Showing Goats for 4-H at the 2016 Albion Fair

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Last week was fair week and Ben’s got to have his first experience showing his 4-H project goats at the Albion Fair. It was a long week, but he did so well and we’re all very proud of him. He walked away with several ribbons and two trophies for Junior Fitting and Champion Fitter Dairy Goats.

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A huge THANK YOU to my mom who helped with Ben’s curtains banners for his goats’ stall. 

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Doesn’t he look so handsome all dressed up in his dairy-whites? Of course, they don’t stay white for very long… sigh.

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Fair week was quite an experience for a first-time 4-H family. As a little girl, my favorite part of the fair was always seeing the animals–I had no idea how much work goes in to getting them there, and practically living at the fair grounds all week while they’re being shown! I have a whole new appreciation, especially for families that go to multiple fairs every year!

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I was lucky to be able to take an entire week off work so that I could be at the fairgrounds from morning till close every night. I had so much fun, but it was also exhausting. I was impressed by how well the boys got through it, despite being there from about 9am till close to 10pm every night.

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Myles got some hands-on milking lessons from a pro! Ben’s 4-H leader, Jan, is amazing with kids. During the week, field trip groups came through the barns in the morning, and she gave every child the opportunity to try milking one of her goats.

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On the last day of the fair, there was a parade. This year’s theme was We’ve Got Good Things Growing. Thanks to Shannon (one of the moms in our 4-H group), our goats were outfitted in amazing flower child outfits…

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Unfortunately, the weather turned and mid-way through the parade, we got absolutely drenched in a downpour. Goats hate rain, so we had some very unhappy, very tired critters by the time we got back to the barn.

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Candy passed out with her head propped on her daughter’s back.

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When Ben got his premium check for his winnings (he had no idea that was part of it–ha ha), he immediately started planning how he could use the money with is birthday money to expand his herd for next year! Kid after my own heart right there. This year was a learning experience, and while I’m looking forward to next year, I’m also glad we have a whole year to recover before we do it all again!

 

Weathering the Storm

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Obviously, I’ve been very absent from this blog all summer. To be honest, I’ve been very absent from life this summer. I’ve spent the better part of the last couple months in front of a computer, working like crazy. You see, I found out my job situation was–well, a bit up in the air– and my solution was to hustle-hustle-hustle freelance work. (I’m a web developer and freelance doing custom WordPress development and design.)

It’s scary being the main breadwinner of the family and having the future of your job suddenly uncertain. We finally have this little slide of heaven to call home, and my first thought was that we were going to lose it. But then, I was reminded that’s part of what homesteading is about: It’s not always being prepared for the extremes (e.g. the zombie apocalypse); many times, it’s just having a cushion for when hard times come. It might be job loss, illnesses, or any of the other countless things that happen to families across the country every day.

I was comforted by the fact that our pantry is very well stocked. We raised and put 24 chickens in our freezer, and bought a quarter beef earlier in the year. We have a constant supply of eggs and meat rabbits in our barn yard. Our older goat, Candy, is still giving milk. I have lots of canned tomatoes and tomato juice on the pantry shelves in our basement. I have things like four and sugar stored in bulk, so I can bake bread any time we need it.

I took comfort in knowing the very basics are covered.

Things are looking up for me job-wise now. What was a scary situation is playing out to be more of an opportunity. But the bigger lesson learned was a reminder of why this life is worth it. It’s not just that I enjoy the country-life. It’s not just the pride I feel watching my boys work and play on the farm. It’s the grit and the skills we’re learning every day as a family, and the security it will provide us in the years ahead when times get tough.

People who know me professionally frequently raise an eyebrow when I say something like, I have to get home to milk my goat. The juxtaposition of someone who works in the IT field but also raises farm animals seems jarring to some people. There’s room for both: I love technology and I’m very grateful for it, but I also have a deep reverence for “old fashioned” skills that our grandparents or great-grandparents would have just thought of as everyday life.

Sometimes I try to imagine what our boys will think when they are adults and they reflect back on their childhood. They’ll either think that their mother was crazy, or -hopefully- they’ll appreciate the experiences they had growing up. I hope they’ll go on to amazing academic achievements, but I also hope they stay grounded and remember what working with your hands feels like — cooking and baking from scratch, growing and raising your own food, preserving the harvest, building or repairing things with just the materials you can scrounge together, and so on.

