Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Rainy Day

I have to wait until my ricotta curd is done draining before I can go to bed, which is about 20 more minutes, so, I thought I'd jot down a few notes about my day.  I don't normally stay up past 10:30, but, for cheese making I will stay up late and have on many occasions. 

At this time I'm milking three does, and we're getting about 2 gallons per day of the most delicious milk, and that's with separating the older kids at night and turning them loose with their mom's after the morning milking.  Starting tomorrow Joon's kids along with Jersey's son Dublin are all getting weaned. You can imagine after two or three days when I have 5 or 6  gallons of milk, that I'm making dairy products, well, I surely am.  Tonight I made mozzarella, and the last two times I've been learning to make feta, then I rotate in cottage cheese.  I'm also making chevre, buttermilk, and yogurt regularly.   My feta is curing for several weeks in a salty brine, and I have been having fun learning to use chevre.  Soon I want to make my first chevre cheesecake.

We finally ordered the long awaited cream separator a couple days ago so we can make butter, ice cream, sour cream, whipped cream, triple cream, and whatever else we can think of to make with cream.  It's the Manual Milky Cream Separator from Hoegger goat supply.  I plan on doing a review of how it works and how I like it when it arrives.

Today it rained, then it misted, then it was simply overcast.  I had fun peaking in on the rabbits as they were kindling.  Serendipity had 8 kits this morning and Star (a new Champagne d' Argent doe) had 3kits.  I fostered two onto her from Serendipity's since that will even up the numbers a little more, with Star raising 5 rather than just three, and Serendipity raising 6.  The Champagnes are black at birth and the American Chinchilla's are silver, so I can tell the differnce in kits. We just separated the 8 week old kits into a large hutch, and now they're for sale.  I have someone coming tomorrow to pick up a doeling.  Our nest boxes are full, Zelpha kindled with 8 kits a couple weeks ago, and now we are rapidly trying to sell before the next batch needs to be put in the larger grow out hutch.  I've been making sure that all the rabbits have plenty of fresh greens twice a day, it doesn't take long to pick a big armful or dandelion, clover, and grass for them,  I also feed them rabbit pellets and grass hay.   I've also been picking huge armloads of salmonberry bush leaves to take to the goats, this is their favorite treat when they see me coming.

We've been cooking with rabbit meat regularly, mostly the same way I use chicken, this afternoon I made a rabbit salad, just like I make chicken salad.  I baked and cooled the rabbit meat, then deboned it, and diced the meat.  I used the bones to make a stock and added carrots, onions, and celery.  The rabbit salad is made with celery, onions, dill, parsley, and mayonnaise.  It's wonderfully simple and tasty to eat by itself or in a sandwich.

Out in the hen house the girls are laying and hatching out eggs.  Henrietta hatched out 3 hardy chicks that she's running around with, and another hen, a Black Alstrolorp has also hatched out 3 chicks.  Much to my amazement in the last two days I now have 3 more hens who have gone broody and want to be mother's.  I will let them, and this year we won't need to order any meat chickens.  In the Fall, we'll pick a dozen hens and one rooster that we'll keep, and then with the extras we'll fill our freezer.  I don't want to go through this winter with more than a dozen hens.  I learned my lesson last winter with 28,  I don't mind swelling in the Spring and Summer but come Fall I want to be down to the bare minimum to feed through the winter!

Normally, on dry or sunny days I'm outside working in the garden, and on these kind of rainy days I clean house, make yummy things in the kitchen, and enjoy creating things.  This afternoon I made a chocolate bundt cake to have after dinner for dessert, I also made a salad and boiled eggs for snacking on, and worked on the first stage of the soup we'll have tomorrow, by making the stock today.  I made lot's of dishes and washed lot's of dishes today. 

This evening I made mozzarella and now with the whey I'm making ricotta.  Lately on rainy days I've been studying cheese making through library books and on various web sites.  I've been looking at cheese cave ideas, and what I need to be able to age the cheeses properly.  I've been making my lists of what we need to do, and will be adding links to my favorite sites on the side bar soon.  We were going to buy a cheese press, but have now decided to make one and are we're reviewing various plans.   Once I can press and age cheeses, there will be lots of fun making the hard aged cheeses, along with the brie's and camembert's. 

With all the rain we've been having, I've been making sure the honeybees have sugar syrup to feed on, they ran out yesterday, so this morning I made them some more.  I peeked inside each hive and see I need to add a few more frames to fill the deep hive boxes.  I only have 7 frames, rather than the normal 9 or 10, that  I will have on. 

I also thought about my Grandpa throughout the day today.  My family had his funeral down in California this morning, and I couldn't make it due to all the animal commitments.  I have many good memories of him with our family when we were little.  I remember his wonderful garden as a child and him picking watermelon's and cantaloupes for us to eat. He used to play dominoes with me, and at times I'd watch him work on his old clocks in his clock shop.  He taught my Dad how to work on old clocks too.  Last week he passed away at 88 years old.  On my birthday this year he called to wish me a happy birthday and we chatted about his younger years when his family farmed and gardened.  He talked about his life and so many of the good memories, the call was a gift to me that I will cherish.  He is the last of my grandparents to go and the end of an era with both him and my Grandma now gone.  He will be missed by our whole family.

