The Chicken Profiler – Polish

Welcome back to our series “The Chicken Profiler”!

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted one of these blogs – far too long really.

When the bobcat came in and killed most of our flock, I lost a lot of motivation to even talk about them. It was really hard for me to focus on chicken breeds that were gone from my flock – but a couple years have gone by now & while I still feel the sadness and loss of those gone, I can also get back to business as usual.

Chickens. Chicken history, chicken facts, lore, info etc… and today we’re going to dive into one of my favorite breeds : Polish. Aka Poland, Paduan or simply Tophats.

I will admit – for my first foray back into this series, I chose a type that I currently have in my flock.

And let me tell you why-

Elvira and Buttercup are straight up majestically floofy goofballs. They lay medium sized white eggs on the regular, are good foragers, don’t go broody on me (here’s lookin’ at you Bee Bee). Plus, they are docile enough to be picked up for flock health and top hat trims (more on that later).

I happen to love my polish chickens: they have a quirky look to them, that just can’t be denied. Their crest is easily one of the most identifiable features to a polish, but I find their general form and body shape to just be very graceful. They remind me a bit of a road runner, and boy they are fast. They also, in my experience, can jump very high, especially when startled, which happens often, once again due to their “topknot”.

Polish hens and roosters are easily recognized by their flashy “tophat” that is a creation of the fluffy halo of feathers that poof from every direction. But these extreme feathers also create a vulnerability- they are more prone to be a victim of predation or even just bullying by other hens because they are less likely to see it coming.

So now- a bit about Polish Crest Care. With buttercup, her feathers are fairly up right, so we don’t have to do anything to help her see. Elvira however, gets a fringe trim after every molt or else all the chickens beat up on her. As it is, she’s more a friar then an Elvira… and its just because her feathers grow at all different angles and hang down in her eyes, pretty much cutting off half her vision. So, out come the safety scissors, and I chop a good inch or so worth of feathers completely off. She’s never HAPPY per say, but I like to think she’s grateful in her own way. She lets me do it without a fight, which is more then I can say about most chicken chores.

An interesting tidbit about Polish hens is that they are not from Poland! Their origins are rather mysterious & kinda lost to time. They first appeared on trade routes from Spain to Holland, with possible ancestry from Asia (but lets be honest, most fowl have some sort of ties to Asia). They were popular with the Dutch, and later the French, including the monarchy, with these countries being instrumental in making them a popular production breed of the mid-1800’s.

Recognized breed colors are Black, Buff/Gold, Silver & white – both solid and laced. They also have a black with white crest and a white with black crest. There is also a Tolbunt, not recognized by the APA but I’ve seen it & it is a beautiful mixture of browns, black and white.

They also can come Frizzle, Bearded or regular. With such an amazing array of looks, you could have a whole flock of polish and no two would look the same!

They even have an unusual V comb that matches their red waddles- but its typically hidden in the jungle of feathers. They also have stark white earlobes, which I always found just darling.

The hens average weights between 4-5.5 lbs and the roosters average slightly larger, with their weights averaging between 4.5 – 6.5 lbs. There are bantam varieties available, and obviously they are about 1/2 the size of the regular ones, weighing between 2-3 lbs.

Now some lore –

People say to not let polish hens free range by themselves as they will easily get lost.

The name Polish is thought to be in reference to the feather capped typically worn by old timey Polish soliders. Even this is up for argument – some say the name is simply derived from the old dutch word “pol” meaning large head.

According to legend, when the King of Poland was unseated in 1736, he apparently smuggled his favorite crested chickens with him to his new home in France, helping to spread them beyond the Netherlands.

They are currently listed on the “watch” list for the American livestock breed association – so if you’re considering adding these delightful beauties to your flock, I would do so post haste.

Until next time, Have a wicked good day!

Organization Tips from a Homesteader Mom with way too much stuff.

There is a lot to be said about organization as a tool of the trade – jobs take less time, create less stress. A neat work environment leads to more work accomplished. An organized homestead is a productive and fruitful one.

As active “Hoardsteaders*”, we have a dozen or more projects going at any given time – along with the kids and the mess they create, it comes in handy to keep things as consistent as possible.

*Hoardsteader- a person who hoards materials for every single possible planned or surprise project that may or may not happen in the next ten years. Preferably free stuff that you salvaged from tear downs, road sides & such.
Example: we have accumulated well over 2 dozen free windows over the years. We used like 7 to build our greenhouse addition and still have a whole bunch to build our next greenhouse with. ALL FOR FREE and the effort to stack them nicely, safely and out of the way for a few years, until we can use them.

With that in mind – behold! My top tips for keeping your area organized and useful.

Give your things a place to live- this can be a special box on specific shelf or a certain drawer. The point is, assess why you use that thing, put it in the most ideal location to facilitate its use and make it at home there. This leads directly to my next tip – because sometimes the ideal location isn’t the most visible….

Get yourself a label maker &label EVERYTHING( within reason. I’m not some sort of maniac here)I don’t relabel things, but I do put labels on anything that I can’t look at and instantly identify. I have a lot of little craft drawers – it helps immensely when my husband is looking for scissors and I can just say “go to the scissor drawer”. I may know instinctively where they are, but it helps keep everyone else on the same page.

