Farm Animal “Triad of Balance”

An odd title for a blog, I know. But, as a homesteader I’ve learned that a balance is needed for having and caring for farm animals. I see myself needing and applying my self-made farm animal “Triad of Balance”. The triad goes like this:

1.) Care deeply for the well-being of the animals.

2.) Don’t get too attached to them.

3.) Remember their purpose.

We run a very frugal budget so we vow that everyone and everything that is on this homestead has a purpose. For instance, goats are for milk and mowing, not for pets. Do they get spoiled with extra attention and yummy fresh food treats? Yeah, they totally do. But ultimately their purpose here needs to be met, or they aren’t a match for here.

There have been a few times when my farm animal triad of balance was challenged. One specific instance that comes to mind is when we decided it was time to butcher Frannie, our mama pig. After knowing her for almost 2 years, seeing her birth and raise piglets, and attending to her care 2 or more times each day, parting with her was a bit tough. I still miss having her smiling face around. (Cue the farm animal “Triad of Balance” to help cope.)

Today was the first very cold day of the winter season here, around 12 degrees overnight. In the morning we went out for chores and everyone seemed to be doing fine except there was a bit of concern for Pixel, one of our original chickens. This past summer Pixel became the target for establishing the pecking order in the flock and was badly injured by too many pecks to the head (you guys, chickens can be cruel). We seperated her and gave her some special care in a seperate outdoor pen until she was better. But, she never was 100% better. She was unable to keep her balance sometimes and only one eye would open completly. But, she didn’t seem to be in pain and she was still laying her daily egg (even beyond the time period the other chickens gave up for the season). So, she moved in with the ducks and rabbits and her co-habitation was a success for many months. This afternoon we found her dead. The cold must have been just too much. RIP Pixel. (Cue the farm animal “Triad of Balance” to help cope.)

Upon finding Pixel our daughter also recognized that one of our roosters, Big Boy, was out on the snow hopping around on one foot. She picked him up and saw that his one foot was completely frozen, unable to move. Upon this discovery, the kids came running to get help. Now, what were we to do with a rooster with a frozen foot? The temps aren’t increasing and leaving him in that condition would be certain death.

Honestely, I have formed some opinions of those who share their home with their farm animals. Sharing it with them at all, or for what I would consider to be too long of a time. Or, I’ve seen where people get attached and next thing they know they have their duck wrapped up in bed with them. That type of care may be for some, but that is not for me. I’m not keen on having duck poop in my bed. However, I do have a big heart for the well-being of our critters and I will do what I can within what I’ve established to be reasonable ways to help our animals. They deserve our care and attention just like a friend would.

So Big Boy came inside.

Examining the health of his foot.

Moving animals from temperature extremes can actually be very harmful to them. So, the kids brought him in and sat by the woodstove. Within 10 minutes his foot was thawed and he became mobile and very interested in exploring. His soft coo’ing and clucking was pretty sweet. But that was my cue to get him back outside and into an area where he’d be better protected from the cold. We fed him some leftover corn pone as a treat and out he went.

Chickens like corn pone.

Now, if my farm animal triad of balance was out of whack, that rooster might have joined us for dinner! Trust me, the kids would have not complained, ha! But, he’s an outdoor animal, he has a safe place to stay out there, and he’s better now.

Happy kids, healthy rooster.

Fingers crossed he stays in his sheltered and hay-filled area.

Wishing you peace, love and time in nature,

-Lisa

October 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

11/04/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

As the snow started falling a sigh of relief was released. The snow signifies that a much needed rest period is ahead! So much of the winter prep was completed in such a short period of time I can’t help but feel somewhat amazed at our family’s ability to work as a team.

For my own sake I wish I could report that the fall butchering is done, but there are a few left to go. The major project of butchering and selling young fryer rabbit is complete and buyers are lined up. I’ve been impressed with the interest and we are happy to bring healthy and humanely raised meat to our small community. Our rabbits are colony-raised on a pasture diet. They enjoy an ample “yard” space to hop around in and eat fresh grass and twigs naturally growing in their area. The rabbits are fed hay, fresh greens, garden veggies, and if needed, supplemental rabbit feed. For the next month they’ll be enjoying the plentiful pumpkins that volunteered themselves in the garden this year. The ducks, chickens and goats also like these. The calves could care less.

Looking back at the garden harvest, the most exciting part was our dried beans (yes, I get excited over beans!). We grew several varieties including: Calypso, Black Coco, Brown Dutch, Soldier, Tohya Soy, Scarlet Runner, and Cannellini.  We let them dry on the plant and then once shelled give them a final drying cycle inside before storing in glass jars. The favorites are Cannellini (white bean) and Black Coco (large black bean).

