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.

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.

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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Work Day

Now that the weather is just about perfect, it's a great day for a work day outside. We've already put in a couple of hours so far (it's noon right now). I've got to mow the entire lawn area (about .75 acres that I do on a riding mower; the rest of the land I'll get my neighbor to shred with his tractor at some point), clean out part of the barn, stack some wood, and do a few other odd jobs. Brandi plans on working in the garden, getting it ready for plants.

Here's a photo of the kiddos gathering hay this morning:

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Quick Shots

- We celebrated Daniel's 9th birthday and Abigail's 6th birthday concurrently with a big celebration on Saturday. We had a great time with a bounce house and something like 20 or 30 guests. I'll post some pics soon (hopefully).

- We're going to slaughter our current crop of meat birds on March 27. We've got 17 of them to butcher, and we're thinking that the current meat flock will get us through the summer. On a related note, I'm thinking about raising a few birds -- maybe a dozen or so -- to sell to friends who may want to buy farm-fresh chickens.

- Brandi's still slowly making progress on digging up the roots in our soon-to-be garden. I think we'll be happy this year if we can get by with some tomatoes, a few greens, and a little bit of experience under our belts.

- I rode my riding mower this past weekend for the first time in many months. I love being on that thing and watching grass and weeds just disappear as I ride over them.

Snow

The buzz yesterday was about how Dallas (about an hour north of us) had gotten about four-to-six inches of snow, and that the snow was headed toward Waco. Thankfully, we got a nice little snowfall here yesterday evening, and we even had a decent accumulation overnight. Here's a pic from yesterday evening:

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17 Birds

We just ordered 17 more meat birds today. The chicks will arrive next Thursday and they'll be ready to harvest in early April. I'm toying with the idea of setting up a slaughter-station at our house, rather than going to the guy's house who showed me the ropes a couple of days ago. He's got a nice set-up though, complete with stainless steel tables and a commercial plucking machine. If we slaughtered these new birds at our place, we'd have to pluck by hand, but I don't think it would be a big deal. When the chickens are properly prepared (via hot water), the feathers fall off pretty easily.

The Harvest

I expected us to harvest our meat chickens this weekend, but the dude who was going to show me the ropes had to do it sooner. So I ended up whacking those birds yesterday.

It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. Even the actual killing process (slicing their jugular vein) was pretty straight forward. And as far as gutting goes, if you've gutted a decent size fish then gutting a chicken wouldn't be hard to pick up.

Tonight Brandi fried up one of the birds and we enjoyed the best fried chicken ever with my brother and our friend, Andrew. Seriously, the stuff was DELICIOUS.

We're all about raising our own meat birds now. We've already got plans to order a whole bunch of them here pretty soon so we can slaughter them by late spring. By that time we'll hopefully be ready to harvest some of our ducks as well.

Good stuff.

What I Did Today

8:30 a.m. -- Got up.

9:30 a.m. -- Did the Chicken chores.

10:30 a.m. -- Made our weekly Saturday morning Big Breakfast.

11:30 a.m. -- Started digging. I was trying to find our kitchen grease trap, because it was overflowing and stinking up the yard. The fellow who used to own our house told us that he had emptied the grease trap 15 years ago, so it was probably time for it to get another emptying. Oh boy.

2:30 -- Watched part of a documentary with Brandi. It's a PBS documentary titled The Farmer's Wife. It's about a farming couple in Nebraska trying to keep their farm solvent and their marriage intact. So far, so good.

3:45 -- Located the grease trap access and began the most horrific job of my life, pulling out chunks of congealed food that had accumulated in the trap for the past 15 years. The stench alone was horrible enough. (I'll try and post some photos later.)

Well, that's it for now. I did manage to clear out a bunch of the junk in the trap; hopefully it'll be another 15 years before it has to be touched again.

Today

We visited the World Hunger Relief Farm for the first time today. We had heard of the place years ago, but never thought about going until recently. It's actually on our side of the county, not too far from our home. I think it took us about 15 minutes to drive there.

Today wasn't the greatest day to visit anything outdoors, though. It was cold, windy, and rainy. We did manage to learn a bit about raising goats (Brandi's convinced she wants a goat asap) and we got to buy some fresh, organic produce (see the photos below). I think the WHRF is going to be a good resource for us; if nothing else it's a good place to buy fresh produce and goat sausage. Yes, we bought a pound of goat sausage and it was delicious! We have been contemplating getting a meat goat but were uncertain as to whether or not we were going to like goat meat. If the sausage we ate today was any indication, I don't think we're going to have any problem enjoying goat meat.

So, without further ado, here are some photos of Brandi shopping for veggies at the WHRF and a shot of the goat sausage cooking on our stove:

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Calf?

We're dying to get a calf. Our plan is to fence off 1.25 acres and to let it munch on our luscious pasture grass. After about 4 to 6 months, we'd kill the fatted calf and (hopefully) have meat for a year, and then we'd repeat the process.

