on loving, caring, killing and eating

**If you would rather not read and see pictures of the butchering of our animals for meat you may want to skip this post and come back another day. However, I would encourage you to read on because as long as we remain disconnected from the realities of our choice to consume animal products the longer are food system will remain broken, and I dare say, harmful to both the animals’ lives and ours. It’s so easy to divert our eyes from the reality of being omnivores, it also seems as though many living this lifestyle are skirting round the realities that come with raising one’s own food and avoid articulating their experiences in favor of not ruffling feathers. In the name of authenticity I am choosing to share both the realities and the emotions that accompany them. 

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Spring and Fall. The most frantic time of all for anyone who grows/raises the majority of their own food. Eh, who am I kidding there is really never downtime when it comes to living the way we choose but there’s just something about Spring and Fall, that manic hurrying, the need to get so many of the things on that “to do” list done, like yesterday, or you’re gonna throw the whole damn schedule off.

In reality, that schedule is a mirage, something that never actually existed because the second you decided to be a homesteader your were already behind. You should have started 5 years ago, you should have learned a hell of a lot more a hell of a lot sooner. 

Summer is abundant and feels at time languishing. The humid, hot days seem to stretch far in front of you, the light lasts forever and you feel like you have all the time in the world to get it all done. There’s always new life running and bouncing in the pastures or rising up from the cool earth of the garden. When one thing stops ripening two new things start and there is always something to look forward to.

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Then one day you wake up, walk out the door and realize you’re missing a layer to protect against the morning chill. It never seems like Autumn arrives gradually, at least not in our neck of the woods, but rather all at once, catching you off guard, unprepared and suddenly you’re behind…again.

Fall is harvesting and closing up the garden, moving in the firewood, repairing anything that might not make it through another winter, winterizing of structures, recalculating and sending out a quiet prayer that you have enough hay, breeding of most of the livestock, and moving everyone closer in to be nearer to the food, water, the electric to keep the water from freezing and the farmer. (The shorter the distance you have to carry a square bale in two feet of snow, the better. Especially come February when your patience with the white stuff is already wearing thin.)

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Also, it’s butchering season, at least around here.

We do most of our butchering this time of year for a variety of reasons. It’s cooler for one, there are fewer bugs, more rapid cooling of the carcass and an overall more hospitable environment for us throughout the process. Also, most things reach the age required at this time of year. I think there is also something that results from our closer connection to nature and the seasons (and I believe a pleasant side effect of this lifestyle) flipping that primeval switch that still lies somewhere deep inside of us all- winter is coming, protein rich food needs to be acquired and put in reserve to help us weather the long cold months that are ahead.

This past week we butchered both a steer and the the final turkey that remained after an apparent coyote visit this summer (we are lucky to have a local farm that we can buy free-range turkeys from to replace the loss.) Within the month we will butcher the lambs that need to be culled and Kevin will hopeful get a deer or two and that will stock our freezers full of meat until this time next year. We would also be butchering pigs and meat chickens but they were two of the things that didn’t make the cut this year when we had to rethink where our energy was spent.

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In the name of full discloser we did not butcher the steer ourselves (we like to do our own butchering when ever possible) only because we do not have a large enough cooler (yet) were we can hang the sides of beef for 3 weeks. So instead we reluctantly loaded him on a trailer and took him to a local, family run butcher shop that can do it for us.

Bert, the first animal born here on the farm two years ago, was Lilac’s baby. We touched him and carried him within an hour of being born. We watched him nurse and grow and nurse some more even after he had grown. (See? when left to their own devices all mammals practice full-term breastfeeding.) We fed and watered him, giving him a scratch on the head whenever we did. He was precocious and possibly more friendly than even his mom, by far friendlier than the other bovine in our herd.