Beans, beautiful beans!

After a season of hard work, we’re ready to have a bit of downtime. The garden is at rest for the winter and the animals are all located in their winter pastures (much to their displeasure). Time to switch out our summer clothes for sweaters and long johns and our sandals for snowshoes. The daylight is short, giving us reason to shift into a slower pace.

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Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,
-L

September 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

9/30/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

This month is brought to you by the color red! Even when I close my eyes I see tomatoes and apples. The heritage apples growing all over our property bring what could be endless picking and preservation, but as tempting as it is to try we also have to remember scale and work within our means. We’ve pressed many gallons of apple cider, put up applesauce, apple butter, apple cider jelly (my favorite apple thing!), and have a batch of apple pie filling coming up next. All of the animals have been greatly enjoying the fall apple crop – rabbits and goats especially.

Now for the tomatoes. Our crop did surprisingly well after a rough start, so now I’m taking special care to nurse them to their delicious ripe state without losing them to slugs or splitting. The fall rainy season is upon us and the tomatoes are getting more water than they need, causing the splitting and making nice habitat for slugs and mold. This year, my tactic is to pull any tomatoes that are on the vine starting to ripen and promptly bring them inside. I wipe them, let them dry, and put them in boxes topped with newspaper to finish the ripening process indoors. This prevents the slugs from getting to them and because they are not being over-watered by mother nature, no splitting. The tomato crop to this point has been processed and cooked into an herb, onion, garlic pasta sauce. Oooo, so tasty. Once I have the amount I want of that, salsa will be the next project. 

Steamy pots of tomato sauce cooking down.
Steamy pots of tomato sauce cooking down.

The squash are slowly coming in from the garden, these will be kept in a cool place to fresh eat during winter. We planted our own saved seeds and had some cross-pollination take place so we have some pretty wonky squash out there, many normal ones too. I won’t judge them for their uniqueness and I’m always ready for a culinary adventure. I’m most curious about the small pumpkin shaped “Delicata” squash. 

The blueberry crop is officially done. Just before it ended our daughter, Flora (age 9 at the time), made a delicious blueberry pie from scratch. More garden crops that are keeping us busy with harvesting are the root crops and my ultimate favorite – dry beans!  I’ll save that for next month because they deserve their own special focus.

Child making blueberry pie from scratch.
Blueberry Pie from scratch!

Fall season also means downsizing the duck flock and rabbits. Some duck hens have been sold to be layers at other homesteads, males will be butchered. The recent litter of rabbits is just about harvesting size. Since it’s two of us processing, we process in small batches which makes it more manageable and I feel it’s less stress on us all.

The two goats are giving a total of about 1.5 quarts of milk each day. We freeze what we can’t keep up with and now that we have all the correct supplies for cheese making we can begin experimenting. We’ll start with cheve, ricotta and then cottage cheese.

Finally, a harvest here on the homestead that is rarely thought of by others but essential for many small farms is timber. We harvest and split our own firewood for heating and I’m happy to say the woodshed is stocked and ready to go and we have some of next year’s sitting in waiting. With the timber harvest this year comes not just firewood, but also timber to be used for lumber. Tim has been processing logs on the portable sawmill and stacks of 4×4’s, 2×4’s and 2×6’s are piling up for drying and then use on future projects. 

It’s usually about now that I start to look forward to winter (gasp!). It’s not the cold or snow I look forward to, but the forced break that naturally comes along with it.  

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August 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

8/26/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

It seems the harvest has taken a slight pause. The awesome crop of strawberries, zucchini, onions, trilogy beans, beets, carrots, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, and broccoli has slowed and now while pulling weeds I patiently watch for tomatoes to ripen, look for continued health in our dried bean crop and wonder how many winter squash are hiding under their magnificently large leaves. After a slow start the Oneida white corn crop is maturing nicely. I’m thankful that the cultivated blueberries are coming in big and plentiful, but I still believe the small wild ones taste better. The chokecherries are almost ripe, so juicing and jelly making will take place soon. These past months we’ve sold a small amount of our crop to local friends, the rest we ate fresh or I put up in jars or vacuum sealed and put them in the freezer.  I feel satisfied with the amount of food I’ve put up for our family so far and while I’m enjoying this garden lull, I know much more work is on its way!

Along with the garden growing, the animal population is too!  We enjoy watching the new bunnies that were born in the past month. Our rabbits are colony raised, so they burrow for nesting and in time, baby bunnies start emerging from the den. All 3 litters are out and about now and they are so fun to watch! We’ve counted 20 of them. They love eating weeds and scraps from the garden. They are raised primarily on fresh food in summer and given supplement feed as well.  At around 3-4 months old they will be harvest size and become healthy meals for our customers and for us.

