Home Goat Invasion!!

-15 deg F this morning and the forecast isn’t looking too promising either.  Looks like these three chaps get to hang out in the house a bit longer!

We aren’t really the kind of family that enjoys indoor pets/animals.  When we first moved here, we tried raising our kitten as an indoor cat.  He hated it and wanted so badly to live outside.  We caved and outside he went.  So, besides allowing newly hatched ducks/chicks to adjust to their life outside a shell for a day or two, we don’t have any indoor pets.  Until this week.

Enel, Tata, Imin have joined our family, in the house, since the night of their birth (their mother refuses to care for them) last weekend.  Overall, they are pretty fun(ny) to have around.  While there is the occasional accident (from a loose diaper) that we get to clean up and the nibbling and nudging at your legs when they are hungry, I think it has been a memorable week for our children.

Maybe for the goats too!  This is the three of them, all piled up under the kitchen sink after I turned on the blender to make up a smoothie for breakfast!  Poor things were terrified..  No puddles though!

Not to mention the air compressor and miter saw I am using upstairs while trying to complete some more attic progress.  When I first started, they started maa’ing like little babies every time the compressor kicked in.

Then there is their favorite hangout spot next to one of our forced-air heat vents..  If they are quiet and out of site, that is probably where you’ll find them.

Unless, of course, they are sleeping by the heat vent in the kitchen…

-Jeremy

 

Continue Reading

Baby Goats (in diapers)!!

It has been an exhausting few days.  Last Saturday, Anna, our goat, gave birth to three kids.

This evening, Bella gave birth to two!  So far it looks like Bella will be an excellent mother!  Anna, not so much…

The first three were born to Anna.  This was her first freshening and it doesn’t seem that she really understood what just happened to her.  She left the new kids to fend for themselves, which has left us with the task of milking her and bottle feeding the babies.  The night of her birthing, we scrambled to get everything prepared in the barn and in the house.  Of course it was below zero (deg F) outside.  With Anna refusing to have anything to do with her three adorable kids, we brought them inside the house. After everything was in place, we finally made it back out to the barn at around 11PM to attempt milking Anna for the first time; first time for all three of us (Anna, Shelly, and myself).  After successfully extracting milk from Anna, we allowed the kids to stay up late so they could get in on bottle feeding the goaty kids.  Of coarse, they loved it.

We cleaned them up and set them up with a cozy tote to sleep in, but not before letting them play around on the kitchen floor for a bit.  If it was warmer outside, they would have remained in the barn, but we didn’t want to chance it.

It is pretty amazing how they are able to walk on day one!  Not only is it amazing, but it is also pretty cute!

Enel:  He looks just like his mother Anna.

Tata:  We are told he looks just like Bilbo’s sire.

Imin: He looks just like his father Bilbo.  He also looks like he is ready for bed!

After plenty of play time, we found a cozy tote for them to sleep in, in the basement for the night.  I think Shelly and I finally made it to bed around 1AM.

Today we had to dig out some diapers and let these kids run and play in between their sleeps.  Nothing more hilarious than watching a diaper wearing goat running around and playing with children, all while trying their best to stay upright!

I think next year will will do a better job at timing when we allow our buck to hang out with the ladies.  Right now, March/April goat babies sound really nice!

-Jeremy

 

Continue Reading

Buy chicken/duck/goat/cow/pig feed? Save BIG money!

If you are a homesteader maintaining a small farm with livestock like me, chances are you have or currently buy your feed in 50LB sacks.  For the last two years, we have.  When you add it all up, it can get a bit expensive!

Originally I was paying:

$6.99 for a 50LB bag of cracked corn at Fleet Farm  (link here)

$11.39 for a 50LB bag of oats at Fleet Farm (link here)

$10.95 for a 50LB bag of layer at Fleet Farm (link here)

In an effort to trim costs a few months in, I did a little bit of price shopping and found a local feed/pet food store that had a bit better pricing:

$6.50 for a 50LB bag of cracked corn

$7.00 for a 50LB bag of oats

$11.00 for a 50LB bag of layer (was 5 cents more, but I easily saved that in fuel)

I was content with the above prices until my brother stopped at a local feed mill with his pickup and had them bulk fill his pickup box with 1 ton of grain.  When I heard the price, I started brainstorming ways to get in on this big savings!  I arrived at the plan of purchasing an old gravity box, which can be found for sale in the $700-1000 range.  Problem was, we have some other major expenses we are saving for and there wasn’t really room for another one at the moment.  So it got put on the back burner, even though that purchase would practically pay for itself.

