Monday, December 24, 2012

Time to Set Goals for 2013

As I countdown to the end of 2012 -- not a stellar year here at the homestead -- I am contemplating the focus for 2013. Now, I know that 'New Year's Resolutions' don't last much past February (if that long) for most people. And, I'm generally part of "most people" in this case. But, I have also learned that by setting some goals to focus on, it helps to keep me focused. And, if you knew the constant ruckus that is my brain, you would know that I need to focus!

The first thing I did was go back to see how badly I did with my goals for 2012. Actually, not as bad as I expected! I was about 50/50. That may not sound great to you, but for me -- for considering the curveballs this year has tossed at me -- I consider that a roaring success! From there, we shift to 2013 and what we should focus on to get us closer to our long-term goal of reaching maximum productivity in 5 years. As I discussed back in March of this year, I am giving myself 5 years -- till 2017 -- to reach a point of productivity where I am feeding my family and having food to share with others.

For the Homestead in 2013, I have set the following goals:
  • Plant mulberries, muscadines, figs, hardy kiwi, blueberries, and strawberries
  • Plant more rugosa roses, lilacs, hazelnuts, and other hedgerow plants that also serve as fodder for the rabbits
  • Plant mixed beds of flowers, vegetables, herbs -- both around the fruit trees, along the privacy fence, and elsewhere.
  • Increase the number of laying hens to about a dozen
  • Increase size of rabbitry
  • Build a food pantry-- as much as possible from foods produced here on the homestead
  • Finish writing the eBook for Natural Feeding of Meat Rabbits
As for my personal goals:
  • Work the Get Healthy in 2013 Plan
  • Jealously protect and seek even more time for Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, worship, etc. 
  • Continue to work on blog quality and quantity
  • Finish writing the eBook entitled "WHY"
  • Try to fit in more time for crafts and reading -- some RELAXATION time...what a concept!

So, there you have it. The focus for 2013 here at the Not Quite There Yet Homestead is to try to get a little closer to "there".

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fodder Project Update and New Supports for the Rabbits

Well, the fodder project has been mostly successful. The one issue I ran into was with moisture. No matter how well I thought I had drained the trays, I would find the grain mats too wet the next time I went to rinse them. While you might presume that mold would result, what actually seemed to happen to mine was a definite fermentation odor. The chickens liked that but the rabbits did not. So, I began looking for different trays. What I wanted was something like a vegetable strainer we used to have that was square and flat bottomed. But, I can't find it anywhere!

Today, I thought of the solution! It falls into the category of "if you can't find it, invent it!" I am going to get some plastic needlepoint canvas and fishing line and make trays. I'll be taking pictures and sharing here how it goes.

Hopp, the stud rabbit
Jumpp enjoying her hay.
In other News: The rabbit shed is now sporting some new cage supports. I completed that project a few Saturdays ago. I drilled holes through the front and back 2x4s and ran PVC pipe through it for the cages to set on. You can see Hopp demonstrating his cage support in this picture. The hole in the back 2x4 is not all the way through as it is in the front. I used zip-ties to hold the cage to the front and secure on the pipes. You can see the zip-ties in Jumpp's picture here. Bounce is now reduced to null. Finally, the rabbits and hop and jump around...or do the dirty...without the cage rocking and rolling and upsetting them!

On a sad note: The rabbitry said a sad goodbye to Skipp. His chronic problems suggested a potential systemic problem or genetic issue that should not be passed to off-spring. My friends from K-D's Rabbitry helped me to cull him.

And, to end on a high note: Biscuitt, son of Hopp and Country Mile, has rejoined the rabbitry after being fostered at K-D's Rabbitry. He shows great promise as a future stud rabbit! His litter mate has remained at K-D's and was named Harley.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fodder Project

Growing fodder is my latest step to giving my rabbits and chickens great nutrition while stretching the feed bill. Especially in the winter when weeds and garden trimmings are not available to feed them, having something green and fresh is a very good thing. Fodder, in it's broadest definition, is any food gathered and brought to the animal rather than what the animal can graze. So, technically, gathered weeds, garden trimmings, hay, silage, and pellets are all "fodder".  But, for the purposes of this discussion, my Fodder Project involves growing wheatgrass for the rabbits and chickens.

Finding the grains for sprouting was the most challenging part. I wanted barley as everyone says that barleygrass is even better than wheatgrass for rabbits. (The Organic Chicken folks tell me barley is not good for chickens, though.) But, sproutable barley is just not available to me. All the local "mills" are just glorified Purina Peddlers and you don't want to know what I think of Purina! I was beginning to think I just wasn't going to be able to affordably grow wheatgrass for the rabbits. Then, a google search landed me at a source for "feed grade" wheat to grow wheatgrass.

