Archive for the ‘farm’ Category


family resolutions, farm resolutions

   Posted by: liz


we got rid of our television before christmas.

well, okay – we have a television in our basement but it’s only hooked up to netflix and the boys’ video games. our rule is weekend-only videos/video games, and even the weekend time is limited. i have issues with artificial entertainment, and i’m one of those prudes who sees video games and reality television as just that. artificial, fake, unworthy of our precious time.

but that’s not our family resolution. in fact,we kind of fell into this new no-tv living space accidentally (that’s a whole ‘nother post). so…since christmas, my “spare time” has been filled with so much more conversations, reading, planning, and learning. and that television in the basement?  SUCH an after-thought.

family resolution
our family resolution this year is to actively pray to make us “mindful of the needs of others.” it’s a phrase from our family grace and one night at dinner, we discussed what it meant in greater detail. it’s always been the phrase that stuck out in my head, but it’s so fun to see it now making its impression on the boys hearts and minds. we are daily, looking for ways to understand and do what others need from us.

this was humbly acted out for us when i was sick at christmas. our neighbors showed up at our door with a huge vat of homemade chicken soup when they saw that i was sick the day before.  it was humbling, and touching, and our boys noticed.  so it’s our family resolution to seek out where we can be helpful, useful, and loving to everyone else. we can put our own needs aside, because they will be met, especially if our eyes are open to the needs of others.


farm resolution
my farm resolution is to do more. i feel as though the farm part of our life hasn’t been the joy it once was, for me at least. this is purely my fault. but january always gives me a sense of excitement as we already begin to plan for the busy spring and fall ahead.

my first order of business is to study up on honeybees. kenny’s already an expert, and when we had bees a few years ago, he did all the handling of the bees/honey, etc. i want in this year. in fact, i told him i’ll do the majority of the work – and from what i’m reading, they are a lot of work in the spring (you have to feed them), not a whole lot of work in the summer, but work returns in the fall with the honey harvest.

honeybees are one of the most fascinating living creatures. the waggle dance, the way worker bees communicate to the hive where a food source is, is amazing.  this short, 55-second video, describes what the waggle moves mean.

i hope to keep good records this year so that our honey harvest will be great. my plans are to have a pantry full of our own honey, make soap with some of this honey, and extract all the beeswax to make candles.  of course, this all depends on the health of the hive, the weather, and.,.whether or not we can protect the hives from black bear again!

our first order of business is to clean out our old Langstroth hives, and to order two packages of bees. this will be done by end of january. and then i have to patiently wait for the bees to arrive in late spring.

have you ever smelled beeswax, or tasted honey straight from the hive?  once you do, you’ll be making your own backyard apiary plans!

related:  kenny catching a swarm


the daisy and violet scarf

   Posted by: liz

daisy, our blue-faced leicester (white) and violet, our romney sheep (brown) have been shorn twice. last spring, my mom had their fleeces sent to a local fiber artist to clean and spin. after waiting 8 months, we finally received the spun wool!

mom gave me a skein of each, so i decided to make a scarf for kenny, who does the majority of the farm work around here, and who also doesn’t mind wearing wool.

the sheep are always relieved once their heavy winter coats are gone, and they are able to deal with the warming temperatures. this is daisy and violet a few hours after their shearing last spring (same day the first picture was taken!).

this past month, i spent a lot of time taking care of sick children and of myself, so i was able to pull this scarf together in no time at all for kenny. following a very basic pattern (CO 22. *K2, knit into back of next stitch, P1 *repeat until last 2 stitches, K2) this is The Daisy and Violet Scarf (click on photo to enlarge):

although i’m not a fan of wearing wool, i like to work with it. i can’t wait to see what future projects will come from our farm. one of my new year’s resolutions is to do more with the farm, do more making and creating and gifting. can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store!  thank you, daisy and violet, for your fleeces!









farm update

   Posted by: liz

the lambs are growing so fast…as they always do. i am finding it harder to catch and lift them like it was so easy to do those first few days. in a few short weeks (even less!), i will no longer be able to lift them up and feel their soft little noses. they will be teenagers, bounding about the pasture without a care in the world.

it’s so fun having more than one lamb in the pasture this year (we only had one last year) as we constantly find the two lambs chasing each other, hanging out together, playing and walking together. they always find their mamas after several minutes of playing together, and then they are exhausted and settle into some straw for a quick nap.

i love that last photo: rosie is totally smiling, isn’t she?

we are still feeding all the animals hay to allow our main pasture to grow lush before putting them out on it. hopefully in the next few weeks, we will have our secondary pasture (below the pine trees that line our property) built and we’ll have a better pasture management system in place for this year and coming years. we’ve spent more money than we ever wanted to on hay this year (normally, they would be pure pasture-fed by now) and we want them out on the pasture much sooner next spring.

