backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

The Reality of Life on the Homestead

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Homesteading shows on television give you a glimpse into the reality of life on the homestead.  There are trials and tribulations along the way and the don’t always work themselves out.  The reality of living this life style is that animals and plants must give their lives to allow us to live.  Nature can be cruel and everything does not go as planned all the time.  When our pigs go to the butcher we are thankful but a little sad. When we come out in the morning to do chores and a predator has taken one of our flock we are angry and sad. And when we have to cull an injured animal we are just plain sad.  It is not a lifestyle for the faint of heart. Things die and that’s the way it is. So last week when we had a chick born with what looked to be a birth defect we knew what the outcome could be.  Its leg was twisted and he couldn’t walk.  It flopped around and couldn’t stand at all. IMG_2585

We searched the internet for answers.  Chick leg problems are common, but this was not the typical problem.  We decided to put it in a separate incubator to stay warm while we made a plan.  This was a normal homestead situation, often you have to come up with a remedy to a problem that is unique.  Whether it is fitting plants into a garden or building that pasture fence in your special location, you have to make the decision because you are your own boss.  So we decided to set the chick up in the incubator with a towel on the bottom so it was soft and it wouldn’t hurt itself, and could also get footing if it tried to walk.  We gave it a very shallow water dish so it wouldn’t drown, and a bit of food. The poor thing would just flop all over the incubator.  Tracy decided it would need food and her motherly instincts took over.  She mixed some food with water and fed it with a medicine dropper.  She would hold it to make it comfortable and feed it several times a day.  Just like a newborn baby,  the chick would let us know when it was hungry or needed something. Things did not look good so we tried to splint the bad leg but that made it worse.  At one point, we even found the chick soaking wet and cold from falling in its water and used a hair dryer to warm it up and dry its feathers.  Every morning we would check on it, expecting the inevitable.  After a few days we looked into the incubator and noticed it was standing braced up against the wall.  We were so happy to see this progress.  The problem was as soon as it was away from the wall it would tumble over.  We kept up with the feeding and watering, we even named it little foot.  The next day we were holding it and noticed it was using the injured leg to push down.  We saw this as a great sign.  The chick was also eating and drinking so we became optimistic.  The next day it ran across the incubator and stood up on its own.  It was still wobbly, but was actually standing.  By the next day it was running around in its space and chirping. The chick wanted out.  We moved it to a small brooder and it seemed to be doing well.  It could hear the other chickens, and would call to them. So finally we put it with the other birds.

The other chicks were a little bigger, but it began nipping tails and pushing his way into the food.  We hope that the little one will continue to improve but we know that life is very fragile.  We love to see it running with the big boys and girls and can’t wait to see what a pretty bird it will become.  Life on the homestead or anywhere else is never guaranteed.  Living this life style brings that fact home to us time and again.  It makes us appreciate our life and it makes us  appreciate where our food comes from and the animals that provide it for us.  You can never take things for granted and it really makes us understand how delicate the original homesteader life was.  One bad crop or a sickness going through their animals could also spell death for the original homesteaders.  We learn so many lessons from our homestead life style and we even come out on top once in a while.  Little foot is a great reminder that sometimes prayers are answered, and there never is a good time to give up.

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carpentry, farming, firewood, gardening, homesteading, tools, wood working

Tools Make The Homestead

When we think about homesteading we always think of images of chickens and fall harvests.  We rarely see pictures of the tools that make homesteading possible.  No two homesteads are alike, and neither are their tools.  What makes homesteading great is that you get to do it your own way.  You can choose your own land and what crops you will grow,  but most importantly you get to choose or make your own tools.  This blog is a tribute and an introduction to the tools we use on our homestead.  Hopefully it will give you a few new ideas about what to use around your homestead.

The Chainsaw

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This is one of the tools that we can’t live without.  It brings us warmth and Christmas trees.  Its uses are endless, especially in places where power cords can’t reach or in an emergency.

 

 

 

When we first started our homestead and decided to burn wood for heat, we realized quickly that we would need a chainsaw.  Initially we started with a box store bargain, but it only lasted a short time.  The next purchase was the largest saw the box store had to offer, but we had a similar experience, it didn’t last. We knew it was time to ask the pros. Knowing that we cut 10 cords of wood a year, we knew we needed something reliable. We went to our local Huqvarna dealer and he helped us select a saw that would fit our needs. We settled on a 365 special because it was a saw we thought we could handle, but can also get the job done.  After 7 years, and still running strong, it has not missed a beat. We try not to spend a lot, but in this case, we learned that you truly get what you pay for.

The Homemade Apple Press

On our homestead we have 7 apple trees, and once they started producing we knew we wanted to make cider so we needed an apple press. We looked into buying one, but they were too expensive, so we made our own plans using an inexpensive Harbor Freight bottle jack to apply the pressure.  Later on when we planted the vineyard, we were able to use the press for wine making.  This tool works well and brings us plenty of joy.  There is nothing like drinking your own fresh pressed cider (or wine!).

