Tuesday, December 28

Better Rooster (?) Photos

OK, here we go......

Here is a photo of 4 out of 6. I think this is two hens and two roosters? Even a first year chicken girl like me can see a visible difference here. But, our other ladies all grew at different rates and some are much larger than others, and they are all girls.

Here is one that I think is a rooster. I am thinking that because of the large comb and the plumage in the tail feathers.

Group shot - three roosters, two hens?

Definitely a hen, right?

Any and all advice, suggestions or ideas will be greatly appreciated. I have been trying not to get too attached to these possible 4 roosters just in case they happen to be, well, roosters. We can not have roosters here so they will have to be sold or 'dispatched.' Would it be wrong, if I found someone locally who would 'dispatch' humanely, to put them in my freezer?

Monday, December 27

Holiday Blinders

This time of year is the hardest time for me to keep with our ideas of less-is-more, packaging concerns, and the general not-over-doing of just about everything.

We had my husbands family at our house for a Christmas party and gifts were exchanged in numbers not seen since the year I was little and Dad got a big holiday bonus. It was mostly due to the fact that the little guy is almost 2 and he now understands the concept of presents. And everyone in the family wants to shop for him, give him toys, and watch his rip the wrapping apart in absolute joy. It is fun to watch him go at it, he gets so excited and emits such a pure form of happiness that I think most of us have long since lost.

The aftermath was startling. Wrapping paper everywhere, packaging from many, many toys in the form of cardboard boxes, zip ties, wire twist things, cellophane, and the remnants of bows, tags, and Christmas cookies.

My 'holiday blinders' had been on basically since Black Friday. I can not stand to be out and about on that day. It combines everything I can not tolerate into the perfect storm of aggravation. Crowds, noise, traffic congestion, short tempers and foul moods. Overcrowded stores with the heat turned up to sauna-like conditions which seems to give people the go-ahead to wear tank tops in November. It is consumer over indulgence to the extreme. People literally trampling each other to death to get cheap plastic junk.

My blinders go up and I block it out. I know there is nothing I can do to change it. All the homesteading efforts in the world on my part will not change the vast majority at this time of year. And I know I am guilty of a little bit myself. When my blinders go up, I partially become one of them - I buy gifts for people, I forget to bring reusable bags to the store, I don't pay as much attention to the amount of packaging things come in or where it is made. I do try to make an effort but the holidays get under your skin. All the advertisements and sales and cookie trays pull me in and I want to be part of it all. I want to get gifts for people that they will love and I spend too much money and time doing it.

My guilty pleasure: This year, I put up some very old Christmas lights that my Grandma gave me from the 50's (?). Big colored bulbs on thick cord wires with non-polarized plugs. Can you even guess how much electric these babies consume? The heat they give off melts the snow under the little tree that I put them on in the side yard. I love the way they look and the box they came in rocks beyond all belief. They re not efficient, LED or probably even compliant with today's electrical code. Our electric bill went up - way up - this past month. Partly because we are not making nearly as much power from the solar panels, but also partly from my nostalgic cold war era light display.

Again, it's the blinders. I know it is not the best idea, but for a few weeks, I just look away. And yes, I do feel the guilt. More so this year than other years since I have been reading and learning so much about the environment, homesteading, conservation and sustainability. This season of excess should send me running for the hills but I just can't help myself.

The little guy got a ton of plastic toys in an absurd amount of unnecessary packaging. We sent out and received enough Christmas cards to keep the post office in business another year without raising the price of stamps. I ordered a soccer jersey from Singapore for my brothers gift, had it sent to my house in New York and then mailed it back out, wrapped in non-biodegradable paper to his home in Nevada. Normally I would be concerned with where the jersey was made, the amount of fuel it took to transport it across the Pacific Ocean and the continental US (twice), the paper that would be in the landfill forever and the packing peanuts that would keep the paper company over the years.


Paper plates, too much tv, and a river of high fructose corn syrup and refined sugars flowing through my system.

Piles of garbage on the curbs, non-recycled Christmas trees, styrofoam packaging - Americans throw away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Why did I ever get into all this caring about stuff? I want my ignorant lifestyle back. I want to have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind philosophy back. "Just throw it away -the garbage man will come and it will magically vanish into thin air."

