Life Cycles & Learning

The cycle of life continues, and so does the learning. The first baby goats of 2016 arrived right on time, 3:30 am, January 5th. It was a little chilly that night, and interrupted our sleep, but they arrived healthy and strong, well cared for by their mother, our ‘old lady’ goat, One Stripe.

One Stripe


One Stripe is seven years old this year. She arrived here in January, 2009, at the age of five months, with our first herd of goats at this homestead. Our first baby goats arrived in March, 2010. Since that time we have birthed, sold and butchered quite a number of goats. No two years are quite the same, they each bring their own learning experiences, some successes and some failures.

Copper with 2015 babies

In the past we followed the standard practice of selling our does as they got older. One Stripe has been the exception to that practice, and now we are rethinking the practice entirely. Keeping an older, highly productive doe has taught us that there is something to be said for proven performance compared to new, unknown performance. We now also have one of One Stripe’s daughters, Copper, that is a three year old, and expecting her third set of kids in a few days. She is also a proven performer and will be with us for the foreseeable future.



 

We had the barn built when we moved here. It has been a slow process of getting everything set up in a functional arrangement. We’ve had the birthing and weaning pens set up since we stated having babies, but just this year we now have electricity, lights instead of lanterns, and soon will have pressurized rural water and a rain catchment system, instead of running 400′ of hose from the house or using the hand pump on the well.


Many things on a homestead take long term planning, not to mention money. But even more than that, it takes knowledge, experience and time. Just this year, due to a very, very wet year, which still hasn’t let up, i.e. the recent 12″ rainfall we received, we have had a number of animal health issues we had never encountered before. The goats had a serious issue with barberpole worms and lice, so we learned about copper boluses and using diatomaceous earth. The young chickens have come down with coccidiosis, and aren’t growing well. We usually don’t have chicks growing out for meat this time of year, but we wanted more jars on the shelf, so we thought we’d try it.


Over the past seven years we’ve learned a lot about giving shots, banning young bucks and burning horns. There have been times we waited a little long too burn horns and ended up with scurs. We used to vaccinate all of our goats, but now only newcomers to the farm get vaccinated. We’ve learned about abscesses, and how to deal with them. At first they were pretty scary and worrisome, but since they haven’t proven to be contagious in nature, we just let them run their course until they break open on their own, just like this.

We have had a number of bucks over the years, some good, some too spotted, too hairy, too cantankerous, or too small. We find that if we keep or sale animals based on the attributes we desire, we are much happier with our animals. Since we tend to keep a young doe or two each year, our buck is the animal that turns over. If we had a group of does we planned on keeping for a number of years, we could also keep the buck. It is a common practice to breed father to daughter with goats, it’s called line breeding. Some people don’t mind it, while others wouldn’t hear of it. It’s a personal preference and decision.

There are many goals on a homestead that take long term planning. Some plans you can develop for a couple of days down the road. Some plans take weeks, months, years or decades to develop. It takes the same amount of time to develop competence, experience and knowledge. There are some things you just can’t wait for. Start now. After four years, I have finally figured out how to make a good wheel of cheddar cheese. Most things take time, effort, experience, failure and determination. Take gardening, for instance. I have read many blogs and comments recently indicating that folks are increasing the size of their gardens, most substantially, including us. This comes after a number of years of experience, with it’s trials, experiments, successes and failures. But like the challenges we have had with our animals this year, even the dog had an unusual infestation of worms, most gardeners will tell you that no two years are the same.


The time is fast approaching when failure may be devastating, and our opportunities may be greatly diminished. It is a time to learn as intensely and thoroughly as possible. For the cycle of life to continue to sustain us, whether with animals or plants, we must be able to use the knowledge and experience we have gained to our distinct advantage. I remember stories I’ve seen of crop failures and starvation, and can only pray those times will not come to pass again, but I fear they will, and all too soon. Be ready.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 12

It has been a very productive week in our little corner of the world. We seem to have a lot of irons in the fire, but at the same time, the progress we are making on a number of projects and tasks, not only makes the days fly by, but when we stand back and take stock, we are amazed at how much we are getting done. I’ll probably forget something, but here goes with the latest news from our humble homestead.

  

We showed you the progress on the greenhouse door #1 earlier in the week. The next day the storm doors went up, completing the exterior of the greenhouse. The doors were trimmed to match the window trim that was used earlier when we had the new windows 

installed. Yesterday when it was 97* outside, it was 120* in the greenhouse. We have been trying to learn the temperature variations in there. It’s too hot to plant anything in there now, but it won’t be long.

Next we finished the new trim on the storage buildings. It’s too bad the original trim was such poor quality. It rotted in just a couple of years in several places, so we replaced all of it before we had to deal with more rot down the road. We laid the cucumbers, trellis and all, down on this bucket so the trim on the window could be replaced. I was glad this worked and they are no worse for the move. Frank comes up with good ideas like this all the time.

Frank ran across an interesting article about canned food expiration dates, both store bought and home canned. It’s very interesting and basically states, with a number of references, that there is no such thing as an expiration date. I agree. It’s a very well done, interesting article that I recommend reading, Dispelling the Canned Food Expiration Date Myth.