Coker's Feed Mill, Inc of Goldsboro, NC
Not only did I locate a source for wheat, I located a fabulous feed mill, to boot! The mill is Coker's Feed Mill, in Goldsboro, NC. They mill feed for livestock, including chickens and rabbits. An email query was promptly answered assuring me that I could purchase feed grade wheat from them through a local distributor.  Another bonus! A local source of feed not from the evil empire!  Clemmons' Hardware in Shallotte is just starting up and the owners are very eager to please. I ordered my wheat through Clemmon's and it came in their next order. Since it was "feed grade" wheat, I expected a good bit of chaff. Was I pleasantly surprised! There is very little chaff at all. My next concern was -- will it sprout well? It sure does! It has a high percentage of germination. This is good wheat, folks!

I was so impressed with the wheat, that I decided to purchase their rabbit pellets as well. (I'd already purchased a bag of their chicken feed.) Now, this was big because I was quite hooked on the MannaPro. But, since I could see that Coker's was using really good quality ingredients in their feeds, I figured this was a win-win -- I can support two local companies while providing my rabbits good feed. The ingredient label on the rabbit pellets was vague, so I emailed Coker's and asked. They are protective of their formulas for good reason but they were able to assure me that corn is not an ingredient in their rabbit pellets. From that fact, and the way they explained why it isn't, I knew I was dealing with a company who cared about the nutritional needs of the animals who would be eating the feed. This really impressed me. You just don't find folks like this very often. And, it isn't often that I give a company such high praises but I think Coker's deserves it! But, then, they are North Carolinian's!

So, anyway, back to the Fodder Project. With good wheat in hand, it was time to start sprouting. I have two buckets, one of which I put drain holes in. Day one, the grains go in the bucket without drain holes. Day two, it is transferred to the other bucket. Day three, it goes into a flat. I purchased four black plastic baskets (upper left-hand corner of picture) and put drain holes in the bottoms. These are working well but I don't think they will produce enough grass. The other flats, the long narrow trays, are actually the "saucers" for planters. I did not put drain holes in those. They will hold almost twice the grains that the black baskets will hold so I'll probably switch to those and save the black baskets for some other project. I will need more of the trays. Essentially, I need seven trays in rotation as it takes between seven and nine days to get the grass to the stage to feed to the animals. The first week, I stuck to just wheat. Then, I started adding in some odds and ends from my old sprouting projects (for me) to see how they will do in the system....and to get rid of them. I'd like to regularly add BOSS (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds) and Flax to the mix but I am going to wait until I use up the other stuff.

If you do a google search on fodder systems, you will see that folks will use different frequencies of rinsing the trays of grains/grass. Some use pumps to recycle water over their trays every two hours. Others only rinse twice a day. I would love an automatic system but that ain't happening anytime soon. I also don't have the time to be rinsing every few hours! I started out rinsing twice a day. I'm finding that most days, twice is not necessary. One must be very careful not to over water as that can lead to mold. So, I watch, rinse when necessary, and make sure I drain well! The biggest key to the system working and getting high germination is initial soak time for the grains. 6 Hours. No more. No less. Well, if you go longer you aren't lost but it will mean the grains have to sit in the bucket longer before you get good germination. You really want to stay as close to the 6 hour mark as possible. The other decision to make is "soil" or "no soil". I've gone with "no soil" but may try the soil option to see if it makes a difference at all.

Once the grass reaches a good size, between seven and nine days from the start of the process, it is time to feed it to the rabbits. The rabbits are taking a little time deciding if they like the wheatgrass but each day I see that they have eaten more of their grass. The Chickens get the rabbits' leftovers and they also get some of the sprouted grains from the bucket after I put most of the bucket load into a tray. So, the chickens get both sprouted grains and grass. They like this deal, very much! I've offered wheatgrass to the ducks and they say "thanks, but no thanks". Silly ducks!

Folks say they get roughly a 1:6 or even 1:7 return from fodder growing. That means for every one pound of grain used, they get 6 to 7 pounds of fodder at the end of the week's growing. A few folks claim even greater returns but I'll be happy with 6-7 pounds of fodder from 1 pound of grain. It is a bit labor intensive unless you set up an automatic system but so far, not too unweldy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Crop Circles

It was planting day for the Santa Rosa Plums that I purchased a month or so ago. I've been told that Santa Rosa Plum trees are pretty and they produce prolifically -- especially if they have another plum to cross-pollinate with so I will likely purchase another plum to ensure a very good crop. But, for now, my Santa Rosa's needed to get into the ground. I had gotten a trunk load of cardboard boxes from church. I had thought those would go farther than they ultimately did but that's okay, there is more where they came from.