But I just can't go back. As much as I sometimes want to. I have learned too much about what all the chemicals and bad habits do to our planet. But the holidays are so hard. If I took my holiday blinders off, I think I would literally explode. So I wait until after Christmas, take off the blinders, and live with my holiday guilt, vowing to make up for it as the new year plays out.

I know there are plenty of alternatives: green wrapping paper, composting your tree, using regular plates instead of paper ones (which we did!), trying to limit driving, recycling everything you can. We all know these things, and all the websites give these tips. And we do them, but it just doesn't seem to be enough for me. I could list so many ideas, alternatives and resources here and come off as a green-goodie-two-shoes - "stop trashing the planet!". It just seems too much, the constant analyzing of food chemicals added to the stress of the holidays that we all feel - homesteaders or not. I was going to post a graphic illustrating the cycle of holiday waste and how horrible we are as human beings. I just can't take that high road when I myself have been low-roading it the past few weeks. I get depressed when I think of all the people who just pile it by the curb and wait for the magical "poof". Lets all enjoy a holiday picture of one of my cats instead:

Is it possible to be totally "green" all the time? Do any of you fellow sustainability-minded, homesteaders out there have your days of "two steps back?" I mean, I tried this year - I made presents for many people on my list (but also supplemented it with a second gift from the store), and I recycled as much of the packaging as possible.

Is there a pendulum which allows us to swing into the "consumer zone" for bits at a time? Even though I feel the blinder quilt, is it wrong of me to still bring them out with the Christmas lights next year?

Sunday, December 26

6 Degrees and Possible Roosters

It is bitterly cold out today with that wind chill hovering around 6 degrees. I have been checking on the ladies periodically throughout the day and they seem to be taking it in stride. Although, I think these days of being "cooped up" are starting to get to them a little bit. They are still producing eggs - about a dozen a day - but I can see signs of frustration. There is obvious bickering and subtle signs of physical skirmishes, but nothing serious.

I keep bringing them extra bread scraps and cracked corn when I check their water three times a day and I have been layering more straw down a little over once a week to provide more bedding and insulation.

I still get some strange looks when I enter the coop bundled up in winter gear....

I am afraid that I may have at least 2, maybe 3 roosters in the mix. Of the 6 most recent additions, 4 of them are absolutely huge. They have grown so fast and are so big that they tower over the other ladies. They have the plumage on the tail feathers and they are slightly aggressive in their nature. I have heard no crowing yet but I am worries that if they are roosters that being confined in close quarters for a few months might bring on more aggressive behavior. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I will try to get some better pictures of the chickens in question. But here are a couple pictures of them:

Here is one of my original 6. They are all doing well and Hildred had recovered from her moulting.

And here are some of the 12 Golden Comets we raised from chicks this past spring. All 12 are doing well and seem to be happy, and producing eggs. They are small, compaired to the 6 Rhode Island Red (maybe) roosters, but they are very friendly and do not mind being picked up, held and petted.

You might remember that last summer I built what amounted to a buffet table for the ladies with a long board held about 6 inches off the floor of the coop by some left over chunks of 4x4 post. I was trying to get the feeders and fonts off the floor to prevent straw and dirt, among other things, from being kicked into them by the girls. This worked in getting things off the floor but the ladies soon decided that standing on the board was more fun then standing on the floor. So I had the same problem, only 6 inches higher.

I made a barter deal with my neighbor and got a bunch of used cement blocks for some eggs and baked goods and I put each font and feeder up on its own block. No room for perching, high enough to limit the amount of debris, and low enough for the ladies to comfortably reach the goods. I also put all the nest boxes up on blocks too. they had been on some old metal racks we found in when we moved it but they were not as sturdy as I would have liked and they were hard to clean around. Sweeping around cement blocks is much easier.

I will post some good pictures of the roosters in question soon - any advice would be appreciated. I do not want roosters, or even 1 rooster. I do not want the aggressive behavior towards the ladies and my neighbors would not appreciate three alarm clocks.

Friday, December 24

Merry Christmas

The Christmas of 1942 and 1943 saw my Grandfather training for war in the state of Oregon - river crossings and simulated combat situations. By the time the Christmas of 1944 came around, he was recovering in a military hospital from serious wounds suffered fighting the Nazi's in Italy. Above is a Christmas card sent by members of the company - the 361st Infantry of the 91st Division - back home to their loved ones.

