A cricket was singing in the yard. Pretty loud. I wandered in the kitchen, the back door open, and then went back to writing. The book has to be finished after all, or there is no point in writing it.

The cricket kept singing, then stopping, then singing some more.

Back to the kitchen for a glass of water. The cricket was inside the house now. Probably behind the refrigerator.

Next morning he was singing in the livingroom. The dog would get up and stare hard at the heater vent, but had no idea what to do about that noise.

Somewhere around evening, the cricket was back in the kitchen. By the middle of the night, the singing was coming from the vicinity of the sink.

This morning, it is definitely the sink. LOUD "zing, zing, zing" noises coming from the sink.

We never see the little bug, we just hear him. And for a small thing, it sure can produce a loud noise. We can hear it in the basement when it is singing upstairs. No idea if we can get it out of the house, since we can't really FIND the thing to begin with.

On one hand, it is a cheerful noise. On the other hand, it can be really annoying.

Our new houseguest, the cricket, will likely be staying a while.

Yes, and no. They may be extracted, pressed, or produced in other ways, but the processes by which they are made is fairly complicated.

Well, there is a lot of confusion over what essential oils are, in the first place. And a search on the topic just yields a variety of opinions, and the more you study it, the more confused you get!

At its most basic, an essential oil is merely a plant oil. Not all plants HAVE sufficient oil to obtain a pure oil. So they are distilled, extracted, infused, pressed, or otherwise obtained from plants, with or without the assistance of an extraction substance (water, alcohol, oil, solvent, etc).

So what we are after is not necessarily an "essential oil" that is made at home, but something that can be used in its place.

Most essential oils are highly diluted, even though they are used as, and sold as, a concentrate. This is the first thing - they are already diluted.

So if you want a substitute, you can use something that is not nearly as strong as a full strength essential oil.

I know of four ways to get something that can be used in place of an essential oil, depending on the use and required attributes, two of which can be used externally, two which can be used internally.

1. Oil extraction. This is like making a tincture, but with oil. It can be done on low heat in a crock pot, and I just put water in the pot, and set jars in the pot with the oil and plants in the jars, with the lids on. Does not stink up the kitchen, keeps the temp low, and takes about 3 days to make a pretty strong extraction.

2. Honey or Sugar extraction. Same thing as an oil extraction, but with water added. You can end up with some pretty smelly stuff this way, but it is generally only good for those things that need sugar anyway - in other words, best for internal use.

3. Alcohol extraction. This is very common, and results in a tincture. Smells like the plant, but with an alcohol base.

4. Syrup extraction. I do this instead of sugar extractions. And I do it in an electric pressure cooker (takes about 1 hour that way, no stirring). Easy to do, 1 cup of water to 2 cups sugar, and about 4 cups of plant leaves, petals, etc. Very useful for internal medicinals, and a great replacement for alcohol tinctures.

I have no patience with long and intensive procedures, but some say you can make an essential oil with a distillation system. You don't get a really strong one unless you are really patient and know what you are doing. So that is another option, if you have the patience and knowledge to do it.

The point is, if you know WHY you need it, you can probably make something that will work instead, that will allow you to get the job done.

Once upon a time, people did not buy animal feed. They grew it. Many people now are wanting to go back to a more self-sustaining type of agriculture, but they have no idea how to feed their animals without buying feed.

If you think differently about it, you can gradually move to a more natural diet for your animals, but some animals will adapt more slowly than others, since they've been bred for generations to eat less wholesome foods.

We have done this with some animals, not with others, and have learned some tricks to feeding them. To do it, you have to have some land, and how much you can do is often dependent on how much land you actually have, and how well it grows plants.

You can plant good forage crops all over, or gather forage by hand for animals. Either way, you are looking at a wide range of trees, shrubs, vines, annuals, perennials, weeds, things from your vegetable gardens, etc.

Our cattle roamed the woods when I was a kid, and were only fed supplemental hay in the winter (during which time they also grazed on the hay fields, fertilizing them nicely). They roamed under the trees in the orchard, eating lower leaves and twigs, as well as windfall apples in the fall. They ate blackberry vines, windfall plums, ferns, and all sorts of green plants that grew wild in the woods and meadows. They snacked on clovers, wildflowers, and other things that people just do not associate with animal feed anymore.

Our goats were in a smaller enclosure and did the same, receiving supplemental feed only at milking time. Of course the trees in their pasture were wrapped with hardware cloth to keep the goats from skinning the bark off, but there were also rose bushes, and blackberry vines there.

We have fed rabbits and chickens without buying commercially formulated feeds. We bought some grains and seeds for the chickens since we could not raise them ourselves at the time. The rabbits were fed pretty much entirely from hand-foraged plants, even through the winter in a mild Pacific NW climate (It is harder to do here, partly because we don't own the land so we cannot modify it to produce what we need). Dried apple peels, from processing apples for juice, sauce, or butter, or from the dried apples, make a really nice treat for rabbits.

Pigs without commercial feed - Pigs were traditionally raised on surplus and scraps. Garden scraps, garden surplus, table scraps, butchering scraps (including bones), windfall fruit, overblown zucchini and cucumbers, squash that was getting a little too soft, and potatoes that were just a little too shriveled to eat but not needed to plant, apples from the root cellar that were going soft, etc, as well as some crops grown especially for them - mangel beets, cabbages, the twisted or split carrots, and other storable crops. In addition, the family cow helped feed the pig, surplus milk was given to the pigs, and so was the majority of the buttermilk (helps to understand what buttermilk really is) - the milk was soured to make it easier to skim the cream, and the skim milk, and the milk from the defatted cream, were both classed as Buttermilk, and nobody had a need for very much soured skim milk, so they gave that to the pigs, and it was considered to be an essential part of the diet of the pigs. Whey was also given to the pigs (you can only use so much whey!). Grain really wasn't on the list until the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I can tell you from experience that windfall apples, picked up daily for about 2 months and tossed to the pigs, can make a measurable difference in their slaughter weights.

Some regions in the old country, and here in the US, turned out the pigs into the woods where there were plentiful oaks, and the pigs fattened on acorns through the year. They rounded them up once a year, sorted out the surplus in the herd, and butchered them, and turned the rest loose - virtually no cost involved, but you ended up with feral pigs, which is why we have wild hogs running through the South, and this is not something you could do now, unless you owned a thousand or more acres, they are too hard on the forest habitats. And having feral pigs is a different thing than having them confined - they are dangerous enough in confinement when they are accustomed to your presence, rounding up ferals is a dangerous task. But if you have woods that grow nuts, you can fence off sections and turn the pigs loose there for a few days at a time so they can eat the nuts or acorns, but not long enough for them to start digging for roots and grubs and destroying the woods.

The other factor in this is that you need to time the raising of the pigs more carefully than most people do now. You buy (or your pigs are timed to birth) in the spring. The piggies are just starting to really eat as the garden comes on. By the time they are eating a lot, you are starting to get too many zucchini, some fruit that is not good enough to use, and you are butchering the spring chickens (at least, that is how it used to be timed, how they come earlier - but the slaughter scraps can be frozen to use later if needed). The pig also gets the canning and preserving scraps, so those tend to increase through part of the summer and early fall. You keep your pigs going as long as the produce and fruit and butchering scraps are coming in, and by the time they dwindle off it is cold enough to slaughter hogs.

In order to do it on as little EXPENSE as possible (which is a different thing than as little FOOD as possible), you have to be on the ball, every bit of scrap or surplus has to be used for them, you have to preserve some foods for your breeding stock to get through the winter, and you have to be living in such a way that there IS a lot of scrap (plant a big garden, save the best for you or customers and give the damaged stuff to the animals, etc).