Put things away after done using them – this is a really big deal. Don’t let the idea of “not enough time” be your enemy. If you make an effort to put things away and you are done using them, it takes seconds to pick up after yourself, in short bursts, instead of one long day once in a great while. I had a friend that told me once “no one else is going to, so might as well just get it done” and that is pretty much my default. No one else is going to clean up after me…. no one else should be expected to. If you have to, just try to put things away consistently – and do this 85% of the time! No ones perfect, that’s why you have spring cleaning- but if you make an effort to do it most of the time, eventually you’ll see yourself doing it reflexively.

Don’t give up! – from thanksgiving to Christmas is a hard time for me Order wise- everything just gets thrown into the spare room to be dealt with “after the holidays”. And that’s ok too- too often we fall into this perfection trap, end up effing up, feel this insanely irrational guilt and then slog into the cycle again. Give up the guilt. Shake it the eff off.

Let it Go – The best thing you can do for  yourself, is go thru and get rid of stuff you don’t use, or enjoy, or benefit from. And do this a couple times a year. At this point, with the kids growing out of clothes and toys so quickly, we’re doing 2 – 3 time a year donation hauls. If we didn’t, we’d be literally drowning in stuff. The stuff of nightmares, to me personally.

With that, I’d like to open up the comment section-

Are you stuggling with keeping organized?

Are you a buff that has some additional tips to impart on the rest of us?

Either way- I’m excited to hear from you all-

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

The Cost of: Raising Chickens for Eggs

Hey Folks! Its Time for another installment of “The Cost Of:” series.

Today’s topic- egg laying hens.

Ive been working on this blog for awhile- its a lot of variables involved and it is NOT exact. Everything differs by region and personal reality.

BUT with the uptick in popularity of all things homestead – especially chickens – I figured now would be as good a time as any to finally publish.


We are in our 7th year of raising our own birds for eggs. We’ve invested a lot of both time and money into our birds, and I’ll forewarn you, this is another long blog with a lot of variable costs.

Here’s a look at the potential cost for those of you looking to start your own flock.

Shelter-

We built our own chicken coop. We chose to build a 8×4 foot floor plan, with enough head room to stand to make cleaning easier. We insulated the floor with a single sheet of blue foam insulation. We also installed two (homemade) human sized doors, one chicken door and a single old window. The roofing is second hand tin, and we also used second hand vinyl siding for weather proofing. The walls are made of a single sheet of plywood, the floor is two sheets to encapsulate the insulation. We used 2×3 boards for framing the whole deal up. Even with our thrifty ways and use our “hoardsteading” we spent $400 on the brand new material. If we had to purchase everything it would have cost closer to $650. This coop was fine for 18 or so year round residents.

Now,you can buy a prefab coop for less money and work, but it won’t be as large, customizable or sturdy as one you build yourself.

We’ve seen people spend upwards of $300 dollars for a coop to fit 6 hens. And the coop and run system were fine for say, the south where temps don’t fall to -35 with wind gusts of 40mph and snow loads up to a foot deep, that translates into a huge weight load on a thin roof.

Please shelter your birds accordingly for your climate, people.

Total Cost: $400

Fencing –

We have spent a lot of money on fencing over the years. The first chicken fence we put up was with chicken wire left over from another project. This didn’t even last the first summer, as we had predator problems (with no losses but STILL) and then one of our orpingtons ripped the hell out of her comb, leading to a permanent flop. So that was a waste of effort, as we immediately went to the nearest farm store and bought a 100 foot roll of 5 foot hardwire cloth fencing and the appropriate poles to set it with. That fence lasted until we moved the girls in with the alpacas in the fall of 2017. We’ve spent a lot more in fencing since then. So, take my advice and buy the good stuff from the get go.

But for a decent run, a hundred foot roll of fence, some t posts and a good bird netting for the top will generally run you about $150 so that is the cost estimate we will go with.

Total Cost: $150 

Chicks & Raising them

We really like the idea of ordering thru hatcheries and having them mailed to us. We can choose from a large variety, have them sexed pretty reliably and they are fairly cost effective, especially if you can find places that offer free shipping. Depending on breed, you can pay anywhere from $2.50 to upwards of $100 or more for rare birds of show quality. We stick to the heritage breeds for egg laying that go from around $3.50 to $6 chick, and we always pay the little bit extra for sexing, because we already have a rooster thankyouverymuch. Most of these places will only ship 15 or more birds, for their health and safety. So for just chicks you are looking at spending around $40 to $60.

We’ve ordered all our meat birds successfully thru the mail- the eggs layers….. not so much. We’ve only had one arrival where ANY survived. The other 3 times we’ve ordered, they’ve been DOA.

For this reason, we tend to pick up from farm stores. We like just picking them up from a farm store – its  a lot cheaper and you can get reliable breeds as long as you don’t mind less choice. This can be as low as 6 chicks for $25. Sometimes even lower if they’re not selling well that week. Once we went into the TSC and they had 3 week old chicks for a buck each. I doubt that happens this year really, but it does happen.

