Monday, July 30, 2012

Our new old farmhouse

This is the house that we are trying to buy! Isn't it lovely? I haven't been able to get any inside pictures of it yet because it is still being occupied buy the current owner. The house was built in 1918, and the gentleman that lives in it now moved there as a very small child with his family in 1936. We went out to see it again and finally got to meet him this past weekend. He took us all around the house and told us stories about everything and everyone having to do with the place. We will be the third owners of the house. 

Several things having to do with buying the old place are still a bit up in the air. There is another appraisal happening in two days and we'll know more after that. Very importantly, the old gentleman is selling and he has accepted our offer! So far so good! The house is quite dated and a bit run down on the inside so we'll have a lot of work to do once we are there to get everything in working order. But we are all very excited at the prospect of turning this small farm into our family's home-place!

 I'm a little nervous about the whole timing thing... we have to be out of this house by the 16th of August, and and we are still not sure when we'll be able to close on the farm house and move in there. (More and more often lately, around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, I lay in bed in just a tiny bit of a panic wondering if being temporarily homeless with 5 children, goats, dogs, and rabbits, is really as bad as I imagine it to be... I pray fervently that we don't have to find out!)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Milking the goats

Meet Daisy and Larkspur. They are Snubians, that means they are a cross breed of Nubian and Saanan dairy goats... mutts really. :-) When we were looking for a few goats to add to our family, these were the only two I could find for sale locally that were both in milk. They are both yearlings and this year was their first freshening (first time they have given birth). The had never been hand milked before I got them. Their previous owner left their kids with them to help develop their udders and had never trained them to the milk stand. I bought them 4 months after their kids were born. The lady I got them from told me that they were both already trying to wean their kids and she wanted to sell the kids as well. So I bought these two does and brought them home. 

My idea that first morning was to milk her while sitting on a tiny stool in the grass while she stood patiently chewing her cud allowing the frothy white goodness to come pouring out of her. I envisioned it would be just like the stories of goat herders in the Alps, like in the story of Heidi! I went outside imagining all the the wonderful milk I would be getting from my goats, the cheese I would be making with the excess milk that we didn't drink fresh, all of the picnics in the shade of a huge tree eating crusty homemade bread, smeared with fresh butter, and jars of fresh ice cold milk to drink with creamy goat cheese spread on our crusty bread while my children gathered wildflowers and made daisy chain crowns of them and danced around a maypole singing folk songs and... yeah it was going to be just like that! 

Well, that beautiful vision lasted just about 20 seconds! They were friendly curious goats, but they had not been touched or handled much before they came to live with us. The first day they were here, milking time came and I got my supplies together and took Logan outside to help me figure this out. I took a dog leash out with me, hooked it on one's collar and brought her out of the pen to milk her. 

I had to drag the poor animal out of the pen on the leash (they had never been trained to walk on a lead either) while she protested loudly.Then Logan held onto the lead while I situated myself on the little stool next to the goat. The minute I touched her she moved away. So I scooted the little bench I was sitting on over a bit, to be within reach and she promptly moved out of my reach again. We were both pivoting around poor Logan who was trying desperately to keep a hold on her leash while I tried desperately to keep a hold on her teats! We had left the milk bucket behind and at this point both Logan and myself had milk running down our legs and into our shoes. He was laughing so hard that the amount of help he was actually providing at that point was negligible. 

While the goat and I were orbiting my ever helpful son, he quipped "With people like us living here the neighbours don't even need to watch TV anymore. They'll just see us head out the backdoor and start popping the popcorn, and sit by their back windows to watch the show!" *After that I was afraid to look up, for fear that he might be right! 

After about 20 minutes we repeated the entire spectacle with the second goat... it didn't go any better than with the first one. If anything it was even more difficult because this one was more nervous after hearing her herd-mate protesting the whole time! We finally went back up to the house with a grand total of nearly one cup full of very dirty, stepped in milk, which I dumped unceremoniously into the dog's dish as I passed by. I called Rodrigo at work and told him that he needed to plan on making me a milk stand before that evening's milking time after he got home from work! 

