Thursday, June 28, 2012

Liquidating the Shetland flock

This is really hard, but it seems the most logical place to cut back. I briefly mentioned a few posts ago that I was thinking about selling the Shetland sheep, except for my two old ladies, Majik and White Feather, who were my first two ewes. Everyone else is for sale. And until I typed that sentence, I had not even thought about price. Yeah, this is hard to do, but I'm going to keep typing. I've come up with a dozen ways to procrastinate already.

Here are the lambs:

Hmm ... I have eleven lambs, but that's only eight pictures. There are three more just as cute -- one is white and two are brown (or moorit in Shetland speak).

I also have a lovely yearling ewe that I didn't breed:

And here are my three adult wethers:

Lucky was supposed to be lamb chops, but the morning Mike was loading up the wethers, I said, "You know, Majik is my only gray ewe. And I like gray wool. We should keep him." So, I wrote about it on here, and someone said he was Lucky! The name stuck.

This wether also got lucky because someone told me she wanted him for wool, so he didn't go the locker with the rest of the boys that fall. But she never picked him up, so he's still here.

And then there is Latte. My oldest daughter bought him for me as a gift when she was buying a ewe six or seven years ago. If I could find my sheep binder, I would know his age for sure. I'm actually thinking that I might keep him. After all, three sheep isn't any more work than two, right?

And I just realized I don't have pictures of the adult ewes unless they just happened to get into pictures with their lambs. Well, I have six adult ewes for sale -- two white, one black, two spotted black and white, and one brown. I'm not very good at this "selling" thing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cooking with our solar oven

A week ago we attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, and while there were a lot of high tech presentations and exhibitors, there were also some low tech products, such as solar ovens. One in particular caught my eye, and the price was perfect -- only $85! This is another one of those things that has been on my 'to do' list forever.

You can find plans online to make a solar oven, and I even tried to convince Jonathan to make one for us back when we were homeschooling. He turns 22 next week, so that was quite a few years ago. Anyway, you can see how long I've wanted a solar oven. Basically you can use one to cook outside with nothing more than the heat of the sun on those horribly hot summer days.

We've had our oven for a week now, and we've made ...


brownies -- twice

and roast with vegetables, as well as bread. Of course it doesn't work on cloudy days, but then cloudy days are not so hot. Here are a few more pictures, so you can get a better idea of what it looks like.

Our oven was made by this company, but the design is new, and it is not for sale yet on their website.

There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to using it. You can't just set the timer for 30 minutes or whatever the cookbook says because the heat in the oven is based upon the position of the sun and whether or not any clouds happen to come past. The heat is usually between 250 and 300 when it is pointed straight at the sun. After we've used it some more, I'll be posting information on my Homegrown & Handmade blog about how to cook with a solar oven. Overall, however, this is so easy. It is another one of those things that makes us say, "I can't believe we didn't do this sooner!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Raccoon woes

I had hoped to fall asleep early tonight, but that's not going to happen. I was all snug in bed at 10:15 reading about dog aggression in Temple Grandin's book, Animals in Translation, and I heard a chicken squawking outside. I called downstairs and asked Jonathan to see what was happening because chickens go to bed with the sun, and hens like to get a good night's sleep, which means no squawking in the middle of the night unless something serious is happening.

A few seconds after hearing the sliding glass door close, Jonathan is yelling, but I can't understand what he's saying. I run to the window and yell, "What?" He yells for me to come right away and bring the gun. I grab a .22 pistol and run outside. He meets me at the chicken house door and says there is a raccoon that has climbed up to the rafters. I complain about not wanting to put a hole in the roof or the wall but don't see any alternatives. We can't just leave and say, "Have a nice dinner." Chickens are running around, squawking, flapping their wings, and dust is flying. I am incredibly grateful that we have a light in the chicken house.

I point the gun at the raccoon's head, then second guess my shooting ability and aim for the middle of his chest and pull the trigger. He falls, hits the ground, and starts running. I know I've hit him because I see blood. I pull the slide back on the gun and see a bullet fly out. I aim again, pull the trigger, and nothing happens. I realize the slide is stuck in the open position. I can't remember what I'm supposed to do now! I haven't held a gun in two or three years. Every now and then Mike tells me that I need to know what to do in case of an emergency, so I walk out to wherever he is shooting at a target, I take the gun, fire multiple rounds into the center of the target and hand the gun back to him, asking, "You happy now?" I had never realized until tonight how foolish I was to assume that I only needed to know how to shoot straight.