I've gotten rough estimates for the fence, and it looks like it's going to cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000. That's not chump change, but we might be able to get it done this spring or early summer. In the meantime one of the patriarchs of our community -- a nice older man who lives down the road -- has offered to possibly let us raise a calf in one of his fields. The beauty of the scenario is the field is right next to ours, so we'd be practically raising the calf in our back yard. If this plan pans out we might be able to get a calf within the next couple of months. Awesome!

Incubation

We're currently incubating 12 eggs. I think the eggs have been in the incubator for a week, and it takes three weeks for them to hatch, so we have a couple of weeks to go. Based on our research we think we should be able to get 5 to 8 chicks when it's all said and done. The chicks are from our laying flock, so they'll all be Delaware chickens. The females will be integrated into our laying flock, and the males will be fattened up and eaten! Delawares -- a rare breed -- are dual-purpose birds so they do well with both laying and meat production. They're not ridiculous on the meat side, like the fat boy Cornish Cross chickens that we're currently raising for a February slaughter, but they do supposedly provide quite a bit of meat. Both Brandi and I area really looking forward to eating one at some point in the future.

And now for a completely non-related photo I shot just a few minutes ago:

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What I Did Today (After The Big Freeze Last Night)

- Slept in until 9:30 a.m.

- Lumbered outside to see if our chickens survived the freeze (they did)

- Heard a cracking sound and then witnessed our outdoor spigot erupt

- Ran over to the curb to turn off the water main

- Went back to the site of the eruption and dug a hole looking for the PVC pipe joint, thinking it would unscrew and I could replace it

- Found the joint, but no luck on the unscrewing idea

- Texted my handyman friend who told me I'd need to cut the pipe below the break, and then join it with a "union"

- Went to local hardware store, bought the necessary stuff

- Much to my surprise, I successfully fixed the pipe

- Had a sense of satisfaction

- Went about my day

- About 30 minutes later I was informed by my lovely wife that the water pressure was low

- Went out to check the pipe, and saw that it was fine, but another pipe inside of our shop was gushing water like crazy

- Apparently the ice had thawed and caused another pipe to break

- Turned off the water main again

- Went to hardware store again

- Capped the new broken pipe, turned the water back on and then frowned when I realized it was still leaking

- Went to hardware store again

- Capped the pipe again

- The cap held this time (thankfully)

Country Commodities

It's interesting to observe price fluctuations for country commodities.

Farm eggs -- $1 to $4 per dozen. We're big egg eaters so we have to frequently supplement our own farm eggs with some that we purchase from a gal we know (hopefully that'll change within the next few months because we're currently incubating some of our hens' eggs in order to bump up our laying flock). Right now we buy eggs for $2 per dozen. It's not uncommon to see them for $3 per dozen (especially in small country grocery stores), and while $4 per dozen seems astronomical, it's not unheard of. I heard a farmer on a documentary talking about how people would complain to him about $3 per dozen eggs while they were standing there holding a 75 cent can of soda.

Raw milk -- This is more of a gray market item, so it's not really something you're going to see listed on Craig's List. We buy raw milk from two families. The only price I've been quoted is $4 per gallon, but I've heard of raw milk being MUCH more expensive than that.

Laying hens -- $3.50 to $12 per bird.

One cord of wood -- I've done some research on this the past few days and I've seen anything from $100 delivered to $275 come-and-get-it. We settled on buying from an acquaintance who sells a cord for $125 delivered. I thought that was a fantastic price.

Once we start looking into buying more animals (we're thinking about a cow, honey bees, maybe a goat, and maybe a small horse), I'm sure we'll notice a wide range of price fluctuations there as well. I think like with most things in life, you get what you pay for, but occasionally you just find a great deal.

It's Cold

And it's going to get colder. It's supposed to be around 23 degrees tonight 17 degrees tomorrow night. Thankfully I scored some free oak firewood that'll last us through the cold spell, but I'm going to have to break down and buy a cord of wood next week. It's not a big deal, really, because a cord (8' x 4' x 4') ought to last us a very long time -- I'm hoping for two months at least. Also, supposedly, using a wood-burning stove to heat your home is more economical than gas or electric.

I just love the feel of burning wood. Our wood-burner is like a giant candle in our living room -- it's that relaxing. I also love knowing that, up to this point, I haven't had to pay a dime for wood, but that's all going to change soon.

Back to the point of my post, it's cold and getting colder. I think our animals will be fine. The laying hens and our rooster are in their coop that's located in our barn, and it opens to the south so it safely blocks the north wind. The meat birds are tucked away in their tractor (cage) with a blanket on top, and the ducks are pretty much impervious to cold weather. Our cat will sleep inside.

Goodnight. Bundle up.

Life Update

- I left Brandi and the kiddos in Houston. I'm in Waco now and I'll rejoin them on New Year's Eve.

- All 13 of our birds were fine. They were all hungry because they exhausted their food supply, but they were fine.

- I have never in my life seen a woodpecker in person, until this morning. He was on a pole adjacent to my house, pecking away on the wood. I was impressed.

- We had a great time in Houston: Christmas, family time, Entmoot, a brand new Wii, new books, et cetera.

