July 30, 2012

The Joys of Free Ranging Chickens

I'd wondered why I hadn't found any white eggs lately...

Clutch of Barred Holland eggs found in the hay mow

I found 16 of them in a corner of the hay mow the other day. Amazingly, all but two passed the float test. Technically the chickens aren't allowed in here. Some of them though, always manage to find their way where they aren't supposed to be!  :) At least they weren't deposited out in the woods somewhere.

July 27, 2012

Food Storage in the South

I'm not entirely certain how early Southerners did it, how they stored food without electricity. Of the old techniques I think of salting, smoking, drying, and root cellaring. Salt pork, dried beans, and corn bread was probably a typical meal. Without refrigeration, breakfast was likely leftovers from the night before. Because we hope to someday get off the electrical grid, I think about these things.

Food storage has been a real challenge for me. Not for lack of equipment or knowledge, but because of our climate. The intense summer heat, mild winters, and year-round humidity make keeping some things difficult.

Our first year here I tried storing my fall harvested root crops in my newly designated pantry. Even keeping the room unheated, all these kept sprouting. I observed too, that our ground never froze absolutely solid, even during the worst of our Southern cold spells. I figured out that heavy mulch on the beds enables me to harvest fresh turnips, beets, carrots, etc all winter long. Because this works so well, I don't really see the need to build a root cellar. True, potatoes end up in the spare refrigerator because they don't keep well in the ground, but sweet potatoes do well simply wrapped in newspaper and stored in a box in the pantry.

The humidity presents problems with dehydrating foods. It's no problem when we have low humidity, but when the humidity's high, the foods will get moldy before they're dried. Even with my Excalibur dehydrator I have to take care. Foods dried to a pleasing crisp soon turn soft again when the humidity is high, which is often.

I had similar problems curing hard cheeses. They tend to get moldy before they develop a rind, I think because our house temperature is so warm. We do use our air conditioner, but the thermostat is set at 82. This means it keeps the hallway at that temperature, but rooms that get sun or still have poor insulation, are much warmer. As a side note, I have to say that the insulating we did in the kitchen plus the energy efficient windows have made a huge difference in that room. In regards to cheese, I've been thinking maybe I should make soft cheeses in summer, and save hard cheesemaking for cooler months.

I have to say the humidity is a nuisance in general. It's not as bad here as when I lived in Houston. There I could work up a sweat by simply walking out to get the mail. Still, on the worst days here laundry doesn't dry on the line and begins to not smell so nice. In places where we've lived without air conditioning in the South, we've had terrible problems with mildew. More than once I've thrown away mildew covered shoes I found in the bottom of my closet, or tried to salvage books by washing the covers with diluted bleach. A dehumidifier does help, but the ones we've had generate heat as well, making the trade off not as comfortable as one might hope. Humidity is one reason we use the air conditioner. But back to food storage.

Meat is usually frozen nowadays and ours is no exception. I'd be willing to experiment with salting, smoking, and jerkies, but this will take additional equipment, set-up, learning and time, so it's still future. This makes more sense for home butchering, as meat from a local processor is prefrozen before it's picked up. Meat can also be canned. I used to do this a lot, very convenient.

Then there are the pantry moths. I know everybody has these, but with a long growing season and mild winters, it seems they are worse here than I've experienced anywhere else. How they find their way into jars with tight lids I don't know. I do know that it doesn't take long for them to destroy a gallon storage jar of grain. I have learned by experimentation that a nice chunk of cedar in the jar helps a lot. I use big chunks of cedar in the garbage cans where I store the goats' and chickens' grain as well. For our grains and flours however, I still rely mostly on the fridge and freezer. [NOTE: I should have clarified for commenters that the grains I'm having problems with are our homegrown grains: field corn, popcorn, wheat, and dried watermelon (not a grain but the moths love it). The quantity of these is bushels worth, so freezing, refrigerating, or oven drying are pretty much out of the question. :p ]

Because of all this, when I think of food storage without electricity, I realize there are a lot of things I have to rethink. The vision of the poor Southerner hunting coons and squirrels instead of roasting the fatted calf takes on new meaning. It makes sense to have smaller quantities of meat to deal with if one can't store a whole beef or two. So does winter gardening. My experiments in this have gone well so far, and I think with a hoop house or row covers we could eat more fresh so I would have to preserve and store less.