Bunnies enjoying a snack of cabbage leaves from the garden.

As predicted, at the end of August our goat does had their babies. Our doe Alder had a boy and our doe Juneberry had a girl. Both kidded in the afternoon, within 24 hours of each other. We had the pleasure of quietly watching each birth, which was amazing. Our son (5) and daughter (9) were amazed! We happened to have friends over during each time and they got the opportunity to watch too. The kids and does seem to be off to an excellent start. Now, the milking begins and then on to yogurt and cheesemaking!

Alder’s boy kid.

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Time to Hustle

Friends, it’s been so, so busy. Please don’t read this sentiment as a complaint, I’m not complaining, I’m one of those people who enjoys staying busy! But, I do need to be honest. Keeping up with the hustle involved with tending the garden, collecting the harvest, preparing and then perserving it in a timely manner can be exhausting. I like to compare these assiduous 3’ish months of harvest and food preservation to the time a non-homesteading person would take to earn money for food, plan for shopping, travel to and from the grocery store, walk around the grocery store shopping, and finally a portion of time spent preparing the food…but all done in mid-day hours of about 3 months time. It’s worth the effort. A bonus of being responsible for our own food is that we get the relief of knowing where our food comes from and saving thousands of dollars a year.

Add to the above: 2 kids having the “best summer ever”, Tim working his regular job, me fullfilling contract work, me planning a year of homeschool, a social life that I’m so grateful for, renovating the cabin for rental, caring for the animals (oh my, we have over 30 babies animals in rabbit and duck form here, with goat kids on the way), getting ready for winter heat needs by splitting wood, hauling and storing hay, and caring for ourselves – it’s so important to just stop it all and……breathe. I know we all feel this way, this overwhelm, no matter what phase of life we’re in or what commitments we have. It’s so very important we make space for downtime. We do this by enjoying a hike in the woods, spending time at the beach, laying in the hammock, or unwinding with friends over a bonfire.

Alright, I’ve spent enough time on words for now. Plus, it’s almost time to do chores. Here are some images that give a snapshot of projects in the last two weeks:

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Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,
-L

July 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too.

7/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

What happened to all those blooms I mentioned in last month’s post? Fruit! The strawberries, cherries, juneberries, and blueberries are in varying phases of ripening. There are a lot of fruit on all of the plants and the ones that have ripened – the taste is spectacular! Jam and jelly making will begin soon and I’m hoping the heat will break so it’s not so hot working in the kitchen. Later fruits like chokecherry and apples have a while still. I can be patient, there is plenty to do in the meantime.

We had our first zucchini harvest in late July. The harvest began late this year because we had some troubles hardening off our squash plants. We grew them inside, spent good time hardening them off, planted them in the garden and then found all the plants dead about a week later (not a frost kill off, we suspect sun scald). Because of this, all the winter and summer squash were direct sown to the garden as seeds but I’m hopeful we’ll still have an excellent crop at the end of it all. Many other veggies are coming in: shelling peas, beets, spinach, and trilogy beans. We’ve been picking cabbage and found that a great way to enjoy them is to slice in thick (2 inch) pieces, season with garlic, salt, and pepper, wrap in foil and put them on the grill on low setting for approximately 35 minutes. 

Now that the heat seems to be breaking (someone please tell the chickens, they’ve been “on strike” and haven’t been laying), working in the garden and around the homestead will be more bearable. Many projects went on hold during the last 3 weeks of hot and humid weather and I’m now feeling the pressure of preserving the harvest. We continue to sell “extras” to local neighbors and friends.

Our duck, Rose, and her brood of 14 ducklings.

New faces around the homestead include a brood of 14 ducklings that hatched off one of our ducks nest. Also, it’s confirmed that our two doe goats are expecting! The physical changes in them are apparent and sometime in late August kids should be born. This will be our first birthing experience with goats. We’re looking forward to seeing what it will be like here with goat kids around and also to enjoy the milk the girls provide. Next on the docket is learning basic cheese making skills!

June 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too.

6/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

Up here on the Keweenaw, we’ve finally bloomed! Everything seemed to come alive during the middle 3 weeks of June (with exception of our favorite first blooms, Serviceberry, which is always the first bloom and happened in May). If the amount of flowers on our wild and cultivated fruit trees and berries are any sign of the fruit crop this year, it should be a good one! While walking around our land we hear the constant serenade of our native pollinators. Last year’s strawberry harvest was strong, and with last year’s preservation efforts is still feeding our family. With that, this year we’ll be selling strawberries to friends and families in our small local community. This year’s crop is growing nicely and should be ripe for the picking throughout July (depending on the variety). 

