My Black Friday Gift to You

Amazon is running a deal on magazine subscriptions right now.  Here are a few of what I think are the best deals on magazines I read.

This Old House Magazine.  I let this one lapse in the past, but at this price I just reordered.

TOH mag

Hobby Farm Magazine.  I have not gotten this one in the past, but for this price, I have to give it a try.

hobby farm mag

Popular Mechanics.  This is another great one.

pop mech mag

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Sunday Turkey Day

This past Sunday was butchering day for our turkeys.  As a warning, there will be descriptions of the act of butchering in this post.  Please discontinue reading, or skip those parts, if you aren’t interested in those details.  As has become my habit, I butcher when my good friend Ruth at Firesign Family Farm butchers.  I help her with her butchering and she lets me bring my birds along to be butchered at the same time.

Homestead Boy #2 had been asking for a couple weeks if he could come along and Ruth said it was fine as long as he knew that it would be a several hour long chore.  He hung around for about 45 minutes, watching what was going on and trying to help by herding the turkeys.  After that, he played with another boy who was their with his dad.

Butchering is never something that is fun, it is a necessary task to live the type of life I want to live.  All of these animals have lived a very good life while they have been living, and their death serves the purpose of feeding people and/or supporting a business.  The act of killing them is also done with as much thought to being quick as possible.  There is a huge difference between butchering chickens and turkeys.  Chickens are placed in killing cones, head down, before their necks are slit.  It is not a very hands on endeavor because you can leave them in the cones to bleed out.  Turkeys are a whole different deal altogether.  You wouldn’t think it, but turkeys are quite strong, surprisingly so.  Obviously they don’t fit in killing cones so the procedure is to sit over top of them, pinning them down.  Several times I was almost “bucked” off the turkey by their strength.  To say I was surprised is an understatement.

After the turkeys have been killed, they are put in a scalder, which is more or less a hot water bath for 1-2 minutes.  This loosens the feathers from the turkeys’ skin.  After scalding the feathers are plucked by hand.  The turkeys are too large to use the drum plucker that is used for chickens.  Once plucked they are moved over to the butchering table and then to the ice bath.

It was another experience for our homestead.  I will report back with how the turkey tasted and how we prepared it.  Based on how it went this year, I think we will be raising more turkeys next year.

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Not Prepared

I admit it, I was not prepared for the weather that has hammered us with a foot of snow today.  Just a mere 36 hours ago, the forecast was for 1-3″ of snow, but that rapidly changed to 5-8″, and now 8-12″.  To be honest, I think we got more than a foot.  The extent of my preparation was to get out some snow shovels and windshield scrapers last night.  I didn’t bother getting the back blade attached to the tractor, because frankly I didn’t think I would need it.  Because of my lack or preparation I was forced to use the bucket of the tractor to plow, and while it worked, it was not the correct tool for the job.  But the driveway is plowed so that we shouldn’t have any problem at least getting out of our driveway to get to church in the morning.  The rest of the streets, I am not so sure.

While it was snowing I went out to the barn and built the two long walls for the chicken coop.  Obviously with this weather, this job is long overdue.  I still have the two end walls, the roof, and the sheathing to put up, but any progress is a step in the right direction.  I found an exterior door on Craigslist that I got for $30 and I plan to get a couple windows from Menards, unless I can find some on Craigslist or at the Habitat Re-Sale shop.  Either way, this coop needs to get done.

The weather next week is supposed to get back into the 50’s, with rain.  So it is going to be a big muddy mess between the rain and the snow melting.  Fun times.

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Runaway Chickens and Beef Raffle

I wouldn’t mind one day without excitement at the Homestead, but I also won’t complain about having things going on.  This afternoon I asked Homestead Boy #1 to go collect eggs.  A few minutes later he came back in yelling for me to come out, “right now”.  When collecting eggs from our square pen we often times have to lift up the side to get to the eggs.  This is because not all the hens use the nest box.  I normally lift from the corner making the corner the highest point.  If I am doing it by myself, I slide a piece of wood underneath so I can reach under and find the eggs.  Homestead Boy #1 put the piece of wood underneath the middle of the side, creating a see-saw, and one side got higher than the other.  High enough where the chickens could start scooting under looking for more green grass.  In all, nine hens escaped and we had to return them to the safety of their pen.  Not a huge deal, but not something I was expecting to do this afternoon.

Fortunately, Homestead Boy #3 had just fallen asleep when this occurred.  As he was still sleeping, I took that time to screw down the decking for the chicken coop.  I just screwed down the corners to keep it in place until I have time to finish fastening it to the frame.  I then covered the whole thing with a tarp as it is supposed to rain tomorrow.

 If anyone who is local is interested in a great deal on a chance at a quarter of beef, let me know.  My good friend Ruth, at Firesign Family Farm is offering three separate quarters of beef for a raffle to raise money for her church’s outreach programs.  Only $10 a ticket will earn you a 1 in 300 chance at winning a quarter of all natural, grass fed, no GMO, Angus beef.  Let me know how many tickets you would like.  For the record, I don’t gain anything from promoting this, other than helping out a friend do good work.