PLUS they tend to be heartier as the weak ones already either passed or got better.

As with every multiple choice situation, there are pros and cons to each side- you just have to decide what works best for you.

To raise them, you will need a brooder. More on that here.

But a quick overview-

  • feeder
  • Chick crumbles
  • Chick grit if you plan on any treats
  • waterer
  • shavings
  • paper towels
  • Heat lamp with red bulb or a chick warmer
  • Thermometer
  • Brooder box
  • We’ve had good luck with red bulbs, but this year I was able to snag a brinsea chick warmer on extreme clearance at TSC(yea!).

For a starter flock and brooder setup for a clutch of 6-8 chicks we will put this cost estimate at $150. Thankfully, most of the more expensive of the supplies have a several year lifespan, but you will need to replace your heating bulbs every year.

Total – $150

First Aid Kit Supplies-

I have an entire blog outlining what I believe chicken tenders should keep on hand just in case of emergency. These are of course suggestions- we live 45 miles from the nearest city so we have to keep a lot on hand in case of emergencies. But at the very minimum you should have the ability to clean up & treat superficial wounds and stuff like heat stress. It’s a part of being a good chicken tender.

Total– $100

Feed/water

An adult chicken needs approximately 3/4 cup of food per day, can have up to 10% of its diet in treats and needs upwards of 2 cups of water per day.

18 adult chickens go thru about 1 – 50lb bag of feed every two weeks – more in the winter, less in the summer when they can better forage. For the benefit of this blog, instead of adding in the reoccurring cost of feed, I will keep it to just the one time cost of feeders.

For our flock, we always have food supplied through out the entire day in a big bowl that cost 9 or 10 bucks.

We also have 4 – 6 different water stations that we keep fresh every single day, especially in the summer. You’ll want to skip the cheap water fountains and go straight to the heavier duty ones. I know the price tag can be daunting ($25 for a waterer whaaaaaaaa?) but you’ll spend more if you keep buying cheap and having to replace every year or so.

So, in conclusion, set aside an additional $50 for good feed and water dishes for your ADULT chickens. They will destroy anything designed for chicks anyway.

Total: $50

Miscellaneous Supplies

oyster shells, grit, straw for nesting boxes… These are kind of like food and are reoccurring costs.

Just know, the more chickens you buy, the steeper these costs will run.

This list could really go on for as long as I could keep talking about chickens, which is an uncomfortably (for others) long time.

In Conclusion:

In order to start an egg laying operation in your backyard, even for a smallish flock (4-6 birds) will run you an initial investment of $650 or MORE. All before you ever get a single egg.

Have people done it for less? Sure.

But are they possibly taking shortcuts that may cost them more down the line? Like a cheap fence, that offers no predator protection? or a scrap food diet that doesn’t give the birds the nutrition they need & so they have slowed production?

I don’t write these things lightly- I believe that everyone should have access to affordable, fresh eggs, but not at the expense of the chicken’s health or wellbeing. Call me a treehuggin hippie or whatever, but I’ll just triple down.

Also, as a last bit of advice, if you are hoping to get a bunch of chickens to make money off their eggs like rightaway, consider a different avenue. We’ve been raising our girls and selling eggs for nigh 7 years and they’ve only recently started paying for themselves.. and in the winter? Forget about it.

Get them for a lot of other reasons – companionship, entertainment, education, fertilizer and yes… delicious fresh eggs.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

10 Tips for Breastfeeding Success

I’m going to preface this blog by saying- FED IS BEST.

We decided to breast feed Issac longer then Izzy simply because I could stay home as long as we wanted this time around. A total of 18 and a half months of breast feeding and on May 1st 2020, I woke up and decided that day was the day. We were done.

As it is- he eats solid food at least 5 times a day, drinks from a straw with no problem and a month after weaning, still wants to breast feed, but he’ll get over it eventually.

I also breast fed with Izzy AND pumped to create a back up supply. I will touch back on this later in the blog- but for now, my tips for success-

