Monday, December 8, 2014

Winter is Here. Let Indoor Hunting Season Begin!!!!

Homesteading in the middle of nature invites lots of opportunities to interact with wildlife. While most of my experiences are outdoors, some of them  (by no invitation) occur in my house.  When cold weather arrives outside, it heralds the arrival of field mice...and Indoor Hunting season.

On the first sighting of a mouse turd, Indoor Hunting season begins! I am in full blown Terminator mode to assassinate any rodent who dares cross over the line into my "indoor dwelling space."  Every mouse turd is interpreted as a sign of defiant disrespect. Every turd is a mark of REBELLION to my decree that all rodents stay OUTSIDE and eat only from the bird feeder.

If you've ever trapped mice, you've probably found one still alive. Not every assassination attempt is successful. Occasionally, I'll find a mouse trapped and practically unharmed. They might be caught by a leg or the tail. Live mice in a trap is not something I want to find. I want them DEAD in the trap.

The only good thing about catching a live mouse is the opportunity to revert to Plan B: Catch and Release. This means that I walk my trapped quarry out to the edge of our yard, and release them into the "wilds" at the edge of the property. I do this ONLY to create fear and panic in the local rodent population. The freed mouse can share with its brethren personal Intel of the horrors that await them if they enter my house. So far, I have not caught any mice that I previously trapped.

So far, the I. H. season has been good. In 3 weeks, I've had 5 kills and one C.n.R.  I even almost caught one by the tail with my bare hands! It tried to escape off my pantry cart while I was rolling it out into my kitchen. It just barely got its tail out of my grasp as it dived off the side of the cart. You should have seen the mirth on my husband's face as I excitedly told him how CLOSE I was to pegging that mouse and escorting him by the tail back out into the wilds! I don't know if that mouse ended up dead in a trap or the one I released. Either way, he is NOT in my house.

I have upped my I.H. game this year. I am deep cleaning areas in search of mouse nests (found one nest under my kitchen sink in my food gloves box). I am using more snap traps and have changed up the baits available.

Currently, I am rotating between  seriously sharp cheddar cheese, natural peanut butter or almond butter for bait.  I figure if this is their last meal, the first taste should be a LASTING one....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chickens, Mulch Nirvana and Good Neighbors

There is an old song "When life hands you lemons, start making lemonade" that is pertinent to what has been happening here for us on the homestead.  There are perks and pains with all things in life and lately...we've had more pains than perks.

It all started with having to get rid of my chickens. They were roaming off our property and bothering our neighbors. We penned them up and they still found ways to go rearrange our neighbors perfectly manicured and mulched yard.

Anyone who has chickens KNOWS that a mulch pile is the perfect "chick magnet" for them. What we see as a mulch pile, they see as "chicken nirvana" and will travel miles to pay homage to it. After a number of trips to keep the chickens out of the neighbors yard, I called up a couple farming friends and found homes for them. It worked out well, as I can still get eggs from some of my girls. They are on farmsteads where they can free range and go "bugging" to their hearts content.

I miss my chickens but, I don't miss the anxiety of them wreaking havoc with our neighbors. Growing up farming I completely understand the concept of "good fences make good neighbors." When you have animals, it is your job to keep them fenced in. Even with living in the boonies, you can have neighbors who prefer a golf course yard and perfectly manicured flower beds.

I like my neighbors and cherish our relationship with them. I also understand that we are the "newcomers" and therefore need to conform to the area we moved into. This credo is something I understand as I grew up just outside of an Old Order Mennonite community.

When you move into a community, you need to conform to the standards set, not try and change the standards. I witnessed this many times as an adult living in the suburbs. It seem "Burbs people" don't like farm smells, following along behind tractors, seeing animals have farm sex, etc. it baffled me that these people love the "idyllic country side but don't want to deal with the life style that makes it so idyllic to start with.

Oh well, if you can't take the farm smells you need to go back to the city. I'd much prefer following a tractor than bumper to bumper traffic and smelling manure instead of exhaust fumes. Most of us have a choice where we live and "to each their own" as the saying goes.  I also have my "own" and I choose the COUNTRY!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Look Up My Dear and See, a Mower Swinging in a Tree...

So, my last post was in May when we acquired our dandy little "Zippy" the Zero Turn Mower.  Since then I have not mowed the yard ONE time. My darling hubby has taken over all the mowing now. He is delighted to come home from work, change clothes and go dancing with Zippy all over our yards and fields. Personally, I am equally delighted. Mowing isn't my thing.

Getting Zippy removed me from having to mow. It also left me more time to do other things that need work, like weeding...sigh. Some weeds I have learned to eat. The others, have to go. Picking and choosing your battles with nature is just one of many homesteading skills you acquire.

