Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waking up

As the snow oh so slowly recedes, the land is starting to wake from it's long winter slumber. Snowshoes and sleds are going into storage. Winter coats are being switched out for their lighter cousins. What little visible grass we have is sparse and yellow, but after several months of colorless white it looks nothing short of beautiful to me. Water drips from the shrinking icicles as the midday sun finally adds a touch of warmth to the day. Chunks of ice break away from the still-frozen shore to float lazily downstream. Long-lost sand-box toys are sprouting from their icy-prisons for another season of play. Canada geese are returning from their southern sojourn, the woodpeckers are on the hunt for their tree-dwelling snacks, and the goats are anxious to be released from their winter containment to munch on pasture.

It's an exciting time to be in the country. It wont be long before the rich soil will crumble between our fingers and a dip in the river will seem like a good idea. We bought a nice big hammock in Costa Rica last year but were too busy to install it. Well, a few more weeks and it will be strung between two giant pines a few feet from the river. I just hope we find the time to enjoy it!

First Canada geese of 2011

Ah broken bridge, how I love to photograph you

Looking upstream towards the lake

See that clear patch of open water in the background? That's the scene of his attempted drowning

One day there will be grass here. I hope.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Springing forward

It's full-steam ahead right now as we try to get ready for the green season. We've got seedlings sprouting in the living room, a swept out goat/chicken/rabbit room over in the other building, a couple of half-built rabbit tractors and a pair of heads full of plans.

Got to get the tractors finished, there might be enough bare grass for them to be useful in a couple of times, which incidentally will be butchering time for the then 8wk old litter.

Got to block off the gaps under the building. One of the damn dogs keeps getting through anything we have piled in front of it so we're going with fencing this time.

Rooster has turned into a homicidal maniac and the free-ranging psycho is free to attack us anywhere on the farm. He'll be moving with the hens into the fenced goat pasture soon so we can mock him from behind 6ft of welded wire, then as soon as we have spring chicks the bugger is going in a pie.

Mart was out of the picture for a couple of days after almost collapsing in utter agony due to the kidney stones but she's back now. Her mom filled in for a couple of days and gave me enough spare time to complete 3-4 firewood runs per day. I'm feeling pretty good about the woodpile now. Bring on winter!

Strider had me flat on my belly out on the thawing river dragging him out of a hole. The little fella hasn't been here long enough to know there is a river there and I'm still shocked that I was willing to go out on the ice too. You do crazy things when you start to get attached to animals but now he owes me one, perhaps he'll repay the favor at some point.

Sorry for the bullet-point style of the post but that's how my thoughts are coming to me right now, there is barely time to form coherent sentences but I figured I'd better pop in to let everyone know what we're upto anyway.

It's Spring. We made it through our first winter up here and we're still standing, hope you are too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring brings it's work load

It hit us like a ton of bricks.

We have thought about posting here but haven't made it all the way.

So here I am with too much to say.

Been sick this week with kidney stones....  Horrible, horrible experience.  But I'm back!  And my mom is still around to give us a hand.

So we've finalized the plans for the rabbit tractors and the assembly should start tomorrow.  The tomato, pepper and brocoli seeds are germinating.  Husband has been giving his last crazy effort at hauling firewood with the sled.  But we've assembled the garden cart so that we can keep hauling the wood once the trails are cleared of snow (and deep mud).

We've lost a hen to a 24 hour illness.  We quarantined her and she didn't make it through the night.  Goats have been giving more and more milk as they're weaning the kids.  Talking about the kids.... They're growing healthily.  They're a happy bunch of little goats!  We castrated the bucklings with the elastrator and it worked great. 

So that's all I can think of for now....

talk to you all soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


As spring nudges nearer we're finding ourselves a little overwhelmed with farm work. Just this morning I shoveled seven heaping wheelbarrows of deep-littered bedding from one goat stall, and we have two more bigger goat rooms to go, as well as the rabbit colony and the chicken coop.

And on top of the farm work I think anything that I try to write will turn into an angry rant. Like many people I'm following the situation in Japan and my main response is simple anger. I'm angry that anyone thought that they could ever justify building any nuclear power plant and call it 'safe'. Our absolute arrogance infuriates and saddens me in fairly equal measure.

We watched a documentary a few weeks ago that ranks up there with the best doc's I have ever seen. Here's the trailer, it pretty much speaks for itself...

On a lighter note, we're looking for buyers for the male goat kids and with our crappy camera it's easier to film video that achieve a non-blurry photo. So here is the first vid...

I left them alone with the hay bales for a minute, came back and saw Machu on top of a round bale. These little buggers are agile!

Thanks to everyone who has been following our journey here on the homestead so far but I think I might have a little break from the blog for a few days. Maybe Mart will keep posting. We'll see.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Late weekend round-up

There is so much going on all the time that a lot of smaller bits and bobs that don't warrant their own posts get left untold.

Well, I figured I could gather a few together for a patched-up post. Here goes...

Bits'n'bobs: Nut trees are ordered! Two Black Walnut and two Butternut grafts should be arriving mid-late April. We've had one visitor interested in coming out here to exchange work for room and board. We'll see if anything comes of it. Milk production is up, though the milking process isn't running as smoothly as we'd like yet. Mart is milking while I'm trying to keep the goat calm. It's getting better, ish, but plenty of room for improvement yet.

Rabbits: we are 90% sure that we counted nine-ish babies on day one. A couple of days later we think we counted approximately 13 babies in the nest before their wriggling caused us to lose count. That would almost certainly mean that both does had kindled, meaning a reprieve for the one that failed to kindle at the last breeding session. Well, now they're out of the nest and hopping around like the Duracell bunny, we're back down to nine. Either we miscounted an extra four buns, or they were eaten. We're not sure, and we know we're not keeping on top of things in the colony as much as we should so this gets logged as yet another lesson learned.