  1. Drink lots of water– this is a huge must. On a normal day my goal for water intake is around 60 oz. when I’m breastfeeding, I aim for double that, and will accept no less then 100 oz. I carry around a 18 oz water bottle- the baby feeds and I make sure to drain my water.
  2. Invest in mothers milk tea– I personally use Traditional Medicinals Organic Mothers Milk blend.  I buy it in the 6 pack from target because between my red card and the subscription, I save 10%. This is the cheapest and most reliable way I have been able to find this brand.
  3. Don’t diet away your milk– the focus on losing weight right after your pregnancy is so prevalent in our society. We are constantly bombarded with images of new moms with tiny waists and giant milk engorged boobs. This is not going to be the case for everyone. I do not lose all of my pregnancy weight by breast feeding- and I have no intention of rushing into weight loss to satisfy people outside of my life.
  4. Eat foods for lactation– I have two personal recipes I use (cookies & porridge) but seriously go on Pinterest and get yourself some homemade yummins for your Tummins. Or, alternatively, buy some goodies- I never did because I bake to relax, but I know not everyone has the same idea of a relaxing day.
  5. Night feedings– all of the night feedings on demand. I don’t care if a babies “should be” sleeping thru the night at whatever month people agree on this week. Night feedings are KNOWN to boost supply and if you side car, you barely even lose any sleep yourself.
  6. Feed on demand– babies know when they need more- give ’em what they want. You cannot spoil a baby.
  7. Pump– ok so this only works for some people but I recommend at least trying. I used a hand pump and pumped religiously for months with Izzy- with Issac I ditched the pump and just kept him close. Staying home and living on a single income is hard, but we’d be doing it anyway for reasons other then breastfeeding.
  8. Stay relaxed– babies are weird. My little boy went thru a month long  phase of “imma gonna stand no matter where I am!” And that includes on my stomach while trying to feed. This sucks. But I (tried) to breathe thru it.. I also unlatched him, told him “no standing” or “ow that hurts” and then latched him back on. I had to do this over 10 times in some feedings.. I admittedly stopped counting at that point because it counters the whole “stay relaxed” thing. Which leads me to the next thing…
  9. Take a break– no seriously. Sometimes, you have to set that baby down and walk away for 5 or 10. And there is nothing wrong with that. You can’t help to replenish others cups if yours is on empty. And lastly-
  10. Remember– Fed Is Best. If breastfeeding is not working for you or your little one, for any reasons whatsoever, it’s ok. Release the mom guilt and slap some formula into a bottle and get your baby gaining.

Thanks for stopping by for this installment of semi regular ramblings of a farmer mom-

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

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2020 Homestead Goals

I am so late on this

But it’s better late then never- just in time for summer – our 2020 goals blog!

Turns out that because of the late timing of this blog, we’ve already been able to accomplish a bit on some of these.

So as to condense blogs I’ll be giving short updates to kinda give you folks an idea of what we’ve been up to so far this year.

Have we bitten off more then we can chew?

Probably. But isn’t that a gloriously fun part of the zany thing we call homesteading?

Brace yourself & Tally ho!

1. Save the strawberries!

Turns out we planted our 300 strawberry plants in an awful place- it gets water logged even in dry spells because of the way the beaver colony dams up the pond system. Since we believe in leaving them alone for the most part, we are reassessing the situation. The new plan is to move all the remaining plants to higher ground up behind the alpaca enclosure and also- they shall be boxed!

We believe this may stunt them this year, but next year should be a banner year for whatever plants we manage to transplant. The great strawberry migration will happen in late August.

2. More raised beds-

And a varied type of bed as well. We’ve been looking into no till gardening & also these things which are basically compost piles you plant into.

Hugelkultur – the next frontier for our landscape. Pretty cool right? And anything that brings the plants closer to you and helps to save the back is appreciated in a big way. So very promising.

3. Focuslaser focus. –

We are pulling back on festival season, for a few different reasons- but the Covid pandemic is a big one. Not going to lie or sugar coat it, I believe crafters should do their part and try to sit out as much as possible to flatten to curve. If this is anything like other pandemics, it’s going to peak a couple times over the course of a few seasons. If it doesn’t, and this is the big peak, then fantastic. I’m just doing the literal only thing I can do to help, by staying home as much as possible.

We have already paid to be part of two, the blueberry festival in Machias in August (which has now been canceled until 2021) and the Mall Craft Show in Bangor in November. As of now those are it. We are not even going to take part in the towns farmers market- we plan on selling seedlings from our greenhouse and yard by practicing careful and responsible distancing.

This whole move really allows us to do a lot more around the farm- which is probably why the goals list is so long.

4. Landscape the ponds-

Duh dun dun- anyone know how to get rid of red alder saplings? They just overtook the entire bank on the middle pond.

The key to it is to plant lots of new bushes. So we purchased bayberry, Aronia berries, lilac bushes, blueberries, paw paws & witch hazel. Happy birthday to me – I bought a bunch of plants… pretty much like every gift receiving occasion.

5. Have some more fiber spun to yarn –

This is only if I can go to a show and make some money- otherwise the fiber continues to pile up.

6. Start new product lines-

This is kind of a secret BECAUSE EVERYONE ALWAYS STEALS MY IDEAS. But it involves making stuff as a family, so I’m super excited.

7. Get a functioning online store-

I had one on here that sucked (my fault) and one on Facebook that sucked(their fault)… it’s time to invest the time into making a real e-commerce presence- my peeps at the festivals wanted it to be so! So, so shall it be!

8. Butcher our meat chickens ourselves –

This is another expensive endeavor for us- we need a second fridge, an auto plucker, a clean outdoor work area with a stainless steel table and running water… we already have a turkey cooker big enough to scald, but this project is estimated at about $2000. But my parents are investing in some of it as well, since we grow out their chickens too. Also it’s a lot of front but the goods will last for years. I was paying our chicken butcher like $700 a year for his (fantastic and sorely missed) work.

We have invested in a nice new fridge for the house so our old one went to the shed to be an extra. We also purchased the chicken plucker already. We are getting ready and plan on doing our first batch late September.