Essentially, there are two key elements here:

1. Learning all the things your animals can eat that you can grow, and encouraging edible weeds, etc on your property.

2. Storing feeds through the winter. This takes planning. Root cellaring, barrel storage, mixed hays, grains or other feeds, etc. Lots of dried foods if you want to hang them outside to dry in the good weather, or dry them in a barn or basement.

If you can get creative about that, you have food for your animals all year around, with minimal expense.

Mother Earth News strikes again! And the problem is, that once they publish something, people still keep getting caught in their "oh that is such a neat idea" trap! It is only a neat idea until you try it, and then you discover the reason why nobody keeps doing it, and why you never see a photo of it in use, but only a sketch!

Yeah, that one. The chicken coop that is built with two doors, with a tiny garden on one side, and a tiny chicken run on the other.

There are numerous problems with this. It may be a neat idea. But it is NOT a practical workable method!

My mother did this. Inspired, no doubt, by the same article which has been running around misleading people for many decades.

She build her coop on the front fenceline of the garden and run. The dividing line ran right to the middle of the wall on the coop. She had two doors for the chickens, one for people. The chicken doors opened into the two fenced areas.

The garden had been in use for a good 5-10 years, and was finally getting to where we had the nails from the old chicken barn that burned, out of the garden, the weeds were getting more under control, the soil was getting richer and easier to till and pull weeds.

In went that coop and the old garden was fenced on the left side, and the chicken run fenced on the right side. The chickens ran for a year in the run, then she flipped them into the side where the garden was. That spring, the chicken run was tilled up, and that is where the garden went.

Horrors. Weedy corners and sod with crab grass all tilled under. All the seeds from the hay fields and the weedy margin between the hay field and the new garden, blowing in and finding a nice happy place. It was a nightmare. Three times the work on that garden that year.

So over the gardening season the chickens are happily scratching in the old garden, and it too is gathering weed seeds, which sprout to feed the chickens. That IS what you want, you want a run that is large enough to help you feed your chickens, and give them a more natural life, right? So if you do it RIGHT, the chicken run will be good sized, and it WILL GROW WEEDS!

And then you switch sides again. And that lovely garden that was so much easier to work because of all the years put into it has reverted. You are starting over AGAIN! You don't just have to break in each side and have some kind of progress each year from the on like you normally do with a garden. You have to START FRESH EACH YEAR!

No, it is not the way my mother did it that is the problem.

The CONCEPT is flawed. If you do it RIGHT, the negatives are the natural outcome! It doesn't work with a no-till garden either, your chickens will dig up the mulch and mess up the layers of soil that are being created, and you'll just end up with a tilled garden instead of the cumulative benefits of a no-till garden.

The garden moved back to the original location (where the chicken run helped to buffer it from windblown seed from the fields), and we gardened there from then on. Never again did my mother switch sides. There was simply NO BENEFIT to doing so AT ALL, only an increase in work, which could not be justified in any way!

So STOP IT Mother Earth News! Stop inventing things that you never try, and telling people they work! They don't!

And STOP IT the rest of you! Quit thinking that just because it is Mother Earth News that it is actually credible! And quit sharing it when you have not tried it! It is a BAD IDEA, and it is not by any means lonely in company with other bad ideas dreamed up by city writers who have no clue what it is like to actually raise more than one chicken and who have NO CLUE how much of a garden it actually takes to feed a family!

If you want to build your coop so the chickens have access to the garden, there is only ONE reason to do so.

After abandoning the original principle, my mother would turn out the chickens in the winter to scavenge in the garden, and then move them back in the spring. She did not use no-till, or it would not have been smart. She also did not do any winter gardening - if you do, obviously you can't run chickens in it for clean up either!

We DO love to have the chicken and duck yards right beside the garden, because it makes it so easy to throw weeds and surplus over to them. We also like to locate them on the windward side so their yard provides a buffer zone to catch surface blown seed.

But NEVER NEVER NEVER would I rotate the use of them. I am just not into making extra work for myself where my only reward is a WORSE situation than I had before!

Last year I began what looks to be a lifelong love of Hostas. Not only are they an attractive shade plant, which grows happily where a lot of other plants do not, but they are edible. And I like to eat them!

Hubs will eat boiled or sauteed greens. He does not complain of it when I serve them, unless they have a sulphur brassica flavor. Then he is not happy (I think I could get him to eat sweet winter baby cabbage leaves, but I'd have to not tell him what they were!).

But he does not know what Hostas taste like. Last year there was only enough for me! I was not being selfish, I was having trouble digesting most vegetables, but hostas were one I could handle. I had only three little new plants, from which I selectively plucked leaves, as much as I dared. It was never enough to make even ONE serving of vegetable, let alone two! And hubs would never scold me for not sharing anything green with him anyway!

Hostas don't grow really fast. They do pop up before a lot of other food crops are ready, which is a nice advantage. But one plant may get to be a foot or three around, depending on the size of the leaves. The smaller ones taste better, of course! The bigger varieties tend to be tougher.

Another plant, Bishop's Weed, looks a lot like Hostas from a distance. It is an aggressive grower. It also happens to be edible, but I have not yet acquired it, and would have to find room for it if I do. I don't know what it tastes like, but it holds more promise as a food crop than Hostas. It may actually produce enough that a small patch would give us several meals worth of vegetable.

But Hostas grow more slowly, even when they are really happy. Every shoot you eat is one less crown that will grow that year. Every time you want to eat leaves you have to rob a lot of plants of the tender leaves, and they just don't produce enough to do that more than a few times each year.

Even if I have 20 or 30 Hosta plants, all it will mean is that I now have enough to have a full serving of vegetable when I cook them up. Maybe, if they are well established (they take a few years to really get going), I may have enough for hubs also.

But I'd never have enough to serve a family, or to freeze and serve up year round. There will never be enough space and enough Hostas for that, even if I buy them every year and expand my hosta collection each year.

So I am in the difficult position of celebrating the edibility of this plant, and the digestibility of it for me, while knowing that it will never make a significant difference. It will never produce enough to be a significant food source.

And there is the limitation for Hosta as a culinary delicacy. This is why the knowledge of their edibility has been lost, and why they are not sold as an edible plant.

But they are worth it for me to grow, and to fix up, however much I can, those few times each year that I CAN do so.

I really LIKE Hostas!

Kevin came in from feeding the flocks this morning, and said, "We have a pigeon egg!".

After investing quite a bit of money into getting Utility Pigeon breeding stock last fall, this is good news. The first sign that the pigeons would do anything other than be expensive investments, and eat and eat and eat! They eat more than bantam chickens do (and POOP a lot more too!), but they are also supposed to be more productive. This is the first evidence of that!

When we got our first Quail egg, I brought it in, and fried it sunny side up. I placed it on the top of a dish of hash browns and sausage, and took a picture and posted it on my Frumpy Haus Frau blog. Quail don't brood their own eggs. Pigeons do. So the Pigeon egg stays in the coop!

We have Brown Kings, and Texas Pioneers. The Browns are more productive than the Pioneers, since the bloodlines on that breed have been better maintained for production than the Texans have been. Too many Texans bred for show, since they are an auto-sexing breed. Meant to be practical, hijacked for pretty.

True to their reputations, the Browns are the ones that have produced the first egg. They don't even have the cushiest apartment, the Texans got the better accommodations because they are bigger than the Browns.

