Kayaks Spell Summer Fun, Garden and Flower Update

I have been coveting a kayak for quite some time. I eyed them longingly when shopping at Costco.  I could never convince myself to pull the trigger, $300+ is a lot of money for one kayak.  Recently I received a hot deal coupon for Dunham’s.  They had several models of kayak selling under $200.  I had planned on getting a future beach mariner 10.4, but changed tack and purchased a Pelican Ultimate 100 sit on top kayak.  My thinking was that it would be easier for the kids to enter and exit the kayak with a sit on top style.  I also purchased a Lifetime kid’s kayak from Sam’s Club for under $100.  Two kayaks would certainly be enough for our family, as we could take turns, and life would be good.  Right?

The kayaks themselves performed flawlessly.  The Lifetime kid’s kayak was great.  It came with a paddle and is extremely stable.  The kids are able to stand up on it without tipping it.  And it is highly maneuverable, allowing the kids to turn on a dime.  The Pelican is equally as fun.  It did not come with a paddle.  It is much faster than the smaller kayak, and is quite stable as well.  None of us have tipped the kayaks when we haven’t been trying to tip them.  The kids enjoy using them at my parents lake and they both seem quite durable so they should offer years of boating fun.

Now for the bad… two kayaks is clearly not enough for my family.  In talking with my wife and mother, we were all in agreement that more kayaks would be ideal.  A solution was crafted.  My parents would buy a full sized kayak, the one that we brought with us.  They would have it to use for themselves at all times, but it would allow for another kayak while we were there.  We would buy another Pelican to replace the one my parents bought from us, and another Lifetime kayak so we would have two kids’ kayaks.  This solution allowed for me, or my wife or mother, to go for paddles on the lake with the three oldest kids.  So far, this solution has worked out well.  I can still see situations where another kayak would be helpful, and that Future Beach Mariner 10.4 keeps tempting me…


Our watery playground


Kayak fun


Pure Joy

The wildflower garden that I planted around our septic tanks continues to fill in.  It is quite beautiful now, and the variety of flowers is pleasing to the eye.  I am glad that I gave it more time before plowing it under and starting again.  I may still add some more seed to it, but it is definitely getting there.  The kids and I are having fun searching out the new flowers that seem to be blooming every day.

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The garden keeps trucking along, weed choked though it is.  The grass and weeds obscure the view of the vegetables in many areas, but time has not allowed for any sort of weeding to be done.  I am lucky if I get the 21″ mower down there to cut some of the paths between rows.  Despite all this, the garden is producing.  While we were away this past weekend, the zucchinis blew up into club sized squashes.  The tomatoes are also starting to ripen, and are delicious.  I have even gotten a handful of beans despite very limited trellising. The one thing I did today was to set up a sprinkler.  The rain has stayed away for over a week for the first time this summer, and as such things are starting to thirst.  I purchased a tripod sprinkler that covers about 80% of the garden.  It will have to do for now.  I had plans of getting a drip tape system set up, but that has joined the other projects that will have to wait for next year.  It is rewarding to know that the garden is providing healthy food, despite not having as much time as I would like to devote to it.


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DIY Hay Feeder

Shortly after we got our steer calves I got to work making a hay feeder.  For those of you who follow me, you know I like to work with what I have on hand.  For this project it happened to be a cattle panel, some fencing staples, some two by fours, and some electric fence wire.

I knew I wanted to use the horizontal support that was next to the gate to attach the top of the feeder.  I took another two by four and ran it between the two vertical posts nearest the gate.

I had already bent the section of cattle panel into a “v” so I attached one end to the aforementioned horizontal support using fencing staples.  I then attached the bottom of the “v” to the newly installed horizontal support.

In order to hold the other side of the “v” from bending down I took two 2×4’s and screwed them into the top support.  I then used fencing staples to attach the “v” to the 2×4.

It was at this point I thought I was done.  “Not so fast” said the crafty calves.  They quickly learned that they could pull hay out of the ends and onto the ground.  In order to stop, or at least slow, this practice I zig-zagged electric fence wire across the ends.  That worked well.

