking about it assumes you already know about it. Like it’s some common knowledge farmy thing that everyone knows. Can I get a facepalm?

Ok, so enough vague references and one blurry zoomed too far out picture, I think I’ve figured it out. So you’ve got your tillered (grass with multiple blades coming from the plant or something like that) grass plant. Grab a blade of it and pull. If the plant starts to uproot, it’s not ready for grazing. If the leaf just comes right off without disturbing the roots, then it’s ready.  In my photo you can see that the blade of grass severed when I tried to pull. That particular plant is ready for grazing. 

Was that sooooo difficult to write, other bloggers and authors???

Others recommended 6-8 weeks of no grazing to establish, but of course that would vary based on soil quality, what kind of forage you planted, what you’re planning to graze, and how much water and sun they’ve received. I feel height plus pluck is the best route. 

If you do a quick Google or YouTube search for growing forage for poultry, you’ll mainly find city dwellers growing patches or trays of this stuff for their birds. They are allowed to eat it all the way to the roots and then it’s replanted. 

I want a stable pasture that will reduce my feed costs while giving the birds something to do. If you have any additional insights, you know where the comment button is!

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. 

What a lovely skirt…

So, rats found out they could dig und r the coop. My bad. I had hardware cloth under it, but it seems that during the building process, it got into a position of poor contact and the little monsters can slip right past it. 

So, skirt it is. The first step is to dig a shallow trench that slopes away from the coop. Some will tell you to bury the wire one foot down. These people have no real experience with rodents. Rats are smart. They’ll just keep going down. But if the barrier goes down and out, it’s very confusing. To figure out that they need to move away from the barrier before digging requires abstract thinking that is ever so slightly past the average rat. 

So you dig your trench and set the hardware cloth in it. It should contact the wood of the coop enough for staples, but extend about a foot down and away. The more the better. 

Staple it into position and start to bury it. It’s ok if it’s not perfectly flush to the ground, but it should be flush to the coop. 

When you’re burying it, periodically give it a shake or step on it to ensure good soil contact, but also to make sure it doesn’t bend and create gaps where a rodent could slip through. Be sure to overlap at the corners!

When you’re all done, the wire should be barely visible, and just where it connects to the wood. 

I did this about a week and a half ago and there has been no indication that the rats have figured it out. In the meantime, we are setting traps to try to encourage them to vacate the premises. 

We tried a live trap and caught one, but since then they seem to have figured it out. Either that or most of them are too small to trip it. As such, I bought modern snap traps that are supposed to work well. Two sizes, one for rats and one for mice. I know where the little ones come out so I’ll set the small ones there and the big one near the coop. 

To avoid any bird or cat accidents, I got a few milk crates. Turned upside down, they’ll keep larger animals out but let the rodents in. I set the traps next to known burrow entrances with the crates covering the whole thing. 

Disclaimer. I like rodents. They’re smart and make wonderful pets. But when they’re under the house and in the coop, they gotta go. The Snap E Mouse Trap, under an upturned milk crate is incredibly effective. I set three traps about three hours ago. I’ve caught eight so far. 

I think the crate makes them feel more secure taking the bait. Anyway, it’s important to check the traps frequently, as they’ll learn to avoid them if they see their comrades dead in them. 

I don’t like killing, but these are fast, humane, and very effective. 

Another busy weekend

Whew! This weekend isn’t even over for me but I’ve gotten quite a bit done. 

First, I played with the goslings. It’s taxing work, but somebody’s got to do it. They need to not be afraid of us. 

Next, I got some more planting done. We had a packet of sunflower seeds for snacking as opposed to the black oil seeds I already planted, and a little packet of purely decorative ones. Got those in, along with some buckwheat. 

Then beans. And why yes, that is in the middle of the yard. I ran out of other places. But being by the deck means I’ve got a great place for a trellis!

Then there was a bunch of little projects and cleaning up. The rabbits have the nest boxes back, as we figure at least one is probably pregnant now. By the way, like my little rabbit barn? We figure it gives them more space out of rain, and that front board can help contain the very young babies. 

Speaking of babies, they’re getting big! We will probably only keep six of them for the freezer and sell the rest as pets or breeding stock. 

The rat bitten turklet is completely recovered and back outside, though we are triple checking it goes on the roost at night. In the meantime, I’ve installed an anti rodent skirt to the coop. I’ll do a post just on that soon. 

The geese are starting to get real feathers, and are spending every day outside. The pen keeps them confined until they’re big enough to not get through the fence. 

And finally, it’s been consistently warm and dry for long enough that I felt I should water everything. And with the soil darkened, I could see much more clearly that the salad garden is actually doing quite well! That spinach was nearly invisible before watering. 

Same with the lettuce! Several varieties of loose leaf and I’m even doing some butterhead lettuce this year. And the radishes. I wasn’t even planting more radishes, but I found old seeds and figured I’d give them a shot.