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He was funny and entertaining, running fence lines whenever we walked by, often telling us a story while doing it. He is the headliner in the best story that has come out of this homestead of ours. He was originally scheduled to make his trip to the butcher earlier this fall but secured his month long reprieve the morning that Kevin and my dad tried to load him on to the stock trailer we had borrowed. They had parked the truck and trailer in the alley way that runs alongside all of our pastures. The plan was to run him from the pasture into the blocked off alley and then up into the trailer. All went according to plan until the second they got him up to the the trailer, Bert suddenly realized what they had in mind, froze and took a mental accounting of his surroundings and remaining options. Without missing another beat he reared up onto his hind legs, all 1000 lbs of him, and gracefully leapt over our seven wire, electric fence, just barely grazing his belly hair against the top wire and gently came down in the same pasture he had just exited, reunited with his herd. According to the guys, they looked at one another, threw their hands in the air and said “you win today, Bert.”

This week, using a revised plan (the same plan I had suggested the first time around, ahem) he loaded immediately and was delivered without incident.

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Now here is were it all gets confusing and murky. As the trailer pulled away there was sadness, melancholy and few tears (mostly from the youngest one) but there was also gratefulness, relief and something that felt a lot like excitement, though I am terribly reluctant to use that adjective in regards to a situtation such as this, but it was there none the less. After all, within a month we would have a freezer full of high quality, grassfed, extremely nutrient dense food to feed our family and that would last us well over a year at a fraction of the cost (a fraction of a fraction?) than if we were buying from a local farm, not to mention the grocery store.

With these emotions still fresh in our memories we finished off the week butchering the last turkey ourselves. Both kids were present, though they always have a choice to opt out, just as they always have the choice to not eat meat. (I would like to mention here that mine and Kevin’s bodies feel better and stronger when we eat meat and considering the life we are living both of those things become paramount. We have also, at times, consumed a far more vegetarian based diet, mostly out of necessity (read cost here) and before we lived in a place where we could raise our own meat.) We said our goodbyes and thank yous and watched as Kevin delivered the life ending swing of the ax. See there it is again, the confusion and murkiness. Things have to die, we have to kill, in order for us to live. Be it a turkey, or cattle, right on down to the lettuce chopped out of the garden. And while I understand the it is easier to see the similarities between us and an animal then between ourselves and a head of lettuce the truth is everything is going to expire, including us. We are all going to return to the ground and feed new life.

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The hard truth is everything is going to be something’s dinner. 

My point in all of this is not to sound callus or to find fault with anyone who chooses not to eat meat, the point is that life is complicated, full of gray areas- raising, killing and consuming our own food is one of them. What’s not a gray area is that if your meat is coming from the grocery store you are actively supporting a substandard life for the cow that is going to grace your grill (and that you are likely to overcook all the nutrients out of but that is an entire post unto itself.) That cow never stood in the middle of a lush green field, sipping fresh water void of dung and getting a glorious scratch between the ears. He most likely hasen’t seen his mother since she licked him clean and has definitely never drank milk from her udder, no less at 18 months old.

Don’t even get me started on what the life of that turkey you will be setting on your Thanksgiving table was like. A quick internet search of factory farmed poultry will be education enough.

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If we are going to eat meat, it feels most honest to have the proverbial (and often times literal) blood on our own hands. 

Now, I’m sure those of you who are still here reading this ridiculously long post are thinking “That’s all great but you have acreage and I live in the city or suburbs, I don’t have the land, knowledge, resources to raise animals to meet all my meat needs.”

To this I say hogwash (How punny was that?) not because I think you should get a steer or a batch of meat birds and let them trim and fertilize the grass in your backyard, though I do dream of a day when everyone has a sheep or two on their lawn and they finally throw out their lawn mowers, but because you have options. Minimize your meat consumption like we did when we lived in the city. Go to the farmers market and introduce yourself to a local farmer, ask him/her about their animals or better yet make a visit to their farm. Join a meat CSA or go on LocalHarvest or eatwild and find a local, grass based farm near you. Offer to help during butchering time to offset the cost of buying better meat because, yes, this is a more time consuming and labor intensive way of raising meat animals just like buying a hand-carved, wooden toy is more expensive than a piece of plastic from china, which is to say, it is an investment. You are investing in your future health, in the health of those you love, in the health of the animal you are going to consume and the health of the earth.