Using what I had on hand, I was able to make a very serviceable hay feeder.  Once the steers come back in the fall, and are much larger, this feeder probably won’t hold enough feed.  I am hoping to make a round bale feeder, but that will be another post.IMG_6625IMG_6626IMG_6627IMG_6628IMG_6630IMG_6629

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Garage Sale Finds

A couple weeks back I stopped at a garage sale near my house.  I have gone to this particular house’s garage sales several times.  They often have tools and outdoor items so I figured I would stop quick.

I am one of those people that tend to spend very little time at a garage sale if they don’t have items that I am interested in, like 30 seconds.  If there are items I am interested in I will peruse and look around a bit.

At this particular sale there was a Dewalt router without a price tag so I figured I would see how much they were asking.  When $7 was the answer I asked if I could plug it in, and when it worked I was sold.

On the way back to the van, I noticed an ice auger.  My dad had just purchased one last year and I know he spend a few dollars on it.  When I got to the car I gave him a call to see what he had paid and tell him the manufacturer.  StrikeMaster/Mora was the same company he had decided to purchase so I went back to see how much they wanted for that as well.  The nice lady said it was listed at $10, but make her an offer.  I love it when they negotiate against themselves.  I offered $7 and she accepted.

For $14 I got a nice older router, and a hardly used ice auger.  I love garage sales and Craigslist because I would much rather not pay full retail, and many times the items are like new.  I think I did ok for myself that day.

What have been your best garage sale or Craigslist finds?
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Rabbit Shade

This was my quick fix for providing shade for the rabbits. Vinyl placemats from Dollar Tree. The rooster fits the theme of the Homestead I think. I used zip ties to attach them. They will provide shade for the rabbits and a bit of rain protection for the feeders. It probably isn’t a permanent fix, but it should work for now.

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Catching Up On a Lot of Things

There have been a lot of little things that I have been getting done as time allows. I made three new PVC feeders for the new rabbit cages.  They are essentially the same as those for the chickens in the brooder, except slightly taller.  I cut a small section of wire out of the roof so that the feeder rises above the wire. This way it can be filled without opening the cages. I will have to cut a hole in the roof panel of i decide to put one directly on top of the cage. I used a zip tie at the bottom to hold it in place.


I need to hang a piece of shade cloth on each action of the cage. They don’t have enough respite from the late afternoon sun. I may head to the dollar store to try and find something cheap that will work.

The other day I was walking by the barn and noticed movement in one of the buckets under the eaves. I figured it was mosquito larvae and that I would need to add some more dunks to kill them. When I looked closer I realized they were tadpoles. Not only will the tadpoles eat mosquito larvae but the adults will eat mosquitoes as well. Homestead Boy #2 is already calling them pets. He even moved some from one bucket into another that had some larvae in it.


I thought the wildflower patch I planted around our septic tanks had been a bust. I expected more flowers much sooner so I was thinking about reseeding and adding some topsoil. While it may not yet be what I had hoped for, we are getting new blooms every day now. So I will probably wait and see how it continues through the summer.

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I was finally able to get the mower belt from Tractor Supply a few days ago.  Homestead Boy #2 really like driving the tractor and mowing so he had been on me to get it done.  Getting the belt back on the deck required some muscle and finagling but I was able to manage it.  Homestead Boy #2 is happily back to cutting grass.  It really has been a huge help to have the boys be able to cut grass for me.  There are still things I need to do and areas I have to cut, but it probably cuts my mowing time in half, which with all the projects I have right now is invaluable.

Last fall the boys and I had started splitting and stacking wood.  We never finished with the rounds that we had brought up by the house and this spring and summer I have just been cutting the grass around them.  Well I bought a pool to put up and that is more or less the spot I want to put it, so the wood needed to be moved.  We are going to make another stack next to the first we made.  We either need to split the rest of the rounds, or move them somewhere else.  How much time I can find will determine which happens.  Either way, I hope to have a refreshing place to cool off after working hard on the homestead.  A pool will have to suffice until I can figure a way to get a swimming pond.