Then, my wife’s cousin let me in on a little secret.  Our local feed mill will fill totes (large pallet sized sacks).  They charge a refundable $30 for the tote.  A single tote can hold 1 ton of grain.  That is the equivalent to forty 50lb sacks.  So I called in my order, hooked up a trailer, and picked up my grain.  I used 5 gallon buckets to unload, literally a ton of grain from the sack, into 50 gallon drums.

So, you may be wondering what the pricing came out to.  They charge per pound, so I did the math for pricing per 50LB to make it easily comparable to the 50LB sacks:

$2.99 for 50LB of cracked corn

$4.35 for a 50LB of oats

$6.75 for a 50LB of layer

That is nearly a 50% savings across the board!!  If you have access to a trailer (or pickup box) and are currently buying your grain in 50LB sacks, you may want to reconsider!

So what does a ton of grain look like in my barn?  Well, after finding every spare storage container laying around in the barn and garage, it looks something like this:

Not to mention that all of our duck and chicken feeders are also full to the top!

– Jeremy

Continue Reading

Trees, Shrubs, and Bears.. Oh my!

A county tree order form and gummy bear molds…  How could they possibly relate to each other?  Hang with me for a minute..  (if you already figured it out, I think we would get along grand!)

It is that time of the year again, time to start planning out what plants we will be putting in the ground this Spring.  April is only a little over two months away… and this was us last April 12th:

That is right, we were planting trees!    Hard to image right now, looking outside and seeing snow covering the ground.

Spring came pretty early last year.  This year, we will be ready for the thaw, whether it comes in early April or late May.

When planning out our gardens, yard landscaping, and tree planting, I like there to be multiple purposes behind each choice of plant whenever possible.  Some choices and their resulting benefits are obvious, like apple trees are planted for their flowers, fruit, and firewood, blueberries as a natural hedge and obviously, their berries,…  Others, may not be so obvious, at least to the average suburbanite eye. For instance, this year we have some landscaping to do in our yard.  Naturally, we want it to look pleasant, but we also want it to be edible, both for ourselves, our animals, and the area wildlife (not to mention our honeybees).  We have ordered elderberry, juneberry, and several other varieties of plants that fit into our plans of transforming our yard into a food forest. Before choosing a plant, I first do a quick search online to see if we can eat it or if it has known medicinal uses.

There was nothing worse than being a kid and being told not to eat any berries or fruits growing around the yard or house.  That will not be the case on our homestead!  While most of what we plant can be eaten raw, we will take the time to educate our children on what can only be eaten after processing, like acorns and elderberries.

For trees, we will be adding a few more apple trees to our existing small orchard.  Who doesn’t like a good apple tree?  Last year we planted plenty of white oak, plum, cherry, and sugar maples.  This year, in addition to the apple trees, we are adding some pines and willows to provides some quick shelter and privacy.  We also purchased some walnuts for a great free source of protein in the distant future.

So here is where that county tree/shrub form comes into the story.  Contact your county soil and water district office before ordering your trees.  You may find you can save some significant money purchasing them through the county than you would through a nursery or big box store.  Most trees cost less than $1, purchased in bundles of 25.  If you are a homesteader or are into preparedness, why not pick out some edible variates when filling out the form.

So with the potential for so much fruit available, I latched onto an idea that was brought up by some fellow homesteaders on steemit.

Besides the common juices, wines, jellies, and such, how about making some gummy candies?  I love chewy candies but avoid purchasing them as I know they have no nutritional value.  So, how cool would it be to combine the homesteading activity of growing berries with the kitchen activity of making healthy gummies from fruit juices, collected right here at home.  So this year, I purchased some gummy bear molds as a family Christmas gift.

