Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Planning the spring garden

Yes, I know it's still December, but this winter will be my time to plan, build, and prepare for Spring.

Much of our new land is cross-fenced, which was one of the main draws of this property. Of the six acres, there's about two fenced acres of pasture on one side, two fenced acres attached to the barn, a smaller 100-foot section, and a 3/4-acre plot we'll use for the garden. I'll divide that 3/4-acre plot into four sections, each rotated counter-clockwise every year.

Originally, we were going to make a path around the fenced parts, but that would a) reduce the growing area and b) be way way more expensive. So we decided, mostly for money's sake, to just split the plot into four sections, but only really fence in the section containing the hog. That section will be done with temporary electric fencing that will be moved every year. The way it's set up, I'll only have to move one side during the rotation each year.

I'll also electrify the entire area to keep out the deer, raccoons, foxes, elephants, dinosaurs, and whatever else tries to get in. I'm considering this a learning period on what works best (as with everything), so I plan to adapt once we actually get the pigs.

I also plan to make a hog shelter that is low and wide, probably around 8 feet long, 4 feet deep and 4 feet tall. I'll put wheels on one side so I can tip it up on its wheeled side to roll it (i.e. pull it with my truck) through the gates to the new section each year.
So basically, I will make two of the sections garden, one a cover crop, and the other to house a few pigs. Let me explain why I'm going through all of this trouble for a garden.

First off, rotating crops is extremely important to a garden that uses no pesticides or chemicals. It allows a natural order of insects to thrive, nutrients to replenish, and the soil to heal itself periodically.

The cover crop is important because it adds alternate nutrients to the soil (grain is especially good for this) and it can be used for either grazing animal feed or mulch when its cut down. Since the order of rotation will allow the pig pen to always follow the cover crop, the hogs will always make sure to uproot the grain plants so they won't be present in the garden the following year. In turn, the garden sections will always follow the hogs, so the ground will be freshly tilled with plenty of natural fertilizer.

Which brings us to the hogs themselves. The reason I'll introduce hogs in the mix is because they are natural ground tillers. They forage under the soil for roots, bugs, and even the dirt itself for their balanced diet. Plus, their manure will help create some amazing soil for the garden which will follow next in the rotation.

Two of the sections will be dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables, so we'll certainly have enough to eat and store each year. The fruits and veges that require more time to grow (such as asparagus, rhubarb, etc) will have its own garden section just outside of this area. Eventually, I'd like to get into the crop-selling business, but right now, I'm only concentrating on food for the family. A goal is to one day never buy from a grocery store again.

So there you have it. Rotating the sections is a natural way to make sure the soil is healthy, the pigs are happy, and my family is getting the best organically grown food possible.

New chicken coop and more rabbits

So after the last month or so of having my chickens eaten one by one by a predator, I finally just ditched work for a few hours (ahaha, just kidding, co-workers who may be reading this!) and built a chicken coop.

Everything I used was scrap wood I had lying around, except for 3 large hinges I had to buy at the local hardware store. As is usual with my projects, I didn't really plan it out beyond what was in my head, and it evolved as I was putting it together. One day I really need to draw out plans first, but I kinda enjoy the challenge of impromptu building projects, especially when it's just a chicken coop built from scrap wood.

So I put together the 10x10 dog kennel we had from our old house and built a 2x2x8 foot chicken coop inside. There was an old nest box in the barn that's 6 feet long, so I wanted to make sure I could fit that in there with a bit of room to spare. On the bottom, I made sure the braces for the stand could double as roosts, so I used deck spindles left over from a deck project at the old house. The stand holds the coop part about 2 feet off the ground, so they can play/roost underneath. The plywood came from the tops of my rabbit hutches (that I took off once the hutches were placed into the barn), and most of the other wood is from a deck project, so it's treated.

The whole front of the coop opens up for egg access (eventually), but I decided to make it open downward, so the door could double as a ladder for the chickens to climb into the coop. I may eventually remake the roof because it's kinda flimsy, but there's a tarp over the entire kennel now, so it's not an immediate problem.

Now my seven remaining chickens seem pretty happy and I haven't lost one in the week since I built it (knock on wood!). The bunnies in the picture are still very young, so I put them in the coop to protect them. They'll eventually make their way to the barn where the rest of the rabbits are.