The bigger jubilee orpingtons have been doing well in the barn brooder.  They are definitely big enough to be outside and are contributing to dusty conditions in the barn.  Before moving them out, I needed to move the grow out pen they were going to be put in.  To make that job, and moving the pen around in the future, easier I installed some handles.  I also put them on the bigger square pen.  I also zip tied a small tarp onto the pen to give them some shelter from the weather in addition to the roof panel that is already installed.  I really like the way the jubilee orpingtons look, they are pretty birds.


Their shelter


Another angle


Close up of one of the handles


The locals getting to know the new neighbors

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That leaves us with the five younger jubilees and the three turkeys in the barn.  I will be very happy when they are all out of the barn and I regain that space to use inside.  Along with that, I need to take down my seed starting setup and the barn will feel so much less cluttered.

Until next time.

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Amazon Prime Free 30 Day Trial!!! Just in Time for Prime Days!

If you have ever considered Amazon Prime, today is the day. I love the access to unlimited streaming videos, free two day shipping, and kindle book borrowing. A free 30 day trial will make you eligible for the Amazon Prime deals on Amazon’s birthday tomorrow. Click HERE to start your trial.

I use Amazon all the time, even if it is just to check prices. Most of the time they have the best price and it saves me a trip to the store.

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Chicken Butchering, Cage Finishing, and Lawn Mowing

This past weekend was a great mix of fun and work.  Saturday morning found the family cheering on Homestead Boy #1 at his swim meet.  He loves swimming, we can hardly keep him from practice, and he has become quite good at it.


Lane Two

After that I headed to Firesign Family Farm and joined in the chicken butchering process.  I have taken classes with Ruth, milking and cheese making, but this was all business.  She let me come over to help out and learn the art of butchering a chicken.  If you are squeamish, you may want to skip to the next paragraph.  They had been going for a couple hours by the time I got there, so I just tried to jump in where I could and learn the whole process.  The different stages of butchering are catching the chickens to be butchered, then, putting them in the killing cone and slitting their throats and letting them bleed out.  After that they go on to the hot water bath for about 30 seconds to loosen their feathers followed shortly after by the plucker.  Here is where small operation would be at a disadvantage, if you only butcher a handful of birds a year, a plucker probably isn’t in the budget.  But having seen how well it works, I can’t imagine hand plucking.  After sufficient time in the plucker it is on to head and feet removal.  Ruth saves the heads and feed as she has a customer base that buys them with which to make chicken broth.  After that, entrail removal.  Here is where I learned that the size of my hands is not ideal for butchering chickens.  In order to remove all of the entrails and guts, you really need to get your hand into the body cavity.  I always ended up stretching and ripping the skin farther than you would normally  prefer.  For my own birds, it won’t be a big deal, but if I were to start selling them it might be something I need to think about.  Then the birds were rinsed and chilled in water in a walk in cooler.

I very much enjoyed learning the process and hopefully I didn’t slow them down too much. It definitely made me think about the process of butchering my quail and how I will manage that with the size of my hands.

After butchering was over, I tagged along to help/watch an electric fence being set up for a new pasture for Ruth’s beef steers.  Another thing I have read about and watched a video on, but had never seen done in person.

Then we waited for the stock trailer to arrive for steer transport.  We set up for loading and were ready to go.  The steers, however, weren’t interested.  A few of them jumped the electric fence and none of them wanted anything to do with the trailer.  After making several attempts and gauging our options, the decision was made that there was enough grass on premises to keep the steers at home.


The trailer waiting for cows that would never come

While this was going on my wife took our kids as well as her sister and kids and went to the library for a treasure hunt activity and then on to a splash pad for some summer fun.  As they weren’t home when I got back, I started cutting the grass around the house and barn.  Finishing as they arrived home we grilled steaks and hot dogs for ourselves, my sister in law and nephews, and my in laws.

After dinner it was time to work on the rabbit cage again.  Friday night after walking on the treadmill I cut the divider pieces to separate the cages.  I had decided to split it into three cages instead of four so there was room for a doe and kits.  Before my nephews left I had them help me with the J clips, I believe they thought that was pretty cool.  Then I cut the piece for the top and started using J clips to attach it.  Not long after I got going on that, Homestead Boy #1 asked if he could help.  After I showed him the process I left him to finish and took some kitchen scraps down to the compost.  By the time I got back he had finished and we had a cage separated into three to which we couldn’t get in.