So, the first order of business was to mow down the weeds. Then, I needed to figure out the center of the circle. I used a fancy tool for measuring out the circle...a metal fence post with a string attached! Quite high-tech, don't you think? Then, I dug a big hole for the plum tree so I could incorporate rabbit manure into the soil that went back in and around the tree. I made sure to create a rim ring around the hole so that water will collect and keep the trees well watered. Over the rim, I laid wet newspaper as a weed barrier. Over that went partly composted rabbit wood chips from Rafael's cage. Then, the real fun began! I laid out cardboard boxes to completely covered the 12 foot circumference of the circle. Until the tree is full grown, I can grow annuals and cover crops into the circle but eventually, that will be shaded out and the plantings will be around the dripline of the tree.

Around the dripline, I intend to plant companion plants that will provide services to the tree and can be used for other purposes as well. Comfrey, an herb with medicinal uses for animals and humans, is also good for chemically repelling grass while also drawing up nutrients from deep underground. Comfrey is also a great compost and mulch plant as well. So, with all that going for it, comfrey is definitely on the list! Allium, chives, daffodils, and other bulbs are pretty grass repellers. Basil attracts pest-eating insects and is both culinary and medicinal. Lemon balm, marigolds, mint, and plantain are attractive and edible pest repellers. Alliums, lupines, and clover are nitrogen fixers. A well planted crop circle using some of each of these companion plants around the plums will make for a very productive and attractive planting! And, since there are three -- that is a LOT of productivity!

This is the beginning of my orchard. I hope to add figs, mulberries, blueberries, and perhaps a peach. I'm feeling a bit adventurous lately and ordered tree SEEDS to try to grow. I purchased:

Common Lilac, syringa vulgaris 100 Seeds
Red Mulberry, morus rubra 100 Seeds
Black Mulberry, morus nigra 100 Seeds
Silk Tree, albizia julibrissin 25 Seeds
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, cornus mas 10 Seeds
Blood Twig Dogwood, cornus sanguinea 25 Seeds 

The mulberries will go in the "orchard" in a crop circle or two. The others, and perhaps some of the mulberries, will go as part of the boundary hedgerow I'm still trying to develop. The hedgerow had originally been envisioned as a single-plant-hedgerow (rosa rugosas) but those are taking longer to establish than advertized so I'm adding other plants. I'm also going to try my hand at propagating cuttings from Mother's gardenia and azalea bushes to add to the hedgerow and other areas in need of coverage. 

Slowly but surely we are making progress.  I am feeling more optimistic about seeing my plans come alive. It seems to have taken a long time and there is so much still to do and time to allow things to grow but if optimism is a fertilizer of hopes and dreams to bring them to life then I think we are going to see great things in 2013! We might not be there yet, but we are definitely making headway!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Farm Girl is Getting Things Done

Chicken coop and one sideyard.
 The chicken coop is finally DONE! Well, 99.9% done. I will be adding some more PVC panels on the side as I remove them from the old chicken tractor but the roof is done and the chickens are safe and comfortable. So, I count it as done!

The chicken coop is 6'7"X5'X5'5" and it has two yards running along two lengths of the dogyard which is 18' square. The coop is framed out with wood and chicken wire. The roof is green PVC panels. The inside walls are covered with feed bags (tyvek) with two of the walls (the two leading to the yards) only half solid so that the chickens and I can get in and out. The yard in the picture is covered over most of it's length with a chicken wire "roof" and the end near the gate with PVC rope zizzagged. The yard on the other side is protected from the top with more PVC rope zigzagged and woven. The covering is to keep hawks and muscovies out and the chickens in. The first few nights the chickens were in their new housing, they did find a way out -- I never figured out how, I just would find them roosting on the dogyard fence and have to put them back. They seem to have stopped that now.
Happy Chickens!
 As this picture shows, the hens are happy! Two bales of wheat straw I'd salvaged to use as mulch started sprouting so I put them in the chicken yard. The hens are happy as can be with that! They also received a big chunk of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. I purchased the pumpkin from Holden Brothers Produce market for $3! I'll be getting more next week.

I know some of you are thinking that the chicken coop is not very secure against raccoons, possums, and such nor very warm for the chickens. To the first concern I say this -- I can not build Fort Knox. I read of so many folks trying to build an enclosure totally secure from predators. Such efforts have mixed results and cost tons of money. From my limited experience, neighbor dogs and hawks are my two main predators and this coop protects against both. I may find that I have problems with raccoons, possums, or snakes but I hope not. I don't see how I could entirely protect against them anyway. Now, as for the second concern -- no this coop is not an airtight, fully insulated Taj Mahal. Chickens don't need all that. They need to be out of the rain and strong winds. The rest their feathers and metabolism will take care of. Airtight coops which are all the rage with backyard chicken keepers allow ammonia and other fumes to build up which harms the chickens' lungs. So, the intention with this design is to allow my chickens to be healthier and more robust than more pampered chickens. Time will tell if I'm right as this is all a learning process.

