Monday, April 16, 2012

When Kids Leave Home...

Sunday was a bittersweet moment for me. Bella's twin doelings, Monkey See and Monkey Do were picked up by their new owner. They had come to see the girls when they were 2 weeks old and fell in love with them. I have to admit it was very cool seeing their young son set on the boardwalk and the girls dance and play around him. I can see why they wanted them. Who could resist that pair of little dancing elf eared bundles of joy?

It was too soon to take the girls from Bella so, the buyers came back 2 weeks later when it was safe to wean them. I had to remind myself they were going to a great home ,as I carried each one to get loaded onto the back of their pickup. This would be the last time I got to hold either of them. Within minutes they were loaded and ready to go.

 I watched them drive slowly up the drive way with mixed feelings of satisfaction and sadness. Our homestead had produced its first livestock for sale. Those babies were our First Fruits and we had dedicated the money from their sale toward a worthy cause. That cash in my hand was going to help children who desperately needed it. Knowing that made it all worthwhile. Thank you Yahuah.

While my head and spirit was satisfied with the transaction, my heart felt torn. I would miss those little imps and all their side splitting stunts they'd pull. I loved how they would nibble on me, try to crawl in  my lap and overall get under my skin while happily bouncing off my heart. I smile just thinking about all the laughs and giggles Brad and I shared over Bella's twins. Yes, I hated to see the twins go but, it was necessary. The reality is you can't keep them all. I have many funny memories and pictures to remind me of these twin "First Fruits Kids."

The amazing thing about sharing blessings is you have no idea how far or deep they will go. When we decided to use the money to help needy children, we thought the blessing of having the twins would end there. What we didn't realize is there is a second layer to the blessing. Right across the river from us is a delighted little boy,with 2 new "Energinizer Bunny Wanna Be"  kids for playmates. He and his parents will get many hours of laughs and memories watching three kids play, romp and run as only kids can do.

Sure hope they keep their camcorder charged....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Faith Like a Dandylion

I have a Love/Hate relationship with weeds. I love how they grow and bloom despite the fact they grow in places where I don't want them. I hate the fact I have to mow them off in the yard and pull them out of my veggie garden. It doesn't matter how many I mow or pull out, there will always be more coming back. 

What we see as a weed, Yahuah sees as a way  to reveal to us the importance of having our faith deeply rooted in His Word. One weed that is special to my heart is the bright yellow dandelion. The dandelion is the best example of how growing a deep root of faith can sustain matter how much life mows us over.

Let me explain why I love this sunny yellow weed. Dandelions can grow almost any were most other plants can't. They have a very deep tap root that keeps the plant fed, regardless of what the surface conditions are. This is why you can see them growing in sidewalk cracks and in the sides of walls. They won't develop a stem or flower until their root is firmly established to feed the rest that grows above the surface. This means that for every happy yellow flower you see, there is a tap root 6 or more inches deep in your yard to feed it.

 If you want to get rid of dandelions in your yard, you have to dig them out...all out. Any root you leave in the ground will bless you with yet more yellow flowers come next Spring. Dandelions are true survivors. Even a major amputation will not keep them from blooming.

I think the best example of the dandelion's adaption to survive is they will bloom regardless of how many times they get mowed over. They do this because like all living things, their sole focus is to survive long enough to reproduce. One of the ways they do this is to adjust the length of their stem to produce a flower and seeds.

For example: The first time you mow your grass in spring, you mow off all the dandelion tops. This is because it is the plants nature to grow a long stem so the seeds will easily be carried by the wind. Now that the plant stem was cut off, the next stem will be much shorter. The plant then goes into multiple stem production since it has "learned" a tall stem won't produce seeds. Every time you mow, you will see dandelions with shorter stems until you see them blooming UNDER your lawn mower blade. You'll be rolling right over all those little tenacious yellow blooms and not whack off one of them! That bloom is living proof that what happens on the surface doesn't matter...if your root is strong enough to sustain you.

I want to have Faith like a Dandelion. I desire that my Spirit be deeply rooted in the protective soil of my Heavenly Father's Word. I want the ability to remain focused on His intent for my life to grow spiritually, regardless of how many times life mows off my bloom. I will continue to grow, will bloom again and hopefully send out "good seed" in the life I'm given. My root is deeply secure in His Word. Since I am HIS and He protects HIS OWN, my faith is secure no matter what size mower life hits me with.

So the next time you see all those sunny little lion faces looking up at Yahuah has placed them there to encourage and inspire you to root yourself deeply in His Word. You will discover that getting your bloom whacked off is not the end of the world. It is just a step in growing your faith. Pretty soon, you'll be happily blooming beneath blade level no matter how many times life mows over you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Butchering Day 2011

When you grow up in a farming family, you know that most of what you raise will end up on your plate. Veggies in the garden go from dirt to dinner. Flocks and herds go from pasture to plate. We know our land and our animals on a first name basis. We have a healthy respect for all things grown, tended...and loved.