Antique pencil sharpener

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Whenever I use it I am reminded of our grandfather’s shop.  I think it makes me work just a little harder to make him proud. No other explanation needed.

 

 

 

 

Small Tractor Supply Trailer

 

This trailer has served so many purposes of the years it’s hard to remember them all.  It was initially purchased to allow our older son to mow lawns.  It has hauled everything from lumber to pigs.  We built a removable rack to keep the pigs on board.  It is the versatile workhorse of the homestead.

The Antique Crock

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This old school tool makes great food and looks good too.  It is one of the few tools we display in our living space. It makes wonderful sauerkraut and dill pickles.  We can not imagine the homestead without it.

Solar Electric Fence Charger

When we decided to keep honey bees, we needed to keep bears out.  After a lot of research we decided on a high voltage charger that was big enough to zap a bull.  This was one of the few times we went right for the best tool first.  It wasn’t cheap, but it has never let us down.  It has saved us money on the electric bill,  and has enough capacity to fence in our pigs as well. It is a Parmak Magnum 12 Solar Pak Fencer and was well worth the $250 we spent on it.

Mowers and Tillers

After years of small front tine tillers and shovels a few years ago we upgraded to a good used rear tine tiller.  We were so happy to not feel like our arms are ripping off every spring.  Used tillers are very reasonable especially around Christmas time.  After years of different riding mowers, this Fall we upgraded to a lawn tractor.  We won it at an auction and it came with a snowblower, tiller, and a mowing deck.  It is an old Simplicity and we could not believe the difference it made.  It does everything well and has a hydraulic drive and lift to make work easy.  By far, its best feature is the tiller.  I can see us expanding our garden with this monster.  We could never afford a new compact tractor, but this used beauty suits our needs.

The Simple Tools

These provide us with heat and nourishment. We always choose durable items like cast iron, composite handles, and ball canning jars. In our house we have a saying “nothing bad ever comes out of the dutch oven”, and to this day, that remains true.

The Green House

img_2602This is our first year with the green house, but we already have cold weather crops like kale and lettuce growing in it.  It is unheated, but we can see that changing in the future.  This $300 dollar investment should pay big dividends in delicious vegetables.

 

 

Maple Syrup Evaporator

This is a tool that may actually pay us back one day.  When we first started making maple syrup we made it in a small pan over a fire.  It took a very long time to boil the sap down into syrup.  During this time we always dreamed of having a real evaporator, but their price always put them out of reach for us.  Last season we were able to get a good deal on a real maple syrup pan from a friend.  We found this old tank in a junk yard and after a year of planning and welding we had made our own evaporator. At 1/4 the cost of a manufactured one, it is the little engine that could.  It makes the most delicious maple syrup.

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The Farm Stand

 

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This simple stand started as a way for our son to make a few extra bucks, but now that he’s older it allows us to recoup some of the money we spend on seeds.  It is so much fun to chat with people when they stop by to make a purchase.  We also enjoy how cute it looks on the lawn when you drive by.

The things that keep us sane

Just like everything else here on the homestead, the hot tub serves more than one purpose.  It is also our onion and garlic drying rack, and potting bench.  It is our favorite place to go after ice fishing in the winter.  Our solar pool heater allows us to extend the swimming season by 3 weeks on either end and is incredibly cheap to run.

As you can see, tools make the homestead an efficient and happy place.  They are our constant companions.  We would be lost without them.  They are more than just tools they are part of us.  Every year we add more and more of them.  Which naturally leads us to a future blog, where to store them.  Time to build a bigger shed.

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

From Rooster to Baby Chicks, New Life on the Homestead

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Although it is still cold, spring has been in the air on the homestead.  We have been starting seeds, making maple syrup, and our rooster has been active making baby chickens.  We keep a small flock of chickens for egg production.  Usually we have enough eggs to avoid buying any from the store.  Last year one of our hens went broody (sitting on eggs to hatch them)  so we bartered for a few fertile eggs from our good friend and put some under her.  Only one of the eggs hatched and as luck would have it, the little chick was a rooster.

We really didn’t want a rooster, but we kept him anyway.  He grew into a beautiful bird and we decided that this year we would hatch some of our own eggs.  We try to keep our hens about three years or so and then rotate them out.  Three of our hens are due to go to new homes, so this was a great way to replace them free of charge.  It also allowed us to learn a valuable skill that could keep our flock self sustaining, and we would no longer be slaves to mail order hatcheries or the over-crowded chick confines of Tractor Supply.  We started by looking for a used incubator on Facebook’s marketplace. Immediately we were offered free incubators to either borrow or have.  We were so grateful. It is wonderful how homesteaders always come together when one of us has a need.  We tried to set up the incubator in our partially heated garage, but we could not get it up to the accurate temperature of 99.5 degrees F.  After some thinking we set it up in our mud room, because it was out of harm’s way, and has heat.  We let it run for a few days and adjusted the heat to 99.5 degrees and added water to the bottom tray for humidity.  We then collected eggs as soon as they were laid so that they were still warm. Which, by the way, if you live in the Northeast like us, is not always an easy to find a warm, just laid egg. They sometimes get cold very quickly with our ever fluctuating temperatures. We placed the eggs in the incubator and wrote the date on them in pencil.  Eggshells are porous and ink can bleed into the egg killing the chick.  We turned the eggs three times a day by hand, rolling them a quarter turn each time.  Some incubators come with a fancy, automatic “turner”, but our experience is that turning them by hand works the best. Chicken eggs take about 21 days to hatch and on day 18 we stop turning them.  Knowing that the big day was coming soon,  we got our brooder ready for the upcoming births.  We took an old plastic pond and put some bedding in the bottom.  We then hung a heat lamp about 18″ above the bedding.