This last weekend we also took a drive down to the Collinsville Flea Market, which I always enjoy. We were going to look at goose prices and probably buy a feeder pig or two if they had any, but nope! The only pigs they had were baby potbellies, and those poor things are just bred for pets these days. We're looking for Yorkshires or Berkshires. Oh well, we may just wait for the spring since not much is available in the winter (even though it's been warm). After all, I haven't even built their shelter yet! I tend to get a little ahead of myself.

We also aimed to get some more rabbits, since I only had one female and two males left when the dogs decided rabbits taste yummy last month. That's also the time when they figured out how to nudge open the rabbit cages... So we left the flea market with three female rabbits: two babies and one adult. Not really worth the hour drive in my old truck, but I was happy we got something. I bred the adult as soon as we got home, so hopefully we get some babies in a month or so.

Other that that, I finally decided on how I'm going to fence the garden. I think I'll put that into another post though. SO MANY PROJECTS! Oh, and someone remind me to tell the story of when I got attacked by a hawk in the barn.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chicken update and nest box contest

As my "baby chicks" are growing up faster each day, I find the winter projects I had planned for their coop to be piling up all around me. We had some major weasel attacks which brought my original 26 down to only 9 (at the rate of about 1-2 deaths a night for the last few weeks), but I'm determined to save these survivors and let them see the beauty of spring.

So the coop side of the barn is being sealed up with chicken wire, but in the meantime, I had to put the 9 survivors in rabbit cages. They seem to be ok with it for now, but it's a temporary solution. I want them to get back out there and eat bugs and weeds before they start laying eggs in about 2 months.

Speaking of which, I saw this great contest today for a chance to win free nest boxes. They're made by the husband of Georgia Farm Woman, who writes a wonderful blog that I follow religiously (and is linked on my right sidebar there). I'm entering myself in that contest because I can't see a better way to reward my hens than with some shiny new nest boxes.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Welcome Eleanor Ivy to the world!

At 7:54am EST yesterday morning, Eleanor Ivy came into this world just as pink and healthy as could be in all of her 8lb 1oz, 21-inch-long glory. Mother and baby are doing great, and she'll be coming home later today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New farm truck

So I love trucks. I especially love old trucks. You know the kind... the ones that you can stand in the engine compartment while changing the carburetor. Yeah, those.

I've owned a 1974 Ford F100 for about 7 years now, and it's been great to me. It helped us move most of our belongings up this mountain, and it's still alive and kicking. It's not fast, it's not good on gas, but every time some moron smashes their shopping cart against it in the grocery store parking lot, I don't even flinch. I don't think I could ever own a car with shiny paint. It would drive me nuts.

Anyway, my truck is great and all, but it's a 2-wheel drive, so it can't haul stuff across my property, especially with all the rocks and mud out there.

So I was looking at getting an ATV for hauling and transporting stuff around. Once the garden is made, we'll need something like that to haul veges back to the house. Plus, there are always chores to be done around the barn, and it's about an acre out from the house.

I looked on Craigslist and eBay Motors for something cheap, but for the life of me I couldn't find anything under $2500, and those were all 250cc 2WD! The 4WDs were all in the $5-7k range, even for used!

So then I thought it might be best to just look for a small old Ford Ranger or Chevy s-10 with 4WD instead. I don't care what the body looks like, I don't care if the heat works, but it must run and have working 4WD. Heck, I don't even plan to take it off the property, so insurance or registration isn't even an issue.

I found a few on Craigslist and finally bought what I think is a good deal. It's a 1987 Ford Ranger 4x4 with a toolbox, big tires, and it's mechanically sound all around. I only paid $1600 for it, which is way cheaper than any ATV. Plus it can haul a trailer, has more storage space, heated cab, CD stereo, 33" tires, 3" lift, larger engine (2.9L V6) and I can get parts for it a whole lot cheaper than ATV parts. I'm pretty happy with this truck, although it's funny that I own three cars now (all Fords!), and I paid a combined price of $3100 for all three of them. But that's just the way I like it.

The donkeys aren't crazy about the intruder

What's funny is, coming from the Chicago area, I can't believe I got something like this for so cheap, and it doesn't have see-through floorboards or an engine about to fall through the frame from rust rot. I don't want to jinx anything, but I think I got a good deal, and I'm excited to see how much fun I can have with it. Er, I mean, how much work it can do... yeah, that's it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oh, the weather outside is... bipolar

Seriously. It's 45 degrees one day, 75 the next. I guess I shouldn't complain though; it could be 45 every day.

