Sunday, February 27, 2011

The end of the world as we know it!

Let me explain. My daughter grew up in the country consistently insisting she would never live on a farm. When she was a teenager, she would rather stay in and clean house- including toilets than do any of the outside work. She was adamant that she would live in town in a condo. Then she moved back to the farm in the house next door and got married.  Still she didn't want to farm. Not even garden.

For Christmas we gave Lydia and Travis two Red Wattle Hogs. For the 11th of February, the gilt, Lucy,  gave Lydia and Travis nine adorable piglets. I caught Lydia petting Lucy over the fence the other day.

Then I got a strange phone call. "Mom can you order me this homesteading book I've been looking for." I shook my head and looked at the face of my cell phone. Yep, it said it was Lydia on the line. It sounded like Lydia.

"What did you say?" I asked. I admit I made her repeat it several times just to hear her say it.
Of course I ordered the book right away. I also called my son and told him about it right away. His reaction: "It's the end of the world as we know it!! Lydia's converted!! " He followed that with "What books should I send her? I'll hatch some replacement chicks for her from the Buckeyes."

Since that conversation, Lydia has read The Eater's Manifesto, Animal Vegetable Miracle, purchased her own Carhaarts and barn boots, planned her garden and counted all the canning jars she's inherited.  She's asked me to help her garden this year while she gets the hang of it. She's picked through my how to and homesteading library and carried off more than one armload of books.

I was out at her house last week when Lydia plunked herself into a chair and announce, "Mom, I drank the Coolaid. We're homesteaders!"

It sure took long enough! lol Welcome to our world dear daughter.

Chicken houses I have known

My first chickens were the result of much research by my 10 year old self and continually begging my parents. Fifty nondescript white hens found in a classified ad were carried home in carboard boxes in the back of my dad's pickup. And a dog - but that's another story.
My dad partitioned off part of our little barn with old storm sash windows scavenged from somewhere I nolonger remember. A feeder came courtesy of my grandma and her propensity for buying things at estate auctions. Water was supplied in a pan on the floor. For roosts there were limbs nailed higgly piggly across one corner of the new "hen room". 
These poor birds never got to go outside. Outside was where the chicken-eating beagle that belonged to my brother lived. Outside - no matter how sunny and green- was no safe place for chickens on our farm.

Later, when my kids where small, we had a mini-henhouse in West Virginia. It was just 3' X 6' and 3 feet tall. The house stood on legs so it was about 30 inches off the ground. One whole side was a "picture window" to let in the light and there were 2 nest boxes you could get into through a drop down door.  I liked that henhouse it was easy to clean out through a door set low on the back. You could park the wheelbarrow right up under the edge and use a hoe to pull out all the litter.
We had 3 great hens and a rotten rooster some friends had given us. They spent most of their time in the big chicken yard attached to the house. The three hens laid just enough eggs to keep our family of four well supplied. The rooster was a great defender of his harem from maurauding wildlife, the family dog and anybody else who happened by. We stayed out of the chicken yard as much as possible.
If I did have to enter the yard I used a long piece of stiff metal wire bent into a hook on both ends. I'd reach over the fence and snag that mean rooster's legs in one hook then I'd hang him up from a convenient tree limb by the hook on the other end. I sort of felt bad for hanging him up like that so I'd hurry and finish up what needed doing. Then I'd take him down from the limb. Get my body outside the gate and the rooster still in the hook on the inside. Then I'd set him down and slip the hook lose. He was indignant, but no worse for wear.

More recently when we came back to the family farm we had chicken tractors: big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones, tall ones and short ones. They worked well but all that moving got tiresome. And incidently chicken tractors won't keep out weasels.  A couple of late night dashes out to the pens with the rifle in hand and losing an entire pen of half grown turkeys convinced us of that fact.

Then we had an egg mobile built on an old melon wagon. I loved it for the big laying flock we had. The nestboxes were all on the back wall. You lifted up the flap and collected the eggs. Brian had put drinking cups suspended under the wagon. A water barrel inside the egg mobile kept the cups full. Every few days after we locked the hens up for the night we'd hitch it to the tractor and move it to a new spot.  Unfortunately, it was the victim of straight line winds. It's amazing how many times an eggmobile can roll down a hill. The carnage was horrible. We lost most of a 100 hen laying flock.  Then we went back to chicken tractors. They are low to the ground and low maintianance and the weasels didn't seem so bad afterall. We modified the old chicken tractors with doors to let the hens out during the day. The chickens loved being able to roam during the day. It worked great until we had a plague of hawks and got tired of loosing a hen a day to the Red Tail menace. So we modified what had been our first pig house and and added big outdoor runs for the hens - with bird netting over the top to foil the hawks. And that's where we stopped. My daughter and son in law have inherited the hens and this hen house. It works well for their household flock. There are two seperate sides so the hens can be rotated or one side can be used to raise up replacement pullets. Lydia says there is only one thing she wants to change. She wants to be able to gather the eggs without actually going into the hen house. Having all those chickens milling around her feet makes her nervous.