We have two sets of racing pigeons also, chosen for colors that have the dilute gene in them, so we can use them for cross breeding experiments. They are about half the size of the Kings, so we will have to do a lot of selecting for size on the crosses, but we need the genetic diversity and hybrid qualities for where we want to go long term with these birds.

Utility pigeons are surprisingly expensive. They are also very rare (except White Kings). It can be really hard to find them, and afford them. And once you have them, you can build a flock, but you have to have containment for them all. Since we are doing 100% selective breeding, we have them in large cages. Not our preference. But resources are limited and we cannot afford a coop for every pair!

Once your pigeons start to produce, they are either meat producers, or you expand your flock, or sell breeding pairs. Whatever you choose to do, you have to have MORE CAGES! Or a grow-out coop. Or something. And that is not cheap either!

So while we now have our base stock (we do still need a few additional birds that we'll have to buy), we have begun the never ending process of building cages and coops to expand our flocks.

Today marks an important milestone in the process though, and lets us know that the rolls of wire in the basement will not be left there much longer!

 

I've been fighting a battle for a very long time, trying to heal my body. The story is too long to tell in its entirety. I'd heal from one thing and something else would blindside me. Doctors scratched their heads, tested this, tested that, came up empty, until I was finally given a diagnosis of Crohn's. I opted OUT of the medicinal route for treatment, since all they could promise me is horrible side effects and a slow degeneration with surgical removal of my intestines piece by piece and a slow and lingering death. I thought I could do better than that!

I did. A year later, Crohn's was no longer diagnosable as Crohn's. I still had a finicky digestive system, and chemical exposures (even airborne) still had the ability to knock my digestive system out of whack for a few days to a few weeks at a time. But it was nothing like what it had been.

The chemical sensitivities, perpetual exhaustion, progressive muscle weakness, persistent obesity, degenerative liver and kidney function, nerve inflammation, and brittle bones that developed over the years continued to worsen. I wasn't even aware that I had compression fractures in my spine until I ended up in the ER with angina (heart pain), which was diagnosed as "inverse angina", or angina that occurs when you are at rest, and not when you are active. They did a series of X-rays, MRI, and some blood work. There were three things that stood out from that visit.

A blood test result that, by itself, pointed to one thing. Metabolic deficiency.

Compression fractures, not caused by calcium deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, or a diet low in protein or phosphorus. This is consistent with metabolic deficiency which either causes protein (collagen) deficiency in spite of a high protein diet, or metabolic dysfunction which causes lactic acidosis and phosphorus deficiency.

Are we seeing a pattern yet?

The third thing is the inverse angina. Generally associated with metabolic disorders.

I took that and ran with it.

Through a series of strategies I changed the way I eat, going back to older heritage meats, vegetables, and fruits. Less commercialized varieties. It seems the protein and carbohydrate and fat structures are different in them, enough so my body knows what to do with them better.

Things started getting better. I'd have a week or two at a time when I actually was able to get a few things done! I took up canning. I could get 1 canner load done on a good day. I started canning meals and meal starters. Not only could I digest my homemade food better, but when all I had to do is open a jar and heat it to get a healthy meal on a bad day, we were eating much better. That added to the healing momentum.

I figured out some of the things that were triggering flare ups. Started finding ways too avoid them (figuring out which local bathrooms were "safe" and did not have toxic air freshener).

Each little bit of progress is SO HUGE, and yet it makes such a tiny difference in my life to an outside observer. So I spent only 10 hours today in my recliner instead of 14. So I got up at 9:00 this morning instead of 9:30. Not much difference to see, but OH the difference I feel when I make a bit of progress.

  • When suddenly I can do a thing that hurts, and it does not hurt as much!
  • When I can slowly accomplish a task in a few hours that I could not do AT ALL for the last 10 years.
  • When I learn how to make a new kind of food that helps me heal, and I can SEE the difference.
  • When I go to bed after a hard day and I do not have so much nerve inflammation that I crawl out of bed an hour later with a screaming headache.
  • When I can go up the stairs in the morning without having to stop every third step just to get my thighs to stop aching like I've run a mile.
  • When I can go to sleep at night, without insomnia, or racing thoughts, or back pain that keeps me up half the night.
  • When I can take an extra trip up the stairs during the day and not have rhabdomyolysis from it.

Just little things. Things I took for granted for so many years. Things that made me think I was lazy, because I could not acknowledge to myself even, that the reason I had stopped washing dishes is because it made my back hurt so much I could not stand it (now the X-rays show me that the pain was real - my back was literally collapsing on me from ordinary tasks).

And I am healing. It is oh, so slow. But it is oh, so real.

Like watching a flower bloom. In real time. So very slow. But undeniably making progress.

I want to shout and celebrate every time some little thing happens.

But nobody else gets it. Normality just doesn't allow anyone to comprehend what these little things mean.

Herbs, and food, and clean air, good water, and not pushing my body when it has nothing left to give.

It is not easy. And I could not explain to anyone else how to do this. I could give them a list of herbs, and tell them go pray about it. But I find my way through, every day, and use various herbs and foods according to my daily condition.

Maybe, just maybe, there is hope. Because if this can get better, maybe other things can too.

I have a soapbox! What? Another one? Ok, so I do have a plethora of soapboxes, but this is one that just makes me want to SLAP people!

Why is it that so many people think they have to "pull" a lamb, calf, or kid? That doing so is somehow NORMAL?

The fact is, doing so if the animal is not in distress is DAMAGING to your animal mamas, and virtually ALWAYS weakens their ability to give birth without assistance in the future.

It can tear vaginal tissue, overstress muscles, tear ligaments, and damage cartilage in the pelvis. It can CAUSE uterine prolapse, or contribute to it in the future.

One birth with someone forcing the exit of the baby before the mother's body is fully ready for it, can cause permanent damage, from minor, to fatal.

What makes us think we have to do it all for them anyway? They are better at it than we are!

How about you let an OB go rummaging around in you (or your spouse), grab a part and drag out whatever they find by whatever appendage they can get hold of? No? Good idea for an animal, but NOT a good idea for you or someone you love? Doesn't that tell you something?

(No, animals are not people, and we do not confuse them with people. But in the case of birth, there is little difference in the process, and what is, and is NOT a wise habit in regards to it!)

Except in EXCEPTIONS with good breeding stock, pulling a baby is NEVER necessary!

If you routinely HAVE to do so, you either have BAD breeding stock (genetically flawed - frequently the case with show lines, unfortunately), or you have animals that have previously been damaged by ignorant handling.

I first encountered this flawed assumption many years ago on the website of a "goat expert". She discussed birthing on a whole page of her site (which too many people have taken as being credible, sadly). She talked about being on "labor watch" as though disaster was sure to ensue if she was not there to PERSONALLY prevent it! She said every time her goats went into labor she would grab her "birthing kit", and go out and render assistance. She described what a goat owner "needed to do" (in her opinion) when a goat gave birth, and showed pictures. Her instructions included grabbing the legs as soon as they gave her enough to get hold of, and forcibly pulling the baby out! I was beyond appalled!

I grew up with goats. I remember one bad night, ONE... in all those years, when one of our goats really did get in trouble giving birth. She had been laboring with a mal-presentation far too long. My sister, an avid reader of James Herriot, and a studier of animal husbandry, carefully explored to see what the problem was, and did her best to straighten things out. She managed to help the doe get the kid out. The doe died. Cause wasn't certain, but my sister was very careful. It still ended in disaster.

That was the ONLY time anyone had to give aid to any of the goats. Most of the time, we would come out in the morning and find a mama and kids acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, when there had just been a pregnant goat the night before.

We never EVER even HAD a "birthing kit" for goats!

