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

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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

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The Harvest is On, and so is the Roof!

With the days getting shorter and lows are already in the 40’s.   I’m left thinking, where did summer go?  I know I am not alone.  This summer has been busy, both at home and at work.

Here’s a quick recap of the goings on here at our little farm.

A few weeks ago, our kitchen counters looked like this:

Now substitute the zucchinis above with canning jars, tomatoes, and apples.  That gives you a pretty good idea of what it looks like now!  Harvest season is here!

Last weekend we processed some of our ducks and one of our troublesome roosters.  We now have less drakes than hens and the hens no doubt would tell us thank you if they could talk.  We are currently at 9 hens and 2 drakes, versus 9 hens and 11 drakes…

This weekend involved a little less gore and a lot more cores.  Apples!

We have one mature tree that produced very well this year (and lots of little ones that will start producing in a couple of years).  With our family of six, we were able to completely pick it clean.   All of the scraps and bad apples were sent straightaway to the goats and chickens.   We turned the harvested apples into apple sauce using our food mill and the rest went through the peeler to be frozen for pies, crisps, and apfelpfannkuchen.  The weather this August has been amazing, so we did most of our apple processing outside on our stainless table.  Besides the occasional bee, this was a nice way to keep the stickiness outside of the house.

You can’t make apfelpfannkuchen without eggs.  Our last batch of chicks for the summer have begun to hatch this weekend.  It was a small late summer test batch.

Do you smell something?  We do.  That would be Bilbo our buck.  Last year he was a bit too young to share with us the joys of owning a male goat in the late summer.  This year he isn’t holding back.  Stinky?  Check.  Acting strange?  Check.  “Happy to see us”?  ..ahem..  Check.  The rut has begun.

Speaking of Bilbo.  Last week, our little buck was not feeling too well.  He must have ate something that didn’t sit well with his gut and he came down with bloat.  Bloat can be deadly in goats, so we immediately began treating him after we noticed his large stomach and loss of energy.  First came the oil syringe, some red cell, and then we followed up with a shot of Vitamin B.  After treating with oil and red cell for two days, he came though and is back to his normal self, sans the aforementioned effects of a buck entering rut.

We can’t forget about the house roofing project we have underway.  I cleared some branches that were hanging over our house so I could work on the roof with a little bit of headroom.  Stephen treated the goats to the freshly cut foliage.

With harvest season upon us, we did still manage to wrap up the house roof.  Fascia and soffit still in progress…

-Jeremy

 

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Re-adjusting the Duck Coop

There is no denying it, ducks are entertaining and cute little buggers.  What they leave behind…. not so much!  Earlier this year, we added a flock of ducks to our farm.  They are known for their excellent egg production and silly duck antics.  Going into ducks, I assumed their handling would be fairly similar to that of a chicken.  Well, as it turns out, that was sort of correct, sort of.

There are several differences and I won’t get into them all now, but the big one is that they make a big mess in their coop.  Sure, chickens make a mess, but ducks redefine the term “mess”.  Since they are technically waterfowl, well, they love water.   They need water.  Water is good for them.  The problem, they take and splash water everywhere, making their coop into one large sloppy wet pile of nastiness.  Their poo is wetter than a chicken’s, which adds to the problems.  Their coop quickly turned into an uncontrollable sloppy wet mess.  If this was allowed to continue, come winter, I would have a nightmare on my hands!!

There are several common solutions to keeping ducks, but many of them require grated flooring with a sloping sub-floor.  That would be cost prohibitive at our scale.  Back to the drawing board…

Oh, and did I mention that ducks have terrible table manners?  Sometimes it seems they waste more food than they actually eat.  For example, refer to, Exhibit A:

Figure 1: Exhibit A.

As you can see, that is a lot of feed getting wasted there.  Feed equals money.  Solution?  Well, I can thank some duck farmer from India on Youtube for this excellent idea, with my own little improvisation.

The idea, put a larger dish around the feeder and waterer to collect the wasted water and feed.  Every so often, empty out the water dish.   Take the collected feed and refill the feeder with it so it doesn’t go to waste.  Give both of the dishes a good spray-down and place them back under the waterer and feeder.  Simple!  Brilliant! Ddhanyavaad Indian duck farmer!!