The possibilities are endless, from teas to strawberries, nothing will be safe from being transformed into cute little bears.

We will be sure to update you on any good recipes that come from our own, picked-fresh-from-the-homestead berries!

Have any good (edible) plant suggestions?  Have you stumbled across any good gummy recipes?  Let me know!

Happy tree, seed, and shrub planning!

-Jeremy

Continue Reading

Quack and a Haybailer

Last year came with some hard times.  There was that trip to the ER, forking up our savings for a new septic, and the loss of our unborn baby. But, for all the bad, the blessings most definitely outweighed the bad!  This year has been off to a good start and we are only a few days in!  While not groundbreaking, we have already added two new additions to our farmstead!

We welcome our newest addition to the barnyard, Quack the duck.  Can you spot her?  She sticks out from the crowd.

A childhood neighbor and friend (big brother?) of mine stopped out on New Years to drop off this little gal at our farm.  They have a flock of chickens and Quack was their only duck.  As anyone with ducks well knows, ducks are messy!  Quack was no different.  As we already have a dedicated duck coop, separate from chickens, we gladly took her in (we would probably take in any animal, except dogs/cats/horses).  She seems to have settled in here just fine with the rest of her new duck friends!

After two years here, I suppose it is about time to start building up our arsenal of farm equipment!  Naturally, I figured we would purchase a tractor first.  Like everything else around here, the expected and most logical path from the outside looking in was not the path we selected!  Go figure 😀

When a family member decided to sell his bailer, we decided to purchase it.  I kind of feel like a little boy getting that new farm toy at Christmas, only this one isn’t fitting under our tree.

So now we have a bailer, but no tractor (or haybine) 😀

No matter, our budget is giving us hints that obtaining a tractor should be possible this Spring and maybe a haybine later in the year.  We’ll see.  Right now I can slip that frozen stem of grass in my mouth, sit in the sub-zero degree garage, and dream of pulling this bailer behind my future tractor.  Okay, enough of that.  Time to head into the warm house and poly some wood floors!

It’s a good thing we burn wood and it’s like 80 degrees in here, or I’d be cringing at the money that would be escaping out this open window into the -22 deg F Minnesota night air.  We have had to keep some fresh air flowing through the house as we apply the finish on a few of our floors.

More on the floor progress and that composting toilet installation next week!

-Jeremy

Continue Reading

Walk with me as I take care of the winter morning barn chores…

Looking outside the ice covered window, I can see the glorious sun peaking up through the trees.  Looks like a beautiful morning!  A quick glance at the weather shows its a cold one.

Better head to the barn and check on the animals.

Time to suit up.  First the bibs, coat, balaclava, boots, and mittens.  Yes, mittens today, for sure.  Five minutes later, I am finally heading out the door.  The door knob turns a bit harder than usual.  A flood of fog simultaneously rushes into and out of the doorway as I open the door.

Our barn water line froze up somewhere in the ground between our house and the barn earlier this winter, so I head on over to the house spigot with two 5 gallon buckets.  Hey, it beats getting water from the bathroom tub like we had to do last winter!  Two buckets will be enough to top off the waters, as the animals should not have gone through too much water since yesterday’s evening chores.  The spigot turns hard.  Very hard.  Careful not to break it, I apply a bit more pressure.  Earlier this week, I had to use the hot air gun once to thaw it out, even though it is a frost-free spigot.  It begins to rotate!  Steaming hot ground water pours out, a good 40 degrees warm.  Both buckets get their turn under the spigot, making plenty of cracking sounds as they disagree with the extreme and sudden change of temperature.  While I wait for them to fill, the sun gleams through the smoke coming from our chimney.  Our house exterior covered in snow and ice.  Winter beauty?

The buckets are full and I head off to the barn.  The ground moans and complains under my boots.  Absolute stillness in the air makes every crunching step sound that much louder.  You know it is cold when you breath in and your nose starts to freeze shut.  The warm moist air from your breath rises from your mouth and condensates on your eyelashes, making the involuntary action of blinking voluntary, a fight to prevent your upper and lower lashes from freezing together.

