Haven't Posted A Farm Update In A While ...

- We lost a chicken to a neighbor's dog the other day. Grr!

- We're currently collecting eggs (and not eating them) to have someone incubate them for us. The gal who's going to do that for us is sort of a professional chicken farmer. We'll probably give her four dozen fertilized eggs, with the idea that half of them will hatch. We want to ultimately end up with around 12 to 14 laying hens. We'll eat the remaining roosters. :-)

- The garden is producing a good amount of tomatoes and peppers. We've also got squash, melons, and even a pumpkin.

- Our duck hen hatched 14 babies about two months ago. We lost three of them to various perils, and we gave away three of them, so we're down to eight. We'll keep about three of the eight and eat the rest.

- We've got plenty of grasshoppers on our property right now. John the Baptist would be chowing down big time.

We've Got Chicks!

Our broody hen's eggs are finally hatching! She's sitting on, I think, 13 or 14 of them, and they ought to all hatch by the morning. Here are the first two hatched chicks from a couple of hours ago:

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This is a historic moment for our little farm; it's the first time we've been able to help reproduce life (aside from the vegetables that are currently growing, and they're growing alright).

Tonight

We went on an excursion tonight to our neighbor's place about a mile down the road from us. He's a retired fellow with a nice three-acre homestead. He was kind enough to let us dig in his garden a bit and the kids pulled out probably five pounds of potatoes plus a few onions and a bunch of squash. When we got home Brandi boiled the potatoes and cooked up some onion and squash along with a banana pepper and bell pepper that we pulled out of our garden this morning. To that recipe we added some polish sausage from the grass-fed beef we've been buying. What a meal! We savored every bite.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the kids got to ride (and steer) a 1946 John Deere tractor while they were there. They loved it. I'll try and post some photos tomorrow or Monday.

What's Up Around Here

- Our dog Bouncer got fixed today. He's a little puny right now, but I'm sure he'll perk up.

- Abigail saw a snake in our chicken coop. The way she described it, it must have been as big as an anaconda.

- We got a dozen more meat bird chicks last Saturday. They'll be ready to slaughter in early July.

- Our hens (one duck and one chicken) are still sitting on eggs. By mid-to-late next week we should be seeing some chickens hatch, and ducks should follow about two weeks after that.

- We're about to have birds coming out of our ears over here. If all of the eggs hatch, which is not outside the realm of possibility, that right there will be 26 birds. In that case, we'd have -- are you ready? -- 51 birds living on our farm. That's nuts! Yes, we're nuts. But ... out of those 51 we'll end up killing probably half of them by mid-to-late summer. Come early fall, we're going to have a lot of bird meat around here.

- We've enjoyed eating natural, grass-fed beef for the past couple of weeks. I don't think we'll ever go back to the other stuff.

Weekend Photos

We had a busy weekend. On Saturday morning Brandi and I went to some friends' house to use their equipment -- and expertise! -- to slaughter our five egg-eating hens. As we were gutting the chickens we actually recovered two fully formed eggs. Now those chickens are meat and they live inside our deep freezer; they've got a better life in there. ;-)

Brandi and I have recently decided to take the plunge into natural, grass-fed beef. We found a farmer who sells grass-fed beef and he lives only about 10 minutes or so from our place. He invited us out to his acreage for a tour, and we had quite a fun time out there bouncing around on their ATV while we shot the bull about cattle, grass maintenance, and field rotations. "We're not cattle raisers; we're grass farmers," the farmer said jokingly. "If you take care of your grass, the cattle will have no problems." Their operation was awesome, and just what you'd expect: a warm and friendly retired couple living on 50 or 60 acres and making a living off of raising and selling grass-fed beef. The whole atmosphere was very pioneering, very American. And it was nice to see exactly where the meat we're going to eat is coming from. We made our first purchase while we were out there.

Brandi and I finished the day off with a nice dinner at a quaint little Italian place in a quaint little town about 20 miles from Waco. We had a nice time.