We bartered the rest of the young hens and a few roosters, that we are not keeping for our replacement flock, to another young couple in exchange for help servicing our tractor. This young father, they just had their third child, has worked with his father in their tractor shop for years. His help will make for short, accurate work on our tractor. Another very good trade.

 
We found out this week that one of our American Guinea Hogs has greasy pig disease, or exudative epidermitis. See why I just called it greasy pig disease? From several conversations with our vet, and research in books and online, we found out that pigs generally have staph bacteria on the surface of their skin. As long as they are healthy and don’t have any injuries, this generally is not a problem. The vet said staph is everywhere, on the pigs, in the ground, and very common. Well almost two weeks ago I noticed a few spots on a barrow’s face. It looked like small, white bumps, but not anything important. We watched him for a few days, and when they didn’t go away, called the vet and set up a day for him to come out and look.

Vet’s assistant

The vet took several little scabby areas of skin from these bumps, took them back to the clinic, looked at them under the microscope, then called to tell us it is greasy pig disease, which is very contagious. The good news is that it is easily treatable with penicillin. The bad news is that pigs are hard to catch. Last night the vet and his helper came out and we tried to trap the pigs in some panels to give them the shots. We were only able to treat Liberty, our gilt. We had not put the pig pen back together since putting the lean-to shed up on the barn because we hadn’t needed it. While the vet was here, we got the pen put together. Then this morning when I fed them, I locked them in the pen and called the vet to let him know we had them up. He came out again today and cornered the pigs with a piece of stock panel, and the three boys got their shots. We talked about what could have caused this and found it could be anything from getting scratched or poked with a thorn or on the fencing. Afterward we had a conversation about what to do if this happened again and we didn’t have access to a vet or penicillin shots. Antibiotics in water will work, iodine would work, or maybe something else with strong antibiotic/antiseptic properties. Interesting conversation.

By the way, there is a possibility that Liberty and Lance bred a few days ago. If so, we can expect piglets around January 10th, right in the middle of our first kidding season of the year. Piglets and kids in January will make for a fun winter addition to the homestead. We also found out that the reason Lance keeps poking the other pigs in the side with his nose. It’s normal dominance behavior. He seldom does this to Liberty, but often does it to the barrows. He is a sexist pig.

I’m glad to report that Faith is recovering from the reconstructive surgery she had last week. She still has a way to go, but has a great attitude and looks forward to getting back on her feet and out doing things, like visiting with her goats again. Thank you for your prayers on her behalf.

We have a couple of new projects on the drawing board. The first one deals with the beginning stages of an outdoor kitchen, or what some might call a summer kitchen. This area right behind the porch is the location. 

For Frank to work over this weedy, overgrown area, we moved this section of antenna tower to an empty area of the garden, and this hay bale that is used for mulch into an empty area of the herb bed. We were surprised at how well the tractor was able to clear off the vegetation that was growing all over. 

 

While he was at it, he also used the disc to mix in the chicken manure we put in the garden last week after our good trade of chickens for a clean chicken house. 
 

 

After I raked and cleaned up what was left, I mixed some weed killer to spray down the whole area. It hasn’t been applied yet, though. There were several other things to take care of at the time and I haven’t gotten back to it yet, but I will one day next week.

This location is central to the garden, house, greenhouse, clothes line and in a very convenient place. There will be a water supply from guttering on the house and a large storage tank. Firewood will be handy since we keep it on the edge of the porch. Washing produce from the garden or

dressing out chickens will be accomplished here with a basin sink and work bench. Cooking can also be done here, along with a grid down laundry service. Right now, it’s dirt and planning. This tree stump will have to be removed, but that will happen when we have the water line dug and installed. The radio towers that now sit between the two holes that will house the clothesline poles, will also be installed before long, some of them here and some of them in another location that will facilitate our community radio communications network. This is another upcoming project which will enhance our ability to communicate by radio.

 

The water line we are installing will go 400 feet from the barn to the house. Here at the barn the guttering on the lean-to shed will funnel rain into these three 1550 gallon water tanks. As you can see, this project is also underway. Frank and Henry installed metal trim on the edge of the lean-to roof yesterday to cover some bare wood. It was an oversight when the lean-to was first built, and more will be installed on the pig side of the barn next week.

We met with the man that will be digging the water line for us one evening this past week. He will also dig the trench for the electric line to go from the new power pole out in the pasture to the barn. Frank and Henry have already wired the barn and installed the lighting, all it needs is juice to the fuse box and we’re in business. This will probably be accomplished in the next week or so.

We fired up the incubator again this week. We have a number of chickens in the freezer, but not near enough, and we haven’t canned any yet this year. There are approximately 60 eggs in there and we hope for a good hatch to supplement our meat supply.

We also found out one of our young does, Easter, has a stifle problem. Her back legs have a wiggle to them when she walks which is not good. We asked the vet about it when he was here and we have traced it to our buck. According to the vet, since Easter’s mother and grandmother were born here and didn’t have this problem, more than likely it comes from the buck. Another interesting thing is that Easter’s mother, Lady Bug, and her twin sister, Cricket, both had kids with leg problems this year. Cricket’s boy, Bo, was the one with the severe bowlegs. There is always something new to learn when you have farm animals.