View of dogyard & chicken yard
Oh, the blue tarp is there to keep the dogs from terrorizing the chickens. We are also teaching the dogs not to bark at them. They are actually learning to watch and not bark. The chickens watch the dogs, too! Just this morning, I went outside to discover a pow wow going on involving the dogs, the chickens, and the ducks. They had all gathered near each other and appeared to be communicating some plan or other. None are talking so I don't know what they were cooking up but apparently the rabbits were not invited as the powwow took place on the opposite side from the rabbitry!

We are hoping to fence in the remaining backyard this winter so that mother can just let the dogs in and out from the back door rather than taking them by leash to the dogyard. With her physical limitations, this process is becoming more and more dangerous. I got a good deal on 13 4x4x10 posts and now I just need the fence wire or other material for the fence. Once the backyard is fenced, the dogyard can be converted to other uses. Ideas for it include raising meat chickens or raising Nigerian dwarf goats in it. We go back and forth on the goat idea. The main sticking point is whether we want to be having to milk goats twice a day everyday year around. Probably for next year at least, it will be used to raise meat chickens. The goats are definitely further into the future than 2013.

So, with the chickens finally settled, it's on to the next set of projects. I have a never ending list of projects, one of which is some upgrades to the rabbitry. The upgrades for the rabbitry include changing out the cage supports. Currently the cages are set on sections of fence wire but this is not a good solution. For one, the wire stretches causing sag and shaking. I'm going to use some of the PVC pipe I have in abundance at the moment and make supports for the cages. The other thing I want to do if figure out a way to secure the plastic used to protect them from rain in such a way that it isn't constantly flying up and over the top. I have a few ideas to try on that front.

The other rabbit project I have brewing is to set up a system to grow fodder for the rabbits. Basically, growing wheatgrass and barleygrass for them. This is another project where I'll be using my supply of PVC pipe. I've been reading a lot about the benefits of fodder and there are youtube videos about the process. After much searching, I finally found a source for feed grade wheat. Once I have that, I can begin. They say that there is a 1:15+ ratio when growing fodder -- 15 or more pounds of fodder results from every pound of grain. Now, that is a great way to stretch the feed dollar while simultaneously providing even better nutrition! More on this in future blog entries!

I also have the beginnings of an orchard to plant, the Back-to-Eden garden project continues, and I want to try my hand at propagating the gardenia and azalea bushes. I ordered a bunch of tree seeds to try to grow -- lilacs, dogwoods, mulberries, and "silk trees" (aka momosas). Someone on the organic homesteading list is offering sunchokes for sale and I want to get those as well. And, my seed list for next year is growing by the day! I am so praying for a great year for the homestead in 2013!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kits and Sandy

September 22nd and 23rd were breeding days for Country Mile and Jumpp. It was the long awaiting start to making the rabbitry productive. It was obvious that Hopp got the deed done with Country Mile (he gave the tell tale sign -- he fell over afterward). It was more questionable about Skipp and Jumpp. It is possible to palpate the doe about a week later to see if she is pregnant but I wasn't sure. Rabbits kindle (give birth) roughly 31 days after they are impregnated.

Country Miles first kindle. Five survivors the first day.
Country Mile kindled on Wednesday, October 24th. She did not kindle in the nestbox and had not pulled fur like she should have. I found 8 kits laying on the wire when I got home from work. Three were dead and covered with hay. As I uncovered the dead kits, Country Mile whined and whimpered. It was sad, really. Country Mile and I were both nervous and unsure of what to do. I put the other five kits in the nestbox covered with hay and went inside to send out an SOS for advise. An experienced breeder told me to warm up the dryer with a towel inside and then put the kits in the dryer to warm up. So, that is exactly what I did! Dryer warmed them until they were "popping" (rabbit breeder nomenclature for "active"). While they were warming up, I was told to pull fur from Country Mile to make a nest for them since she had not done so. Country Mile did not like being plucked! But, I managed to pluck enough to line the nest for the kits.

My friends the Esquillas of KD's Rabbitry in Myrtle Beach offered to foster the kits to one of their does that had kindled on the same day. The transfer wasn't able to take place until the next day. Two kits did not survive the night but we had three able to go to their foster mom. Report is that all three are doing well. Country Mile actually started pulling fur that day but still did not cover her babies with it. She was trying to figure things out but just wasn't doing so fast enough.