The raccoon is huddled in a corner of the chicken house, and I tell Jonathan to watch him while I run inside the house to call Mike, who is obviously not home. If he were home, he would be the one out here, and I would still be reading my book! He has barely said "hello" into the phone when I blurt out, "There is a coon in the chicken house. I shot him, but I need to shoot him again, and the gun isn't working." I'm still fiddling with the pistol, and at that moment, I realize what I need to do to get the slide to close. I hang up, run out to the chicken house, take aim at the raccoon again, pull the trigger and hear a faint click. Ugh! I try again and hear another faint click! The idea of leaving the raccoon until Mike got home briefly entered my mind, but I didn't want it to suffer for another hour.

I run back to the house to call Mike again. He suggests I grab the .45 pistol, which I don't want to do because that's overkill for a raccoon, and I really have visions of blowing a big hole in the wall of the chicken house. He suggests the rifle, but I haven't fired a rifle in I-don't-know-how-many years. And if I was doing so badly with a .22 pistol, which is what I've used the most, then a rifle sounded like a really bad idea. Somehow we finally come to the conclusion that the pistol was out of bullets. I could not figure out how to get the magazine out of the gun, which was very frustrating because I was sure that I had at least done that much in my infrequent practice sessions. Ultimately I learn that this is a gun that Mike inherited from his father after his Alzheimer's diagnosis. It is obviously different than the one that Mike has had since his days on the Naval Academy pistol team 30+ years ago -- the gun that I had always practiced with. On the bright side, I had never touched this gun before and was happy to know that I was not entirely senile!

Mike explains how to load a single round into the chamber, and I head back to the chicken house. This time, I aim at the raccoon's forehead and pull the trigger.

It is dead.

I walk to the door of the chicken house, never taking my eyes off the raccoon in the corner. I head back to the house and call Mike to tell him that it's over. I head upstairs, thinking about getting some sleep, but that's not happening.

I've learned a couple of really important things tonight. First, I need to know exactly how every part of a gun works if I'm going to use it. And I'm sure this won't be the last time that I need to do that. This was not the first predator that thought our farm looked like a nice buffet, and sometimes we have to put down one of our animals in an emergency situation, like when the lamb was born without an anus and was having seizures.

And second, if I'm going to shoot at a predator, I should shoot at the head. It was pretty terrifying to be in the same room with an injured animal that could have attacked me.

And I suppose there is a third thing that I've learned and that is that I need to have a refresher course every few months. The more you do something, the more it becomes second nature. I know that I don't have to pull the slide back after I fire the first shot, but in a panic, I forgot, pulled back the slide unnecessarily and ejected the second and final bullet. I never want to find myself face to face with a rabid fox or coyote and in a panic.

I often say that there were a lot of things that were not on my radar screen when we moved out here, but I give examples like tapping maple trees and making our own syrup. I certainly never expected to turn into Annie Oakley. I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea, but you don't find too many people living on farms who don't use guns. And I'm certainly not going to beat an animal to death with a shovel like I heard one man talk about doing a few years ago. It is kind of odd that I was reading Temple Grandin's book when all of this started tonight. In the movie about her life, she says, "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be," which is true. I can't bear the thought of any type of predator tearing apart one of my chickens or sheep, but I still don't want to be as cruel as the predators.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Decision time

Life on the homestead has been fairly quiet lately, although still quite busy. This time of year is always busy. The chaos is in my head though!

Katherine, who was only 9 years old when we moved out here, will be transferring to the University of Illinois as a junior in August. That means big changes on the farm! When people used to say that it takes a lot of work to do what we do, I'd respond, "No, not really. It's only about 30 to 45 minutes of chores in the morning and evening for each of us." I never stopped to do the math until two years ago when Jonathan and Katherine were both gone to the local junior college on Tuesday and Thursdays, and I was home alone to do everything. Multiply 30 or 45 minutes by 5, and I was doing two to three hours of chores every morning and evening, and YES, that IS a lot of work! So for the past two years, I've been telling myself that we needed to cut back, but I could never figure out where to cut.