Let us all take a moment this holiday to remember all of the servicemen and women who have fought for, and are still fighting for, our country. They can not spend the holidays with family, which should make us all the more thankful that we can spend it with ours.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and have a wonderful, safe holiday.

Sunday, December 19

Book Report

The Witch of Hebron
James Howard Kunstler

What a gritty descriptive book this was! It was a good read in a guilty sort of way.
kind of like the accident you know you should look away from but you just can't. Violent at times, part cautionary tale, part "nature triumphs over the residues of man" - an interesting story that really makes you think. I could not put this book down.

"The air was filled with enticing aromas - hams smoking, apple butter in the kettle, a whiff of things baking here and there, the piquant stink of autumn rot where the road took them through the stretches of woodland, and always the reassuring smell of the horses."

Friday, December 17

Pine Cone Garland

When the holidays roll around, I am all about decorating. No, I do not light up every square inch of the exterior of my house and have those giant blow-up Santa's in the front yard. I like natural decorating. And I am "all about it" because it is just that - natural. I love the way the house looks with the holiday decor. It just makes it feel that much more homey and pioneer-like.

Pine boughs, pine cones, handmade ornaments along with antique ones from the 40's, apple themed kitchen table trees and lighted pine garland.

My decorations consist mostly of things I have made myself or that others have made for me. I have items that have been passed down from my Great Grandmother and things that I made yesterday.

Case and point: Pine Cone Garland. I love to decorate with pine cones in the winter months but there are only so many boxes and bowls and baskets I can fill without running out of room to put them. Especially this year with the little guy into EVERYTHING, I have to be careful. (our main tree does not have any ornaments on it this year because I did not want to have to hire someone to stand sentry by the tree 24/7).

And my pine cone collection was growing. I am always collecting them from my Grandparents farm and this past fall we picked up a ton of really nice, sturdy good sized ones from the Walmart parking lot. So I decided to string them and hang them up, garland style.

My first attempts at simply pushing a needle through the base did not work so I resorted to a drill. Here is how I did it:

What you will need - a drill, a 3/32" or 5/64" drill bit depending on the size of your pine cones, a sturdy long needle, some strong thread, scissors, and large buttons.

Step 1: Gather a ton of pine cones of similar size.
Step 2: use a drill bit to drill a hole through the thick base of the cones. This will be messy so be sure to put down a towel.
Step 3: thread a large needle with a strong, sturdy thread or cord (make sure both the needle and the cord will fit through the hole). I used an old spool of very heavy duty thread that i found at my husbands' Grandparents house. It is on a wooden spool so I can only guess how old it is. It was made by American Thread Co., Star, 200 yards, Size 8, Mercerized. you could probably also use fishing line, a thin but strong twine, etc.

Step 4: string the pine cones, one at a time, making sure not to get tangled or to get any knots in the string. It is also best to do this part of the project, and maybe the entire project itself, when both cats and toddlers are napping.

Step 5: I finished off each end with a big, thick button to give it something strong. And I like the way it looks. You could use just about anything you want - large beads, bells for the holidays, etc.
Step 6: Hang and enjoy!

In addition to hanging them, I also like to drape them along the tops of cabinets. As opposed to setting individual pine cones in a row and hoping that they don't fall off, having them strung together makes it much less likely they will cone down. And I think it looks pretty.

Wednesday, December 15

Strong National Museum of Play

Last weekend we met friends at the Strong National Museum of Play in downtown Rochester. We had never been there before and our friends told us that the little guy would love it. They were right. All that pent-up winter energy that tests the patience of mothers everywhere got an outlet. He could run around, get into everything and make all the noise he wanted.

So much to do for kids or all different age groups. Well organized, educational and fun. We had a a great time - the little guy with the toy exhibits and the adults with the historical toy displays and the butterfly garden.

The toy displays contained toys from the 1800s through today, some one which I still have packed away somewhere from while I was little. (not the 1800's, but it still made me feel kind of old). The butterfly garden, however, was fantastic!

Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden is the only year-round indoor butterfly garden in upstate New York. It is like a huge greenhouse kept at 80 humid degrees - seeing the tropical foliage on one side of the glass while about a foot of snow on the other side was kind of surreal - like looking at some futuristic Mars settlement dome.

