Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who decided chickens again?!

So picture if you will, a beautiful snow covered mountain with the sun just beginning to rise shinning its golden first light on a picturesque log home. On the porch of that home is a swing where a woman sits snuggled in her blankets, sipping hot coffee, watching the snow covered world come to life around her. Beautiful isn't it? Well that was NOT my morning today!

Let’s get this on the record right now… I am NOT a morning person. I do not enjoy waking up at the crack of dawn (earlier actually) and stumbling around the cold dark house making fires and the like. However, in an effort to be more productive and squeeze more 'work' into my waking hours, I have taken to getting up with my husband at 0400.

Last week, my husband and I had a date night to Tractor Supply where I was immediately overcome by the cute fuzziness of chicks and ducks. We ended up purchasing 5 Red Sexlinks, 2 Khaki Campbell ducks, and 10 White Leghorns. Now, 10 Leghorns (15 layers) total seems like a lot but let me tell you a story. The White Leghorns were $1.00. They had grown at the store to the point that they were flying out of the buckets (around 5 weeks-ish I'm guessing) and wreaking havoc! So I purchased 10 of the Leghorns for one dollar. Pretty thrifty if I do say so myself.

So fast forward a week and a half to this morning.

I go downstairs to find of my leghorns has been pecked on her tail region until she was bloody. Chickens do this when they're too cramped or bored. While it is a big deal, it is manageable. I need to move infirm bird to her own quarters until she heals (or the other birds will peck her to death...literally!).

So I make a plan. Clean the 1 weekers' and ducks' brooder first. This for me means: moving the chicks, cleaning the waterer (with OnGuard spray!), cleaning the feeder (also with OnGuard), dumping out the old litter, scrubbing up the tub (with OnGruard), drying it, replacing the litter, filling the waterer and feeder, and putting back in the chicks/ducks. About a 20-30 minute process. So that's done.

Next, I need to make a home for the infirm leghorn pullet. I got a tub, made it nice with litter, food, and water. I caught infirm bird, placed her in new home and covered it with chicken wire. Ok done. Next I cleaned out the Leghorn pullets' brooder. Well in the process of doing that, infirm chicken (who will from hence forth be named Houdini) escaped from her new accommodations and flew behind the couch.

Ok...has anyone ever had to try to catch a chicken behind a couch by themselves? It's nearly impossible! You go this way, they run the other way.... You throw something on the other side of the couch and they dodge it or fly over the couch. You bang you head on the shelf above the couch and Houdini laughs at you, making you even more mad... You think, "Fine! I'll just leave you there and you'll come out eventually!" and then when she does come out, you can't catch her because you're carrying a waterer and she's gone again. I know that 'Houdini' may sound like a lame name, but really it was the most mild adjective I used to describe her this morning! So I finally caught her and got her back to her brooder.

Finished cleaning out the pullets' brooder and started to water my started seedlings for the garden. I hear this 'Cheep' behind me and there is Houdini standing in my laundry room looking at me with this evil chicken eye (anyone who has chickens knows what this looks like!) So very slowly I turn around and try to catch her which resulted in exactly nothing except her running under my industrial stove (not lit currently). The chase was on again for another 30 minutes. Finally I get her back in her brooder, covered it with the chicken wire and placed firewood around the edges so girlfriend can't fly/jump and push the wire aside again. TASK ACCOMPLISHED!

Except........ That at this time I noticed that the waterer I put back in the chick brooder had leaked and was now completely emptied into the brooder. Hence, move the chicks, clean and refill the waterer, clean and refill the feeder (because it had an inch of water in it!!), empty the litter, dry the tub, refill the tub with litter, put back the waterer, feeder, and chicks.

And all this BEFORE my first cup of coffee!!!!!

It was now 0648… I started out at 0430…. More than two hours of chicken craziness with no caffeine on board?! Who wanted to keep chickens again?! The funniest part of the whole ordeal was that the second time I had to clean out the chick brooder, I had no where to put them while I emptied the tub… I put them in an Easter basket I had in the laundry room. LOL! I posted pictures on fb recently about not buying kids chicks and bunnies for Easter, and now here I was putting chicks in Easter baskets! Oh dear! Too funny.

Anyway, I’m totally going to drink coffee and take a shower. Have a great day all!

*OH! and please let me clarify... buying chickens are ducks was not really an impulse buy as I have been doing research for month! I did impulsively buy them that night, but we were going to get them sometime this month anyway. Please don't buy chicks and ducks because they're cute... they are a lot of time and energy! thanks! :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Say Cheese!


There is not a food group on the planet that I enjoy more than dairy. Milk, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, the list goes on and on! And it's all so good! So this week in my quest to figure out what to do with all this prospective milk that I may have... I decided to make my own cheese.

A few months back I had the privilege to take a cheese making class at Keswick Creamery. It was awesome!!! I love the farmers and Cheese empress(es) that operate Keswick! The class covered 'simple' cheese making techniques. We made feta, yogurt, quark (yogurt cheese), chevre style, and a jack style. It was a two day event and I had such a fantastic time being covered head to foot (literally) in whey! On top of making cheese, I was able to stay on the farm and help with a few "Farm for dummies" chores like feeding calves. Except for the mud puddle that ate my flip flop, I had a super time!