Now to the next problem, finding something large enough that would hold the feeder and water can.  Also, it would need to be short enough so the ducks can still access the food and water.  After searching around our place, I came up empty handed.  I stopped at a fleet store to pick up pasture fencing (for another project) and could not find anything there that would just work.  Sure, they had larger rubber feed dishes, but the larger ones were sized in an oval shape, I need symmetry!  They were also $30-40 each.  Hmm…

After loading up the fencing, I went to our not-so-local big-box home improvement store to pick up some barn steel and other misc items.  While there I looked over the plastic storage container section.  No luck..  Everything was too tall.  All of the shallow ones looked either cheap or were too big or too small.  Starting to feel like Goldilocks!  I moved on to the garden center, maybe a small pond liner or something would stick out.  Ahh, there it was, the barrel planter.  The what?  Yeah, I guess they make a planter that fits into a large wooden barrel.   Think 1600’s ship travel, 1800’s wagon travel, or prohibition crackdown type old school food/liquid storage wooden barrels.  This thing was made to fit in the top of one of those so you can plant your flowers and such in your barrel, at least that is what the label advertised its use for.  I had no idea there was a market for such a thing.  Anyways, it felt solid, was made to hold water, short enough for a duck to get in and out of, and would fit the feeders perfectly.  They were only $9/each.  Perfect, I’ll take two please!

Here’s what they look like with the feeders contained inside.  This should fit the bill!

After cleaning out the coop and laying down fresh straw, I moved the feeders back in.  The ducks took to them instantly (my ducks are a bit camera shy).  After checking in on them after a day or two, I think I found the solution to the worst of the duck coop problems I was having!  Poo/dirty stray will still need to be removed manually, but so far the straw is staying fresher for more than a week at a time now (compared to several hours or a day maximum)!

Do you have ducks?  What solutions have you come up with for your messy little friends?

-Jeremy

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Time Out in the Woods

Spring.  Mosquito free, comfortable temperatures, low humidity, the perfect trifecta of great outdoor family time.

First up, painting bee hives!  Last weekend, between Easter family gatherings with both sides, we finished assembling and painting our bee hives.  We are officially ready for the bees to arrive in two weeks!  Starting to get excited!!

I managed to sneak in one more small project over Easter weekend, cutting and installing crown molding in our bedroom.  In addition to the crown molding, we also officially put in the order for our bedroom, living room, and kitchen windows (and maybe some red steel for the barn walls)!  Bring on the natural light!  They all come with a three week lead time, so only a bit more patience required.

This week, we also started tackling some landscaping in the evenings.  Goodbye rock-beds, hello deep layered mulch.  Lets face it, kids and rocks don’t mix.  Lawnmowers+windows and rocks don’t mix.  Mulch retains soil moisture and decays over time, further enriching the soil.  Mulch will require layering additional mulch over the old layer each year, but in my opinion, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Additionally, once we get the initial layer of mulch built up, we can maintain it in the future with free wood chips, pine needles, and grass clippings.

We planted several perennials purchased from area growers.  We are also growing some of our own from seed to transplant once it warms up a bit.  We have chosen several heirloom flowering varieties of perennials that our bees should love, along with useful varieties that are edible or medicinal like comfrey, rhubarb, and spearmint.  Our goal is to not only have a yard that is easy to look at, but to also serve a dual purpose as a food garden.

The past few weeks have been extremely busy at work, slowing progress a little at home.  I have been in the middle of several larger projects at work, bringing me to a total of 79 hours on the clock this past week.  Generally, I hate working this many hours as I feel it takes too much time away from my family, but we are doing our best to manage right now.

One of my engineering professors once said and bears repeating, “make sure you work to live, not live to work”.  He passed away a few years ago from cancer.  He no doubt made an impact on me and in turn, my family.  I am still trying to figure out exactly how to manage time at work and time spent at home.  They both are constantly at odds with each other and balancing the two can seem ever so elusive.  I’ll be the first to admit, I still haven’t figured this one out yet, but I am trying..  I do know that when I am on my deathbed, those moments spent at work will feel like time poorly spent and those moments with my family, precious and too few and far between.  This balancing act is never easy and I am sure many of you can relate.

With this in mind, we try to do many projects around our farm with the whole family involved.  This weekend (between work) was no exception.

Time for a family wood cutting day.  The whole family was involved and smore’s were the treat for a job well done.  The kids worked amazingly hard.  Stephen found the wheelbarrow and the younger kids filled the wagon, many times over, without complaint.  Shelly ran loads back and forth with the lawn tractor and trailer while I ran the chainsaw.

Three takeaways became evident during and after cutting wood.  Cutting wood for a day and several evenings in a row really wears a person out. The second, we have a lot of dead and fallen trees in our woods (we are only harvesting dead trees).  Hopefully after clearing out some of the dead, it will give the smaller saplings a better chance at thriving.  Third, I have no doubt one of the previous owners treated the woods as their own personal landfill.  Bag by bag, we are getting the trash picked up.  What a mess!