Showing up for the slaughter:
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Our hostess greets us with a knife:
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The Country Mama hostess shows Brandi the gutting ropes:
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Brandi and the gals doing the finishing touches:
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Later that day, on the cattle tour:
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Up close and personal:
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"Scratch 'em behind their ears," the farmer said, and I gladly obliged:
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Later at the Italian place, Brandi said, "Leave the gun; take the cannoli." At least that's what I wanted her to say:
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Bonus shots of our broody duck hen and bantam hen. The duck is sitting on roughly 20 eggs, and the bantam is sitting on around 12 eggs:
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Now for a couple of bonus photos that are not for the faint of heart. See below for a couple of photos of chickens about to meet their maker. Viewer discretion is advised:
Read the rest of this entry . . .

One Year

It's been exactly a year since we closed on The Farm. Yea!

We have a bantam hen who has gone broody, so we should have a few little chicks running around in three weeks. Yea!

Speaking of chicks, we're getting some more meat birds in a week or so, and this time we have Bouncer to keep the coyotes away. Yea!

Speaking of birds that are on the chopping block, we might end up going over to a friend's house tomorrow morning to use his chicken killing equipment so we can slaughter our egg-eating hens. We grow tired of those birds ... and I like saying "slaughter." Yea!

What I Love About Living In The Country ... And Other Random Thoughts

- You get good thinking time when you're driving home after being in town.

- Yes, we say "in town" a lot around here. We used to think it was funny to hear our country friends say, "I'm going in to town," but there's really no other phrase that quite captures the essence of, well, going to town. Yes, we're bumpkins.

- You get a real sense for changing seasons and the rhythms of life. Spring feels like spring this year. And winter definitely felt like winter. Everything seems more pronounced out here.

- For the most part people are quiet and relaxed out here. No one seems to be stressed out or in a hurry. It's a much slower day-to-day pace.

- With so much work to do (maintaining the yard, working in the garden, working with the dog, doing various projects around the homestead, doing chicken and duck chores, etc.), you have very little time for tube-oriented entertainment. Our TV is hardly ever on -- and I love that -- and when it is on it's because we're purposefully watching a DVD or something. We don't have cable or satellite TV, and I still haven't hooked up our antenna. Television consumption has really faded in our lives, and I think we're all the better for it. For the most part the sound of a turned-on TV is irritating noise to me. The silence that comes to a house without a TV on is a warm, inviting silence -- a tranquil silence, really.

- You see a lot more wildlife around here. Everything from salamanders to woodpeckers to coyotes to owls.

- There's plenty of room to roam. I was telling my former photojournalism professor about our place and he said, "How much land do you have?" I said, "Just two acres." He said, "Who needs more than that? My wife and I lived on two acres when I was in grad school. You know, if you want to go for a walk, just walk in your back yard."

- I think for people who are used to having lots of land, two acres is paltry. But for people like us, who come from a typical .22 acre city lot, it seems like we own our own country. I guess it's all about perspective. It is nice that our property borders a 22-acre hayfield that runs into something like 50 acres of dense forest. Coyotes and all sorts of wild animals live in that forest. I doubt any sasquatch reside there, but I can always hope.

- The closest neighbors to us are to our east. I'd say their front door is about 250 to 300 feet or so from our front door, so there's a good bit of distance between us. The other day I was moving some hens around and I picked one up by its feet and hung it upside down. I noticed my neighbor watching me so I held the bird up over my head and yelled, "Want some fried chicken tonight?" He screamed back, "Bring 'em over. I'll wring his neck!" I think he was serious. And Brandi and I may end up hosting our neighbors for fried chicken because these five particular hens keep eating their eggs; they're making me very upset. Thankfully our normal layers (we keep the two flocks separated) are doing just fine.

- Our duck hen has got a clutch of roughly 9 eggs. We're hoping we'll have a bunch of ducklings here in about 40 days or so.

- Bouncer's been good. He's still learning, but he's been a good dog so far. We've had him for a month already.

- On the 30th it'll be exactly one year since we closed on this homestead. Time has flown by, and we've had so much fun!

- That's all for now.