Producing our own electricity is still a long ways down the road. Still, I find that all the projects we do here require a lot of forethought and research. Experience counts in that regard as well.

I'd really be interested in the food storage challenges of others. I suspect they are different in different locations! Anyone care to share?

July 24, 2012

Goodbye Kody

Some of you probably remember when we got Kody, our Great Pyrenees pup. He was an unexpected addition to the homestead, when we agreed to take him from a gentleman whose wife wasn't too keen on having such a big breed dog. Kody, now 6 months old, has grown into a very handsome fellow. He's been a good companion to Kris and being a livestock guardian breed, we'd hoped he would fit in well.

He's also been a high energy dog, happy, loveable, playful, even a tease, and with a keen eye for anything amiss. His only "fault" was that he loved to chase. Chasing Kris was okay with us, but chasing chickens, goats, and Riley was not. He received many a scolding for this and spent quite a bit of time in by himself in a stall for "time out." He's also a smart dog and caught on quickly, but being a puppy, had frequent slips in his self control, especially if we weren't watching.

The chickens were terrified of him. When Mama Hen hatched her chick, the dogs were moved in with the bucks, just to keep Baby Chick safe. Chickens of course, go where they want and some of them made their way into the buck pasture, the braver ones. Even so all was well (except for chasing Buddy) until last Sunday.

Sunday afternoon Dan discovered Kody running around with a dead, mangled chicken in his mouth, one of the Barred Hollands. While we didn't witness his killing it, it is highly likely considering his continued chicken chasing. In addition, he would now associate the taste of chicken with the birds, a very bad situation indeed. Kody had to go.

When Mr. M gave Kody to us, he asked that we call him in the event we ever needed to get rid of him. Dan did just that and within the hour Mr. and Mrs. M were here to pick him up. Mrs. M had agreed to take him back without hesitation, giving this sad situation a happy ending for everyone except the chicken.

I'm not sure which Barred Holland Kody got. I had two, which were identical. If I had my druthers, I'd rather lose Mrs. Mean, but it's not like I had a choice. I'll just have to watch and see how the reamining one interacts with the others. If she chases the Buff Orpingtons around relentlessly, then I'll know that Mrs. Mean lives on.

Unfortunately I have no updated puppy photos to go with this post. I'm still having computer issues so I haven't taken a lot of photos lately. I ordered a new modem, which should be here this week. Hopefully I can get back online then! You'll be the first to know if I do.

July 21, 2012

No Money? No Problem. Let's Just Demolish the Bathroom!

Dan's unexpected, unpaid "vacation" gave him two weeks of at-home project time. Since this is summer, we would ordinarily be working on outdoor projects, of which we have many. Nearly 5 inches of rain so far this month however, (with more on the way) made it too wet and muddy to do much outside, at least on projects that wouldn't cost us anything. The unfinished indoor project is still the kitchen, but even the last few projects require materials. Since we're of necessity on no-spend, Dan decided to turn to the next house project on the list, getting started on the hall bathroom.

our hall bathroom as it was originally
Our hall bathroom in May 2009,
when we first moved in to the place.

For more photos of this bathroom, click here. You can see the bookshelves in the hallway on the left. On the right is a door exiting to the back porch.

This bathroom developed more plumbing leaks while we were still working on the kitchen, so we decided it would have to be tackled next.
This is more than just a bathroom project actually, it is the creation of a master suite. Dan really likes a master bathroom, so we figured out how we could turn this existing bathroom into part of a master suite. Here is a sketch of our home's floor plan now....

Click to enlarge

Here is how we plan to create a master suite....

proposed floor plan including master suite
Click to enlarge

It involves walling off the 5 foot wide hallway to create a study for Dan, and making a doorway in the spare bedroom to access both bath and study.

The first step was to pull everything out of the bathroom.

We knew there was floor damage from a previous leak in the toilet. We didn't realize how extensive the damage was until Dan pulled up two layers of vinyl flooring.

In addition to rotted floorboards, the floor is sagging terribly from the water damage, and from the weight of the cast iron claw foot bathtub. The floor will have to be rebuilt with additional structural support added.

The other thing Dan was able to do, was to tear down the shelves and tongue and groove wall to the right of the bathroom.