With the temperatures moving out of the 50’s and 60’s and into some steady 70’s in late June, it seems our garden has finally come alive! This means the weeds are growing nicely too, oy!  My attempts at doing a small amount of weeding daily seems to make no impact. We have found a positive in all these weeds though. A “weed” known as purslane is a delightful treat to eat while working in the garden. Another plentiful “weed”, lamb’s quarters, is a tasty and nutritious wild green. This one we pick and either dry to use as a flavorful herb sprinkle or to add to soups made in winter, or we cook fresh leaves in the skillet like spinach.

Homegrown meal, fresh eggs, asparagus, and nettle.

Screening compost is another project that is now done. How nice it is to have a free means of building nutrition in our soil! We have 3 large compost bins, 1 that was resting and 2 that were actively being added to. The resting bin has now been scooped, screened, and applied to the garden and has become the active bin. The other two bins are now resting, 1 will be ready next summer and the other will be in 2 years. We hope to continue that cycle. Our bins are built up of any food scraps that come from us (that the animals don’t eat), weeds pulled from the garden, coffee grounds from a local restaurant, and hay and manure that gets mucked out from the animals. 

Working on the compost, screening for use in the garden.

Exciting progress for our new business (est. January 2019), we now have a logo!  You can see it (and other homestead happenings) on our Facebook page or shared through Instagram.

Compost, Backaches, and Sprouts

Well, if the title of this blog didn’t give it away, it’s planting season! The last weeks have been busy, spending the majority of each day laboring in the garden to prepare the soil and then planting it. I’ve often heard people say gardening is a relaxing thing, but I suspect they didn’t garden at the level of hoping to provide almost all their own food, for a family of four, for a year. The last days have been enjoyable being out in the fresh air and sun, but not exactly relaxing as I raced to get everything planted before June 1st, my own personal timeline.

Northern gardening is a bit more challenging because we don’t get as high of temps for as long. Our current long range forecast shows daytime temps of mid-60’s through June 15th. Planting the garden too early is not an option because of the risk of frost (with the exception of cold hardy seeds and starts). Planting the garden too late is not an option because of the risk of cutting the season way too short. Also, since we’re relying on all of our own seed starts, some are smaller than what you would expect to buy from a garden store so they need ample time to grow.

This year one of our achievements is the budget we planted on. After buying some growing soil for our seed starts and a few seed packets we needed or wanted to try, our total cost put into the garden this year is about $30. Considering we planted over 3,000 square feet, that’s pretty reasonable, right?

Another achievement is that we expanded the fenced garden. Our original plot from our first full year (2018 growing season) was approximately 2,000 square feet. This year we took over the attached poultry/rabbit yard, adding another 800 fenced square feet. The chickens and ducks went on complete free-range and the rabbits moved to a better location that will be more suitable for winter care. Because the soil in that area needs to be managed for better growing, we are only planting a portion of it.

Gardening isn’t all about little green plants though. A major project I’ve also started (and not yet finished) is mucking out the goat shed from the winter. While starting this project I realized I didn’t have any compost bins to put it in. One bin was done and ready to go to the garden, so that whole bin has been screened and then spread in the garden with our new plantings, making way to refill it with poo and hay to then rot down into soil.

I still have over half of the goat shed to clean out, but with several weeks of working in the garden for long days, my back has seen better days. I was already nursing a sensitive spot that seems to continuously get aggravated from hiking (and snowshoeing in winter). That spot was weak and a new spot is now aggravated and worse than the original spot.

I finished planting the garden on Friday, 5/31 and had an appointment that afternoon with a magician (i.e. chiropractor). The next two days I’m on physical rest to help continue the healing process. The break will be both physical and mental. Knowing the garden is in for the season brings me such peace. In just several weeks of work, hopefully this will provide us with the majority of the food we need to sustain us for the year.

My Yellow-rumper Warbler friend.

While I was working with the compost, I noticed the activity of some little birds. A small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers had taken notice to the recently stirred compost and were visiting often. One was so comfortable with my presence I probably could have just picked him up. What a beautiful treat to share my work time with these little birds who were fun to watch and listen to.

Hope you get a chance to get your hands in the dirt to either plant food for yourself or to beautify your space.

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

It’s Spring Cluttering Time!

The snow has melted, the weather is warming, the crocus flowers have come and gone, buds are showing themselves on trees, mud is everywhere. Spring has arrived and here on the homestead that means it’s a productive time – Spring cluttering time is here! Yeah, you read that correct. Not Spring cleaning (although it seems we are always cleaning here), in spring it’s truly cluttering time in the yurt and around the homestead. Let me explain.