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Kevin and I have had a lot of discussions over the years in regards to the feelings that arise from the raising and subsequent killing of our animals for meat. We agree that it never feels easy and we are always reverent. But the truth is, there will always be a new baby being a born, often times shortly after the butchering of the last one. The circle continues, until the circle comes around and sweeps us in too.

Living the way we do seems to create a life with a lot of uncertainty (Is it going to rain too much this summer…is it not going to rain enough? Are we giving the kids enough off farm experiences…are we away from the farm too much? You get the point.) while at the same time presenting us with some absolute truths.

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Ruminants are meant to eat grass, not grain. Truth.

Animals are meant to live out in the sunshine and moonshine, laying on the earth, napping in the fresh air. They are not meant to live in a dark “barn” that is covered in shit and other animals. Truth.

Most often if an animal eats what it is meant to, and lives as it is meant to, it will likely never become sick and never require a single dose of antibiotics, where as  factory farmed animals will receive these and other medications prophylactically because they will inevitably need it. Truth.

When an animal is living as it should (and grazing in a natural manner) it can do more to help and heal the land than its carbon footprint will undo. Everything form fertilizing and aerating the soil to fighting against invasive species and revitalizing native ones. They will help us save the earth and ourselves. Truth.

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And when the moment comes just before the final swing of the ax or the final pull of the trigger you look into the animals eyes, the animal that you have cared for since the day it was born, and that good life you have given them and all they have done is replayed in an instant. All at once you are grateful and sad, you are killing and loving.

And the circle continues. You will nourish another animal until the day it begins to nourish you.

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We will be nourished by the earth until the day we nourish her. Truth.

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I might not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I may not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I’m not sure if there is anyone left around here to read these words but I think I will type them none the less. A 9 month absence must be enough to kill a blog, especially a little one like mine, but I will write because I need to dump all of these words and thoughts out of my head. I need to keep a record of our days and experiences if for no other reason than that I want my kids to have it. So, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter if there is anyone here reading this as long as someday in the future the kids do.

I know I have said this before but this was meant to be a journal of our homesteading experiences and this year has been real short on the homesteading bit. I mean, we are still here, still chopping firewood and moving sheep, still butchering our own animals for food, still pulling a plant or two out of the ground to grace our dinner table but it all seems far and few between and certainly not noteworthy enough to write a post for. Really, what would that look like anyway?

We woke up this morning and walked the 10 sheep 10 feet from pasture 1 to pasture 2 today.

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We harvested carrots for tonight’s dinner from our one and only row planted this year.

Awe inspiring it is not.

So rather than manufacturing posts and scraping together a few pictures, I just avoided it all together. Spring and Summer around here were spent mostly in doctors’ offices, either for my issues or for pre-op, op, and post-op (which in the end lasted months longer than it should have) on Kevin’s right knee. Our two biggest projects consisted of Kevin digging a new waterline out to our overwinter pastures (which took nary a long weekend) and him rebuilding our back deck, a highly boring job but one that had to be done, lest the whole thing went crashing down sometime this winter, buckling under the weight of two feet of snow.

Of course, we still felt busy because while none of those things look all that impressive individually, string 1000 mundane moments together and they still take up a hell of a lot of time. Add in that half of those 1000 things involve an animal with an instinct, an agenda and a mind of its own you might as well multiply it by a million. On top of it all there are two little kids needing time and attention (Exhibt A: while just typing this I had to field a question from PJ as to what is actually happening when we burn wood in the woodstove. This led into a discussion of atoms, molecules, hydrogen, carbon, waste products, atmospheric gases, incinerators and how it all impacts the environment.) Granted, we got our science lesson for the week (month? next year?) out of the way but you can see how this might all make a mom (and dad for that matter) a little too tired to muster a weekly blog post.

So what else is there to say? I have missed writing and all the cathartic side effects that come along with it. I have struggled with what to write about and how to walk that line of feeling like I have to share and sharing because I want to. I want to connect with other like minded people as well as people that can help me expand my mind. I’m not going to make any broad sweeping statements that I am going to show up here every day, or every week for that matter, but I do know that I want to show up. How that’s all going to play out I have no idea but I do know if anyone wants to come along I sure would enjoy the company.

embrace- January 24th

Embrace.