The tour is limited to 20 minutes per group and there is a limit to the number of people allowed in at one time. There were butterflies everywhere, obviously, as well as turtles, humming birds and little brown birds that I did not catch the name of. You walk around this paved path, slowly, and you see color and flight. A huge yellow one (sorry I don't know the name) landed on my hand and sat for a minute.

Getting to be so close to it all was one of the most amazing experiences ever. And I got some great pictures....

Monday, December 13

Muck and Seed Orders

The two and a half feet of snow we had here just a day and a half ago has been steadily melting away over the past weekend. Giving testimony to this fact was our basement pump which has been running almost constantly.

And in comes the mud. I always hate when the snow melts and leaves wet, cold, mucky mud behind. All the grass is dead and mushed and the yard and gardens look just awful. I can tell where Snowy has made her "winter lavatory", and I know that the grass will be well fertilized there next spring.

As I slogged out to the chickens today to given them their bedtime snack, I made a mental note of the fact that I need to do something about the cement slab at the door to the coop building. It appears to be sinking and water is pooling. Not pleasant, and changing font water in the vicinity only adds to the problem. I do not have running water in the coop building so I have two options - lug it from the house in a big 5 gallon Tractor Supply bucket (which I loved buying), or take the fonts up to the house to rinse and fill. I try to wash them out really well once a week regardless, which requires bringing them inside to the basement sink for a scrub. Using the bucket wins out, but leads to excess water pooling. Will it ever end.....

On a positive note, I sent in my first seed order for Spring 2011 today. The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog came last Friday, surprising me in the mailbox in that I thought it was too early for such a gift. I poured over the pages of beautiful glossy pictures and read the descriptions of veggies, flowers and just about everything in between that I might want to squeeze into the garden next year.

I kept myself in check, and with a "don't go overboard" from Roy, I made my selections. Note: Roy gets nervous around seed ordering time. Actually, he gets nervous around seed starting time, seedling transplant time, staking of tomato plant time, and any time I need tilling done.

My selections from Baker Creek are:

Cherokee Trail of Tears runner bean
Mayflower runner bean
Purple Podded Pole runner bean (our FAVORITE!)
Sungold Select II tomato
Roma tomato (for sauce)
Calabrese Green Sprouting broccoli
Bedfordshire Prize cucumber
Musquee De Provence squash
Yellow Prairie Coneflower
Butterfly sweet peas
Marsh Mallow
Bee Balm Lemon

My garden will be no means consist only of beans and marsh mallows - I have plenty of tomato, pepper, pea and squash seeds left from last year. But then again, maybe I will just fill the whole thing with coneflower and be done wth it.

Saturday, December 11

Book Report

The Bucolic Plague
Josh Kilmer-Purcell

This was one of the best books I have read this year. I love farming memoirs and most of the ones I read are semi-serious with details of daily life, the high points and the low points and how to space seedlings properly. This one was totally different in that it was so funny I could not put it down.

It was also interesting, sweet, sad, modern, historical, and it had all the animal stories that I think we all like.

One page will produce a gem like “…most Americans have forgotten many of the simpler pleasures of life and how to provide for themselves.” “…the art of gracious living had largely fallen by the wayside.” While the next will discuss zombie flies, Oprah and bird triage. I never knew where it was going next and I could not put it down.

All you history people out there - can it get better than this? - “The sturdy 205-year-old farmhouse, standing high on a windy hill, represented the sense of permanence and stoicism I’ve always admired in people. I was waking up in the same exact spot as at least ten generations of people who came before me. In fact, the first morning someone woke up in this spot, America was still composed of only seventeen states, and had just purchased the Louisiana Territory a month earlier.”

Martha Stewart plays a big role here and to all of us whole strive for 'Martha-ness' in our gardens and homes, I offer this quote of a grounding nature: “When one peers through Martha glasses, the world isn’t rose colored. It’s a great big collection of disappointing imperfections.” It is also full of little historical common sense tips like facing your homestead crypt away from the wind - “little genius historical lessons that have been completely forgotten.”

Gardens, goats, house repair, soap, people, sparkle, places, fights, day-jobs, tv cameras and lessons in history. This book is a back-to-the-land meets gentlemen farmer drama.

Wednesday, December 8

Snow Report

Current Snow Total: 2 feet, 9 inches.

We are expected to get another 16 inches tonight.

