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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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

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Old Man Winter has made his first appearance.. Now to deal with meat processing and frozen water lines!

I don’t know why, but it seems that winter caught me by surprise again this year.  It is not like I didn’t know it was coming.  Living in the northern half of Minnesota, winter always comes!  It is just that there are still so many tasks to complete around the house and farm before the hard winter freeze sets in.  I just kept hoping for more time.  This week we hit temperatures close to 0 deg F (3 deg F this morning).  We also received a little snow.   Cold is one thing to deal with, then there is the unneeded and unwelcome time change.  It is completely dark out by 5:15PM and getting earlier by the day.  Cold and darkness makes many of the outdoor projects a bit more difficult or impossible to complete.

So the mad rush begins.  The first signs of winter’s approach were felt in the barn.  As the temperatures started to drop, the water lines in the barn began to freeze.  I had to dedicate a little time to winterize the water lines in the barn.  Our rabbit and cow water lines were the first to start freezing.  I closed the valves that supplied fresh water to those two systems and drained the water from them as best I could.  I plugged in the water line heat tape on our main barn water line.  We will now be manually filling animal waters until Spring arrives in March (optimistic, I know… probably more realistically in May) from a single barn spigot, assuming it remains thawed.  Chore time just got a bit longer.   With water troughs starting to freeze over, I also had to get all the water heaters plugged in 🙁

Last year we constantly fought freezing water in our rabbit hutches.  This year, we bought heated bottles.  To ease the power bill and to make them a bit more efficient, after installing on the hutches, I took a can of sprayfoam to them and completely covered the outsides with insulation.  Not pretty, but pretty functional.

This last weekend, I took some tools with me to the barn and enlarged the hole in the south wall that gave us access to the cow pasture.  I then installed the one remaining old door from our house in that opening in another attempt to help seal up the drafty barn for winter.  This door is used to access the cow/yak pasture to feed and water them.  This door, along with the one I installed a few weeks ago on the north side were both welcome additions to the barn.

With fall canning and garden harvest complete, I prepared the garden for spring (Note to self: the garlic still needs to get planted!!).   Besides the “no-till sheet-multched” areas of the garden, the rest is tilled and ready for spring planting.  The canning shelves are full.  The produce freezer is full!  Now, butcher time begins.  This last weekend I processed 8 meat rabbits.  Shelly made up a delicious Teriyaki rabbit/ rice meal with one of them.  The rest went to the meat freezer.  In a couple of weeks, I will have about 11 more ready for processing, then we will be wrapped up with rabbits until early Spring, with the exception of maintaining our breeders.

Don’t like the idea of eating rabbit?  How about fresh farm raised beef?  We sent our first cow off for processing and have now been enjoying some delicious beef!  After losing his mate, our steer was a bit lonely.  He spent much of his time after Daisy was butchered mooing and staring out where the butcher gutted and quartered the heifer.  It was kind of sad…  So, it was time to give him a companion again.  Cows do not like to be alone, especially our big baby steer.  I was able to cut an opening in the fence (some day I will own some proper gates) and coax our yak out of the goat pasture (which the goats are happy to have back) and into the cow pasture.  After a little head butting between the cow and yak, the yak claimed dominance.  They now seem to be best friends.  They graze together and play together quite frequently.  Yes, cows play together.  It is quite comical and fun to watch!

Besides beef and rabbit, we will also be putting away some venison, which is currently aging in the garage as I type this up.  We will be processing the deer ourselves.  In fact, I ordered a meat grinder (partially payed for with Bitcoin!) which will help us grind up a lot of the scraps as burger and will also come in handy when our next cow is ready to be processed next fall.

Besides harvesting firewood and completing the daily chores, most of the outdoor projects will be shelved until the Spring thaw.  This will help me dedicate more time to interior house remodeling projects!  The sooner the house is complete, the sooner we can get our home-study done for adoption!  Winter is definitely not all bad.  It should give us more time as a family to have a family game night.  Or, as took place this last week, plenty of evenings in the living room with me learning basic guitar chords, Stephen or Shelly playing the piano, and the rest of the family sitting around reading or playing.

-Jeremy

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5 Late Winter Homesteading Activities

You would think that things would slow down for us in the winter.  So far that has not been the case.  It may still be cold and white outside, but that does not mean there are a shortage of homesteading activities.  Here are five late winter activities we have been up to lately:

1) Incubating Chicks

As noted here, we just incubated our first batch of chicks.  So cute, but oh so stinky! Last weekend, we were able to get our brooder box in the barn prepared.  In the chicks went.  They are happy for the additional space and we are happy for the basement to return to its normal, un-stinky state.  I do kind of miss the chirping though.  Sometimes we think we hear a chirp from time to time, then quickly remember they are now in the barn.  We will start another run in the incubator in a couple of weeks, then more cuteness will commence.  These chicks should be laying by late summer.  The males will go to the freezer.

