Friday, June 23, 2017

Long Overdue Update

A pollinator is a happy sight!

Phew! It's been a wild ride these last few years. So many things have changed since my last blog post. I am amazed that anyone with children has time to blog. Some homeschooling friends brought their children over yesterday for a playdate and we were commenting on how there are so many things that must be done each day, it is impossible to complete our To-Do Lists. One of the hardest jobs we have is rightly prioritizing our duties. When educating my 5 children (who are with me 24/7), nourishing my family with home-cooked meals, managing a household of 7 and all that comes with it are about all I can manage each day (and some days I can't manage to do these things myself), blogging definitely isn't anywhere close to making the list of things to get done. Having said that, I do hope to update the blog a little more frequently, but only as I can without any added burden to myself and my family.

So, let's catch up!

Tip Resting on a Log During a Hike

Dottie Found a Cozy Place to Snuggle
Last spring, we had been setting out mouse traps for weeks because we had a serious mouse issue. The traps would catch one here or there, but I knew it wasn't even making a dent in the mouse population. One night I woke up with a mouse on my shoulder and decided I was going to get cats! I knew I wanted two cats so they could keep each other company, and if one ran away or was snatched by a hawk or an owl we still had one left. I knew I wanted calico cats. And I knew I wanted females since they are better mousers. I found out that one of my neighbor's had some kittens to give away and stopped in to see if any were calico. Sure enough, there were two calico girls. I took them home and everyone fell in love with them. Except for Josh. But, even he has to admit, since we brought them home we have had no more mice in the house! They are good cats. 

Baby Guineas 
The guineas that were in our basement last year are all gone. We lost many of them to predators. We found that while they are very fun to have on a farm, they are not good to have if you have nearby neighbors. Since our house is located on the front edge of our 70 acres we have two very close neighbors. It is impossible to prevent guineas from wandering onto their property. Josh and his parents had to catch the guineas and clip their wings to get them to stay inside their fence in the pasture. After that they mostly resided peacefully for the summer in their contained paddock until one by one they were wiped out. When their population dwindled down to the single-digits, the few that remained escaped their confines and roamed free. They lasted about 3 days and then were seen or heard from no more. 

Young Narrangansett Turkeys
We also raised a bunch of turkeys and ate one for Thanksgiving! It was great! It is amazing that the turkey species still exists. I think it disproves the "Survival of the Fittest" theory. The only way, in my opinion, that there are still turkeys walking the earth are because God has mercifully spared them from their own stupidity and allowed us to domesticate them. I can't tell you how many of our turkeys drowned in their own waterer or strangled themselves in the poultry netting.
Gideon Petting a Turkey Chick

JoyAnna and her day old ducklings

JoyAnna raised some ducks. A bunch went into the freezer and a couple flew away. The ducks were lots of fun and grew so very quickly. The chicks that we were expecting arrived and brought lots of joy! Many went into our freezer, James sold a bunch, and the rest were coyote food. Butchering chickens really wasn't so bad emotionally. But butchering the ducks was a lot harder. They are so much cuter and are so gentle and docile. And delicious. We just had to keep reminding ourselves about how delicious the ducks are. And they were!

We kept a small flock of foundation chickens over the winter and spring. Mainly New Hampshire Reds and Ameracaunas. My laying hens are finally laying a really great amount of eggs. All different colors too. They are just beautiful. It's so interesting to live with chickens. When a hen lays an egg, she sits up in the nesting box making quite a ruckus. I suppose it must be like giving birth every day. (I am so glad I am not a chicken!) All the other hens sit around her and cheer her on! It's like our chicken tractor turns into a delivery room every morning and afternoon when the ladies decide to lay. Listening to the amount of noise associated with laying eggs makes me appreciate the gift of eggs so much more. I had never stopped to think of the sacrifice of the hen when buying a carton of eggs at the store before I owned chickens. Granted, hens will lay whether or not we eat their eggs, but just knowing how they get to our table makes me so much more thankful for my dear chickens.
New Hampshires and Guineas in the Backyard

We incubated and hatched a couple large batches of chicks from our own flock with the hopes of having extras to sell, but it just didn't work out. The first batch has given us 15 mixed-breed chickens that are juveniles now. The second batch of 30 eggs died a week before their hatch-day when the incubator got unplugged overnight. And the third batch gave us nearly four dozen purebred New Hampshire Reds and Ameracaunas. Three weeks ago we picked up 8 Welsummer pullets at the farm store (they were marked down to $1 a bird!) and 6 pheasants (marked down to $2 a bird!). The Welsummers will give us a brown egg with dark brown speckles and the pheasants are Josh's special project.