I've gone on much longer than I intended and now realize I haven't even talked about the garden yet.  I'll have to write about it another time.  In short, it's growing right along with the weeds.  The cold frame is full and waiting for the next nice day to plant out the warm season starts.  I think sun is in the forecast for this weekend.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Orchard and Honeybees in May

The bees arrived this year on May 1st, I went down to pick up the 2 packages I had ordered from Beez Neez Apiary the first thing in the morning, so I could install them by the early afternoon.  They arrived just as the cherry tree and plum trees started blooming, then over the next two weeks all of our fruit trees bloomed, the pear, apple, crab apple, asian pear, and quince.  The honeybees are the heartbeat of my vegetable garden and small orchard, we have about 30 adult fruit trees, 15 young fruit trees, and many small baby fruit trees.


My Spring walks about the orchard were filled with the delicious smell of fruit blossoms, it carried through the air for many glorious days.  The first couple weeks of May we had the most amazing weather, it was warm with temperatures more like the middle of summer, it was in the 70's and 80's with warm evenings.  My days were spent tending the animals, but the major focus was on amending the vegetable garden soil and planting seed.
Shiro plum tree in bloom, early May

 3lb package of bees

This is a picture right after I installed the 3lb. box of honeybees with a queen.  I waited until the next day to release the queen, and set them up initially with one deep hive box for 10 days, then when I checked them after 10 days it was time to install the second deep hive box.  Now that we're into the third week of May and it's cold and rainy, I'm making sure they have sugar syrup on at all times if it's not flying weather.  New hives without established food reserves can starve in the NW in late May and early June.  If you ever have any dead bees on the entrance you should suspect starvation and put sugar syrup on asap, or you could lose some or all of your new colony.  I know about this from first hand experience, so now I'm diligent about feeding them.  The other thing I made a commitment to do is to check the hives and frames once every week to ten days.  This is to catch them before they need more room, as well as to check for them making queen cells, which must be removed and more space given.  I also want to keep the frames clean, so I'm able to manipulate them.  I check for newly laid eggs to make sure the queen is still laying.  I look at the overall laying pattern and see the pollen reserves and honey reserves.  Being a successful beekeeper means you fuss over your bees faithfully, this will prevent swarms, and keep them alive so they can gather honey and pollen to feed and raise their young, that will in turn give you more workers who will gather more than enough honey for a bountiful harvest.

My first check of  the bees, they were doing a fantastic job on each frame, eggs, larvae, pollen and honey.  I didn't have to feed any sugar syrup the first couple of weeks because of the beautiful weather and abundance of blossoms. I could see them flying in with pollen sacs full and could tell there was a nectar flow going on just by watching the hives. 
During my first check I noticed they had formed some burr comb honey where they weren't suppose to, it was in a spot that I had to remove to be able to manipulate the frames properly.  I ran into the house and got a bowl to save it because they were capping  honey on the comb.  We have been enjoying a special early season honey treat made from dandelion, fruit, and maple blooms, the flavor is out of this world, and is one of the rich rewards of keeping honeybees.  Your own blossom and terroir in an edible form... honey!

Asian pear trees in bloom, early May

Snowdrop has Two Doelings

In a textbook delivery on Sunday, Snowdrop delivered two beautiful doelings.  I was able to be there with her through the whole thing and give her love and support.  It was warm and sunny outside and she had a fairly quick labor and delivery, which made it nice.  Snowdrop is a wonderful little mother, and her doelings are the most adorable tiny little girls.  That's Danny peeking in to greet them, he went to his new home yesterday.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Spring Goat Menagerie

Spring time goat kids are so much fun, I have a smile on my face everyday, whenever I'm out spending time with them during my three or four daily rounds, I always stop and take time to socialize with them.  This time of year we walk through the dandelions together, and I watch them all play just like little kids, they are sweet and funny, as they leap and twirl about, chasing each other and head butting their friends in mock fights, their all time favorite game to play is King of the mountain on the rocks or big stump. They will grow up unbelievable fast, all the more reason to take the time to simply enjoy being with them in the Spring.  I've been taking pictures and keeping daily records of what needs to be done on my schedule of disbudding, deworming, shots,  feet trimming, nutrition, and mineral needs. 

Zolena gave birth to twins, a doeling and a buckling on April 13th.  I was right in the middle of having family in town for a few days, and the time she chose to give birth was during a late afternoon when I was in the middle of  making dinner for 14 people.  My husband who was checking in on her told me she had just given birth to the second one when he peeked in on her.  I ran out along with everyone and we all got to greet our newest additions to the goat family.  We ate late, because I had to take the time to get my basket and tend to all of them and make sure Zolena delivered the placenta and both of them began nursing well.  She's a wonderful mother and our superstar milker is back to providing milk for our family, while at the same time producing plenty of milk for her kids.

We are keeping her! ... meet, Deegie
 Another "D" name, also from the Jean Auel Mother Earth Series,
 just like her mother's name Zolena is.

It's hard to believe that just 2 years ago we didn't have goats in our life.  They have become such an enjoyable hobby for us, and we have learned so much new information through studying books, magazines, websites and blogs.  Every trip to the library would bring home  new books on goats, and second hand bookstores are where I've bought most of my collection of books on goats.  Both my husband and myself have been captivated by their wonderful spirits, and now we can't imagine a life without them. 