We had hoof care, disbudding irons, syringes, medications, wormers, and all sorts of other things (many of which we do not now use), but never even CONSIDERED a "birthing kit". We raised and showed goats for many years. Lots of goats.

The most agregious example of unwarranted interference I have ever seen is in a video that regularly makes the rounds (sadly it makes them on Homesteading groups with comments of "oh how cute", by people who OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER!).

A little dimpled darling of all of three years old is featured in this video, pulling a lamb.

Now, there are MANY things wrong with this, only ONE of which is that it is TOTALLY inappropriate for a three year old to risk broken bones sticking their hand into the pelvis of a laboring ewe! Yeah! That! It is not a remote possibility! Contractions are that strong!

Apparently though, when a three year old acts in a dangerous and stupid manner, people will applaud it as "mature", and "brave", and "darling". If an adult did the same thing she did, they would label them as "cruel", "stupid", and "unsanitary".

First off, she trots in and lifts the tail, and sticks her hand inside a sheep that has just delivered a lamb, and is RESTING before the second lamb is ready to present. The ewe actually shows no signs of pushing contractions the entire time this child is mucking around. She is obviously NOT READY to birth the second lamb, and the fact that the child has to stick her arm in nearly to the shoulder to find a pair of feet is also evidence that the lamb is NOT ready!

Second, her little hands are going from inside the sheep, to the floor, to the tail, and back inside that sheep! Who in their right minds would encourage such a thing? This is the stuff uterine infections are made of! Yet her parents stand by filming the whole thing, proud of their little destroying angel!

Third, she drags the lamb out regardless of any preparedness or participation on the part of the ewe! Poor mama sheep! It is clear that the lamb was NOT stuck, did NOT have a complicated presentation, and was in NO WAY in need of being dragged into the barn by an incompetent child. The lamb also shows no signs of distress, further indicating that there was NO reason to have a child shove filthy hands inside the uterus of a sheep!

Fourth, if the sheep were having contractions, that little girl would have got hurt! At the very least, her arm would have been squeezed hard enough to cause her to cry. At the worst, it could damage nerves, or break bones!

Fifth... If the sheep were in TROUBLE (There is no indication she is, she's placidly laying there, and there are no indications of distress.), then it was NO PLACE FOR A CHILD to be mucking around! That needed an ADULT who knew what they were doing! Someone with the knowledge to carefully assist the sheep, without just dragging the lamb out! No three year old is capable of assessing a potentially complex presentation, determining the way to correct or compensate for it, and then carrying out a difficult balance between the ability and health of the sheep and the safe delivery of a lamb who may also be in distress. 

If the sheep is not in trouble, she should NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE. If the sheep WERE in trouble, she should NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE!

No, it is NOT cute.

Yes, it IS irresponsible and stupid.

Poor kid is going to grow up thinking this kind of thing is good animal care. Poor animals that come under her care - and that of her parents! Yes, I'm making that judgment! Her parents' filming of the debacle and broadcasting it across the internet has invited it!

I'd be teaching a kid by talking to them while I was working with trouble situations while they were little. Let them start assisting at about 9-10 years of age when they are old enough to have the intellectual capacity and physical strength to handle the difficulties.

Don't PULL a calf, or a kid, or a lamb, or a cria, or anything else unless the laboring mother is in distress, and the baby is at risk!

Don't do it! You will HARM the animal rather than help!

And by the way, don't dry off the babies either! As long as they are born where they won't freeze to death before the mama licks them off, LEAVE THEM ALONE! Her care of her babies in the first few minutes of life is important to her, and to the babies.

There. I think I've said it.

*steps down from soapbox*

For now.

Fall came, and the eggs we gathered each day gradually declined in number. When you raise your chickens naturally, this is a yearly occurrence. We deal with it.

Then the chickens molt, and look like they've been dragged through a knothole backwards for several weeks. Some molted lightly. Some seemed to lose all but a little fluff here and there. But eventually feathers began to return, and the hens once again started to look sleek and healthy. Molting chickens never look healthy, even when they are!

And gradually the daily egg count began to rise.

It always kind of surprises me that this happens right after the Winter Solstice. Like, within a day or two!

Conventional farming lore tells us that hens need 14 hours of light per day to lay well. That means hens in some locations would never lay well! And that it would take until May for them to start to do so in our location! We haven't even reached the Spring Equinox yet, so we are still at about 11 hours of daylight per day.

The majority of our hens do not care! About 3/4 of our hens are laying now, with a good number laying daily, and the rest about every other day. We are up to a high of 15 eggs a day, and not less than 9 eggs a day. The new high of 15 was reached yesterday. Every few days they hit a new high, and the low increases as well.

There is something about that, every spring, that never ceases to please me. We scold the hens when they slack, we praise them when they produce a lot. I mean, you just DO that. Even though I'm NOT really much of an animal person, and as a rule, I'm not sentimental about animals. But I find myself doing it anyway.

We go so fast from using every single egg that is produced, to wondering what to do with them all, that I am always caught off guard by that as well. This year, we are canning pickled eggs. But I have to find some more ways to preserve them also, because even though I LOVE pickled eggs, I really can only eat so many of them! 200 quarts of pickled eggs (one dozen per jar) is going to be a bit much!

The quail (outside this year) just popped out their first egg of the season yesterday also. We are still waiting on the pigeons, doves, and guinea fowl.

Our rabbits finally have babies again, after a long dry spell due to some contaminated feed which caused breeding problems.

The weather is its usual fickle self here in the Rockies, snowing one day, sunny and warm the next, but the animals tell us unmistakably that spring is coming.

And around the corners of the field we are spotting dandelions coming up, and a few other bits of green here and there. Almost, but not quite, enough to start foraging for the animals.

In the mean time, I'm off to work on figuring out more ways to make the bounty of eggs last all year.

I have a friend who is a total city girl, works in a high profile job and travels a lot internationally for her job. She grew up in another country, with a maid and a cook, and had one most of her adult life also, until she moved to Jersey. I have a lot of respect for her, this is in no way critical of her background or knowledge level, she's one smart cookie.

Lately she has taken an interest (sort of a macabre fascination, I think, no intention to actually DO any of it) with the difference in our life as compared to hers. She cannot imagine living in the middle of nowhere (in her words, "with nothing to do"), and yesterday I had to explain to her what home canning is, in a conversation regarding pickling our surplus eggs (she did not know what those are either). Had to post a picture of canning jars, she has never even seen canning jars, nor had any idea that people actually still use such a thing!

At the end of the conversation, she said what so many people say (again having NO idea that it is not acceptable to say this), "If Armageddon happens, I'm going to you!".

I've noticed that most people who say this have NO IDEA what it is they are actually saying, nor how rude it is to say, "I am not prepared, have no idea how to prepare, don't want to learn and won't bother, but if I ever need anything I can take comfort in the fact that YOU are prepared and come to you so you can use your hard earned goods and equipment to support me!". They never think that this is what they are actually saying! Homesteaders, avid canners, and preppers know this. They've thought it out.

So I said to her what I say to everyone who suggests such a thing:

"When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, you'd be welcome, but you have to be willing to help us continue to produce the things we need. So as long as you are willing to help plant the garden, and butcher the rabbits, and slop the hogs, you are more than welcome!"

This is usually where people decide that maybe there is an easier way to get a meal in the middle of societal meltdown! 

I honestly mean that though, I would not refuse any friend or family member, or hanger on, if they are willing to work to sustain themselves, and not just beg free meals. If they cannot do that, we have to require them to leave, because there is not enough of US to go around to do more than support ourselves in difficulty, we don't have enough resources or physical capacity to support others who are capable of supporting themselves.