I have learned that one of the skills required for successful homesteading is to practice the process of "elimination through acclimation. "The exercise is to simply  practice accepting the "thing" that bothers me until it becomes just a daily fixture on the homestead. If I can't get rid of something I don't like on the homestead, I need to adjust to it being there. Easier said than done.

Just one of the many things that I struggle to acclimate myself to is dead and dismembered lawn mowers. We have an entire family of dead, mowers and weed eaters of all types and sizes scattered around the front of Brad's shop. Some have been there for so long, they support their own ecosystem for the local wildlife. For example: Just recently, I went to move a dead push mower and found a rabbit nest. How cute! A little fur lined abode complete with a dead mower sun porch. Those bunnies have it made!

 Last year's walk through the mower graveyard was much more exciting. I picked up a disassembled push mower skeleton in my path to the shop storage. To my horror, I found an active  nest of ground bees. They were not happy I pulled the roof off their home. The bee incident led me to discover something entirely new about myself: I can run much faster when pumped full of fear and adrenaline. Nothing like an angry bee induced sprint for your life to get your heart rate up.

I have also discovered that old riding lawn mower frames make excellent trunk supports for young sapling trees. Seriously, the engine compartment protects the young tree and it grows straight up through the topless frame. Should this new found tree support information become a landscaping fad, we could make a tidy sum from our dead mowers.

 My husband has acclimated to this "tree in the mower" scenario. For me...not even close.

I can see it now...in 30 years folks who visit our homestead will walk by the shop and gaze up into the boughs of the sycamore trees...their contented gaze transforms into a wide eyed stare of disbelief...among the leafy branches, suspended 25 feet in the air, behold...a rusted Yard Man riding lawnmower!...impaled directly through the once empty engine compartment by an ever widening tree trunk. Around the trunk, inside the engine compartment...several families of Purple Martins have nested and are busy raising their young.

A closer look as this bizarre sight reveals a  large squirrel nest firmly entrenched inside the ragged mower seat. Their gaze of amazement travels along the contorted frame to the front of the mower to see a rusted, twisted front axle...supporting a huge hornets nest swinging gently in the summer breeze.

Hmmmm...wonder how long it would take me to acclimate to this "mower in a tree" situation? I've been looking at it every day for 3 years...ain't happened yet.

I have decided this "strange but true" mower scenario will NEVER happen.  There is no way, my future "80 something" self will have to embarrassingly explain why we have a dead riding mower  stuck in a tree 25 ft. in the air.

This is one instance of where "Elimination through Acclimation" transforms into "Acclimation BY Elimination."  I am firmly convinced that after 3 years, I can easily acclimate to NOT seeing dead mowers and their rusted parts swinging in the tree tops. I know, in my heart of hearts, that I CAN adapt to not seeing disembodied mowers litter the area in front of our shop.

Soon, (when it gets too cold for bees and snakes) I'm going to do a body count of all those mowers and their disassembled parts. Once I have idea of what's out there, I'll call the local scrap yard and have them come pick it up. We'll even make a bit of cash from selling the "s'crap" we won't use.

I figure it will be much easier for the scrap man to come get the mowers now. Otherwise, we'll need to hire a tree trimming company to do it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

So, I got a Zero Turn mower and...

A couple weeks ago I cashed out what was left of my old 401K. With the economy looking ready to tank, I figured I better use it before Uncle Sam keeps it for himself. Now that I had the cash, it was time to get some things we needed for the homestead.

Of the many things we could put that cash on, we really needed a decent mower for the yards, around the garden and along our driveway. We had several dead riding mowers that Brad simply did not have time to repair, and I had been mowing all this with an old push mower. All that mowing took hours each week and I needed that time for other jobs. We decided to find a used Zero Turn mower to save me time (and to save Brad my nagging to fix the broken mowers).

I found a great deal on a small Zero Turn on my favorite shopping site...Craigslist. It seems the mower was being sold due to divorce and the owners wanted a quick sale. Well, I had cash, the sale was quick and within a few days, the little blue Zero Turn was unloaded in my drive way.

Okey dokey! I'm cookin' with gas now! I've got my mower and I'm ready to kick some butt/roots on all those weeds, wild onion and assorted thistles in our yard. I'm in full blown weed decapitation mode. All those undesirables are about to become mulch beneath my blade! Hah, ha, ha, HAH, HAAAAH! I got a Zero Turn and...I have NO IDEA how to use it. Nothing like getting a pin prick of reality to burst my happy bubble of  weed mulching madness.