It has taken us time to fence three areas, one is a paddock and stall for kidding, another is the main pasture and barn, and the third is a buck pasture.  These came in stages over the last couple of years, and we have continued to work on all the parts.  It simply takes time to get all the things you want for goats, the cream separator is still waiting, the milking supplies, disbudding iron, tattoo kit, fencing, gates, feed, dewormers, and minerals were at the highest priority.  The time, labor and money it takes to raise goats properly with good quality feed and attention to their needs must be taken into consideration. 

One thing I had been asking my husband for was a covered movable feeder.  We looked at several designs and then he combined some ideas and came up with his own design.  It was made with scrap materials we had on hand, some wood from salvaged pallets, some from trees we had milled, along with left over roofing, just enough to cover it.  I'm lucky to have a husband who is always gathering building materials, as well as one who knows how to build strong things that are able to with-stand goats climbing all over them.

Joon and her doeling named Darlington,
 the other doeling is Donegal, and the buckling is Dartmoor. 
All names from the Brittish Isles.

Several days ago I started separating Joon and Jersey's kids at night and milking them both in the morning along with Zolena.  Finally I have most of my does in milk, they are still milking kids as well.  Joon gives about a quart or a little less, Jersey a little less than half a gallon, and Zolena about three quarters of a gallon (she's not separated from her kids at night).  I tried separating Danny and Dublin, Jersey's kids at night when they were two weeks old, I did it for two days and felt they were too young, I then decided to wait until they were a month old.  I actually began when they were 5 weeks old and Joon's were 4 weeks old.  They have all adjusted and actually have fun playing together.  I give them their own alfalfa pellets and grain, and the big does don't gobble it all down,  they have a feeder filled with alfalfa and grass hay, and they can take their time to eat, play, and all go in to sleep together on their side of the barn.  The first night I separated them it was rather noisy until it got dark, then they all settled down and went in to sleep. 

 Now comes the fun part of having goats, I have milk to work with... finally!!  My plans are to make cheese every other day and I want to start by making chevre, mozzarella, feta, cottage cheese, and yogurt. 

Hurray for Spring kids
and healthy milking does!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Egg Selling Stand

Our simple egg selling stand is finally up and running as of today!  I put one cooler out for the eggs to be in, and will bring them in every night and put them back out in the morning, unless they're sold out.  Plus there is a cooler for returning egg cartons.  The money tube is on the fence post and is made out of rain proof pvc pipe, it's on the other side of the fence and has a small slit to put the money into, it's easy for us to access it and would be difficult to get into from the side where the eggs are.    A couple days ago Kaley and I went around to several of our neighbors and gave out free cartons of eggs for them to try and told them about our egg selling stand start-up.  We're planning to go around to more neighbors, the one's who don't have chickens and give more samples to drum up sales.  Once people try our eggs they love them!!  Chickens that are free range and stress free have eggs with yolks so yellow they're almost orange, and the taste is just delicious!

I finally have enough hens laying eggs to see if they can pay for their own feed, we're getting around 19-24 eggs per day, so they're really adding up.  I've been watching on craigslist to see what other people are asking for farm fresh eggs, and most are at $4/ dozen, so that's what I'm asking.  I have some friends who are regularly buying from us, but we still need to sell more.  

Over the last couple days I spent time working on painting the egg selling signs, they're made out of pallet wood that was salvaged, then I put a poly finish on them to protect from the rain and weather.  We hung one on our street directional hoping to get a few cars to venture up our driveway.   This year I am so thankful for the overflow of abundance from our productive hens and the chance to share with other's some of the richness we have in our life because of them!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Joon's Surprise!

Joon's due date was technically tomorrow, but we got a big surprise Sunday morning 5 days early when I went out to feed everyone and didn't see Joon come out for breakfast, which is not normal.  I called her name and still no Joon, so I went to look in the goat stall and was I ever surprised to see 3 of the cutest little tiny goat kids all dry and cleaned off nursing her.  She looked up at me as if to say, "Look Mom, I did it all by myself, see I have triplets"!  Was I ever proud of her at that moment, I went in to say hi and welcome our newest additions, 2 doelings and a buckling.  The mostly black one is the buckling and the two with more white on them are the doelings.  Joon had their umbilical cords nipped just right and had licked them clean, they were all strong and nursing well.  Amazing little goat that Joon is!  I ran to the house and came in breathless to tell the wonderful news, "We have triplets"! 

I got my supplies and went back out to tie off and dip their umbilical cords in iodine, I also sprayed their feet with iodine, and gave them a BoSe shot (we are in a selenium deficient area of the country), some vitamin E, and a small dose of Probios.  Then I gave some attention to Joon to help her get all cleaned up and gave her some grain, alfalfa, and water.  I told her what a good job she did and how proud of her I was, she listened intently the whole time and loved being fussed over.  I then moved Zolena and Snowdrop out of her paddock, as I still hadn't separated them from her since I wasn't expecting her to have them for a few more days.  I wish I could have seen the birth and been there for Joon, but she seemed to handle it just fine, maybe with some love and support from her room-mates Zolena and Snowdrop.  We have doubled our goats from 5 to 10 now, with Zolena next up in the middle of April, I'm going to be ready early for her just to be sure.