Those words serve as a warning, and a promise. They can take it either way. But I've learned that most people, when they hear them, quickly make a mental note NOT to come to us!

We would always be willing to hand someone a meal, and send them on their way. Once. If they need more, they need to work for it, for their sake as well as ours.

Our family comes first. That is our first stewardship, whatever our family consists of at the time. We have never been unwilling to help another person in need, even when it meant giving from our own poverty. But we will not contribute to KEEPING someone else in need, especially when it harms us to do so. It does nobody any good if we ALL run out, simply due to bad management.

I am not a prepper, this is just day to day survival here for us. To take on other people means that the food we preserved from last year's harvest will not make it until next year's harvest, unless we have people who are willing to help us establish some winter crops to tide us over, or make products to sell so we can buy more supplies, or to forage for wild foods, hunt game, etc. It does not take SKILLS on the part of those who come. The skills are already here. It only takes willing hands. People who are not offended by being asked to get dirt under their fingernails, and manure on their shoes.

There are those who think they can take what they want by force. But there isn't a self-sufficient family out there who doesn't enjoy spending family time together target shooting. Most are willing to defend their family with deadly force if necessary.

My heart says, "Be generous.". And many times we are, even when it does not feel "wise" to be, because we trust in the blessings of the Lord, if we give as generously as we can.

But we also have a responsibility to wisely manage what we have been given, and God holds us accountable for that as well.

When I make apple juice from fresh apples, I peel and core the apples first, so I can use the pulp for leather (I add sugar and cinnamon and vanilla to it because if you remove the juice, you also remove the flavor - hubs likes this leather). I then dry the peels for winter food for the bunnies. Less waste this way.

So I figured I'd try juicing some pineapple and see whether I could do the whole juice here, pulp there thing with them.

Nope!

Pineapples do not work the same as apples!

I ended up with two catch cups full of yellow foamy slime. One was barely thicker than the other. They were both pretty much the same otherwise. There was literally no drinkable juice in either one.

So THAT didn't work. Apparently a masticating juicer would work better than a grinding centrifuge juicer for pineapple. Something that presses the juice out, rather than grinding it finely and then trying to spin it out.

I did end up with a lot of pineapple leather though!

One of the experiments that DIDN'T work.

We drove up the lane, and a herd of dogs (it was not a pack, it was a milling herd) surrounded the car, a few barks just to let us know who was really in charge.

A few more dogs barked as we opened the car doors to get out, and right in the middle of the dogs was a lamb, doing its best to compete like any regular dog. "Ba! Ba! Ba!". Nearly full grown, it was pretty obvious that the lamb thought it was a dog.

The owners said the lamb had been bottle fed, and then raised with the dogs. It ate dogfood, chased cars, and threatened strangers just like the dogs did.

Somewhere in there, I think there is a story. I haven't found it yet, but I think there is a children's book in it if a plot could be devised.

I'm sure the barking lamb is long since gone the way of farm livestock, but it was amusing at the time, and still makes us smile when we remember and recount the memory with family.

It is almost poetic, this thing that happens to meat when salt, sometimes nitrates, and bold or subtle blends of herbs, fruits or other seasonings are infused into them, and the moisture in the meat is drawn out. The meat is changed. Made more while it shrinks.

It is also symbolic. The words do not exist to describe my delight in being able to do this, to produce our most favorite meats ourselves. Not the soft and watery cured meats that litter the coolers in the stores, but firm, dense and aromatic meats that burst with flavor upon your tongue. The flavor is complex, mellow, and salty enough to satisfy while not overwhelming.

These foods do not cause my lips to swell, my lungs to congest, and my skin to itch the next day, because of the load of chlorine and chemicals in them that I cannot tolerate. THIS meat helps me instead, delivering probiotics and enzymes that help my digestive system heal. Oh, yeah, didn't you know? You can eat this raw if you want to, just like proscuitto, and when you do, it packs a wollop in healthy microbes and enzymes. Even if you cook it, it is easily digestible, the proteins already partially broken down into usable chains.

The small boneless hams hanging in our basement somehow represent all that we are trying to do. A skill forgotten by all but a few, learned again. Not only is the meat made more as we process it, WE are made more. Food condemned by modern medicine as "unhealthy", becomes healthy again, when done in the traditional manner, rather than by contemporary shortcuts.

I've not yet learned to smoke my own meat. This requires more equipment we do not yet have. It is on the list. We will get there eventually. For now, we use other methods to get a natural smoke flavor into the meat. It isn't perfect yet. But even our imperfections are such an improvement over the alternatives which are all we've had up to this point.

This thing though, the handling of raw meat, the curing, the hanging it at room temp without refrigeration. It seems so scary, and so complicated. But once you do it, it is elegantly simple.

The most lovely thing is that even a person with limited physical capacity can do this! For those who must ration their energy day to day, this is a thing you can do!

Gather the spices together. If that is all you do one day, that is fine! Put them in a place where you can easily get them all the next day. The salt, the Tenderquick, the sugar, the herbs that make it distinctive.

Mix them up the next day. There is no hurry, if the meat is in the fridge, it has a few days for you to do this one task at a time. Check it off your list. You got something done that will become something wonderful.

The next day, it comes together. Get the meat and a knife. Trim the bits of meat off that you don't want to cure. It does not need to be picky. I use pork loin most of the time (cheap, and easy to handle). Pretty much no trimming needed. Today, you get to do two things, but it is worth it.

Get some ziplock bags - gallon size will do for a piece of pork loin, or some boneless shoulder.

Get a plate.

Get your salt mixture.

Put the meat on the plate. Salt it. Salt the edges. Flip it and salt the bottom. Make sure you have a good layer of salt clinging to it all.

Put it in a baggie.

Put the baggie in the fridge. Check a BIG thing off your list, you are officially curing meat!

Drain the liquid off the meat each day. Flip the baggie so the meat is on the opposite side. Keep it in the fridge. Every other day, sprinkle a bit more salt on each side to replace what is washing off.

Salt cured meat goes so many days for each inch of thickness. Research it online. Eventually I'll post a recipe, but not today. Today is about making you want to do it!

These smaller pork loin pieces go for 5-7 days.

When it finishes that phase of curing (the way you determine this depends on what you are making), you either wash off the salt, or you brush off the excess leaving bits of herbs on the meat - again, it depends on the kind of meat you are curing.

Then you hang it. Or not. Or smoke it. Or not. Depends on what you are doing.

But it is easy to do, even if you have little energy. You just break it up as much as you need to. A little here, a little there. And the daily process is so simple that it works into a day of carefully metered energy expenditures.

Do little pieces of meat. 2-3 lbs. Nothing heavy to lift. Easy to move it to the sink, drain it. Easy to sprinkle it again because it is small. Not too many days to cure because it is thin (less than 3 inches thick). Doesn't take long to hang because of the smaller size.

Bacon. Ham. Proscuitto. Corned Beef. Dried beef. Lamb ham. Venison ham. You can do all of those as a dry cure.

Simple, not too heavy, gentle work, that makes magic!

I've got hog jowls in the fridge and another pork loin, waiting for the salt that I mixed yesterday. But today I am crocheting more net bags to put the cured pieces from the fridge into (I wrap the meat in a white cloth, and then put it into the net bags to protect it from bugs and dust). When I'm done with that, I'll start the next pieces. They will wait for me.

The next one will be cured with maple.

When you are poor, you work with ingredients on hand. When you have kids, you want something simple that they can help make.