The chicks are not the only ones with more room to roam.  The chickens have been out and about the yard again, up to their old free-ranging antics.    They were terribly, err, chicken, and despised the snow covered ground.  Although we gave them the option to free-range all winter, then never took it, always staying inside the “safety” of barn.  Little to no evil snow in there!  Now that we have some clear spots in the yard after a few days of mild weather, they have been living it up.  Most of the lawn north of the barn is still covered in icy snow.  It is entertaining to watch the chickens tread carefully across the icy snow, trying hard not to fall as they leave the barn.  Once they clear the ice, they are off! Here is Mrs White, doing some early spring yard cleaning for us.

2) Maple Syrup

As you may know, we have been collecting maple syrup with this beautiful early spring-like weather.  Stephen helped me tap two more trees the other evening, just as it started snowing.  I even let him run the drill and mallet (what boy would turn down the chance at running a drill?).  Was fun to get out with him and spend some time in nature.   As it turns out, he has taken an interest in collecting sap, faithfully making his sap collection rounds every day (without being asked)!

There were many reasons we moved out of town; this was definitely one of them!

We started boiling down some of the sap into syrup on our temporary outdoor cinder block stove.  The stove is a work in progress (that was all of the blocks I could fit into my VW Jetta) but it is serving its purpose well.  With the latest cold spell, the sap has pretty much stopped flowing.  However, it looks like we may see highs above freezing this weekend which should help get it flowing again!

A quick tip here if you are boiling down sap yourself.  Use the buffet style steam pans (these are the ones we are using).  The more surface area, the better.  The stock pot pictured above was just put on the fire to thaw out the frozen sap.  Once thawed, we then transfer to the pans for evaporation.

3) Firewood Collection

Ah yes, firewood collection, one of the few upper body workouts I get (along with putting in fence posts and stacking bales :).  We spent a few hours outside over the weekend cutting firewood.  This is one of the best times of the year to cut.  Why?  No mosquitoes or ticks!!  The cooler weather also delays the inevitable sweating that seems to come hand in hand with a good wood cutting.  We have no shortage of dead or downed trees in our woods from several summer storms that came through over the last couple of years.

Self-sufficiency, energy independence, exercise, fresh air, and cleaning up the woods, cutting firewood covers a lot of ground and is a must for any homesteader in Minnesota.

Not to get too political, but to assure those who may see burning wood as harmful to the environment, I would like to state a few points. We practice responsible and sustainable forestry practices on our homestead.  We cut trees that are already down, damaged, or pose a potential hazard to life or property.  We return the ash to the woods.  We burn in a modern high-efficiency indoor stove.  Burning indoors allows the capture of more exhaust heat through the chimney that would otherwise be lost when burning in an outdoor boiler.  We plant more trees than we harvest.  We produce significantly less “pollution” than any DNR controlled or naturally occurring forest fire while at the same time reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.  Additionally, we are renovating our house in such a way that we will need to burn a minimal amount of wood to keep it warm.  This will also allow me to spend less time cutting and splitting wood every year. Win-win.

Wood is an amazingly and powerful renewable fuel, occurs naturally, and is easily manageable with minimal equipment expenses.

4) Continuing the House Remodel

When it is just too cold or too dark to want to work outside, there are always plenty of projects to tackle indoors.  We were able to get most of our dining room tin ceiling up this weekend!  Along with several other small projects, things are still moving along inside the house.

5) Preparing the Planters

Sunday night we managed to dig out and prepare our planters for seeds.  That pretty much involved grabbing the planters off a shelf in the garage and filling them with potting soil.  After buying 200 strawberry plants last year, we held onto the plant markers.  I printed out a bunch of labels and re-purposed those markers to match the plants we will be growing this year.  In addition to preparing the planters, we also installed two of our grow lights, with two more to go.  Our current plan is to plant some of the seed that requires a longer growing season this weekend.  The rest will go in the dirt mid-march.

-Jeremy

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Enjoying the little moments..

So today as I type this up, I am sitting outside, even though it is cold and there is a fresh blanket of snow on the ground.  But, the sun is shining. I am so thankful for these little moments. Even though some days are super hard, having a farm, remodeling a house, homeschooling, and just trying to carry on normal (whatever that is) in our home.  It seems we pull the house apart and once again we have to work to regain a little order.

The sweetest moments are when I can just sit back and see how far things have come. It is kind of like our lives.  It can be messy at times, but with some work, all things eventually fall into place and are turned into something beautiful.  That sums it up, making something beautiful out of our mess 🙂

Through all of the ups and downs, God has been so faithful through it all.  There always seems to be family or friends there to encourage us as we hit our lows. It just brings me so much joy!

This past week, the temps were perfect.  So it was a must, we had to do school outside! 🙂

While the older two were working on school, the little boys found some pine cones and mud.  It was the perfect day in their minds, playing trucks outside in the water.

As you can see, Andrei was very pumped.  Finally, no need for snow pants, a hat, or mittens!