My daughter Christina brings our grandson Roman over on Mondays for us to watch while she goes to work. We love having him here every week, he is now 4 and a half months old.  As he grows up he is going to love to come over and see all the baby animals we have here on the farm in the Spring.  The kids are only one day old here and this is their first time outside.  I let them outside for a few minutes for her to see them,  they are kept inside their stall the first week and then they'll be ready to go outside and play in the small paddock, I let Joon out for recess breaks and to stretch her legs.  I'll let Joon's kids in with Jersey's when I separate the mom's at night when they're two weeks old.  These kids are super friendly and love to crawl all over me and play, I've been going out several times per day to play with them they're so much fun and so cute!  We're thinking of D names, Diamond, Dazzle, Dasher for the buckling, none are for sure yet, we'll just let the names come to us as we spend time with each of them.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jersey's Kids ~ Danny and Dublin

Danny and Dublin
Jersey delivered her twins early Monday morning around 3am.  During my sleepy 2am check I could see that she was in hard labor and getting close.  I watched her for a minute and told her "Jersey you're getting ready to have you're babies I'll be right back"!  I ran as fast as I could and got some fresh hay to spread around her side of the goat barn, it was already clean but I wanted it to be extra fresh. Then I raced to the house to get Kaley up because I promised her I'd wake up to be there for the birth, she woke up and quickly got dressed, I grabbed my basket of supplies ready by the door and we ran back out through the snow and dark to the barn.  Jersey was 2 days over due at 152 days, and I had been watching her closely, this was my second night checking on her every 3 hours.  I'm so thankful we were there for her, Kaley was a huge help to me holding the first one (an adorable buckling) as Jersey labored for the second one, which took an additional hour or more,  he came out just fine, but was in a breech position.  Kaley named the first one she was holding Daniel ( her brother's middle name, as well as a beloved uncle that is no longer with us) We'll call him "Danny".  The letter this year for the ADGA is D, so we're using names that begin with a D for all of our goat kids.
Jersey saying Hi to her new baby

Already wanting to play at one day old

As Jersey continued to labor, we were both getting cold, with temps around 30 degrees, snow on the ground, and it being the middle of the night, we felt the cold, plus there was wind which made it seem even colder.  My sweetheart of a husband came out just in time with a heater for the kids and a bigger lamp for us to see.  He put up plastic to cover the draft, and then it became toasty, Kaley also brought me a cup of hot tea, and my husband waited,  pretty soon out came the second cutest ever buckling "Dublin".  He's black with a white spot on the center of his head, white spotted ears, and brown accents on the belly, legs and face.  Danny looks alot like Jersey only with more white markings.  I was happy they both have floppy Nubian ears, being miniature Nubian's. 

Jersey as a new Mom was unsure of the first kid, we brought him around to her head for her to lick and clean him and hopefully bond with him.  We cleaned his nose and mouth right away, and then she ignored him for 10 minutes or so.  We wondered if she would have mothering skills, then instinct began to take over, she finally cleaned him, and we cut the umbilical cord, tied it off and applied iodine.  With the second buckling she knew right away what to do.  She has turned into a doting mother and after being skittish when they first tried to nurse, by the end of the first day she was an old pro.  It took awhile for the kids to get the hang of nursing, especially Dublin the little black one, he wasn't as strong in the beginning.  Now on the third day they're equally running and jumping around.  They are so adorable we all just love them, below is my son Jason and his girlfriend Taylor holding them.   Jason is holding his middle namesake "Danny", he liked him the best.  Well, we like them both equal. 
Jason holding Danny, Taylor holding Dublin

Today the kids were three days old and it was time to disbud them.  Pictured below is my husband Jarin holding Dublin as we're getting ready.  It was our first time disbudding, and at first when I was setting everything up, the brand new disbudding iron wouldn't work or heat up at all.  I was so frustrated that I called the company we bought it from to tell them about it and see if they could send me another one asap.  While I was on the phone, my husband came in and said he had it taken apart and was attempting to fix it.  In the end (an hour and a half later), he had it all back together and working.  I am so thankful for a husband who is always helping me solve problems and fix things.  The disbudder I own is the Rhinehart X50, which has removable tips, I have one for the Nigerian's and one for the regular full size goats.  I used the larger tip and it seemed to work fine.  As we got ready the goats hearts were pounding as much as our own we were so nervous. First I gave them a tetanus shot, second I trimmed the hair around their horn buds, and finally I had my husband hold them tight and I put the hot iron on to disbud.  Last year the two kids we had we didn't own a disbudder in time to do them in their first two weeks, which is the ideal time to disbud, actually the first week is ideal and around 3 or 4 days old is good.  I wanted to get it done and over with I was so anxious.   This weekend we'll do their ear tatoo's, I can only do so much in one day.  They seemed to calm down quickly and I took them to their Mom so they could nurse for comfort. 
Getting ready to disbud, Jarin telling Dublin that it will be ok.

Today I also milked Jersey for the first time, she got on the milk stand like an old pro, put her head in the feeder stanchion and I proceeded to calmly clean her, then milk her. I was thrilled she has turned into such a fine milk goat.  She  has a beautiful udder and was unbelievably good, no kicking or acting up, and she had perfect sized teats for milking.  After having her for a year and 8 months we're thrilled to finally be able to milk her.  I'm planning to separate the kids at night and milk her in the morning starting at 2 weeks old, then after the morning milking I'll let the kids run with her for the rest of the day to nurse when they want.  Right now I'm just milking her in the mid morning.  Goats are fine to start milking right away, it doesn't take away from the kids because goats make more than enough milk in the beginning of their lactation.