As you can see, we are trying to complete as many major projects as we can in a short amount of time. We are investing heavily in tangible assets and labor. This investment will pay off in untold ways once we arrive at TEOTWAWKI. Do all you can. Time is precious.

Until next time – Fern
 

Homestead News, Volume 10

Life on the farm, or homestead, is trucking right along. The one man ‘crew’ we hired to help with some of our projects is back from an extended vacation, so he and Frank are back at it.

They started Monday morning by doing some of the finish work on the greenhouse. Now the vents are all in, the outside and top corners are closed in and the flashing has been added where the roof meets the side of the house. The doors will be installed later.

Yes, that’s a radio antenna in the background on the other end of the house.

 

This is used to block rain from blowing in under the edges.

 

8:30 am in the greenhouse

This morning before it got hot, I went out and swept out the greenhouse in preparation for placing the water barrels. On one of the trips to the barn to bring down supplies for their work, Frank loaded up some of the barrels that have been stored there. As he took them out of their cardboard containers he found the invoice. We ordered these barrels from Emergency Essentials in 2009. They had a great sale with free shipping, so we ordered ten 55 gallon barrels. We couldn’t believe we would get free shipping for these in our rural location, but we did. That is how long we have had this plan for a greenhouse. We already mentioned that we had the slab poured in 2008 when we first moved here and had the porches added to the house. This project is definitely a long term dream come true.

 

The reason for ten 55 gallon barrels of water is multifaceted. Initially, it was a place to store water in case of emergencies. It will still be good for that, but the reason these barrels are being placed in the greenhouse is for temperature regulation. It probably won’t make much difference in the summer. The shear impact of hot air temperatures, will create a very hot environment in there. We plan to use the greenhouse in the summer to dehydrate, or dry many plant materials. Right now it easily gets 105+ degrees by noon each day. But in the winter, as the sun heats the greenhouse, and thus the water in the barrels, it will help raise the temperature not only during the day, but all night long. Our hope is that the heat absorbed by the barrels during the day and radiated overnight will help keep any plants that are growing in there from freezing. Will it work? We will find out over the coming months. We will place a 3/4″ sheet of plywood over two barrels, one barrel at each end of the plywood, then will have a working area. This should give us about five areas to pot, store, dry and grow plants or food.

 

The placement of the barrels has to take into account the vents, and shelving against the wall of the house.

This window will be removed and a door installed in it’s place before long. We don’t know if there will be room for another set of barrels in the middle of the floor, it depends on how the stairs work coming out of the house. We’ll figure that out when we get that far along.

These two concrete block were left over from when we had the house leveled. They’ll make nice steps coming into the greenhouse.

The grass and weeds are already trying to grow up inside the sheathing on the greenhouse. After I finished sweeping, I trimmed the grass and pulled everything out of the way. We will spray some of the foam stuff around the bottom of the siding to prevent plants and bugs from finding their way in so easily. Speaking of tools (in the last article), this is one tool that I haven’t taken very good care of. It lives outside under a roof, but the blades were starting to rust. After I finished trimming, I got out the wire brush, gave them a good cleaning, then sprayed them with WD-40. Maintenance of tools is essential if we expect them to last.

 

The projects the men worked on yesterday included replacing the rotting trim around this window and door. The materials that were used to construct the building were of very poor quality and didn’t last very long. Frank chose to replace them with some of the cedar we had left from trimming the windows in the house. While they are at it, they are going to replace the trim on the other window and the other building as well, instead of waiting for the same thing to happen to them. They also chose to put an angled board above the window for rain runoff. Not only is it functional, it looks very nice.

Remember that big patch of zinnias we had in the garden earlier in the year? They’re coming back up everywhere! That’s okay. I hope they bloom enough to make more seeds. They look great, attract pollinators and are supposed to deter some bugs. Besides all that, we really like them.

This old shed was here when we moved here. It has seen better days and needed some roof repairs. We had covered the old aluminum vent system that went down the middle of the ceiling with a tarp a while back because the roof decking was starting to rot.

Well, yesterday off came the tarp and rotted boards, replacement boards were installed and a roll of shingle material was applied the length of the roof ridge. That should hold it for a while. We also put vents in both ends of the building.

New light on top, old light on bottom

Today Frank installed a new light fixture up at the ceiling level. This is a great improvement. The old light was down at head level on the bottom of the rafter. These rafters are not even six feet tall. The man that built this shed was short and he only built it tall enough for him to walk under. I can walk under it, but Frank has to duck between each truss or bang his head. Anyway, the lighting up at ceiling level instead of truss level is a vast improvement. Maybe we won’t need to use the flashlight all the time to see.

 

We also had vents installed in the garage today, as well as some electrical repair. These vents had been stored in the barn for a while and had been blown around by a few storms. This one had the screen backing torn, so I did a little repair job before it was installed. Bellen, you’re right about having sewing supplies on hand and knowing how to use them, even if it is in unconventional way.