Stephen and I worked on pulling some sticks out of the woods during break time to keep the furnace going. He loves spending time with his momma (and daddy) in the woods 🙂

And when it hits 50 degrees, this momma gets pretty excited to hang up whites on the line.  Even though we still have lots of snow, there is nothing better than fresh dried sheets!

Earlier this week I woke up to a foggy yet sunny morning.  It was one of those mornings that reminds me of how God’s mercies are new every morning! How each day we get to start anew, a fresh day ahead of us! It is truly a blessing to get to see his goodness in our lives, even in our mess! Life is too short, so we are trying to enjoy all of the moments. Through house demo and trying to maintain a peaceful home while teaching kiddos, I could not do it on my own.  I love the journey we are on and so happy to get to share it with you all. Until next time… – Shelly 🙂

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Thrown into the Fire (err, Ice)

So, at the time of this post, our current air temperature (not including wind chill) was -11 Deg F.  Wind chills last night reached the -25 to -30 deg F mark.  What a year to start a farm!

Most of the animals seem to be doing well with the harsh temps so far.  The cows and rabbits don’t seem to mind the cold.  The chickens are still afraid of the snow and look forward to the afternoon when we let them roam out of the coop and into the rest of the barn.  This works well as they seem to eat up much of the grain we drop during our regular feedings of the other animals.  The challenge with the chickens has been to regularly check for eggs, as if does not take long for them to freeze and crack in this weather.

The goats (Nubians) seem to be taking the cold weather the hardest.  They hesitate to leave their shelter and heat lamp, poor things.  We will put priority on installing clear greenhouse paneling for the south side of our barn next summer.  That paneling should allow the barn to warm up when the winter sun beats down.

Additionally, we have begun feeding the goats larger portions of grain twice a day to keep them fat (or fatten them up more).  Besides the increase in feed costs, the downside to this is that we need to also start giving them vitamin B injections so their digestive system can handle the additional grain.

A final point in regards to the animals, they drink much more water in the winter than in the summer.  I am sure this is due to the fact they are eating dry grains and hay, versus fresh lush grass in the pasture and yard.  Unfortunately, the barn water managed to freeze.  I will be reviewing that system next summer.  For the rest of this winter, it looks like we will be manually carrying water to the barn from our tub in the house 🙁

Looking forward, we may be adding another Nubian doe (possibly pregnant) to our herd between Christmas and New Years.  Additionally, we will be moving Daisy into the barn (hopefully this weekend).  So, it looks like I get to build some pens in the barn this weekend!  Highs are forecast to be around -5 deg F.  Thank goodness for long underwear, balaclavas, and overalls.

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Unpredictable Winter Weather Adventures

Last week it was a blizzard, this week rain and sleet.  Because of priority put on other projects this summer, I never had time to put up a proper cow shelter on the back of our barn:(  So late last night Shelly and I cleared out our kid-goat pen and led Blacky (our beef calf) indoors, out of the cold rain.

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By morning Blacky was dry and happy.  Once the weather improves later this week, we’ll let him back out into the pasture with Daisy.  This shows you can never have too many pens.  Looks like I will not only be adding a cow shelter next spring, but an extra pen or two in the main barn.

Besides adjusting our chore patterns for winter, we also adjusted our attire.  I made a quick stop to Fleet Farm and outfitted the family with matching insulated coveralls.  Oh, the things one gets excited about when you live on a farm!

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Winterizing our Barn Water System

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Although we have been spoiled with a beautiful fall this year in Minnesota, old man winter is bound to make his frosty appearance.  With an average January high temperature of 6 deg F, any pipes filled with water and exposed to the weather will freeze and crack.  A typical winter in our region of Minnesota will bring with it a solid 1-3 week period where the high temperature will fail to get above 0 deg F.  With this in mind, I spent a few hours over the weekend prepping our barn water system for the harsh Minnesota winter.

As everything at our homestead goes, projects happen in phases.  Phase 1 normally consists of getting the bare essentials in place.  This is the first, bare basics, step of preparing our barn water system for winter.  Additional steps will be taken to improve upon the system next year, expanding its easy of use and improving its energy efficiency.  Two areas I did not cover in this video include our chicken and rabbit watering systems.  A future video will cover solutions to these systems.

As always, if you have any comments, ideas, or questions, feel free to contact us on facebook or drop a message in the comments section below!

 

 

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Winter Preps and Baby Bunnies

“In Minnesota, there are two seasons, winter and preparing for winter.”

Now that I live on a farm, I can relate to this saying. It has been a busy fall, cleaning and winterizing the barn, tilling the garden, stacking bales, among many other things. If you are doing the homesteading thing too, I hope your winter preps are coming along smoothly!

Onto the, err.., meat of this post.   Our momma New Zealand had her first batch of babies!

First impressions:

  • Baby rabbits are kind of ugly.
  • Baby rabbits are born to hop.

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