Friday, November 22, 2013

We've Moved!

For today's blog post, you'll have to visit the blog's page on our new website! 

Be sure to make a note of the new address!  It'll be the blog's new home from here on out.

My biggest concern about moving the blog was that I might lose readers in the switchover.  I REALLY don't want to lose you!  If you're having technical difficulties, please comment, and I'll see if there's something I can do to help you with the transition.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Meet Molly

Saturday, Molly came home to live with us.  She is a 7-month-old Great Pyrenees pup.  Isn't she adorable?
Now, I know what some of you are thinking-- yes, we've had our troubles with dogs in the past.  But, there are a few reasons I think that Molly will work out for us (excuse me a moment while I go find some wood to knock on).
1.  Molly is a Livestock Guardian Dog (or an LGD).  Often, livestock guardians are confused with, say, the Border Collie, which is actually a herding dog.  Some guardians will herd, but their primary job is to protect the herd or flock.  Prior to coming to our home, Molly was living with the chickens and chicken wagon as well as a flock of sheep.  Here, we plan for her to serve primarily as guardian of our goat herd. 
2.  She lives with the herd.  Her dog pen is set up within the goat field.  Until she and the goats are comfortable with each other, she stays in her pen unless we are with her in the field.  Once the goats are more accustomed to her, we will open her pen and rig it in such a way that she has access to it for her food and time away from the goats, but the goats can't get in to her personal space.  She will mostly run with the herd.  For now, though, our skiddish goats are unsure about the new addition.  (Check out the video for evidence.)  I guess these things just take time.
3.  She rarely ever barks.  The barking in the video is a neighbor dog.  In fact, in her time here, I've only heard her bark once, and that was upon first sight of Milkshake, the backyard cat.  This is important because her bark is reserved to alarm us to potential predatory threats.  If she's barking, there's something we need to see about.  Also a plus:  her bark is low and gravelly and so not-at-all grating, like the high-pitched yips of some dogs.
4.  She's very well behaved for a puppy and has been trained to kennel, to come, and not to jump up on people. While decent on a leash, she could still use a little training.  She's excellent with the kids and has learned very quickly what people and animals are hers.  She has the personality of a Lab when she's around us but quickly goes on alert when she sees or hears something foreign.

5.  She's cute.  I mean, let's be honest, that counts for something. On the downside, that big, fluffy, soft coat will require some maintenance, especially once we move her over to the farm where she'll pick things up in it more often. 

She loves the farm.  I haven't tried letting her off her leash over there yet, though. 

One of the things we try to do with her a lot right now is walk the perimeter of the area she's to protect.  This allows her to become familiar with her territory.  Eventually, she should learn to take this walk on her own throughout the day.  When she's resting, she tries to position herself so that she can see or hear danger should it approach.  In the case of an intruder, attack is her last resort.  She will first try to position herself between the intruder and the herd.  If the intruder persists, she will begin to bark and charge.  Since her primary job is herd protection, she is more prone to stay with the herd once the attacker has left than to chase it down for a kill. 
We haven't had any major problems with intruders in the goat field, but I think we'll be very happy we have Molly to protect the herd once we move over to the farm.  :)
What do you think?  Have you ever seen a Livestock Guardian Dog in action?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Pen-Mates Battle It Out

Today, we decided that if Oreo, our buck, was going to get the job done with the ladies this fall, he should've already done it.  That means it's time for him to leave the ladies' field and move in with Dallas, our other male, for the winter.

Of course, as new pen-mates they had to battle it out to determine who would be the dominant goat.  As you can see, Oreo (who starts out on the left), seems to have won out.

You'd think there's a good joke to make here about testosterone, but Dallas is a wether so it's tough to blame his need to defend the pen on hormones.  Also, the female goats are just as keen to prove their dominance.  When the whole herd runs together, it's Queen Razz who calls the shots.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bringing 100 Babies Home

Bringing home 100 new chickens is a lot like bringing a new baby home.  Don't roll your eyes until you've heard me out.