Chickens: Our roo lost his voice about a week ago now. At first his breathing was labored, we could hear him wheezing and his aggressiveness went the way of his cock-a-doodle... it vanished. Well, a week later and he's starting to squeak again, he sounds like a young roo hitting puberty and just starting to find his voice. Hopefully he'll be fully recovered soon. Sans the mean streak.

Goats: The adult bucks went very bucky again last week, and neither of them would willingly admit inferiority so we had a week of constant head-butting, broken, bloody scurs and scabby heads. They've calmed down a little lately but the scabs look a bit nasty, I might try to have a closer look when we trim hooves. Oh yes. The ever-expanding 'to do' list. Recent additions include...

Trim hooves.
Castrate bucklings.
Sex rabbit buns to know which female to keep for future breeding.
Clear roofs of snow.

The workload feels overwhelming sometimes, especially when you see the 20+cms of powdery snow that was followed by a night of rain which was then followed by another dumping of heavy, sticky snow. All within 24hrs. The walk to the barn has turned into a slog. It's still winter up here folks, trust me.

But you keep on keeping on, and you try to be thankful for the opportunity to live such a wonderful life in a bloody wonderful place.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I have to say, so far, the little guy has really impressed me.

He seemed a touch thin on arrival but otherwise healthy. We're feeding him a 1/2 cup of Purina puppy chow four times a day with a mixture of rice, turkey, beef, pasta, sweet potato, broccoli, carrot, cucumber and egg. Not all at the same time, mind you. He's filling out and his energy level seems to be increasing day by day. Going forward we're aiming to transition to food only produced on this land.

We're working on commands at the moment and he's doing... okay. 'Stay', 'come', and 'home' are obeyed unless there is another dog around or I'm not looking. He's coming with me on my barn rounds, we've had a couple of forest trips and he's started playing with the kids now too.

But the most impressive thing about him so far is his winter hardiness. The weather has not fazed him at all despite being an inside dog until just a few days ago. We have him sleeping in a dog crate in our unheated mudroom and he's already been through a few -17C's and a -28C last night.

He's my buddy now. My sidekick. My guard dog. My running partner and farm/sled dog in training.

He's Strider.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Barn talk

I hate having a dirty barn. It wears me down mentally to see the livestock living in a dark, dusty, dirty building without access to natural light and the elements. Yes the roof leaks, but that's hardly 'life in the great outdoors' now, is it? I do feel a lot better once it is swept out and becomes a cleaner place for the livestock to live through winter, but that's not enough. The problem is, having the barn as an 'easy' option for wintering means that the place requires daily cleaning, and our barn is big!

The rabbit colony also hasn't worked out as we had hoped. The does refuse to use a 'bathroom corner' and just go where they want, which unfortunately seems to be mostly around the food bowl. Looking down on the poop-filled colony makes you question your methods.

Issues have arisen with the current chicken coop too. We'd like to let them out early in the morning to free-range but with so many places for them to hide their eggs it's a losing battle. We've resorted to keeping them cooped in the coop until noon, by which time most of them have laid for the day. But trying to let the chickens out of the coop while keeping the goats out of the coop and keeping chickens out of the main barn room is harder than it sounds and I'm sick of chasing chickens with a broom as I try to get them in/out of their coop before Abbey can eat all of their grain. It did seem like a good idea at the time. That goes for a lot of things around here. They seemed like a good idea at the time. I only did what the book told me to do. I read it on an internet forum so it must be right.

But finding the right system for you requires experimentation and a willingness to adapt. The past eight months have been filled with ideas (good and bad), learning experiences, and opportunities for change. One I want to take forward is the goats living in a dirt-floored shelter out in their pasture by next winter. Another plan is to have the rabbits in a rabbit-tractor through the summer and in some kind of raised, mesh-bottomed cage large enough to house two does and their litters as well as letting their poop fall through the mesh to to the floor below for easier cleaning. And finally the chickens. If they could live inside one of our smaller pastures with less egg-hiding opportunities then they could be let out of the coop earlier in the day to go munch bugs and weeds all day long.

If the goal is simplification, then putting in the work now will save me at least an hour or so a day next winter of clean-up duties and the job of 'walking the goats' to give them at least some outdoor access. It will give everyone access to forage, sunlight, and a natural environment. All of which should make for a healthier and stronger herd/flock.

Seeing the goats go through a small square bale of hay every three days since kidding has us questioning the breeding schedule too. It's bad enough knowing we paid $4 per bale but with the plan of scything our own hay this summer... we need a change. Their hay intake wasn't too bad during pregnancy but after kidding they are just plowing through our hay supply, meaning we'll probably delay breeding until November for an April kidding. That should bring it down to a bale every 4-6 days depending on the quality and compactness of the bale.

I keep coming back to this image from the Farm Security Administration archives (surfing through the old black and white farm photos is highly addictive by the way)

It's an old log-cabin chicken coop from North Carolina. With some chinking and straw insulation it could be a cheap, easily constructed option for livestock housing. It's not as though we have a shortage of logs around here!

The planning never ends. Whether any of this comes to fruition is another matter entirely.

We'll see...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

She's here!

The Maid arrived today. The Pioneer Maid that is.

It started with a simple sheet of plywood (and a feline helper)

Add ceramic tiles (and a cardboard wall to keep excited kids from walking on new tiles)

Next comes the heat shields and bricks (yes the electric baseboard heater will be outta here soon!)

And top it all off with one big, beautiful Maid

We wont fire her up until the fall so the back board, warming oven and chimney can stay in storage to give us a better view and more light.

The road to self-sufficiency is long but we're moving along at a steady clip now. And once the Lehman's shipment arrives any day now we'll be able to have a laundry room just like Sally!