Thankfully, the guy who dropped off the mower gave me a quick lesson in how to use it. He's happily explaining all the technical details and all I'm hearing is "Blah, blah ,turn the key to the right, blah, blah, blah, pull the gear lever up, blah,blah." I'm standing there nodding my head, feigning interest and thinking to myself "It can't be that hard to run this thing, GIVE ME THE KEY!" If I can drive our tractor, I'm sure I can figure this out.

Right about the time I decided to just take the key and mow off into the sunset, Brad came home from work. He spoke to the delivery guy and told him that HE would show me how to use the mower.  Ok...I get a Zero Turn lesson from the Hubster. Cool. He knows how I am, so this should only take about 10 seconds of his time. I can handle that.

Brad gave me the brief run down and then took the mower for a "test mow" in the yard. I'm watching that cute little blue mower do a "from pasture to park" makeover on our yard. Oh my...that is just tooooooooo sweet. Honey, I just LOOOVE this mower! I think I can handle it. Do you mind if I MOW NOW?

Brad was happy give me a turn (after 10 minutes or so). I planted my backside in the seat, pulled the handles together in front of me, put my foot on the gas pedal and took off down the drive way. Within minutes I realized I was waaaaay over mounted. In horseback riding terms, you are over mounted when your riding skills are vastly inferior to the training of your horse. If I didn't slow down, my next high speed zero turn was probably going to land me in the hospital.

My little blue mower (now named Zippy) was a lot faster and responsive then any mower I'd been on. I went from being hell bent for leather to decapitate weeds, to driving like my granny to keep from being tossed off on a turn. Zippy was fast, powerful and would turn on a dime. My past experience involved mashing the gas pedal just to get our mower moving, and my turn was more platter size. Driving Zippy was like the difference between driving a pedal car and a Ferrari. Nothing like a heart pounding reality check  to make me adjust my mowing skills.

Twenty minutes later, I was actually comfortable mowing on Zippy. I was mowing around trees, trimming along the fence line and grinning like a fat mouse in cheese heaven watching all those knee high weeds become fine mulch. Every pass around the yard reaffirmed that buying Zippy was a good investment. I can mow in record time and Brad gets a little more peace of mind...sort of.

Since we bought Zippy, Brad mows more then I do! Seems, he enjoys mowing now. What he doesn't realize is that less mower time for me, means I now have more time to nag him about other things. ;-p

Just kidding! Honey, I am SO HAPPY you love mowing with Zippy! I'll go get you a glass of iced tea. Love YOU!


The Never Ending "To Do: List!

Have you ever had a "To Do" list that you ran out of paper at the bottom? There you are...writing away on that list (that looks kinda like a scroll) and you unroll it a bit more and then...no more paper! Well, that's what it seems like our life has been around here over the last 6 months. We had more tasks then paper to write them on.

Actually, I am doing the happy dance about running out of list paper. That makes me focus on getting things done that are ALREADY ON THE LIST.  Brad and I have been up to our eyeballs it seems with multitasking too many things and not getting nearly enough of them completed. It's frustrating to look around the homestead and see dozens of started projects that are awaiting completion. Most of what is incomplete is due to one or more of the following situations:
1. Lack of funds for parts or repair
2. Lack of a sufficient block of time to get it done in a day
3. All the Above

Take for example our ancient tractor. The three point hitch weld broke for the umpteenth time and Brad decided to totally remove it to have it professionally welded. While he was at it, he also removed other parts so we could get the front hydraulics repaired also. Doing this involved removing the back tires so now we have an amputee geriatric tractor on blocks by our shop. "Ole Yaller" has been on blocks for at least 6 months now...and counting. We have a perfectly good Brush Hog and front blades work with and no working tractor to hitch them to.

So, you might think, "Big deal, the tractor is missing in action...that's just one fly in the ointment of farm life." Well, let me tell you, that is one BIG FLY!  When the tractor was dismantled, we thought it'd be back in action within a paycheck or two, or three or four. Fixing it didn't happen due to funds having to go other places. So, the To Do list got a lot longer just by the tractor being out of commission. Here's a short list of what  Ole' Yaller has waiting for him when he finally gets rolling:

1. Pushing all the dirt back to fill in our drainage ditches. Our back and side yards, picnic area and part of our goat paddock looks like it's occupied by giant moles...not pretty!
2. Mowing pastures that are now so tall the goats can HIDE in them. Thankfully, they love me and I never have to FIND them.
3. Moving the small mountain of gravel that is parked in MY parking spot in front of the house.
4. Drilling holes for fence posts...never have enough fencing.
5. Just being ready to do whatever we need a tractor for!

I must say that I am not complaining. I'm just stating the "cause and effect" that happens on a homestead when just a few things are out of whack. I'll be a very happy camper when our tractor is fixed, my favorite Little Blue farm truck is resurrected from the dead, my milking stanchion head stall  is repaired, the rest of the new fence is put up, the water line is run out to the barn, my outdoor canning kitchen is ready...you get the picture.