Dividers Installed


Reverse Angle


Top On


Another Angle

Sunday morning before Mass I cut the holes for the doors and cut doors to cover them.  The door openings are 12″x12″ and the doors are 13″x13″.  They hang from the top and the hinges are made out of J clips.  The reason for hanging them from the inside and from the top is so that if I were to forget to latch them, they would still fall closed.  The spring latches were the finishing touch and the cage was ready to be set up.  But that would have to wait.


Door Opening Cut


Door Installed and Latched

After Mass we were able to spend some time visiting with good friends swimming and eating and watching the kids play.  It was a lot of fun for both the kids and the adults.  We always love spending time with our friends and this family has a very similar makeup to ours.  They also have five children, have a very nice garden, and several chickens.  I am trying to convince them they need a rabbit, but I’m not sure I’ve done it yet.

When we got home the boys wanted to help me set up the cage so we moved it to a temporary location that would work for now.  Once we gift our original two rabbits away, I plan to make a rabbit shed with two tiers of cages in the location that some of the rabbit hutches are currently.  We quickly set up some food bowls and I was able to get a multiple nipple watering system set up.  I will need to get some more PVC fittings to make some more feeders.  I also plan to get some sort of wire cover to keep all the sharp edges from cutting anyone.  Suggestions for that would be greatly appreciated.


Set up and ready to go


Improvised roof until I can get a panel

It was a productive weekend with the perfect mix of work, learning, family time, and fun.  I never get as many projects crossed off the to-do list as I would like on the weekends but if you don’t take the time for family, friends, and fun what’s the point in doing all the other stuff?

I’d love to hear what you did this weekend.

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Beginning of a Bunny Cage

Towards the top of my to-do list for several weeks now has been to construct a wire rabbit cage, cages in the plural rather. The new rabbits we got need more space. I have never built a rabbit cage, but that didn’t stop me with chickens, or quail, or cows. I had ordered the supplies previously so Friday night I got started.

The floor was easy. I just rolled out the wire mesh. The floor has 1/2″x1″ holes. The cheapest I found it was at Big Acre, a ten foot roll, 24″ wide is what I got.  It was actually difficult to find this sized mesh so when I build more I will have to look and see if I can get a longer roll at a decent price somewhere.


Floor on the right, roll for the sides on the left

I ordered online the wire mesh for the side, which has 1″x2″ holes. To start the sides, I rolled out and measured 14′. I bent the two feet of the length on each side at 90 degrees so that I had a large U shape that would make up three sides of the large cage.


Two corners and three sides



A quick explanation of bending the corners.  I took the 6″x6″ and aligned it with where the corner needed to be.  I then stand on the 6″x6″ and pull the wire mesh upwards while hitting it with a rubber mallet as close to the corner as I can.  This mesh is infinitely easier to bend than cattle panels.

I then started attaching the sides to the floor. I am using J clips and J clip plyers that are made specifically for building wire cages. You might remember I used them to build the doors of the quail hutch.  After sitting on the cement contorting my inflexible legs in ways they argued about going I decided working while standing sounded much more enjoyable. We moved the work onto one of the chicks grow out pens, which was a perfect work height.  I then cut a piece of wire ten feet long for the last side and attached that as well.


My “work bench”


J clips


Four sides and a floor


That was as far as I got on Friday, but it is starting to look like a cage. I still need to decide how I am going to divide it up. My original thought was split it into four cages, each 2’x2.5′. That may be pushing it with regards to size for a doe and babies. I’ll let you know what I decide.

I love work like that. Creating useful things with my hands that would be far more expensive to buy completed. It’s also fun when the kids help. Homestead Boy #2 helped with measuring, placing, and clamping. The scenery is hard to beat as well.


Beauty, eh?

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Building Community, and My Raspberry Patch

One thing that I enjoy more than most things, is the building of community.  It is something we are stressing at our Parish, and it applies in every day life as well.  You can’t make it very far as a lone wolf.  A group of like-minded individuals in any situation is important.