Tuesday, December 7

Never Forget

Four Days and Counting....

It has been snowing, steadily, for the last 4 days. Any they say there is more to come. At last count, we had just over 16 inches in the yard, not counting the drifts which are up to 3 feet.

The ladies are in the coop due to the cold and that the snow is deeper than they are tall.

Prince, our oldest cat who wants to go outside all the time even though he is an indoor cat, took one look and decided it was better in the house. I opened the door for him, knowing that he would not take the opportunity on a day like today and he bolted back up the stairs to the kitchen when a blast of chill wind hit his fur.

Snowy, however, is in pure heaven. She loves the cold, even in her old age. She wants to lay in the snow, she wants to dig in the snow and she wants to stick her whole head down into the snow and search for moles. If I let her, she would stay out there all day.

Chicken Pen Rescue

Today I was granted the help that I was cursing about and wishing for the other day in the mud and chicken poo.

Roy and I tackled the chicken pen today. I knew that he was not impressed by my handiwork and I broke my rule and asked for help. (wishing for help to magically appear and not have to be asked is one thing. Asking for it is quite another in my book).

There comes a time when muscle in the form of a husband is needed. Pushing cars out of ditches, moving the fridge, and, apparently, repairing a chicken pen.

First we removed all the stuff that I had done - tarps, ropes and temporary fencing. Then we started from the beginning. Yeah, he was definately not impressed.

The first step was to brace up the main support posts. We used 2x4's pounded into the ground at the base of each post and it worked very well. The fencing regained some of its former shape due to this and it looked so much better. Why didn't I think of that? Oh yeah, it was because swinging a sledgehammer to pound a 2x4 into half frozen dirt was a little beyond my muscular ability since childbirth and severely procratinating with the weight lifting.

Then we re-strung the rope in a better pattern to allow a great deal of support for the new mesh that we bought. It is much stronger with larger holes so that even the bulkiest snow will pass through. We kept the 1/3rd division, but shored it up nicely for stability and put a generous layer of the mesh over our 1/3 section. Everything was secured with zip ties.

The ladies watched from the windows as it was too chilly for them today, and we got the project done without injury or frostbite. There was about 5 inches of snow on the ground which kept the mud to a minimum and the winter festivities going on at the tree farm behind us kept us entertained. "What kind of dog is that?" "Are they going to get a wreath too?" "Do they really think they can haul that huge tree up on top of that mini-van?"

I had to pack in my pride today. I got my help and the pen does not look half bad. Granted, it will receive a complete overhaul this coming spring but for now, it is serving its purpose. My disappointment in myself from not being able to handle this task, although a blow to my pride, was offset by the fact that the ladies are safe.

Bonus round: Roy was on a helping spree so we also got our Christmas tree set up today. Little man is now learning something new "No Touch Lights!"

Sunday, December 5

Chicken Pen Meltdown

My chicken coop, as I wrote about before, has seen better days. Mostly those days were in the seasons called Spring, Summer and Fall. That wet, heavy snow we got did a number on the poultry netting and the posts and I got outside to fix it up yesterday. I had already gotten the old netting off and braced the worst of the tilting poles with 2x4's but I had keep the ladies inside since there was no "top" on the pen and I was afraid they would escape or a hawk would get them. They really didn't seem to mind being in the warm coop all day and I gave them extra bread scraps to soothe any sore feelings.

So yesterday I knew I had to do something and I went out with rope. I assessed the situation. Then I did my best.

Considering that I totally out of shape, am 20lbs overweight and have not a lot of arm muscle, my best was the equivalent of a third grader.

I did a little more 2x4 bracing and then strung the rope all across the top of the pen in a zig-zag fashion hoping that it would keep hawks out and keep the ladies in by giving the impression of a roof. all this was done is a surprisingly short period of time and I was happy with the temporary state of it all. I crossed my fingers that the ladies would not figure out that they could indeed fly the coop and went in the house. It was very chilly at this point and I am not a winter person. And it was pretty muddy in the pen. I am not totally crazy about mud either.

I went back out a few hours later to collect the eggs and check my work. I was greeted by half of my flock lounging in the yard, outside of the pen. They were having a fabulous time digging away the snow and munching on the grass underneath. I could only assume that the roof had not fooled anyone.