Anyway! We've had a busy week so far. Sarah and I planted four apple trees, two peach trees, and four blueberry bushes on Sunday. The next day she went to the doctor for her prenatal check-up and they told her to chill out with the physical work. Personally, I think it makes for a good story later on when she can say she helped plant six trees while almost nine months pregnant, right?


I've finally set up the rabbit cages how I want them in one room of the barn, and the chickens are roaming free now. I did have a tiny incident with three chickens being eaten by something that crawled in through a hole in a wall, but I still have 18 chickens, and a more secure coop wall. Hopefully those little birds last through the winter and start laying in the spring.

The chickens at 5 weeks old, basking in the sunlight

I also did some really detailed planning of the garden plot. We have a 250' x 120' fenced pasture that we're going to section off into one large 220' x 100' plot, with a path going around three sides. Within that inner plot will be sectioned off into four 110' x 50' plots. Here, let me just show you my sketch:

The bottom right corner will start out as a pig pen, while the top right corner will be cover crop. Both left sides will be garden, and then each year I'll rotate everything counterclockwise. So this gives me enough time to build the inner fences, plan companion crops based on what we want to grow, build compost bins on each side (the little boxes with "CP" in them), get pigs, build the pig house, and anything else that needs to be done there. Four months should be plenty of time to do all of that, right?

Which brings me back to Sarah being nine months pregnant! The doctor says they may induce her this weekend if all goes well, so for the first time since we moved her, the newest addition won't be a farm animal!

Needless to say, I'm quite excited.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Embrace the poop, and other things I've learned out here in the first month

We've now been in this house technically (sleeping in our bed) for a month now, and I've learned quite a bit already. I don't expect I'll ever stop learning, but these first few years will be learning from my mistakes. Sometimes that's funny and makes for a good story, but most of the time it's embarrassing or sad.

So, what are a few of the things that I've learned so far?
  • Dogs are not natural protectors. They're natural predators.
  • There are many, many stray dogs in the country, and you'll probably never find their owners. So don't feed them, because they'll become your problem quickly.
  • Buying baby chicks in October is not the best idea, because you have to pay to keep them warm with a heat lamp and space heater for a few months. That gets expensive.
  • Donkeys need to be halter-trained before they can be fixed.
  • Un-fixed donkeys are not much good for anything but studding-out.
  • 80% is full capacity on a house's propane tank.
  • Teenagers in the middle of nowhere still drive down the street blasting rap music in brightly-colored, tricked-out small cars. There's no escaping that.
  • Country roads are more dangerous to dogs than suburban streets.
  • Family-owned hardware stores and feed stores are way more fun than Home Depot or Tractor Supply.
  • Same goes for restaurants.
  • Establishing a water plan for the animals is very important. You can't realistically keep filling water bottles, jugs, dishes, and tubs several times every day, unless you're just really bored. Automated waterers are a God-send.
  • Embrace the poop. You will get it on you at some point. That's why there's soap and water.
  • You'll be called "honey" and "sweetie" a lot more.
  • It's so gorgeous out here and I feel more at home than ever.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

R.I.P. Geist

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I love animals. Living in apartments and in city homes most of my adult life has made it hard to have large animals that I like, such as dogs.

This last June, we picked up Geist as a 7-week-old puppy. It's the first time I'd ever raised a puppy from that young, but we were determined to raise her right, teaching her commands and how to be a good watchdog for our family. We took her to the dog park to make sure we socialized correctly. We walked her around the block several times a day. Sarah and I were excited about our first dog together.

Geist was a good dog, even though she was a bit over-the-top with her enthusiasm for nipping at other dogs. She listened to every (ok, almost every) command I gave her and always had a smile on her face for that next treat.

At about 8:15 this morning, Geist was struck by a car on our county road and killed instantly. I was in my office at the time and just let her out to relieve herself for the second time that morning since waking up. She was just spayed last week, so we'd been letting her out on the leash to prevent injury to the stitches, but this morning I thought she's probably ready to start exploring the yard again on her own.

I heard when she got hit and I heard the car just keep on going. They didn't slow down, they didn't hit their brakes... they just kept on going. Geist didn't yelp, and when I found her, it was pretty obvious that it was an instant death. I was out the front door and by her side within 20 seconds of it happening, but I didn't get to see the car.