 

This morning after I finished sweeping the greenhouse, I swept out the old shed as well. Small price to pay for such great improvements.

The goats were waiting impatiently for their breakfast and milking when I arrived this morning. They are always ready to eat.

The pigs continue to do well. Liberty, our gilt, will let me pet her all over while she is eating, even under her stomach, which is very good. I will be monitoring her closely over the next few months trying to figure out if she is pregnant. We haven’t seen any signs of breeding or a heat cycle, but since we aren’t familiar with raising and breeding pigs, I don’t know if we would recognize it anyway. We will see. There is one barrow I don’t particularly care for. He is always jumping up at the bucket or at my hand with his mouth open for a taste or bite or something. I just don’t trust him. He will be the first one on the dinner table when the time comes.
 

10:45 am in the greenhouse

 

This is where the water barrels have been stored for the last six years. These two still need to be taken down to the greenhouse, then the mess cleaned up.


We have been using some of our lumber store while working on our many projects. It won’t be long before we will need to restock this supply. This is one way we are investing our money in tangible assets, and is something we think is very valuable. Let’s face it, when the SHTF, we are not going to be ‘making’ 2×4’s or plywood, fence staples or barbed wire.


Here are some more supplies we will be using in some upcoming projects. You can tell by the layer of dust that they have been here for a while, kind of like the water barrels, just not as long. 

 

This is an area that will soon be involved in a project, along with these water barrels. We are really looking forward to this one as well.

The porch is full of tools that are used daily in our projects. The weather isn’t as hot as it was a month ago, but the humidity sure makes it feel that way. The men start early in the morning and stop in the early afternoon. It makes for a shorter day, and keeps them out of the hottest part of the day.

I want to thank everyone for their well wishes on my sinus dilation. I went back for a checkup on Monday and found out that I was already growing scar tissue back over an area the doctor had worked over pretty good initially. He was surprised at the rate I was healing. I told him it was because I don’t eat chemicals. I don’t think he believed me or paid much attention to that statement. I do think that is the case, though. But because of the scar tissue trying to close off the left maxillary sinus, he had to cut it out. Suffice it to say that it was gruesomely painful and extremely difficult for Frank to see me hurt that bad. It took a while to quit shaking, and I was exhausted. 
 

Noon in the greenhouse


Yesterday I made some mozzarella and waxed two wheels of cheddar which filled up the small cheese frig. Now I need to try making cottage cheese again. There has to be a recipe somewhere that will work with our goat milk. 

Thanks for the flower seed, Grace.


Today I was glad I felt up to sweeping and helping Frank install the light in the shed. Tomorrow I plan to butcher a few roosters, maybe only two for fresh eating, but it will be a start. I already feel better each day and can only pray there will be no more cutting when I go for my next checkup.


As you are aware, the stock markets of the world have been, and continue to be, on a major roller coaster ride. The politicians continue their playground antics pointing fingers at each other and exposing themselves for the weak, ineffective people they are. The world leaders continue their saber rattling and posturing. And most people continue to stare mindlessly into screens small and large for the diversion of the day that is meant to distract them from the fact that the temperature of the pot is fast approaching the boiling point. Folks, you need to work hard and fast to get as many things in order as you possibly can. Many, many indicators are getting closer and closer to that red line, and when they cross it there will be no turning back. 

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 5

There are lots of different things going on around here, so I thought I would do another version of the news. In the news lately…….

 

Our latest batch of baby chicks have hatched and been moved to their new abode. Out of 54 eggs we had 47 hatch. Some of them have been fascinated with their older siblings next door. 

The momma hen and the first 36 chicks that hatched had to move next door so the new babies could have the pen with the heat lamp. The ‘teenage’ chicks are almost feathered out, but not quite. They are in the ugly stage.

After the crew finished up the lean-to for the pigs, they started on the other side of the barn. This lean-to is bigger and will have a concrete pad. They poured the first half of the pad today and will finish up the other side tomorrow. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it, so you will have to use your imagination until next time. It doesn’t look like this anymore.

Later on in the week, the same crew will begin construction of our long awaited greenhouse. When we moved here in 2008 we had new siding put on the house along with the porches that extend the full length of the house on the east and west sides. Frank had the foresight to have them pour a pad for the greenhouse when they poured the porches. So, this pad has been awaiting for us for seven years. It currently houses a few ladders and the sections of Frank’s new radio antenna towers. That is another project that is on the list in the near future. We bought the supplies for building the greenhouse a while back, but Frank’s back has prevented us from completing this task. We will write an article on the hows and whys of the greenhouse, including pictures of the construction when it is finished. 

We have a doe, Cricket, that has developed a bad case of scours (diarrhea) that is cause by the barber pole worm. We have never had a case like this and have been doctoring her for about five days. Today we took a stool sample to the vet and found out she has worms so bad, it’s like she’s never been wormed even though we have treated her twice in the last three weeks. The vet gave us a different type of wormer and information about using a copper bolus. I came home, researched copper boluses and ordered some. I am going to arrange for the vet to come out next week after the boluses arrive and teach me how to administer them properly to our entire herd. With all of the record breaking rain, the worm load is tremendous this year. I will take pictures and explain the bolus properties more when we administer them. It’s all new to us.
 