Until next time.

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Quick Weekend Recap

This weekend was filled with all sorts of activities for all of our family members.  Here are some highlights.

Oreo is still enclosed within the now electrified fence.  She definitely respects the fence.  I picked up a fence tester at Tractor Supply and it reads 7,000+ volts so it definitely has enough power that it should keep her in.  I still plan to add another strand a little bit lower.  She also has started coming over and taking grain out of a bucket.  She’ll even let me per her head while she’s eating so I think there is hope for halter training her.

Last week I got the lumber to build the base for the new chicken coop.  I cut the 8′ pieces so that the overall foot print would be 8’x12′.  On Saturday my dad put the base together using joist hangers.  I was going to use 15/32″ treated plywood for the decking but it became apparent quickly that it wouldn’t be sturdy enough.  We picked up some 3/4″ and that should do the trick.  We picked a place to put the coop and cleared the area.  With any luck I can have the sides built so that the chickens can move to their new home soon.

Lumber cut, but before assembly

Opening day of deer gun season is always the 15th of November in Michigan.  I haven’t been able to get out at all during bow season, but I was able to sit in a tree both morning and evening of opening day.  While I didn’t see any deer, sitting in a tree in the woods is always a good thing.

Sunset after hunting

I also was able to get 5 more bare root trees planted.  This was the second shipment from Stark Bros.  All told, in under two years we have planted over 30 fruit and nut trees on the property.  In a couple years, I hope to see the fruit of that labor, pun intended.

On Saturday I bought a gallon of red wigglers because I needed one more thing to do.  My vermicomposting has officially begun.  Hopefully this is a successful endeavor that not only provides me with great worm castings for fertilizer, but also a side business in selling the castings and extra worms.  Time will tell.

My worm bin

There were lots of other activities from kids sports, to a retreat at church, to a baby shower, but it’s late and I hit the highlights.  Until next time.

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Animals Leaving

This is the post I had intended to write before Oreo jumped the fence the other day.  Fortunately she has stayed in the fence after adding the electric wire, so far.

So back to our regularly scheduled posts.  The other day we sold the two rams that were born on our farm this spring.  Boots and Storm were listed on Craigslist and someone wanted both of them.  Of course Boots was Homestead Boy #1’s favorite sheep and Storm was Homestead Boy #2’s favorite sheep.  They were unhappy I listed them for sale.

They got pretty emotional when I set a time for the man to come and get them.  Tears were shed and while I shook the man’s hand after the deal was done, Homestead Boy #1 wouldn’t shake hands.  I understood their emotion and tried to make sure I didn’t minimize them, but I also tried to explain that we can’t keep every animal on the farm.  After some thinking about it I also decided to share in the monetary gain with the boys.  They help with the animals and I figured it would help them to realize that these are livestock, not pets.  It seems to have worked, as I haven’t heard another thing about how upset they are with me.

All part of living on a Homestead.  I am sure we will go through the same thing when other, cute animals, are sold or butchered.  I will have to cross that bridge when we come to it, until then I think we have made progress.




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Unanticipated, and Unwanted Excitment

I had fully intended on posting today about something totally different than the story I am about to tell.

When I got the cow, the fencing was discussed.  Our pasture has 46″ woven wire field fence.  It has always done well at keeping the sheep in, predators out, and the steer calves never tested it.  None of those things weigh in anywhere near 1000 pounds.  Even though Oreo weighs near a half ton, she and most cows, are actually quite nimble.  I happened to look out the window just in time to notice that Oreo’s front legs were on the wrong side of the fence.  As I flew out the door, I managed to yell to the kids to call their uncle and see if he could come help.

It was a brisk cool day today, and I ran out of the house in basketball shorts and a t-shirt, but I was kept warm by running around trying to keep Oreo nearby.  She gave me a run for my money.  They boys helped as much as they could, and we finally got her back in the pasture, but not before making me run all over our property and trying to keep her from getting too far away.

As soon as she was back in, I started work on getting an electric fence set up.  I had enough insulators to get one strand set up around the top of the fence.  My brother in law had an extra fence charger along with hardware for gates, and after a quick trip to Tractor Supply for some grounding rods we were in business.


Bad cow

I am a glutton for punishment so I tend to be the one who tests electric fences with my hand.  When I touched the fence it gave me a little shock, but nothing like I expected.  We were stumped, we fooled with different wires, more grounding, anything we could think of to no avail.  I did get blasted twice, once when I was leaning against an uninstalled grounding rod and the other time when I was kneeling on the grass and my pants were wet.  The only thing I can come up with is that when I was standing and touching the fence my tennis shoes were insulating enough that they were shielding me from most of the shock.  When I was grounded I got blasted.