So what have I learned from this hen house history? First you can have too many chickens. And you can have too few. Second there is beauty in simplicity and ease of access. Third there is no such thing as a varmint tight henhouse. Fourth I think I know what my next henhouse will look like. I'm thinking something along the lines of the West Virgina henhouse, but mobile. Perhaps with wheels on one end and wheelbarrow handles on the other so that it can be moved. Hmmm....

Learning a new climate

No not the apartment climate, silly. Though balcony gardening is on my to do list when we get moved in. In the mean time, I'm reading about how to garden in the wild, wet and oh so wonderful Willamette Valley. Why, you may ask, would I want to know such a thing? Well, it's not exactly a secret that Brian and I want to move to Oregon when Brian completes his undergraduate work and starts his grad work. So I'm getting a jump on the learning curve or gardening curve in this case.
Steve Solomon should know what he's talking about he's spent lots of time living and gardening in Oregon. In fact he founded Territorial Seed Company. So I am gleaning new knowledge for my future garden. At the same time, I've found quite a few tips and tricks that will work here in the midwest, so I'm passing those on to my daughter and son.  One question he hasn't answered yet is: what do you do about the giant Banana Slugs!?! Just thinking about them gives me the creeps. Yuck!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My hearts desire part 1

When I was a child I would much rather be in the barn than the house - even if it meant mucking out stalls. As a teenager I told my parents I didn't want to go to college. I just wanted to build a little off-grid cottage on the family farm and live the "homesteading" life. They disagreed strenuously with that plan. I went to college for a year, got married, had children, got divorced, raised two great kids, went back to school, became an RN, came back to the family farm, met my DH, got married, ran Kiss My Grass Farm with the DH and closed down Kiss My Grass Farm so my DH can pursue his college dreams full time.

And now we are leaving the farm again.

I have made up my mind to use our apartment exile to think about what I really need to be happy. I've been thinking quite a lot lately about what I wanted way back when. Funnily enough, I still pretty much want the same thing: a little cottage, on a little piece of land where I can produce the food we eat as much as possible and live quietly and simply.

I found an old drawing the other day. It was my "dream" house, well, what I thought would be my dream house when I was seventeen. It came complete with a composting toilet, a cook stove for heat, cooking and hot water, oil lamps for light and a sleeping loft with a sewing room complete with treadle sewing machine and four harness loom. This dream house had a nifty covered walk that attached it to a cozy little barn with room for a Haflinger pony, a Dexter cow, a couple of pigs and a sheep or two. Chickens would live in their own walk-up one-level condo.

Some things about this dream have changed. Knee and foot surgeries and a touch of arthritis have eliminated the loft - or stairs for that matter from my dream house. Now I'm thinking compact single story with an Arts and Crafts sort of look. The composting toilet is debatable. My husband is pretty much appalled by the idea. As for off grid... I believe his response was something to the effect of "NO WAY am I living off grid!"

Some of the original dream has not changed. I still want a wood cook stove for heat, cooking and hot water. Wood cook stoves have come a long way in the last 30 years. Now you can get one with an airtight firebox with a viewing window, better oven controls, and a water heating capacity to allow hot showers and hot tap water, and they'll hold a fire longer and heat a larger area. I'm researching stoves now.

I still love oil lamps and I'll have some in the house, but they will be for mood and emergencies. Unless I can convince the DH that he loves them as much as I do. We'll see. I'll have to work on him.

I'd still like a sewing/crafting room, but I think that will have to be combined with a study/library room. This will take some careful planning. Hmm.... I still want a treadle sewing machine and a loom. I like the quiet rhythm of a treadle machine. And weaving is such a calming occupation. Best of all both of these "relaxation techniques" result is beautiful handmade textiles. There will have to be room for book shelves because we've accumulated quite a treasure trove of books on a multitude of subjects both sentimental and practical. Brian says he can't give up his computer. I don't know. Some days I think I could.

The nifty covered walkway is still in the plan. When my DH finishes his degree, we want to move to the rainy Willamette Valley of Oregon . A covered walkway will come in handy during the rainy season which is about 8 months of the year. Going back and forth to the barn will be much nicer if you don't have to get wet every time.

The cozy little barn is still in the dream, though we'll have to make room for another pony for the DH. :^) I love the wooden barn my DH built for me on the farm here. It has a piggy maternity ward, stalls for ponies, milk cow and calf. He built a milking area with stanchion and milking machine. And it has lots of storage. Maybe a smaller version would be good.

So much to think about and consider.

And so ends part one....