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That is what I want 2014 to be all about. I need to get past looking for perfection, for everything to happen at just the right moment, in just the right way. So, I’m going to actively work at embracing it all.

Truth is, with a change in life circumstances I can’t expect for things to always go the way I want. The nature of this disease of mine is the proverbial crap shoot (at least for now while we are still figuring it all out.) One morning I can wake up feeling like a million bucks and the next I can be zombie. So it is imperative that I change my mindset. I’m not someone who has ever been able to go with the flow, now, the current of life is getting even stronger and I am no longer capable of fighting against it.

Every week  month I would like to come here and jot down a little list (hey, have I ever told you how much I love lists? 😉 ) and work at the practice of embracing it all. If I check in here, with all of you, it will help to keep me on the path of moving forward and gaining perspective.

Great! So, now that you have agreed, here it goes…

::All of my people got sick this past week (as did the dog). Thankfully, it was staggered (except for the dog). It helped me realize how lucky I am and just how much Kevin does on a daily basis. None of this would ever work without a partner like him.

::Also, the dog never had an accident in the house and she has mastered ringing the bells by the door to let us know when she needs to go out. Major win! She is feeling much better now, by the way.

::While Kevin was sick I got some one-on-one alone time with each of the kids. It still amazes me how different the interaction can be when all of your attention can be focused on to just one of them. While there were moments that were exceptionally hard, I loved hanging out with them and doing nothing else. I think we will be scheduling more of that into our daily lives now, especially solo dates between all of us.

::This past week, as many of the farm animals moved on to their new homes, I realized I was feeling a little more relief each time I watched tail lights leave the barn driveway. Everyone who has picked up animals seems more than nice and totally invested in giving each of their new charges a good and comfortable existence.

::I found a local organic CSA about 10 minutes from us. They offer an excellent variety of fruit and veg (except for potatoes.) If we do decided to buy a share, or two, we will only have to plant a few things in one of our 4 garden plots- giving us an opportunity to compost the remaining three heavily and amend the soil, which will pay off in a few years when we can get back to the business of growing all our own.

::With all the tending to the sick, which forced all plans that would have taken us outside of the house to go on hold, I was able to finish another Fair Isle hat, this one for PJ.

::In our attempt to whittle down the livestock count we decided to cull 4 sheep and take them to our local butcher. It was a hard decision, one we did not take lightly and something we were not thrilled with having to hire out. However, I am grateful that soon we will have a freezer full of lamb, especially since our stock of beef and venison will be gone at the end of this week.

::Our week of convalescence also afforded me a lot of time to sit and think. I was forced to be still (with the exception of rocking one sick kid or the other) and work through all the things that have been swirling around my head for a weeks now. There is still more I need to sort out but, for now, I am riding the momentum and moving forward- as opposed to wallowing in the stagnation I had felt a couple of weeks ago.

And now, I leave you with this face. Happy Friday. Here’s to embracing it all next week!

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What did you embrace this week? Leave a comment and share, you just might inspire another lovely soul. 🙂

well that’s that…and a word

Hello everyone and Happy New Year to you all!! So, I had the intention to ride the lovely momentum that the Capturing December project had created for me here in this space. However, the fates had other plans. This post has sat in my draft box, in one form or another, since the day our last holiday guest left. I contemplated not ever hitting publish on this one but then I stopped and realized I had spent the entire last month of 2013 opening myself up, sharing authentically (whether the day, the shot, or myself was perfect or not) and accepting, no, embracing all the beautiful/ugly, ideal/imperfect, helpful/inconvenient everything. Picking a word of the year that speaks to you is something a lot of my blogworld friends participate in annually, my beautiful and talented girl Tracie is the one who introduced me to the practice. So, I’m hitting publish, speaking truth and choosing to EMBRACE it all, with a little help from you, I hope. 🙂

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With the first full week of the new year coming to an end, so did our holiday celebrations (with the exception of one, which had to be postponed until a later date.)

It was, all in all, a relatively calm holiday season.