Dressed in my heavy winter coat, snow boots, hat, gloves and a miserable attitude, I rounded them up and up them back in, only to have them squeeze though a loose section of fencing single file and resume their grass search. they hadn't flown out, they had discovered a chink in the armor of loose metal fencing.

I was getting pretty upset at this point and I realized that I needed to do something else. I dragged some extra fencing into the pen and sectioned off one third. That sounds so easy, doesn't it. Like it only took a minute to do it. Truth is I was a mess. I struggled with the heavy fencing as I dragged it through the snow. I got tangled in a discarded piece of netting and it got stuck in the treads of my snow boots. I was staggering and slopping around in mud mixed with a generous helping of chicken poo. I was sweaty and I was miserable.

I got the divider fencing up and used zip ties to secure everything. I do have to say that the bright spot of all this was my growing love for zip ties. Those things are wonderful and so versatile!

But back to the horrible stuff. As I was hauling and sweating and getting mud/chicken poo all over myself, I cursing and swearing and crying. I was wishing, out loud and with foul language, that I had some help; that I didn't always have to do everything myself. My bulky, clumsy self was flopping around the pen trying to left things that were too heavy and rigging up the most ridiculous pen/rope containment system ever conceived. but I didn't care. I was miserable and all i wanted to do was sit down in the snow, cry, and give up.

This may seem drastic to those of you that are responsible for large farms, the tasks of which I can not even begin to imagine. But this is my first winter with chickens. And I am a worrier. I was worried that they would get too cold; that they would stop egg production; that they would be mad at me for keeping them in the coop on chill days. I did not even think, when the tomatoes were producing or when we were raking leaves, that my biggest worry would be not having the whole thing cave in on them. I am failing at chicken ownership.

After I had shouted just about every curse word I know, in numerous combinations, and after I had completely exhausted myself, did I admit that I had done all I could physically do and that it was just going to have to be good enough. The ladies were safe and they were contained. They also got quite a show as I counted at least 10 little heads staring at me through the coop window every time I looked up. I hope they got a kick out of seeing "mom" have a nervous breakdown in the mud/poo.

Live it up girls, because there is no way on this green earth that your coop will be featured in any Martha Stewart backyard chicken segment.

I wanted to give up yesterday. I wanted to sell the ladies and give up this homesteading thing. I wanted to call and have the cable turned back on and I wanted to run a load of wash in 'warm' and I wanted to buy non-organic, inexpensive chicken. I wanted to go to Walmart and buy a ton of cheap chinese crap that will break within a week on my visa card. I wanted to crank up the thermostat and wear shorts and a tank top around the house.

Then I came in the house and put my gloves and hat to dry by the pellet stove. I changed into a clean flannel and warm wool socks that I just finished knitting the day before.

Here is where some might think I had a 'glowing-light-from-homesteader-heaven' shone on me. Not really but I did calm myself down a little and I worked my way through season three of Dr. Quinn. Her chickens always seemed to do just fine.

I am still feeling pretty miserable here - like a big, weak failure. Trying to do everything myself is clearly not working .

Friday, December 3

Getting the Tree, and Frosting on the Side

We went to my Grandparents farm in Stuben County last Sunday to get our Christmas tree. We are going for a full tree this year and I am just hoping it lasts through Christmas Eve with the little guy about the enter his "terrible 2's". (as I typed that first sentence, he managed to pull over the quilt rack, spill his milk, and scare the cat with a wind up chicken toy).

We all had a great time and little guy really enjoyed the wagon rides.

He picked out the tree, but he was in a hurry to get back to the wagon.

He had a great time destroying Grandma and Grandpa's house and rolling anything with wheels on it through the kitchen. Check out that fantastic wood box! Two wood stoves heat the house - a big one in the livingroom and a small one in the kitchen/dining area. It felt wonderful to sit on the hearth and soak up the heat. I love our pellet stove, but there is just no substitute for a wood burning one.

Afterwards we had some frosting. Grandma makes German chocolate cake with the thickest, heaviest, richest frosting I have ever had. She makes everything from scratch.

Some things from around the farm.....

Buck rub by the spruce field....

Just something neat looking....

Little man and Roy playing with ice by the pond.....

Grandpa's woodpile with the antlers from this years buck......

Thursday, December 2

First Storm

The first measurable snowfall came yesterday full of big, heavy flakes and wind. We knew it was coming since the two days prior were filled with cold, windy downpour conditions which made our basement pump go off every 5 minutes for two days straight.