Real poverty would not supply the ingredients for these. But temporary poverty, where you are living off your food storage, could. And we made them when we had little else.

Of course candy is fun, but you want it to have some nutritional punch also. We've got that covered - they do have an abominable amount of sugar, but it is, after all, candy. And chocolate. Which isn't very good without the sweetness.

Nothing is simpler than these to make. Not a true truffle, patiently made and whipped. No, this is much simpler. Anybody can do it.

 

Poverty Truffles

  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (your choice, we used peanut, it is cheap)
  • 1/4 cup butter (the real thing - but you can double it if you want)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (Green and Blacks makes these amazing. But Nestle's may have to do because it is cheap also)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (the real thing, because it is so much better - but use the artificial if that is all you have because it is cheap)
  • Dribbles of milk - seriously, just DRIBBLES or you will overdo it.

Put everything in a bowl except the vanilla and milk. Mix it until the butter and peanut butter are blended in evenly - this will be kinda like doing pie crust or biscuits only you want it finer.

Put in 1 tbsp milk, and the vanilla. Mix.

Add another tbsp milk, mix again.

It should be starting to either darken in color, or it should start barely clumping in pea sized clumps.

DRIBBLE a little more milk in. Mix it again.

Keep doing that until it comes together and forms a firm dough consistency. Don't let it go spreadable like frosting! While this recipe IS just really a buttercream frosting that has less milk in it, it needs to be much stiffer.

When you can pull off a piece and roll it into a ball, without it trying to crumble apart, and without it sticking to your hands, it is ready.

Roll it into 3/4 to 1" balls.

You can roll these in granulated sugar, powdered sugar, cocoa, powdered coconut, chopped nuts, or any other coating, or you can dip them in chocolate of any kind.

We refrigerate to firm them up, but you don't really need to, and if you are going to dip them in chocolate it is probably better that you don't.

Variations

  • Use almond butter instead of peanut butter, and almond extract instead of butter.
  • Eliminate the peanut butter, put more butter instead, and you can use orange juice instead of the milk, and add some grated orange peel.
  • You can add chopped dried fruits, or dip it in fruit flavored coating.

 

These are good even with the simplest of ingredients. If you upgrade to a finer cocoa powder, an excellent nut butter, and the best quality ingredients you can get, they can be pretty amazing. You can make them for gifts for some pretty picky people, and they'll never know they were given a little ball of extra stiff buttercream frosting!

Trying to build another skill today. Don'tcha just love it when the instructions give you all the steps, but leave out vital information about the particular ingredients needed?
 
Salt rising bread. Most people do not even know what it is anymore. A bread that took up residence with the settlers in the hills of eastern US, and followed the pioneers across the plains. A bread that required nothing more than heat, and the most basic ingredients, and which did not require that you keep a pot of sourdough from getting too warm or too cool.
 
Salt rising bread is named for the warm salt that it was set into in order to maintain a warm temperature to raise it. It raises much warmer than yeast breads.
 
It is an old bread. A slow bread. One that weaves itself into the rhythm of the day. It takes its time, and requires that you give it just what it wants to raise properly. Overall, NOT difficult to do, and not really finicky, though it now has a REPUTATION for being finicky because of how INGREDIENTS and EXPECTATIONS have changed.
 
The instructions I read sounded suspiciously like the person who was writing it had never done it, and wasn't quite sure why it worked sometimes and not other times. "If it doesn't work, throw it out and start over." No suggestions as to WHY it might not work.
 
A little additional research resolves the mystery. Industrial progress. An age old traditional recipe stops working, so someone adapts it, and the tradition goes on. Until it is swept away by the sands of progress, and everyone forgets why someone added another ingredient. And then it is revived. And people forgot why the original recipe no longer works. Well, most people forgot. But someone remembered. And recorded it. And I found the notes about it in two places. But dozens of recipes neglect this one vital fact.
 
You have to have grains to start the yeast, that have NOT been processed for extended shelf life. The germ still needs to be in the grain.
 
The recipe calls for cornmeal. All the traditional recipes do. A few add potatoes - the compensation when commercial cornmeal, and commercial flour, no longer had the germ to spark the microbial growth necessary to leaven the bread. But the potato recipes tend to be stinkier, so I wanted the original.
 
This thing, with a reputation of "finicky" because "sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't", really isn't finicky at all, you just have to have traditional ingredients, not the modern interpretation of those ingredients.
 
The contemporary recipe that I found also alters one vital element in the recipe - instructing you to cool the milk before adding it to the flour or meal - something that sounds perfectly reasonable to someone who does not understand the science of the bread, but which means the recipe ends up being far more unpredictable. No, they do not understand this bread.
 
This is a slow bread. People have no patience for it anymore. A three part recipe. Mix this. Keep it warm overnight (like yogurt). Add these ingredients. Keep it warm for several more hours. Mix some more ingredients in. Knead it. Shape it. Keep it warm until it has risen and is ready to bake. Bake it. Then keep it cool. So people do not understand it, in a world where bread comes from the store, and keeps indefinitely on the counter because of the preservatives. And if you do make bread, it takes 2 hours with fast rise yeast. Slow bread is unappreciated.
 
But I want to learn to make this, and help keep it from being lost. I want to gain something from it, because, like probiotic foods, this one can sometimes help with digestion.
 
The only cornmeal I have is commercially milled. Degermed. Lifeless. Useless for creating the essential starter. I have a mill, I can mill corn.
 
But I have no corn. I cannot GET corn out here except animal feed, and I don't trust it for human consumption. So I cannot do a cornmeal starter salt rising bread recipe without ordering corn online - and I don't want to wait 2 weeks. (Someone has since suggested that I mill some popcorn - I need so little for this, that it will be an acceptable solution so I can try the cornmeal starter next time.)
 
More searching to find even one example of a recipe that used only wheat flour, no corn flour.
 
I HAVE THIS!!! I have FRESH MILLED whole wheat flour, WITH THE GERM! And now I have the recipe. A little from this recipe, and a little from that recipe, because other than the basic procedure, the ingredients are flexible, like they are with all breads. Once we are past the yeast dependent parts of it, I'm on familiar ground. I have this. I will work it out. Somehow or other, I will find a way to get this bread made in my house!
 
It is currently incubating in my dehydrator, on a low temp, because that is the best environment that I have to maintain a temperature somewhere near 100 degrees, that does not have chicken dander in it!
 
Hopefully, in the dark of the bowl in the dehydrator, something good is awakening.
 
 
UPDATE: In the morning, a swollen mass of puffy stuff was in the bowl. I mixed up the starter with more ingredients to create a sponge, and let that raise - it was pretty moist so it raised quickly, and spilled out of the bowl in a gooey mass onto the bottom of the dehydrator. More cleanup later - I was only able to get at part of it. But the process is definitely working, it has a smell that is distinctly NOT like yeast bread, but more of a savory funk.
 
More flour, lots of butter, and some more salt were added, and the mass was kneadable. I had just barely enough flour milled to finish it without having to mill more. The dough was able to be handled without sticking to my hands. It is now in two greased breadpans, back in the dehydrator, and hopefully I will catch it before it raises into the top of the lid. The incubation chamber that I can create in my dehydrator is only about 5" in depth, so it has little room for error!
 
RESULT: A dense loaf of bread with a nice crumb, and a flavor that is the mild version of what we smelled when it was cooking. While cooking it smells somewhat cheesy, richly buttery, and a little sweet - yes, sometimes you CAN smell sweet!
 
A little flat. The flour I used was low in gluten, so it kind of went flat on top. Next time I will knead it more.
 