I’m looking ahead now to autumn, and I’m trying to pull back from working quite so much. I’m ready to enjoy the season. The weather here has been unseasonably warm, but today we’re having our first cool day with highs in the 60s. The leaves beginning to turn on our sugar maples, and the animals are already starting to get shaggy with their winter coats. The last local fair of the season begins on Tuesday, and traditionally it always marks the real END of summer in my mind. I am more than ready for the next season to begin.

Homestead Updates, July and August 2016

Carrying Water

Why hello there, sadly neglected blog! It’s amazing how fast this summer has gone. While it’s technically not over yet, the leaves are already starting to change and hint at the fast approaching autumn. So how did we spend our summer?

Ben’s 4-H

Ben is wrapping up his first year in 4-H with the fair next week. His project was his Nigerian Dwarf goat, Reese. It’s been a huge learning experience for the whole family because neither Mike nor I did 4-H as kids. Ben seems to really enjoy it, and says he wants to keep doing it for as long as he can. He also keeps asking when Myles can join 4-H with him, which makes me a very proud Mama.

Ben's 4-H presentation

These photos were from a community service project that Ben’s 4-H group did where they introduced kids to their goats and taught them about the uses of goats in farming and how they can be fun pets, too!

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Ducks

It happened quite by accident — we were at a 4th of July party and an old friend of Mike’s mentioned that she needed to re-home 4 ducks. Mike was SUPER excited because he’s been wanting ducks forever. Sadly, one of the Khaki Campbell females wandered off the day after we brought them home. (The first bird we’ve ever lost on our farm!) We still have two Khaki Cambells (a male and female) and a Blue Swedish female. We have had quite an abundance of duck eggs, and I’m hoping we can hatch some ducks in the spring.

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What’s Cookin’

Speaking of eggs…

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WOW have we ever had LOTS of eggs this summer! No complaints there, though! We have pretty much been able to sell enough eggs to pay for the chicken and duck feed, which is nice.

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I also recently got an Instant Pot and started making homemade greek yogurt in it. Homemade yogurt with honey drizzled in it is pretty much my new favorite breakfast.

Playing & Enjoying Life

Just a few more snapshots that I thought I’d share…

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Ravioli, the world's most friendly rooster

Ravioli, the world's most friendly rooster

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Homestead Updates, June 2016

Ben and Ravioli the rooster | Little Red Farmstead

Quilts drying outside | Little Red Farmstead

I’m a couple days late, but I still wanted to share our updates for what went on around the farm throughout the month of June 2016.

But first, a reminder: Mike and I will be launching our Little Red FarmCast podcast later this month. If you want to be the first to hear when it launches, sign up for our mailing list!

Ben and Ravioli the rooster | Little Red Farmstead

Laying Hens

If you follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter you may have seen that a rooster joined our flock earlier this month. (That’s him up there, with Ben.) His name is Ravioli (yes, you read that correctly) and he’s an Australorp, like 3 of our other hens.

I always thought eventually I’d like to have a rooster, but I didn’t plan on getting one now. I happened to see someone on our local Craigslist looking to re-home Rav, and then later the same day I found out that the person looking to re-home him was actually a friend-of-a-friend and that someone had actually given her my name (via Facebook-tagging) to see if I wanted him. Small world and all that. I figured at that point it was meant-to-be.

Ravioli (named by the children of his previous owner — too adorable, right?!) has integrated into the flock without incident. He’s very young (only about 10 weeks when we brought him home at the beginning of June) but he is doing is rooster-thang quite happily. He’s fairly docile so far, as roosters go. I think it probably helps that he has a harem of 17 hens to chase around.

Lots-o-eggs | Little Red Farmstead

Speaking of Rav chasing our hens…

One of our Buff Orpington hens decided to go broody this month. At first, I decided to move her to the barn and let her sit on 9 eggs. I didn’t close the barn door early enough that evening, and at dusk she abandoned the eggs and returned to the coop on the other side of our property. Then the next day she decided to camp out on 4 more eggs in a brooder box back in the coop, so I just decided to let her sit on them there without moving her. She’s been on them for about a week now, so somewhere around July 16th we’ll see if the eggs she’s sitting on will hatch. I may candle them tomorrow evening to see if I can see any growth. (That way we don’t end up with stinky, rotten eggs in our coop – ugh.)