 I've discovered as I get older that very few folks experience this same full cycle of life. They don't get the privilege to ever get eyeball to eyeball with their intended dinner. I find this sad. How do you fully appreciate the life sacrificed when you never experienced a relationship with the animal who gave it?

You see, our understanding of food production is vastly different then most folks. We don't just pick up a roast at the grocery and call it dinner. We have time, care and love invested in the animal long before it  graduates to the menu.  When you homestead, your understanding of the food  chain process to the table doesn't start at the grocery store. It starts everyday, when you go out to care for your intended dinner.

When it is time to slaughter the animal, it is done quickly and humanely as possible.The animal is about to fulfil its purpose We KNOW how sacred each life is that we take for food. Its life has gone full circle. . We pray over the animal, thanking Yahuaha/god for it, for the joy it has given us and for the life it is giving to sustain us. We know that all life is sacred and give honor to our Heavenly Father for His blessings. It is only through Him, we are able to live the lifestyle He intended for His people.

The pictures posted below are graphic and not for the squeamish. They were taken late this past summer when we butchered two goats (Annie Goatly and Bobbie Jo) and six chickens ( 2 mean roos, Curly the Curly toed Roo, and 3 hens). You will see pictures of live and dead animals in various stages of the butchering process. This includes bodies missing heads. I suggest you don't have young children around unless you are prepared to answer their questions or comfort them from what they see.

Here are the snapshots of butchering day.

This is a pic of Annie Goatly and Bobbie Jo earlier in the year before they went to "Freezer Camp."  I loved them as they were a homestead gift from our friend Don. He had a few extra doelings and they were great company for my milking Alpine, Emmy Lou. It was hard leading them to the slaughtering area. I'm getting teary eyed just typing this...

Regardless of my sentimental heart, these wonderful does fulfilled their purpose. They have fed our family and others also.

Our friend Don was a huge help in teaching us how to do a kosher slaughter. His wisdom, experience and insight helped us tremendously to understand the home slaughtering process. We are eternally grateful to you, Don!

Butchering the chickens was not nearly as hard to do emotionally as the goats. I think it has to do with chickens just don't have the same intelligence and personality that goats do. Goats are almost like the family dog. They come when you call their name, learn tricks, show affection and are highly trainable. Chickens well...they are just....chickens. We were kind and didn't do the chicken slaughter where the remaining flock could see us. You can see the red chicken coop in the background.

One thing we did learn (by accident) is the best time to butcher chickens is when they are molting. Their feathers are easy to pull and the new feathers coming in are easier to remove. Our chickens have darker feathers so it was easy to see them in contrast to the lighter colored chicken skin.

Notice the smile on my face? That smile is from the satisfaction of pulling the feathers out of one of our mean roos. That demonic rooter would stalk me every time I went in the chicken yard or coop to gather eggs. He flogged me, Brad and also our grandson. I was happy to see his evil head separated from his well fed body and sharply spurred feet. My threat to take him from Cock of the Walk to King of the Crockpot was complete. He was delicious!

Farm life is all about relationship with the land and life our Heavenly Father entrusts you with.  Our Creator intended for His people to have a relationship with His creation. It's the cycle of life for those of us who choose to eat meat.

I honestly don't enjoy butchering. It is not an option if you intend to eat natural, organically grown meat you KNOW is pasture raised without antibiotics. The entire process saddens me. I know that it is through my actions, my CHOICE  to eat flesh that a life is taken.. Because of this, I don't eat nearly the amount of meat I did in years past. Eating flesh is not a requirement to stay healthy, it is an option. My personal preference is to eat meat only occasionally.

My hope for the future is  that our farm will use animal products naturally produced like milk, hair/fleece and eggs. Until that day, we'll just enjoy the blessings we egg at a time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Oh Where Oh Where Did My Little Eggs Go?

For the last several months I've been making trips to the hen house to find there were no eggs. This wasn't a problem as sometimes all my hens take the day off. Considering the size of their eggs, they deserve a day off!. The problem is they don't quit laying for days at a time.  This "no eggs" situation was really frustrating me. I was hearing them cackle and then when I went to gather eggs there were shells...nothing but an empty nest.  Where were all my eggs?

Around here, animals that don't produce anything in exchange for the cost of feed soon get sent to "freezer camp."  My hens had laid a great deal of eggs in early Spring and were now playing "Punk the Chicken Lady" with all their empty cackling.  Either my hens were smarter then me, or something was taking their eggs. Since my mind will not accept the idea my hens have outsmarted me, I opted for the second option...we had an egg thief. Now, all I had to do was catch the culprit...whatever it was. This involved making a call to our local chicken guru Kathy.

My friend Kathy is a walking, talking, Mother Earth News poster child of Wikipedia type homestead information. If she doesn't have an answer, she KNOWS someone who does. I have called her with many questions over the years and she has never failed to amaze me with her agrarian wisdom and  half cracked sense of humor. I count her as one of my dearest friends and the best neighbor you could hope for. Who needs the internet when you have a neighbor like Kathy?