I'll miss Geist, and I won't lie to you... I cried when I was burying her in our yard. She was the dog we bought to transition from city life to country life. We bought her in anticipation of having a big farm, even though at the time, we didn't even have a farm in mind yet. We raised her in the house, then she stuck it out in a 10-by-10 kennel in the yard of the old house for about two months or so until we were completely moved into the new house, and she was grateful for every minute of it. She barked when someone knocked at the door and she always had so much excitement for life.

We only had her for four and a half months, but we learned a lot from her.

Rest in Peace, girl.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What to do with the donkeys?

I shoveled four wheelbarrow-loads of that stuff this evening. I should definitely have nice compost for spring planting, that's for sure!

So today, the local vet came over to castrate our donkeys. Turns out, it couldn't be done because I hadn't halter trained them yet. It really makes sense, but I just had no idea. See, the donkeys need to be trained to stay in a halter so the vet can do his thang. Also, so the donkeys won't just run around in the pasture while they heal.

So the kind vet let me know what I need to do to halter train them, and that's what I think I'll do. I could just leave them as they are, but I just can't put them with any other animals, or they'll kill the animals (the vet told me.)

They sure do make a lot of manure, though. And coupled with the fact that they just eat grass in the pasture, I might just keep them for a while. Maybe at least until we get goats.

Also, someone just drove up to the house for trick-or-treating. I never expected to see that! Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winter is coming

Ahh, Game of Thrones references... I miss Game of Thrones. Anyway! It's been a fun week. My parents visited last weekend, so I got to show them around the new homestead. I'm still finalizing plans for what I'm going to do with certain parts of the yard/house, but it's coming together nicely (in theory, because I have no money for improvements yet!)
I took Geist in this morning to get spayed. The Boxer (who still hasn't left, so I'm claiming him for my own and naming him Tyson) has been trying to give her the ole doggystyle shuffle, so I figured I shouldn't procrastinate on that spay anymore.

Also, I'm not sure what it is, but we've also acquired ANOTHER stray. I guess they heard there's this gullible city boy living here who will give them food, so they're coming from miles around. This one's a spotted mutt, and she's pretty nice so far. She and Tyson seem to have hooked up (he's such a stud) and they spend most of their days and nights laying around in the old horse lean-to, basking in the hay.

One semi-tragic thing that happened this week was the loss of three Guineas. I found three piles of feathers, but no carcasses. At first, I thought it was one of the dogs, but one of the piles of feathers were on a side of the fence where the dogs can't get, so I'm not sure what did it. Hopefully, with so many dogs mooching off of me, they'll learn to scare away the predator. But I'll need to keep my eyes open.

Other than that, it's been a nice week. The weather is getting colder (which isn't nice at all) and I should be getting the donkeys fixed on Monday. Sarah and I also need to head "in to town" (45 mins away) to get our driver's licenses and car plates. That should be fun, since we'll have to take a day off work for it.

But before I'm off, I leave you with an updated picture of the baby chicks. They're getting too big for their box, but still not big enough to go outside yet. And that one has his/her eye on me. Enjoy!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Country dogs

Geist loves mud holes

So we've had this white German Shepherd named Geist since she was a puppy, 7 months ago, right? She's a good dog, albeit frisky. She's good with people, she loves the family, but she is a holy terror to other dogs. We would take her to the dog park when we lived in the 'burbs, and she would want to play too rough until most of them left. Sure it was nice being the only ones there, but the whole purpose of going was to socialize her.

When we got this new house, we figured it'd be good to get a second dog to a) keep Geist entertained and b) put her in her place and show her that she can't be picking on every single dog she sees.

So last Saturday, we headed to the Humane Society (after a failed visit to a local no-kill shelter) and found a wonderful dog that we named Shelby. She's a Border Collie/Black Lab mix, about 3 years old, and just as sweet as can be. We got her to stay outside, but she's such a kind-hearted, good-natured dog, I decided to keep her inside most of the time.

She loves it! She'll sleep at the foot of our bed at night without making a sound. She's great with the kids, wants nothing to do with the baby chicks or the cats (unlike Geist, who takes so much pleasure in getting scratched on the nose by those cats...), and she even knows a few tricks.

So that makes two dogs, right? Well, now we have a third that's been sticking around the house since the weekend, too. He's a Boxer that was pretty much skin and bones (and muscle). I can't stand to see an animal in that condition, so I fed him and he absolutely loves me. At first, he would run when I'd open the door, but now he'll creep up to me and lick my hand wildly. I imagine he wasn't treated so well at his previous home.