We visited, we ate, drank, laughed and reminisced. We gave gifts we produced right here on the farm or, at least, with our own hands. We weathered two below zero forecasts and two snow storms. I completed a goal of recording a picture a day in December, while at the same time cultivating some beautiful friendships with some lovely ladies who joined in, kept me company and kindly provided encouragement throughout the process.

In the quiet pockets of time, between meals to prepare, waiting for visitors to arrive, caring for livestock and children, healing from one illness after another and contending with piles of snow, we brainstormed. We talked about what we wanted to plan on for the coming year, what we wanted to eliminate, what we had to do, what we no longer wanted to participate in and how to arrive at that oh so beautiful place we call balance.

With the hurricane of the holiday season dissipating reality is becoming quite evident in the light of the new year.

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I am not getting better…yet. My Hashimoto’s is actually progressing rather than remitting, as are my symptoms. The past few weeks are apparently going to take sometime to recover from, evident in the fact that today I didn’t drag myself from bed until late morning, spent most of the day under a blanket, on the couch, snuggling with either a puppy or child all while dirty dishes laid waiting to be washed, laundry baskets overflowed and decorations begged to be put away. I barely even touched my latest knit project (which is very unlike busy-minded me.) With each passing day it has been a little bit harder to get out of bed in the morning, my joints have increasingly ached, throbbed and swelled, my mind has become more sluggish and my mood has swung sadly low again. The worst part is the normal healthy me is trapped inside this wasted, sad excuse for a 31-year-old, watching it all plummet and feeling as though she can’t do anything to stop it.

I think I did a fairly good job of hiding it throughout the season. However, those of you who visited might not necessarily agree. I know while we ate very well at most meals, I did indulge in more sugar and refined flour than I would have any other time of the year. I also slept less and was on the go more, which probably hasn’t helped. Many changes are being instituted in the hopes of relieving symptoms, maybe, if I am lucky, reducing my antibodies, but they are going to have to be big changes that require a lot of support, often readjusting of everyday occurrences and instituting of new habits.

On top of all my health issues not only has my mother been suffering from health problems the last six months but now my father is also. None of it seems to be life threatening, thank goodness, but all of it is pervasive enough to put both of them out of commission. Not only are they unable to help around the homestead but they are both in need of help from Kevin and I for, not only everyday needs, but also in their non-farm business. My parents still do their best to help, in many different ways, but currently have neither the time nor the energy/ability to do what we had all initially intended. (It was, of course, always the plan for us to care for them as they grew old, which was the entire point of us all agreeing to cohousing, I just don’t think any of is expected that need to happen so soon, nor occur all at once.)

Circumstances have drastically changed since our move here two years ago. Not only am I less than helpful with our usual farm task, leaving most of that on Kevin’s shoulders, but our attention is now desperately needed in places that are, albeit just as, if not more important than our dreams of homesteading and self-sufficiency.

So the short of it all is, things are quickly being recalculated and rearranged in order for Kevin and I to have the time and energy to continue raising the kids in the way we had always intended and something has to give. That something seems to be the majority of our homesteading lifestyle.

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Sadly, I am selling almost all of my sheep herd and as of Saturday 10 will already be off to their new homes. I am just not physically capable of tending to a herd of 20, nor am I able to process as many fleeces come March. It also seems unfair for their care to fall mostly to Kevin, as it is his least favorite job here on the farm. (Most of our sheep are just that, sheep and with the exception of about 6 they tend to do the opposite of what we want them to.) So, we are aiming to sell most, butcher a few and, for now, keep only 4 ewes as pets/lawn mowers/fleece providers.

We are also selling or culling the majority of our laying hens. The plan is to put some meat in the freezer, decrease the amount of feed and care needed and keep only the best layers to meet our personal egg needs. Then we will add in maybe 3-6 new chicks to replace those layers next year. It will also mean a new, smaller coop, closer to the house which will facilitate in the kids and I easily taking over their care (no matter how I feel on any given day) and relieving Kevin of that chore, as well.

Thankfully, none of the cows ended up being bred this past summer (Yay, for the combination of being too busy and having a little bit of brain fog thrown in) so we do not have calving to worry about and the herd was already due to be decreased with the butchering of one steer in spring and the second in fall. We are also considering selling the three girls if things remain the same by late summer.