 
The Recipe
NOTE: The recipe below turned out a nice loaf. I have not tested it with degermed flour and just the wheat germ, and I have not tested it with fresh milled (germ in) flour and without the wheat germ either. Theoretically it should work either way, as long as you have wheat germ somewhere, but I'm not sure if the commercial wheat germ I used is "active" in the way it needs to be. Eventually I'll test and note it, but have not done so yet.
 
Whole Wheat Salt Rising Bread
 
 Starter

    1 cup milk
    1/2 cup fresh milled flour (Mine had germ intact. Have not tested without)
    1 tbsp wheat germ (I used Kretchmers)
    2 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 tsp salt

Sponge

    1 1/2 cups hot water
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon sugar
    2 1/2 cups Flour (type of flour not picky here)

Dough

    1/2 cup  soft butter
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3 to 4 cups Flour (type of flour not picky here)

Instructions
   
To make the Starter: Scald the milk - Heat it until it's nearly but not quite boiling; small bubbles will form around the edge of the pan (or microwave container), and you might see a bit of steam.
   
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and wheat germ into a non-reactive bowl, mix them together, and whisk the milk into it. Do it kind of fast with a wire whisk and it really doesn't lump.
   
Cover the bowl, and place it somewhere warm, between 90°F and 100°F. A turned-off electric oven, with the light turned on for about 2 hours ahead of time, holds a temperature of 95°F to 97°F, perfect for this starter, or a gas oven with a pilot light will do so, but I used a dehydrator set to 105 degrees.
   
Let the starter incubate overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours. This should rise up and be kind of lumpy rounded on top when it is ready. It'll also smell a bit odd.
   
For the Sponge: Combine the salt, baking soda, sugar, and flour, stirring to blend, and add water and stir until smooth.
   
Stir Starter into Sponge.
   
Cover the bowl again, and put it back to incubate again. Let it rest until very bubbly and doubled in size, 2 to 4 hours. This one is pretty runny, so if your bowl isn't big enough it may overflow!
   
Transfer your bubbly sponge to a larger bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer.
   
Stir in the soft butter, salt, and flour. Knead until smooth, adding flour as needed, until the dough is somewhat stretchy - this dough may feel different than yeast bread dough.
   
Divide the dough into 2 parts, and shape each piece into a log, and place in a greased bread pan.
   
Put the pans back in your incubation environment to raise. Let the loaf rise until it's crowned about 1/2" to 3/4" over the rim of the pan, which takes 1-3 hours. The top will end up shaped differently, flatter than yeast breads.
   
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. Because of the lower temperature, you do want to pre-heat the oven, otherwise the top may darken too much on the bread.
   
Bake the bread for 35 to 45 minutes, until it's nicely browned. It will raise less during baking than yeast breads.
   
Remove the bread from the oven. Wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Brush top with butter if you want.

Store cooled bread at room temperature for 5 to 7 days; freeze for longer storage.

Makes 2 loaves.

Some days there is just a feeling of being on a course that matters. It is rarely the big things that make me more certain of what I'm doing, it is usually the little things that bring such a sense of satisfaction with our quest for self-sufficiency.

Today, it started with carrots and orange peels. Candied orange peels, made from the oranges we juiced (next time I'll save the pulp also, and dry it, pulverize it, and then use it in a citrus meat rub). I was cutting them into slivers today, before drying them. Working indoors, as the project outside is postponed on account of snow (not frequent enough here to need to work out there in spite of it).

Kevin cut up a bag of carrots (we still can't have a garden, but got a good deal on them). He cut the root end off, a little higher than he might have done if we did not have rabbits. Sliced them up, tossed the tops into the bucket with the root ends. I spread the slices out on the dehydrator trays. Dried carrots are so useful for fast food.

Then turning the pork loin and shoulder that are dry curing in the fridge, making plans to cure another loin and some hog jowls. Feeling blessed for having the meat to cure - and not needing it so badly that we can't wait a month or two for it to cure before we eat it. There have been times when it would have been out of the question. Now, I can smell the rosemary, and juniper, and nutmeg that have infused into the loin, and look forward to the end result without feeling the pinch of desperate need.

Later we went to feed the rabbits, and this being winter, fresh food is less available for them. Seeing them dive into the carrot ends just gave me a sense of peace, and gratitude. Such a small thing - no guilt over tossing out the carrot ends that were too small to dry (they would fall through the holes in the trays), just the knowledge that the rabbits needed those parts, and we needed the rest.

Gathering the eggs from the hens in the coop, taking stock of the state of their feathers, seeing the little pink egg left by our Fayoumi hen who just started laying, observing the behaviors of the new doves that occupy two cages in another shelter.

Later, making pizza crust from home milled wheat, topping it with home canned sauce, sliced homemade meatballs, and home canned pineapple, and several other ingredients from our food storage or that we had in the fridge from the last shopping trip.

So many things in our life that are not as we want them. So many things still so very hard, achingly painful. But little moments reinforce our goals, that this is what we need to be doing. That somehow, some way that we can't see, it may just be ok after all.

We have an old coop in the back yard, that we have repaired as much as we can (it is not ours, this is actually just a rental). A VERY old, open air coop, built after the design popular in the late 1800s up through about the 1950s, which lingered on in a few areas simply because they were THERE.
 
The front of the coop has chicken wire up over the top half of the front wall. Open to the South. That is important. It catches the sun. The sun falls on the dirt floor and warms it. The floor radiates heat out through the night in the winter. The open front keeps it cooler in the summer than it would be fully enclosed. This coop is a genius design.
 
Our weather here is pretty cold in the winter. Not Wyoming cold. Not Alaska Cold. Maybe not even Maine or Michigan cold. But pretty darn. Like a slightly gentler version of the high plains in Wyoming. That coop works, even for that.
 
We have no supplemental light in the coop, no heat. The coop is what it is, and we and our chickens deal with the sagging walls and the holes in the roof that we can't patch. That coop that we were reluctant to bring chickens home to, has taught me some great lessons. This year is proving them once again.
 
Our chickens have laid at least some eggs every day through the winter so far, and the number of eggs seems to be rising now that the days are getting longer. We still have a couple of hens that look like they stumbled into a chicken plucker in the dark and had a hard time getting away, but the rest have come through their molt and look like real chickens again.
 
The Wyandottes and the Jersey Giants have laid an average of every other day for each hen. They are young, and did not molt this year. This is one of the factors in keeping eggs going through the winter. We choose NOT to use supplemental lighting that would possibly cause our hens not to molt. We don't want to push them so hard that they are denied a well earned rest to rebuild their feathers - their only protection from weather. So we have to manage our coop differently to assure eggs all winter. Young hens, who come into lay over the summer, generally do not molt, and will keep laying if they are a breed that is able to handle the cold well.
 
So if I want eggs all through the winter, I need to make sure I have at least half a dozen new hens each year. It appears that two of the feathering out chicks downstairs are pullets, two of them are definitely roos. More eggs in the incubator, so we should meet our need for replacements pretty quickly. We are only using the incubator until we have broodies. We need some hens that are not particularly good layers, because the good broodies are usually not good layers. Older hens, and a few particular breeds, are our broodies.
 
As the days begin to lengthen out, the hens start coming back. It seems that some will start laying just as soon as the day length increases are noticeable, as the egg production has slowly started to increase since New Year's day. Our motley collection of assorted breeds of chickens all seem to follow this rule, though some need more light than others - even within the same breed.
 
The hens that don't start laying within a month or so, and do not go broody this spring (they need to do one or the other to earn their keep) will make healthy chicken soup. We will cull about a half a dozen hens over the spring and summer, to keep our flock the same size, and cull based on productivity.
 