Now, I'm not claiming this Boxer as ours just yet*, because I still don't know him, but he doesn't seem too interested in leaving any time soon. He sleeps under the lean-to, near my Fairlane at night and plays with Geist during the day. By "plays," I mean Geist bites him on his neck over and over again while he runs away. This goes on for about 20 minutes until he finally pins her down, barks loudly in her face, lets her up and she just does it again. Rinse, repeat.

No, it's actually kinda funny. He's so tolerant of her to a point, but then even when he tells her to back off, she completely ignores him. It's like they're married.

* But if I did, I'd name him Tyson. (get it, Boxer... Tyson)

Friday, October 14, 2011

The baby chicks have arrived!

So we're all moved in, and the painting is done, and we're taking stuff out of boxes and... OMG BABY CHICKS!!

So yeah, just this morning my shipment of 25 assorted heavy layers arrived from McMurray Hatchery. I can't even express how happy I am to have chickens again, as it's been probably five years now.

The first thing I did (after taking the picture above) was to put them in a big plastic tub with a heat lamp, water and a tiny bit of crumbles. I don't want to put too much food in right now (hint: they poop everywhere, including the food dish), but you can bet I'll be monitoring these little guys n' gals closely anyway, refilling food when needed.

When the package arrived, I found one dead chick, but that's to be expected. McMurray sends 26-27 when you order 25, because they anticipate small problems when shipping a group of 1-day-old live animals. One more chick is on the verge of dying, it seems, but I'm nursing it by helping it find the food and water. In my experiences, it probably won't make it, but I have to try, right?

I've already identified the loud one, the greedy one, and the one who will probably escape the tub first.

So now I leave you with more pictures of the chicks, and a short video of them chirping away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

From my front porch looking out

The view from my front porch over the last 9 years has been tragic. The house across the street has been vacant since before we moved in (we actually didn't know it was vacant; it was in much better shape then). So this is what I saw when I looked out my front door:

Notice the beautiful "Condemned" sign

At the new house, things are a bit different. Check out my new front porch view at sunset:

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Fairlane in her natural habitat

That image makes me so happy. It's my 1963 Ford Fairlane parked at the new farm. For the last 15 years, it's been a city car, moving from urban areas in Northwest Indiana, New Orleans, Louisiana and Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's lived in backyards under sheets, in storage units and even in a basement. But it started its life in Memphis, TN and was purchased brand new by my great grandfather in 1963, when it lived its first 36 years in rural(ish) Arkansas. Actually, it was traded for a Chevy II that he originally bought and didn't like. That Chevy II would be worth SO much more money today.

This is the Fairlane in 1975, the year I was born. It still has those dents.

Ironically, my great grandparents kept it under a carport for most of its life, much as it appears today. It has developed a few dents and scratches from parking mishaps, but everything on it is still original with 39k miles. I've always said that if I lost everything I have, I'd live in that car. I'll never hotrod it, or alter the body or engine in any way. In fact, when I got it, it had 38k miles on it, so I've only put on 1k miles in 15 years. It even still has oil change stickers in the door jam from 1982 that say 28k miles.

So I'm happy to have this car back out in the country, driving the gravel roads and resting its weary tires in the dirt and grass. This car represents my love for all things classic, and it's right at home at the new Alabama farm.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Day 1 at the new house: Exploration and security

Today's the day we took possession of the house, so it was a day filled with painting, moving a few boxes, and mainly just exploring the property.

The first thing I did was change the door locks, then I walked the perimeter of the six acres. Oddly enough, it was the first time I've done that. I noticed that all of the main fence posts were cemented in, which is quite amazing, and there are actually six rooms/stalls in the barn, not five. One of the stalls has its own small fenced in area, plus another small lean-to that will be perfect for a pig or two. There are four cross-fenced areas in all, and they're all connected by gates. It's a really amazing set-up.

I brought Geist with me on one of the trips and just let her loose. She had SO much fun running and running and running. I don't think I mentioned this yet, but the previous owners left two donkeys and about 8-10 guinea fowl. Geist had so much fun chasing the birds around and running races with the youngest donkey.

I'll leave you with a video of that and some pictures I took from my exploration of the property.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taking possession

Tomorrow morning we take possession of our new house. I don't think I have to tell you that I'm excited, but I am. And I just told you.