I called Kathy to see what revelation she would reveal about my missing eggs. What she told me was this: "Your hens are eatin' their eggs." What? My hens are doing what? EATING their OWN eggs? They can't be eating their eggs...there are no shells! Her reply," They eat it all Anita, you might find some yolk in the nest, but they eat it all." "You better nip this in the bud quick, 'cause they will teach the others to eat 'em too."

OK...pick my jaw up off the floor. My hens were eating their own eggs. This would explain why I still had all the wooden eggs in the nest but not the real eggs. Those spoiled hens had been sneaky egg eating cannibals for almost 2 months.  I should have called her a LOT sooner. My job now was to find the culprit hen(s), separate them from the flock, and keep them separate until they went to Camp Deep Freeze.

My plan of action was to make many trips a day to the chicken coop and try to get the eggs shortly after the hens laid them. Since a few of my hens cackle well ahead of laying an egg, I made a LOT of trips down only to come back empty handed. I was determined to beat those hens to the eggs. If anyone was gonna have eggs for breakfast it was me!

It took almost 2 weeks for me to finally catch them in the act. My hubby Brad, and I were home one morning when the culprits were caught with the evidence. From my kitchen window, I saw Huzzy Hen (she really is a huzzy, seriously)  run out of the coup with something white and shiny in her beak. Right after her came another hen with a shiny object in her beak. The chase was on in the chicken yard! The rest of the flock formed a posse  to chase them down and steal the tasty morsels  my outlaw hens they were showing off. I yelled for Brad to help me catch them before they ate all the evidence. We both took off to the coop to cull out the cannibals. YES! I WON! I was feeling a major "Attack of  the Happy Dance" coming over me. Eggs were back on the menu...along with chicken and dumplings...or so I thought.

When I ran into the coop to save the rest of the eggs, I discovered the nightmare Kathy had foretold. I had other hens eating eggs...4 to be exact. There were three hens crowded in the nest box with a 4th hen trying to squeeze her fat feathered butt in to get her share of raw egg. My spirit of victory flew out of me faster then Huzzy can catch a bug. I went from victorious to vicious just as fast. I started grabbing hens and catapulting them into the hen yard. Within seconds the coop was a filled with flying pine shavings and loud indignant squawking.

 To say I was upset was an understatement. My pin headed hens double crossed me! I was ready to wring their egg eating cannibalistic heads off. I spent good money feeding them the best feed, minerals, etc. and they are EATING MY EGGS! We had deal! I provide great scratch and they provide me with tasty eggs. Every birdie wins, right? The problem was I only have 12 hens. Six of them were caught with egg on their, beak, literally. I would reduce my flock by half and then not be sure I had all of them. What if all my hens were eating eggs? I really didn't want to butcher them all if I could avoid it. How do I keep them out of the nest boxes when they aren't laying eggs?

In all that fracas I  managed to save one egg...and release my chickens. In my haste to save the eggs, I had left the coop door  wide open. Most of my hens were happily bug hunting in the tall grass on the outside of the coop. FINE! Just FINE!  They could just stay out all day...WHAT EVER! If the coyotes get them they had it coming. I left open the coop door and then opened the door to the chicken yard. Soon, all 14 chickens were happily bug hunting as I carried the lone survivor egg back to the house.

The flock did a major bug hunt all over the back yard the rest of the day. .It was a delight to watch them happily scratching and clucking, despite the fact half my hens were egg eating cannibals. When evening came, I only had to herd two hens back into the chicken yard. The rest had already gone in to roost. As usual, I did a feed, water and nest check before closing the outer door to the coop. To my surprise, I found 4 eggs in one nest! All four eggs were perfect with not a peck mark on any of them.

Now I was really confused...why were they laying and NOT eating the eggs? They were running all over the yard and still went back in to lay eggs...hmmm. Maybe they like more freedom and eating bugs then they do eggs? The only way to know for sure was to try it again and see what happens.

The next day after lunch, I released the flock to bug hunt. I left both doors open to make it easy for them to return to the nests.  I was not disappointed. They gave me eight eggs! Not bad for only 12 hens in their second day of "chicken recess." They must have found a bug banquet in the yard, as it only took two scoops of scratch grain to refill the feeder. Sweet..think this "recess" thing might be the answer to the problem!

So, it's now been  about a week and I am a happy Chicken Lady again. My girls are hunting bugs, laying eggs and I am get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I can now watch them enter the coop and listen for the "Cackleberry Song."  Once the hen leaves the nest, she hurries to join the rest of the flock happily dining at our all-you-can-eat "Back Yard Bug Buffet". Sweeeet. My hens are happy eating bugs, I am happy eating eggs and everyone wins...sort of.

You know how when you do one thing differently it can lead to to other changes? My hens have discovered the joy of scratching up my raised garden beds.Guess, I need to fence off the garden now. Oh well, just another day on the egg at a time.