Goats and meat chickens | Little Red Farmstead

Meat Chickens

The meat chickens are absolutely ENORMOUS at this point. Ideally, we should have processed them this weekend. Unfortunately, the soonest Mike could get off work was the 16th, and our chickens will be 9 ½ weeks old at that point. I’m getting nervous that we’ll start seeing some of the horror-story problems (heart failure, broken legs, etc.) you hear about with Cornish-X chickens by that point, so I’m very stressed. It also means at least another 100 pounds of food I’ll probably put into them, making them a lot less cost effective.

… Live and learn, right? I’m hoping it all turns out okay in the end. I’d really love to get a second batch of meat chickens raised up and in the freezer before the summer is over, but we’ll see how butchering day goes before I commit to that.

 

Rabbits

Mama bunny gave birth to a litter of 9 kits in June, and they’re healthy, adorable, and growing fast.  We need to empty out a couple cages and put together a few more for grow-outs. Thanks to the boys getting attached to a couple of the bunnies from past litters, our “permanent collection” in the rabbitry is now 2 bucks and 2 does.

 

Myles and Reese the goat | Little Red Farmstead

Goats

The goats have been joining us for quite a few bonfires in the back yard this year. They love climbing on the picnic table, our benches around the fire, and really anywhere else they can leap or scramble to. They’re into everything, but they’re an endless source of entertainment!

Ben’s been getting much busier lately with 4-H. He’s decided he wants to show Reese (our 7 month old doeling, pictured above with Myles) this year. His group has been starting to work on showmanship to prepare for the fair this fall, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him practice with her!

The best part is, I’ve been getting to learn right alongside Ben. I’d love to actually show our goats in an ADGA show some day. (#GoatNerd)

We also found out there is a “PeeWee” show class at the fair, so Myles could actually show one of the goats as well (and I’d be allowed to walk with him and help). How freakin’ adorable is that, right?! So I’m going to start working with Myles and our older goat, Candy, so he can hopefully participate at the fair this fall too.

 

Meat Chicks Moved to the Great Outdoors (a 3.5-Week Update)

Meat chickens gathered at the waterer | Little Red Farmstead

Meat chickens gathered at the waterer | Little Red Farmstead

Saturday morning, I opened the barn door to find one very confused meat chick looking at me from outside his brooder. Clearly, they were getting big enough to hop or fly or otherwise foist themselves out of the brooder, which said to me: Time to go outside!

Thankfully their new home didn’t require much work: I took the string trimmer and knocked down some of the tall grass in their pen-area, re-attached the ladder inside their coop, and set up fresh food and water for them.

Then I brought 24 very dumbfounded meat birds outside to their new home.

Meat chickens on grass at last | Little Red Farmstead

Having never raised meat birds before, it amazes me how fast they grew! Of course, I read plenty about their growth rate, but seeing it first hand is a whole other matter. At three and a half weeks old, these chickens are easily two or three times as big as egg layers the same age would be.

Not to be insulting to Cornish Crosses, but they’re not exactly the brightest birds either. Corralling them into the coop at night has been interesting. Picture me just after dusk with a head lamp, waving my arms around, trying to herd little chickens without stepping on them… Now that I think about it, maybe they ARE the smart ones, having fun making me look ridiculous!

Meat chicken setup behind our barn | Little Red Farmstead

They are, however, good at what they’re meant to do–eating and growing. I’ve employed two techniques that I’ve read about and heard about on podcasts to help keep them from getting too large too fast such that it’s detrimental to their health:

  1. We allow them to eat as much as they want, but only for 12 hours at a time. After that, I take the food out of their pen and the only food they have access to is anything they can forage in the grass.
  2. I moved the food and water away from the coop, and away from each other, so minimally they have to walk in a triangle formation back and forth from the coop to the water to the food a few times a day. This helps keep their heart and legs strong to support their heavy bodies. I’ve been gradually moving the food and water a bit farther apart too, now that they’re getting the hang of being outdoors.

I’m hoping those two strategies will serve us well to get them to processing-age.

When our processor told us these birds would be ready at 7 weeks, I was skeptical (I was thinking more like 9-10 weeks), but now I’m starting to believe him. If all goes well maybe we’ll do a second round of birds before the summer is over.