Little Danny

Monday, March 4, 2013

I'm a Gardener Who Loves The Month of May

In just a little over two months the garden will be growing again, the leaves will be new and lush, the honey bees will be buzzing again, and the flowers will be glowing... I can hardly wait for May and rhubarb pie!  Last year I took this picture around the middle of May, and a couple days ago I put in on my computer as the background photo to give my gardener's soul hope for Spring.  Today we woke up to a beautiful and sunny March 4th day, it's 32 degrees outside, and there is frost on the ground.  The animals though are all thrilled to be in the sun and are lounging and soaking it up as much as they can.  Which is exactly what I'm headed out to do, it's a great day to be working in the orchard, so I'm off to prune the apple and pear trees, and to plant the remaining young fruit trees.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Calm Before Spring

We're beginning to feel the rumblings of Spring as the quiet of Winter is slowly winding down.  From the holiday's until about the middle of February is my calm, reflective time of the year, with the ground frozen and snow there's not much to do, and I thoroughly enjoy it.  Before I know it the pace will begin to pick up, and this year with 4 goats kidding, rabbits kindling, puppies being born, a garden to plant, and flower beds to weed, we'll be in the thick of it come April and May, and I'll  be happy and loving it all.   I sure am looking forward to the warmth of the sun again, and for the flowers and leaves to come back after their long winter's nap

Two weeks ago I finished milking Zolena, it was 2 months before her due date.  For a year and a half, she was milked daily, usually giving us about a gallon a day in the Summer and half a gallon of milk through the winter.  This one goat made all the milk our family needed.  Being fairly new to goats when we purchased her in milk, she continually amazed all of us, and her milk is so delicious and creamy, we all miss it now, alot.   Last winter I milked her through and didn't breed her, and my plan is to do that with both Jersey and her this next winter. Jersey our Nubian that I couldn't get bred last year is pregnant and due in about 2 weeks.  Her udder is forming and I am thrilled that I'll finally be able to milk her.  I'm also excited to see the kids that she will have, they'll be miniature Nubian's and can be registered as Miniatures.  Joon is due in a month and as you can see in the picture above, she's getting bigger.  The one I've been concerned about is Zolena, she didn't look pregnant, she's always been lean, but the last week I've been feeling better about her being pregnant as she seems to be growing.  Maybe she only has one kid inside of her.  Joon and Jersey both look like they'll have twins.  Our little Snowdrop was bred on the Winter Soltice Dec. 21, so she'll be later than everyone else and will kid in May.

We have 30 chickens right now, 27 hens and 3 roosters, the two young roosters were hatched out by Henrietta last Fall.  They began to crow a month ago, which is our signal that we need to process them and into the freezer they'll go.  This is just part of farm life.  An interesting tidbit of chicken information came to me last summer while I was at a small animal swap meet, I  met a woman who told me how to tell by the shape of an egg whether it would be a rooster or hen.  If the egg is long and pointy it is a rooster, short, squat and round it is a hen.  I'll be trying it this year with the setting hens, ideally I only want them to hatch out hens, so, this will be an interesting experiment to try this year.  I'm also planning to set up my egg selling stand in about a week.  We're up to 9-14 eggs per day and will be increasing as the days lengthen.

A week ago my fruit trees arrived from Raintree Nursery, I heeled them in right away and have been planting one or two per day.  Over the next 10 days I'll be pruning the apple and pear trees, as well as spreading compost on all the fruit trees.  It involves hauling wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load to each tree.  I also enlisted my husband to help me dig and plant a large old lilac that I wanted in a new bed.   I've been scrambling to move plants that need to be moved while they're still dormant.  Most are berry bushes that are getting huge and outgrowing the vegetable garden where I originally planted them.  I moved the Aronia berry bush, two Serviceberry bushes, a Highbush Cranberry shrub and I still need to move the Elderberry, it has turned into a tree!  I'm also moving out all the raspberries that had to be in there because of the deer, and forming to large rows behind the garden.  I have a lot of raspberries to move while they're still dormant.  Everything is beginning to show signs of life, thus the scramble. 

As you know a couple weeks ago we went from 12 rabbits, down to 4 in one day.  Our feed bill went way down, not that rabbits eat all that much, but when they're growing they have large appetites, which is normal of any young animal.  I was cleaning cages every other day, now I'm doing them once per week.  Right now I have 3 American Chinchilla's, 2 does and 1 buck, and 1 Champagne d' Argent doe.  A couple weeks ago I contacted a friend who I know that raises Champagnes and asked her if she had any bucks, or would she consider a breeding for Hazel.  She offered for me to buy a mature buck and doe, both pedigreed with cages.  We're going to look at them this weekend.  That would round out my rabbitry, with both breeds, and give me a couple extra large cages.  Then for each breed I'd have 2 mature does and one buck, all of them pedigreed except one, Serendipity.  I'm planning to start their breeding year this weekend, for kits due the first of April.  I'm also planning to set up a website just for my rabbits to help sell them, and will be joining both clubs and the American Heritage Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which has American Chinchilla's on the critical list.  Once I'm on the list people can find me to buy breeding stock. 