I was also advised to breed Country Mile right away as doing so will increase the size of her litter. Her second litter should be fine -- she will very likely figure out this mothering thing the second time. First, I want to give her some mint for a few days to dry up her milk and avoid mastitis. I also want to get us past Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy 2012
Ah, yes, Hurricane Sandy. She is a slow moving Cat 1 Hurricane meandering her way north up the east coast. Her eye won't pass us until sometime tomorrow morning but we are getting winds and rain already. Forecasts have her staying off shore until she reaches the Virginia/Maryland area or someplace north of there. We will only get lots of rain and wind and some coastal flooding. But, the big issue is for those folks up north. Sandy is expected to merge with another storm and a cold front and create a "perfect storm" that, unlike the one that happened in 1991, will come on land and create a nightmare for the northeast. We are praying that this scenario does not happen.

My hurricane preparations have consisted mostly of getting the animals covered. I pulled the big blue tarp over the rabbit shed and secured it so the rabbits are safe and dry. The chickens in their tractor are tucked into a corner of the house and covered to keep them dry and protected. The ducks are going to fend for themselves. Currently they are enjoying bug hunting in the rain. Lastly, I got some pee-pads for the dogs to use if/when it gets too rough outside for outdoor bladder relief. I'm glad that Sandy is giving me a chance to test out my arrangements and see where I need to reinforce, fortify, or reconsider situations.

Stay warm, dry, and safe everyone!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Muscovy Conspiracy

The PVC Chicken Tractor caved again under the weight of a heavy downpour. This time, it happened in the dark and just as I was approaching it to check out how it was handling the rain. I'm not a structural engineer so I'm not completely sure what is wrong but clearly, this design, even with a peak roof, is not going to work. Time to move to plan B which is still formulating in my head. I'll share it with you as I get it going.

Actually, I think I do have a theory about what is happening. It is a duck conspiracy. What do I base this on, you ask? Well, here is the evidence as I see it:

Where is Dinner?
The ducks have gotten right used to hangin' around the chicken tractor at movin' time. Why, you ask? Well, because chickens are messy birds and get their food everywhere. The ducks love to clean up the chicken feed. After (and often while) I move the chicken tractor, they would be there eager for the task of chicken clean-up, their tails just a waggin'. No, really, they wag their tails when they are excited. Get them really excited and they will do a lot of head bobbing and coo'ing and break dancin'. Seriously. Sometimes, they even do the moonwalk. I'm not kidding you. I think they are planning to try out for the Muscovies Got Talent TV Show.

Anyway, back to the duck conspiracy. When the chickens are in the big PVC tractor, there is no spillage for them to clean up. This is quite upsetting to them. Just the other night after the chickens were back in the big coop,it was tractor movin' time. The ducks followed me to the coop, eager for dinner. I move the chicken coop. The ducks line up at the edge of the coop staring at the ground waiting for manna to appear. To the ducks dismay, there was no chicken feed to clean up. The tails stopped waggin. They stood in shocked dismay. Just staring at the ground where their supper should have wonderously appeared. But. Didn't. Their reaction reminded me of an old song:

Did you hear what the drakes did?
Get out the way old Dan Tucker
You’re too late to git your supper
Supper’s gone and dinner cookin’

Old Dan Tucker’s just a-standin’ there lookin’.

Thus, my theory. It makes logical sense if you think about it. The ducks decided that the big coop was a serious infringement on their culinary enjoyments and something had to be done. So, in the dark of night, they fixed the problem.

Whether my theory is accurate or not, it is clearly time to write the PVC Tractor off as a bad design and move on. It is only a failure if we fail to learn from what doesn't work.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fresh Starts and Cleansing the Air

The last few months have been a testing of Mother's and my metal. Actually, the last two years have been but these past few have been the worst part of it. Sometimes God asks us to do what seems too hard for us to do. I have thought so many times that God was asking too much -- that He had more confidence in me than He should. For whatever reason, He has asked Mother and I to deal with wolves in sheep's clothing. He even asked us to allow one to live with us and to love him as a son/grandson. God knows the purpose for this season of time.

In the natural realm, the passing from one season to the other is often marked by dramatic storms. So it is in the Spiritual Realm. This past Friday had one such storm. The clouds were dark and menacing and left us shaking and uncertain. It shook us to our cores. But, with the dawn of Saturday, it was clear that the Spirit Realm had been cleansed and a fresh breeze was rustling the leaves on the trees. I even think the birds were singing happier. The heaviness had lifted not just from my heart but from the world around us.

Another symbolic gesture of the cleansing was repairing the PVC chicken tractor and getting the hens back into their bigger space. I'd been intending to repair it but it seemed like one thing after another prevented me from doing so. Mostly, I was spending all my energies trying to stay afloat and keep Mother afloat. If it hadn't been for our Pastor and church folk, I don't know how we would have kept going. The broken chicken tractor became a symbol of all that was going wrong in my life and my ability to fix it seemed as daunting as fixing what was going wrong with everything else.