On the other side of this wall is the room we plan to use as the master bedroom. The next step here will be to frame out an opening for a doorway.

I mentioned there is a door to the right of the bathroom which exits to the back porch.

This will enable us to have a private entrance to the proposed suite. Not that we need one since there's mostly only the two of us. Still, it will be very handy for dumping muddy clothes in the laundry and going in to shower off.

This will likely be a slow project because we'd rather be outside in nice weather. When weather doesn't permit, we'll make more progress and will definitely get a lot done this upcoming winter. It's really nice to have both indoor and outdoor projects in the works. We can't ever complain about there being nothing to do. :)

July 18, 2012

A Test in Preparedness

We've had a number of things happen recently, that have had a rather major impact on us. The as yet unresolved computer problem is one to be sure, but something else has happened which has been even worse.

One of our dreams is to pay off our mortgage. It's our only debt and we would love to be debt free. Currently we are able to pay down on the principal, but the realities of Dan's job make this a slow process. The tradeoff, is having time at home to do things that need to be done, like putting up fences and overhauling the kitchen. We've talked, from time to time, about his going really "over the road," as in long haul driving where he'd be out three weeks at a time, and home for about three days. This is not our preferred lifestyle, but we've wondered if it would be worth it for a couple of years, to own our place free and clear.

One day on a whim, he applied to a flatbed and heavy haul trucking company based in Fort Worth, Texas. It would mean little home time, but it would also double his salary. If we were willing to make sacrifices, we truly had the potential to get our mortgage payed off, hopefully within two or so years.

They hired him within days and flew him to Ft. Worth for orientation. He was on the road in a week. His second week out he had severe pain in his leg and ankle. He could neither walk nor shift the big truck gears. The home office insisted he go to the emergency room, but stipulated he had to sign a form taking full responsibility to pay for it. Well, Dan didn't want to go to the emergency room. They insisted and he finally agreed to do it, but would only sign the form if he added "as required by my employer." They didn't want him to do that, so it got turned over to workers comp.

Since he was out on the road and couldn't drive, it took them a day or two to get him back to the home office. He was immediately called in to see the big boss, and let go. He was told he was rude to a few folks (who weren't available to corroborate) and that he wasn't a good fit for the company.

That was shocking enough, but the more immediate problem was that they fired him 1000 miles away from home. It wasn't just getting Dan home, but also all his gear. An over the road driver's tractor is his "home away from home." Truck stop prices are exorbitantly high, so most truckers have a plug in cooler or fridge, 12 volt cooker, food, supplies, bedding, clothes, tool box, first aid kit, etc to last their trip out. Though the company made a verbal offer to reimburse Dan for getting home, we were still faced with paying for it upfront. Paying for that left us with just enough money in the bank for upcoming bills, and that was it.

In addition, they stopped payment on his first paycheck, to revoke his sign-on bonus and orientation pay. Legally they can do this with a 90 day probationary status for new drivers. Between that and the $1000 it cost him to get home (which is still not reimbursed and we doubt will ever be) he netted $500 for three weeks of work. The good news was that his old company agreed to hire him back. The bad news is that it took two weeks to get through the hiring paperwork, plus it will be another two weeks before the first paycheck will arrive.

And that brings us to the topic at hand, preparedness. While we've never claimed to be preppers, doomers, or survivalists, we do realize that emergencies happen. These can be weather related, or as in our case, job related. It is common sense to be prepared for them. This situation really put our personal preparedness to the test.

Food. Thankfully, this is not a problem. We have growing garden, fresh eggs and milk, a front porch full of wheat needing to be threshed, a pantry full of canned goods, and a freezer full of homegrown chicken, chevon, fruits, and vegetables. We may have to make a few adjustments in our accustomed meals, but we can live without buying food.

Water. We're on city water and expect to not be late on any bills, so this is also not a worry. In the past we've had well water and kept water storage for when there was no electricity to power the electric pump.

Animals. I had just stocked up on feed, cat and dog food, so this wasn't an immediate worry. Plus being summer, there is plenty to graze and forage for the chickens and goats.