soon we will get our garden started. it’s been such a cold, wet, dark spring that we haven’t done much of anything out in the yard (except pick up a trillion sticks from those winter winds). i’m so eager to plant and organize the yard again.

with the heat of the sun on my back.

mom and i skirted two of our fleeces over the weekend. skirting is the gross work: picking off poop and stuck-on hay in preparation for washing. we’re taking the two fleeces to a local processing farm this year. hopefully they’ll be able to spin daisy and violet into some gorgeous yarn for my mom to work with soon! (above is violet’s fleece. she is a romney sheep).


weekly wrap-up: the lambing season

   Posted by: liz

I can’t remember Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. Monday is always Classical Conversations and piano lessons, so I know those were done. Tuesday and Wednesday were marked off in my planner as “done,” so I know those were done.

But then Thursday happened. I woke at 6:00, as usual. The day was starting off to be dry and bright, so I knew I’d have enough sun by 7:00 to check on the barn animals. I’ve been heading to the barn earlier than normal (normal is anywhere between 8:00 and 9:00) because we’ve been locking up the sheep in their pen for the past few days. Last Wednesday, Kenny noticed a full udder in two of our sheep (the two bred for meat, not wool) which means that they were pregnant. Last Saturday, we had all four sheep sheared, and the shearer confirmed it as well. Locking them up at night would ensure that any lamb born overnight wouldn’t get lost in the pasture, or stomped by protective donkey.

So by 7:00., the sun was bright, and I walked into the barn saying my “good mornings!” outloud to the girls. I noticed the four sheep up and walking, waiting at their gate so I instantly thought that there were no lambs overnight. Until I caught a small black shadow walking from the corner of the pen over to the door where the ewes stood waiting for me to feed them.

The first thing I felt was shock and that immediately turned into instant relief that I didn’t have to witness the birth. While the birthing process is incredible to witness, I am a tangled mass of nerves thinking that at every step, something is going wrong, and I am going to have to get the plastic glove and help out. So I was glad that one of the two pregnant sheep got along just fine without me.

Of course, it happened on a day (again!) when I am here alone – Kenny in the office, Dad in the office, and this year, Mom was out of town. There are a few things that we have to take care of to ensure a healthy lamb, even after the lambing process (like cutting the cord and dipping it in iodine). I still had to take care of that myself. Fortunately, I had my cell phone on me, so I called Kenny, who was already in town and told him the good news. I asked him what I actually had to do and reminded me of the “dull” scissors, told me where the iodine was, and that I should get some food and molasses water to the mama sheep as soon as possible.

So I let out the three sheep (who had not given birth), fed and watered them, and ran back to the house to wake up the boys. Rowan came back to the barn with me to help me cut the cord and clean it, and to make sure the lamb was eating. We helped her nurse a few times, and Rowan named her Rose (Rosie, for short). Then we went back into the house to get Sawyer and Adam. We all made sure the rest of the animals were fed and watered, we all helped to feed and water the new mama, now separated and alone with her lamb, and then remembered to take care of the chickens. Sawyer took care of getting eggs and watering them and we finally made it back to the house to feed and water ourselves!

We spent the morning going back and forth from the house to the barn to make sure the lamb was nursing. Although she was bounding about the pen like a rocket, I hadn’t actually witnessed her nurse. Iris, the mama, was famished and didn’t stop eating each time I was there. She was doing a great job encouraging her lamb to nurse and the three boys did a great job helping me by yelling out the times they witnessed the lamb’s tail wag (a newborn lambs’ tail wags back and forth really fast when she is getting milk) as I was laying down straw and getting the barn “in order.”

At 11:15, I went to the barn alone. As I stood at the sheep pen door observing the lamb and mama Iris together, I noticed Cosmos sitting in the donkey pen (adjacent to the sheep pen). My stomach sank as I noticed the tell-tale “sheep-in-labor” sign of her leaning against the wall, nose in the air and breathing heavy. I noticed immediately that she was, indeed, in labor (a hoof was making its way out of her birthing canal). So I ran (like the dickens!) into the house to call Kenny and BEG him to come home, and to tell the boys. All three of them wanted to watch this year. They were all a bit disappointed that they didn’t get to see Iris lamb Rosie, so I gave them the choice, and they were at the barn with me in no time.

From what I remember, labor in sheep is short. And this was no different. Cosmos was walking around in the donkey pen (I had locked her in so the donkey and the other sheep wouldn’t “join her”), breathing, and pushing every now and then. I knew it would happen fast. I kept warning the boys that it might get a little intense, but they were adament that they wanted to watch. As soon as the face appeared, she delivered her lamb (lambs appear so limp  and they fall to the ground like a wet rag). I went into the pen to clear the mucous from her face as Cosmos’ job is to lick her clean, but she was busy licking the lamb’s back. The lamb immediately started to move, and within a few minutes was up and walking around.