9. Start our own selective clearing up back –

We have a whole area open that needs stumps pulled, and then across the brook is just a maze of areas that need to be cleaned. We’re looking into a lot of different options, but we’ll never run out of cedar poles, I assure you dear reader.

Please come buy some cedar poles.

 

10. Get the new roof on the shed(and basically just finish the shed project) –

With the calamity of a leaky roof destroying much of our hard work, this is a necessity. And it’s gonna be about $1300 for just materials. Like crap. Thank goodness we are able people that can do this stuff ourselves. 

We’ve also raised the roof- literally. The difference is amazing.

And as of this last weekend- WE DID IT! the whole shebang. A beautiful, not very shiny, brown tin roof. 

Also, we bartered goods for labor with MrGillis’ cousin and he came in and did the sheetrock, mudding and taping in the front room. Now all we need to do is lay the floor (already have it) and paint the walls and ceiling (already have the paint too!) 

 

11. Get more comfortable with the bees-

Ugh. I feel like such a failure with the bees. I just didn’t do what I should have done. They really set off my fear reflexes. But I’m going to do better this year if our one surviving hive makes it. Which as of May they’re going strong.

12. Expand our perennial gardens –

This ties in with the witch hazel and lilacs I plan on landscaping the ponds with, but I want lots of food and herbs and medicinal plants that can just grow back year after year. It’s kinda the whole point of this. So more herbs, more asparagus beds, more flowers… it’s going to be so beautiful. So useful.

So far this year I’ve purchased paw paw trees, blueberries, grapes and aronia berries. We’ve also got elderberries, bayberries, witchhazel, lilacs… plus all the seeds we’ve purchased. Its gonna be a great year for the garden.

13. Get Ready for it! PIGS ALL YEAR – 

We did not have a great experience getting piglets this year. That’s about all I have to say other then it propelled us into deciding to breed our own piglets. 

So we have a few things we want to do:

We plan on giving them the pen from last year, but expanded to the brook and beyond into the forest. Really give them a lot of ground to forage thru. Plus gives them more to do, better sun protection, better wallowing area…also will hopefully make feeding time easier as they’ll have to run a half mile to get to me.

We invested in a 5th piglet this year. With the possibility of an impending meat shortage looming over us, 2 people are paying us to raise pigs for them. We are prepared to have one other to sell come harvest time, in case someone needs it.

Otherwise, we have one that we have already decided to keep named Sweetie that we believe may make a good mother. At the very least, we’ll try her out and if it doesn’t work out, she’ll go to the freezer so we can find a good sow. 

Ideally, we’d like to have two sows and one boar so we can rotate the sows and they only have 1 litter each a year. This is not common practice, I know, but I feel that what can dictate common practice is not always going to be humane, or even just not cruel. 

We have to have two separate paddocks and houses to control the breeding program… so this is a lot to get ready for. But we already have buyers lined up for the first litter. It seems like a good time to get into the pork business. 

14. Separate the alpacas –

Yup- it needs to be done. I just can’t build a barn extension on my own and money has been a bit tight. Plus they don’t do great in twos so I feel bad separating them without any plans to get any more… lastly Storm freaks out whenever he can’t be with his mom, Maddie. Maddie doesn’t help the situation by also freaking out. I’m afraid one or both would get hurt trying to scale the fence(which storm actually has done once already and is the reason we don’t separate them in the barn the have now) I’m going to do it tho. It’s going to get done. Good lord.

15. Streamline our gardening

Every year we get caught up in the ohmygod that’s so cool we have to grow it. Not this year. Our garden plan is going to be a lot different- we are going to plant food for the specific purpose of buying less.

We are planting lots of peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, potatoes… stuff that we know we eat and that we know will grow in the area. 

I have two caveats to this – my paw paw trees, which are going to need winter protection and my loofah gourds. They have a really long grow season, but I started them weeks ago and I am currently hardening off 4 inch plants. I’d like to think that I stand a chance at a harvest of wonderful, all natural sponges. 

16. Start a mushroom farm

This is definitely a must to get away from stores- and it’s so easy too apparently. So I’ve bought a tote to start our first set in. I’m going to use stems from regular old store bought button mushrooms. If it works we will expand to maybe up to 4 types.

17. Spend less time on the internet

Or at least choose what I go online for as more then just a way to kill time. I have plenty of things to do to kill time that don’t involve social media.

18. Learn new things

Specifically I’ve been working on reading tarot cards, tea leaves and palms. We also bought a copper distillery to work on making essential oils and sanitizer. not booze tho. 

Well I happen to think thats more then enough for now. I’ve been working on this draft since February so it’s about time to just bite the bullet and publish it.

Until next time, have a wicked good day.

 

 

 

2019 Goals Updated

Here it is, February of 2020 and I am just now sitting down to assess how well we reached our goals for 2019.

It was an interesting year- chock full of completed projects that we planned on- others we had no idea we’d be undertaking and also a huge setback in the ever evolving Shed Project.

So, without further ado- our goals: good, bad or otherwise.

1. Success! We most certainly did Become Beekeepers. It’s been a wild ride and I am terrified of them still, but as of this month, we still have one very healthy hive and well, the other is silent.. or at least to quiet to hear with just the ear test. But we will see in a few more months when it’s safe to open the boxes.