The ordering of two more pigs and a batch of meat birds has also been put off and we will be forced to outsource those meats to other local homesteaders and farms, along with our milk needs. That will leave us with our goat heard, which are fairly easy keepers, and our garden/orchard. The garden planning has not yet begun but I think I am going to have to force myself to keep it even smaller than last year and possibly supplement by buying a CSA share.

It is sad because we have all of this land and all the possibilities it holds and we are now back to living a not so self-sufficient life. I am beyond frustrated and swing from beating myself up for seemingly failing at our dream and curling up in bed wishing we had never tried. I have so many things I want to do, learn and become better at (as does Kevin and which I wish I was better at facilitating, or better yet, not interrupting!) but I can’t make my body or our current life situation mold to those needs and head in that direction.

I am also a little sad because I feel like this blog will no longer have a voice. There won’t be much homesteading occurring for at least awhile and that is really what the space was supposed to be all about. I do not yet know what the future holds for my writing here. Maybe a different blog? Maybe some time away while we regroup? I really don’t want to stop writing, photographing or sharing as it feels cathartic and I have met so many beautiful, wonderful friends through it, but this doesn’t feel like the right place to air all of that. Then again, maybe this is just another chapter in our story that needs to be told?

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So, how does one arrive at a place of acceptance when they feel like their body is abandoning them and their self is mostly unrecognizable both physically and mentally? Or when their dreams, at worst, fall apart around them, or, at best, get put on hold for an indefinite period of time?

They feel sad, they cry, they get angry and they ask why. Then they wake up and pull themselves out  of bed and start making an alternate plan. They sit across from their husband and talk about it, all day if necessary, until his outer dialogue becomes her inner dialogue because, heaven knows, the awful words she has been telling herself are not helping.

And then we make a plan, one that allows everyone to work on healing, keeps the kids from getting lost in what was becoming a manic shuffle and keeps an eye on that thread of a dream, until another day, when we can pick it back up and weave it into our lives again.

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January is Thyroid Awareness month. The butterfly is the symbol for thyroid awareness (as the gland is shaped as such.) My mother-in-law gave this ornament to S and left it nestled in our tree (yes it is still up) and I found it there earlier today. Approximately 1 in 1000 people suffer from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a disease that is, at least, 10 times more common in women than men. It is also a hereditary disease. Please go here to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of the illness because chances are someone you know is suffering.

december 17th- {fluff}

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These girls were the fluffiest thing I could find. 😉

I’m a little late with this one friends. Things got a little wonky (I just love that word) with me the past two days and we have been concentrating on prescription adjustments (yes, again!), numerous talks with the doctor in order to set up an adjusted plan of attack and just generally trying to get me together as we head into the holidays.

Things just don’t seem to be working yet. My antibodies have continued to climb, despite removing the gluten from my diet and now the dose of thyroid medication I am on is no longer controlling my levels. My most recent blood draw, which was last week, showed that my levels were almost as bad as they were before starting any treatment and my antibodies have more than doubled.

So here we are back at square one! I have gone through all the emotions (in record time) the past couple of days and I have made it back to okay let’s regroup and figure out how to kick this thing in the ass! 

I did not make it outside yesterday to take my daily picture so, I am again cheating with this one. However, the sun was shinning brighter today than yesterday. It felt good to stand in the pasture, almost knee-deep in the snow, visiting with old friends and feeling the warmth of nearly the shortest day’s light on my face.

Tomorrows a new day, the sun will shine again, if only for a short time, and then this weekend we will celebrate the beginning of its return. I hope I begin to grow stronger as well, right along with it.

 

*Everyday this December I am striving to post a picture-a-day in the hopes of capturing the little moments that may seem ordinary at the time but, when strung together throughout this naturally hectic month, become the extraordinary ones that keep me ground until the new year. If you want to join me go here. I would love to share in your days as well. 

december 7th- {begins with s}

D7K_5702S is for Saanen, the breed Miss. Annabelle, our homestead’s only dairy goat, is.