One Stripe


Since Cricket is sick with worms, and has gotten very thin, we won’t be breeding her in July along with One Stripe which was our original plan. That means one doe will breed in July for December babies and five will breed in November for April babies. We’ll see how that goes.
 

The new part of the garden I planted with cowpeas and sunflowers last Monday is growing very well.

I finally got the porches put back together. They sure look better. There are definitely not enough hours in the day to get half of the things done we would like to do.

We watch Greece, Puerto Rico and the financial conditions around the world with trepidation. This causes us to spend more time discussing and pondering what we might need to acquire or learn before we are no longer able. There are many folks talking about the devaluation of the dollar, bank holidays or a total financial collapse. We feel like this is the beginning of a scary roller coaster ride that will not end well. I suspect there will be ups and downs along the way, just like any roller coaster ride, but I really don’t think we will all arrive on the platform with smiling faces when this ride is over.

Frank’s radio class starts tomorrow night, and we are really looking forward to that. It will be very interesting to see how many folks show up and what type of community communications system comes out of this new group of people. We hope to do articles about each class to give you an idea of how it is going, what works and what doesn’t. This may give you some ideas about how to form a group in your area.


We hope everything is going well in your neck of the woods. Keep your ear to the ground, your powder dry and watch your back. Things are looking dicier everyday.

Until next time – Fern


Homestead News, Volume 4

It seems lately our homestead has been a flurry of activity. I will see if I can give you a glimpse of our life on the homestead.

We told you about the new windows we had installed almost two weeks ago. Well, we have made a little progress on trimming them out, but they aren’t finished yet. Frank had a great idea of making the top board longer and angled. I think they look great. But since we aren’t finished with that project, the porches are still in disarray. It really doesn’t bother me much, life goes on with our daily routines even if things aren’t in their customary places.

You may be wondering why two weeks later, the windows still aren’t trimmed. Well, a day or so after the windows were installed, we began a large project on the barn, which is only about half complete at this stage. This project involves building lean-to shed roofs on the east and west sides of the barn, the full length of the building. After much planning and consulting with the two man crew we have hired to do the building, then acquiring the needed supplies, this project got under way.

The day after the barn supplies arrived the local electric cooperative came and set a new pole for us. We have long wanted power to the barn, but it is quite expensive. Well, this is the year. The pole is about 120 feet from the barn so we will still need to run the wire underground to connect there.

We expected to have a meter and power once the pole was set, but then we discovered that we needed to install a breaker box on the pole and connect it to the meter box. Enter Frank and his many abilities to fix and build things. While the work crew began their tasks using a generator, Frank worked on installing the breaker box and connections. In a couple of days, the cooperative was back out with the meter and we were in business. Then Frank got busy installing an outlet on the pole with a 20 amp fuse, so the guys could have power via heavy duty extension cords. This provided stronger, more consistent power for their tools which was great. It is truly a blessing to have a husband that can do or fix just about anything.

As we began the barn project one of the first things that we had to do was dismantle the pig pen. We had already allowed the pigs out into the larger pen that contained their small, initial pen. But the first day of construction, the pens were dismantled and the pigs were allowed out into their two acre pasture for the first time. Needless to say it was a little confusing to them. That was the day I became a pig herder, spending a lot of time with them showing them around the pasture.

Because of the floor leveling and window installation and rain, we hadn’t had the chance to brush hog the pigs entire pasture, so Frank made some wide trails for them to use. They lead to the one, lone tree in that pasture, down to the pond and provide three ‘lanes’ to the barn area. At first, I coaxed the pigs to the tree with food and water. I knew they needed shade, water and mud. So that day and for several days after, I carried many a bucket of water to the tree. After about two days, the pigs would go to the pond on their own, enjoying the mud for a wallow and whatever they found that was tasty at the pond’s edge. Now they comfortably wander around on their own and we don’t have the concern of lack of water or wallow to keep them cool.

 

So, how are the pigs? They are doing great. I have to say, I am really enjoying them. We can pet them and scratch their backs almost any time we go into the pasture. We even scratch their heads while they are anxiously awaiting the contents of the feed bucket in our hands. Every so often one will bump the backs of our legs when we are walking to the feed pan. This is when I remind them not to bite me. But 

really, I don’t think they would, it’s just a ‘Hey! Feed me!” kind of bump. They are really funny, and I’m getting used to their grunting and squealing sounds. We are planning a trip later this week to bring home another gilt. She will be much smaller than these guys we have now, but I hope she will work out well.

The pig side of the barn should be complete tomorrow, if we’re not rained out. Then we will reconstruct a pen and place their house under the shed roof. This will provide more shade and a place to pen them if need be. But for now, they have free range of their pasture. I will give you a more specific pig update in a few weeks.

The west side of the barn is next on the barn project docket. It includes our rain catchment system which we are very excited about. I will do an in-depth article with the whys and hows of that project as we get closer to completion.