Several cords of wood put away with much more cut and waiting to be carried out, and even more left to cut…  We’ll get there!  There is no doubt our house will be warm for the next few winters!  Think of your winter heat bill, now multiply that by 2 or 3.  That is what we plan on saving over the next few years by cutting and stacking this wood.  This is not only a cheap and natural source of heat, but also insurance against the occasional winter power outage.

I’ll leave you with a shot of our ducks, doing what they do best.  We received an inch or two of rain this past week and they have been living it up.  It didn’t take them long to find the big puddle on our driveway!

-Jeremy

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Spring has arrived! So have more projects :P

Last week, we were on a mission to complete our bedroom (sans windows).  How did that go?  Well, the weather sabotaged our plans, but I won’t complain!

April arrived and Spring weather has set in!   This weekend was amazing with highs in the low to mid 50’s.  The natural cabin fever cure has arrived and over the weekend and we tried to enjoy every bit of it we could.  Back to the bedroom, we did manage to stay indoors long enough to get the door frame built and installed.  We also hung the door after sanding it down outside.  Shelly put that last clear coat on the bedroom tin ceiling.  We took advantage of the dark evenings to move our furniture over to our new room.  While we have trim and a closet door to deal with, we are happy to be moved in!!

One doorway, almost complete…  Still missing the door jambs 🙁  The door also needs some poly.

As you can see, or rather cannot see, the crown has not been installed by our in-house carpenter yet..  What you can see is the space we gained, about 1.5 ft after moving a wall.

Then we were off to the great outdoors.

We have been taking advantage of the early Spring, insect free evenings and weekends to get a head start on some outdoor projects.  If you yourself have a homestead or farm, it goes without saying that Spring may just be the busiest times of the year (or is it fall?,  hmm, the verdict may still be out).

I started by attempting to drive in the posts for the new goat pasture.  Let’s just say that didn’t go very well.  Each post made it about 1-2 inches in before hitting the frost line.  Okay, I’ll wait a week and try later.

We expanded out our garden by about 820 sq ft this year, this will bring our garden to over 3,000 sq ft.  Oh, what fun it is breaking new ground (without a tractor) for a garden.  Okay, it was kind of fun in a strange and punishing sort of way.  Thankfully, our garden gets lots of sun, so the frost was not an issue here.  The goats enjoyed it even more than I did as I threw all of the weeds and grass over the fence to them as I cleared the ground before breaking.   We will need to adjust some fencing to include the new ground to keep the chickens and deer out of the garden, but at least it is ready for plants once Summer get a bit closer.

The plants seem to be doing really well in our little indoor grow room.  We put in the last of the seed (besides the direct-sow varieties) in our planters this weekend, which is already coming up!  The peppers, herbs, and flower we put in a couple weeks back are doing great.

Some other side projects included a new duck/chicken coop door, more firewood cutting, mulching around the fruit trees, and lots of trash pickup (I am pretty sure the last property owners just tossed out the trash to the wind).

I’ll leave you with a shot of our “baby” ducks and chickens.  They are already getting so big; thankfully, little chicks will be hatching this weekend and we will get to experience some more farm babies!

-Jeremy

 

 

 

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Farm Babies

It is that time of the year again, spring is in the air, okay, not really.  It is actually snowing out right now, yeah, but it will be here soon, right?!

We are starting to see some signs of spring in the form of farm babies.  Here is a quick rundown of the new life on our farm so far, with more to come!

Our momma rabbit had her first litter of kits for the year!  They are about three weeks old and are getting a nice thick coat of white fluffy fur.

Our cat Maggie just had a litter of four healthy kittens (two of them look like their father!).  These little kittens will be available for adoption later this spring.

Bella the goat is getting closer, but still no babies 🙁  Crossing our fingers it will be soon!

Next batch of baby chicks are in the incubator….

Our ducklings have been introduced to our first batch of chicks in the barn and seem to be thriving!

The chicks and ducks seem to have adjusted quickly together, as you can see!

-Jeremy

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Baby ducks!!

We welcomed 20 Khaki Campbell ducks to our farm on Thursday evening.  They are adorable and extremely busy little creatures!

They arrived just as Thursday nights lows hit -9 below zero (Deg F), so we setup a temporary pen in an over-sized tote in the house for them to hang out in for the next few days.  The cold weather might just be an excuse though, as they are so adorable that even if it was warm out, they would probably still remain in the house for a few days!!

We plan to have some limited duck egg production by late summer.  Duck eggs are higher in protein and omega-3 fatty acids than their chicken counterparts.  Duck eggs are also typically larger in size.  Each female should produce, on average, around 300 eggs a year!

In addition to the eggs, we will continue to enjoy watching their silly duck behaviors, especially come duck bath time.  They will be a welcome addition to our homestead.

Now, to find some decently priced yak and patiently wait for the arrival of our bees this spring 😀

-Jeremy

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