Farm Update

- Our duck hen is officially laying eggs. Supposedly it's just about guaranteed that she will go broody after she lays about 8 to 20 eggs. At that point she'll sit on the eggs for 35 days and then we'll have ducklings. Once they're mature, we'll probably end up slaughtering half the ducks and keeping one drake and 3 or 4 hens through this winter.

- Bouncer is working out fine. For the most part he's a calm dog. I've been walking him just about every day and I've gotten to see some beautiful scenes around our neighborhood. I love our neighborhood. The country landscapes are amazing. For the first few months of living here (it's almost been a year, by the way) I was mesmerized every time I walked outside. The magic is still there, but it's easy to take it for granted. Now that I'm trekking through the neighborhood every day, I'm starting to get those awestruck feelings again.

- The garden is looking good. Brandi has put in tons of tomatoes, various peppers, cucumbers, and green beans. She's going to put in a few more things like squash, melons, and sweet potatoes. The garden fence is doing its job just fine.

- Brandi has started composting. She even has a 3-gallon bucket of worms. :-)

- We're still looking to fence off an acre of land, but we're not 100 percent sure we're going to do it this year. We'll know more in a few weeks. Both Brandi and I really hope we can do it. We want goats and a calf -- right now!

Balance For Bouncer

I've been watching a bit of Dog Whisperer and reading Cesar Millan's website about how to establish myself as my dog's pack leader. The whole idea of dog psychology is quite interesting.

The general idea is that dogs need a calm, submissive leader -- not a lover. A dog needs these things in order: 1. exercise 2. discipline 3. affection. The average American dog owner apparently wants to give a dog affection, affection, and then more affection. Affection should be something that a dog earns.

So far things are working out well with Bouncer. He knows a couple of basic commands: come and no. He also knows how to walk properly on a leash (by my side or behind me) and he doesn't try to lead the walk.

He's working out just fine so far.

Busy Weekend

We've officially begun the garden ... because there are actually plants in the ground! Most daylight hours both yesterday and today were spent working in the garden or doing various projects outside. Here are a few photos ...

Abigail digging a hole for a tomato plant.
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Bouncer checking out the action.
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Brandi and Abby, in a state of bliss.
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Abigail giving Bouncer a lecture.
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Bouncer doesn't receive it in love, so he attacks!
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"Woof woof! She's mine," says Bouncer. (Notice his paw; he's claiming his victim.)
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Abigail busts out a cool defensive move, going for Bouncer's jugular.
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She finishes him off with a tight squeeze, snapping his doggy neck. (Notice her face straining while she sucks the life out of Bouncer. We're going to miss that dog.)
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A bonus shot of Nathan showing the difference between a normal egg and a bantam egg.
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Fence

A friend of mine helped me lay out 100 linear feet of garden fencing and we finally finished the project last night. Therefore, Brandi can now put the plants in the ground (finally!); I think she's planning on shooting for doing that on Sunday.

Thanks to the aforementioned friend, I was able to learn the valuable homesteading skill of building a basic fence with t-posts. It actually wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, and now I can throw together a simple fence in probably one afternoon's time. Not bad.

Speaking of fencing, we're set on fencing off an acre here within the next month or two. Our idea is to hire someone to set the posts (the hard part) and then to have some friends and family over to roll the wire. Shouldn't be too hard -- I hope.

Farm Update

- We're going to fence off our field sometime here within the next month or two. From there we'll get a goat or two and maybe a calf.

- We've got the posts up for the fence that we're going to build around our garden. It should be finished next week.

- Bouncer is working out so far. A dog is a great responsibility. :-)

- We're getting more meat birds here in a couple of weeks.

- Some neighborhood dogs came over the other morning (while it was still dark) and harassed some of our chickens that were in a chicken tractor. I quietly went outside and popped them with my BB gun. They ran away.

- That's all I can think of for now.

Meet Bouncer

He hasn't even been with us for 48 hours and he's already made quite an impression. I've started calling him The Perfect Dog. I hope I don't jinx the whole thing.

Up to this point, he's everything we've hoped for. He's quiet, docile, a quick learner, independent, and aloof. That's not to say he doesn't enjoy attention, he most certainly does, but he doesn't seem to need it like most pet breeds do.