As a testament to my impatience, I've already packed up my car tonight to start taking things over there when I get the keys in the morning. The first order of business will be to change all of the locks and start painting. I'm going to paint every room except the living room, because we plan to make that our first renovation project down the line, and right now it has tan-painted wood paneling. I'll be pulling that out and replacing it with drywall, but not for at least a year, or whenever we can afford it.

I'm probably most excited to bring my two daughters there because there's a little secret in the house that I've been teasing them about (but not revealing!).

Between two of the bedrooms (the ones that they'll be taking), there's a shared closet that is offset enough to where you can't tell it's shared until you walk in and look to the side. My youngest daughter is FASCINATED with secret passages, and this will make her year.

Also, they're going to go with me to pick their bedroom colors (OKd by me, of course), and I'm excited about that. We'll be paintin' fools all weekend, finishing up and letting the place air out enough before Sarah can go in there (since she's pregnant).

Speaking of Sarah, she's away in Michigan right now visiting family for her baby shower, so I'm going to go bask in the entire bed, all to myself. Night!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We bought the farm... Literally

So, you know how we've had problems closing on this Alabama farm for the last six weeks? That all came to a glorious end last night as we finally closed on this house! So I wanted to spend this post talking about what the house is, and what we plan to do with it.

Inside the house
First off, the house is small and old. It was built in 1960 and is run-down, but that's exactly how I like it. I would never be able to move into a new-construction home because I'd be bored out of my mind. Plus, I think older things are just built better.

So the first thing we'll do to the house itself is a new roof. The current one was damaged in the tornadoes that ravaged the area (northeastern Alabama got hit way harder than Chattanooga), so that's a priority. After that, we'd like to paint a few of the rooms, fix one electrical issue and generally get the home livable for now. Any major renovations will need to wait.

The yard
As for the immediate yard area (about 3/4 acre, not fenced), I'd like to establish a play area for the kids, a fire pit on the other side, and a dog house. Other than that, I'll leave it alone.

There are 2 outbuildings on this part of the land (with the main 5-room red barn out in the fenced fields). Building 1 has three rooms, and will mainly be for storage, and Building 2 will hold my tools. There's a 2-car lean-to extended from Building 2 (shown above), so it will be used for fixing and building cars, and a general workshop. I'll probably make the compost pile behind this building as well, because the back is out of site and closest to the (eventual) garden area.

The rest of the farmland
There are currently three large fenced-in areas throughout the six acres. One of these is on flat grassland, one is hilly grassland with rocky outcroppings, and the other is hilly, with a few trees and very large boulders jutting out of the ground. So area #1 will be for the garden, while areas #2 and #3 can only really be for the animals.

In the main barn, I'll build chicken nestboxes and secure one of the rooms for the goats. There's also a raised-floor room (with an additional loft) for feed storage and a horse barn with an old wood-burning stove. We don't plan on having any horses, so that may be for goats as well. The other two rooms will probably be for pigs, but we'll see.

Mainly, I'm just so excited to get started with everything. I've been reading, experimenting, volunteering, and researching everything I can about sustainable farm living for the last several years, and it's finally within arm's length. We have the property, we have the means, we have the energy, and we kinda almost have the money. Now it's time to get working on the rest of our lives.

As I go through the process of getting this farm ready, you can expect more frequent blog posts. That's why I started this thing in the first place! So stay tuned...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

First taste of rabbit

WARNING: I shouldn't have to do this, but if you're grossed out by the thought of killing rabbits for food, you should probably skip this post.

As you know, we're growing our own rabbits for their meat. Despite some rookie mistakes along the way, we were able to raise a few rabbits from babies, and now we figured it was time to eat one and see if it's all worth it.

To catch you up, we bought four rabbits from a local breeder in March: two male and two female. Or so we thought. After some unsuccessful breeding attempts with one pair, I discovered that one of the females is actually a male, so that gave us three males and one female.

The female had a litter, but most of the litter was killed by predators. The female eventually died from something unknown, but one of her babies survived. Luckily, that baby is female, although she has some limb damage from that predator attack.

So here we are, about six months later, and we're back to three males and one female. But since we don't need three males, we took this opportunity to try our hand at culling one for the dinner table.

I picked the one that has caused me the most trouble. He's thinner than the other two, and he likes to push all of his food onto the ground. Mighty nice of him to volunteer to be eaten first, huh?

