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!

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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.

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!

Double Edged Sword

A year into raising meat rabbits in a colony setting, I’ve got a pretty good feel for the pros and cons, I think. I also feel like I’ve successfully tackled most of the cons.

First con, a colony pen is substantially more difficult to make escape proof than individual cages. We’ve both had to chase down rabbits more times than I care to admit. But when you’ve got an adventurer like Benjamin who thinks he is invisible, it’s not hard to find the weak spots. Stand there for a minute and he will show you.

Second con, any health issues spread much more easily when rabbits live together. We had a new rabbit introduce ear mites. Thankfully, there is a very easy and effective medication that is gentle on their system. Ivermectin is available at any veterinary office and most farm stores. The dosage is ridiculously low.

Third con, the rabbits will establish a hierarchy with some more dominant than others. This one is arguable. Many say that this causes additional stress on the rabbits. However, it is their natural social order. If a human child goes to school, they might have to deal with a bully. But if they never go outside, they’ll never develop into a functioning adult.

Fourth con, and this is probably the biggest one, it is harder to control breeding. At one point this last year, with three adult females, we had 27 rabbits total. That was tough. So for now, Benjamin is isolated from the rest, but his individual pen is inside the communal pen, which prevents him from feeling too alone.

But for all of that, I don’t think I’ll ever go to a cage style rabbitry. The pros are just too big.

First pro, the rabbits have more space. Having seen the rabbits run around in circles and get excited over new branches to gnaw or veggies scraps, it’s pretty obvious that rabbits like having room to play. And when it snows, they go wild. Backflips and rolling around. It’s adorable and entertaining!

Second pro, socialization. Rabbits are social animals. You’ll never find a wild rabbit living by itself. They always live in colonies, and always have company. To me, letting them have that in captivity matters. When it’s cold, they can huddle for warmth. When it’s nice out they groom and play with each other. I feel it makes for happier rabbits.

Third pro, ground beneath their feet. Sure, you can put cages directly on the ground, but that negates the easy cleaning that people use cages for in the first place. Our rabbits nibble grass and claw at dirt. They still have a wire fence barrier to prevent digging and escaping, but they at least get to feel grass beneath their feet any time they want.

Ultimately, it’s a personal choice. But we take these animals into our lives for our own uses, and we both feel that deserves the courtesy of the best life possible. Yesterday, I processed five rabbits for a total of 15 pounds of meat. It was a lot of work doing so many at a time, but we are now down to rabbits with names, one that is probably pregnant, and one that’s too small to process for a couple weeks. And that will cut down on the feed bill.

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.

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!