I also must note, we had two hives and they were different on purpose – vented board vs solid, telescoping top vs flat- tilted high vs tilted low. It was an experiment year and I’ll be sad if we did indeed lose a hive but it will be a whole host of lessons learnt as well. I just hope at least one hive makes it. As scared as I am of them I do love having them around. Out of the hive they’re very gentle bees and they seem to attract other beneficial insects to the area.

2. Success! We had a fantastic syrup run and we are looking forward to another good year. We had two boil overs unfortunately, but we made over 12 finished gallons. This year we are investing in some new finishing equipment- like a new hydrometer.

3. Depends on your definition of success… we actually decided to not clear the rest of our land via traditional methods- more on this decision and the resulting plans in another blog- but say it with me folks… permaculture and biodiversity. Those are the hints.

4. Fail- we didn’t separate the male and female alpacas this year again. I suck. I have no excuse, we just didn’t get around to building the boys their own barn and we used the pen for our meat birds this year to let them be pasture raised. Then snow hit early and we were kinda stuck again. Also I think MrGillis is a little leery of giving them their own space because I mentioned maybepossibly rescuing some more gelded boys….

5. Success! We raised our own chickens (150) and our own pigs (4).

The fail is that this winter we got word from BOTH of our butchers that they were getting done for various reasons. We also have decided to not keep pigs over winter to raise our own piglets for a few reasons. More on that some other time.

6. A mixed bag on this one- I did get more egg layers. But we lost two different mail orders (devastating to me) and when we decided to bring some home from Tractor Supply, we lost one within a day and then another turned out to be a rooster. So I had to give him away which just broke my heart. So no more egg layers by mail and honestly, no more egg layers this year. Our coop is maxed out.

7. Success! Mrgillis put in over 2 dozen raised beds! And we have plans for even more this year, but I’ll get into that later.

8. Fail- we didn’t touch a single thing around the ponds. They kinda look like hell if hell was a pond surrounded by red alders and various saplings. But I will not give up on this- it’s literally just gonna be on 2020 goal list.

9. Success! Not only did I learn how to dye using natural methods(cold water being my favorite) I made lots of progress on inventory and even had a few stellar festivals for sales! I am currently in the process of signing up for this years events but I plan on going to at least a dozen.

10. Wah wah wah- this was the big fail this year. I mentioned in an earlier blog that we had officially called a cease and desist on the shed for the time being, due to a huge leak that basically destroyed a good portion of the work we’ve already done in the future kitchen area. So this years goal is to replace said leaky demon roof with a real nice tin roof – thankfully we’ve already done our taxes and we will be getting back enough to fund this project which we’ve estimated just materials to over $1200. Yea!

But this leads me to

11. Huge… something. We had our yard sale which was a bust. I sold more on Facebook marketplace over the following weeks then I did at the sale itself. So never again.

We sold some stuff but honestly ended up donating a huge truckload of it to a church up in Houlton that has a charity shop next door. Best decision- it freed up so much space and so many totes. The shed might be in limbo but it definitely got cleaned and organized: now just to get the last two years worth of fiber spun so we can have that space back…

12. A continued success as Izzy is loving school! And I did ok- I didn’t cry that much at the first days- it’s been more those bittersweet moments of how much she is learning, growing, maturing over these few months. But it’s been amazing, all of it.

13.hahahha – we didn’t not build a smokehouse. We just bought one of Tractor supply while they were on sale in September but holy smokes it was worth it. We love brining and smoking our own pork and to be honest we’ve done chicken thighs too. It’s been so fun. 10/10 recommend.

14. I would call this a success – Issac is now just shy of 16 months old- he’s walking(running and climbing too), wants to mimic everything we do, is learning to talk… he’s such a little devil too but in such a charming way with his little eyebrow quirk and half smile that it’s hard to not just smother him in kisses. But he’s learning the meaning of “no” too.

15. Success! We didn’t get blueberries, but I put in roses, asparagus(4 boxes!), grapes and a whole bunch of herbs! This year, I asked for a witch hazel tree for my birthday, so that means we’re putting in a witch hazel tree and some other stuff I’ll detail in the 2020 goal update.

16. Ummm…. I would say that my final goal, to blog more, started out really strong, but my goal was to do well thru the entire year and I didn’t so fail.

Well thanks for reading kind peoples out in the webiverse.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Homestead Update: The last half of 2019

The summer started out strong- and then ended way too quickly…

(I feel like I start out every end of the year blog, saying that sentence, and then apologizing for not updating in several months… but this has been a hell of a season. Some good, some setbacks… nothing too bad, just all part of the homestead life.)

My parents have officially moved a large camper out to the back yard. They came up most weekends and hang out with the kids, help out with the animals and gardens. It’s been a lot of fun, although the initial set up was a little labor intensive. But now they are glamping- queen sized bed, electricity, running water and all. They got a hell of a deal too.