- We have wood-burning fire place insert. A wood-burning fireplace insert is essentially a wood-burning stove designed to fit inside a typical fireplace cavity. Like traditional wood-burning stoves, inserts have doors that close and vents to control how fast (or slow) the fire burns. Supposedly traditional fireplaces are not efficient home-heating devices, but wood-burning stoves are fantastic for that purpose. It seems that most bumpkins use either a free-standing wood-burning stove or a wood-burning fireplace insert to heat their homes. Our insert will heat our home just fine, with the exception of our bedroom and the kids' bedrooms upstairs (for those rooms we have small oil-filled radiator heaters that work great). We do have central heat and air, but I only turn it on if we need to take the chill off while we're getting a fire going in the morning. Since I work for a company that uses tons of saplings and lumber, I've been able to get all of our wood for burning for free from a stash of wood that was going to be recycled or burned. It's a pretty sweet deal. Last night it got down to 27 degrees and, since I'm alone and my family is not with me, I decided to sleep on a sofa by the fire. I read a little U2 by U2 and drifted off to sleep for 11 hours (I was catching up on sleep). So my total heating bill during last night's freeze was zero dollars. I like that!

Local Eats

We've got two restaurants in our neighborhood. Thankfully, they're both decent.

One of them is a small BBQ joint that's only about two or three minutes from our house. The downside of that place is you never know when they're going to close for the day. Ostensibly, they're open until 8 p.m., but most of the time I think they start thinking about shutting down anytime after 6:30 p.m. So if we're really banking on getting some food from them (which we do every couple of weeks), we usually have to call ahead to make sure they're not going to close on us before we can get there.

Besides the BBQ restaurant, the closest eatery to us is the Aquila Creek Country Cafe. It's about five miles from our house, so it feels like it's in the neighborhood. We stopped by there after church this morning and we were all able to eat dollar burgers (the best dollar burgers in town!) and fresh fries for only $11. After the tip we only spent $14. Not bad to feed a family of six on a Sunday afternoon.

Minor Life Update

- Daniel and I are home sick. Brandi, Nathan, Abigial, and Eve went to church this morning where Abby sang in a little kid Christmas deal.

- Our cat Milo left a half-devoured gopher on our doorstep this morning.

- We should be getting our meat-chickens here within a week or so. They're the super growing variety so they'll be ready to harvest in early February.

- Daniel and I just clipped the wings of about 3/4 of our laying flock.

- Brandi has been talking about a spring garden for a few weeks now. We've never had a ton of success with gardening, but things will surely be different here. First of all we have a ton of space. More space than we need, really. Secondly, people who apparently know gardening keep telling us that our soil is unbelievable, and that we can grow anything in our type of soil. That's encouraging. (On a related note, while it's nice to see so many deer in our back field all the time, when it comes to gardens they're a nuisance. We're going to have to find a surefire way to keep deer out of our garden. Brandi found one source that said to contact your local zoo to acquire some, um, lion dung. Apparently deer will not come anywhere near lion poop. As crazy as it sounds, we'll probably call our zoo to see if it's possible to take some of that product off of their hands.)

- We want to have a small orchard. We haven't decided how many trees we want, but we've got a master gardener friend who said he's more than willing to help us pick out good fruit trees and decide where to plant them. We might end up doing something like that here in the next few months.

- While Christmas is a joyous time, it can be stressful with so much emphasis on cupidity. While I enjoy family time over the holidays, I must admit that the moment where all hell breaks loose, and everyone and their dog is opening a present, can be a tad unnerving, especially with young children. I wish there wasn't such an emphasis on materialism with this holiday. As my eight-year-old so wisely said the other day, "What does Santa have to do with JESUS?"

- I need to go blow my nose.

Magical

Brandi and I had our good friend Andrew over for some dinner and conversation tonight. After the meal I taught Andrew a thing or two about the art of smoking tobacco from a pipe. (Since he's headed to Oxford this summer he needed to learn a bit about Lewisian habits.)

After Andrew left for the evening, I walked out to our barn to close our chicken coop. Lo and behold, there were three deer grazing in our pasture. It's quite an ethereal experience to be outside on a crisp, cool night, under the stars, staring at a few deer wandering around on your property. It almost felt like some sort of non-revelatory epiphany, if there is such a thing.

I'm constantly amazed at how beautiful God's creation truly is.

One-Horse Town

Our adopted home town of Gholson, Texas has a population of 922. We're in the greater Waco area, so for all of our mail-related stuff we have the option of having either Gholson or Waco as our home city. We still choose Waco because, well, Waco is still our home too. But we love living out in the boonies, on the fringe of McLennan County.

Yesterday Brandi and I paid a visit to Gholson's only restaurant. It's a small barbecue joint, and, thankfully, it was delicious. The waitress said her aunt and uncle (who live in Gholson) run the place, and she lives in an adjacent town that's similar to Gholson. "It's another one-horse town," she said.

We're not talking about one-stoplight towns here. (Heck, Gholson doesn't even have one of those!) These are "one-horse" towns! (Certainly there's a bit of hyperbole there. There are probably two dozen horses or more within 400 feet of our home.) Incidentally, Brandi recently talked about maybe wanting to get a pony one day, maybe next year. That would be fun. We're still dead set on getting a cow.

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