It's been an unusually mild winter for us, we did have snow on the ground for several weeks in January, but we do every year.  I know there's still a possibility of snow in March, but I'm hoping we're on the way to Spring!  

Little Monkey Lamancha

Who Me? You think I'm mischievous! 
Yes, you miss Zolena are the little monkey who plays with every gate latch, letting chickens and the other goats out to romp where you're not supposed to be if I forget for a minute to double latch the gate. When I find you, I can see you laugh, then run and leap with joy at your cleverness.  Running up to me you say "Hi Mom, we're all out and by the way the blueberry bushes are yummy, I'm helping you prune them!"
Sigh...I still love you though.

A Golden Romance

Last Friday I went to pick up Ace in the morning to bring him home for the day to hang out, it was a day of romance for Summer who was in full heat.   In the photo above you can see her flagging her tale and standing for him.   Ace was so excited to see her, he remembered her from a year and a half ago when we first bred them.  Back then we got them together 5 or 6 times, every couple days until it worked on day 14, and we only got in one breeding.  This time around we planned the visit to be in the good range of successful breeding, it was day 15, they got in two breeding's, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon, I felt lucky we only needed to get them together once this time.  During this time I'm there at a distance keeping a close eye on them, as soon as they connect, I make sure Summer stands still the 15-20 minutes they're tied, this is important for the safety of the male. 

Pictured below is Ace meeting Jesu for the first time, Father and Son, they loved playing for several hours in the middle of the day while Summer napped.  Josie wanted to get out and play with her Dad too but had to see him through the pasture fence because she was also in heat.  My Goldens will cycle the same time every year, the first week of February they go into heat until the end of the month, then again the first week of August until the end of the month.  Those 3 weeks we are extra careful with them, I'm thankful for our fences at times like these to keep roaming dogs out. 

Ace and Jesu, Father and Son, meeting for the first time!
Come the week of April 21 we should have puppies, the average pregnancy for dogs is 58-64 days.  Amazing isn't it, just 2 months is all it takes for them.  From our last breeding, our first ever, we had four puppies.  We kept two, one went as a pick of the litter for Ace's owner's, and one went to a good friend.  From that breeding we've had inquires from people wanting puppies, a neighbor of ours wants one, the other's puppies neighbors, and people who've taken our number down when my husband has taken them into town in the truck.  We let them know when our next planned breeding would be, it's nice to have people that we know or who will stay in touch with us be able to adopt our puppies.

By the end of the day both Summer and Ace were happy and tired.  The picture below is right before I took Ace home, if they could hold hands I know they'd be holding each other's hand as they walked together in the field!   

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rabbit Fur Tanning

I am both surprised and amazed by my successful first attempts at rabbit fur tanning.  So far I have finished tanning 5 of the 8 furs that I have, and will work on the remaining 3 over the next few days.  The furs are turning out simply gorgeous!  I am excited because they have turned out better than I ever imagined they would.  I sure do have a whole new appreciation for the contribution of rabbits and their many benefits on the homestead.  Each rabbit produced about three and a half to four pounds of meat, we put about 27 pounds in the freezer, and now these beautiful furs!

Tanning is one part of the process, and now the fun part will be making some new things.  I want to make a hat first, then my husband wants me to make him one, we're both excited to try them out.  With one of the black furs I'm going to make a purse, and from there I'll see what is left, perhaps a pair of mittens or a scarf. 

After a week of soaking in a 5 gallon bucket of tanning solution, I pulled the furs out and washed and rinsed each one and proceeded to flesh them while sitting by the fire.  It took me about a half hour per hide and the thin layer of flesh and tissues would almost come off in one piece, with touch up around the edges.  I spent 4 hours one day and did all 8 of them, boy did my fingers hurt after that. 

The furs went back into the tanning solution for another week, then I pulled out three to start drying, a good idea is to lay them out to dry the night before you want to work them.  The furs need to dry slowly, when they're ready to start stretching and working you will see white patches, you can then begin to pull softly in different directions.  You can pull and stretch the furs carefully over the edge of a chair, over your knee or any other firm soft surface, you will begin to see how it stretches.  I had some tears occur both during the fleshing and stretching part on a few of the edges, you will notice the soft parts on the sides, the middle is thicker and stronger.  The idea is to get the hide to turn all white, as your pull it in different directions it turns white and softens. 

The rabbit fur tanning method I used is the sulfuric acid formula (battery acid is diluted sulfuric acid).  There are many sites that talk about tanning furs with this method, and I originally saw it in a book called , Raising Small Livestock, by Jerry Belanger.  Here's a great rabbit site that I found and they have written out the process to tan furs, Rise and Shine Rabbitry.    The furs turn out nice and soft with this method.  I was impressed with the size of the furs of the American Chinchilla's, they stretch and get bigger as you work them, it took about one and a half to two hours per fur to work them fully.  I worked them throughout the day at different times, I spent time to make sure each one was soft and supple.