He also couldn't care less about the chickens, which is great! They'll run around all around him and he never gives them a second look. I've heard of Labrador owners or Golden Retriever owners whose dogs can't stay away from their chickens -- they constantly harass and, sometimes, kill them. Seeing how Labs and Retrievers are bird dogs, it's not surprising to me that training them to stay away from poultry can be challenging. That's one of the reasons I was so sold on a Pyrenees (Bouncer is 1/2 Pyrenees and 1/2 Anatolian Shepherd; both of those breeds are Livestock Guardian Dogs); I knew they were generally aloof and not interested in killing small animals, but they are supposedly very protective of their owner's property, especially at night when all the critters come out. I've heard that at night they quietly roam around their owner's property, keeping an eye out.

Right now we keep Bouncer in our little fenced yard at bed time, but after a few nights I'm going to allow him to roam freely after hours. I just want to make sure he's completely "imprinted" with our property. I don't think LGDs have a tendency to run away, but I want to give him a little more time to adjust.

When I picked him up from his previous owner yesterday, he said, "He's not leash broken. He's going to fight you on a leash." And boy did that prove true yesterday. I'd try and lead him on a leash and he'd dig his little doggy heels into the ground -- he didn't want to budge! Today, however, he seemed to understand that I wasn't going to let him have his way, and he passively let me walk him around our entire property while on a leash.

So here are some photos:

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Woof Woof

Yep, we got a dog this morning. He's a Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd mix (and he favors his Pyrenees father), so he's 100 percent Livestock Guardian Dog.

At six months old, he's still a puppy, but he's flippin' HUGE. I'll post photos later.

So far he's been acting like a Livestock Guardian Dog. He's very calm, aloof, and, hopefully, very docile. I think he's going to be good at watching our place for predators at night.

Of course, the kids love him. We call him Bouncer.

In other news, we ordered 12 meat birds that'll be hatched in roughly three weeks. This time we're going to double secure them inside a chicken tractor (cage) and a fenced yard. Not only that, we'll have Bouncer watching out for them at night.

Predators!

Our meat birds were nice and fat, ready to slaughter, and something (probably coyotes) broke into our chicken tractor last night and killed them all. There were feathers everywhere this morning and all of the chickens were either missing or dead.

That. Stinks.

That's life on the farm, I guess. We learned a valuable lesson and we're not going to be deterred! Who knows what we have to do now? Maybe a Livestock Guardian Dog? Neither one of us are into pets, so if we get a dog we certainly want it to have one purpose: guard our animals.

All of our other chickens are fine. We've still got our laying hens, bantams, ducks, and our roosters.

Scenes From Last Weekend ... And Other Stuff

So about a week ago we lost our drake (our boy duck). When we went to dinner he was out in the pasture, and when we got back about an hour later, he was gone. I should have cooped him, but oh well.

With a missing drake we were down to just one lonely duck hen. Today I finally rectified that and acquired a new drake from an acquaintance of ours. He (the drake) has already gotten to know the hen, if you know what I mean. We clipped both of their wings and we're going to keep them cooped up in our little fenced off yard until they produce some babies. Supposedly, those duck hens are awesome about going broody and we can expect at least a dozen or more duck babies here in a few weeks. We'll see. Our long-term plan for our ducks is to harvest their meat and eat their eggs.

Speaking of harvesting meat, the big slaughter date for our meat birds is this Saturday. Come hell or high water we're going to harvest 17 birds this Saturday and eat a yummy fried chicken meal that evening.

Here are some scenes from the farm this past weekend ...

When I got home from work Friday, this was the scene in the garden:
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Our new bantam (miniature) chickens. They're wyandottes, and they're about half the size of a standard chicken. Our plan is to let them live in the garden, once the plants get to a decent size, so they can eat bugs around the clock.
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Two of our laying hens, doing their job:
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Beyond Organic

We're slowly learning a lot about food, animals, and homesteading in general. Case in point, laying hens.