So this morning I took him out of the cage, skinned and butchered him, and we grilled him up for lunch. I was actually surprised at how much meat there was, as it's fed us both for lunch and dinner, with a bit left over for another meal (with rice and corn). It was my first taste of rabbit, and as cliche as it might sound, it tastes a whole lot like chicken.

Now you might be scratching your head as to why that last paragraph seems so harmless and simple. There must be more to your first time processing a rabbit, right Shawn?! I'm getting to that part.

Since I have no shame, and I consider this blog a bit of a testimonial as to why you should be learning from my silly mistakes, I'll go ahead and tell you my mistakes. No really, it's for your own good.

First off, every manual I've read and YouTube video I've watched about how to actually kill the rabbit didn't prepare me for the fact that it's not really that easy. First off, when I took him out of the cage, holding him upside down by his back legs, he was fine at first, but then started thrashing around, subsequently snapping one of his legs. This sent him into a fit of screeches that I was sure would get the cops called on us, so I hurried up and grabbed his head, pushed down and pulled back, just as I'd seen done in demonstrations. Well, that didn't quite work as planned. So I resorted to something I saw done on one YouTube video where the rabbit's head was put under a steel bar and the body was pulled upwards. That worked.

I won't even get into the rookie mistakes I made killing my first chickens a few years ago... maybe another day. But this is how we learn, right?

Anyway, from here, the rest wasn't too bad. I had some troubles finding the right spots to cut to pull the skin down, and the string I tied the rabbit up with had snapped at one point, but other than that, the rest went smoothly. Not the cleanest cuts of meat, but that will come with practice, too.

I fed the liver and heart to the dog (I'll save those for me on future rabbits), and tossed out everything else. One day I'd like to get into tanning the hides, but not on my first one.

So that was quite an adventure. Sarah says she wasn't as grossed out as she thought she'd be (until I started scooping the guts out with my hands), but I'm proud of her for not running into the house screaming.

This Wednesday is our 4th attempt at a house closing, so wish us luck. No , seriously, this is getting ridiculous. But we're hopeful that this is the one. We'll keep you posted!

In the meantime, we pack, clean the house, tackle the last bits of yard work, and finish off the rest of that rabbit.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can we keep 'im? Can we?!

So we have this white cat that runs around the neighborhood with his 348653876 other stray cat friends, living the good life in abandoned houses up and down our street. Most of them are pretty scared of any humans, but there's one in particular that has been really friendly to us. I say friendly because he's the only one that comes and eats the food I put on the back deck for him. Sure, he hisses at me, but I know it's a love-hiss.

About 10 months ago, we found some clumps of white fur in our front yard, and no sign of this white cat (lovingly named Snowball, as opposed to his black-and-white counterpart, Dirty Snowball) anywhere. In fact, we hadn't seen him at all since that day, so we assumed he either ran away or was killed.

Yesterday, I was surprised to see what looked like a thinner, less fluffy version of our old favorite stray cat, running around our giant litter-box-of-a-back-yard. I called him over and he instantly ran to me, but stopped short of grabbing distance. I grabbed him some food from our cats' bowl and he happily ate it on the back deck.

I'm still not sure if it's really Snowball, in some kind of post-apocalyptic, Mad Max kinda rebirth, or if it's just one of his kin. Either way, it's good to have a nice outdoor cat around again.

Sarah and I have this plan to take him with us when we move. Wish us luck on that.

In other news, we go to closing on this new house on September 7th. I know, right? Where have all the updates been from "We're looking at a house" to "Oh, we're going to closing next week"? Well, I get a bit superstitious about these things, and to tell you the truth, it could still all fall through in the next week, but I'm feeling optimistic today. Once we get settled into that house -- as long as everything goes through alright -- you won't be able to keep my mouth (fingers?) shut about it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The tree is gone! Free at last!

For anyone following along at home, the one thing keeping us here at this house is a giant oak tree that fell during the tornadoes of April 27th. For almost four months, we've been battling with tree companies and my insurance company over who is going to pay the $15k+ bill to remove the tree, fix the fence and the retaining wall that all got damaged when the tree fell.

It is with a smiling face that I sit here typing this right now, because the tree is finally gone. The fence and retaining wall fixes will be the easy parts, but that tree was the one thing keeping us from moving out and finally using this property as a rental.

So I've decided to share some photos of today's tree removal:
When they started, they had to bring in a bucket truck to get the large limbs down first.

We also had another tree cut down because it was leaning after the storm, although still alive.