My darling husband did come home and make me a wonderful milk stand. We had numerous books about goats and homesteading in general with plans for DIY milk stands. We looked at all of them and took what we thought were the best points from each and he built it for me. Two things I asked that he specifically include in the design were #1 that it have a back "wall" that way the goat couldn't move away from me while I was milking her. And #2 that the stand be made about 8 inches wider that the goats actually needed so that I could sit next to them while I milked. My thought was so I could lean my shoulder into the goat to help her feel calmer and hold her still while she was being milked. After having the stand in use now for more than two months I am very happy with these design choices! 

Within about a week's time of having the milk stand, the goats were settling into our routine. They realized that I had no intention of killing them when I went out twice a day to lead them out of their pen and onto the stand. They decided that quite liked the grain they got while being milked. I caught on pretty quickly that they would stand still (well, fairly still) if I only let them eat grain while on the milk stand. The rest of the day they have free choice of browsing and good hay.

During that first month I I read every book, blog post, or magazine article and watched every single video I could find, trying to figure out how to get my goats to stand still! There where several good suggestions, but none of them really worked for us. Mostly they just came down to this, "Be patient, eventually your goat will stand still on her own."  I'm not terribly patient and I was sick of never even getting to taste the milk that I was working so hard to get out, since the bucket (Or large stainless steel bowl in our case) was being kicked over and stepped in before I ever had a chance to save it. Finally, I figured out a way that works for us that I had not seen posted anywhere else. I had Rodrigo shoot a short video of how we do it, in the hopes that it might help someone else that might have the same problem! I am editing it now and I'll post it next week. 

*P.S. The aforementioned neighbours, who Logan predicted might be watching our crazy antics... Well at least 4 different times I have seen and heard various neighbours outside talking on their cell phones about me while I am milking. They lean over the fence to get better shots of what I'm doing. They have texted pictures of me milking to their friends and families, they have posted pictures of me on facebook... You know, I think they might miss us when we move! The rest of this neighbourhood is pretty boring compared to us... I guess they'll just have to go back to watching TV next month! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It finally happened...

We chose contentment, indeed happiness to just be here in our little house on our little piece of land in our little neighbourhood were we have lived for the past 6 or 7 years. We decided that since we were not really going to ever sell our home, that we would begin to "homestead" much more seriously right here in our little backyard. Rodrigo and I talked and planned for weeks and months, just how to best use what God had given us to work with here. We planned on how to make our large family feel most comfortable in the small confines of this house. We talked with the (oldest 3) children about these things too, we asked for their ideas and input about everything we were considering. We talked about what we needed to get rid of, sell, or giveaway. We discussed what we would need to build, buy, plant, or breed and raise to become as self-sufficient as possible.

We were positively sure that putting our house up for sale was totally pointless, because no one was really buying houses just now. Our house had a 6 month contract on it with the real estate company, and we had so many showings. For 5 months, at least once a week, sometimes as many as 3 times in a week, we would have to maniacally clean everything in the house, and make sure everything was totally spotless and leave. Everything was scrubbed, polished, dusted, and straightened to perfection or as near as I could humanly get it. And then a bunch of total strangers would go traipsing through our home, never to be heard from again. I hated it, but I knew that without all of those strangers snooping about my house, we would never get to sell it. But as the weeks wore on I felt more and more resentful at having to prepare my home for something that would never happen. Rodrigo encouraged me just to hang on and finish out our contract with the realtors, so I did... but I wasn't enjoying it a bit!

In the meantime we decided to go ahead and start really living here again. We began to implement our homesteading, self-sufficiency plan. We bought fruit trees, 7 of them, and planted a mini orchard, with room to add a few more trees next spring. We got meat rabbits and started breeding them to eat eventually. (At the moment we have 10 adult rabbits for breeding, several of whom are pregnant and one with 5 babies.)

We planted a bunch of veggies in the flower beds since all of our dedicated gardening spots had been reseeded with grass, to make our lawn more desirable to potential home-buyers. *rolling eyes* We made plans to greatly expand our gardening area next year!  And we decided to go ahead and get a couple of dairy goats!! 

Yes, I finally got my milk goats. We have been talking about it for ages, reading, researching, talking to people who had goats, and finally Rodrigo told me that he thought if I was ready to start milking them twice a day that I should go ahead and locate a few. No sense wasting our lives waiting for something that may never happen he said, better to live our lives that way we want right now while we are young enough to enjoy it, instead of waiting for "someday" only to realize that someday either came too late, or never came.  Thus Daisy and Larkspur were welcomed to our little homestead in the neighbourhood! (I'll post more about them soon! I love my goats!!) 