 
Our cheese stash continues to slowly grow. We now have 24 wheels of cheddar aging. Well, make that 23. I have been wanting to see how it was doing for a while, so I have opened the first wheel. It is drier than I like, which means I pressed it too hard. It also has a bunch of small holes in it, which it is not supposed to have. Frank read an article recently about why swiss cheese has holes and it was because of the bacteria on hay dust that got into the milk before the cheese was made. This was back in the days before milking machines prevented any air contact with the milk. This made me wonder if something similar caused the holes in our cheddar. It doesn’t appear to affect the taste. This wheel has a very, very mild cheddar flavor since it was only allowed to age for two months. It’s good, though, and we are enjoying it.

We have begun to eat yellow squash from the garden. There is nothing like that first squash of the season. I hope to begin canning some before long.

We have also discovered that we like a dish of turnip greens, collards and beet greens. Not only is it tasty, but very nutritious. Since the turnip patch is almost overrun with crab grass, we plan to harvest the patch and see if there is enough to blanch and freeze the greens. We’ve already done this once and they taste just fine. Not quite as good as fresh, but most things aren’t. Now I need to learn to can them. That will come with the fall crop.

This is the first time we have grown collards and we are very pleased with it’s performance here. The chickens, pigs, goats and humans all like them. They appear to be very hardy and productive. I will be curious to see how they perform in our hot summer weather. The patch is very small, and I pick from it each morning for the animals, but it continues to grow very well. I think I will plant another patch [which I did today] and see how it does this time of year. Just to learn a little more about the plant.

The wild and tame blackberries are ripening now, but the tame berries are not sweet at all. I don’t know if the extended rainy period we had in April and May caused this or not. I do know that these berries need sunshine to sweeten up, but we’ve had a couple of weeks of sunny weather lately. I was hoping that would make a difference in the flavor, but it has not. I ate a few ripe wild berries this afternoon and they were much sweeter, so I hope to pick some in the next few weeks to help decrease our dependence on store bought berries.

The baby chicks and their adoptive mom are still doing very well. Before long they will be moved to the pen next door to make room for the next batch of chicks that will be hatching. Our chicken house will be getting very full of little cheepers, but that also means that in a few months our freezer and canning jars will be filling up as well, and that is good.

The kids we put in the ‘boys’ pasture to wean continue to nurse through the fence at times. We had to do some rearranging when the barn project started, and for now the does are in a pasture adjacent to the weaning kids. It has cut down on our take of the milk, but that’s okay. It just means we only make cheese about one to two days a week, and with the building project and the garden needing attention, that has worked out rather well. We will be breeding two of the does in July for December babies. This is something we tried last summer, but it didn’t work out. Our plan is to breed two in July and the other four in November. This will provide us with milk through the winter and a larger supply in the spring for next year’s cheese supply. We’ll see how it works out this time.

The beneficial insect class I took taught me to identify a few more bees and a few more plants, but didn’t really cover insects specific to gardening. I learned some new information, but it hasn’t really affected my gardening techniques. I did learn that 90% of bees are loners that nest in the ground. I thought that was interesting. 

We continue to prepare for Frank’s survival radio class which will be starting in a few weeks. There has been quite a bit of interest from our small communities, which is exciting. The possibility of creating a communication network in our area is very important to us. It could make all the difference in the world should a natural or man made disaster, emergency or collapse occur. We will let you know how it goes.

Life on the homestead is good. Very good. Busier than usual with projects underway, new animals, a different gardening season this year, and just normal daily chores and routines that come with living a life of producing all we can for ourselves. I know some of you have been wondering if we have made soap. Not yet. We have everything we need, and have talked about it a number of times, but it hasn’t happened yet. One day we will surprise you, and us, with that post. It is almost time to make another batch of lotion. I am really glad we make our own now. It’s quick, easy and not full of chemicals. 

We still have our aches and pains, and our bodies won’t keep up with our minds anymore, but with the exclusion of many chemicals and processed foods, we are healthier than we have been in a long time, maybe ever. That will be important in the coming days, weeks and months. Keep your head up and pay attention. More and more people are saying there is something out there, something in the wind that is unsettling, dark and ominous. Be prepared in all things, but especially in your heart and mind, for without them all of the ‘stuff’ you have will come to naught.

Until next time – Fern

Pig Tales, Volume 1

Guess what? I think I like our pigs. Really. They’re funny and not one of them has tried to bite me or chew on my shoe or anything scary. You know what else? I’m a pig catcher. Yep. I can catch a little pig, but they are fast little buggers. I’ll tell you more of my pig catching story in a minute.


We kept the pigs in the stock trailer in the barn for about three and a half days. That was a very good choice. They were enclosed, protected from the weather, and kind of in the middle of all of the barn activity. This gave them the opportunity to hear the other animals along with Frank and I when we were there doing chores. It also allowed us to observe them closely without worrying about escapees.


By day two, I was scratching everyone on the back while they ate. The largest boar likes touch the least, but he is finally coming around as well. The gilt had been handled much more than the boars and she doesn’t mind being scratched at all. One of the smaller boars, which will probably be our breeder, is becoming quite friendly, too.