The onesies have all been washed in Dreft and neatly folded.  The hospital bag (or suitcase) is waiting by the door.  The diapers are lined up neatly in a cute little pastel-colored basket.  You have a birthing plan.  You've read the full What to Expect series.  This baby will not dictate the schedule.  You will get her on a sleeping and eating schedule, nap when she naps, all will be well.  Why does everyone else seem to struggle so much with this baby stuff?  
Then, you actually go into labor (or get the call from the adoption agency), meet your beautiful baby, bring her home, and then ALL HECK BREAKS LOOSE!  
A few months later you emerge from the haze and there are diapers everywhere, you can't remember the last time you had 3 hours of consecutive sleep, every last onesie is covered in spit-up, and it still seems that wee one is calling every last shot regarding when she (and by extension, you) will eat, sleep, and cry.  And, when you look into the mirror for the first time in three days, you notice a smear some unidentified dried substance on your cheek and would not be at all surprised if it's poo.
Or in the case of chickens . . . 
You clean out the mini-fridge, set it up all cute-like on the front porch, handpaint a sign to hang at the road, gather tons of egg cartons (thanks, FB friends!), stack up the bags of feed into a nice and neat pile, purchase your egg-gathering basket, erect temporary electric fencing to protect them, make a plan for when you will feed/gather eggs/water, etc.  Then you bring them home and ALL HECK BREAKS LOOSE!

First, the chicken wagon nearly takes you all out (read yesterday's post, if this doesn't sound familiar).  Then, you realize they can probably fly over the fencing you've erected, so you start your Sunday morning by climbing into the chicken wagon with your husband and 100 confused chickens, catching each one, and clipping her left wing before tossing her out into the field.  100 chickens. Unfortunately, zero of them were down with this plan.  When I emerged from the wagon, I looked like I was giving some new chicken-poop-based all-natural skin and hair treatment a try.
After a quick shower and trip to church and back, you remove the poo-covered nesting boxes from inside the wagon, haul them to the house and give them a thorough cleaning, while once again getting covered in poo. 
Clean nesting boxes, reinstalled
Then, you decide to move the 7 old chickens from your backyard over to the farm with the other 100.  The only problem is at nightfall when everyone else is marching up the ladder and into the wagon for bedtime, the new gals can't figure out where the heck to go, so as a family, you have to corner and catch them and place them in the house. 
But, in the dark of the chicken wagon, it becomes obvious why the nesting boxes were so disgusting.  They chickens have been roosting/pooping in them all night.  So, in the dark, you have to relocate about 50 sleeping chickens to different perches for the night and seal off the boxes, so that they can't return to roost in the wrong spot.  If you happen to be a chicken farmer with a slight bit of chicken phobia, then reaching into a dark nesting box when you can't even tell which part of the chicken you're grabbing is not high on your list of most-fun-ways-to-spend-an-evening (I'm not naming names, but said chicken farmer is not me). 
Are they really out of feed already?  They need more water?  Why did we leave the chicken catching hook back at the house?  Has it really only been two days since we brought them home?  Why did I clip chickens wings all night in my dreams? 

The thing is, though, much like when you watch that new little one sleeping peacefully, when I just sit back and watch 100 chickens scratch and peck and take a dust bath and just enjoy being chickens on a warm, sunny day, I just get giddy. 
We're not yet in a routine.  We don't yet have the eggs in the front-porch fridge.  I may have been just a little late to pick the kids up from school today.  But we're all still loving it.  I know that because when I say, "who's ready to run over to the farm with me real quick?"  the kids still hoot and holler like we're headed to the county fair.  Or, when I pick Girl 1 up from dance and tell her a story that begins with, "You're not going to believe what happened at the farm while you were in practice,"  I end it with, "I bet you're glad you missed out on that one, huh?" And she replies, "I don't know, Mom.  It may have been kinda crazy, but it sounds like I missed out on an adventure."
And, like parenting in the earliest days (and, let's be honest, forever onward), this is an adventure . . . a beautiful, poop-smeared adventure.  And, so far, I wouldn't trade a single minute of it. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Relocating a Farm

For those who feel like our decision to launch our egg production operation seems a little sudden, allow me to give you some backstory.  A few weeks ago, John was introduced through a mutual acquaintance to a family that had attempted to upstart a farm very similar in scope to the one we have envisioned.  Unfortunately, a series of accidents left the farm's primary caretaker unable to continue the farm.  This left them with some very nice equipment and animals that were only a few months old and only gently used. 