Thursday, January 31, 2013

Camelids Anyone?

Three weeks ago we got a call from Seth, a farmer friend who asked if we'd like to own a couple Alpacas. Brad and I talked about it for a bit...more like 45 seconds and then said, "Sure, what do you want for them?" The farmer then said, "You can have them for free, I'll even deliver them to you."

Now we were a bit stunned. Brad and I looked at each other like we each had a third eye...they are FREE? Seriously?  He will deliver? WOOOOOW. What brought this blessing to us?

Actually this all started Spring of 2012 with Kiko goats. This same farmer raises them and I bought two young Kiko billies from him. He had both Alpacas and Llamas and I commented how cool these animals were.

While I was there, I noticed Seth had a really nice Kiko doe with a dairy sized udder to die for. I let him know that if she ever had any doe kids, I wanted all of them. He laughed and told me he'd call me when she was ready to kid. Fast forward to the beginning of the story...

Seth called and told me that he thought the Kiko doe I liked was about to kid most any day. Did I still want the doe kids? Yep, I still wanted them. He told me he'd call when they were born and I could pick them up when he weaned them a couple months later.

We chatted a bit more and then he said he needed to  reduce his herd of Alpacas. I learned the market had bottomed out and he had 3 neutered males he wanted to find homes for. Did I know anyone who might be interested? Golly gee.....who might I know that would want an Alpaca? I put my hand over the phone and  relayed to Brad what Seth had told me. He said yes, provided we had more info. I got back on the phone and asked Seth about their care, deworming and hoof trimming. He told me he'd come help us with whatever we needed.

So, we are now the newbie owners of 3 Alpaca's we have renamed Barney, Casper and Urkle. These 3 guys are revealing some really funny personalities...stay tuned!






Missing In Action Jackson

Lately we've had a lot of coyote activity in the river bottom area of our homestead. This wouldn't bother me too much, except our goat herd is now on new pasture close to the river bottom. I can't see much of their pasture from our back door.

Most of our neighbors had lost chickens and lambs from these night raiders.  I was getting concerned our flock would be visited soon. Several months earlier, I had looked into adopting a LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) but, due to time and funding, put that idea on the back burner. Now, with all the new coyote activity at our back door, I needed to follow up on finding the perfect dog for the job.

My search started on PetFinder.com. I found a lot of Great Pyrenees dogs but they didn't seem to suit our needs. One dog on the site was a possibililty. He was huge, had livestock experience but, the ad said he liked to climb fences. I would need at least a 6 foot fence to keep him in. Since our fences are only 4 feet tall, he wouldn't work for us. I figured, there had to be more dogs like him, so I kept surfing the net, hoping to find the right dog.

My net surfing took me to one of my favorite websites to buy and sell...Craigslist. I checked out the Livestock for Sale and found lots of goodies I'd love to have...way out of my budget. No ads for a Livestock Guardian. Oh well. I checked out the Pets for Sale, as they usually have some cute pet pics. I like browsing this section as I am amazed at some of the animals people keep for pets.

As I clicked down the long list  of Pets for Sale, I saw " Great Pyrenees Needs a New Home" with a cute thumbnail pic of a huge white dog. My curiosity got the best of my clicker finger and I opened the ad. Seems that this huge, older male dog was now out of a job. The farmer had sold off his sheep and "Jackson" was out of work. He was now "climbing fences" and leaving the farm to go visit the folks at the local Food Mart/Gas Station. The owners were now keeping him tied as they were worried he'd get hit crossing the 4 lane highway.

The ad really appealed to me, but his pics is what got my attention. This dog looked like the same one on the Petfinder site! Was this the same dog? Could he work for us? We had goats for him to watch over...maybe, he would like living with us!

My clicker finger hit the REPLY link and I sent a short inquiry about Jackson. That evening, I got a reply with a phone number. The lady I spoke with asked a lot of questions and let me know that she would be happy to give us the dog. Yes that right, I said "give" as she wanted him to be happy on another farm.

Now, if you don't know already, Great Pyrenees dogs are not cheap. Pups can cost a couple hundred and trained LGD's go for 500.00 and up. Having someone GIVE me one was nothing short of an amazing blessing!

On the last day of December 2012, I drove the 40 minutes to the farm where Jackson lived. They were in the process of leading him out of the field and out to the driveway. This enormous dog was literally dragging the owner (a petite woman) across the yard to meet me!  He was friendly too! Not aloof as I was told they could be with people they didn't know. I knew right then he was going home with me.

Jackson won't be found missing in action any more .He has a new home and a new job as Head Herd Guardian for North Fork Homestead.