All the rain flooded the back and side fields, some near the chicken pen.

I had been thinking about the netting on top of the outdoor chicken area this fall. I knew it worked great since predators could not get in and the ladies could not fly out. However, I knew it would not stand up to winter snow and I have been trying to find another way of protecting the flock. This snow was a lot heavier than we thought so we did not take the netting down as of yesterday. We were waiting until we had a viable replacement option.
Big mistake. If there is one thing that I should know by now it is that the weather is a fickle and scheming force that exists to test the patience of homesteaders. This is what awaited me when I went to gather the eggs and check on the ladies yesterday:

None of the ladies were hurt and they were all inside the coop keeping warm in the straw bedding. The weight of the snow resting on the mesh was enough to start pulling the anchor poles out of the ground and tilt them inside the pen. With all the rain we have had, the ground was like soup and there was nothing to brace the poles up against such a heavy snow.
I got some sheers and went to work cutting away the netting from the fencing and I eventually managed to get it all down and cleared out of the pen area. What a horrible job. Cold, wet and heavy snow, muck and mud and chicken poo all mixing together to create a kind of poultry perfect storm. I got some 2x4's out of the shed and tried to brace the corner posts as much as possible but it was a losing battle as the mud would not hold the bottom of the 2x4 brace and they slid around a lot. I eventually got them to stay in place but as soon as the ground hardens up we will have to go out and re-do the braces.
Snowy, the helper that she is, watched from the sidelines and supervised the effort.

She loves this kind of weather and even in her old age, wants to stay out in the snow as much as possible. I would gladly oblige her is it were not for the fact that I am afraid she will get hurt and that she will blend in with a drift and I will never find her.

We lost quite a few branches from the heavy snow and the front evergreen bushes are weighted down to the ground. I have given up on getting the rest of the dead stuff out of the flower gardens and it will just have to wait until spring. Right now, everything is buried under 3 inches of thick, heavy, wet slushy snow and I am leaving it right where it is.

Crock Pot or Grass?

I have never hidden the fact that I have mixed feelings about hunting season, and hunting in general.

I see it as two sides - one of hunting for food and one of hunting for sport.

You can probably guess which one I am against. I don't think it is right to hunt any animal for sport. It is cruel and unnecessary. I am glad to say that I do not know anyone, personally, who does this. But I know it is done.

I do however, know a lot of people who hunt for food. My neighbors down the street are big hunters and recently I have seen deer hanging in their garage (why is it that deer are hung in what appears to be such a heartless manner?) We grew up eating venison that my father got every year. He enjoys hunting and looks forward to opening day every time it rolls around, but he does not see it as a sport. He sees it as providing for the family and doing something that he has done since he was old enough to shoot.

So far this season he has been unlucky. A housing development going up behind their property has greatly reduced the hunting area and he has had no luck at my Grandparents farm as well. My Grandfather however, was able to shoot an 8 point buck on the farm.

So last week, I was faced with a dilemma. The little guy and I were over at my parents house for dinner. Dad had just come back in from hunting - he literally just took off his bright orange and put his gun in the bedroom for safety. I sat down at the table, looked out the french door to the back yard and a big buck was staring at me from under the walnut tree. Just standing there, looking at me.

I said "Um, Dad, there is a big buck standing in the back yard." For a second he didn't believe me but he walked over to the door anyway and saw it. "My gun is in the bedroom so the little guy can't get it!"

"Well, go get it! Quick!" I said, and Mom and I took the little guy into the other bedroom so he wouldn't see anything. Dad got his gun but by the time he got outside the buck had walked down the gully and there was no good shot. And it was starting to get dark.

My dilemma was in saying something or not. I debated saying something when I first saw him - do I tell my Dad about the deer waiting patiently in the backyard to become this winters crock pot meals or do I let him spend another season munching grass? It ended up that no deer was shot that night in the back yard, which i am secretly glad for.

Why does one of the top five homesteading necessities make me feel so much like an accomplice to murder? I know it is how things are done, and the way most people hunt and kill deer is a world better than how most of our supermarket meat is processed. Is it that our society has moved away from this type of food acquisition and it somehow seems wrong now? Because we humanize our pets and forest animals with names and little doggie coats? Any thoughts?