For essentially 1/2 of retail, they were trying to liquidate their farm.  So, while we were planning to construct our large chicken wagon in the spring, here stood a good-quality one, ready for use.  BUT, it couldn't be sold without the chickens it currently houses.  And, they are great, productive breeds that are just beginning to lay and have been raised free-range.  It was an offer just too good to pass up.

Additionally, we purchased from them a load of fencing, some feeders, a goat care/corral system, various other items, and Molly, a 7-month-old Great Pyrenees who has been serving as guardian to both sheep and chickens. (Yes, the kids are VERY excited!  More info on Molly later this week.)

The liquidating farm was two hours away in Yellville, Arkansas.  So, we caravanned there early Saturday morning and began the loading process.  There's really no conventional way to haul a chicken wagon this large, so the guys constructed this plan that got the job done!

A couple hours after arrival, we were all loaded up and ready to head back to our farm.  The whole load consisted of 3 trucks, 2 trailers, 1 chicken wagon, tons of equipment, 100+ chickens, 1 giant dog, 3 adults, and 3 children.
(Thank you to the best father-in-law ever for his great help with all this madness! If you ever need to haul a chicken wagon 2 hours along all kinds of road, he's your man!)
We were quite a spectacle.
As crazy as this day seemed, the real excitement came once we got home to the farm.  Sam backed the trailer carrying the chicken wagon into the temporary fencing we'd constructed for it.  Then, we just had to figure out how to get it off the trailer.  Unfortunately, we were on a little bit of a decline, too.  We decided that the three of us could probably control its weight and steer it off the wagon as its momentum brought it down.  We were wrong.  John and Sam were on each side of the back of the wagon, and I was in the middle, doing my best to steer it as it came down.  The sheer weight of the wagon coming off the trailer was more than we expected, and it just came barreling off the trailer pushing us back into the temporary fencing we'd erected.  In the madness, I got tripped up and was going to the ground.  Because I was between the other two fellas, I was headed under the out-of-control wagon.  That's when my amazing husband shoved and kicked me aside so that I rolled out of the wagon's path.  Though John and Sam were able to stop the wagon, John was unfortunately injured in the process.  The top of his foot is swollen pretty badly.  We thought yesterday that it might be broken, but he wanted to ice it and see how it felt the next morning.  Now, it's still pretty tender and swollen but is better than it was last night, so he's thinking it's not a break.
The whole incident shook us up pretty good.  And needless to say, the kids were pretty freaked out.  They each needed some extra attention last night, and we decided to treat ourselves to a family dinner out once we had everything  unloaded.  I don't really want to think about what might've happened, but I am surely thankful that we were protected from what could've been.
Seriously, there's never a dull moment around here!
Now, to clip the wings of 100+ chickens . . . .


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thanksgiving Week Challenge

(Disclaimer:  If some of this sounds familiar, it's because pieces of it were borrowed from last year's post.)

Thanksgiving will be here soon!  That means that we're all busy planning our menus and making our grocery lists and readying our tables.  Most of us will gather with family and friends and eat amazing, comfort food until our belts need loosening.  Let us not forget in this season of thankfulness the many who will not be joining us in our overindulgence. 

World hunger statistics are sobering, to say the least.  I like this video because it uses the numbers to get our attention rather than the emotionally evocative images involved with so many of the world hunger videos we've been subjected to over the years.   One child dies hungry every 6 seconds.  Now that's sobering.  How many children would that be during just our Thanksgiving meal alone? 