We finally bred the rabbits. By "bred the rabbits", I mean "released them into a rabbit tractor and allowed them to make babies at their own discretion." (Which they pretty much did immediately! You can watch our YouTube video of that above.) Josh completed an awesome rabbit tractor that he had painstakingly researched and designed.  Eventually, they will move down into the pasture.

Sassafrass and Magnolia, our Silver Fox does, gave us two great big litters of kits. This was our first time breeding anything besides chickens and we lost a number of them. There was a design flaw in the cage and the babies were actually able to wiggle under the slats in the bottom. As soon as we realized what was happening, we moved the does and their kits back into their cages in the barnage (our barn/garage). Unfortunately, an animal was able to steal some kits through the cages and we lost a few more.

In the three days after giving birth and before we moved the does and kits into the barnage, the does became pregnant again! We did not realize that this was possible and had no clue that they were pregnant until one morning James found a newborn kit on the ground under the rabbit cages. By that time Magnolia's whole litter has died and half of Sassy's litter also. They never looked or acted pregnant. We had removed the nesting boxes as soon as the first litter could climb out and move around the cage easily so there was no warm, snug place to deliver the new kits. It was an awful experience having to pry the cold, dead babies off of the wire bottom of the cages. The ones that were alive were immediately brought into the house where I tucked them into my shirt to warm them. From the two combined litters, seventeen kits were born. Only three survived. We have learned so much in such a short amount of time. The learning curve has been high, and the losses so sad and painful, but we are doing our best to make adjustments along the way and give our animals the highest quality of life that we can.
Payer, Tart, Cinnamon, and Spice

In February, we bought a mama Nubian goat and her 2 kids; 2 doelings, and a buckling. I never really liked goats. James has had his heart set on raising goats and so I knew we would eventually get some for him. I certainly never planned to be very involved with them. We found a great deal and some great stock and bought them from a private family-run dairy operation. Their previous owners had allowed their herd to grow too large and needed to downsize. We brought the goats home in our minivan. Moments after arriving in the pitch dark of night, mama goat broke loose from us and ran away. It was a heartbreaking scene with her kids bawling for her to come back and give them milk.

Cinnamon in our Minivan 
After searching for awhile with the chorus of coyotes surrounding our farm we had to face the odds that she was never going to be reunited with her babies. Josh drove to the farm store to buy goat milk replacer to feed the babies. (We later learned that they were old enough to be weaned.) We texted neighbors, talked to Tommy at the dump, we searched and searched, we posted on a local lost and found Facebook page, and plastered every telephone pole up and down the road with Lost Goat posters. Seriously. Finally, a man called a few days later to say that he saw her running across the road near our house and had gone into the woods of neighbor's farm.

The next morning Josh went out to search for her and actually found her and brought her home. She was dehydrated, had diarrhea, one half of her bag looked deflated, and she was very cold and upset, but definitely seemed to be quite relieved to be back with her babies. I spent the next couple of weeks living in the goat pen getting to know her and the kids. I think we have a special bond now. In fact, she has escaped her paddock two more times since the first fiasco but has only allowed me to get close enough to catch hold of her collar.

At first, the goats looked a little dull. Cinnamon, or "Mama", as I affectionately call her, was especially thin and unhealthy looking. She seemed very skittish and ornery. I really didn't like her at all. I considered her a problem goat and was afraid that she would teach her children all manner of escape methods and bad manners. Today, when I look at them I see different goats. They are always wagging their tails, their coats and eyes are so shiny and bright, and they are just happy and filling out very nicely. Josh and I were discussing the change in their condition tonight and feel confident enough to share with you that we believe the game-changing difference has been rotational grazing in our pasture. (Now, when I use the term pasture, I use it very loosely. Our overgrown pasture consists mainly of such lovely plants as poison ivy and wild blackberry brambles.)