I have been lucky enough to have many people in my homestead community to help me learn.  Many of those are you in the blogosphere who may not be close in proximity, but are teacher/mentor/community members nonetheless.  I also have several people whom I know personally that I can call on when I have a question related to animals, gardening, compost, etc.  My brother in law is my go-to with regards to animals.  My friend Ruth at Firesign Family Farm is a jack of all trades and master of many.

Yesterday I met another person who I can add to my community.  I was perusing Craigslist as I often do, and saw an add for organic raspberry plants.  Since many of those that I obtained from Ruth got zapped by the late frost I thought that getting a few more plants would be a good idea.  I set up a time to meet the gentleman and headed over.

I knew from talking to him on the phone he gardened organically, and that he used a large amount of worm castings from vermicomposting.  As this is something I have been interested in starting, I was intrigued.  Upon arriving he showed me his very healthy raspberry patch and started digging out several plants.  I bought ten, he gave me about fourteen.  He also showed me his vermicomposting hills as well as helped some of the kids pick raspberries and carrots.  He is interested in chickens, which is something I do a little bit of, and I am interested in vermicompost so I plan on talking with him in the near future.

After dinner I was able to get all of the raspberries in the ground and watered.  They didn’t need a whole lot of water since we had received almost .6″ of rain in the morning.  Hopefully they are well established going into the fall and we get a good harvest next year.

Homestead Boy #2 is our animal trainer.  He enjoys putting the dog on his leash and taking him for walks around the barn working on heeling.  He has been asking about working with the steers and sheep and since the steers are over at my brother in law’s the sheep are more convenient.  I was able to find our sheep lead rope and get it on our ram lamb, Boots.  We worked with getting him used to the lead and rewarded him with sweet feed when he was accepting of it.  I think he will be our 4-H kid.

Until next time.

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Lots to Report… the Cows are Gone

They’ve moved on to greener pastures. It was inevitable really. It just wasn’t meant to last. Of course I mean that we have taken them to my brother in law’s house. It was the plan all along. He has more pasture fenced in than I do. So for most of the rest of the summer the cows will be at his house, fattening up on all the green grass they can eat. Meanwhile, with any luck, we will be able to stock up on hay here so that when Old Man Winter’s fridgid grasp takes hold we will have plenty to feed them here.

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We also took my in laws’ two sheep to their house as well. He has a small sheep area that the two of them can eat down for awhile. That leaves us with our seven sheep here at the Homestead. Plenty to keep us entertained or to pet if you are so inclined to come over for a visit.

Since I have a lot to catch up on I’ll just keep moving back in time, sort of. About a week and a half ago our neighbor baled our field. She decided to give us this whole cutting and take the whole next one. Which brings us back to Independence Day. After spending the day with the family at a parade and then grilling I put the bale spear on the tractor for the first time. There was some discussion as to whether or not the tractor would be able to lift the bales, as they were fairly large. It ended up being moot as the tractor handled the bales without a problem.


Yes, I’m pointing at you

When I had been finding time to trellis the garden, my method of choice was to cut off a length of twine the approximate length I thought I would need and take the jumbled mess down to the garden. This method was less than ideal so I had been brainstorming a different way. I came up with making a spool out of cardboard. It is a cheap and easy method that works well. I even cut a couple slots as keepers so that the spool doesn’t unwind when I don’t want it to. Early returns are good with this new method.


The biggest recent project was building a deck on the front of the house. It was big for a number of reasons. 1) We are supposed to have a landing at the doorway so this needed to be done. B) the last step up in our current stair setup was taller than the rest and less than safe. I still need to make new stringers but this is already a vast improvement. III) Having this allows our three year old daughter to get into the house by herself. Without the landing, her little arms couldn’t reach high enough so she had to have someone open the door for her. She can do it herself now. Most importantly my wife wanted this done. She puts up with so many of my ideas/projects that I had to move this project to the front of the line.

Luckily a doctor that my wife works with likes projects like this and he graciously offered to help. With his expert hand, and my brute force we were able to knock this 8’x8′ deck out in no time. About five hours from start to finish. Once I finish the stairs I will need to finish the railing as well, but that shouldn’t be difficult. We used composite for the decking material as it won’t splinter, key with th kids, and it is almost maintenance free. We are certainly blessed with amazing friends.

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That is about as caught up as I can do for now. Until next time.


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