It took about 10 minutes, but we decided her name would be “Poppy” as our red poppies in our side garden are some of our favorite spring flowers.

An hour later, Kenny joined us and an hour after that, my Dad was here to share in our excitement. We had to built a temporary wall in the sheep pen to separate the mamas and their babies since they weren’t too happy about being in the same pen together. We will slowly introduce them together.

I’ve also been making a point to take the lambs (in my arms) over to Geneva the Donkey. She sniffs them, nuzzles them a bit and then I have to walk the lambs back to their mamas who are yelling at me to “get back here right now!”  They know when their lambs are missing, and they don’t like it! Hopefully, by the time they’re all out in the pasture, the donkey will know to bond with the lambs, and we won’t have the same trouble with her that we had last year!

So that was our week in review. I think we covered biology, farming, and domestic help quite well this week. I was super impressed with how well the boys handled the whole situation, how helpful they were to us when we had to spend most of the day in the barn with the lambs, and how gentle and loving they are to those animals. At one point, Rowan looked at me with a smile on his face and said, “I just love our farm!”


obligatory monthly farm pictures

   Posted by: liz

the sheep love to eat, especially when it’s cold. they need as much energy as possible keep warm. yes, that wool keeps them warm, and even the donkey, without the wool, stays warm in the bitter temps. but it helps to stay warm when you’ve had a good amount of hay and water!

the animals normally greet us by walking up to the gate when they hear us open and close the house doors. but if the snow is too deep, they wait inside the barn, or meet us at the barn door.

of course i have my favorite!  violet, who is really dark brown, nearly black, but the wool grows out brown. we suspect sun bleaching, but aren’t completely sure. this is western pennsylvania, afterall. sun is not seen so much during the winter. she is always sporting the most hay and straw stuck to her wool during the winter.

we’ve had to lock the goats in their pen in the barn for the last several weeks. they were getting very greedy at feeding time, and with those horns, the sheep and donkey were afraid of them!

it’s so easy caring for sheep during spring, summer and early fall. it’s the winter that will test your dedication to hobby farming!


Hay and Straw

   Posted by: liz

Yesterday, Kenny and I worked together to stash away our second delivery of hay in the barn (okay, he did all the work, I was merely the hay loft organizer). Hopefully these bales will last us well into spring, so the pasture has time to get thick and juicy for the summer months of grazing.

The barn smelled of autumn again, with the addition of these meaty bales of nourishment. With the ice and snow to come today, it was a bit of a tease as it smelled of 60-degree weather (but certainly didn’t feel it!). The animals were locked in their pens munching on grain and a few flakes of hay while we worked to store their food. I noted at how peaceful and quiet it was in the barn as they munched away, making no other sound. Humans have a tendency to make such noise when they add their voices to a peaceful barn.

I was born and raised within city limits. “Country” was at least an hour drive and seldom visited. I preface this post with that information because I’m embarrassed about some of the lessons I learned just recently about hay and straw, namely that they AREN’T the same!

Hay and straw are COMPLETELY different, even though they (only slightly) look the same when cut (in bales). At the end of this post, you will know which is which in the below picture:

Hay is full of green grasses (like alfalfa or timothy) and it give animals all the nutrients and food they need in winter months.
Straw is merely empty stalks of grasses (such as wheat or barley), and animals don’t eat it, they sleep on it.

Hay is cut and bound in big rectangular bales, and before binding with string, are cut into 10 or 12 flakes. You give animals a few flakes at feeding time – not the whole bale (or you’ll have run out by January).
Straw is cut and bound in big rectangular bales, and before binding with string, are cut into 10 or 12 flakes. Obviously farmers use the same machine to cut and bale straw as they do hay.

Hay bales are roughly 40 lbs each and very hard to get up into the hay loft if you are weak, like me. Unless you have a brilliant husband who invents a pully system.
Straw bales are roughly 20 lbs each, and make you feel really strong if you think you are carrying hay.

Hay is cut three times in a growing season, and “second cuts” is the most nutritious.
Straw is only cut when the wheat or barely or corn is dried out (usually once a season).

Hay bales are greenish brown.
Straw bales are a bright yellow.