Friday, in the aftermath of the storm that just about broke me, I was close to throwing in the towel on not just the coop but the homestead entirely. A heavy sense of "I just can't do this" pressed down on me. But, as the storm was passing, our Pastor prayed with us and prayed over our home. As he lead us in prayer, the battle that had been waging in the Spirit Realm for the past two years was broken, once for all.

So, on Saturday, Mother and I went to breakfast at Georges. It felt like old times. We were happy and relaxed. Then, we went to Home Depot and got a few supplies for fixing the tractor. Then, home to meet up with Tyler & Brittany Knight, my two intrepid helpers in the repair of the tractor. Helpers isn't quite the right term...I mostly gave verbal explanations and the rare suggestion and allowed Tyler to run the show and Brittany and I helped as and where needed. In very short order, it was finished. We rustled up some chickens (Brittany is quite the chicken rustler! hehehe) and moved them to their new home. Everyone was appreciating the refreshing breeze and clear skies.

Looking back, I see I never made a blog entry about the tractor. My apologies! Well, I wanted a larger tractor for the chickens so they'd have room to move around without walking on each other. I also wanted it where I could actually move around in it and reach all parts of the tractor for cleaning and chicken rustling purposes. Even though it was going to be bigger, it also needed to still be moveable -- I want to put the chickens to work in that field! So, after many design considerations, I decided to make a tractor from PVC. It is 10ft square because that is the length PVC comes in. It is 5ft tall at the roof line because that is half of a full pipe. KISS -- Keep It Simple Stupid. The original construction was performed by me and Terry on day one and me and Tyler on day two. Terry warned of two design flaws but I pressed on -- stubborn as usual. Tyler saw them, too, but was too much of a gentleman to say anything negative about my design. Construction went well and pretty easy -- like putting together a large erector set.

Oh, about those design flaws. Well one of them showed up the first time I went to move the tractor. I had not bothered to glue the joints because the joints seemed so snug that it didn't seem necessary. It is necessary. No matter how hard it is to pull a pipe out of the connector before it is all put together when you go to move the whole thing, pipes will pull out! It didn't come falling apart, just a joint came loose. But, I realized I was going to need glue. The bigger design flaw was the flat roof. It took a little while longer for this flaw to reach it's final conclusion -- until the first good rain. Yep, the roof collapsed! I came home to find the hens unharmed but as mad as...well, wet hens. Only a few connectors broke in the making of this tragedy and the "fix" wasn't a major deal. I knew that what was needed was a raised crossbar that would hold the tarp at a peak. But, I was immobilized. That tractor sat there symbolizing all that was crushing down on me. Now, it stands rebuilt -- better, stronger, faster -- well, not faster but I had to finish the quote from the Six Million Dollar Man. Don't remember that show? Watch TV Land. I'm sure it is on there.

Was this tractor cheaper than one built out of wood? No. But, it was something a person with no carpentry skills can build and it is large without being impossible to move for one or two people. The hens love the extra space. The openness will keep the chickens healthier and more robust (tightly enclosed coops can weaken their lungs from ammonia fumes). Be sure to use Schedule 40 PVC as this is the one that can handle sunlight.

For his help in repairing the tractor, Tyler is now the proud new owner of my Hennessee Camping Hammock. I hope you enjoy it on many outings, Tyler. Too bad Pastor won't let you put it up in your room! hehehe.

Now, to make a To-Do List for myself to get myself moving in the right direction on this homestead!

A thunderstorm is approaching. Perhaps tonight we get to test out the new design. I'll let you know how it fairs!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Joy in the Simple Life

 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thess. 4:11-12)

Ambition. Usually we think of ambition being the force that drives people to do great things and become "great" people. It drives us to want to "be somebody". In that sense, I've spent much of my life ambitiously hungering to be somebody. To not be invisible. I struggled to find a passion for something that would fuel a fire of ambition in me to reach for and achieve visibility. What I really wanted was to be an artist. To create. To paint. Art was like meditation to me. But, I was told, "fine artists don't earn a living with their art", "you need a vocation that will support you and painting can be your avocation". I believed these "facts" and so started a life of searching for that elusive career that would interest me and make me ambitious to succeed in it. None did and I moved from here to there, collecting degrees along the way and leaving my art far behind. I feel just as invisible now as I ever did. And, just as disconnected from the person I wanted to be -- want to be.

Lesson learned: never let other people define what "success" is for you! Success is more than how much money you make or how popular you are in the society circles.

Makes it your ambition to lead a quiet life...there is nothing better than sitting on the back stoop in the early morning dawn feeding ducks a little bread. Ducks can teach us so much about how to enjoy simple things. A little spilled chicken or rabbit food can make them chatter and wag their tails they are so happy. Getting a little bread can lead to spontaneous moonwalking in circles.

