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.