Bills. This is the biggest concern. After paying to get Dan home I still had enough to pay the upcoming bills, but I can see how I could have been better prepared in this area. The late Larry Burkett recommended keeping a 3 month reserve savings to cover bills and living expenses in such emergencies. I kept it at about a month's reserve for bills, using any extra to pay down on the principal of our mortgage. That meant we've been able to pay it down by $11,000 over three years (I never dreamed it was so much until now. Every little bit truly adds up!) This is our only debt, and I found myself wishing I'd kept the payments an extra month ahead, like I did when I used to have a car payment. Yes, I paid an extra month's interest, but also, I could skip a month if need be and still not be late on the next payment due.

The other thing I've learned is that life is considerably simpler when one doesn't have any money. There are no worries about spending our money wisely because there isn't any to spend, LOL.

I have to say that I'm thankful it wasn't worse. I'm thankful we had the funds to get Dan home. Still, it's made us evaluate our lives in a more urgent light. We've wondered from time to time how little we could actually live on, and this brings that question closer to home. While we realize that self-sufficiency in the strictest sense is not possible, we're able to appreciate how far we've come, and realize how far we have to go.

July 15, 2012

UPDATE to Internet Connection Problems

UPDATE 7/17/2012 - I have the new ethernet card installed but now the internet light on my modem is out. My service provider is clueless and wants to pass me off to paid support. Might be a better investment to put the one time $160s toward a new computer. That's not an immediate option, so I'm researching other avenues. Thank you one and all for your kind concerns!


Well, I couldn't find a new ethernet card card locally because businesses have phased them out. I did however order one, very cheap and should be here sometime this week. Several of you made recommendations about serge protectors. I appreciate that. I do have a surge protector for my computer, but so far it hasn't protected us from anything. I will look into an ethernet surge protector.

Apparently however, the lightning strike did more than knock out my ethernet, I'm having trouble booting my computer. With continued storms (and a total of 3.6" of rain last week), I've been turning my computer off and unplugging it when not in use. It takes two or three tries to get it to boot up and then I get a message telling me I've had several boot failures. Duh. I've actually had booting problems since the first lightning strike, as in I haven't been able to shut the system down. It automatically reboots.

None of this bodes well for the life of my computer, which is only two years old. I'm in the process of backing up everything of value to me and wondering what we'll do if we lose our computer. But then nobody ever said life wouldn't be without it's trials!

July 12, 2012

Internet Connection Problems

It's happened again. Last August a horrific lightening storm fried the ethernet card in my computer. Late Tuesday an intense summer storm blew in and thanks to a nearby lightening strike, I am once again unable to get online. I'm on a library computer right now, but will soon be on my way to try and buy another ethernet card. I say try, because cards for wired computers are getting harder to find these days. Seems electronics stores assume we're all wireless!

Thank you for all the comments on my "Slow Living, Slow Results" post. I appreciate every one. I'm not neglecting answering your comments, I just haven't been able to get online. Hopefully I'll rectifiy that soon and be able to do so, as well as return the blog visits!

July 11, 2012

Slow Living, Slow Results

Three years ago this month we planted a privacy hedge of Leyland Cypresses along the road.

Hedge of little Leyland Cypress trees
Photo take July 2009

Here it is today....

Photo taken July 2012

It seemed to take forever to grow, but what a difference three years actually makes.

July 9, 2012

Kitchen Remodel: Providential Irony?

There are actually only a couple of things left to finish and then we'll be done with the kitchen. The list is down to a painting the toe kick, a plate rack, and the built-in dining table, which Dan is working on now. The other details fall to me, like the unpacking and putting away. Also on my list was a stool for my work area.

I showed you where Dan created a place for a work stool when he made my kitchen peninsula....

Photo from "Building The Kitchen Peninsula"

When I went to buy the stool, there was only one left, and it had slightly uneven legs. Being the impatient sort (and not trusting that the price wouldn't be higher when they got new ones in,) I bought it anyway.

Dan put a level to it every which-away and we still couldn't figure out how to correct it. But. The floor is slightly uneven under the peninsula too. When I set the stool a certain way, it is perfectly level, no wobble, no unevenness, no problem.

Amazingly the stool is perfectly level & stable in this spot.
My shelves are filling up, though I'm still
experimenting and rearranging things.

How about that! I just love my work area.

I'll show you where I decided to hang my cutting board too. Very convenient.

2 glue-on hooks hold the cutting board

Funny how the last few projects seem to take the longest. Maybe that's really just my impatience. Still, now's not the time to be in a hurry. Hopefully I'll have before and after photos to show you soon.