While they were in the stock trailer, the pigs were introduced to cabbage leaves, comfrey, carrot peels, green beans, goat milk and whey, canned okra and some old squash and tomato relish we need to replace from the garden this year. They weren’t really sure about the leafy fare at first, but now seem to enjoy it. They don’t attack it like they do the grain or whey, but 

they are eating them. We have also been giving them the corn and sunflowers we grew and dried last summer. They are really enjoying chewing the corn off of the cob. One thing we have already noticed is how quickly they put on weight. We weren’t exactly sure how much to feed four little pigs, so we are cutting back on their portions. At first we    

gave them more grain to help tame them down, but now we will be giving them a green bean can full each day and that is all. We don’t want them to be too fat, which can cause problems. I’ll be talking more about that in a minute. Even in the stock trailer, I sprinkled the grain around on the hay for them to root around for.

By the end of day three, the stock trailer was getting rather stinky and the flies were getting thick, so it was time to move them into the pig pen. We have our doubts that our original pig pen will hold these small pigs. It is made of stock panels that have two rows of smaller openings, about 2″ by 6″, on the bottom rungs, but then it expands to 6″ by 6″ for the rest of the way. They can probably still squeeze through that third rung for now, so we chose to put together the other pig pen. You may be wondering why we have two pig pens, but no pigs. The original pen was built to house two feeder pigs about four years ago. They didn’t even get large enough to produce bacon before we took them to the butcher. I hated them. I was afraid of them. But this was their pen. We never considered letting them out to graze like we are these pigs. So that’s why we call this large pen the pig pen, even when we use it to wean baby goats.

 A number of years ago we bought a pig pen that was made by the students of one of the local agricultural programs. It is made of 2″ by 4″ heavy stock panels, welded to square metal tubing to create four panels, one of which has a gate on one end. Putting it together is kind of like a tinker toy puzzle. The puzzle is which ends fit together. Each end of each panel has a hinge of sorts that long metal rods fit through to hold them together and create a corner. The pictures will show you much better how this works than I can describe. After trying to put the first two panels together and realizing it was a little more complicated, Frank measured each end, had me write down the measurements, then we compared the numbers to determine which ends would fit together. The panels were a little heavy, but we maneuvered them into place without much trouble.


After we had the pen constructed, we hitched up the trailer and pulled it out into the pasture by the pig pen. We’re glad we brush hogged the grass and weeds down by the pen, it is so thick and tall, it’s hard to walk through. So, now it’s time to catch the pigs in the trailer and move them into the pen.

Remember, up until this time I had only caught one pig in my life, four days earlier. Since I had that experience, I now knew to carry them by their back feet. Well, one little boar was nice enough to just walk up to me. That one was fairly easy. Next, the gilt, she wasn’t difficult either. I had put a little feed in their pan to draw them together so I could grab a back leg. Of the two that were left, one of them kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we bought them. I wanted to try to catch him while he still had company, but they are fast little pigs and it took me a while. Frank recommended I catch the other boar first, since he 

would have been much easier to grab, but I kept trying until I finally got the one I was after. I had to stop and laugh a couple of times at my efforts and their speed. If you had been able to watch, I’m sure it would have been quite comical. But now, I am a pig catcher, since I have caught all of five pigs in my life. One of Frank’s recommendations was to catch them by the front legs since they tended to face me to watch what I was doing. But that goes back to my fear of pigs. I was afraid they would try to bite me since I would be grabbing them. I opted to wait until a back leg presented itself.

 

 

After the pigs were placed in their new home, Frank backed the trailer up to turn around, and so we could clean out the hay and ick it contained. That tall, wet grass and weeds? Yep, he was stuck. The tires kept spinning on all that vegetation.

  
Now, out comes the tractor. We hadn’t had to do this before, but with Frank’s instructions and me behind the wheel of the truck, he had us out in no time. Ladies, this is one of those things I mentioned recently about having a good man by your side. Putting the pig pen together, I couldn’t picture in my mind what Frank was seeing, and how it would work, so I just followed his directions and it went great. The same thing happened with pulling out the truck. We tweaked a few things according to his directions and everything went fine. There is no substitute for having a good man. None. It’s the way God intended it.


While Frank had the tractor out, and I was cleaning out the stock trailer, he brought several loads of dirt into the corral to place in a low area under the gate that leads to the pig pasture. We will be adding some rocks to fill this area in, which will prevent the pigs from coming into the corral once they have free rein of the pasture.

Now, we have a pig pen within a pig pen. The pigs will stay in the smaller pen until the grass is gone, or we are comfortable letting them have access to the larger pen. We will eventually dismantle the interior pen, reassemble it next door to the original pen, and use it for farrowing when we have litters of piglets. This will prevent the boar from pestering the gilts when they birth. Well, that is the plan for now anyway.