An interesting thing that I'm experimenting with is tanning the leg part on the hide (pictured below), I left it on all the furs, thinking I may use it for the drawstring on the hat, I will turn it right side out, so it has the fur showing.  I'm not sure if I'll use it in my design, but left it on just in case it works for creating something.  I have looked at a hat design on one of my daughters hats, and will cut the pieces out to fit the size of my head, then baste it all together first to make sure the fit is just right before a final sewing.  I'm going to try and use my sewing machine for the final sewing, but may have to do some parts by hand.   
All in all it takes about two weeks of sitting in tanning solution, and a couple hours of work to tan a fur, you'll have some sore fingers, but in the end a luxurious fur to create truly one of a kind things.  It's also one more way to give honor to the remarkable rabbits that we raise, and to use every part they provide us with.  They truly are one of the best all around small livestock animals, I now know why people for hundreds of years have liked raising rabbits, they have simply loved both their meat and fur! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fruit Tree Order

This time of year one of my rituals is pouring over my Raintree catalog and marking the varieties of fruit trees I already have, and making lists and circling the trees I want this year.  I'll spend many days at various times stopping to look and read the fruit descriptions again in the catalog.  I'll cross check pollination charts and ripening orders, inevitably I'll change my mind a half dozen times, and some will simply get put onto next years list.  The final cut is usually made the night before I place my order.  By the time it's placed the catalog is worn and dog eared, marked up with the order form filled out, items scratched, notes made, shipping and tax calculated, and the total added up. 

Every year when asked what I want for my birthday, even though it's already known, I let it be know again, yes, I want fruit trees.  My birthday was last week, so I got a little money to indulge.  February and March are all about fruit trees and berry bushes in my gardening year.  I've tried to place an order every year since 2006, and have ordered everything from their berry bushes and fruit trees to their nut trees and my grafting supplies.  One year, rather than order from the catalog we made the drive down to Raintree Nursery which is about 4 hours away.  It was fun to pick out our order in person, and see all their trees and edible landscape surrounding their greenhouses.

This year the apple tree I picked out is call a "Kingston Black", it is a cider apple, and one I originally bought back in 2006, unfortunately it is also one the deer got and so I wanted to try again .  I have a "Foxwelp" cider apple tree and have plans to yearly increase my cider orchard.  I also ordered more grafting supplies that I needed, some Doc Farwell's Seal and Heal, for sealing the grafts,  grafting bands, and permanent labels.  This year I'll be using some rootstock for grafting that I've grown over the last three years, and will be taking cuttings of scion wood over the next couple weeks.

If you're new to fruit trees, the charts throughout the catalog really help with correct pollinization and choosing varieties that bloom at the same time to cross pollinate each other.  You may want to plant an early, mid, and late season variety for each type of fruit to extend your season. There are fruit ripening order charts, along with ones that tells you the size the tree will reach at maturity.  As I research the pages and make decisions about what to plant where, and next to who, I can spend countess hours dreaming of the orchard while sitting by the fire in the middle of winter.
This month is the time of year I prune the apple, and pear trees, I wait to prune the plum and Asian pear until it warms up and the buds swell.  This is the also the month for gathering scion wood, labeling, and storing it in the refrigerator for the next month or two until you're ready to graft onto rootstock.  You can buy all the grafting supplies right through the catalog, even rootstock for all different types of fruit trees.

The European Pear I got this year is called "Orcas"  it will cross pollinate with one I got several years ago called Rescue.  I will plant them close enough to pollinate each other.

After much deliberation I decided this year to get one of each type of fruit tree, and focused on the one's I needed for pollination.  Asian pears do well in the Northwest and so last year I bought one called "Chojuro" and this year I got one called "Atago".  Asian pears are crisp and crunchy and will last most of the winter in storage.
I'm planning to plant the dog pasture with  4 cherry trees.  I already have one that I planted several years ago called "Black Gold", and this year I got one called "Hartland".  I'm making sure they won't block any sunlight on the rest of the orchard, because they will get big.  We have one now that my husband planted 25 years ago and it is so big the birds get the cherries.  I'm going to try to keep these trees pruned with branches low enough to harvest with a ladder.

The plum variety I picked this year is called "Kirk's Blue"  it's an English plum and is considered to be one of the best tasting plums there is.  It is a mid season ripener, I got it to cross pollinate with a plum I got last year called "Early Laxton", they are both English plums.  I have 4 types of Japaneses plums that I planted back in 2006, and they began producing last year.  They are "Shiro", "Methley", "Beauty", and "Hollywood".  One type I was going back and forth on getting this year is the Mirabelle plums, varieties like "Nancy" and "Metz" make a wonderful plum brandy.  Like my husband says, plum anything we love!!  Plums like our climate and do unbelievable well here. 
At some point I'm going to have loads of fruit, along with many varieties for grafting new trees as well.  One of my goals is to have enough organic produce to help my children when they have families.  With the price of quality organic produce it makes sense if you have the room, to take the time to plant fruit trees and take care of them.    Feeding the trees with good compost and mulch, learning to prune them for fruit production, and learning to preserve the harvest will be a small yearly investment.  In time that investment will pay great rewards with fruit to eat, store, can, and make into delicious fruit juices, wines and eau di vie's.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rabbit Harvest

We raise American Chinchilla and Champagne d' Argent rabbits, they are both meat and fur breeds of rabbits. It was inevitable that we would have meat and fur to harvest at some point.  Much as I'd like to just have rabbits as pets and sell their offspring for a little side money, economically speaking it only pencils if you sell them between 8-12 weeks of age, then you haven't put a lot of money into feeding them quite yet.  I went through so much rabbit food the last couple months that even I had to admit, at a certain point, it would be wiser for us to keep them in-house and enjoy the product rather than sell them.  Over the holidays I advertised them on Craigslist and sold a few, but realized it wasn't the best time to sell rabbits, the Spring, Summer, and early Fall are the best.  These two litters of rabbits were a little over 4 months old, they were not pedigreed rabbits like I will have this year.  We had a litter of purebred American Chinchilla's and a litter of half Champagne and half mini rex's.  I didn't realize the latter were not purebred until they had almost completed their growing and they didn't reach full size.   