So now you are well-versed in a few of the differences between hay and straw. I hope this information is helpful to some of you. I wish I had read it five years ago. I would have impressed the neighbor farmers more with this knowledge, although they’re good people around here, and don’t generally laugh at you when you ask for some straw to feed your animals.


the chicken who thought she was a sheep

   Posted by: liz

do you remember this picture?

well…we think that one or two of our chicks believe that violet is “mom.”

there are one or two chicks who refuse to go into the to coop at night and instead hang out with violet grazing. we believe that she roosts in the barn, near violet.

this picture was taken this morning, before the chicks were let out of the coop. obviously that chick spent the night outside the coop. with the sheep.

i wonder if she’ll bawk or bleat?


homesteading year 4, part 1: expectations

   Posted by: liz

for the first year living up here, we did nothing except try to plant a garden (didn’t happen) and had a baby (adam!).

that was a lot for us, so we took it easy the fall and winter of our first year. but plans started picking up the following spring and we dove head-first into homesteading our little plot of land out here in the rolling hills of western pennsylvania!

that next spring, we ordered and DROVE to ohio to pick up our 15 egg-laying chicks. they were still wet when we picked them up (from hatching!) and we brought them back to our home, set them up with a warm brooder box in our laundry room and watched them for hours (kenny even got up twice in the night to check on them!).

we even had a garden that year, that was eaten to the ground by groundhog, but at least we planted and tended a lovely garden!

fast forward to this summer and we’ve found some balance to the whole “hobby-farming” endeavor. we have a new barn with an actual fenced in 1.8 acres. within that fence, barnyard politics rule…not the rules we thought to set up. the donkey is in charge of the five sheep and the two goats. the chickens keep their distance and the cat sneaks some water when the donkey isn’t looking (and then makes her way back out of the pasture fence).

the bees died out this winter and we didn’t get more, we tried to get 10 chickens in our freezer, but only consumed two (gave the rest away). the best laid plans…and all that jazz.

our garden is booming this year thanks to a very patient and green-thumbed kenny. the beans were a huge crop, the limas and edameme are just about to pop, and the tomatoes are all lovely and blight-free this year! we have a cutting garden again (zinnias!) and we had fresh lettuce and broccoli and herbs and will be picking some beautiful butternut squash (for soup!) soon. not to mention the decorative gourds for the dining room table fall decor (that i won’t be spending money on!).

we’ve been eating farm fresh eggs for years now, and i can tell you they are superior and worth the effort o keep hens just for that. last night, we had our first dinner of roasted herbed whole chicken that were raised, killed, and cooked by our own hands and it was good…but not WOW! the drumsticks were tough (probably because the donkey love to chase these chickens and they got a LOT of exercise!), and the breast meat, although large in quantity, were just as tasty as the herbed butter we cooked them in. what was satisfying was the fact that we can now, if we ever need to, raise and harvest our own chicken.

i am glad for the opportunity to learn and teach this way. i’m learning just as much as our boys are, and that is satisfying enough!


7 quick takes

   Posted by: liz

1. my “little” brother is in town. he spoke at a conference in TheBigCity and now he’s spending a few days up here in the boondocks. Rowan, Sawyer and Adam are monopolozing his time by climbing on his shoulders, coloring him pictures and cards, and planning out his entire schedule. Yesterday, they took him to Playthings Etc their favorite store ever, and the swimming pool, where we were only one of two families there (warm and sunny! where were all the people?). today they plan on getting in 18 holes at the local mini golf ice cream stand. They love their uncles.

2. we spent yesterday morning processing two of our meat chickens. kenny didn’t let the boys watch the actual “act” but they were there watching the plucking, the disembowling, and the cleaning without being grossed out at all. i was proud of them. we have two gorgeous chickens in our fridge right now, and we’re roasting them tonight with fresh rosemary and butter, corn on the cob, and a big ol’ salad. the farmer friend who helped us stated that the birds looked great – not overly full of yellow fat, which means they had a good eating life (free-rangers!).

3. if we put all the expenses we’ve had since getting these chickens, it comes to approximately $16 a chicken. totally not worth the money, time, work…but it was worth the experience!

4. the boys have been collecting butterflies all summer (running around with a net, catching the “pretty ones” and then giving them to kenny who puts them in a jar with rubbing alcohol until they are done moving). we have a pretty good collection now, and “uncle dan” has added to our interest by finding monarch butterfly eggs and baby caterpillars on our milkweed from our front yard. we now have a gallon jar of baby caterpillars and one egg, lots of fresh milkweed and will be raising and releasing monarchs over the next few weeks. endless fun! if you’re interested, here’s some information!

5. if you have any advice on being at the beach with a young children, please send it my way!

6. i have that nervous feeling of “new schoolyear jitters” that i haven’t had in years. i never thought teachers got it as well!

7. here’s a great free resource for your family – whether you homeschool or not, it’s a fun little video that can help you and your students see the growth of this country.

for more quick takes, visit jennifer at conversion diary!


violet the woolie finds her life-purpose

   Posted by: liz

i think her maternal instincts have gotten the best of her.