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It is important to be sure the lamp is secure and not just depend on the clamp.  We had a friend who nearly burned down his house when his lamp fell into the dry bedding.  We give the chicks enough space to move away from the lamp if they are too hot.  It is easy to tell if your lamp is in the right place once you put the chicks in.  If they move away its too low, if they huddle together it is too high.  We also get their food and water ready.  Finally day 21 came and we could hear peeping in our incubator.

We looked in the incubator, there were no chicks, but we could see some of the eggs wiggling a bit.  After a few hours  we could see a tiny beak pecking a hole in the egg.

A few hours after that we had our baby chicks.  We left them in the incubator until they were dry, and then we moved them to the brooder.  They seemed much healthier and livelier than the chicks that we have had mail ordered and we have not noticed any pasting up (poop getting bound up).  Our homestead was now a little closer to being self sufficient, and we went to bed that night of the first, and hopefully many more births-to- come, feeling very grateful to be able to continue our homesteading lifestyle.

Just like most things we do in homesteading, it is a learning process. We always ask ourselves, “how can we improve?” ” what can we do differently?”, but with raising our own chicks, the answers to both of these questions are clearly evident when we witness the hatching and birth, and then hold a baby chick in our hands for the first time. It never gets old and you realize that you have done exactly what Mother Nature intended, with a little help of an incubator, of course. And that early morning crowing from the rooster that you once loved, then hated, you suddenly love again. Thank you, Mr. Wing!

cooking, cooking venison, cooking wild game, homemade, homesteading, recipes

How to Make Corned Venison Move Over Corned Beef

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Every Year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around everyone thinks of corned beef, but here on the homestead we do it a little different.  We make corned venison and it has now become sort of a tradition, which we love.  We have no illusion that this is some sort of  long lost traditional Irish meal. Much like Rome was not built in a day, neither is corned venison.  Planning for this dish starts when we are butchering the deer in the fall.  We always set aside the roast that looks most like brisket for our corned beef and be sure to label it as such.  About a week before we defrost the roast, and then the magic happens.

Corned Venison 

1 venison brisket, about 3-4 lbs (feel free to substitute beef, also delicious!)

2 garlic cloves, cut in half

The Brine

1 quart of water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

In a sauce pot, combine all the brine ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once dissolved, set aside to cool. I am kind of impatient, so I use a little trick I learned from my grandma, pour the hot brine into a heat proof glass measuring cup, then put the measuring cup in a metal bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally and your mix will be cool in no time.

 

 

 

Place your brisket and garlic in a large gallon size freezer bag and pour the brine over it. Seal the bag, place the bag in a baking dish and refrigerate for 6-7 days, turning once each day.

 

 

 

After those very long days, remove your brisket (don’t be alarmed by its color, the “cooking” process has already started from the vinegar and salt) and thoroughly wash off the brine under cold water.

 

 

 

Place the brisket in a large pot, add one beer and enough cold water to fully immerse the brisket and cover. Bring the liquid/brisket to a boil, turn down to a simmer and allow to cook, covered for about 2 hours, or until the brisket is cooked through. In the last 20 minutes or so, add cut up potatoes, cabbage and carrots.

 

 

 

Just for comparison, the sliced meat on the top of the plate (darker in color) on the left is the corned venison, the other is a flat cut store-bought corned beef. The venison is much leaner and you won’t believe how great it tastes, you may never go back to that store bought one!   Whenever we treat venison like other meats we are pleasantly surprised with the results.  Having so many delicious recipes for venison allows us to make full use of our yearly harvests, and having another versatile source of protein makes us more self sufficient, even on St. Patrick’s Day.

 

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Keeping Honey Bees

The closer to spring we get the more I want to see my bees working

two branches homestead

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getting started

A few years ago we decided to add honey bees to our homestead.  We had noticed that they were absent from our garden and small orchard.  And after a few years of poor apple crops we decided to take matters into our own hands.  After months of research we took the plunge and ordered our first package of bees. As soon as we placed the order we started getting ready for their arrival.  We picked a site close to the garden and orchard with access to water.  This spot receives sun throughout the day so we knew it would keep them active and also warm in the winter.  We have bears in the area so we built an electric fence with a solar charger, which we were later able to also utilize for our pigs. We then began construction of the hives.

 

We chose to build our…

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