As our family met to discuss how we wanted to approach feeding the hungry this holiday, I mentioned this statistic to Girl 1.  She just looked at me and started slowly counting as the tears welled up in her eyes. 

I don't mean to be a downer this holiday.  I do mean to challenge you to do something about the plight of the needy.  So, I'm doing what the video asks of me and telling a friend (who will hopefully tell a friend who will hopefully tell a friend, etc.). 

Our family plans to do our part this season by donating to Bread for the World.  We plan to raise the money for this the same way we did last year.  And, you can do it, too -- without even having to reach into your pocketbook (what is a pocketbook exactly?  Does anyone even really use one?)  You want to know how, don't you?  Well, lean in.  And promise not to tell MeeMee that we plan to do it again this year.  Promise?  Okay.

We plan to eat Ramen noodles every night for a week.  The grocery money saved will be donated and help to feed others.  We do this in an attempt to better understand the plight of the hungry.  Now, rice and beans would be a much more appropriate meal if we were trying to eat the way most of the hungry world eats.  But, my kids won't eat rice and beans.  They just won't.  And, contrary to what MeeMee seems to believe, we do plan to feed our kids this week.  (Bless her, she's only got their  best interests at heart!)  We choose Ramen because it's about the cheapest thing I can think of to feed us that we will all eat.  Also, it probably pretty closely approximates the way our closest hungry neighbors eat. 

Why the same thing every night of the week?  When you're truly hungry, food diversity is a luxury you do not have.  You eat what is available, and often it's the same thing . . . over and over again.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving seems a fitting time to undergo this challenge and prayerful focus.  So, we will begin this coming Wednesday and continue until the following Tuesday, two days prior to Thanksgiving.  (Ideally, we would run it right up through Wednesday, the day before the holiday, but it just doesn't fit our schedule this year.)  To focus our mealtimes on the task at hand, we will begin each of our seven evening meals together with a special prayer.  (This was my favorite part last year!) Here are links to the beautiful prayers we intend to use this year.

Wednesday -- Sharing our Abundance
Thursday -- That We May Be Satisfied
Friday -- Prayer of Confession
Saturday --  May I Hunger Enough
Sunday -- Traditional Native American Prayer
Monday and Tuesday (this link contains two separate prayers) --  Prayers at the Table

Will you join with us?  Put your own spin on it.  Eat something else.  Or, don't change the way you eat at all but click on the prayers when you sit down to the table each night and join with us as we pray for the hungry of our world.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Clean Taco Soup

Well, it's cold outside.  And, I've got a freezer full of grass-fed beef since our half of Georgie came home from the meat packaging plant (I don't know. It's just what the kids decided to name him).  So, it seems like a good time to make a big pot of Clean Taco Soup.

Lots of taco soup recipes will invite you to toss in a packet of store-bought taco seasoning mix.  I could do without the unrecognizable ingredients found in some packets; plus, all the ingredients needed to create the same effect are waiting patiently in my spice cabinet.

So, forgo the packet and make your Taco Soup the clean way, using whole ingredients that you recognize.

Throw it all in a CrockPot:

1-1.5 lb. cooked ground beef
a can black beans, rinsed and drained (or 1/2 lb. dry beans, cooked)
a can/jar diced tomatoes
box/jar of your favorite broth (I used chicken because I have a ton made up right now)
1 can corn, drained or 1 c. frozen
1 Tbs. each of chili powder, ground cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder
1/2 to 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt to taste

Give it at least a few hours in the CrockPot, but you could leave it all day on low, if necessary.  Serve it up alongside a salad or as a stand alone meal with shredded cheddar and tortilla chips.  Yum!

It fogged up the lens of my camera. :)

Everyone gobbled it up.  But, Girl 1, who has a tendency to eat like a bird, kept going back for more and was the last one to push away from the table.  "It's like Mexican chili!"  Yep, it's pretty tough to beat!