Chickens aren't quiet. They chatter constantly. But, somehow, it's a sound that is comforting, calming. It isn't a sound that grates on the nerves or rev's up the anxiety. 

Tending to the rabbits in the rabbitry will teach one about walking gently, talking softly, and taking one's time. Rabbits don't like noise or suddenness. They don't like ducks under their cages.

The Simple Life. Simply the life that expresses who you are. A life spent reaching for the contentment found in achieving what inspires you. Or...finding a place of accepting the life that took you on a wayward adventure and making peace with it. Simply accept that through God's grace, even the crazy path of misadventure can lead you to a life of peace and contentment if you trust God to do the leading. God's hands can mold you and make you into a beautiful vessel as long as you are pliable. Trust Him to reshape your mess into something... Simply Beautiful.

minding your own business and working with your own hands... I think the scripture is meaning "don't be noisy about your neighbor's going's on" and that is important. Leave your neighbor's business for your neighbor to deal with and hopefully he'll do you the same kindness. Each of us has our own "stuff" to deal with and really, that should be enough! That all said, there is another way to take that mind your own business. To work at something that is your's and that fits the way God made you. Do not try to be someone else. There is only one you and that is who you should be. If I had focused on my own business from the start -- art -- my life would have taken a far different path. Whether it would have lead to fame and fortune I'll never know but I strongly suspect it would have lead to a more contented life. Why? Because it was what I was made to do. I can not go back and there are experiences I have lived that are precious to me. So, I trust God to take my misadventures and mold them into a life of beauty and contentment. (I'm lacking somewhat in patience, though....)

I wish with all my heart that I could spend my days working with my own hands in the soil of my little homestead. Sitting at a computer 40 hours a week making someone else rich is just not satisfying to me. I try to fine a way to get ambitious. I've tried to see how I might move up or over or even create a new position that would use my skills in a way that would be more interesting to me. But, such efforts hit brick walls and I lack the finesse to play the corporate games to make a go of it. So, I remain a cog in the wheel and while I am trying to pry answers out of French publishers on how to order their journals for a university library, I dream. I dream of making my living writing and "farming" this little homestead. I dream of making this place a living painting full of color and life and peacefulness. I dream of again taking up canvas and paintbrush and feeling peace with the doing rather than anxiety and regrets.

and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. The goal of every homesteader -- self-sufficiency. Few will reach complete self-sufficiency but we hope to come reasonably close. Actually, I dream of more than that. I dream of abundance. Abundance to share with those in lack. That is what the early Christians did -- they shared from their abundance with those who had need so that no one lacked for anything. Christians should not be on welfare or other government handouts. Christians should be taking care of their own. We should function within community -- each giving of their particular talents and from their excess. When persecution comes to our towns and cities, will we then remember that we are a body?

Epilogue: This is a very different blog entry than I had intended to write. Not surprisingly, the writing took it's own course and I had to follow to see where it would lead. I had intended to write a happy, funny blog about six silly ducks. Perhaps another day. Perhaps I can snap a picture of Piebald sticking his head around the back porch door to see if I come bearing bread...until then, you will just have to imagine him doing just that. Silly duck.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Unexpected Changes and Heatwaves

I don't even know where to start. So much has happened in a short period of time and I'm still trying to come to grips with it. We seemed to be on a row getting things set up here on the homestead. We had the rabbitry up and running, the chickens in their tractor, and the ducks growing nicely. We still had many projects and plans to work on but it all seemed to flowing nicely. Son got a paying job and it looked like we would finally have enough cash to purchase the supplies we need for projects we want to do. Then, the unexpected happened.

Last week, my spiritual son left the homestead in a most unpleasant way. That is about as much as I will say about his departure except that he broke my heart and my mother's heart. We pray for him and hope he seeks help.