I check on the chickens and rabbits in the barn. Chickens are good.  Rabbits get their food topped off.  Their waters are frozen solid, no surprise there.  A few whacks against the floor breaks all of the ice free from the crock so I can refill them with fresh liquid water.  All good on the water and feed front now!

The goats are enjoying some hay in the comfort of the barn, non to eager to step foot outside.  That barn window I installed this fall gives them plenty of light to soak in.  The compost on the floor is starting to amass.  This is a good thing for the goats (not so much for me this coming Spring).  As it sits on the floor and decays, it generates heat to keep the goats a little warmer through the winter.  We also apply generous amounts of straw, it almost looks cozy, if only they didn’t have that bad habit of always soiling their bed!

Only the cattle and ducks left to tend to.  I’m still warm.  Hope you are hanging in there.  There is sure to be some coffee, tea, or hot cocoa in the house once the chores are complete.

Looks like their water is frozen to0 🙁

Lets fix that with the ice chisel and top it off for them…  Here comes Yavanna the yak for some treats.  She looks like a natural in this cold, she’s even sporting a frosty white beard (I probably am by now too).

“I’m ready for my treats!”  Who could say no to those big eyes!

I toss a bale in their feeder and give them each some grain.

Last but not least, we better check on the ducks before heading in.

Like the yak, the cold doesn’t seem to phase them.  After all, is it ever to cold outside for a duck bath??

If I have extra water, here is where I like to run to the sledding hill and toss the extra out.  Would be a shame to let that water go to waste.  Worse still would be letting it sit in the bucket and allow it to freeze solid, leading to another cracked and useless bucket.

Time to run those buckets back to the house so they are ready for later, now it’s time to warm up!  Just watching those ducks in the water is making me cold!

-Jeremy

Continue Reading

Comprehensive Homesteader Winter Gear Guide

Baby it’s cold outside… baby you’ll freeze out there… Wait, no I won’t. In fact, we just finished shoveling our long driveway (by hand, although this should be the last year of that!), split a cord of wood, and did the farm chores. The wind was blowing, the temps are well below 0 deg F, the snow is falling, and I came in sweating.

Before I continue, a few quick points:

  • I was not paid to recommend any of this gear.
  • I was not given any of this gear to review, but purchased each item.
  • Being a lifetime resident of Minnesota (with the exception of a short stay for schooling in North Dakota), I have put many different pieces of winter gear to the test.  Each of these are items I personally use and trust.
  • Farm chores and homesteading chores are hard on clothing.
  • From winter fat-tire biking, ice fishing, to farm chores, I think this selection of winter gear will keep you toasty and will survive a beating that homesteading and farm living will throw at it.
  • While I do receive a small percentage off of any purchase made through Amazon using the links I provide, I do encourage you to shop local if you can and if the price difference is not out of line.  I personally have found the bibs listed below cheaper locally than on Amazon.

I hope this list helps you out as the frigid arctic weather settles in for the winter.  As is always recommended, layer up for maximum warmth.  You can always remove a layer if you start getting too warm!


Face/Head

Image Source: Amazon

Outdoor Research Ninjaclava Balaclava – I discovered this balaclava when looking for gear for my commute to the office, on bike, in the winter, in Minnesota.  This is my balaclava of choice for any outdoor cold weather work or recreation.  The beauty of the balaclava, you can wear it as a face mask,  hat, or neck warmer.


Hands

I have two go-to items here.  Which set I grab before leaving the house depends on the temperature and the task at hand. Quickly, two things I look for in a good winter work glove: proper insulation and leather exterior.  The leather serves two purposes, blocking wind and handling the harshness of the task at hand.

Image Source: Amazon

RefrigiWear Fleece Lined Insulated Leather Mitt Glove – These mittens are great for shoveling snow or splitting wood.  They also have a decent cuff to keep snow out. Unlike most socks and gloves, I found the sizing on these runs a little large.

 

Image Source: Amazon

Well Lamont Leather Winter Work Gloves – The classic winter work glove.  These provide good dexterity while still providing warmth.


Feet

Image Source: Amazon

DeFeet Woolie Boolie Lo Sock  – These are THE sock, summer or winter.  I love these wool socks!  I stumbled upon these when looking for the perfect cycling sock in all weather.  Summer heat, winter cold, and the wind and rain in between, these are the perfect sock.  They are a little on the expensive side, but they tend to outlast any cotton or polyester sock, hands-down.