We believe that they must have been dealing with some major parasite issues that, perhaps because they have been given access to a wide variety of native "weeds", some of which may be natural de-wormers, and are only allowed to browse in the same area for 5 days at most, this has greatly decreased their worm-load. We have also added alfalfa pellets and black sunflower seeds to their feed and offer free choice minerals and baking soda to them. We continue to look for ways to improve their health.

About a month after bringing home our first four goats, we purchased another unrelated buckling for breeding to our does. He came from a small homestead where the family really took excellent care of him. He was bottle-fed and has much better manners than the other goats. We chose him because his mother was an excellent milker who had no problems kidding and we really liked his coloring. Our other goats are mainly brown and two are brown and white spotted. We were hoping to get a good variety of colors and markings by adding him to the herd with his mostly black coat. After we brought him home we built two paddocks and separated the does and bucks.

During one of our moving days where we lock the does in their mobile pen and allow the boys to be free in order to move the fence to fresh pasture, Cinnamon's buck, Payer, figured out how to lift the bar that locked their pen closed. He managed to release the does for a goat party in the pasture! James was mowing the perimeter of the new paddock so they could step-in the portable goat fence and wasn't aware that any of this was going on. Thankfully, Josh was able to get James' attention and they caught the girls and put them back in the pen. Payer immediately went and opened the door again while Josh was standing right there! It was pretty comical.

A few weeks ago we noticed that Cinnamon was really looking much healthier and behaving differently. She was much more friendly and warm with us and she wasn't looking thin and dull anymore. I noted that she seemed to be glowing. Ha! We think that she must have been in heat the day of the goat party and Payer impregnated her. She continues to grow bigger and her bag is filling in again. If I remember correctly, her previous owner told us that she always give 3 kids. So, our little herd of five could grow to be a herd of 8 early this fall! We are very excited! Here is a video I took this morning of Cinnamon. What do you think? Do you think she is pregnant?

So now that you've been brought up to date on the major events on the farm, I will share a little about our family.

Job Andrew, our 5th child, was born April 15, 2016. With 4 older siblings loving on him he is spoiled rotten! He toddles and climbs everywhere he can possibly get. The more dangerous the situation, the better. He is giving me gray hair. But he's absolutely adorable. It's really is great to have a baby in the house again.

Baby Job 

Job, Gideon, and James, Fall 2016
We have continued to homeschool. James will be entering 4th grade this year, JoyAnna will be a 2nd grader, and Lydia will be a 1st grader. I am so thankful that we can choose our educational focuses. This year is the first year that I will be tailor-making their curriculum and one of the things that we will be focusing on as a family will be Stewardship and Service through home economics, homesteading and handicrafts. They are learning so much caring for the animals and the land that God has entrusted us with. There is math as they figure the proper amount of feed and the dimensions of the paddocks so they can lay out the fencing correctly. There is science as they watch a cicada attached to the side of the goat pen breaking out of its old skin, just like they witnessed this morning! There is reading as they look up the proper way to care for newborn rabbits and what is the best feed for the doe's so they can produce high-quality milk for their young. I could go on and on...

JoyAnna, Lydia, and Tip, Fall 2016
As a family, these past few months have been the most difficult we have ever experienced. My health has been a wild rollercoaster, Josh lost his job, our marriage was on the brink of divorce, we took in a relative who was in need, and the future looked terribly bleak for us. But, by God's grace, through it all He has been teaching us what it really looks like to walk with Him in the darkness, uncertainty, and pain. He has bound up terrible wounds. He has breathed new life into our spirits. And He has given us an amazing hope.

Not a hope that we won't have to sell the farm. Not a hope that we will have a happy, thriving marriage. Not a hope that our children will be healthy and happy and grow into well-adjusted adults who contribute to society and love Jesus with all of their hearts. But a hope that we have Jesus. A hope that He understands our hurts and our needs better than even we do. A hope that when our world seems to be crashing down all around us, He is our fortress, a very present help in time of trouble. That He will work ALL of these things out for our good and His glory because, by His mercy, we love God and have been called according to His purposes. Now that all of the illusions I had created in my life have been stripped away it is easy to see that all along He has been my only hope. Despite trying to put my hope in other things (my husband, my children, the roof that keeps the rain off of my head, the food in the fridge...), the only real hope I ever had was in Christ alone. Now I can sing "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name!" Because Christ is the ONLY solid rock.

All other ground is sinking sand.

December 2016