July 7, 2012

Hatch Announcement

Well, my broody Buff Orpington out-persisted me and has one brand new baby chick to show for it. When I couldn't break her broody, I gave her 3 eggs, jotted down the date, and forgot about it.

I was milking Ziggy the other evening, when I heard her clucking softly. I stopped to take a closer listen and heard a little "peep, peep, peep". If I tried to come near, she would clam up and hunker down. The peeping would stop too. Since my Buffs were mama hen raised, none of them are particularly "friendly" so I backed off and waited. Eventually I had a chance to see the new chick, another Buff Orpington. Of the three eggs, it was the only one that hatched.

Considering how vicious some of my older hens were toward the Buffs when they were chicks, I am concerned for this chick. We don't really have a good area for raising chicks, so I did a make-shift pen in the chicken yard with rabbit fencing, the kitty carrier, and the top to our first-try corn crib. They need to be protected from predators and overly playful puppy dogs as well.

Actually, raising chicks every year is one of our self-sufficiency goals. I've learned though, that I seriously need to rethink our set-up to accommodate future mama hen wannabes and their broods.

Here's hoping this little one does well.

July 5, 2012

Goats, Goals, And The Prime Directive

Trying to decide what to do about our goat situation has taken some time and thought. Initially my goal had been to breed Kinders. I hoped this would be a step toward becoming more self-supporting. If we'd had Kinder kids this year, I wouldn't have given this goal a second thought. But with no kids and first losing one of my Pygmy bucks, and later one of my Nubian does, it was necessary to step back and evaluate.

When we first bought our homestead, we had a little savings to invest in it. Among other things, we bought 2 registered Nubian does and 2 registered Pygmy bucks as our "Kinder Starter Kit." That money is gone now, but if I wanted to continue with this goal, I'd need more starter stock because a good breeding plan requires genetic diversity. With no Kinders in the area, we'd either have to buy more registered Pygmies and Nubians, or import Kinders from cross country. Between that and the realization of how costly this venture would be in terms of time, energy, and money, I needed to rethink.

Another thing I'd figured out, is that while we love the Pygmy goat personality, we definitely do not care for the Nubian personality. Like all divas, they are high maintenance on every level. Of course, these were never our goal, but considering our situation, I wasn't sure I wanted to put up with more Nubians while trying to establish a Kinder herd.

On an immediate, practical level, having only one buck and one doe wasn't working very well. Goats are herd animals and need companions, but it's usually better to keep the boys and the girls separate. Milk too, was another need, but I'd dried up the does in preparation for the kiddings that never occurred.

The bottom line however, was how did all this fit into our primary goal of working toward self-sufficiency? Kinders could meet our needs for food, manure, and something to trade or sell, but other types of goats could too. And at less initial expense. So while not looking for anything in particular, I found Ziggy on craigslist...

Ziggy, a friendly, sweet Nigerian Dwarf doe.
She is polled, i.e. naturally hornless.

Ziggy is a 2 & 1/2 year old purebred Nigerian Dwarf doe. I honestly had not considered Nigerian Dwarfs, but her price and being in milk made me stop to take a look. After a little research on the breed, I decided to see if she was still available. She was.

Ziggy and Surprise

I bought her from a breeder who had high hopes for her. She took a Junior Doe Championship, but once she'd kidded her udder was a disappointment. For those interested, she has no rear attachments, which disqualifies her from the show ring. In addition, there is the likelihood that she will pass this trait on to her offspring, another problem for a serious breeder.

Surprise is not very happy with the new addition.

Since her owner was primarily interested in raising goats for show, this flaw made Ziggy a cull. That meant I got her for about half price, but with no papers. Since I'm not interesting in breeding registered Nigerian Dwarf goats anyway, this was a plus for me, not a problem.

Ziggy & Gruffy. I'll breed her to him when the time comes.

She's giving me 3 cups of milk a day and it's the sweetest I've ever tasted. That's enough for coffee cream, yogurt, and a little mozzarella.

As a companion for Gruffy, my Pygmy buck, I got Buddy...


He's a 6 month old Nigerian Dwarf buckling. I had the option of papers or not. I chose not because it was cheaper.