Tim’s spring project is getting as many plant starts going so come end of May we plant the garden full of our own plant starts. We currently have over 180 garden plants growing in our yurt. While the plants are contained and organized, there is definitely an amount of space they consume that is normally unoccupied. The project starts annually at the end of March. Tim built a simple set-up: A hand-built rack, shop lights running on a timer, and heating pad for a portion of growing time. All the plants seem to be off to a great start. By mid-May they’ll start to go outside for a portion of the day to harden off and get ready for planting. This is always the part I’m most nervous about, the risk of losing them after all the time and effort!

sprouting plants in soil
Thermometer in soil, used to monitor a constant temperature that is ideal for germination and growth.

What we have growing: paste tomatoes (my go-to sauce tomato), cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, 3 types of sweet peppers and 1 type of hot pepper, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, multiple types of squash, cucumber, zucchini, various melons and pumpkins. Next we’ll hand sow the peas and some root vegetables into the garden. By late May and early June all the planting will take place in the garden, including everything not started inside (beans, corn, carrots, etc.).

Eggplant and tomatoes, happily growing under lights.

I love all the plant starts, the self-reliance of it, they make our garden frugal and sustainable (vs. buying all the plants from the store), the temporary clutter….totally worth it.

In another spot we have a delicate situation taking up space. It’s our first time at incubation (thanks to our neighbors who have loaned us their incubator)! 8 duck eggs and 10 chicken eggs are incubating. So far it looks promising. Candling after one week shows the development we should expect. Fingers crossed we can expand our flock in this frugal and self-reliant way.

eggs in incubator
Our own duck and chicken eggs in the incubator.

Outside, other clutter appears. The outdoor hose is running again so outdoor things that have needed washing are now cleaned and lined up by the hose, drying the in the sun. Wood that’ll need cutting and splitting for next winter is starting to pile up, waiting to be split and organized nicely in the wood shelter.

The clutter around here represents how busy the spring season can be for us. It’s a beautiful, productive, and self-reliant clutter. In just a short time it’ll all find it’s way to another place on the homestead where it will eventually disappear because it’s providing for us. With that, I have to say, I’m thankful for this clutter!

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

Help for Hard Labor has Arrived!

Eventually I’ll succumb to the idea of needing a tractor here on the homestead. On a rare occassion we’ve had a project that a tractor is necessary for, thankfully we have neighbors who have come to help with their own tractor.

Things I dislike about a tractor:

  • Space needed for storage.
  • Cost to buy.
  • Cost to maintain, insure.
  • Gas to run.
  • Loud sounds it makes. Ugh, I despise loud sounds.

Things I like about a tractor:

  • Does heavy labor I cannot.
  • With the right implements, it’s verstile for doing many projects.

I actually enjoy hard labor, but there are some things I know I could do more efficently if I had some help. For instance, I can move big pieces of firewood, but, I could move MANY big pieces of firewood at once and at longer distances with some support. Well, that support will be here on the homestead soon, it’s not a human and it’s not a tractor.

Meet Wiit (left) and Nels(right)! Cute, aren’t they?

What do they have to do with labor? Well, they don’t know it yet, but they are the helpers! We’ll be training these young bull calves to be oxen! If you are unfamiliar, an ox is defined as a bovine trained as a draft animal. I am so excited, yet nervous. I have no bovine experience and of course, have never trained an ox…or any draft animal for that matter. Lots of research led us to this decision and lots of reading and watching has done the best job it can in preparing us for this new adventure. When asked, one person assured us “It’s easier than I thought it would be – just spend consistent time with them and it’s not hard.” I hope I will be able to say the same!

Our goal is to have them help us move large timber, haul firewood, work in the field and any other odds and ends they can help us with. Plus, I look forward to having them as work companions and having their manure for our fields and gardens. As a seasoned oxen teamster (this is the term for a person working oxen) pointed out, if some how it doesn’t work out, you still have “well-trained beef”, meaning they can serve a purpose as meat animals if not oxen. This logic appealed to my practicalities, but I do hope that’s not how it turns out.

Our homestead has a working farm history, and from what we’ve been told, there were cattle raised here for a significant period of time. From the looks of the old machinery left behind, there were draft animals being used as well. I’m excited to bring back some of the history and continue to work our homestead in a way it may have been worked historically, with draft animals. Each calf’s name is derived from the name of an owner who lived and worked this exact land.

Wiit and Nels will be arriving in about a week, so let the draft training begin!