So thus armed with my amazing cheese making notes, I was thus determined to make my own cheese last weekend. I went to the local Amish dairy and purchased three more gallons of milk than we usually buy. I came home and gathered my cultures, rennet, cheese cloth, and pots. I set to work. After several text messages (sorry!) to the cheese empress herself, I finally had my cheese set up correctly and it seemed as though all was well.

I started with a Chevre style cheese. It seems simple...
heat the milk, add the culture, stir, wait, add rennet, stir, wait for flocculation, wait some more, cut the curd, wait some more, drain the whey, drain overnight. simple right? well... not so much. my cheese was much more wet than it was supposed to be. While the curd did form, I think I did not wait long enough because my whey was still very milky in color (its supposed to be yellow clear). So I drained it in the fridge over night and the next day added the salt and herbs.

I made this super wonderful omelet with steak, onions, peppers, and my chevre cheese on fresh baked baguette bread. It was AWESOME! Four hours later however, I was communing with the toilet. I was so sick! My husband (and I) thought I was dying! I was so disappointed because it was so yummy... the first time.

But thus is the road of trial and error. Better luck next time!!

Eating Crow

Thomas Wolfe wrote a book entitled, “You can’t go home again.” Well, I say you can go home, but you have to eat a lot of crow!

I grew up in a very small town in a very rural area. When I was 18, (well, as soon as I was old enough to know the difference between “city” and “country”) I wanted out of there as soon as possible. I was convinced that If I could just get out of the country, life would be better. And by better I mean, more exciting, more fun, more cultural, more anything but country.  The country… where my school has a day off every year for the first day of buck season, where kids actually drove to school with shotguns and rifles in the windows of their trucks, where kids were known to actually drive their tractors to school. Not the lawn riding mower tractors either… The real deal “go plow a field” kind of tractor. Where there were actually notices posted at the doors of the school in raining weather to scrape the mud off your boots before entering the building! My graduating class had approximately 70 kids. Those 60-70 kids were the same ones that you started Pre-school with.  When your school is that small, you tend to get a reputation early on and it sticks with you the whole way through your 12 (sometimes more in our area!) years of school.  That beings said, I was never a popular kid. I had my group of friends who were two years older than I was. When they graduated, leaving me in 10th grade… I was pretty much alone. (Please note, this isn’t a “feel bad for me” story… it is simply to illustrate a point).  I didn’t really make friends easily because everyone around me had their friends. There were a couple of school activities that kept me going, one in particular… music. Music was always something that I picked up easily and was good at. Then early in my junior year, the music teacher changed and the program went down will with amazing speed. I was so angry! The one thing that I loved to do and was good at… that made me feel like I had worth and an accepted place!... was gone. I got really mean and snotty to basically everyone. I got a huge chip on my shoulder and didn’t treat people very well. I was MAD and I unfortunately showed it.

So, what the point to this 40 minute monologue? Well, I graduated, moved away, grew up, got married, etc. Basically I figured out who I wanted to be in life. I met people and gradually figured out that I am not the social reject that I always thought I was.  Fast forward a few years and it’s time to have kids. At the time, my husband and I were living in the “city” that I thought was so amazing. Turns out it isn’t that amazing after all (Surprise, surprise!) and we wanted to move back to the country. To the same country community where I grew up. I found out that I really do love this country living after all… turns out the grass is not so green elsewhere.

We moved back and started to interact with the community where I grew up. I have been back for 4 years now and have become reacquainted to several people that I knew when I was younger.  I recently had an experience with someone (a then young teacher, now a lovely woman with kids the same age as mine) that I treated badly when I was in high school. She said something like, “Wow! You’re a nice person now.”  It was said without sarcasm and almost in an amazed way. I felt awful. I’m almost in tears writing this. I was  hurting so badly at that time period of my life that I didn’t care who I hurt in return. All that mattered was getting out SOON and protecting what little bit of myself was left.  I am deeply ashamed for my behavior at that time of my life and greatly wish I could take it back.  For all those people that I was rude to, mean, snotty, condemning, judgmental, or otherwise… I apologize. I did not know how horrible I was until  I was fixed. 

So as it turns out… you can go home again. You just have to eat a LOT of crow.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why Homestead?!

So, Why the Desire to Homestead?

Because it is just so darn fun to work like crazy just for one jar of green beans! Um… well… not entirely.