We're just at the point now where we have enough hens to provide all the eggs our family eats, and we eat a lot of eggs! Our egg yolks are typically nice and dark orange, a sharp contrast to grocery store eggs and even "farm fresh" eggs where the hens might be cooped up all day and have a diet consisting mostly of feed, rather than grass and bugs. We know because, well, we've bought grocery store eggs all of our lives and we've been buying "farm fresh" eggs, where the chickens eat primarily feed, for about two years now -- there's a big difference! Daniel broke one of our eggs the other day and Brandi said when she was cleaning it up it was like cleaning up orange paint, a very good thing. Thus, the key to the best farm eggs is birds that can free-range.

We have a pretty good free-ranging schedule for our birds. Yes, I say "schedule" because that's what it is. We figured out early on that if we let the whole flock of 10 to 13 birds out at the same time, they can wreak havoc on our neighbor's porch. :-) So we devised a schedule where only 3 or 4 birds are ranging at a time, and when the flock is separated like that the free-ranging birds don't have a tendency to wander off from our property. The birds that are cooped for that period of time are actually not in their coop, but rather in a roughly 500 square-foot fenced-off yard adjacent to our house. So even the "cooped" birds are able to breath fresh air and scratch around and look for bugs. (We do have a true coop that we utilize; it's where the chickens sleep at night.)

Brandi made a good point yesterday and said, "We could buy organic feed and keep our chickens cooped all day, and that would be considered organic." Indeed, it would be organic, but it wouldn't be the best. Right now I'd estimate that our chickens get about 15 percent of their diet from feed (non-organic) and about 85 percent from grass and bugs (beyond organic). During the summer time, when bugs are plentiful, I'm expecting them to only get about 5 to 10 percent of their calories from feed.

So the moral of the story is, if you can have free-ranging birds, go for it! It doesn't get any better than that.

Winter Heating Expense

I figured out our home heating expense for the heart of winter: November, December, January, and February.

We primarily heated our 2,000 square foot home using a wood-burning stove fireplace insert, fueled by wood of course. Since I work for a company that uses a lot of wood, I was able to get all of our kindling for free -- and over the course of a winter, that's a lot of wood! We used our central gas-powered heater sparingly; in other words, we hardly ever turned the thing on. We primarily used the central heat when we were going to have company over and we wanted to warm the house up without waiting for the wood heat to kick in. Out here in the boonies we buy gas (propane) for our home by the gallon and store it in a 250 gallon tank adjacent to the house. Based on the gauge on the tank, I'd estimate that we used 12 gallons of propane throughout the winter. (Of course, some of that propane was used for cooking, but cooking uses hardly any gas when compared to heating a home.) We also have small liquid-filled radiator heaters for two bedrooms. I'm not sure how much those heaters cost to run, but I've heard they're about 5 cents an hour. With that in mind I'm going to guess that we spent an average of $30 per month using those heaters.

So, here are the numbers:

- Twelve gallons of propane at $2.39 per gallon equals $28.68
- One cord of oak wood for the stove insert, $130
- Four months of space-heating at $30 per month equals $120

The grand total is $278.68 for four months, only $69.67 per month. Seventy bucks a month to heat a home -- even in central Texas! -- isn't a bad deal at all. In fact, I still have about 1/4 of a cord of wood!

That sort of savings wouldn't have been possible without the wood-burning stove insert. I love that thing.

Goat Burgers

Yep. Those are goat burgers. We bought a pound of ground goat at the World Hunger Relief Farm last week and we cooked it up tonight. Nathan said, "It tastes like regular hamburger. I almost forgot it was goat." Actually, the flavor is slightly different, but it's still great! We're officially sold on getting a goat now and we're actively shopping for one.

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Three Sunday Photos

Brandi and Abigail, pulling up roots in our garden:
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Five hens pulling up roots in our garden:
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As far as the photo above, the way it works is the chicken tractor (cage) stays over one patch of the garden for 24 hours and then it's rotated. During those 24 hours the five hens do a bang up job of pulling up roots and fertilizing the ground. Those five hens also lay about three or four eggs a day inside that tractor -- very cool. They're worth their weight in gold.

Some of our Cornish Cross meat birds out free-ranging:
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