Right off the bat, I'll say that I will always have chickens and goats. I cannot live without my fresh eggs and dairy. However, we could probably cut back on the goats. We don't need 18 goats in milk, and I certainly don't want to be milking 18 goats every single day come August. Choosing which goats to sell, however, is a challenge. I keep making lists, looking at ages, comparing milking records, and checking pedigrees to make sure I still have a wide genetic base for future breeding.

Eliminating the cows a couple years ago would have been somewhat easier than it is now that I've tasted the amazing grassfed beef that they produce. I have mostly given up on the idea of using them for dairy, but the beef is something really special that I would not be able to buy anywhere.

As much as I love the guinea hogs, I'm not happy about the idea of feeding them over the winter. They are the most amazing homestead hog during the growing season because they eat everything. They love grass and whatever fallen fruit and imperfect vegetables that come from the garden, but during the winter, we are mostly stuck with feeding them grain and hay, which I don't really like doing. Because we haven't butchered any of them yet, I don't really want to make a decision on whether or not to keep them. This fall we'll butcher the August 2011 pigs, as well as those from March, and then I'll make a decision on whether or not to continue raising them.

Then there are the sheep. I love the wool, but in all honesty, I probably have enough to last me the rest of my life. And I don't really need it. The lamb is tasty, but we have so much other meat. I can't think of any really great reasons to keep the sheep. Majik and White Feather are ten years old, so I don't want to send them off to a new farm. But I think I should probably sell the others. Then I could turn the sheep pastures into the retired goat and sheep pastures, and my old milk does could hang out with the two sheep and enjoy their golden years together.

When I asked Mike what animals he would sell first he immediately said the llamas, which surprised me. They are barely on my radar screen as they do not need much personal attention, but I suppose we should be considering everyone.

So, there you have it. I can't believe this is so difficult. I don't want my life to be completely consumed by farm chores when the fall semester begins, but at the same time, all of these animals feel like a part of my extended family. I knew my children would not live here forever, but the reality of them leaving never really sunk into my brain until now. I suppose I need to sell some sheep. It's not much, but it is a step in the right direction.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Turkey poults

I'm in Seattle this weekend for the Mother Earth News Fair, and yesterday when I was about halfway to the airport, my son called to say that our baby turkeys had arrived. In case you're wondering why we're buying baby turkeys, check out the last post where I mentioned that one of our turkey hens hatched ducklings, and the others don't appear to be feeling very maternal this spring.

After ten years, I felt pretty sure that my son knew what needed to be done, but there was the issue of finding a box big enough to make a brooder. The whole family was brainstorming face to face and via cell phone, and we finally figured out where he could find a large box. Of course, I should have had all of this ready before I left for the airport, but I was so busy with packing and everything else that it slipped my mind. (And I also forgot to pack a hair brush for myself!)

I ordered these poults last week when I realized the odds of home-hatched poults were rapidly decreasing. Being that it was so late in the game, I had to order "hatchery's choice" of breeds (translation: leftovers) because all of the specific breeds were already reserved. That makes it especially frustrating that I'm not home to help figure out the breeds. "Hatchery's choice" can be fun because it's like Christmas -- you don't know what you're getting until you open the box!

The black ones with yellow head are easiest -- Black Spanish. The chipmunk-striped ones are probably bronze, but they could be standard or broad breasted. The one on the right looks a little wide, whereas the one towards the back of the box definitely looks more like a heritage turkey. The yellow one in the corner is some kind of white turkey. My husband said they feel heavier than the others, and he looks kind of wide, so I'm thinking it might be broad-breasted whites, which I've never raised in the past because they can get enormously huge, and I really don't need any 50-pound turkeys! Although, once you know how to deal with such big turkeys, it isn't so bad. If we get anything over 30 pounds dressed now, it gets turned into ground meat. But we don't need to worry about that for a few months.

As for the rest of the weekend -- I really hope I have time for more blogging. As usual, I'll post personal stuff on here and educational or instructive information over on Homegrown and Handmade. And I really hope I have the chance to sit in on some of the other lectures because there are some awesome speakers here! If you're in the area, drop in if you have the chance!


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