She’s special. More like a pet, less like a farm animal. She already follows us everywhere, including right out of the main pasture the day we turned her out after her short period of quarantine in the barn. She now resides in a little fenced in area, closer to the house, with her new roommate Laverne, one of our Kiko doelings.

When she’s ready, I have big plans for all the milk she will provide, including some kick butt cheese curds (or what we refer to as squeaky cheese) using a mix of Lilac’s milk and hers. Oh, and I absolutely intend to milk her on our deck, right outside our back door- ya know, because I can! 😉

*Everyday this December I am striving to post a picture-a-day in the hopes of capturing the little moments that may seem ordinary at the time but, when strung together throughout this naturally hectic month, become the extraordinary ones that keep me ground until the new year. If you want to join me go here. I would love to share in your days as well. 

december 3rd- {gather}

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It’s no surprise that one of my favorite things about this farm life of ours is keeping laying hens.

I also love the routine of going out to collect eggs in the morning and opening up the coop for day.

Any day that starts by collecting breakfast right out of your backyard is going to be a good one!

*Everyday this December I am striving to post a picture-a-day in the hopes of capturing the little moments that may seem ordinary at the time but, when strung together throughout this naturally hectic month, become the extraordinary ones that keep me ground until the new year. If you want to join me go here. I would love to share in your days as well. 

here a goat, there a goat

Meet our newest additions, our meat goats.

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These ladies and gents are one of the easiest keepers on the farm, maybe even simpler than our little bovine herd. With the exception of the occasional hoof trim and a lovely little incident with goat lice among the last group we brought in ( all I’m going to say is thank the heavens that we quarantine all newcomers and that the louse are species specific. YUCK!) they pretty much take care of themselves.

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We have two breeds in this herd, Boars and Kikos. Some are full bred, others are some cross of the two. The Kikos tend to be a hardy breed and more apt to eat just about anything. The boars seem to convert feed to muscle more efficiently so they should theoretically make the most optimal cross. With two huge ponds, a maple grove, lines and lines of pine trees and brush that is hellbent on devouring our fence line, not to mention the acres and acres of grass that would need to be mowed by one of us, we were in desperate need of a little help. This summer has been hijacked by a massive project which aims to re-grade a ditch that runs the length of our property and has required weeks of Kevin’s attention, as well as a weekend of help from his dad and a good bit of help from a neighbor,  to cut down about 50 trees and clear it out before the heavy machinery can be brought in to complete the job. Needless to say, between this and all the other daily chores and winter preparations, we were in desperate need of some help.

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Our main goal when bringing in goats was to have some sort of livestock that would cleanup and clear out the north part of our property, taking that demand off of us this summer. And, like everything else, it needed to meet our criteria of providing some sort of income and a possible food source for us. Meat goats seem to be the answer, mostly because I do not have the time or energy to milk an entire dairy goat herd right now which was our other option. We decided to bring in two breeds in the hope of encouraging hardiness within our bloodlines, especially since we plan on only producing grass-fed meat and have no intentions of showing them.

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This will probably be one of the last additions to the farm for a while now, excepting births next spring, which will be limited to the goats and probably only a few sheep. With everything that has been going on this past year I missed our small window to get the cows bred in order to time the births in early spring and will now most likely have to wait until next July to schedule a visit from the AI specialist. At this point, we have only sold three of this year’s lambs and will only be butchering two of last year’s wethers for meat, leaving us at a herd total of 27, two more than the high-end of what I had hoped to go into winter with. Unless we sell a whole bunch in the next two months, only a few girls will be headed for a date with Zeke and Fergus this November.

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Now it’s up to Nelson, our Kiko buck, to get down to business this fall and expand our herd. Hang in there buddy, November will be here in no time!

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freer ranging chickens

I am fairly certain, over the seemingly short time of this blog’s existence, that it has become quite apparent that I am a recovering Type A personality. I fight the need to have everything “just so” on a daily basis. I tended to spend hours mapping out any given action, as well as all its possible outcomes. Up until becoming the mother of two (because really, let’s be honest, now it’s just about surviving the day) I was notorious for being over prepared. “Oh, it couldn’t have been that bad” you say? Well here’s an example, our wedding had an itinerary, which was broken down by the hour for the entire day, so everyone knew where they were suppose to be and when. Kevin also had a list of all the luggage and other bits he was supposed to deliver to the hotel we would be staying in the night of the wedding. To answer the questions I know you are dying to ask, yes, Kevin’s family still makes fun of me for it and yes, Kevin still forgot a piece of our luggage which we had to drive back and retrieve before leaving for our honeymoon.