We COULD just replace them all. But I prefer to butcher some of the young pullets (or sell them) rather than cull the older ones that are still laying, so we encourage the broodies. Young hens in their first year just don't usually go broody. This keeps a more stable flock, and gives us the young roos for more tender meat, and some young pullets to butcher for meat also (more tender than the old birds).
 
We will keep the incubator going, producing chicks every month, to supply our need for either replacement hens, finished pullets to sell, or meat (the roos from the hatchings go to the pot as soon as they are big enough anyway). It also allows us sufficient birds to be selective, and only keep the best ones, so our backyard flock improves over time, rather than just being a collection of whatever we happen to be able to buy.
 
I'm pleased with that old coop, and given the opportunity to build one, will borrow from the design. We like that it has two rooms in it also, so we can sort chickens when we need to. We would add a feed room onto the end though, if we do build one like it eventually, when we get where we are going.
 
Most people out here are surprised that we still have eggs coming in, but we kind of expect it. And our hens did not fail us!

So many people hang around the homesteading forums, their heads filled with impossible dreams. They have an idea of an idealistic existence where they test their mettle in a gentle way, where nature and fate smile benevolently upon them and encourage and aid their every effort.

I must confess, I do not possess the self-restraint necessary to not poke fun at them, just a bit, in putting down in words the fantasy that seems to permeate the minds of the romanticists who get ahold of the idea of homesteading without ever really having any idea of what it is they got ahold of!

Something like this:

We will brave the storms (which will come every few years to challenge our resolve but which will NOT come twenty and forty times each winter), and Love our little animals, and our gardens will grow just because we want them to!

Other people may have bug problems but we won't because we will be NATURAL and we will be so smart that bugs would not dare come into our gardens uninvited!If they do, we will sprinkle diatomaceous earth everywhere and the bugs will just go away and never bother us again because we read that is what it will do!

We will let our chickens live out their natural lives and never butcher old layers and we will eat the meat that we raise (we forget that this means butchering old layers... and we forget that butchering is messy business).

Other people will flock to our homestead and pay us to tell them how we did such a marvelous job so we will never have to work a second job or struggle to sell some of our excess production - and we WILL always have excess production because our goats will always have triplets that survive, and milking them every morning and evening will be a joy and never inconvenient, our chickens will surprise us all the time with new chicks even though we take the eggs every day, and they will free range and feed themselves so we never run out of feed before the next paycheck comes in and OUR chickens will NEVER go onto the neighbor's property (and if they do the neighbors will just love them so much they won't really mind the poop on their cars and porch), and we will teach other people how to get their chickens to be like that!

We will learn how to bank our fire at night and it will not only last all night but it will keep the house nice and warm too so we don't have to get up shivering in the morning and the pipes will NEVER freeze! We won't ever run out of firewood because we will gather firewood a few times in the fall, and we will get an energy efficient stove for practically nothing and install it ourselves, and the firewood will last us all winter!

We will have a composting toilet that will never stink, and our county will have no problem with this because we are going to live where there are no regulations.

Our guard dog will love our kids, and never bite anyone unless we tell it to, and won't ever kill the chickens or distress the sheep, because we are going to get a GOOD dog that INSTINCTIVELY knows what we want it to do!It will never leave our property because it will KNOW where its boundaries are, and it won't ever hurt anyone else's livestock.

We will build our tiny house to live in and it will have room for everything we just have to bring with us, it will only cost $2000 to build because we will scrounge everything we need to build it (and it will be brand new stuff because old things are yucky), and we will have room in it for our food storage and self-sufficiency supplies (oh... do you need those things?), and big closets and a big bathroom and a bedroom that will hold a king size bed and place for all the kids on the same floor because stairs aren't safe for them, and room for the dog in the house downstairs too because we would not want him to hurt himself going up the stairs (OF COURSE he will be inside at night... and he will be outside to guard the animals... You just don't know how to do it if you think we can't do that!).

Our fruit trees will bear fruit in the first year because we can't wait three or four or FIVE YEARS!!! for the trees to bear! We will plant our garden and not get tired of weeding, and when the garden overflows us with food we will dry it and can it and freeze it and not get tired of doing that. We will work all summer and fall and then we will spend the winter doing what we want to do because there won't be any more work in the winter!

We will co-exist with the wild animals, who will befriend us and not eat our chickens because that would make us sad, and they won't want to make us sad. We will take pictures of the cute raccoon babies, and the cute coyotes, and the cute bobcats, Oh! and the cute possums and show all the people that hate them that they are wrong (because wild animals never eat chickens if you just love the animals enough).

We will live out in the wilderness all by ourselves, but not too far out because we still want to go shopping at the malls in town and we don't want to commute more than 15 minutes to work so we need to be right outside the limits of a big city or there won't be a good job, but we are going to build our tiny house on several acres (we don't want to mow more than that) as soon as we can find a bargain because we can't afford to pay more than $50,000 for our property and it has to have a well and septic and electricity (even though we will be off grid, of course), and no regulations or HOA to tell us we can't have the house we are going to build all by ourselves. We need to be where it does not snow, but where it is not desert either, but where there is lots of water but not a lot of rain because mud is messy.

 

Ok, so it isn't very nice for me to poke fun at people who do not understand that it just doesn't work like this.

Feel free to send us your additions to this monologue, we'd love to add them in!

I progress like rick-rack on the bottom of a crooked skirt. One side IS higher than the other, and I'm heading that direction, but it is full of ups and downs.

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Nature is  a wise woman, who pays us back, tit for tat.

The Storyteller

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The yearning for a place, or a home, where you have never been - perhaps a place where the sum of all your most heartfelt moments can come together.

In Welsh, it is Hiraeth. The German word Fernweh also may come close. In Brazilian Portuguese it is Saudade, Another German word, used by the British, is Sehnsucht. Whatever it is called, it is where my mind lives when sleep overtakes me, and I always wake unfinished.

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,   
And every common bush afire with God;   
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,   
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

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A Series of Political Truths

 

You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work, because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation!

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson

What this country needs are more unemployed politicians. - Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. - Winston Churchill (Of course, the first part of this is actually wrong, the inequality that goes hand in hand with Capitalism isn't an unequal sharing of blessings, but an unwillingness, or inability, to aggressively pursue material compensation for one's labors. But then, Winny was always a bit of an Englishman where Conservatism was concerned, and could not quite grasp the whole concept! [Understand I really DO have a lot of respect for the man!])

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. - P.J. O'Rourke

A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man; a debt he proposes to pay off with your money. - G. Gordon Liddy

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. - George Bernard Shaw

I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. - Winston Churchill

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free! - P. J. O'Rourke

If green beans strung on a string and dried are called "Leather Britches", then does that mean when you string peppers on a string and dry them, that you get "Hot Pants"?

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What do you get when Commander Raab disappears with a chicken?

No Harm, no fowl.

(This is what happens when we get bored when watching JAG.)

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Phalangeal dyslexia: When your fingers move independent of your brain while typing.

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What kind of fungus can be two animals at once?

Chicken of the Woods - C.O.W.

(This is a geeky mycology joke, mushroom hunters will get it.)

(For the even more geeky - Laetiporus spp, including L. sulphureus, L. cinncinatus, L. conifericola, L. gilbertsonii, L. huroniensis, and probably a few others.)

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Seven hens equals 14 feet of chicken.

(Observed when preparing to butcher chickens, and save the feet for broth.)

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How many animals can you fit in your boots?

10 piggies and 2 calves!