"Pet me! Scratch me! Don't leave me!
Can I ride around in your pocket?"

This little guy was bottle raised and thinks he's a pet. So much so that he comes running whenever he sees me and is always underfoot.

"Don't believe what they told you. I'm really a lap goat."

Neither Surprise nor Gruffy have been very receptive to their new companions, though Gruffy was quite interested in Ziggy. Adjustments are still being made however. I have to say it seems these went better when we had more goats. With more goats, changes in population, either additions or subtractions, seem to make smaller waves.

Buddy. Gruffy in the background.

Honestly, decision making is so much easier when I have a goal, and when I take the time to figure out how things fit into that goal. Oftentimes I've made decisions on impulse or feelings, and even carefully thought out decisions may not turn out as expected. Having our prime directive is a relief to fall back on. In this case it takes the pressure off of having to "succeed" at Kinders, and refocuses it in terms of the larger framework of our lives.

While I'd still love to have Kinders, I'm also considering getting another Nigerian doe and selling Surprise. I get tired of her continual belly aching and stubbornness. Still, I've already got her and am open to trying to breed her again this fall. We'll just have to see what happens.

July 3, 2012

Of Corn, Cowpeas, & Lawnmowers

Knee high by the 4th of July?

Trucker's Favorite field corn on the 4th of July

I heard that saying when I was a kid and thought it was some sort of rule farmers had to follow. ;) Looks pretty good, doesn't it? Confession; that's an after shot. Let me show you a "before."

Corn field before mowing
Corn field after mowing

This is our second year to grow field corn. Last year the weeds got absolutely out of control. I finally went in there with the lawnmower so I could get to the pole beans I had planted with it. This year I decided to take steps to try to keep it under control, i.e. to work smarter, not harder.

We have about half an acre designated for growing grain. (Master plan here). This is not just for us, but for animal feeds as well, because this is one of the goals we are working toward. One third of that half acre is still in the wheat we let go to seed. One third is corn, and the other third I planted in rows of cowpeas.

Traditional farming would use a farm tractor to both prepare the ground and then later cultivate between the rows to keep the weeds from getting too much of a head start. Trouble is, we don't have a farm tractor. Anything decent is way out of our price range, so we've had to make due with what we've got: a garden tiller and a gasoline push lawnmower.

Dan tilled the area for corn, which I've planted in sections, 4 rows at a time. That should be enough to ensure pollination, while making it easier for both planting and the harvest. I spaced the rows a lawnmower width apart.

In the middle third, I planted cowpeas

Ozark Razorback cowpeas harvested last year

We got a little smarter when it came time to plant the cowpeas and I asked Dan to only till the rows.

rows tilled for planting cowpeas
Ground tilled in rows and ready for planting. 

In between the rows of cowpeas I believe some wheat is coming up from shattered seed. Wheat plus weeds.

Cowpeas after mowing in between the rows

Almost looks like we know what we're doing, doesn't it. We could have made the rows closer together, because it takes at least two passes with the lawnmower to cut it. I'm considering letting the wheat grow once the cowpeas are established; an experiment with intercropping.

Neighbors on both sides and across the street all have farm tractors. I imagine I look a bit odd too them and get a chuckle out of that. I reflect too, on something I have found curious from comments on my blog. That is the tendency of a few, to assume that when one talks about homesteading, agrarianism, or the simple life, that one intends to totally abandon modern life in an attempt to return to some sort of primitive, backwards existence. For these folks, it appears to be "all or nothing." They cannot fathom a life that utilizes the best of both worlds.

Homesteaders get what I'm talking about. They understand that it isn't technology that is being rejected, but rather the complete and total dependency on it; the infatuation with it and inability to live without it. The simple life is not about doing nothing; it's about slowing down and being part of the basic process of living. It's not about acquiring the latest stuff, it's about acquiring a sense of purpose and freedom.

For the most part the corn looks pretty good. There are problems I will have to address however.

Problems with shade and soil fertility.

The growth rate difference is partly due to being planted at different times. The sparse soil though, is under a big pecan tree. Shade is one factor, but soil fertility is a bigger problem I think. That is something we must address.

As you can see, this is very much a live-&-learn experience with a lot of making-do thrown in for good measure. While I won't expect everything to be a "success," I know each year we will do a little better as we work toward our goal.