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Anyway, I am sure you are wondering what this all has to do with our chickens. Well, you see, when we initially ordered the laying hens Type A me ran through all the scenarios. They mostly consisted of buying 40 hens, them not imprinting on the coop and never coming home the first night and in my mind every coyote, fox and weasel in the area would be stopping by daily for a snack. We bought movable electronet poultry fence, Kevin built a huge chicken coop, which sits two feet off the ground and on wheels with car jacks attached to each corner to aid in stability when parked, allowing us to move it to new grass within our fenced in pastures when needed. We religiously tucked them all in at night, which at the beginning often meant catching one or two with Kevin’s bird catchin’ net, or what most normal people would call a pool skimmer. Nothing could dig into the coop, most likely nothing was going to traverse two layers of electric fencing to have chicken for dinner, however, we also felt like we were constantly moving a gigantic, and what turned out to be cumbersome, chicken tractor and chasing chickens indoors every night.

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Fast forward to this spring and we had a few dozen chickens who had entered winter laying over two dozen eggs a day and were now limping along with only a few eggs daily, even though the daylight hours were increasing (hum, maybe I should refrain from writing posts like this one and unwittingly dooming us.) They had plenty of food and water, a freshly cleaned out and re-bedded house. No one looked sick, there was no predator pressure and our two roosters were doing an excellent job of gathering everyone up at dusk and tucking them into bed for us. There was no reason for them not to be laying dozens of eggs a day and they all looked a little extra ruffled and seemed to be scuffling with each other a little bit more than usual. One day while preparing dinner and looking out our kitchen window, which has a view of our front pastures, I witnessed our one and only Brahma hen running frantically from one end of their fenced in area to the other, worm dangling from her beak and about 25 other chickens chasing after her. What followed was a scuffle, the Brahma frantically swallowing her snack, some random pecking and kicking and a bunch of chickens retreating to either under or into the coop.

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I got to wondering if they were just acting up and fighting with each other because they didn’t have enough space to wander in. They seemed to be acting like siblings who had been stuck inside for too long with too much energy and no way to release it and, in turn, decided to take it out on one another. The worm incident seemed to be that classic fight of “I want what she has and even though there are 20 other toys, I mean worms, on the ground no other than her’s will do!” So despite my concern, and control issues, we decided to take down their fence, trust that the boys would get everyone in at night and let them range as free as it gets.

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Almost immediately egg production steadily started to increase, everyone started to look sleeker and shinier and fighting reverted back to minor squabbles only once in a while. As of today, no one has ventured out of the pasture that the coop happens to be parked in, everyone marches into bed at dusk and we even witnessed our Speckled Sussex rooster, Brewster, calling everyone in when a particularly bad storm was blowing in.* Now we can roll the chicken tractor into a larger pasture and not have to move it within the week. Best of all, we no longer have to tangle with the electronet fencing every few days.

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I am shocked at how happy and content they all seem to be now and even though they have the whole world opened up to them they seem satisfied with taking just a little bit more space then they previously had and have shown no need to wander too far from home. Ah Ha! Another unlikely lesson in parenting learned thanks to farm life, I’ll be sure to file that one away for later. All of this did get me thinking, if my well-loved chickens were unhappy with just a quarter acre of space versus the full acre (and no fences) they have now, what do those poor chickens, who are crammed into hot huts with no windows, not to mention zero access to fresh grass to graze upon, feel like? Well, I suppose there in lies the truth of it all, this is the reason we make the sacrifices we do, to live this back to the land life of ours…we were simply in search of a happy egg.

* This is what happens when the kids are in charge of naming and the oldest is going through a “everything I say must rhyme” stage. Also, our Americauna rooster is named Wooster. Just wait until you find out what they named the new calf.

if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?