 

Rocky Blizzard Boot- I have had these boots for almost 15 years now.  Great traction for pulling wood from the woods in the jet sled, cutting firewood, or fat biking through the snow.  They don’t sell the same model I have anymore, so you are on your own here to look for a suitable replacement.


Legs

Forget about your dad’s long (thermal) underwear!  With the popularity of winter running and cycling, we now have a decent selection of cold weather tights to choose from to use as our base layer. These are my favorite:

Image Source: Amazon

Baleaf Men’s Outdoor Thermal Cycling Running Tights – These are always used as my base layer when winter cycling.  They also work excellent as a base layer under jeans or slacks.  I have been really impressed at the quality of their build for their price point.

For the outer layer, I go with:

Image Source: Amazon

Carhartt Quilt Lined Zip To Thigh Bib Overalls – I picked up a pair of these and liked them so much, I bought a set for everyone in the family!  They are a farm/homesteader classic.

 


Abdomen

I have a really fancy $300+ North Face coat.  To be honest, my $50 Dickies keeps me just as warm, if not warmer.  I also don’t need to worry about ripping it while doing chores!

Image Source: Amazon

Dickies Men’s Sanded Duck Sherpa Lined Hooded Jacket

While the above recommendations won’t win you any fashion awards, you will stay toasty warm while tending to the animals or stacking firewood.  And trust me, the animals will be happy to see you no matter what you are wearing!


One more recommendation…..

Night Lighting

While you are at it, do yourself a favor and pick up a headlamp for those outdoor activities in the dark winter mornings/evenings.  My bike headlight doubles as a headlamp when attached to an inexpensive head strap.  For evening wood splitting, I also carry along my new favorite lantern:

Image Source: Amazon

Streamlight 44931 Siege 540 Lumen Ultra-Compact Work Lantern – This lantern is great.  It has an ingenious handle that allows it to hang from almost anything, including my jeans or Carhartt bibs pocket. My only complaint is this lantern takes “D” batteries, which I resolved by purchasing Eneloop D spacers for my Eneloop AA rechargeable batteries.

Do you have any suggestions?  Did I miss something?

-Jeremy

Continue Reading

A Yak Update

Inevitably, we have received a lot of questions pertaining to the acquisition of our first yak, Yavanna, this last year.  Typically, you would find yak grazing the Himalayan highlands or plateaus of Tibet, not the lakes country of Minnesota.

So, what would possess a person to buy a yak you might ask?  Don’t worry, it wouldn’t be the first time someone asked us that 😀

Here are some common questions that we are frequently asked when someone first finds out we have yak.

Why would you buy a Yak?

  • Milk – You can milk a yak. They supposedly yield about as much as a goat (we wouldn’t know, we don’t have a bull to breed our heifer, yet…) You can drink it straight up, make cheese, or do pretty much anything with it, like you would with cow milk.
  • Fiber – You can harvest their fiber, which is supposed to have a lot of the same attributes as cashmere or merino wool.  Super warm AND soft!
  • Meat – I have heard their meat is a lot like a mix between buffalo and beef, fairly lean. I wouldn’t know though, as I have never tasted it.
  • Long Life – A yak can typically live to around 30 years or so.
  • Efficient – They consume a lot less than traditional cattle. With that in mind though, they also take longer to fully mature. This is great for a small farmstead like ours.
  • They will defend against predators. We have wolves and coyotes, our yak will put them in their place. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APuua4Gci5U
  • They dance and hop, sort of like a goat! Pretty cute stuff!
  • They respect fences, sort of not like a goat!
  • They are winter hardy. Perfect for Minnesota!

  • They are parasite resistant.
  • They can be bred with traditional cattle: welcome to the world of dzo’s
  • They are easier on the vegetation than traditional cattle.
  • They look downright awesome!

Where did you find your Yak?

Online of course, https://www.yakzz.com/ to be precise! I found a farm in SE Minnesota, near the Twin Cities that was selling a few yak. In the process, I have found two other Yak farmers within a few hours drive from our farm. Who knew!