I have been trying to keep an eye on Oreo, but it’s difficult given that it is dark.  But the one time I saw her get close to the fence I think her ear clipped and she jumped back and shook her head as though she was shaking off a shock.  I plan to add another strand of electric about half way up the field fence as soon as I get a chance.  Hopefully the top strand will be sufficient as she has been looking at the top of the fence only.  Time will tell.

I hope to have another post tomorrow, not related to anything exciting with regards to Oreo at all.  Wish me luck.

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Big Addition

We have a new addition to the Homestead.  It is a big addition.  Like 1100 pounds big.  But let me back up one second.

My brother in law has always wanted beef cows.  Recently he found a good deal on some bred Herefords, so he got two of them.  I happened to ask if the guy who was selling them had any other breeds, and sure enough he did.  He had a couple Belted Galloway crosses.  They were half Beltie half shorthorn, so a good smaller beef cow.  I have always liked the Belted Galloway, and despite their relative rarity, we have several farms around here that have them.  I was interested.

After looking at the Craigslist ad, and getting the green light from my wife, I called the gentleman to see if the cow who’s belt was solid, was still available.  She was, so I made the trip up to his place with my brother in law’s trailer.

All that to say we now have a full sized cow on the farm.  She has been here for a little over 24 hours and seems to be settling down a bit.  The gentleman we got her from called her Oreo, which is a little generic since that is the breed nickname, but that is the name with which we are going to stay.  Oreo had never seen sheep before, so she was very anxious when she arrived.  I let her stay in the trailer for a bit scoping things out, but she was still on edge when she was out.

The sheep for their part were just curious about this new, huge creature released into the pasture.  She wasn’t interested in being friends with the wooly sheep, and mock charged them several times.  That promptly ended the sheep’s curiosity.  I entered the pasture to try and calm her down and make sure she saw the hay bale.  She wasn’t interested in being friends with me either, and mock charged me.  Needless to say the rate at which my heart was beating increases significantly.

 Most of the night she was restless.  Her calf had been weaned a few days ago but the gentleman didn’t realize she started nursing another calf when hers was taken away.  The good news about this is that she has strong maternal instincts.  The less great news is that she is bellowing for her calf, and it had me seriously worried she would try to leave the pasture to find him.  Fortunately she is still here today.  And she seems much calmer.  Yesterday she was curious about the steer calf we have here, but I think after he saw her mock charge the sheep he wanted nothing to do with her.  Today they seem to have made friends, laying near each other and he seems at ease with her.

She has been exposed to an Angus bull, so in the spring we will hopefully have a 1/4 Beltie, 1/4 shorthorn, and 1/2 Angus calf to raise for meat.  My plan is to work with her over the winter and get her used to being handled so that I can see if she will make into a milking cow.  If not, I will start upbreeding her with beltie and continue to get a higher percentage Belted Galloway cows.  Either way, we will have a good beef breed, and at only four years old, I could feasibly get another 14 calves from her.

The adventure continues.

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First Shipment

So a couple months ago, when Stark Bros was running their free shipping on orders over $100 I ordered some more fruit trees.  I actually made two orders, and the first one arrived this past week.

This order included two peach trees and three cherry trees, all bare root.  On Wednesday I got the shipment notice, so the three youngest kids and I went outside on what was a beautiful fall day and we pre-dug the five holes.  We also pre-dug some of the holes for the next shipment to come.

The trees arrived on Thursday, but that day was totally booked with other activities, so the trees got planted on Friday.  I just keep on adding to the fruit trees I have already planted.  These trees aren’t in the “orchard” though, they are spaced around the homestead.  I will let you know when the next shipment gets here.

The peach trees, obviously the plywood sheets need to be moved

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Rehabbing a Cow

So we started the summer with five Holstein steer calves that I needed to bucket feed for the first month of their lives.  Everything was going great, they were at my brother in law’s house on pasture getting only grass and having access to a protein bucket.  Then a two of them started to fall behind the other three, but still looked healthy.  Then, before we knew it, we lost one.

So the other one who was falling behind was brought to our house.  He was weak, and all of a sudden wasn’t getting up on his own.  He would eat and drink when he was given food and water and would walk around if lifted, but he was far from thriving.  We started giving him some cow feed and he started to get better.  My brother in law was watching “Calling Dr. Pol” and sure enough they had a cow that had the same symptoms as ours.  He just couldn’t put on enough weight with grass alone.  The long and short of it, the genetics of our steer aren’t such that he can do well on pasture alone.  Holsteins haven’t been bred to do that, and two out of the five just couldn’t do it.  He is doing great with hay and feed.  The plan at this point is to get him up to weight and then probably sell all four and get some cows that we want to keep for a long time.  My brother in law already got a couple herefords.  So to all of those who had said they were interested in buying a part of a cow, not this time.

But… I’m looking at a Belted Galloway/Shorthorn cross that is already bred, so maybe not too long.  We will see.


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