His departure has left me with an assortment of messes to be fixed:
  1. the chicken tractor he built is too small for the chickens, it is difficult to move, and impossible to clean. I need to build a new home for the chickens. This time, I'm going to opt for a stationary, open-sided coop. I will be building it myself with the help (hopefully) of my pastor's son. 
  2. our muscovy population is over-populated with drakes and this is beginning to cause problems. Possibly connected to that -- the ducks found their way over to the neighbor's house and only six returned home safely. Number 7 was found alive but unfortunately, did not survive. I still have two too many drakes and will need to dispatch two of them to freezer camp very soon before the females decide to look for other accommodations with less testosterone.
  3. the field...the ever-troublesome field. Son had started to create a berm and swale with the berm to follow the boundary line of the field. He started. He did not finish. No surprise there. What was left has become an overgrown mess. I am looking for someone to come help clean up that mess and level the field so that I can mow it.
  4. the ditches -- another perpetual problem spot. Son broke the weedeater. I thought perhaps I could kill off the weeds in the ditches with vinegar/water/salt but it did not work as hoped. I just might set fire to it if it is dry enough to burn. Anything but use Roundup...don't want to use that!
  5. piles of wood, scattered tools, general mess....need I say more? the yard was littered with his tools and scraps left behind from this project or that. I'm slowly clearing those up and getting my yard back to looking like someone cares about the appearance of the place.
There are moments when I feel overwhelmed with it all. This heatwave isn't helping matters. But, all I can do is do what I can do and learn to ask for help for those things I need help with. The silver lining to all this is that offers of assistance are coming from unexpected directions. Some offers have been followed through on and others have yet to...but even if they don't, the offer means their hearts have been softened towards us. That is always a good thing!

Speaking of  heatwave -- it has been brutal all across the country. Farmers losing crops. Rabbitries losing their rabbits. So far, we have not lost any animals to the heat. We have been on ice bottle brigade taking frozen 2-liter bottles to the rabbits through the hot part of the day. It is very fortunate that we placed the rabbit hutch under the pecan trees as the temperature there is a good 10-15 degrees cooler than elsewhere. This extended heatwave and drought is going to cause serious problems this winter with food costs. I'm hoping to stock up on staples like rice, beans, flour, sugar and whatever vegetables we can get canned or otherwise preserved to get us and the animals through the winter.

It is a difficult time. An emotional time. An period of lost security and uncertainty. But, God is still on the throne and I know that He will provide for us and care for us. Recent events may have taken us by surprise, but it hasn't taken God by surprise. It is important to remember from whence our help comes from -- it comes from the Lord! He gives us strength and grace and mercy. He provides our needs and blesses us with our wants. He is a good God!

Monday, April 23, 2012

How the Rabbit Shed was Built and Modified

 I know I have posted pictures of the rabbit shed before; but, since I did not explain the design and construction, I figured I would write about it now.

The first consideration was making it of a length and width to hold four breeder cages and one or more grow out cages. The cages are 30x30 so the width of the shed was set at 4 feet. We decided to make the length 16 feet which is sufficient for the six cages with extra for overhang. There is also the potential for adding length to one end later on. The shed is set in a corner of a solid vinyl fence so it has protection on two sides. The other two sides will soon have tarp "curtains" which can be lowered to protect them during heavy rains. The roof is made of PVC panels. If you use multiple panels as we have, you will need to seal the joints with silicone.

The posts are 2x4x8 pressure treated boards as are the roof supports except that there are two 2x4x16s on top (front and back) which really pulls the structure together into one solid unit. We will be coating the legs with grease to prevent fire ant attacks and may also place something around the legs to prevent raccoons from climbing the legs.

I originally thought that using chains to hang the cages would be sufficient support. With lighter rabbits it probably would have been. If you have small rabbits and want to hang with chain, you need to position the chains so that they form a Y with the corners and create tension between their opposing corner. The chain we purchased was rated to hold significantly more weight than the cage and rabbit would weigh.

For large meat rabbits, chains alone will not reduce bounce enough. My rabbits found the remaining bounce disconcerting so we had to find a way to retro-fit the shed so as to support the rabbits and reduce bounce to zero. After discussing several ideas, we opted for purchasing garden wire fencing and more 2x4x8s and attaching sections of fencing running front to back and setting the cages on the fencing. We attached the cages to the fencing with zip ties.

Another item currently missing but will very likely have to be retrofitted is urine guards between cages. Bucks have a bad habit of spraying does and other bucks with urine as a way of establishing their claims. I guess the male hormones make for bad behavior in any species! Anyway, if you don't want your rabbits stained with each other's urine, you will want to place solid walls between bucks and between bucks and does. I have not explored the options for this need yet so I don't have recommendations.

The other consideration is what to do with the rabbit manure and urine. Having cages without trays like these are great for hygiene. Yes, I will need to clean the cages occasionally but I won't have trays of urine and poop to empty daily. The droppings fall to the ground below. The hay and bits of food also fall. So, what to do? Well, I've read lots of different solutions. I'm trying the worm bed option. You will see in the first two pictures some tires on the ground under the cages. I was going to have the worm beds in those. But, the smaller tires were hard to set where the poop was falling. They also just didn't look as neat as Son wanted it to look. Seems he wants the shed to look *good* since he built it! So, the tires were removed and we put a thick layer of spoiled straw and leaf mulch under there. We may eventually put 1x8 boards around the circumference of the shed to contain the pile. Son says that will make it look better, too. We'll be mail ordering some worms to add to the pile and hopefully will soon be having some great compost for the gardens!