Do yaks and cows get along?

Did you whisper sweet nothings in your significant other’s ears when you first met?

When we first got our yak, she was pretty wound up after being moved to a new environment. Rightly so. I would not step foot in her pasture for fear I would either end up dead or in the hospital. As we have had her around for a while now, I wouldn’t want to part with her. While I still have some work to do so I can attempt to shear her this Spring, she has warmed up to me a lot. I enter her pen now, nearly daily, with respect, but no longer with fear. When we first got her she charged down and killed one of our ducks. Now she could care less about the ducks and chickens marching past her. She is now just part of the farm.

An additional fact: Yaks do not “moo” like a cow, but rather grunt, almost like a pig, only less squeally and less often!

-Jeremy

P.S. If you have time, please take a minute to follow us on Steemit, the social platform that, unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, actually pays YOU to vote, post, create, and curate content.  At this moment, one Steem Dollar is worth about $12USD.  There is no better time to get started than NOW!

Continue Reading

Re-Using Old Feed Bags

We are still on the hunt for an affordable gravity box (wagon) to allow us to purchase our feed in bulk and save lots of $$$ (so if you know of anyone willing to part with their un-used gravity box in central Minnesota for cheap, let us know!!).  But, for the interim, we purchase 50LB bags of feed from our local mill.  Between our chickens, ducks, yak, cow, goats, and rabbits, the feed bags pile up fairly quickly if left in the barn.  Here are a few ways we put those feed bags to use.

#1: Christmas Present Wrapping Paper

Yes, we are frugal when it comes to wrapping presents!  Why spend lots of unneeded money on wrapping paper and gift bags when you have these feed bags laying around.  The wrapping just gets thrown out and tossed aside anyways.  Besides, we live on a farm, so presents wrapped in feed bags are sort of fitting.

#2: Sheet Mulching

I like to use our paper feed bags (and cardboard boxes) for sheet mulching in my attempt to keep the weeds at bay, the soil damp, and soil biology active.

#3:  Re-usable grocery bags

I stole this idea from my brother and sis-in-law: turn those old feed bags into re-usable grocery bags.  Need instructions, here ya go: http://www.instructables.com/id/Feed-Bag-Tote-Bag/

#4: Starting the Wood Stove

Our house’s primary heat source is wood.  Besides the free Saturday ads/paper, the feed bags are a perfect source of kindling to get that fire going.

What do you do with your old feed bags? What awesome ideas have I missed!?

-Jeremy

Continue Reading

Cleaning out the Hayloft

Last summer we put a new roof on the barn.  Next, we will be adding some reinforcements and making some hayloft floor repairs, but first, what to do with all of this old straw??

Piles of dusty old loose straw…  Excluding some fresh straw bales we have stored up there, there is anywhere from 1-5 feet of half rotted straw, half rotted, because before I put on the new roof, the straw sponged up all that rain water that the leaky roof couldn’t properly shed.

Pitchforks in hand, we started the dusty removal process.  Previous owners removed most of the beautiful old barn siding, so, getting the straw out of the barn wasn’t a big issue.

After a few hours of work, we cleared out about 1/6 of the hayloft.  This is going to take a while!

Now, the question is what to do with all of this straw….

The kids found a good short term use!

The chickens also enjoyed searching for their own buried treasures amongst the pile. You could say they had a “hay-day” (sorry, could resist!).

But that really doesn’t solve the problem.  What can we do with all of this straw?

We started moving the intact slabs out to use as part of our sheet mulch in the garden.  But, there is no doubt we will have more than enough to cover the entire garden.

As most of the straw is loose and half rotten, I don’t want to save it for our animals (we have plenty of solid bales to cover their bedding needs for years).

Another thought has been to manually spread it out across our pastures as fertilizer.  The pastures are within close proximity to the barn.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the equipment to spread it out over our hay field just yet, so their goes that idea.

So, besides what I mentioned, can you think of any other good uses for piles of old straw?

-Jeremy

P.S.  You know who to contact if you get a hankering for some good old fashioned straw throwing fun!

Continue Reading
1 2 3 7