Let’s back up here. So about a year ago, I was an ICU RN working in a fancy hospital taking care of really sick people. I really did not like it. I kept thinking there was something missing. So around that time, my oldest daughter was having severe developmental issues with speech, behavior, and emotions.( She is way better now!) She needed A LOT of therapy. So bottom line, I went per-Diem at the hospital and eventually quit to be a stay at home mom. Through all this therapy and Dr’s appointments I was doing a lot of research about diet therapy for kids with delays. I thought, “Hey, what can it hurt?” so we switched to an organic diet. I don’t know if you know this, but organic supermarket diets are really expensive! I looked for a CSA to join and found a whole diet CSA through YeeHaw Farm. SUPER! One of the best (and most life changing!!) things I have ever done! It introduced my family to a COMPLETELY different way of eating, growing, and producing food. Suddenly, our food actually tasted like food and not just like salt! Suddenly I was cooking most foods from scratch instead of a rip and dump package! It was super tasty and….a lot of work and a lot of dishes every night. I won’t lie. Cooking from scratch every night is a lot of work but personally I feel like it is WAY worth it. But I digress, we started getting the majority of our foods from farmer’s markets and really enjoying it! I have a whole soapbox topic planned about buying from local people but that’s saved for another day! Ha!

Anyway… so we were buying from local markets and I began thinking… why couldn’t I do this? We have 7 acres of ground on top of our mountain… why couldn’t I grow some food? So last year I had my awesome husband build me two raised bed vegetable boxes and grew a small garden. I loved growing food! There is something so cool and rewarding about putting seeds in the ground and watching them grow. It’s primal. It’s elemental. It makes you feel like you accomplished something just by watering and weeding it. And seriously, that first ripe heirloom tomato straight off the vine, warm from the sun… bursting with flavor in your mouth… PURE wonderful tomato heaven! YUM!

 The small garden went well although I was super lazy and didn’t preserve a darn thing I grew. Let me tell you, I am feeling it now in January. I hate that I didn’t can anything this past summer. My pantry is bare and I’m dependent on the imported waxy junk produce from the store. YUCK! (another soapbox post about the industrial food system coming!) Next year, my friends, is going to be vastly different!

Anyway… I began to think about my garden.  How can I add more to it…how can I grow all the things that I normally buy from the market? I started planning and drawing and researching. Then there is all this talk about the economy and how at any moment it could come crashing down and leave us in another depression (slight exaggeration). So I began to think about how I could make our mountain as self sufficient as possible. We use a lot of eggs weekly so naturally I thought about getting chickens. We love cheese and milk, so my next thought was to get a Jersey cow. Cows eat a lot of grass that we don’t have on top of a mountain. So the next thought was dairy goats. They eat all kinds of grazing plants and don’t eat near as much as cows. Plus they don’t produce as much milk. Plus add a sheep or two for wool for knitting and crocheting. And bees are a must for honey, wax, and pollination. Then you add all that together and you have a homestead! Ta Da!
So basically it has been a year in the making... and I'm sure it will be many more years until the property is a functioning homestead but the dreams are in process. It has been an eyeopening journey so far. From meeting so many awesome farmers and growers who are always willing to share their experiences and knowledge to experimenting with growing my own food. It's been fun and I can't wait for the next steps!

Soon to come... experiences of making my own cheese!

Welcome and Goal setting

Hello everyone and welcome!

I am Amanda and this is one woman's journey from a country living pampered chick to homesteading pioneer woman. *ha, ha, ha!
But seriously, I hoping to use this blog as an outlet to document my new experiences and adventures! I'm hoping to write about homeschooling, growing your own food, canning your own food, raising chickens, goats, and bees, making soap, knitting, crocheting, cooking from scratch (or cooking by scratching as my kids say), and so on and so forth. Basically this will be my adventure of my new life as we head toward self sufficiency. See, I'm just starting this whole "grow your own food, live off the land, knit your own socks, own a goat" lifestyle. I do a LOT of research and irritate talk to a lot of people for advice. So if you would like to follow along with me, WELCOME!

So first off, it is January... time of changes, big dreams, goals, and plans. So that is exactly what I am doing. Gathering research, planning, dreaming, and basically driving my husband crazy with seed catalogs, elementary drawings of garden boxes, and chicken facts. So my big plans for this spring are...
  • to get a flock of laying/meat chickens established (dual purpose birds)
  • to clear some ground to plant a feed plot (or maybe two or three)
  • to have a kick butt garden
  • to start an orchard
I was really really lazy last year and didn't can a darn thing from our garden. This year, I would like to can everything! I'm so tired of buying crap food from the grocery store when I know that homegrown food is so much healthier for you. So I suppose that is another goal.

Another goal set, would be to become more knowledgeable about natural health care and medicine. I'm sure that anyone reading this blog knows me so you probably know that I am a RN. I know a lot about traditional medicine and I definitely know that the health care system is broken. We have (almost) no preventative care. Therefore, I am making another goal for this year to learn as much as I can about alternative, holistic medicine. To learn ways to make myself and my family as healthy as they can be so that we may not need traditional health care (or use it as little as possible!). Along with this goal is always the goal of losing weight and getting myself fit. I'm not sure what that really has to do with homesteading, but it has a lot to do with being healthy! Ha!

I'm sure there is another 100 things I could add to this list but for now, I think I'm done. It's bed time because... I'm getting up early tomorrow (0500) to exercise and start day 1 of all my new changes. I know, I know...it sounds silly but really, doesn't all change have to start somewhere?! So, tomorrow is my day! Have a great evening everyone!