We spent a whole day weeding the strawberries, which we lost a good portion of to those weeds. It’s an avoidable loss to which is what sucks the most, but we were so busy last summer.. and again this summer…. the new plan is to salvage what we can and put them into boxes uphill a bit, because oh yeah, they flooded several times this year. They were already in a low spot but the beavers, those industrious little devils, have done an excellent job of flooding the larger pond next to our two smaller ones. This creates a flood zone RIGHT where we put all 300 plants. Yup. Moving on.

MrGillis is up to over two dozen Cedar boxes. We planted a lot this last June and even into July and are pretty proud of how it’s coming together now, for next gardening season. I have herbs in some and we tried our hand at a bunch of different things with varying levels of success.

We harvested lots of zucchini, jalapeños, chocolate peppers… our tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins slowly ripened until an early September chill did them all in…

We put in 4 asparagus bed with 25 roots each and they did fabulous.

We let the chicks in with the rest of the flock- it was a very easy transition… except for the proof of Phyllis being a Philbert and having to find a new home. He was such a handsome little guy that it took no time at all to find him a new flock. I was secretly hoping no one would answer, but a very nice lady came a picked him up in June.

The alpacas were shorn– everything was fairly routine, except Maddie’s tummy bulge has grown. Under Jay’s advice we got a vets opinion. And it’s not great- she either has a tumor or a hernia. At 12 years old, not breeding, just kinda letting her live out her life, he recommended against surgery as the anesthesia/recovery could be to much for her. So if she seems like it’s starting to hinder her life, it’s time to think about euthanasia. Kind of a ugh moment, but I keep a close eye on her and I believe she is doing well enough to let her live.

We also celebrated our 13th anniversary and also my 34th birthday in June. Not with much, just a meal out, but quite frankly, at this stage in our lives, we agreed that not having to cook or clean up is about the nicest anniversary gift we could give each other. I also was gifted my very own drill. (This is not sarcasm, I am genuinely happy with owning my own drill- it’s lightweight, a bit smaller then. MrGillis’ and he doesn’t take off with it. I’m a homesteader, remember?)

The second order of baby chicks arrived dead- we will not be ordering our future laying flock chicks in the mail. We are going to use the local stores to replenish that flock, but most likely continue to order meat birds thru the mail until we figure out a different situation.

We started selling yarn, baby plants and other hand crafted goodies at the Danforth Farmers Market every Friday. We’ve had a lot of fun with the other vendors and we made sales (almost) every week, which has been very nice for the check book and the dream.

We also sold at the Machias Blueberry festival in August, the Machias Fiber Festival in September, the Bangor Mall Festival and the Augusta Civic Center Fair (both of which were in November).

I spent lots of time collecting wild yarrow, chamomile, red clover, raspberry leaves, ox eye daisies and much more. I even identified patches of St. John’s wort! I put in the time making tinctures and tea mixes for this winter and we are fairly well stocked. I spent a lot of time reading about different goodies I could forage… I’m feeling pretty good about my skill set although I haven’t been brave enough to try it out on the many varieties of mushrooms we have growing native in our yard.

Our meat chicks arrived mid July and they arrived 100% alive and well. They hung out in our giant shed brooder for the first 2 weeks of their lives and then we put them out to pasture. We did some things differently this year, but That’s a different blog.

We have already sent the pigs to freezer camp. We’ve done some stuff differently there as well and are happy with the results – but that’s another blog as well.

The bees swarmed in August, and I didn’t catch them. It was really disappointing to lose our first swarm, but the hives are going into winter strong and full of honey. To be honest, my natural, low interference approach worked- but I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a beekeeper. They scare the living daylights out of me. I hate to admit that, but it is the unfortunate truth. We will see how they fare thru the winter and then make decisions.

We have determined that it is not fiscally feasible to repair the roof of our shed this year. Me staying home the last year to raise Issac and Izzy has put a damper on those types of projects. Here’s hoping our tax return is large enough to cover the cost of new tin and materials this spring… we’ve estimated it to be to the tune of $1300 for us to do it ourselves.

And because we can’t do the roof, it doesn’t make any sense to put any more work into the inside of the building. So that is stalled again. Not a great feeling. But it allows us all winter to be, well kinda lazy. We still have to take care of what we got obviously, but a break from the all time consuming shed project? Yes please and thank you. Step back. Refocus and recover. Come back even better.

In September, we went on a mini vacay to a destination wedding up further north to help my best friend (& second sister) from high school celebrate her nuptials. It was beautiful, lots of fun, a bit wow&holycow, and I am so happy that she chose me to be part of her party. It did wreak havoc on my no new clothes pledge – I will admit that dress cost 3 times as much as the total amount I spent on clothing for myself this year. But I looked good.

Also in September, Izzy started pre-K! She is doing phenomenal. It amazes me how often we’ll be in town and we’ll hear cries of “hey izzy!” From students of all ages. She always waves back, turns to us and says with a grin, “that’s my friend!”

In October, we celebrated our sons 1st birthday with a pizza party for family. He’s almost 16 months now, walking(practically running), climbing and being a general toddler now instead of a baby. I can’t stand how fast it went, but I’m still loving every minute of it. Well, besides the tired time headbutts- but we’re working on that.