Speaking of the gilt, her name is Liberty, by the way. The man we bought Liberty from had two sows give birth this spring. Liberty’s mom had four piglets, but two of them were dead. The other sow had two piglets, but one of them was dead. The breeder has raised pigs most of his life, but didn’t know why this happened. He was also disappointed with the low number of

piglets in the litter. This sounded a little odd to us, but we took him at his word. After we got home and had time to think about this and discuss it, we have come to the conclusion that we need another young gilt, just in case Liberty’s genetics don’t lend to becoming a healthy, productive sow. The vet was here this afternoon and we asked him what he thought about Liberty’s probability of being a good sow. He told us that if a pig has less than four fertile eggs developing, it will reabsorb these eggs and breed again. A sow will always have a minimum of four piglets. So we have some questions about the gentleman’s story. There is another breeder in a different area that we have been in contact with that has a litter of piglets that will be ready to wean around June 1st, so we will be adding one more piglet to our herd. By the way, I looked up the names for groups of pigs. When the pigs are grown, I can call them a passel of pigs. I like that one, it’s funny. I hope five pigs will constitute a passel, because that many adult pigs is more than enough for us.

The vet and his wife work together which I think is great.



While the vet was here, he cut the piglets teeth. Because we are keeping three boars, two to eat and one breeder, we have chosen to have their teeth cut to prevent injury if they chose to fight over food or the gilt at some point. It may not have been an issue, but we would rather prevent a problem at this point until we know more and have more experience as pig herders.

 

This whole tooth came out. They are very small at this age.

 

Of the three boars, we were planning to choose one of the two smaller ones to keep for a breeder. Lance, the largest boar that kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we were loading them up, was going to be the first to grace our dinner plates. But after we talked to the vet about growth rate for producing meat for the table, we chose to castrate the two smaller boars and kept Lance for our breeding boar. I will just have to work with him a little more to get him to be as tame as the others.

 

For now, our pigs are doing quite well. Once they calm back down and quit running away from me again since we have moved them, then cut their teeth, and castrated two of them, I think they will work out fine. We’ll keep you updated with further tales from the pig pen. Now it’s your turn. Not necessarily to get pigs, per se, but to seek out a new experience that will benefit you and yours in whatever situation you find yourself. Be it homestead, city lot, apartment, where ever you are, you can learn and develop skills that will increase your chances of survival in the coming days, weeks, months and years. We would have never even considered getting pigs if we didn’t know that

great changes are upon us and that we will probably have to fend for ourselves. Pigs have never been part of our equation until now. Are we comfortable with this new venture? No. Are we working at it diligently? Yes. That is why I said in the previous article that I have decided to like, and not be afraid of pigs. It is a conscious decision I have made to increase our food supply. The article I wrote about women and survival indicated my belief that one of my major responsibilities in a collapse scenario will be to keep food on the table. These pigs are part of my efforts in that direction. Frank supports me and helps me when I need it, with anything at all, but his role when the time comes will be different. He will be our protector, community

communications leader, and will be working at making sure the infrastructure of our homestead is functioning well. All of these things will allow me to concentrate on food, clothing, and maintaining the hygiene we need to be healthy. We have been blessed with the natural inclinations of a man and a woman to perform those duties that will support a safe, productive home, and we chose to fulfill those roles. 

Until next time – Fern

They’re Here….The Pigs That Is

This has been a long day. It started off at 6:00am with a phone call telling us that another relative was in ICU with a heart condition. We would appreciate prayers on behalf of our two relatives that are facing medical challenges at this time.

The trip to pick up our piglets took about seven hours. It took us through some beautiful countryside in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. We had one fairly heavy rain on the way there, but none on the way back, which was good since we transported the pigs in an extra large pet carrier in the back of the truck.

I caught my first pig today. It would have been pretty comical if I could have stood back and watched, because after I caught it I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it until the breeder told me to carry him by his back legs. There was one of the boars that REALLY wanted to get out as we were loading the others. We hope he doesn’t keep that behavior up, or we may a nice small roast sooner than we plan.
 

3 scared little boars
4 piglets now that the gilt has joined us

After seeing the tusks on one of the adult boars, the father of our boars, and talking to the breeder, we have scheduled our vet to come out next week and cut the teeth of our piglets. The boars tend to cut each other if they are fighting over food or something and we would like to prevent that if possible.

The piglets will be staying in the stock trailer in the barn for several days. We have severe weather forecast for the weekend and this will keep them nice and dry. It will also give them the opportunity to get used to the sights and sounds of their new home.

They sound funny. It is a new sound to our homestead. Pearl, our Great Pyrenees, got to meet them while they were still in the pet carrier, but they were quiet then. After we let the pigs out in the trailer, Pearl kept walking around trying to see what was making that funny noise.

Little girl peeking through the boys

The piglets were happy to eat some grain, fresh squeezed goat milk and some fresh cut grass and weeds. I was able to barely scratch a couple of shoulders while they ate. Before we loaded up the gilt, Frank was able to scratch her back several times. I am hopeful it won’t be long before they have settled down and are comfortable with us. But then again, there has been more than once today that we thought we were crazy for bringing home pigs. 
 

The little gilt has a while spot on her back right foot.

You may have noticed that we came home with four pigs instead of three. We decided to bring home an extra boar for a little more meat on the hoof. So now we have a herd of pigs. Do you call pigs a herd? It has been a long day. Let’s see. A flock of chickens, a herd of goats, a pride of felines, one lone dog and a couple of humans. These are the intentional animals that inhabit our homestead. For now. We’ll let you know how our little piglets work out.

Until next time – Fern