After 2 weeks of agonizing over what to do I finally made a decision that we would do it (the night before I had a moment of madness and thought maybe I'd just let them all go free into the pasture...seriously, I thought about it) I also contemplated that if I didn't have it in me to do it, we'd just get out of rabbits all together.   But, last weekend I finally got up the courage to not feed them for the required 24 hours, then it was time...Ready or Not!  Thankfully my husband (who has as soft a heart as me with regard to animals) took the job seriously to assist me in the first part.  He used a gun for step one and a chisel and mallet for step two removing the head, and from that point on I did all the rest.   All of this was done with respect and reverence for each animal and the sacrifice they were making for us, may they be a blessing to us and may we show respect for them by using every part, including the fur.

This was not one of the  high points on this farm, but was a necessary lesson for me to know and understand the cost to feed and raise rabbits, you will have an abundance of them as a breeder.  The first one was hard on me, then I was committed and we did two batches of 4.  Once I got into the intricacy of cutting and processing them I went into a mode that is almost trance-like it is such detail work.  I saved the heart, kidneys, and liver, and of course the furs.  There was a considerable amount of meat on each one and I couldn't believe how heavy they were to lift them up and string them onto the limb for skinning.  Rabbits are considered the easiest animal on a farm to process.  I also did extensive research on curing the furs, the health and nutritional value of the meat, and what I could make with the furs once cured.  These are all different topics I will be writing more on. 

Now that I have a freezer full of delicious rabbit meat I am going to have fun trying some new recipes, the day after it all I made an absolutely delicious rabbit stew that lasted us several meals (Tessa wouldn't eat it) she has no intention of eating rabbit, but the rest of us are all thrilled to have some good fresh meat.  I baked the rabbit just like a chicken then proceeded with deboning and making the stock (boil the bones and carcass along with carrots, onions, and celery) for approximately 4 to 5 hours, this is where I included the heart, kidneys, and liver, I figured that would be a good way to get the nutrition of them into the soup.  Once I strained the stock, I added more carrots, onions, celery and potatoes from the garden.  I added the deboned meat 20 minutes before it was finished. 

The next meal I'm planning at the request of Jarin and Kaley is a rabbit pot pie.  The health benefits of rabbit are amazing, there is a high ratio of calcium and phosphorous, along with vitamins and minerals.  It is one of the highest protein meats with the lowest fat, it's easily digested and can be used just like chicken.  In many parts of the world rabbit is a gourmet meal, and served at the finest restaurants. 

The method I used to cure the furs is the sulfuric acid method.  Sulfuric acid is found in battery acid which is diluted sulfuric acid, it's easy to find and inexpensive.  It takes away some of the chore of fleshing the hides and it sounds easier than brain tanning.  I still have another week of it sitting in the tanning solution so we'll see how they turn out.  Here's a great tutorial and how I'm tanning the 8 furs that I have, Tanning rabbit furs

What will I make with the furs?  I'm planning to make myself a hat first to experiment, then I want to make mittens, a throw pillow, and maybe even a vest.  Looking online I found many cool things to make. 

The overall value of each product from a rabbit is worth raising them, from their compost to their meat and fur, as well as the ease of housing and feeding them.  They are right up there with chickens for their valuable contributions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back to Normal in God's Country

A few months ago we called the phone company and inquired upon when high speed Internet might be coming to our neck of the woods, the nice lady said, "Oh, you must live in God's Country".  Yes we do, and the price to pay is that we must buy a satellite if we want high speed.  After several days of attempting to upload photos and having no success at it, I opened a photo bucket account at the recommendation of a comment from a reader,  by the way thank you for the recommendation 50 after 40.  He recommended uploading photo's onto photobucket and then you can upload them onto your blog for free and there is no charge per month.  Almost 2 hours of trying to upload photo's and I simply took a break and didn't go online for about a week, I sometimes do this when I'm feeling frustrated with my dial up connection. 
Today I resolved to fix the picture issue and what do you know I discovered I haven't used hardly any space due to the fact that I shrink all my photo's to be able to get them to upload. I researched adding more photo space on google and picassa, before I knew it was working.  In case you're wondering, it costs 2.49/mo to upgrade if you ever need to, or a good solution is to use a site like smugmug or photobucket for free, it just adds one step to the photo process.  When I need to add space that's what I'll be doing.

I'm not sure what my problem was but it is now working just fine...go figure!

Snow Girls

A few pictures from the snow we had a couple weeks ago.  
Tessa, Kaley and the goat girls had fun playing and building a couple of snowmen.   
The goats are curious and always want in on the action, and of course they want to eat the carrot noses.