In November we did another festival at the Bangor mall and it was Awesome! Like for hundreds of crafters. Then we did another in Augusta that was not so great. So all in all, we made some feed money, and learned some lessons, which I may or may not expand upon in a deferent blog.

The holidays were all about family- and food. And now we find ourselves well into the year already accomplishing so much and planning all kinds more.

Which will have to be another blog as this one has become so long it’s almost unreadable.

But until next time – have a wicked good day!

Raising Pigs for Meat: The Second Time Around

Last year, we had a hell of a great time raising our own pork- we learned a lot, including things we wished we had done differently.

This year, we managed to do a few of those things

1. We switched feed types from 100% pellet to 80% mash 20% pellet. We still soaked it thoroughly with water for every meal. This was a major savings- we spent a total of $560 on feed for all four pigs this year. We cut our feed cost by over half!

2. We stuck with a feed schedule– they got 12 lbs of soaked feed 2 times a day for a total of 25 ish lbs per day. Between 4 pigs that gave them about 6 lbs of feed per day each. The last two weeks, I gave them lunch as well. And slop was free choice- if we had it, they got it.

3. We bought the first 40 bags at once and got a discount of 5% – the mash was also only $10.50 a bag compared to most pellets being $15 or more. I know I kind of touched on this before- but it was a HUGE savings for us. Also a savings in time and gas as we didn’t have to run around weekends finding food for them.

4 We pastured them in a semi forested area– they got more variety of foraging materials which actually took longer for them to destroy. It also kept them in the shade more naturally so they wasted less water from spilling.

5. We actually had an escape! One of the pigs managed to pull the solar panel away from the electric fencing and decided to go for a run thru the strawberries…. another one followed. They were very food motivated tho and followed MrGillis right back into the enclosure. They weren’t to bad out of the fence actually. They trotted up to me and snuffled at me and then kind of happy grunted at me. The alpacas and chickens were not impressed tho. And neither was our strawberry bed.

6. We started feeding them in their transport cages a few days before they were to be loaded up. The morning of, we chucked a few apples in, they walked right in and barely fussed as we screwed the doors shut behind them.

7. We bought a smoker! So we have been going to town on some home smoked bacon and hams and some chicken legs too.

Things to Consider For Next Year:

1 an even bigger forest pasture. It worked really well as far as shade, forage and in general a fun place for them to live. They were happy pigs living their lives.

2 actually sprout barley for them– we bought the seed but just never got it really going. Fail.

3. Feed them in their transport cages right from day one. We hope to design it in a way that they won’t throw their troughs around and also make it easier for us to feed them.

4. Keep them for an additional month. We got the pigs a bit younger this year- and took them to the butcher a bit earlier as well, because we just had such a busy fall ahead of us. We brought home two pigs but weight wise it was the same amount of pork as last year.

So that’s the big pig update for this year.

Happy to have them all spring and summer, but we are even happier to see the freezer full of quality meat considering salt pork was $5.29 a lb in the supermarket the other day…

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Raising Meat Chickens: 2nd Year Lessons

We did it- we survived our second year of raising our own chickens for meat!

Here are links to previous blogs dealing with the Cost of Raising, how we raised them last year, & lessons we learned.

And without further ado- what we did differently this year.

1. We waited until mid July to get them- the hotter weather at a younger age allowed them to go outside earlier and not suffer the ill effect of too much heat. On the other hand, by September, the poor things were shivering as we had an early fall this year…

2. We got 150 – 30 more then last time. And they actually sent us 158. Huzzah! But over the course of the entire 10 weeks we lost 11… boo.

3. We pastured them instead of keeping them in tractors- way less time consuming for us- we were moving two tractors a day everyday for weeks- and less stressful for them as they just had their pasture and houses and could do as little or as much moving as the wanted.

4. We restricted their feed by the pound this year, not the time of day. Those guys would have gladly eaten themselves to death.

5. We bought food in bulk while it was on sale- saved a dollar initially and then 5% on top. Plus got 12 months 0% financing because it was a single large purchase on my TSC card. Huzzah once more!

Things to do differently next year

1. Buy meat bird crumble from the beginning- they don’t really need chick crumble at all and it’s actually 11 cents more per lb.

2. Butcher and process ourselves – we wanted to this year but we had extensive leaks in our shed that need to be addressed. Outfitting ourselves to butcher and process 150 chickens in 3 weeks would cost us over a grand. And we need that money elsewhere. So we are going back to our butcher from last year. We will pay him 4.75 a bird and happily move on for this year. This is also actually a necessity now because our former butcher has closed shop… whomp whomp.

3. Give them even more pasture. They stuck pretty close to their houses in the heat of mid day, but mornings and evenings they were out exploring and foraging.

4. Try harder to not get attached to single chickens… especially the failing ones. We had three become very frail to various injuries and I had the unfortunate job of having to dispatch them. It sucked. I cried. And not just because of the lost investment, which hurts a practical minded individual such as myself.

6. Try fermenting their feed- I’m on the fence about this. I do it with the egg layers in the months it won’t freeze… but it’s more work quite frankly.

There you have it- and until next time, have a wicked good day!

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