And there you have it. My back yard looks like a sandbox, but at least it's minus one large oak tree. I can't explain how happy I am about this, although I still have some work ahead of me. I'll need to level some low spots in the yard and replant grass seed. I'll probably also need to get a new fence installed before I can rent the house out.

On the new house front, we're at the wait-and-see stage still. The farm we're looking at has been inspected, surveyed and a final offer has been accepted. Now we wait for the loan paperwork to process and keep our fingers and toes crossed that nothing goes wrong there.

One thing I've learned through all of this? Don't ever buy a house with a giant tree in the yard ever again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Weening myself from technology

Growing up, my mind has been in a constant battle. I love the outdoors, survival techniques, roughin' it, and being as sustainable as possible, but yes, I also love technology. I love everything to do with the latest gadgets, and I grew up tinkering with everything from Radio Shack 150-in-1 Electronic Project Kits to classic cars.

But over the years, my desires have swayed much more towards the natural side of things. Luckily, I spend most of my imaginative energy thinking up ways to merge the two. This includes adapting old farm technology to modern sustainability practices, peppered with the latest gadgets and upgrades to make it all just work better. I think about this every day, and can't wait to finally implement it.

But this requires a filtering of this new technology. I don't believe that every modern machine is a good thing, and I really believe most of it is ruining us. Ironically enough, I write about video games and hi-tech gadgets for my day job, and it's really something that I don't see myself doing forever. But seeing this hi-tech side of things makes me only yearn more for the simpler side of things.

Lately, there's been this trend in the gaming and hi-tech world for malicious-minded people to hack into the accounts of gamers and tech-savvy people. The security of smartphones, computer networks, gaming accounts, and more are being compromised at an alarming rate, allowing cyber criminals (for lack of a better word) to steal personal information on these people. I've had three game accounts infiltrated in recent months, and just yesterday I discovered that another account was hacked, allowing these criminals to purchases hundreds of dollars of products with my bank account.

I won't really dwell on how much that knocks the wind out of your sails, but it DOES reinforce this deep desire I have to distance myself from being so connected to the internet world.

I'm fascinated by technology, but I don't NEED to have every latest gadget, and I think that self control really helps me put it all into perspective.

So as I look forward to inching closer and closer to buying my dream farm, I remind myself of why I'm doing this. It's not about dying with the most toys, it's about providing sustainability for the generations to come. I want my children to have food to eat that wasn't created in a lab, and I want them to have an appreciation for the way life was meant to be lived.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Getting closer to the dream

This has been an insane two week period.

First, I'll get the unfortunate news out of the way. After another predator attack, we were left with only one baby rabbit. Ironically, this is the one that lost one of his legs during the first attack, but he seems to be better for it, and showing no other negative effects. He can hop around the cage with the best of 'em, and doesn't seem to have any infections or be in any pain.

But soon after this, the mother of that litter died as well. With no injuries on her, we're still scratching out heads as to what happened, but I have a hunch. Either it was the intense heat (heat index around here is 100+ daily) or it's the mosquitoes.

See, we have some pretty scary mosquitoes around this house. With two vacant properties on either side of me, the little buggers seem to treat this block as a major metropolitan area, and my yard is the food court. Those poor rabbits spend most of their day swatting their ears at the mosquitoes that literally cover their ears. Since they're in the shade, it makes it even worse. I just think a mosquito carried some disease from a stray cat or raccoon and brought it to the rabbit.

But despite my ongoing adventures of raising rabbits (poorly), I do have some potentially exciting news.

Last week, we put an offer in on a house. The house is a mini farm with six acres, three outbuildings and a price that can't be beat. The sellers are going through a divorce, so the husband wants to sell (per their divorce agreement) and the wife doesn't, because her grandfather build the home in 1960 and it's been in the family ever since. I can completely understand her reluctance, but it keeps me in a constant state of worry that she'll back out of the negotiations at any time. Sure, that may be a tactic, but I believe it's still genuine sadness on her part. Divorce is a crazy time (I went through one seven years ago that completely destroyed my life, and the financial after-effects are still being felt today), but their agreement says they must sell the home.

Anyway, we're in love with the property, but are preparing ourselves for the worst. There are some legal issues that have been discovered (one of the outbuildings goes slightly over their property line), but they're looking to get that resolved and we've already agreed on all other conditions.

So say a prayer for us that we get this house -- and if we don't, something similar soon! It will be the first step in a life we've been dreaming about for many, many years. And it sure would add a lot to this blog!