They lived in the backyard and slept in a little plastic "barn". Rodrigo was not happy with the "barn", and stated that the goats needed their own shed, purposefully built just for them. We spent a couple of weeks researching exactly what type of housing would be best suited to our needs as well as theirs. We wanted something large enough to house them, a place for milking, a few kids next spring, and even to house a small flock of laying hens that we wanted to get. (Remember, we got rid of our lovely chickens when we decided to put our house on the market? We thought having a flock of chickens in the backyard would scare off prospective buyers, Haha! We had tons of "prospective buyers" just no actual buyers!!) So materials were acquired and work was begun on the new goat shed. 

So basically everything we did, pretty much seemed purposefully designed to scare off any house hunters in the area. We still had showings, but in the 5 months that it has been on the market we didn't have one. single. offer. Not even a really low offer, nothing, zero, zip, nada! I didn't even care anymore, I kept asking Rodrigo if we could please just break our contract with the real estate company and get on with life. I was sick of having all of my books and pictures in storage. I was sick of paying (!!) to store books and furniture that we could be using. So a couple of weeks ago we had one last showing. A few days after that the realtor called Rodrigo. It was July 4th and we were picnicking with the kids at the lake. 

Rodrigo was out in the water with the children paddling them around in one of our inflatable kayaks. When I saw who was calling I didn't even answer the phone. I had no intention of cutting our fun short to run home and clean, for yet another showing! Rodrigo had the day off and we were celebrating! Later, after we were home that evening, I remembered the missed call. I told Rodrigo that he probably had a message from the realtor and that he might want to check it. No message, so Rodrigo called him up to find out when they wanted to show the house. I didn't really even like the guy, so I surely didn't want to talk to him! Ro got a funny look on his face when they started talking and went out to the porch to talk where it was quieter. He came inside in a few minutes and told me that we had an offer on the house!!! 

It had finally happened! Now, after we had decided that we would choose joy and contentment. We made up our minds to be truly grateful to God for all the wonderful blessings He had given us right here, and make the very most of those gifts. After we had invested so much more of ourselves (not to mention time and money!) into making this house of ours exactly what we wanted~ a functioning homestead. Someone wanted to buy it?!?! And so now we are in the midst of looking for a new place to call home, we had completely stopped house hunting for ourselves since we were sure we would have no reason to need another place! We close on this house on August 16th. So we are feeling a bit of pressure to hurry up and find somewhere to live! And to make things feel even more adventurous not only do we have a family of 7 people to worry about housing, we have 2 dogs, 2 goats (that must be milked twice a day!) and 15 rabbits to deal with now as well! 

What an adventure! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Building an A Frame chicken "tractor" coop

My mom got her first chicks a few months ago. Initially, she kept them indoors in her basement in a brooder, but they were quickly out-growing that and trying out their newly feathered wings  by fluttering to the top of the brooder and exploring the basement unsupervised during the day. So the kids and I went over to her house and built her a little A Frame chicken tractor for her chicks to live in until they were able to get their permanent housing built at Mom's new house. (My parents recently bought a new home in the country and were remodeling it getting ready to move in, the chickens will have a large permanent coop at their new home.)

I designed this little chicken tractor to be very light weight so my mom could easily move it around her yard by herself. The chicks only spent their days outside. In the evening she brought them back into the basement brooder due to a large number of dogs and other predators roaming through her yard.  Plus the night time temperatures were still dipping quite low at the time, even though the days were plenty warm for the chicks to play outside. 

Since I forgot my circular saw at home, Logan cut all of the wood for the chicken tractor by hand. Claire found my mother's hammer which is covered with flower decals and asked "Is this for me?" She spent the next hour hammering every nail in sight! Some she actually started and nailed herself, others she just finished hammering in after they had been started for her.  She was quite absorbed in the whole process. We had a great time watching her. 

After the chicks had been installed in their new digs, Claire and my mom's dog spent a long time watching them explore their new surroundings.

The chicks were very happy to have a new safe place to play and eat bugs and fresh weeds and grass. The whole thing weighed less than 15 lbs, so it was quite easy for mom to move around her yard and lift to place chick feed and water under. 

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